Monday, 29 April 2013


This week I am delighted to introduce one of the stars of the Brit Grit revolution – Howard Linskey. Howard’s books are all excellent reads and I have had the privilege of reviewing all three. They are earthy, gritty and compulsive reading. Anyway, enough from me, here’s Howard.

For the past three years now I’ve been living with a gangster. It’s been a dysfunctional and abusive relationship but you might be surprised to learn that he took the brunt of the violence not me. In three books now; ‘The Drop’, ‘The Damage’ and ‘The Dead’, which has just been published by No Exit, I have taken great delight in placing my Geordie, white-collar criminal, David Blake, in trouble again and again. Blake has been beaten up and shot at, chased by men on motor bikes then threatened with imprisonment, torture and execution. He has been targeted by hit men, assaulted by Police officers and forced to fend off an attacker in his apartment, using nothing but an urn containing the ashes of his girlfriend’s mother. 

Blake is no saint however and he, in turn, has killed people in all three books; with knives, guns, machetes or simply by ordering their deaths. Not bad for a man who never actually considers himself to be a gangster. Blake’s life is pretty stressful, so he has occasionally turned to drugs but, being an old fashioned, northern lad, he tends to prefer booze or, on occasions, women to relieve that stress. He is not the best boyfriend material however, having cheated on his girl with minimal guilt, and is unlikely to empathise with you if you’ve had a hard day at the office, as it is unlikely to have been as tough as the 24 hours he has endured.

And what has David Blake given me in return for all of the grief I’ve put him through? Well, plenty. Apart from the obvious relief and joy that comes with finally becoming a published author and seeing my name on a book cover, I wasn’t sure what to expect as a first time novelist. Would anybody read my book, would anyone actually like it? Thankfully they did and they do. I have had some wonderful moments because of Blake. I’ve been reviewed positively by, amongst others, The Daily Mail and The Times; the latter naming me as one of their top five thriller writers of the year because of ‘The Drop’, an accolade that I still can’t quite believe, even now. Frankly I’d be happy to have that one etched on my tombstone.

In the north east in particular, the books have gone down really well and I have received a stack of messages from folk who enjoyed reading a story that is set in an area they know. I’ve been interviewed in all of the local papers, made numerous appearances on BBC Radio Newcastle and even been on TV. I’ve also given away my books in competitions on, the web site for exiled Newcastle United fans around the globe, which I think gave me almost as much pleasure as the Times review. ‘The Drop’, renamed ‘Crime Machine’, has been published to great reviews in Germany, so ‘The Damage’ will follow it there next year and, in the Autumn, Harper Collins will publish both books in the U.S. God knows what they will make of my Geordie gangster in America.

The only thing that could possibly top all of the above is the e-mail my publisher received from someone claiming to work for David Barron, producer of the Harry Potter films. He had apparently bought a copy of my book, read it, loved it and wanted to turn it into a TV series. This seemed a tad unlikely but it turned out, astonishingly, to be true. A few weeks later I was sitting in my agent’s London office in a meeting with David, who turned out to be a very nice bloke indeed. I spent a pleasant hour or two with the man behind the most successful movie franchise the world has ever seen, discussing the practicalities of bringing David Blake to the small screen. The scripts are being developed by JJ Connolly, another top man, who wrote the great British gangster flick, ‘Layer Cake’. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to watch David Blake being put in peril all over again; this time on the telly.

Now that the trilogy is finally complete, I’m not going to say whether Blake, or his large assortment of supporting characters from the Newcastle underworld, will ever make a re-appearance. That’s dependant on me coming up with a strong enough storyline. The last thing I want to do is churn out two dozen very similar books, on auto pilot that, like Hollywood sequels, fall foul of the inevitable law of diminishing returns.

I have an idea for a new book and I’m afraid there’s no space for David Blake in this one. I owe the fellah a great deal but I’ve been seeing other people lately; in my mind’s eye at least. I’m going to take a break from Blake for a while, to allow some different characters to live with me instead. However there is no way I am ever going to forget the man and everything he has done for me. Who knows, maybe one day, I’ll come crawling back to him.

