Monday, 10 December 2012

Finishing a Trilogy


This week I am delighted to invite Sheila Quigley to my blog. At my request she has talked about some of the issues in writing the last book in a trilogy.
I was on to chapter 4 of Stand By Me, the 6th Seahills novel, when suddenly a group of characters I had never met before invaded my head and just would not go away. Smiler would have fitted in well with the Seahills lot, but there are enough of his age group hanging around the Seahills so I shrugged and got on with Stand By Me. But the very next day Mike Yorke and his Aunt May were standing side by side with Smiler demanding their story be told, no way was I ever going to shake them off.

So I opened a new page and Thorn In My Side was born. In a short time round about 3 months it was done, the rewrite took another month or so and it was finished. Ok I'd left it on a cliff hanger so best start right where I left off, again it took just under half a year to produce Nowhere Man. Then came the hardest part of the trilogy. The Final Countdown out this week in hardback. This took twice the time that the other two books had, a lot of that was because of illness, but I think that some of it was down to the fact that I didn't want to let Smiler, Aunt May, Mike Yorke, Shelly, Danny and the rest of them go.
But it had to be wrapped up there were a lot of strands to tie up, a lot of the people fighting the familes had not met each other and to bring closure they had to meet.
And so It's finished, the last book in a trilogy is certainly the hardest to write, but i'm told by those who have read it that the ending is v good and holds a final surprise.
I have had a lot of e mails from around the world, begging me, threatening me not to let any more bad things happen to Smiler, Im sure the threats weren't real, well I hope they weren't!
So is that the end of it for Smiler and the others?
Never say never.
 
I've read all three books in the trilogy and I loved them all. Like all trilogy's they must be read in order to make sense. I would liken them to Pringles as one you start you just can't stop.
 
Grab yourself copies and enjoy three cracking books featuring unforgettable characters. The Final Countdown hits the shelves this Thursday the 13th
 
Feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Tag or No Tag? Showing Not Telling


When writing every author will have their own opinions as to the presence and effectiveness of dialogue tags. Nobody is right and nobody is wrong. However with every word counting on the page there are different schools of thought. 

Stephen King says in ‘On Writing’ to only use said. 

Others will use dialogue tags very very sparingly or not at all. Stuart MacBride is an advocate of never using dialogue tags and his books rank very highly among my favourites
 
Yet again other authors will use all kind of different descriptive tags such as answered, snapped, asked, howled and so on and so on. 

Personally I now try to use as few dialogue tags as humanly possible with said being the only one I will use. My train of thought is that the character’s voices should be strong enough to denote the speaker. This for me is an extension of showing as opposing to telling. Different emphasis on certain words can change everything. 

Take for example the three passages below which all have exactly the same dialogue. 

Passage A
‘Go away,’ yelled Susan
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ snarled Brian angrily, ‘you cheated on me. Why should I leave?’
‘Please calm down,’ cried Susan.
‘Why should I be the one to leave?’ Brian repeated.
‘I haven’t got anywhere else to go,’ sobbed Susan.
‘And I have?’ asked Brian.

Passage B
‘Go away.’
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ said Brian, ‘you cheated on me. Why should I be the one to leave?
‘Please calm down.’
‘Why should I be the one to leave?’
‘I haven’t got anywhere else to go,’ said Susan.
‘And I have?’

Passage C
‘GO AWAY BRIAN!’
I’m not going anywhere. You cheated on me Susan. Why should I be the one to leave?
‘Please. Calm down.’
‘Why should I be the one to leave?’
‘I haven’t got anywhere else to go.’
‘AND I HAVE?’
 

For me Passage A is tagged to death and I would not enjoy reading anything which was written in this way. Also I hate seeing the word “asked” right after a question mark. The question mark itself shows that something is asked. This kind of overload has been known to make my teeth itch. I'm an adult for goodness sake. I'm not perfect at grammar but I know the squiggly line above a dot means someone has asked a question. (rant over)
Passage B is the middle ground and is indicative enough to identify the speakers without intrusion. This does tend to be the norm in most of the books I read and said become background chatter which is easily ignored.
Passage C is in my humble opinion the strongest of the three and says so much more than A or B because it treats the reader as an adult.

