CTG REVIEWS: BLOODY SCOTLAND – the bloody brilliant book! #BloodyScotland

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What happens when top crime writers Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Louise Welsh, Lin Anderson, Gordon Brown, Doug Johnstone, Craig Robertson, E S Thomson, Sara Sheridan and Stuart MacBride put together a collection of short stories inspired by some of Scotland’s most dazzling and iconic historical sites?

A bloody brilliant book, that’s what!

Like an adrenaline fuelled road (and across water) trip through Scotland and the islands, the Bloody Scotland book is a heart-pumping exploration of geography, history and breathtaking crime fiction and suspense.

I loved the ancient mystery of the runes in Lin Anderson’s present day/1151 story ORKAHAUGR – evoking the mystical elements of Maeshowe on Orkney as a Professor sets out to experience the phenomenon of the setting sun entering a 5000 year old chambered cairn and discovers the secret within its walls. The heartbreaking ANCIENT AND MODERN by Val McDermid has the intriguing The Hermit’s Castle as the setting for both romance and revenge, and Doug Johnstone’s PAINTING THE FORTH BRIDGE provides a nail-bitingly tense thriller. One of my favourites has to be Chris Brookmyre’s THE LAST SEIGE OF BOTHWELL CASTLE – it’s full of twists and turns, and brilliant dialogue (especially the hilarious discussions about who’s the better character – William Wallace or Legolas – and whether Robin Hood is real!).

So how did the book come about?

Well, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is the lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. 2017 has been designated the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and The Bloody Scotland book is a part of that. James Crawford, Publisher HES and editor of the book says, ‘I found myself talking to the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, Lin Anderson, and its director Bob McDevitt, in the Authors’ Yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2016. ‘What if?’ I asked them. ‘What if we asked twelve of Scotland’s top crime writers to write short stories inspired by twelve of our most iconic buildings? What would they think? What would they come up with?’ This book is the answer… Bloody Scotland, then, is a tribute to two of our nation’s greatest assets – our crime writing and our built heritage’.

The Bloody Scotland Book is out today (21st September 2017). You can order it from Amazon HERE and from Waterstones HERE

The Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Stirling is a must-attend festival for all crime fiction lovers. Next year the festival will run from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd September 2018. Hop over to the website HERE for more information.

And don’t forget to check out all the fantastic stops along THE BLOODY SCOTLAND BOOK blog tour…

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CTG INTERVIEWS: NGAIO MARSH AWARDS FINALIST BEN SANDERS ABOUT MARSHALL’S LAW

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Today I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on the Ngaio Marsh Awards Finalists Blog Tour and featuring one of the finalists – Ben Sanders.

Ben Sanders scored a multi-book deal and published his first crime novels while he was studying engineering at university. Now juggling engineering work and writing, Sanders’ most recent tales are action-packed thrillers starring former New York City undercover cop Marshall Grade, living in witness protection in the American southwest. His fifth novel, Marshall’s Law, is a finalist for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

CWA Gold Dagger winner Michael Robotham has described Marshall Grade as a ‘noble loner’ who’s a great read for fans of Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne. Let’s find out more…

Marshall Grade is a pretty hands-on, action man kind of lead – what inspired you to create him as a character? 

I like a good mix of noir in my crime, so I knew my hero (or anti-hero, as he turned out) would be the kind of self-sufficient gentleman who could get to the bottom of things, and be happy to throw the odd punch along the way. My previous three New Zealand-set novels had focused on an Auckland police detective, but when it came to my US books, I wanted to write about a character who was ‘outside the system.’ So Marshall (being a former undercover policeman) has the experience to move in criminal circles, but he doesn’t have the heft of a government institution to back him up. In plain terms he’s a vigilante. That of course puts him in competitive territory among fictional male heroes, but Marshall being a self-taught bruiser with a guilt complex means he has his quirks and points of difference.

You’re from New Zealand, but you set your most recent two novels (the Marshall Grade series) in the United States; New Mexico and New York. How did you go about researching where you set those stories, and making it as authentic as possible? 