Howard's debut novel The Drop was voted as one of the Top Five Thrillers of 2011 by The Times. Harry Potter producer David Barron and JJ Connolly, author of Layer Cake, are joining forces to produce a TV adaptation of The Drop. The follow-up novel The Damage was voted a top Summer read by The Times.

Howard Linskey has worked as a barman, journalist, catering manager and marketing manager for a celebrity chef, as well as in a variety of sales and account management jobs. Originally from Ferryhill in County Durham, he now lives in Hertfordshire with his wife Alison and daughter, Erin. Howard is a long-suffering Newcastle United fan.
His website can be found at

My thanks to Howard for the guest post.

I have Ruth Jacobs next week followed by Matt Bendoris. After that It'll be little old me for a few weeks although I also have an interview with Lee Child to post and a future guest post from David Thomas / Tom Cain coming in July.


Monday, 22 April 2013

A Call to Action

This week's guest post is Matt Hilton taking about new vehicles for old writing. 

Back in ye olde days, when Knights were bold and ebooks weren’t invented… 

…I wrote short stories. The thing was, I didn’t sell too many of them or even get them published. It wasn’t through lack of trying. I used to send them off to print magazines and answered calls for submission to yearly print anthologies and such like. Maybe – or should that read probably? – the stories weren’t up to scratch.  It’s highly likely. There was also the problem that so many other writers were doing the same thing that an unknown like me didn’t stand a chance of getting in. But it didn’t put me off writing. 

These days I’m best known for writing action thrillers, primarily my Joe Hunter series, the eighth of which – Rules of Honour – was published this February by Hodder and Stoughton, but I also still enjoy writing short stories as and when I can. In fact, that’s not totally true. I write them as a matter of course. It’s my way of getting through the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. If ever I’m at a stall on the latest novel, I’ll switch tack and write a short. It serves to clear my head, while working in a different voice, and subconsciously while going through that process I’ll work out the problem that was holding up the novel. When writing these shorts I’m not picky on the genre.  I’ll happily write crime fiction, gritty slice of life, humorous crime, horror, heroic fantasy and also larger than life, over the top action stories that take me back to my early reading roots. 

I was born in the mid-1960s, and was in my early teens by the end of the 1970s. At the time I was already reading voraciously (as well as writing), but it wasn’t the kind of books boys of my age would normally have been attracted to. I was reading from my father’s stash of ‘Men’s Adventure Fiction’ and my favourites were the likes of Mack Bolan, Remo Williams, Nick Carter, Edge and Adam Steele. It made sense that my writing would reflect my reading habits, and even back then I was churning out my own pastiches. Over the intervening thirty years I’ve never lost that love for action books, and when setting out to write my Joe Hunter series firmly intended giving a nod to those old influences.

With Joe Hunter I’ve to be mindful of modern thinking and ideology, and try to keep them contemporaneous and largely up to date. But that doesn’t stop me allowing my imagination to wander when penning (or typing) my short stories.  

I was late to grasp hold of the eBook bandwagon. In fact, I resisted it. I’m a hopeless romantic who longs for ye olde days, and it took me a while to catch on. When I looked around something was happening and it was good. Genre fiction was making a comeback, and the eBook was the new platform for it. I saw an opening where ‘Men’s Adventure Fiction’ had a viable new publishing route, and I grabbed at it. 

My original plan was to put together a collection of my own stories, but then I had an epiphany. I wondered how many other writers out there shared similar influences to mine, and who also had a few over the top actioners lying around with no home for them. So, instead, I decided I’d put out the call for submissions for a project I called ACTION: Pulse Pounding Tales Volume 1. To my surprise and delight, dozens of stories flooded in, and some of them from well established household names too. I put out the collection of 37 action packed stories a little under a year ago, and though not a blazing success by way of sales, it has been well received and has gained some glowing reviews from readers. On the back of writers and readers’ enthusiasm it fired my own enthusiasm for the old style action stories again. 