If the author were to have Susan move behind a table or shrink back from Jason in the narrative then it will show her fearing him. Or Brian could throw something across the room. It would be showing not telling, which every decent author always promotes. 

We all have an opinion on this. Please share yours.

 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Next Big Thing - My Turn

With Apologies to Vic Watson for dropping her baton earlier in the year, I was tagged again by the uber talented Zoe Sharp

Here's my go at it.


What is the working title of your book?
The Ironmonger’s Error

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It came from wanting to write a novel about a detective who was a throwback to the old days trying to survive in a modern police environment. I also wanted to write a novel which has a detective investigating the fringes of a case which is much more serious than he realises.

What genre does your book fall under?
It is a crime thriller with overtones of suspense.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ideally George Clooney and Brad Pitt would play the two main leads but I’d settle for Jedward if the producer’s cheque was fat enough.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Two respectable parents are forced into a life of crime to raise the ransom for their children’s release.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Hopefully I can get a publishing deal in the traditional manner. One agent has already looked at it and given me advice on what I would need to change. Another agent has asked to see it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took two years of very on-off writing.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s a tough one as I have tried very hard to be original. I cannot think of another book which is similar but I’m sure there is one out there. Perhaps the TV show Life on Mars but in reverse as my lead character is very abrasive and not at all politically correct.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
All the author’s I’ve ever read had a hand in me writing this novel, but on a personal level it has been Col Bury who has kicked my backside and got me pounding the keyboard on a regular basis.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It starts off as a kind of police procedural with the police being unaware of the kidnapping and the lead detective facing an unwanted retirement. When they find out about the kidnapping roughly halfway through the book the story takes on a different complexion as the lead character moves heaven and earth to rescue the two children.

 
As most people I know have already been involved in this meme or whatever it’s called I’m gonna tag five eBooks I’ve read this year as a cunning twist / easy get out. I'll let you decide which.

Manchester 6 by Col Bury
Cracking dialogue with a wonderfully gritty feel throughout. 


 
From a Crowded Mind by David Barber
A sense of place so acute I nearly cut myself reading it.

 

The Village Idiot Reviews by Pete Sortwell
A great premise brilliantly executed.


 
The Blues Detective by Andrew Peters
A new twist on the American gumshoe stories which makes for lighter and easier reading


 
Across the Broken Line by Zoë Sharp
A Charlie Fox short story with a fractured timeline that keeps you guessing all the way through.


 

A late addition to my list is LinkedIn friend Sarah Baethge who will be posting her NBT here on the 10th of December

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Young Adult or Just Plain Adult


This week I'm delighted to have Emerald Barnes over for a guest post.
 
As a YA writer, there are certain rules that I try to write by. For instance, the protagonist is under eighteen (unless s/he is a vampire). I make sure that school plays a role in my books, and I make sure they struggle through “teenage problems.” I define teenage problems as trying to find/keep/deal with a romantic relationship, fighting with parents or parental figures, thinking they’re invincible or at the very least right about every decision they make. I try to put myself in a teenager’s mind and write from there. I also like love triangles which seem to work better in YA.

Writing for an adult is a little different. The problems seem to be complex in a different way. They too have relationship problems, but they are different than the “does he really like me?” problems teenagers have – typically. Adults think differently. We don’t think about life in perspective of who’s more popular than whom, or who will win prom queen (unless it’s children who are up for prom queen). We focus more on what is happening in the now. We have different worries, like finances, finding a better job, or life not going the way we planned it straight out of high school.

But how is one problem more complex than another between adults and young adults? It isn’t really, but when it comes to writing YA fiction, I make sure that my characters fit the “norm” for teenagers.

