Tag Archives: reader

Getting to Know You: M.J. Arlidge

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

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

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

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

Vic x

M.J Arlidge

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

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

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

What inspires you to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

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

What are you working on at the moment?

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

Where can we find you online?

At my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

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

What’s been your proudest moment?

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

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

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

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

**Bones in the River Blog Tour**

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Zoë Sharp’s “Bones in the River“. I’ve known Zoë for many years now but here’s a little bit of background to the enigmatic writer.

Zoë Sharp began her crime thriller series featuring former Special Forces trainee turned bodyguard, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox, after receiving death-threats in the course of her work as a photo-journalist. Zoë opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen.

Zoë’s work has won or been nominated for awards on both sides of the Atlantic, been used in school textbooks, inspired an original song and music video, and been optioned for TV and film.

When not in lockdown in the wilds of Derbyshire, she can be found improvising self-defence weapons out of ordinary household objects, international pet-sitting, or crewing yachts in the Mediterranean. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.) Zoë is always happy to hear from readers, reader groups, libraries or bookstores. You can contact her via email.

My thanks to Zoë for having me on her blog tour.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job:
Zoe Sharp

I suppose there was half a chance that writing fiction might have been my day job, right from the start. After all, I penned my first novel at the age of fifteen—and I do mean ‘penned’. I wrote the entire thing, long-hand, in a month, and gave myself the most appalling writers’ cramp in the process.

That early effort did the rounds of all the major publishers, where it received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’—everybody said they loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it.

Looking back, I’m rather glad about that.

Because, in order to be a writer, you need different experiences under your belt. At the age of fifteen, I’d had few worth mentioning. Apart from living aboard a catamaran from the age of about seven and leaving school at twelve. But that, as they say, is probably another story.

Having failed at my first attempt to be a novelist, I became side-tracked by a variety of jobs in my teenage years, including crewing boats and learning astro-navigation. I was mad keen on horses, rode competitively, and once even took part in a rodeo. I learned to shoot—did a little competing there, too. Long guns, mostly. I considered myself an average shot with a handgun but, as I discovered on my last visit to a US indoor gun range, most people can manage to miss the target entirely at less than ten feet.

As for jobs, I became a freelance motoring writer at the height of the classic car boom of the late 1980s. That quickly transmuted into being a photojournalist, having taught myself both how to write commercial magazine articles and also how to take images good enough for numerous front covers and centre spreads.

It was hardly surprising, then, that eventually I’d have to start writing a character who was a photographer. Enter Grace McColl, first in Dancing on the Grave and now in Bones in the River. Grace started out as a keen amateur photographer, who became involved in providing evidence for the defence in a court case. She was then approached by the Head CSI at Cumbria police, who asked her if she’d ever thought of joining the side of the angels. Always nice to be able to write any parts of the story concerning photography without having to do lots of research.

My time spent writing about cars also played a part in Bones in the River, which begins with a hit-and-run incident. Understanding how the mechanics of a vehicle work makes writing scenes with them in so much easier and, I hope, more accurate.

Plus, all that time spent with horses came in very useful for a book that takes place during the largest Gypsy and Traveller horse fair in Europe. There were still plenty of times when I had up to a dozen different scientific research books laid on the table at the side of my desk as I wrote, though. Fortunately, forensic science and pathology are such fascinating subjects.

They tell you to write what you know. I disagree. I think you should write what you’re desperate to find out instead.

Bones in the River“, the second book in the Lakes crime thriller series, was published worldwide on May 26 2020 by ZACE Ltd. You can grab a sneak peek of the first three chapters, and is available from all the usual retailers.

Guest Post: James Henry on Writing a Crime Series

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

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

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

Vic x

James Henry

Tips on writing a Crime Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on Virtual Noir at the Bar

OK, so since my last post about Virtual Noir at the Bar, things have gone a bit, well, insane. Virtual Noir at the Bar is being hailed as “the best night in”, “a reason to know what day it is” and “the highlight of the week”. Our afterparties are getting a bit of a reputation too, bringing people together until the wee small hours.

