Tag Archives: bloggers

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Harrison

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.

It’s my privilege to welcome Paul Harrison to the blog today to talk about how his work in the criminal justice system has influenced his writing. If Paul’s post catches your interest, drop him a tweet or look him up on Facebook

Vic x

paulblackandwhite

Thanks for inviting me to speak on the blog. For me, bloggers are one of the most influential part of being a writer these days, so I’m well chuffed to be here talking about my previous life. I’ve been called Britain’s Mindhunter by the world’s media, because of my work with serial killers. However, I much prefer to be Paul Harrison, not some media invention.

When I joined the police service back in the late 1970’s, never, did I anticipate that my working life would be so exciting and filled with mainly positives, there have been a few negatives, but I’ve learned from those. Anyone who believes the British police force is behind its global counterparts, is wrong. I have over a century of policing within the family tree, my grandfather, father, myself and currently my son have been so employed. Even my great grandfather was so employed. Back in Victorian times he was probably the first criminal profiler in history. He’d hang about with criminals and felons and draw up social profiles on the in an attempt to understand who likely victims were likely to be, then he’d sell that intelligence on to the police. He was a big writer and storyteller, so his genes have definitely been passed down to me.

My own police career lasted over three decades and I was fortunate to serve in just about all the specialised fields I aimed for: Dog Handler, Firearms Officer on Special Escort Duties, Promotion, Intelligence Officer and of course, much later, my association with the FBI and profiling. I worked hard to get where I wanted to be, and advise everyone, no matter what they are doing to follow their dreams.

I began writing during my police career, mainly true crime books but the odd football book also crept into print too. These were the days before e-books so it was traditional publishing only, it was difficult trying to sell manuscripts to publishers and hold down a regular job.  I was lucky, I guess, and managed to get seven books published during my time in the police.

When I retired from the job I went to work with the Judiciary at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. What an eye-opener that was! Seeing the criminal justice system from the other side, was shocking. Needless to say, I often questioned judgments and tariffs handed down to serious (vile) offenders. I didn’t last long, and I moved on after a couple of years. I took up work in the voluntary sector, helping child victims and survivors of sexual harm. The scale of the matter was shocking and I set up my own service, called SAM (Systematic Abuse of Males) as a signposting agency directing victims to services in their area. As a result of this I was awarded the Outstanding Individual of the Year Award for my voluntary work in this arena.

All the time I was writing, more true crime and finally I went full time, and have moved onto novels. I’m so proud to be part of the Urbane Books team and have just signed a contract with them that I hope will last several years. Of all the publishers I’ve worked with in my time as a writer, covering thirty four books, Urbane Books stand out head and shoulders above the rest for their care and attention to detail. They like great writers, but are focused on producing quality books for the reader. 

Over the years, I’ve met some of the world’s worst killers, looked evil in the eye and confronted it. Nerve wracking stuff, however, let me tell you, there’s nothing more worrying than waiting for a publisher’s response to a book submission.

Writing has been incredibly cathartic for me, as is the sense of support that runs throughout most of the crime writing community. There’s a lot more books in me yet, and my fictional detective, Will Scott (named after my grandfather) will go on to endure many more adventures.

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Getting to Know You: Jackie McLean

My very good friend, Jackie McLean, author of ‘Toxic’ and ‘Shadows’, is here to chew the fat today. Jackie has appeared on this blog a few times but she’s always such fun and has plenty of advice to give aspiring writers. 

My thanks to Jackie – for sharing her time and wisdom with us in addition to being a wonderful, thoughtful friend.

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
At the moment, I have two crime fiction books that are published by ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd:

Toxic – An anonymous tip-off sparks a desperate race against the clock to track down the illegal storage of the deadly toxin that was responsible for the Bhopal disaster, the world’s worst industrial accident. However the two senior investigating officers are as volatile as the toxin they’re trying to find, and tensions run high. For the lead character, DI Donna Davenport, the investigation becomes personal. She’s recently broken up with her partner Libby, but Libby’s brother is being set up as a suspect, and Donna struggles with the conflict.

