Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Should or Shouldn’t Writers Give a Fu*k?

People use foul language every day without a second thought but in mainstream modern crime fiction there is often very little bad language and what there is tends to be there to create effect. A character who uses “Oh no”, “Oh dear” or other such tame expressions can convey the increased seriousness of a situation by saying “Oh fuck”. But as a counter balance it has to be inkeeping with the character and their personality.

Expletives have their place in literature as they have their place in everyday dialogue. Soldiers, emergency forces and certain professions are rife with foul language and a true depiction of characters in this environment would have to include the sweary bits. 

I have in the past criticised an author for his heavy dialogue and had to tone my own down. This is not because I am a shrinking violet. Quite the opposite in fact, I can swear with the best of them. (Especially once beer has been sampled)

However when writing as with life there are time we all choose to swear or not swear.
Hit your thumb with a hammer, stubbed your toe or caught your beloved in the wrong bed? Fine swear all you want.
Lunch with the in-laws, job interviews and first dates are times when you wouldn’t choose to swear in real life so characters shouldn’t swear, unless you are making a fool of them. Or arse of them perhaps? 

I try to find the balance in my writing as to where profanity is relevant, character driven and is not there purely for shock value. 

One area I do like to use great big sweary words is when I have a lengthy piece of dialogue and I want to use the minimum amount of dialogue tags. Having a curser and a polite character gives a great voice to each character and defines their speech patterns to create their identity. Hell you can even have the characters ask the question “Do you have to swear so much?” to spice things up. 

One thing I do draw the line at though is the use of the C word although I have noticed it is becoming increasingly used both in crime fiction and TV shows.

Having read many mainstream and successful authors one thing I have noticed is that very few of the really big sellers litter their books with Fucks, Bastards or Bloody’s. 

Please feel free to comment on your own boundaries and thoughts on the topic of swearing in books.
In other news I have a story in the forthcoming anthology Off the Record 2. All monies go to charity so grab a copy when it comes out later this week.
I am honoured to have my story included in this anthology for both altruistic and selfish reasons. Altruistic because all the monies raised go the charity.
Selfish because of the fantastic lineup of my peers.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Zoë Sharp ― Holding Back The Story

This week I'm delighted to have a guest post from the uber talented Zoë Sharp talking about creating back story for characters.
If you're a fan of action thrillers and you haven't read her Charlie Fox novels then you are missing out big time.
So without any further ado here she is.
Zoë Sharp ― Holding Back The Story

I’m a short-fuse reader. There, I’ve admitted it. If I pick up a book looking for slow leisurely narrative and wonderful detailed descriptions, then that’s fine. But if I pick up what purports to be a fast-paced page-turner, I expect it to hit the ground running and I get fed up pretty quickly if it doesn’t live up to my expectations.
This means I don’t want to be waylaid by the main characters going through long introductions. I don’t want to be shown snapshots of them as a child, graphs of their family tree, and framed copies of their university degrees before we get stuck into the meat of it. I should be able to glean enough about them as people at this stage by what they do and say, how they carry themselves.
After all, in fiction as in life, how people react under pressure defines them, and conflict is what drives the narrative forwards. Doesn’t matter if it’s physical, emotional or psychological conflict, as long as you’ve put your characters up a tree and thrown some kind of rocks at them.
Choosing the right jumping-in point has always been one of the hardest parts for me when I’m starting work on a new book. The opening page is never where the story itself starts ― that began way before the body was washed up by the tide, the mysterious client knocked on the PI’s door. Or, in the case of DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten (due out in October), Charlie finds herself handcuffed to a briefcase on one side, and Sean on the other, while a running gun battle takes place around her on a crowded street.
Well, I did mention I like to hit the ground with a bit of momentum, didn’t I?
Finding the ideal situation to show off your character to their best advantage is never easy ― that intersection between the past and the present, at a point where your character’s motivations, strengths and flaws will be demonstrated to full effect. The temptation is to concentrate on the story and not how your main protagonist fits into it. I think this may be one of the reasons that there’s so often a massive info-dump in the early chapters. It’s tempting to get all that pesky scene-setting out of the way up front, and then you can get down to it.
And, I have to confess, that’s exactly what I felt Stieg Larsson did in his Millennium trilogy. It took me several attempts to read the first book because the opening section seemed to be entirely taken up with a long explanation of how Mikael ‘Kalle’ Blomkvist acquired his nickname. I’m sure there are plenty of people who can argue the merits of this approach, but it didn’t really work for me. In the end I practically had to take a run at it. It was worth the effort, though because once I got past that dollop of back story, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the series. But had that initial book not received such a massive build-up, I may not have persevered. Can you take that chance with your own work?
I’ve always tried to drip-feed the back story in relatively slowly, to make the reader interested in finding out more before I ram it down their throats. I sometimes liken it to getting onto a bus and sitting down next to someone who immediately starts telling you their life history. At this point you don’t care, and may even get off a stop early just to escape. But if they greet you quietly, have something about the way they observe the other passengers, check out the scenery, when they do finally start to open up a little, you’re desperate to know.
Some of the best advice I was ever given with regard to including back story at the opening of a novel was to make a second pass through the typescript purely for pace, and see if you can lose a chapter or two from the beginning.
I tried this out with HARD KNOCKS: Charlie Fox book three. The book starts with Charlie attending the funeral of one of her old army comrades, Kirk Salter. There’s a brief flashback detailing how Charlie got the news of Kirk’s death, but originally that meeting happened in real time and it then took me a couple of chapters to get to the funeral. Eventually I realised that everybody would know whose funeral it was because of the information they picked up from the jacket copy of the book, so why bother including it for real? I was able to rip up the first two chapters and restart the story from three onwards.
So, I’m a firm believer in less is more — and leaving out the bits other people skip. Otherwise it can quickly turn from back story into holding back the story.

What about you? Do you like a lot of scene-setting before you get settled into a book, or do you prefer to maintain an air of mystery until you’ve got to know the characters a bit more.
Whichever method you prefer, happy scribbling and good luck with it!


Zoë Sharp is the author of the bestselling crime thriller series featuring her ex-Special Forces turned bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox. Sharp opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen before becoming a photojournalist in 1988. She wrote the first of the highly acclaimed Charlie Fox novels after receiving death-threat letters in the course of her work. 

She has been nominated for Edgar, Anthony, Barry (twice), Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger. The Charlie Fox series was optioned for TV by Twentieth Century Fox.
When not welded to her keyboard, Sharp is a fan of fast cars — and faster motorcycles — sailing, shooting, house-building, self-defence, and reading just about anything she can get her hands on. Zoë Sharp blogs regularly on her own website, www.ZoeSharp.com, on the acclaimed group blog, www.Murderati.com, as well as wittering on Twitter (@AuthorZoeSharp) and fooling around on Facebook.

DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten

In the sweating heat of Louisiana, former Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, faces her toughest challenge yet.
Professionally, she’s at the top of her game, but her personal life is in ruins. Her lover, bodyguard Sean Meyer, has woken from a gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. It seems that piecing back together the relationship they shared is proving harder for him than relearning the intricacies of the close-protection business.
Working with Sean again was never going to be easy for Charlie, either, but a celebrity fundraising event in aid of still-ravaged areas of New Orleans should have been the ideal opportunity for them both to take things nice and slow.
Until, that is, they find themselves thrust into the middle of a war zone.
When an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation, the motive may be far more complex than simple greed. Somebody has a major score to settle, and Sean is part of the reason. Only trouble is, he doesn’t remember why.
And when Charlie finds herself facing a nightmare from her own past, she realises she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back. This time, she’s got to fight it out on her own.

Feel free to leave any comments you may have and do yourself a big favour and grab a copy of one of Zoë's books. You won't regret it. Graham



Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Reviewer’s Take on Events

As a reviewer for Crimesquad.com I have been watching recent events unfolding with an ever increasing sense of wonderment and disillusion. Ever since that fateful panel at The Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in July I have watched as discovery after discovery has been unearthed.

I like to think that I am not naïve (people who know me will be the first to attest to my cynical world view) but the amount of underhand dealings which have taken place lately have taken me by surprise and have led to no small amount of soul searching with regards to my own position as a reviewer.

I won’t bore you by repeating wjhat others have said. All I will do is share my opinions on the situation. First I want to clarify my position in relation to the names involved in the current storm.

The Investigators
  • I met Jeremy Duns over dinner at an event at Harrogate two years ago and have his latest book in my “to be read & reviewed pile”.
  • I have met Steve Mosby at Harrogate over the last couple of years and while I have never read any of his books I have found him to be a decent person and good company.
  • David Hewson is an author whose work I have read for years and I have never had any kind of lengthy conversation with him so cannot comment on his character.


The Villains
  • I met Stephen Leather at Harrogate both last year and this year and have enjoyed his company on both occasions. This year I spoke to him both before and after the panel. I have read his books for going on twenty years now and I admire him as a writer.
  • I met Roger Ellory two years ago and had a very brief conversation. He seemed okay to me and was warm and funny. I haven’t read any of his books.
  • John Locke is an author who had never crossed my radar until the storm about his review purchasing broke.
  • Sam Millar and Matt Lynn are two authors who I have never met or heard of until their names surfaced from the mire.

The Victims
  • Steve Roach is not someone I know in any way shape or form.
  • Stuart MacBride and Mark Billingham are two people who have been attacked by Roger (RJ) Ellory and I have met MacBride and Billingham every year at Harrogate. Both have granted me interviews and taken the time to talk to me otherwise. Again I read both of these authors both before and after becoming a reviewer and I plan to read their next books as well.
  • Matt Hilton is an author I first met at Harrogate in 2009 and he has become a friend as he lives fairly local to me and I have hosted him at my hotel and supported any local events he has participated in. I have read all his Joe Hunter series.
  • Stuart Neville is an author who I have heard a lot of good thing about but never had chance to read. 
After reading the many articles on blogs and now the newspapers I have come up with the following conclusions.

  • I’m glad my own books only have genuine reviews from people who have read them.
  • Reviews are now tainted in the eyes of the public.
  • Readers are going to stick to authors known to them from previous works as they may not want to take the chance as they will not trust reviews on authors who are unknown to them.
  • Publishers and organisations such as the ITW and CWA can make all the rules and standards that they want but the unscrupulous authors out there will either self publish, ePublish or simply stay totally independent. The people who would follow diktats from the publishing houses and organisations are those who do not need to be governed.
  • Writing a good review for your own book isn’t good. Deliberately attacking others under a pseudonym is definitely bad.
  • Writing reviews and circulating them to a circle of people to post for you isn’t good.
  • Friends and family members posting reviews will happen. If done from an independent desire to help then this is acceptable.
  • Offering free copies of your book in any format in exchange for reviews is acceptable only if the reviewer is allowed to rate the book honestly.
  • Buying reviews is low and a discredit to us honest reviewers who review out of a love for the genre.
  • Authors who deliberately set out to defame other authors are wasting their talents & time with infantile behaviour when they could be writing.
  • Authors who have been the victims of such malicious behaviour should receive public apologies from the people who targeted them.
  • The publishing houses along with Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Nobles, Smashwords etc. should find a way of limiting ways authors can engage in such behaviour.
  • Sockpuppets are for entertaining kids, not for online skulduggery. Grow up and log off.

As I said earlier in this post I have thought long and hard about my own position as a reviewer. I have always reviewed with an honest eye. I give my own opinion forward, not one I think they want me to give and if I have nothing nice to say then I say nothing. My reviews either go to my Crimesquad.com editor or to Amazon & Goodreads. I don’t submit reviews to both for the same book.

I plan to carry on with my reviewing but I know from conversations with other reviewers that I am not the only person who has felt like stopping reviewing. Personally I believe that to quit because of this storm is akin to letting the bad boys win.

Harlan Coben is attributed with the most telling quote “I don’t need others to fail for me to succeed”.

Oh yeah nearly forgot.

I am hosting a weekend of crime writing courses which culminates in a chance to pitch to an agent. Follow the link. http://www.themill.co.uk/crime-writing-courses