Tag Archives: Stephen King

The Intel: Sam Christer

9780316181372 (800x532)A game is afoot in the Sherlock Holmes universe – and it’s every bit as wicked and deadly as you’d hope.

Sam Christer is the latest author to soak his bones in the deliciously rich world of the World’s Greatest Detective in his new thriller The House Of Smoke. But this time his protagonist, cold-blooded killer Simeon Lynch, is playing for Team Moriarty!

As Big Ben chimes in the first seconds of 1900 and the start of a new century, preparations are afoot inside Newgate gaol to hang Lynch, England’s deadliest assassin, who’s has spent two decades in the employ of the House of Moriarty – the world’s most feared criminal enterprise. Facing the noose, Simeon reflects on his life, remembering his upbringing as an orphan in the workhouse and how he first joined the employ of Professor Brogan Moriarty.

Then Holmes, his employer’s greatest nemesis, approaches him with a deal – to turn Queen’s Evidence against Moriarty and his brother James in exchange for his freedom. Simeon refuses, but the offer makes him all the more determined to escape the noose, and to seek revenge on those who wronged him.

But the law isn’t alone in wanting him dead. Over the course of a life filled with murder and brutality, Simeon has made enemies, some of whom may be closer than he realises…

Christer, who also writes as Jon Trace and Michael Morley, is the best-selling author of   The Camelot Code, The Turin Shroud Secret and The Stonehenge Legacy, which have been published in thirty-six countries around the world.

In this fascinating Intel interview, Christer – a director of commercials, as well as an author – talks about his love of research, about his discovery of an even more malevolent and wicked Moriarty brother, and how he couldn’t resist a detour into the sinister world of Victorian London…

Tell us about Simeon Lynch…

Lynch is very much a product of his time. Born with nothing, he grows up with nothing and becomes a young man with nothing to lose – but his life. The Victorian age was a desperate epoch. One in which if you had no money, no family, no mentors you inevitably became down-trodden, ground under the polished boots of the well-heeled and privileged classes. Initially, Lynch is swept along by circumstances and the cruelties of fate.

Then an event happens that changes his life. One that empowers and embitters him in equal measures. Hopefully, people will have some sympathy with him as well as detest the person he becomes. He is a highly conflicted individual, and this is most evident as he rots reflectively in jail, counting down the days to his execution at Newgate. It’s at this point that he, and we, see not only who he is, but also who he might have been.

It turns out that James Moriarty – one of the most-iconic villains in literatures – also has a smarter brother…

Not only smarter. I always struggled with the idea that James Moriarty, and he alone, headed up this amazingly cruel and complex criminal network that Holmes spoke fearfully of. Hence my invention of Brogan. A character very different to his brother. James was always cast as brilliant, very Alpha Male, a physical and mental match for Holmes and the best detectives in the world. I wanted Brogan to be more driven, more motivated, more malicious. I wanted him to demonstrate more reason to be wicked, more resolve to be brilliant in his wickedness.

What is it about the Sherlock Holmes universe that makes it such a rich source of inspiration for authors?

It is not just the Holmes universe; it is the Victorian universe.  This was a period of amazing change and fascinating architects of that change.  The century started with horses and ploughs, leeches and candlelight and it finished with trains, electricity, gas, motor cars and massive leaps in medicine. Setting a novel against such a rich backdrop is an irresistible lure. The language of the characters, the voices that you can put into their mouths, the thoughts you can have stir in their brains is also fascinatingly different than contemporary fiction.

Class played an immense part. Media was limited to newspapers, periodicals and the chatter of tongues. Aspirations were simpler and more personal. Then yes, of course there is Holmes himself, a character so powerful than even in cameo appearances he captures the audience and dominates the scene. I thought Anthony Horowitz did an amazing job putting believable words in his mouth and I think that partly inspired me to have him brush shoulders and shape the fortunes of some of the cast of House of Smoke.

House of Smoke coverAs an author you’re well known for your conspiracy thrillers – what made you detour through Victorian London?

A love of both the time and the city. A chance to dramatically romance a great age and I suppose create a different kind of conspiracy novel, one in which the conspirators are both social evils and human manipulators of those evils. Workhouses, prisons and executions were as much opportunities for exploitation as well as pillars of this harsh society and of course the people in charge of them made for fascinatingly flawed characters.

