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I’m Outside Your House.

9780751563252Hands up who’s ever found themselves staring into a stranger’s house late at night?

You’re strolling along the street, say, minding your own business – taking the dog for a walk, or on your way home – and your attention is caught by soft lamplight coming from inside a home. The curtains are open so you can see right inside, you see everything. You slow. The dog may helpfully stop to sniff something on the pavement, giving you the excuse to stop in front of the house.

Your eyes drink in all the details of someone else’s life. The flowers in a vase on the dining table, the photos on the mantelpiece of friends and family. The room is filled with knick-knacks accumulated over a lifetime. There may be a flickering fire and a comfortable armchair with a paperback laying open on the arm. You can’t help but wonder who lives there, and what it must be like to be them. You want to know how it feels to relax in that cosy armchair, feel its worn fabric beneath your fingertips, in front of that crackling fire.

If you’re unlucky, you might get busted. Someone will walk into the room, or appear suddenly behind the curtain, silhouetted in the light behind them, to glare at you for staring into their house. They’ll pull the curtains shut to hide their personal space from your prying eyes.

Have you ever done that, stood outside a stranger’s house staring in…

Oh. Only me, then.

It’s like that one time. I was house-hunting – this was years ago – and for some reason the only time I could view a particular property was late one winter’s night. I remember standing alone in a stranger’s bedroom, surrounded by all their personal things, their bedclothes folded neatly on the duvet, all their cosmetics neatly arranged on a dressing table, a full moon shining in the window, and I had a weird sense of dislocation. For a moment, I felt like I already lived there, that it was my room – in my home.

Oh dear. I’m not coming out of this very well, am I?

Point is, it’s those fleeting moments, those tantalising glimpses into the personal space of other people, that inspired my second novel, It Was Her.

I wanted to write about a cuckoo in the nest. Someone who slips into other people’s houses when they’re empty, like a modern-day Goldilocks. To take a bath, watch a bit of telly, eat the lovely food in the kitchen cupboards, curl up in bed. I wondered what would make them do such a thing? Perhaps they need to go into other people’s houses because their own happy home was once taken from them. And, of course, I wanted to discover how such a creepy obsession can lead to murder.

And the more I thought about it, the more it was obvious that it was exactly the kind of fucked-up investigation that my enigmatic detectives Ray Drake and Flick Crowley would get their teeth into. So that’s It Was Herin a nutshell.

But, anyway, if you ever see some guy staring in the front window of your house looking in, don’t worry, it’s probably just me taking the dog for a walk.

Except I don’t have a dog.

*It Was Her is available to buy here and at all good bookshops.*

 

 

 

 

 

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It Was Her is out now!

9780751563252

My second thriller It Was Her is available in ebook, paperback as an audio download – and right now the ebook is just £1.99 in the UK and $2.70 in the US. The second in the acclaimed Drake and Crowley series, it’s the troubled tale of a young woman who just wants to go home…

‘Twenty years ago, Tatia was adopted into a well-off home where she seemed happy, settled. Then the youngest boy in the family dies in an accident – and she gets the blame.

Tatia is cast out, away from her remaining adopted siblings Joel and Poppy. Now she yearns for a home to call her own. So when she see families going on holiday, leaving their beautiful homes empty, there seems no harm in living their lives while they are gone.

But somehow, people keep ending up dead. DI Ray Drake and DS Flick Crowley race to find the thinnest of links between the victims. But Drake’s secret past is threatening to destroy everything.’

I’m hugely excited about this new book and I really want to know what you think, so if you’re planning on reading it – of course you are! – please do read a review on Amazon or Goodreads. It really does help to introduce the book to new readers and, of course, it helps me make the next one even better!

It Was Her is available from AmazoniTunesGoogle Play and Kobo.

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.