Monday, 1 April 2013

Mo Hayder Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 25 March 2013

Introducing a Man with a Gun

Raymond Chandler once said. “If you are suffering from writer's block. Introduce a man with a gun.” Or words to a similar effect. 

He didn’t mean that literally a man with a gun had to turn up. What he meant was – make something happen, stir things up a bit. As a writer there are lots of things that can be done to stave off the dreaded block.  

Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with as ways to shift focus. 

  • Injure someone: a trip, slip or burn can set in motion a chain of events which may be used to add characterisation or conflict. eg, “you could have told me that was there / slippy/ hot”
  • A minor character such as a neighbour or postman can deliver something which will move events on. Ideas include divorce papers, severed finger or a ransom note.
  • A telephone call, email, text or social media discovery can also be used to progress events.
  • Cut to a different thread and come back to the scene after a while. You may have had an epiphany while working on the other thread or written something which can be used in the area you are stuck on.
  • Move the characters to a different location. It doesn’t have to be far, another room would do but by moving them you are moving the story and offering up new things to be used for conflict. eg “ For fuck’s sake. Will you switch off that TV / food blender / lawnmower when I’m trying to talk to you.” Result = instant conflict.
  • Introduce a man with a gun. Why not? It’ll certainly give you something to write about. Obviously “gun” can be substituted by any other weapon you want to have the man use. 

Naturally you can’t keep bringing a man into the room or moving locations, but you can mix and match a bit to get yourself out of any dead ends. Dead ends are of course also good for mystery writers as they raise tension. 

I’m incredibly fortunate in that I haven’t ever really had to deal with writers block. With me it’s more a case of trying not to forget all the ideas I keep having for things to put into my novel. 

Please leave comments on ways that you cure this dreaded disease or have a gloat that you've never suffered from it.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Lots to Look Forward to

I have been absent from my blog for a wee bit as Mrs The Wife insisted I lay down my laptop and pick up a paintbrush. After months to delaying tactics I finally ran out of excuses. We now have a new look kitchen which is somewhat brighter than it was. I hate the boredom of painting so when I held that brush my mind wandered in the direction of things to look forward to. 

So, for the lack of something better to say here is what I am gonna be enjoying in 2013 

First off I’ve a story in Near to the Knuckle’s debut anthology “Gloves Off” My tale is about revenge, lies and retribution.  It’s an emotive subject I’ve tackled and my story will either entertain or repulse you. 

Also in the anthology are Richard Godwin, David Barber, Aidan Thorn, Paul Brazill, Gareth Spark and a whole host of other excellent writers. It’ll be on sale next week so look out for it and buy it to read the other guys stories. Any comments about me lowering the tone will be entirely accurate. 

Next up is a fantastic new crime fiction festival titled “Murder In Moffat” On the 20th and 21st of April top names such as Christopher Brookmyre, Michael Malone, Alex Gray and Lin Anderson. Tickets start from as little as £5. More information including a programme and booking details can be found at 

In July I’ll be making my annual pilgrimage to the spa town of Harrogate for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival. I’ll be doing my usual rounds of interviews and will be talking crime, writing and rubbish depending on the time of day and amounts of alcohol consumed.

The last big event on my calendar will be Bloody Scotland in September. Info at (they haven’t yet updated it from 2012)

On top of all this excitement I will be hosting Mo Hayder and Tom Bale on my Blog in April, with the possibility of other top authors in the coming months. Lee Child’s name has been mentioned (to me not by me!!)

Life is good. Or it would be if Mrs The Wife wasn’t hovering over me with a paint chart.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Creating Different Character Threads to Form a Tapestry

How often have you been engrossed in an exciting part of a book only for the chapter to end, then when you start the next chapter you find the author has moved to a different character altogether?

This shifting of a novel’s emphasis is one of the many tools in an author’s armoury. It allows the author to create a cliff-hanger or two keeping the pages turning. 

Character threads don’t have to be about the hero, victim or villain. Sometimes they can be of a minor character that has an important piece of information or sub-plot to share with readers. 

These different threads can also be used to help with the ebb and flow of a novel and with the aforementioned cliff-hangers, are a great way of building a tension over a large amount of the novel. 

The best example of a book which uses this technique is the second installment of Lord of the Rings (The Two Towers). Tolkien tells the reader three separate stories by interspersing the action between various characters that had been split up at the end of book one.

Authors may also use varying points of view between chapters to add different perspectives to the same thread or multiple threads. Matt Hilton (next week’s guest blogger) writes his main character in a first person POV and all others in a third person. This lets him have different threads while retaining the urgency of first person point of view. 

