Tag Archives: protagonist

Getting to Know You: Adam Peacock

Drum roll please! May I introduce you to Adam Peacock, a member of Elementary Writers and author of ‘Open Grave‘.

Because Adam is a debut author, I wanted to introduce him to you as I suspect you will be reading Adam’s novels for many years to come.

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

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
My novel Open Grave is a crime thriller set in the North East of England. The protagonist, DCI Jack Lambert, is different to most other detectives within the genre in that he is gay. On a personal level, this is something he is struggling with, having only recently made this admission at the beginning of the book.

The main ‘crime’ within the story is that of a serial killer who is murdering people in pairs, burying them and then digging them up so that they can be found. Alongside this, gang warfare is about to break out between rival criminal groups and a well-known local celebrity reports that she is being stalked. I wanted to create a sprawling world within my book with multiple threads, the idea being that nothing ever resolves neatly, with certain storylines and characters crossing over into future novels.

What inspired your novel?
I read a lot of crime and so it felt natural to write something within that genre. The inspiration for Open Grave came about from an image I had in my head of a crime scene in which a member of the public stumbles across two bodies in an open grave (strange, I know). The story unfolded from there.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I quite enjoy editing, which is a good thing as there’s always plenty to do when you don’t intricately plot your book before beginning! Knowing that I am whipping something up into shape is a great feeling.

The thing I dislike most about writing is just how easy it is to fall out of your routine when it comes to putting words onto the page. Like most things in life, a few days away from the computer can easily stretch into weeks and this can lead to unnecessary procrastination.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I do find the time to read. As I prefer to write in the mornings, I dedicate time to read most evenings. I’m currently reading Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As a writer, I would have to say Stephen King and Jo Nesbo. I would also include Lee Child in that list. With regards to Stephen King, I read his book On Writing before I penned so much as a character profile and I use the template he gives in terms of how to go about writing. I also enjoy reading his books!

As for Jo Nesbo, I find the protagonist Harry Hole to be a wonderfully complex character. He has many of the traits that we see in crime fiction from such detectives but I find myself invested in Harry in a way that I rarely find in other books. I also like that Nesbo leaves certain threads open between books, which always leaves me wanting to read more. With Lee Child, it has to be his pacing. I find myself flying through his books and every page carries a tension with it. This is something I am hoping to refine in my own work moving forward.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually they just pop into my head either as an image – like happened with Open Grave –  or as a question. I like the idea of concocting a problem, in the form of a question, which seemingly makes no sense initially. Within my own writing, I basically keep asking a number of questions until an answer presents itself. This helps create misdirection.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I enjoy the opening scene from Open Grave, mainly because it is the opening chapter of my first published novel. In terms of a character, it would have to be gangland boss Dorian McGuinness, my protagonist’s former employer. I feel like his character has a lot of room to grow and that there are all manner of skeletons in his closet which may or may not be revealed in future…

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the second novel in the DCI Jack Lambert series and I’m excited to see where it will go. This novel is a little more focused around one event and, with characters having already been established in the first novel, I am keen to see how they react to the hurdles put before them.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
In a non-direct sense, Stephen King’s ‘just get an idea and go with it’ has had the biggest impact on me. Whilst this can lead to a lot of editing, it minimises the scope for procrastination and I find myself able to get on with things. I also try to stick to his mantra of completing 1,000 words a day with varying degrees of success.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m definitely not a plotter! Get the idea and run with it. Of course, as I work through a novel, ideas spring into my head in terms of where I want things to go, but you won’t find any colour-coded charts or timelines pinned to my wall. I should point out, that’s not a judgement on writers that do spend time plotting, I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes! Read Stephen King’s On Writing, get yourself along to a writing group and don’t fret about giving it a go. Most writers I meet begin by being somewhat self-conscious about their work, often talking down their ability and/or experience. I’d say just get stuck in and see what happens. If you can get into some kind of writing routine, you’ll soon see huge improvements in your work.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Until recent times it would have been winning the Writers’ Forum monthly magazine short story competition. However, opening the email from Bloodhound Books to find that they believed in my work and wanted to publish Open Grave has definitely topped all other writing-related moments!

You can order/download Open Grave‘ now. You can also follow Adam on Twitter and on Facebook

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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.

Guest Post: Judy Penz Sheluk on Using your Past to Create your Present

I’m pleased to have Judy Penz Sheluk here today to talk about her forthcoming release ‘Past & Present‘ and how her own family’s journey inspired it.

I’m so grateful to Judy for sharing such a personal experience with us. 

Vic x

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I’m Canadian, born and raised in Toronto, and I’ve lived within a two-hour drive of that city all my life. My parents, on the other hand, were first generation Canadians, having immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s.

