Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Crime Science versus Crime Fiction: Exploding the Myths

Crime fiction is now officially the most popular genre in the world. From Sherlock Holmes to CSI, fictional depictions of this good-versus-evil conflict have sought to utilise the latest advances in scientific knowledge. But how closely does crime fiction mirror the realities of police investigation? How far is modern science able to help in the fight to reduce and prevent crime?

This unique, free-to-attend event, jointly organised by one of the world's top crime research departments (UCL Jill Dando Institute) and one of the world's foremost crime writers' organisations (the CWA - Crime Writers Association), brings together bestselling crime authors with leading academics who research crime. Together they will discuss the ways in which crime prevention and detection differs in real life from how it is depicted in our favourite tales of murder and mayhem.

So, if you have ever wondered whether DNA really is the 'magic bullet', or how murder trials really work, or even how an innocent person might end up with a killer's gunshot residue on their hands just by riding in the wrong taxi, then this event is for you.

For more information and tickets please go here.

Thu 30 August 2018
18:00 – 20:00 BST

University College London
Gower Street

Monday, 23 April 2018

Audible’s Animal Instinct, Human Zoo

The importance of audio in publishing cannot be underestimated as our lives become more time constrained - reading often suffers. Some may mutter “…..but are novels relevant in these days of online streaming of entertainment?”

I would assert that reading imaginative work, be they novels, novellas or short fiction is more important now than ever, due to the rising levels of anxiety in society. It is widely known that the reading of fiction [aka Biblio-Therapy] is a very useful method of reducing stress and anxiety. In fact, Stephen King in his work “On Writing” said –

“Life is not a support system for the arts, it’s the other way around”

Recently I have become evangelical about the Audio Dramatizations, from Audible Studios. I wrote about audiobooks last year, when Audible announced their Audio New Writing Award, steered toward the Crime and Thriller Genre – Read More Here

I always have plenty of Audio books, loaded on my Iphone and Laptop, for my car and for traveling by train, as it helps manage my time and my thoughts; allowing me to escape my problems by becoming lost in someone else’s’ problems. It also keeps my mind occupied and I learn about life, and how some of us cope with existence. And is there any better pleasure in life than being read to, before the arms of sleep comfort us? The audible app for Iphone has a sleep-timer, so you can have a chapter read to you before you succumb to slumber.

I am huge follower of Audible’s original content, the dramatizations, such as The X-Files, Aliens, and Stephen Fry’s extraordinary vocalisation of the complete Sherlock Holmes among many others.

And so it was a delight to discover the remarkable audio-drama Animal Instincts, Human Zoo written by Simon Booker, and performed with a cast which includes Fehinti Balogun, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Ed Bluemel, Imogen Church, Brendan Coyle, Laurence Dobiesz, Victoria Hamilton, Rebekah Hinds, David John, Harry Lloyd, Brigid Lohrey, Joseph Marcell, Michael Shon, James Smith, Jo Stone-Fewings, Niky Wardley, Sarah Whitehouse and Lia Williams.
The recording is evocatively realised with three-dimensional sound, complete with echoes and effects as we follow a former British Cop [who, still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] agrees to help a friend, not realising what he will have to confront.

Here’s a sneak preview of what to expect

Ex-policeman Joe Cassidy has a keen interest in animal behaviour and how it can have a bearing on some of the most heinous of human crimes - a talent that has heavily informed his detective work over the years. Although until now, he thought that he had left detective work behind....
Suffering from PTSD and wracked with guilt and failure after a grisly discovery in a particularly disturbing case, Joe lives in a lonely shack in the shadow of the nuclear power station at Dungeness. But when the daughter of an old friend goes missing, the investigation centres on the wealthy family's animal park.
Owing the owner a favour from years past, Joe is drawn further and further into the enquiry - hoping to solve the riddle of the disappearance amid the family's increasing dysfunction and desperate to find redemption for himself in the process.
And here’s a behind the scenes peak on the production of this engaging drama –

So if you haven’t discovered Audible Original Productions, then Simon Booker’s Animal Instincts / Human Zoo is a good place to start

More information from www.audible.co.uk

Tartan Noir: no laughing matter?

