Tag Archives: character

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda MacDonald

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 on Don’t Quit the Day Job, we have the lovely Linda MacDonald to talk about how teaching Psychology to sixth formers inspired her debut novel, ‘Meeting Lydia‘. My thanks to Linda for sharing her interesting journey to publication

Vic x

How a computer, an A level topic, a classroom accident, radio news and a work-related breakdown all contributed to my writing career.

My 2001 resolution was to buy either a home computer or a rabbit. The computer won. The day job of teaching in a sixth form college demanded I learn how to use one. Little did I know that this computer, this alien in the living room as I thought of it for a long time, was to be the vehicle of inspiration for my first novel, Meeting Lydia.

Friends Reunited hit the headlines later that year and on a wave of nostalgia, I found the only boy in the class who was never horrible to me at a time when I was bullied. Many emails followed and supplied me with two themes for a story: the long-term effects of school bullying and the psychology of internet relationships.

Write about what you know is the oft-heard mantra. My main character became a teacher of Psychology, someone able to analyse the pros and cons of electronic communication. It was already a topic on the A Level specification and I asked for volunteers to come to an extra lesson to discuss the issues. I told them I would like to tape them with view to gathering authentic ‘student speak’ for a novel I was writing. Their amazing contributions formed the basis of three chapters and added to the quirkiness of a novel.

I was driven by a fire that consumed me: a book that had to be written. In the evenings, when the supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, I made myself write instead of collapsing to watch some inconsequential rubbish on TV. I wrote random chapters, as yet no clear plan of how they would interlock: the bullying backstory; a collapsing marriage; menopausal madness; the psychology of jealousy.

And every morning on my drive to work, I listened to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, hoping for an interesting piece to provided inspiration for the email exchanges that must be anything but mundane.

Five years later I had a novel of over 110,000 words; three years after that, I had drafted a more commercial sequel. But the day job still had cards to play. In 2009, I smashed my wrist tripping over a classroom chair and as I lay in hospital, I mused. I was in my fifties, time was running out and I decided to go the self-publishing route.

Sadly, perhaps ironically, the job that was to fuel my writing career was also partly responsible for my having a stress-related breakdown in 2011. ‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a label I found best summed up my condition and my day job became impossible.  I took early retirement. I didn’t have a choice. Yet looking back, without the breakdown, I would have carried on teaching for another few years and I wouldn’t now have four published novels.

Life is unpredictable and I still don’t have a rabbit.

Linda’s latest novel ‘The Man in the Needlecord Jacket‘ is available now. 

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Review: ‘The Deaths of December’ by Susi Holliday

When an advent calendar is sent to a police station, no one takes any notice until a young DC opens it and discovers a murder behind each day. Instead of munching mince pies and winding down for the Christmas season, DC Greene and DS Carmine and their team find themselves looking for a murderer, who appears to be killing at random. With four more doors left on the calendar, there are four people who could be saved – if the police find the killer in time. 

I am a self-confessed Scrooge and therefore a murder mystery set during “the most wonderful time of the year” made a great deal of sense to me. I almost empathised with the criminal! Actually, I did empathise with the killer but not because of their loathing of Christmas but because of  their motive. I think Susi Holliday has managed to create a complex character in her murderer which is really refreshing. I often find the ‘bad guy’ a little two dimension in novels so it was great to read about a murderer with some depth.

I felt like Carmine and Greene (she what she did there?) were characters I knew even though this was their first outing. Holliday creates characters that confound the usual stereotypes. 

The premise of ‘The Deaths of December’ is really original and I found the way it unfolded an interesting technique. 

This is a well written festive tale with plenty of punch and a killer last line. 

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Lilja Sigurðardóttir

I’m delighted to welcome Lilja Sigurðardóttir. I first met Lilja at Newcastle Noir 2016. Having heard her talk about her books, I – like many others – were desperate to read them and I’m thrilled that Orenda Books have published Lilja’s novel ‘Snare‘ in English. Yet another novel on my ever-expanding TBR pile! 

Thanks to Lilja for taking the time to talk to us today.

Vic x

Tell us about your books.
I am the author of five novels that have been published in my home country of Iceland. The latest are the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy that is enjoying international success and being translated into many languages. The first in the series, Snare, is just out in English, translated by Quentin Bates. 

What inspired them?
It is hard to tell what inspires a book, as there are so many things that influence a story. I would say that I have a passion for writing, for telling stories and entertaining people with them. That passion is the driving force behind what I do.

How do you feel about your novel being translated into English?
It is an absolute dream come true! Both because I have many English-speaking friends and they have been waiting impatiently to get to read my books, but also because the English language is such a gateway to the world. I have been a bit stressed about how the stories would be received in English as the English-speaking world has such a rich and strong tradition of crime fiction, but the reception so far has been very positive. But the best part of the whole process was working with Quentin Bates, whom I now consider a close friend.

