Tag Archives: crime writing

Guest Post: Louise Mangos on Writing What You Know

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It is my pleasure today to welcome Louise Mangos to the blog to talk about her intimate knowledge of the setting for her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘.

Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, been placed on shortlists, and have also been read on BBC radio. Her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘ is published by HQ Digital (Harper Collins) in ebook, paperback and on audio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook and Twitter or visit her website where there are links to more of her stories. Louise lives in Switzerland with her husband and two sons.

Vic x

Portrait with orange dress

The much-travelled author Mark Twain allegedly said “write what you know. Having spent much of my time in central Switzerland for the past twenty years, the one thing I feel confident in portraying in my novels is the setting. Both my first and second novels are set in and around the Swiss Alps. 

Strangers on a Bridge begins with ex-pat Alice Reed out for a jog one morning when she sees a man – Manfred – about to jump from the Lorzentobelbrücke. As this is rather a mouthful for English readers, it is referred to in the novel as the Tobel Bridge. In reality it is a notorious suicide hotspot that has sadly found its way into many local newspaper articles over the years.

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A quick trip on the bike to re-visit the setting for the first scene on the Tobel Bridges.

The area surrounding the village where my protagonist Alice lives is called the Aegerital, or the Aegeri Valley. It is a cleft of land gouged out of alpine granite with rivers running in and out of the jewel at its centre – the Aegeri Lake. Our family moved there twenty years ago when my first son was six months old. Many of the difficulties Alice faces in Strangers on a Bridge were challenges I also faced when we first moved, speaking no German and pre-occupied with a new baby. 

But that’s where the similarities end. I’m happy to report I never witnessed a person wanting to jump from the Tobel Bridge, and I was certainly never stalked by anybody. I should also point out that we worked hard to integrate into the community we now live in. We made an early effort to learn the language, and have experienced friendliness and acceptance from our neighbours ever since.

During the creative and theoretical modules for my Masters in Crime Writing at UEA, two of my professors, Henry Sutton and Tom Benn, talked about the importance of setting in a novel. They encouraged the students to incorporate the setting to such an extent that it effectively becomes one of the characters. 

No matter where a crime novel is set, this atmosphere must be conveyed to the reader to enhance the tension. This might include how a setting behaves through the seasons, for example, the environmental influences in extreme weather conditions.

Strangers on a Bridge begins in spring, the perfect opening for any novel. The season of births and beginnings. Alice is out for a spring jog when she sees Manfred on the bridge and is convinced he is about to jump. Her shock jars alarmingly with the beautiful alpine spring surroundings.

A great deal of research was still undertaken to make the narrative of this psychological thriller believable. Although I am familiar with many of the rules and traditions in Switzerland, police and legal procedures had to be subsequently verified and checked.

But with the setting clearly cemented as one of the characters in the narrative, it was a pleasure to embellish the plot to match the drama of the Alps.

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The view of the Aegerital from Alice’s running trail in spring.

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicola Ford

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’s guest is Nicola Ford. Nic’s here to talk to us about her double life and how that influenced her to write her debut novel ‘The Hidden Bones‘. My thanks to Nic for sharing her knowledge and experience with us. 

Vic x

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I love writing. I’ve always loved writing. And I’ve always loved reading crime fiction. So when I decided to turn my hand to writing fiction there was only ever going to be one genre for me. And I’m among the most fortunate of people because after much time spent applying my backside to my office chair and, as seems compulsory for all writers more than a smattering of self-doubt, my debut crime novel The Hidden Bones was published in June this year. 

So I have a job I love – crime writer. But that’s not the end of the story, or maybe I should say it’s not really even the beginning; because like many writers I lead a double life. By night I’m crime fiction writer Nicola Ford but by day I’m Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. 

So I live a life steeped in the distant past. Wiltshire, the place that I’ve called home for a decade and a half is thronging with ancient burial mounds and prehistoric stone circles. And much of my time is spent digging up their secrets and delving into the mysteries that lie buried deep within museum archives.

Some writers may dream of giving up the day job, but for me I’m an archaeologist to my core. It’s one half of who I am and provides not only the backdrop, but also the inspiration for my crime writing. The Hidden Bones is set amid the chalk uplands of the Marlborough Downs an area I know intimately as I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life working there. 

