Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Killer Women, Killer Weekend 2017

10am-6pm, 28 & 29 October 2017

Browns Courtrooms, Covent Garden, London WC2

Will you write the next crime bestseller?
Learn the art & craft of crime fiction from bestselling authors incl: Rachel Abbott, Mark Billingham, Erin Kelly, Mick Herron, Stuart MacBride, Sarah Pinborough, Cally Taylor

Pitch your idea to senior commissioning editors and agents incl: HarperCollins, Orion, Penguin Random House, Headline

·      Masterclasses on thrillers, procedurals, author as brand, self publishing and more

·      Insider tips from top writers, editors and agents

·      Craft workshops on suspense, character, plotting and more

·      One-to-one research sessions with experts

Full programme [pdf] Saturday | Sunday

Get in early! Book your weekend ticket at the special earlybird price of £260* by joining the Killer Women Club (for free) here.  (We will email you an exclusive secret link to the earlybird ticketing page.)

*Tickets go on general release 1 September. Weekend tickets will be £275

Hunting the hunter: avoiding the snares in historical crime fiction

The first two books in the Reinhardt series—The Man From Berlin and The Pale House—were set in Sarajevo, a city I knew well from living six years in Bosnia. Writing The Ashes of Berlin was an entirely different challenge. I only knew that the first trilogy ended there, and it involved Reinhardt pursuing a man who believed justice needed to be served, no matter where and when. And I felt that, insofar as Reinhardt was coming there from far off the beaten track—from the Balkans, which most people take as a by-word for treachery and intrigue—he had better have something interesting to tell us about this place…!

I settled on 1947 as a year that seems to pass between the end of the war in 1945, and the Berlin Airlift in 1948. I look at 1946 and 1947 as ‘quiet’ years. But what was going on…?

I read and researched.

I found avenues of interest, like the fact the Allies outlawed the German armed forces and, at a stroke, made destitute millions of men and their families. No pensions, nothing. What would that have been like, I wondered? How would people have survived that? Many didn’t, I discovered. Suicide rates soared, especially among men. What happened to the families they left behind, I wondered, knowing from my humanitarian work that men and women often faced such existential trials in very different ways…?

I read and researched.

I read about rations, and ration cards. I read about how families were crammed into damaged and insalubrious accommodation. Children went to school hungry, and came home famished. I rediscovered the stories of the millions of refugees—Poles, Balts, Ukrainians and Jews—who lived in shabby camps, cherishing memories of the homes they had lost and dreaming of the homes they might one day find somewhere else. I wondered how to weave those stories into a future Reinhardt novel, one that might bring those stories closer to the work I do now with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. I wondered how close those stories might be to those I had heard from refugees in Chad, in Chechnya, in Mali, in Pakistan.

I went into the National Archives in Kew, and felt like a proper writer. I walked Berlin’s streets, and felt a bit awkward with my maps and camera, and with my pencil stuck between my lips!

Coming up against this veritable tidal wave of facts, this avalanche of materials, clambering over the shoulders of the writers and historians that had come before me, that was when I realised that in writing the Reinhardt novels, I had never really wanted to be taken for a historian of those times, particularly not a historian of Germany and the Germans.

Of course, I wanted to be right about what I wrote about. Of course I wanted to transport you as a reader. Of course I wanted to give you suspense and adventure in far-off, long-ago places like the Balkans.

But it was in deciding how to get my head around the challenge of writing a novel set in Berlin that could be read as a novel that was as true as it could be to the realities of an occupied and devastated city, that I realised I was channeling something else. That with Reinhardt I was trying to get to the human aspects of one man caught between choices. And that with war, and its aftermath, it is too easy to be stunned by the glare of violence, the shatter of ruins, and to forget that most people do no harm but they do receive it, and somehow they carry on.

Fleetingly, haltingly, painfully, in silence, in dignity, in anguish, in as many ways as there are people, they carry on.

Ashes of Berlin by Luke McCallin
1947 and Gregor Reinhardt has been hired back onto Berlin's civilian police force. The city is divided among the victorious allied powers, tensions are growing, and the police are riven by internal rivalries as factions within it jockey for power and influence with Berlin's new masters.  When a man is found slain in a broken-down tenement, Reinhardt embarks on a gruesome investigation. It seems a serial killer is on the loose, and matters only escalate when it's discovered that one of the victims was the brother of a Nazi scientist.  Reinhardt's search for the truth takes him across the divided city and soon embroils him in a plot involving the Western Allies and the Soviets. And as he comes under the scrutiny of a group of Germans who want to continue the war – and faces an unwanted reminder from his own past – Reinhardt realizes that this investigation could cost him everything as he pursues a killer who believes that all wrongs must be avenged...

Buy it from the SHOTS A-Store.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

James Buckler on The Genesis for Last Stop Tokyo

LAST STOP TOKYO is my debut novel. It is the story of Alex Malloy, a young Londoner who runs away from a life changing accident to begin a new life in Tokyo. He promises himself he will avoid trouble in his new surroundings but it soon catches up with him. Within a few months he finds himself walking through Narita Airport with a holdall he is fearful of being stopped with. When a sniffer dog begins to approach, Alex sincerely regrets all the rash decisions that led him to that place.

They say you should write what you know and this part of the story happened to me. I had been offered a job teaching English in Tokyo. I was living in the USA and had spent the last few years working as a salesman, a carpenter and a phone marketer, whilst trying to find something worthwhile to do with my life. Now the work had dried up and I had accepted the offer to go to Tokyo and taken a flight out, via Vancouver. When I touched down at Narita, luckily, my baggage contained nothing more than clothes and a few books. On arrival, during my first few minutes in the country, I was whisked off by over-eager customs officials along a series of starkly lit corridors to an inspection room where a group of silent officers meticulously searched through my belongings. I was perfectly relaxed, knowing there was nothing for them to find, but, as I watched them, I thought how unbearable the tension would be for someone who was guilty. The knowledge that a long spell inside one of Tokyo’s notorious prisons awaited them would be excruciating. The first murmurs of a story began to awake in my mind.

A few months later, I was teaching at the school I worked at in Shinjuku, deep in the heart
of the city. I had a regular private lesson with a retired financier who spoke perfect English that needed no improvement but desperately wanted to have someone to talk to apart from his wife. One of his favourite ways to find a topic for discussion was to bring in the local English language newspaper that was printed for Tokyo’s expat community. He would flick through the pages and find a suitable article and we would spend two hours debating the finer points of the story. One day, he found an article about a visiting English businessman who had been arrested on suspicion of a minor theft. He had been held in custody for ten days without charge or access to legal advice while he protested his innocence to the police. I was surprised and told my student how this would be an abuse of power in the UK. He shrugged and told me it was perfectly normal in Japan, that the authorities had the right to hold anyone in custody for up to twenty-one days while they investigated a suspected crime. He told me that this system, daiyo kangoku or substitute prison, almost always resulted in the suspect’s confession, as it had done in this case. I suggested that perhaps the suspect had confessed because of the long period of custody; that to achieve a quick release, any normal person would be tempted to plead guilty and pay a fine just to go free. I asked him to consider not just how unjust that situation would be for a Japanese citizen, but how daunting that would be to a foreigner, a gaijin, either visiting or living in Tokyo.

As I spoke, the flash of inspiration I experienced was like something from a comic book. I could see a thread running from the story of the wrongly incarcerated, Western businessman to my experience of being searched at airport customs in Narita. I knew straight away I had the foundation of my story. I went home that night and began writing the opening page. The result is LAST STOP TOKYO.

Last Stop Tokyo by James Buckler (Transworld Publisher Limited)

The funny thing with suffering is just when you think you've suffered enough, you realize it's only the beginning. Alex thought running away would make everything better. Six thousand miles from the mistakes he's made and the people he's hurt, Tokyo seems like the perfect escape. A new life, a new Alex. The bright lights and dark corners of this alien and fascinating city intoxicate him, and he finds himself transfixed by this country, which feels like a puzzle that no one can quite explain. And when Alex meets the enigmatic and alluring Naoko, the peace he sought slips ever further from his grasp. After all, trust is just betrayal waiting to happen and Alex is about to find out that there's no such thing as rock bottom. There's always the chance it'll get worse . . .

