Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post: Mark Hill on Minor Characters. 

In September, I went to Bloody Scotland for the first time (I’m not being offensive by the way – Bloody Scotland is a crime writing festival held in Stirling). It was a fantastic experience and I’d recommend that fans of crime fiction book up for next year. 

The first panel I attended was Alex Gray‘s New Crimes featuring Ian Skewis (author of ‘A Murder of Crows‘), Felicia Yap (writer of ‘Yesterday‘), Rob Ewing (whose debut novel is ‘The Last of Us‘) and, last but not least, the author of ‘Two O’Clock Boy‘, Mark Hill. The panel was really interesting and each reader read an excerpt of their debut novel as well as answering questions from Alex and the audience. 


Mark Hill has kindly agreed to share his thoughts on minor characters today. Thanks to Mark for sharing his thoughts on this subject. 

Vic x

Guest Post: Mark Hill on Minor Characters. 

Pull up a chair, authors, and let’s talk about those characters in your books who never get enough attention. They’re usually ignored by readers and reviewers, who prefer to concentrate all their praise on the terrific narrative arc of your awesome protagonist and their battle with the evil antagonist.

I’m talking about the little people, that supporting cast of characters who appear all too briefly in your book. They may be a witness to a crime, a lawyer guy, or the newsagent who sells your protag a packet of Revels. They appear for a scene or two, perhaps, and then… they’re gone forever.

Your minor characters get a few fleeting paragraphs to register in the consciousness of the reader, but by the end of the book, let’s face it, they’re usually long forgotten. It’s not their fault, they did their job. In the big scheme of things, they’re just not that important.

But those minor characters deserve your love and attention just as much as your main cast. It’s easy to write them as shallow stereotypes, but they deserve personalities all of their own, and feelings, and depth of character. Give them their moment in the sun.

For example, I used to do a lot of script reports for new writers. I read hundreds of scripts, perhaps thousands. Films scripts, TV scripts, play scripts. If old ladies appeared in those scripts they’d often be described as having white hair and wearing a cardigan. They were the most generic old ladies ever. They’d invariably call everybody ‘dear’ a lot. As in ‘hello, dear,’ ‘yes, dear’ and ‘would you like a cup of tea, dear?’

Because if an old lady appeared, you could bet your life that a cup of tea would be sure to follow. Now I love tea as much as the next fellow– milk, no sugar, since you’re asking – but I often wondered what would happen if instead of clutching a teapot the old lady would appear with a crack-pipe… or a DVD of extreme porn… or sporting a purple Mohican hairstyle.

In my crime debut Two O’Clock Boy, there’s not a teapot in sight. I’ve got a couple of senior citizens, but they’re tricky and ferocious characters – and I hope counter-intuitive. Myra Drake is an eighty something with an acid tongue and the predatory eye of a vulture. True, Harry Crowley does lean on a walking stick – a typical prop for an old person – but he uses it to slyly manipulate the people around him into thinking he’s more frail than he actually is.

Treat them with love and care, and you never know when your supporting characters will become the breakout stars of your next novel. Take our old friend Hannibal Lecter…

Thomas Harris practically reinvented the serial killer thriller with Red Dragon. Banged up in a small cell, Hannibal appeared briefly. But his watchful, enigmatic presence dominated the narrative.

Up until then serial killers had tended to be grubby little men banging nails into cages in basements. Lecter was different. He was a high-functioning polymath, a lover of fine wine, opera and art – a man who hid his true nature behind a veneer of immaculate taste and sophistication. He also ate people. Harris took the serial killer out of the basement and put him in the penthouse. With that one minor character he flipped the reader’s expectations – and hit gold.

Lecter didn’t get many pages – but by the time Silence Of The Lambs came along, he was the leading man. Now, practically every fictional serial killer is a smarmy know-all with a penchant for turning murder into high-art.

So when you’re thinking about the minor characters in your crime novel, take a moment to consider how you can make them shine. Use all those god-given powers you have to make shit up, all your skills of description and dialogue and storytelling, to give them that tweak that will turn them from ‘Walk-On Part A’ to ‘Charismatic Scene-Stealer.’

But just do me a favour: don’t offer them a cup of tea.

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Dave Sivers

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today as part of ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’, we have Dave Sivers here to talk to us about how being a civil servant helped inspire him to write the Archer and Baines novels. Yes, really! 

My thanks to Dave for taking the time to share his experiences with us. You can find Dave on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

I’ve pretty much always been a writer, ever since I was six years old. But for 40 years, before I took the plunge into indie authorship, and before the Archer and Baines novels, I was a career civil servant.

Every morning, I’d put on a suit and either catch the train to London or drive off to a meeting somewhere. You’re probably already imagining a grey office, full of grey people, some of them covered in cobwebs, drinking copious cups of tea and churning out dry-as-dust papers on even drier subjects.

It’s a caricature with a grain of accuracy in it, but I mostly enjoyed that career and was usually happy enough to get out of bed in the morning. I worked on a wide range of policy issues, and no two days were the same. I got some great travel opportunities and got to do some interesting things. I also met all kinds of characters, including quite a few military people, and some serious game players who knew exactly how to get their way.

Every writer’s everyday life is grist to the creative mill. What I didn’t know at the time, though, was how much the day job was preparing me a new career, after early retirement, when I’d be writing police procedurals.

Writing those papers was in itself an invaluable writing discipline: adopting the right voice for the right circumstances, drafting and redrafting, writing to a length and deadline. But it’s only recently that I’ve come to realise just how much more I owe to those Whitehall days.

As a storyteller, I’m far more pantster than plotter. When I start a book, I invariably have a body. I (usually) know who did it. But I will have either a hazy idea, or no idea at all, of how the killer will get caught. That comes out in the writing. Effectively, I sit on my cops’ shoulders and watch their investigation unfold. And it’s my civil service instincts that are telling me what they need to do.

For a start, I worked in teams as do the police, in a hierarchy that more or less mirrored the police ranking system. And we might not have unmasking murderers, but there was a lot of problem solving involved – which meant gathering information, and knowing what questions to ask, and whom to ask them of.

Of course, I still need to make calls and do internet searches to check whether what they get up to is plausible, or even legal, as well as checking out some of the smaller details I sprinkle around. But it turns out that all those years in a suit were invaluable training for imagining myself into the briefing room at Aylesbury nick and deciding what Archer and Baines need to do next to catch their killer.

My old day job included drafting answers to Parliamentary Questions, and some unkind souls have suggested – unfairly, obviously – that I was always a fiction writer! I’m saying nothing.

The latest book in the Archer & Baines series – ‘The Blood that Binds’ – is available now. 

Don’t Quit the Day Job – Neil Broadfoot on Working with Words.

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today as part of ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’, Neil Broadfoot is here to talk to us about how his work life has inspired his fiction.

Earlier this year, it was confirmed in ‘The Bookseller‘ that Neil had signed a three-book deal with Constable for a new crime series set in Stirling. The first in the series, ‘No Man’s Land‘ is due out in hardback in July 2018. 

Vic x

I always wanted to be a writer. Since the day my primary school teacher passed me an empty jotter with a scalded-pink cardboard cover (which I’m sure my mum still has) it’s all I ever wanted to do. My mum was convinced I would be a doctor or a lawyer. My teachers in high school advised a career in history or IT. But, no, I knew. Writing. That was where my future lay.

It was that certainty that led me into journalism. I wanted to write, I wanted to work with words until the day came when I could do a Stephen King (my childhood literary hero), get a deal and write full-time. It hasn’t quite worked out like that – I’ve still got a day job and I write mostly at night – but you know what, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Why? Because journalism taught me how to write. And, more importantly, it kicked the ego out of me early on.

