Tag Archives: characters

Getting to Know You: M.J. Arlidge

Hope you’re all keeping well. If you’re looking for something new to read, M.J. Arlidge’s eighth Helen Grace novel ‘All Fall Down‘ is due out next week (Thurs, 11th June) .

Matt has joined us today to give us a little insight into his work as a writer and some advice for those of you out there who’d like to give it a go yourselves.

I’m hoping to host Matt at a Virtual Noir at the Bar in the coming weeks so make sure you’re first to find out when he’ll be appearing. Sign up to our newsletter now.

Big thanks to Matt and Orion Books for making this happen.

Vic x

M.J Arlidge

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?

I love the escapism of it. I never get tired of sitting down at my desk and opening up my laptop. There are dozens of different characters and numerous interweaving stories in each of my books, meaning I have a whole host of different people to climb inside and bring to life. I love working out what makes characters tick, what’s important to them, what would drive them to do reckless or desperate things. It’s so enjoyable to escape from my normal life, especially so during lockdown! 

There’s not much I dislike, though there’s no question writing a novel is a hard slog. I’ve just written the first chapters of a new one this morning and the road ahead seems long!!!

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. Just life really. I find ideas come to me unbidden and at the strangest times – in the middle of the night, when I’m in the shower, when I’m shopping in the supermarket. And once a really good idea pops into your head, it has you, you have to write it. 

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?

Yes, of course! I love reading and always find time, usually at the end of the day. Generally I read novels, but at the moment I’m making use of lockdown to consume the works of Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens, Homo Deus etc. I find his work absolutely fascinating. 

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?

So many authors to choose from. Thomas Harris, James Patterson, Harlan Coben…but I think I’ll have to plump for Stieg Larsson. When I was writing Eeny Meeny (my debut novel), Lisbeth Salander was very much in my mind. She was the most unusual, most interesting crime fighter I’d ever come across. There are shades of Lisbeth Salander about Helen Grace – I was desperate to make her as unconventional and intriguing as Larsson’s brilliant protagonist. 

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Wow. Good question. I would have loved to have been a photographer. Or a chef. I still harbour fantasies about the latter, but I’m probably too old…

What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

That’s probably not for me to say! I’d say I work hard and am very committed to my writing and my readers – to the extent that when I’m writing a novel I find it hard to resist creeping back to my office late at night or as the sun is rising.  

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve literally just started writing Truth or Dare, the ninth novel in the Helen Grace series. Usually the first few chapters are utterly terrifying, but actually I’ve really enjoyed starting this one. 

Where can we find you online?

At my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

To borrow a phrase from Nike, just do it. Don’t spend too long prevaricating – pretending to research stuff, when actually you’re just putting off writing. Just be disciplined and get that first draft done. Only then do you have something you can work with, something you can potentially sell. When I was writing my first novel, I still had a day job, but managed to carve out one hour a day (5pm-6pm) to write. It was slow progress, but I got there in the end, and, boy, was it a good feeling!

What’s been your proudest moment?

The day Eeny Meeny was published by Penguin. To have joined the ranks of authors at such an impressive and important publishing house blew my mind!

What was the best writing advice you received and who was it from? 

When I delivered the first draft of Eeny Meeny to my agent, she declared that it was good, but needed “more emotional cruelty”. It was sage advice and something I bear in mind every time I’m penning a new Helen Grace novel!

ALL FALL DOWN by M.J Arlidge is published by Orion Fiction and out in hardback on 11th June 2020.

Guest Post: James Henry on Writing a Crime Series

Today on the blog, I have James Henry, author of the DI Nicholas Lowry series. James’s books are popular among readers and writers of crime fiction alike.

Whitethroat‘, the third in the series is due out in July and James is here today to give his thoughts on writing a crime series.

My thanks to James for taking the time to share his experience with us.

Vic x

James Henry

Tips on writing a Crime Series

When I start thinking about writing a new crime series, my first rule is to try and write each book in such a way that it works, as far as is possible, as a standalone novel. That is to say, a reader should not have to have read book one in order to understand and enjoy books two, three or four – each should be satisfying in its own right. The point of this, of course, is that you can still pick up new readers with each new book as your series develops – readers who may then dip back to earlier books. If you achieve that, you continue to build your audience.

To do this successfully, remember a few key points when starting out:

Keep a notebook detailing simple things – like description of characters physical traits, their age, their habits and peccadilloes. You think you will remember the simple things; you think you will remember your character prefers white bread to wholemeal; you won’t – but your reader most certainly will… You will thank yourself for having something to refer back to. 

