Tag Archives: Gillian Flynn

TV & Movie Crime Log: Peaky, Blacklist, Gone

Peaky BlindersBritish serialised crime dramas are always welcome at my gaff, as long as they leave all knives and guns at the door and take off their size twelves. Peaky Blinders is back for a second series. The title refers, of course, to an early 20th century gang who hid razor-blades in their hats for nefarious purposes – but could just as well refer to the razor sharp cheekbones of Cillian ‘Crane’ Murphy.

That’s by the by, you’re not here to talk about cheekbones, you’re here to discover what the blurb has to say for itself:

Birmingham crime boss Thomas Shelby  heads into perilous territory. As the 1920s begin to roar, business is booming for the Peaky Blinders gang. Shelby starts to expand his legal and illegal operations. He has his sights set firmly on wider horizons, and the race tracks of the South are calling out for new management.

Shelby’s meteoric rise brings him into contact with both the upper echelons of society and astonishing new adversaries from London’s criminal enterprises. All will test him to the core, though in very different ways.

Meanwhile, Shelby’s home turf of Birmingham is beset by new challenges as members of his family react to the upturn in their fortunes, and an enemy from his past returns to the city with plans for a revenge of biblical proportions.

Biblical proportions doesn’t sound good. Joining the cast is Tom Hardy. Quite a coup, considering Mr. Hardy is something of a movie heart-throb, these days. The advice he delivered in Inception – ‘dare to dream a little bigger, darling’ – is sage advice to any writer and was considered, briefly, as the title of this blog. The cast also includes Helen McCrory – we like her – and Noah ‘The Rach 3’ – Taylor.

Peaky Blinders was, is, written by Steven Knight, who wrote Locke, Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things and, lest we forget, created Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

The BlacklistIf, everywhere you go, James Spader’s big milky gaze is following you from a billboard, it means The Blacklist is back on Sky Living this Friday at 9pm, for a second season. However, if you also get a curious sense that Spader’s talking to you about courgettes, then – no disrespect intended – it means you’re probably not well.

If you’re a fan of the first series – and there are plenty – you know the drill. Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington hands himself into the FBI and tells them he can deliver them the world’s most-wanted criminals – his only stipulation is that he’ll only talk with a rookie agent. I haven’t watched much of it, to be honest, but even I could glean that the agent’s husband is a rotter.

And, so then, let us please be upstanding for David Fincher’s adaptation of Gone Girl, which comes to a cinema screen near you on Friday. Gillian Flynn’s novel was quite the thing to be reading a couple of years ago, reaching that mythical zeitgeisty place that authors dream about – and, happily, managed to be also beautifully written. Mr. Fincher seems an ideal fit for her cynical and mesmerising story of a toxic marriage, and so far the reviews for the movie have been terrific.

incidentally, those of us who much admire Mz. Flynn’s two proceeding novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places – I’m looking at you, madam, and you, sir – will be happy to know there are adaptations of those in the pipeline. Dark Places, like the adaptation of Gone Girl, has a screenplay written by the author herself, and Sharp Objects is set to be a TV series.

Be gone with you.

In The Blood – Lisa Unger

Unknown-2In Lisa Unger’s powerful new psychological thriller, character and plot come together quickly to duke it out – like in one of those whirling cartoon fights where you see the occasional fist or leg protruding from a spinning tornado.

The blurb may not be telling you the whole truth:

Lana Granger lives a life of lies. She has told so many lies about where she comes from and who she is that the truth is like a cloudy nightmare she can’t quite recall. About to graduate from college and with her trust fund almost tapped out, she takes a job babysitting a troubled boy named Luke. Expelled from schools all over the country, the manipulative young Luke is accustomed to controlling the people in his life. But, in Lana, he may have met his match. Or has Lana met hers?

When Lana’s closest friend, Beck, mysteriously disappears, Lana resumes her lying ways–to friends, to the police, to herself. The police have a lot of questions for Lana when the story about her where­abouts the night Beck disappeared doesn’t jibe with eyewitness accounts. Lana will do anything to hide the truth, but it might not be enough to keep her ominous secrets buried: someone else knows about Lana’s lies. And he’s dying to tell.

There are shades of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places in In The Blood, a tricky and clever tale of a damaged teen’s efforts to escape her past. Lana’s friendship with her friend Beck is troubled by  unresolved sexual tension. Trouble is, when Beck follows Lana into the woods, she vanishes. And at the same time as Beck disappears, Lana falls into the orbit of an 11-year-old, a bad seed called Luke, who has a penchant for mind games.

Sometimes crime-novels can take ages to get going, particularly in psychological novels where we spend a lot of time in a character’s head. We can get so bogged down in a character’s endless thoughts and feeling that we gasp for a line of dialogue like water in a desert. But there’s little faffing about in In The Blood.

We all know the phrase character is action. Well, in this novel, the depth of Lana’s damaged-psyche emerges as she tries to discover the truth about Beck’s disappearance, Luke’s intentions and the truth of her mother’s murder. Unger always keeps Lana moving forward, juggling a number of  interconnected mysteries, and throwing in a satisfying twist. It’s an impressive feat of plate-spinning.

As a protagonist, Lana may not be everyone’s cup of tea. She’s a right mess of a young lady. On medication, in therapy, blacking out, repressing sinister memories. Her issues go way back to her mother’s murder and beyond. Her life has been built on secrets and lies. Good for the reader, bad for Lana.

But we root for her to solve the mess of her life. One way that Unger makes us do that is by surrounding herself with a collection of even more damaged individuals. Luke, for example, is a nasty little article, a sociopath who runs rings around his passive mother. Luke gives Unger the opportunity to consider the age old conflict of nature versus nurture. Are psychopaths born or made?

