CTG Reviews: The Long Fall by Julia Crouch

The Long Fall cover image

The Long Fall cover image

What the blurb says: “Greece, 1980: You are a bright young woman with a brilliant future ahead of you. Then you do the worst possible thing a person could do to someone else: you are guilty of the greatest transgression. How do you go on to live a life?

Now: To the outside observer, Kate Barratt has it all: the wealthy husband who was once mistaken for George Clooney, the brilliant, feisty daughter, two homes in London and Cornwall, and understated designer wardrobe and a satisfying sideline as figurehead for a worthwhile charity. But all is not as comfortable as it seems, because Kate harbours a terrible secret that no-one in her current life knows anything about. A secret that hails back to a different time, when she was a skinny, dirty, punk-haired teenager who took too many drugs and nearly threw herself off an Athens hostel roof.

Then, one day, in Starbucks near Tottenham Court Road Tube Station, that secret appears out of the past to face her. Can Kate carry on with the life she has built for herself? Or does it mean that everything is completely, irrevocably, changed?”

It’s very hard to review this book within giving any spoilers, but I’ll do what I can!

Set across two points in time, and two countries, Julia Crouch artfully weaves the story of what happened to Emma – a young, naïve and curious teenage traveller on her first visit to Greece in 1980, with that of present day Kate – a wealthy wife and mother, and founder of international children’s charity ‘Martha’s Wish’.

Packed with suspense, each scene of the book reveals a little more of the horrific chain of events that Kate has tried her whole life to keep hidden, and the extreme lengths she has gone to in order to do so. Kate is a compelling character, so damaged by her past and the grief of losing her youngest daughter, yet desperate to atone for what happened and driven to make a difference through her charity work. When a person from her past tracks her down, Kate’s secret past collides with her present and threatens to destroy all she has worked for, and puts those she loves into the very danger she has sought her whole adult life to avoid.

This dark and chilling story of love, betrayal and guilt shows how one moment of violence can result in a chain reaction that continues across the decades. Highly atmospheric, with fabulously flawed and complex characters, and a super twisty plot, it’s a great read.

The Long Fall is domestic noir at its very best.

Highly recommended.

[Many thanks to Headline for my copy of The Long Fall]

CTG Interviews: Julia Crouch, author of The Long Fall

The Long Fall cover image

The Long Fall cover image

Today I’m delighted to welcome Julia Crouch to the CTG blog.

Famous for her darkly chilling novels of domestic noir, Julia’s latest book – The Long Fall – is published this week in paperback, eBook and as an audio download. 

So, to the questions …

Your latest book – The Long Fall – is out this week. Can you tell us a bit about it?

I started off wondering how someone could continue a life after being guilty of the worst possible transgression.

The story is set in two time frames – 1980 and 2013. The 1980 sections are the diary of 18 year old Emma who is backpacking solo through Europe in her year off. At the end of her journey, something awful happens. The 2013 part is about Kate, a wealthy, high profile charity campaigner, Hedge Fund Manager’s wife and mother to drama student Tilly. When someone turns up from Kate’s past, her superficially perfect life begins to disintegrate around her.

The book takes place in Greece and London, what was it about these particular places that inspired to you to pick them?

I have always loved Greece – I go there whenever I get the opportunity. My first proper visit was as a lone, backpacking eighteen year old. I kept a diary of what I got up to while I was there, and I have mercilessly raided the detail in it for The Long Fall. On the very edge of Europe, Greece is a country of contrasts – of ancient and modern, of East and West, of land and sea. I knew I wanted to set part of the story on an island – as distant, disconnected and isolated as possible – and my son Owen told me about Ikaria, which his Greek girlfriend Eva took him to a couple of years ago. It seemed perfect and, since the novel starts with a fall from a cliff, the idea of the island named after Icarus, the boy who fell when he flew too close to the sun, seemed too perfect to resist.

I had to go and research the island – an arduous task for a Grecophile such as myself – and found to my delight that it was perfect – wind-buffetted with enormous, looming black and grey cliffs, deserted perfect beaches, a jungly interior and a world untouched as yet (touch wood) by mass tourism. Setting is as important to me as my characters and plot, so it was really, really exciting to find Ikaria. I spent a week there, driving a tiny Chevy Matiz over almost impassable mountain roads, exploring mountain villages and isolated bays.

I wanted the contrast of Kate’s world to the Greek scenes to be very stark. A couple of years ago I did a photoshoot for a magazine and they had hired a gorgeous house in a converted school in Battersea. It’s vast – all enormous high ceilings, white walls and wooden floors. The people who own it live in it – although they were away for the day of the shoot – and there’s a big photograph canvas of the family on the kitchen wall. They are beautiful. The impression is one of a perfect life.

