Category Archives: Uncategorized

Two O’Clock Boy

Just a reminder that you probably won’t find me here, anymore. In fact, I can confirm you certainly won’t. But you will find me here.

You’ll find me talking about loads of things over there, but mostly this.

TWO O CLOCK city 6

I mean, who wouldn’t want to discuss such a beautiful thing…

Come on, don’t make me tell you again. Markhillauthor.com

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The Intel: Chet Williamson

Author headshotYou may have heard of a novel called Psycho. Some fellow made a movie of Robert Bloch’s novel which, arguably, changed the course of movies and horror fiction forever. Without Norman Bates there wouldn’t have been a whole slew of slasher movies, or sly, charming killers such as Hannibal Lecter, Patrick Bateman and Dexter Morgan.

In the years since Hitchcock’s movie, Bates, the nerdy fellow with the Mummy issues, has been reinvented several times — sequels followed, and a TV series. But Bloch’s original novel has remained somewhat under the radar. Now Chet Williamson has taken Bates back to his gritty midwestern roots. He’s written an authorised sequel to Bloch’s book, called Psycho: Sanitarium.

In this terrific interview, Williamson talks about what is like to get his hands on one of the most famous characters in fiction, about how Hitchcock’s Bates swerved from Bloch’s original vision — and how, if you want to be a successful writer, it’s perhaps best to stay pessimistic…

How does it feel to have got your hands on one the most iconic characters in crime fiction – Norman Bates? 

It feels fantastic! The film of Psycho terrified me when I saw it as a kid, and I immediately bought the Robert Bloch book and have been a Bloch fan my whole life. To be offered a character that is such an icon of suspense and horror fiction was a dream come true. Having done some licensed characters in the past, I’d determined never to do so again, but to have the opportunity to create a novel with Norman Bates?

There was no way I could say no, especially since it was an immediate sequel to Bloch’s original novel, and I could tell the story of what happens after we leave Norman (and Mother) in his little cell after his arrest. I’d always loved the character, who is as sympathetic and empathetic as he is frightening.

We’re familiar with Hitchcock’s adaptation, but maybe not so much with Robert Bloch’s source novel – how does it differ from the movie?

For one thing, Norman isn’t nearly as physically attractive as Anthony Perkins. He’s in his forties rather than his twenties, and he’s somewhat overweight, which makes his discomfort with the opposite sex more believable. Also, the original isn’t set in California. Bloch never names a state, but internal evidence suggests somewhere in the Kansas/Missouri/Oklahoma/Arkansas area.

How has Norman changed since we last met him?

Not much, really. Only a few months have passed since his arrest and confinement, and he’s remained almost completely incommunicative. He’s trying to break out of his shell, but Mother’s having none of it.

Cover imageWhat do you think you have brought to the character that wasn’t in Bloch’s original vision?

I may be a bit more sympathetic toward Norman than Robert Bloch was. While Bloch makes you feel sympathetic toward him in the original novel, when he wrote Psycho II, which is set over twenty years later (and which has nothing to do with the Psycho 2 film), he makes Norman quite monstrous, and his initial acts of violence, which are perpetrated by Norman himself rather than Mother, are shocking in the extreme. I’ve tried to elicit in the reader a greater empathy toward and understanding of Norman, the same feelings that Bloch elicited in the original Psycho back in 1959.

Norman’s in a Hospital For The Criminally Insane, which is fertile ground for crime and horror writers – did you have any other favourite authors or movies you returned to for inspiration? 

Nothing fictional, really, though I did turn, for both research and inspiration, to the 1967 Frederick Wiseman documentary, Titicut Follies, set in Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane in Massachusetts. If you think fictional films about early psychiatric care are shocking, the real thing as seen in this film is utterly horrifying.

If you could get your hands on another iconic crime fiction character, who would it be?

Well, I do love villains. I’ve always wanted to do something with a super-criminal along the lines of Fantomas or Dr. Mabuse, which I think would be fascinating in these times when he who controls the Internet controls the world.

How did you start writing?

