Tag Archives: Ann Cleeves

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: S.G. MacLean

S.G. MacLean

Photo: Jerry Bauer

And we’re back. Because we can’t keep away. Not really. Because we love hearing what crime authors have to say. Especially when they’re award winners!

S.G. MacLean has just won the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger for the first in her series about a man who makes Ross Poldark and his scythe look like Charles Hawtrey, the manly and ruthless Damian Seeker.

The Seeker, published by Quercus, is set in Oliver Cromwell’s London of 1654. Cromwell is at the height of his power and has declared himself Lord Protector. Yet he has many enemies, at home and abroad.

The city is a complex web of spies and merchants, priests and soldiers, exiles and assassins. One of the web’s most fearsome spiders is Damian Seeker, agent of the Lord Protector. No one knows where Seeker comes from, who his family is, or even his real name. All that is known of him for certain is that he is utterly loyal to Cromwell.

We’re absolutely chuffed here at CTF that Shona MacLean is here to give us the lowdown on how she met Seeker himself, about why the English Civil War is such fertile territory for novelists, and how sometimes — if you want to be a writer — you just have to go nuclear with your word count.

Who is The Seeker?

The Seeker is Damian Seeker, an officer in the intelligence services of the Cromwellian Protectorate. He is an agent-handler and enforcer in the vast spy network headed by Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. Seeker is a Yorkshireman, taciturn, unflinching, much feared and utterly loyal to Cromwell. However, in the tradition of all good detective stories, he has a seldom-glimpsed softer side and a few secrets of his own.

Where did the inspiration for Damien Seeker come from?

Ah. Well, the story, the mystery, centred on the inhabitants of the Palace of Whitehall and and the patrons of a City coffee house. I was so taken up with the setting and the story, I hadn’t really considered the question of the detective character until I was explaining the idea to my editor over the phone. It was when she said, ‘of course you’ll need to think carefully about your detective character’ that I first realised I didn’t have one. Cue a long rant to my husband, followed by hauling the Labrador out to the woods in an effort to work out what on earth I was going to do about this.

It was a typically dreich Highland December day, and I can still remember the place on the path where, in my mind’s eye – I was perfectly aware I wasn’t actually seeing this – a large man dressed in black leather boots and a long black cloak stepped out from the whin bushes and presented himself to me. He was like a cross between Darth Vader and Brix, Sarah Lund’s boss from ‘The Killing,’ and I knew his name was Damian Seeker. Believe it or believe it not, that is where Damian Seeker came from. I think it was probably that location and situation that contributed to his background and his character, but he really did step in to my mind’s eye at that moment more or less fully formed.

Why is the English Civil War such a rich period of history to mine for a novelist?

Humanity. Be it good or bad, no-one could deny their own humanity in the English Civil War. People from all walks of life suffered, lost everything. But people with very little also rose to the top, in a manner that must have utterly astonished their contemporaries. And it is a time when the people of England really found their voice – religious radicals, lawyers, newsmen – there was a mania of opinion and a mania for rumour and news. There were instances of extreme bravery and complete barbarity in the course of the wars, and of course, the establishment of an endless game of espionage and counter-espionage between Royalists and Republicans. It is, for an historical novelist, an embarrassment of riches.

The SeekerHas Oliver Cromwell got a rough deal from history or was he really such a formidable character?

Mmm. I don’t think he has had a rough deal – he still ranks pretty highly in ‘Greatest ever Englishman’ polls. As a Scot of partly Irish descent, I am pre-disposed to see him in a quite different light. Quite aside from his Irish atrocities and his attitudes to the place of the Scots and the Irish in his vision of a united commonwealth, he seems to have verged on megalomania as time went on, and as more reasoned voices were dismissed or fell silent and his power increased. However, I think he was undeniably a military genius and must have had a tremendous force of personality. Despite my personal antipathy, I found that when I wrote Cromwell, whenever he strode on to the pages of The Seeker, I was writing him sympathetically, as someone I liked. I think this may be because I had decided Damian Seeker would be unwaveringly loyal to him, and so any criticism of Cromwell in the books comes from other, subsidiary characters.

