Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

The Intel: Michael Kurland

Kurland-210You’re way too young to remember the Thirties — I mean, look how young and vibrant you are — but you probably know it was a hell of a time for crime fiction in the US. Think Chandler and Hammett, and Cornell Woolwich and James M. Cain. But it was also a time of glamour, of Broadway chorus girls and Jazz Clubs and the Algonquin set.

In his second Alexander Brass novel, The Girls In The High-Heeled Shoes, Michael Kurland’s newspaper columnist protag Alexander Brass and sidekick Morgan Dewitt investigate a series of disappearances in 1930s New York City.

Two-Headed Mary, the philanthropic panhandler is missing. So is Billie Trask, who disappeared from the cashier’s office of hit show Lucky Lady with the weekend take. Could either of them have followed a third Broadway babe, chorus girl Lydia Laurent — whose dead body has been found in Central Park?

Kurland is the author of more than thirty novels, but is best known for his Edgar-nominated mystery series featuring Professor Moriarty, including The Infernal Device and The Great Game. He has also edited several Sherlock Holmes anthologies and written non-fiction titles such as How to Solve a Murder: The Forensic Handbook. He lives in Petaluma, California.

In this intel interview, Kurland discusses the writers who influenced him to write a series set in the Thirties and the hardest lesson he learned about writing…

The Girl In The High-Heeled Shoes sounds like it would make a great Broadway show – what was the inspiration for it?

Well, Alexander Brass was already an established character with the first book, Too Soon Dead, and I liked him, so I wanted to see what other adventures he would share with me. The character Two-Headed Mary is based on a real con-woman of the same name. As for the title, it comes from a 1930s toast my mother told me:

‘Here’s to the girls in the high-helped shoes
Who eat our dinners and drink our booze
And hug and kiss us until we smother –
And then go home to sleep with mother!’

What made you want to write a series set in the 1930s?

The period always seemed both glamorous and innocent to me. And it was full of the most amazing people.

It was a turbulent time, full of glamour and gangsters – how influenced were you by the classic movies and novels of the period?

I think my image of the 30s was developed by the mystery novels of Sayers, Stout, Hammett and Chandler certainly, along with Tiffany Thayer, Robert Benchley, Leslie Charteris, and a lot of early science fiction. As for movies, perhaps the Marx Brothers movies and such films as Boy Meets Girl, My Man Godfrey, Casablanca, M, The Thin Man and its sequels, The 39 Steps, and anything Fred Astaire did.

HighHeelIf you could meet one iconic figure from the 1930s who would it be?

Just one? I would have to roll the dice to pick among George Gershwin, Oscar Levant, Dorothy Parker, Dashiell Hammett, James Thurber, Dorothy Sayers, Robert Benchley, Groucho Marx, Winston Churchill, Gypsy Rose Lee, Rex Stout, and Eleanor Roosevelt. With three dice I could extend the list. Certainly Eleanor’s husband would be fun to chat with.

You’ve written more than thirty novels, including your acclaimed Professor Moriarty series, and you teach mystery writing – what’s the one piece of advice to anybody who wants to write?

Set aside a time to write each day, sit down and don’t do anything else for that period of time, even if the writing doesn’t come. And read my book, “It’s a Mystery to Me” (plug).

How did you start writing?

When I was 12 years old I told my mother I was going to be a writer. I think I was reading Benchley at the time, along with Alexandre Dumas. Then when I got out of the Army I moved to Greenwich Village and fell in with a bad lot – Don Westlake, Randall Garrett, Harlan Ellison, Phil Klass (William Tenn), Terry Southern, full-time writers all. And they made it seem, if not easy, at least possible.

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

That it never gets any easier. When someone asked Raymond Chandler how he wrote, he said he rolled a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter and stared at it until the blood formed on his forehead. Well, now I use a computer but aside from that I agree.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I’ll stick to defunct ones, so I don’t insult any friends. Mark Twain, because he was brilliant, wrote without clutter, fought the prejudices of his day, and, most difficult of all, was funny. Alexandre Dumas, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers and Don Westlake for creating characters I would like to meet. Poul Anderson and Jack Vance, for creating worlds I would like to visit. Philip MacDonald, Agatha Christie, and Dashiell Hammett for telling wonderful stories. Phil Klass, Joe Gores, and Richard Condon for making the most difficult job I know look so easy.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a pre-WWII political spy novel tentatively called The Bells Of Hell, as as getting started on the third Alexander Brass: Death Of A Dancer.

