Tag Archives: Ernest Hemingway

The Intel: Andrew Shantos

Andrew ShantosAndrew Shantos has turned to some of the biggest names in show business, Elvis, Jimi, Marilyn, that fellow from The Doors, to populate his debut novel – but wait, you cry, surely they’re, you know, deceased.

Turns out they’re not. In Dead Star Island, they’re living in blissful anonymity on a remote island and still partying like there’s no tomorrow. That is, until someone starts killing them off for real. Greece’s former top cop Mario Gunzabo is called in to solve the mystery of the Déjà vu Killer. But can the part-time tennis coach and full time alcoholic stop the killer in time to save the rest of the superstars?

Andrew’s comic thriller is a high-concept romp and a rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster which combines his love of music, dead rock stars and ferrets.

In the the latest stop of his Blog Tour, Andrew gives us the intel on his one-armed detective, which music icon he’d love to perform on stage with – and he earns some extra Intel brownie points by mentioning the undisputed king of high-concept, Ira Levin…

Tell us about Dead Star Island…

It’s a spoof murder mystery. Dead Star Island is home to sixteen superstars the world thinks are dead, but who faked their deaths to live in tranquil anonymity on a secret island paradise. Until now, that is, because there’s a killer on the loose, taking them out one by one in repeats of the deaths they staged to leave the real world.

Your alcoholic, one-armed detective Mario Gunzabo comes with a ferret up his sleeve – tell us about him!

Gunzabo came about from a silly game on holiday in Cyprus. My wife and I were trying to outdo each other with ideas for outlandish detectives. I suggested a one-armed detective called Mario Gunzabo. And she immediately said, with a ferret up his sleeve.

So that was the starting point, but Gunzabo evolved into a fully formed character over many drafts and rewrites, and in him is a mixture of many relatives in Cyprus, long dead, that I remember vividly from my childhood. An important part of the backstory is how he lost his arm, why Didi exists (or not), and how this continues to affect his life and the investigation.

Dead Star Island is a fascinating idea – where did you get the inspiration?

About five years ago, I was listening to LA Woman by The Doors, feeling a bit sad and thinking, “Oh, I wish Jim Morrison wasn’t dead.” Then I thought, “Maybe he isn’t. Maybe he’s hanging out with Elvis on a desert island somewhere… Of course, Jimi would be there. Marilyn too…” And I found I couldn’t stop thinking of people who’d be there with them – basically anyone who was on my bedroom wall as a teenager.

So that’s how the idea came to me. But I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, in particular about why I had the idea, which I’ve written about in more depth on another leg of my Blog Tour, in a piece called ‘The Psychology of an idea’.

Dead Star IslandOn your website, there’s a quiz you can do about the island, a music playlist, a map and even a graph on which details how many hours you spent writing the novel – how important is it for authors to provide extra content for readers?

To begin with I just had the idea to put an application form on my website, so that people could apply to go and live on the island. It was just a bit of fun, but it made me laugh doing it and I kept on adding new pages, like the quiz to try and guess who the residents are, based on the crazy caricatures my mate Joel did (it’s a tough quiz, no one’s managed full marks yet, not even anyone at my publisher).

But yes, there is an ulterior motive: I want to find and engage new readers, so my hope is that when people see the website, they’ll want to come back, and they’ll tell their friends that they’ve found something worth reading – hopefully much like the book itself.

Mostly though, I just really like the idea of a book living outside the confines of its pages. So that what you’re reading is an excerpt, a particularly interesting episode in the universe someone has created.

You’ve played the Hammond organ in lots of bands – which deceased musical icon do you wish you could have played alongside?

Jim Morrison, every time! The keyboard player I look up to the most is Ray Manzarek of The Doors, so I guess the ultimate would to have been in his piano stool, shaking my head in a stoned trance while playing a ten minute solo during Light My Fire at the Hollywood Bowl, Jim shrieking and doing some kind of crazy tribal dance in front of me. At the after party we’d hang out with Jimi, probably get drunk (definitely get drunk), sing a few sea shanties, and talk pseudo-philosophical nonsense. This would last several days until one of us got taken to hospital.

