Monday, 23 July 2012

Harrogate / Tossergate – The View From the Audience

I was in the audience of the much talked about panel Wanted For Murder featuring authors -Stephen Leather, Steve Mosby, agent Phil Paterson, VP of the Publisher’s Association Ursula Mackenzie and bookshop owner Patrick Neale. The panel was moderated by Mark Lawson

There was a rather heated debate which didn’t just flirt with controversy as much as drop its undergarments and offer itself to all comers. Now to quantify my position in the debate I am a reader, reviewer and writer myself. I had the previous evening, spoken with Stephen Leather, Steve Mosby and Mark Billingham and I spoke with them all after the event about aspects of the debate.

Here are my thoughts and experiences of the day.

Stephen Leather TV WorkIt was a panel I was looking forward to as I have a foot in all camps so to speak. It started off fairly tamely but as the discussion progressed there became a feeling that the event was turning into something of a public hanging. Sadly for Stephen Leather it appeared that he was not only the victim but was intent on playing the part of pantomime villain. (One wag even suggested he’d bought the rope.)

The crowd was made up of a mix of industry professionals and readers alike. Stephen Leather soon received occasional boos and hisses. Any point scored against him in the debate received cheers and claps. When he said that pirates stealing his work were helping him by doing his marketing for him, the event’s chair Mark Billingham was handed a microphone.

Billingham made a strong and heated argument against Leather’s viewpoint which at the time had me feeling that the chair of the event should not be speaking with such vehemence. However upon reflection I realised that my initial thought was wrong and that if the chair cannot defend his opinion passionately then nobody can.

The lowest point for me was the shout of “tosser” aimed at Stephen Leather from the back of the room. Surely this is not becoming of a literary event? In my experience base insults in a debate always come from the person who feels that they are losing the argument.

To sum up my feelings from the event I would make the following points.

Stephen Leather’s use of multiple online personas is by no means a new or exclusive tactic. I have read a number of articles and blog posts advocating such dealings.
Stephen Leather knew much more about direct marketing than almost everyone else in the room.
The book buying public should have cheap and easily accessible books.
Books however should not be so cheap as to be of less value than a cup of coffee. There is a lot of hard work that goes into writing a book and authors deserves fair recompense.
Mark Billingham was right to condemn piracy in all its forms with his impassioned counter-argument.
Stephen Leather’s comment that his work receives little editing from his publisher is most likely borne from his experience as a writer rather than any direct failings of the publisher. After 28 books he ought to know what he’s doing.
Regarding the pricing of books there is probably a middle ground to be sought which provides value for reader and author alike.
The person who shouted TOSSER should hang their head in shame. It was unbecoming of the occasion.
Agents and publishers need to react against the rise in sales of eBooks and eReaders. Denial and condemnation are not the way forward.
Amazon should implement better measures against piracy. They are loosing out too!
Amazon should implement a stepped system of minimum prices based on word count. Just don’t ask me what the thresholds should be.
The lady who said she ePublished her book after not securing a traditional print deal after trying for only three months should learn the meaning of perspective and patience.

Finally I believe that this debate will run for months and years.

Please feel free to comment below.

Monday, 9 July 2012

When Torture Goes Too Far

All crime fiction fans like myself have read at least one or two torture scenes in the last few years. But where does torture stop being an entertaining plot device and where does it descend into brutal gratuitous savagery?

As an author I am curious about how far is too far and where to draw the line. Admittedly as a reader I am quite inured to violence and torture scenes have to be really graphic to shock me although I do understand that there are many other readers with much more delicate sensibilities.

In the last year’s reading I can recall such horrors as a soldering iron inserted into a urethra, countless waterboarding incidents and rats being forced to escape fire by eating their way through someone’s stomach. However the scene which I will always remember as the one which was hardest to read was in a book I read many years ago by Wilbur Smith. It was Eagle in the Sky which was basically a love story and yet when the hero crashed his plane and was on fire the account given by Smith was so graphic and detailed it made me flinch anew with every passing word. I couldn’t stop reading though such was the power of the scene.

The aforementioned soldering iron was only mentioned as if an afterthought whereas the flesh eating rats were described in great detail as they burrowed their way to safety though the victim. Which way is right and which is wrong? Both made me flinch and left enough of an impression for me to recall them with ease.

I have used torture scenes in my own writing (including one scene involving pepper and sellotape) although I shied away from being too graphic with the detail. Another story I have written features a piece of torture which is mainly psychological although there is a physical element to it.

As an author I have always felt that torture cannot be too graphic unless there is a need to shock and revile the reader. Violence can be a bloodthirsty as you like because it tends to be spur of the moment whereas torture is generally premeditated. The fact that someone has planned to torture the hero / heroine / victim #whatever and has brought along their instruments of pain always seems more evil to me and is behind my reasoning to go with the less is more theory when describing torture scenes.

What do you do? And what are your tastes as a reader? Feel free to comment below.

Monday, 2 July 2012

PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES: A Richard Godwin Exclusive

For July's guest post I hunted down Richard Godwin and and got him to discuss boundaries. Sit back, relax and prepare to be educated and entertained.
A boundary is, according to the OED:   
"That which serves to indicate the bounds or limits of anything whether material or immaterial: also the limit itself."
A boundary defines. Yet literature explores things that are often beyond definition, it thrives on ambiguity.
Transgression defines the limit.
William Blake said of Milton that:
"The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it."
What he meant is that Milton was rebelling against the strictures that define.
The a priori is that boundaries are necessary. The a posteriori is that they limit Art.
To consider the proposition I would like to consider the concept.
Fences contain our English gardens. Englishmen like to be King of the castle. They need to own a slice of land and that is a particularly English malaise. It sets people at odds with one another. Fences cause arguments. Neighbours form disagreements based on the spatial configuration of their identities. The bit they never found.
Yet the illness spreads wider, it extends to the ownership of things that breathe. The need to set limits is not exclusive to England. It is a means of making profit for those arbiters of taste who control the industry surrounding literature.
FR Leavis was a tired and stale Oxford don who wrote a study of literature that attempted to pigeon hole writers who would have eaten him for breakfast if they could have got past his bones. He set a standard.

Setting the standard, a formula.
Publishers enjoy the sport of genre and pigeon holing.
And while there is pure Noir and pure horror there is also a wide range of novels that straddle the boundaries.
Look at Dostoyevksy. Look at Dickens. They both contain Noir, horror, the grotesque, bizarro, the surreal, and satire.
So what I believe is let’s call it fiction. Let’s call it literature.
There are certain themes I would not touch. It all depends how it is represented.
I have been accused of pushing the boundaries.
I am not conscious of doing so.
Were Samuel Beckett, Antonin Artaud, Jean Genet, Oscar Wilde, Gunter Grass, Ben Jonson,
trying to challenge definitions?
The latter may stand accused of amorality, because he does not offer tidy solutions to crimes.
There is no such thing as a moral story, as Wilde said.
Nietzsche wrote in Also Sprach Zarathustra:
“Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.”
Literature should be boundless.
It should explode myths.
The first cited reference to the word boundary in English is found in Bacon:
"Corruption is a Reciprocall to Generation: And they Two, are as Natures Two Termes or Bundaries" Sylvia (sic)
328, 1626.
The critics may have penned themselves in. I hope writers do not do so.



Richard Godwin is the author of crime novels Mr.Glamour and Apostle Rising and is a widely published crime and horror writer. Mr. Glamour is his second novel and was published in paperback in April 2012. It is availableonline at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Glamour-Richard-Godwin/dp/0956711332 and at all good retailers. Mr.Glamour is Hannibal Lecter in Gucci. The novel is about a glamorous world obsessed with designer labels with a predator in its midst and has received great reviews. Apostle Rising, in which a serial killer crucifies politicians, is available herehttp://www.amazon.com/Apostle-Rising-Richard-Godwin/dp/0956711308 You can find out more about him atrichardgodwin.net

Check out my review of the excellent Mr Glamour at http://www.crimesquad.com/reviews.asp?year=2012&month=4

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Foreshadowing Key Details


Let’s be honest from the start. We’ve all read a book or seen a film where the hero / heroine or another main character suddenly develops a previously untold skill. In other cases the killer has turned out to be a character so peripheral to the main plot that logic has flown out of the window along with your interest.

For me nothing kills a story quicker than a new skill / villain first appearing five pages from the end of a novel. This is clearly an author not knowing how to finish the story and deciding to invent a skill or character just to finish off the story.

Foreshadowing is the term for drip feeding information throughout the story so that when the conclusion happens, the plot is plausible and the reader is left feeling satisfied rather than cheated.

It can be something as simple as having a character washing their judo clothes or meeting someone from their judo class for a drink. This tells the reader that the character knows some martial arts, so that when they start kicking butt it’s natural action.

Again introducing a peripheral character throughout the novel works, provided you give the reader enough information to remember the character. Cycling past on page seven of a three hundred page novel isn’t good enough and anyone doing this deserves all the scorn they get.

One of the best pieces of foreshadowing I can bring to mind is the film Die Hard. The hero is tense on a flight and a fellow passenger advises him to take his shoes and socks of when he gets to his hotel and make fists with his feet. The hero duly does this and later in the film when he is still barefoot he is hiding in a room with glass walls, the head baddie who had already seen the hero was barefoot told his men to shoot the glass. The action then cuts to a scene where the hero is standing on his bare tip toes with broken glass all over the floor.