Their stories are similar to so many of the time. My father was born in Apatin, Yugoslavia, a small town on the Danube that is now part of Serbia. My mother was born in Stettin, Germany, now known as Szczecin and part of Poland. Both of them, teenagers during the war, and displaced after, made their way to England and settled in Nottingham for a period of time. 

By the time they met at a local dance, my father was set to immigrate to Toronto, Canada, in February of 1952 (such a brave soul—Toronto in February is, at best, cold and snowy, and at worst, colder and snowier). At any rate, it must have been love at first sight, because my mother applied for her own papers and arrived in Toronto in July 1952, on a hot, humid day. They married that October. 

Fast forward to September 21, 2016, when my mother, Anneliese, passed away from complications of COPD, following my father, Anton “Toni” Penz, who had died of stomach cancer in 1970 at the age of 42. Among her things was an old train case, and within it, her old passport, immigration papers, and documents and postcards from the T.S.S. Canberra, the ship she sailed over on. My mother had never talked much about her life “before Canada” and I became fascinated with finding out everything I could. The resulting research sparked an idea for a book, and my protagonist’s research into the past often mirrors my own, right down to the frustrating bits.

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T.S.S. Canberra postcard, c. 1950s.

I’ve dedicated Past & Present to my mother, and the release date of September 21, 2018, falls exactly two years after her passing. I like to think she’s with my father again, watching over me as my journey continues. 

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About Past & Present:

Sometimes the past reaches out to the present…

It’s been thirteen months since Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherited a house in Marketville under the condition that she search for the person who murdered her mother thirty years earlier. She solves the mystery, but what next? Unemployment? Another nine-to-five job in Toronto? 

Callie decides to set down roots in Marketville, take the skills and knowledge she acquired over the past year, and start her own business: Past & Present Investigations.

It’s not long before Callie and her new business partner, best friend Chantelle Marchand, get their first client: a woman who wants to find out everything she can about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, and how she came to a “bad end” in 1956. It sounds like a perfect first assignment. Except for one thing: Anneliese’s past winds its way into Callie’s present, and not in a manner anyone—least of all Callie—could have predicted. 

About the author: Judy Penz Sheluk is the Amazon international bestselling author of the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short stories appear in several collections.

Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime International, International Thriller Writers, Inc., the South Simcoe Arts Council, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors, representing Toronto and  Southwestern Ontario.

Judy Penz Sheluk’s latest book in her Marketville Mystery series, Past & Present’, is now available for pre-order on Amazon in trade paperback and on Kindle.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Alan Parkinson

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

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hosting the first ever Noir at the Bar in Sunderland as part of Sunderland’s Creative Writing Festival. One of the writers on the bill that night was the lovely Alan Parkinson

Alan is here today to talk about how his work life has affected his writing. If you haven’t read any of Alan’s work, I strongly recommend that you do. You can also catch Alan on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

IMG_5043.jpgTwo years ago, I gave up the day job to become a full-time writer and there were many things I took into consideration. Could I afford it? Despite the romanticised image of life as a writer, it is generally a poorly paid profession.

Would I be taken seriously? I’d self-published two novels at that stage. They’d done well but was that enough to sustain a career in writing?

Would my friends ever stop thinking I was unemployed? The answer to that one is no, they still ask if I’ve got a ‘proper job’.

One thing I hadn’t considered, and possibly the most crucial thing of all, was would I lose my most valuable source of material?

Writing is all about observation. Noticing the small detail in things and shaping it into your own little world. I thrive on seeing humour in every situation, even the darkest moments, and thinking about how I can use it in a future story.

Whether they realise it or not, my workmates were a deep well of idiosyncrasies, amusing phrases and peculiar behaviours. As were the hundreds of people I saw on my commute each day and the thousands I encountered on my daily lunchtime wander around Newcastle. I was giving that up to sit at my posh writing desk, on my posh writing chair (I soon moved to the settee) and meet and talk to nobody other than the Amazon delivery driver and my elderly neighbour asking me to fix her laptop again.

This is why you see so many dull novels where the protagonist is a writer struggling to put words on a page; by becoming a writer they have lost their inspiration.

Leg It

That’s not to say I’ve ever taken person wholesale and put them in a book; I’ve yet to meet anybody interesting enough. I steal one characteristic and match it with another, and another from somebody else, and shape a new character.

I do the same with situations. I’ll take real life situations, adapt and exaggerate them with different characters to make my story come alive.

When I worked for one of the world’s largest banks. In a period of months, we had one colleague locked up for murder, one for attempted murder and another for a dodgy internet history. I’ve never considered any of them worthy of writing about because they are all a bit ‘obvious’.  It’s the little things that are funny and give your story life.