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

Probably what I talk about in my blog post “How many hours does it take to write a novel.” I remember finishing my first draft (written at night in the odd hour when our newborn baby actually decided to sleep), and giving it to carefully selected friends and family, naively thinking that the concept alone would be enough to wow everyone. That most definitely was not the case, and slowly, realisation dawned: I had only just started. I suddenly knew how much work was ahead of me, and I nearly didn’t carry on.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

There are loads; it’s tough to pick out any in particular, like it’s tough to pick your favourite bands. In general I’d say the authors I admire most are those who write with economy and clarity, but also with flair and imagination. I’m never that bothered about genre, I’ll read anything by anyone, so long as they meet these criteria.

As for names, well of the old favourites, I like Hemingway and Orwell best. They’re the literary equivalent of The Stones and The Beatles for me. I’m gradually working my way through Elmore Leonard’s work (I finished Freaky Deaky last week, which I loved and recommend to any crime lover).

Someone who is slightly forgotten these days is Ira Levin, who was massive in the fifties and sixties. Pretty much every one of his novels has been made into a film, some of them several times over. Most are absolute classics: A Kiss Before Dying, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby. They often have a crime element, all are amazing ideas, full of tension and suspense, and inevitably you find yourself devouring them in a single sitting.

Give me some advice about writing.

Work hard and be open to criticism. These two things make you a better writer.

Writing is one of the few crafts people expect to be good at immediately. There’s the old joke about asking an Australian if they can play the violin, and the Australian replying, “I dunno, I’ve never tried.” But really, you have to practise, practise, practise, and you have to actively seek criticism. Plus you have to read lots too. I often forget that, and have to remind myself: read, read, read!

Mostly we’re blind to our own faults, but see them more easily in others. It’s like anything: if you want to be good at it, you have to work hard. Above all though, have fun. Enjoy it. Otherwise what’s the point?

What’s next for you?

I’ve got lots of ideas. If anything too many. It’s a nice problem to have though, so I’m going to use a few of them in a collection of short stories, which will have the additional benefit of being good practice for the next novel.

I do have three or four ideas for full-length novels, but knowing now how much work it is, I’m taking my time and want to let them stew away in my head for a few months. I read a fascinating piece in the Guardian the other day, where author William Boyd talks about his writing process. He spends about three years writing each of his books, the first two years of which is research and planning.

That’s a long time, and I hope I’ll be quicker, but then again Dead Star Island took three years… can I book a slot in autumn 2018 for my next blog tour?


Dead Star Island, published by APP, can be ordered through Amazon priced £4.99 for Kindle and £8.99 paperback right here.

To get in touch visit Andrew at his website andrewshantos.com or on Twitter @andrewshantos

The Intel: Luca Di Fulvio

Photo: Olivier Favre

Photo: Olivier Favre

Here it comes, rattling over the Brooklyn Bridge, accompanied by a sumptuous Ennio Morricone score — it’s The Boy Who Granted Dreams Blog Tour. It’s stopping here for the day at Crime Thriller Fella, to get a thorough examination at our own version of Ellis Island, before moving on for a full and happy life on your Device.

Author Luca Di Fulvio is an engaging man with a fascinating history. A former student at the prestigious Silvia D’Amico Dramatic Arts Academy, he was mentored by legendary crime writer Andrea Camilleri. He’s known as the Italian Thomas Harris for his gruesome serial killer thrillers, such as The Mannequin Man.

But his latest is, he says, a book full of light, a sweeping romance set in the Roaring Twenties amid the criminal gangs of New York. The Boy Who Granted Dreams was indeed partially inspired by the acclaimed Scorsese film Gangs of New York and features a boy by the name of Christmas Luminita.

So  we’re delighted to say that Luca gives us the intel on his  lyrical tale, and tells us about Christmas, being told he’s not ‘Italian’ enough, and how a writer’s talent is like pigeon poo…

Tell us about Christmas Luminita…

Christmas deals in dreams. When the Jewish mob boss Arnold Rothstein meets him, he says: ”So, ya go around tellin’ lies.” And Christmas replies: “No, Mister, I just know how to tell stories. It’s the only thing I’m good at. Stories people believe in. People like to dream.”

And thanks to this special talent, Christmas has the chance to escape the fate that met so many of the new inhabitants of New York’s Lower East Side during the roaring twenties. Many turned to crime as an easy way out of poverty. Others lived an honest life but suffered great hardships at a time when lowly workers were exploited. But countless others were able to take advantage of the opportunities that the American Dream offered them. And Christmas is one of those.

What was the inspiration for The Boy Who Granted Dreams?

