Tag Archives: Thomas Harris

Guest Post: Paddy Magrane

Fahrenheit cover DenialSam Keddie is back. The therapist hero of Paddy Magrane’s novel Disorder returns in its high-octane sequel, Denial, which is once again a startling blend of psychological and political thriller. In Denial, a riot breaks out at Creech Hill Immigration Detention Centre. Zahra Idris, a terrified Eritrean detainee suffering with amnesia, escapes.

That evening, Zahra’s psychotherapist, Sam Keddie, finds his girlfriend lying unconscious in their home – the victim of a brutal attack. When Zahra’s solicitor is found dead, drowned in the waters of the Regent’s Canal, Sam becomes convinced that his connection with Zahra is significant – and that someone wants them both dead.

He tracks down a frightened, confused Zahra in Amsterdam. But their pursuers are close behind, and Sam and Zahra are soon on the run. As they’re hunted through Europe, Sam races against time to piece together Zahra’s fragile memories and discover why she and those close to her are being picked off – one by one.

So it’s safe to say that psychological thrillers are a *thing,* these days. As readers, we’re as much interested in what goes on inside the heads of the characters as we are in the mechanics of the plot. And Paddy, an old friend of this blog, has got a head-start on most novelists in this respect: he’s a psychotherapist.

In this fascinating Guest Post, Paddy talks about how he puts this own therapeutic skills to use as a novelist and how digging deep into our troubled psyches can often produce dramatic gold…

Author picWhen people twig that I’m a novelist and psychotherapist, they often assume that being a shrink guarantees a rich, steady source of material. I have to gently explain that what clients tell me in the counselling room is confidential. And even if I was the unscrupulous type to mine their inner lives, most of them are not involved in murder and big government cover-ups.

That said, my psychotherapeutic knowledge and skills come in very handy when writing. Take ‘unconditional positive regard’, for example. This is what Rogerian therapists call a core condition – one that ensures shrinks of his persuasion offer a non-judgmental stance, whatever a client talks about or presents with. It’s particularly useful when writing villains. It helps me focus on the whole human, rather than on a ‘bad’ trait. The point is, real-life baddies – unless they’re psychopathic – feel and suffer much like the rest of us. They’ve often just made terrible errors of judgment or spur-of-the-moment mistakes. These might be truly heinous acts, but not their sole defining characteristic. They’re sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters, not just panto villains.

The other area of knowledge that’s really valuable is psychoanalysis, particularly the work of the daddy of it all, Sigmund Freud. Freud was constantly by my side while I was writing Disorder. As we all know, he was interested in early childhood development, which he believed is crucial to the formation of adult personality. This was key to my understanding of Aidan Stirling – the Prime Minister’s son. And Freud’s Oedipal theory – which explores the idea that a man is unconsciously attracted to his mother while feeling hostility towards to his father (that’s the potted version, by the way) – was also pivotal. Aidan Stirling is, in effect, a Freudian construct, though it’s fair to say I pushed the envelope a little with the poor lad.

Freud was also interested in repression – how we humans compartmentalise pleasurable instincts, often because of shame or anxiety. Repression, he believed, could lead to self-destructive or even anti-social behaviour. This theory really helped me when I was writing the character of Harry Tapper in Denial, whose repressed desires are literally his downfall.

Stepping away from my own work, I’ve always loved reading writers who empathically understand what it’s like to suffer a mental illness or disintegration. On that note, I’d highly recommend Patrick McGrath. The author’s father was a superintendent at Broadmoor and McGrath grew up in the grounds of the prison. His novel, Asylum, is a chilling but masterful tale of an inmate who falls in love with the superintendent’s wife.

And then of course there’s Thomas Harris, who gave Hannibal Lecter such extraordinary depth. Lector is violent and incredibly dangerous, yet a man of refined tastes in art, cuisine and music. Harris offers his hero plenty of unconditional positive regard and seeks to understand the ghastly childhood experiences that have forced the shrink to absorb and normalise barbarism. Harris is an exquisite writer whose dark, complex villain comes alive through deep psychological insight. Those who, like me, write about psychological issues, toil in his formidable shadow.


Denial, by Paddy Magrane, is available in ebook from Fahrenheit Press.

