Tag Archives: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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: Mark A. Latham

Mark A. Latham

2015 Adam Shaw Photography

Mark A. Latham’s supernatural crime novel The Lazarus Gate introduces us to a new Victorian hero. Captain John Hardwick, an army veteran and opium addict, is recruited by a mysterious gentlemen’s club to combat an uncanny threat to the British Empire.

As his path crosses with that of “The Artist,” a mysterious yet brilliant painter whose medium encompasses something far more otherworldly than mere oil and acrylic paints, he soon finds himself drawn into a world just beyond our own.

The Lazarus Gate is the tale of a secret war waged between parallel universes, between reality and the supernatural. A war fought relentlessly by an elite group of agents.

Latham has got form for this kind of fantastical genre mash-up. Formerly the editor of Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine, Mark dabbled in tabletop games design before becoming a full-time author of strange, fantastical and macabre tales.

He gives us the intel on the first of his Hardwick series, how Victorian literature inspired him, the parallels between roleplaying games and narrative fiction and how a good editor can work wonders for any writer…

What is The Lazarus Gate?

That would be a massive spoiler… Suffice it to say, in a tale of Victorian science fiction, the central threat will come in the form of an Infernal Device ™. The Lazarus Gate is that device.

Your novel combines crime and supernatural elements in a Victorian setting – where did you get the idea for the exploits of Captain John Hardwick and The Artist?

That’s such a tough question – I think every writer dreads the ‘Where do you get your ideas’ question, because there’s rarely a single answer. I’ve lived and breathed Victorian literature since I was a kid, so I was always going to write something set in the era. Really, the books that I loved in my teens – Dracula, Allan Quatermain, The Man Who Would be King, The Time Machine, and so on – they informed the themes that I knew I had to touch on. The obsession with spiritualism, the Gothic, Victorian exoticism and Imperialism, the sins of the father being visited on the son… You’ll probably see shades of Count Dracula and even Fu-Manchu in the Artist, which is entirely intentional.

I’m also a pretty avid reader of horror stories (mostly Victorian and Edwardian ones, naturally), and so I always like to include some elements creeping dread in my stories. That doesn’t bode terribly well for John Hardwick at times, unfortunately…

Why is the Victorian era such a rich time for writers with a penchant for the fantastical?

We’re in a period of real appreciation for Victorian-era stories; while a few years ago we saw some failed attempts and false starts (The oft-maligned League of Extraordinary Gentleman movie springs to mind), we’re now entering a golden age for aficionados of the era like me. Shows like Penny Dreadful and Ripper Street, and the movie Crimson Peak, are getting the mainstream attention they deserve. The BBC’s Sherlock has reinvigorated interest in the Great Detective, and is even filming a very meta Victorian episode. The fantastical elements of many of these shows lend themselves so perfectly to the period – the Victorians were obsessed with the supernatural, the sinister, the fantastical. So many of the horror, SF and fantasy tropes we think of as clichéd today were created in the nineteenth century that it was just a really rich melting pot of ideas. Going back to the source seems entirely natural, to me at least.

I think the Victorian era has a mystique and romance about it. When people think of ghost stories, they often think of the fog-shrouded streets of Victorian London. When they think of detective fiction, they think of Sherlock Holmes. When they think of gruesome crimes, they think of Jack the Ripper. It’s such an evocative period in history, and for writers of a more macabre bent, like me, there’s a wealth of archetypal images to draw upon. More than that, I think that in an era where we’re just bombarded with technology and communications that make the world feel very small, it’s great to be able to hearken back to a time before the telephone or the aeroplane, when detective work had to be done with footslogging and deduction rather than high-speed international databases, and where help was several days’ ride away rather than at the end of a cell phone.

The Lazarus GateThe Lazarus Gate would make a terrific film – who have your got your eye on for the main cast?

Very nice of you to say (if any Hollywood agents are reading this, their people can feel free to call my people, etc). It’s funny you should ask that though, as I was talking with friends about this in the pub just yesterday!

When I start writing a story, I often ‘cast’ the main roles, and sometimes even pin pictures of those actors and actresses up on a board. The reason is to help me with dialogue – ‘How would he deliver that line if this was a movie?’ Although I don’t write in anything like a ‘movie structure’, as an exercise it helps keep me consistent with characterisation.

A friend told me yesterday that she could see Johnny Depp playing John Hardwick, which really surprised me. Actually, when I was about four chapters in, he started speaking in the voice of Jonny Lee Miller from Elementary, and that kind of stuck. John Hardwick isn’t Hollywood-pretty, and he’s not really the typical action hero – he’s had a tough life, he’s not a great success, he’s wiry and scarred, struggling with addiction, but keeps it together in the face of adversity, remaining honest as the day is long in a world of deception and temptation.

As for the rest of the cast – I don’t want to influence how people see my characters in their mind’s eye, but let’s just say that there are definitely parts for Jude Law, Alan Rickman and Tuppence Middleton when the casting people come knocking.

You have been a tabletop games designer – what are the similarities between inventing games and writing novels?

I still am a [part time] tabletop games designer, for my sins. I think writing those sort of games flexes both your creative muscles and your organisational ones. Can you capture the imagination of your audience, and create a convincing world? Can you then create a framework of rules that logically fit together so that your readers/players can bring their own stories to life within that world? That’s at the heart of everything I’ve ever done.

It’s in roleplaying games, though, that I really cut my teeth as a narrative writer. When you’re the games master or storyteller for a small group, you have to balance those interactions so each of your players has their time to shine, encouraging them to stay ‘in character’, and rewarding their actions on the fly with new plot twists while gently nudging them towards an end goal in your story arc. All those years playing Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu probably made me a better writer.

Like many writers, you’re turning your attention to a Sherlock Holmes novel – what can you tell us about that?

Very little, if I want my editor to refrain from sending out the hitmen. I will say that it’s a bit of a genre mash-up, like many of Titan’s Sherlock Holmes titles. Naturally, as it’s me, you can expect a bit of Gothic horror and Victorian sensationalism; but I’m a stickler when it comes to Holmes. He will save the day using deduction and rationalism, no matter how esoteric the crime appears.

