Tag Archives: publishers

**Smart Moves Blog Tour** Extract

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I’ve been chosen to open the blog tour for the lovely Adrian Magson and his new novel ‘Smart Moves‘. Please join me in wishing Adrian, and his publishers Dome Press, a very happy publication day.

International troubleshooter Jake Foreman loses his job, house and wife all in one day. And when an impulsive move lands him in even deeper water – the kind that could lose him his life – he decides it’s time to make some smart decisions.

The trouble is, knowing the right moves and making them is a whole different game. And Jake, who has been happily rubbing along things he always suspected were just a shade away from being dodgy, finds it all too easy to go with the flow.

Now he’s got to start learning new tricks. If he doesn’t, he could end up dead.

It’s my pleasure to present to you a snippet of Adrian’s newest release: ‘Smart Moves‘. I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for more. 

Vic x

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Smart Moves‘ by Adrian Magson:
Extract

I never thought of guys having bad hair days. 

Bad razor days, sure. Relentless stubble and scraped skin is no joke – try kissing my grandmother. Bad head days, too, from much of the wrong kind of booze. But that’s commonplace for anybody with a real life. Some problems, though, can’t be overcome with a slap of skin balm or a handful of pills.

‘You’re laying me off?’ The words dropped into the room like a stun grenade and rolled across the carpet. I stared at my boss, Niall Dunckley, in disbelief.

‘Sign of the times, Jake,’ he replied flatly. ‘Sorry.’ I wondered if that was the beginning of a smile threatening to edge past his bloodless lips. They went well with his fish eyes and the strands of lank hair carefully arranged over his balding head. The overall effect gave him the appearance of an undertaker’s assistant. The kind who stays late at work for all the wrong reasons.

‘Why?’

Pathetic response, I know. But being laid off is having someone say, ‘We don’t need you.’ Or, ‘Get the fuck out of here.’ Or, ‘We found someone we like better.’

Even in this business – what am I saying, especially in this business – it’s akin to a death sentence. A bullet behind the ear. A quiet visit from a bad person on a dark night. I mean, I didn’t know for sure if that had ever happened, but people talk. You hear stuff.

I should explain. I have this oddball kind of job; I work for a side-line operation in a multi-divisional business called HP&P. Nobody knows or cares what the initials stand for, or precisely what the company’s core business is. But I know it has its fingers in a great many pies from civil engineering to shipping to nightclubs – and allegedly, a few things in between. 

It’s the in-betweens which we’re encouraged not to ask about. 

Not that I’m in that sector. I’m a project troubleshooter, and it’s my job to solve problems in faraway places. A gentle talk here, a nudge there, a discreet payment if something gets stuck in the pipeline, that kind of thing. The company operates on a time-sensitive schedule, and delays are unhelpful to the bottom line. As are glitches caused by local officials trying to muscle in and cause problems for their own ends. 

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t use physical pressure – I don’t have to. A sweetener with a local regional governor or a union boss usually does the trick, from Azerbaijan to Zambia. If that doesn’t work, I make a report to Niall Dunckley at HQ in London, and that’s the last I hear of it. Because by then all the talking and offers and mild threats of layoffs will have been exhausted and it’s time to call in the big guns and for me to catch a plane out. I don’t actually know what the big guns are, but that’s where I’m encouraged to turn and look the other way. 

The job pays well and I rarely get to follow up on a previous visit. If I do, it’s usually bad news because the project got canned and there’s a lot of name-calling going in. I’m just there to see that everybody knows whose fault it really is: theirs. 

Over the three years I’ve been doing this I’ve managed to refrain from asking too many questions. It’s one of the main requirements of my job description. Come to think of it, it’s the only requirement. Don’t ask, don’t nose, don’t look. 

And because I find it easier to take the money and not rock the boat, I’ve gone along with it. My bad, as the kids say. Still not sure what that means but it sounds about right. It doesn’t mean I’m dead from the neck up and haven’t occasionally put two and two together and made seven. Being suspicious and doing something about it isn’t always that simple. Or wise. 

Smart Moves‘ is published by Dome Press and is available now. 

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**The Gilded Shroud Blog Tour** Author Interview

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It’s my pleasure today to have Elizabeth Bailey, author of ‘The Gilded Shroud‘ on the blog.

Elizabeth Bailey says she feels lucky to have found several paths that have given her immense satisfaction – acting, directing, teaching and, by no means least, writing. 