Where do you get your ideas from?
From all over, I have to say. I dream a lot and some of the ideas come from my dreams as strangely as that sounds. It usually starts with a character that begins to grow in my mind and then I try to find a place and time for them, a purpose and a drive and from there on dreams and research come in handy. Dreams for mad ideas and research for deciding the limits of the possibilities.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Oh, so many! I do love my characters like family. Even the nasty ones. Usually my last book is the favourite one, as it is fresh in my mind and I still feel like I´m in love with the story but now with the publication of Snare in English I have been reading it again and talking about it and promoting it, so now I’m totally in love with it again! I will have to say that the complete Reykjavík Noir Trilogy is my favourite work.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best advice I have been given was from a wonderful friend and renowned Icelandic poet and writer Þorsteinn frá Hamri. He told me that since I had a compulsion to write I would just have to make a go of it and give it my best, otherwise I wouldn’t be happy. He was right. I have never been happier than when I made writing my main job.

What can readers expect from your books?
Entertainment! I hope. My main goal with writing is to make people happy. Everyone likes a story and in order to make people happy, the story has to be good and fun to read. ‘Snare‘ is fast-paced and the point of view changes between four very different characters that then connect to each other. Everyone seems to have a favourite character in that group and I love asking people who their favourite character is.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. Only one. Write a story that you love. Never mind trying to be clever or funny, just write a story you fall in love with. Then it has the best chance of being a good story.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love, love, love writing! I love creating the story, connecting to the characters, finding the pace, pumping up the action. Editing is another thing altogether. Rewriting and fixing sentences and proofreading are things I wish I could get out of. It takes way too much time and bores me. I would rather write a whole other book than edit one I’ve finished.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes. I am starting a new series. It is very exciting although I miss my old characters from the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy and am very tempted to make some of them appear in the new story, just so that the readers and I can see where they are now. But we’ll see.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Every morning that I have time to write and sit down at the computer with coffee in the mug that Quentin gave me and Malinche, the 16th century Mexican skull my dad gave me, by my side. I enjoy living in my head and portraying that inner life to a page. Of course, like all writers I love the moment when I write: “Endir” at the bottom of the last page. That’s Icelandic for: The End.

*Descent to Hell Blog Tour* Review

 

Today I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for Nic Parker’s debut novel, ‘Descent to Hell‘. 

When Charlie Ward’s beloved niece is kidnapped by a demon he has to find the secret gateway into the one place every human hopes never to visit: Hell! Armed with only courage and determination, Charlie has to survive in the most forbidding place while attempting to overcome challenges no mortal should ever have to face.

I found this story totally original and engaging.  Although there are elements of horror present in this novel, Nic Parker has constructed something wholly unique. There’s everything from a mystery to romance as well as a very strong sense of humour. She manages to balance peril and fun with aplomb.

Parker develops her characters throughout the story, giving them each a strong arc. Charlie Ward is a likeable guy who literally goes to Hell and back in order to save his niece. His tenacity and strength of character makes the reader root for him. The fact that Charlie is also the police’s main suspect adds another dimension to this story. I also really enjoyed Parker’s portrayal of Lucifer. She really flips the stereotype on its head, again adding originality to a compelling story. 

For me, though, Max was the star of this story. She’s got attitude and kicks butt – both metaphorically and physically! Max may come off as a cold-hearted citizen of the underworld but Nic Parker manages to portray her with depth as the story goes on. Max’s dry humour is one of the best things about ‘Descent to Hell‘. 

Although it does have traits of horror, ‘Descent to Hell‘ could also be described as gothic noir. In some ways, this is also a detective story with a police hunt going on in our world while Charlie undertakes his rather unusual journey. There are twists and cliffhangers galore during ‘Descent to Hell‘ and I could really see this being adapted for the screen. 

Vic x

*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

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.

Review: ‘The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene’ by E.V. Harte

Dolly Greene, professional Tarot reader and resident of Tinderbox Lane, finds herself disturbed by what appears to be a psychic vision, during a reading for the mysterious Nikki on a stiflingly hot summer’s day. The vision, of what appears to be Nikki’s face covered in bruises and blood, throws Dolly off balance and her usual patter is interrupted.

Following a bizarre phone call a few days later, the body of a woman is washed up by Chiswick Bridge. The body is battered and bruised, leading Dolly to suspect that Nikki has been dealt a very bad hand indeed. However, Dolly must ask herself how she can be sure and how far she’s willing to go to follow her intuition.

Although I would have described ‘The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene‘ as cosy crime initially, I have to admit that E.V. Harte doesn’t shy away from violence or bad language but that, for me, made the book more believable. It’s set in modern-day London and I think a modern crime novel must have an element of unsavouryness about it! However, the swearing and violence is tempered with lovely, lively characters who leap off the page and into your heart. Dolly, her daughter Pippa and Raff, the policeman are all extremely lovable in their own ways.

The characterisation in this novel is perfect; E.V. Harte manages to pitch each individual character at exactly the right level to evoke a certain emotion in the reader. Whether it’s the bumbling Professor West or the intimidating Ade, E.V. Harte has a real gift at creating convincing characters.

In addition to the crime element of this novel, there is a vein of humour and the potential for romance running through the story. I absolutely loved it. ‘The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene‘ is perfect for fans of M.C. Beaton’s ‘Agatha Raisin novels.

The Prime of Ms Dolly Greene‘ is the first in a new series for Daisy Waugh, writing under the pseudonym E.V. Harte. I’m already dying for the next instalment (which is due out next year).

Vic x