***

The Alexander Brass Mystery The Girls In The High-Heeled Shows is available in paperback and ebook, published by Titan Books.

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The Intel: Felix Francis

Felix Francis

(c) Debbie Francis

Penning thrillers has been a family business for Felix Francis. His father, of course, was Dick Francis, the former jockey who produced bestseller after bestseller set in the world of horse racing. Felix grew up listening at the breakfast table while his mother and father discussed the best way to kill a man, and has carried on Dick’s writing legacy. Front Runner is Felix’s tenth novel, and the 51st Dick Francis thriller, and it sees the return of his hero Jeff Hinkley.

We’re delighted that Felix has agreed to give us the intel on Front Runner, how he came to follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps and how technology has changed the way he approaches his horse racing thrillers…

Tell us about Front Runner…

Front runner is my tenth novel and sees the return of Jeff Hinkley, investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, who first appeared in Damage. As always, the story is set against the backdrop of horse racing but there is far more to it than that. My readers don’t need to know anything about racing in order to read and enjoy it, although they might learn a bit on the journey. It is a novel of mystery and intrigue with some unexpected surprises. Jeff is approached by the multi-time champion jockey, Dave Swinton, to discuss the delicate matter of losing races on purpose. Little does Jeff realise that the call will result in an attempt on his life, locked in a sauna with the temperature well above boiling point. Dave Swinton is then found dead, burnt beyond recognition in his car at a deserted beauty spot. The police think it’s a suicide but Jeff is not so sure. He starts to investigate the possible races that Swinton could have intentionally lost but soon discovers that others are out to prevent him from doing so, at any cost.

Your undercover investigator Jeff Hinkley was introduced in your last book, Damage – how would you describe him?

Organised, loyal, courageous. Jeff is ex-military. He was an officer in the Intelligence Corps. He served several tours of duty in Afghanistan and is not phased by situations of intense danger when he has to rely solely on his wits to extricate himself from trouble. In Front Runner, Jeff’s long-term girlfriend has left him and he is hurt and angered by her betrayal. As such, he shows a vulnerable side to his character not normally obvious in his day job.

Horse racing is still a hugely popular spectator sport, but like many sports it’s having to adapt to modern times – does that offer new opportunities for you as a writer? 

In many ways it reduces opportunities as I find it increasingly difficult to think up story lines about wrongdoing as the authorities continue to close any loophole I might find. Modern technology has made detection so much easier and more reliable. No longer can one write a “traditional” story about simply drugging a horse or switching one horse for another as drug testing and electronic chip identification methods would mean instant discovery. The routine DNA testing for parentage, dope-testing and digital scanning of horses may make racing much more honest but it doesn’t help me work out new plots!

Maybe that is why so many crime novel writers are setting their books in the past when forensic science was less restrictive to their stories. The age old Agatha Christie model of twelve people (including Hercule Poirot) staying in a remote house, where one of them gets murdered and Poirot then solves the clues, would soon unravel as a lengthy story if DNA testing had been available. It would be over before it had started. I choose to write in the ‘here and now’ so I adapt and cope with the technology, but it doesn’t make things simple.

Front runnerYou were a physics teacher and a crack marksman before you started collaborating with your father on the Francis thrillers – at what age did you realise you wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps? 

I didn’t actually decide to follow in my father’s footsteps. It was all a bit of an accident. My father’s literary agent approached me and said that, after five years of no new Dick Francis novel, people were forgetting and my father’s backlist would soon go out of print. What was needed was a new novel to stimulate interest. By this time my father was 85 and my mother, who had worked closely with my father on the novels, had died.

I told the agent that there was no chance of a new novel. He then asked if I, as my father’s manager, would give my permission for him to approach an established and well known crime writer to write a new ‘Dick Francis novel‘. I replied that, before he asked anyone else, I would like to have a go. “Write two chapters,” the agent said. “And then we’ll see.” I suspect he thought that he would then get my permission to ask the established writer. I wrote the two chapters and, as they say, the rest is history. The agent told me to get on and finish the book, and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since.

You’ve said that discussions around the Francis breakfast table could be pretty gruesome – give us an example!