She has been privileged to work with some wonderful artistic people, and been fortunate enough to find publishers who believed in her and set her on the road.

Elizabeth has kindly taken the time to answer my questions so we can get to know her, and her writing process, better. My thanks to Elizabeth for taking the time to answer my questions. If you fancy getting in touch with her, you can tweet Elizabeth

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
The Gilded Shroud
 is the genesis of Ottilia, Lady Fan, who turns by chance into sleuth extraordinaire and, incidentally, meets the love of her life in the process. It’s a murder mystery set in the late 18th Century, with a dollop of upstairs downstairs and a touch of romance too.

What inspired them?
My original idea was Ottilia as a potential heroine for the first in a series of sweeping romantic historicals which never materialised. My brother one day suggested it might make a detective story, and that set me off thinking. When I finally took the plunge, I intended at first that Ottilia, a wispy retiring sort of female as I thought, would be the brains in the background behind the apparent showy male sleuth, but the moment she set foot on the page she took centre stage and refused to be dislodged. So that was that.

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What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I love the way it surprises me with turns and twists I never expected, and I like finding creative ways to express things rather than turning to clichés. I like the process of watching it unrolling as I write what I see, like a film reel projecting onto a screen somewhere in the air around me. 

I hate what we writers call treacle books, when the words won’t flow and you just have to drag them out one by one, sticking with it as you really feel as if you are wading through a sticky sea. You learn to keep at it, and quite often find you do good work in spite of the stop/start nature of the writing. Fortunately, readers can’t usually tell if a book was treacle to write. There’s always the editing process to fix it.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I can’t not read. I started as a reader and reading feeds my imagination. My reading time is an hour or so before I go to sleep – assuming I’m not so hooked I can’t put the book down. I’m just finishing Tarquin Olivier’s book about his famous father, and I’ll be starting on Jodi Taylor’s latest St Mary’s Chronicles, to which I am addicted. My TBR pile is pretty eclectic as I read all sorts of genres, as well as biographies and books that add to my knowledge of my period and other history.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Primarily Georgette Heyer – of course. Also Daphne du Maurier, who does dark with panache and beauty; Rumer Godden, who is both lyrical and cryptic, as she doesn’t tell you everything. And Dean Koontz, who is so good at surprising twists. Finally, PG Wodehouse for humour. He has the one-liner gag down to a fine art. But I can learn from almost any writer – a turn of phrase, a twist, a different voice. It all goes into the maelstrom and comes out somewhere without my realising it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
They tend to leap out from nowhere. I might catch a rhythm, a fleeting glimpse of some image, song or dream, a snippet in a news item or programme, a phrase or word in a social media post even. The spark might not even reveal itself because the idea wafts in and before I know it the what-if game is on. I do jot ideas in notebooks. If I’m stuck for a plot, I can sift through to see if anything catches my imagination. I think most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with, or will ever write up as stories. The ones that gel will hopefully roll into fodder for readers, if the process goes well.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
My current completed book is usually my favourite. Not the one I’m writing because that’s in too much upheaval to be loved. Though I am usually falling in love with my characters in the work in progress. But the one that’s done and dusted, that’s the one I can afford to love until it gets superseded by the next. I do have a few that are perennial favourites and I am rather in love with Lord Francis Fanshawe. As for scenes, when I have occasion to re-read a book, sometimes I find one that really pleases me, and I will wonder how I managed to make it that good.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing another Lady Fan mystery, in between my traditional Regency romances. Mysteries take more thought, more time and energy as one must tie everything in together and half the time I don’t know what’s about to happen.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
Funnily enough, it was my mother, who is a poet rather than a novelist and my beta reader in my early days, who gave me the best piece of advice. She said one day that she thought I was ending my chapters in the wrong place by running a scene to a conclusion rather than keeping it back. She woke me up to cliffhangers.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
When I began writing I plotted extensively, but was forever having to adjust the plot as new ideas sprang up. Now I’m a total pantster. Apart from the opening springboard, I have no idea where the story is going and must trust to my inner writer. That is not to say that ideas don’t float about in my head, but when I sit down to write I never know what words are going to come out through my fingers. Still less do I know who committed the murder!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep at it. We all say that. Get the words down any way you can. You can’t edit a blank page. Being a writer is all about persistence. Not just keeping going against the rejections. But keeping going when life throws brickbats at you; when you think you’ll never get to the end; when the deadline is looming and panic strikes; and when you’d honestly do anything – take out the rubbish, clean the car, walk the cat – rather than sit down and write. Successful writers work through every pit stop and drive through to the end. Every time.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Apart from my very first acceptance which sent me to the ceiling where I remained for days, I think it’s the review of The Gilded Shroud that said: “Georgette Heyer lives – and is writing mysteries as Elizabeth Bailey”. That accolade said it all for me. I grew up on Heyer and still consider her the greatest writer in the Regency genre she spawned. We all wish we could write at her level, so this was to me the best compliment ever.