A: I came to it through acting. It’s a long story, but as an actor, which I did professionally for a time, it wasn’t long before I realized that the true creators were the writers. I started writing for theatre, and then turned to fiction. I still keep my hand in as an actor by narrating audiobooks — in fact, I’ve just completed the audiobook of Psycho: Sanitarium. It’s always a delight for me to record my own work, since I know the characters will sound as I intended them to sound.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

A: Not to give up, and never to expect too much. Stay pessimistic and you’ll never be too disappointed to continue. Write for yourself and for those readers who relate to your work.  It’s a rough way to make a living, even more so now with all the competition from self-published writers on the Internet. Fortunately I’ve had a supportive wife all these years. It’s very tough to survive on your own.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Of the old masters, Joseph Conrad, for his ability to make readers see,  P. G. Wodehouse, for never failing to make me laugh, M. R. James, for his truly terrifying ghost stories, and H. P. Lovecraft, one of the most alien writers and human beings imaginable. From my childhood, Robert Bloch, whose clean style I’ve always admired and tried to emulate, and Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury, for their unfettered imaginations. Contemporary writers include Joe R. Lansdale, pound for pound the best writer in America today, and the UK’s Ramsey Campbell, a superb stylist and storyteller.

Give me some advice about writing… 

My advice is to not ever take any advice on writing. Seriously. Everyone works in different ways. Be true to your own method of working. If outlining works for you, then outline. If you’re happier just forging ahead without an idea of where you’re going and can fix things during revision, then do it.

The only books on writing I’ve ever read that were worth a damn were the American John Gardner’s trilogy, On Moral Fiction, On Becoming a Novelist, and The Art of Fiction, and Oscar Lee Brownstein’s Strategies of Drama, which is primarily for playwrights but equally valuable for fiction writers. Whatever you do, avoid books that say, “This is what you must do.” No, you mustn’t.

What’s next for you?

It’s been a full year, with the Psycho book and two collections having come out (The Night Listener and Others from England’s PS Publishing and A Little Blue Book of Bibliomancy from Borderlands Press). So after Psycho: Sanitarium is safely launched, I’m planning on doing some reading and research in preparation for a new novel. I have a thematic idea, but little else, and being that I’m an outliner, there’s work to be done!

***

Psycho: Sanitarium is published by Canelo, price £3.99 in eBook.

 

The Intel: Kate Medina

 

Kate Medina - credit Philippa GedgeKate Medina received widespread acclaim for her debut thriller, White Crocodile – written as KT Medina – set in the minefields of Cambodia. Now, with Fire Damage, Kate’s started an explosive new series featuring army psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn.

When asked to treat a severely traumatised four year old boy, Jessie has no idea that she will soon becoming embroiled in something much bigger – involving family secrets, army cover-ups and a killer on the loose.

They say write what you know, and Kate has combined her experiences in the Territorial Army as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers with the knowledge she gained studying for a degree in psychology to write the novel.

A generous and fascinating interviewee, Kate tells us about the genesis of her new portage Jessie, why she made the painful decision not to continue with the heroine of her first novel – and how a writing course may be just the ticket to help unlock the talent in all of us.

Plus, I love the way she name-checks a writer who I don’t think has been mentioned in The Intel before, but who has surely sowed the seed of inspiration at an early age in many a crime writer down the decades… Enid Blyton.

Can you tell us about Dr Jessie Flynn … ?

Dr Jessie Flynn is a twenty-nine year old clinical psychologist with the Defence Psychology Service.  Her need to understand the ‘whys’ of human behaviour drove her to become a clinical psychologist, and yet there are huge swathes of her own personality that she struggles to understand, let alone to control.

Women are often portrayed as victims in crime literature.  I wanted to create a character who reflects the huge number of strong, funny, clever, independent women that I know.  Jessie is complex and conflicted, and my new series will be written from her intense, brilliant, flawed, but moral perspective.  I hope that people remember Jessie and the issues raised through her long after they have finished reading.

Fire Damage, the first novel to feature Jessie, is set in both England and Afghanistan – tell us about it.

