Tag Archives: publisher

2018 Review: Theresa Talbot

Yesterday’s 2018 reviewer was Harry Gallagher. Today, we welcome Theresa Talbot. Like Harry, Theresa has had a very eventful year.

My thanks to her for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
For me 2018 has been the best year ever – in so many ways. Professionally, I signed with a new publisher Aria, and new agent Nicola Barr which was super. Aria re-released my debut crime novel in April of this year, and gave it a total revamp including new title & new cover. It’s now The Lost Children – it was re-edited too which for me gave it a whole new dimension and helped established the characters for the follow-up novel. Which allows me to seamlessly mention Keep Her Silent, which was released in August. I also do a lot of chairing work for other writers and been lucky enough to chair Marian Keyes,  MC Beaton (the writer of Agatha Raisin), Ashley Jenson (the star of Agatha Raisin) and (drum roll…) Graham Norton who was an absolute dream, they all were. So it’s been a pretty whirlwind year.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Oh crikey, where do I start? Bloke-With-Beard (aka my partner) proposed in May, which came completely out of the blue. We’d been friends twenty-five years ago but lost touch. We reconnected through Facebook and had our first date in Italy of all places. Long story short he lived in Liverpool, I was in Glasgow and it seemed like the best place to meet up – the other choice was the services at Tebay as it was equidistant. Anyhoo, less than a year later he popped the question. I suppose at our age it doesn’t do to hang about! We went back to Italy to get married in September. As I say, no point it dawdling over these things. Anyway, I had a very short window given the dress I’d chosen – another year and I was in danger of looking like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. I think that day we got married truly was the most special moment, not just of the year but of my life. It was magical.

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Favourite book in 2018?
I have to say Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run. I know Douglas, he’s a pal – a rather grumpy pal – but very lovely none the less. This is a bit of a breakaway for him and deserves to put him in the running as one of Scotland’s best crime writers.

Favourite film in 2018?
I don’t think I’ve actually seen a movie that was released this year. It’s been a bit mental and busy and, now that you’ve mentioned it, I actually don’t think I’ve been to the movies once. I LOVE films, one of my favourites that I watched this year was Kind Hearts & Coronets – a 1949 black comedy starring Dennis Price & Alec Guiness. It’s hilarious. I stuck on the DVD – Bloke-With-Beard had never seen it & I was really excited that he was going to experience this brilliance for the first time. Anyway, I was helpless with laughter and he fell asleep! He wasn’t that impressed as it turned out. This was before the wedding – but the dress was bought and the flights booked so…

 Favourite song of the year?
There are so many I could choose – but I’m going to go with La Vie en Rose – The Louis Armstong version. I walked down the aisle to this (it wasn’t quite an aisle – we got married on a vineyard) and the words are so beautiful: ‘and when you speak angels sing from above, every day words seem to turn into love songs ...give your heart & soul to me, and life will always be, la vie en rose…’  My favourite version is by Edith Piaf whom I actually adore – but it didn’t lend itself as well to the occasion, and Bloke-With-Beard can’t stand Piaf’s voice! But the flights had been booked etc… see above! But TBH Satchmo’s trumpet nailed it for me.

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Any downsides for you in 2018?
It’s been a really whirlwind year with so many happy memories. Politically, I’m heartbroken at what’s happening in our world. The racism, misogyny, poverty…

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
I make resolutions every week, every month and every new year. I think this year I’ll endeavour to write every single day – and go back to my Italian classes. I’ve been trying to learn Italian for the best part of three years and all I can say is ‘Per favore, posso avere un prosecco?’ Which means, ‘Please may I have a prosecco.’ I can, of course, expand my repertoire to two, three or four proseccos. I never bothered learning the word for five as after that the waiter usually knows what I’m looking for.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I’m busy writing the third in the Oonagh O’Neil Trilogy which should be out in April 2019. I’d also like to write a completely different strand – but who knows.

Thanks so much for letting me be part of this Vic, it’s been a pleasure reliving so many lovely memories. I hope you share your favourite moments of 2018 also – and all the love and luck for 2019. 

T.T.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jan Fortune

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, I’m delighted to welcome Jan Fortune to the blog to talk about how she managed to write a trilogy in the last four years while holding down a day job. My thanks to Jan for taking the time to share her insights with us.