It’s over fifteen years since I worked in a call centre but my short time there has inspired two novels, Idle Threats and my current work in progress, Troll Life. Anybody who has ever worked in a call centre or phoned one will recognise the utter despair and understand how it can drive people to extremes. 

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I’ve never been in an armed siege, or dressed as a Mexican, or dealt with an irate customer in their pyjamas but my experience in a call centre helped me make this unlikely scenario realistic.

I don’t regret my decision for a minute but every now and then I long for a workmate who would say “I wish Andrea would move to one side, so I can get a good blast of her fan.”

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**The Dark Web Blog Tour** Author Interview

As part of ‘The Dark Web‘ blog tour, I’d like to welcome Christopher Lowery to the blog. ‘The Dark Web‘ is the final part in ‘The African Diamonds Trilogy‘. 

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

Vic x

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Tell us about your books.
My first three books comprise The African Diamonds Trilogy, an adventure/thriller series, featuring a principal female protagonist, Jenny Bishop, and a number of other key characters who appear in more than one book. All of the stories have multiple plots and take place in many countries all over the world.

The Angolan Clan begins in Portugal at the time of the 1974 ‘Revolution of the Carnations’, a bloodless overthrow of the fascist regime by the army, which was then hijacked by communists. This had devastating consequences for Portugal and its colonies, Angola, Mozambique etc, and led to bloody civil wars which lasted up to 25 years. An event occurs which creates a series of murders 40 years later.

The Rwandan Hostage is based upon the genocide of one million Tutsis by the Hutus in 1994. A raped Tutsi girl dies while giving birth to a child. The consequences manifest themselves 15 years later, when a boy is abducted in Johannesburg.

The Dark Web is the story of a political power play in the form of a devastating cyber-attack by a malicious, corrupt foreign power aimed at neighboring countries. A young computer scientist discovers the conspiracy and risks his life to prevent it and avoid a global conflict.

What inspired them?
All the stories are based upon my own life and career experiences and those of my family over the last 40 years and are semi-autobiographical/historical/factual. Together we have lived through a number of world-changing events in many countries around the world. 

What do you like most about writing?
Creating fictional stories from factual and often personally witnessed events. Extensive research to refresh/enhance personal knowledge.

What do you dislike (if anything)?
Typing. 

Do you find time to read? If so what are you reading at the moment?
I read very few modern books and still enjoy reading old ones.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Wilkie Collins, Frederick Forsythe, JRR Tolkien, Tom Clancy, Neville Shute, Ken Follett, H Rider Haggard, John Buchan, PG Wodehouse.

Where do you get your ideas from?
My life and my imagination.

What is the favourite scene, character and story you’ve written?
In The Angolan Clan; at the diamond mine when Olivier and friends turn the tables on Gomez and his army bodyguards.
Lord Arthur Dudley, from The Rwandan Hostage, a brilliant, amoral, ruthless, but likeable villain.
I think The Angolan Clan is a successful example of twin stories, which finally converge at the climax.

What are you working on at the moment?
The Mosul Legacy
, about the retaking of Mosul by the coalition forces in 2016. Again a twin story contrasting the comparative ease with which terrorists can cross the Schengen Zone to commit atrocities in Western Europe and the dreadful obstacles and dangers facing innocent refugees seeking peace and safety. 

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
My daughter, Kerry-Jane: ‘Make your books shorter.’

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a jigsaw builder. I envisage the overall picture/plot, then I let my characters find the pieces to complete it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Ensure you have another means of earning a living.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
When Matthew Smith, at Urbane Publications agreed to publish The Angolan Clan.

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About ‘The Dark Web

The tentacles of the Dark Web are tightening their grip around the world. From Moscow to Shanghai, Washington, UK, the Middle East and Europe, nowhere is beyond their reach.

When a computer scientist dies mysteriously in Dubai, Jenny Bishop’s nephew, Leo Stewart, is hired to replace him. Leo’s life is soon in danger, but he is the only person who can find the key to prevent an impending global cyber-attack. With the help of Jenny and old and new friends, he must neutralise the threat before the world’s vital services are brought to a halt in a flagrant attempt to once again redraw the borders of Europe and Asia. Can the deadly conspiracy be exposed before the world is thrust into a new Cold War?

Christopher Lowery delivers a gripping final chapter in the bestselling African Diamonds trilogy, with a thriller that is powerfully resonant of today’s global dangers, hidden behind the ever-changing technological landscape.

The perfect read for fans of Gerald Seymour, Wilbur Smith and Frederick Forsyth.

 

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.

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.