We have a target audience in mind when we write. It will either be for young adults, adults, middle grade kids, or the new genre, new adult. It doesn’t mean that different age groups can’t read books that aren’t in their age group, but we still have the target audience we direct our novels to. And yes, there are crossovers, but again, that has to do with target audience choices.

The rules above don’t necessarily apply to every book that is YA or adult. It only applies to me and how I write. I tend to see those rules as something as a guideline for my own writing. Adult books for me, tend to be more, “why should I love him?” Or “I know I love him, but it’s too painful being with him due to our past.” The things that happen to adults vary greatly from my typical YA characters. If I put my YA characters in my adult characters’ situations, I don’t see it working out for the storyline.

Sure, there are different situations for different people. That applies to all characters, young or older. But, it’s something we, as a writer, have to figure out before we write the story forming in our minds.

The difference between writing young adult and adult to me is that there are two different views of life. Adults tend to have those “I wish I knew then what I know now”attitudes, while teens tend to think differently. It’s all about getting in the mindset of your characters, be they 13, 18, or 50.

How do you distinguish between writing for YAs or Adults?
Author Bio:
Emerald Barnes graduated with a B.A. in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing at Mississippi University for Women. She resides in a small town in Mississippi and has the accent to prove it.

She's the author of two books. She mainly writes suspense/thrillers in the YA genre, but she dabbles in other genres and her books are enjoyed by all ages!


She's constantly working on new novels and has more ideas than she knows what to do with. She blogs at
yaindie.com, emeraldbarnes.blogspot.com and ebarnes23.wordpress.com which takes up more of her time than she anticipates but loves it so very much! She's also a volunteer at the World Literary Cafe which is so amazing!

She's an auntie to two beautiful nieces and two handsome nephews who take up the other half of her time, but she couldn't imagine spending her time in any other way!


She's a Whovian, a little bit of a nerd, a reader, a writer, and a family-oriented person. God is number one in her life, and she thanks Him continuously for His love and favor.

Links:


Read Me Dead

Piercing Through the Darkness

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Fact in Fiction


All crime fiction needs to be grounded in some kind of fact but a lot of my favourite authors have used real life events such as wars, current events and historical facts as the setting for their books. There are several different facets to this so I’m gonna take a wild stab at a few of them. 

Sure all authors have to do research and make sure their facts are correct, but when it comes to writing the story the facts can make or break the book. Over-showing of research is a big a crime to me as getting basic details wrong. On the other hand detailed research fed into the story as relevant details can really educate the reader. 

Take Wilbur Smith’s excellent Courtney series which starts with When the Lion Feeds. It encompasses the Boer War and the battle of Isandlwana which preceded Rourke’s Drift in the Anglo-Zulu wars. Smith weaves his characters into known facts and gave a very educating account of both conflicts while the story was really a grand adventure. As the series progressed through the decades both the first and second world wars were included although in a lesser way. By reading Smith’s books I have learned so much about African history while being entertained by a great story. 

Similarly Steve Berry’s books are rich on historical details and I have had a wonderful education from him on many different subjects. His novels though deal with historical findings and the way he welds fact and action together never fails to keep me turning pages. 

The juxtaposition to these novels is the modern news story based books by Tom Cain. Cain tackles issues such as the UK riots, the banking crisis and the death of Diana – Princes of Wales in his action fuelled novels. What he does so brilliantly is take current events as the background to his novels, then his main protagonist has to battle all kinds of different forces as he pursues his goal. 

Conversely one of the best selling books ever – The Da Vinci Code – challenges known religious beliefs with alternate theories as to the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail.

Personally I love it when an author educates me while entertaining me. What about you, does fact in fiction float your boat or sweep you overboard?

 

 

Monday, 5 November 2012

Rhino Hide or Run and Hide?

This week I'm delighted to welcome Stacy S Eaton to my blog where she will be talking about how to handle reviews. Not only is this subject very close to my heart, Stacy talks some very good sense which I for one agree with.

Reviews can be one of the most important things to a writer, although it should not be the most important thing. I know that there is no better feeling than for someone to tell you that they loved your book. But what about the people who don’t?

I recently did an interview where I talked about this briefly. As writers we have to remember that readers all have different tastes. I am not a fan of Pepsi – but I love Coke. Some people are just the opposite. That’s why when you walk into the grocery store, there is a whole isle dedicated to different flavors of soda. Everyone likes different things.

So do readers.

What do I do if I get a review that isn’t that gushing “OMG I loved your story!”? Well, I read it and see if they make any points. Was there something they really didn’t like? Have other people said they didn’t like that particular thing also? Was it something about the writing or was it just the story they weren’t thrilled with?

I look at these and if I am seeing the same kinds of comments, then I think on them, I take them seriously. Maybe they are right, or maybe they are just Pepsi fans. Whatever the reason, I do think about them and I take them into consideration while I work on my next project.  You have to; it is the readers you are trying to please. Granted you cannot please everyone, but you can always try.

I know that a lot of authors take any review under a four star as a negative and a personal attack. You can’t do that. A three star review is still a good review – it just means they liked it, but it wasn’t their favorite. It’s not an attack on you the writer, it’s an opinion and everyone has one.

In July, I released my newest novel, “Whether I’ll Live or Die”. This story is a very intense story about domestic abuse. I knew where I wrote it that some people would love it and others would hate it. It’s their choice. I have been humbled by the four and five star reviews that I have obtained. But there are people that have given it a 1 star too. Unfortunately, that person did not leave a review – just a rating so I don’t know why they didn’t like it. Maybe it was too intense; maybe they didn’t like the ending. Who knows, but it just proves my point that while I have a lot of people who have loved the book, I do have others that don’t.

You look at them and then move on. Don’t let it eat away at you. Take the comments with a grain of salt and move forward.  If you can take the good with the bad, then you will just become a stronger writer.

“Whether I’ll Live or Die”

 “It sounded so simple in theory; ready... aim... fire... but what actually transpired was so much more.”

Officer Nicole Nolan holds the gun steady in her hands, knowing that life will be forever altered once she pulls the trigger. Her position as a small town police officer is to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It is her job, her career and her life.

Amanda stands where protection does not exist. With several failed relationships behind her, Amanda turns a blind eye to the possessiveness Josh displays in order to sooth her desperate need to be loved. As the mental abuse turns violent, Amanda must deal with the denial and embarrassment of being a victim once again. With her emotional and physical health siting on the edge, she must fight to regain control of her life.

A gripping story with one final destination, but will it be life or death?

Author Bio:

Stacy is a full-time police officer who enjoys crime scene investigation above all else. She is a mother of two and her husband is also in law enforcement. She is very much into photography and carries her Nikon Digital SLR with her almost everywhere, just in case. She also has two Shiloh Shepherd dogs and loves to play catch with them.

Her first book, My Blood Runs Blue was the start of her writing career.  It brings the world of law enforcement into the paranormal world of vampires. It is a suspenseful adult series that will keep you guessing from chapter to chapter. Book one, My Blood Runs Blue, was published April 2011 and is currently available in paperback, hardcover and e-book editions. Book two of the series, entitled Blue Blood for Life was released September 2011 and like book 1 made International Best Selling lists on Amazon very quickly.  The third book of this series is in the plot and characters development stage. She is hoping to have it completed and published in the spring of 2013.

Stacy continues to write and is currently working on finishing up her latest novel, “Garda ~ Welcome to The Realm” a book about guardian angels. Book three of the series is in the works along with a contemporary romance. She also has plotlines for four more books sitting on the back burner.



Twitter: @StacySEaton




Thursday, 1 November 2012

Horror Vs Crime

Halloween got me thinking about horror writing and crime fiction. Without meaning to offend any of my friends who read or write horror fiction I have to say that the whole horror scene does nothing for me. Ghouls, goblins, monsters and supernatural goings on have me reaching for the remote, leaving the cinema or worst of all – laying down the book. 