Vic x

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Over the last four years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. A Remedy For All Things follows Catherine, who is in Hungary in 1993 to research on the poet Attila József, when she begins dreaming the life of another woman from a different time period (imprisoned after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956). Even more disturbing, she’s aware that the other woman, Selene, is dreaming her life. 

It’s a complex book that has taken a great deal of research as well as several edits, but like most contemporary writers, I don’t write full-time. How do we do it? Juggle work, homes to run and still write? And are there any benefits to writing in this way, without the luxury of all the time in the world, or at least all the time that would otherwise go into holding body and soul together?

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Many of my favourite writers combined work of all sorts with writing. William Faulkner is reputed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed that while working 12 hours days as a manual labourer he wrote this phenomenal novel in his ‘spare time’. Most of us need a lot longer, but it’s certainly the case that many writers don’t only write.

Anthony Burgess taught and composed music; Joseph Conrad was a sea captain; T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, as was the poet William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens turned down a Harvard professorship rather than give up his 40-year career in insurance.

Women who write may not only do the lion’s share of domestic work while writing, but also hold down demanding jobs. Agatha Christie worked as an apothecary’s assistant, a great place to learn about poisons. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and for many years Octavia Butler had to write in the early hours so that she could work low-paid jobs like telemarketing or cleaning.

If working the day job is a necessity, it can also be one with benefits. Working as an editor and publisher, I get a lot of time to see how form works, how language can constantly be honed and how handing our precious book to someone with skill and objectivity and then listening carefully can make all the difference. One of my authors recently took a PR role that is giving her masses of people-watching time, none of it wasted. Writers are people who walk about the world with all their senses open and work is an endlessly rich environment for observation of the human condition.

Of course, we still need time to find that trance state in which to write and to go into deep flow. If your day job does nothing but hollow you out, it may be time to reconsider. But if your work sustains you and leaves the time and energy to write whilst being a source of experiences and characters, then writing around the day job is an honourable tradition. 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Richard Rippon

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.

Richard Rippon appeared at Noir at the Bar Newcastle in May this year and read from his novel ‘Lord of the Dead‘. The excerpt Rich read was really intriguing and it made me want to read the whole novel. 

My thanks to Richard for sharing his experiences with us.

Vic x

 

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When I started writing in 2007, I was working as a lab technician in a factory. My eldest daughter had just been born, and that seemed to kick-start something in me, probably a realisation I was getting older and if I didn’t do something about my writing ambitions soon, I possibly never would.

I’d always enjoyed writing at school, but never imagined I could make a living from it. Such an idea felt fanciful, so I put it to one side and pursued a safer, more ‘sensible’ route. I was pretty good at Biology, so I studied science at A-level and a degree in Microbiology. I went on to work in a range of labs, usually for massive multi-national companies. It took me a long time to realise it wasn’t for me.

I starting writing short stories and articles, which I hoped to get placed in magazines and on websites. I won an article writing competition for a local newspaper and when I came across the Northern Writers Awards, I entered that too, with the first three chapters of a comedic detective story set in Newcastle. When I won a prize, it started a chain of events that has changed the course of my career entirely.

Things in the lab had reached a bit of a tipping point. Whilst the boredom was useful – I had plenty of time to think of story ideas – I’d had it with the place. Some jobs came up for Social Media Community Managers, a relatively new job title in 2011. Reading between the lines, it appeared to be an invitation to write creatively and fanny about on Facebook for a living. I applied and hassled the hiring manager, until she took me on. I was tasked with writing conversation calendars for brands and regularly headed to London for meetings with advertising agencies. It was fantastic. The sense of release I felt compared to my life in the lab was exhilarating.

Meanwhile, the Northern Writers prize I won led to me signing with an agent, but she struggled to find a publisher for The Kebab King. I started to think about a more serious crime novel, which eventually became Lord of the Dead, which was published last November.

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Things began to change at work. They stopped relying on us to write our own copy, and all the creative bits I loved were farmed out to agencies. I thought it might be a good idea to look elsewhere, and I was lucky enough to land a job at the best advertising agency in Newcastle. I have to say this, because I’m still there, but also because it is. 

The job has evolved from being a social media man, to ‘Creative Copywriter’. Basically, I think of ideas to help people sell things and come up with the words to go with those ideas.

It feels great to finally have the word ‘writer’ in my job title and also have had my first novel published. It’s just taken a bit longer than you might expect.