I’d been reading American crime novels since I was thirteen, and Western culture is fairly US-centric anyway, so I felt like I’d had good ambient exposure to Americana. But of course the best research is first-hand experience, so I visited all of the locations I wrote about. A big element of authenticity—or at least the impression of authenticity—is being confident in what you write. All fiction relies on speculation to some extent, but confidence helps camouflage the guesswork, and makes writing persuasive. For me, detailed knowledge of settings gave me confidence in other elements of my work. My process is very visual—I see everything in my head as I write—so once I could picture my backdrop, it didn’t feel like a great leap of imagination to then superimpose characters and plot. And travel obviously has benefits beyond the purely visual. The details are valuable too: what the seasons are like, how people speak, the price of coffee in a diner. Such things bring an extra layer of credibility to a story and add to the illusion that This Actually Happened.

Your books are fast-paced, and full of action. What are your top tips on creating tension and pace when writing a thriller? 

‘Pace’ in mysteries or thrillers is all do to with how the author reveals information to the reader. A scene in a book should have a function: is it (for example) giving character backstory? Introducing someone? Is it purely for humour? Does it contain some crucial revelation to drive the story? (The most adroit scenes can do all of the above and more, simultaneously.) So for me, controlling pace amounts to being aware of what I’m revealing about character and story. Basically I want to ensure that all the interesting bits are parcelled out appropriately across the course of 350-odd pages. ‘Appropriately’ is an elastic term—pace can increase and decrease through the course of a novel, and it’s not until something is on paper that I can see whether it ‘works.’ Tension in my work often derives from a sense of looming catastrophe or conflict. Particularly in my American novels, I have competing characters who are in stark moral contrast to one another. By switching perspectives between various players and hinting at a common trajectory, I try to create an impression that something very bad could happen. But depending on the type of novel, the same emotional effect can be achieved by other means-I watched an interview with Lee Child in which he explains that the trick to suspense (or tension) is to simply pose a question and then refuse to answer it for three hundred pages.

Which books or writers in the crime genre do you enjoy reading, and why? 

I love Michael Connelly and Lee Child, because I can’t get enough of their characters. I love Elmore Leonard because his dialogue reads like a wire-tap. I love James Ellroy for his style, and his ability to bend history to the shape of his vision. I could go on and on, but those guys are my top four.

Your first Marshall Grade novel, AMERICAN BLOOD, was optioned for a film before you even finished the manuscript. When you picture Marshall in your own head, which actor does he remind you of?  

While the film plans were all-go, the Marshall in my head looked like Bradley Cooper. Now the movie’s been scrapped, Marshall just looks like me (tall and blond, but with bigger muscles). That way, I get to live an exciting thug-busting life by proxy, from the comfort of my desk.

You published your first crime novel while you were at university, and already have five under your belt. How has your writing style evolved over the years, and what are the biggest lessons you learned going from budding author to published to established? 

My first novel The Fallen was accepted for publication in December 2009, but it wasn’t until I began reading Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy on Christmas Day of that year that I appreciated the importance of style and voice. Ellroy is famous for his clipped rat-a-tat syntax, but the lesson I learned from Rover wasn’t so much that a book should be written in a bold and obvious manner; more that whatever the style, it needs to be consistent. Most of the crime writers I’d read before Ellroy used a very smooth and understated authorial voice, and so the need for consistency didn’t really occur to me. So that was the first way my writing changed: improving from a stylistic mishmash in my first book, to something more controlled in my later work. My American novels have all been narrated in third-person, but I adopt one character’s perspective for each scene. It’s made my style more colloquial, and I tend to use a lot of dialogue to move the story forward. My biggest lesson has been the importance of editing. Some people can write a book and nail it on the first try, but once I’ve finished a draft, I need to leave it alone for a week or two, and then hit it hard with the backspace key: invariably, something needs re-doing.

What other advice do you have for budding crime writers out there, who are trying to get their first book published? 

Writing is a difficult trade to break into if you’re wanting to be published, so it’s obviously important to maximise your chance of being noticed. Research which agents and/or publishers are interested in crime, and when you’re sending them material, treat their submission rules as gospel—agents may have dozens or hundreds of submissions a year, so providing material in a format they don’t want will ensure a quick rejection. Most importantly, never submit anything that isn’t totally pristine. Write your novel or your sample, leave it in a drawer for a month, and then edit mercilessly.

A big thank you to Ben Sanders for popping onto the CTG blog today. For more information about Ben and his books hop over to https://ben-sanders.com

 And to buy Marshall’s Law click this link: https://www.amazon.com/Marshalls-Law-Novel-Marshall-Grade/dp/1250058805

Be sure to check out all the other fantastic stops along the blog tour too.

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THE LAST RESORT – A LORI ANDERSON SHORT STORY – IS OUT NOW! #CrimeFiction

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If you’re looking for a Lori and JT fix before the next book in the Lori Anderson thriller series – DEEP BLUE TROUBLE – comes out later this year don’t fear!

You can download a Lori short story – THE LAST RESORT – that goes back in time to when Lori was training with JT and learning the bounty hunting business.

Here’s what the blurb says:

“Done with a life of exploitation and violence, Lori Anderson is training to be a bounty hunter. Holed up in the Georgia Mountains with her reclusive mentor, JT, Lori is determined to put her new skills into practice. Behind JT’s back, she breaks his rules and grabs the chance she’s looking for. Will her gamble pay off, or will she have to learn the hard way?

The Last Resort is the first in the Rookie Bounty Hunter series of short stories, marking the nail-biting start to a high-octane series of thrillers featuring one of the most unforgettable and fearless female protagonists in crime fiction.”

It also includes a free extract of DEEP DOWN DEAD, book one in the Lori Anderson Series.

I’ve been totally blown away by the fabulous crime fiction bloggers and reviewers who’ve read and shared their thoughts on THE LAST RESORT – here’s what they’re saying:

“Raw, edgy and a real page turner – the short story will satisfy your urges” Noelle @nholten40 – read full review on CrimeBookJunkie here

“What a start to the day! We all need a bit of Lori Anderson’s courage and determination” Christine @northernlass73 – read full review on Northern Crime here

“Broadribb has a tough vulnerability that really draws you in. I think she’s a superstar on the rise” Craig @craigsisterson – read full review on Kiwi Crime blog here

“A punchy, fast paced short story and I absolutely loved it. More please!” Emma @damppebbles – read full review on damppebbles.com here

“Ooh Lawdy, how it all began (think I need a nap). Great prequel to Deep Down Dead.” Sandy @rowingwabbit – read full review on Goodreads here

Fancy a Lori and JT fix?

CLICK HERE to hop on over to Amazon.com to buy and download THE LAST RESORT 

 

CTG Interviews KJ Howe about The Freedom Broker

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While I was at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate I met up with fellow debut novelist KJ Howe to chat about her fabulous thriller THE FREEDOM BROKER. Over coffee, we talked research, writing process, and how she created the kick-ass action heroine Thea Paris…

Thea Paris is such an authentic all-action female lead – what inspired you to create her as a character?

I always wanted to write a strong female protagonist. As part of my research I went out to the Phoenix desert and trained in hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting and more. I’m a big believer of if you’re going to write about it you should have experienced it. I’ve got this rolodex of Special Forces guys I can call on – they read the book – and wanted to bring an authenticity to the page. I would have loved to have been a spy! I’ve been zip lining, cage diving with sharks, but I’m also feminine and enjoy dressing up – I wanted to show a woman can be a real woman but also really strong too, but not in a comic book way. Thea Paris has very human baggage and with her diabetes there’s a ticking clock – she has to have her insulin [which can be tricky given some of the situations she gets into during the course of The Freedom Broker]. I wanted to show that if you have a chronic illness it shouldn’t stop you, and if you’re a woman it shouldn’t stop you doing your dream job.

Thea’s job as a Response Consultant [kidnap negotiator/rescuer] is an unusual one – what research did you do?

I’ve spent the last four years immersed in that world and found out first-hand about what it’s like. As well as speaking with people who’ve been in real life hostage situations – like Peter Moore who was the longest held hostage in Iraq – I’ve found out about the world of kidnap and ransom. I attended the Kidnap and Ransom Conference – I didn’t know anyone, and it’s a dark, closed world – but I needed to learn about it so I could write authentically. Now I’ve got contacts all over the world – including special ops people, response consultants, a psychologist who specialises in hostage mentality, and security guys who protect journalists in war zones.

I wanted to do something fresh and unique, and I didn’t want to do FBI or Police as I’m not a rule follower – I wanted the freedom to go wild! Private industry doesn’t have the same restrictions, and it’s interesting how the whole system works – from big companies, to kidnap insurance, through to response consultants [interestingly, Lloyds of London are the people who first started selling kidnap and ransom insurance]. People can be insured for as much as fifty million dollars, and negotiators will often haggle down from the ransom demand – usually 10% or so. In the US and the UK the penalty for kidnap is high, and there’s also a 95% chance of getting caught. But in Mexico there are no laws on kidnap and a 95% chance of not getting caught – so it’s more worth the risk to kidnappers. Plus there’s no lack of potential victims – everyone has loved ones – it’s scary. With every book in the series I’m hoping to explore a different aspect of kidnap.

THE FREEDOM BROKER is super twisty-turny – what was your writing process?

I’m an organic writer. I do plan ahead, but mostly the story is held in my head. I do go back and plant things later though. You can’t fight who you are – if you need to plot to feel in control then do that. I find there’s a freshness from organically writing – the characters come alive. So listen to your heart and write how you want to – my style is ‘pants on fire’ writing. You can sometimes get into trouble writing organically, but for me it’s well worth the risk. If I get into a corner I think ‘what’s the theme of the book?’ – it’s often family – and can work out what next from there.

What got you into writing thrillers?

When you look at the book you’re reading and the books you chose to read there’s always an emotion attached to them. With thrillers it’s energy and adrenaline, with mysteries it’s puzzle solving, with romance it’s hope, and with sci-fi it’s wonder. I’m into adrenaline and energy – I’m a very action orientated person. I read David Morrell’s Brotherhood of the Rose – a spy thriller – and thought I’d love to be an author and be able to do what he did to me to another reader, to take them to another place – like Athens – and fascinate them. The Eye of the Needle and Day of the Jackal are great books. I grew up in different places around the world and wanted a character that can go anywhere – each book will go to different countries.

KJ HOWE

What words of advice do you have for those aspiring to be published?

Embrace criticism from credible sources. I worked on my book for two years and had to go on the journey – it’s 10% about talent and 90% about perspiration – and you have to be in it for the long haul. Everyone I know has been at it for a while. Write every day or as often as you can – get out the junk words and keep going! David Morrell is my mentor and he has a saying ‘Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else’ – only you can write your book. It’s like with me having had a very international life – I’ve lived in lots of places where the shadow of threat is always there – I can bring to the page what I’ve learnt. Be fresh. Unless there’s great writing and a unique voice don’t do something that’s already been done. Stay the course and get help – never bring your ego to the table. Although I’m published I feel like I’m at the beginning of the journey. I want to stay at it, keep getting better, and then getting word out about my books and reaching readers. Learn everything you can about this business. Do your own social media, and get involved and be part of the writing community (events like the Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival held at Harrogate every July are a great place to start). I try to help as many writers as I can – playing it forward as I’ve had a lot of help from authors. You can contact me through my website and the ThrillerFest website [she’s the Executive Director of the fantastic crime writing festival] – I’m always happy to hear from people.

And with that the coffee was drunk and the interview was over. KJ Howe was a brilliantly fun interviewee and it was great to meet her and talk about all the fascinating research she’s done – she really is an action woman herself!

To find out more about KJ Howe visit her website HERE and be sure to follow her on Twitter @KJHoweAuthor

You can read my review of THE FREEDOM BROKER HERE and then hop over to Amazon to buy it by clicking the link HERE

And check out the ThrillerFest website HERE for all the details on this amazing crime writing festival held in New York every summer.

CTG Reviews: The Freedom Broker by KJ Howe

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What the blurb says: “Thea Paris is one of the world’s one elite kidnapping negotiators and the only woman in her field. Undercover operations and high-risk extractions are a part of daily life for Thea. Her only objective: getting her hostages out alive, at any cost.

