Monthly Archives: July 2018

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicola Ford

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today’s guest is Nicola Ford. Nic’s here to talk to us about her double life and how that influenced her to write her debut novel ‘The Hidden Bones‘. My thanks to Nic for sharing her knowledge and experience with us. 

Vic x

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I love writing. I’ve always loved writing. And I’ve always loved reading crime fiction. So when I decided to turn my hand to writing fiction there was only ever going to be one genre for me. And I’m among the most fortunate of people because after much time spent applying my backside to my office chair and, as seems compulsory for all writers more than a smattering of self-doubt, my debut crime novel The Hidden Bones was published in June this year. 

So I have a job I love – crime writer. But that’s not the end of the story, or maybe I should say it’s not really even the beginning; because like many writers I lead a double life. By night I’m crime fiction writer Nicola Ford but by day I’m Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. 

So I live a life steeped in the distant past. Wiltshire, the place that I’ve called home for a decade and a half is thronging with ancient burial mounds and prehistoric stone circles. And much of my time is spent digging up their secrets and delving into the mysteries that lie buried deep within museum archives.

Some writers may dream of giving up the day job, but for me I’m an archaeologist to my core. It’s one half of who I am and provides not only the backdrop, but also the inspiration for my crime writing. The Hidden Bones is set amid the chalk uplands of the Marlborough Downs an area I know intimately as I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life working there. 

Often rural is equated with ‘cosy’, but for those of us who live and work here we know that life in the countryside is anything but. If you’re born without money or means, or elderly and alone, rural life can be tough. And the shock waves left behind by violent crime can have a deep resonance that persists down through the generations in small, sometimes isolated communities.

The Hidden Bones delves into the secrets of one such community.  Clare Hills returns to Wiltshire in search of new direction in her life after the death of her husband in a car crash. She’s only too glad to take up old college friend, Dr David Barbrook’s offer of helping sift through the effects of recently deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart. When they discover the finds and journals from Gerald’s most glittering excavation, they think they’ve found every archaeologist’s dream. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth forever.

In both halves of my working life I spend my time dealing with the dead. And in trying to figure out how they came to die, I’ve found that the most important clues are often found in understanding how they lived. I’m fascinated by the imprint that choices made by people in the – sometimes far distant – past leave on our lives, in ways we may never understand. And many of the scientific techniques I draw upon in my day job form the fundamental building blocks of modern police investigations. So Nicola Ford crime writer is inextricably interlinked with Dr Nick Snashall archaeologist. Two halves, one whole – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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**Death Rope Blog Tour** Extract

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I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Leigh Russell’s newest Geraldine Steel thriller: ‘Death Rope‘. 

Mark Abbott is dead. His sister refuses to believe it was suicide, but only Detective Sergeant Geraldine Steel will listen. When other members of Mark’s family disappear, Geraldine’s suspicions are confirmed. Taking a risk, Geraldine finds herself confronted by an adversary deadlier than any she has faced before. Her boss Ian is close, but will he arrive in time to save her, or is this the end for Geraldine Steel?

Read on for a tantalising extract from ‘Death Rope‘.

Thanks to No Exit Press and, of course, Leigh for having me on this fab blog tour!

Vic x

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Death Rope‘ extract.

Reaching her in waves, the shrill sound seemed to come from somewhere inside her head. It was a few seconds before she realised she was listening to her own screams.

For an instant she stood transfixed, a helpless spectator, before she ran outside, bawling for help. Thankfully the gardener was there, and he followed her back into the hall where her husband was hanging from the banister.

As she fell silent, she could hear him grunting with the effort of supporting the body. His arms clasped around her husband’s legs, he struggled to stop the rope from pulling taut. Above them, Mark’s arms swung limply, and his head hung at an odd angle. She was aware of the gardener’s mouth moving before she realised he was yelling at her to call an ambulance. Trying to nod, she couldn’t move. Her eyes were glued to a ghoulish caricature of a familiar face, bloated tongue protruding between dry lips, tiny red dots of blood speckling the whites of bulging eyes. She stared, mesmerised, at a drop of saliva crawling down his chin, trying to work out whether it was still moving.

The gardener glared at her, and she realised he was still shouting at her to call for help. As if in a dream, she reached for her phone and dialled 999.

A voice on the line responded with unreal composure, assuring her that help was on its way.

‘What does that mean?’ she gabbled. ‘When will they get here?’

‘They’re on their way.’

Time seemed to hang suspended, like the body.