 

**Burnout Blog Tour** Author Interview.

Today, my friend Claire MacLeary is on the blog to talk about her new novel, ‘Burnout‘ which is the sequel to Cross Purpose, the McIlvanney Prize-longlisted debut that brought crime to Aberdeen.

My thanks to Claire, Gordon from Grab This Book and Contraband for including me in the blog tour for ‘Burnout‘. 

Vic x

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“My husband is trying to kill me.” A new client gets straight to the point, and this line of enquiry is a whole new ball game for Maggie Laird, who is desperately trying to rebuild her late husband’s detective agency and clear his name. Her partner, “Big” Wilma, sees the case as a non-starter, but Maggie is drawn in.

With her client’s life on the line, Maggie must get to the ugly truth that lies behind Aberdeen’s closed doors. But who knows what really goes on between husbands and wives? And will the agency’s reputation – and Maggie and Wilma’s friendship – remain intact?

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Claire MacLeary

Claire, before we chat about ‘Burnout‘ can I ask you to introduce yourself for readers who have missed your previous visits to the blog?
After reading English at university, I had a long and varied career, first in newspaper and television advertising, then in HR. When my children were born, I set up in business, developing a chain of shops and rental properties. It was only after my kids were grown that I returned to writing, attending Creative Writing evening classes and later studying for a MLitt at Dundee.

Can you give us an indication as to what we can look forward to in Burnout?
The novel’s main theme is ‘white collar’ domestic abuse, a subject which, until recently, has attracted little coverage. Newspaper headlines have tended to concentrate on physical assaults, whereas controlling behaviour can take many and subtle forms, as recent legislation has acknowledged.

Burnout follows two women, both subject to abuse – in one instance sexual, in the other psychological – but readers can expect broadly the same cast of characters and the same balance of grit and humour.

With Burnout readers get an insight into how different couples in the story manage difficult relationships. Do you think this a crime novel that will cast light onto the secrets that couples keep?
I think Burnout is less about managing relationships and more a commentary on how attitudes have changed over generations. The ease of accessing contraception, the relaxation of divorce laws, the growth of the internet, have all contributed towards changing people’s attitudes to sex and marriage. In Burnout I’ve tried to highlight the chasm between two women of different generations, both in how they react to abuse and how they achieve very different outcomes.

Has the media focus on coercive control and sexual abuse in the home fed into the writing of Burnout or was the story always waiting to be told?
I started writing Burnout before the launch of Cross Purpose in February last year and delivered it to my publisher, Saraband, in August. The characters had been in my head way before that so, yes, it was a story that needed to be told. That it chimes with the Time’s Up and #Me Too movements against sexual harassment can only be positive in publicising ‘white collar’ abuse and changing attitudes to any form of abuse.

Both Burnout and Cross Purpose have harrowing and hard-hitting themes, however, there is humour running through both books too. Was that a difficult balance to achieve when you were writing?
I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. As I write, my characters take on a life of their own. Sometimes they take me places I didn’t intend to go. Too often I wake in the middle of the night with dialogue running through my head. However, I have had to consciously restrain Wilma’s wilder excesses, since she – like Maggie – will develop through the series and I don’t want her to come across simply as a figure of fun.

Away from the books, how do you spend your downtime?
What downtime? Seriously, if I’m not reading or writing, I love to travel. Over the past few years, in addition to a number of European cities, I’ve visited Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand, Cuba, Jordan and Bhutan. My favourite holiday destination is India, where the colour and vibrancy of life never fails to stimulate.

Review of 2017: Jane Risdon

I’m pleased to have Jane Risdon on the blog today to review her year. I worked with Jane many years ago on a charity anthology so I am pleased to hear her wonderful news but I’ll let her tell you all about that. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
My favourite moment professionally in 2017 was getting a copy of Only One Woman and holding it for the first time. Chuffed doesn’t cut it. Five years from writing to publication, although it was finished and in with our publisher in 2014. Written with life-long friend, Christina Jones has been a blast. It was published on Amazon on the 23rd November.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
My birthday at The Royal Albert Hall – my youngest brother and his partner treated me to a fabulous champagne dinner there and concert. It was amazing.

Favourite book in 2017?
Vengeance
by Roger A. Price – second of his two fabulous books. He has been a guest author over on my blog.