As usual comments and feedback are always welcome.




Monday, 18 June 2012

What’s in a Name?

Quite often when I’m writing I struggle to give my characters the right names. This is because a name conveys so much about the character I’m trying to portray.
A well chosen name can give the reader so much information before the writer even begins to flesh out the character. Take these three names for instance: Mavis, Chelsie and Quentin. 

To my own mind the names conjure up the following details about the characters.
Mavis – A homely woman in her 50’s or older. Possibly a church goer and married to someone called Bernard or Ernest.
Chelsie – A young girl or child. Will probably sport a tight ponytail and wear cheap tracksuits.
Quentin – An upper class gent who is forty plus and is most likely out of touch with the real world. 

The opinions are of course exaggerated but the do show the power of a name. Take Chelsie for example. If it was spelled Chelsea then it conjures up a totally different character. 

Some better writers than me have chosen their character names very well. Zoe Sharp’s heroine Charlotte Fox goes by the name Charlie which alters her persona by making her seem more macho with the regendering which takes place by the shortening of her name.
Michael Connolly’s main protagonist is called Hieronymus Bosch after the painter but his Christian name is shortened to Harry. This gives Connolly the opportunity to introduce Bosch’s back story whenever he wants.
Some character names such as Matt Hilton’s Joe Hunter or Tom Woods’ Victor do little more than offer a “does what it says on the tin” message about the character.

The reasoning above is why deciding on a character’s name is one of the most important parts of writing for me. I feel that if I get that right then I’m halfway to being able to depict what I need to about my characters.

If any of my readers can leave me a comment on how they choose a character name then I’d be grateful for any tips or advice.


Monday, 11 June 2012

Gutshots: Ten Blows to the Abdomen – Now on Sale!

To celebrate the release of my latest eBook Gutshots: Ten Blows to the Abdomen I thought I would share the stories behind the stories.


I hope you enjoy reading where I get my inspiration and ideas from. Please feel free to leave a comment or two.


A Girl I Once Met

This story came from a recent role as best man at my cousin’s wedding. After the obligatory stag party, I started thinking about the possible consequences of a one night stand taken on such an “away day” event. I must stress though that the story is entirely fictional and not based on a personal experience.

Country Goes to Town

This story came from a news story about the demonstration marches in London against plans to outlaw hunting. My own imagination added the “what if” factor.

Author Meets Reviewer

My previous eBook releases have only had positive reviews, for which I’m extremely grateful. I do though expect a bad review one day as someone will not enjoy my work. That’s fine with me and I’m the first to admit that I’m always learning. This little tale comes from me exploring the idea of an author who cannot accept that he can’t please everyone.

Following Full of Fear

This is based on my own worries when following an ambulance carrying my wife and infant son. All I could think about was what I would do if the blue lights suddenly came on. The story is a very honest answer.

Hannah’s Last Hurrah

I based this story very loosely on an old joke and the fear every parent has over the next drug craze.

My Job is Murder

After having a story accepted into an anthology about action heroes who were larger than life. I wanted to write another in a similar vein albeit with a darker feel. My Job is Murder tells the tale of a most unusual assassin.

Not to be Sneezed at

I wrote this after a half heard radio topic rekindled an old biology lesson. Of course me being me, I couldn’t help but add a different perspective.

A Day of Deception

This story was born from mixing my day job and my love of crime fiction together once again. This story is entirely fictional although I know for a fact that it could happen. One of the aspects of my day job is to see that it doesn’t.

Accounting for Dummies

I derived this story from a short online piece I wrote. I fleshed it out differently as I wanted to explore the causes a little further and there’s something to be said for keeping accurate and detailed accounts.

Suburban Combat

With most of my stories revolving around the seedier side of life I wanted to see what would happen if I pitted a couple of middle class neighbours against each other. The results surprised even me.

Pursuit

When I first wrote this story it was a piece of micro fiction for a Facebook group. When Near to the Knuckle were looking for submissions, I fleshed out the earlier story and was delighted when they featured it on their site. http://www.close2thebone.co.uk/

Downloading Disaster

I co-wrote this story with Rosalind Smith-Nazilli after a mutual friend’s encouragement. The story spawned from Rosalind having to reset her computer’s settings as she couldn’t download Ebooks at her home in Turkey. An idea sparked, so I laid down the basic plot and Rosalind polished and buffed the story into shape. It first appeared in her eBook Fourteen Flashes of Fiction.