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: Saul Black/Glen Duncan

Glen Duncan & Saul Black

©HACQUARD et LOISON/Opale/Leemage

In these times of austerity we know you’re always looking for more bangs for your buck. Which is why Crime Thriller Fella is bringing you two intel interviews for the price of one, sort of thing.

The other day we reviewed Saul Black’s The Killing Lessons, and you can see that by clicking here, or scrolling down. It’s a rollercoaster of a novel about the hunt for a pair of serial murderers, alpha killer Xander and his beta buddy, Paulie, and it’s intense, brutal and urgent.

Saul Black is, of course, the nom de plume of critically-acclaimed author Glen Duncan. It’s his first foray into the crime genre. We’re delighted to say that Glen and Saul are here to give us the intel about alter egos, how writing is like probing a wobbly tooth, and why his protag is such a mess…

Tell us about Saul Black

As ‘Glen Duncan’ my writing style has been ironic, digressive, oblique, parenthetical – and my previous books (werewolves excepted) have not been particularly ‘plot-driven’. I knew that if I was going to attempt a thriller I was going to have to develop a more economical style and concentrate a lot more on pushing the story forward in a dramatic, suspenseful way. So I decided to give myself a new identity, to pretend to myself that I was a different kind of writer and see if that helped. Psychologically, it did. Of course the boundary between two writerly selves is permeable: Granted ‘Saul Black’ has no patience with essayistic asides, jokes and literary allusions, but for all that ‘Glen Duncan’ doesn’t quite manage keep his trap shut. The chase is still cut to, but not, I hope, at the expense of psychological depth, decent sentences and fresh metaphors.

It turns out I rather like having an alter-ego. It’s a bit like being in disguise, which has always appealed. What worries me, now that Saul Black is up and running with serial killers, is the potential discovery that he has even worse habits than Glen Duncan… 

What was the inspiration for The Killing Lessons? 

I’m very rarely ‘inspired’, since that suggests either a specific trigger or a mysterious epiphanic moment. It’s much more a process of gradually (and indeed grudgingly) working around a few ideas, the mental equivalent of being unable to stop prodding a wobbly tooth with one’s tongue. WithThe Killing Lessons it was just a case of deciding to write a thriller (see answer to next question) and then sort of mooching about in my imagination for something that would at least get the story off the ground. I had no confidence that it would turn out to be anything more than a false start when I wrote the first five thousand words – but I sent it to my agent and he was very encouraging, so I persisted with it. 

What made you want to write a crime novel? 

The practical part of the answer is that crime is one of the few markets in fiction that’s actually thriving. The nobler part is that it occurred to me (with a laughable belatedness) that although I’d always been writing about ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – along with extremes of deviant behaviour and the ordinary human sacraments of friendship and humour and love set against it – I’d never written a straight murder story. So I thought I’d have a go. These days, I’m so old and knackered that nothing gets written unless I set it as a piece of self-imposed homework. I really didn’t know (and in a way still don’t) the first thing about the ‘crime thriller’ genre. It was an experiment. Time will tell if readers think it was a success.

The Killing LessonsHow is your serial killer Xander different from other literary wrong ‘uns?

There are two approaches to writing psychopathic serial killers. One is to invite the reader in to psychological speculation, to suggest toxic seeds or traumatic antecedents such that, given enough shrinks and enough time, we might begin to understand what’s going on in the homicidal head. The other is to present the subject as a closed book, a finished product, a psychology that renders any prospective analysis pointless. (Imagine a globe of impenetrable metal, with the strange consciousness trapped forever beyond view or reach within it.) In Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, this is the way Harris presents Hannibal Lecter. (I understand that later writing delves into the doctor’s past, but for most readers, I suspect, the definitive version is the one found in the first two novels.) My guy, Xander (and his sidekick, Paulie) fall into the former category, which yields, I hope, a believable past feeding into a believable present. There’s nothing wrong with erudite, charming serial killers (I wrote one, in a way, for The Last Werewolf) but I was after something a bit grittier this time around. I haven’t answered your question. I don’t know that there’s that much new or ‘different’ to say about serial killers – but there are new and different ways of saying it, which is always a writing goal, no matter the subject.

