Tag Archives: storyline

Review: ‘Give Me the Child’ by Mel McGrath

The doorbell rings in the middle of the night and when Cat’s husband opens it, the police are there – with his eleven-year-old love child, Ruby: a daughter Cat didn’t know he had. The couple take Ruby into their home and Cat’s life begins to unravel. 

Give Me the Child‘ is a perfect example of domestic noir: terror in your home.

The tension between Cat and her husband – as well as Cat and her new-found step-daughter – spills off every page. The idea of a cuckoo in the nest is a very interesting one, particularly when it complicates the existing familial relationships. 

I found it easy to empathise and identify with Cat. Her situation, although slightly unusual, felt utterly realistic to me.

McGrath handles the subjects of paranoia and psychosis sensitively while allowing them to play into the narrative of the story. McGrath reveals just enough information at pertinent points in the story, to wrong foot the reader and make them question who to believe. The characters are interesting, particularly in relation to Cat’s job in child psychiatry. 

Give Me the Child‘ has everything you could want from a psychological thriller: an intriguing storyline, pace and tension from page one. An absolute tour de force. 

Vic x

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Getting to Know You: Jackie McLean

My very good friend, Jackie McLean, author of ‘Toxic’ and ‘Shadows’, is here to chew the fat today. Jackie has appeared on this blog a few times but she’s always such fun and has plenty of advice to give aspiring writers. 

My thanks to Jackie – for sharing her time and wisdom with us in addition to being a wonderful, thoughtful friend.

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
At the moment, I have two crime fiction books that are published by ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd:

Toxic – An anonymous tip-off sparks a desperate race against the clock to track down the illegal storage of the deadly toxin that was responsible for the Bhopal disaster, the world’s worst industrial accident. However the two senior investigating officers are as volatile as the toxin they’re trying to find, and tensions run high. For the lead character, DI Donna Davenport, the investigation becomes personal. She’s recently broken up with her partner Libby, but Libby’s brother is being set up as a suspect, and Donna struggles with the conflict.

Shadows – When DI Donna Davenport is called out to investigate a body washed up on Arbroath beach, it looks like a routine murder inquiry. However, it doesn’t take long before it begins to take on a more sinister shape. There are similarities with a previous murder, and now a woman who is connected with them goes missing. Meanwhile, Donna can’t shake off the feeling that she’s being watched, and she is convinced that Jonas Evanton has returned to seek his revenge on her for his downfall. Fearing they may be looking for a serial killer, the trail leads Donna and her new team in an unexpected direction. Because it’s not a serial killer – it’s worse.

What inspired them?
I originally wrote Toxic because I wanted to write something set in my home town, Arbroath. It’s by the sea, and has caves in the cliffs, so a smuggling story seemed obvious. In that first version, it was genetic modification (of food) experiments that were being smuggled in and out of the country, but I couldn’t really do anything exciting with that.  I needed a dangerous substance that behaved in particular ways, and my nephew – a forensic toxicologist – suggested I look at the Bhopal disaster. As soon as I learned about the substance responsible, I knew it was the one for my storyline. But the research left me deeply disturbed about what happened to the people of Bhopal, who to this day have never received justice for the blatant failures of the company responsible, and so I hope to be able to raise some awareness of that.

The storyline for Shadows came out of a discussion with a friend of mine who’s a midwife, and who told me about some of the murkier sides of her work.  She was keen to find a way to highlight what’s going on, and wanted me to write about it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
A lot of the stuff I’ve written is actually based on dreams that I’ve had. However, in recent years I’ve suffered insomnia, so have resorted to spying on people instead. I work full time, and there are always good snippets of information at meetings and in office gossip that can be built into a plot…

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite form of writing is actually screenwriting, and I’ve written some comedy pieces with my partner Allison. When we write comedy scripts together, sparks fly and the writing is just great fun. So, while I enjoy whatever it is I happen to be writing at any one time, the screenwriting with Allison is my favourite.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best writing advice I’ve seen came from Dr Jacky Collins, whose advice to aspiring crime writers is to get along to their nearest Noir at the Bar and get involved.  There is lots of advice out there on how to write – from style, to good writing habits – but I’ve found the best motivation and confidence-builder to me for writing has come from being around other writers, and from the tremendous support we give each other.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope first and foremost that they’ll enjoy a gripping good read.  Characters that they can get to know and understand, and short chapters for a quick read after a hard day at work.

Beyond that, I’m interested in the relativity of crime: by that, I mean there’s always a wider context behind the actual crime that we see, and none of us really can wash our hands of that. For example, the company responsible for the Bhopal disaster clearly cut corners and ignored safety procedures that would have prevented the catastrophe. But companies cut corners all the time, largely because all of us want to buy our goods as cheaply as possible. We’re not very accepting of price tags that reflect the full costs of production – costs that relate to environmental and human pressures. If we buy cheap, it means somebody else – with less power than us – pays the full price. While I don’t want to be preachy, I do think we need to be more aware of our own contribution to the crime we see around us, and I hope my books will give a glimpse into that, too.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
You need to love and enjoy what you’re writing. If you want to take it further, and want to see it published, I’d say study the market and treat your finished work like a business. There are rules, and you need to know what these are in your particular genre. When I completed Toxic, I hadn’t thought of it in terms of genre at all, until I researched the publishing world and realised it had to “fit” somewhere, so I re-drafted it to be more compatible with the crime fiction market.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
There are a number of aspects to writing, for example the actual act of writing, researching your topic, and the writing life.

On writing itself, this is going to sound ancient, but I went to school in the days before computers were invented. There, I’ve said it! All of our work was handwritten, including all of our creative writing. When I was a kid, I wrote all the time, and find today that I can still only write creatively if it’s by hand. If I try to write directly onto the screen, it comes out like a work report. Oddly, I both like and dislike that I need to hand write first.  I enjoy the feeling of writing by hand, but it does make for double the work.

Researching your topic is really important, and should be enjoyable. If you find the research dull, you’re maybe not writing from the heart. However, you do have to be careful, especially when you’re researching for crime fiction. I inadvertently ended up on a terrorist recruitment website recently while researching smoke grenades (and I was only trying to find out if they make a noise…).

As to the writing life, meeting up with other writers and folk involved in the book world (readers, bloggers, booksellers, publishers, etc) is great. I don’t know about other genres, but in crime writing there’s a real sense of belonging and support, and I say that as someone who’s fairly shy and doesn’t find it terribly easy to do the networking stuff.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m writing the third Donna Davenport book (Run), which completes a particular storyline that started in Toxic. I’ve also begun to outline two more books, and can’t quite decide which one to go for first. One is another Donna Davenport book. Here’s a sneak preview of the other one:

Death Do Us Part – Diane knows she’s the piece in her husband Rick’s deadly game. Claiming the glory when he kills her lovers – who line up to take him on, like rutting stags – keeps Rick as the undisputed crime lord, and their life of riches intact. Dutifully she plays the game. They line up. He conquers. She lives.

Then one day the rules of the game change forever. Diane falls in love with Claire. They both know Rick won’t challenge a woman – there’s no status in that. If he finds out, Diane’s life will be over.

There’s nowhere to turn for help. Claire is the crime gang’s chief mechanic, and as well as knowing where all the bodies are buried, she’s in it up to her neck.

The pair can’t risk being found together.

The only option open to them is to go on the run, but Rick has a reputation to defend, and they’ll have to outplay him at his own game if they’re ever to be truly free.

I also can’t decide if it’s crime or romance – what do you think?

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve recently begun to run creative writing sessions, along with a former colleague, for men who are in prison or who have recently been released. Each time we meet, there’s a new favourite moment, and I’ve been blown away by the power of creative writing to mend broken lives. For example, one of the guys, who protested that writing wasn’t his thing and that he couldn’t do it, eventually wrote a poem. He declared that the experience had given him a bigger high than any drugs. That’s priceless, and it’s what I love about writing. Now I’m welling up.

Review of 2017: Chris Ord

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I’ve had a good year. My debut novel, Becoming has sold well and received widespread acclaim. I’ve visited a number of schools giving talks on writing, and presented at several reading events. I was commissioned by Woodhorn Museum to write some passages for their Wonderfolk interactive family experience. This was a proud moment for me, as I spent my childhood walking up and down the narrow path past the pit where the museum is now. However, my favourite memory has to be completing my second novel, The Storm.

I play solo horn in Newbiggin Brass Band, and a couple of years ago we were involved in a local project ‘Haalin’ the Lines.’ Funded by the BAIT team at Woodhorn Museum, the project was led by the remarkable performer and singer-songwriter, Tim Dalling. Tim was commissioned by BAIT to take historical accounts being gathered by the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Genealogy Project and put some of the stories to music. The aim was to bring back to life the tales and oral histories of local heroes from the village. One of those heroes was ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain who was awarded a clasp to his silver medal for an attempted rescue of the Norwegian brig ‘Embla’ in 1854.

The fascination with ‘Big’ Phil stayed with me after the project and further research revealed what an incredible man he was. The story of the night Phil and a few young men from Newbiggin tried to rescue the ‘Embla’ became the backdrop for the novel. However, the events of that night are only the starting point, as the book weaves this together with a folk tale, and a series of mysterious incidents to create a tense, supernatural thriller.

Setting is so important to my writing and it means a lot to me to write a story set in the village where I grew up. History is filled with tales of kings and queens, leaders and generals. This is the history they teach at school. But the true heroes are all around us. They are the people who built our communities, lived and died for our families, friends, and neighbours. What remains of those heroes is love and memories, and it’s vital we keep those alive. Our folk stories are our heritage and we can still learn from them. Writers and creatives play an important role in raising issues, stimulating debate, and provoking challenging questions. I hope my books are more than stories, but also make people think and reflect on the world.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Music has always been my first love, and my best moment in 2017 is a musical moment. As I said earlier, I play in my village brass band. The past two years have been our most successful and this year we retained our Durham League title, won the North East Regional Championship for the second year running, and qualified for the National Finals in Cheltenham.

We worked hard in preparing for the Finals, but you are playing against the best in the country. Wales, Yorkshire, and the North West all have strong, competitive bands and challenging against them is tough. There were twenty bands in the final and finishing anywhere in the top six placings is considered a success. The draw was not kind to us and as with the year before we had a long wait before we took the stage in nineteenth position. The band performed well, though not quite at our very best, leaving the stage with mixed feelings. Finals are unpredictable and always throw up surprises. Few had us anywhere near the prizes.

The announcements prior to the results were agonising, and full of the usual formal fluff and flannel. Eventually, they got round to revealing the prizes, and we were delighted to be awarded fourth place. This is one of my proudest moments in banding. The band folded many years ago and was only revived in 2010. They’re a great bunch of people and musicians, and to come from nothing and finish fourth at the Nationals is a remarkable achievement. We’ve been promoted and next year brings a whole set of fresh challenges. For the moment, we can enjoy the success.

Favourite book in 2017?
A few years ago I read a book called How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson. It became a bit of a manifesto for me. I read it every now and then to remind me of some important anchors in my approach your life. I decided to read it again this year.

The book has its flaws and some of the author’s ideas are contradictory and simplistic. However, there’s plenty in there to enjoy and it’s worth reading with an open mind. It’s especially engaging if you’re deliberating a life change. I’ve listed the chapter headings below. They provide an indicator of his anarchic approach to life. I see them as a useful common-sense checklist for embracing a certain kind of freedom. You won’t agree with them all, but they make you think, and a number of them inspired me to focus on new priorities.

  1. Banish anxiety; be carefree
  2. Break the bonds of boredom
  3. The tyranny of bills and the freedom of simplicity
  4. Reject career and all its empty promises
  5. Get out of the city
  6. Cast off your watch
  7. Stop competing
  8. Escape debt
  9. Death to shopping, or fleeing the prison of consumer desire
  10. Smash the fetters of fear
  11. Say no to guilt and free your spirit
  12. No more housework, or the power of the candle
  13. Submit no more to the machine, use your hands
  14. Stop moaning; be merry
  15. Live mortgage free; be a happy wanderer
  16. Disarm pain
  17. Stop worrying about your pension and get a life
  18. Sail away from rudeness and towards a new era of courtesy, civility, and grace
  19. Live free of the supermarkets
  20. The reign of ugly is over; long live beauty, quality, fraternity!
  21. Depose the tyrant wealth
  22. Reject waste; embrace thrift
  23. Stop working, start living!!!

Favourite film in 2017?
I’ve not seen enough films this year. I’ve probably forgotten most of the ones I have. It’s a problem of mine, and my wife is always reminding me that I have seen films I’m convinced I haven’t.

One film that stood out for me was Baby Driver. It’s cool, stylish, full of action and has a great storyline. I enjoy a strong narrative and like to be entertained. There’s a role for challenging and thought provoking character movies, but I tend to fall asleep to a lot of those arthouse flicks. I like escapism, and Baby Driver is a bit of fun. It has an excellent soundtrack too. Thanks to Tarantino it seems to be a necessity these days.

One caveat is Kevin Spacey. Always a terrific presence on screen, his reputation is now in tatters. I suspect the film will be buried now. Some of you won’t want to see it because of him. I respect that. It’s a dilemma facing us all now. Should we separate the art from the artist? I must admit if I erased from my life all the creatives who had deplorable views or behaviour there wouldn’t be much culture left. I tend to leave the judgements to the courts or the gutter press. Perhaps that isn’t good enough.

Favourite album of the year?
My wife, Julie has been listening to the latest album by Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator. I recall loving their last album, and the snippets I was hearing around the house hooked me again. I downloaded The Navigator a few weeks ago and have listened to little else since. Essentially, the band is the creative vehicle for lead singer, Alynda Segarra. Of Puerto Rican descent, the album has a strong Latin flavour. The songs and lyrics are exceptional, but it’s the rhythms and mood that I love most. I’m into drums at the minute and love to hear them used in inventive ways. The standout track is ‘Pa’lante’ which contains the lines, ‘I just wanna prove my worth, on the planet Earth, and be something.’ Those words resonated with me. It’s a sentiment that connects most creatives. I think we all want to leave our mark, and if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime die hoping it will someday. Who knows? Maybe our time is yet to come.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
I’ve had a transitional year, readjusting to moving back into contractual work and finding the time to write. While I wouldn’t describe this as a downside, it has meant that I have had less free time. Writing is about discipline and making the time is a challenge. I’m enjoying my new role. It is rewarding, but my passion is writing. My long-term goal is to reach a point where I am writing most of the time. Many writers speak of how they write because they have to. Once you have caught the bug, the compulsion is overwhelming.

However, sustaining a living as an author is like building a business. It takes a few years to build your experience and reputation. The world of publishing has changed, and whilst this offers many opportunities it also means the financial rewards are not as great. I’m an advocate of the indie route. Why be J.K. Rowling when you can by Joy Division? I also like to be control of my own destiny. The opportunities presented in the mainstream would have come at too high a price for me.

I look at the likes of Louise Ross and Mark Dawson with great admiration. They have been bold and clever enough to build a living doing what they love. My success is far more modest, but the creative rewards are what excite and drive me. Whatever happens artistic integrity and authenticity are my primary goals. If others love what I do that is a bonus. Passion may not be enough to pay the bills, but keep working at what you love and the rewards are great. The important thing is to never give up. A film deal would be welcome though.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I’m an obsessive compiler of lists and revel in the opportunity to write my resolutions for the year ahead. I’m still working on my goals for 2018, but my main one is to complete Awakening, the follow up to Becoming. One of my challenges is to strike the right balance between work and writing. It takes discipline to write and finding the time is important. If there is one thing I would love more of it is time. I crave it more than anything. Filling that time with words and music is my idea of heaven. My other goals will revolve around music, travel and running. There are still a few bands I’d still love to see in concert. I go to lots of gigs and there are a few in the diary already. I want to see Sigur Ros, an Icelandic band. I also adore musicals and still haven’t seen ‘Les Miserables’, one of my favourites. I intend to put that right in 2018.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
A top four placing with the band at the Regionals would be great. We’re in a higher section now, so it’s going to be tough. I’m also hoping to visit Berlin this year. I passed through in the early 90s on the way to Poland, and regret not getting off the train for a few days. Croatia is another country I’d love to visit and that’s on my list for the summer. Depending on finances I hope to return to Iceland. It’s a captivating place and I promised myself I would return after a visit in 2016. The costs are eye-watering though and 2018 may be a touch too soon to cram in all this travel. I live in hope though.

Finally, I hope my readers enjoy The Storm. I loved writing it and it would be great if others appreciated the book too. It’s always daunting releasing your work, as you never know what the feedback will be. First and foremost, I see myself as a storyteller. If I can entertain people for a few hours, and make them think that’s all the success I need.

Becoming‘ is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. ‘The Storm’ will be released in January 2018 and will also be available on Amazon.

To find out more about Chris’s writing you can visit his website or find him on Facebook