One of the joys of researching this book was walking the locations, reading the historic blue plates on the outside of houses and buildings and then sitting in the magnificent British Library and digging into the history and people of the time.

How did you start writing?


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

Good marketing is infinitely more effective than great writing. 

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Martin Amis for the intoxication of his language. Stephen King for his ability to make me check under the bed and never walk near a storm drain. James Patterson for his simplicity of plotting and ruthlessness of marketing. Dr. Seuss for helping me spread the love of reading to my children.

Give me some advice about writing…

Don’t do it unless you love it. If you love it, keep doing it.

What’s next for you?

My first book is currently being adapted for television in the US and I am very happily involved in the development process. I am also busy working with a UK production company on a TV adaption of another novel. I am just in the middle of directing some commercials for Euro 16 and after that, I hope to be lucky enough to write another thriller.


The House of Smoke by Sam Christer is published by Sphere, price £7.99 in paperback original.

The Intel: Barbra Leslie


If you’re looking to break bad this Christmas, then Barbra Leslie’s Cracked – the first in a trilogy featuring her kickass heroine Danny Cleary – is going to provide enough sex, drugs and violence to get your Auntie Gladys through the festive season.

Cracked features good girl turned crack addict Danny Cleary as she races to uncover the real story behind her twin sister Ginger’s apparent accidental overdose. Battling both her own demons and family members intent on blaming Danny for Ginger’s downfall, when her nephews are snatched by a Danny lookalike it becomes apparent that to save her family and avenge her sister she’s going to have to look to her own past for answers.

Canadian author Barbra is as entertaining and engaging as her high-octane novel. But behind the laughs, Cracked is an uncompromising story that comes from a very personal place – her own experience of being addicted to crack cocaine.

In this fascinating intel interview, Barbra talks about her vengeful and compromised heroine, her experience of working in the criminal justice system, dropping the F-bomb – and facing up to her own demons by writing a novel…

Tell us about Danny Cleary…

Danny is a lot of things. She’s a former personal trainer and fighter. She’s smart – though not particularly academically-inclined – and snarky. She’s brave, but more than that, she’s loyal.

Oh yes! And she’s addicted to crack cocaine. That seems to be her most defining characteristic when people read about Cracked. I think when you actually read the book itself, the drug use – while certainly a major part of the plot – is only part of who she is. And it seems that people are getting that, when they actually read the book.

In fact, the next book in the series is called Rehab Run, so that may give you an idea of where Danny’s headed.

Was it a lot of fun to write such a flawed and in-your-face heroine?

Huge fun. Danny is sort of like my spirit animal – I’m pretty straightforward and usually trust my own instincts. But Danny takes that to such an extreme – her protective instinct with regards to her family and her willingness to do absolutely anything it takes to protect – and avenge – them.

She is also, at times, difficult for me to write.

Where did you get the inspiration for Cracked?

Ah. And this gets to the heart of why she was sometimes difficult for me to write.

In a nutshell: I was a crack addict. I’ve been clean for about seven years now.

I was a middle-class young woman, happily married. But when the marriage ended, I started going out to bars nearly every night. I was deeply sad, nearly crazy with sadness, and I wanted to be around people. I had a friend who had started working at a local pub, and that became my watering hole – but much more.

Untitled 1Very quickly, I met some people there who were doing a lot of cocaine, and I jumped in with both feet. This, despite the fact that whenever I tried weed it made me sick, and I had never had any interest in any substance other than my beloved Prosecco (okay, and red wine too, in winter). I started spending all of my time with these people. They were damaged, like I was, and didn’t judge. When I fell for a man who eventually started doing crack, I decided to try it. I was pretty far down the rabbit hole already, by then. But once I tried crack, it took over my life and nearly destroyed me.

I got clean on my own, in the late 2000s. My elderly mother – which has since passed away – needed care, and I went to Nova Scotia to look after her. I white-knuckled getting clean, and I started writing a very early draft of Cracked while sitting at my mother’s dining room table.

As I said, that’s the nutshell version of a brutal story. But you get the idea.

You’ve worked in criminal law – how have your own experiences influenced the book?

In some ways, not as much as you would think, although I do have extensive experience with the criminal justice system here so I know a fair amount about police and court procedures. I’ve worked for a police force in Ontario (not in Toronto, I hasten to add) transcribing videos of police interviews with witnesses, accused, victims of crime. That can be brutal. And I did a job at the Ministry of the Attorney General where I was one of three people monitoring about 300 of the bigger criminal cases across the province for media relations and so on. Not to mention working as a court reporter. Not a bad education for a crime writer, I suppose! But I take my non-disclosure agreements pretty seriously, and I’ve signed a number of those over the years, so I haven’t included anything in my writing that I’ve particularly taken from a specific case.

And really, I’ve got enough in my head, trust me. I quite literally dream plots.

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

Listen to your editor.

But before you have one (i.e., before you have a publisher), while it’s great to get feedback from people, if you take notes from too many of them it can mess with the voice in your head that tells you when something is good, when something works.

I made that mistake with Cracked, and it took me a long time to get the book back to where it should have been. And then when I worked with first Alice Nightingale and then Cath Trechman at Titan Books, they were both so brilliant and incisive, I wished I had never listened to anyone else! Not that I didn’t get great notes from other people, by the way – I just got too many of them, and did too many unnecessary rewrites. It messed with my confidence a bit – one person would hate one aspect of the plot, and another would love it and hate another. I think I lost my own voice for a period of time, and really lost heart with the book for a while.

If five people read your book and four out of five of them say that, I don’t know, your main character should spend more time at his job, where is he getting his money? Then you might want to listen to that; it’s probably a valid point. But if two people say that and two people mention that they like the mystery around how he has all this money to burn, then go with your gut.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Now you’re killing me! I’m going to limit myself to crime writers. Dennis Lehane and Robert B. Parker for their noir sensibilities and quick-wittedness. James Lee Burke, for being one of the best writers I have ever read, period. Nicola Griffith for her Aud series – brilliant writing and plotting, and a female protagonist who more than holds her own against anyone. I’m really enjoying reading Rachel Howzell Hall’s Eloise Norton series right now – the underbelly of L.A., and a great female detective. Ben H. Winters’ The Last Policeman series is one of the best things I’ve ever read. I want to read them again, immediately. His writing is so moving and peels back layers so skillfully, it’s breathtaking. And a heartbreaking series.

I wish I could spend a month just reading. Going for walks with my partner and the dog, and reading. Then get back to work on Danny #2.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read a lot. Read all the time. Read as much as you write, time-wise.

Find the best time of the day for you and do whatever you can to make that time sacrosanct – no phone, no Internet, no people – nothing. (Easier said than done, I know.) Every so often, if your circumstances permit it, have a writing-only weekend, like your own little writing retreat. Make sure you have everything you need for the weekend, tell your people you’re unavailable, and park yourself at your desk. Or pace. I pace a lot. (And talk to myself. But that’s me.)

When you finish something, let it sit for a week before you read it all, from start to finish, without making any notes. Do not think about it during that time. Catch up on your planned Netflix binges. Then when the week is up, try your best to read your book as a reader would, and think of what worked for you, and what didn’t.

What’s next for you and Danny?

Cracked 2: Rehab Run will be out in November 2016 and the third in November 2017. I’m very excited about where the series is going. By the title alone, as I mentioned earlier, you know that Danny goes to rehab. Will it take? Will she get clean – and stay that way? What kind of shenanigans will she get up to? Well, I can tell you only this: the second book begins with Danny finding a severed body part on the grounds of the rehab facility. And the second book is set where I grew up – in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia.

Other than Danny? Well, I’ve been playing with a post-apocalyptic idea for a long time now, and at some point I will get to that. My niece Maddy, who’s 16 now, sat up with me one night last Christmas and we talked into the wee hours about the plot. She’s campaigning for it to be a Young Adult novel, but we shall have to see.

Besides, I think I swear far too much in my writing for a YA audience! Even when I try not to, the off F-bomb finds its way in.

Cracked, published by Titan Books, is available right now in paperback and ebook.


Merry Christmas from Crime Thriller Fella!


Guest Post: V.M. Giambanco

The Devil has all the best tunes. You know that, I know that – it’s why we read crime fiction. A good protag is nothing without an evil antag. A deliciously evil – and yet vulnerable – villain can elevate a good crime book to something great. Just ask Thomas Harris, Stephen King or our old friend Conan Doyle.

V.M. Giambanco knows that as well as anybody. In her Alice Madison series she’s earned herself a reputation for specialising in complex and dangerous bad guys.