However, I would caution against going overboard on detail too soon: you have a long road to travel, so be wary of packing too much baggage in the early days. You have to carry it all with you. Allow characters to develop gently. The first book in the series should focus on the story, making the plot as tight, engaging and pacy as possible.  

As your series progresses you can allow your characters to develop. The more books you write the more backstory you will accumulate – a sense of shared history involving character relationships, tragic events, celebrations, any number of things. You will draw on this history in your writing, but do so judiciously – too much repetition risks slowly the pace of the story as a whole. Say that book one sees your detective break up from a long relationship, as well as receive a great promotion at work. A long explanation of the reason for their new job in book two may not warrant the page space it takes to tell; but exploring the reasons why they are miserable and drinking more than usual in spite of having an important new job, very well may. 

Remember that as your series develops you have to write with two readers in mind: your new reader, the one who may be discovering this series for the first time; and the readers who have been with you from the start. From now on, think about how you orientate new readers in the world you have created as well as keep things fresh for those who are familiar with it. For instance, you can re-introduce the setting, the landscape – but perhaps you can add some new detail on the geography or history of the area. There is always a way to make the familiar newly interesting.

With all this to bear in mind, the writing may seem hard work, much beyond a one off novel say, but there is a sense of satisfaction in an adding another layer to the world you have created that can only be had by series fiction.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Philippa East

OK, so COVID-19 is a thing and the UK is enforcing social distancing – thank goodness. With that in mind, lots of bloggers are trying to help people get through the partial ‘lockdown’ with book recommendations as well as introducing you to some new authors.

As part of that, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’ series.

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

Today it’s the turn of Philippa East to tell us about how her work as a clinical psychologist helped her writer ‘Little White Lies‘. My thanks to Philippa for sharing her experience with us.

Stay safe, everyone.

Vic x

Philippa East headshot

I first got the idea for Little White Lies when I caught a snippet of a news story on TV – a teenage girl in Spain had disappeared then re-appeared a few weeks later, all under mysterious circumstances. There were many question marks over the case: had she been abducted, or was something else going on? The TV showed the family in a courtroom and I found myself thinking – what on earth are these people feeling now? Do they trust each other at all?

I knew I wanted to write a book about a missing child, I also knew there was a solid precedent of popular books on the shelves exploring this topic. But as a psychologist and therapist, I have always cared most about the pieces of the story that never usually get told. Tragically, children go missing all the time; I was fascinated by what might happen once a missing child came home. 

But what did I really know about this topic? Heartbreakingly, cases of children being found alive months or years after their disappearance are incredibly rare. My story started where most other ‘missing person’ books ended. So how on earth was I going to write about that?

The question really quite stumped me until I realised that, while I had never been involved in a real-life case like Abigail’s in Little White Lies, maybe I did have expertise that could help me, via my work with adult survivors of childhood trauma. In Little White Lies, against all odds, Abigail has escaped and survived her abduction. In the same way, the clients who I was seeing in my work had (physically) survived their childhood experiences. For both Abigail and my clients, a whole new journey would now begin. 

Little White Lies is about a family trying to heal after the very worst of traumas. The book focuses on the relationship between Abigail and her family – her mother Anne especially – both before and after her abduction. The more I wrote, the more I found myself delving into issues of responsibility and guilt, the instinctive desire to avoid what is most painful, and the healing power of acknowledging what went wrong – all themes I had encountered many times in my therapy work. Little White Lies went through many, many drafts as I wrote it, but it was when these themes came together as the heart of the novel that I was able to shape the story into the book you’ll read today.

These days, I am struck time and again by how much being a writer and being a psychologist have in common. Both therapy and writing are all about words and narratives; these truly are the “tools of our trade”. In both fiction writing and in the process of therapy, we share and absorb stories in order to make sense of the world, and try to understand our own complicated human natures. And both characters in stories and the clients in my practice go on profound journeys of change. 

Looking back now, I wonder whether I would ever have had the confidence to write Little White Lies without my background in psychology. To be honest, I am not sure that I would! 

LITTLE WHITE LIES JPEG copy

Review: ‘The Silent House’ by Nell Pattison

If someone was in your house, you’d know … Wouldn’t you?

But the Hunter family are deaf, and don’t hear a thing when a shocking crime takes place in the middle of the night. The following morning, they wake up to their worst nightmare: the murder of their daughter, Lexi.