When I was a child, each night my grandmother used to tell incredible stories. I’d listen open-mouthed as she spoke and afterwards I’d lie in bed, my head filled with all these vivid images. In a sense, all my adult life I’ve been on the lookout for a story that would allow me to celebrate the gift my grandmother gave me, and to relive the wonder I felt back then. And eventually I found a way to describe how the strength and beauty of the imagination can overcome reality, even in a ruthless, unforgiving place like New York.

Cover_TBWGDWhat attracts so many authors to the criminal gangs of the Roaring Twenties?

It’s true these people were nothing but appalling cutthroats, with no sense of decency, a total lack of morals, and not a modicum of respect for the lives of others. So you’re right to ask where the attraction comes from.

I think at some level these criminals represent the dark side we all have buried somewhere in our unconscious, the rebellious side that wants to break all the rules. They’re ‘untamed’, as we all sometimes feel we are.

Christmas finds fame on the radio precisely by taking the ordinary people listening to him in that dark, mysterious and risky world on an imaginative journey, making them believe for just one second that they’re different, and not ‘flat’, as he calls them.

You’re known as the Italian Thomas Harris for your dark crime novels, but The Boy Who Granted Dreams is a sweeping romantic drama as well as a thriller – did you enjoy the change of pace?

It happened almost by accident that the first thing I wrote was a thriller. But the book did well, the film studios were suddenly interested in me, and in the blink of an eye, before I knew what was happening, I was screwed, bogged down in a process more commercial than artistic.

Then Christmas and his dreams came along, restoring my own dreams and putting me back on track.

I wouldn’t call this book a thriller. I think, as you said, it’s more a romantic drama and a coming of age novel. And it’s full of light, in contrast to my earlier crime novels, which were very dark.

Am I pleased this change has come about? Over the moon. I love the light.

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

Those of us lucky enough to make a living out of doing something we love should never describe our work as ‘hard’, if for no other reason than out of respect for the millions of people who really do work hard. What I can say, though, is that without doubt the biggest obstacle I have had to overcome was to continue believing in myself after ten years of failing to find a publisher. I was repeatedly told I wasn’t good enough, not ‘Italian’ enough, that I sounded too American or English. So the hardest lesson I had to learn was not to give up.

How do you deal with feedback?

I started out as an actor. When you’re on stage delivering your lines, you can tell if the audience is with you, if you’re connecting with them. And at the end you lap up the applause like a much-needed glass of water. You find the appreciation of the audience isn’t just gratifying, but essential. The same goes for all lines of work in which you expose yourself to the judgement of others. In my case, there are of course two types of feedback: the reaction of the public, and that of the literary critics. The critics give me guidance, show me where I’m going wrong and what I’m doing well. But it’s the reader who hands me the glass of water I’m thirsting for

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Last year I mourned the loss of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the greatest writers of the last century, whom I absolutely love.

But Marquez aside, I was raised – artistically and emotionally – on Anglo-Saxon literature. Jack London (in the book, Christmas reads first White Fang and then Martin Eden) and Dickens were my very first teachers. Hemingway came along when I was a teenager, with Thomas Hardy and William Faulkner following afterwards.

It’s impossible to list them all. But I have to say I can’t stand it when writers reel off names no one’s ever heard of, just to show how utterly original they are. If I were to ask you which classical composers you like, you couldn’t skip Bach or Mozart or Beethoven just because everybody knows them.

Another writer who would have to play a part in this imaginary procession – and I told him so at Frankfurt Book Fair – is Ken Follett.

Give me some advice about writing…

The first thing that springs to mind is reading. By reading those who have come before us, not only can we learn from them, but we can better understand ourselves and gain a sense of what ‘chain’ of writers we might belong to – because none of us is as unique as we might like to think we are. The best we can hope for is to become one link in that long chain.

The second piece of advice I can give is not to be arrogant, not to get too puffed up about your talent, because you did nothing to deserve it: it was a gift sent down from above, just as a splat of pigeon poo might be.

My third piece of advice leads on from the previous one. We should constantly be honing our skills and improving ourselves, because that really is something to be proud of.

Finally, my last piece of advice is this: not to become too attached to what you’re writing. A good writer knows to chuck a whole lot of pages into the wastepaper basket.

What’s next for you?

A book of mine which takes place in Venice in the 1500s at the time of the first ghetto will be published in English next year. That’s one big thing in the pipeline, and I’m very excited about it.

As for the novel I’m working on at the moment, it’s set in Buenos Aires, in the harbourside barrio of La Boca, in 1914, when half the local population was Italian.