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I had a brief stint as a stand up comedian.  I’d always loved comedy but never considered it was something that you could just get up and do, until I started a new job and met a colleague who had a regular gig at a local club.

An advert for a Comedy Workshop at the Leith Festival finally persuaded me to take the plunge, and I spent a couple of years trying, and sometimes succeeding, to make people laugh.

When I started my first novel, A Fine House in Trinity, I was very keen to take the humour with me.  In fact, as a novice writer that was just about all that I took with me, and my first draft was a loosely connected series of jokes and set pieces.  Naturally, the jokes were hilarious and the set pieces benefitted from the trained observational eye of a comedian (IMHO).  But plot?  Non-existent.  Characterisation? Wafer thin.

In stand up I didn’t have time to develop an idea at length.  Lots of comedians do this really well; both Stewart Lee and Eddie Izzard excel in developing the simplest of issues in hilarious depth.  But they are at the top of their games, with their own shows.  They get an hour.  I was bottom of the bill and got ten minutes.

Ten minutes.  Ten minutes to get the audience on side, tell my jokes, and in the case of Glasgow get off the stage and into my car before anyone twigged that I was from Edinburgh (old rivalries die hard.)  Time wasn’t on my side, and while reaching for the occasional stereotype or cliché will get you through a comedy gig, it won’t cut the mustard in a novel.

With my second draft I had to put my ‘stand up’ head aside, and think like a writer.  The finished book had both humour and some resembling a plot, and it must have been OK, as it was long-listed for the William McIlvanney Award in 2016 (she noted modestly.)

When I moved on to writing my Virus series, I had the luxury of developing character quirks across more than one novel.   In The Health of Strangers, we meet the Health Enforcement Team members, who are fighting crime against the background of a deadly virus.  We have the Team Leader, Paterson (scary, old school cop), Mona (bossy), Bernard (confused, mainly), Carole (motherly), and Maitland (fancies himself as a ladies man).

Now, with the second book in the series, Songs by Dead Girls, I find myself with an opportunity to develop the humour that comes from knowing the characters really well.  And I’ve noticed that, however dark the situation gets, the HET team have got a quip for it.   And they are always pithy, relevant, and cutting.  It’s almost like someone is putting them in their mouths.  Some frustrated comedian, perhaps? 

I don’t do stand up any more.  A job, two kids, and the desire to write novels all got in the way.  I miss it, though.  I miss the immediate feedback that you get from a crowd.  It’s the worst feeling in the world when a joke falls flat, but better that than spending two years on a novel only to find out no-one likes it.

So, Songs by Dead Girls, it’s your time to fly and find your audience.  I hope they like you.  I hope they laugh in all the right places. 

Just remember, though, that you are set in Edinburgh.  If you play Glasgow, keep the motor running.

Lesley Kelly’s third novel, Songs By Dead Girls, is published by Sandstone Press in April.  Her Health of Strangers series is set in a virus- ravaged Edinburgh of the near future.   

Songs by Dead Girls by Lesley Kelly (Published by Sandstone Press)
Nobody likes the North Edinburgh Health Enforcement Team, least of all the people who work for it.  An uneasy mix of seconded Police and health service staff, Mona, Bernard and their colleagues stem the spread of the Virus, a mutant strain of influenza, by tracking down people who have missed their monthly health check.

When Scotland’s leading virologist goes missing, Mona and Paterson from the Health Enforcement Team are dispatched to London to find him. In a hot and unwelcoming city, Mona has to deal with a boss who isn’t speaking to her, placate the professor’s over-bearing assistant, and outwit the people who will stop at nothing to make sure the academic stays lost.

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Bernard is searching for a missing prostitute, while Maitland is trying to keep the chair of the Parliamentary Virus Committee from finding out quite how untidy the HET office is.

More information about  the author and her work can be found on her website.  You can follow her on Twitter - @lkauthor and on Facebook.

Sunday, 22 April 2018


So with Denise Mina’s The Long Drop winning the award last year, Shots received the final call for entries for 2018, as the panel of judges is announced.
As the finishing touches are put to the 2018 programme Bloody Scotland are putting out a final call for entries to the 2018 McIlvanney Prize, for Scottish Crime Book of the Year - in memory of William McIlvanney.