The police call Paige Northwood to the scene to interpret for the witnesses. They’re in shock, but Paige senses the Hunters are hiding something.

One by one, people from Paige’s community start to fall under suspicion. But who would kill a little girl? An intruder? Or someone closer to home?

The Silent House‘ is a great read thanks to its intriguing mystery and the community in which it is set. Having a British Sign Language interpreter as the main character was a really original idea. Using Paige as an intermediary ensures that the reader is privy to information that she may or may not share with the investigating officers. 

Not only is ‘The Silent House‘ a great mystery but it also gives an insight into a community that many people may not be familiar with. The reader is introduced to the deaf club as well as being shown the difficulties faced by members of the deaf community when communicating with people. Pattison demonstrates real skill, weaving the story around the characters and their needs – I felt I learned a lot about the deaf community but this didn’t detract from the story at all. In fact, it made the story richer and more layered.

There are plenty of potential suspects for Lexi’s murder, all with their own motivations and secrets. Pattison ramps up the suspense with her skilled storytelling, interspersing Paige’s perspective as the narrative unfolds with chapters detailing what certain characters were doing hours before the murder. 

In addition to the crime element, there is also the hint of a love triangle, leaving the door open for romantic complications later in the series. 

The Silent House‘ is a unique police procedural featuring a diverse cast of characters and I’m really looking forward to the next novel by Nell Pattison.

Vic x

Review: ‘Who Killed Ruby’ by Camilla Way

Over thirty years ago, Vivienne was in the house when her older sister Ruby was murdered. 

Jack Delaney – Ruby’s boyfriend – served thirty years in prison for Ruby’s murder following Vivienne’s evidence but on the anniversary of Ruby’s death, Vivienne receives a delivery of irises – her sister’s favourite flowers. Sinister messages continue and end up pushing Vivienne into trying to discover if she was wrong. 

Who Killed Ruby?‘ is a slow burn psychological thriller with plenty of twists and turns. Way peppers the narrative with clues and although I worked a few little things out, I certainly didn’t see the reveal coming!

Who Killed Ruby?‘ has a steady pace but the tension – and the pace – ratchets up in the final third of the book.

With an interesting cast of characters and plenty of red herrings, ‘Who Killed Ruby?‘ is a compelling read. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Hysteria’ by L.J. Ross

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Following his last case in Ireland, criminal profiler Alexander Gregory is called upon by the French police to investigate a spate of murders during Paris Fashion Week. One victim has survived but she’s too traumatised to talk. Without her help, the police are powerless to stop the killer before he strikes again – can Gregory unlock the secrets of her mind, before it’s too late?

L.J. Ross takes readers to Paris in this, the second in the Dr Alexander Gregory series. The descriptions of The City of Light reflect the storyline where the world’s most beautiful people have gathered for fashion week but juxtaposes the brutality of the murders Gregory is investigating. Ross’s descriptions evoked such strong imagery that I could see the action unfolding in my mind’s eye. 

It’s difficult not to draw parallels with this novel and what’s going on in the entertainment industry at the moment regarding abuses of power and the #metoo movement. Featuring illegal dealings and murky underworlds, ‘Hysteria‘ pulls the reader in and uncovers the horror that lurks behind the glamour. 

The characterisation of Gregory is further explored through his relationship with a mystery woman. He’s a complex character and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he develops as the series continues. The way in which Ross uses Gregory to explain psychological conditions and theories is really well done. 

As always, Ross weaves a compelling narrative full of characters with substance. I particularly enjoyed that Ross uses a smattering of French in the book and doesn’t underestimate her readers by then providing translations.

Hysteria‘ is a well-written novel with a surprising conclusion. Whether or not you’ve read novels by L.J. Ross before, you won’t want to miss ‘Hysteria‘. 

Vic x

Review: ‘One Christmas Night’ by Hayley Webster

Christmas is ruined on Newbury Street, Norwich, following a spate of burglaries. Rumours are swirling that the thief may even live on the street. Instead of festive cheer, the residents are filled with suspicion and dread. 

The police have increased their presence on Newbury Street and as Christmas creeps closer, their investigations reveal that everyone has something to hide. 

But Christmas is a time for miracles… and if they open up their hearts and look out for each other, they might discover the biggest miracle of all.

Hayley Webster has written a lovely book with believable characters that the reader roots for. I really enjoyed the fact that ‘One Christmas Night‘ combines a mystery with heartwarming subplots.