Congratulations on winning the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger – do you feel extra pressure on writing Seeker’s next adventure now?

Thank you. And Oh, Yes, I do. However, I was feeling the pressure before that. If I am happy with one book, I instantly worry that the next will not be as good and that people will be disappointed. If someone has something nice to say about my writing, I get a flutter of pleasure and then wonder if I should warn them not to read anything else I have written. Apparently this is not particularly good PR, so I am trying to reign in the impulse.

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

Sometimes you just have to press the delete button and start again. You have to decimate your carefully nurtured and much-cherished word-count and be honest with yourself if a character, a scene, a chapter just isn’t working.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Oh, crime first? My favourite series are Craig Russell’s Hamburg-set police procedurals featuring the elegant and intellectual Jan Fabel. I love the portrayal of the city, I love Fabel’s elegant, tasteful apartment, clothes, lifestyle (grisly serial killings aside). I love the cleverness and the depth of research. The series has all the qualities of Wallander and I would love to see it televised in this country.

I also love Anne Cleeve’s Vera books. Vera is a magnificent creation, and my 15-year old daughter’s heroine. A beacon for feisty women. The mysteries are utterly intriguing and all the characters so well drawn.

Not specifically crime? Alan Warner, Andrew Greig, James Robertson, Janice Galloway, Ali Smith, James Kelman: they show me my country in its past and present in ways that buzz with authenticity, life, and the potential of human beings.

Give me some advice about writing…

Inspiration when it comes, and it does come, is fantastic – gives you a buzz, sets you alight with the desire to tell a story. But the rest is a job of work, and you have to treat it like a job of work, be exacting with yourself and don’t take sloppy short-cuts. You won’t like yourself if you know your book isn’t as good as you could have made it.

What’s next for you?

Almost finished the First draft of the second Seeker book – working title: Gethsemane. But really next is the holiday packing – ugh!

The Seeker is published in hardback by Quercus Books.

TV Crime Log: Shetland, Law, Americans

UnknownThe murder rate in the Scottish Highlands is about to go way up. After its one-off pilot did so well last year, there was never any doubt that Shetland would return to BBC1 for a full series.

The series  – three tales told in two-parts – is, of course, based on the books by Ann Cleeves. Douglas Henshall stars as DI Jimmy Perez. That’s him above looking, well – enormous.

Here’s the blurb:

Old wounds are painfully reopened as DI Jimmy Perez and his team look into a past crime to solve the present-day murder of a young teenage girl. The residents of Ravenswick are shocked when 17-year-old Catherine Ross is found murdered on a secluded beach.

With his cottage overlooking the crime scene, local recluse Magnus Bain is first to be questioned by Perez who is intrigued to discover Magnus had forged an unlikely friendship with the victim. Perez and his team – DS Alison ‘Tosh’ McIntosh and Trainee DC Sandy Wilson – begin piecing together the hours leading up to Catherine’s death.

Perez questions Sally Henry, Catherine’s timid best friend whose mother – local schoolteacher Margaret Henry – makes no secret of her dislike for Catherine. He follows up with Hugo Scott, Catherine’s evidently obsessed teacher, and Alan Isbister, a local playboy philanderer, who admits to seeing Catherine at his party on Midsummer Night.

When Fiscal Procurator Rhona Kelly draws Perez’s attention to the unsolved case of Catriona Bruce, a seven-year-old girl who disappeared from the same village 19 years ago, Perez realises that the two girls even shared an address.

Although Magnus’s name crops up regularly throughout the investigation, Perez refuses to commit entirely to a link between the death of Catherine and Catriona’s disappearance – fearing a witch hunt around Magnus.

However, when the perfectly preserved body of a young girl is discovered in the peat bogs and a connection to Magnus arises, Perez is reluctantly forced to rethink his investigation.

