Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

The Intel: Deborah Bee

Deborah BeeThe Blog Tour for Deborah Bee’s startling debut The Last Thing I Remember starts right here, right now, at Crime Thriller Fella.

Deborah’s debut is a fascinating, twisty tale of two women:

Sarah is in a coma. She was mugged. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She didn’t deserve any of it. She’s a nice girl from a nice family. She’s a victim. That’s what they say.

Kelly is in the waiting room. She’s just a kid. A typical schoolgirl. Bullied a bit, probably. She doesn’t know anything. That’s what they say. So why is she there? Why does she keep turning up?

Can Sarah remember what happened to her, and work out who is it that keeps coming into her room at night?

Published in ebook next week by Twenty7 – with the paperback to follow in July – The Last Thing I Remember has already been snapped up by the telly people. Deborah’s background is in fashion. She’s worked at various magazines and newspapers including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Times and the Guardian as a fashion writer and editor, and she’s currently a Creative Director in luxury retail.

In this terrific intel interview, Deborah gives us the lowdown on her women protags, Locked-In Syndrome and why to avoid top-stitching.


Tell us about Sarah and Kelly…

From the start, Sarah is our victim – unable to move, see, keep herself alive without life-support, but she can hear. She has Locked-in Syndrome. Kelly is a sassy 14 year-old who looks like a geek. Sarah has no history that she can remember, not even her own name. Kelly knows what’s what, but no one bothers to ask her, because she’s a kid. And she looks like a geek. They have an unusual relationship that unfolds as Sarah starts to remember, and as the police are called in to investigate Sarah’s mugging and the murder of her husband – something Sarah only discovers through overhearing conversations between her family and the medical team.

The publishing team seem to focus on Sarah. The TV company looking at turning the story into a 3 part drama (don’t hold your breath – these things apparently take ages) is more interested in Kelly.

The Last Thing I Remember has got a terrific high-concept hook – where did you get the inspiration?

I didn’t start out with anything high-concept. I just wanted to tell a story and the only way to maintain interest for a character in a coma, was to have a dual narrative, with two protagonists. It was only afterwards when I read up on the ‘rules of writing fiction’ that I realised that it was an unusual approach. It was a massively complicated structure. I got lost all the time. I had to do charts and all sorts just to make sure I hadn’t given away too much. And I had to rewrite Kelly’s dialogue to make her voice sound entirely the opposite of Sarah’s.

What kind of research did you do for Sarah’s condition?

I read every book I could find on real-life experiences of comas and Locked In Syndrome. Many of them are not particularly well-read books – but they are written from the heart, which is what I needed. I also watched a load of Emergency Room fly-on-the-wall style documentaries, which show a truer picture of intensive care situations than hospital dramas, and the way relatives try to cope. The proper medical research is evolving all the time.

The latest research is getting volunteers to sleep and dream while monitoring brain activity. When the volunteers wakes up they are asked what they were dreaming about so that the scientists can match the areas of activity in the brain with places, objects and emotions. They hope to use the research to increase the possibility of communicating with Locked In Syndrome patients.

The Last Thing I Remember_Deborah BeeWhy are readers so fascinated by characters who have amnesia?

I guess we are all shaped by our experiences and rely on them to make choices. It was even part of Blade Runner – when the Rachael character who was a replicant was given false memories in order to make her feel more human.

The novel is a long way from fashion journalism, do you ever imagine yourself setting a crime novel in the ruthless world of couture?

I’m not sure I agree that the world of couture is ruthless. The fashion industry can be pretty competitive, but the actual ‘couture’ is done by amazing artisans in tiny rooms dotted around Paris. They are usually devoted to their art. There’s definitely something in the fashion world though. I’ll dedicate the book to you if I ever come up with a good story.

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

Writing is all about confidence. If you believe in yourself then you can keep going for all those thousands of words. There’s a massive temptation to tell everyone about it or worse still, get them to read it – and then suffer their criticisms going round and round your head. The first person to read my book was my agent. When she said she liked it, I gave it to my husband to read. My son is in the middle of it now. If he says he hates it, I can live with it. Although, clearly I’ll be devastated.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I love a great story so my favourites are the ones that everyone loves – sorry to be boring. I think John Irving weaves a great tale – A Prayer for Owen Meany has the best twist at the end that takes you right back to the beginning. I like circular stories like that. J.D.Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is similarly circular. I think a clever structure can make a novel – Pierre Choderlos de Lacios’ Dangerous Liaisons is told through letters between two hugely manipulative characters.

Paula Hawkins Girl on a Train has the most brilliant unreliable witness.  Nora Ephron’s Heartburn makes you laugh and cry at the same time – it’s an autobiographical account of the breakdown of the author’s marriage and she somehow makes it funny. F.Scott Fitzgerald is a bit of a hero – The Great Gatsby is perfect – a protagonist who is not what he makes out – love that.