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

I expect the really hard stuff is yet to come. But really, I think it’s that you have no one to rely on but yourself if you’re going to succeed. You can get support from all over, sure, but that’s not going to put words on the blank page that’s been staring you out for the last eight hours, or put an advance in your account. There are lots of things that no amount of writing advice and blogs can prepare you for. Those days when you think everything you’ve written is just terrible. The rejections, the really hard revisions… you have to steel yourself for that, and if you don’t think you’re up to it then you’re in the wrong business. It’s always been that way I think, but these days social media, book blogging, Amazon reviews… it’s made writers more accessible, and more vulnerable. I think writers sometimes get accused of having huge egos. Some of them do, I’m sure! But the average writer just uses the façade of an ego like a shield – it’s a pretty vital survival mechanism.

All of that makes it sound like writing is one long hardship. It isn’t, of course. It’s not as easy as I thought when I took the leap, in all honesty, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Build up resistance to the hard times, celebrate the good, put your soul into it… you’ll be alright.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

It’s a testament to my obsession with history that most of my favourite authors are long dead. Of them, I’d say Conan Doyle, Stoker, and M R James would be my top three, with William Hope Hodgson and H G Wells completing the top five. Essentially that’s because those writers all became masters of their niche, if not the creators of it, and there’s no way The Lazarus Gate would have been written without them.

Of the writers living today, I envy Neil Gaiman’s fathomless imagination, Susan Hill’s ability to evoke atmosphere with very few words, Stephen King’s incredible plotting, Sarah Pinborough’s consistent and prolific output, and Adam Nevill’s ability to make the most mundane situations appear absolutely terrifying.

Give me some advice about writing…

I’ll give you two bits of advice, born of my own experience. As I’ve only had one book published to date, you can take this with pinch of salt/delete as applicable…

The first is to be true to yourself and your ‘vision’, for want of a better word. Write the book you’d want to read, and put all your enthusiasm into it so that other people want to read it too. Don’t sully that first draft by trying to second guess what makes a ‘marketable’ manuscript, by following formulas and ‘rules’ prescribed by the MFA lecturer who wrote that self-help book ten years ago. Make sure it excites you first and foremost, and hammer it into shape later, with help. Which brings me to my second tip, and one that’s perhaps even more important:

Listen to your editor.

Seriously, finding a good editor is the absolute key to getting a good book on the shelves, because no amount of tinkering and jealously guarding your beautiful work is going to make that book shine quite like a skilled editor. A good editor will engage you in a two-way process, and open a meaningful dialogue designed to polish your manuscript. But you’d better be prepared to meet her half way. That’s when the ego-shield I mentioned earlier has to get put in a box for a spell.

What’s next for Captain Hardwick?

Well, that’s also a bit of a secret. I will say that the series isn’t all about John, although I have some pretty severe hardships in store for him, don’t worry about that!


The Lazarus Gate, is published by Titan Books in paperback and ebook, priced at £7.99.

The Intel: James Lovegrove

James LovegroveThat Sherlock Holmes, aye? A hundred years down the line and authors still can’t get enough of The Great Detective. He’s been reinterpreted, reimagined, rebooted, restyled, and flung through time. Writers have pored over Conan Doyle’s every sentence to find inspiration for untold stories. In Baker Street everyone’s a star. Minor characters have been plucked from obscurity and given their own series – and still readers can’t get enough of his Victorian world.

Now sci-fi author James Lovegrove has given Holmes a steampunk vibe by pitting him against The Thinking Engine. It’s 1895 and Professor Quantock has put the finishing touches to a wondrous computational device that, he claims, is capable of analytical thought to rival that of the cleverest men alive.

Holmes and Watson travel to Oxford, where a battle of wits ensues between the great detective and his mechanical counterpart as they compete to see which of them can be first to solve a series of crimes. As man and machine vie for supremacy, it becomes clear that the Thinking Engine has its own agenda and Holmes and Watson’s lives are on the line as a ghost from the past catches up with them.

James is the best-selling author of The Age of Odin, the third novel in his critically-acclaimed Pantheon military SF series. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 for his novel Days and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004 for his novel Untied Kingdom. A reviewer for The Financial Times, he’s also  the author of Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War and Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares, which are also published by Titan Books.

In this intel interview, James talks Holmes and zombies, crosswords, Solomon Kane, our old friend Fu Manchu, and the Darwinian business of writing. It’s fascinating stuff — enjoy!

Tell us about The Thinking Engine…

I’ve set the book in Oxford in 1895, drawing on the reference in the Conan Doyle tale The Three Students, in which Watson states that in the spring of that year “a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great university towns”.

I myself was at Oxford between 1985 and 1988, studying for a degree in English Literature, so I know the place reasonably well and I thought it would be interesting to write a full-blown Sherlock Holmes novel in the City of Dreaming Spires, where he would be surrounded by intellectuals and academics, and also incorporate some of the local history and folklore into the story. I’d done that in Gods of War, which takes place in and around my current hometown, Eastbourne, and enjoyed the process. People tend to associate Holmes with Victorian London, but I think it’s fun removing him from all that’s familiar and giving him a new geography to explore.

The plot of the novel involves the creation of a computation device by a mathematics professor which seems to be capable to solving crimes. The machine is even, its creator claims, the equal of the great Sherlock Holmes. That’s a red rag to a bull as far as Holmes is concerned, so he travels to Oxford to establish the truth and uphold his reputation. There follows a series of mysteries, with the computer, called the Thinking Engine, always one step ahead of the great detective. And I’m not going to say any more than that, so as not to spoil the surprises. Rest assured, though, that all is not as it seems.

Why is the character of Sherlock Holmes as popular now as he has ever been?

A friend of mine, who’s a fellow Sherlockian, once likened Holmes to the ultimate older brother, and I like that description. We all know he’s a younger brother, of course, but he seems to fulfil a fraternal role as far as Watson is concerned, and therefore as far as we, the readers, are concerned, because Watson is our point of identification, the vehicle through which Holmes is mediated. Holmes is smarter, stronger, quicker on the uptake than Watson, always leading him along, goading him, sometimes chiding him, sometimes even bullying. Watson looks up to him, all the same, and we do too.

That, to me, is part of Holmes’s appeal: he feels like close kin. But also, he is resolutely on the side of the angels. He may not be the most patient or empathetic of heroes, but he is nonetheless a hero through and through. He represents certainty, the assurance that things will turn out well, that evil can be overcome through the application of energy and intelligence. That’s a very comforting message.

The analytical Holmes is a perfect fit for a steampunk movie – which director would you like to see adapt your books for the big-screen?

I haven’t really thought about movie adaptations or suitable directors. With all my books, I write them because they’re novels and are meant to be, novels and nothing else. Prose fiction is the medium I work in, the medium I understand best. First and foremost, I want to tell a good story in prose. What I would like to see, though, and be involved in, is a Holmes TV series that injects him into various SF/fantasy/horror situations. The setting would be the Victorian/Edwardian era. Holmes, Watson and all the secondary characters would be exactly as they are in the books. The only difference would be that he has to pit his wits against vampires, zombies, aliens and the like. In fact, I’m making moves in this direction already. Watch this space.

Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking EngineHolmes novels are clever puzzles, and you actually contribute cryptic crosswords to newspapers – do you have to have a logical mind to write The Great Detective?

I’m sure a logical mind helps, especially when it comes to putting together a plot. However, there is plenty of emotion in Holmes stories too, or there should be. He isn’t just a cerebral being, devoid of feeling. He has passions and latent empathy, and it’s important for any Holmes pasticheur to put those across. I love exploring the relationship between him and Watson.

There’s endless possibility for interplay and even humour there. Holmes himself is, in a very acerbic, droll way, funny. Not everyone sees that. He has a very English sense of understatement and irony, and even when he’s mocking Watson or a dull-witted Scotland Yard inspector, he does it with affection. Any novel, but especially a mystery-adventure novel, needs to have strong characterisation as well as rock-solid plotting. Logicality alone would create something that’s dry as dust and no fun.

You’ve written about Holmes as well as the many Gods of the great mythologies as part of your Pantheon sci-fi series – are there any other literary or mythological characters you’d like to get your hands on?

I would love, love, love to write a Fu Manchu novel. I have made noises about this to various publishers, particularly Titan, who are reprinting the original Sax Rohmer stories in lovely new paperback editions. The problem there is partly a copyright issue but also the popularity of the character, which is relatively low, especially when compared with someone as internationally recognisable as Holmes.

There is also the racism issue to address, Fu Manchu being of course the stereotypical “Yellow Peril” villain. I’ve thought of a way of dealing with that, by setting the story in the present day and incorporating the politics of modern China into the narrative. However, I suspect this project will remain forever a pipe dream.

As will my desire to write a Solomon Kane novel. Kane, as I’m sure you’re aware, is one of Robert E. Howard’s lesser series characters, and I feel that Howard could have done more with him outside the handful of short stories and the very bad poems he wrote about him. There was lots to explore there, and the sheer internal contradiction in the concept of a Puritan adventurer is fascinating. Again, there are rights issues to consider here, though, and even the recent movie, which was surprisingly authentic and good, did little to raise Kane’s profile outside genre circles.

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

That it’s incredibly difficult to make a decent living in this business. I’m doing reasonably well as a full-time writer, better than many, but that’s largely because I work my backside off and have been in publishing long enough (well over a quarter of a century!) and put out enough books (well over fifty!) to have built up a good roster of professional contacts and, perhaps, a reputation.

It’s difficult realising you’re never going to be in the Stephen King or J.K. Rowling leagues, you’re never going to sell books in those quantities, you’re never going to become a multimillionaire writer and be able to retire to the Bahamas and drink cocktails for the rest of your days. Those guys are the exception. The rule is the mid-listers like me who can just about get by. You have to be content with reaching the readers you do reach and simply earning an income from writing stories. Always you can hold out the hope of the big bestseller, the one that finally makes your name and gets the world to sit up and take notice. But, in an industry as tough and Darwinian as this, getting by is good enough.

Who are the crime authors you admire, and why? 

Other than Conan Doyle? I don’t have many favourites. I tend not to read much crime fiction, and especially not police procedurals, which I can’t seem to acquire a taste for. That said, I always liked Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels. I’m a sucker, too, for a locked-room mystery, which I like to think of as a cryptic crossword in fictional form, as long as the author plays fair with the reader, just as a crossword setter should play fair with the solver.

I have Otto Penzler’s massive Black Lizard compendium of locked-room mysteries by my bedside and am loving dipping into that, and I’m looking forward to his Holmes-pastiches companion volume which is due out soon. I was also a bit of a fan of Andrew Vachss’s Burke series while it lasted, particularly the early ones, while Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker stories are things of beauty.

Give me some advice about writing…

You have to work. Work, work, work. Never miss a deadline. Never say no to an offer of gainful employment. Some people seem to think being an author is an honour, a privilege. It is, but it’s also a job. You put the hours in. You do it the best you can. You don’t just sit there and think how wonderful it would be if the words just magically appeared. You make them appear, through effort and thought. Once you figure that out, it becomes easier.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished the first of a trilogy, known collectively as The Cthulhu Casebooks, in which Sherlock Holmes tackles gods, monsters and madmen drawn from, or inspired by, the H.P. Lovecraft canon. That’s out in late 2016, with the sequels to follow at yearly intervals.

I’ve just begun work on a new Pantheon novel, one featuring the Ancient Greek demigods. It’s something of a murder mystery itself, with a protagonist who’s a semi-successful crime writer – although a long, long time ago he used to be someone a lot more famous and proactive when it came to dishing out justice. That, too, is out next year, late summer I think, coming on the heels of the second of my Dev Harmer outer-space-action series. I’ve a couple of other projects bubbling away on the back burner. Staying busy!


Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine is out in paperback and ebook, from Titan Books.

The Intel: Martin Davies

We love authors here, and we love books — so it goes without saying that we love publishers. Which is why it’s always a pleasure to discover that there’s a new kid in town. Canelo is a new digital publisher, which combines book publishing and new media. It’s the brainchild of experienced people from the book trade, developers and marketers and the like — the kind of people who know what they’re doing.

