The #JIHADI Blog Tour: PANTSER OR PLOTTER? MY JIHADI BREAKTHROUGH by Yusuf Toropov

 

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It’s a real pleasure to welcome Yusuf Toropov to the CTG blog. Yusuf is an American Muslim writer, he’s authored and co-authored a number of non-fiction books and has had plays produced off-Broadway. His highly acclaimed debut novel – Jihadi: A Love Story – is published by Orenda Books and is out now.

Today, Yusuf’s kindly agreed to talk about his experience of writing a novel, and whether he’s a pantser or a plotter …

There are, Plot Whisperer author Martha Alderson tells us, two kinds of fiction writers: writers who navigate by the seat of their pants, making stuff up as they go along, often without any clear sense of where a scene might actually belong in the book’s sequence … and writers who delight in plotting out events, conflicts, and resolutions ahead of time before attempting to actually write a scene.

Martha’s right. If you’re a writer, you either want to know where the scene fits in your running order before you start to work on it, or you don’t. You’re one or the other, a Pantser or a Plotter. ‘Yeah but I’m both, yeah but I’m neither, yeah but yeah but yeah but.’ Ssh. It’s true. Now just keep reading. If you write fiction, there’s a breakthrough waiting for you here, the same one Martha made possible for me, and the only way for you to get it is to assume for a moment that you do lean one way or the other. And trust me. You do. This is just the reality of writing stories.

Alderson’s book, which you should read if you are writing a novel or even thinking about doing so, makes two important points about all this. First and foremost, you need to figure out which of the two groups you fall into.

I am a classic Pantser. I’m the guy who stumbles ahead without letting the fact that I haven’t set up much of a plot yet stop me. Even if there is a clear plot structure to a story I’ve been working on for a while, I tend to try to forget about it while I’m writing. I actually prefer the sensation of not having the least clue where a given scene is going. I love accidents, and I get some of my best stuff from noticing when something that I tried came out wrong – but interesting.

Case in point: the character Fatima Adara, from my novel Jihadi: A Love Story. Most people tell me she’s the most memorable thing about the book. Yet I stumbled across her. She was supposed to appear in one scene. I wrote about 50,000 words of the novel before I realized that she was a major character. (They weren’t all good words – I threw about half of them out.)

You read right: 50,000 words. Now, if you’re a Plotter, I suspect you just cannot imagine yourself investing the word counts that I did in a story that hadn’t yet identified all of its major characters. And you know what? You’re right. I probably shouldn’t have. At that point, I was traveling without a map. Which brings us to Alderson’s second big point, and the breakthrough she made possible for me and, maybe, for you.

It is this: Once you know which writing camp you fall into, Pantser or Plotter, you have to make a conscious effort to compensate for certain inherent weaknesses you bring to the table as a writer.

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If you’re a Plotter, Alderson asks you to consider that your likely weaknesses as a writer include the following: Compelling emotion may be lacking from some of your scenes. Ring any bells? Plotters, this is for you. In addition to plotting, you need to push yourself outside your comfort zone. You need to go beyond outlining. You need to find a way to experience, on a personal level, what your protagonist is experiencing. You need to notice what that obstacle she’s encountering feels like, on a sensory level, not just on an analytical level. You need to be there personally and get hurt, fall in love, be terrified, whatever. You need to experience whatever is happening first-hand if you really want to write about it. (This is something that Pantsers usually have no problem with, by the way.) You’ve got to put yourself into the character’s situation, live the scene, and notice what the emotion feels like before you start writing. Otherwise, you may ‘finish’ your book, but you may find that it is filled with scenes that don’t actually engage the reader on a gut level. Ouch.