Give me some advice about writing…

Never forget who your audience is. Never forget that they don’t have to read it – you have to entertain them. Don’t try to sound cleverer than you are. Never start a paragraph with the weather (courtesy of Oscar Wilde – “Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”) Go easy on exclamation marks (Elmore Leonard). And finally from my fashion journalism tutor at Central St Martins, Felicity Green – “If you find yourself describing pleats or top-stitching – you know you’re in trouble.”

What’s next for you?

I have two stories that I’m working on. Both are waiting for some time off for me to decide which one to go ahead with first. One is commercial – an easier read than The Last Thing I Remember, the other is difficult – a psychological thriller full of time lapses and flashbacks. The difficult one is easier to write. Weird but true. More my style.


Published by Twenty7, the ebook of The Last Thing I Remember comes out next Thursday, March 3rd.

The Intel: Vaughn Entwistle

Vaughn EntwistleThe winter nights are cold and dark, the wind is howling through the trees and you’re in the mood to curl up in front of a crackling fire in a top hat – or, if you’re a lady, a pretty bonnet – to read something dark and gothic.

Vaughn Entwistle’s new novel The Angel Of Highgate takes us back to October 1859. Lord Geoffrey Thraxton is notorious in Victorian society – a Byronesque rake with a reputation. After surviving a near deadly pistol duel, boastful Thraxton finds himself on the wrong side of the attending physician Silas Garrette, a chloroform addict with a bloodlust, and when Thraxton falls in love with a mysterious woman who haunts Highgate Cemetery he unwittingly provides the murderous doctor with the perfect means to punish a man with no fear of death.

Entwistle has got form where supernatural chillers are concerned. He’s the author of two novels in The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle series – of which The Angel Of Highgate is a prequel – The Revenant of Thraxton Hall and The Dead Assassin. He lives in north Somerset with his wife and cats.

Vaughn gives us the intel on his new series, Thraxton, gargoyles, and the secrets of Highgate Cemetery, and finding your killer concept.

Tell us about Lord Geoffrey Thraxton. Where did you get the inspiration to write such a deliciously wicked character?

Lord Thraxton is a bit of a naughty boy. I would describe him as “wicked” in the naughty sense of the word: wicked but not evil. He is impulsive, utterly without boundaries, and has a self-destructive streak that leads him to frequent brothels, smoke opium, womanise, fight duels and tempt fate at each and every opportunity. He’s a pastiche of several real-life characters. Like Lord Byron, he would best be described as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” He’s also partially based upon also the Irish nobleman, The Marquess of Waterford, known by many as the “Mad Marquess” because of his drunken revels with a group of cronies that frequently ended in vandalism and public outrage.

But deep at the centre of Thraxton is a dark streak of melancholia. He was deeply wounded in childhood by the death of his beloved mother and the subsequent indifference of his stern father. In the novel. Thraxton is a metaphor for the Victorian preoccupation (some might term it, fetishisation) of death. The Victorian era was a time when, due to the prevalence of incurable diseases such as “consumption” (tuberculosis), many people died in the bloom of youth. (The Poet Keats is a tragic example.) The Victorians made an artform of mourning right down to strict conventions regarding the mourning clothes that had to be worn for a full year after the loss of a loved one. The creation of London’s “Magnificent Seven,” elysian necropolises such as Kensal Green Cemetery, Brompton Cemetery and, of course, the crown jewel, Highgate Cemetery, were the physical manifestation of the Victorian obsession with death and mourning.

Why are we so attracted to absolute rotters like Lord Geoffrey?

I think we are fascinated and drawn to scoundrels like Lord Geoffrey Thraxton because they have the power and influence to flaunt the conventions of society, where we do not (or at least not without suffering consequences). Although we all like to live in an orderly and safe world, I think readers get a vicarious thrill reading about a protagonist who follows his or her own path without fear of the social repercussions.

Why are we so fascinated by the Victorian underworld?

I think Dickens has to take a great deal of the blame for this. The criminal underword has always held a fascination for the rest of us. The Victorian criminal, from Jack the Ripper onwards, had the unique ability to slip away into the foggy night, evading capture by the authorities. As such, they become fearful shadows. We read horror and suspense novels because we like to be scared, and the Victorian underworld is filled with bogeymen. The two that feature in The Angel of Highgate: the Mobsman Mordecai Fowler and the deranged Doctor Silas Garette, are utterly ruthless psychopaths dredged up from your worst nightmare.

The Angel Of HighgateWhich is your favourite grave in Highgate Cemetery?