Yet when I thought about it there is a definite correlation between horror and my beloved crime fiction. Horror terrifies the reader or viewer with scary beings that may or may not be exist, (I’m a bet hedger by the way) while crime fiction deals with events which are real and can be found in almost any daily newspaper.  

Okay I’ll admit that some books in the crime fiction genre are a bit fanciful, but they all play on the fears of the reader. Take the Bond books by Ian Fleming as an example, they all seem to have a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world or are a battle against Russians. While this may be a bit clichéd in today’s world, we must remember that they were mostly released during the late fifties and sixties when the cold war was at its most Arctic and the thoughts and fears of the populace were very different than they are today. 

On the other hand there are some fantastic novels which could claim to be in either camp. Take The Shining by Stephen King, King is known for his out and out horror novels which have petrified millions of people over the decades, yet I feel The Shining is more of a psychological thriller than a straight horror tale. When you examine the story and observe Jack’s descent into madness you genuinely feel afraid for him and his family. There are no supernatural creatures whatsoever in the book or the film but who can forget Jack Nicholson’s face poking through the shattered door panel?
 

Another film and book which shocked was Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs. Boiled down to its essential story Silence of the Lambs is a police procedural with an informer called Hannibal Lector. However anyone who has ever read the book or seen the film will know it is so much more than that. Lector is a truly terrifying character who, when teamed up with the young and vulnerable Clarice Starling takes on an even more sinister role. 

These crossovers work for me as they do for millions of others but I have tried reading and watching horror only to find myself underwhelmed. I have read a John Connolly book which was technically very good but too supernatural for me and I fell asleep in the cinema during Hellraiser 3

So which camp are you in, Crime or Horror? Answers on the back of a £20 note or in the comments section if you prefer.

 

 

Monday, 1 October 2012

DARK UNDERCURRENTS


I have Russel D McLean below who has shared his encyclopaedic knowledge of crime fiction to look at the status of the whole genre.

 

DARK UNDERCURRENTS

Russel D McLean

 

The best crime novels aren’t about solving the crime. They are not about catching the criminal. They are not about finding out Whodunnit.

There, I said it. And I know that as usual someone’s going to be shaking their head and thinking that somehow I don’t understand the genre, that in order for a crime novel to be a crime novel, it has to follow the pattern of crime committed, crime investigated, guilty punished.

Its one of the reasons I’m a little antsy about the American term for the crime novel: “a mystery”. Because the term seems restrictive, as though crime fiction is restricted to the presentation and (probable) eventually unravelling of a mystery, be it a mysterious theft or a murder or whatever.
And that’s not what crime fiction is. Sure, mystery is a valid genre, but as a subset of a wider whole. That’s my point: the Whodunnit or the traditional procedural or whatever are absolutely valid examples of the crime genre, but as part of a wider whole.

Crime fiction is about the intrusion of the morally transgressive onto the everyday. Its about how people cope in extreme situations. Its about the cause and effect of criminal acts.

And yes, sometimes that will involve a policeman or a detective tracking down criminals. But that aspect is not essential to a good crime novel. 

Think about these books:
The Hunter.
The Godfather.
Jack’s Return Home.
The Killer Inside Me.
Savages.
King Suckerman 

None of these books are about cops and robbers in the traditionally accepted sense of the idea. Yes, some of them (Jack’s Return Home, Savages and The Hunter) are about hunting down a guilty party and punishing them, but the very nature of normal good vs evil in these books is very much subverted (often one kind of criminal hunting another who has broken accepted rules of engagement, in which case the books become less of a whodunnit and more of an exploration of ethical norms, which sounds dry when you put it like that but in practice is a hugely exciting approach).