Shadows – When DI Donna Davenport is called out to investigate a body washed up on Arbroath beach, it looks like a routine murder inquiry. However, it doesn’t take long before it begins to take on a more sinister shape. There are similarities with a previous murder, and now a woman who is connected with them goes missing. Meanwhile, Donna can’t shake off the feeling that she’s being watched, and she is convinced that Jonas Evanton has returned to seek his revenge on her for his downfall. Fearing they may be looking for a serial killer, the trail leads Donna and her new team in an unexpected direction. Because it’s not a serial killer – it’s worse.

What inspired them?
I originally wrote Toxic because I wanted to write something set in my home town, Arbroath. It’s by the sea, and has caves in the cliffs, so a smuggling story seemed obvious. In that first version, it was genetic modification (of food) experiments that were being smuggled in and out of the country, but I couldn’t really do anything exciting with that.  I needed a dangerous substance that behaved in particular ways, and my nephew – a forensic toxicologist – suggested I look at the Bhopal disaster. As soon as I learned about the substance responsible, I knew it was the one for my storyline. But the research left me deeply disturbed about what happened to the people of Bhopal, who to this day have never received justice for the blatant failures of the company responsible, and so I hope to be able to raise some awareness of that.

The storyline for Shadows came out of a discussion with a friend of mine who’s a midwife, and who told me about some of the murkier sides of her work.  She was keen to find a way to highlight what’s going on, and wanted me to write about it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
A lot of the stuff I’ve written is actually based on dreams that I’ve had. However, in recent years I’ve suffered insomnia, so have resorted to spying on people instead. I work full time, and there are always good snippets of information at meetings and in office gossip that can be built into a plot…

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite form of writing is actually screenwriting, and I’ve written some comedy pieces with my partner Allison. When we write comedy scripts together, sparks fly and the writing is just great fun. So, while I enjoy whatever it is I happen to be writing at any one time, the screenwriting with Allison is my favourite.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best writing advice I’ve seen came from Dr Jacky Collins, whose advice to aspiring crime writers is to get along to their nearest Noir at the Bar and get involved.  There is lots of advice out there on how to write – from style, to good writing habits – but I’ve found the best motivation and confidence-builder to me for writing has come from being around other writers, and from the tremendous support we give each other.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope first and foremost that they’ll enjoy a gripping good read.  Characters that they can get to know and understand, and short chapters for a quick read after a hard day at work.

Beyond that, I’m interested in the relativity of crime: by that, I mean there’s always a wider context behind the actual crime that we see, and none of us really can wash our hands of that. For example, the company responsible for the Bhopal disaster clearly cut corners and ignored safety procedures that would have prevented the catastrophe. But companies cut corners all the time, largely because all of us want to buy our goods as cheaply as possible. We’re not very accepting of price tags that reflect the full costs of production – costs that relate to environmental and human pressures. If we buy cheap, it means somebody else – with less power than us – pays the full price. While I don’t want to be preachy, I do think we need to be more aware of our own contribution to the crime we see around us, and I hope my books will give a glimpse into that, too.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
You need to love and enjoy what you’re writing. If you want to take it further, and want to see it published, I’d say study the market and treat your finished work like a business. There are rules, and you need to know what these are in your particular genre. When I completed Toxic, I hadn’t thought of it in terms of genre at all, until I researched the publishing world and realised it had to “fit” somewhere, so I re-drafted it to be more compatible with the crime fiction market.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
There are a number of aspects to writing, for example the actual act of writing, researching your topic, and the writing life.

On writing itself, this is going to sound ancient, but I went to school in the days before computers were invented. There, I’ve said it! All of our work was handwritten, including all of our creative writing. When I was a kid, I wrote all the time, and find today that I can still only write creatively if it’s by hand. If I try to write directly onto the screen, it comes out like a work report. Oddly, I both like and dislike that I need to hand write first.  I enjoy the feeling of writing by hand, but it does make for double the work.