In Fire Damage, Dr Jessie Flynn is counselling Sami Scott, a deeply traumatised four year-old-boy, whose father, a Major in the Intelligence Corp, was badly burnt in a petrol bomb attack whilst serving in Afghanistan.  Sami is terrified of someone or something called ‘The Shadowman’ and tells Jessie Flynn that ‘the girl knows’.  However, there are no girls in Sami’s life.  Sami also carries a huge black metal Maglite torch with him wherever he goes, clutching onto it like a loved teddy bear.  Sami’s parent insist that his trauma stems from seeing his father in hospital burnt beyond recognition, and that Major Scott is ‘The Shadowman’, but Jessie feels that that something far darker explains Sami’s trauma.

Fire Damage is first and foremost a story about families: love and hate, kindness and cruelty and the destructive nature of some relationships.  The fear and helplessness experienced by a child trapped in a dysfunctional family was, for me, a very powerful emotion to explore, as was its flip side – intense love and an overwhelming desire to protect.

You did a psychology degree and served in the Territorial Army, but what other research did you have to do for the novel?

My degree in Psychology sets me in very good stead to write about a character who is herself a psychologist, so for Jessie’s professional life I needed to do very little research beyond the knowledge and experience that I already have.

Likewise, my experience as a Troop Commander in the Territorial Army and as head of land-based weapons at global defence intelligence publisher Jane’s Information Group set me up well to write about people who serve in the Army and also about the political situation in the middle-east.

The ‘star’ of Fire Damage is Sami Scott, the deeply traumatised four year-old-boy.  I have three children, the youngest of whom is a four-year-old boy and so I suppose you could say that my poor son was a living, breathing research subject for the character of Sami.  However, I can assure my readers that my son’s life is wonderful compared to Sami’s!

9780008132309What’s the biggest challenge in establishing a new series?

For me, White Crocodile, my debut thriller was hard act to follow, firstly because it was very personal to me, as it was based on time I spent working in the minefields of Cambodia, and secondly because it got universally fantastic reviews, being called variously, ‘a stunning debut’ in the Sunday Mirror, ‘an ambitious thriller’ in The Mail on Sunday, ‘a powerful, angry book’ in The Times, and being compared to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in The Independent.  The biggest challenge in establishing the Jessie Flynn series, was therefore to find characters and a subject matter that readers would enjoy even more than White Crocodile.

I knew that I wanted to write a series because, although many readers of White Crocodile wanted to see Tess Hardy again, her job as a mine clearer and the subject matter didn’t really allow for her return.  I also wanted to write a series that used my expertise – as a psychologist and my military experience – and one that was a little out of the ordinary in the crime genre.

In Jessie Flynn and the two other key characters, who appear in Fire Damage, Captain Ben Callan and Detective Inspector ‘Bobby’ Marilyn Simmons of Surrey and Sussex Major Crimes, I really believe I have developed characters who my readers will love and want to live with in many future novels.

Before writing your first novel White Crocodile you did an MA in Creative Writing – was that an experience you would recommend for wannabe writers?

Most novelists I meet are former journalists, but I had no previous writing experience beyond school essays, just a strong desire to write White Crocodile.  Writing a novel is a real challenge, not just in terms of crafting great sentences, but also in terms of developing believable, empathetic characters and sufficiently complex and surprising plots.  I found the MA enormously helpful and would definitely recommend some kind of formal writing teaching for wannabe writers, if they have as little experience as I had when starting out!  However, there are many ways to skin a cat and reading widely in the genre in which you write is a great way to learn how to write well in that genre.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

The hardest lesson I’ve learnt is to be self-aware and to take feedback from people who are more knowledgeable than myself.  Writing a novel is a huge commitment in terms of time and emotional energy and with White Crocodile I had to throw away and rewrite about a third of it on the advice of my agent.  At the time, it was heartbreaking, but the experience taught me so much about how to write a great crime novel and neither White Crocodile nor Fire Damage would be nearly so good without the very painful lessons I learnt from my agent right at the beginning of my writing career.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I have always loved to read and much of my childhood was spent immersed in stories.  Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series was one of my favourites and in common with many other tomboys I wanted to be George.  Two other books that really captured my imagination as a child were Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird.  They are both fantastic psychological thrillers for young people, with great story lines and incredibly vividly drawn, memorable characters.  I have read both of these novels a number of times over the years and never fail to appreciate them.

