Tag Archives: Martina Cole

The Intel: Kate Medina


Kate Medina - credit Philippa GedgeKate Medina received widespread acclaim for her debut thriller, White Crocodile – written as KT Medina – set in the minefields of Cambodia. Now, with Fire Damage, Kate’s started an explosive new series featuring army psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn.

When asked to treat a severely traumatised four year old boy, Jessie has no idea that she will soon becoming embroiled in something much bigger – involving family secrets, army cover-ups and a killer on the loose.

They say write what you know, and Kate has combined her experiences in the Territorial Army as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers with the knowledge she gained studying for a degree in psychology to write the novel.

A generous and fascinating interviewee, Kate tells us about the genesis of her new portage Jessie, why she made the painful decision not to continue with the heroine of her first novel – and how a writing course may be just the ticket to help unlock the talent in all of us.

Plus, I love the way she name-checks a writer who I don’t think has been mentioned in The Intel before, but who has surely sowed the seed of inspiration at an early age in many a crime writer down the decades… Enid Blyton.

Can you tell us about Dr Jessie Flynn … ?

Dr Jessie Flynn is a twenty-nine year old clinical psychologist with the Defence Psychology Service.  Her need to understand the ‘whys’ of human behaviour drove her to become a clinical psychologist, and yet there are huge swathes of her own personality that she struggles to understand, let alone to control.

Women are often portrayed as victims in crime literature.  I wanted to create a character who reflects the huge number of strong, funny, clever, independent women that I know.  Jessie is complex and conflicted, and my new series will be written from her intense, brilliant, flawed, but moral perspective.  I hope that people remember Jessie and the issues raised through her long after they have finished reading.

Fire Damage, the first novel to feature Jessie, is set in both England and Afghanistan – tell us about it.

In Fire Damage, Dr Jessie Flynn is counselling Sami Scott, a deeply traumatised four year-old-boy, whose father, a Major in the Intelligence Corp, was badly burnt in a petrol bomb attack whilst serving in Afghanistan.  Sami is terrified of someone or something called ‘The Shadowman’ and tells Jessie Flynn that ‘the girl knows’.  However, there are no girls in Sami’s life.  Sami also carries a huge black metal Maglite torch with him wherever he goes, clutching onto it like a loved teddy bear.  Sami’s parent insist that his trauma stems from seeing his father in hospital burnt beyond recognition, and that Major Scott is ‘The Shadowman’, but Jessie feels that that something far darker explains Sami’s trauma.

Fire Damage is first and foremost a story about families: love and hate, kindness and cruelty and the destructive nature of some relationships.  The fear and helplessness experienced by a child trapped in a dysfunctional family was, for me, a very powerful emotion to explore, as was its flip side – intense love and an overwhelming desire to protect.

You did a psychology degree and served in the Territorial Army, but what other research did you have to do for the novel?

My degree in Psychology sets me in very good stead to write about a character who is herself a psychologist, so for Jessie’s professional life I needed to do very little research beyond the knowledge and experience that I already have.

Likewise, my experience as a Troop Commander in the Territorial Army and as head of land-based weapons at global defence intelligence publisher Jane’s Information Group set me up well to write about people who serve in the Army and also about the political situation in the middle-east.

The ‘star’ of Fire Damage is Sami Scott, the deeply traumatised four year-old-boy.  I have three children, the youngest of whom is a four-year-old boy and so I suppose you could say that my poor son was a living, breathing research subject for the character of Sami.  However, I can assure my readers that my son’s life is wonderful compared to Sami’s!

9780008132309What’s the biggest challenge in establishing a new series?

For me, White Crocodile, my debut thriller was hard act to follow, firstly because it was very personal to me, as it was based on time I spent working in the minefields of Cambodia, and secondly because it got universally fantastic reviews, being called variously, ‘a stunning debut’ in the Sunday Mirror, ‘an ambitious thriller’ in The Mail on Sunday, ‘a powerful, angry book’ in The Times, and being compared to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in The Independent.  The biggest challenge in establishing the Jessie Flynn series, was therefore to find characters and a subject matter that readers would enjoy even more than White Crocodile.