The Boy Who Granted Dreams by Luca Di Fulvio is out now as an ebook, published by Bastei Entertainment, price £4.99


The Intel: Jessica Cornwell

Jessica Cornwell

Photo Credit: Diana Patient

Jessica Cornwell’s mystical  Anna Verco thriller The Serpent Papers has been described as a literary Da Vinci Code. It follows her academic book thief’s investigation into three ritual murders in Barcelona. Teaming up with a Spanish Inspector, the trail leads to a mysterious book, a medieval revelation written in the language of witches and alchemists, called The Serpent Papers.

Jessica was raised in Southern California. After graduating from the University of Barcelona, she participated in research and grant projects in Oxford, India and Spain. In 2010 she moved to London to work in film. She’s now writing full-time on the next in the Anna Verco trilogy. And Jessica’s got a hell of a literary pedigree – her grandfather is John Le Carre.

The Serpent Papers is available right now in hardcover, paperback or you can download it to your device. To wet your appetite, we’ve got an absolutely terrific interview with Jessica. She gives us the intel on Anna Verco, medieval torture devices, the dark magic of Barcelona, conspiracies — and, of course, her writing regime…

Tell us about Anna Verco…

Anna is a twenty-seven year old, American researcher determined to find a palimpsest called The Serpent Papers. She works for Picatrix, an academic body funded by a wealthy individual shrouded in mystery. Anna is an unreliable narrator, obsessive and single-minded in her focus. Her quest for the missing pages of a magical book suddenly becomes a hunt for a serial killer, taking her deep into the dangerous world of Barcelona’s gothic quarter.

Anna arrived three years ago, when I took refuge in a monastery on Majorca, pulling over in the pouring rain. The monastery was closed, but when I knocked on the door a stranger welcomed me inside. The stranger took me into an exquisite library and showed me a medieval manuscript in the monastery’s archive. Anna was born out of my first encounter these ancient books – I saw a young, psychic woman who reflected the vulnerability and strength of the material she handled, who kept her own history secret and spoke a magical, hallucinatory language.

How did you get the inspiration for The Serpent Papers?

The primary source of inspiration emerged from the year I spent living in Barcelona when I was a MA student. During that time I worked as a director’s assistant for the experimental Catalan Theatre company La Fura dels Baus on a production of Titus Andronicus. Lavinia’s fate captivated me, a young, beautiful woman who loses her sovereignty, her hands and her tongue (and finally her life). I invented a killer who took the tongues of his victims and ritualistically carved women’s bodies with the letters of a medieval truth machine. Why? I began building the story out. What did it mean?

I discovered the scold’s bridle, a torture device used to punish talkative women, a metal mask with a blunt spike that pushed down into the tongue of its victim, and began reading about the history of European witchcraft alongside references to Ovid’s gory tale of Philomela the Nightingale. I created a mystical woman, Philomela, who lost her tongue and was rescued by an alchemist in the hills of Majorca in the thirteenth century. The ancient secret she carried became the key to the murders of four women in 2003 in Barcelona.

But there are many other sources of inspiration for The Serpent Papers… before writing the novel I also spent two years living with Rosemary, a 95 year old costume designer whose home was filled with treasures. Rosemary had a long and extraordinary career, working with the English National Opera, Glyndebourne, and the National theatre. She lined the drawers of her wardrobe with scraps of old designs, and was an exceptional engraver. There were two small portraits on the wall – the first of a young, waist-coated Victorian Englishman, the second a beautiful woman in a broad skirt, their countenances framed in gold. These two became Llewellyn Sitwell and Katherine Markham.

I realized I wanted to play with time and found documents, in an unconventional structure. Rosemary had twins, one of whom had died tragically when he was twenty-eight in a motorcycle accident. His memories filled the house, a sadness that infiltrated the story of the Catalan twins Núria and Adrià who become embroiled in the fate of the murdered actress Natalia Hernández. I wanted to write something escapist, rambunctious and darkly entertaining.

The Serpent PapersWhat is it about Spain that makes it such an evocative location for a thriller?

Spain is an evocative location for any story! Barcelona in winter has an ominous quality, a dark magic hangs in bare trees and winding streets and gothic alleyways. The history of the city is remarkably rich, and gives itself naturally to invention.

You’ve been described as a literary Dan Brown – what is it that draws us to historical conspiracies?