Buy it from SHOTS A Store

Friday, 18 August 2017

St Hilda's 2017

So, this morning I have left a rather wet but bright London on my way to one of my favourite Crime and Mystery Conferences. St Hilda's weekend.

This time last year I drove and had the delightful company of the wonderful Sarah Weinman (who was giving her first ever paper) and my friend Kirstie Long.

This year I have reverted back to what I normally do and that is catch the coach.  Specifically the Oxford Tube!  It is in my opinion one of the most convenient ways to get to Oxford from London and to St Hilda's specifically as the coach drops you less than 10 minutes walk (by my calculations anyway) from St Hilda's.

View from my room
St Hilda's (as it is fondly known) is one of the few crime and mystery conferences that I try and not miss. It is also the oldest.  I have forgotten when I started attending but I can say it must be at least 15 years ago and I don't think I have missed one.  The closest I came to missing St Hilda's was the year there was a significant birthday in the family and I ended up doing a mad dash back to London from Oxford and returning again so that I could take part in the family festivities.  It is also the only conference that I organise my leave around.  That is the power of St Hilda's.

This year there is so much to look forward to.  The theme is Another Crime, Another Place: the role of location in crime fiction. Lots of new authors giving papers such as Stella Duffy who is presently finishing a Ngaio Marsh novel,  Yrsa Sigurðardóttir who will be giving the main Conference lecture, Abir Mukerjee whose novels are set in India, Lin Anderson, Mark Billingham (to name a few) and a mystery themed play/ quiz as well. 

It is going to be lots of fun and I shall be tweeting, taking photographs and hopefully blogging as much as possible over the weekend.  So do come long for the ride. The only thing you may wish is that you were here in person.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Journeying to The Dark Tower

I was delighted to accept an invitation to a press screening of the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower hosted at Sony Pictures Europe’s London Offices.

I was unsure what to expect as the reviews [from the US] have been disappointing, which surprised me due to the strength of the two leads Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba, as well as the base narrative from Stephen King.

Firstly, the film retains the flavour [rather than a pure adaptation] of King’s opening to his sequence of fantasy novels featuring The Gunslinger. It mixes the ‘there are worlds other than these’ tagline with an urgent cinematic ‘take’ of these books; so-much-so that the running time flies by in a hail of bullets and action like a John Woo production, but one with a supernatural undercurrent to the proceedings.

The special effects are impressive, as is the action and urgency of the tale when a young boy named Jake Chambers is still recovering from the death of his Fireman Father and finds himself plagued with nightmares and visions. His Mother and Step-Father as well as his school are disturbed by the boy’s behaviour.

The visions emanate from another dimension of sorts, and relate to the eponymous Tower, as well as The Man in Black [Matthew McConaughey] and the Gunslinger [Idris Elba]. No one believes Jake, that is until the link between the dimensions is established as well as the significance of The Tower – and then the inter-dimensional war commences.

Alternating between current day New York and the Wasteland, diehard Stephen King readers [if eagle eyed] will notice subtle references to this writer’s work interspersed throughout the film; which at times is breathless as well as stimulating.

The climax is satisfying and leaves the dimensional door ajar for future adventures; and despite what others have said, The Dark Tower remains an exciting and invigorating film from a fevered imagination.

I thanked Kerry Hood and Nick Sayers of Hodder and Stoughton [Stephen King’s long standing British Publishers] for the invitation to visit The Dark Tower as well as having a good chat with Phillipa Pride [King’s UK Editor] and of Book Doctor.

The film opens in cinemas in the UK on Friday 18th August; and remember Shots Magazine have copies of The Dark Tower in Paperback available Here

With writer Matt Thorne