The Mourning After

I wrote this story as a practice exercise as I have a Harry Charters story I want to tell in the second person point of view. A friendly editor over at Near to the Knuckle ran an eye over it and found a home for my story on the site. http://www.close2thebone.co.uk/

Star Struck Shooter

After writing Shooting Stars I knew that the story couldn’t end there, so this is basically the next chapter. This story first appeared at ThrillsKills’n’Chills as did Shooting Stars. http://thrillskillsnchills.blogspot.co.uk/

Mad Dog and Evers’ Bird

This is a little exercise I gave myself, where I put four characters into a room and tried to give each one an individual voice and speech pattern to see if they were recognisable throughout the piece. I made it my goal to tell a story and solve a crime entirely through dialogue without any speech tags such as said, asked or queried.
It first appeared here on my blog, where it received enough positive comments for me to feel confident enough to share it.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Birth Of True Brit Grit by Paul D. Brazill

Today I welcome the Grand Master of the Brit Grit scene. Paul D Brazill gave me one of my first breaks as a writer by including my story Adult Education in True Brit Grit. 
Here’s what he has to say about True Brit Grit.

At first, I spotted the odd one, here and there.  

Then I peeked another.  

And then they seemed to be everywhere!  

The first one I saw was Banks, I think, then Quantrill, Williams, Guthrie, Black. Later, Griffiths, Bird, Sant, Morrigan, Ayris, Rivers. And more!

The Brit Grit mob were here. Crime fiction; social realism; horror; black comedy.The lot!
And it was great!
So, I had the half-bright idea of trying to nab a few of them together into an anthology. A taster of this new bitter-sweet sub-genre.
And so I asked a handful of writers to donate stories. Then loads of other people. And you know what? They almost all said yes!

And then I really lucked out.
Luca Veste, who had edited and published Off The Record, offered to publish the anthology –now known asTrue Brit Grit- through Guilty Conscience publishing. And co-edit, too. Then Steven Miscandlon designed a brilliant cover. And the legendary Maxim Jakubowski agreed to write the introduction.
And then we were LIVE! And kicking ass!
How nice is that?
True Brit Grit is available from Amazon.
And in print from Lulu.
Paul D. Brazill’s blog, You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You? is here.

In addition to having Paul D Brazill on my blog today I’m delighted to announce that the other anthology which features a story of mine is being given away free for two days on Amazon.
That’s right folks Action:Pulse Pounding Tales is free on the 6th and 7th of June so head over to Amazon and grab your copy of this excellent action thriller anthology.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Coming Soon – Gutshots: Ten Blows to the Abdomen

After a lot of hard work I’m getting closer to releasing my next collection of short stories. Gutshots: Ten Blows to the Abdomen is nearing completion and should be formatted and uploaded to Amazon by the end of next week at the latest.

Gutshots will have ten (the clue’s in the title) brand new stories all in the hard boiled / noir camp. There will be crimes, mysteries and thrills galore.

Each of the stories will have a short introduction detailing the story behind the story.

As a bonus to my readers I will be including five stories which have previously been featured around the interweb with of course mentions of the fabulous sites who hosted then in the first viewing.

The word count is pushing 20K with one story to finish and another to write plus the introductions. Which means Gutshots will be excellent value for money as I’m going to price it at just $0.99 or £0.77

Here is my pledge. If it is not for sale by the 10th of June then I’ll give it away for $0.01 until Christmas.

The cover was done by Simon Woolley at Hoggett Creative, and I think it is brilliant even though I am of course biased.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Short Stories in Songs

Short Stories in Songs

We all enjoy listening to music while we drive, potter about the house or just as an accompaniment to our daily lives. Being an avid reader of crime fiction myself as well as a budding author, when  I recently heard a song on the radio which not only is a fantastic song but also tells a short crime story in its opening lines something sparked inside my head.

This got me thinking of other songs which tell a story rather than just beep, thump or repeat the same few words. Try as I might I couldn’t come up with any better examples than the two below which first show crime fiction and then a spot of what I can only describe as Brit Grit. 

If you can read these lyrics without singing the songs in your head then I doff my non-existent hat to you.

Crime Fiction – Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he's dead.
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I've gone and thrown it all away.
Mama, ooh, Didn't mean to make you cry,
If I'm not back again this time tomorrow,
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine, body's aching all the time.
Goodbye, ev'rybody, I've got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.


Brit Grit – Neighbourhood by Space 

In number 69 there lives a transvestite.
He’s a man by day but he’s a woman at night.
There’s a man in number four who swears he’s Saddam Hussein.
Says he’s on the chart to start a third world war. 

Oh if you find the time, please come and stay a while.
In my beautiful neighbourhood. 

At a hundred and ten they haven’t paid the rent.
So there goes the TV with the repo men.
In 999 they make a living by crime.
The house is always empty ‘cause they’re all doing time. 