So much so that I’ve decided to go for another blast of pulse pounding action. Yes, I’m putting together ACTION Volume 2, with a mind to publishing it as an ebook late May or early June 2013. 

Okay, this isn’t an advert for my latest collection (well, not really), but to show that there are viable options for your own stories these days. I guess it’s about finding the right vehicle. The options are wide open now, through eBooks, POD, and even self-publishing ventures. ACTION Volume 1 would never have been picked up by a traditional publishing house, but it’s now out there, being read and enjoyed by many, and has opened the door for ACTION 2 to be also published. What I’m trying to say is, all those stories you thought would never sell, well, maybe they just might. It’s about checking out other ways of attracting a readership, and though I’m late to the ball, I’m hopefully here to stay. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an ACTION Volume 3 further down the line.
Many thanks to Matt for a great post which certainly struck a chord with me.

Future guest blogs
Howard Linskey - 29th April
Ryth Jacobs - 5th May
Matt Bendoris - 12th May
Lee Child Interview - TBC
Tom Cain / David Thomas - July

Monday, 15 April 2013

Multiple Viewpoints

I recently read an excellent novel called The Catch by Tom Bale. Tom is one of the undiscovered gems of UK thriller writing.  

Such was the brilliance of the writing, I campaigned to my editor at to make Tom Bale our Author of the Month for April. He duly got that honour and my review and interview may be found here. 

The novel focuses on a tired friendship and moral choices and uses multiple viewpoints to tell the story. As my own humble work in progress uses multiple viewpoints I was keen to seek the author’s opinion. So here it is. 

Everyone’s got a point of view. That might be true in life, but not always in fiction – and the matter of perspective is one of the most important decisions that a writer has to make. 

It was Graham’s recent question on the subject that made me appreciate how strong my preference is for writing in the third person with multiple viewpoints. Even as a reader, I have to confess that I sometimes recoil if I pick up a book and see it’s written in the first person. The story has to be all the more compelling to overcome my reluctance to spend an entire novel inside the mind of just one character. 

After all, if prose fiction has a unique selling point, surely it’s that it allows the writer to convey what his or her characters are thinking? We can explore their deepest fears, secrets and desires in a way that’s simply not possible in other forms of storytelling: cinema, theatre, gaming and so on. 

And if you have the ability to reveal that inner dialogue, why limit it to only one or two characters? I tend to like populating my stories with a large cast, so it seems natural to explore the viewpoint of most, if not all, of my main characters. It certainly helps to enrich the story – and in crime fiction in particular, I think it’s a lot easier to create complex antagonists if you can explore their motivations and reveal their psychological make-up. 

Switching viewpoints helps to keep the story fresh and interesting. Adding the viewpoint of a minor player can be a great way of providing insight into the main characters. In my novel BLOOD FALLS there’s a character called Vic Smith who only appears in two chapters, and yet quite a few readers have mentioned the impact made by his little cameo role. 

But for all my love of multiple viewpoints, there’s one strict rule that I try to adhere to: no head-hopping. That’s when we’re privy to one character’s thoughts in one sentence or paragraph, and another character’s in the next. Not only is it confusing, but it also has a strangely unsettling effect, jolting the readers out of the story. Far better, I think, to use scene breaks to denote a change of viewpoint, much as a filmmaker will switch between cameras to tell a story from different perspectives. Used effectively, it’s a device that can bring your characters to life as vivid, three-dimensional people. 

Massive thanks from me to Tom for this post. 

April is the month for guest posts so here is the line-up to date. 

22nd – Matt Hilton

29th  - Howard Linskey

To follow later in the year

Tom Cain / David Thomas Guest Blog

Lee Child Interview

Monday, 8 April 2013

Choices, Choices - An Editor's Quandary

This week I am delighted to welcome Darren Sant and Craig Douglas to my blog. Darren & Craig are the guys behind Near to the Knuckle site and a cracking new anthology called Near to the Knuckle: Gloves Off.
Here's Darren talking about some of the choices they faced when compiling the anthology.