I was just beginning to think about The Long Fall at the time, and it seemed to me that this would be the perfect building for Kate to inhabit – gated, turretted luxury. So I’m afraid I ‘stole’ it!

As a trailblazer of the hugely popular Domestic Noir, how would you describe the characteristics of the sub-genre?

Domestic Noir doesn’t necessarily mean a home setting, but it’s often in there somewhere. it’s about the things people do to each other in the name of love. It’s about the levels at which we can deceive ourselves and others, and how we manage to live with our secrets. It can include police and murders, but that’s certainly not essential. The mystery lies in the why – rather than the whodunnit. Because it is rooted in messy old life and relationships, it doesn’t always provide the neat ending of more traditional crime fiction.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

Usually, I just dive in and start a story, researching as I go along. I keep writing until I reach the end, even if I know things have to change quite radically in the earlier stages of the novel to support my new discoveries. This I call draft zero, because no one ever sees it except me. Then I go back and rewrite the entire thing, building a firmer structure for the plot, excising loads of guff and putting in hopefully more focussed material. For me, this is the most exciting way to write, because every day you discover something new about your characters and story.

However, it can be difficult to fit this style of working into a publishing schedule. The Long Fall is the first book of a new contract I signed with my publishers Headline, and to secure that I had to put together a pretty clear outline of the story, long before I started. The plot I came up with was quite detailed and so clear that it changed very little in the writing – so I knew what each scene had to do, where the characters had to go. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to structure it, though, so there was still quite a bit of head scratching at the end of draft zero. It is probably a quicker way to finish a novel, but I have to say I have reverted to my old approach for the novel I am currently working on (working title, rather imaginatively, novel #5) and, while it is scarier, I find it more exciting writing, as E L Doctorow put it, “…like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

What advice would you give to new writers aspiring to publication?

Write the best novel you possibly can, then edit it and make it better. Don’t be in a hurry to submit. Do your homework finding an agent – do they represent authors you like? Do they deal with your genre? See what they say on Twitter. Follow submission guidelines slavishly – they all have different rules, so you will have to work around them, which is a good thing. Be patient. Be polite. Be prepared for rejection, but also be prepared to work on editing suggestions from agents. If you are rejected, there will be a good reason. Try to work out what it is.

If you want to self-publish, pay someone to edit your novel, and try to forget that you are paying so that you listen to their edits. Pay someone to typeset it and design the cover. Learn the business. You have to be aware that you are going into business not only as a writer but also as a publisher. It’s a lot of work.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

Novel #5 will take up the next five months, and we’re beginning to plan Dark & Stormy Brighton 2015 (the crime festival I launched this year with Emlyn Rees and Ray Leek). I’m putting together proposals for three more novels – a process I really enjoy. And something might be happening in Hollywood, although that’s all I’m allowed to say right now. Other than that, I’m promoting The Long Fall all over the shop: I’ll be at Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and Edinburgh Book Festival, as well as many other libraries, bookshops and festivals around the country. Good job I love writing on trains!

Sounds like 2014 is shaping up to be a very busy year!

A huge thank you to Julia Crouch for dropping by and chatting about The Long Fall and her writing process. To find out more about Julia and her books pop on over to http://juliacrouch.co.uk/

 

And watch this space for our review of The Long Fall – coming soon.

Events Alert: Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, 19-21 September

 

Bloody Scotland 2014 logo

Bloody Scotland 2014 logo

2014 sees the third running of the fabulous Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival. From 19th – 21st September the historic and atmospheric town of Stirling will play host to 37 events involving over fifty of the biggest names in crime fiction. Authors taking part include Ian Ranklin, Kathy Reichs, Stuart McBride, Mark Billingham, Denise Mina, Julia Crouch, Christopher Brookmyre, Sophie Hannah, Peter May, Yrsa Siguröardóttir, Megan Abbott, Mason Cross and David Hewson.

As well as a whole host of interviews, panels and talks, there’ll be a medieval murder mystery event in Stirling Castle, a true-crime dramatisation at Stirling Sheriff Court, and Scotland will take on England in a crime writers’ football match.

Add into the mix discussions on the evergreen figure of the Glasgow gangster, the genre of domestic noir, and morality in crime fiction, plus a special session on The Female in Crime Fiction looking at the enormous impact female writers and their characters have in the genre, and it looks like this year is going to be even bigger and better than last year – which was already rather fabulous! (read my blog on the 2013 festival here).