Favourite film in 2017?
Hidden Figures
– with Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson the black female NASA mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. Stunning film in so many ways.

Favourite song of the year?
I no longer listen to contemporary music, having worked in music all my life I cannot bear to listen to it as it is thrust upon us now. Sad but true.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Not seeing our grandchildren either in person or via Skype more than once so far. 6,000 miles away might as well be a million at times.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Never make any.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Health, happiness and huge success for Only One Woman when the paperback comes out in stores 24th May 2018. Also publication of my Crime/MI5 novel Ms. Birdsong Investigates: Murder in Ampney Parva, which is in with my publisher now.

Review of 2017: Rob Enright

Today we have Rob Enright on the blog to review his very eventful 2017. 

It sounds like it’s been a whirlwind! Thanks to Rob for taking the time out of his manic schedule to chat to us. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I started a new job outside of my aspiring writing career, working for a private hospital in central London which has been great. But writing wise, my favourite memory was attending the Darker Side of Fiction event in 2017 as an author. Sitting behind a table and signing books and talking to so many amazing people!! I did a few book signings in Waterstones which was always a dream, but to be at a big book event like that was amazing!

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
I got down on one knee and proposed to my wonderful fiancée, Sophie. So that has to be the highlight! We also became home owners this year! Wow… I really did adulting well in 2017!

Favourite book in 2017?
I got hooked on The Dark Tower series this year! The Drawing of the Three is possibly the greatest piece of fiction I have ever read!! I also massively enjoyed Nameless by David McCaffrey, the sequel to the outstanding Hellbound!

Favourite film in 2017?
Blade Runner 2049
. The sequel to my favourite film and it was absolutely superb. It has polarised a few people, but I thought it was just superb cinema. Closely followed by Logan and Baby Driver.

Favourite song of the year?
It’s been out for literally 3 days, but there are a number of songs on Eminem’s new album that I am listening to on repeat. Like Home, Heat and Believe are on repeat. Outside of that, probably Burning and No Peace by Sam Smith.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Finally admitting that I was unhappy with my publisher. They released Doorways for me in 2016 and as 2017 went on, I found the whole process quite soul-destroying and really impacted my writing of the sequel. When I decided to request my release to return to self-publishing, I felt amazing. So yeah, it sucked getting that low but I couldn’t be happier now and am writing more than ever and expanding my business knowledge! Bring on 2018!

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Yup! I completed more runs than ever in 2017 so am redoing all of them again but want to beat the time. I am also doing my first half marathon. Now the books are under my control again and we have got our house, I am going to focus more on my fitness.

Also, am planning on launching THREE books next year. So am throwing my all into it.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
To be as happy as I ended 2017. To have a 4 book series to be promoting next Christmas and to know exactly what I can do with them. Oh, and a dog. I am desperate for a dog!

You can find Rob on Twitter and  Facebook.  

Review of 2017: Neil White

*Ne-il, Ne-il, Ne-il, Nei-il…*

Ahem, sorry. Following on from Mr Broadfoot, Mr White joins us to review his year. I’ve had the pleasure on hosting both Neils at Noir at the Bar Harrogate this year so it’s a delight to have them on the blog today.

My thanks to Neil for sharing his year with us. Come back tomorrow for a gift (or three) from me.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
The release of my most recent book, From The Shadows. It felt like a long time coming after the delays in the publication of my last book with my previous publisher. It felt so good to have the new series up and running and in the shops.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Personally, I had some great fun. The festivals were as great as ever, Crimefest and Harrogate, and 2017 felt like it was a fun year. More of the same please.

Favourite book in 2017?
All The Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker. It was another great book by a fantastic writer. He is also, rather annoyingly, a good bloke, witty and engaging. I could grow to hate him.

Favourite film in 2017?
Can I cheat and pick a TV series? Thought so. Godless, a seven-part western on Netflix. I thought everything was great about it. The visuals, the story, the acting, the scenery.

Favourite song of the year?
I’ve got into country and western a lot more this year, and I confess to liking some of the cheesier stuff, the pickup truck country music. It’s not from this year, but I’ve been playing this song a lot more when I go on my late night Youtube hunts, and it’s Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker. Lyrically it’s very good, but also very singalong

Any downsides for you in 2017?
The only bad experience I can think of is a trip to Stockholm in June, when I headed out for a three-day bender, er, sorry, cultural experience, with an old friend. Unfortunately, my friend had to pull out at the very last minute, so I went anyway, wandered up and down Stockholm for the afternoon, sulked, and got the first plane home.