Chorusy bit 

In number 18 there lives a big butch queen.
He’s bigger than Tyson and he’s twice as mean
In 666 there lives a Mr Miller.
He’s our local vicar and a serial killer.


If anyone out there can think of a decent song which has a crime story or a Brit Grit feel to the lyrics please leave details in the comments. I’d be fascinated to see what you all come up with.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Today on my Blog I'd like to welcome Matt Hilton, author of the Joe Hunter novels and all round nice guy.
He has chosen to talk about injecting pace into stories to keep those pages turning.

MORE PACE ANYONE?  

Anyone who has read any of my books or short stories – not half my Joe Hunter crime thriller series – they’ll probably guess that there’s a certain element that I attempt to inject in each and every tale.

I’m not talking action, violence, blood or guts – even if there are ample portions of each to keep the hungriest reader sated – I’m talking about ‘pace’. 

Pace is what keeps the pages turning frantically into the night.  

Now, injecting pace isn’t simply a paring down of the words so that you race through the text much faster while reading, and it’s not simply about jumping from one set piece to another. Admittedly they’re both techniques that I do use, but there’s more to pace than simply abridging a longer book.

Here are a few techniques that I do use to speed the story along: 

First off, my hero narrates the story in first person past tense. In this way we are inside Joe Hunter’s head, and see things the way he sees the action. If anyone has ever told you a story, when events excite them they speed up, and so does Hunter in the narration. He get’s excitable and this translates to the reader’s ear and – hopefully they get excitable too. They experience the story through his senses, and hopefully feel some of the visceral kick and adrenalin buzz Hunter is experiencing. 

Secondly, I show all third party events through third person past tense. Because Hunter is narrating his story, he can only narrate what he knows, what he’s seen, heard or experienced. Sometimes because he does not know the full story, we can anticipate some of the danger he’s about to walk into, and therefore feel for him. My intention is that readers rush to find out what will happen next, to see how Hunter will contend with the problem about to be sprung upon him. Pace is set up, even if we’re only subliminally aware – as readers – that we’re being egged on to turn the pages to find out ‘what happens next?’ 

Sometimes I like to overlap chapters, seeing the events through different characters’ eyes, seeing their take on the same events. Sometimes Hunter’s voice isn’t the best to narrate the fear or terror of a victim, or the rage or smug satisfaction of a bad guy going in for the kill. But because we get the unfolding story from the other party, we are sometimes ahead of Hunter and forced to think ‘Oh, no, how are you going to handle this, Joe?’ It causes anticipation, ergo the desire to read on. 

Description is kept to a minimum. I like only to drip feed some facts and local colour into a scene and prefer that the reader conjure their own vision of the scene. Some people say I write very visually, or cinematically, but if you were to actually take a deeper look at my writing, you’ll probably realise that much of the picture has been formed in the reader’s own mind’s eye. Not mine. It’s a clever ploy, and not something I claim to fully understand, I just do it.  

I tend to keep chapters short (but not Patterson-short). I know from my own reading experience that I often flick forward a few pages in a book to check where the next chapter ends, perhaps looking for a natural break where I can stop, grab a coffee, go to the loo, eat something, or even go to sleep. Often if the natural break is only a short page or two away, I’ll subconsciously decide to wait for the next break, or the next, and so on. The book therefore unfolds quickly, and it might seem with no thought in the reader’s mind of ‘Hell, I’m never going to get through this’. 

I like to leave a cliffhanger at the end of many chapters. Because the story is often told chapter about, Hunter taking the lead, followed by a third party character – often the villain – the reader is urged not only to read one chapter to find out what happens next, but two, and so on.  

I write in three major acts: 

Usually there’s a problem that becomes apparent. It is usually followed by an attempt to rectify said problem that fails or the problem changes or grows larger. The third act is usually a fast-moving race to the finale as Hunter tries to save the day (whatever the problem may be). By having these three acts, the story is like three separate but interlinked narratives, all three leading to that final battle royal at the end. 

Because the stories are violent by nature, I like to show the action in a series of set pieces, each a stand-alone scene in itself, but each promising a bigger, faster and more exciting finale. When you have big action scenes early on in a book, it seeds the idea in the reader’s mind that the end must be even bigger, and hopefully the hook that they want to find out how Hunter can surpass what he’s already dealt with keeps them turning pages. 

Hunter doesn’t say much. When he does it is short and to the point. The dialogue is often leavened with sporadic bursts of dark humour. A laugh can help the pace, because it helps put the reader’s mind in an alert state, and again keeps them moving on, AKA turning pages. 

