Category Archives: Interviews

Max Allan Collins drops by to discuss his writing and ‘Seduction of the Innocent’.

Having recently enjoyed the latest novel, Seduction of the Innocent, from the ever-prolific Max Allan Collins, I was honoured that he dropped by to answer a few questions here about his work and his life of crime (writing):


1. At the end of 2011, Crimespree magazine did a cover feature on you and your work celebrating 40 years in print – a heck of an achievement ! Do you have a favourite book, or series, from your vast canon of work to date?

My favorite series, and the work of mine that I think has the best shot at surviving, is Nathan Heller.  For those unfamiliar with the series, Heller is a private detective in Chicago who is very much in the Phillip Marlowe mode, but gets involved with many of the great crimes and mysteries of the twentieth century.  I’m often asked what my favorite Heller novel is, but I really consider it one body of work…one ongoing, massive novel.  But I would single a few out as favorites – TRUE CRIME (John Dillinger), STOLEN AWAY (Lindbergh kidnapping), FLYING BLIND (Amelia Earhart).  And I’m very happy with my most recent additions to the saga, the three novels that comprise my JFK trilogy – BYE BYE, BABY, TARGET LANCER and the forthcoming ASK NOT.

Second place would be Quarry.  It’s very cool that something I created back in college in 1971 is still going strong.  Just completed the tenth Quarry novel, THE WRONG QUARRY, for Hard Case Crime.

I also love working with my wife Barb on our “cozy” mystery series about antiquing – we write together as “Barabara Allan,” and the next book, ANTIQUES CHOP, will be out in May.


2. That same cover feature showed you standing proudly before a huge collection of crime fiction books and memorabilia – what is your most treasured possession amongst those? And is there a book or a piece of crime fiction history you are still trying to track down?

I don’t know if I can narrow it down to one item – I have signed books by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain, and that’s probably as good as it gets.  And I have first edition hardcovers of every Mickey Spillane novel, signed by Mickey.  Oh, and a signed BAD SEED by William March, dated just days before his death.

The missing link for me is an obscure paperback that some people say doesn’t exist, although I swear I saw it many, many years ago…and couldn’t afford the thirty-five cent price.  DRAGNET 1967 by R. Trailins.  There is a DRAGNET 1968 by David Vowell that is fairly common.  These are Popular Library paperbacks.  I’m a huge fan of Jack Webb and DRAGNET – the 1950s version, not the ‘60s one.

3. Seduction of the Innocent marks the 3rd book for comic world mystery books featuring Jack and Maggie Starr – are there any plans to relaunch A Killing in Comics and Strip for Murder in the UK?

I have the rights back, finally, and they will probably be reprinted, and made available on e-book, before too long.  Titan hasn’t shown any interest in reprinting them, so they will probably join the many backlist titles of mine published by Thomas & Mercer at Amazon.

I’m very grateful to Titan and Hard Case Crime for this opportunity to continue with Jack and Maggie, as I had originally intended this to be a trilogy, and felt like the series had been cut off prematurely.  Now I’m considering doing a fourth one.

4. Any plans ahead that will team you with Terry Beatty to illustrate again? And do you work closely on the books?

I can’t imagine doing Jack and Maggie Starr without Terry.  The idea from the start was to do something that was sort of in-between a novel and a graphic novel.  I just loved books with illustrations as a kid.  I am hoping that one day there will be editions of my prose ROAD TO PERDITION sequel novels, ROAD TO PURGATORY and ROAD TO PARADISE, with Richard Piers Rayner illos.

Terry doesn’t have huge input, frankly, though carte blance to draw what he pleases, with my suggested image as a starting point – I send him a script, just like we’re doing comics.  He does not see the novel, though, till it comes out.  I love the way Terry does artwork appropriate to the story at hand – he’s very EC Comics in this one!

5. What’s next from Max Allan Collins and will we see you in the UK anytime soon?

I love the UK.  I am not sucking up – I am a genuine Anglophile, born of James Bond and the Beatles in the ‘60s.  My wife Barb and I very much want to visit London (again) and other UK cities in the near future.  That’s a real benefit of having a British publisher.  By the way, all of my favorite crime shows of recent years are British – HUSTLE, FOYLE’S WAR, LEWIS, POIROT, MIDSOMER, and on and on.  I buy the British discs – I don’t wait for them to air or go on sale in the USA. My wife is hooked as well.

6. What’s the best/worst writing advice you’ve ever heard or been given?

Best advice is to write what you know, and this is tricky if you’re attracted to genre writing.  The breakthrough for me was when I “robbed” the bank where my wife worked, for my first published novel, BAIT MONEY – it’s one of two novels collected in Hard Case Crime’S TWO FOR THE MONEY.  Also in that novel I made the secondary protagonist a young comic book collector, which is exactly who and what I was at the time I wrote it.  So it’s a matter of looking at your life and experiences and figure out how that might relate to whatever sort of novel you like to read.  Another thing I did was use my home area as the setting, at a time when everybody in the crime genre in America was doing New York and Los Angeles.

Worst is to imitate another writer.  I’ve done my share of that, but I was such a mix of influences, it allowed me to generate my own voice.  Even when I wrote the novels collected in TWO FOR THE MONEY, which were heavily influenced by Donald E. Westlake’s Parker series, I was as much in the sway of Spillane, Hammett, Chandler and a dozen other mystery writers.  Elmore Leonard’s famous “how to write” list is terrible.  Great as Leonard is, all he did was outline how to write like him.  Well, there already is an Elmore Leonard, thank you very much.

7. Who has/have been your favourite new crime author discoveries in the last twelve months?

I am notorious for not reading other crime fiction writers.  I’m a natural mimic and don’t care to be influenced.  So I read chiefly writers from the Golden Age of mystery fiction.  I came to Christie and Rex Stout very late, for example, and loved Stout so much, the Nero Wolfe pastiche aspect of the Jack and Maggie Starr books is unmistakable.  Still, I don’t think I’m outright imitating him.  I occasionally discover a mystery writer because of a TV series – I became a fan of Colin Dexter through MORSE, for example.

My taste has always been quirky – among my favorite mainstream writers are William March, Calder Willingham, and Mark Harris, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, you’re not alone.  In recent years I discovered Fannie Flagg, who writes Southern humor, famously FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, but there is always a mystery in her novels, though she’s seldom discussed in those terms.

Thanks again to Max for his time and to Titan Books for kindly setting up the Q&A.





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Ryan David Jahn at Harrogate

images-4A VERY long overdue with Ryan David Jahn at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate 2012.

I’m very grateful for Ryan taking the time to do this interview as his arrival at Harrogate was a bit of a whirlwind and, at the time I was about to start interviewing him he was mid-way through trying to find out if his lost luggage had reached the UK (and indeed Harrogate) and was only just getting to know a group of his biggest fans on the lawn outside the hotel.

I can only apologise to @RebeccaJBradley for being the arse who nabbed the author away just as she was getting her chance to tell him just how much she loved ‘The Dispatcher’ – I hope she got the chance to do so later in the weekend – but here’s her review just in case, by way of an apology.

The interview,although during one of the 30 minute breaks between panels took place in two locations: The front of the hotel, after we failed to get seats outside and stood for a while so that Mr Jahn could have a cigarette, then into one of the meeting rooms in the main hotel corridor where he was then accosted by David Headley from the beautiful London shop Goldsboro Books (until he spotted the recorder on the table and graciously stepped outside) and then we faced ousting by the Transworld publishers team who were setting up their excellent photo booth in the room. Nevertheless, I did get some great answers from this great crime fiction author.

KBW: When you kick off a new book is there a set pattern for you? Do you start with a character, or something you’ve read in the press? Is there a formula for what sparks a new book?

RDJ: It can really come from anywhere, but it almost always starts whenever I think of a concept for might be the next book a character almost always comes with it and they come together as a package because I guess, to my mind, only one character will work to make this story happen the way it should. As far as the ideas go, like with Acts of Violence I’d heard the story like fifteen years earlier and it was just dancing around in my head.

images-2KBW: It was mentioned during panels last night here at Harrogate, with events in Denver (the shootings at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises), if you took something like that and put it in a work of fiction, people would just go ‘it’s just too unbelievable’.

RDJ: Yes, and I can get ideas from anywhere. Like with The Dispatcher I was working in TV and I hated my job so I decided to do my job terribly so that I would get fired. I just wanted an out, and I just wanted to look for a different type of job and something that would give me material, perhaps, and so I saw an opening for a Police Dispatcher position in Los Angeles and I went and took the test and there’s like five hundred people and they’re all the way around the block and it’s a four hour test, and so I had a lot of time to just stand there and think. And my first thought was what if there’s this Police Dispatcher and his wife calls 911 and he works the nightshift and his house is being burgled and he picks up the phone and is aware of all of what’s happening – that’s a short story – and then it just sort of evolved from there.

images-1KBW: Turning now to ‘The Last Tomorrow’, obviously there’s the comic book references in there, are you a comic book fan yourself?

RDJ: I used to be a big comic book fan when I was a teenager, just with piles and piles of them and traded them with friends.  Then I stopped reading them after a while, but then I was reading a history of comic books called “Men of Tomorrow’ I think and so that and a documentary I watched about Grove Press and the controversy surrounding publication of Naked Lunch and all those other books – the combination of those things brought the story together.

images-3KBW: Do you censor yourself at any point?

RDJ: No. I think I used to, but now I’d stop myself from doing that – I think if you’re going to write something then you need to take it all the way, no matter what.

KBW: And I guess seeing the repercussions and effects that crimes and violence have are important to see and to read  – we need to know that these things hurt.

RDJ: Yes. I really don’t think that books or movies can influence people – I mean they can influence people who are already teetering, but something else would have likely effected them anyway. So, like with Stephen King’s book ‘Rage’ which is no longer in print because there were violent situations where copies of that book were found in people’s lockers. When he was asked about that he said essentially the same thing – that they are going to do something anyway – it’s just maybe the button to make them do it.

KBW: Have you been under any pressure from your publishers to write a series?

RDJ: Not here, and Macmillan UK is really my primary publisher – they’ve been great. Every time I have an idea I just sort of blather some nonsense and they say ‘yes that’s fine’. Penguin in the US have said it’s difficult to sell me there because the books are different enough, with me starting over with new characters each time, but that doesn’t make much sense to me because with all my books the plots are different, but they tend to deal with the same things and the same themes. So, there is some pressure there, not maybe to do a series but to do The Despatcher again but not quite…

KBW: With your TV and scriptwriting background are there any plans to bring any of the novels into development?

RDJ: Anonymous Content has the rights to The Dispatcher, so that might happen, it seems to be moving but I’m not sure how quickly – maybe three years down the line…

imagesKBW: Great. And with that background do you think cinematically when you’re writing? Do you have actors in your head when you’re writing?

RDJ: I don’t have visions of actors but I do watch the scenes play out like the pictures in my head so that’s probably why I write in the present tense, because that’s the way I see it.

KBW: From what you were saying on your panel about the speed that you write when a project deadline is looming, you created a lot of gasps in that room – was it really 12,000 words a day ?!

RDJ: Yes, something around that.

KBW: Well, you certainly put a lot of people to shame right there!  I know a lot of people here and some on the New Blood panel yesterday have come through after doing NaNoWriMo – 50,000 words in a month for  first draft – and that’s a struggle for most of us, but to produce 12,000 words in a day – well, that IS impressive.

RDJ: I used to tell people when I was asked how quickly I wrote a book, my answer was six weeks, but that’s total bullshit, it’s a lie, I wrote a first draft in six days, but if I say that people will think it’s just a piece of crap!  They’d say ‘it took me that long to read it!’

KBW: Can you tell me a bit about how you work?

RDJ: I don’t outline at all, I just let it percolate. I usually have about five or six key scenes that I know are going to happen and I have a character and I just get going.  Sometimes I have to go back because I realise something’s going to happen later that I need to foreshadow in some way, so I’ll back and fix that because, if I don’t, then I won’t believe it and it won’t be set up and it’ll be like oh this world is just crumbling. So, yes, I do go back and fix things to make sure they line up properly.

KBW: Between the four books we have here in the UK from you now, were there any others where you got to a stage where you had to discard them and start something new or are those the four you’ve written to date?

RDJ: No, those are the four books I’ve written.

KBW: And how about short stories, do you write those?

RDJ: I used to write a lot of short stories, that’s how I started writing, when I was a teenager.  I think I’ve got two filing cabinet drawers full of short stories.

A huge thank you to Ryan David Jahn for what must have been one of the most surreal and disjointed interviews he’s ever had to endure – he was a real pro and a gent throughout and, I’m glad to say, he even found his lost luggage.



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Harrogate Hitlist: An Interview with Harry Bingham

You’ve written a few books before now. Why turn to crime?

A few reasons, but the main one was that I started to think hard about what a crime novel really needed. What kind of detective? What kind of mystery? What do readers want from a crime novel in a world that’s absorbed Patricia Cornwell, Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and so on? The more I started to think about those things, the more my central character – Fiona Griffiths – started to come alive for me. And after a certain point, she just took over. I literally started dreaming about the book. After two years of thinking about this book, I found myself writing it faster than I’d ever written anything before.

So Fiona Griffiths is quite a girl, huh?

Tell us about her. Right. Sure. Except … Except? Well, she’s kind of secretive about things. But she’s a Detective Constable in the South Wales Police. She’s twenty-something. Small-built. Bright as hell. Dark-haired. Um, and then there’s the illness thing. The thing with her father. A couple of strange things about her personal life. A slightly strange relationship with corpses … But I can’t say too much. A lot of Talking to the Dead revolves around various mysteries to do with its heroine, so as soon as I start to say anything really interesting about her, I have to shut up. This is a book with quite a lot of surprises.

Did you find it easy to write as a woman?

Yes, I did really. It’s odd though. The strangest thing about Fiona Griffiths is not that she’s a woman, but that her mental state is a long way different from the average. The truth is that it’s a pretty short imaginative leap to ‘become’ a woman for authorial purposes. It’s a much longer jump to ‘become’ someone with Fiona’s own strange past. I should also say, by the way, that the deepest oddity about Fiona is as weird as hell – but it’s not something I’ve invented. There’s a real condition which real people have and which you can check out on Wikipedia in due course. Oh, and writing as a woman gives you liberty to write lines you wouldn’t get to write any other way. Things like: ‘I get home sometime after two. I walk up to my front door with kitten heels and ammo boxes in one hand, gun in the other.’

There’s so much crime out there, how did you want your novel to stand out?

Not just a lot of crime, there’s a lot of really good crime. It’s also strange that in Britain Scandi crime is probably more voguish than home-grown crime and of course US authors churn out an endless array of excellent, hard-boiled, well-written crime thrillers. So it’s a tough background for new crime series. Having said that, Fiona Griffiths is obviously pretty different from your average cop. (Again: I can’t reveal why – but she makes Lisbeth Salander look like a pretty normal girl.) But I also wanted to inject something of my own into the writing. To make it tough but classy. Utterly down to earth but with a little splash of poetry. I don’t know how well I’ve succeeded, but I was certainly thinking hard about that.

And Wales? Why Wales?

Well, I’m not Welsh, but I did spend huge chunks of my childhood there – and the best chunks too. So the country is in my bones. And then Wales has this brilliant dual status. It’s a nation with its own capital city, but it’s also a less affluent and less powerful province of a much bigger union. Cardiff seems very new in some respects, but it’s also the capital of a country whose people has long pre-Roman roots. It’s also right on the edge of things. There’s a scene towards the end which takes place on the sea cliffs of West Wales, and you realise how far on the edge of things you stand, how far from London.

The publishing landscape is obviously changing fast. What do you think this means for readers and writers?

It’s changing so fast, it’s enough to induce dizziness. I think readers will always be well looked-after. E-books are cheap and easily available. The high-street chains will be radically reducing their presence soon, but you’ll always be able to get hard copies of books from the internet. The real issue is how people browse. As a teenager, I used to go into a brilliant indie bookshop and just browse the shelves or pick the bookseller’s amazing brain. How do you browse in the absence of bookshops? It all feels more hit and miss now. As for writers – who knows? Will there be a recognisable publishing industry in five years’ time? I’m sure there will be, but I wouldn’t bet too much that the existing big firms will still be there in a recognisable form. It’s a strange old time.

You don’t just write crime, do you?

I run an outfit called The Writers’ Workshop, which helps writers with their work and (when the quality is right) linking them up with literary agents. We also run a Festival of Writing, and I’ve written a couple of books on How To Write and Getting Published which do just what they say they’ll do.

How much are you looking forward to Harrogate?

On a scale of 1 to 10? About a quadrillion, I think. I’m going to team up with some Orion authors when I’m there. Authors like Harlan Coben, for heaven’s sake. It’ll be amazing.

Many thanks to Harry for stopping by, you can order Talking to the Dead here.


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Following on from my review of the rather excellent ‘Lady, Go Die!’, prolific author and all round good guy Max Allan Collins kindly gave up some of his time to answer a few questions I had about his writing and what we can expect next from his furious and unstoppable crime output:

Can you tell us any more about the other two lost Mickey Spillane books you’ve been working on ? (Complex 90 and King of the Weeds) and are there any other treasures to follow on from those, or has the lost treasure vault of Mr Spillane now about run dry ?

COMPLEX 90 is a Cold War thriller circa ’64 and is, on one level, a sequel to THE GIRL HUNTERS.

KING OF THE WEEDS was conceived as the final Hammer novel, with Mickey working on it in the ’90s, but put aside after 9/11 inspired him to start THE GOLIATH BONE. There are the makings for three more Hammer novels after that, all dating to the 1950s and prime stuff, but shorter unfinished manuscripts than the substantial, 100-pages ones that I felt were the priority. There are shorter fragments that I am developing into short stories with an eventual collection the goal. In addition, there are numerous starts to non-Hammer novels that could be converted should readers demand.

I’m sure you must be impressed by the book jacket and whole look and feel of Lady, Go Die – how do you feel about the jacket and of the great covers you seem to always get – with this and with the Hard Case Crime books? And do you have any involvement in the look of the books?