With Vera going great guns for ITV, Cleeves is kind of sanguine about the way books are changed for television, saying that writers have to learn to let go of their work as soon as readers pick them up. You can see her interesting thoughts about the series here.

The books adapted for the series are Raven Black, Dead Water and Blue Lightning, leaving only one of her five Shetland books unadapted. Presumably, if it goes to another series, the telly people will have to purchase a whiteboard and some magic markers, and get storylining.

Shetland is on tomorrow — Tuesday night — at 9pm, on BBC1.

UnknownSo Law & Order: UK is back on ITV, Wednesday at 9pm, for its umpteenth series. Bradley Walsh’s DS Ronnie Brooks seems to have rather carelessly lost another sidekick along the way. You know the deal with Law And Order. Some coppers investigate a crime and then you pop off to make a cup of tea and by the time you’re back, everyone’s arguing in court.

We’re talked about Law and Order before. It’s an absolutely massive TV universe in the US, with over 1,000 episodes made in the US of its various series iterations, and numerous crossovers with other shows.

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by the blurb:

DS Ronnie Brooks and his new partner Joe are leading an investigation into the death of jeweller Harry Bernstein who is found dead with no hands or teeth.  His wife Lindsay, her lover David, and a former business associate, Mickey Belker, are all possible suspects.

But the case takes a surprising turn when Bernstein’s sister turns up with his severed hands. They were delivered to her house in a box to lend weight to a very simple message: ‘not guilty’.

imagesAnd finally, the second series of The Americans airs on Saturday. I stuck with the first series, just about. Sometimes stodgy, sometimes gripping, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are the KGB agents posing as a normal suburban couple in the 1980s. The wig work is good, but the tone was all over the place. You always felt like the creative-team were never quite sure about whether they wanted to have fun or the idea or not.

Rhys and Russell would run about in the dead of night, getting into all sorts of trouble, and you’d sit there thinking, who’s looking after the kids? 

I’ll probably stick with it. Hell, I’m no quitter. Amazingly, it’s managed to hold onto its Saturday night slot on ITV, at 9.20pm.

Crime Thriller Book Log: Wilkinson, MacBride, Cleeves, Dickinson

This week’s book releases feature four very different detectives, who all share one thing in common – a rather unhealthy curiosity in other people’s illegal activities.

Unknown-2Kerry Wilkinson has lived the author, dream. His self-published Jessica Daniel novel Locked In became a runaway bestseller and the series was snapped up by Pan Books. Seven novels later, his troubled Manchester copper is still going great guns. Behind Closed Doors is out tomorrow, and there’s another on the way later in the year.

But the blurb finds his heroine in a bad way:

 Detective Sergeant Jessica Daniel has barely left her house in months, isolated away from friends and colleagues. She may have given up on herself but one man is sure she still has something to offer.

DCI Jack Cole gives her a chance at redemption: An opportunity to help a neighbouring force by discovering what is going on with a reclusive community living in a stately home in the middle of nowhere.

People are going missing, turning up dead with only a vague link back to the house. But can Jessica beat her own demons in time to find out exactly what’s going on behind closed doors?

You can get Behind Closed Doors on ebook and in paperback. Kerry has some sensible advice about writing on his website – we all love some good advice – so go check that out right here.

Redemption is clearly all the rage this week, there’s more of it in A Song For The Dying. UnknownStuart MacBridge steps away from his usual Logan McRae series to publish the  sequel to his grimly violent  Birthdays For The Dead, which featured dodgy copper Ash Henderson. I don’t know about you, but I love a dodgy copper – in fiction, at least. And I love a red phone box, so full marks to someone for putting one of those on the cover.

Gather round for the blurb, everyone:

He’s back… Eight years ago, ‘The Inside Man’ murdered four women and left three more in critical condition – all of them with their stomachs slit open and a plastic doll stitched inside. And then the killer just … disappeared.