I suppose one of the biggest problems when choosing which stories to include in the anthology was one of theme. Some of the submissions were an easy choice, they had all the boxes ticked. However, we had a number of beautiful written, well plotted tales sent in that were obviously from folk who had never actually visited the site and seen what we are about. We couldn't put a story in about a kitten called Tiddles next to a tale of murder and revenge. Much as I like kittens, cosy warm, fuzzy fiction just isn't us and more importantly it isn't our readership.  

We weren't looking for perfect grammar, although it always helps, we wanted the right kind of story written well enough that the idea or the twist struck us hard. Near To The Knuckle is about that shock factor and that can come from a subtle story or a blood and guts thriller. So whilst Craig and myself were looking for something very particular within our stories we never felt that we were tied exclusively to the crime genre. We have included a supernatural tale and a comic tale because they fit superbly our idea of what Near To The Knuckle is. 

There was one story that made me do a double take. The problem? It was too NTTK even for us. A very controversial theme and even the title made me wince. How can we put this story out without being lynched I thought? Well after furious emails back and forth between Craig and Myself and re-reading the story we realised that on reflection the author made a good point and dealt with the theme in an adult way and we should not shy away from the validity of his point just because aspects of it made us uncomfortable. Which story was it? You'll just have to read the anthology and make your own minds up. 

We also had to make a conscious decision not to favour friends and supporters of the site. We based anthology places purely on merit. For this reason you'll notice one or two new names that you won't have seen related to the site before. For me the most exciting part was opening each new submission to see what dark world awaited my eager eyes. I know you’ll enjoy the dark delights Gloves Off has to offer. 
The anthology can be bought from Amazon UK here and here

Darren Sant was born in 1970. He grew up in Stoke-on-Trent and moved to Hull in 2001. He is happily married to Julie who tolerates him with the patience of a saint. His childhood was spent in an area very much like the Longcroft estate and he looks back on it with fondness.  If you’d like to know more about Darren you can find his website here: And you can find him on Twitter as @groovydaz39 & @longcroft_tales

Craig Douglas hails from nowhere and lives in Rugby. He was born in Ely, Cambridgeshire, but his northern accent belies this fact. He has live mainly a nomadic lifestyle since as a child moving between MOD posting to another and subsequently feeding his appetite for adventure by joining the Army. Twenty two years has seen him playing out active roles in both empire building and stabilisation.

He knew of his writing potential when he was 14 and a teacher identified this. His work was read out to the class frequently much to his embarrassment. The years have seen a steady development in his writing and only since coming back from a particularly violent tour of Afghanistan he began to write again. His debut work in print was 'The Likely Lads' which featured in Radgepacket Volume 2. He has work in 3 other volumes in that series, one of which features the dreaded See You Next Tuesday word more than in an Irvine Welsh novella whose title had the very same despicable word.

Craig is currently studying for an English Degree with the Open University. He writes a weekly blog which can be found at He is partner in crime to the Near2theKnuckle website and has worked on the 'Gloves Off' Anthology.

He lives in Rugby with his wife and two children.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Mo Hayder Interview

Mo Hayder is the one author who can entice me across the broken line into the realms of horror. I have been a fan of hers for many years and when I auditioned for my role as a reviewer with it was her book Pig Island which I chose to base my first ever review on. 

I’m delighted that she found the time to answer a few questions about her latest book Poppet and writing in general. If anyone is interested my review of Poppet may be found here
Anyway, enough of me prattling on. Here's the interview.

Poppet is set largely inside a mental health facility. How did you research the various procedures inside Beechway?
I have a contact who was the clinical director of a facility just like Beechway. He couldn't have been more helpful. If I've got any of the facts wrong then it's his fault not mine! 