When you analyse books as I do (I’m always trying to learn) then you can see the mechanics better and I cannot think offhand of many authors who continually write with just one character thread.
Any suggestions would be welcome.
P.S. It's Crime and Publishment this weekend. We still have a place or two available if anyone wants to attend.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Baiting Your Hook

As a crime reader, writer and reviewer one of the things that interests me most is that all important first paragraph. A good one grabs me straight away while a bad one turns the air a kind of sweary blue colour. 

A good opening paragraph draws the reader into the book and immerses them in the story from the get go. Small errors later in the novel are forgiven or ignored because the reader is so engrossed in the story. Beware though, when it’s bad the reader may never make it far enough to read all the really good bits of your novel or story. 

Mundane everyday routine is a serious no no in any part of a novel and doubly so in the opening chapter let alone that all important first paragraph. What the reader wants is for something to happen and it’s gotta be exciting. We want a kidnap, violence or the discovery of a body to get our pulses racing. Introspection, routine and banality are not what crime readers want to start off with. Sure, use them as character displaying tools later on to round out your novel but wait until the reader cares about the characters. 

Take for example these two opening lines I’ve just made up. One should tickle your interesting bits while the other is blander than white fish with plain rice. 

·         Detective John Harrison washed the plate, returned it to the cupboard and trudged exhausted up the stairs. Creeping into his children’s bedrooms he kissed them both goodnight before undressing in the master bedroom. The hall light shone onto his wife’s beautiful face and he was tempted to wake her, to tell her of his long boring day shuffling endless forms. Deciding against it he slipped beneath the quilt and fell asleep in seconds.

·         The severed head of a child bounced off my windscreen as I pursued the Corvette. Blood splattered the now starred glass. Two months I had been chasing the McAvoy brothers. Their paedophile ring was going to get shut down. Today! Reaching beneath my jacket I un-holstered the Sig Sauer I always carried.

The first instance is to my mind bland and dull. It shows Harrison as being mostly desk bound and any cop who lives at home with a wife and kids is unlikely to be interesting to a reader unless he has a double life. This could only be used as an opening paragraph if the next paragraph was the one where the action kicked off.

The second instance starts you right in the action with a car chase, murder and paedophilia (surely the most despicable crime) there is also the prospect of revenge or vigilante action and the pulling of the gun announces its imminent arrival.

Get it right and you’re onto a winner right away. Get it wrong and you are struggling to retain your reader’s interest.

Please share your thoughts as to the opening lines that have grabbed you by the throat and forced you to keep reading or the ones which have repelled you.
PS Don't forget about Crime and Publishment. A three day series of writing classes culminating in the chance to pitch your novel to an agent. More info can be found at

Monday, 11 February 2013

Describing a Lead Character

I went to the pub the other night and ended up being asked by two different reader friends, about a certain vertically challenged actor playing the role of a six foot five character. Both conversations got me thinking about how characters are described to readers.

Where do you start and stop when describing your lead character? Do you give a comprehensive description that is practically a photofit, do you circle round the lead darting in with the odd detail or do you say nothing?

Take the aforementioned character – Jack Reacher. We know he’s a big guy, Lee Child tells us that in every book. But what colour are his eyes? Has he a square jaw like Dolph Lundgren or is he a pretty boy like Johnny Depp? Has he scars? I guess his teeth are in good nick due to his one possession – the folding toothbrush – but other than that I don’t know what he looks like other than my own mental image. His age is never given out, although you can work it out from the clues Lee Child leaves.

I like this style of description or rather lack of it. It gives me some ownership of the character. A lot of my favourite authors employ this kind of faceless lead where the reader is given broad details but only enough to form an outline. Then the reader can colour in the character as they see them.

Fleming never gave Bond a face in the books, although we all now picture Connery, Brosnan, Moore, Craig or God forbid Lazenby. Billingham’s Tom Thorne, MacBride’s Logan McRae, Sharp’s Charlie Fox and Hilton’s Joe Hunter are also faceless characters who we the readers give faces to.

Lee Child has openly said that whoever got the part of Reacher would be wrong for the majority (can’t remember the percentage and I’m too busy to do research for such a minor point) of fans and I agree with this sentiment. Just look at any discussion as to which actor or actress would play which character or other. What you end up with is a whole host of names thrown into the hat which some agree with and others don’t.

What makes my teeth itch are massively detailed drawings of characters which are unnecessary. Sure tell me the lead’s eye colour if you want. But I don’t care about the colour of the newsagents eyes if it has no relevance to the story. Don’t waste half a page telling me shit I don’t need to know about someone I don’t care about. Be warned if you do the faceless masses will take me away with them and I won’t return to your novel.  

Johnathan Kellerman gives such detailed description of clothes and perfume that I have taken my readership elsewhere due to physically feeling the tension being stolen from the story. What makes this such a shame is the fact he writes otherwise brilliant novels.

Stuart MacBride once described a character as “a baldy wee fuck of a man”. To my mind you don’t need any more than that to give the reader a snapshot of the character and in MacBride’s example the character’s character.

Please drop a comment below about how you deal with character description.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Local Dialect

As writers, we all like to give a flavour of the area where we have set our stories. Accents and local terminology are there to be played with and if you tell the reader that a character is from a certain region then they will automatically attribute the accent to their dialogue.

The issue is explaining local terminology to the reader, as the characters who inhabit the story know what the local lingo means.

The best example I can think of for dealing with this problem is the Lennox series of novels by Craig Russell. His main protagonist is a Canadian living in Glasgow. Through his first person viewpoint Russell will use a passage like “I followed him into the alley, or close as they call it here” near the start of the novel and then later on when Lennox “ducks into a close” the reader already has the information needed to translate. Matt Hilton did something very similar when he had one of his characters travel to Manchester from America for a chapter or two.

 I’ve set my novel in Cumbria which has a very distinctive dialect all of its own. Some phrases which are used everyday include (apologies to all Cumbrians for any spelling errors)

“a’s gan yam” – I’m going home

“seck like” – such like

“charver” – man / lad / boy

“bewer” – woman / lady / girl

“nashed after I went chawing” – Ran away after I was stealing

There are only so many times that you can have one character explain to another the local lingo, so a lot of the time I have had to refine the language used. Also with Cumbrian being a largely unknown dialect I also have to remember that idiomatic phrases like “why-eye” or “or-hey are kid” are not even slightly relevant.

I still want to include the local language into my novel though so I made an important character a stranger to the region to allow me some wiggle room. After giving you five examples of local language I can now let you read this line of dialogue which is written in full local patois.

“This charver and bewer nashed past me as a was gan yam. I bet they’ve been chawing or seck like.”

Naturally that line is way way to regional to actually use in a novel but if I can find a way of giving a wee info dump on the local dialect (without it being obvious) then I can scatter odd words or terms into the characters dialogue to keep things authentic.

Feel free to comment on how you do or don't deal with this.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Vocabulary Vs Understanding

Us writers love language and it is our natural playground. There are few more satisfying things than a well crafted sentence which creates a setting or evokes an emotion in the reader.

However, there are times when we scribblers can go to far with stunning verbiage. I feel I have at worst an average vocabulary, yet there are times when I’ve been in conversation with colleagues or friends and have used a word or two which has made their eyes visibly glaze over.

As a reader myself there are few things than can pull me out of a story quicker than a word I don’t understand or even guess the context of. If the word is the name for something ancient and unknown to me, then I expect the writer to inform me of the object and its purpose, look or attraction. Being fair most do at some point in the novel. However the introduction of words which are not used in everyday language outside of a laboratory or space station have been known to cause a curse to erupt from my lips.

Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with words and finding double meanings for words so that I can twist them to my own purpose. It’s the usage of innocuous, inconsequential and hitherto un-encountered syntax which elicits the explosions of diatribe aimed at thesaurus swallowing linguists.

Don’t even get me started on those writers who litter their work with foreign languages with no explanation. I know that the British are not renowned for mutli-lingualism but there’s no need to ram the point home every other page. If you’re going to insert another language into a book written in English either explain it or kick its bahookey (A Scottish term for bottom) [see what I did there] right off the page. Local dialect and terminology is acceptable provided that an explanation is forthcoming.

As a writer I try to limit my use of long or obscure words. Yes I have picked up a dictionary or thesaurus to find a better word than the one I’ve written, but I will not use the replacement if I am in any way unsure of its connotation or possible interpretation. I try to keep my language relevant and use everyday language which is comprehensible to the majority of readers.

To summarise this post I would have to say “don’t use words which nobody else will understand” and yes I am aware that I have taken over four hundred words when the eight in quotation marks would have sufficed.

Feel free to tell me I’m right, wrong or even full of merde via the comments below. First person to point out the irony of the language I’ve used in the post will win a signed air guitar.

Monday, 14 January 2013


This week on my blog I have the bestselling author Chris Ewan. Chris's novel Safe House topped the kindle charts for most of December and was one of the best novels I read last year. Such was the brilliance of Safe House I voted for it to be entered into's top ten of 2012

Chris also writes The Good Thief's Guide To series and I have nothing but praise for this series. With tinder dry wit and excellent plotting the series is one which you miss at your peril. I've read the latest one (TGTGT Berlin) and it's a belter.

Enough from me, here's Chris talking about choosing the locations for his books.