Ash Henderson was a Detective Inspector on the initial investigation, but a lot can change in eight years. His family has been destroyed, his career is in tatters, and one of Oldcastle’s most vicious criminals is making sure he spends the rest of his life in prison.

Now a nurse has turned up dead on a patch of waste ground, a plastic doll buried beneath her skin, and it looks as if Ash might finally get a shot at redemption. At earning his freedom. At revenge.

A Song For The Dying is released in ebook and hardback.

Unknown-1Harbour Street is the sixth book in Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope series, about her bad-tempered Northumbrian detective. It’s now a TV series, of course, the fourth series of which is due to be aired this year – so you may want to read Harbour Street before it’s adapted.

Here’s the blurb, pet:

As the snow falls thickly on Newcastle, the shouts and laughter of Christmas revellers break the muffled silence. Detective Joe Ashworth and his daughter Jessie are swept along in the jostling crowd onto the Metro. But when the train is stopped due to the bad weather, and the other passengers fade into the swirling snow, Jessie notices that an old lady hasn’t left the train: Margaret Krukowski has been fatally stabbed as she sat on the crowded train.

Soon Vera and Joe are on their way to the south Northumberland town of Mardle. Retracing Margaret’s final steps, Vera finds herself searching deep into the hidden past of this seemingly innocent neighbourhood, led by clues that keep revolving around one street . . . Why are the residents of Harbour Street so reluctant to speak?

Harbour Street is released in ebook and hardback.

Unknown-4Death Of An Elgin Marble takes us back to a more noble time. It’s the twelfth Lord Francis Powerscourt novel, about the Victorian detective who is descended from Irish aristocracy.

Look, you may want to smarten yourself up for the blurb:

The British Museum in Bloomsbury is home to one of the Caryatids, a statue of a maiden that acted as one of the six columns in a temple which stood on the Acropolis in ancient Athens. Lord Elgin had brought her to London in the nineteenth century, and even though now she was over 2,300 years old, she was still rather beautiful – and desirable.

Which is why Lord Francis Powerscourt finds himself summoned by the British Museum to attend a most urgent matter. The Caryatid has been stolen and an inferior copy left in her place. Powerscourt agrees to handle the case discreetly – but then comes the first death: an employee of the British Museum is pushed under a rush hour train before he and the police can question him.

What had he known about the statue’s disappearance? And who would want such a priceless object? Powerscourt and his friend Johnny Fitzgerald undertake a mission that takes them deep into the heart of London’s Greek community and the upper echelons of English society to uncover the bizarre truth of the vanishing lady…

Author David Dickinson isn’t the telly chap with the mahogany skin and exceptional hair, but he was once the editor of both Newsnight and Panorama, no less. The first Powerscourt novel, Goodnight Sweet Prince, appeared way back in 2002. Ebook and hardcover, since you ask.

The Intel: Adam Chase/Eve Seymour


We love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. Earlier in the week we reviewed Wicked Game by one Adam Chase. Turns out Mr. Chase is actually a pseudonym. EV Seymour, author of the Paul Tallis novels, was recently unmasked as Chase at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

You know the drill with The Intel. We ask crime writers how they go about the business of getting words on a page. But  we also took the opportunity to ask Eve why she chose to go undercover for her new book about Hex, the assassin.

How has your own experience influenced your writing?

From an early age, I’ve been an observer, the typical kid sitting on the sidelines watching others.  Most writers are frustrated psychologists and I’m endlessly intrigued by the way in which human beings tick, particularly at the more extreme ends of the spectrum.  During my teens, I went through a phase of reading tomes on clinical psychology, which now I’ve written it down, makes me sound a bit strange.  I’ve outgrown it, honest!  I’m also a news junkie, always on the lookout for that odd story, the one to which I can apply the ‘What if…’ principle.