But Thea is about to face her toughest challenge yet to free a very special client: her father. An oil tycoon on the verge of a world-altering deal, Thea’s father is snatched off his yacht in Greece from right under Thea’s nose. With no ransom demands and only cryptic messages left in Latin, Thea knows it will take all her experience and resolve to bring her father home alive. But with traumatic memories of her brother’s kidnapping 20 years earlier still haunting her and trying to hide her diabetes from her colleagues, Thea Paris could have finally met her match.”

First up, I have to say this is one hell of a story. Plunging straight into the action right from the get-go, we meet Thea Paris – kidnap negotiator – in the jungles of Kwale, Nigeria, leading a mission by stealth to bring back a man held captive for ransom. She’s tough, determined, and focused on the job in hand. And from those very first pages I was hooked.

The Freedom Broker is about a lot more than pure action though (although there’s plenty of that too) it’s about family dynamics and difficult relationships, about how it feels to be a woman operating in a very male dominated profession, it’s about secrets and revenge and how our past informs our present.

And although Thea Paris might be the ultimate action woman – she knows her guns and her helicopters just as well as any man – she’s also feminine and romantic, she’s a loving daughter and caring sister, and she manages a disability that she keeps hidden from almost everyone around her. She’s a character you want to succeed, that you root for, trust in and, after all the action has gone down, the kind of person it’d be great fun to go out for a few drinks with.

The Freedom Broker is a thrilling read, it’ll have you high on adrenaline and heart-wrenched with anxiety, and you’ll love every single minute of it.

Buy it now!

I’m counting the days until the second in the series comes out – for me it can’t be quickly enough!

Find out more about KJ Howe on her website here

And buy THE FREEDOM BROKER on Amazon here

 

Check back in later in the week to read my interview with KJ Howe.

And be sure to check out all the other great tour stops…

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CTG EXCLUSIVE: ARNE DAHL ON CREATING TENSION & HIS FAVE BOOKS #WATCHINGYOU

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To celebrate the release of bestselling international crime writer Arne Dahl’s new thriller WATCHING YOU – the first instalment in a new rocket-paced series featuring a brand new crime team, led by Detective Sam Berger – Arne invited a few folks to ask him some questions about his writing and then recorded his answers on camera.

I asked him two questions…

Question 1: What are your top tips on creating tension and pace when writing a thriller? Click to watch Arne’s answer on the Dead Good Books YouTube channel HERE

Question 2: Which books or writers in the crime genre do you enjoy reading, and why? Click here to watch Arne’s answer on the Dead Good Books YouTube channel HERE

WATCHING YOU  by Arne Dahl is out now. Here’s the blurb: “Elen Savinger has been missing for three weeks. At each abandoned crime scene linking to the case Detective Sam Berger finds a hidden clue: a tiny metal cog, almost invisible to the naked eye. Someone is sending Sam a message, someone who knows that only he will understand the cryptic trail. When another teenaged girl disappears without trace, Sam must convince his superiors that they’re dealing with a serial killer. As the police continue the hunt to find the latest victim, Sam is forced to unearth long-buried personal demons. He has no choice if he is to understand the killer’s darkly personal message before time runs out. Somebody is killing just for him.”

You can read an extract of WATCHING YOU by clicking HERE and popping over to Dead Good Books.

Order it HERE from Waterstones or HERE from Amazon

And find out more about Arne Dahl and his books over on his website at www.arnedahl.net and follow him on Twitter @arne_dahl

CTG shameless plug: #VoteLori #FearlessFemale @DeadGoodBooks Reader Awards 2017 – thank you!

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Please excuse the shameless plug but…

I’m totally thrilled that DEEP DOWN DEAD is on the shortlists for two awards – Fearless Female Character and Most Exceptional Debut – at the Dead Good Readers Awards that are presented at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate this July.

These awards are nominated and voted for by readers – so if you enjoyed DEEP DOWN DEAD I’d be real grateful if you could throw a vote in Lori Anderson and DEEP DOWN DEAD’s direction!

The voting is open now over at the fab Dead Good Books website here: http://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/dead-good-reader-awards-2017/

#VoteLori
THANK YOU!!!!