I am still an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I choose to write in that genre.  I love writers such as Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson, Martina Cole, Mo Hayder and Lee Child.

Mo Hayder, generates fear in a novel like no other writer I know.  Jo Nesbo’s novels, particularly my favourite which is The Snowman, are also terrifying and he is fantastic at developing very complex plots that make it impossible to put the book down.  I must have read all 500-odd pages of The Snowman in two days.  Martina Cole is gritty and realistic and Lee Child just writes enjoyable and very easily readable stories.

I also love Khaled Hosseni, because he blends fact and fiction so well, taking readers into a very traumatic real word, through incredibly empathetic fictional characters.

What’s your best advice on writing…

My best advice is to read widely, particularly in the genre that you are interested in writing in, to take advice and be self-aware and most importantly, to enjoy yourself.  Enjoyment and passion will transfer itself to the page.  I love Jessie Flynn, Sami Scott and the other characters in Fire Damage, and really enjoyed writing about them, and I think that this love and passion really makes the novel work.

What’s next for you and Jessie?

I have already completed a first draft of the second Jessie Flynn novel and sent it to my publisher, Harper Collins, so I am waiting with baited breath to see if they like it.  Jessie Flynn is a hugely compelling and multi-dimensional character, and as such is a gift to an author, and I am looking forward to developing her, Captain Ben Callan and Detective Inspector ‘Bobby’ Marilyn Simmons of Surrey and Sussex Major Crimes, in many future novels.

***

Fire Damage, the first Jessie Flynn novel, is out this Thursday — March 24th – in hardback, published by Harper Collins.

The Intel: Carol Goodman

 

CarolGoodman

Photo: Jennifer May.

You’re driving home from a party one night during a fierce snowstorm, a drink or two inside you, and – bump! – you hit something. It could be a deer – but it could be something much worse. The next morning the cops coming calling… because someone was killed in a hit-and-run in that same road last night. A nightmare scenario, right? It’s the fascinating premise to Carol Goodman’s tense new thriller, River Road.

Published by Titan Books, River Road is a gripping page-turner about grief, betrayal and paranoia in a small community. Carol is a hugely experience writer, she’s written fourteen novels across all sorts of genres, including The Seduction Of Water, which won the prestigious Hammett Prize in 2003. She’s a creative writing teacher and lives in the Hudson Valley.

So Crime Thriller Fella is thrilled that Carol has agreed to give us the intel. She gives us the lowdown on her compromised protagonist and the tragic inspiration for her novel  – and, as a writing teacher, she reveals the one piece of advice she tells all her students…

Tell us about Nan Lewis …

Nan is creative writing teacher at a college in the Hudson Valley.  She loves teaching but because she suffered a horrible tragedy in her own life she’s become emotionally removed from her own life. She’s driving home from a faculty party one night after a glass (or two) of wine and some bad news and hits a deer in the same spot where her own daughter was killed in a hit-and-run six years ago. The next morning a policeman comes to the door to tell her that one of her students was killed on the river road last night and Nan comes under suspicion for the crime.

Where did you get the inspiration for River Road?

I hit a deer! I hadn’t been drinking but I was very tired. I felt awful and I couldn’t stop reliving the feeling of that impact. Two weeks later there was a horribly tragic double hit-and-run in my community and, along with grieving for the victims and their families, I began thinking about what it would be like to be accused of such an awful crime.

What is it about unreliable protagonists that so fascinates readers?

I think it’s that other people are always a mystery to us. We never really know how far to trust the people around us, how much of what they are saying is completely true and unbiased. There are many ways of being unreliable–from outright lying to having a faulty memory to to just missing something. As a reader we have to figure out whom to trust – just like we have to in real life.

Untitled 24Why are closed communities, like college campuses, such fertile territory for crime writers?

Because they are small, enclosed circles where people get to know each other for better or worse. There are plenty of rivalries and secrets, a volatile mix of young and old, and, thrown into the mix, you’re all trying to figure out and talk about all the big questions in your classes. I also just love the architecture and mood of those old buildings on New York and New England campuses. I went to a beautiful Hudson Valley college (Vassar) and I still dream about the campus.