Let me explain. I get asked a lot about how I write a book. How do you start? Where do you get your ideas? How do you find time? The truth is there’s no magic formula, no muse waiting to sprinkle fairy dust on you and set you on the way. Writing is a job. OK, for me it’s a job that never feels like work, but it is a job. You have to sit down, and hammer out the words. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, day by day. In newspapers, there’s no time to sit and stare blankly out of the window seeking inspiration. A page lead (the main story on the page) might run to 500 words. And you need to write three of them. To a tight deadline. A splash (front page)? That’s 800-1000 words (more if it spreads over multiple pages in the paper). And you have to write it. The single best thing I got out of being a journalist (other than my wife, but that’s a different story) was the ability to see writing as a job. You have a word count and a deadline and you hit it.

But there’s more. Working in newspapers is also a masterclass in the mechanics of story telling. All stories should address six key points – who, what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why. In my first novel, Falling Fast, I had nothing more than the what and the where when I started. I was walking through Princes Street, saw the Scott Monument and had the idea that someone should fall from there into the crowds below (what can I say, I was having a bad day at work).

That was it. I wrote the opening chapter, sat back and thought “What next?” I didn’t have a clue, so I approached the story like a journalist: asking questions, following leads, filling in the what, when, how and who. I didn’t get to the why until about 65,000 words, and I can still remember writing the sentence that unlocked the whole story. Writing Falling Fast was a voyage of discovery, and I loved every minute. It’s why I write the way I do and hate plotting; if I’m trying to work the story out as I go then it keeps it alive and fresh for me. And hopefully that comes through in the work.

I don’t work in newspapers any more, the cuts imposed by accountants and directors who don’t understand newspapers reduced the job I loved to a simple act of reheating other people’s work and slapping it into a pre-made template on a page. But I still work with words every day in communications. And at night, when it’s just me and the keyboard and the story, I’m still there, reporting back what I’ve found for myself and the readers.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Guest Post: Paul Bassett Davies on How to be a Writer.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I recently readDead Writers in Rehab‘ by Paul Bassett Davies – and loved every second of it! 

In his own inimitable style, Paul is here today to share some “tips” on how to be a writer. 

Caution: this man writes comedy – take his advice lightly. 
If you appreciate the sentiment behind these brilliant suggestions, more writing advice will be coming soon in a series of podcasts. Details will be appearing on his blog

Vic x

How to be a Writer.
part one: Getting Started.

So, you want to be a writer? Great! Wait until you’re sober, then read the following essential guide to what you will need.

Somewhere to write.
Try to find a large, quiet space with natural light and a nice view. If you do, sell it immediately. Forget writing, and go into property. Make some real money. Otherwise, settle  for somewhere reasonably quiet, comfortable and clean. So, obviously not your place. Maybe a friend with a nice house has a spare room you can use. Which would be a mistake. Having friends is a sign you may not be a serious writer. Don’t worry, you’ll soon lose them. Meanwhile, try at least to position your desk near a window. But don’t look out of the window in the morning, or you’ll have nothing to do in the afternoon.

 

Something to write with.
Use whatever you’re comfortable with: a pencil, a typewriter, a computer, or perhaps an expensive fountain pen you bought because you were convinced it would somehow make your writing more stylish and sophisticated. And sure enough, you were wrong. But everyone has their own idiosyncrasies. Myself, I need to have seven freshly sharpened pencils beside me when I begin work each day. I don’t write in pencil – I use a computer like everyone else, but I need to have exactly seven freshly-sharpened HB pencils beside me, no more, no less. Some people might say this seems obsessive. These are undoubtedly the same people who say I’m paranoid and vindictive. But I know who they are, and where they live, and I know what their deepest fears are.