Your detective Valerie Hart is a mess what attracts us to such damaged protagonists?

Perfect people are boring. All but inveterate narcissists feel flawed and not-up-to-the-job most of the time, so why should cops be any different? It’s more sympathetic to be dealing not only with someone who has a hellishly tough job to do, but who must do it in a state of emotional frailty or psychological disrepair.

The violence in The Killing Lessons is brutal and twisted why are we so fascinated by dark and horrific stories? 

Because we’re all too often a dark and horrific species. We’re fascinated by our potential, and we crave the false comfort of stories in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished. It’s not quite so straightforward in The Killing Lessons, which I’m sure some readers won’t like. Similarly, some readers will throw up their hands at the starkness of the violence. To which I’m afraid I have no reply. I don’t think I have what it takes to write a delicate or decaf serial killer novel, and I would consider it an act of imaginative bankruptcy if I did.

 Who are the authors you admire, and why?

How far back do you want me to go? Milton. Robert Browning. Thomas Hardy. W. H. Auden. D. H. Lawrence, Graham Greene. Of more modern (or slightly less dead) writers, Anthony Burgess, Paul Bowles, Mervyn Peake, John Updike, J G Ballard. Among the actually living, Martin Amis, Susanna Moore, Mary Gaitskill. I’m drawn to writers who are first and foremost stylists, whose work relies as much (if not more) on the quality of the prose as it does on plot.

 Give me some advice about writing

Make every sentence the definitive version of itself. Never use figurative language you’ve heard or read before. Treat most adjectives like lice. Don’t write completely drunk. Don’t kid yourself that quality equates with success.

What’s next for Saul?

I’m just about to deliver a second thriller, featuring the same detective, Valerie Hart, from The Killing Lessons. If anything, this novel is darker than its predecessor. What I’ll do after that I’m not sure. With any luck, go on a vacation and catch up on some reading.

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: Luca Di Fulvio

Photo: Olivier Favre

Photo: Olivier Favre

Here it comes, rattling over the Brooklyn Bridge, accompanied by a sumptuous Ennio Morricone score — it’s The Boy Who Granted Dreams Blog Tour. It’s stopping here for the day at Crime Thriller Fella, to get a thorough examination at our own version of Ellis Island, before moving on for a full and happy life on your Device.

Author Luca Di Fulvio is an engaging man with a fascinating history. A former student at the prestigious Silvia D’Amico Dramatic Arts Academy, he was mentored by legendary crime writer Andrea Camilleri. He’s known as the Italian Thomas Harris for his gruesome serial killer thrillers, such as The Mannequin Man.

But his latest is, he says, a book full of light, a sweeping romance set in the Roaring Twenties amid the criminal gangs of New York. The Boy Who Granted Dreams was indeed partially inspired by the acclaimed Scorsese film Gangs of New York and features a boy by the name of Christmas Luminita.

So  we’re delighted to say that Luca gives us the intel on his  lyrical tale, and tells us about Christmas, being told he’s not ‘Italian’ enough, and how a writer’s talent is like pigeon poo…

Tell us about Christmas Luminita…

Christmas deals in dreams. When the Jewish mob boss Arnold Rothstein meets him, he says: ”So, ya go around tellin’ lies.” And Christmas replies: “No, Mister, I just know how to tell stories. It’s the only thing I’m good at. Stories people believe in. People like to dream.”

And thanks to this special talent, Christmas has the chance to escape the fate that met so many of the new inhabitants of New York’s Lower East Side during the roaring twenties. Many turned to crime as an easy way out of poverty. Others lived an honest life but suffered great hardships at a time when lowly workers were exploited. But countless others were able to take advantage of the opportunities that the American Dream offered them. And Christmas is one of those.

What was the inspiration for The Boy Who Granted Dreams?

When I was a child, each night my grandmother used to tell incredible stories. I’d listen open-mouthed as she spoke and afterwards I’d lie in bed, my head filled with all these vivid images. In a sense, all my adult life I’ve been on the lookout for a story that would allow me to celebrate the gift my grandmother gave me, and to relive the wonder I felt back then. And eventually I found a way to describe how the strength and beauty of the imagination can overcome reality, even in a ruthless, unforgiving place like New York.