My parents very much wrote the books together and they would discuss details of the plot not only at the breakfast table but also everywhere else, especially in the car. My brother and I would try to join in. How much explosive was needed to blow up an aeroplane? How can you make a hot-water boiler explode? How long could Sid Halley survive with a bullet in his guts with his blood dripping through a crack in the linoleum floor? How much force was needed to cave-in a man’s skull with a glass paperweight? Lovely stuff.

Front Runner is your 10th thriller, and the 51st Dick Francis thriller – reading them, anybody would think that horse racing is awash with crime and murder. How have the horse racing authorities reacted over the years to the Francis thrillers?

My father always used to say that there was far more skullduggery in his books than there was in real life, but people often like to think there is some question mark over racing. If a gambler backs a horse that then wins, it was the horse’s doing. But, if it loses, the gambler is apt to believe that the jockey was at fault, maybe he even ‘stopped’ it winning on purpose even though that is most unlikely to be the case. Both my father’s and my books have always received a warm welcome from the racing authorities. I believe this is because, even though we do tend to concentrate on the darker side, the books overall are very positive about racing in general. My father was inaugurated into the Cheltenham Racing Hall of Fame not for being a champion jockey, but for introducing more people worldwide to British racing through his books than anyone else.

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

It’s not glamorous, it’s hard work and deadlines are very unforgiving.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

My father, obviously. As a teenager, I also loved books by Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley, wonderfully exciting stories that kept you turning the pages to discover what happened. More recently, I enjoy reading Peter James, Harlan Coben and Michael Dobbs. Sadly, when I’m actually writing, I find it difficult to read others. I am too immersed in the story that I am trying to create.

Give me some advice about writing…

Make your readers care. If they don’t care about the characters, like or dislike, then they won’t read the book. How often have you started a novel and then given up? It is because you didn’t care what happened to the characters so you didn’t bother to find out.

What’s next for you?

Book number 11. It is already under way and my deadline is next February, ready for a September 2016 publication.

***

Front Runner by Felix Francis is published by Michael Joseph, priced at £18.99 in hardback.

The Intel: Jo Spain

Jo SpainWith Our Blessing, Jo Spain’s debut crime novel featuring Irish Inspector tom Reynolds, is a book ripped straight from shocking headlines. It’s set against a background of the infamous Irish Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes where young mothers were subject to physical and mental abuse.

Jo has worked as a journalist and a party advisor on the economy in the Irish parliament, and as vice-chair of the business body InterTrade Ireland. With Our Blessing is her first novel and was one of seven books shortlisted in the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition 2015. She lives in Dublin with her husband and their four young children.

A generous interviewee, Jo gives us the intel on her debut novel – and how her research into the topic also revealed an astonishing family secret.  And she’s got some really interesting things to say about her own writing process – so dig in and enjoy!

How would you describe Inspector Tom Reynolds?

Tom is a gentleman – relaxed, smart, witty. He likes to indulge in the odd cigar and a nice glass of red, or pale ale. Tom married his college sweetheart and they have one daughter, who they both adore. Unlike many fictional detectives, Tom’s family life works well, but he is struggling to get his head around his only child growing up in With Our Blessing.

Tom’s approach to an investigation is to have a strong team around him and play to their strengths. He’s not threatened by the abilities of his subordinates and he’s happy with where he has reached in his career. He doesn’t want to go further up the ladder, he takes pleasure in solving the puzzles his cases throw up. His strength as a detective is his insight into human behaviour. He interacts well with people, engaging them with an intelligence and kindness they don’t always expect from the police.

Most importantly, Tom has a sense of humour which hasn’t diminished despite his job being oft times harrowing. He still sees the good in the world.

The idea from With Our Blessing came from your own family roots – what was the inspiration?

It’s actually the other way round – when I was researching With Our Blessing, it inspired me to look into my family history and I discovered some astonishing facts. I’d always known my late Dad was adopted, but when looking into the history of mother & baby homes for With Our Blessing, it occured to me that, having been born in 1951, he must have been adopted from such a place. It took painstaking work, but I eventually discovered that his mother had given birth to him in 1951 in Dublin but refused to allow the nuns to take him for adoption. That was incredibly strong of her and virtually unheard of for the time.

