Tag Archives: Gone Girl

The Intel: Elena Forbes

Elena ForbesJigsaw Man by Elena Forbes is the latest in the series to feature DI Mark Tartaglia and Sam Donovan. It kicks off when Tartaglia has to investigate the death of a female victim — a woman he had previously spent the night with at a West London hotel. In another investigation, the body of a homeless man found in a burnt-out car turns out to be a corpse assembled from four different people. Enter the Jigsaw Man. A bad day at the office, indeed.

Elena’s first Tartaglia novel Die With Me was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award. Four novels later, we’re delighted that Elena, who lives in London, has agreed to give us the intel on her leading man, the challenges of writing a series, her journey to publication — and, of course, her writing regime.

Tell us about DI Mark Tartaglia and Sam Donovan…

Tartaglia was born and brought up in Edinburgh, of Italian background. I like the fact that he is an outsider in London, which gives him a fresh perspective. He and Donovan have worked together for a few years and the dynamic between them is a major strand of the stories.

How have the characters developed over the course of the series?

The first four books take place over a year and the relationship between Tartaglia and Donovan has changed dramatically over that period. They have both been tested by their experiences together and the arc of their story has been important to me. Jigsaw Man shows them both at a very low point and at their most disillusioned, although there is some light at the very end of the book.

Where did you get the inspiration for Jigsaw Man?

To be honest, I really can’t remember. As with my previous books, the story develops in little fragments, which gradually grow together until I’m ready to start writing. It then evolves further during the course of the writing.

Jigsaw ManWhat are the challenges of writing a procedural series?

There are many pluses – you know your characters and it’s exciting to begin a new story with them. I really enjoy the research, which carries on from one book to another. I guess the challenge is to keep it all fresh but I’ve only written 4 books in the series, so this hasn’t been something I’ve needed to worry about so far.

What was your journey to becoming a published author?

My first two books weren’t published. I have no gripes about it – they were terrible! Tartaglia started off as a minor character in one of them and I discovered I liked writing about him. My third book Die With Me was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger and was eventually published after many re-writes.

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

It’s the same as any type of work, there are good moments and bad moments and a lot of it is about not trying to make it perfect first time. It’s also about sitting down at the desk every day and seeing where things go. Some days are really bad and most of what I write gets deleted, but when I’m on a roll, it’s the best thing in the world. It’s very difficult to interact with family sometimes – I really just want to be locked away at my desk writing.

How do you deal with feedback?

It depends where it comes from. Like any creative process, criticism can be both beneficial and also destructive. Writing is a fragile process and I’ve learned who to trust and what to tune out. In the end, I am writing for myself – what I would want to read – and I am my first point of call as an editor. However, I get to a point when it’s all too familiar and I need a fresh pair of eyes to look at it. I have a wonderful agent and editor, both of whom have been enormously helpful in terms of feedback and helping me craft the books into better shape.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I admire a whole range of authors – Peter Robinson, Michael Connelly, Le Carre, to name a few. I like different things in their writing but probably the main theme is depth of characterisation. I’ve just finished Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. It’s about 20 years old but I’ve never read it before and it’s brilliant in terms of characterisation. I also really enjoyed reading Gone Girl recently. The idea of an unreliable narrator was fresh and interesting and her voice was very strong.

Give me some advice about writing…

The best advice I was given is to just get on and do it! And do it regularly. The main thing is to make a habit of it and if you do it regularly, you will find that it will start flowing through your mind and all sorts of interesting things will start to come. It’s very important to keep a notebook with you. Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is really worth reading too.

What’s next for you?

I’m writing a stand-alone thriller at the moment. It wasn’t a deliberate move to do something different, I just had this really good idea that didn’t fit into the mould of a police procedural. However, I’m going to see if I can bring Tartaglia into it somehow.

Jigsaw Man is published by Quercus in hardcover.

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.

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.