I knew that I wanted to write a series because, although many readers of White Crocodile wanted to see Tess Hardy again, her job as a mine clearer and the subject matter didn’t really allow for her return.  I also wanted to write a series that used my expertise – as a psychologist and my military experience – and one that was a little out of the ordinary in the crime genre.

In Jessie Flynn and the two other key characters, who appear in Fire Damage, Captain Ben Callan and Detective Inspector ‘Bobby’ Marilyn Simmons of Surrey and Sussex Major Crimes, I really believe I have developed characters who my readers will love and want to live with in many future novels.

Before writing your first novel White Crocodile you did an MA in Creative Writing – was that an experience you would recommend for wannabe writers?

Most novelists I meet are former journalists, but I had no previous writing experience beyond school essays, just a strong desire to write White Crocodile.  Writing a novel is a real challenge, not just in terms of crafting great sentences, but also in terms of developing believable, empathetic characters and sufficiently complex and surprising plots.  I found the MA enormously helpful and would definitely recommend some kind of formal writing teaching for wannabe writers, if they have as little experience as I had when starting out!  However, there are many ways to skin a cat and reading widely in the genre in which you write is a great way to learn how to write well in that genre.

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

The hardest lesson I’ve learnt is to be self-aware and to take feedback from people who are more knowledgeable than myself.  Writing a novel is a huge commitment in terms of time and emotional energy and with White Crocodile I had to throw away and rewrite about a third of it on the advice of my agent.  At the time, it was heartbreaking, but the experience taught me so much about how to write a great crime novel and neither White Crocodile nor Fire Damage would be nearly so good without the very painful lessons I learnt from my agent right at the beginning of my writing career.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I have always loved to read and much of my childhood was spent immersed in stories.  Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series was one of my favourites and in common with many other tomboys I wanted to be George.  Two other books that really captured my imagination as a child were Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird.  They are both fantastic psychological thrillers for young people, with great story lines and incredibly vividly drawn, memorable characters.  I have read both of these novels a number of times over the years and never fail to appreciate them.

I am still an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I choose to write in that genre.  I love writers such as Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson, Martina Cole, Mo Hayder and Lee Child.

Mo Hayder, generates fear in a novel like no other writer I know.  Jo Nesbo’s novels, particularly my favourite which is The Snowman, are also terrifying and he is fantastic at developing very complex plots that make it impossible to put the book down.  I must have read all 500-odd pages of The Snowman in two days.  Martina Cole is gritty and realistic and Lee Child just writes enjoyable and very easily readable stories.

I also love Khaled Hosseni, because he blends fact and fiction so well, taking readers into a very traumatic real word, through incredibly empathetic fictional characters.

What’s your best advice on writing…

My best advice is to read widely, particularly in the genre that you are interested in writing in, to take advice and be self-aware and most importantly, to enjoy yourself.  Enjoyment and passion will transfer itself to the page.  I love Jessie Flynn, Sami Scott and the other characters in Fire Damage, and really enjoyed writing about them, and I think that this love and passion really makes the novel work.

What’s next for you and Jessie?

I have already completed a first draft of the second Jessie Flynn novel and sent it to my publisher, Harper Collins, so I am waiting with baited breath to see if they like it.  Jessie Flynn is a hugely compelling and multi-dimensional character, and as such is a gift to an author, and I am looking forward to developing her, Captain Ben Callan and Detective Inspector ‘Bobby’ Marilyn Simmons of Surrey and Sussex Major Crimes, in many future novels.


Fire Damage, the first Jessie Flynn novel, is out this Thursday — March 24th – in hardback, published by Harper Collins.

The Intel: Shari Low

Shari LowSo you’re probably hard at work thinking about what books to pack when you go on holiday. You’re thinking, glamour! You’re thinking, gossip! You’re thinking, dark secrets!

Author Shari Low and showbiz presenter Ross King have teamed up – becoming Shari King in the process – to write Taking Hollywood, a tale of scandal and secrets in modern-day LA. In the novel, three Glaswegian friends become major Hollywood players – but the events of a fateful night many years ago threatens to tear their lives apart, and a nosy investigative journalist is on the case.

Taking Hollywood is released on August 14th, so you’ve got plenty of time to pre-order it right here!

In the meantime, Shari Low has kindly taken time out to answer questions about her sizzling summer read, about the joys of writing with someone else, and working in the dead of night…

Where did the inspiration for Taking Hollywood come from?

Ross and I had talked about writing a book for years, but we thought it would probably be a biography of his extraordinary life. It was only last year that we decided it should be a novel. We met to have a chat about it and many hours (and many cups of tea) later, we had the concept, characters and storyline mapped out. We realised early in the conversation that we wanted it to be a dark blend of Hollywood drama and Glasgow crime. The book we ended up with is exactly the one we envisaged that day.

Are the characters secretly based on any real-life Hollywood stars?

Absolutely not – although we’ve taken many of the elements of Hollywood life and celebrity scandals and woven them into the story. No actual A-listers were harmed in the making of this book.

Why are we so fascinated by Hollywood scandals and secrets?

I think it’s human nature to be curious. I can sit in a café and people watch all day (in a non-stalker, non-restraining order kind of way). A fascination with celebrity just takes that a step further. It’s intriguing to see the risks and dramas that the famous indulge in and just like we all love to watch a great movie, it’s sometimes captivating to watch a scandal play out. And of course, many big names make it so easy for us to be astonished by their antics. Thank you, Charlie Sheen.

How do you write in a partnership – and avoid tears and tantrums?

Ah, pass the tissues! Actually, there was never a moment that came even close to either tears or tantrums. Ross and I have been friends for over 25 years and we are both pretty straight-talking. We also work in industries where you have to be able to take criticism and listen to the opinions of others without flouting off in a diva strop. There were a couple of lively debates, but it helped that we had exactly the same vision from day one. I’ll keep my diva strops for book 2.

What rules did you set yourself about working together?

No egos, total honesty, and we wouldn’t stop until we’d created a novel that we were both proud of. Other than that, we pretty much just took it day by day.

Taking HollywoodTake us through a typical writing day for you?

The writing content varies, depending on whether I have deadlines for my two newspaper columns  (an opinion page and a literary page). However the hours remain fairly consistent. And long. I work from around 9am until 4pm, then the next few hours are dedicated to the usual chaos of family stuff.  I’m usually back at my desk at around 9pm and work until some time pre-dawn. I’m lucky not to need much sleep and I’m very nocturnal so I work best at 3am when everything around me is silent. However, it’s a schedule that’s depressingly conducive to bloodshot eyes and wrinkles.

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

That’s such a good question and it took me a while to come up with an answer because 15 books down the line, I’m still not sure I have it sussed. Or ever will. I suppose the most significant thing I’ve learned is that I need to start trusting that it will all come together. When I’m mid-book, I’m invariably a hot mess of panic, doubt and anxiety, yet somehow, every single time it all falls into place. I’ve no idea how that happens, but my blood pressure would be a lot lower if I just had faith and confidence in the process.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

So, so many, for lots of different reasons. I grew up on the work of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins and Shirley Conran. Later, I became a huge fan of Martina Cole, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Val McDermid, William McIlvanney, Iain Banks.

I never miss a new release from Marian Keyes or Tasmina Perry. I’ll stop, because I could honestly go on for pages, but not before mentioning that my favourite book of all time is Nobel House by James Clavell.

Give me some advice about writing…

There’s no set way to do it, just find a method that works for you, start typing and have faith. See, I’m absolutely trying to learn that whole trust thing.

 What’s next for you – will you and Ross be working together again?

Definitely! We envisage this as a five book series and we’re currently in the midst of book two. I’m due a diva strop any day now.

Crime Thriller Book Update: Cole, Morton, Freeman and Siggurdardottir

Here’s some books out this week that you may want to add to the pile.

Unknown-5Mary Higgins Clark has published nearly fifty books, selling over 80 millions copies in the States alone, where all of her thrillers are still in print. Higgins Clark writes every day from 8am till 2pm – or up to 17 hours a day, if she’s nearing completion of a novel – that’s a hell of a work ethic for an 83-year-old.

She published her first suspense novel, Where Are The Children? back in 1974. And for the one after that, A Stranger Is Watching,  banked a cool $1.5 million contract. Nearly forty years later, she’s still writing.