She took him out of the home in 1953, but in 1955, alone and most likely destitute, she brought him back and reluctantly gave him up. He was adopted in 1955, age 4. My dad knew none of this and lived a tragic life, always feeling that he’d been abandoned. He died in a fire in 1995, aged 44.

The novel is set against the background of the notorious Irish Magdalene Laundries – what happened there?

I should point out that while the Laundries were fairly prolific in Ireland, they’re not a particularly Irish phenomenon and also not unique to Catholicism. Across the world, there are examples of homes for unwanted or ‘wanton’ women. The Magdalene Laundries seemed to begin as charitable refuges. At some point, that changed and the women and girls held in them were made to work for their bed and meals, even though the State afforded stipends to the institutions for the women there. I don’t have enough word space to go into the history of the Laundries.

Suffice to say, the testimonies of the women who went through them speak of imprisonment, back-breaking manual labour to make profit for the religious orders, physical and mental abuse, torture and hunger. Not in every case, but in most. I recommend the Channel Four documentary Sex in a Cold Climate as a starting point for further information.

With Our BlessingHow has Ireland come to terms with the recent shocking revelations about mother and baby homes?

There’s a part in With Our Blessing where Tom is engaged in a very telling conversation with an elderly nun. She points out that while society holds its hands up and expresses shock at revelations about religious institutions, the same society was responsible for sending their daughters/sisters to those places. As she says, nobody wanted to see a single mother pushing a pram around, evidence of her sin. One of Tom’s detectives points out that society was conditioned by the Church to believe certain things. There’s some truth in that, but there have always been superstitions and stigmas about women, especially single, pregnant women.

Irish people did spend a long time under the cosh of the Church and much of that has faded. What hasn’t faded to the same extent is a particularly Irish trait of not washing your dirty linen in public – keeping family secrets, secret. It has been very empowering for the women who’ve come forward and told the truth about the homes and the sheer emotion of their experiences has forced larger society and the State to recognise the issue and address the legacy.

But that doesn’t mean all people have come to terms with it. There are many elderly people who would dispute the women’s stories and the religious orders deny them. The State has set up an investigation and is moving to give adopted people rights, but the process is shockingly slow and far behind Britain.

There is a general acceptance, though, that thousands of women were forced to give up their children in mother and baby homes, often in illegal adoption situations, and that babies were even sold from such institutions.

With Our Blessing was shortlisted for the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition – what kind of platform did that provide for you as a writer?

It got me a book deal! I’d just finished my first draft of the book when I saw the competition advertised, with a few days to go before the closing date. I entered because it was free and then forgot about it, because it seemed like such a prestigious thing and I hadn’t even edited my submission. When I found out I’d been shortlisted, I knew life was going to change because even that was going to look pretty good in my ‘please publish me’ letter.

My youngest was 12 days old when I got the email saying that while I hadn’t won, Quercus were interested in talking to me about the book and taking it further. A couple of weeks later, they came back with the offer of a two-book deal. I couldn’t scream down the phone because I was holding the baby, but I was yelling inside with happiness. I figured I’d a good five years or more of rejection slips ahead of me, so it was overwhelming.

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

I guess that a publishing deal doesn’t equate to you becoming a full-time writer, which is what I imagine most writers aspire to. Maybe one day, but right now, I have two full-time jobs and I write on top of them, along with minding four small children. The six-figure deals that make the headlines are the exception, not the rule. Writing is my dream but it takes a while before it can also become your living and that makes it tough.

Who are the authors you admire and why?

I’m currently obsessed with Tom Rob Smith. I can’t believe I missed Child 44 when it came out – I read it recently and it blew my socks off. It wasn’t just that it’s a great thriller and page turner. It’s beautifully written and the time period is fascinating.

I do tend to veer towards crime books mostly, but I like them best when they’re well written – when it’s not just a plot-focused book or fast-paced action. I love Fred Vargas for her wit and unique style. I love Louise Penny’s Gamache series because I want to spend time with her characters. I love Jo Nesbo because the first time I read The Snowman it sent shivers down my spine. For British authors, it has to be Agatha Christie (who made me want to be a crime writer), Ann Cleeves (for the beauty of her settings and observations about life) and Colin Dexter (because Morse is just so clever).

I could go on and on here… I speed read and have been known to do a book in a day, so there are a lot of authors I love!