Fascination with secrets is a universal human phenomenon. What is behind the closed door? I want to know, don’t you? Historical conspiracies expose hidden truths that break open dominant social traditions. There’s something delicious about that kind of discovery, something compulsive and rewarding, and Dan Brown deals with that phenomenally. I actually think our work is very different. I’m not concerned with historical conspiracies, but I am concerned with secrets, and the legacy of violence and myth. I view history as a palimpsest, one erased text lying beneath another and I desperately want to peel back the layers and look inside. Some people might call my interests arcane, but I believe these arcane details unlock a secret language – a language that sleeps inside fairy tales and fuels strange dreams.

As a feminist and a writer, I felt compelled to explore the history of European witchcraft, alchemy, the Divine Feminine and violence against women. I think of Bluebeard’s wife standing alone with a key, in front of a terrible door.

You come from a family steeped in literature and movies – have you always felt compelled to write?

When I was very young I wanted to write. But I did not have the confidence to take that seriously until a close member of my family was diagnosed with rapid, unremitting Multiple Sclerosis and I found myself writing to cope with the sadness that entered my life.

You’re writing full time now — take us through a typical writing day for you?

When I’m writing, my world is very quiet. Early on I got into the habit of writing before work – up before sunrise to seize an hour before my commute. That habit continues to define my working day. On a typical day, I wake up at 6, stretch before settling into my desk with a double shot of espresso. I write between 6.30 in the morning and noon, breaking once around ten o’clock for a breather and a second coffee.

After lunch I go for a walk, check e-mails and respond to anything urgent. I eat the same meals, fashioned identically and try never to read e-mails or make any phone calls before writing in the morning, as I find it disrupts my creative process. In the late afternoons I edit and exercise for at least an hour. I like running, as it helps me get into a meditative, physical state where ideas often flow in unexpected and exciting directions.

In the evening I make dinner, and read nonfiction – generally thick academic books around the character or environment I’m developing. I’m very method, and immerse myself in my fictional reality. I lucidly dream about the book in the night, and wake up with fresh ideas. At specific points in the process, I try to shake myself up a bit by travelling to the physical location I’m writing about – recently this has meant Barcelona and Mallorca. I make copious notes as I go, and draw pictures of the things I encounter.

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

That it is alive and can’t be forced. I’m confronted with my own weaknesses every day.

How do you deal with feedback?

Constructively. I’m extremely interested to know how people respond to my writing and always take criticism seriously. I’d rather know about what’s not working in the text than what is – and I want to be challenged. I want to be asked: Why? Why have you done this? How can it be pushed further? What isn’t working?

I like to frame issues in optimistic terms: how can a literary device or shift in plot add to the world I’m building, or fix an energy drop in the story? I want to build a dynamic experience for the reader – like a director bringing a performance to life – and that requires an active consideration of the audience’s perspective, even if I disagree.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I admire so many authors…each for individual reasons. Currently I’m deeply inspired by the work of Jenny Erpenbeck, Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. This winter I have been returning to Federico García Lorca and Rubén Darío, and the short fictions of Borges and Carlos Fuentes. Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls has exerted the greatest influence of any novel that I have had the pleasure of reading, while George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (a book I devoured when I was thirteen) lead me to Spain. Yesterday I started Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book, and I have already fallen completely in love … This weekend I also read The Prose Eddas by Snorri Sturluson – an icy Norse mythology that contrasted beautifully with Pamuk’s Istanbul.

Give me some advice about writing…

Every writer has her own patterns, her own sensibility. This makes offering advice complicated. My own sense is that once you find a daily rhythm, stick to this monastic routine with absolute certainty. Listen to how your body moves through thoughts during the day and to try to cultivate a pattern of work that is unique to you… Go to the place you like to write at the same time every day and a habit will form. It doesn’t sound particularly romantic, but I’ve found that the most important thing has been to build consistent rituals of creativity.

What’s next for Anna Verco?

Many mystical things. I’m afraid I’m going to have to keep her destiny hidden for now.

The Intel: Tony Black

Tony Black

Photo: Ian Atkinson

You no doubt read Crime Thriller Fella’s review of Tony Black’s Artefacts Of The Dead earlier in the week, of course you did. If you didn’t, serious questions will, I’m afraid, have to be asked about your commitment to this blog. Redeem yourself forthwith by scrolling down and taking a look at it now, or by clicking here.