As the story went on, I got more and more involved in the lives of these characters. I really admire that Webster manages to move the reader without being overly-sentimental. 

Although it’s an easy read, ‘One Christmas Night‘ tackles serious subjects like racism, fraud and coercive control. I haven’t read a book with such a compelling cast of characters since ‘The Casual Vacancy‘.

I couldn’t put ‘One Christmas Night‘ down – it is the perfect festive read. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Impostor’ by L.J. Ross

Forensic psychologist Doctor Alexander Gregory is renowned for being able to uncover whatever secrets lie hidden in the darkest of minds and, very quickly, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation.

A killer is on the loose in County Mayo, Ireland and panic has taken hold on the rural community. The Garda are running out of time. Despite swearing to follow a quiet life, Gregory finds it impossible to turn down their desperate request for assistance.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of L.J. Ross’s DCI Ryan series so it was with some excitement that I picked up ‘Impostor‘, the first book in the Alexander Gregory series. 

Despite having insane success with the DCI Ryan series, L.J. Ross has shown she isn’t afraid to take risks by embarking on a new series set in a new location. Ross has clearly done her research into psychological profilers – her portrayal of Gregory demonstrates her depth of knowledge. However, the story doesn’t lose its pace or get bogged down in unnecessary detail. It’s a real skill that Ross has honed – balancing backstory with pace. 

The characters in ‘Impostor‘ are well-drawn with hidden depths. Gregory’s backstory is intriguing and I like how Ross manages to create three-dimensional characters who contribute to the narrative throughout.

Setting ‘Impostor‘ in Ireland gives Ross plenty of beautiful scenery to draw on and she does so with aplomb. L.J. Ross uses the countryside to create an atmosphere that contributes to the tense narrative. 

As usual, L.J. Ross ensures that the reader is kept guessing until the very end. I was convinced I knew who the perpetrator was, only to be blind-sided by the big reveal. 

I’m looking forward to reading ‘Hysteria‘, the next in the series. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Warehouse’ by Rob Hart

Unemployment and bankruptcy have devastated the globe but in America, online store Cloud offers workers paid opportunities as well as homes in their live-work facilities. Spearheaded by a charismatic CEO, Cloud has branded itself as something of a saviour but underneath the supposed wonder of Cloud, something sinister is lurking. 

Entrepreneur Paxton never thought he’d be working for the company that ruined his business but compared to what’s left outside, he figures perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. When he meets fellow Cloud employee Zinnia, Paxton begins to thank his lucky stars but Zinnia has her eyes on another prize: Paxton’s all-access security pass. 

As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place.

It’s fairly clear that Rob Hart has written ‘The Warehouse‘ as a comment on a number of multinational corporations and the abuse they visit on their employees as well as small businesses and entrepreneurs who they regard as competition. ‘The Warehousemight be set in a dystopian future but it’s very easy to see how we could get there.

Hart has created a number of characters who are believable and easy to empathise with. I especially respected his ability to write one particularly abhorrent character who works as the perfect metaphor for Cloud. 

Weaving the backstory of Cloud, as told by its charming CEO, alongside Zinnia’s and Paxton’s stories ensures that the reader is kept intrigued throughout this story of corporate espionage in a world where everyone has their own agenda. 

Vic x

**I Will Miss You Tomorrow Blog Tour**

blog tour visual

I’m really pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Heine Bakkeid’s ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow‘, the first in a new Norwegian crime series.

Fresh out of prison and a stint in a psychiatric hospital, disgraced ex-Chief Inspector Thorkild Aske only wants to lose himself in drugged dreams of Frei, the woman he loved but has lost forever. 

Yet when Frei’s young cousin goes missing off the Norwegian coast and Thorkild is called in by the family to help find him, dead or alive, Thorkild cannot refuse. He owes them this.

Tormented by his past, Thorkild soon finds himself deep in treacherous waters. He’s lost his reputation – will he now lose his life?

My thanks to Raven Books for inviting me to be a part of the tour and to Heine for taking the time to answer my questions. 