Give me some advice about writing.

Plan your novel in advance. Sit down and write it from start to finish, don’t dither going back over sections. Edit it diligently yourself. Then allow yourself to be edited. My husband (a former editor) edits my books before I send them into Quercus and after going through the process twice, I can hand on heart say our marriage could now survive anything. Respect people’s trades. You’re a writer; he or she is the editor.

Hand it over to a couple of good friends (choose these people very carefully) and ask them for honest, constructive criticism. Some people are deliberate ego-crushers, others are just idiots – watch out for them and don’t trust them with your baby. And prepare yourself for subjectivity. Remember that you don’t like every book you read, sometimes even books that sell off the shelves.

What’s next for you?

Aside from world domination? Ha!

I’m at the final edit stage of book two, preparing to send it into Quercus. I’m on my hols as I write and I’ve just done the plot outline for book three, which has me very excited.

I’m hoping my debut will be well received. It’s utterly nerve-wracking sending your hopes and dreams out to the world to be judged. I’d like people who love it to shower me with praise and those who don’t, well, if they could just keep that to themselves…

***

With Our Blessing by Jo Spain is out now in original paperback, priced at £12.99.

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.

***

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

The Intel: Emma Kavanagh

Emma KavanaghWe’re inviting Emma Kavanagh to come inside and take the  weight of her weary plates. Emma’s just completed a punishing book tour, which has taken her down the many of the avenues and alleyways of the internet. My goodness, many a search engine has strained under the effort of keeping up with Emma’s epic month-long tour of top bloggers.

But, of course, she’s saved the best till last — because her final stop is right here at Crime Thriller Fella. Emma’s giving us the intel on her latest novel,

Hidden, published by Century, is the story of what happens when a gunman begins stalking the wards of a hospital, and the people who are subsequently swept up in the shocking event. They say write what you know. Well, Emma spent seven years working as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, command staff and military personnel, throughout the UK and Europe, to deal with the most extreme situations. That’s the kind of expertise that other crime writers would, er, kill for.

Emma is a generous and engaging interviewee. She tells us about Hidden, about the psychology of firearms policing — how a split-second decision can change lives forever — and, of course, about the all-important business of writing…

Tell us about Hidden…

Hidden opens with a mass shooting, a barbaric, unthinkable act. Charlie, a reporter on the local paper, witnesses the atrocity and is left reeling. But who is the shooter? And what could possibly lead someone to do something so heinous? Hidden attempts to consider those questions by following the events that lead up to the shooting and, as the story unfolds, we start to see how even innocent actions can have repercussions.

 What was the inspiration for the novel?

I am fascinated by psychology as a whole and by criminal psychology in particular. When we see an event like this on the news, it is so easy to dismiss the perpetrator as a monster or some kind of aberration. I wanted to explore that in more depth.

How did your own experience as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, influence the story?

This world of firearms policing was, for a long time, my world. That made the routine aspects of the characters’ roles easier for me to capture, but it also pushed me to consider how these kinds of events would have impacted on them.

HiddenWhat kind of anxieties do firearms officers face on a day-to-day basis?

Firearms policing is often described as a ‘hurry-up-and-wait’ kind of job. Officers are trained to respond to life threatening incidents. But the reality of it is that in the UK it is extremely rare for a firearms officer to fire their weapon outside of the training environment. Whilst this is a great thing societally, it does mean that when it does happen there is a tremendous shock component for the officer to deal with.

It is also true to say that you simply never know, so every call that comes in could be ‘that call’ in which you will be forced to fire your weapon to save yourself, another officer, a member of the public. In that moment, your life will change forever. Every decision you made will be dissected, you will face a withdrawal from firearms duties, and, if you made any kind of error in judgement, you could face public opprobrium or even a criminal prosecution.

What was your journey to publication?

I wrote a book. It wasn’t very good. But it was a book. Then I wrote another book. It was… better. It got me my awesomely incredible agent, but still publication remained out of reach. Then, I wrote a third. That book was Falling and, thank goodness, it was picked up by the brilliant Jenny Geras at Arrow. Which, quite frankly, is testament to the fact that the most important quality in a writer is persistence.

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

Some people will hate what you write. And that’s okay. I mean, I don’t like everything that has ever been written and have even loathed things that people close to me have loved. It’s what keeps publishing interesting. But it did make me realise that spending time reading my reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads is generally a shockingly bad idea.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Agatha Christie, because the woman was a plotting genius! Kate Atkinson, because she is an exquisite writer and because she has so effectively moved from genre to genre. And Terry Pratchett, because his world building and humour is second to none.

Give me some advice about writing…

Write what you love. It is a tremendously tough industry and it requires a great deal of tenacity to succeed. If you are loving the day to day act of writing, it can help you survive the fight.

What’s next for you?

I am currently working on book three, another standalone psychological thriller with the working title of The Missing Hours. It is set in the world of kidnap and ransom and has necessitated some really, really interesting research! I also have book four simmering quietly in the back of my head where it has been sent until I have time to deal with it.

The Intel: Sinéad Crowley

Sinead CrowleyEarlier in the week we reviewed Sinéad Crowley’s chilling tale about what happens when — sleep-deprived and vulnerable — you place your trust in the hands of an anonymous person on the internet. Can Anybody Help Me? has generated a lot of buzz since it was published last year, and Sinéad’s growing legion of fans await with anticipation the next novel to feature her feisty, no-nonsense heroine Claire Boyle.

In the meantime, we’re delighted to say that Sinéad — the Arts and Media Correspondent for RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster — has kindly agreed to  give us the intel on the inspiration for her debut novel, online dangers, and waiting for the ‘Big Idea’…

Where did you get the inspiration for Can Anybody Help Me?

Online! When I was pregnant, and then on maternity leave with my first child in 2009 I became a frequent user of parenting forums. One day I recognised another poster from the ‘real world’ and it made me conscious of just how much information these women were sharing, all thinking they were completely anonymous. I started to wonder what would happen if one forum user recognised another user online and didn’t wish them well. . .

How would you describe Claire Boyle to a new reader?

Clever, driven, pregnant and cranky! She’s a very ambitious Detective Sergeant who is working on her first murder investigation and doesn’t want to let the fact that she’s six months pregnant interfere with that. Even when her body starts to slow her down, her mind is still racing ahead to solve the crime. She’s great fun to write.

Why do you think we are so ready to reach out to a total stranger on the internet? 

These days, no matter what problem we have or question we want answered, we Google it. Women who are pregnant for the first time, or are first time parents have a million questions and sometimes they don’t want to bother their nearest and dearest with them, or are embarrassed to do so. So it makes total sense to talk to a stranger who you think might have the exact answer you need, or who you feel won’t judge you. That’s not a bad thing, by the way!

I communicated with several really interesting women online when I had my first baby and had some great chats, discussions and debates. You just have to be sensible about it, don’t take medical advice from a total stranger and don’t say or do anything online that you wouldn’t be happy to say or do in the real world.  And be careful when somebody who you only know online wants to meet in real life! That’s not always a bad thing either, of course it isn’t. But you have to take certain precautions.

Can Anybody Help Me?The novel is partly set in the Dublin media world – did you draw on your colleagues for any inspiration for the characters?

No, I didn’t. One of my main characters, Yvonne, the new mother, has a husband who works in the media. I needed her to feel very isolated and lonely, so I needed him to have a job that kept him out of the house for hours, and busy and preoccupied even when he was at home. It made sense to give him a job in the media because I knew I’d be able to write that accurately. It also added a bit of glamour to the book as I could add in a night at a TV awards show.

But I very deliberately didn’t base the characters on anyone in real life and I even invented an entirely new Irish television station to avoid confusion. My second book also has a journalist in it but he also works for Ireland 24, a totally made up station.

You set yourself the task of writing a novel before your 40th birthday – why put such pressure on yourself?

I started my first novel when I was 7! I got a typewriter for my birthday and sat down and immediately typed the words ‘Chapter 1’. So the goal was always there. I also wrote a novel in my late 20s, it wasn’t published but at least it proved I could finish a substantial piece of work. The main problem with that book was that it didn’t have a strong enough hook, and it wasn’t until I started using the parenting websites six or seven years later that I got that ‘Big Idea’ that I needed. So I just said, right, you’re in your late 30s, this has always been the dream. Throw everything at it now, give yourself a deadline and, if it doesn’t work out then at least you know you tried your best. I’m a journalist, I work best to deadlines.