When I’m starting work on planning a novel, location is one of the first things I need to settle on. Different locations conjure up different images and emotions in my mind, and it always helps me to find a location that complements the tone and style that I’m hoping to achieve. On top of that, the location I select tells me what is and isn’t going to be possible in the story I’m writing. For example, in Safe House, the Isle of Man setting helped me to conjure up a sense of isloation, even claustrophobia, and to explore the secrets that can exist in the smallest of communities. But equally, the location eliminated certain possibilities. I was never going to be writing about the working process of an FBI profiler or a tactical assault by a SWAT team down in Peel marina …

In terms of my series of Good Thief’s Guide mysteries about globetrotting burglar Charlie Howard, location plays an even more important role. When I first started the series, part of my goal was to try and combine elements of travel fiction with a crime novel. In the course of the books, Charlie has visited Amsterdam, Paris, Las Vegas and Venice. And, tough as it is, I’ve visited them all several times in the name of research, too.

When it came to writing the fifth entry in the series, I faced up to the dilemma of where to send Charlie next. For a while, I toyed with the idea of Prague or Barcelona. Istanbul became a real possibility. But ultimately, the location that excited me most was Berlin.

Why? Well there’s a fascinating tension at the heart of Berlin – a strikingly modern city that can’t escape its past. Hitler’s bunker is concealed beneath an ordinary-looking car park. The Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building, is topped by a glass and steel dome designed by an Englishman. Fragments of the Berlin Wall remain, and where the wall has been removed, a double-line of cobbles is stitched into the tarmac as a permanent reminder of Berlin’s Cold War history. Even some of the city’s inhabitants play a dual role – by night, the men who dress in US Army uniforms and pose for daytime photographs outside a mock-up of Checkpoint Charlie, perform in a troupe of male strippers.

I wanted to throw Charlie into this mix and to write about contemporary Berlin in a way that gave a nod to its extensive history, as well as the literary tradition of the Berlin-set espionage novel. The icing on the cake was the wonderful architectural backdrop for the action in the book that the city provides – from iconic structures like the Brandenburg Gate to hip and desirable residential zones in the former Eastern district, where graffiti colours the drab concrete apartment blocks, and where underground nightclubs and independent caf├ęs line the streets.

I loved writing The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin and I had a blast deciding where the action in the book should take place. But ultimately, it seems fitting to me that perhaps my favourite location to write about was one I never had the chance to visit at all. The Spree Park, an abandoned GDR amusement park, plays a pivotal role in the book. And really, what’s not to love about a deserted, socialist amusement park with rusting roller coasters and fake dinosaurs?


Chris Ewan is the bestselling author of the standalone thriller, Safe House, as well as five novels in The Good Thief’s Guide to… series of mystery novels. You can find him on Twitter @chrisewan or visit his website:


Monday, 7 January 2013

Choosing the Right Crime

I'm Back! Christmas has been Merry, New Year was Happy and the flu was something I coulda done without. Anyway normal service has been resumed and I won't bore you with my opinions on the best and worst of 2012. Instead I'm gonna talk about crime instead. 

As a crime writer one of the biggest and often hardest decisions to make is quite simply choosing the crime. We need a crime which has consequences in the near future if the criminals are not caught. Serial killers claiming another victim, kidnappers killing after the ransom goes unpaid, terrorist bombs going off or even a stolen wedding ring not being returned to the bride / groom in time for the wedding.

The police or detective solving the crime must have a deadline to increase tension. The greater the consequences then the greater the tension and drama created. 

Serial killers have been done so often there is little new ground to break unless you have a massively innovative idea. (If this idea involves vampires, ghosts or any other supernatural being then sadly it’s not innovative anymore.) 

Of course there are terrorist plots, but they can mean a whole different style of novel than the author intended writing. Historical finds or time slip novels are great too but they more than any other style need the author to show a massive amount of information to the reader without slowing the pace down. 

Kidnapping is a crime with its own built in timeline and consequences which is great, but again kidnapping has been done so often that there are few new angles to explore. Murder is fine for a whodunit, but if there is only one murder then there are no consequences to worry about and pace is replaced by a drilled down police procedural. 

High concept robbery is always good for a police procedural with the whodunit element thrown in. If plans for further robberies are found then you also have a plot driver as consequences have been introduced. Although I’d prefer the detective to “have” to solve this kind crime to save his job / get paid so he can pay his mortgage and prevent his wife from leaving as I care more about characters than corporations. 

Intercepting drugs shipments / human trafficking rings and so on are always fertile ground for writers as they have built in consequences and deadlines. Sex crimes tend to fall into the same bracket as serial killers, as they also have repeat offenders who escalate their spree and they generally kill their victims to cover their tracks.

Missing jewellery and lost pets are not on my reading or writing radar so I will pass no comment other than “get that fucking cat off my radar.”

So folks, what crimes do you choose to read and write?