They are all about people whose lives are affected in one way or another by criminal activity. As is, say, something like Trainspotting. Yes, whether or not Irvine Welsh is willing to admit to it he is a crime writer. His books are about people who transgress the normally accepted laws of society and the consequences (good and bad) of them doing that. Its what makes the books so appealing and exciting, and yet so few people think of them as crime novels because our idea of what the crime novel is and what it can do has become restricted. 

But even those that work within established parameters can be writing about more than the simple thrill of seeing the bad guys get their comeuppance. Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder books are, on the surface, accomplished PI novels that riff off a long history of the archetype, echoing works by Chandler, MacDonald and so forth. But what Block wound up doing - the thing that made his books far more interested - was making his novels not simply about solving a crime, but also about a place: New York City. These books show the changing face of the Big Apple as Scudder and the city age together. People, places and feelings change as the novels move in more or less real time. And more than that - because many crime novels can be about place, although few will be as evocative as Block - they are also about alcoholism and addiction. Making Matt an alcoholic - and dealing with that in a very emotionally honest way, exploring what that means and allowing the reader to gain a deeper sense of a difficult topic. Its part of what crime fiction does so well; give the reader a rollicking story on which to lean, while dealing (often more effectively than literary novels) with sometimes difficult topics, or opening us up to worlds we might not know or understand (which is why I’ve never understood people who read books only about places or thing they know; the joy of reading is being opened up to new worlds and new ideas, even when that may make us uncomfortable or somehow challenge us). 

It was the same with Ross MacDonald, who frequently explored family dynamics and psychology under the guise of a classic PI novel. Or James Ellroy who explodes the cliches of the hardboiled and procedural genres while exploring deep-set corruption in people and establishments, and hightighting the all-consuming power of obsession. Or - to bring it closer to home - Ian Rankin exploring Scottish politics through the medium of police procedural; dealing with real-world situations right alongside the fictional cases (I’m thinking very specifically here of when he used the G8 summit in his novels but he has of course at various fictionalised crimes that cut to the heart of the Scottish landscape). The best crime novels use the so-called constraints of genre to explore a wide variety of issues. And of course the best ones don’t offer easy answers, but challenge the readers to explore their own reactions to the story.

Crime novels - and especially msyteries, when done well - can be the ultimate red herring, in and of themselves. They can be far more than they appear. And they can be wider, deeper-reaching, than perhaps popular consensus might give them credit for. 

Russel D Mclean’s J McNee novels (The Good Son, The Lost Sister and Father Confessor) are dark, violent PI tales set in Dundee Scotland that are as much about guilt, loyalty, betrayal and family as they are about very bad people doing very bad things. Visit his website at www.russeldmcleanbooks.com, or follow him on twitter @russeldmclean 
 

I have just finished Father Confessor and it is a cracking read which epitomises everything he has said above. If you enjoy and agree with his post then read his book and see him put his money where his mouth is.

Feel free to comment below.

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

 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Setting the Location

As an author one of the first decisions we make is the location of where our story will take place. Be it a bustling metropolis, sleepy village or a particular inner-city estate. Even a single building or vessel can be used ie Die Hard or HMS Ulysses. 

Sometimes the place where a novel is set can play such a big part as to assume the mantle of a character. The best example of this I can think of is the Fry and Cooper series by Stephen Booth where the Derbyshire countryside plays a massive part of all the novels. 

Once a location or setting has been decided upon it will influence lots of other factors such as character names (You don’t get many Jock McTavish’s in rural Italy), dialect and the social standing of the characters. 

When authors get it right and there are no silly inconsistencies like a stockbroker living on a sink estate or a petty thief owning a country house then everything about the novel just falls into place. 

Sometimes a limited area like Nakatomi Tower or the ship itself in HMS Ulysses can crowd the action and characters together to ensure that the pace of the story keeps the reader gripped and thus the pages turning. HMS Ulysses in particular with the constant threat of being sunk by u-boat wolf packs or the shadowy presence of the Tirpitz (a feared German battleship) envelops the reader in the claustrophobia of a ship at war in the North Atlantic. On the other side of the coin the sweeping African plains gave Wilbur Smith a perfect setting for his novels and his obvious love for the country shone through every descriptive phrase. 