Eligible books must have been first published in the UK between 1 August 2017 and 31 July 2018 and written by a writer who is born in Scotland or domiciled in Scotland or set in Scotland. Books previously published in other countries will not be eligible. Novels, collections of short stories and non-fiction crime titles are eligible for submission.

Entries (PDFs of the book sent by email to Director, Bob McDevitt bob@bloodyscotland.com with McIlvanney Prize Entry 2018 plus the book title in the header) should be submitted by 5pm on Friday 27 April 2018.

The longlist is expected to comprise up to 12 books which will be announced after the organisers meeting in June 2018 at which point finished copies will be sent to each of the three judges.

This year the judges are confirmed as Susan Calman, comedian and self-confessed crime fiction fan, just back from her success in Strictly Come Dancing who first appeared on the judging panel last year; Alison Flood, the Guardian’s books reporter and former news editor of The Bookseller and Craig Sisterson, a journalist and book reviewer from New Zealand ‘with a particular penchant for a well-told crime tale’ who has been promoted to Chair.

It is particularly apt that a Kiwi is chairing the panel as the winner of last year’s McIlvanney Prize, Denise Mina, has been invited to Christchurch Book Festival and as part of the same initiative New Zealand crime writers are being invited back to Bloody Scotland in 2018, including Fiona Sussman, the winner of the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Prize.
Top Photo © 2017 Bloody Scotland

Bottom Photo © 2017 A Karim [L – R : writers Chris, Alex, Craig & Steve]

Alice Blanchard on How Her Book Came Together

Before I can sit down and write a 350-page novel, I need three things—a dream, a memory, and a true story that fascinates me.  Only then can the alchemy begin.

1.  The Dream:
Each one of my novels was inspired by a dream.  Before I wrote “A Breath After Drowning,” I had a dream that my husband and I came home and couldn’t get our front door open.  I slid the key into the lock but it wouldn’t turn.  Inside, the phone was ringing off the hook, and I knew in my heart something horrible had happened.  That dream was the seed that grew into my new novel. 

Dreams contain an underlying truth.  What did this one mean?  I was suddenly homeless. I’d lost my identity.  An unknown force was threatening everything I held dear.  I’d been locked out of my own home—this ignited my imagination, and I became obsessed with its literary implications.

2.  The Memory:
My father was admitted to a psych ward after his first suicide attempt.  I remember visiting him there was I was sixteen years old.  The clocks in the waiting room told the wrong time, and the magazines were three years old.  Dad shuffled toward us in his pyjamas and bathrobe.  He looked washed away.  His eyes were faded.  He talked to us as if he’d forgotten who we were.  As if something alien had replaced him.  This memory still haunts me, and it inspired the pivotal scene in “A Breath After Drowning” where, as a young girl, Kate visits her mother in the asylum.

3.  The True Story:
The murder of Jessica Lunsford effected me deeply.  She was a nine-year-old girl from Homosassa, Florida, who was murdered in 2005.  Her body was found 150 yards from her home.  She’d been buried alive.  Her death was so tragic and cruel, it filled me with anger and sadness.  I couldn’t imagine how her parents coped with such a loss, and so I gave their terrible pain to my main character. 

In my novel, “A Breath After Drowning,” child psychiatrist Kate Wolfe’s world comes crashing down when one of her young patients reveals things about Kate’s past that she shouldn’t know—things involving the murder of Kate’s sister sixteen years earlier. In writing this book, I felt a powerful connection to Kate, a connection so strong it propelled the book forward.  She took the dream, the memory, and the true story, and she put it on her shoulders—I followed

A Breath After Drowning by Alice Blanchard (Published by Titan Books)
Sixteen years ago, Kate Wolfe’s young sister Savannah was brutally murdered. Forced to live with the guilt of how her own selfishness put Savannah in harm’s way, Kate was at least comforted by the knowledge that the man responsible was behind bars. But when she meets a retired detective who is certain that Kate’s sister was only one of many victims of a serial killer, Kate must face the possibility that Savannah’s murderer walks free. 
Unearthing disturbing family secrets in her search for the truth, Kate becomes sure that she has discovered the depraved mind responsible for so much death. But as she hunts for a killer, a killer is hunting her…