Researching your topic is really important, and should be enjoyable. If you find the research dull, you’re maybe not writing from the heart. However, you do have to be careful, especially when you’re researching for crime fiction. I inadvertently ended up on a terrorist recruitment website recently while researching smoke grenades (and I was only trying to find out if they make a noise…).

As to the writing life, meeting up with other writers and folk involved in the book world (readers, bloggers, booksellers, publishers, etc) is great. I don’t know about other genres, but in crime writing there’s a real sense of belonging and support, and I say that as someone who’s fairly shy and doesn’t find it terribly easy to do the networking stuff.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m writing the third Donna Davenport book (Run), which completes a particular storyline that started in Toxic. I’ve also begun to outline two more books, and can’t quite decide which one to go for first. One is another Donna Davenport book. Here’s a sneak preview of the other one:

Death Do Us Part – Diane knows she’s the piece in her husband Rick’s deadly game. Claiming the glory when he kills her lovers – who line up to take him on, like rutting stags – keeps Rick as the undisputed crime lord, and their life of riches intact. Dutifully she plays the game. They line up. He conquers. She lives.

Then one day the rules of the game change forever. Diane falls in love with Claire. They both know Rick won’t challenge a woman – there’s no status in that. If he finds out, Diane’s life will be over.

There’s nowhere to turn for help. Claire is the crime gang’s chief mechanic, and as well as knowing where all the bodies are buried, she’s in it up to her neck.

The pair can’t risk being found together.

The only option open to them is to go on the run, but Rick has a reputation to defend, and they’ll have to outplay him at his own game if they’re ever to be truly free.

I also can’t decide if it’s crime or romance – what do you think?

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve recently begun to run creative writing sessions, along with a former colleague, for men who are in prison or who have recently been released. Each time we meet, there’s a new favourite moment, and I’ve been blown away by the power of creative writing to mend broken lives. For example, one of the guys, who protested that writing wasn’t his thing and that he couldn’t do it, eventually wrote a poem. He declared that the experience had given him a bigger high than any drugs. That’s priceless, and it’s what I love about writing. Now I’m welling up.

Review of 2017: Tana Collins

Today on the blog, my friend Tana Collins is sharing her year with us. 

One of the highlights of my year has been meeting new people associated with writing and Tana is one of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Spending time with this wonderful lady is always a joy so I hope you enjoy Tana’s review as much as I have enjoyed her company this year.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
This is so hard to answer, Vic. This year has been truly phenomenal for me. I’ve had two books published following the thrill of getting a 3 book publishing deal with Bloodhound Books in October 2016.

Publication day of 14th February 2017 of my debut novel, Robbing the Dead was one of the best days of my life topped only by it reaching No 1 in Amazon kindle sales for Scottish Crime Fiction. I also appeared on my first ever panel in 2017 at Newcastle Noir with the lovely Shelley Day and Michael Wood. Honestly, there have been so many it’s hard to choose one. In September I was fortunate enough to be picked as one of the Spotlighters opening for Lynda La Plante no less. Now you’ll think I’m bragging so I’m going to move on to answering the next question. 

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
On a personal front there are a couple of favourite moments. My best friend, Bettina, turned 50 and I flew out to Germany to be with her. And if that’s not enough excitement my friend, Terry, got married. I had known Terry for nearly 30 years but we’d lost touch so being back in contact and seeing him get married to a lovely girl called Jacqui was very emotional.  And I’ve also loved meeting and spending time with bloggers and authors such as Ian Skewis, Jackie McLean and Kelly Lacey at writing events and festivals.

Favourite book in 2017?
I’ve read a few wonderful books in 2017 but the two that stand out are Ian Skewis’s A Murder of Crows and Jackie McLean’s Toxic. 

Favourite film in 2017?
Do you know I don’t think I saw a single film in 2017. Isn’t that terrible?! Too busy focusing on the books! However I have enjoyed Detectorists and Poldark on TV. 

