Tag Archives: The Birds

The Intel: Gavin Collinson

Gavin CollinsonGavin Collinson’s new novel The Hitchcock Murders is a homage to the Great Man. Published by Cutting Edge Crime, it’s a big, fun story about a serial killer who slays in ways inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s classic films.

So we’re delighted that Gavin — the Interactive Producer on Doctor Who — is here to tell us about Alfred, his new protag Josa Jilani and what should happen to lazy writers…

Tell us about The Hitchcock Murders…

It’s a contemporary thriller full of big set pieces and characters I hope people will love spending time with. Lots of cliffhangers, personal jeopardy and twists. No-one who’s read it has predicted the final chapters and the sequence of reveals that fuels the second half of the book… But it doesn’t cheat! The clues are all there.

The pitch goes something like this: There’s a psycho out there. A serial killer who strikes every Tuesday, murdering women in gruesome ways inspired by the movies of Alfred Hitchcock. Newly promoted DCI Josa Jilani is given the case because factions within the police service want her to fail, but she’s got too much riding on it, so enlists the help of criminologist Daniel Blake. He’s something of a mystery. A loose cannon, unpredictable and charismatic but frowned on by Josa’s superiors. Together, Josa and Blake must hunt a murderer who is growing in skill and audacity and raising the stakes to make it personal…

Give us an example of one of your Hitchcock-themed murders!

All the famous ones are there, from murderous birds to showers that don’t end well. I needed to cover the killing in Blackmail where someone is stabbed with a breadknife, but if you’ve ever actually tried stabbing someone with a breadknife, you’ll know it’s a tricky business. The way that turns out in the book makes it my favourite murder.

What do you think the great man would have thought of your book?

It’s a little known fact that he’s alive and well and living in Shamley Green. He’s read the book and tweaked a few of the murders but you know what? He loves it. Bloody loves it.

The Hitchcock MurdersWhere did the idea for the book come from?

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I completely understand obsession. And I’m not talking about the perfume, here. Obsession forces us to do mundane things and fun stuff but it can also compel normal people to carry out acts of evil. I’ve seen it happen and it’s terrifying. That was one of the many starting points for The Hitchcock Murders, but another, more obvious trigger was a straight-forward desire to write the kind of book that people will read and then urge their friends to read. That’s a big ask… I hope I succeeded.

What’s your favourite Hitchcock movie – and why?

That changes every day because they’re so different. The Birds looks unspeakably beautiful and if you watch five seconds of North by Northwest you’ll be unable to tear yourself away until the end credits. That’s medical fact. But right here, right now I’m going with Rope because it’s a different movie every time I watch it, yet it never fails to disturb and delight.

Tell us about your protagonist DCI Josa Jilani…

I do worry about Josa. She’s like you and me. Given a raw deal at work and when she finally gets a break – in her case a promotion to the rank of DCI – the powers-that-be want to see her fail so they hand her the Hitchcock Murders, thinking she’ll be out of her depth. And you know what? She is. But Josa has been swimming against the current all her life and will not go down without a fight.

She’s a young, British, Muslim woman with a better-looking sister, whom she adores, and a mother who has elevated criticism to a casual art form. Her dad died years ago but she still misses him and although it might not make sense, Josa desperately wants him to be proud of her. She knows she was the apple of his eye and that he would be rooting for her one hundred per cent.

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

That some people, people you thought loved you, will pray that you fail.

How do you deal with feedback?

Some of my colleagues are insensitive to the point of brutality so I’m used to criticism that would drive many people to take their own lives. Having said that, positive feedback still makes my world sunnier and warmer, so I’m fine with both ends of the spectrum. After I wrote The Hitchcock Murders I gave it to several readers and their feedback was priceless. If they thought something jarred or felt lacklustre or they spotted an opportunity to improve a passage, I wanted to know about it. In terms of being an author, top of my job spec is ‘write a cracking thriller’… I’d be a clown to ignore any feedback that helps with that goal.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I admire every author who works hard and with imagination to craft something that entertains people, whether it’s in a genre I enjoy or not. It’s a tough thing to do. I work on Doctor Who and see first-hand how genius writers like Steven Moffat create gripping fiction. A lot of it is down to innate talent, sure, but believe me, it’s also a question of relentless graft. I despise lazy writers who churn out books that are devoid of wit or surprise or dare. These authors know who they are and when I’m king of this land they will be sent to Strangeways and forced to read their own garbage for at least seven hours a day.

Give me some advice about writing…

Always remember your reader. That sounds obvious to the point of d’oh, I know, but keep this in mind: readers don’t know the next chapter is the best thing you’ve ever written. You must ensure the preceding chapter is strong enough to take them there. We live in a world where distractions are constantly tugging at our sleeves, so your prose must be consistently good enough to overcome that.

What’s next for you?

A large G&T, if you’re asking. After that? Some of the characters who survive The Hitchcock Murders return in They Keep Killing Marilyn which I’m currently writing. This will sound corny and a little bit talkshow, but I absolutely love being back with some of these characters, giving them  dangerous new problems to contend with. Watching them fail, get angry, flirty, win battles, lose face and try to overcome their own frailty to see justice done. The sequel to The Hitchcock Murders will also be published by Cutting Edge Crime and writing it feels fantastic.

You can buy The Hitchcock Murders from Cutting Edge Crime here.

And you can find out more about Hitch right here.

Criminal Minds: Alfred Hitchcock

Born in Leytonstone, East London, in 1899, Alfred Hitchcock directed more than fifty movies across six decades, and is as legendary as anybody in the crime thriller genre. Perhaps the most-famous film director ever, his timeless work is endlessly analysed.

1/ Many of Hitchcock’s films feature heroes who are  wrongly accused. Film historians have suggested this relates back to an incident when the five-year-old Hitchcock was sent by his disciplinarian father, a grocer, to a police station with a note asking that he be locked up for bad behaviour.

2/ Hitchcock always suggested that he found filming a chore, and famously imageslikened actors to cattle – in a sarcastic response, Carole Lombard bought some cows along with her when she reported for duty on set. Hitchcock said he saw the entire completed film in his head before he shot it, right down to the edits, and shooting lost 40 per cent of his original conception of it.

3/ The director’s practical jokes were legendary – he once served a meal of blue food to bewildered guests. But as his reputation has taken on darker hues, many of his more sinister jokes are perhaps more apocryphal. For example, Hitchcock reportedly bet his floor-manager he couldn’t stay handcuffed overnight in an empty studio, and when the fellow agreed, Hitchcock offered him a snifter of brandy to fortify him through the night – however, the alcohol was laced with laxative.

4/ Hitchcock worked with an incredible rosta of writers in his career, including Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker – his cameo in Saboteur was originally intended to be shared with Mrs. Parker – Ernest Lehman, Ben Hecht and John Michael Hayes. A young writer called Evan Hunter wrote The Birds – Hunter later become successful as crime writer Ed McBain.

5/ The director’s favourite of his own movies was Shadow Of A Doubt, starring Joseph Cotton as the sinister Uncle Charlie. Two of the scriptwriters on that film were Thornton Wilder, who wrote the theatre repertory mainstay Our Town, and Hitchcock’s own wife, Alma Reville.

poster_rear-window6/ For Rear Window Hitchcock built an extraordinary indoor set: forty feet high and 185 feet long, complete with more than one thousand arc lights. The courtyard of the five-storey apartment block set was actually the excavated basement of the studio. There were 31 apartments built for the movie, complete with running-water and electricity apartments, and many were fully-furnished.

7/ Psycho was something of an experiment for Hitchcock after a string of glossy, expensive movies such as North By Northwest. He filmed it in black and white to keep down costs, and used the crew of his television show. The shower-scene, perhaps the most-famous scene in the history of movies, lasts 45 seconds and includes 70, ahem, cuts.

8/ His cameo appearances in his own movies are well-known, but he appears in only 39 of his 52 surviving films – the joke really took off when he went to America. His first was in UK film, The Lodger, where he faces away from the camera. The longest appearance is in Blackmail, in which he appears on the London Underground. In Lifeboat, he appears in a newspaper advert, and he often made an appearance with a musical instrument case in tow. In Psycho II, which was made three years after his death, his silhouette appears at the Bates Motel, as a homage. And his daughter, Patricia, often appeared as an actress in his movies.

9/ Hitchcock’s appetite for blonde leading ladies is well documented. His famous quote is: ‘Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.’ Among his most actresses were: Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Eva Marie Saint. Many acres of print have been devoted to his alleged obsession with cool blondes, and his reputed manipulation and control of his leading ladies. Tippi Hedren said that Hitchcock ruined her career when she rejected his affections.

Unknown10/ Hitchcock had always wanted to film a French novel, which became the classic Les Diaboliques. Frustrated, he turned to another novel by Boileau-Narcejac, which became Vertigo. Hitchcock had worked several times with James Stewart, but their last collaboration was on that film. Over the years, Vertigo’s reputation has increased and it’s often cited as one of the best films ever made, but when it was released n 1958, it was reviewed badly and suffered at the box-office. As a result, Hitchcock went out of his way to avoid working with Stewart again, delaying production of North By Northwest until his former leading-man wasn’t available. Vertigo also has perhaps the greatest film poster ever.