Now it’s Tony’s turn to endure The Intel Inquisition. He’s the author of a dozen novels, including The Last Tiger, about the demise of the Tasmanian Tiger. He’s also written a number of crime series featuring protagonists Gus Dury, Doug Michie and Rob Brennan. Artefacts Of The Dead is a procedural, and a character study of a man at the end of his tether. It’s out now in paperback, and on ebook, published by Black And White.


Tell us about Artefacts of the Dead…

Where to start? I suppose, on one level, it’s a murder investigation and a police procedural. There’s a serial killer on the loose, terrorising the scenic seaside town of Auld Ayr on the west coast of Scotland … but that’s not really what it’s about. It’s about a badly-bruised individual, a police officer who’s getting on and recovering from a near-fatal stabbing to the heart. He’s stared into the abyss and started to wonder what it’s all about. DI Bob Valentine is re-evaluating his life, the lives of others, and his place in the world around him whilst simultaneously trying to solve a grotesque, at times perverse, and possibly even supernatural murder.

How would you describe your protagonist DI Bob Valentine?

See the above for a taster. Bob’s cracking under the strain of the case. He’s a man approaching the end of his career and wondering what he’s achieved, he’s not looking for a last hurrah, but when the investigation reveals links to a child disappearance several years earlier his conscience tells him that someone needs to sort the mess out, and the only someone available is him.

Poor old Bob goes through the wars in this novel, just like your other protagonists – why do you like putting your characters through the ringer so much?

William Golding once said a writer’s job was to “chase their protagonist up a tree and throw stones at them”. Creating trouble for a character is what drives drama and tension, and it’s a lot more fun than having them naval gazing or collecting butterflies.

You’re an extraordinarily prolific writer – what’s your secret?

It might look that way at the moment, I’ve had three books out this year but a couple of them were written some time ago and Artefacts of the Dead was started a couple of years back. It’s just the way the publishing schedules have panned out.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

There’s no typical day at all really. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes I write in the middle of the night. I’m juggling writing with a one-year-old at the moment so setting any schedule is a complete waste of time. When I’m writing a new book, though, I do try to write every day, however little.

Artefacts Of The DeadWhat’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

I suppose that would have to be is that it really doesn’t get any easier. It’s all uphill, and a struggle. No two books are the same, they’re all like climbing Everest, just from a different route on every occasion. If you start to think it’s getting easy, that’s the quickest route to complacency and possibly the worst thing a writer can do.

How do you deal with feedback?

I love feedback. Writing is all about feedback, from the off. Agents, editors, reviewers. They all have their say and most of it is useful – if it’s not, you can always choose to ignore it. A thick-skin is an essential ingredient of the writer’s make-up, you wouldn’t last five minutes without it.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Hemingway, Steinbeck, McCullers. More than any others I think they’ve all made me look at a part of the world in a way I hadn’t before.

Give me some advice about writing…

Beyond the most basic craft aspects, most writing advice is better to be ignored.

What’s next for you?

I’m not writing at all at the moment, haven’t done since the beginning of the year and I think that’s going to continue right up until the end of the year. I’m researching a lot of subjects that interest me, reading tons and tons, but essentially letting the cistern fill up. I’ve got lots of ideas about what I’d like to write next, including setting a crime novel in America, but who knows what will finally pull me in.

The Intel: Tim Adler

Tim_Adler_headshot-copyWe love writers here, and we love finding out what goes on in their crimey heads. Stepping up to give us The Intel this week is author and journalist Tim Adler.

Tim’s the author of the non-fiction books The House Of Redgrave and Hollywood And The Mob, about the Mafia’s relationship with the movie industry. He’s written for the FT, The Times and the Telegraph, and he’s the former London Editor of the US Entertainment website Deadline Hollywood.

However, Tim’s now focusing his writing talents on fiction, and his debut psychological thriller Slow Bleed went to No.1 in the Amazon Kindle psychological thriller chart.

Tell us about Slow Bleed — what’s it about?

Slow Bleed follows a woman surgeon on the hunt for a female patient who has kidnapped her son – except everybody believes the kidnapper is dead. It’s a chase story that asks the question, “How far would you go to get back the one person you loved?” I suppose the Hollywood pitch would be ‘Flightplan set in a hospital’ (a 2005 Jodie Foster movie about a woman whose daughter seemingly disappears during a transatlantic flight).

Where did the inspiration for it come from?

For me, the purpose of writing thrillers is asking yourself the question, what is it I’m most afraid of? When I was writing Slow Bleed, the answer was, what if one of my children disappeared? How would I cope? What would I do? The beauty of the question is that it keeps changing as you get older. The fear at the heart of the book I’m currently planning is ‘What if the person you loved most in the world killed themselves right in front of you?’

In a funny way Slow Bleed is also my version of the TV show Lost; I liked the idea of the mysterious island. Just as its follow-up, Surrogate – currently out to publishers — is my version of one of those early nineties ‘From Hell’ psycho-thrillers, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or Fatal Attraction. In my version a childless couple invite a surrogate mother into their home with unexpected and terrifying consequences.

What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

I’m sorry to say that for Slow Bleed the answer is very much plot driven; this is a nonstop chase thriller so plotting was important. I have read a lot of scriptwriting books, and the best of them is Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, which has a really handy cheat sheet as to how to develop a story. I figured that a story is a story, whatever the medium. As the story develops, of course it becomes something else. However my new one is much more character driven and, I hope, more sui generis. The important thing is to keep surprising the reader. That’s what storytelling is about: surprising the reader.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

Well, I have a day job so the important thing is to carve out an hour a day and keep pushing the story forward. It doesn’t matter if you write three words or 500. There aren’t any prizes for rushing something. I mean, you don’t rush a casserole in the oven, it takes time. As my shorthand teacher used to say, the secret to mastering something is little and often.

Who are the authors or you love, and why?

Ernest Hemingway is both a paragon and a danger – his deceptively simple sentences are easy to imitate and difficult to pull off. I’m a huge fan of another American writer Raymond Carver, whose short story So Much Water So Close to Home has to be one of the best crime stories ever written. And, while we’re on an American kick, Norman Mailer’s 1964 account of a fatal boxing match remains, to my mind, probably the greatest piece of descriptive prose ever written.

Slow Bleed 2 (3)What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That it’s so hard to make any money at it (laughs). I’ve had three nonfiction books published so far and each time one was published, I thought my life was going to change. With my last one especially, a family biography of the Redgrave family, I expected that, given the reviews, publishers would offer me work. Of course nothing happened. The author John Mortimer said that a book has the shelf life of a pint of milk and he was right. So I’ve come to think of it being more like a cabinet maker, trying to make something sturdy. With my thrillers, it’s more like being an expert shot – one day I hope to hit a bull’s-eye.

How do you deal with feedback?

Asking non-writers for feedback is hopeless. People just nod and say, ‘I thought it was very good.’ But when you ask, what was wrong with it, they just look blank. Recently I was introduced to the children’s writer Rohan Gavin, whose new book Knightley & Son has just been published by Bloomsbury, and that was a joy; we spent an hour-and-a-half working through the plot of my new one.

Dealing with rejection is hard. My teenage son is a songwriter and composer, and I tell him that the difference between a professional and amateur artist is the ability to absorb rejection but keep pushing on.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

Everything in Slow Bleed is heavily autobiographical. All the settings and characters are places that I’ve either been to or composites of people I have known. When you look at writers like Hemingway or Scott Fitzgerald, really they’re just transcribing their experience. I suppose the real reason why I wanted to write Slow Bleed was to work through my feelings about getting divorced.

Give me some advice about writing…

Hollywood has something it calls “high concept” – a simple original idea you can hang the rest of the story from. Often it takes the form of ‘what if?’ What if you lived in the world where no more children were being born? Children of Men.

Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls has a brilliant concept: a time-travelling serial killer is hunted down by one of his victims. Coming up with a simple, original idea is hard.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

You can save yourself a lot of time trying to get an agent by going into your local library and making a list of agents who represent books similar to yours. They will be thanked somewhere in the acknowledgements.

What made you take the self-publishing route?

I’m not sure there is much difference between self-publishing and regular publishing any more. With my latest nonfiction book The House of Redgrave, which The Sunday Times called “compulsively readable” and The Daily Telegraph gave 5*s to, in addition to writing the book I also sourced photographs, wrote captions, worked on the jacket blurb and even came up with the idea for the jacket design. My girlfriend’s mother is what they call an “artisan perfumer” which means that everything is handcrafted and bottled in small runs. I prefer to think of this as ‘artisanal publishing.’

Of course, it would be great if one of the big houses got behind my career, but I suspect they reserve their marketing firepower for a handful of titles each season, whether it’s a Before I Go To Sleep or Gone Girl.

What’s next for you?

As I said, the follow-up to Slow Bleed is currently out to publishers. We’ve already had one offer. Now I’m planning my third thriller about a woman who photographs the moment of her husband’s death, only to realise that everybody in the photo is somehow involved in his murder. We’re pitching it as a Murder On the Orient Express for the Instagram generation.