This week sees our eighth virtual outing with yet another stellar squad of writers. Within a couple more weeks, we will have hosted more than a hundred authors – and we still have at least another hundred on our guest list. You can still sign up to our mailing list to be first to find out the full line-up every week.

So, every Wednesday evening, after I put my little boy to bed and begin to get ready to host another virtual gathering, I reflect on how different doing a virtual event is to hosting an event in the flesh. I also think about the similarities, the things I miss about “live” events (i.e. non-virtual) and the things I’m grateful for when broadcasting from home.

We’re trying to keep Noir at the Bar as close to the “live” events as possible. There’s still a hat, albeit a new one after the old ratty tatty hat disintegrated the other week (if that had happened in a bar someone else would’ve tidied the mess up).

I try to keep the informal style going but it is very unnerving making jokes and name-checking people into what is, essentially, a void. I can see the chat happening in Zoom and, from the feedback we’re getting, people seem to be enjoying it but I do miss the immediate response of hearing the audience give me a drum roll when we’re picking names from the hat and the “woos” when they hear something impressive.

On that note, I have felt so self-conscious that my own “woos” of appreciation reduced in length and I started to worry they sounded sarcastic. I said that a couple of weeks ago, that I encouraged everyone else to do it but didn’t feel comfortable doing it myself for fear of offending anyone. That lasted half the evening as I got a lot of encouragement from the audience to reinstate the woos, safe in the knowledge that my appreciation was genuine.

Every Wednesday night, I still put perfume on and curse myself for having had a tidy out of my make-up and never replacing the stuff I chucked. I have very limited supplies and this leaves me discomfited.

I know lots of memes have popped up recently about staring at your own face on Zoom calls but it is very unnerving. At least in the bar, I don’t have to see myself. Similarly, we don’t record our outings when we’re in an actual bar so I don’t have the opportunity to go back and criticise every little mistake and weird facial expression. I am delighted, though, that people are able to use our archive to catch up at their leisure if they’ve missed an “episode”.

I love the fact that we’re no longer bound by geography. We’ve always been lucky that writers are willing to travel to appear at Noir at the Bar but with Virtual Noir at the Bar, we are able to host writers from their homes. So far we’ve hosted writers from LA, New Zealand, Germany and Iceland.

I’m also aware that by being accessible to anyone with a computer means that we can reach people no matter where in the world they are. People are getting up early in NZ to be part of the live event – I can’t get my head around it! Being virtual also means that people who may be housebound or unable to come to a public event can still be part of it. We also have a lot more space for people in the virtual bar so there’s no fear of anyone not being able to join us.

I haven’t enjoyed asking people to support us financially. I know people are enjoying the events but they don’t come cheap. Mentioning our Ko-Fi page feels crass – even though no one makes any money out of VNatB – any donations go towards hosting software and the like. We’ve pledged that any surplus will go to NHS Charities Together.

RIP the ratty tatty hat

I like that I only have to have a presentable top half. I don’t have to squeeze myself into jeans which is just as well because I’m not sure I’d be able to stand them at the moment – lockdown weight gain is a thing, ok? So, yeah, I’m delighted that I can wear my elasticated trousers while hosting VNatB.

I like that, within minutes of the event ending, I can be in my pjs eating a crisp sandwich (now do you understand the lockdown weight gain?).

As is customary with Noir at the Bar, we have hosted established and emerging authors and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to keep the community together during this bizarre time.

I like that I can stay at the afterparty until I’m ready to go to bed. I don’t have to factor in getting home because I’m already there!

I don’t get to hug my friends. We still do a group photo but it’s not the same. I don’t get to mingle with the audience during the breaks.

I’m grateful to every writer who has given up their time to read at Virtual Noir at the Bar. I’m indebted to Simon Bewick who keeps the plates spinning. I’m delighted that Virtual Noir at the Bar has obtained what some are calling “a cult following” (I think they said cult, anyway). But I really wish we could all get together properly.

Until then, see you at the virtual bar every Wednesday.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Emily Koch

Today I’m delighted to be joined by Emily Koch, author of ‘Keep Him Close‘ and ‘If I Die Before I Wake‘.

My thanks to Emily for taking the time to chat to me during these very strange times.