And, not to forget, there’s the announcement of the 2014 winner of the prestigious Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award.

To find out more about the event hop on over to their website and view the full programme at http://www.bloodyscotland.com/

CTG Interviews: Mason Cross author of The Killing Season

The Killing Season cover image

The Killing Season cover image

After his Saturday morning panel at CrimeFest, I met up with the charming and rather mysterious Mason Cross – author of The Killing Season.

Over coffee in the rather fancy drawing room of the Bristol College Green Marriott Hotel we chatted about his fabulous debut novel – one of my favourite reads of 2014 so far – his writing process, and geeked-out about our mutual admiration for all things Lee Child and Jack Reacher.

Here’s the interview …

So Mason, firstly, where do you write?

Lots of places. In the house – at my computer surrounded by CDs and a huge pile of washing. I find it’s really important to have a writing space, like Stephen King said, you need a place to go to and close the door. Also, I travel a lot for work. Commuting into Edinburgh on the train is the optimum place for me to write as there’s no distractions just so long as I don’t get WiFi. Having a full-time job I’ve learnt to grab writing time whenever and wherever I can, so I can write in all different places – pubs, cafes, a park bench.

I find it important to write every day, even if it’s only 500 words. Those 500 words will turn into, say, 3000 words in a week, and in a few months a whole lot more.

Are you a planner or a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser?

I always feel guilty admitting to plotting! But I do start out with a fairly detailed synopsis, with the key beats outlined. Right now, I’ve got a five page synopsis for the next book, but I know that as I write the plan will change. So I’m flexible, but I have a path to wander from. I use Powerpoint to plan – one slide per chapter – and build up from there. I find it’s a good way to keep track of the action as I write, and also keep track of the different timelines.

And when it comes to writing when are you most productive – are you a lark or an owl?

An owl – I’m better at night, definitely.

So what about research – do you do it, and if so how and how much?

I tend to research while I’m redrafting. It’s mostly internet based research, so for The Killing Season I looked up the FBI website, read books on serial killers and snipers including Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, which was really helpful on the history of the FBI. And, of course, I read a lot of other thrillers.

Carter Blake is a very mysterious guy. Are you like him and, if so, in what ways?

Like a lot of other thriller writers say about their characters, I think Carter Blake is a cooler, taller, better looking, better in a fight version of me. He tends not to talk about himself, which is something we share, and he’s methodical, which I tend to be too. But the green eyes? They’re completely different!

Actually Banner, the female FBI agent that Carter Blake partners-up with in The Killing Season, is similar to me is some ways too. She has a full-time job, she’s balancing family life, kids alongside – having to sort out a babysitter and get to school play while also doing her job.

Who would play Carter Blake in a movie?

I didn’t really have a person in mind as I wrote. Carter’s still quite a mysterious character even to me!

What authors do you read – who are your inspirations?

I take something from most books I read. My favourites? I guess they’d be Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, John D MacDonald. Oh, and Raymond Chandler – even after all the years since his books were first published they still seem so fresh and the writing is so good.

What’s your favourite all time book?

Must I pick one?! [I said, okay, two then] Well then, The Big Sleep and The Shinning.

What’s your favourite drink?

A Mojito.

And finally, what have you got planned for the rest of 2014/15?

Well, the next book is due out in Spring 2015. It’s called The Samaritan and is set in LA. I’ve also sold a story to Ellery Queen, which I’m really excited about, and it should be out soon. For the rest of 2014 I’ll be promoting The Killing Season.

 

The coffee was finished. The interview was over. And Mason was off to cram in some more Lee Child facts in preparation for his event the following day – Criminal Mastermind.

A huge thank you to Mason for letting me interrogate him!

To find out more about Mason Cross, Carter Blake and The Killing Season, hop over to this website: http://carterblake.net/

And read our review of The Killing Season click here 

CTG Reviews: The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

The Bones Beneath cover image

The Bones Beneath cover image

What the blurb says: “Tom Thorne is back in charge – but there’s a terrifying price to pay. Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous psychopath he has ever put behind bars, promises to reveal the whereabouts of a body he buried twenty-five years before. But only if Thorne agrees to escort him.

Unable to refuse, Thorne gathers a team and travels to a remote Welsh island, at the mercy of the weather and cut off from the mainland. Thorne is determined to get the job done and return home before Nicklin can outwit them.