Vic x

Tell us a little about yourself…
I grew up in the North of Norway, in a place called Belnes. Just five houses, with the polar night looming above, the mountains behind us and the sea in front. It’s the kind of place where, as a kid, you can run around all day, play, and not see another human being. I used to read a lot, and developed a sturdy imagination, something that resulted in me getting lost I my own thoughts whenever and wherever I was. I still get lost in my own thoughts, usually thinking about characters I have created/want to get to know better, scenes I want to write, plots, and forget that I’m with other people, people that expect me to answer back when they talk to me. (My wife especially, finds this hilarious😊) Growing up in such a small place, you kind of get to be comfortable in your own skin and being on your own. Becoming a writer was therefore the perfect match for me, also because writers are often easily forgiven for being kind of weird sometimes, so …

And what can you tell us about ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow’? 
One of the things that has always fascinated me is how men, the kind of men I grew up around, handled their problems. It’s kind of expected that you sort yourself out and get on with your day. The main characters in crime fiction always seem to have certain traits; when you first meet them, they are broken in some way or form, and I always wondered why. How did they get there, to this point? So, when I first started writing about Thorkild Aske, I knew that this was something that I wanted to explore in the series. But also, what happens with a lone investigator-type, who doesn’t even want to fix himself, who can’t put himself together and just get on with it, but who actively sabotages his own well-being. So, when we first meet Thorkild in ‘I Will Miss You Tomorrow‘ he’s just been released from prison, has lost his job as an Interrogation Officer with the Internal Affairs and is heavily abusing the pain medication his psychiatrist has given him. He is then forced to travel to the far north to investigate the disappearance of a young man who was renovating an old light house. What he then finds, is a young woman without a face in the breaking sea.

How long have you been writing? 
I started writing in my late twenties in 2003. I was studying programming in Stavanger and was well on my way to become a System Developer. Being a writer isn’t really something people from where I come from see as an option. Programming is as close to the inner circles of hell as you can get; it’s so structured, narrow, and has no freedom to go beyond the boundaries of the programming language, and I hated it.
One night, I had been hung up on this scene with this character (which later became Thorkild Aske) for a whole week and couldn’t sleep, so I just got up and started writing, hoping the scene would go away so that I could get some sleep. I wrote about fifty pages the following days, but quickly realized that I was way too young to write about such a character and decided that I was going to wait with the Thorkild Aske books until I got older.
But I still loved writing, this new-found way to escape the pains of programming, so I just kept writing and finished my first novel for young adults the same month as I completed my bachelor’s degree. I told myself that if the manuscript got published, I would become a writer, and if not, I would go on to my Master’s degree and slowly die, one day at a time, in some stupid office.

What was your journey to publication like?
I still know by heart the first line in the official letter from the publishing house that took on my manuscript. They had sent the manuscript to a well-known Norwegian YA-author who was consulting for them. “Finally, something that is pure gold, in an otherwise regular work day where everything is just so-so.” (I’m really butchering the English language on this one😊) So, with those words in mind I felt that I had moved a couple of inches away from that office space in hell, and decided to tell my wife that I was starting over again, from scratch with only my student debt in my backpack. I was going to become a writer. The book got published in 2005, and three years and three books later, in March 2008, I quit my day job and became a writer full-time.

Are you working on anything at the moment? Can you tell us about it?
Right now, I’m working on the fourth installment of the Thorkild Aske series. The story takes place in Stavanger, where the police have just dug up the body of one of their own, a dirty cop who went missing in 2011, a man that Thorkild Aske shares a personal past with. This one is going to get pretty intense.

What do you like most about writing?
As I said in the beginning, for as long as I can remember, I have been reading and making up my own stories and creating scenes in my head. Becoming a writer was the perfect outlet for this affliction. Telling stories is also the one thing that makes me truly happy.

What do you like least?
Editing. If I find a better way to tell a story, I will go and rewrite. This makes the editing process longer and more painful.

What are you reading at the moment?
The Secret History‘ by Donna Tartt. Very promising😊

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
The Norwegian writer and poet André Bjerke. He wrote children’s books, poems and psychological mystery novels in the 1940’s.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I did these writing courses for school kids in Norway after I got published and saw all the raw talents that were out there, young girls and boys that reminded me of myself at that age. I used to tell them to forget the “good student” type of writing and find their own expression, their own way to tell a story, to portray characters, their emotions and so on. Because that is what readers (and publishers) are looking for: something unique, different. That, and to edit, edit, edit and edit.

What’s been your proudest moment as a writer?
This one, most definitely😊 Being published in the UK, the land of Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter and C. J. Sansom, among so many others. Though, I must admit that my new favourite author is actually Irish: Adrian McKinty. The Sean Duffy series: wow, just … wow!