To me the most spectacular part of Highate Cemetery is the Egyptian Avenue, a dark and gloomy passageway entered by passing through a massive, pharoahnic arch (Egyptology was all the rage in Victorian England). The dark passageway is lined on either side by brass doored tombs and gradually ascends to a circle of granite tombs called The Circle of Lebanon, so named after the towering cedar at its centre. If you’re a topophile like me, there’s nothing to match it for sheer gothic atmosphere.

Will we be seeing the return of your paranormal sleuthing duo Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde?

I certainly hope so. I’m currently writing the third in the series while plotting the fourth book and have ideas for dozens of future books in the series.

You’ve had your own gargoyle-sculpting business! What makes a really handsome gargoyle?

Ugly and scary is what you’re looking for in a gargoyle, which is why my best gargoyles are based on what I look like when I get up in the morning—before I’ve quaffed a big mug of strong tea and had time to pound the horns back into my head.

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

A novel takes a tremendous amount of work and consumes a huge chunk of your life. And yet I have written novels that will probably never see the light of day. Not because the writing was bad, but because the concept behind it was not commercial enough. You can write about any subject you like, but to attract the attention of an agent and then a publisher, you need a killer concept (something highly original, but not too way out). But a high concept alone is not enough; you must follow through with terrific writing featuring original characters, sparkling dialogue and vivid prose that crackles on the page.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, because beyond providing the archetype for the detective story with Sherlock Holmes, he was also an incredible innovator who penned ghost stories, science fiction, historical fiction and adventure stories.

Neil Gaiman: the consummate professional. Although he’s been writing for years, he continues to produce fresh, original writing.

Elizabeth Hand. A terrific writer with gorgeous prose. A terrific “voice” and a good prose style are essential for me. I’ve abandoned many novels if the prose is dull and unoriginal. I’m very proud of my own prose style and many fans comment upon it.

Ramsey McDonald. Recognised by many as the master of horror. His short stories are the best in the genre.

Give me some advice about writing…

If you are not writing, you should be reading and vice versa. It takes hours and hours of writing to discover your “voice.” There is no short cut for this. You should also be well read in whatever genre you decide to write in. Not so you can copy others, but so you can avoid copying them. To stand out in today’s crowded marketplace, you must offer something utterly original.

 What’s next for you?

I am currently writing the third novel in the Paranormal Casebooks series, entitled, The Faerie Vortex. As you can guess from the title it’s about faeries. However, I always like to take an unconventional spin on whatever trope I use in my fiction. So these are not the Tinkerbell fairies of Disney, these are Faeries in the sense of The Fey: beings that are intimately linked with the Nether-realm that lies between life and death.

I’m also working on the plot of the fourth book in the Paranormal Casebooks series and when I’m not doing that I’m writing a collection of ghost stories.


The Angel Of Highgate is published by Titan Books on December 1st.

The Intel: William Giraldi

William GiraldiEarlier in the week we reviewed William Giraldi’s cold-blooded meditation on savagery and belief, Hold The Dark, and its mesmerising images burned its way into our brain and stayed there.

Giraldi is a hell of a writer — he knows every which way around a sentence — so we’re delighted to say that he’s agreed to give us the lowdown on Hold The Dark. You’re going to like this. Giraldi talks the cold landscape of violence inside of us, cigarette smoke and the ‘touch of audacity’ that fires a writer’s imagination. Make no mistake, it’s fascinating stuff — enjoy.

How would you describe Hold the Dark to a potential reader?

A story about a parent’s incorruptible love for his child, about spiritual breakdown, about the ancient bonds of tribe or clan, about the majesty of nature and myth, and the absolute purity of evil.

Hold the Dark is a crime novel, but it’s very much a literary novel with a strong theme and myth system – what made you decide to write in the genre?

I can’t speak definitively for other writers, but I suspect that most novelists don’t decide their material: their material decides them. It was that way for me with Hold the Dark, and with my first novel, Busy Monsters, too: I began with only the vaguest notion of its shape and form, its pitch and tenor. I was surprised to see Hold the Dark turning into a crime novel, although, to be honest with you, I still don’t necessarily see it that way, because for me it began as an investigation into an older man’s spiritual crisis.

The book is about evil, yes, evil as we commonly conceive it, but I began by thinking of St. Augustine’s definition of evil, which is a complete separation from God, a turning away from God, that cold and that dark of self-damnation. In the novel, the embodiment of the Augustinian notion of evil is the cold and the dark of the Alaskan tundra.

The book is very much about two very different men – Vernon Slone and Russell Core. What do these two men represent to you?

Russell Core is the reader, and he’s also the guide for the reader in this alien place: like the reader, he’s dropped into this enigmatic and ancient land at the end of the world, does not have his bearings, knows that nothing works here as it works back in civilization. At the same time, Core is the reader’s chaperone as he tries to make sense of these uncommon people, these rituals and rites of blood, the animality of the human being in situations of extremity.