 

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Harrison

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.

It’s my privilege to welcome Paul Harrison to the blog today to talk about how his work in the criminal justice system has influenced his writing. If Paul’s post catches your interest, drop him a tweet or look him up on Facebook

Vic x

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Thanks for inviting me to speak on the blog. For me, bloggers are one of the most influential part of being a writer these days, so I’m well chuffed to be here talking about my previous life. I’ve been called Britain’s Mindhunter by the world’s media, because of my work with serial killers. However, I much prefer to be Paul Harrison, not some media invention.

When I joined the police service back in the late 1970’s, never, did I anticipate that my working life would be so exciting and filled with mainly positives, there have been a few negatives, but I’ve learned from those. Anyone who believes the British police force is behind its global counterparts, is wrong. I have over a century of policing within the family tree, my grandfather, father, myself and currently my son have been so employed. Even my great grandfather was so employed. Back in Victorian times he was probably the first criminal profiler in history. He’d hang about with criminals and felons and draw up social profiles on the in an attempt to understand who likely victims were likely to be, then he’d sell that intelligence on to the police. He was a big writer and storyteller, so his genes have definitely been passed down to me.

My own police career lasted over three decades and I was fortunate to serve in just about all the specialised fields I aimed for: Dog Handler, Firearms Officer on Special Escort Duties, Promotion, Intelligence Officer and of course, much later, my association with the FBI and profiling. I worked hard to get where I wanted to be, and advise everyone, no matter what they are doing to follow their dreams.

I began writing during my police career, mainly true crime books but the odd football book also crept into print too. These were the days before e-books so it was traditional publishing only, it was difficult trying to sell manuscripts to publishers and hold down a regular job.  I was lucky, I guess, and managed to get seven books published during my time in the police.

When I retired from the job I went to work with the Judiciary at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. What an eye-opener that was! Seeing the criminal justice system from the other side, was shocking. Needless to say, I often questioned judgments and tariffs handed down to serious (vile) offenders. I didn’t last long, and I moved on after a couple of years. I took up work in the voluntary sector, helping child victims and survivors of sexual harm. The scale of the matter was shocking and I set up my own service, called SAM (Systematic Abuse of Males) as a signposting agency directing victims to services in their area. As a result of this I was awarded the Outstanding Individual of the Year Award for my voluntary work in this arena.

All the time I was writing, more true crime and finally I went full time, and have moved onto novels. I’m so proud to be part of the Urbane Books team and have just signed a contract with them that I hope will last several years. Of all the publishers I’ve worked with in my time as a writer, covering thirty four books, Urbane Books stand out head and shoulders above the rest for their care and attention to detail. They like great writers, but are focused on producing quality books for the reader. 

Over the years, I’ve met some of the world’s worst killers, looked evil in the eye and confronted it. Nerve wracking stuff, however, let me tell you, there’s nothing more worrying than waiting for a publisher’s response to a book submission.

Writing has been incredibly cathartic for me, as is the sense of support that runs throughout most of the crime writing community. There’s a lot more books in me yet, and my fictional detective, Will Scott (named after my grandfather) will go on to endure many more adventures.

Getting to Know You: Judy Penz Sheluk

International Bestselling Author, Judy Penz Sheluk has kindly given us some of her time today. Judy’s debut mystery novel, ‘The Hanged Man’s Noose‘, the first in the ‘Glass Dolphin Mystery’ series, was published in July 2015. The sequel, ‘A Hole In One‘, was released on the 1st of March.

Skeletons in the Attic‘, Judy’s second novel, and the first in her ‘Marketville Mystery’ series, was first published in August 2016 and re-released in December 2017. ‘Past & Present’, the sequel, is scheduled for early 2019.

In her less mysterious pursuits, Judy works as a freelance writer and editor. In addition to all of that, Judy is also a member of a number of crime writing collectives and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Director and Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario.

As you can see, Judy is a very busy lady and I’m really grateful that she’s taken the time to chat with us. 

