Monday, 9 April 2012

Trying a New Style of Writing

When Matt Hilton first told me that he was planning to put together an anthology of all the tough guy stories where action and pace were more important than believability I was instantly intrigued. First of all I love the suspension of disbelief you have to have with such novels. Matt was harking back to 70’s and 80’s writers I quite honestly hadn’t heard of. However he explained the style of writing to me and I instantly knew what he was talking about. It’s the kind of story where the hero is unbeatable and cannot be killed no matter how improbable the escape.

The modern master of this genre is Matthew Reilly and I love his books dearly for their sheer pace and the escapism they provide. In cinematic terms it’s Roger Moore running across the alligators when playing Bond, any of the Rambo or Die Hard films. Every movie Schwarzenegger ever made with the exception of Twins (although you kinda have to suspend belief for that one too). Throw in Airwolf, The Dukes of Hazard and the A-Team from the small screen and you have the perfect idea of what you gotta do to suspend belief with heart pumping action.

Anyone who has read my stories though will know that I tend to write in a darker, grittier style than the gung ho, beat ‘em up style of extreme action thrillers which I so enjoy reading. However I really fancied trying my hand at this style, so I skipped work on my debut novel for a day and had a wee go at something different. It was difficult yet fun, challenging yet rewarding and most of all – it was a film playing before my eyes. All I did was write down what happened in my mind’s eye.

 It was still a structured story I was writing, so I had to leaven the action with explanation and consequences. I also had to write with a much greater disregard for the rules of believability than I’m used to. I try wherever possible to make my stories as realistic as possible, yet here I was doing the opposite and pushing the boundaries back further and further with every passing set piece. I had to write fight scenes which is not something I’ve done much of outside my Harry Charters stories.

 I submitted my piece in all its sword fighting, belief suspending and blood pumping glory to Matt and I was accepted as a contributing author to Action – Pulse Pounding Tales – Volume 1.

To say I was delighted is a massive understatement. Other contributors include Matt Hilton (obviously), Stephen Leather, Adrian Magson, David Barber and Stephen Savile. There are many other talented authors still being accepted and for a beginner like myself, being accepted is beyond my wildest dreams.

Submissions are still open, so if you want to join the party. Get writing.

Sunday, 1 April 2012 - Editor Chris Simmons Speaks Out

My good mate and fellow reviewer on asked me to write a piece on reviewing. I am not sure that would be very interesting to you who are now reading Graham’s blog (plus it would make this a very short piece, indeed!). So, I will begin at the beginning as the great chroniclers say – don’t worry I won’t be making ‘War and Peace’ look like a pamphlet! I’ll tell you how started to germinate in my head.

I have always been a staunch fan of crime fiction. People say it is the poor relation with regards to general fiction, but crime fiction has matured over the decades and the gap has narrowed somewhat in recent years with better writing and more focus on the characters populating the story rather than using them as chess pieces in a puzzle as happened in the Golden Age of crime fiction. It was Nana Simmons who got me in to crime (not literally, although she did have a very colourful life). In the early eighties there wasn’t a sub-genre called ‘Young Adult fiction’ and when you’d done Enid Blyton and The Hardy Boys then you were a bit strapped for books. But Nana Simmons handed me an Agatha Christie who she herself loved. It was called ‘Sad Cypress’ and it was a revelation to me. I got the crime fiction bug and I have been happily afflicted with it ever since.

Fast forward thirty years and a room full of crime novels. Despite finding many like minded individuals over the years it was always fun to try and find the latest talent. In recent years the tabloids that had once reviewed a large number of crime fiction novels had now dwindled to a paltry number. Was this a direct effect of the Internet? I have heard many differing reasons from readers, authors and journalists – far too many to go in to here.

I have always enjoyed fresh talent and although we all have our favourite author whose latest book we covet when it is released (my family know not to even bother conversing with me when the new Ruth Rendell is in my hands until the final page has been turned) there wasn’t much in the way of publicity for new authors. It appears that you have to earn your spurs before being given a nice marketing budget for your title, except in very rare cases.

So out of my frustration I started to put together It simply started as a conversation, the ‘What If?’ scenario. If I had a crime review website what would I want to put on it if I had the choice? Automatically I came up with ‘Fresh Blood’ which is THE most heavily contested page with publishers. It has gained such respect from publishers and new authors alike that it is something I am particularly proud of. ‘Author of the Month’ was a given as everyone likes to read about their favourite authors, myself included. And of course, ‘Classic Crime’ as I love the classics and those forgotten authors who paved the way for today’s crime writers should be given their own fanfare. went ‘live’ on the 1st March 2005 and has gained respect over those years. In fact, I didn’t realise it was going to be such a success and would open so many doors for me (becoming a judge for the CWA John Creasey/New Blood Dagger has been a great privilege and a direct effect of our ‘Fresh Blood’ page). As the years have gone by I have been blessed with great reviewers who are as passionate as I am about the genre and my team have kept to my initial mantra. If you love a book, review it. If you hate a book, then say nothing. I feel there is nothing worse than being venomous towards a book. reviewers are objective – to say what they enjoyed and what they felt didn’t quite work in their eyes. However, the overall review should be positive – you have to remember these writers have been writing this book for months, if not years. Who has the right to pull apart someone’s hard work simply for the pleasure or by the fact that they can? But in the same breath we have always wanted to be fair to our readers as we are advising them what books to buy with their hard earned money.

Another mantra from the very beginning was to tell people what was good out there in the crime fiction arena. I wanted to ‘promote’ crime fiction – not tell people what not to buy. Not all books are amazing and brilliant. If your favourite author comes out with a bad ‘un, do you reject them immediately? No, you say they had a bad day and their next one will be back to their normal standard (which it invariably is). Would you want to pick it apart and hold all the bad things up to the light? Not really. Crime fiction readers are generally a kind hearted and loyal folk. So, if you have ideas to start reviewing my advice is keep your integrity, think of the writer’s integrity before you flush their work down the pan, think what sort of review YOU would like to read and be honest, but not brutally so. Oh, and be ready for the mother load of crime books to come flying through your letterbox. I am still staggered by the amount I receive each day – staggered, but still enchanted though as it is like Christmas every day. My postman doesn’t feel the same way. I am sure he was a lot taller when I first moved here than he is today!