**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. 

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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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Getting to Know You: Kate Rhodes

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to chair a panel of three fabulous crime writers at my local library. It was such an honour to interview Kate Rhodes along with Rachel Abbott and Mel McGrath and I’m absolutely delighted to have Kate on the blog today to talk about writing. 

My thanks to Kate for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My latest books, Hell Bay and Ruin Beach are inspired by childhood holidays. I was lucky enough to visit the Isles of Scilly often as a kid. It’s only as an adult that I realised they would make the perfect setting for crime novels. There are just five inhabited islands, and Hell Bay is set on Bryher, which has just eighty permanent inhabitants. In winter the islands are surrounded by the raging Atlantic, and travel to the mainland becomes difficult. They’re beautiful but supremely isolated, 45 kilometres from the mainland.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Interesting real life places and events are my usual starting point. My first novel, Crossbones Yard began after I stumbled across the only sex workers graveyard in London, which seemed like an ideal place to start a crime novel.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I’m very fond of my current hero, DI Ben Kitto. He’s a fifth generation islander, but has served ten years with the Murder Squad in London. Since the death of his colleague he has been lumbered with looking after her very intelligent wolfdog called Shadow, who tends to complicate his life. I like characters with believable quirks, so Kitto has a few interests and obsessions that may people should be able to relate to.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A bit of both! I try to plot diligently, but my stories tend to develop a life of their own, veering off in unexpected directions!

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
It’s a struggle. I tend not to read crime novels while I’m writing one, or plots get tangled and ideas get lost. I read a lot of biographies and factual books, and listen to the World Service or podcasts like This American Life instead.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Very early in my career Julian Barnes told me not to give up, and to write every single day, even if I could only find an hour of clear time. Both suggestions have helped me ever since.

What can readers expect from your books?
Setting matters a great deal to me, so they can expect to be immersed in Scilly Isles scenery, which is so important in my recent books that the landscape becomes like another character. I also want to tell gripping stories that keep my readers guessing until the very last page.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Treat writing like learning a musical instrument. There are no short cuts; the more you do it, the better you get.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like the sense of absolute focus that comes when you’re immersed in spinning a story. I dislike deadlines! I’d love to be able to take ages over every book, but it’s important to write a book every year if you’re building a series, but that can be a real challenge if the rest of your life gets in the way.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’ve just finished the third book in my Hell Bay series. It’s called Burnt Island and it’s set on the tiny island of St Agnes, which is less than a mile long, with less than a hundred inhabitants. It’s been a pure pleasure, from start to finish, and I got fly down to the island on a tiny eight-seater plane, which was a brilliant experience.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Winning the Ruth Rendell short story prize back in 2014, because I got to meet one of my favourite writers shortly before she died. In more recent times, it has been very exciting that my Hell Bay series has been optioned for TV.

 

Review: ‘The Tall Man’ by Phoebe Locke

Almost thirty years ago, three young girls devote themselves to a shadowy figure in the woods. Ten years later, a young mother disappears, leaving her husband and baby behind. In 2018, a teenager captures the world’s imagination when she is charged with murder. These three terrifying events are all connected by one shadow that looms large. 

Where do I start?! Well, if you enjoy novels like ‘Gone Girl‘ and ‘The Girls‘, then you’ll love The Tall Man‘. I whipped through this novel – it’s achingly on point and I found it totally compelling. The characterisation in this novel is so skilled, I found myself utterly taken in by the key players in this story.  

The Tall Man‘ examines the blurring of the lines between criminal and superstar. You can see that Phoebe Locke has been inspired by real events – I was reminded of the media’s obsession with Amanda Knox and the Slender Man mythology – but the culmination of this is an absolute corker of a novel.

Phoebe Locke’s debut novel plays with the grey area between reality and psychosis. What is it that links these characters through the years? Is it something paranormal or is it something psychological? Locke builds up a relentless atmosphere of unease throughout the story and it left me questioning what was real. 

Standing alongside novels like ‘Hydra‘ and ‘The Bone Keeper‘, ‘The Tall Man‘ promises that once he’s with you, he won’t leave you alone. 

The plotting in this novel is masterful and it all comes together to leave the reader afraid to turn out the light. 

I implore you to read this book – but only in daylight. 

Vic x

**The Boy Who Wasn’t There Blog Tour** Guest Post

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It’s the second day on the blog tour for ‘The Boy Who Wasn’t There‘ by Emma Clapperton. I’m really thrilled to be supporting Emma on this mini tour for the latest story in her Patrick McLaughlin series. Emma’s here to tell us more about her latest project. 

My thanks to Emma for having me involved.

Vic x

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I had the idea for a supernatural crime series back in 2010, when I created the characters Patrick and Jodie McLaughlin, two psychic mediums living in Glasgow. 