And Canelo has already hit the ground running with a trio of crime titles and authors, which we’re going to feature here, because we’re good like that at Crime Thriller Fella, because we love authors and we love books and — well, you get the message.

Mrs Hudson And The Spirits' CurseSo, let’s talk about Holmes. You may have heard of him. He’s a character that many authors have reinterpreted over the last century, and now Martin Davies has introduced a clever new aspect to the great sleuth — his enigmatic housekeeper. In Mrs Hudson And The Spirits’ Curse, it’s Mrs. Hudson, and her orphaned assistant Flotsam, who is front and centre on crime-fighting duties.

Author Martin Davies grew up in the North West of England and works in broadcasting. He gives us the intel on Hudson, Raffles, our seemingly unquenchable thirst for The World’s Greatest Consulting Detective, and, of course, the best way to get down to the nitty-gritty of writing…

Mrs Hudson’s name seems oddly familiar – tell us about her…

Her name is certainly a lot more familiar now, in the wake of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, than it was when I first sat down to write The Spirits’ Curse. In the Conan Doyle stories, Mrs Hudson is little more than a name and a presence in the background at Baker Street; her own character and history are gloriously neglected – giving us a wonderful opportunity to unleash our imaginations. 

How does your interpretation of Mrs Hudson build on the Conan Doyle character?

With so little to build upon, I’ve had to supply a lot of my own bricks. But it is obvious from the Conan Doyle stories that Holmes and Watson are not domesticated types, and I loved the idea that for all Holmes’ scientific knowledge and deductive powers, there might be crucial gaps in his knowledge of housekeeping matters that Mrs Hudson would find easy to fill. And of course, were she to have had a long career of domestic service in the houses of the rich and famous (and why not?), she might also have powerful contacts of the sort that Holmes and Watson lack.

Do you plan to reinvent any other minor Holmes characters in the series?

Perhaps one or two. I enjoyed including AJ Raffles in the first novel of the series – not a Holmes character, but a character created by Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law – and there may be more, similarly tangential, connections to come.

Martin DaviesWe just can’t get enough of Sherlock Holmes – why is that?

I think because he remains a remarkably modern character (just look at how beautifully he was re-imagined for the digital age in the current TV series) and yet there remains a sort of cosiness to the world he inhabits that is a pleasing refuge from the ultra-realism and graphic violence of some modern crime fiction. There may be horrible, violent and gory cases in front of him, but there will still be a fire burning in Baker Street and an honest bobby on patrol just outside.

You say that you can’t work in solitude, and so have to write in cafes, trains and other public places – where’s the oddest place you’ve ever sat down to write?

I wrote the seduction scene of one novel — The Conjuror’s Bird — in the garden of a Spanish monastery.

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

It helps to work out some of the basics before you start. I’d like to tell you about the novel that I began in the third person, then rewrote in the first person, then changed back to the third person, then realised that it was all wrong and rewrote again in the first person. I’d like to tell you about it, but I can’t, it’s still too painful.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Ooo, so many! But to pick a few: Dickens for writing so many remarkable novels; Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa for writing just one; Malcolm Pryce for writing the sort of books I’d love to write; Anne Tyler for writing the sort of books I know I could never write; Shaun Tan for the joyous originality of his genius.

Give me some advice about writing…

Each week, set aside a time and a place for writing, and be realistic: don’t set yourself up to fail. You may only be able to find twenty uninterruptable minutes a week, but if you spend those minutes writing, you will have a novel in the end.

What’s next for Holmes and Mrs Hudson?

A priceless ruby is heading for London, but so is a mysterious magician whose performances coincide with baffling jewellery thefts. Little wonder that Sherlock Holmes is tasked with keeping the famous gem safe… Mrs Hudson and The Malabar Rose will be available in digital format through Canelo very soon.


So, look, Mrs Hudson And The Spirits’ Curse is already out and getting some terrific reviews, and you can buy it at all sorts of digital bookshops, like this one for example.



TV Crime Log: Arthur, Banks, Following

Arthur And GeorgeThe Sherlock Holmes juggernaut ploughs endlessly on. This time it’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who gets the, er, Arthur Conan Doyle treatment.

It’s not often we mention ITV on this site without typing the names Vera, Banks or Lewis, but Arthur and George — the network’s three-part adaptation of Julian Barnes’ acclaimed novel — is worth a look.

Written by Ed Whitmore, the drama is based on true events in the life of Conan Doyle, in which he famously championed two little girls who claimed they photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden in Cottingley Beck. Oh wait, no, that was something completely different.

The blurb will provide the seven-per cent solution:

In 1906, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is mourning the loss of his wife, Louisa. Her death, after a long and drawn out illness, has caused Arthur to slump into a guilt-ridden malaise: he fears that Louisa may have suspected that he was an adulterer, in thought if not in deed, due to his friendship with Jean Leckie. Even writing his famous Sherlock Holmes stories cannot rouse Arthur. Then his secretary, Woodie, comes across a letter from a Mr George Edalji, a young Parsee solicitor, who was sent to prison for three years for a crime that he attains he did not commit. George wants Arthur’s help to clear his name: could this be Arthur’s chance to right a wrong?

George was convicted of a spate of sending poisonous letters and animal maimings, in the Staffordshire village of Great Wyrley, in 1903. As George relays the story of his family’s persecution, which inadvertently led to his arrest, Arthur is convinced of George’s innocence; Woodie, however, is not so sure. Having been warned off reinvestigating the case by the very Judge who presided over George’s trial, Arthur is even more determined to discover the true culprit – the so-called ‘Wyrley Ripper’.

Arthur and Woodie travel to Great Wyrley to visit George’s family, to be shown the very letters that George’s father, the Reverend Shapurji Edalji, received, supposedly from his own son. However, Arthur and Woodie’s arrival at the Vicarage causes a bit of a stir: it seems that someone is intent on learning what they do and do not know. Could this be the Wyrley Ripper, trying to warn them off?

That blurb wad almost as long as a Holmes short story. Martin Clunes plays Conan Doyle, as you can see. Arthur And George is on ITV tonight at 9pm.

DCI BanksAnd if we’re going to have to stay with ITV then it’s inevitable, I’m afraid, that we’re going to have to mention one of the above names. Banks, for example. DCI Banks, Stephen Tompkinson’s grim-faced Dales copper, is back.

Adapted from Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks books, Alan Banks is a former Metropolitan Police copper who downsized to the Dales. Robinson emigrated to Canada in 1974, and writes about the fictional town of Eastvale from Toronto.

In this new series, Banks does have quite a good reason to look heartily pissed-off, as the blurb confirms:

What Will Survive When Banks’ suffers a massive personal loss, along with knowledge that Annie is back with her former boyfriend David, he is forced to navigate a complex murder investigation while still grieving.

A young Estonian woman is found dead on a piece of wasteground, suspected of being buried alive. As they piece together her movements, the team uncover a world of prostitution and drugs hidden behind a respectable veneer. They discover the murder victim had come to the UK searching for her sister, who went missing recently. No one wants to talk – but they eventually trace her sister’s pimp, who claims to run a legitimate escort business.

Helen and Banks make inroads with the prostitutes’ driver and Helen begins to suspect his autistic son might have had something to do with Katrin’s death, but when their house is burned down in a tragic fire Banks and his team begin to uncover an even more disturbing truth.

You can see DCI Banks on Wednesday at 9pm on ITV.

The FollowingNow that Jack Bauer gone into hibernation, the most hapless action hero on the small-screen must be Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy. He’s back in the third series of so-bad-it’s-good The Following on Sky Atlantic, Saturday night at 9pm.

Now his usual antag Joe Carroll is on Death Row, we are promised a new Big Bad and, importantly, new show-runners. Amen to that.




The Intel: Maureen Jennings

That strained look, that grey pallor. I can see you’re probably looking for a little pick-me-up that will propel you towards the end of the half-term holiday and thrust you, like a rocket, out the other side. Look no further — we’ve got a treat for you, right here, right now.

Maureen JenningsMaureen Jennings is the Canadian author of the Christine Morris and Tom Tyler series. Her seven Detective Murdoch novels have become a Canadian television phenomenon. The Murdoch Mysteries, about a Victorian detective who uses CSI-style techniques, has run for over 100-episodes and counting.

What you may not know is that Maureen was born in Birmingham at the outbreak of the Second World War. Her DI Tom Tyler novels evocatively revisit that time and place. The third, No Known Grave, is set in 1942 at a remote convalescent hospital for injured soldiers, and follows the detective’s investigation into a horrific double-murder. No Known Grave is published by Titan. You can buy it in shops or click it magically onto your device in an instant.

All the Fellas on the Board have pronounced themselves hugely satisfied that Maureen has agreed to give us the intel on Tyler, Murdoch and, of course, her writing process…

Tell us about DI Tom Tyler…

The physical characteristics (he’s a red head) came from Thomas Craig who plays Inspector Brackenreid in the Murdoch show. Some of his personality also.

You were born in Birmingham at the start of the war, but emigrated to Canada at the age of 17. Are you consciously revisiting that the early part of your life for the novels?

Sort of. I thought I knew a lot about it but soon realized I didn’t. It’s one thing to experience bombing and rationing as a child, another to understand what was going on. I wanted to come to terms with that childhood as well and give recognition to the adults who lived through it.

No Known Grave is your third Tyler novel – do you plan to take him through the length of World War II and beyond?

Not sure yet. Fiction time can advance much more slowly or quickly. Books three and four both take place within a six month time period. The post war years are utterly fascinating and haven’t been totally mined as yet.

No Known GraveAs a prolific writer who writes historical novels, how do you manage to fit in your research?

That’s the easy part because it’s so much fun. I never think of it as fitting in. I read constantly as much original material as I can get my hands on. Then I say…better get started on this book now.

The Murdoch Mysteries, which is based on your books, has run for over 100-episodes  — why are we so intrigued by Victorian detectives?

Even though Murdoch uses the technology that was available, he still has to rely on his mind.In an age where there are so many specialists and such amazing technology, I think we are still drawn to a time when it was all a bit simpler.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

Stage one. Answer emails. Walk dogs. Think. Stage two. Return, have iced latte. Answer more emails. Stage three. Sit down with lap top. Write or make notes depending what stage of process I’m at. Close lap top. Stage four. Research something doesn’t matter what. Stage five. Walk dog. More thinking. Stage six. watch tv, especially British crime series. Study them. Stage seven. Make more notes. Go to bed. Perchance to dream.

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

IT WILL NEVER BE PERFECT. Do the absolute best you can.

How do you deal with feedback?

Everything is to learn from. The best feedback is when the person has obviously read carefully and isn’t just asking you to write the kind of novel they would have written.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

There are too many to list really. Books have been my friends all of my life. Currently, I would say I am a huge admirer of John Le Carre. His elliptical style is captivating. Absolutely have always loved Conan Doyle. Those stories stand the test of time. I love good storytelling. Loved P.D.James. Miss her.

Give me some advice about writing…

Can I just repeat what I wrote earlier? Oh and add one more thing. A really good piece of advice that was given to me years ago and which I follow faithfully — get your first chapter down as solidly as you can. Rework it until you’ve got it right. that might seem to contradict the previous advice about not editing but it actually doesn’t. I like prologues and they are nice and short. I will work on those a lot before seriously moving on.

Crime Thriller Book Log: Horowitz, Kerr, Samson, McNab & Mosse

We haven’t done of these Book Logs for, like, yonks, so — let’s do it! 

*Crime Thriller Fella fist pumps and makes a bit of a fool of himself*

MoriartyPlenty of writers have taken liberties with the legacy of the World’s Greatest Detective but Holmes fan Anthony Horowitz, whose Sherlock novel The House Of Silk was warmly-received, has perhaps more right than most to do so.

In his new book, Moriarty, he presents his own version of what happened after Conan Doyle got tired of his creation and had him topple over the Reichenbach Falls.

The blurb is wearing glasses and a false moustache:

Sherlock Holmes is dead.

Days after Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty fall to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls, Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase arrives in Europe from New York. The death of Moriarty has created a poisonous vacuum which has been swiftly filled by a fiendish new criminal mastermind who has risen to take his place.

Ably assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction, Frederick Chase must forge a path through the darkest corners of the capital to shine light on this shadowy figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, a man determined to engulf London in a tide of murder and menace.

Horowitz takes Jones, one of Conan Doyle’s minor characters, and puts him centre-stage. He also turns the spotlight on the mysteriously devilish Napoleon Of Crime. Professor James Moriarty has increasingly emerged as something of an important so-and-so in the Holmesiverse, but he only ever appeared in two Holmes stories — and was created specifically so Conan Doyle could get rid of the detective he had grown so weary of.

I recklessly predict Moriarty will sell like hot cakes in both hardback and on The Device.

January WindowIf a slice of orange at half-time is more your thing, January Window is the first in a new series by Philip Kerr, writer of the acclaimed Bernie Gunther novels.

Now Kerr is aiming to score from the spot, heh, with his new series which features Premiership fixer and coach Scott Manson.

Authors can sometimes get a red card from readers, heh, when they substitute a high-scoring character, heh, but as the author of a series of stand-alone novels, Kerr is nothing if not tactically astute. He’s a writer who always gives 110%, Brian. God, I’m even boring myself with all this football hilarity.

The blurb is stepping up to the spot:

Everyone knows football is a matter of life and death.

But this time, it’s murder.

Scott Manson is team coach for London City football club. He’s also their all-round fixer – he gets the lads in to training, and out of trouble, keeps the wags at bay and the press in his pocket. The players love him, the bosses trust him.

But now London City manager Joao Zarco is dead, killed at his team’s beloved stadium at Silvertown Docks. Even Scott Manson can’t smooth over murder… but can he catch the killer before he strikes again?

Set in the glamorous but corrupt world of Premier League football, this is a gripping thriller from a bestselling crimewriter.

January Window is out in hardback and kindle.

LamentationLamentation is the latest Shardlake novel from CJ Samson. It’s not available on parchment, sadly, but you can get it in all the modern bindings – hardback, paperback and on The Device. Samson’s hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake is coming to the end of Henry VIII’s reign, but worry not Shardlake fans, the author has said the series will continue into the reign of the Virgin Queen.

The blurb could well be longer than the Magna Carta:

Summer, 1546.

King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government of Henry’s successor, eight-year-old Prince Edward. As heretics are hunted across London, and the radical Protestant Anne Askew is burned at the stake, the Catholic party focus their attack on Henry’s sixth wife, Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor, Queen Catherine Parr.

Shardlake, still haunted by events aboard the warship Mary Rose the year before, is working on the Cotterstoke Will case, a savage dispute between rival siblings. Then, unexpectedly, he is summoned to Whitehall Palace and asked for help by his old patron, the now beleaguered and desperate Queen.

For Catherine Parr has a secret. She has written a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, so radically Protestant that if it came to the King’s attention it could bring both her and her sympathizers crashing down. But, although the book was kept secret and hidden inside a locked chest in the Queen’s private chamber, it has – inexplicably – vanished. Only one page has been found, clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer.

Shardlake’s investigations take him on a trail that begins among the backstreet printshops of London but leads him and Jack Barak into the dark and labyrinthine world of the politics of the royal court; a world he had sworn never to enter again. Loyalty to the Queen will drive him into a swirl of intrigue inside Whitehall Palace, where Catholic enemies and Protestant friends can be equally dangerous, and the political opportunists, who will follow the wind wherever it blows, more dangerous than either.

The theft of Queen Catherine’s book proves to be connected to the terrible death of Anne Askew, while his involvement with the Cotterstoke litigants threatens to bring Shardlake himself to the stake.

For ValourFor Valour. It can only be the title of the latest Andy McNab, and indeed it’s the sixteenth Nick Stone thriller. Nick is a mercenary and a former member of the SAS, and a parent to boot – he is, also, you will not be in the least surprised to know, a maverick. The kind who wanders the world getting into all sorts of scrapes, usually involving weapons of mass destruction.

The blurb is locked and loaded:

When a young trooper is shot in the head at the Regiment’s renowned Killing House, Nick Stone is perfectly qualified to investigate the mysterious circumstances more deeply. He has just returned from Moscow – still trying to come to terms with the fact that his girlfriend and baby son are safer there without him – so combines an unrivalled understanding of the Special Forces landscape with a detachment that should allow him to remain in cover.

But less than forty-eight hours later, a second death catapults him back into the firing line – into the telescopic sights of an unknown assassin bent on protecting a secret that could strike at the heart of the establishment that Stone has, in his maverick fashion, spent most of his life fighting to protect.

And now the clock is ticking, Stone hurtles from the solitude of a remote Welsh confessional to Glencoe – whose shadows still whisper of murder and betrayal – and on to Southern Spain, in an increasingly desperate quest to uncover the truth about a chain of events that began in the darkness of an Afghan hillside, and left a young man haunted by the never-ending screams of a friend the Taliban skinned alive.

The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting TalesAnd, finally, for you supernatural fiends – The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales is a collection of stories by Kate Mosse, which has just come out in every format imaginable.

It’s a series of ghost stories – just in time for Halloween, of course – in which readers of Mosse’s enormous and dense novels, such as Labyrinth, can get a sense of how the author developed her style – many of Mosse’s preoccupations, of timeslips and historical hauntings, are here.

Indeed, some of these stories have been published before. It’s perfect for those autumn evenings, of course. However, a real log fire doesn’t come included, and you may have to buy your own candles and nightdress.


TV Crime Log: Sherlock, Silent, Bridge

imagesSherlock is back for the first of three new episodes on the very first day of the New Year, which is a cause for celebration, is it not? And everyone wants to know how he got out of that little situation.

Sherlock Holmes’s return from the dead will be of no surprise to anybody who has read the source material, of course, but it’s a bit easier faking your death by plunging into a waterfall in the middle of nowhere, as he did in Conan Doyle’s stories, than it is plummeting off a building in a busy London.