Cover_TBWGDWhat attracts so many authors to the criminal gangs of the Roaring Twenties?

It’s true these people were nothing but appalling cutthroats, with no sense of decency, a total lack of morals, and not a modicum of respect for the lives of others. So you’re right to ask where the attraction comes from.

I think at some level these criminals represent the dark side we all have buried somewhere in our unconscious, the rebellious side that wants to break all the rules. They’re ‘untamed’, as we all sometimes feel we are.

Christmas finds fame on the radio precisely by taking the ordinary people listening to him in that dark, mysterious and risky world on an imaginative journey, making them believe for just one second that they’re different, and not ‘flat’, as he calls them.

You’re known as the Italian Thomas Harris for your dark crime novels, but The Boy Who Granted Dreams is a sweeping romantic drama as well as a thriller – did you enjoy the change of pace?

It happened almost by accident that the first thing I wrote was a thriller. But the book did well, the film studios were suddenly interested in me, and in the blink of an eye, before I knew what was happening, I was screwed, bogged down in a process more commercial than artistic.

Then Christmas and his dreams came along, restoring my own dreams and putting me back on track.

I wouldn’t call this book a thriller. I think, as you said, it’s more a romantic drama and a coming of age novel. And it’s full of light, in contrast to my earlier crime novels, which were very dark.

Am I pleased this change has come about? Over the moon. I love the light.

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

Those of us lucky enough to make a living out of doing something we love should never describe our work as ‘hard’, if for no other reason than out of respect for the millions of people who really do work hard. What I can say, though, is that without doubt the biggest obstacle I have had to overcome was to continue believing in myself after ten years of failing to find a publisher. I was repeatedly told I wasn’t good enough, not ‘Italian’ enough, that I sounded too American or English. So the hardest lesson I had to learn was not to give up.

How do you deal with feedback?

I started out as an actor. When you’re on stage delivering your lines, you can tell if the audience is with you, if you’re connecting with them. And at the end you lap up the applause like a much-needed glass of water. You find the appreciation of the audience isn’t just gratifying, but essential. The same goes for all lines of work in which you expose yourself to the judgement of others. In my case, there are of course two types of feedback: the reaction of the public, and that of the literary critics. The critics give me guidance, show me where I’m going wrong and what I’m doing well. But it’s the reader who hands me the glass of water I’m thirsting for

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Last year I mourned the loss of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the greatest writers of the last century, whom I absolutely love.

But Marquez aside, I was raised – artistically and emotionally – on Anglo-Saxon literature. Jack London (in the book, Christmas reads first White Fang and then Martin Eden) and Dickens were my very first teachers. Hemingway came along when I was a teenager, with Thomas Hardy and William Faulkner following afterwards.

It’s impossible to list them all. But I have to say I can’t stand it when writers reel off names no one’s ever heard of, just to show how utterly original they are. If I were to ask you which classical composers you like, you couldn’t skip Bach or Mozart or Beethoven just because everybody knows them.

Another writer who would have to play a part in this imaginary procession – and I told him so at Frankfurt Book Fair – is Ken Follett.

Give me some advice about writing…

The first thing that springs to mind is reading. By reading those who have come before us, not only can we learn from them, but we can better understand ourselves and gain a sense of what ‘chain’ of writers we might belong to – because none of us is as unique as we might like to think we are. The best we can hope for is to become one link in that long chain.

The second piece of advice I can give is not to be arrogant, not to get too puffed up about your talent, because you did nothing to deserve it: it was a gift sent down from above, just as a splat of pigeon poo might be.

My third piece of advice leads on from the previous one. We should constantly be honing our skills and improving ourselves, because that really is something to be proud of.

Finally, my last piece of advice is this: not to become too attached to what you’re writing. A good writer knows to chuck a whole lot of pages into the wastepaper basket.

What’s next for you?

A book of mine which takes place in Venice in the 1500s at the time of the first ghetto will be published in English next year. That’s one big thing in the pipeline, and I’m very excited about it.

As for the novel I’m working on at the moment, it’s set in Buenos Aires, in the harbourside barrio of La Boca, in 1914, when half the local population was Italian.