Vic x

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Tell us about your books.
I write two amateur sleuth mystery series. The first is the Glass Dolphin Mysteries; the Glass Dolphin is an antiques shop on historic Main Street in the fictional town of Lount’s Landing. The main characters are Arabella Carpenter, owner of the shop, Emily Garland, a journalist, and Levon Larroquette, ex-husband (and occasionally more) to Arabella. Let’s just say they have a complicated relationship. The first book in the series is The Hanged Man’s Noose (which happens to be the name of a pub; Lount’s Landing is named after a real life Canadian politician, Samuel Lount, who was hanged for treason in the nineteenth century). It’s available in e-book, paperback, and audiobook. The sequel, A Hole in One, has just been released in e-book and trade paperback. Audio will follow later this year.

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The other series is the Marketville Mysteries. The first book in the series is Skeletons in the Attic, told in first person by Calamity (Callie) Barnstable. Callie inherits a house from her late father on the condition she moves into the house (which she did not know existed) while investigating who murdered her mother thirty years before. It’s available in e-book, trade paperback and audiobook. The sequel, Past & Present, should be released in early 2019.

Both my series are published by Barking Rain Press.

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What inspired them?
The premise behind Noose is that a greedy developer comes to a small town with plans to build a mega-box store, thereby threatening the livelihoods of the local indie shops. We see that sort of thing happen all the time. I merely took that premise and said, “What if someone was willing to kill to stop it?”

The premise behind Skeletons came to me when my husband and I were waiting in our lawyer’s office. He was delayed in court and we were there to redo our wills. In fact, opening scenes are directly culled from that experience. Let that be your takeaway: everything that happens to an author may well end up in one of their books.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Life. I keep a notebook in my purse, and I’m also jotting down things I’ve seen or overheard. But I also have this wicked imagination. For example, this past summer, I was golfing and the houses along the perimeter of the course were having their roofs done. And I heard the pop-pop of the pneumatic nailers, and I said to my golf buddies, “You know, someone could get shot and everyone would just think it was the roofer.” They did look at me as though I was a bit odd!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I love Arabella Carpenter, the irascible owner of the Glass Dolphin. I even included her in a cameo role in Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in my Marketville series. Arabella’s motto is “authenticity matters” and she lives by that, even when it comes at a high personal cost. I admire that about her.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Definitely a pantser. I’ve tried plotting but it just doesn’t work for me. That said, I’m planning to write a non-fiction work, and that will have to be outlined in detail. With fiction, I just let the story go where it wants to go.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Absolutely. Reading is the best teacher. I try to read 30+ books a year. Most are mystery or suspense, but I’ll also read mainstream fiction and I enjoy short story collections. I’m a huge fan of a number of authors, most recently Fiona Barton, who I think is absolutely brilliant.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
I always quote Agatha Christie when I’m asked this: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

What can readers expect from your books?
I refer to them as amateur sleuth with an edge. There is the requisite small town, no overt sex, violence or bad language, but there’s also no cats, crafts or cookie recipes. People tell me the plots are more complicated than a typical cozy, and I do have a lot of characters, but they all play a part. They’re not just there for window dressing.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Make time to write every day. You can’t edit a blank page. And write what you’d like to read, not what you think will sell. By the time you’ve written the next great vampire book, the vampire craze will be long over. Start your own craze.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
Of course I like it best when the words flow like maple syrup, but even when they don’t I’m reminded of Erica Jong, who wrote: “When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.”

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Always. I’m currently working on the third book of the Glass Dolphin series, and a standalone mystery/suspense. And I have a couple of short story ideas I’m mulling over. And the non-fiction work I’m researching. I try to write every day, even if I only have a few minutes, even if it’s Christmas, New Year’s Day or my birthday. It doesn’t always work out that way!

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
The day I signed my first book contract for The Hanged Man’s Noose. I’d faced the usual rejection from agents and publishers, but I wasn’t giving up. The email came in on July 1, 2014, which happens to be Canada Day. My husband and I popped open a bottle of champagne and danced on our back deck. The book came out July 2015.

Where can we find you?
My website where I write about the writing life, interview other authors, write the occasional book review, and I also have a series called New Release Mondays where I include a brief summary of a new book. Most are mysteries or suspense, but not always, and most of the authors are not well known, but deserve to be better known.

I’m also part of two multi-author blogs: Pens, Paws and Claws and The Stiletto Gang

I’m also on Facebook, and Twitter and Pinterest. 

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: 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.