As a writing teacher yourself, what’s the most important piece of advice you give your students?

Just to keep writing no matter what if you really want to be a writer. You should also read a lot, learn to take criticism, find a day job that adds to your writing instead of taking away from it, but most of all, just keep doing it.

You’re the author of fourteen novels now – in different genres. What’s your process once you have the initial idea for a novel?

Fortunately for the local wildlife, they usually don’t have to start with me hitting a deer. I write down the idea in my notebook. I’ll write fragments of prose and notes until it starts to cohere enough to begin. If there’s research to be done I’ll start reading and looking things up. I’ll know that it’s a solid idea if I can’t get it out of my head.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That it takes multiple drafts to get it right. I’m inherently lazy so I’d much prefer that my first or second draft was good enough, but luckily I’ve had editors to tell me it isn’t 🙂

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

It’s a long list – from Charlotte Bronte who got snarky letters from male poets, lived through great personal hardship, and defended her right to give voice to her imagination in my favorite novel of all time, Jane Eyre, (And who penned my favorite writing quote: “The faculty of imagination lifted me when I was sinking … and it is for me a part of my religion to defend this gift and profit by its possession.”) to the contemporary British author Sarah Waters who boldly and astutely re-imagines historical periods. I love a lot of the Victorians (Hardy, Dickens, all the Brontes, Wilkie Collins). In contemporary fiction, I like Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, and the aforementioned Sarah Waters. My favorite mystery writers: Val McDermid, Laura Lippmann, Tana French, Elly Griffiths, Gillian Flynn, and Sophie Hannah. Favorite YA (just in case you wanted to know): Libba Bray, Holly Black, and Nova Ren Suma.

What’s next for you?

I have a Middle-Grade novel called THE METROPOLITANS about a bunch of kids on the eve of WWII who have to find a lost book at the Metropolitan Museum in order to save New York City coming out in Spring 2017. My next adult book is a novel about a couple who move into a house in the Hudson Valley and things sort of fall apart for them.

***

River Road by Carol Goodman is available now from Titan Books, in paperback and ebook, priced £7.99.

The Intel: Anders de la Motte

Anders de la Motte, 2013Identity and memory have long held a fascination for authors and readers alike — we can’t get enough of characters who have to discover who they are. If we’re lucky, they’re in big trouble — and Swedish author Anders de la Motte’s latest protagonist David Sarac is up to his neck in it.

Anders hit the big time with his hi-tech Game trilogy and his latest thriller MemoRandom is out just in time for Christmas. It’s a gripping thriller in which police officer Sarac wakes up from a car crash and remembers nothing, except the he’s done something unforgivable and that he needs to protect his informant Janus. Natalie Aden is the only person he trust to help him piece the clues together. But others will go to desperate lengths to get to Janus before them…

Anders de la Motte was formerly a police officer and then director of security at one of the world’s largest IT companies. The telly rights to MemoRandom have already been snapped up — by the guy who brought Homeland and 24 to the screen.

So Crime Thriller Fella is thrilled that Anders is gives us the intel on his amnesiac copper, how his own career in law-enforcement has fuelled his books, and how as an author sometimes you’ve just got to kill your darlings…

Tell us about David Sarac…

David Sarac works for the intelligence unit at the Stockholm police. His job is to recruit and handle secret informants within the criminal world, assess the information his sources provide and funnel it into other departments in the police. If you ask him what he does he would say that he is a collector of secrets. Sarac lives for his job and he is very good at it. Bribes, threats or blackmail, anything goes as long as he gets results. His only work-tool is a notebook with encrypted information that he keeps very close to his heart.

Since Sarac’s results are excellent his commanding officers conveniently look the other way and does not question his methods and his star within the police community is on the rise. His prize source is a top-secret informant code named Janus, located somewhere in the top level of the organized crime structure in Stockholm. Janus provides Sarac with extremely useful information and people on both sides of the law are very eager to find out Janus’s identity, either to use him for their own purposes or simply to eliminate him. But Sarac is very careful. He is the only person who knows Janus’s true identity, how to contact and control the reluctant informant who for obvious reasons has everything to lose.