But Nicklin knows this island well and has had time to plan ahead. Soon, new bodies are added to the old, and Thorne finds himself facing the toughest decision he has ever had to make …”

The latest book in Mark Billingham’s bestselling Tom Thorne series takes Thorne away from his home turf, reluctantly chaperoning one of the most dangerous criminals from his past on a trip to Ynys Enlli – Bardsey Island – to locate and retrieve the body of a teenager.

Part road-trip, part closed location mystery, the suspense builds right from the outset. Stuart Nicklin is a master manipulator without a shred of remorse for his victims and their families, yet he says he’s willing to lead the police to the body of one of his early kills in order for the boy’s mother to get closure. The catch – Tom Thorne must be the police officer to escort him. But Thorne knows the trip isn’t about any sense of conscience Nicklin has about what he did, so why does he want to take a trip to the island now?

As Thorne and his team, along with prisoners Nicklin and Batchelor, make the journey there’s a real sense of impending doom. With every page the tension ratchets up as you, the reader, wait to see where, when and on who the axe will fall first. And fall it does.

The beautiful, but remote, island of Ynys Enlli makes the small group geographically isolated. At the mercy of the weather, and limited by the small amount of equipment they could bring, the team start their search for the body. But finding it is only their first challenge.

Thorne is more isolated than ever before. Cut off from those he loves, and unable to get a mobile phone signal in anywhere but one spot on the island, there seems to be an even greater intensity to his personal sense of being alone.

And the relationship between Thorne and Nicklin is grating and tense. Nicklin tries his upmost to taunt and provoke Thorne, while Thorne battles to keep his reactions in check and stay professional. They’re well matched adversaries – smart, savvy and both determined to stop the other getting the upper hand. But as the full extent of Nicklin’s plan is put into play, the body count rises, and Thorne is forced to make an impossible choice.

This tense, suspenseful and claustrophobically gripping story hooked me in from the beginning and kept me reading into the early hours because I just couldn’t put the book down. A truly fabulous read.

Highly Recommended.

 

Bonus Features:

The inner cover of the book includes a detailed map of Ynys Enlli – Bardsey Island. Its beauty and inaccessibility is central to the story and having read about it I’m tempted to visit – although I’m not sure I’d want to stay there overnight!

Another bonus for Thorne fans (and lovers of great country music) is the road-trip playlist at the back of the book with some great tracks from artists including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Laura Cantrell, Steve Earle and My Darling Clementine.

[I bought my own copy of The Bones Beneath]

 

CTG Interviews: Bruce McCabe, author of SKINJOB

SKINJOB cover image

SKINJOB cover image

Today I’m joined by Bruce McCabe whose debut novel – SKINJOB – is coming out with Bantam Press this month.

Welcome to the CTG blog, Bruce.

Your debut novel – SKINJOB – is out this month. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Skinjob is a thriller set in the boardrooms, brothels, churches and alleyways of the near future. It follows the fortunes of Daniel Madsen, a cop trained to deliver rapid results in high-pressure cases where lives are on the line, and Shari Sanayei, an SFPD surveillance officer. The action takes place over just six days. Underneath the surface, the novel takes a provocative look at a series of looming social challenges.

You chose to set the story in the near future, what attracted you to this time period?

I love exploring the big “what if?” and the way we are challenged and changed by technology. Plus I’m privileged, due to my professional background, to talk to the scientists and innovators creating our future in their labs. I find the combination irresistible!

Technology is obviously something you’re very knowledgeable about. Did you need to do any specific research for SKINJOB, and if so how did you go about it?

Most of the research was already done – the book was inspired by a technology demonstrated to me that I found profoundly disturbing, and which stayed with me for years. While writing I spent time in San Francisco and other cities, walking the streets, getting everything just right. I conducted a few interviews too — a special agent I was introduced to was particularly helpful in understanding FBI internal affairs and inter-agency politics!

Bruce McCabe

Bruce McCabe

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

A mixture. I start with a big “What if?”. After I get a very high level sketch in my head (what I want to say, the characters, the kind of ending I want to arrive at), I dive in and start writing. After two or three chapters I pause and do a basic outline, then it’s back to writing. Over the course of the novel I return and rework that outline perhaps two or three times, each time adding structure and more detail. The plot is always in flux, right up until the last page.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?

To me, good crime writing is about the ‘slow reveal’: keep the revelations coming, but don’t give away too much and don’t be in too much of a hurry! Get that pace just right and your readers are bursting by the time they get to whodunit. On writing generally: read and write a lot, and understand that all first drafts look awful; everything good was re-written and polished many times over before it saw the light of day.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

Completing my second novel. It’s getting very close now and I’m both exhausted and excited! Then some downtime and some travel – during which I’ll probably scout locations for the next one!