More widely, the turn taken by social media has been a downside, where Twitter has become just somewhere to avoid. I think the world as a whole would be a better place without it.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
To keep doing what I’m doing and have as much fun as I did in 2017.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
To be able to answer the same question this time next year.

Review of 2017: Rob Scragg

It’s 1st of December again! Where does the time go? 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a year or more, you’ll know that we have a little tradition of asking creative types to review their year. Every day in December, there’ll be a different guest talking about their 2017.

Kicking us off this year is the lovely Rob Scragg who I’ve had the pleasure of hosting at Noir at the Bar twice this year. Rob’s debut novel is due out next year. Anyway, I’ll let him tell you more…

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
That would have to be when I found out I had offers from two publishers for my debut. My wife and I had been away for a week, and we touched down at Heathrow around 6 a.m. When I turned my phone back on, the first e-mail I had through was from my agent. I did my best to do a little victory dance in my seat without looking like too much of a lunatic. I’ve now got a two book deal with Allison & Busby, first one due out in April 2018, called “What Falls Between the Cracks“.

If I can be cheeky and sandwich two in here, I also loved taking part in Noir at the Bar. I was lucky enough to do two in 2017 – Newcastle and Harrogate. The Newcastle one, courtesy of Vic Watson and Jacky Collins, was the first time I’d read any of my work out in public, so a bit nerve-wracking, but loved every minute of it. Since gone on to read in front of much bigger crowds, like the Crime In The Spotlight debut slot at Bloody Scotland, but NaTB will always be a special one for me.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
I’m going to go all soppy here and say the moment my wife told me she was pregnant. She’d been away to California for a week on a conference, and once she’d unpacked, came downstairs to say she had a little pressie for me. Turned out it wasn’t anything from California – it was the positive pregnancy test. That came just a few weeks after I found out about my publishing deal, so May 2017 was one of the best months of my life so far.

Favourite book in 2017? 
It’s been hard enough to pick a top five this year, let alone a single book. There a few I have to give an honourable mention to – I, Witness by Niki MackayWant You Gone by Chris Brookmyre and Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney.
Top of the pile though, has to be Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles. It’s the third in a trilogy, that blew me away and gave me severe author envy; the kind of book you can’t wait to finish, but never want to end.

Favourite film in 2017?
Mine is Split, starring one of my favourite actors, James McAvoy. He plays a man with 23 different personalities, and to see how he switches on the screen between some of them, is amazing to watch.

Favourite song of the year?
Don’t judge me too harshly for having an old one, but I’m going to go with Do They Know it’s Christmas – the original 80’s version. My wife and I have a hardcore group of friends, other couples we hang out with, and every time we finish up in a karaoke bar (remember what I asked about the judging), the guys and I always end up singing it. I don’t even remember exactly where the tradition started, only that I now associate that song with some of the best nights out I’ve had, with some of the best people.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Honestly, no, at least not so far. It’s been an exciting year all round, what with finding out we have a little boy on the way, the book deal. Ask me again on 31st December just to be sure though 🙂

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I don’t do resolutions at the turn of the year as a rule. I’m more of a “If I want to do it, let’s not wait till 1st January” kind of guy. That having been said, I want to carve out time to try writing a children’s book next year, in whatever gaps I have with the writing/editing/publishing hamster wheel I’ve now jumped on. It’s an idea I had around a year ago, and I’d love to have that one done and published in time to read it with my son when he’s old enough to appreciate it.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Apart from Donald Trump getting impeached, there are two other biggies. First is for everything to go smoothly in January, when my son is due to be born. Can’t wait to meet him. Secondly, my debut novel is out on 19th April. I’m enough of a realist to know I can’t pack in the day job just yet, if ever, so I just hope that it does well enough to find a place amongst what, let’s face it, is some pretty stiff competition out there. As an aside, I’m hoping to get to a lot more of the writing festivals on offer in 2018, both as a fan and as an author, so if you see me propping up the bar at any of them, come and say hi.

Getting to Know You: Claire MacLeary

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

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

Thanks to Claire for sharing her thoughts with us. 

Vic x

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocco

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

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

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

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

Keeping a series fresh
By Adrian Magson

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic x