Tag Archives: series

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Alan Parkinson

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

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

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

Vic x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leg It

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

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

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

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

Idle Threats

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

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

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Getting to Know You: Kate Rhodes

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to chair a panel of three fabulous crime writers at my local library. It was such an honour to interview Kate Rhodes along with Rachel Abbott and Mel McGrath and I’m absolutely delighted to have Kate on the blog today to talk about writing. 

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

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My latest books, Hell Bay and Ruin Beach are inspired by childhood holidays. I was lucky enough to visit the Isles of Scilly often as a kid. It’s only as an adult that I realised they would make the perfect setting for crime novels. There are just five inhabited islands, and Hell Bay is set on Bryher, which has just eighty permanent inhabitants. In winter the islands are surrounded by the raging Atlantic, and travel to the mainland becomes difficult. They’re beautiful but supremely isolated, 45 kilometres from the mainland.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Interesting real life places and events are my usual starting point. My first novel, Crossbones Yard began after I stumbled across the only sex workers graveyard in London, which seemed like an ideal place to start a crime novel.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I’m very fond of my current hero, DI Ben Kitto. He’s a fifth generation islander, but has served ten years with the Murder Squad in London. Since the death of his colleague he has been lumbered with looking after her very intelligent wolfdog called Shadow, who tends to complicate his life. I like characters with believable quirks, so Kitto has a few interests and obsessions that may people should be able to relate to.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A bit of both! I try to plot diligently, but my stories tend to develop a life of their own, veering off in unexpected directions!

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
It’s a struggle. I tend not to read crime novels while I’m writing one, or plots get tangled and ideas get lost. I read a lot of biographies and factual books, and listen to the World Service or podcasts like This American Life instead.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Very early in my career Julian Barnes told me not to give up, and to write every single day, even if I could only find an hour of clear time. Both suggestions have helped me ever since.

What can readers expect from your books?
Setting matters a great deal to me, so they can expect to be immersed in Scilly Isles scenery, which is so important in my recent books that the landscape becomes like another character. I also want to tell gripping stories that keep my readers guessing until the very last page.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Treat writing like learning a musical instrument. There are no short cuts; the more you do it, the better you get.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like the sense of absolute focus that comes when you’re immersed in spinning a story. I dislike deadlines! I’d love to be able to take ages over every book, but it’s important to write a book every year if you’re building a series, but that can be a real challenge if the rest of your life gets in the way.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’ve just finished the third book in my Hell Bay series. It’s called Burnt Island and it’s set on the tiny island of St Agnes, which is less than a mile long, with less than a hundred inhabitants. It’s been a pure pleasure, from start to finish, and I got fly down to the island on a tiny eight-seater plane, which was a brilliant experience.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Winning the Ruth Rendell short story prize back in 2014, because I got to meet one of my favourite writers shortly before she died. In more recent times, it has been very exciting that my Hell Bay series has been optioned for TV.

 

**The Boy Who Wasn’t There Blog Tour** Guest Post

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It’s the second day on the blog tour for ‘The Boy Who Wasn’t There‘ by Emma Clapperton. I’m really thrilled to be supporting Emma on this mini tour for the latest story in her Patrick McLaughlin series. Emma’s here to tell us more about her latest project. 

My thanks to Emma for having me involved.

Vic x

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I had the idea for a supernatural crime series back in 2010, when I created the characters Patrick and Jodie McLaughlin, two psychic mediums living in Glasgow. 

Since 2012, I have released two full novels and two short stories as part of the series, The Suicide Plan is the first in the series. Then we had Beyond Evidence, The Dead Whisper and now, The Boy Who Wasn’t There. 

The Boy Who Wasn’t There came to me on the idea of children who have the gift and I wondered what would happen if the child were to present behaviours similar to that of an adult who was able to communicate with the dead. 

The Boy Who Wasn’t There is a story of betrayal and loss and how one event in your life can change your course. Without giving too much away, I actually really like the character, Rita. She is at the lowest point she can be at and needs comfort from the bottle. 

I like writing with two or more storylines running adjacent to one another and then merging them, because I love the idea that this could really happen. 

I write in the style of what I like to read and that’s how I created The Boy Who Wasn’t There. I also work with young children in the early years sector and so adding that element was fun. 

The novella is a short read at just 17,000 words and I really love writing in short bursts like this. 

I plan on creating a whole range of short stories, but I am also working on a new novel under my own name and a novel under my pseudonym, Alex Kane. 

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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.

 

 

Review: ‘Turn a Blind Eye’ by Vicky Newham

The headmistress of a culturally diverse school in Tower Hamlets (East London) is found brutally murdered in her office. Left behind is a calling card, stating the ancient Buddhist precept ‘I shall abstain from taking the ungiven’. What does it mean? 

Enter DI Maya Rahman, the freshest detective you will have ever read. Maya is a Muslim woman struggling with her own complex family issues while trying to catch a killer who seems determined to wreak revenge on the people responsible for maintaining a wall of silence around an event that rocked the community. 

Turn a Blind Eye‘ is a triumphant debut that left me desperate for more. The characters created by Newham, Maya in particular, were so well-rounded and complex that I’d happily spend a lot more time in their company. Newham’s portrayal of the multicultural area of Tower Hamlets is not only sensitively communicated but also informative. It was easy to empathise with many of the characters despite having differing viewpoints and experiences. 

This is a beautifully written, paced thriller that I found utterly addictive. ‘Turn a Blind Eye‘ may be the first in the DI Maya Rahman series and I can guarantee this is a series that will run and run. 

Vic x

Review: ‘What Falls Between the Cracks’ by Rob Scragg

A severed hand is found in an abandoned flat. DNA tests identify that it belongs to someone who hasn’t been seen in over thirty years. Why aren’t the police aware of this person? Isn’t she on a list of missing people? No, because she hasn’t been reported missing.

Detective Jake Porter and his partner Nick Styles are called in to investigate this increasingly complex case. From the prologue, the reader is sucked in to this chilling mystery which goes to prove that you can’t always trust those closest to you.

The premise itself is really original but the unpicking of what happened and why is masterful. Robert Scragg weaves a complex plot with a large cast of characters, all of whom propel the narrative forward.

I really enjoyed the cultural references in this story, they helped to make the dialogue realistic and brought the characters to life. The banter between Porter and Styles demonstrates the gallows humour that is present in many challenging work environments.

OK, so you all know I love a twist. You know what’s better than a twist? Several! Just when I thought I had a grip on what was going on and who was responsible, the rug was whipped from under my feet and a new piece of the jigsaw was thrown into the mix (apologies for the mixed metaphors).

What Falls Between the Cracks is an assured debut that introduces readers to new detectives that they’ll keep coming back to as the Porter and Styles series expands.

Vic x

**The Dark Web Blog Tour** Author Interview

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

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

Vic x

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you dislike (if anything)?
Typing. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About ‘The Dark Web

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

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

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

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