They waited.

Looking down, she struggled to control an urge to salvage her shopping: tomatoes had rolled across the floor, along with other soft foods she had carefully packed on top of packets and tins. One tomato had already been trodden into the carpet. While she was dithering she heard a siren, followed by hammering at the door, and then her own voice, oddly calm, inviting uniformed men into the house.

Of course they were too late to save him. She had known that all along.

Chapter 1

Geraldine smiled at her adopted sister. Despite her complaints about disturbed nights, Celia looked happier than Geraldine had seen her in a long time. Her month-old baby snuffled gently in his sleep as she rocked him gently in her arms.

‘Would you like to hold him?’ Celia asked.

Still smiling, Geraldine shook her head. ‘It might wake him up. Anyway, I really should get going.’

‘It’s still early,’ Celia protested. ‘Even you can’t pretend you’ve got to get back for work tonight. It’s Sunday, for goodness sake. Why don’t you stay overnight and go home tomorrow?’

As a detective sergeant working on murder investigations, Geraldine’s job was no respecter of the time of day, but she wasn’t on a case just then. All the same she shook her head. Even though there was no pressing reason for her to hurry away, she had a long journey ahead of her, and she was back on call in the morning.

‘He’s lovely,’ she repeated for the hundredth time. Privately she thought that her tiny new nephew resembled a pink frog.

‘Don’t get up. We don’t want to disturb him.’

Celia gave a sleepy smile. ‘You’ll come back soon?’

Geraldine was quick to reassure her sister that she would return as soon as she could. She made good time, and reached home in time for supper. She had been living in York for nearly three months and, after a miserable winter, she was starting to feel settled. She was even thinking of selling her flat in London and buying somewhere in York, putting a stamp of permanence on her move. The transformation in her feelings seemed to have taken place almost overnight. One evening she had gone to bed feeling displaced and lonely.

The following morning she had woken up unaccountably at ease in her new home. Driving to work her spirits had lifted further on seeing a bank of daffodils, bright against the deep velvety green slope below the city wall. Already, early groups of oriental visitors were beginning to throng the pavements. She wasn’t looking forward to an influx of summer tourists clogging up the bustling streets of a city that unexpectedly felt like home.

A few weeks had passed since then, and she was still undecided what to do. Celia would be disappointed if Geraldine decided to make her move to York permanent, but the idea of settling there seemed increasingly appealing with every passing week. She had to live somewhere, and York was as good a place as any. She liked it there. Besides, her oldest friend and colleague lived there. She wondered how Ian Peterson would react if he knew she was considering him in making a decision about where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

Mid-morning on Monday, Geraldine was summoned to an interview room where a member of the public was waiting to lodge a complaint. As an experienced officer, Geraldine was used to fielding vexatious accusations. With a sigh she made her way along the corridor to the room where the irate woman was waiting for her. Stocky and square-jawed, with short grey hair, she sat with trousered knees pressed together and fleshy arms folded across her chest.

‘What seems to be the problem, Ms Abbott?’ Geraldine asked as she sat down.

The grey-haired woman’s eyes glittered and her voice was unsteady. ‘I want to talk to someone about my brother’s murder.’

‘Are you saying your brother’s been murdered?’

‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.’

 ‘And is this a murder case that’s under investigation? What’s your brother’s name?’

The woman shook her head, and her ruddy face turned a deeper shade of red.

‘No, no, no. You’re not investigating it. No one’s investigating anything. Look, my brother was found hanging from a banister nine days ago.’ She leaned forward and lowered her voice.

‘They said it was suicide, but that’s simply not true.’

Geraldine frowned, and tried to look interested. She found it was usually best to let aggrieved members of the public have their say.

‘Perhaps you’d better start at the beginning. What makes you suspect your brother’s death wasn’t suicide?’

‘It’s more than a suspicion. I know my brother – that is, I knew him. There’s no way he would have taken his own life. He wasn’t that sort of a person. He was – he was a robust man, Sergeant. He loved life.’

‘Circumstances can have a devastating effect on people, even those we think we know well –’

‘Please, don’t dismiss this as the ramblings of a grieving woman. I knew my brother. He would never have killed himself. He was blessed with a cheerful disposition, and, before you say it, he didn’t suffer from depression, and he didn’t have money worries, or any problems with drink or drugs. There was nothing in his life that might have prompted him to end it. And hanging’s not the kind of death that can happen by accident.

‘No, he was murdered, I’m sure of it. I waited as long as I could before coming forward because I thought no one would believe he killed himself, but now she tells me they’re burying him on Wednesday, so we don’t have much time. I came here to plead with you to look into what happened, before it’s too late.’

Geraldine did her best to pacify the distressed woman, wondering whether Amanda Abbott was simply trying to cause trouble for her brother’s widow.

‘Do you have any evidence that your brother was murdered?

At the moment, all you’ve given me is supposition.’

Amanda shrugged her square shoulders. ‘I wasn’t there, but I know – I knew my brother. Why would he have suddenly done away with himself?’

Geraldine was faintly intrigued. Amanda didn’t strike her as the kind of woman who might be given to hysterical delusions.

‘So if he didn’t commit suicide, and it wasn’t an accident, what do you think happened?’

‘My sister-in-law did it,’ Amanda answered promptly. ‘It’s obvious. They never got on. And now she gets her hands on everything he worked for.’

‘How long were they married?’

‘Over thirty years.’

‘That’s a long time for a couple who don’t get on to stay together,’ Geraldine said quietly.

‘And she finally had enough of him and killed him, only she made it look like suicide so she could get away with it. I’m convinced that’s what happened. Nothing else makes sense.’

Geraldine almost dismissed what she was hearing as a family disagreement, but Amanda was so insistent that she agreed to look into Mark Abbott’s death.

‘Please, you have to find out what happened,’ Amanda said.

‘He was my brother and I’m not going to sit back and see her get away with it, not if I can help it. Will you keep me posted,’ she enquired as she stood up, ‘or can I come back to see how you’re getting on?’ Geraldine promised she would do her best to find out whether there might have been anything unlawful about the death.

Having seen Amanda off the premises, she went to speak to her detective chief inspector, Eileen. A large woman, about ten years older than Geraldine, she had dark hair greying at the temples, sharp features, and an air of solidity that was both reassuring and overbearing at the same time.

‘It sounds like family politics,’ Eileen said, when she had listened to Geraldine’s account. ‘The sister of the deceased is going out of her way to make trouble for his widow. Perhaps she was expecting to be mentioned in his will and is disappointed to have been left out of it?’

‘That’s what I thought. But there’s one more thing. The deceased took out a fairly hefty life insurance policy with a two-year suicide exclusion clause.’

Eileen nodded. ‘And you’re telling me the two years ran out –’

‘A week before his death. Of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t kill himself. He might have waited so his wife would benefit from the policy,’ she added, speaking more to herself than to her senior officer. ‘But there’s something about it that doesn’t feel right.’

‘If you want to make a few discreet enquiries, that’s up to you. I can’t see we’ve really got anything to investigate, but you can take a look if you like, as long as it doesn’t distract you from your work here.’ Eileen paused. ‘If every widow was accused of murdering her husband when she inherited his estate, we’d have more suspects than police officers.’

Review: ‘Cut to the Bone’ by Alex Caan

Ruby is a vlogger, the heroine of millions of teenage girls. In the world of YouTube and social media, Ruby’s profile couldn’t get much higher but now she’s missing and a video showing Ruby begging for her life is uploaded for the world to see. 

Detective Inspector Kate Riley, head of a new team of policing superstars at the Met, and Zain Harris, the face of multiracial policing, are drafted in to try to find Ruby. Has time run out? Can Kate trust Harris? And more importantly, can she trust herself? As pressure from fans and the media builds, Harris and Riley find out just how dark the web can be. 

After hearing Alex Caan talk about his characters Kate Riley and Zain Harris at Newcastle Noir, I had to read ‘Cut to the Bone‘. 

Alex Caan has written an up-to-the-minute technocentric thriller which will simultaneously terrify and excite readers. This may be a traditional crime book but I have never read anything quite so of its time. It’s clear a lot of research went into Caan’s premise. ‘Cut to the Bone‘ is an intelligent, modern crime novel that covers a number of themes that are relevant to today’s society. 

Combining short chapters with cliffhanger after cliffhanger, Caan manages to keep the reader holding their breath pretty much for the duration of the novel. The intertwining narratives work well to keep the reader engaged. 

Both Kate Riley and Zain Harris are complex characters and I can see them featuring in  book after book. Riley’s backstory, in particular, was very intriguing and original. 