In the latest, Blood And Bone – which is out today! – Seattle detective Madison finds herself tracking an elusive killer whose brutality is legendary even among high-security prisoners. If you’re a crime reader or writer, you’re going to want to read Valentina’s terrific guest post for Crime Thriller Fella about what makes a satisfying villain. She talks Hannibal, Ripleys Tom and Ellen, and careless dentistry…

What do I want from a villain?

Valentina Giambanco

As I write this post I’m working on the fourth book of the Alice Madison series and when the issue of a subject for this piece came up I had little doubt that I wanted to talk about: villains. Why? Because, more than in any other genre, villains define the crime fiction novel and it is by what villains do that the other characters come alive.

Where would Clarice be without Hannibal? Or Holmes without Moriarty? Or even Nick without ‘Amazing Amy’? The best villain is the one who gets the best out of the hero and by that I mean that it is the character who pushes all others around him to act in ways that make the story compelling, revealing, multi-layered and memorable. And it’s not a small task, which is why – and I’ve only realised this as I started to think about this piece – I generally start each story by working out who the villain is and why he does what he does. Only when I’ve found something that feels suitably gripping does the story really begin.

I have a theory – and obviously it might just be something that works for me and no other writer or reader – but when I’m trying to build an effective villain I need four elements; a couple are pretty obvious, the others maybe not.

First, and it’s no big surprise, my villain has to give the story a real sense of danger which translates into urgency and keeps the clock ticking. Examples are almost unnecessary but for the sheer creepiness of it I’ll mention Annie Wilkes in ‘Misery’, whose mood swings and inner workings are as terrifying as any serial killer out there.

Second, there has to be a motive, something strong enough that the villain can hang his whole behaviour on it and it has to be so powerful that it can carry him throughout the story. By the way, I keep saying he for ease of writing but, as I have just mentioned, crime fiction villainy is an equal opportunity employer – ever met Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell?

Third, and here things get more complicated, I really enjoy seeing the story through the eyes of the villain. Take Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley for example, he is the central character and what he does appears merely as a string of necessary actions to further his very reasonable needs. That’s all.

Blood And BoneWhen Thomas Harris inhabits Francis Dolarhyde’s mind in ‘Red Dragon’ he is so skilled at building character that we can’t help feeling a tiny sting of compassion for him even at his most frightening and amoral. I’ve read once that Harris said he was always glad when he knew he was writing a chapter with Hannibal Lecter in it but was also glad when Lecter left and he didn’t have to see the world through his maroon eyes anymore.

Four, I’m intrigued when I can see the humanity of the villains: the unstoppable serial killer without weaknesses does not really interest me because it moves through the story in a similar manner to the alien creature in ‘Alien’ – slaughtering everyone in its path until it gets blasted out of the ship, and where’s the fun in that? I absolutely love ‘Alien’: if we’re talking about slowly building menace and claustrophobia and terror, it’s a classic – and the unusual hero of the series is a resourceful, stubborn woman who can operate heavy machinery. But that’s not where I go if I want a complex, multi-layered villain.

So, I have my four elements: physical danger, motive, a different way to look at life and an ember of humanity – this is what I look for in a villain. Sometime they are all found in one character, sometimes the story will give us more than one straight villain to play with and then we can split these elements. Recently I watched ‘Marathon Man’, written by William Goldman from his excellent novel, and the villain is an old man with a lethal blade hidden in his sleeve and dentist’s tools in his satchel. Szell, the Second World War Nazi, is one of the most terrifying villains ever created because he is a little guy who certainly couldn’t run after the protagonist to catch him but, once he has him tied up on a chair, there is no end to the pain he is prepared to inflict to achieve his end. His age, vulnerability and cruelty make him human and real and more repulsive than someone like Lecter could ever be because we know Nazi existed and we know what they did while a cultured, engaging, sociopath with a perfectly replicated middle finger and a taste for murder is yet to be born.

As a crime writer I’m always looking for a great fictional villain and yet sometimes it is reality that is too extreme to be believed: I’ve read online today that a pharmaceutical company has raised the price of a life-saving pill from $13.50 to $750, not even Hannibal Lecter can match that kind of evil.


Blood And Bone is available now, published by Quercus Books, in hardback, and also in ebook.

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: S Williams

S WilliamsLast week we went underground to review Tuesday Falling, in which a vengeful young woman who goes to war with London’s gangland and dispatches lots of unpleasant young men in a variety of violent ways. We liked Tuesday’s odyssey very much, and said the book had a powerful cartoon energy. To see that review, don’t be coy, scroll down and take a look. We’ll still be here when you get back, if you’re quick.