The Boy Who Granted Dreams by Luca Di Fulvio is out now as an ebook, published by Bastei Entertainment, price £4.99


The Intel: Paddy Magrane

Paddy Magrane author picYou may remember we reviewed Paddy Magrane’s first Sam Keddie thriller Disorder a while back. My goodness, it was a month ago – how time flies! The chase thriller featured Keddie, his therapist protag, going on the run to unravel the mystery behind the death of a top politician. You can refresh your brain jelly by checking it out here.

Point is, Paddy’s kindly agreed to give us the intel on his inspiration for Disorder, his writing process – and how to cope with that most constant melancholy companion of all writers… Disappointment. As a psychotherapist, you’d expect Paddy to have some pretty interesting thoughts on writing – and you’d be dead right.

Where did the idea for Disorder come from?                      

As a psychotherapist, you are given privileged access to your clients’ inner worlds – ideas, fantasies and secrets that they may not share with anyone else. And sometimes they share these thoughts without even being aware that they’re divulging. The contents of a dream, for example, are often very telling, as is the body language a client displays. It’s this conscious and unconscious revealing that got me thinking. What if the person doing the revealing was a politician with a whopping big secret?

The scenes set in Marrakesh are very evocative – was your intention always to write about the city?

Those scenes were originally set in Damascus, which I visited in 2006. With its maze of narrow alleyways and ancient crumbling buildings, the Old City seemed tailor-made for a thriller about dark secrets. But then the Arab Spring took hold in increasingly violent and distressing ways and it quickly became apparent that a book set there was completely inappropriate. Which was when I decided to switch the action to Marrakesh which, in look and feel, is remarkably similar.

How did you draw on your own experiences as a psychotherapist to write Disorder?

It’s in Sam’s interactions with Charles Scott and Aidan Stirling that I drew on my experience most. With Scott, he does things by the book – reflecting, paraphrasing, remaining non-judgmental. With Aidan, he is deeply prejudiced and forced to employ more cunning tactics. While I’ve never chosen to goad a client like Sam does Aidan, there are moments when you need to be a little inventive if you’re to help them move forward.

DisorderTake us through a typical writing day for you?

As a writer, I’m all too aware of the importance of writing every day – of exercising the muscle and getting words down. But sadly, what with childcare and work demands, that’s not always possible. However, on a really good day, I will sit down at the computer at 9am, waste at least half an hour reading the BBC and Guardian websites, or tweeting (aka ‘promoting’ my book), before finally settling down to the task. I can normally write for about three hours if I’m lucky, after which my brain hurts and I need to do something completely different.

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

I’ve been close to a publishing deal about three times and had it whipped away, once at the last minute. That’s been really tough. It took me a while to get back in the saddle after that particular disappointment. The stars can be aligned perfectly but landing a deal is incredibly difficult – now more than ever before.

But, you know, despite misery-inducing setbacks, there’s nothing I’d rather do. I want and need to write. That helps.

How do you deal with feedback?

Pretty well. As Disorder was developing, I received feedback from my (then) literary agent and The Writers’ Workshop and acted on more or less every bit of advice they gave me. My thinking was really simple: as seasoned professionals in the industry, they knew best.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

In my pre-parenting days, when I had more energy and hours in the day, I read a lot of John Updike. What I love about him is his ability to turn a banal life – that of a not-desperately-nice car dealer from Pennsylvania, for example – into a gripping and moving everyman tale. I also learned that I wasn’t – and never will be – a literary writer. And that’s fine.

As for thriller writers, I love Robert Harris. The Dreyfus Affair, though a massive miscarriage of justice, is essentially one long series of trials, re-trials and appeals, yet his fictional account of it, An Officer and a Spy, is as engaging as anything by Harlan Coben or Thomas Harris. He’s a maestro.

What’s been your experience of self-publishing Disorder?

Extremely mixed. I feel like I’ve finally achieved a huge personal goal – getting published – and I’ve been touched and flattered by the reception the book has enjoyed. I now feel like a writer. But the marketing and promotion is tough and I’m convinced that you can’t really start shifting books as a self-published author until you’ve got two, maybe three, titles out there. Without sounding like a marketing ‘guru’, you need brand and collateral. People need to know what to expect of you – and to want more.