Someone to help.
It’s said that one famous author employed a butler whose job was to leave the house before the author woke up, taking all his trousers with him. This cut down the author’s scope for displacement activities like “popping out to buy some milk” for several hours. If you can’t afford a butler, throw your trousers out of the window yourself. If you haven’t got the willpower to do that, most writers find it takes very little to provoke a spouse or partner to throw all their clothes out of the house. All you have to do is say something like, “Hello darling, how was your day? I’m exhausted, because creative thinking is much harder work than your teaching job, even when I do it lying here on the couch all day.” That should do the trick. If you can’t afford a window, hide your trousers and get drunk, so you don’t remember where they are in the morning. If you can’t afford trousers, congratulations; you’re already on the way to becoming a truly committed writer.

Time.
Writing is a full time job, even when you’re not doing it. Much of your most valuable work is done when it looks as if you’re just taking a nap, or lying in a bath. But it’s important to be disciplined, otherwise those precious hours can just slip away. So, organise your day, and waste time according to a strict schedule.

Money.
All writers deserve to have an independent income. Many writers have incomes that are so fiercely independent they never see them.

Coffee.
Plenty of coffee. Especially in the morning. Personally, I like my coffee the way I like an amusing analogy I’ll be able to come up with when I’ve had some coffee.

Something to write.
This is covered in part two, How to Have an Idea, including the advanced modules: How to Have the Same Idea Again, and How to Have Someone Else’s Idea.

*Fox Hunter Blog Tour* Guest Post: Zoë Sharp on Keeping a Series Fresh.

2017 Book Tour Blog.pdfWhen I first joined Twitter in 2011, one of the first people I interacted with was Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox crime thriller series.

Since then, Zoë and I have met at several events – including her reading at a few of the Noir at the Bars I’ve presented. Zoë’s prose is like her love of fast cars and motorbikes – fast-paced – and she always gets a great reaction from the audience when she reads her work. Having been privy to an advance copy of Zoë’s latest novelFox Hunter, I can understand why. 

Zoë is a joy to be around and I’m delighted to have her on the blog today to talk about how to keep a series fresh – and she would know having written twelve novels in the Charlie Fox series.

When she’s not chipping away at the word-face of another book, Zoë can usually be found international pet-sitting or renovating houses so I’m very humbled that she found time to write this brilliant post.

Vic x

Photo by Nick Lockett

KEEPING A SERIES FRESH
By Zoë Sharp

One of the hardest things when you write a long-running series is keeping it fresh. Not only for the reader, but for the author as well. I think that’s one of the reasons I never really gave Charlie Fox a regular job in law enforcement. So, she doesn’t get summoned from her bed to go and inspect the body at the latest crime scene—in fact, she’s more likely to be asked to prevent there being a body in the first place.

This constant search for a new challenge for Charlie is why her career has evolved throughout the series, and is still doing so. When we pick her up in the early books she is a self-defence instructor, someone who’s been a victim of violent attack herself and is now determined to teach others to look after themselves.

I know some people build hugely successful series around such an amateur sleuth, but I knew from the start I was going to take her in the direction of personal protection in a more professional guise, even if she wasn’t sure.

When she agreed to go undercover into a bodyguard training school in the third book, Hard Knocks, she didn’t fully appreciate that she was going to follow that path, first working for her former army mentor, Sean Meyer, in the UK, and then moving with him when he became a partner in Parker Armstrong’s prestigious agency in New York City.

Now, as the latest book, Fox Hunter, closes, the future is looking a lot more uncertain for Charlie, and I have some choices about where she goes next. I’d already laid in some strands for her future in previous stories. If I know something like this is going to come up, I try not to make it unbelievable when it does. Inevitably, she’s met some interesting people along the way—some of whom may want to kill her, and some of whom owe her their lives. It’s not unreasonable that their paths may cross again occasionally. After all, she’s been moving in a small and exclusive world.

Charlie has changed quite a bit as a character as the series has progressed. Keeping her static and unchanging would have been difficult as she faced different challenges with every book, and her personal and emotional life swirled around her.