Writer Steven Moffat is a writer of considerable invention, so no doubt the answer will be both entertaining and highly-implausible. So, yes, the New Year kicks off with the first of three new Sherlock dramas – The Empty Hearse.

Consider the footsteps of the gigantic blurb:

After the devastating effects of The Reichenbach Fall, Dr John Watson has got on with his life. New horizons, romance and a comforting domestic future beckon. But, with London under threat of a huge terrorist attack, Sherlock Holmes is about to rise from the grave with all the theatricality that comes so naturally to him. It’s what his best friend wanted more than anything, but for John Watson it might well be a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’! If Sherlock thinks everything will be just as he left it though, he’s in for a very big surprise…

Contemporary adaptations The Sign Of The Three and His Last Vow follow. But the question is, will there be another series? Martin Freeman’s career isn’t going too badly, I think, and Cumberbatch – well, he’s in just about everything. Let’s just enjoy Sherlock while we can.

It’s on next year — oh christ, 2014. New Year’s Day, 2014, at 9pm.

608Sherlock may be a rare telly treat, but Silent Witness, first aired in 1996 and starting its 17th series on January 2nd, is a TV staple.

Wash your hands for the blurb:

Forensic Pathologist Dr. Nikki Alexander, Forensic Scientist Jack Hodgson and Forensic Lab Scientist Clarissa Mullery return, but this time there’s a new head of The Lyell Centre – Forensic Pathologist Dr. Thomas Chamberlain.

Chamberlain’s confidence and political nose make him a good choice to lead the Lyell Centre after the death of Leo Dalton, but his sudden arrival and new approach is met by a frosty reception from Nikki, Jack and Clarissa. It’s not long before his judgment is called into question, but how quickly will Thomas be able to prove his worth?

In the opening episode, Premiership footballer Isaac Dreyfus finds his days at the top are numbered when a sex tape links him to the brutal murder of a young woman, threatening to destroy his reputation and marriage. Dreyfus desperately fights to prove his innocence, while disillusioned Adam Freedman turns to a mysterious source for help to avenge the murder of his wife and child.

Nikki struggles to come to terms with Leo’s death following the arrival of the new Lyell Centre boss, pathologist Thomas Chamberlain. However, her feelings surface when DI John Leighton and DS Anne Burchett demand results in the two unsolved cases. When Nikki questions the motive behind the murders, a re-examination of the Freedman crime scene leads Jack to make a startling discovery.

Despite a revolving cast – ah, Amanda Burton, those were the days –  Silent Witness still delivers sturdy ratings for the BBC, so it’s no wonder that it’s back for another five stories. Those are divided into two parts, and wrapped within an ear-splitting operatic credit sequence. The first Silent Witness story, Commodity, is on at 9pm.

608-1And, I don’t know about you, but the UK-version of The Bridge – The Tunnel left me a bit cold. The melodrama was there, but the sly humour and terrific chemistry between the two leads seemed to have got lost somewhere in translation. I’ve been missing me some proper Saga.

So, this is good news, the second series of the original is back on BBC4 on Saturday four whole days into the new year — 2014, god help us – at 9pm.

The blurb requires you to shut the door behind you:

Thirteen months after the events of the first season, a coastal tanker leaves the Öresund waterway and heads straight for the Øresund Bridge.

When the coastguards board the ship, they discover there are no crew on board. Three Swedish and two Danish youths are also chained to the below deck.

Saga Norén of Malmö County Police is put in charge of the case and contacts Martin Rohde,, who is still haunted by the death of his son. Together, they start the journey of investigating the case.

Happy New year, persons.

Hold That Thought

With Crime Thriller Fella’s summer readership flatlining faster than Jessica Fletcher’s Christmas Card List, it’s time to take a short break to catch some rays and recharge the batteries.

I’ve really enjoyed doing this blog over the last few months, and I’ve been amazed and gratified by the reaction to it. I’ve learned a lot about writing, and the blog has introduced me to some brilliant new authors.

There’s nothing more dispiriting, more likely to bring a lump to the throat, than a slowly-stagnating blog page, so I’m going to put up some archived reviews and other stuff, starting below. But feel free — if you’re new here, or just really love wasting time — to take a look around.

Back in a jiffy.

Criminal Minds: Agatha Christie

Think you know about crime thriller writers? Have nothing to contribute around the dinner-party table? Amaze your friends with some astonishing facts about the genre’s leading authors… First up, the woman who has sold more books than anyone, with the possible exception of God.

images1/ Agatha Christie wrote her first book after a dare by her sister Madge. The Mysterious Affair At Styles was turned down by six publishers. Since then, she’s sold about four billion novels. That’s four billion. She’s only outsold by The Bible.

2/ Christie famously made the headlines in 1926 when her car was found abandoned. She was missing for ten days. Her disappearance made the headlines, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even trotted out one of his  mediums in an attempt to find her. She was discovered staying under an assumed name in a Harrogate Hotel. The incident has never been fully explained – she refused to discuss the incident – but it’s suggested Christie suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of her mother and the discovery that her husband had had an affair. She was booked into the hotel under his lover’s name.

Unknown-53/ The final Miss Marple and Poirot books, Sleeping Murder and Curtain, were published in 1975 and 1976, but were actually written in the 1940s and kept locked away until Christie’s death – there’s forward thinking for you! In the event, she died in 1977.

4/ Curtain is a controversial end to the career of Christie’s Belgian detective – and the book ends with a vicious little twist. When Curtain was published in 1975, Poirot received an obituary in the New York Times, the only fictional character to have done so. If you haven’t read it, you’ll be able to see what the fuss was about when ITV broadcasts it as the final episode of the long-running David Suchet series.

5/ Christie grew to dislike her most famous creation, but the public’s appetite for Poirot never dimmed. By the 1960s, she had descended to name-calling. She regarded him as a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep.” Christie  claimed to have seen him twice, once while taking tea at the Savoy.

6/ And Then There Were None is Christie’s bestselling book, with 100 million copies sold since 1939. Ten people, all implicated in murder, are invited to a remote island, and bumped off, one by one. Arguably, this concept has been used as a template again and again in countless slasher movies.

7/ Christie wrote romantic novels as Mary Westmacott, a pseudonym she managed to maintain for twenty years until it was discovered in 1949. It was as Westmacott that she reputedly wrote a whole novel, Absent In The Spring, over a weekend.

8/ Her play The Mousetrap opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November, 1952, with Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim, and, of course it’s still running. One cast member has survived all the cast-changes down the years. Deryck Guyler can still be heard reading the news bulletin.

9/Christie was irrirated that the last of the four Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films – Murder Ahoy! – wasn’t based on one of her novels. It was a flop at the box-office, much to the spurned author’s delight.

images-110/ When Christie died in 1976, London’s West End theatres dimmed their lights in respect.

For a the top ten best Christie novels, as listed by Agatha expert John Curran, go here.

The Intel: Chris Allen

I love finding out about how writers toil at the coal-face. Earlier in the week, we reviewed Chris Allen‘s crash-bang action novel, Defender, and Chris kindly agreed to answer some questions about his writing regime.

5W9A3021What’s your writing process? What comes first, plot or character?

Plot always comes first. I plan a lot in my head and scribble ideas in my little brown book. I then like to map out the story on a whiteboard – using sticky notes or a marker – to visualize the important points in the story and I develop the details around that. It’s like putting a puzzle together. Because the agents feature across the series, I make sure the characters interact and in doing so, they help with the natural progression of the plot. I will be introducing my first female Intrepid agent (being the black-ops Intelligence, Recovery, Protection and Infiltration Division of Interpol, naturally) in the next book, Avenger. That means a lot more character development with her and the other agents that’ll weave into another adrenalin-charged story. Once I have a good picture of where it’s all going, I bash the story out as fast as I can and edit later.

Take us through a typical writing day for you.

Book one in the series, Defender, took me a decade to write, while book two, Hunter, took just a few months. I remember being under the pump on Hunter and closing in on a fast-looming deadline, which is, ironically, when I work best. On average I was working on about 2,500 words a day. So to achieve that, I write before breakfast, get another session in before lunch, write through the afternoon and lock myself back into the writing mancave after dinner – after a cup of tea and a couple of rumbles with my boys. When I put the pedal to the metal it gets intense – breaking for meals is pretty much it!

Otherwise, when not on deadline I mean, it’s about carving chunks out in the day to sit and write 1,000 words – in between consulting, wrangling kids, talking with my agent, producer, publisher and my amazing marketing team – time flies pretty quick when you’re having fun.

Who are the authors you love, and why?

There are authors that I continue to enjoy equally as much today as my first read as a teenager in Perth. I read Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work at least once a week. I also love Alistair Maclean, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth. These are the authors who inspired me to join the military as a young man; giving me the service and experience that formed the basis of the Intrepid series.

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

It’s a lesson I’m learning still, which is that while writing compelling action keeps the pages turning, what really leaves people wanting more is good character development and relationships throughout the series. I’m still honing that in my craft.

How do you deal with feedback?

Just as Ian Fleming’s writing developed throughout his career, I have seen first-Unknown-3hand that my style is evolving. I’ve become more confident with some aspects of my stories, such as fight scenes and crafting plots / subplots, but there are other elements that I still want to be challenged on and develop in myself. I welcome good advice and frank discussions with people in my network who know how far I want to take these books. Luckily I have so far had a very strong and encouraging response to this first series.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?

After growing up on the stories of Fleming, Conan Doyle and Maclean, I joined the army aged 18 and my experiences, not only in the field but in life generally gave me the ability to write from what I’ve seen first-hand. They’re the basis of some of the principle characters in the series like Alex Morgan and General Davenport. Some of my experiences post-military with the Australian Protective Service, doing aid work during the Timorese Emergency,  operating in a post 9/11 environment with some of Australia’s most public icons and as the Sheriff of New South Wales, have all given me a unique perspective on my writing too. You’ll even find that a chapter in Defender is an amalgamation of a couple of almost-failed parachute jumps I experienced as a paratrooper.

Give me some advice about writing…

OK! I don’t think anyone can really tell you how to write. Write what you want to write and listen to what other people say about writing methods, but find your own way, like anything in life. If you’re really passionate enough to imagine stories or craft a book on a certain topic then that will show when it comes to it being read. Go for it.

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

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, get in there and give it a go. You never know what you might achieve. It is a hard slog and you’ve got to be committed to a sustained level of hard work over a long period of time. That said, my best advice would be to build a good team of advisors who can help point you in the right direction and give you the tools to make the best decisions for you and your individual writing career, and what path to take in order to make your writing aspirations a reality. Mistakes made in publishing can be long-lasting, like if your rights get locked up with one person or you’re not getting good legal advice on contracts, then it can be years before you can control that again yourself. Get good advice as early as possible and do what’s best for you!

What’s next for you?

I’m currently planning and writing the third in the series, Avenger – my aim for it is to be even more hard-hitting – and I’m brainstorming the fourth. I recently said at an event that there will be ten in the Intrepid series, but I also have plans for a new series with new characters and a different style of writing down the track that I’m really excited about. Right now, I’m working on some exciting stuff to get my books onto the small and big screens and I’m continuing to hone my storytelling abilities. That, and wrangling two rowdy boys under four at home.

About the author:

Before penning his Alex Morgan espionage series, Chris saw the world from under a parachute; made a difference in East Timor; protected Sydney’s iconic sails post 9/11; and most recently, held one of the most historic offices in Australia. Since self-publishing and being signed by Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint Momentum for a two-book deal, Defender and Hunter have wowed readers worldwide, with Avenger due out end-2013 and a film franchise underway. Chris dreams of one day spending extended periods of time enjoying an English country cottage in Surrey, preferably one in walking distance from the local pub.

Chris blogs about all things thriller as well as indulging his love of cult TV shows and movies from his youth at intrepidallen.com/blog. Or you can say g’day on Facebook at facebook.com/intrepidallen.

Buy Defender on Amazon.com: http://buff.ly/19PLO2Y
Buy Hunter on Amazon.com: http://buff.ly/11KCyUO