I was lucky enough to have an amazing experience a few years ago when I spent an evening at the ‘secret’ headquarters where firearms officers, security services, (UK and foreign) SAS and MOD train.  There, I was taken to a laser suite, handed a specially adapted (unloaded) Glock 17 wired to a computer, and took part in a simulated training exercise. It was scary, extremely demanding, and the debrief afterwards threw me – it’s actually quite hard to remember in exquisite detail the moments leading up to ‘an incident’.

Afterwards, I was escorted to the armoury, (although not allowed inside) and handled just about every variety of weapon I could come up with, including a Desert Eagle, Uzi, MP5, Magnum and, of course, a Walther PPK.  There had been an amnesty for illicitly held weapons just before my visit and, aside from machetes, sub-machine guns and automatics, the array of home-made and adapted weapons were worrying. The experience had a profound effect on me and made me realise the specific demands we place on those who defend us.  Professionals walk an incredibly fine line between life and death.

What comes first – plot or character?

I see these as indivisible.  Only a certain character will behave in a given way, and this will lead the plot down a particular route.  If your main character is an estate agent, he’s hardly likely to have access to weaponry, let alone use it!  This is a long-winded way of saying that character and plot work hand in glove.  However I admit that Hex rates as a complex main protagonist. His blatant moral ambiguity is what really hooked me and created a huge challenge for me as the writer:  how to make an essentially bad guy a hero?  The trick was to put him on the spot right in the opening.  It’s stretching it to say that Hex has a Damascene moment, but I needed to craft in a point where he suddenly has cause to pause and doubt the nature of what he does for a living.  Maybe, character has the edge, after all!

Take us through a typical writing day for you.Eve portrait

I’m an early riser and have been known, although not that often, to sneak out of bed around 3.00 a.m. and write like hell.  I’d add that I don’t get ‘gripped by the Muse.’  I’m a planner and I research.  This often takes the form of reading up on defence and security.  It can take months before I put a story together and write a single line.  Those days are more leisurely, but once I’m happy that I’ve got all my notes sorted, then I’ll have a slightly more disciplined working day when I write a skeleton plot-line and then, big breath, I write.  This is when the long hours kick in and I become fairly anti-social, which is only really a problem for those around me.

A typical day will start around 8.00 a.m.  I won’t eat lunch but I consume water and tea by the bucket-load and my heart-starter coffee is always at noon.  I try not to look at emails, but will usually check in a couple of times during the day and finally emerge bleary-eyed around 6.00 p.m.  It’s not always easy to switch off, but I do my best to pretend!

Who are the authors you love and why?

I’m a sucker for historical fiction and political thrillers.  I particularly admire Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and James McGee for vivid characterization.  Michael Dobbs gets my vote for his Winston Churchill series.  Too many to mention, but I love American writers for their sheer sense of guts, pace and action.  They are the usual suspects:  Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Lee Child (who isn’t American but is based there) John Hart, Robert Ludlum, Greg Hurwitz, Kyle Mills.

For me, and this is sticking my neck out, British writers tend to have what I’d describe as more ‘soul’ in the way in which they write.  To list a few:  Tom Rob Smith, R J Ellory, John Harvey, Stuart Neville (Irish), Stephen Booth, Martyn Waites and I can’t, of course, forget the great spy writers:  Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carre, Gerald Seymour and Henry Porter.  I’ll pretty much read anything that catches my eye.  I’ve just read ‘Alex’ by Pierre Lemaitre and thought it stunning.

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

Rejection.  Nobody likes it or gets used to it, but it’s part of the deal.  If you let it, it can do horrible things to your mental health.

How do you deal with feedback?

Constructively, I hope. Writing a novel is a solitary process, but once you show your work to others then feedback is important because it helps a writer hone the story.  My agent, Broo Doherty, has a keen editorial eye and I always pay attention to her comments.  Once I’ve taken these on board, a discussion follows where we bat about ideas.  The feedback process isn’t really finished because the publisher and any independent editor drafted in will also have their own ideas.  Processing feedback is part of a writer’s life and shouldn’t be something to fear.  The important point is that everyone is working together to make the novel the best it can be.