In particular, exploring her capacity for violence has always been fascinating for me. She’s very familiar with it in all its forms, and can be utterly ruthless when the occasion demands, but she’s not without conscience. If you threaten her—or someone she cares about, or feels responsible for—she’ll kill you without a second thought. But she’ll go a long way to avoid a confrontation if she can.

That much hasn’t changed about Charlie. Right from the first book, Killer Instinct, where she plays the clown to side-step proving her self-defence abilities to an aggressive club doorman (thereby proving them by another means) up to Fox Hunter, her twelfth outing, where she gives someone who tries to forcibly detain her two chances to step aside before she takes him apart.

Perhaps because she is ever-changing, I try hard not to repeat myself, either in storyline or action sequence, or in her interaction with the recurring characters. Madeleine Rimmington, whom Charlie dislikes on first meeting in book two, Riot Act, is slowly becoming a friend.

And as she enters the next phase of her life, Charlie may find she needs all the friends she can get…

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil White on A Life of Crime

Today we’re kicking off a new series on the blog entitled ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’. 

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Neil White on the blog. Neil read at Noir at the Bar in Harrogate this year and it was a delight working with him. He’s taken the time to speak to me about a life of crime – thanks for sharing your story with us, Neil!

Vic x

Readers of crime fiction follow the genre for the excitement, the intrigue, the thrills. How does that match with life in the world of real crime?

I’ve been a criminal solicitor for more than twenty years, working as both a defence lawyer and a prosecutor, and I’d love to tell you of things I’ve done that will show how spine-tingling it can be. The race to get to witnesses in time, bringing them to court under the protection of blankets, always acting under the threat of violent repercussions, exposed to gangland threats and psychopathic murderers.

Of course, it would be exciting if that reflected real life, but it doesn’t.

That isn’t to say that working in criminal law doesn’t come with its occasional moments of intrigue and excitement, but the reality is that most of any lawyer’s immersion into crime is long stretches of tedium interspersed with moments of amusement.

As I write this, I am sitting in a Magistrates Court, water dripping through the ceiling, part of the public gallery sealed off by builder’s tape, awaiting a verdict on a trial involving a spat at a party. There is some anticipation, but not at any level that could be called exciting. It will never be an inspiration for a bestselling novel, but it’s what constitutes the day-to-day life of most criminal lawyers.

In writing crime fiction, as a criminal lawyer, I want to be realistic, but does realistic mean “as real life”? For the most part, being a lawyer helps when writing crime, but there is also the temptation to include too much of the mundane. What I have to tell myself is that the character has many such dull days, with routine and tedium, but the story I am telling is the one exciting case they get a year. Every lawyer gets them. The dinner party story, or one of those war stories bandied around when passing time in the courtroom, lawyers reminiscing as an excuse for not talking to their client pacing outside.

As a prosecutor, the excitement would come from a murder, when a suspect was in custody and the police needed a decision to be made before there was a risk of the custody clock running out. Whichever lawyer gets the job can often be down to a mixture of enthusiasm and availability. Becoming involved in a murder case during the arrest phase isn’t something that clocks off at five o’clock, and sometimes I just had something else planned.

For my part, I tended to get landed with the complex fraud cases, usually out of curiosity. I’d be wandering through the office and see a couple of boxes of files being booked in by one of the people whose job it is to book these things in and I’d stop by, enquire as to the contents, out of nothing more than an inquisitive mind. I knew that every prosecutor in the room had taken a sudden interest in their fingernails, knowing what was coming, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I’d respond with a “that sounds interesting”, because I’m curious like that, and because I’m polite, and then listen to the collective sigh of relief as it was announced that the case had become mine. A reward for my interest. I never learned.

Does it make it easier to write crime fiction being a lawyer? Perhaps. A little bit.

I think it helps with the ability to look at things coldly and objectively, to take a step outside of the emotional attachment. It helps too to be comfortable with the subject matter. I’m used to looking at forensic statements and dealing with police procedures and the rules of evidence. If I need to research something, I can perhaps get to the end point much quicker.