Vic x

©Barbara Evripidou2015; m: 07879443963; barbara@firstavenuephotography.com

Tell us about your books.
My debut, If I Die Before I Wake, is a psychological thriller about a man with locked-in syndrome, who discovers that the accident which put him in hospital was no such thing – someone tried to kill him. My second novel, Keep Him Close, just came out and it’s more of a dark domestic drama than a thriller. It’s about the friendship between a woman whose son has died and the mother of the boy accused of his murder.

What inspired them?
If I Die was inspired by a news item I heard on the radio one day about someone in a coma. It made me wonder about the family around that person, and what they were doing with their lives. Keep Him Close was inspired by the prison I live near to in Bristol. Some houses back on to the prison wall – it is surrounded on all sides by residential streets. I started thinking about what you’d do if you lived close to it and there was someone inside who had done something terrible to your family. How would you cope with that proximity?

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
When people read something I’ve written and get it. Sometimes that’s my editor, or a friend – but often I get the best feeling of connection from a totally unknown reader. With both books I’ve had reviews online, sometimes only a few lines, that have made me feel – yes, you really got what I was trying to do. I love those moments! I dislike the constant self-doubt, but I try not to listen to that voice in my head too much.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
Ha! Yes, I do find some time, but not a lot at the moment with two kids to run around after. I’ve just started Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
In recent years the biggest influence has been Celeste Ng. I love her two literary thrillers, Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You.

Where do you get your ideas from?
All sorts of places! Newspapers, radio news items, things I hear people say out and about, and the usual ‘what if…?’ situations that I think most people have running through their heads. Writers just know how to notice these and harness them. I firmly believe we all have great ideas – it’s knowing how to spot them and develop them that writers do more than most others.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
The ending of my debut is my favourite section I’ve written. It’s hard to talk about without giving the plot away! There’s also a scene in Keep Him Close where Alice, the mother of the dead boy Lou, is out in her garden looking at the prison wall with her surviving son, Benny. I loved writing that scene, and what they do in it to deal with their grief and anger at Kane, the young man in the prison accused of murdering Lou.

What are you working on at the moment?
Coming up with an idea for my third novel! Or, rather, developing it. I have the basic premise and I’m really excited about it – now it’s just a matter of fleshing it out bit by bit.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
Just keep turning up at your desk – that’s what my lovely agent Peter Straus told me eighteen months ago when I was exhausted and full of the aforementioned self-doubt, trying to work on a second draft of Keep Him Close while running around after a toddler, and in the first trimester of my second pregnancy. He said I just had to keep chipping away at the novel, day after day, and it would come together. It did!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Plotter. I love a good spreadsheet to plan out my novels. I find the planning part of the process incredibly fun and creative – and I feel confident when I start writing because I know the plot is solid.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep reading, keep writing – it’s basic but so true. Get some friends who are writing, too. 

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
When my mum texted me to tell me she’d finished If I Die Before I Wake and said she’d loved it.

Review: ‘The Silent House’ by Nell Pattison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic x

Review: ‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton’ by Elizabeth Haynes

On 7th November 1843, 23 year old Harriet Monckton, a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent.

Harriet’s death – as a result of swallowing prussic acid – disgusts the community. They are further shocked when they discover that Harriet was pregnant. 

Using witness testimonies and reports from the coroner, Elizabeth Haynes creates an interesting story through the eyes of the last people to see her alive and those closest to her.  Whether her companion, her would-be fiancé, her former lover or her seducer – they all have a reason to want Harriet dead. 

After stumbling upon records of Harriet’s untimely demise while researching another book, Elizabeth Haynes has melded fact and fiction beautifully to create an intriguing account of a young woman’s final days. The characters are perfectly embodied and Haynes gives enough information to encourage the reader to empathise with some more than others. 

With consistent language and distinctive voices, Haynes conveys society and the time well as well as how families functioned in the 1800s. The complex investigation is used to create tension and pull the reader into this ultimately sad story. 

Poignant and thought-provoking, ‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton‘ will stay with readers long after the final page is turned. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Hysteria’ by L.J. Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic x

Review: ‘One Christmas Night’ by Hayley Webster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic x

Review: ‘The Warehouse’ by Rob Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic x