Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A Series Of Disasters

My name is Lesley Cookman and I write a series.  I call them Murder Mysteries; in America they call them “Cozies”.  I have learnt, over the past few years, to refer to them as such, although I stubbornly prefer to use the English and – ahem – original spelling.

And the latest of these is called Murder In A Different Place, and as I write it’s vacillating between number one and two in Amazon’s Cosy chart.  This is a surprise, as it was without doubt the most difficult to write.  Part of the problem in writing an amateur sleuth series, is that you have to invent these situations, mostly improbable, for your protagonist to stumble into murder – no choice there, every title has to start with the word.  My eldest son has come up with several ideas in the past, and this was no exception as he said I ought to take my chief characters away together, and came up with the reason – a funeral.  So off I went.  Yes, that’s about the extent of my planning.

First we (son and I) decided we wanted to take them to an island.  Not sure now why, but we decided on the Isle of Wight, being a favourite UK holiday destination of ours.  I didn’t need to do an awful lot of research on the Island, as I knew it so well, but I checked up on everything I could.  But then I came to the victim.  A news item I’d heard came back to me and I thought – yes, that could be how my victim died.  But how? Why?

Another problem these days is the short lead-time of the books and two-a-year contracts.  This
means the minute I send one off to my (wonderful) editor, I have to have the first chapter of the next written to go in the back.  Half the time I put myself in a straightjacket by doing this, because I’ve set it up almost without thinking about it.

I struggled on, despairing.  They came back home from the Island.  Then they went back – and came home again.  What next?  I just kept coming to dead end after dead end, and mine aren’t the sort of books where, as Raymond Chandler tells us, you can have a man come in with a gun.  Meanwhile, I was trawling pages and pages of online research, some of which was unprofitably sparse.  But eventually, I got to the end – or near it.  And changed the murderer.  So don’t believe anyone who tells you they knew who the murderer was from the beginning.  Because I didn’t.

I have readers who know the books and the characters almost better than I do myself so imagine my relief when one of them told me it was all right.  Better than all right.  But it’s taught me a valuable lesson – despite the fact that I like “writing into the mist”, it’s probably better to have a bit of a ground plan first.

More information about Lesley and her work can be found on her website and also on her blog.  You can also follow her on Twitter @LesleyCookman and find her on Facebook.

Murder in a Different Place is out now via kindle (£1.60)

Monday, 21 April 2014

Penguin's Crime & Espionage Podcast

The latest Penguin Podcast features a round up of crime fiction goodies!  The episode of the Penguin podcast is exclusively concerned with mischief, skullduggery, ne’erdowells, and - occasionally - cold-blooded murder. 

It features:       
  • Interview between Barry Forshaw (crime writing expert, has written The Rough Guide to Crime), M. J. Arlidge (Eeny Meeny) and Jake Woodhouse (After the Silence)
  • Extract from A Delicate Truth audiobook read by John le Carré
  • Reading from Decoded by Mai Jia
  • Interview with Karen Perry on The Boy That Never Was      
  • Extract from Cinderella Girl audiobook by Carin Gehardsen read by  Candida Gubbins  
  • Reading from Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon     
  •  Oliver Ready, translator of the new Crime and Punishment, talking about Dostoevsky
The Penguin Books Sound Cloud link is here.  The itunes link can be found here.

There is also a penguin blog.

The podcast can be listened to below.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Criminal Splatterings!!

With the London Book Fair just over a number of books are making a buzz.

Rumored to have been sold for six figures is Jax Miller’s Freedom’s Child. Miller made headlines in the European press shortly before the fair for selling this book to Harper U.K. in a six figure deal. Now the novel, which Claudia Ballard at WME represents, has also sold to Crown's Zack Wagman. Crown called the book a "propulsive, raucous thriller" about a woman in the witness protection program who "risks everything" to save the daughter she gave up for adoption. Miller, a pen name, now lives in Ireland, but grew up in the States. Under her real name, Aine O Domhnaill, she was shortlisted, last year, for the CWA Debut Dagger for unpublished writers.  More information can be found here.

Another novel on a number of radars is The Luckiest Girl Alive. It was acquired well before the fair in the States by Sarah Knight at Simon & Schuster, but its acquisition was announced just before the fair. Knight bought world rights to the book—it was originally shopped under the title Girl Ed—in a six-figure deal at auction. Written by Self Magazine editor Jessica Knoll, Luckiest Girl follows a New Yorker named Ani FaNelli, who seems to have at all: a dream job, a handsome fiancé and an apartment in trendy Tribeca. But, Knight explained, Ani is actually "clinging desperately to a veneer of perfection" that is about to come undone because a documentary film threatens to reveal "a violent, sordid incident from her past."

It looks as if Breaking Bad is not over yet.  According to the Independent i.e. Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame is due to write a memoir.  Bryan Cranston says he will expose “dangerous” events in the Breaking Bad memoir.

The long list for the Desmond Elliott prize has been announced and the full list can be found here.  On the list is The Dynamite Room by Jason Hewitt (Simon & Schuster) which is set in July 1940w here eleven-year-old Lydia walks through a village in rural Suffolk on a baking hot day. She is wearing a gas mask. The shops and houses are empty, windows boarded up and sandbags green with mildew, the village seemingly deserted. Leaving it behind, she strikes off down a country lane through the salt marshes to a large Edwardian house the house she grew up in. Lydia finds it empty too, the windows covered in black-out blinds. Her family is gone.  Late that night he comes, a soldier, gun in hand and heralding a full-blown German invasion. There are, he explains to her, certain rules she must now abide by. He won't hurt Lydia, but she cannot leave the house.  Is he telling the truth? What is he looking for? Why is he so familiar? And how does he already know Lydia's name?

A painting of crime-writer Ian Rankin has been unveiled at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The image of the Rebus creator was commissioned by friend and fellow author Alexander McCall Smith.  Edinburgh-based artist Guy Kinder painted the likeness after spending a day photographing Rankin. The portrait will be added to a collection at the Edinburgh gallery which celebrates some of Scotland's greatest writers.

According to the Guardian, Damien Lewis of Homeland fame has joined Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris in the John Le Carré Film Our Kind Of Traitor.  Lewis is set to play a member of the British intelligence in the film.

The BBC are to do a new adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic gothic novel Jamaica Inn. The first episode of the 3 x 60 minute adaptation will be shown on 21 April 2014 at 9:00pm on BBC 1.

The BBC are to show Happy Valley a new six-part drama for BBC One, written by Sally Wainwright and starring Sarah Lancashire as police sergeant Catherine Cawood.

Interesting article in the Metro.  Swedish Crime writer Camilla Läckberg talks about the fact that her love of crime fiction started when she was seven years old.

Sherlock Holmes is coming to London in October!  The Museum of London are bringing a new exhibition of Sherlock Holmes to London between 17 October 2014 and 12 April 2015.  More information can be found here.  The exhibition will be asking searching questions such as who is Sherlock Holmes, and why does he still conjure up such enduring fascination. Also an interesting article in the Guardian where readers claim Sherlock Holmes is the perfect way to get back into the reading habit.

Congratulations go to William Kent Kruger for winning the 2014 Minnesota Book Award for Genre Fiction with his novel Tamarack County.  The award was given by The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library.  The other nominated finalists were The Book of Killowen by Erin Hart, The Cold Nowhere by Brian Freeman, and Wolves by Cary J. Griffth.

Congratulations also go to Martyn Waites whose novel Born Under the Punches won the Grand Prix du roman noir étranger.

In the Sunday Observer crime writer and poet Sophie Hannah talks about the contrasting literary disciplines, the poetry of sex and the genius of Agatha Christie.

PD Smith reviews James Ellroy: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction by Jim Mancall and declares it to be a wonderfully detailed A-Z guide of Ellroy’s work.

Brilliant blog post by David Mark in the Guardian where he talks about setting his books in Hull and them being too northern and why he hopes that since Hull will be the City of Culture in 2017 that views will soon change.

Hot on the heels of the publication of her latest best selling novel After I’m Gone Laura Lippman talks about her cultural highlights that are on her radar in the Guardian.  She also tracks down her ten best books on mysterious disappearances.  In more Laura Lippman news the film of Every Secret Thing is being shown as part of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival which will take place in Manhattan, USA from April 16-27.

John O’Connell latest thriller round up can be found here and includes After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman, The First Rule of Survival  by Paul Mendelson and Treachery by S J Parris amongst others.