Favourite song of the year? 
I was lucky to see several bands in 2017 including Chuck Prophet and Nick Cave. I think my favourite song would have to be Nick Cave’s Girl in Amber. It’s raw and hugely emotional. I cried my eyes out at the gig when I heard it for the first time.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Politically it’s been another tumultuous year. The world has gone to a very dark place but, do you know, I refuse to be a pessimist. We’ll turn a corner and things will get brighter but we all have to work together to do it and to stand up for what we feel’s right in our hearts. On a personal note we lost my partner’s dad which was incredibly sad and still very raw.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
2017 was such a busy year I think if I’ve got a New Year’s resolution for 2018 it would be to try to claw some time back for me. I would like to get involved in some environmental projects. I would love to be able to find the time to become a recorder for Butterfly Conservation but I say that every year. I will do it. I’ve just needed to put it on the back-burner. Perhaps 2018 will be the year! Oh, and I need to get fit! 

What are you hoping for from 2018?
My third Jim Carruthers novel, Mark of the Devil, is being released on 24th April 2018. My big hope for 2018 is that it is received as well as the first two books. I had great fun in the writing of it. As it’s part set in Estonia I had to travel to Tallinn for it and I’ve done a lot of research on international art crime which was fascinating. To be honest I’m already excited about 2018 from a writing point of view. I’m just not sure it can live up to 2017!

Can I just say a personal thank you for letting me be part of your blog and wish you all the best for 2018, Vic.

Getting to Know You: Claire MacLeary

Today on the blog, we have the lovely Claire MacLeary. Claire is the author of ‘Cross Purpose’ which was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize – Bloody Scotland’s annual prize – this year. The award was renamed in memory of William McIlvanney who was often described as the Godfather of Tartan Noir so to be nominated is an exceptional achievement. 

I have met Claire on several occasions and she has always been incredibly kind to me. When I heard Claire read from ‘Cross Purpose’, I was utterly blown away. Her character, Big Wilma, has really captured readers’ imaginations. I can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar one day. 

Thanks to Claire for sharing her thoughts with us. 

Vic x

Congrats on the nomination! How did that feel?
Surreal. I was on a boat in Bratislava relaxing after submitting my second book, when instinct told me to switch on my phone. My publisher, Sara Hunt, had been trying to contact me and ultimately sent a text. With no signal or Wi-fi access – and wild imaginings as to what crisis could have precipitated the message –  I rushed ashore, found a bar with good reception and … well, luckily I was sitting down when I read her email. Needless to say, I was so giddy the rest of that day is a blur.

 

How did you feel at the awards ceremony?
Happy and humble in turn. The late Willie McIlvanney was a towering figure in Scottish literature, the founding father of Tartan Noir and the most charming and unassuming of men. To be longlisted for a prestigious award that bears his name – and that in the company of such stellar fellow nominees – validates the hard work I have put in over the past few years and is at the same time deeply humbling.

Had you read the other shortlisted books?
Almost all. I made a start when Bloody Scotland announced the longlisters – tagged The Dirty Dozen – and I am still working through the eleven other novels (I’m currently reading Jay Stringer’s How to Kill Friends and Implicate People). Familiar with the writing of the big name nominees, I started with Helen Fields and Owen Mullen, debut authors like myself. I was blown away by Perfect Remains (I thought my mind was dark till I read the gruesome torture scenes) and loved Owen’s Glasgow PI, Charlie Cameron. But my money for the McIlvanney Prize  was on Denise Mina’s The Long Drop, in part because I spent half my childhood living in Burnside at the time the Watt murders were committed there.

Tell us about your book, ‘Cross Purpose‘.
I’d developed a literary novel from my MLitt thesis, but had an early rebuff, being told domestic fiction didn’t sell. Having already written the first scene of Cross Purpose for a writing exercise, I consigned the literary novel to a drawer and decided to try my hand at crime fiction.
Set in Aberdeen, where I lived for some years, my debut novel is a departure from the norm in that its protagonists are neither experienced police professionals nor highly qualified forensic scientists, but two women ‘of a certain age’. They’re an unlikely pair: Maggie petite, conservative, conventional. Her neighbour, Wilma, is a big girl: coarse, in your face and a bit dodgy. But before your readers decide Cross Purpose is ‘cosy crime’ be warned, it’s dark. Humorous too. Think Tartan Noir meets Happy Valley.