Some people point at my writing output over the last three or four years, and think I’m incredibly gifted when it comes to speedwriting. That seems like a lofty claim, but I mention it only because I wish to get the point about pace across. I write fast because I’m feeling the pace myself. Because the writing style is fast, I seem to be able to put the words down on paper almost equally as quickly. I feel the buzz and the adrenalin rush.  

If pressed to answer where my need for pace comes from, it’s probably due to the kind of books I loved to read as I was emerging as a writer. I loved the old so-called ‘Men’s Action books’ of the 1970s and early 1980s, typified by Mack Bolan, Remo Williams, Nick Carter and the like. I also loved the 1930s action adventure tales that are best remembered for Robert E Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan etc. All those tales were fast moving, slightly larger than life and were – above all – great fun to kick back and read. It was due to those books that I began writing in earnest, as I tried to emulate my literary heroes. When I came up with the idea of the Hunter series it was with a mind to pay homage to those old action writers, and I hope that I’ve achieved my plan.  

Also, as an add on to that master plan, my mind has recently been wondering if there were other writers out there equally inspired by the same books as me, and I played around with the idea for some time of putting together a collection of action inspired tales. Well, that plan is now underway. I’m shortly going to release a collection of action-packed short stories, aptly under the banner of Action: Pulse Pounding Tales as an eBook, where the emphasis is on - you guessed it – action and pace. It seems that there are other writers who similarly enjoy a good old rippin’ yarn, with plenty of escapism and derring-do. It’s turning out to be quite a weighty tome, but one thing I can guarantee: it will be a helluva fast read.

Matt Hilton

 To buy Action - Pulse Pounding Tales: Volume 1 just follow this link. Action - Pulse Pounding Tales

To visit Matt's website click this link. Action thrillers

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Assembling an Assassin

In my first collection of short stories Eleven the Hardest Way I included a short called Shooting Stars which was about an assassin seeking revenge on an ex-girlfriend. Shooting Stars first aired at ThrillsKillsNChills where it received many positive comments. 

This is how I built my nameless and faceless hitman.

First I had him sighting through the sights of a sniper rifle and sharing his dislike at the mime artist he could see. This was to give my sniper a human personality while also foreshadowing later events.

Then I told how he hadn’t modified his rifle as it was already carefully crafted and lovingly designed. Here I was showing how he could appreciate beauty in mechanical objects and faith in their original design. 

My third constructive element of his character was to reveal his target was his ex-girlfriend. Most literary assassins don’t kill women, but I wanted mine to be different. I wanted to give him a personal agenda which would make him standout from the crowd. (Which is silly really, as all assassins prefer to blend into the crowd.)

The next piece of character building I did with my assassin was for him to only ever load a single bullet into his gun. He classed it as his trademark and if his prey escaped that one bullet, then his own moral code would prevent him from making a second attempt to kill the target. I did this to bring back the assassin from being overly cold and un-likeable.

By giving my assassin an accomplice who he referred to as his apprentice, I turned his murderous trade into a noble profession in his own mind. The training of an apprentice is a responsibility bestowed on the better and more reliable tradesmen which gives my assassin another character trait.

So there you have it. One assassin built from the ground up. And before anyone asks, no I don’t know his name or what he looks like. I don’t think I ever will.

I’ve written a follow up to Shooting Stars and I plan to add several more stories to the collection and then I’ll release a collection featuring my nameless hitman.

Monday, 23 April 2012

World Book Night and My Own Give Away

Tonight is World Book Night and I’m delighted to say that once again I’m taking part. This year I am giving away the excellent Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham. This book is one of my personal favourites and I included it in my selections when my Crimesquad.com editor asked me for my own Top Ten.

Last year I gave away copies of Killing Floor by Lee Child and so far every book I’ve given away has been gratefully received. 

I’ve already shared out about a dozen books with colleagues at work and I plan to take the others over and offer them to the guests of the hotel I manage.

Last year I was fortunate enough to be granted an interview with Lee Child and when I questioned him about World Book Night he said he was honoured to have been included. I hope to interview Mark Billingham later this year and I will of course be asking him about WBN! 

In-keeping with World Book Night I have enrolled one of my ebooks into KDP Select and it will be FREE all day Friday the 27th of April. So do me a favour and spread the word while grabbing yourself a free copy.

Please feel free to use the comments section to share what you are doing for WBN with me and my reader.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A Hypocritical Rant about Falling Grammar Standards

OK folks I’ve bit my tongue long enough, but now I’m going to have to raise the issue of modern day grammar. Or more correctly the falling standards of grammar. 

Firstly let me say that I speak with absolutely no authority on the subject as I TWICE failed my English exams at school. Although the school were kind enough to appeal on my behalf and I got a nice letter telling me that I’d been granted my ‘O’ level English.  

