Guest post: Sarah Hilary on ‘Killer Women’.

The lovely Sarah Hilary is on the blog today. Sarah’s debut novel ‘Someone Else’s Skin‘ won last year’s Theakston’s Old Peculier crime novel of the year last year. Her third book in the Marnie Rome series, ‘Tastes Like Fear‘ is out now. 

Tastes Like Fear

Sarah is on the blog today to tell us more about ‘Killer Women’. Thanks, Sarah, for taking the time to chat with us.

Vic x

Sarah Hilary, thriller of the month

Tell us a bit about Killer Women, please, Sarah.
Killer Women is a collective of crime writers in London and the South East. I’m the odd one out as I lived in London for years but I’m in Bath now. I was chuffed to bits when a vacancy came up and I was voted in.

Killer Women

And the festival…
This is the first ever Killer Women Festival, and a rare thing for London: a one-day crime writing festival. It’s been very generously sponsored by Audible (who publish such inspiring audio-books) and crime-fiction-enthusiast accountants HW Fisher, and it’s being held in Shoreditch Town Hall on Saturday 15th October 2016.

It seems mad that London didn’t already have a crime writing festival…
Doesn’t it? But we’re righting that wrong now. Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, Martina Cole and Mark Billingham are all top of the bill, and the festival itself is the brainchild of Mel McGrath and Louise Millar. I’m genuinely honoured and thrilled to be part of it.

Is it a women-only event?
Nope. The collective is all-female, but we have Mark Billingham headlining and last time I looked he was definitely a bloke!

Can you share any exclusives with us about the festival?
It’s early days, so watch this space … I can say that there are rumours of Killer Women cocktails which I’m very excited about. Oh, and we have a Killer Women Anthology coming out, published by Audible and with a foreword by Val McDermid. I really enjoying writing a suitably dark story for that.

I have to ask: what was it like to win the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award last year?
It was fabulous. I’ve been a fan of Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival for as long as I can remember, and so many of my heroes were on the long- and shortlists. It was a real thrill to win, and to have votes from so many lovely readers playing a part in that. I’m keeping the barrel (trophy) very well polished!

And you’re doing Creative Thursday this year, aren’t you? Are you allowed to tell us what you have planned?
Ah, yes. Alex Marwood (another Killer Woman) and I are plotting this right now. We’re going to have a good natter about the different ways you can write a Whydunnit and share our top tips for success. It should be good.

Killer Women publications

You can sign up for the Killer Women newsletter to receive special discounts/prizes.

Guest post: Howard Linskey on the joy of publication.

Howard Linskey’s writing career is going from strength to strength, his David Blake trilogy earned him a shed-load of fans and today sees the release of his fifth book ‘Behind Dead Eyes‘. Howard has taken time out of his manic schedule to talk to us about a very special day in any writer’s life – publication day. 

Thanks for being involved, Howard, I can’t wait to read the book! 

Vic x

‘Publication Day’
By Howard Linskey

It’s that special day when a year’s worth of writing, groaning, editing, moaning, more editing, wailing and gnashing of teeth, followed by yet more editing, finally culminates in an actual tangible thing appearing that previously existed only in my head. Yep, it’s publication day and the book is finally here!

Behind Dead Eyes

Behind Dead Eyes’ is published by Penguin on 19th May. It doesn’t matter how many books you have written before, and I have written a few, publication day still feels damn special. That lovely feeling of seeing your book in an actual shop doesn’t get old I can tell you, and if I ever get blasé about it that might be the time to stop writing… or someone could just shoot me instead, with my permission. If you can’t get excited by seeing that novel of yours on a bookshelf, or in my case on a table right by the door in my local Waterstones, accompanied by a poster in the window, then you are most probably tired of life.

This is my second book for Penguin and my fifth book published under my own name, or my sixth if you include the children’s non-fiction book I wrote a while back… or my eighth, if you include the two published under a pseudonym… or my tenth if you add in the two early efforts that remain, as yet, unpublished. Ten books, nearly 900,000 words in total and there are days when I still feel like a bit of an imposter. It was several years before I was able to tell people I am an author or that I have a literary agent and a publisher because it always sounded a bit implausible, even to me. It was as if an inner voice was saying to me ‘yes but you’re not a real author not like those other folk who write books that get published and… oh… well, maybe you are then.’ I guess it always felt a bit too good to be true after years of rejections and for so long being what is now termed an ‘aspiring author’, before I finally reached the point where people actually wanted to publish my work.