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

The idea is the easy bit! I have lots of ideas floating around for books, but sitting down and writing them is a totally different matter. It’s like running a marathon, one step at a time. Don’t think of the 26 miles, just the end of the next page.

How do you deal with feedback?

There was a lot of work to be done on my first draft but I really enjoyed working with my editor. It definitely helped that I’m a journalist because I’m using to other people having an input into my work. It also helped that I got on very well with my editor. So I think I’m okay with feedback, actually!

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Oh, so many! In the crime genre – Erin Kelly, Jane Casey, Val McDermid, Adrian McKinty to name a very few. I loved Robert Galbraith’s “The Silkworm” and Clare Mackintosh wrote one of my favourite recent debuts, “I Let You Go.” What they all have in common is the ability to combine a great plot with the story behind the crime, and they all write really believable and interesting characters. I want to hear about the investigator’s life after he or she leaves the office for the day. Having said that I love Agatha Christie too for pure plot heaven

Outside the crime genre I read widely. I don’t like to discriminate between ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’ fiction – you can get excellent books (and some dodgy ones) in every genre

Give me some advice about writing…

Make time for it. It can feel very self indulgent, especially if you have a family or a busy life to close the door on the world and spend time writing fiction. But think of it as time for yourself. If you wanted to run a marathon nobody would blink if you told them you were getting up at 5am to train or that you were giving up your Sunday afternoons to do long runs. Treat writing the same way, time for yourself, time to do something you really want to do. Even if you have to work late into the night or get up at 5am. It’s worth it.

What’s next for you?

There will be a minimum of three books in the Claire Boyle series, book 2 is with the editor and I’ve just started book 3. So all going well there will be three books in the series initially and then I think I’d like to write something else. But I may well return to Claire after that – she’s a great character to work with.

The Intel: Hemmie Martin

Hemmie MartinHemmie Martin spent has been a Community Nurse for people with learning disabilities, a Family Planning Nurse, and a Forensic Nurse working with young offenders — she’s now a novelist with four books under her belt.

The latest, Rightful Owner, was published this month by Winter Goose Publishing — just in time for Christmas! It’s the second in her crime series featuring her copper protags DI Eva Wednesday and DS Jacob Lennox, and features a murder at an exclusive swingers club!

Hemmie gives us The Intel about mind maps, mango chunks, getting caught slap-bang in the middle of a prison lockdown — and, of course, her writing process!

Tell us about Rightful Owner…

Rightful Owner is the second novel in the DI Wednesday series. The crime takes place in a swinger’s club, when one of the members is found dead. The victim’s rather an enigma to most of the group, so Wednesday and Lennox need to work hard to discover clues and a motive. Wednesday’s personal life continues to be embroiled with her mother’s mental health issues, and Lennox’s personal life takes a nose dive, thanks to his teenage son.

The book is set among an exclusive swinger’s club – how does one go about researching such a setting?!

Wouldn’t it be exciting if the answer was I joined such a club with my husband, and used every experience in my novel? Alas (or perhaps not), neither myself nor my husband have been members of such a club. However, I’ve always had a fascination for the sexual underworld, and over the years have watched any programme exploring scenes such as S&M clubs in America, to dogging in Epping Forest. I don’t want to mock the individuals, but try and understand that world from their point of view, this way, I hope I can write about realistic characters with different backgrounds.

How would you describe your protagonists, DI Eva Wednesday and DS Jacob Lennox?

Eva Wednesday is thirty-seven, and lives in a three bedroom detached Georgian property on the outskirts of Cambridge. She leans towards being passive aggressive, and can appear aloof to colleagues, but only because she likes to keep her personal life private, for good reasons. She is fragile and sensitive, but tries to keeps those traits well hidden. Eva’s method of working is organic, and being aware of her gut feelings, whereas Jacob Lennox works in a regimented and meticulous manner; their partnership works well.

Jacob is thirty-nine, and lives in a bedsit following his divorce. He is handsome, and knows it. He’s a natural flirt around the station, causing fluttering hearts amongst the officers. However, his self-assurance can come across as being arrogant. His personal life is in tatters, and the path is teenage son causes him embarrassment. Jacob is hedonistic, which sometimes jars with those around him.

Rightful OwnerHow do you go about researching your DI Wednesday novels?