Anyway, you know where this is going. We caught up with the enigmatic S Williams, a fascinating guy, to talk about his singular feminist protag, about the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the streets and how, where writing is concerned, you’ve just got to take the advice of Tom Waits.

Tell us about Tuesday…

How to answer without spoilers…

Tuesday is a 17-year-old girl who, for reasons unknown, is ripping through London gangland and revenging their victims. She is a seemingly unstoppable murderbomb with a nice turn in dark humour and a penchant for interesting weapons. She is broken and beautiful and exactly who she needs to be, when she needs to be it.

Where did you get the inspiration for Tuesday Falling?

For the settings it was working in the tunnels under London, which are incredible. They go for miles and miles and pop up like secrets behind the most ordinary of doors. Unless you know they are there you wouldn’t believe it. For the vibe it was just a desire to put into a story what it was like to be an outsider living in the machine of a city. There are so many great books and films about Gangster London, but I’d never found one that described quite what I wanted to see.

Much of the book takes place in those hidden places. How much research did you do about London?

Loads! On the interweb. Walking Tuesday’s world in London. Travelling the tube, zoning into the rhythm. Visiting the museums. The estates. Plus a couple of things I can’t talk about, but if you’ve read the book you probably can guess!

Tuesday FallingWhat’s the most interesting thing you learned about the city?

That it is not just one thing. It is layer upon layer. It is both macro and quantum. It stretches backwards and forwards in time as you walk through it. That it breathes with the people who live and work there. That it can break your heart and spit you out one day, then hold you tight and give you succour the next. That you can die there and no one will notice, and you can live there and never get seen. That it is a fun-fair and a mincing machine both.

I highly recommend it.

There’s a strong YA vibe to the book – did you worry that some of the more extreme violence would put off younger readers?

Short answer is no, but fair point. Although Tuesday is not marketed as a YA book it does has great appeal to that age range. Obviously this is the same group that plays GTA, loves the Walking Dead, gets sent to institutions that breed bullying and prey on difference, owns hardware that allows them to watch anything they can dream up, and generates it’s own separate language so that the ‘adults’ don’t even know what they’re talking about. A Clockwork Orange, anyone? Ultimately, it’s all about context, and I feel completely comfortable with a YA audience reading Tuesday.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Wow. Where to start?

Catherine Storr, because without her my literary childhood would not have been so special and full of light and shade. Ditto Alan Garner, Roald Dahl and Isaac Asimov. Books are doorways through which to escape. This is especially true when young. Ray Bradbury for his short stories. Like a kiss in the dark on a ghost train. Stephen King for writing the book that allowed Jack Nicholson to appear in that film with that axe. Jim Thompson for writing crime fiction that is more like a tour of a war-zone than anything else. Andrew Vachss. No need to explain. Just read him.

Another day would be a completely different list.

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

That it doesn’t always come out right. In fact hardly ever. The gap between what I see in my head and what I see on the page is immense. Pour a drink and hide away immense. Give up, shut the curtains and just watch TV forever immense. But as Tom Waits so eloquently says, though, ‘You gotta get behind the mule’. All you can do is keep on going until something works. Something sticks that you like. Then grab it and run like hell. Really. Run.

Give me some advice about writing…

I would never presume to give anyone advice about writing. Even when I give myself advice about writing I get a sneer and a slap. All I can say is that it has given me enormous pleasure, in between the self-doubt, the empty page that laughs at you and the lost chapters you have just written as your computer crashes.

Right. Yes. Advice. Save as you go along! Or use a computer that saves automatically to cyberspace. And never give up. It’s work, like anything else.

What’s next for you?

Got quite a lot on the go, at the moment!

Getting to grips with the publicity side of Tuesday. Writing a novel about a girl gang. Finishing off the script for an immersive ghost evening in an abandoned building. And then there’s always the chance that Tuesday may return out of the shadows…

Plus gin, Berlin-era Bowie and chess by the fire.

The Intel: Caroline Mitchell

Caroline MitchellWe love a bit of crime fiction around here —

You’re making that face right now, the incredulous one that says: yeah, I kinda think we get that by now, fella.

But wait, I haven’t finished. We like crime fiction, but we also like a bit of the supernatural. The kind of stuff you can’t explain. Hell, when we were young we collected that magazine, The Unexplained, and we put them in the binders and everything.

Caroline Mitchell’s Don’t Turn Around, the first in her series about  DC Jennifer Knight delivers up more than a splash of the paranormal. Mitchell’s protag receives a personal message from behind the grave, which leads her on a hunt for a fiendish killer.

Caroline is a detective who lives with her husband and children in a pretty village on the coast of Essex and it was her own encounter with an unexplained force that inspired the series. The Twitterverse is abuzz with Don’t Turn Around, which is published by Bookoutre, so I’m delighted to say that Caroline is here to give us the intel on her life as a police officer, a writer — and her own life-changing experience of The Other Side.

Tell us about Jennifer Knight…

I knew when I set out to write the triology that I would need a detective capable of coping with everything I was going to throw at her. Jennifer Knight is devoted to her family, and passionate about her job. But her difficult past is hard to escape and soon catches up with her.

What was the inspiration for Don’t Turn Around?

I work as a full time police officer so it was a bit of a no brainer for me to write crime. I liked being able to lead my readers into a custody block and having them with DC Knight as she conducted a police interview. My own experiences with the paranormal also came into play, so it really was a case of writing what you know on both counts. The character Frank Foster came to me one sleepless night and refused to go away.

There’s a paranormal vibe to the story –  is that an aspect that will continue in the series?

Definitely. It will never overshadow the crime aspect, but it will add a spooky edge to the story. I’ve had several bloggers say it was not a mix they had ever considered before, but now I have them hooked. I think it’s because I’ve been able to keep it pretty real without getting too carried away, so it’s something people can relate to.

Don't Turn AroundTell us about your own encounter with an entity in your home…

Where to start? I was at work one day as normal when my husband called me to say all hell was breaking loose in our home as crockery was smashed, growls were coming from thin air, and knives and cutlery were being thrown. It was the beginning of what would be years of paranormal occurrences in our ordinary village home. Over thirty people witnessed the activity, including police and many other professionals. I wrote a book on our experiences, not expecting many people to buy it. Paranormal Intruder became a best seller, and I receive contact from ordinary people every week who have also experienced paranormal incidents in their home.

What was your journey to publication?

I self published Paranormal Intruder and as it worked out quite well, I was all set to do it again for my DC Knight series. I tried a couple of publishers but there was something about Bookouture I liked. I applied to them online, and after several weeks, exciting emails and a lovely meeting with their editor, I was signed in a three book deal.

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

Writing my true story was very harrowing and I did not expect that. I thought I could just get the words down on paper, but it doesn’t work like that. Each chapter made me relive the experience all over again and there were times I had to put the manuscript for Paranormal Intruder away. I really enjoyed writing Don’t Turn Around as it was fiction, and although I infused my experiences of the police and paranormal, it was happening to Jennifer Knight, not me, so I could enjoy the thrill without the sleepless nights!

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I worship Stephen King. He is the master in my eyes. I love the way each of his books takes me on a journey. I’m also becoming aquainted to many of the UK’s current crime writers and of course my fellow Bookouture authors are fab too! I just wish I had more time to read them all.

Give me some advice about writing…

Persevere. Even if you are writing rubbish, just get your bum in the chair and write. Sometimes it’s only by getting pen onto paper that the creative juices start to flow.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished writing book two and am submitting it for edits. After that, I’m starting book three. I’ve also got the idea for a great straight crime series in my head, all I need is the time to write it!

The Intel: Suzanne Spiegoski

Suzanne SpiegoskiSuzanne Spiegoski is a US author whose first book featuring homicide detective Lily Dietz is published by Touchpoint Press. The Fisherman’s Lily is about an ambitious and short-tempered NYC homicide detective whose investigation into a gruesome murder case reveals cryptic clues linking her with her dark and troubling past.

Suzanne’s got a terrific CV. Not only is she a novelist, but she’s a photographer and journalist — and a professional figure skating coach!

I’m delighted to say that Suzanne’s has skated in to give us the intel on her feisty heroine, her dream poker match and how being an author is like going twelve rounds in the ring…

Tell us about Lily Dietz…

A femme fatale with a soft spot for vintage cars and British cigarettes Lily is an Asian-American NYPD homicide detective, who is a rebellious, manic-depressive, self-destructive alcoholic and doesn’t exactly follow the rules. Aside from her unlikable characteristics she is also ambitious, strong-willed and loving. Lily tries maintaining complicated relationships, which include her father, Anthony, her younger brother, CJ, who is a famous basketball player for the Knicks and her adorable niece, Antoinette, who is like a daughter to Lily. Along with her longtime partner detective John Fremont, while beginning to work on a new murder case cryptic clues in the evidence start to link with Lily’s dark and troubling past. 

Where did the inspiration for The Fisherman’s Lily come from?

The Fisherman’s Lily is the baby child of artistic expression and the extreme desire to help the world. At some point in my life, I wanted to be a police officer but my longing to pursue writing eventually won itself over after coming up with a story for the crime genre playing field.  

You’re a photographer and figure skater, and you have a BA in Criminal Justice — How have your own experiences in life influenced your own writing, do you think?

I think meeting people and sharing life experiences are what great stories and characters are built from. Without outside influences my perception of the world would be greatly different and therefore my writing would be too. I think my experiences are what I know and we’ve all heard writers write what they know and I like to take comfort in that. I also feel that because of my diverse surroundings and background, this is also influential in my work.

 What was your path to publication?

A very difficult one and it happened when I least expected it to! At first I scouted for a literary agent, but that was proving to be daunting, almost unattainable, especially as a first time novelist. After about a year of ruthless persistence and pursuance of agents, I was about to shift toward looking for publishers when I struck paths with my now publisher, Touchpoint Press, who nearly 20 years after being an agent, was now ready to start their own publishing company and had picked up my query amidst the transition! Pretty awesome story, one I will never forget and one I will forever be thankful of.

The Fisherman's LilyWhat’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Rejection for sure! A few rounds of what seems like to be an eternal boxing match, I’d come out a little bit bruised and scratched up, maybe even sometimes in tears, but you don’t give up; you keep fighting. Let’s say you’re in that familiar box ring. The lesson is no matter what anyone tells you if you believe in something, stand for it. Oh, and make sure you got a few ride-or-die homies to have your back and a couple pounds of chocolate to deal with the “no’s” of the world.

How do you deal with feedback?

With a grain of salt. Sometimes critique might sting more than another’s, and as much as I would like to believe I’m gracious 100% of the time, I know I’m not, because I’m human! I do try to take any criticism constructively but if life wants to hand me some of those lemons, well then I just make some rocking snazzy lemonade!

 Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I adore Thomas Harris, Jeffery Deaver and Stephen King. I would like to consider them to be my three Godfathers of the crime/thriller world. These talented men had very quickly thrown me into a torrid love affair with the genre and eventually inspired me to pursue my own dreams of being a writer. That and going against all three in a game of poker would be mind-blowing! Boys, are you down?

Give me some advice about writing…

Never apologize when you aren’t sorry.

What’s next for you? 

Right now, I’m pretty busy promoting The Fisherman’s Lily but do have upcoming news! Stay tuned…

The Intel: SJI Holliday

Susi HollidayWe reviewed Susi Holliday’s Black Wood the other week. Cast your minds back to that, or if you’re the indolent type who can just about be bothered to lift your finger on the mouse, you can alternatively click right here for an instant appraisal of just what we thought.

Black Wood is about what happened when Jo and Claire stepped out into the woods one day as kids. Novelists have been telling us this since stories began: don’t, whatever you do, step into the woods. Just don’t.

Anyway, the novel picks up a few years later when Jo, now a damaged young woman, is certain she sees one of the people who attacked her and Claire all those years ago. Black Wood is a creepy tale of stalkers and paranoia in a small town in Scotland.

SJI Holliday is here to give us the intel on Black Wood, the claustrophobia of small towns, her fave writers, proper critiques and crazy deadlines…

Tell us about Jo and Claire…

Jo is completely messed up. It’s not really her fault, but she doesn’t do herself any favours. She had a strange childhood, and that’s shaped who she is. There were too many traumas for a young girl to grow up and escape unscathed. She’s quite funny though, she’s got a dark witty humour. I think that’s her saving grace, as she does tend to exasperate people close to her. Claire is a bit long-suffering, to be honest. I think she lost her way when she was younger too, but for different reasons. I always wanted her to be braver, but I’m not sure that’s how she turned out. But she is dealing with disabilities, as well as a tenuous bond with Jo, so it’s not easy for her.

Where did you get the inspiration for Black Wood?

It was a ‘what if..?’ based on a childhood event. There were two girls and two boys in a wood. There was a knife… Technically nothing happened, not physically, at least. But there are mental scars. I was one of those girls, and I never forgot the incident, although later in life I started to think I must’ve imagined it. Memory can play tricks on you, can’t it?

What is it about small communities that makes them such fertile territory for crime fiction?

It’s the claustrophobia. The feeling that you can’t escape. There are people who live there all their lives, and they choose to shelter themselves from the wider world. There’s an innocence in that, but it is definitely breeding ground for dark secrets.

Black WoodYou’ve created quite a community in Banktoun – do you think you will ever revisit it?

Definitely. I always had three novels outlined, set in the same place, but with different characters – some would overlap from one to the next. Someone briefly mentioned in Black Wood will become a main character in one of the others. I’m trying to keep track of all the ideas that keep cropping up for their backstories, because I’ve a feeling that I’m going to come up with more and more stories set in the town.

What was your journey to publication?

A slightly unusual one. I wrote lots of short stories but could never finish a novel. I had too many ideas but I lacked the ability to sustain them to the end. I finally decided to stick with Black Wood, and with help from a writing buddy who told me to keep on with it, I got about halfway through. Then I entered my prologue in a competition and got a runner-up place. I tweeted out my joy… and I got an DM from an agent asking if I could send him my novel. I’d met this agent before, at Harrogate Crime Festival, so I told him where I was… I had 10,000 edited words, and another 30,000 unedited. He asked to see then ten. I sent it on Monday morning and he called me Tuesday lunchtime – he wanted to sign me up before I’d finished. This rarely happens and I couldn’t believe it, but of course I agreed! Then I gave myself a deadline for delivery of the full novel – 6 weeks. Crazy, but I did it.

We worked together on a couple of rounds of feedback, then it got sent off to publishers. It took a couple rounds of submissions to publishers, resulting in many beautifully worded and complimentary rejections… and finally, I got ‘The Email’ saying there was an offer. I was ready to give up at that stage and start writing another. I’m so glad I stuck with it – my agent was tenacious, and I love him for that.

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

That it is very, very difficult to write anything else when you are waiting for feedback from publishers. I admire people who submit one book and get on with writing the next. I just couldn’t. I was checking my email constantly, awaiting news. It almost drove me mad, and I’ve learned a lot from that.

 How do you deal with feedback?

A proper critique is invaluable. You need it so you can learn and grow as a writer. It’s difficult when you get a lot of feedback from a lot of people and it doesn’t always say the same thing. You have to learn to sort the wheat from the chaff, pull out the things that ring alarm bells. Most of the time, it really helps. When you start to get reviews, it’s like starting that process all over again. The first bad review stings, but then like before, you pull it apart and give merit only to what rings true. You know yourself when something is a valid observation, and something that’s just mean spirited.

 Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Stephen King. Because he’s overcome rejection, addiction and a serious accident and he still manages to write. He’s got the natural storytelling ability that draws you in and keeps you there. I like Mark Edwards for exactly the same reason. The storytelling, I mean. I can’t comment on anything else he might share with SK! The other is Mo Hayder. Just dark, dark, dark. She’s had an interesting life too, and that clearly gives fuel to her imagination. I love her Jack Caffery series. I can still remember feeling shell-shocked while reading The Treatment, and Tokyo (renamed The Devil of Nanking) is one of the sickest things I’ve ever read, and also the most fascinating.

Give me some advice about writing…

Enjoy every part of the journey. There’s constant anticipation and many kicks in the teeth when you are unpublished, but when you finally get there, you realise it’s only the beginning.

 What’s next for you?

Well I never like to talk about a work in progress, but… I am writing another one set in Banktoun. I can’t tell you when or even if it might be published – but I hope that it will, because I know there are many people who’d like to hear more from Sergeant Davie Gray. Banktoun has many more secrets for him to uncover.

The Intel: Elena Forbes

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

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

Tell us about DI Mark Tartaglia and Sam Donovan…

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

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

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

Where did you get the inspiration for Jigsaw Man?

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

Jigsaw ManWhat are the challenges of writing a procedural series?

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

What was your journey to becoming a published author?

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

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

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

How do you deal with feedback?

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

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

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

Give me some advice about writing…

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

What’s next for you?

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

Jigsaw Man is published by Quercus in hardcover.