And I think author Mel Sherratt is right when she says that you should say ‘yes’ to every opportunity to promote and market your books. Hence my forthcoming book signing at a farm shop!

Give me some advice about writing…

The hackneyed advice about reading and writing loads is true, but don’t give yourself a hard time if you can’t manage both all the time. The most important thing to remember is that, even if you’re on a bus or walking the dog, if you’re thinking about your book you are, in effect, shaping it – and therefore driving it forward. Oh, and if a literary agent you like offers some editorial advice, take it. First of all, it’s free. Second, they know what they’re talking about. Third, they will be much more inclined to work with a writer who’s able to accept and act on feedback.

What’s next for you?

Denial is what’s next. Not in the Freudian sense of the word, but a sequel to Disorder. I’m about half-way through the manuscript and, while I know the ending, the journey is proving more of a challenge!

TV Crime Log: Hannibal, 24

This week we welcome back to your screen two transatlantic crime thriller icons.


It all looks rather tense.

First up is Hannibal, who returns to Sky Living tomorrow night at 10pm.

The first season of the horror drama about the titular cannibal was one of last year’s most-pleasant TV surprises. It was compelling entertainment: a masterclass in slow-burn storytelling and visually very striking, with all those antlers and suchlike.

Now it’s back for a second series, with Mads Mikkelsen once again playing Dr. Lecter with chilling understatement, a welcome contrast to the scenery-chewing of Mr. Hopkins.

Taking its characters from Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon, the series explores the relationship of deranged FBI profiler Will Graham – and the even more insane psychiatrist, and talented culinary enthusiast, who helps him solve cases. Trouble is, at the end of the last series, Graham was in clink, having realised too late that Lecter, who was more than a little implicated in most of the unsolved murders, had done him up like a kipper for the crimes.

Taking his artistic cues from David Lynch, showrunner Bryan Fuller’s stated intention is to explore new stories about these familiar characters in the first three seasons, and then segue into a retelling of Red Dragon, The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal in the fourth, fifth and sixth seasons. It’ll then be concluded with an original storyline for the seventh. Thankfully, we will live without a reimagining of the masterpiece that is Hannibal Rising.

But it was touch and go as to whether Hannibal would return after the first series. Despite the great reviews, and a vocal fanbase, low-ratings threatened to scupper a second portion of H. It was renewed, however, and this new series introduces classic Lecter nemesis Mason Verger. He’s the chap with the pigs. This year’s US ratings show signs of lifting out of the sludge, so maybe it’ll even return for a third. Fingers crossed on that.

It’s only been a year since we last saw Hannibal and Will, but it’s been an awful lot longer since poor old Jack Bauer went on the run. But now – rejoice! – Jack’s back.

24: Live Another Day

Look, a red telephone box!

The unlucky counter-terrorist agent has been minding his own business since 2010, but you can be sure that nefarious people are going to give Jack a bad day in the new mini-series 24: Live Another Day.

Any time some miscreant smuggles nuclear weapons or assassinates the president they pin the blame on Jack. It’s now happened nine times — someone give the guy a break.

Excitingly, in this 12-part season Jack goes on the run in London! Hackney cabs! Red buses! The Gherkin! Hello, guvnor! Let’s just hope he doesn’t waste a whole hour of his precious day setting up a congestion charge direct debit.

Before the mooted TV return of 24, the original idea was for Jack to return in a feature film – there was even talk that it would be a 24/Die Hard crossover! – but that never panned out.

However, with the real time one hour/one episode format squeezed into half the usual amount of episodes, let’s hope the producers haven’t dicked around too much with what made the whole thing work in the first place.

24: Live Another Day is on tomorrow night at 9pm on Sky1. But if you’re a stone cold 24 fan – or maybe just an insomniac – the first two episodes are being simulcast with the US tomorrow morning at 1am.

Hannibal, Whicher, Blitz And Life: TV Crime Log

Gosh, start looking for the Record Button on your remote, because there’s tons of stuff on the telly this week.