If you’re looking for a fresh, fast-paced police procedural to get your teeth into, ‘Cut to the Bone‘ is for you.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Miranda Kate

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Recently, I gave a call out on social media for people who wanted to share how their day job(s) have influenced their writing. Miranda Kate was one of the people to respond. Here she is to tell us about how work and writing have fed one another. My thanks to Miranda for being part of this feature. And remember: it’s open to everyone. If you’d like to get involved, drop me an email

Vic x

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I didn’t really think that writing would be something I would take seriously. I started out life wanting to be a film director, I even studied drama at college, but I did write snippets of stories (which would now be called flash fiction) – and one day a friend said they wanted more – a whole novel more, so I thought, how do I make this more?

By this time, after leaving my first job of working back stage in a West End theatre, I had moved into clerical work and it was at my first permanent job working in the office of a shoe factory, processing sales orders that I started to debate how I could turn one particular piece into a bigger story. And then one day the Office Manager, who sat opposite me, laughed at something someone had said. It came out as an effeminate cackle, and with his aged, balding, liver spotted head thrown back the antagonist for my novel was born!

I started that novel in 1991 and it has gone through many incarnations and rewrites, but it is now finally about to be released as a novella in my new science-fiction collection: Slipping Through.

I have gone on to write other novels, some only beginnings and others in half completed stages, but one that made it to completion and I hope to release early next year, began in that same job. I wrote the opening, which is now the prologue, for a competition to win a copy of James Herbert’s book Portent (yes, that many years ago), and it still exists pretty much intact, just tightened up and made to flow better. I still remember one of the company directors proofreading it for me. They seemed to have no issue with the fact that I had written it during working hours.

In fact some of my best writing has been done while at work. Moving up from clerical work to Secretary and eventually a Personal Assistant, I always filled the quiet times with my own writing disguised as actual work. I always made sure my work was done on time and efficiently, but I also made sure not to ask for more so I could keep writing.

And now as a stay at home mum for the last twelve years, it is probably why I do most of my writing during the day and not in the evenings. But even though I had no issue with the noise of an office around me when I was working, I struggle to write with children round me. And I need silence to write in, no music, nothing.

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Review: ‘Strangers on a Bridge’ by Louise Mangos

During her regular morning jog in the Swiss Alps, ex-pat Alice Reed stops a man from committing suicide. Gratitude quickly turns into something much darker as the man, adamant they have a connection, begins to obsess over his Good Samaritan. 

Unable to speak the language and suffering from her inability to understand Swiss conventions, Alice finds herself without anywhere to turn. The police don’t believe her, the locals have never liked her and even her husband is beginning to question her. 

How can Alice save herself and her family? 

Strangers on a Bridge‘ is a compelling novel that makes the reader question their own stance on the events depicted. Peppering the story with certain information, Mangos leaves the reader unsure whether Alice is sane and whether her interpretation of events are to be believed. 

I sympathised with Alice throughout this novel and found my own pulse racing with hers when certain things happened. Louise Mangos has written an atmospheric story that ensures the reader understands the cloying terror and creeping dread of being stalked. I was on a wire throughout this book, never knowing when the unhinged Manfred would reappear. 

My favourite thing about ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘, though, was the setting. The Swiss Alps felt completely fresh and just unusual enough to demonstrate the the sense of alienation suffered by Alice. Mangos describes setting beautifully as well as showing an inherent understanding of ex-pat life and the difficulties encountered. 

Vic x

**Dancing on the Grave Blog Tour** Guest Post

I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for Zoe Sharp‘s latest novel ‘Dancing on the Grave‘. Zoe has kindly chosen to chat to us today about the real-life events that inspired her writing. 

Please be warned that this post contains information on real criminal cases so some may find it upsetting.

Vic x

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Death and Beauty: the story behind the story of standalone crime thriller, Dancing On The Grave
By Zoë Sharp

I came up with the idea behind my latest standalone crime thriller, Dancing On The Grave, around sixteen years ago, when John Allen Muhammad and his seventeen-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, shot 27 people with a Bushmaster sniper rifle, killing 17 of them. This became known as the Washington Sniper incident, although the killings took place in Maryland, Virginia and Arizona, as well as Washington DC.

I wanted to explore the motivations for a similar sniper but set on UK soil, where most types of firearms have been banned since the shootings at Hungerford and Dunblane. Also, I didn’t know what truly motivated Muhammad and Malvo, but I wanted to see if I could find a reason that my characters felt they could live with.