I’m also as guilty as the next person with regards to typos. In my mind these are forgivable. What is not forgivable are the fuckups where there is written instead of their or even they’re. Come on, for fucks sake. They mean three totally different things.

My own failings have over time weighed upon me and have turned me into a grammar demon. I work hard to get things right for others when writing and I expect the same courtesy back. 

In my professional life I frequently get E-mails and Facebook messages which look as if a child of two has been bouncing a ball on a keyboard before accidentally hitting send. One Facebook message had nineteen (YES 19!) grammar mistakes in a four line paragraph. The content was based on sensible questions so the writer was obviously in possession of some functioning intelligence. Nineteen mistakes were there though!  

Being the calm and reasonable person that I am, I spent twenty minutes decrying falling education standards and then went for a smoke before replying. This muppet had just wasted half an hour of my precious time just because they either couldn’t write properly or didn’t care enough to make a tiny effort. 

Little shortcuts like writing U instead of you I can almost tolerate because of text speak which is a whole new lazy language. American English with its different spelling of certain words gets automatically translated without any internal ire, but show me repeated incidents of some fuckwit getting were, where and we’re all mixed up and I get so wound up my teeth start to itch.

As for the great apostrophe debate don’t get me started… 

Please comment below on what annoys you about other peoples’ grammar.

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

Crimesquad.com - Editor Chris Simmons Speaks Out

My good mate and fellow reviewer on Crimesquad.com 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 Crimesquad.com 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 Crimesquad.com. 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.

Crimesquad.com 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. Crimesquad.com 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 Crimesquad.com 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!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

What I've been up to lately

Lately I’ve been beavering away on my debut novel “The Ironmonger’s Error”. Because I’m trying to get it finished I’ve been fairly quiet on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. I have even been so dedicated to getting the first draft finished I have only undertaken one other piece of writing.
The other piece of writing was a short story which I have submitted to Matt Hilton for his forthcoming anthology Action – Pulse Pounding Tales (Volume 1). More info can be found via the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ActionPulsePoundingTales but let me just say that the whole idea is to recreate the action heroes of the seventies and eighties with their bristling moustaches and absolute invincibility. I had a great time writing my entry which pushed the boundaries for the suspension of disbelief to almost but not quite breaking point. Before writing this post I sent off my effort and I’m waiting for word back with the usual nerves associated with such processes.
To my mind this is akin to submitting to an agent despite Matt being a friend, as I have to earn my place to join him and the other authors involved in the project. Submissions don’t end until the 31st of April so there’s plenty of time for those with a story to submit. 

I know that some of you are remembering that I’ve recently had Star Struck Shooter up at ThrillsKills’N’Chills and The Golden Shot over at the Flash Fiction Offensive. However these stories were written a few months ago and left to hibernate before editing and submission. 

With regards to the novel I have added many a thousand word and have reached the top of the rollercoaster. Now I’m beginning the descent into the final denouement although it seems to be getting ever further away. Every time I write a scene another idea grabs my brain and the book becomes that little bit longer. Fortunately though I have the plot worked out in my head apart from one side issue which I have yet to find a way to work into proceedings.

After the first draft of the novel is done then I’ll be back noisier than ever with a whole range of short stories which have been asking me to write them.

Monday, 19 March 2012

My transition from being a Reviewer to being Reviewed

For two and a half years now I have been a book reviewer for the very well respected www.crimesquad.com during this time I have made friends with a lot of authors both face to face and via the world of Facebook. I have also been very fortunate to meet and interview some of the biggest names in crime fiction.

There has been a constant stream of excellent books appearing in my mailbox and whenever I get talking with aspiring authors and they find out I’m a reviewer, it’s only a short time before their precious book is being pressed into my hands along with an impassioned request for a review.

As a reviewer the instructions from my editor are simple. If you like the book – write a review. If you don’t like the book – then don’t write a review. If you have nothing nice to say- then say nothing.

Crimesquad.com is a place where crime fiction in all of its sub genres is championed. All the reviewers are fans of the genre and understand what makes for excellent crime fiction.

Suddenly I was on the other side of the fence. My own precious book – Eleven the Hardest Way – was up for review.  Not only was it being reviewed by Crimesquad.com but also a friend who reviews for our counterparts over at Shotsmag had also requested a copy.

Shine a light, this was serious now. The two biggest review websites for my chosen genre were reviewing my work. I had only been writing for three months and here was my first effort receiving the most intense scrutiny.

Was I nervous? You better believe I was. I know I said earlier that Crimesquad.com are not the kind of reviewers who put the boot in. but what if the reviewer didn’t enjoy it and said nothing. Oh the ignominy. And what about Shotsmag? I didn’t (and still don’t) know their editorial policy although the reviews I have read are all fair and balanced.