But when Sarac suffers from a stroke in the middle of a high-speed pursuit and violently crashes his car he also loses part of his memory. And suddenly he finds himself being just one of the participators in a chase for his own secrets. A chase with a deadly outcome.

What was the inspiration for MemoRandom?

I wanted to write a dark story revolving around police-officers and criminals but lacked an interesting angle. In 2013 my father suffered from a light amnesia and initially lost a year of his life. The gap closed within a few days, first to months, and then weeks but to this day there is still one day he does not remember. As I watched his frustration in dealing with this fact, as well as the various tools he used to backtrack his steps and decrypt his own brain I got increasingly interested in how the brain processes and stores memories and why we sometimes remember things incorrectly.

From there I started thinking of a policeman losing his memory and what would be the most important and dangerous thing to forget. So I came up with David Sarac and his elusive, top-secret and quite dangerous informant code-named Janus. Sarac’s journey is actually the opposite of the tormented-cop-heading-downhill character as he starts out in a pretty bad shape but gradually recovers.

memorandomWhy are we so fascinated by characters who suffer from amnesia, or find themselves without an identity?

Everyone lives in their own little universe, our own bubble with environments we recognize, people we know and where we feel reasonably safe and in control. I think the whole idea and horror of one day waking up inside an unfamiliar bubble is something most people can relate to and be fascinated by. To your point, the amnesia theme is quite popular and therefore I’ve tried not to overexploit it. Like my father, Sarac suffers from a partial memory loss. He remembers who he is and where he lives, he has “just” lost about two years of his life. Two very important years filled with crucial information he is no longer privy to.

How has your own experience as a police officer and a director of security at a global IT company fuelled your writing?

When working in law-enforcement and private security you constantly deal with problems, mainly those created by others and that you are supposed to try to solve. Your work is dealing with things that are really not supposed to be happening. I’ve been in that business for almost 20 years and by now I have quite a bank of experience that I draw from. It could be scenarios like the “micro kidnappings” that Natalie Aden is orchestrating, events like the dead man in the snowed-over car found in the middle of Stockholm (true, I was first officer on site) or small details like how police officers (and criminals) talk, methods or equipment they use and so on. Like Sarac I have a vast net of contacts, the difference is my secret sources volunteer their help if I need it.

MemoRandom could be coming to TV as an American series – which actors do you see in you mind’s eye as Sarac and Natalie?

Wow, difficult question. Sarac is a tormented, complicated character, rather than a tough guy. Natalie is both smart and has lots of attitude. I’m open to suggestions. Tom Hardy perhaps, and why not Swedish actor Rebecca Ferguson who starred in the latest Mission Impossible?

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Sometimes you have to take out whole scenes or even characters because they slow the story down and do not add any value. Many hours of research and writing gone in just a couple of clicks… In writing this is called “kill your darlings” and sometimes that is how it feels.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I admire many authors for many different reasons. Norwegian author Jo Nesbo is always on the top of my list. He is really great at building intricate plots as well as using the tormented-cop-heading-downhill cliché without making it sound in any way like a cliché.

I also admire the fact that he writes stand-alones in different styles than his regular. This is something I would like to try, as a way to develop as a writer.

Give us some advice about writing…

Get started. 99% of all aspiring writers for various reasons never start, mainly because they think you have to have the perfect story ready in every detail first. This is not the case, your story will develop once you start typing, as will your storytelling skills. Every word you write is a small step towards reaching your goal so get started!

What’s next for you and Sarac?

UltiMatum, the sequel to MemoRandom, was released in Sweden in September and is currently being translated to English by brilliant translator Neil Smith. It was awarded the very prestigious Best Swedish Crime Fiction of the Year Award by the Swedish Crime writers association and I’m off course very happy and proud over this.

Currently I’m in New York promoting MemoRandom which is being released here at the same time as in the UK. MemoRandom has gotten some pretty spectacular pre-reviews here and I’m very eager to hear what both the American and British readers think of it.

I hope you like the book and the characters as much as I do.

***

MemoRandom is available right now in paperback and as an ebook, published by Harper Collins.

The Intel: Chris Lloyd

I’m guessing you didn’t just turn up here by mistake. Nobody comes this way, along that rickety bridge, down into the gaping ravine and then through those caves. Nobody in their right mind would make that journey, not with all the stories about what lives in the woods, not unless they’re really interested in new crime authors and new crime books. Or unless they’re deluded.

Chris LloydBut, look, now you’re here, don’t feel bad about it. We’ve got a real treat for you. Chris Lloyd is the author of the new thriller City Of Good Death. It’s the first of a new series about Catalonian detective Elisenda Domènech. who must battle sceptical colleagues and bureaucratic stonewalling to catch a killer who is prowling the myth-soaked streets of Girona.

Author Chris Lloyd lived in Catalonia for over twenty years. Now back in South Wales, he works as a Catalan and Spanish translator. A generous and fascinating interviewee, Chris gives us the intel on Elisenda, Catalonia’s turbulent past, and how, as a writer, you have to make friends with the delete button.

Tell us about Elisenda Domènech…

That’s a tough question as I’m still learning about her. Initially, she’s very straightforward and down-to-earth, but the things that have happened to her have made her tremendously complex. At first glance, she’s a middle-class, well-educated Catalan woman who loves her family, is loyal to the people she cares for, has a huge respect for her culture and traditions and longed to return to her native Girona after years in Barcelona. But when I dig deeper, I see that even with all of that, she’s rebelled in her own way against other people’s expectations of her. She was expected to have a glittering career as a lawyer, but chose instead to go against everyone’s wishes for her by joining the newly-formed Catalan police, one of the first women to enlist, at a time when most middle-class, well-educated Catalan women still had to be convinced it was the career for them. She’s irreverent and sharp-witted, a hater of hierarchy and ceremony, but so much of her nature, her innate sense of fun and enjoyment of life, is hidden under layers of grief and guilt at the death of her daughter.

How did you get the idea for City Of Good Death?

Really, it was a series of moments that found their way to each other. I was researching in the municipal archives in Girona when I came across the history of the Virgin of Good Death, a statue over one of the old gateways into the city. In medieval times, she was there to bless convicted criminals as they were led out of the city to be executed. The statue was not far from the archive, so I went straight outside to look at her and I was immediately enchanted. I couldn’t help wondering what she had witnessed over the years. The same week, in the same archive, I also discovered dozens of legends about the city I’d never heard before. One was about a face carved into a wall, which I found, and showed to a friend, someone from Girona, who’d never seen it. Those two finds pretty much sowed the seed of the idea of how easy it is to forget the stories of our own culture, and of how someone might act in an extreme way in the face of that.

All of this happened at the same time that policing was being devolved to Catalonia. Essentially, a new police force was being put in place. They knew how they wanted the police to be and were working hard at breaking with the past, but they were still finding it difficult to change history and the perceptions of their role. And they were having to learn as they went along, handling change the best they could. It just seemed the perfect counterpoint to the whole idea of change versus tradition and the rights and wrongs of them both.

You lived in Catalonia for twenty years – why is it such a good place to set a crime series?

There should be an easy answer to that, but it’s so hard to pin down. And that’s probably why it is so perfect as a setting. I think it boils down to contradictions. Once in Girona, I saw two cars parked side-by-side being loaded, one with skis and the other with an inflatable boat. The first was two hours from the Pyrenees, the second was half an hour from the beach. For me, it sums up a variety – or a contradiction – that I think you’d be hard pushed to find in many places in the world. Catalonia’s had a turbulent past, it’s known wealth and poverty, supremacy and oppression, and that breadth of experience and history distils into a character and a mood that’s so abundant in stories and that can switch from one extreme to another. On a purely practical level, it also means I can base one story in a beautiful and bustling medieval/modern city, with all the contradictions inherent in that, and the next on an isolated winter headland overlooking the Mediterranean.

City Of Good DeathWhat kind of crime fiction and authors are really popular in Spain?

It’s changed greatly over the years. Spain never really had a tradition of police procedural novels, or heroes, and that’s largely because of the way policing was seen for so long. Throughout the Franco era and for some time after, the police weren’t perceived to be there to solve crime or protect the public, but as a force for control and punishment. And I think that was reflected in what readers chose for their crime fiction. People wanted escapism. So, when I first went to live in Spain, there was a taste for cosy crime stories, a real escape from reality. Agatha Christie was hugely popular, as were the more traditional or established British crime writers, such as GK Chesterton and Conan Doyle. Probably more so than the American writers, although the greats like Chandler and Hammett were popular. Home-grown writers were few and far between, and for years Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, with his very politicised private detective Pepe Carvalho, writing against a backdrop of post-Franco changes in Barcelona and beyond, was very much a lone voice. And a sign of what was to come, I think.

But as the country’s changed, so have tastes. Spanish society and the roles in it have shifted. As the country prospered and became more confident, so readers were more open to trying new writers and new sub-genres within crime fiction. Things shifted from the cosy to the socially critical. From the tea-and-deduction type of fiction to the more hard-boiled and realistic, with modern British and American writers, along with the Nordic authors and new generations of Spanish writers. And this has deepened since the financial crisis. Now, instead of books that escape reality, we’re seeing a taste for fiction that uses it as the setting. Interestingly, we’re at the point where we’re seeing a lot of home-grown police procedural crime fiction. On the one hand, cops are steadily becoming more acceptable as heroes, and on the other, readers in Spain want stories that reflect the reality of their own country, more so at a time when there are so many problems. Crime fiction is a way of trying to understand what’s going on in tough times.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Patience. With yourself and with the process. First of all, you have to be patient with yourself: it was a shock to realise that I was never going to write a 90,000 word novel in one sitting! I’ve had to learn how to break the story down and concentrate on the bit I’m working on, then move on to the next bit and then the next bit, and keep going until I have a first draft. And you have to be patient with yourself when you have those moments where you write 2,000 words one day and delete the lot the next. You also have to learn patience with the whole process, over which you have no control. Once you send out your work, you simply have to get on with a new story. Don’t sit around waiting because everything takes a lot longer than you think it will, and you can drive yourself up the wall trying to second-guess what’s happening to your manuscript.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

For crime, I’m a great fan of the Nordic writers, especially Mons Kallentoft and Arnaldur Indridason. I love their sense of place and how that forms the character. The same holds true for my other favourites, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Philip Kerr, David Downing. They all have an extraordinary ability to create a powerful protagonist and a world that’s unique to them. I also admire writers who can break down the conventions of crime, like Malcolm Pryce with his amazing stories set in an alternative Aberystwyth, and Christopher Brookmyre, who is constantly surprising.

For non-crime, I love the exquisitely layered stories of Jonathan Coe and Robertson Davies, the intense atmosphere of Milan Kundera and Michel Faber, and the off-the-wall world of Hunter S Thompson and Tom Robbins.

Give me some advice about writing…

You have to learn to kill your babies. And to save them. That beautifully-crafted piece of prose simply might not work in your story or a character you love writing might just be getting in the way, so you have to make friends with the delete button. But before that, learn to use the paste button. I save everything I cut in files in an offcuts folder and check back from time to time in case something there gives me an idea for later on. One of the characters in City of Good Death was a development of one I cut from an earlier draft but saved in the offcuts folder. A snippet of dialogue helped form the basis of another completely different scene.

What’s next for Elisenda and her team?

They’re still reeling after the events of City of Good Death and still fighting for the survival of the unit, so Elisenda is doubly annoyed at being given a cold case, which she sees as a forerunner to their being closed down. But the case, a thirty-year-old murder that echoes an ancient Iberian form of ritual execution, proves to have repercussions today. It throws up a trade in illicit antiquities, while also revealing a past practice under Franco of destroying archaeological sites if they didn’t fit in with the official history, or simply because of economic expediency in the hotel building boom of the early tourist industry. The people who benefited from that want to protect the secrets of the past.

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City Of Good Death, published by Canelo, is available as an ebook from places like this.