Often rural is equated with ‘cosy’, but for those of us who live and work here we know that life in the countryside is anything but. If you’re born without money or means, or elderly and alone, rural life can be tough. And the shock waves left behind by violent crime can have a deep resonance that persists down through the generations in small, sometimes isolated communities.

The Hidden Bones delves into the secrets of one such community.  Clare Hills returns to Wiltshire in search of new direction in her life after the death of her husband in a car crash. She’s only too glad to take up old college friend, Dr David Barbrook’s offer of helping sift through the effects of recently deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart. When they discover the finds and journals from Gerald’s most glittering excavation, they think they’ve found every archaeologist’s dream. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth forever.

In both halves of my working life I spend my time dealing with the dead. And in trying to figure out how they came to die, I’ve found that the most important clues are often found in understanding how they lived. I’m fascinated by the imprint that choices made by people in the – sometimes far distant – past leave on our lives, in ways we may never understand. And many of the scientific techniques I draw upon in my day job form the fundamental building blocks of modern police investigations. So Nicola Ford crime writer is inextricably interlinked with Dr Nick Snashall archaeologist. Two halves, one whole – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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Review of 2017: Nick Quantrill

Another of our Saint Nicks is Nick Quantrill. Nick has kindly been contributing to the annual reviews on this very blog since they started in 2012. 

Nick has been a friend of mine for many years and he’s an absolute star. Thankfully Nick’s talent and hard work is being recognised but I’ll let him explain more. 

Merry Christmas, Nick, here’s to a brilliant 2018!

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
It has to be Hull Noir, a crime writing festival I worked on alongside Nick Triplow and Nikki East as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations. It was something that was on the radar from the moment Hull was shortlisted for the award in 2013, but it took up a huge amount of time and effort as the year progressed. Looking back, to entice the likes of Martina Cole, Mark Billingham, John Connolly and many others to take part was incredible. The turnout and reception the festival received was also incredible, so we’ve got some serious thinking to do about what might come next. 

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
The whole 2017 UK City of Culture programme in Hull has been amazing. Plenty people either mocked or scratched their heads when my city was announced as the host, and maybe with good cause, but it feels like perceptions are changing. The city has had a real buzz about it this year and I know Hull Noir visitors enjoyed their stay. 

Favourite book in 2017?
I’ve been lucky to have so much great reading pushed my way via chairing and interviewing at various events and festivals. The year started strongly with The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott, took in brilliant debuts like, Sirens by Joseph Knox and featured some reading for pleasure from the likes of Stav Sherez and Michael Connelly. I’ve also received some proofs of exciting 2018 titles. Keep your eyes peeled for This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan and Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh. 

Favourite film in 2017?
It’s bad, but I’m not even sure I saw a new film at the cinema this year. Box set wise, The Deuce from David Simon and George Pelecanos tackled a tough subject admirably. Peaky Blinders seems to have rediscovered its mojo and Bosch continues to impress. 

Favourite song of the year?
I’m old-school enough to think in terms of albums and even buy them on vinyl. The Navigator by Hurray For The Riff Raff blew me away. Alynda Segarra is the business. It’s an album that mixes up folk, country, doo wop, post-punk and everything in between, but has a fire and anger to it about the state of the world.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
On a personal level, Hull Noir and various other writing projects saw my own novel writing grind to a bit of a halt. There were a couple of false starts, which were totally my fault, but generally, it hasn’t been a good year in terms of producing new material. On the plus side, I’ve developed new skills and I’m proud of the feature pieces I produced for the 2017 UK City of Culture website, but I know what I need to do in 2018.

Words can’t describe the loss of Helen Cadbury to the writing world, but as readers and writers we’ve lost a friend and colleague. Writers are lucky to live on through their words, and there’s some comfort to be found in Helen’s final novel and poetry collection, but it’s not enough.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Nope. I know what I need to do, but I think formalising them as resolutions adds a layer of pressure that isn’t necessarily healthy.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
The priority is to get a new novel finished. I’ve broken ground on it and maybe a sort-of enforced break hasn’t hurt, but I’m ready to be a writer again. I enjoy the chairing opportunities that come my way, so hope to receive a few more invites. I also want to play my part in Hull building on such a positive year.

Review of 2017: Neil Broadfoot

Hold onto your (Santa) hats, we have a double bill to celebrate Christmas Eve. Today we have Ne-il [Broadfoot], Ne-il [White] – sorry, I’m a little giddy thanks to the magic of the season (or maybe the Baileys).

Anyway, our first Ne-il (sorry) is Mr Broadfoot – one of my many crime writing buddies. 

I’m raising a glass of Baileys to you, Mr B!

Vic x


Favourite memory professionally:
It’s been a great year professionally, from signing a new three-book deal with Constable to going to Harrogate for the first time (and reading at Noir at the Bar!) seeing the first translation of my first book, Falling Fast. I’m not sure how professional it is, but my standout moment of the year was the Four Blokes In Search of a Plot panel at Bloody Scotland. It was the first time Douglas (Skelton), Mark (Leggatt), Gordon (Brown) and I had tried out the new format for the panel, where the crowd give us a name and a murder weapon and we try to write a story in 100 word chunks while the other three discuss all things crime with the audience. I was cataclysmically hung over after the infamous Bloody Scotland night at the Curly Coo the night before, but somehow the panel, like the rest of Bloody Scotland, worked. We were the last panel of the weekend yet we still got an audience of more than 60 people, they were totally up for it and it was a great laugh. And sitting there, with a tea cosy on my head, I remember thinking how lucky I am to be part of this brilliant community of writers and readers.

Favourite book:
It’s been another incredibly strong year for crime fiction, with some brilliant work being produced. It’s almost impossible to choose a stand-out from the crowd, but there are a couple that stick in the memory. Craig Russell’s The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, which was shortlisted for the McIllvanney Prize at Bloody Scotland, was a masterclass in immersive, compelling writing that transports you back to 50s Glasgow and all the dangers and moral ambiguity that lurk there.  Slow on the uptake, but I finally got round to reading Stuart Neville’s The Twelve and was blown away by Fegan and the demons that haunt him. Writing as Haylen Beck, Neville’s Here and Gone was a white-knuckle, read-it-in-one shot of pure adrenaline you can’t miss.

Looking ahead, I’ve been lucky enough to get sneak peeks of two of next year’s biggest books. Luca Veste’s The Bone Keeper is just brilliant – but maybe not one to read late at night. With a real sense of menace bleeding from the pages, this is a serial killer thriller that will linger long after the last page. Meanwhile, his partner in podcast crime, Steve Cavanagh, has produced a masterclass in tight, tense storytelling with Thirteen. With a (serial) killer hook and perfect delivery, his latest adventure with New York defence lawyer Eddie Flynn is the book that will send his career into the stratosphere.

Favourite song:
If I don’t say You’re Welcome from the film Moana, my three-year-old will kill me. She’s obsessed with that song and duets with me when she can. And yes, it is an ear worm and no; I don’t want to talk about it. *Hums what can I say except…*

Downsides:
Life is a series of ups and downs, but you have to keep looking up. One big downside of this year was losing my beagle, Sam. He’d been with me since he was a pup; saw me through marriage, two kids and seeing my lifelong dream of being published come true. Then one day he went off his food, went to the vet and was gone. It’s a cliché, but dogs really are man’s best friend, and I still miss the Old Man – and his snoring from the cushion next to me as I write.

Resolutions:
I need to get rid of my book belly! When I’m writing, I can’t train, my brain can’t cope with running the different mental soundtracks of being physically fit and thinking about plots, characters etc at the same time, so the physical activity and healthy eating gives way to sitting in my chair and endless biscuits when I’m on a book. But now that No-Man’s Land is done (save edits) it’s back to the gym for me!

Hopes for 2018:
The first book in my new Stirling-set series, No-Man’s Land, is due out in September, and I hope everyone enjoys reading about Connor Fraser as much as I enjoyed writing about him. I’m also looking forward to getting back onto the road with the other three blokes for more fun and mayhem, so I hope the crowds enjoy the shows as much as we do.

Away from books, I hope the world comes to its senses a little. There’s a growing feeling that everything is building to a crescendo, from the tweeter-in-chief to the cliff edge of Brexit, and I hope cooler heads can prevail over the megaphone diplomacy and bigotry-as-patriotism crap we’re seeing now.