Is this what authors go through every time a book is submitted for review?

I was nervous, irritable and on more than one occasion an enquiring E-mail was written and then deleted when a rare strength of character appeared.

Then I got to thinking about the many E-mails and conversations I’d had with authors who knew I would soon be reviewing their work. Most of them would always say something along the lines of “please can you let me now how you get on with my book”. There have been one or two occasions when I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the first to read a book outside of the publishing houses and agents circle. I actually E-mailed the author of one of these and he was delighted to hear I’d enjoyed his book and admitted relief to hearing that it was as good as previous efforts.

Until my book was reviewed by these two very influential sites I never truly appreciated the power of reviews. Now I am fully aware of the influence and as a case in point I watched my own Ebook jump 42,000 places overnight when the two reviews came out.

I have learnt just how nerve wracking it is to have your book under review and I will always try to contact authors wherever possible, to say a couple of nice things about their book and chase away the butterflies I know they have. Of course I won’t share the review with them. I’ll just give them a taster of how I found the book.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A man walks into a bar

This is an excerpt from A Head Made of Stone featuring Harry Charters.
I hope you take some small amount of pleasure from reading it.

Dismissing it as someone else’s problem, I made my way into the Kirkstone Tavern. This was the place where I’d had my first legal drink and several illegal ones before. Back then I had understood the curse of alcohol and had fervently stopped after my second. Now the curse of alcohol understood me and I usually drank doubles. I looked round my former local and was shocked to see what a dive it had become. The once salubrious tavern was now a dump of epic proportions.
I sidled up to the bar and selected a stool where I planned on spending an hour alone with memories of Mom. She hadn’t been a good mother to me but then again I hadn’t been the best behaved child, until Aunt Maisie had taken us in and dispensed discipline with an even hand. An even hand which usually held a rolling pin or if I was lucky, a wooden spoon.
‘Hey Bub.’ I looked up to see who was speaking to me and saw the barkeep approaching me.
‘I’ll have a beer and a Jack Daniels please.’
‘You can’t sit there. That’s Donny’s seat.’
I moved to another seat only for him to shake his head and say ‘Andy’s.’
I sat at the next one and re-ordered my drinks.
‘That’s Pete’s stool.’
‘Serve me the drinks and I’ll move when Pete comes in.’ I kept my voice quiet and even but made sure there was enough steel for him to register the fact that I was gonna have my drink in here regardless of the games he wanted to play. What I wasn’t expecting was the worried look which crossed his pudgy face. I had forced his hand and he was now scared of me. I dismissed any fanciful ideas as I supped the drinks he grudgingly served me until I saw his sly gesture to one of the three other patrons. The bozo had necked his drink and then slipped out the back way which would take him onto Drover Way if my memory was correct. I guess he had been dispatched to find whichever stool owner was nearest.
I finished my drinks and asked for a refill. The bozo barkeep actually had the temerity to try and refuse me service until I pointed out that his bar was nearly empty and if any of the stool’s proprietor’s came in then I would gladly move aside.
Hi thinly veiled threat of ‘it’s your funeral’ washed over me like I wasn’t there.
I didn’t want any trouble in Kirkstone and I wasn’t gonna pick a fight over a bar stool but at the same time I wasn’t gonna be bullied for the sake of it.
The drunks who lived on my shoulders and whispered their agendas into my ears began their day when drink number three was consumed. I figured it would be best for all concerned if I left before Nasty Drunk showed up on his left shoulder perch. The only way I could handle the Nasty Drunk with any success was to keep him too inebriated to affect me.
Things however don’t always go to plan. I was just finishing my beer and eyeing up the solitary finger of bourbon I had left, when the door burst open and three huge men dressed as lumberjacks came in. Ignoring them I reached for the bourbon glass as I eased myself off the stool.
The biggest of the three lunks came right up and stood toe to toe with me. ‘I’m Pete and I hear you’ve been sitting on my stool.’
I was about to apologise and leave when the Nasty Drunk put in an early appearance and all thoughts of conciliatory behaviour went astray. ‘Perhaps your fat ass explains why it was so damned uncomfortable.’
He was enraged at my insult, and didn’t stop to think that someone who wasn’t afraid to insult him when he was with two of his friends might just be more than he could manage. His right hand drew back somewhere behind his knee as he went for a glory shot of a haymaker. I had enough time to put down my glass before crunching my forehead into the bridge of his nose, splintering cartilage and leaving him wobbling as his legs fought to support him. Next I threw a right cross at the man on my left and swept my elbow round to finish Pete off with a blow to the temple. The third man grabbed my lapels and swung me round with the intention of slamming my back into the bar. I held him back and dropped my feet from below me so his forehead met the bar instead of my back.