Unknown-3Hannibal debuts on Sky Living tomorrow night, and is a procedural based on the relationship between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and criminal profiler Will Graham – working together to solve crime! – before Dr Lecter’s cannibal antics rather soured their friendship.

Thomas Harris fans will recognise Graham, played by Hugh Dancy, as the damaged FBI man responsible for Dr. Lecter’s incarceration in the novel Red Dragon. It’s an audacious attempt to kick life into a serial killer character who became a bit of a joke with his Young Hannibal Adventures, or whatever that last book and movie were called.

The aim, says series creator Bryan Fuller, is to explore the relationship between Lecter – played by the excellent Mads Mikkelsen – and Graham in the first three seasons, and then dramatise the events of Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs in two final seasons. A terrific idea, but Hannibal’s in the middle of its run on NBC, and despite decent reviews, recent ratings haven’t been hugely encouraging. Fuller is one of those showrunners whose shows – Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies – are well reviewed and pick-up devoted cult followings, but tend to get cancelled quickly.

Fuller has made changes which invest new life into familiar characters. Graham’s boss JackCrawford is there, as played by Laurence Fishburne, but irritating journalist Freddie Lounds is now a woman.

I shall be watching Sky Living tomorrow – that’s Tuesday at 10pm.

images-1There’s another intriguing premise in Thursday night’s Murder On The Home Front, on ITV.

Yes, we’re in the Second World War again, right in the heart of the Blitz, but the concept behind this crime drama is to discover some of the secrets of the early days of forensic investigation.

Here’s some blurb that may enlighten you further:

‘When young women are found murdered DI Freddy Wilkins believes the obvious suspect is the vulnerable loner, Wilfred Ziegler as a result of the swastikas carved on the victims’ tongues. Dr Lennox Collins the passionate and brilliant Home Office Pathologist and Molly Cooper, his vivacious young secretary have their doubts and employ ground breaking forensic techniques to ensure the right man is brought to justice. However, Lennox soon learns that not only is he fighting a battle to modernise the way in which crimes are solved, but he’s also clashing with a government who will go to any lengths to ensure the country’s morale is sustained – even cover up a murder.’

Based on the memoirs of Molly Lefebure, secretary to the Home Office Pathologist Keith Simpson, Murder On The Home Front concludes next week. But if it’s a success, I’d imagine we’ll get more of the same.

Unknown-9Life Of Crime, which starts a three episode run on ITV on Friday night, follows three decades in the career of a policewoman in the Metropolitan Police. The aim is to show how the choices she makes as a rookie officer have explosive repercussions on her professional and personal life.

We first meet WPC Denise Woods in 1985, against the backdrop of the Brixton riots, then in 1997 in the second episode, and then in 2013 when she’s a senior office. Woods is played by Hayley Attwell, who also appeared in the movie version of The Sweeney and William Boyd’s spy romp, Reckless.

Life Of Crime is written by Declan Croghan, who penned some of the better episodes of Waking The Dead, and also Ripper Street. You can watch it on Friday night at 9pm – The Gentle Touch slot!

images-2Cranking out the crime dramas like there’s no tomorrow, ITV has a sequel to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher on Sunday night.

The Murder In Angel Lane follows  19th Century former Met Detective Jack Whicher as he launches on his career as a ‘private inquiry agent.’

Paddy Considine sports an impressive pair of sideburns as Whicher, who’s employed by Olivia Colman – dusting off her trademark bleak expression from Broadchurch.

This blurb will explain the plot better than I can:

When Whicher saves a respectable country lady from a violent robbery in a dangerous quarter of London, he learns that this woman, Susan Spencer is desperately hunting for her vulnerable young niece, Mary. Mary has come up to London in search of a young man, Stephen Gann who has made her pregnant.

Susan commissions Jack Whicher as a “private inquiry agent” to find her niece and the young man and Whicher is drawn irresistibly into a disturbing and puzzling murder case, which brings him up against wealthy and powerful figures and throws him into conflict with his former colleagues in the Metropolitan police.  The investigation leads to a private lunatic asylum where Whicher himself must confront the darkness of his own demons.

I do believe that ITV is smoothing its skirts and batting its eyelids at the possibility of another Whicher drama in the future. The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher is on ITV, Sunday night at 8pm.