I worked as a forensic nurse in a Youth Offending Team. My experiences of visiting prisons, police cells and courts, add some (I hope) realism to my novels. I remember vividly the pressure of the job, the claustrophobic feeling of the cells, and the general malaise clinging to the atmosphere in the prisons. I was visiting an offender once, when the prison alarm rang. A fight had broken out, and lock-down was being enforced. Although I was completely safe, adrenaline riddled by body. I also remember taking a group of male adolescents to a male adult prison, with the idea of dissuading them from a life of crime. Walking within the grounds, men were hurling obscenities at myself and my female colleague, which was an uncomfortable experience.

I now liaise with a DI in the major crime unit in the Metropolitan force, who answers my questions with regards to procedures and crime. I reserve the right to use artistic licence, however, as sometimes the police procedure is too long and complex for the purpose of the story.

I am due to attend jury service in the near future, which I hope will add another dimension to my writing.

I have a plethora of books on policing, forensics, poisoning, true crime, and criminal psychology, to name but a few.

Take us through a typical writing day for you…

I’m afraid that to aid my concentration when writing, I drink coffee, eat mango chunks, and chewy sweets (Drumstick Squashies, to be precise for those who are curious to know). I like to write in my chair in the lounge if the house is quiet enough, otherwise I sit on my bed and spread my mind-map across the top of it. I sometimes listen to music, depending on the scenes I’m writing. I like to listen to classical music which I find less distracting, but if I’m writing aggressive scenes, I enjoy bands such as Green Day or Guns ‘N Roses.

I work three days a week, then divide the rest of my time between writing, running a family household, and going to watch bands in local pubs. I write better in the afternoons, after I’ve completed my chores; I hate to write amongst clutter.

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

That I’m never satisfied with my writing. I edit at least four or five times prior to sending it to my Editor at Winter Goose Publishing. We then do a couple of edits together, but even as I do the last read-through, I constantly see sentences and words I wish to refine and change, but my Editor stands firm! After my first novel, The Divine Pumpkin, was published, I opened the paperback and glanced at a random chapter. Straight away I saw a sentence that displeased me, so I’ve never opened any of my published novels since, although a copy of each are on a bookshelf.

How do you deal with feedback?

I do read reviews, as any feedback which could help me improve my writing or stories, is most welcome. I always ‘like’ the review on the site, whether that be Amazon or Goodreads. Once, on the latter, a woman gave me three stars for Attic of the Mind, the book she won via a giveaway. After ‘liking’ her review, she moved the rating down to two stars. I wasn’t sure whether she was wanting to engage me in a debate about her thoughts, but I would never comment on a review, even if I’m intrigued by it, as reading a book is an individual experience, and it wouldn’t be professional for me to engage negatively with a reader.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

The first authors who grabbed my attention as a teenager were Anita Brookner and Vera Brittain. The latter wrote Testament Of Youth, and living near Buxton, where Brittain once lived, the book shaped my adolescence in part. Although it was an autobiography of a young woman facing war, I related to her. Brookner wrote wonderful fiction focusing on people and relationships, something I enjoy writing about myself, perhaps influenced by Brookner.

I, of course, enjoy reading crime fiction. I’m fond of Agatha Christie, P.D. James and Ian Rankin, as they all write in a way that draws the reader in. Rebus, is a genius of a character created by Rankin, and Christie depicted quintessential England with finely penned characters.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read extensively, but don’t imitate other authors. Find your own voice by writing and rewriting. When reading your work, read it out loud, and see how it sounds. Is the speech believable? Do the sentences run easily off the tongue? Vary the length of your sentences to keep the writing alive. Write what you enjoy, even if you need to research it; if you’re enjoying the story, hopefully the reader will too. If you’re bored, chances are the reader will be too. Lastly, I would say, enjoy the process of writing and creating a story. Enjoy!

What’s next for you?

The third DI Wednesday novel, ‘Shadows in the Mind’, comes out in May 2015. The crime in this story takes place in a psychiatric unit. Then in June 2015, a contemporary novel, Garlic & Gauloises, is released. This story takes place mainly in France, in a writing retreat. I like to write both crime and contemporary fiction to keep my mind and writing fresh.

I already have a contract with the publisher for the fourth DI Wednesday novel, What Happens After, which takes place in a hotel, where the guest are all attending a divorce workshop.