And Vernon Slone is that animality incarnate: he is what happens when all the strictures of society are removed. I should say, too, that although Slone is by every definition a sociopath, he is loyal to Medora Slone and Cheeon and the memory of his son, he is devoted to them, lives by an ancient code of devotion, absolutely inviolable, and this is something too little seen these days. I mean to say that Slone, for all the horror housed within him, has a dignity of a kind.

Hold The DarkThe violence in Hold the Dark is very shocking and often sudden. Do you think that stories are one way we make sense of our lost primal, savage instincts?

Yes, I do, and I’d add that stories should be the only way we make sense of our lost savage instincts. I abhor violence in the world, am sickened by it. As I write this, it’s just twenty four hours after the terrorist attack in Paris, the bastards who slaughtered the magazine staff at Charlie Hebdo, and I’ve been on edge, nauseated and disgusted since the news broke. This one feels very personal to me: writers and artists being slaughtered for their humor, for their ideas.

But in a novel . . . no actual person is ever harmed in a novel, or in any work of the imagination, and so the question of evil or violence becomes an aesthetic question and not a moral question: Does the style, does the pitch and torque of the prose correspond to the climate of the narrative, to the roiling inner lives of the characters? Does the tenor of the prose offer pleasure and intimations of wisdom? Martin Amis says that style is morality, that style judges, and I think he’s right about that. Style tells you all you need to know, even when you’re reading about violence and evil.

The violence of Hold the Dark is an organic outcrop of the novel’s agon with evil. There’s no gloating over the bloodshed in this book, no pride taken in the lives lost. The women and men in Hold the Dark are violent because nature is violent—living hand in hand with the wilderness, they harbor within themselves an identical wilderness, a savagery just as startling and just as necessary as the savagery on display in the Alaskan wild. I’m speaking of the outlaw spirit in man, an outlaw spirit that pervades nature and cannot be altered. Actually, there’s more cigarette smoke than bloodshed in this book. I’m half surprised the anti-smoking league hasn’t picketed my publisher. Someone’s smoking on every page of this novel. I found myself coughing one afternoon at about page 100 and that’s when I realized how much cigarette smoke I was funneling into this narrative, perhaps because cigarette smoke is the perfect omen for impending death.

The unforgiving Alaskan landscape is very much a character in itself. As a guy from Jersey, how did you get under the skin of that remote region?

Astute question. You’re right, it wasn’t easy. I don’t mean this to sound facile, but I used my imagination. I marshaled a lifetime of reading. As a devotee of the sublime Oscar Wilde, I believe that the artist’s only loyalty is to his own imagination, to what his imagination can grasp and assert. Be very cautious of those who tell you that the novelist is not permitted to write about certain subjects because he wasn’t there, because what they are really telling you is that you are not permitted to think about certain subjects, and that’s one of the indispensable traits of the despot. So, books were how I had the audacity to imagine my own Alaska, which of course doesn’t correspond in every way to the actual Alaska. (Goethe said that, that a writer requires “a touch of audacity” to create something bold.)

Jack London, of course, was big for me: his stories of the unforgiving Yukon and of the human/animal clash. The Call of the Wild and Whitefang, especially, have been in my mind since I was a child. Sentence for sentence he’s not the best prose stylist, but he really understands that mythic territory, and he knows how to tell a story. “To Build a Fire” is a tiny gem. The other important book for me was John McPhee’s famous narrative of Alaska, Coming Into the Country. I remember reading that before I ever thought of Hold the Dark and thinking that it had the epic sweep of a great novel.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I wish I could! I don’t have a typical writing day because I have two lovely little monsters who hurricane through my house every hour, my sons Ethan and Aiden, ages 5 and 3. They dictate when I write. The truth is that I don’t like writing all that much, it’s very hard for me, and so I’m always looking for a reason not to do it. So I’ll stop in the middle of a sentence if they storm into my room and I’ll spend an hour grappling with them on the bed. I certainly don’t write every day. But a good day might look like 4 or 5 hours, maybe a solid page to show for it, two pages if I’m lucky.

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

To make every sentence alive with uncommon energy and precision. Walker Percy says this, that even throw-away sentences must achieve a high level of poetic truth and beauty. Very hard, that.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov, above all others. Why? Simple. Their sentences. It always comes down to the sentences. Memorable, vibrant, deep-seeing sentences.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov. There’s no other way. Writing can’t be taught. But if you’ve been given the cursed gift of talent, then you can improve by reading the masters very closely.

Do you plan to return to the crime genre?

Perhaps I will, yes. I have another story in mind, only very opaque to me now, but I can already smell the gasoline and blood.