The sniper in my book is not a mystery man in that we meet him early on, but working out who he really is, and what really drives him, is not an easy task. I’ve always thought that defining good guys and bad guys is very much a grey area. Good guys are rarely all good, and bad guys so often have significant redeeming features. There was loyalty and a twisted honour involved here, as well as a sense of betrayal and guilt. By the end of it, I felt I could understand my sniper, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with him.

Not so easy are the driving forces behind the disturbed teenage girl who becomes his spotter. Edith is a fantasist and underachiever who is trapped in a dead-end existence and is desperate to be somebody—anybody. For her, almost anything is better than being invisible and forgotten.

The motivations of my police characters were in some ways simpler, and in other ways more complicated to work out. Grace, my CSI, is recently divorced from a wealthy husband who still loves her. She is determined to escape his smothering embrace and make her own way, but her background means few of her colleagues take her seriously, or realise the guilt she carries with her into the job.

And the young Detective Constable she ends up working with, Nick Weston, is an outsider. He came into a new area following the mother of his baby daughter, who promptly split up with him. He’s prickly in the face of resentment from his fellow officers, not to mention hiding the fact that his disastrous last undercover job cost him his nerve.

In 2010, just as I finished the first incarnation of the story that would become Dancing On The Grave, Derrick Bird went on the rampage in west Cumbria, killing twelve people and injuring a further eleven before killing himself. It made me put the novel aside for a long time and it was only recently, with the distance provided by time, that I was able to get it out and work on it again. Even so, there are aspects of the story that stay with me. It’s one of those that gets its teeth into you and doesn’t seem to want to let go.

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Zoë Sharp was born in Nottinghamshire, but spent her childhood living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. She co-built a house in the Eden Valley area of the Lake District, where ‘Dancing On The Grave‘ is set. She now lives a peripatetic lifestyle, based around writing, sailing, house renovation, and looking after other people’s pets. 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Alan Parkinson

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hosting the first ever Noir at the Bar in Sunderland as part of Sunderland’s Creative Writing Festival. One of the writers on the bill that night was the lovely Alan Parkinson

Alan is here today to talk about how his work life has affected his writing. If you haven’t read any of Alan’s work, I strongly recommend that you do. You can also catch Alan on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

IMG_5043.jpgTwo years ago, I gave up the day job to become a full-time writer and there were many things I took into consideration. Could I afford it? Despite the romanticised image of life as a writer, it is generally a poorly paid profession.

Would I be taken seriously? I’d self-published two novels at that stage. They’d done well but was that enough to sustain a career in writing?

Would my friends ever stop thinking I was unemployed? The answer to that one is no, they still ask if I’ve got a ‘proper job’.

One thing I hadn’t considered, and possibly the most crucial thing of all, was would I lose my most valuable source of material?

Writing is all about observation. Noticing the small detail in things and shaping it into your own little world. I thrive on seeing humour in every situation, even the darkest moments, and thinking about how I can use it in a future story.

Whether they realise it or not, my workmates were a deep well of idiosyncrasies, amusing phrases and peculiar behaviours. As were the hundreds of people I saw on my commute each day and the thousands I encountered on my daily lunchtime wander around Newcastle. I was giving that up to sit at my posh writing desk, on my posh writing chair (I soon moved to the settee) and meet and talk to nobody other than the Amazon delivery driver and my elderly neighbour asking me to fix her laptop again.

This is why you see so many dull novels where the protagonist is a writer struggling to put words on a page; by becoming a writer they have lost their inspiration.

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That’s not to say I’ve ever taken person wholesale and put them in a book; I’ve yet to meet anybody interesting enough. I steal one characteristic and match it with another, and another from somebody else, and shape a new character.

I do the same with situations. I’ll take real life situations, adapt and exaggerate them with different characters to make my story come alive.

When I worked for one of the world’s largest banks. In a period of months, we had one colleague locked up for murder, one for attempted murder and another for a dodgy internet history. I’ve never considered any of them worthy of writing about because they are all a bit ‘obvious’.  It’s the little things that are funny and give your story life.

It’s over fifteen years since I worked in a call centre but my short time there has inspired two novels, Idle Threats and my current work in progress, Troll Life. Anybody who has ever worked in a call centre or phoned one will recognise the utter despair and understand how it can drive people to extremes. 

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I’ve never been in an armed siege, or dressed as a Mexican, or dealt with an irate customer in their pyjamas but my experience in a call centre helped me make this unlikely scenario realistic.

I don’t regret my decision for a minute but every now and then I long for a workmate who would say “I wish Andrea would move to one side, so I can get a good blast of her fan.”

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