What inspired ‘Cross Purpose‘?
I moved from Edinburgh to Aberdeen when my first child was born. Having given up a high-intensity job as a training consultant and far from friends and family, I looked for something I could do with a baby under one arm and became an antiques dealer. Then, when my son started primary school, I opened a sandwich bar. Cross Purpose was inspired by the colleagues who worked with me there, and in the spin-off catering business: women whose aspirations and self-confidence were constrained by the lack of affordable childcare. Most hadn’t had the benefit of further education, yet they rose magnificently to every challenge – and there were loads! My book is a tribute to those unsung women.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Life. As an older woman, I have plenty to write about. Aside from consultancy work, I’ve done a range of jobs: market trader, advertising copywriter, laundry maid. I’ve travelled widely: India, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan as well as Europe and USA. I’ve also had some challenging experiences: detained by soldiers in the Egyptian desert, escorted at gunpoint off an aeroplane in Beirut, given a talk to Business School students at Harvard, drunk cocktails in a private suite at The Pierre.
I’m curious. I keep my eyes and ears open, a notebook always to hand. It’s amazing what a writer can pick up.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
George Laird’s funeral scene always makes me cry. Then I feel heaps better. If it can still move me, there’s a chance it will move my readers.
That apart, I love writing the scenes where Wilma is pushing the boundaries. It was my publisher who coined the ‘Big Wilma’ moniker. I was resistant at first, because I didn’t want Maggie’s business partner to morph into a figure of fun. I needn’t have worried. Readers have taken both protagonists to their hearts: Maggie because she’s straight as a die, Wilma for her frailties as well as her couthy humour.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
‘Make every word count.’ The advice came from the acclaimed New Zealand novelist Kirsty Gunn, my MLitt professor at the University of Dundee. Kirsty was a hard taskmaster, and some of her strictures didn’t make sense until long after I’d gained my degree. But the rigour she instilled, together with the reading list she tailored to my needs, combined to make me a better writer.

What can readers expect from your novel?
Strong characterisation. I try to draw characters my readers can readily identify with: think Maggie’s money worries, Wilma’s yo-yoing weight, their respective marital woes, their hopes and fears for their offspring.
Pared-down style. I’ve been told my writing ‘says a lot in a few words’ and ‘leaves a lot unsaid’. I set out to engage the reader, but leave room for interpretation.
Social commentary: affordable childcare, housing problems, alcohol/drug dependency to name a few.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep chipping away. I’m impatient by nature, but have learned the big projects take their own time.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love that feeling of satisfaction when you write a good sentence, or even find the right word. Problem is, you can waste time trying to fine-tune when what’s needed is to get on and write the first draft. Good advice is to circle or highlight the words that aren’t quite right and sort later.
I have a low boredom threshold, and get weary halfway through the edit, even though I know it will improve the end result.
That said, after several years and endless rewrites, it was a thrill to finally see Cross Purpose in print, even more satisfying to see it earn plaudits from book bloggers and readers.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Burnout
, second in the Harcus & Laird series, has gone to proof and will launch in Spring 2018.
A short story will appear in the next issue of Gutter Magazine.
My literary novel has been turned on its head and may yet find a home.
My head is bursting with ideas for a police procedural into which I’m trying to insert Maggie and Wilma.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
It should be when I got offers for Cross Purpose from two separate publishers, but I must admit that scenario was eclipsed by those few minutes when, with my fellow McIlvanney Prize longlisters, I was piped across the courtyard of Stirling Castle into the Great Hall to thunderous applause.

*Rocco and the Nightingale Blog Tour* Guest Post and Review.