Since 2012, I have released two full novels and two short stories as part of the series, The Suicide Plan is the first in the series. Then we had Beyond Evidence, The Dead Whisper and now, The Boy Who Wasn’t There. 

The Boy Who Wasn’t There came to me on the idea of children who have the gift and I wondered what would happen if the child were to present behaviours similar to that of an adult who was able to communicate with the dead. 

The Boy Who Wasn’t There is a story of betrayal and loss and how one event in your life can change your course. Without giving too much away, I actually really like the character, Rita. She is at the lowest point she can be at and needs comfort from the bottle. 

I like writing with two or more storylines running adjacent to one another and then merging them, because I love the idea that this could really happen. 

I write in the style of what I like to read and that’s how I created The Boy Who Wasn’t There. I also work with young children in the early years sector and so adding that element was fun. 

The novella is a short read at just 17,000 words and I really love writing in short bursts like this. 

I plan on creating a whole range of short stories, but I am also working on a new novel under my own name and a novel under my pseudonym, Alex Kane. 

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil Fulwood

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.

Poet Neil Fulwood is here to share his experience of work and writing with us. My thanks to Neil for taking the time to tell us how work has affected his life as a writer. 

Vic x

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My grandfather was a miner; my dad ran his own haulage business. It’s not a matter of record whether granddad liked his job or not, but he was definitely a grafter. Dad subscribed to a “dignity” of work philosophy that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Nevil Shute novel. In three generations of Fulwoods, I was the odd-one-out.

In my late twenties, I came across a Raymond Carver poem with these lines: “… this much is still true – / I never liked work. My goal was always / to be shiftless”. I’d been putting in the nine-to-five for a decade at that point: I’d worked as an admin assistant, a receptionist and an estimator for a firm that made road signs. Even with the benefit of longevity and a minor tendency to hagiography, I wouldn’t file any of them under “job satisfaction”.

My first job ended in redundancy after four years. I’ve been downsized several times since then. The “job for life” of my father’s generation is a thing of the past. I’ve quit a couple of jobs of my own accord – one with a financial services firm as a matter of conscience, one at a training company after I was threatened with violence and wasn’t convinced that effective safeguarding was in place.

I’ve never really had a career path or any professional goals. Work was simply an act of pragmatism: there was board to pay, then rent, then a mortgage; a car to run; food to put on the table. Debts to pay off or holidays to save for. Beer money. Bookshops. If one job ended, I temped till another came along. To date, I’ve worked in the manufacturing and retail sectors, financial services, training and healthcare. The same culture of mismanagement, office politics and grassroots employees treated as cattle has been prevalent in all of them.

Some folk succeed in dodging what Larkin called “the toad work” and I have friends and colleagues who deplore these people as spongers and scroungers. But if I’m being perfectly honest I quite admire those toad-avoiders. That I’ve never managed to join their ranks says something about me, though I’m not quite sure what.

While I’ve seldom enjoyed work – the one job I had that I genuinely engaged with ended in redundancy after just a couple of years – it’s given me material. For a while I held off writing poems about office life, convinced that paperwork and poetry weren’t a good match. Then it occurred to me that no-one was documenting the white collar whereas the blue collar experience had champions of such stature as Fred Voss and Philip Levine, and the toad-avoiders had Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski on their side.

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I found my voice as a poet in my mid-thirties – I’d written during my teens and early twenties, but what I produced was shallow and derivative – and by the time I published my first collection, No Avoiding It (Shoestring Press), at the age of 45, poems about work accounted for a third of its content. In a review published in The Morning Star, Andy Croft noted that I was “especially good on the mental slavery of contemporary work”.

‘Nuff said!

Review: ‘Seven Bridges: A DCI Ryan Mystery’ by LJ Ross

When the Tyne Bridge explodes, DCI Ryan’s team face someone calling themselves The Alchemist who won’t stop until every bridge is burned. The time constraints set by The Alchemist make much of this book a literal race against time to stop the bridges being blown up – along with the people on them.

Ryan’s plans to leave Newcastle to track down a killer are put on hold in the wake of the threats. Add a colleague who is in very serious trouble, and there’s no way Ryan can leave Tyneside.

With every DCI Ryan book, LJ Ross manages to surprise. I feel like she is working her way through every sub-genre of crime – and I like it! ‘Seven Bridges‘ combines domestic noir with a very timely terrorist element.

What I really enjoyed about ‘Seven Bridges‘ was the backstory pertaining to DCI Ryan’s former relationship with Detective Chief Superintendent Jen Lucas. This was a great subversion of the typical coercive control representations in fiction and I applaud LJ Ross for shining a spotlight on the damage that can be done.

As always, the plot is tight and filled with tense twists. LJ Ross manages to wilfully misdirect the reader’s attention and keep you guessing until the very end. Packed with exciting action sections and peppered with humour, ‘Seven Bridges‘ will not disappoint DCI Ryan’s legion of fans.

Vic x