I’ve had plenty of mediocre and even lousy covers in my time, so I am thrilled to have something as striking as the LADY, GO DIE! cover, and of course I am wild about the retro covers at Hard Case Crime. I have been given input in both instances. I also was able to guide the covers of the Nathan Heller reprints that Amazon is doing. I was unhappy with the hardcover of the Marilyn Monroe-oriented Nate Heller novel, BYE BYE, BABY, from Forge, but they have much improved it on the current paperback.

Any plans/projects for further graphic novels?

Terry Beatty and I will be doing a new Ms. Tree novel, probably next year. I was supposed to start it this year, but my schedule got overloaded. I may eventually do another PERDITION graphic novel, a prequel, although that might wind up as a prose work.

Will we see you in the UK anytime soon for a crime festival appearance ?

I love the UK. My wife and I consider London our favorite city in the world. I will absolutely go if somebody invites me and pays my way, but I may come anyway, sometime in the next year or two.

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

At the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, Richard Yates once said to me, “Just because you write, ‘He came at me like a thug in a B movie’ doesn’t make it any less like a B movie.” From that I extrapolated that in the hardboiled melodrama I write, the surface needs a reality, because the larger picture is fantasy. I do this a little less with Mike Hammer, because he is so inherently a pulp figure, but even there I try to keep him human and the moment to moment stuff grounded in reality. A related stratgegy is to make you draw from your life and not just from other books or movies and TV you’ve seen. Until I began incorporating my experiences into the work, I didn’t sell.

If you could recommend one author who crime readers may not have heard of but should seek out, who would that be?

Probably Ennis Willie, whose very Spillane-like series about a character called Sand prefigured both Richard Stark’s Parker and my Nolan and Quarry series. They were published in the early ’60s by a Chicago soft-core porn house, though the books weren’t that at all. Willie was a cult figure who nobody knew anything about until he noticed the fuss on the net a few years back, and presented himself — a southern gent with a very successful printing firm, who hasn’t written since that first wave of pulp. But his Sand novels are being reprinted by a small press, Ramble House, in omnibus fashion.

You’ve been lucky to have worked on some great Spillane books, but is there one book in crime fiction that you wish you had written?

I have no desire to have written any one else’s book. But the novels that are at the top of my list are THE MALTESE FALCON, FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, ONE LONELY NIGHT and THE BAD SEED.

Many thanks to Max for his time, and for his great great books.


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Tony Parsons on ‘Catching the Sun’, writing, and the promise of a crime novel !

I was recently very impressed with the perfect summer read ‘Catching the Sun’ by Tony Parsons.

You can read my review here.

And Tony was kind enough to drop by to answer a few questions I had after reading the book:

I loved the book and can only assume that you are a regular visitor to the area of Phuket ? Can you tell me what drew you to set the book there?

I had been going to Thailand for over 20 years – I first went there for a wedding – but I had never been to Phuket until a few years ago. I was staying on Hat Nai Yang, where CATCHING THE SUN is set, and I had never seen anywhere so unspoilt and beautiful and calm. I fell in love with the place, and I knew there was story – that this beautiful sea was where the Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 came out of, and that this tropical paradise was where generations of Chinese immigrants came to work in the tin mines. So the more I saw of it, and found myself coming back to Phuket, the more I felt that I would like to write a book about this place.

Where do you write? Can you write anywhere and did you spend time there whilst writing it, or make many research trips?

I spent a lot of time in Phuket, maybe made a dozen trips there over the last three or four years, almost always alone, although I know people there – mates from Hong Kong, one who has a holiday home there, and one who has lived on Phuket for 20 years. But I quite like being alone when I am researching a book – and makes you think, makes you meet people, gives you lots of long lonely moments where a book has a chance to grow. So while I am out on the road I am writing, sort of, although really it is more of gathering information and letting the book grow inside me.

I write at the top of my house in Hampstead. It is the smallest room I have ever worked in but there best. It is stuffed with books and exercise equipment. It looks west, towards Wembley, and it has the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen anywhere in the world.

Was the burglary/assault based on anything that you or someone close had experienced or inspired by the press and our failed justice system in general when it comes to defending own family/property?

The burglary was based on the feeling that there is too much sympathy for the criminal and not enough for the victim. My family were burgled 10 years ago, when my wife was pregnant with our daughter. I woke up about 5 am and found a huge bamboo pole coming through our letterbox with a fishing hook on the end – and my car and front door keys on the hook!! I went fighting mad and chased a couple of terrified junkies down the street – so it was not quite as dramatic as what happens in CATCHING THE SUN.

Do you have a strict writing regime or any special quirks/rituals tied to your writing work?

If I am in London, then my life is very ordered and simple – it revolves totally around work, my family and the gym. I walk my daughter to school with our dog Stan in the morning, then I come home and write 1,000 thousands – that’s my goal every day, 1,000 words. For about 4 hours a week I box – heavy bag, speed bag, pad work, a lot of abdominal work and stretching, and once a week full contact sparring with my trainer. I have also just taken up Yoga as I am such an old git and I think my muscles need to be lengthened and toned and stretched – I believe that Yoga will be a nice complement to the boxing. I try to keep fit as writing doesn’t use your body as much as it needs to be used. So my days and my life is very strict and I find that works for the life of a writer.

Are there any plans for a movie of Catching the Sun? – I think it would make a great film – with the shattered idyllic lifestyle it made me think of The Mosquito Coast as times.

You are right to suggest The Mosquito Coast – it is definitely inhabited by the spirit of that book. No plans yet – but then it doesn’t come out until 7th June so who knows?

What can we look forward to next from you ?

CATCHING THE SUN is the direction I am heading in – I think of it as a thriller with heart. That’s what I want to right – next I will write a straight crime novel. I admire writers like Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who invented characters that lasted for 100 years. I would like to come up with a detective who will stick around that long, and that is what I will be trying next. I am not sure if anyone will be interested, but I am going to do it anyway. You have to follow your instincts – in writing and in life.

With many thanks to Tony Parsons for his time, and for a great read.


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Penny Hancock drops in to talk about TIDELINE

If you’ve read my recent review, or anyone else’s review of Penny Hancock’s debut novel, Tideline, then you’ll already know of the buzz it’s creating.

Penny was good enough to drop by for a chat about the book and its writing:

KBW: I thoroughly enjoyed TIDELINE –  a magnificent crime debut, did you always set out to write a crime book?

Penny Hancock: No! I’m afraid I’d always shied away from what I thought of as ‘crime’ although I love psychological thrillers. I particularly like the idea of dark things going on under the surface of apparently respectable, upstanding  citizens.  And I’ve always written short stories in this kind of genre. But I’m getting into crime now I’ve learnt what a diverse and creative genre it really is.

KBW: I have to ask if Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery had any influence on you in terms of the abduction and drugging of Sonia’s prey?

PH: Again, no I’m afraid. I hadn’t read Misery or seen the film though have read it now. I thought Annie Wilkes was horrible, really sinister, and she does some extremely violent things, with no apparent conscience- a great horror character.  Whereas I believe Sonia is a much more tender woman, even if she does cross the line. She never actually intends to hurt Jez and she does have a conscience even if she’s deluded about what she’s doing with him.

KBW: I loved the attention to detail in Greenwich and will never see the place in quite the same way again – are there any plans to set another book there? Or have you set a location already for your second book?

PH: I love that area as I grew up there. I find the Thames, particularly those dark Dickensian creeks and urban riverside wharves and warehouses inspiring. My next book is set in Deptford, and the river still features. I love the contrast of old Dockside buildings with the towering glass skyline of Canary Wharf on the other side.  The old areas seem more sinister, but actually the contemporary skyline is more scary to me- this reflects my characters- the more polished on the outside, the more potential there is for deviance inside-if that doesn’t sound too pretentious!

KBW: Who do you read and is there a crime novel that you most wish you’d written?

PH: I didn’t read much crime until I started to write Tideline, but I’ve always loved Beryl Bainbridge’s early novels which usually feature apparently banal, run-of- the-mill characters with flaws that lead them to do terrible things. There’s always a latent sexual element to them too. Rebecca(Daphne du Maurier) is a book I wish I’d written. I also love Graham Greene.  I’ve recently discovered Nicci French since writing Tideline and like the plots which, again often involve sexual obsession or skewed relationships. I’m more interested in the characters and their motivations than the crimes they perpetrate.

KBW: Which character in Tideline do you most identify with?

PH: I think there’s a little bit of me in all the characters but equally there is a lot in most of the characters that is anathema to me.

KBW: What was the spark for the idea of the book and did it arrive pretty much fully formed or did the story reveal itself to you in the same way that it slowly rises to the surface for its readers?

PH: There were a number of sparks. I heard Chris Beckett a science fiction writer talking about ‘making the internal, external’ in his stories and realized this is what needed to do. Internally I was going through a period of nostalgia for my first romance, and where it took place- in Greenwich. I thought what if I made this obsession external, and wrote about a woman literally captures a teenage boy, in a quest to recapture her own teenage years. Only for her to do something so extreme, her teens must have been extremely troubled, with unfinished business meaning her psychological development was somewhat arrested.

The story of Sonia’s teens, and the gradual steps that lead her down the path she takes, unfolded as I wrote.  I had no idea she’d go as far as she does…

KBW: Are you set to be at any/all of this year’s crime writing festivals and events?

PH: I’ve been invited onto a panel at Harrogate and have also been approached by Bristol Crimefest. I’m also doing a panel with Sophie Hannah and SJ Watson (both authors I admire) at Cambridge Wordfest in April.

KBW: What’s the best advice you’ve been given by other writers, or any advice you would give to others?

PH: Stephen King’s advice is the best I’ve read or can give to others, don’t wait for the muse. You have to treat writing as a job, get up, get going, do it. Then if you’re lucky the muse may come up from his basement and pay you a visit. ( this is not a direct quote, I’m paraphrasing!)

KBW: Do you have a particular writing regime?

PH:I write whenever and wherever I can. When I’m doing anything else it feels I have to rush to get back to writing. I’m a bit obsessive about it.

KBW: What can we expect next from you?

PH: I’ve got a few more ideas up my sleeves. My next novel is in progress and is, I hope, equally compelling and dark. It’s set in contemporary Deptford and involves two women, one a successful career woman, the other hermigrant domestic worker. After that who knows, I’ve become a little worried about Jez, I don’t think he got a fair hearing in Tideline,  so it’s possible there might be a sequel toTideline one day.

A big thank you to Penny for taking the time to drop by and to Dawn Burnett of Simon & Schuster for making the interview possible.


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Stuart Neville drops in for a chat

Ahead of the release of his fantastic third novel, Stolen Souls, out in Hardback 26thJan 2012 from Harvill Secker, Stuart Neville kindly dropped by for a quick interview about his books and the world of Crime Fiction.

I’d had the pleasure of meeting Stuart only once before, at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival where, like a fool, I asked him to sign my copy of ‘The Twelve’ when I spotted him at the next table on quiz night.  It probably means I’m the only person whose signed copy reads ‘I hope we get more points than you!’ And his table certainly did, which to be honest wasn’t hard to achieve as the team I was part of, well – we were rubbish.

KBW: Who would you say have been your biggest inspirations in crime fiction, other than James Ellroy (who I assume is numero uno)?

SN: Yes, Ellroy’s at the top of the pile for me, but I’m also a fan of a British writer called Ted Lewis, who wrote a book called Jack’s Return Home.  Most people probably know the film better – Get Carter.  I also went through a phase of devouring Carl Hiaasen novels, and I think my first attempt at a novel – which will forever remain unpublished – was mostly me trying to copy his style.

KBW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from another crime writer?

SN: I’ve had so much good advice from other writers, it’s hard to pick out one single thing.  My favourite, and I don’t remember where I heard this, is that when writing a novel, write the gushing, glowing review this book you’d like it to receive – then do your best to write the novel that deserves that review.

KBW: Did you attend any writing classes when starting out?  Do you think they work for most first time novelists?

SN: I didn’t go to classes, but I spent a lot of time reading all the publishing and writing blogs out there.  I learned a huge amount from those, and not just about the craft of writing, but about the business end of things too.  I also read a few books; Stephen King On Writing, and Story by Robert McKee were a big help.  I think learning about writing, whether it’s a class or a blog or a book, is always useful, but it can’t give you talent.  You either have that or you don’t.

KBW: What’s the closest you’ve come to being involved in anything even approaching the crimes you have written about?

SN: I’ve some indirect experience of the kind of low level intimidation that peppers the books, mostly from paramilitaries, but not the actual guns-and-knives murder stuff.  Thank God.

KBW: Now that you are above and beyond the ‘new star’ status of crime writer, who can you see coming up through the ranks that we should have our eyes on as readers?

SN: I have high hopes for Chris F Holm and Gerard Brennan.  Chris’s debut, Dead Harvest, is a great blend of the noir and paranormal genres, and Gerard is writing wonderfully gritty and funny stories set in Ireland, Wee Rockets being his latest.

KBW: Are there any plans afoot to bring Jack Lennon to the big or small screen? And, if so, would you want to be involved, or would you prefer to hand over your baby (figuratively speaking) at that point?

SN: The Jack Lennon character is tied up in the movie option on The Twelve, so it’s unlikely he’ll make it to the screen any time soon, I’m afraid.

KBW: Can you write anywhere or do you have a structured routine and place to write?

SN: Since my baby daughter was born last summer, I’ve been going to the local library to write.  Getting away from the constant chatter of Facebook and Twitter has been great for my productivity.  But I’ve written everywhere from sitting parked in my car, to German trains, to transatlantic flights.  The one place I find it hard to write now is in my home office.

KBW: Is there a subject that you couldn’t/wouldn’t write or wouldn’t put Jack through?

SN: I don’t think anything’s taboo, but there are topics I’m becoming less interested in.  I think I’ve addressed the Troubles pretty comprehensively by now, so I don’t think I’ll go back there unless a really remarkable story presents itself.