If, towards the end, In The Blood sometimes veers dangerously towards melodrama – Unger’s fictional New York town The Hollows seems over-burdened by deranged persons – that’s okay. I prefer the books I read to over-commit rather than crawl half-heartedly to a close.

What I liked: Unger is a terrific plotter. So many novels fail because they don’t surprise. Inexperienced authors can put every damned fact on the page. An experienced author like Unger knows how to stay one step-ahead of the reader by withholding vital information, or making them come to the wrong conclusion.

Reading a novel is the one time people want to be proved wrong. They love being blindsided. One way to do that is to use, as Unger does, an unreliable narrator. Someone who, for whatever reason, isn’t going to give the reader the whole picture. It’s a powerful device in the skilful writer’s toolbox.

The Intel: Sheila Bugler

As you know, we love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. Last week we reviewed Sheila Bugler’s procedural Hunting Shadows. Now Sheila tells us how she gets those pesky words out of her head and onto the page. 

Sheila Bugler_0002 copyHow has your own experience influence your writing?

I’m pretty sure all experience is an influence, although thinking about my own writing, two things seem most obvious. The first is being a parent. I started writing properly after the birth of my second child. Unwittingly, themes of parenthood, parental love and the importance of giving children a safe, secure childhood recur throughout my writing. I suspect I have a need to explore the strong emotions and vulnerability you experience as a parent.

The second strong influence is my status as an immigrant. I live in a country that’s not my own. This sounds very dramatic, I know, but in a sense it’s how I feel. I adore the beautiful part of England I now call home but I am – first and foremost – an Irish emigrant. I love my country and miss it. Writing novels with Irish characters has always been important and I suspect it will remain so for some time to come. It’s a way of connecting me with where I’m from.

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

Character, although I had to think about this so the answer’s not that straight-forward. Sometimes, a novel starts with a single scene. Other times, I’ve dreamt the entire plot of a novel and that’s the starting point. No matter how it begins, though, once the writing starts the narrative is driven by the way the characters develop. Plot definitely comes second to that (although as a crime writer I do have to think very carefully about plot, of course).

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I’m not sure there is a typical day, unfortunately. I have a job and two kids and life is very busy. On a good day, I get up early (usually before 5) and write until the day begins for everyone else. The days I commute to London, I write on the train.

Basically, I squeeze the writing into whatever little bit of free time I can find. I long for the day I can write full-time.

Who are the authors or you love, and why?

So many. First and foremost, I have a definite leaning towards US writers. Why? It’s something about the lyrical way US authors weave the amazing landscape of their country into their writing. But I adore many other writers too.

Favourite crime writers include Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Craig McDonald, Philip Kerr, James Lee Burke, Denis Lehane, Raymond Chandler (of course), Ken Bruen, Cathi Unsworth, Louise Welsh, Harlan Coben and the incredible Robert Edric who writes the best UK noir fiction I have ever read. I’ve also recently read books by Stephan Talty, MD Villiers and Derek B Miller which were all brilliant. In fact, Talty’s book was so good I wrote to him and told him I wished I’d written it. And I really do.

I also read a lot of non-crime. All-time favourite authors include Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Norman Maclean (A River Runs Through It would possibly be my desert island book), Kazuo Ishiguro, Alan Hollinghurst Patrick McCabe, Raymond Carver, Richard Bausch and the incomparable genius that is PG Wodehouse. I’ve just started re-reading Jeeves and it really is the most sublime writing.

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

That I’m not going to make a fortune in this line of work! Also that it takes time to get anywhere. I’m not a very patient person and you really need a lot of patience to persevere with this odd occupation we have chosen.

How do you deal with feedback?

I’m pretty okay with feedback. I don’t take criticism too personally. In fact, it is impossible to survive as a writer if you take everything to heart. I went through an intense editing process with Hunting Shadows. Even though my editor is wonderful, I found the process quite gruelling. I do admit, though, that it’s now a better novel than it would have been if we hadn’t made all those changes.

I’ve also learned that all views are subjective. When I started writing, I took every piece of feedback on board and tried to change my writing on that basis. Now I realise that no one’s opinion is ‘right’ (although naturally some opinions are more right than others!). The important thing is not to take anything personally and to be sensible. Generally, if someone doesn’t like something you’ve written, your gut will tell you if they’re right or not. If something feels wrong, then it is wrong and you’ll need to change it.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

In lots of ways, I suspect. As I mentioned above, being a mother and an emigrant are key influences. But so many other things in my life feed into my writing, consciously or sub-consciously.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read lots and be realistic. You may think you’re the best, most original talent that has ever lived but the chances are no one else will think that. And even if you find someone who does share that view, it will still be hard work.

Being able to write is very special and I feel so lucky that I’ve found this thing I want to do with my life. But it’s also incredibly hard work. Mostly, it’s a grind and you have to put so much else on hold to do it…

Finally, every aspiring writer should read Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s brilliant.

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

Be patient. Be realistic. Be doggedly persistent.

What’s next for you?

Working on the sequel to Hunting Shadows. It’s called Watch Over You and should be out in the first half of 2014. It’s quite a different book, full of dark, demented females. I like it but I’m not sure, yet, if anyone else will!

Sheila grew up in a small town in the west of Ireland. After studying Psychology at university, she left Ireland and worked in Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland and Argentina before finally settling in Eastbourne, where she lives with her husband, Sean, and their two children.

You can find out more about Sheila and her writing on her website (www.sheilabugler.co.uk). She’s also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/#!/sheila.bugler.1) and Twitter (@sheilab10).