Rocco

In July, I was lucky enough to be invited to a party hosted by DHH Literary Agency and The Dome Press at Goldsboro Books in London. While I was there, I met all manner of wonderful people, including agents, publishers, writers and bloggers. One of those people was Adrian Magson. 

Adrian writes regularly for Writing Magazine, offering tips to writers on a range of problems they’re likely to encounter. You can also find Adrian on Twitter, his website and his blog

Prior to writing the Lucas Rocco series, Adrian wrote twenty-one books based around investigative reporter Riley Gavin and ex-Military Policeman Frank Palmer so his thoughts on how to keep a series fresh should prove insightful.

Thanks to Adrian for taking the time to share his expertise. 

Keeping a series fresh
By Adrian Magson

It was once suggested to me by a publisher that a series has a maximum of eight books before it begins to get stale. I can’t remember his exact words – I was too busy wondering if there wasn’t a hidden message in there for me, as I was on book four on my first series for him and about to begin number five. I think I nodded sagely and wiped my sweaty palms on the underneath of the tablecloth, and began to think of a new series, just in case.

Anyway, true or not – and there are authors who have proved both sides of this argument – keeping a series fresh depends on coming up with new surprises and situations for the reader. Easily done if you have a ton of ideas to call on which will stretch and test the main characters each time, but mostly you have to work at it.

For me, quite apart from new situations, it’s the characters who play a leading part. In Rocco and the Nightingale, the fifth in the Lucas Rocco series, there is a cast of regulars, some fundamental to the storylines, others more or less supporting figures. Developing the main characters’ journeys is important, but having the same names and faces is not enough; introducing new secondary players, whether baddies or goodies, does a lot to bring colour to and lift a story. In this respect, the baddies can become as strong as I like because they won’t always last beyond the end of the story unless I intend bringing them back in a later one.

That can be very useful because there are times when calling someone back – as I did in this book with Caspar, a former undercover cop in a previous book – had a specific and useful function to perform which Rocco could not. I also knew how Caspar would ‘fit’ the current story without looking as if he’d been parachuted in as a convenience.

In Rocco and the Nightingale there are two main baddies who were a lot of fun to write: Nightingale, a professional assassin, and a spotter, who sets up the kills – one of them intended to be Rocco. The main story focus is, of course, on Rocco, but bringing in the occasional scene seen from Nightingale’s perspective allows me to introduce information Rocco isn’t aware of, and I can play with these new characters in a way that wouldn’t be possible with the regular cast without making them act out of character.

And this is where a degree of freshness can come in; where you can make the baddies just that little bit wild (or even a lot wild), and hopefully readers will look forward to their scenes, because in the end they want to see them brought down… or maybe get away and live to fight another day. (And no, that’s not a spoiler).

AM

Review: ‘Rocco & the Nightingale’ by Adrian Magson. 

Rocco & the Nightingale‘ is the fifth book in the Lucas Rocco series, and I will certainly be seeking out the others. A cross between Poirot and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano, ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘ contains evocative descriptions which set the tone of the novel perfectly. 

It’s 1964 and, in Picardie, a minor criminal is found stabbed to death on a country lane. It looks like a case for Inspector Rocco but he’s tasked with protecting a Gabonese minister who’s fled to France following a coup. Add into the mix the fact that a gangster with an axe to grind has put a bounty on Rocco’s head and you’ve got yourself ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘. 

When I began reading this novel, it felt like a beautiful meander in the French countryside on a sunny day. However, what Magson excels at is juxtaposing beautiful scenery with brutal acts, switching the pace of the story within a single line.

I could see the action unfolding in my mind’s eye. Magson manages to evoke setting very well and the imagery his descriptions provoke ensured that I imagined all of the action happening through a sepia haze. Magson’s prose is pitched at the perfect level to complement this story. 

Although ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘ is the fifth book in the Inspector Rocco series, this novel can be read as a standalone. 

Having recently read ‘Yellow Room‘ by Shelan Rodger, another novel published by The Dome Press, I have to say that this independent publisher is building an excellent reputation for publishing quality fiction. 

Vic x