Give me some advice about writing.

  1. Read as widely as possible and try not to talk too much about your ideas to others because you may lose the original magic that made you want to write the story in the first place.
  2. You can only discover your own voice if you sing, so just get on and write!
  3. Don’t let anyone rain on your parade.  Be tenacious.  Be courageous.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the market place?

Don’t rush into it.  You only have one shot, so make sure it’s a good one.  If you can afford it, use a reputable editorial consultancy to look at your work and give you an honest and constructive appraisal.  This comes with a word of caution:  do your research beforehand.  If you can’t afford it, let someone you trust (not your best friend, or your best friend’s auntie) read the work and give you straight, down the line, criticism.  Once you’ve made revisions, do everything in your power to seek representation by an agent.

The market place has never been tougher.  If an agent is prepared to represent your work, you stand a half decent chance of it being placed with a publisher.

Why did you choose to use a pseudonym for Wicked Game?

Among certain quarters, there is a perception that women cannot write convincingly and authentically about contract killers, guns, weapons, biological, or otherwise, explosions, flying off in helicopters, tearing off on motorbikes and security service issues.

Admittedly, there is a long tradition of female writers creating male detectives – P.D. James and Adam Dalgleish – but there are far fewer female writers who have male action adventure heroes as their main leads.  Added to this, I wanted to write a first person narrative because it gave me more of an opportunity to allow readers to get inside Hex’s head – important when you bear in mind that he starts the novel as a really bad guy.  At times, I felt from initial feedback that we (me and Hex) would be an impossible sell.  Hence, I reckoned, that if I couldn’t beat my male counterparts, I’d join them.

What’s next for you?

‘Game Over’: the second in the Hex series.  I’m just about to put it through its final edits.  Suffice to say, Hex’s life takes an interesting turn…

All The Fun Of The Festival

You writer types like to squirrel yourself away for most of the year to do your thing, I understand that. But building a career as a writer is also about getting yourself out there. Meeting other authors, building a platform, making connections and chilling,

You don’t need some idiot on a blog to tell you that, so you’ll know there are a couple of festivals on this weekend – they start today, in fact.

UnknownFor the crime writers and readers among you, Bloody Scotland runs from today to Sunday in Stirling. Ann Cleeves, Arne Dahl, Denise Mina, Lee Child and Quintin Jardine are among the many authors attending the event.

Cleeves and Mina, of course, have been nominated for the Deanston Scottish Crime Book Of The Year 2013, which will be announced at the gala dinner.

Here’s the full list of nominations:

Ann Cleeves – Dead Water

Gordon Ferris – Pilgrim Soul

Malcolm MacKay – How a Gunman Says Goodbye

Denise Mina – The Red Road

Val McDermid – The Vanishing Point

Ian Rankin – Standing in Another Man’s Grave

There are crime writing masterclasses and a whole host of talks and events to keep you scribbling notes all weekend. And this being a crime festival I’m guessing there’ll also be a fully-stocked bar should you inexplicably require such a thing. For more details check out the link I have cunningly inserted above.

Aspiring writers will also get the opportunity to mingle with agents, publishers and editors at the Festival of Writing in York this weekend. Whether you write literary, romance, crime, sci-fi – whatever’s your bag — there are genres panels and workshops, mini courses and one-to-ones, competitions and a gala dinner – and the chance to network like mad.

Every year, apparently, a number of the delegates come away with agent and publishing deals, and that’s got to be good, right, after all that hard work, the highs, the lows, all those late nights and early mornings, that hour grabbed at lunch scribbling away.

Booking has closed for this year’s festival, but think about it for next year. Because whether you’re interested in the craft of writing, keeping up with the constantly-changing publishing environment, or just hanging with other writers, it’s the perfect jumping-in point to get to know the industry and the other crazy souls who are impelled to write shit down. And, who knows, you may even get to meet me there.