Sounds great. Many thanks for dropping by the CTG blog and answering our questions.

To find out more about Bruce McCabe, pop over to his website at http://www.brucemccabe.com

SKINJOB is out now, and we’ll be posting our review shortly. In the meantime, here’s what the blurb says: “A bomb goes off in down town San Francisco. Twelve people are dead. But this was no ordinary target. This target exists on the fault line where sex and money meet. Daniel Madsen is one of a new breed of federal agents armed with a badge, a gun and a handheld lie detector. He’s a fast operator and his instructions are simple: find the bomber – and before he strikes again. In order to understand what is at stake, Madsen must plunge into a sleazy, unsettling world where reality and fantasy are indistinguishable, exploitation is business as usual, and the dead hand of corruption reaches all the way to the top. There’s too much money involved for this investigation to stay private …”

Fun at Hay Festival: Cumberbatch, Child and sneaking into the Green Room …

Benedict Cumberbatch reading at Letters Live

Benedict Cumberbatch reading at Letters Live

So on Saturday I drove to Hay-on-Wye to visit the Hay Festival for the very first time. I wasn’t really sure exactly what to expect. I’ve been to music festivals, sure. But an outdoor book festival? I couldn’t really picture it.

The first thing that struck me was the shear size and scale of the thing. On the stretch of road between the town of Hay-on-Wye and the Hay Festival site I passed a lot of people walking: all ages, dressed in the usual festival gear – everything from wellies to flip-flops, dresses to jeans to shorts, wet weather jackets and sunglasses. When I arrived at the parking, the first charity car park I tried was already full, but the guy on the gate looked at my little car and said he thought they could squeeze it in – luckily they did.

Then it was across the road and into the festival. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many book lovers all crammed into one space before! There was loads to see, not just all the fabulous events, but also the huge bookstore, the BBC radio broadcasts, the various eating places and bars, and also (if you’d brought the kids) a host of children’s play areas.

The first event I went along to was Letters Live in the Tata Tent. This event, in association with The Reading Agency and World Book Night, was a celebration of literary correspondence inspired by To The Letter by Simon Garfield and Letters of Note by Shaun Usher. The letters were read on stage by Benedict Cumberbatch, Louise Brealy, Ian McEwan, Rob Brydon, Antony Grayling, Lisa Dwan and others (with James Rhodes reading a letter by Chopin and then playing a piece of his music on the keyboard set up on stage). It was a fantastic event with the letters, and their performers, both inspiring laughter and reflection at the emotion conveyed in each one and the wonder of the art of letter writing. The highlight of the event for me was the series of letters read by Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealy – the love letters of Chris and Betty whose relationship bloomed by correspondence while Chris was posted during the war (and later a POW).

In line for the Lee Child event

In line for the Lee Child event (CTG squinting into the sun on the right!)

Next I caught up with my friend Steph Roundsmith, who runs the KidsReadWriteReview scheme (http://www.kidsreadwritereview.co.uk/), and Kjartan Poskitt, the fabulous author of many children’s books including the Agatha Parrot series, the Murderous Maths series and his newest series – Borgon the Axeboy (see http://www.kjartan.co.uk/), who’d just finished his event and signing. We (slowly) inched our way through the crowds to the green room where we sat on the very comfortable sofas and chatted over a hot chocolate.

After that, I had time for a little mooch about. One of the things I loved was the Hollow Ash Shepherd’s Huts. These beautiful spaces are just perfect for using as a writing room in the garden. Hollow Ash also offer glamping holidays in a couple of huts situated in a beautiful part of Hereford. Check them out here http://www.hollowash.co.uk

 

 

Lee Child with Sarah Crompton

Lee Child with Sarah Crompton

Then it was dinner – potato wedges and hummus did the job – before heading to the Never Go Back – Lee Child talks to Sarah Crompton event. The tent was packed, and Sarah Crompton did at great job of questioning Lee about his route to becoming an author, where the inspiration (and name of Reacher) came from, and what happens in the latest book of the series – Never Go Back. Of course, there were also questions about the film, and Tom Cruise. And a question from the audience about why Reacher has had less sex in recent books – the answer? In Never Go Back there’s plenty! I’ve heard Lee speak a few times before, and he was as witty and entertaining as ever.

And then it was over. As I drove out of the festival site and headed home I reflected that the Hay Festival is a fun place to visit, and that perhaps next year I’d come along for more than one day.