Very interesting article in the Guardian by Alison Flood where best selling author Andy McNabb and Matt Haig talk about the importance of keeping boys reading and the decline in men reading.

If you missed the 30 greatest TV detectives and sleuths on Channel 5 on 19 April 2014 then you can see a slideshow of them in the Telegraph.

Jake Kerridge in the Telegraph writes about Margery Allingham’s books and how the show the evolution from well-plotted, bloodless stories to psychologically acute crime novels.

According to the Telegraph both Philip Glenister (who is a friend of the author) and Rupert Penry Jones are in the running for the staring role in the television adaptation of Paul Mendelson’s crime novel The First Rule of Survival.

The much anticipated trailer for the David Fincher’s film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has been released and can be seen below.

The film stars Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, a journo ousted from his job by cuts, who is then accused of the murder of his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) following her disappearance.

According to the Guardian actor Tom Hardy is due to play both the Kray twins in a new film about the East End gangsters.  The film to be called Legend will be written and directed by LA Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland. 

Following the news that Chiwetel Ejiofor is to play a villain in the next Bond film the Guardian have devised a quiz asking readers if they can match the Bond villain to their individual evil plots.

According to the Bookseller, Company Pictures the production company behind adaptations of The White Queen and Wolf Hall, has acquired a TV option for A K Benedict’s The Beauty of Murder (Orion).  Also according to the Bookseller, Film rights to Chris Kuzneski’s The Hunters (Headline) have been optioned by a new UK-based production venture.

Head of Zeus have according to the Bookseller has signed two books from debut novelist Clare Carson in six-figure pre-empt.  The first novel, titled Orkney Twilight, is the story of a daughter determined to discover the truth about her father, an undercover policeman, and is set in the island of Orkney.  It is due to be published in January 2015.

The winner of the 2014 Phillip K Dick Award has been announced yesterday at Norwescon 37, and the winner for the distinguished original science fiction paperback published for the first time during 2013 in the U.S.A was awarded to Countdown City by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books).  The Philip K. Dick Award is presented annually with the support of the Philip K. Dick Trust for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States.  The award is sponsored by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society and the Philip K. Dick Trust and the award ceremony is sponsored by the NorthWest Science Fiction Society. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Barry Award Nominations

The Barry Award nominations have been announced by George Easter.  The Barry Awards are given out by Deadly Pleasures Magazine.

Best Novel 
A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay
Sandrine’s Case by Thomas H. Cook
Suspect by Robert Crais
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Standing in Another Man’s Grave by  Ian Rankin

Best First Novel
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Japantown by Barry Lancet
The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett
Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman
Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller

Best Paperback Original
Joe Victim by Paul Cleave
Disciple of Las Vegas by Ian Hamilton
The Rage by Gene Kerrigan
I Hear the Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty
Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson
Fixing to Die by Elaine Viets

Best Thriller 
Dead Lions by Mick Herron
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
The Shanghai Factor by Charles McCarry
Ratlines by Stuart Neville
The Doll by Taylor Stevens

Congratulations to all the nominees!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Mick Scully on being a bouncer and The Norway Room!

Today’s guest blog post is by Mick Scully who lives in Birmingham his debut novel The Norway Room was published earlier this year.  He had his first story in his Little Moscow series published in the anthology Birmingham Noir.  His story collection Little Moscow was highly praised.  He has been a bouncer, teacher, acupuncturist and now works as a humanist funeral minister.

There is a moment described in the biographies of many actors when they get away with it.  Auditioning for a role for which they don’t totally fit the bill they take a chance, either falling flat on their faces – literally, sometimes – or succeeding with possibly career-changing consequences.
Can you ride a horse?  Of course I can.
 Deep-sea dive?  I’m a natural.

Swing from a helicopter above the English Channel?  I was fifteen the first time I tried that.

Invariably in the accounts we read the blag convinces, the actor secures the part and, with maybe a hiccup or two, a star is born.
In real life it isn’t quite like that.  No, not quite, but maybe sometimes close.  In the seventies, in my twenties and desperately needing to supplement my teaching income, I applied for a bar job in a Birmingham nightclub.  ‘We only employ girls,’ one of the middle-aged Spanish brothers who owned the club told me.  Curiously he spoke only out of the right side of his mouth.  ‘Pretty-ones,’ his brother added, from the left side of his.  As a six-foot twenty-five-year-old bloke there was no way I was going to blag my way through that one.  I had to admit defeat.

But wait.  It seemed I had something that was of interest to them.  The very thing, it turned out, that so definitely disqualified me from the position for which I was applying.  ‘You seem a big, strong lad,’ left-mouth brother said.  ‘You look as if you can handle yourself.’  I suppose that phrase is open to interpretation, but I was pretty sure I knew what they were suggesting.  In the seventies, of course, before security checks and training courses, being able to handle yourself was pretty much the only qualification required for door-work.

This was my swinging from a helicopter, of course I can ride a horse, walk a tightrope moment, and I knew what was required.  I nodded.  ‘Did a bit of boxing at school,’ I lied.  And, referencing the Bruce Lee craze of the time, ‘little bit of Kung Fu. No expert though.’  And it was enough.

I certainly looked the part.  The black suit.  The dickie-bow.  The stance – legs just a little further apart than is comfortable – was easy.  The swagger – almost naturally acquired.  But I knew that sooner or later there would come a moment when I was going to have to get on that horse, put on that diving suit.  And I tried to put it off for as long as possible.  The way I did this was to talk to people: be reasonable; be nice.  Prevention is better than cure as my old mum used to say.  Look, I’m really sorry about this, but it’s obvious that you’ve had a few.  Another time we’ll be glad to welcome you.  But tonight … There’s a taxi rank over there. I’d have a word with a drunk’s mates, persuade them to see him home, get girls to help me to talk their blokes out of a potential punch-up.  I developed quite a technique, as much chat as a vacuum-cleaner salesman as one of my colleagues observed – well it was the seventies!

But of course luck always runs out eventually.  And when the place did take off one night, I fell off the horse, dropped from the helicopter.  Even the diving bell couldn’t save me. 

I thought the job was finished.  But the twins came round to see me when I came out of hospital.  I was sussed, yes: not a fighter.  But I was a talker and that, they decided, was what they wanted.  When undesirables – for whatever reason – were trying to gain entry, it was my job to talk to them – be nice – get them to change their mind, go somewhere else.  Go home.  If that failed, a specially choreographed little manoeuvre took place: sadly admitting that all attempts at reasonable persuasion had failed, I moved back towards the ticket kiosk so that my heavier colleagues could move in to – in the words of the brothers – do the business.

And so for three years I was part of the Birmingham nightclub scene, working the door, patrolling the dance floors, pretending to be hard – but the friendly one.  Memories from those times came back to me when I started writing crime stories ten years ago.  All the dodges that can be part of that world.  And the more sinister aspects.  The shock I felt when someone told me that a gun was kept in the safe – the brothers keep one in their draw too – deeply shocking in the seventies, and probably not true, but all grist to the mill of a writer.

And I certainly drew upon those days when developing the characters of Craig Carrow and Shuko for my novel, The Norway Room.  Both work in Birmingham’s club land.  Carrow, an e-ex cop, is part of the security team of The Norway Room, the city’s premier nightclub.  Shuko, a fixer for the Triad gang the Ninth Dragon, that is active in the city. Both men who really can handle themselves.

It is interesting the things from one’s past that you draw upon when writing fiction.  After my nightclub and then teaching days, I trained in Chinese medicine and had for a number of years an acupuncture practice in Birmingham.  In training one learns a lot about the structures of Chinese society, the importance of hierarchy, the mythologies.  And I was able to use some of the sensibility of these things in creating the Ninth Dragon.

Shuko, the fixer, looks to the histories of the Chinese Emperors for guidance when planning the Dragon’s strategy in a turf war over the Norway Room.  He uses the brutal outcomes of some of the traditional stories as a warning to opponents.

So in writing The Norway Room, almost inadvertently it now seems, elements of my past working lives were excavated as I constructed the narrative.  Night Clubs.  Chinese medicine.  And the years spent teaching?  Well, there is Ashley; the thirteen-year-old lad at the centre of the novel, attempting to survive on his own in the city while his father serves a prison sentence.  

The Shots review of The Norway Room can be read here.

The Norway Room is out now (£11.99, Tindal Street Press)