Here’s the blurb for her latest, Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting, which is available in hardback, and on kindle, from tomorrow:

Hannah Connelly, a twenty-eight-year old designer and rising star in the fashion world, is plunged into a web of horror and grief when she learns that Connelly Fine Reproductions, the family owned furniture business founded by her grandfather, has been levelled by an explosion in the middle of the night. Everything has been destroyed – the warehouse, the showrooms, and the mansion where priceless antiques have been on permanent display. Worse, to escape the flames, Hannah’s older sister, Kate, had jumped from a window and is now hospitalized in a medically induced coma, suffering from life-threatening injuries.

The fire marshal on the scene is openly suspicious that someone, maybe even Kate, intentionally planned the explosion. Agonized with worry, Hannah can’t understand why Kate would be in the warehouse at that hour of the night. What Hannah does not know is that Kate is most at risk from the people who have access to her in the hospital room. One of them is determined not to let her regain consciousness. That person is out to thwart Hannah, too, as she pursues her quest for the truth.

Unknown-11Brian Freeman’s another thriller writer dedicated to the cause. He estimates he probably wrote a million words before he got published. His latest, The Cold Nowhere – I’m liking that title very much – is out in hardback, paperback and kindle tomorrow.

Behold the blurb:

Ten years ago, six-year-old Catalina Mateo hid under the porch of her family home while a knife butchered her mother and a bullet killed her father.

Now, a rough-sleeping orphan, Cat arrives at the house of Detective Jonathan Stride, pleading for protection. Covered in blood and drenched in the icy waters of Lake Superior, she claims to have narrowly escaped a cold-blooded killer.

Stride’s raw instinct is to protect Cat, whose late parents’ case – and his personal guilt associated with it – still sends a shiver down his spine. As a result, he takes the troubled teenager under his wing without as much as a second thought.

However, Stride’s partner Maggie Bei is not convinced. She doubts the sincerity of this beautiful young streetwalker who has so easily won Stride’s trust, and now sleeps in his house with a butcher’s knife under her pillow. As Stride continues to care for Cat, Maggie’s suspicions solidify, and a single question occupies the void between them: should Stride be afraid for, or of, this terribly damaged girl?

Unknown-7Martina Cole’s latest crime novel, The Life, comes out in paperback tomorrow. Cole is a phenomenon, with a dedicated readership and a string of bestsellers behind her. Cole’s signature stories of gangsters and the tough women who loved them, are instantly recognisable. Books such as The Take and The Runaway have been adapted for telly.

In typically gripping Cole fashion, The Life is a hard-edged tale of East End geezers. Immerse yourself in the blurb:

The Bailey brothers are gangsters determined to make their mark in the world. Peter and Daniel are chalk and cheese in many ways – Peter’s calm exterior belies his ruthless nature, while Daniel’s penchant for spectacular violence is legendary – but together they are unstoppable. From the late seventies they rule London’s East End and, when their sons join the business, it seems that no one can touch the powerful Baileys.

Although it’s never easy at the top; there is always someone waiting to take you down – sometimes even those closest to you… Lena Bailey is determined to shield her youngest child Tania from the Life. But when a terrible tragedy occurs, Tania’s eyes are opened to their world in a way that forces her to make an irrevocable choice that will determine her future.

Unknown-1If you like your crime novels more, er, genteel, and to unfold across decades, Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper is out in paperback tomorrow.

Morton, an Australian writer, has sold three million copies of her works. The Secret Keeper looks to have a typically epic sweep, as you can see from this blurbage:

1961: On a sweltering summer’s day, while her family picnics by the stream on their Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy called Billy, a move to London, and the bright future she can’t wait to seize. But before the idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed a shocking crime that changes everything.

2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history. A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds – Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy – who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatefully entwined.

UnknownYrsa Sigurdardottir’s Someone To Watch Over Me is out on kindle tomorrow. It’s the fifth novel to feature her quirky heroine Thora Gudnundsdottir. Thora’s precinct is the cold city of Reykjavik and beyond that,  the breathtaking landscape of Iceland.

Sigurdardottir writes both adult and children’s novels when she’s not doing her other job – as a civil engineer.

James Ellroy was a golf caddy and a petty criminal, Ian Fleming was an intelligence officer, Dashiell Hammett was a Pinkerton Detective. We all love to write, it’s what sustains us, it nourishes us, but sometimes it doesn’t pay all the bills. So I got to wondering: what’s your other job? Don’t be shy.