What I really want to write though is what I call a ‘discombobulation’ thriller; you know, a kind of what-the-hell is going on story. Without wishing to be pretentious, the reveal is often a metaphor for what is reality now. So in Truman Show the answer was reality TV or in the movie Jacob’s Ladder, which was set in the sixties, the answer was drugs. My favourite though has to be the film The Game where the answer was ‘it’s all a game’ – which is kind of a timeless metaphor, don’t you think?


You can check out Tim’s psychological thriller Slow Bleed right here.

The Intel: Peter May


We love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. I’m absolutely delighted to say Peter May, author of the bestselling Lewis Trilogy — The third novel, The Chess Men is out now — has agreed to share with us a little about how he goes about the critical business of getting words on a page.

What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

The germ of an idea comes first. Then I work on characters, and really all story comes out of character, so the rest generally just falls into place.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I spend four to five months developing characters and plot, and doing my research (which is really the fun bit). Then I write (in about 7 days) a very detailed synopsis, which can be up to 20,000 words long. At that point I can look at the whole, and discern where the flaws might be, and what further research is needed. My storyline then provides a safety net for me as I embark on the writing of the actual book, even although story and characters quite often evolve differently. It allows me to write quickly (something I learned to do as a journalist), and to focus on the quality of the writing. I get up at 6am and write 3000 words a day, however long that might take me. I always end my day when I reach the 3000th word, even if it is mid-sentence. That way I always know how I will begin the next day, and so I never have writers‘ block. The book is usually finished in about 7 weeks.

Who are the authors you love, and why?

As a young man the writers I most admired included Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, HE Bates and JP Donleavy. I don’t get much time these days to read for pleasure – most of my reading is for research. But the best book I’ve read recently was (much to my surprise) a Stephen King novel called 11/22/63. I am not a fan of horror or supernatural novels. This doesn’t really fall into that category. It does involve time-travel, but if you are prepared to suspend disbelief in that one respect, then King takes you on a wonderful journey through the late fifties and early sixties as the main character attempts to prevent the assassination of JFK. He is a terrific writer and a master storyteller.

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

That even although you believe that what you have written is great, sometimes it really isn’t, and you have to accept the judgment of an experienced and objective eye – usually your editor. So while it can often be a painful process, you have to be prepared to re-think and re-write. Nine times out of ten it will turn out better.

How do you deal with feedback?

I think people who lavish my books with praise have infinitely good judgement, and that anyone who criticises them must be a complete moron. Seriously, though, you have to be prepared to accept that everyone has different tastes, different likes and dislikes, and not everyone is going to like your work. Hard though that is, you have to learn to be philosophical. As far as direct contact from readers is concerned, I now receive thousands of emails a year and my wife and I labour very hard to try to answer them all.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

Entirely. Whether those experiences come from my own past, or from those things I have learned on my many research trips, my life wholly shapes the things I write about. The Lewis Trilogy is a typical example. In The Blackhouse, Fin’s relationship with Marsaili is very much based on an on- off relationship I had with a girl I met on my first day at school. In The Lewis Man, I used the experience of my father’s descent into alzheimer’s to shape the character of Marsaili’s father, Tormod. In The Chessmen, I borrowed heavily from my own experiences playing in a band during my teens and early twenties to colour the lives and experiences of the Celtic rock band “Solas”.

Give me some advice about writing…

Don’t do it if you think it will bring you money, fame or a glamorous lifestyle. Writing is hard, often unrewarding work. Most writers are driven to write by some inexplicable compulsion that must be coded into their DNA. It is a tough and often lonely road that the writer travels, so don’t even embark on it unless you, too, are driven to it.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Don’t try to write for the marketplace. Write what’s in your heart, and above all what you know about. Don’t waste time sending an unsolicited manuscript to publishers – they won’t read it. Try to find yourself an agent who believes in your work. These days publishers will only read manuscripts submitted by agents. If you can’t find either, then publish yourself. The technology makes it easy these days to produce and sell either hard copies or e-books. But be aware that the competition is fierce and that it is a full-time job just to get your book noticed.

What’s next for you?

I have another two books to write for my current contract, plus the final book in the Enzo Files series. Then…. I don’t know. A very long holiday!

The Chessmen by Peter May is published by Quercus at £7.99, and is available from Amazon here.