KBW: What can we expect next from you – more of Jack Lennon?  Or is there a standalone on the horizon?

SN: After Stolen Souls, there’s a standalone on the way called Dweller on the Threshold.  It’s quite a departure in that it’s set in and around Dublin in 1963, though it’s still very much a thriller.

KBW: You made a comment on twitter in recent weeks saying you were adapting a novel for a screenplay – just for the hell of it.  Could you let us know which book that was and if there are further plans for that project?

SN: That was the aforementioned Dweller on the Threshold, which should be published around January 2013, assuming the Mayans were wrong.  I’ve been talking to a couple of people about it, but there’s nothing specific in the pipeline.  I really wanted to see what kind of form it would take – whether it would be a feature length script, or if it would lend itself more to a TV serial.  So far, it’s looking like a serial.  But again, it’s just me messing about, nothing serious at the moment.

Many thanks to Stuart for taking the time out of his busy writing life, and new dad duties to pop by.

Now, please go check out his excellent books.


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The Hunting Ground – An interview with Cliff McNish and a chance to win one of five copies for your own sleepless nights.

To celebrate the January paperback release of the excellent novel ‘The Hunting Ground’ by Cliff McNish, those lovely people at Indigo/Orion have provided Books and Writers with FIVE COPIES TO BE WON by readers of this blog.

The following is my chat with the author of this great scare-fest, and you can read my review of the book here.

After you’ve had a read of the review and the interview, please leave a comment below with your email address (using ‘AT’ instead of @ to confuse pesky spambots) and I’ll enter you in the draw to win one of the copies for your very own sleepless nights.




KBW: Firstly, I loved the book, but found it a little intense to hand to my 11 year old daughter – what age group do think this suits best?
CM: That’s a good question. Originally it was written with Elliott and Ben being 14 and 12 respectively. But the psychological darkness was so intense – Cullayn especially – that a late decision was made to up the age of the main protagonist to 16 and certainly from age 13 upwards is where I expect most readers to find a home with it.

KBW: Is Glebe House or any of the events based on anything in reality or in your own experience, or is everything in The Hunting Ground pure fiction?
CM: I guess I’ve looked around a few old properties in my time, taking in the atmosphere, and I have an interest in mazes, which is maybe where the labyrinth of the East Wing originated – but overall it is just an invented composite that suited my purpose.

KBW: How did the doll being dragged across the floor and its head bouncing along come about? – That’s an image that still stays and haunts me now.
CM: I don’t know. The doll idea – well, every creepy ghost story has to have a little dead girl and her doll she still won’t be parted from, doesn’t it? But the bumping/dragging stuff … I just wanted something unnerving you would hear and not understand for a while… ghosts stories should always be filled with those sort of things, don’t you think? Less seen, more heard…

KBW: What scares you?
CM: Real life scares me all the time. Illness. Death. Physical and mental decline. That kind of stuff. In fiction, I’m scared when an author makes me like a character and then does things that are totally unexpected but feel psychologically true to them.

KBW: Do you have a favourite ghost story in fiction? And in film? And I assume you must have seen The Woman in Black on stage?
CM: I don’t have one single favourite ghost story, although two I’ve read recently have impressed me for different reasons.
1. Strangers by Taichi Yamada – an adult Japanese ghost story that is deceptively simply written and very beautiful and cold.
2. My Brother’s Ghost by Allan Ahlbeg is as wistful and beautiful a ghost story for kids or adults you’ll ever read. Guardian short listed many years ago.

Films … mm, tricky one. No one single favourite, though the Spanish film THE ORPHANAGE was very very good.
As for The Woman in White, I saw a not-that-brilliant production many years – maybe my mood was off, but it lacked something, I thought …

KBW: Do you have a set writing place or can you write more or less anywhere? And are you committed to a writing regime/set hours etc or just when the mood takes you?
CM: I’m very workmanlike, doing plenty of hours once I have the story clearly set in my mind and know where I’m going. Until then, I’m all over the place! I tend to do it all in my study but I can write anywhere if I have to — as long as I have a computer!

KBW: What’s been the stand-out book that you’ve read in 2011?
CM: Great question. I’ve been disappointed by quite a few. Especially Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE, which took me a month to read! Maybe the most stay-in-your-mind good was Amanda Coe’s debut novel WHAT THEY DO IN THE DARK – a decidedly adult novel, but whose main protagonists are children.

KBW: What can we look forward to next from you?
CM: At the moment I’m going back to my first love – fantasy. I can’t reveal any more yet but it should be coming out in 2013, so watch this space…

Many thanks to Cliff for taking time out for this and, if you want to scare yourself silly with his book, then enter a comment and your email below – Good luck.



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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.



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