Where did the idea for “The Maude” come from?
Henry Fuseli's painting The Nightmare (an incubus crouching on the chest of a sleeping woman) I think I saw it as a young child and was totally and utterly terrified by it. It's probably lingered subconsciously all these years and has at last popped out as the Maude.

Poppet tied up a thread which has been running throughout the Walking Man series. Was it satisfying as an author to close this chapter?
Satisfying?   Hmmmmm - I'm not sure I'll ever be able to use that word about anything I've written. There's always a sense something could have been done differently/better.

I detected a sense of finality in Poppet. Will we see more of Jack Caffery and Flea Marley?
No finality, and yes more Jack and Flea. The next book in the Walking Man series is out in 2014.

Some of your books have supernatural / paranormal elements. Would you class them as horror – crime crossovers or do you prefer the term crime thrillers?
If I'm honest I'd like to be a prima donna and have no term attached to my books. But that's just me being an artiste, so if pushed I'd say crime thrillers which have some horror elements.

Authors and reviewers such as myself, use words like haunting, macabre and disturbing to describe your books. Is it your aim to elicit these strong reactions from your readers?
I do like the word 'haunting', since that implies the story stays with the reader. Although Poppet has a closed ending, I've occasionally chosen open endings (The Treatment and Hanging Hill for example) - those were deliberate choices as I usually love fiction which leaves a little to the imagination and therefore lingers in the mind long after the fact.

When you meet readers do you have certain questions you ask them to research the elements of your books which are best liked or are most effective?
I used to, until I realised that the old saying 'you can't please everyone all the time' is so apt.  Ultimately a writer can't be a people pleaser - they have to trust their own instincts.

What are you currently working on?
I'm just tying up the next in the Walking Man series. It's called 'Wolf' and I'm proud to say my editor almost couldn't finish one of the earlier drafts she was so scared (at least that's what she told me).  

Which was the last book you read and would you recommend it to a friend?
For anyone who, like me, read Life of Pi and didn't quite get it, the film adaptation is brilliant and clarifies the book beautifully. But you didn't ask for a movie recommendation, you wanted a book, so I'd say... The Book Thief (Markus Zusak). 

What three books have made a lasting impression on you?
- The one which eclipses everything is Cormac McCarthy's Road. I had a two-year-long depression after reading it. 
- At a very young age I read Metamorphosis (Kafka) and since then I have read it and seen the staged version several times. I keep finding something new every time.
- Ulysses. It woke me up to the fact that it's ok to not like some of the things you're supposed to love.

Mo Hayder left school at fifteen. She worked as a barmaid, security guard, film-maker, hostess in a Tokyo club, educational administrator and teacher of English as a foreign language in Asia. She has an MA in film from The American University in Washington DC and an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University UK.

Her debut, BIRDMAN, published in January 2000, was an international bestseller. Her second novel, THE TREATMENT, also a Sunday Times bestseller, won the 2002 WH Smith Thumping Good Read award. Her third novel Sunday Times bestseller TOKYO, which was published in May 2004 in the UK, won the Elle magazine crime fiction prize, the SNCF Prix Polar, and was nominated for three CWA dagger awards. Tokyo was published as THE DEVIL OF NANKING in the US March 2005. PIG ISLAND her fourth best seller was published in April 2006 and was nominated for both a Barry Award for best british crime novel and a CWA dagger. Her fifth book, RITUAL, the first of THE WALKING MAN series, has been nominated for The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award and one of the 14 short-listed titles for the coveted title of Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2009. The third of THE WALKING MAN series is GONE.
Mo lives in Bath with her daughter Lotte-Genevieve.

My thanks go out to Mo Hayder for partaking in this interview and providing me with so many great book to read.
Feel free to comment below.

Keep checking back for guest posts and interviews
April 15th - Tom Bale
April 29th - Howard Linskey
July - David Thomas / Tom Cain
No date yet but I have a short interview with Lee Child which I'll be posting as soon as I get his answers back