Behind Dead Eyes’ tells the story of a convicted murderer who swears he is innocent, along with the mystery of an unidentifiable corpse and a teenager who has vanished without trace. Reporters Tom Carney and Helen Norton are reunited with Detective Sergeant Ian Bradshaw, as they attempt to discover the truth

We are having a bit of fun with this launch too. George Foster, Penguin’s marketing genius, came up with a cracking idea to celebrate the launch of ‘Behind Dead Eyes’. He produced these wonderful coffee cups that will be available in coffee shops in Durham and Newcastle. If you buy a cup from the venues below, just take a pic and tweet a photo with the hashtag #BehindDeadEyes and tag the coffee shop. You could win a signed copy of my book, plus a year’s worth of Penguin Crime novels. Not bad for the price of a cappuccino.

Newcastle: Olive & Bean, Cake Stories & Sutra Tea Company

Durham: Flat White & Treats Tea Room

Noir at the Bar hits Moffat

As many of you know, I have arranged the first ever Noir at the Bar in the north east of England for Wednesday, 1st June. However, the north west is streets ahead of us – first came Glasgow, then Carlisle. Now – Noir at the Bar hits Moffat. It’s happening this Thursday (19th) and writer LP Mennock is here to tell us what to expect!

Vic x

In between Glasgow and Carlisle is a little town in Dumfries and Galloway called Moffat. Two minutes off the M74, which runs between Glasgow and the top of the M6 where it leaves Cumbria, Moffat is becoming a hub for writers of all varieties and hues. Crime Writing is steadily increasing in popularity there. You’d be surprised at how many people in Moffat who look quite normal as you pass them in the street are actually plotting to dispose of dead bodies, or wondering what would happen if you pushed someone under that passing lorry.

Writers who are serious about gore, bedlam and bloody violence seem to proliferate in the D&G area, so Moffat Crime Writers was formed to enable them to talk about their disturbing fixation. With a number of writers already either published or waiting for their book to be launched, and the others chomping at the bit to be the next one to get a publishing deal, the enthusiasm and friendly competition is fierce. Who will be next to finish their book? What is their book about? When will you be able to read it?

Enter Daren Welch, owner of The Moffat Bookshop. Daren is an enthusiastic proponent of bringing good writers to Moffat. Together with Graham Smith who runs the Crime and Publishment masterclass weekend and Linda Wright of Moffat Crime Writers, he’s organising book events so that folk within reach of this sleepy little town can all gather to meet writers they will enjoy without having to take a weekend to go to a festival.

On Thursday May 19th 2016 at 7pm there’s an Evening of Crime in Moffat. Three writers: international thriller writer Matt Hilton, together with crime writers Graham Smith and Mike Craven (top 5 finalist in the Crime Writer’s Association Debut Dagger Award) form ‘Crime Ink-corporated’ and will be appearing at the Buccleuch Hotel to talk about their books, their ideas and to sign their books. In addition, there will be an opportunity to hear some of the Moffat Crime Writers read. Jackie Baldwin, Irene Paterson, Christine Huntley and I will introduce the audience to some of the delights to be found in their work. From cozy crime to hard-nosed Glasgow violence, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat as you listen to them share their darkest thoughts with you.

And it’s free. It’s based loosely on the ‘Noir in the Bar’ concept that is making its way from Scotland down to England. Originating in the US of A, ‘Noir in the Bar’ has been a success for some time in Glasgow. Carlisle hosted the first English ‘Noir in the Bar’ in March, and Newcastle will be following suit in June. It’s a great location to allow fellow crime aficionados to gather for the evening.

Grab a drink and join us in a relaxed environment as we talk of murder and mayhem over a pint or two. Or coffee – we welcome everyone!