My own story Suburban Combat was set in a leafy cul-de-sac and I had to make sure that I didn’t use foul language or slang terms when writing the dialogue as it would have been totally wrong coming from characters who lived in such a suburb. 

Any examples of novels or short stories where the setting or location becomes a character would be gratefully received in the comments.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Update and News

Ok folks I'm back.

After having the trip to Harrogate for the festival I have been snowed under with work, reviewing, transcribing interviews and life in general.
During this hiatus I was honoured to be given a sneak peek at a novel which won't be out until April at the soonest. It was the fantastic Killer at the End of the Line by David Thomas. I've got to know David quite well (in an online kind of way) over the last couple of years and when I got the chance of this sneak peek I couldn't refuse despite being very busy. TKATEOTL is set before during and after the second world war and is a harrowing account of one man's journey through some of the worst atrocities of Nazi Germany. By turns it is shocking, tender, thought provoking and all the while extremely entertaining. It is already my top tip for 2013's must read list.

Since I last posted. My short story Kansas Kindred Killers has been included in an anthology called Flashy Shorts after coming fourth in a competition. It can be found here along with my story are all the other placed tales.

I have also been lucky enough to win another competition with my story Pursuit in the Penfiction competition. They are looking for short story submissions so if you're a writer head over and send them something of yours.

For those who haven't read Pursuit, it is below. Please feel free to comment.


They ran screaming from him, scattering to all points of the compass. Their young minds calculating the best way to escaper their pursuer. He selected one girl as his target and focused on her. She was eight and was one of the least athletic children present that day. She would provide the easiest catch as her chubby waistline would make her slow and unwieldy.
Her bulk was nearly as great as his, which meant he’d have a realistic chance of catching her. She was running away from him as fast as her legs would take her. Pigtails and shrieks flew over her shoulder towards him.
The father observed with pride as the son hunted down his prey.
Now only thirty feet separated them and the girl was looking increasing fearful as she knew she was gaining ground. The only sounds coming from her mouth were gasping asthmatic breaths. No scream or shrieks came now. Every mouthful of air was forced into her lungs to oxygenate the driving pistons that were her legs.
She was terrified of being caught by her pursuer as she knew exactly what his intentions were.
Twenty feet behind her, the thumping of his superior weight sent great echoes forward increasing her desperation. She had an idea and veered towards the creek.
By the time she had crested the ridge which started the slope down to the burbling water the gap had closed to ten feet.
She heard the shout of encouragement as the father drove him on after her. She’d never trusted the old man with his pointy face and stinky breath.
Now she was heading down a steeper slope and was struggling to keep both legs below her torso. The mysterious force called gravity gave her upper body propulsion the lower half lacked. A fall now would signal the end of her escape attempt.
She glanced over her shoulder to see where he was. Her eyes opened wider as she saw he was now within a couple of feet of her. He saw the panic in her pupils and laughed a cruel laugh which further twisted the knot of nerves in her stomach.
Her attention snapped back to her chosen route. A sapling tree lay straight in front of her so she veered left and executed her plan.
As the tree drew level with her shoulder, she flung out an arm and used the infant oak as a pivot. Her momentum carried her through one hundred and eighty degrees and sent her panting back up the slope.
The move worked, as her hunter shot past the tree before copying the trick and resuming the chase. She had gained herself twenty feet with the manoeuvre and his breathing was becoming more ragged by the second, as he too toiled up the slope.
She didn’t look back until she reached the top of the slope. The glimpse she afforded herself was fatal, as her tired legs no longer obeyed her demands. Left and right legs collided when he was a mere five feet behind her.
He paused gasping for air while as she hauled herself back to her feet with unshed tears in wide brown eyes. When she was stood beside him, he touched her arm and said one damning word.
‘Tag.’