Apart from those things, however, I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of difference, and in some ways can be a hindrance, because the desire to be accurate can override the need to be interesting. Sometimes, I find myself looking at a story as a lawyer, not a writer, and you read my books to hear a writer write, not a lawyer speak.

One thing writing about crime does do, however, is that it reminds me why I chose it as a career. At its best, the courtroom is high drama. It’s conflict and dispute, about dark deeds hidden or uncovered, often a glimpse into how others people live their lives. It is that reality, the human side of crime, which drives my love of the subject. I love crime. I love it that much I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t qualified as a lawyer, I’d have chosen criminality as a career.

Some may say that the dividing line between a lawyer and a crook is a pretty thin one anyway. I could not possibly comment.

Getting to Know You: Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group Blog

When I went to read at Edinburgh Noir at the Bar at the end of last month, I went for a meal with all the participants prior to the event. I sat beside the lovely Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group blog. I’d never met Kelly before but we chatted for a while and found that we had loads in common. 

Kelly and I have become fast friends and I am pleased to welcome her to the blog today. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kelly – I know how busy you are! 

Vic x


Tell us about your blog, Kelly.
My blog is in its sixth month, we review books, festivals and theatre productions. We review mostly works of fiction. I have two guest bloggers who help me and it means our readers get a varied voice on the daily posts. We are also always on social media.

What inspired it?
My blog was born after my mother had been quite ill and I was spending a tremendous amount of time at the doctors or in hospital waiting rooms. To fill my time and escape from the noise and fear around me, I would dive head first into books. I may have been sat in a cold and sterile environment but my mind was off on exciting and addictive adventures. When I finished the books, I wanted to talk to people about them and say how they made me feel.  That’s when I started the tiny few clicks to find out about blogging. I did not know it would be life changing for me.

I started a very basic blog and wrote my reviews and I got excellent feedback, I then took more time to research the various types of blogs that there were. I contacted Joanne from Portobello Book Blog and I really gained a lot of knowledge about WordPress and blogging. Joanne was very positive and supportive. I will always be very grateful for all her help and for keeping me right with names!

Then I realised I really had to follow up my blog with social media. So that took off too and now I am posting from the blog everyday.

There is a Disney song from the movie Aladdin, it’s called ‘A Whole New World’ and it really captures what my blog has done to me life. Shining, shimmering and splendid, is right.

What’s been your favourite blog assignment and why?
I was honoured to be one of CoastWords Chosen Bloggers for 2017. It was an eye-opening experience.  It meant a lot of travelling and time. But it was totally worth it. I really learnt a lot and it was lovely to meet an array of varied people.

How do you choose what to feature on your blog?
I really have an issue saying no to authors and publishers. Hence the need for me to have two guest reviewers.  We are slowly working through our TBR pile and interviews, all of which will get on the blog at some point.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
In relation to my blog, my father always says to make sure I stay true to myself. Not to be influenced by other people and to remember that my light is just as bright as everyone else’s. Most days as he’s leaving for work he shouts upstairs ‘Remember to sparkle’. 

What can readers expect from your blog?
They can expect reviews with a soul.

Have you got any advice for aspiring bloggers?
Do your research on the various blogs and find your perfect fit.

What do you like and dislike about blogging?
I love blogging, I wake up and I am excited about it. The day I don’t, well, I guess that will be the day I dislike it.

What’s your favourite blogging-related moment?
Coming 2nd in the ABBA Awards 2017 for Newcomer, I didn’t even expect to place. It really meant the world to me.

How can people get in touch with you?
If you would like to feature on the blog with an interview, review or #Favfive then please read our review policy and use the contact form on the blog

You can also find us on: Twitter, Instagram,  Facebook.

What’s next?
We have lots of reviews and interviews coming up on the blog. In the near future we have The Edinburgh Book Festival, Berwick Lit Festival and Bloody Scotland.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog today Victoria, I am honoured and delighted.

Sparkles and smiles,

Kelly xoxo