Review: ‘The Other Half of my Heart’ by Stephanie Butland

The Other Half of my Heart

Bettina May has opened a bakery in the village of Throckton and she’s a hit with the locals. Bettina, though, is hiding from something – and the memory of an event that Bettina has been running from for fifteen years is about to confront her and send her safe life into a spin.

Having read Stephanie Butland’s debut novel ‘Surrounded by Water‘ (later retitled ‘Letters to my Husband‘), it was a pleasure to return to Throckton and catch up on the lives of the characters from the first book. However, the real pleasure for me in this book was meeting Bettina May, the secretive newcomer.

Bettina’s passion for bread and baking really appealed to the bread-addict in me and I found myself salivating over some of the tantalising descriptions of Bettina’s creations! I thought it was a great idea to put some recipes at the end of the book, too.

The cover may suggest that this is chick-lit, which it is to some extent but it is so much more than that, too. The relationships portrayed in ‘The Other Half of my Heart‘ are complex and completely believable. Stephanie Butland does not shy away from tackling uncomfortable topics and I respect her for the honest but sensitive way she portrays the issues in this book.

The slow-burn of having Bettina’s current life interspersed with flashback chapters really made me care about the central character as well as being able to empathise with her regarding the predicament she finds herself in. I found myself in tears several times during this story because I cared so much about Bettina.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Michael J. Malone

Today, we have the inimitable Michael J. Malone on the blog to delve into his writing life, with special regard given to his Glasgow DI Ray McBain. 

In addition to writing a successful series, Michael is responsible for assisting Graham Smith with Crime and Publishment and it was a pleasure to get an insight into Michael’s expertise at Gretna. Graham Smith sang Michael’s praises, saying: ‘Michael’s input is greatly valued and he is an integral part of the event’s burgeoning success’. 

I hope you enjoy getting to know Michael as much as I have!

Vic x

Bad Samaritan

McBain seems very popular. Did you always intend him to be a recurring character?
I had no plan whatsoever when I started writing from his perspective. The opening for my debut crime novel, ‘Blood Tears‘ came to me in a vivid dream and it involved a man in front of a mirror, holding a white mask and a scalpel – you need to read the book to find out what happened next – and it occurred to me when I woke up that this could be a serial killer celebrating his “kill”. And if I was writing a serial killer, I needed a cop. McBain was born. And the moment he appeared on the page, he was there, fully-formed as if I’d known him all my life.

How do you find writing a series?
Being with a smaller publisher I have the luxury of being “allowed” to mix it up a little so I have been able to switch from writing about one central character to another, which I find has helped me keep things fresh. Good things about writing a series? The world you are writing about is there in your mind, you just need to jump back in and run with it – no need to set things up. And when you’ve had a break from them it feels good to encounter them again. It’s like running into a friend. Dislike? The worry that there will come a time when you have said everything that this character has to say. What do you do then?

What was your inspiration for ‘Bad Samaritan‘?
I knew that events in ‘Blood Tears‘ had to be resolved – being careful of spoilers here – and the serial killer I mentioned earlier with the mask, would need to sort things out between him and McBain once and for all.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
Learn your craft. Learn how to accept feedback. Grow a hard shell. Make resilience your middle name.

Most useful piece of writing advice? Who was it from?
You can never go wrong with the wisdom of Stephen King as evidenced in his writing memoir, ‘On Writing‘. And then there’s a very dear friend of mine – seasoned novelist with over 40 novels under her belt – Margaret Thomson Davis. After I finished my very first novel she was the first person I phoned to tell. (Most of my friends at that point were non-writers and wouldn’t have had a clue what this meant.)

The conversation went like this:

Me – “Margaret, I’ve just typed those two little words.”
Her – “WayHAY!! The End. Well done, Michael, well done.”
Then without a moment’s pause she asked: “What are you writing next?”

She was such a professional and had such a work ethic that there was little time for congratulations. There was a moment to savour the achievement – and then without allowing procrastination/ self-doubt/ a writers’ fears back in – it was straight on to the next book. I don’t always manage this, but it has resulted in a reasonable output over the years.

What’s next for you?
I have a new release in September that I am really excited about. It will be published with that force of nature, Karen Sullivan over at Orenda Books. It is an issue led domestic noir/ psych thriller called ‘A Suitable Lie‘.

Sounds great, I’m looking forward to reading it already! Thanks for being involved, Michael – it’s been great having you on Elementary V Watson. 

Guest post: Emma Whitehall on Performing Your Work.

Today, I have the very gifted Emma Whitehall on the blog to give some advice on performing your work. I’ve seen Emma read on numerous occasions and I can attest to how brilliantly she performs. 

I think most of us could do with taking some tips from Emma. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Emma!

Vic x

Performing Your Work.

Emma Whitehall

            I was sitting in a pub in York when it hit me. I was surrounded by writers I didn’t know, all of us reading our work aloud for an audience. I was excited to be around new voices so that I could listen to the work without my reaction being clouded by the speaker being a good friend.

I was listening to a gentleman reading, when I noticed how little confidence he had in reading his own work. He would finish the last word of the last line, and almost before the word were out of his mouth, they were swallowed up by “andthenextpoemisabout…” No change in his speech pattern, no pause to let his words be absorbed by his audience – and, worst of all, no time for us as an audience to show our appreciation of his work. I was genuinely enjoying his work, but the edges of his poetry blurred into his unscripted introductions, making his reading a bit of a mess.

It got me thinking about all the times I’ve seen this from writers. People who have great words, but little to no experience speaking in front of a crowd, who are frightened or ignorant of the audience, and who squander their opportunity to get their voice – and their work – heard. They mumble, they stare at the floor or their piece of paper, and make a dash from the stage as soon as they finish reading.

I came into writing from five years studying performing arts. I’d always written for my own amusement, but my love at the time was the stage. Even now, ten years on, I get a thrill from being on-stage that is unmatchable. Because I’ve always had a knack for learning lines (as well as my crippling social anxiety making it difficult to make friends), I spent a lot of those years performing monologues. I learned of spoken word from Jessica Johnson, co-founder of one of the best, most boisterous, raucous, and talent-filled nights I’ve ever been to – Pink Lane Poetry and Performance. I cut my teeth there, before moving on to open mics like Jibba Jabba, Hot Words at the Chilli (now The Stanza), and Poetry Jam, where I moved from writing my own monologues into creating short stories, and eventually into poetry. A lot of writers I know got into performance poetry the other way around – finding platforms to read their work at after spending months, if not years, writing.

Here’s the hard truth; if you want to read your work aloud, you have to be able to perform. Anyone who has listened to teenagers read Shakespeare can tell you; even the most wonderful words, filled with the most beautiful meaning, can be made to sound terrible coming from unconfident or uninterested speakers. You wrote these words because something in you felt a spark of inspiration – when reading aloud, your voice is what passes that spark along, just as much as the words on the page. Reading your work at events can be a great way to establish a new following, and hopefully help you sell your work, so it is worth learning how to do it well.

I decided to write this article to try and pass on what I’ve learned in the four years (how has it been that long?!) that I’ve been performing my own work. However scary the stage can look, don’t worry – it is conquerable, and can even be exhilarating and deeply rewarding.

Be Prepared – Learning poems off by heart is difficult for some people, but you will be far less nervous when you get on-stage if you have a grasp of the poem and how you want to perform it. Plus, if you are constantly looking down at a page, your voice will hit the paper, making it more difficult for you to be heard. My favourite tip is to learn a few lines at a time, building and building upon it as you go, until you can recite the whole thing. Run it to yourself while you do the housework, just before bed, or – if you feel brave – when you have a quiet moment at work.

Nerves are normal – Everyone gets nervous before getting on-stage to perform. You are baring a part of yourself when you show people your own work. But I promise you – it’s never as daunting as it seems once you are up there. Take a deep breath, smile, and go for it!

Projecting – Projecting is about making your voice as loud and clear as you can. This can take a while to get the hang of, but the best way is to imagine your voice moving in a straight line, hitting the back of the room. A good warm up is to hum with a closed mouth. Play around until you feel the sound vibrations tingling your lips. This is the correct place for your voice to be “coming from” to be heard well when you speak.

Eye contact – Everyone has different levels of comfort with this, but part of performing is connecting with your audience. It could help to have a friendly face in the crowd to “perform to” – although I purposely avoid my boyfriend’s gaze when he comes to see me perform. However you feel, a good trick is to aim your eyes at the top of someone’s head, or sweep a general portion of the crowd – with the bright lights, there’s a good chance you can’t make out any individuals anyway!

NO APOLOGISING – Sometimes, things will go wrong. I personally had a nightmarish open mic slot a few months ago, where I panicked as soon as I got on-stage, and wobbled and stumbled my way through a poem that I’d known off by heart only a few minutes earlier. But, when I tearfully talked to my friends about it, my performance hadn’t been nearly as terrible as I thought – they’d noticed me pause a few times, but the performance on the whole was ok. The thing to remember is this: if you read your own work, no one else knows the piece. They don’t know if you mixed up two adjectives, or if a long pause is a deliberate dramatic choice or a lost line. And, if you don’t panic and apologise, you have the chance to take a good, deep breath, calm yourself, and begin the line again. Which brings me to my next point…

Pauses are your friend – Silences on stage can be terrifying – sometimes, even more so than actually speaking. But a well placed silence can help your words really land with impact. Chose them carefully, and with purpose. If you are scared of the “Oh, are they finished?” reaction at the end of a piece, give the audience a small nod and say “thank you.” I often find myself crossing my feet and bowing a little at the waist, but that’s the actor in me. Also – and I can’t stress this enough – let the audience applaud you. Don’t try and talk over them if you can, and certainly don’t rush off-stage, no matter how tempting. They liked your work and they want to show you that – enjoy it!

Utilise your time – I’ve been guilty in the past of performing tiny poems; only four or five lines long. And while I love these poems, sometimes you are done and off-stage before the audience can really get a feel for who you are and what you do. Be mindful of time. If you are lucky enough to be asked to do a set of pieces, pick them carefully, and run the whole set before you perform it, timing yourself. You want to make the most of your time on-stage, and showcase your work properly. However, be very wary of seeming self-indulgent. One of my biggest bugbears at an open mic is a performer hogging the microphone, outstaying their welcome or even going back a second or third time! Everyone deserves a chance to perform, and one amazing piece is better than three lukewarm ones. Learn to use your time on-stage wisely.

Find your people – Performance poets are, in my experience, some of the warmest, funniest, most accepting and supporting people I’ve met. Talk to people – compliment their work, find them on social media, ask them questions. As a whole, we love to chat! There are always workshops, writing groups, and open mic nights to attend that will help you improve. In the North East, we have Scratch Tyne; a monthly workshop, where writers are invited to work on their pieces in an accepting, constructive environment. Sometimes there is a theme, sometimes we just play around and see what happens. New voices in the community only brings more interesting, diverse work, so make yourself known!

I am not a “performance poet” – at least, not in the way a lot of people I know are. I don’t want to perform for a living, or create a one-woman show for the Fringe Festival. But performing my work has led to some of the best things in my life. I’ve made friends, had amazing experiences, and grown as a writer in ways I never could have if I stuck strictly to the page. I hope my advice has made the stage a little less daunting, and maybe you can find a new angle which can help your writing grow and reach new audiences you maybe never imagined before. Break a leg!

Guest post: James A. Tucker on ‘Game of Thrones’.

‘Game of Thrones’ returns to TV screens this week. Here is writer James A. Tucker to discuss the books, series and what should happen next.

Thanks for being involved, James!

Vic x

James A. Tucker on ‘Game of Thrones’. 

Observe your reaction when I say the following words:

Game of Thrones.

It probably runs through a spectrum.  A person not unconnected with this blog suffers constant attempts by her boyfriend to make her read the book or watch the TV series, and hence associates it with annoyance. Some of my friends go into rapture; music starts playing in their heads and their eyes take on what Peter Dinklage, the biggest star of Thrones, calls the “Nerd Glaze”. Others feel deep disquiet and worry at the cruelty and sexism you will find therein. There are people like me who sometimes would rather the TV series had never happened. There are rabid fans who troll the author online for not writing fast enough.

All this rich pageant of humanity is worthy of notice, but for me, the most interesting ones are those who like it despite themselves. Grace Dent, The Independent critic, once wrote one of the most scathing (and funny) slaggings-off of fantasy fiction and fans that I have ever read. However, she likes Thrones. Other watchers you might not expect are Sue Perkins and Clive James, who broke his rule about never having anything to do with dragons.

Those beasts do not appear for a while; there are no elves, hobbits or orcs, little supernatural, and the only dwarf is the kind we know from real life. This is reassuring for those who have trouble with such things. Although being a scientist and a nitpicker, I still see plenty of magic around in things such as the hundred-metre high ice wall.

It takes more than an absence to make something popular; so instead of those fantastical elements, it draws upon real-world history. The various atrocities, treacheries, villainies and iniquities are strongly reminiscent of the Wars of the Roses, or ancient Rome. A certain notorious wedding was based upon real events from Scottish history (The Black Dinner/Glencoe Massacre).

There are some good characters, including superb love-to-hate villains, although very few are black and white; a man who threw a child off a tower in episode 1 is now commonly regarded as sympathetic. But for my money, George RR Martin’s achievement is to do danger superlatively well. No matter someone is in their character arc, no matter how popular or infamous, it seems that anyone can die at the drop of a hat—and they do. Instead of suspending disbelief about protagonists surviving, you feel genuine fear turning the page. I might even lay bets that the world does not get saved in the end.

If anyone is safe, it is the dwarf Tyrion Lannister. Peter Dinklage now receives top billing and probably has the best acting role for a dwarf in TV history. It tackles the way his character has been disadvantaged without being defined by it. He is flawed but admired; he drinks, he fights and schemes, loves or hates his relatives, whores but falls in love. Not to mention getting some of the funniest lines. But perhaps the best part is that it seems to have led on to genuinely height-blind casting with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Dinklage probably deserves some bigger height-blind awards than he already has.

But while we’re on the subject of PC… oh dear. Gratuitous titillation is a common affliction, but that doesn’t excuse it. There may be a fair amount of sex in the books, but the series has added to it and filmed it in HD with unrealistically beautiful and well-lit actresses. For extra sleaze they “method cast” porn stars as sex workers. No doubt the production company has made cynical calculations over how many viewers will be pulled in versus how many will be alienated.

More disturbingly, the TV added two rapes. Fantasy site “The Mary Sue” withdrew from Thrones; GRRM defended it, saying that to portray a medieval society or war without sexual violence used as a weapon would be dishonest. A Scissor Sister took the producers to task.

Why has this caused more disturbance than other horrible fates? While few liked the extended torture and castration of a male character, it did not lead to boycott calls. My best theory is that in real western-world life, misogyny and sexual abuse are far more common than being executed with molten gold, or having your skull crushed by an eight-foot knight. Yes, non-sexual violence is real and there are debates to be had about its depiction, but people are more worried that viewers might be influenced to sexually assault someone than to murder and torture.

Which is not to say that people do not leave the books and series because of its grimness; many have. However, I have quit other authors and series because I thought they were being dark for the sake of it, and I have not done so yet with Thrones; it seems in-keeping with the setting and does not break the story.

Should it simply have remained as books? The TV series has changed the public name (the books were “A Song of Ice and Fire”), altered characters and plots, and now it has overtaken the author. The smug sense I had of knowing roughly what was coming next, and the safety of being braced for the next horrible death, is now history.

By his own admission, GRRM is more of a “gardener” author, plotting as he goes along. However, he now has to plan to the end and tell the TV series what happens, and let them fill in the details. I can feel for his plight; I doubt he anticipated the TV rights being used before the series was complete, or ever imagined it would get this big.

Or he could let them finish it themselves, then write a completely different version. This has happened before with a Japanese manga called Full Metal Alchemist, where a second TV series was made with the book’s ending. But with a plot as vast and complicated as GoT, you might wind up needing two brains.

So… a well-regarded series amongst fantasy readers has now become a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. In the process, it has opened minds, set records for internet piracy, been visited by the Queen and joked about by the US President, made stars, annoyed, shocked, courted controversy, and broken a few moulds.  Love it or hate it, the Thrones explosion has changed things…

James A Tucker
Thanks to Martyn P Jackson for suggestions and comments