If you’re a Pantser (like me) your likely weakness looks like this: You may never finish the damn book, because you’re ‘writing’ without a structure – travelling without a map. Pantsers, this is for you (and me): You just don’t like establishing specific plot points and themes ahead of time. You say it ‘handcuffs’ you. If you do ‘finish’ the book, though, you may find that Act Three has little or nothing to do with Acts One and Two. Again: Ouch. This was my big weakness as a writer, and overcoming it was my breakthrough. I really, really did not want to bother with setting up a Plot Planner (Alderson’s primary writing tool) when I began reading her book, but by the time I was done with it, I knew I had to go outside my comfort zone. So I identified the five essential Alderson turning points for my story, and I put them up on the wall, using her Plot Planner tool. On that wall, I started laying out a clear sequence of scenes, in outline. (A first for me.) Doing all this was not my first instinct. It wasn’t how I was used to writing. But it needed to happen.

As a result of going out of my comfort zone, I figured out, not only that Fatima was independent, intelligent, and a devout Muslim, but also what the big decision ended up making in Act Three of my novel was, and how it needed to be set up in Act One. Also how she connected to the novel’s themes. Also what, specifically, she heard in the very first scene she was in that affected my protagonist in Act Two. All that stuff I didn’t know before I completed my Plot Planner, and I have Martha to thank for it.

You can buy Martha Alderson’s indispensable book The Plot Whisperer here. You can buy Jihadi: A Love Story, on which I might still be working if it hadn’t been for Martha’s work, here.

A huge thank you to Yusuf for talking with us today about his writing process and how he wrote his debut novel – Jihadi: A Love Story. As a fellow pantser, I’m heading over to check out The Plot Whisperer right now!

I also highly recommend you check out Jihadi: A Love Story. Here’s the blurb: “A former intelligence agent stands accused of terrorism, held without charge in a secret overseas prison. His memoir is in the hands of a brilliant but erratic psychologist whose annotations paint a much darker picture. As the story unravels, we are forced to assess the truth for ourselves, and decide not only what really happened on one fateful overseas assignment, but who is the real terrorist. Peopled by a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, whose reliability as narrators is always questioned, and with a multi-layered plot heaving with unexpected and often shocking developments, Jihadi: A Love Story is an intelligent thriller that asks big questions. Complex, intriguing and intricately woven, this is an astonishing debut that explores the nature of good and evil alongside notions of nationalism, terrorism and fidelity, and, above all, the fragility of the human mind.”

The Jihadi: A Love Story Blog Tour is running now. Be sure to pop over to all the wonderful stops …

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CTG Reviews: JONATHAN DARK OR THE EVIDENCE OF GHOSTS by A.K. Benedict

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What the blurb says: “Maria King knows a secret London. Born blind, she knows the city by sound and touch and smell. But surgery has restored her sight – only for her to find she doesn’t want it. Jonathan Dark sees the shadowy side of the city. A DI with the Metropolitan Police, he is haunted by his failure to save a woman from the hands of a stalker. Now it seems the killer has set his sights on Maria, and is leaving her messages in the most gruesome of ways. Tracing the source of these messages leads Maria and Jonathan to a London they never know. To find the truth they’ll have to listen to the whispers on the streets.”

Every once in a while you read a book that enthrals you, wrapping you up tight inside its world and holding you spellbound throughout the entirety of the story. For me, this is that book.

Set against the backdrop of an atmospheric and familiar, yet at the same time unfamiliar, London, the story is both a gritty police procedure and the story of two people discovering, and learning to accept, who they really are.

DI Jonathan Dark is a unique and fascinating detective, committed and undeniably great at his job, he’s reeling from the break-up of his marriage, the loss of his home, and is struggling with self-acceptance. As the story progresses, and he is offered help on his case from some unexpected sources – ghosts – the world he lives in continues to shift and change, causing him to question all that he believed he knew.

Maria King is an assured young woman who knows a secret London. To her the lack of sight is a gift, and the world without it a rich and sensual place that she knows through sounds and smells and touch. Now that her sight has been restored she wears a blindfold in order to remain in the world that so enchants her. But when she becomes the stalker’s target her sightlessness makes her increasingly vulnerable. Refusing to give in to the stalker’s threat, she works with DI Jonathan Dark and his team to try to discover the stalker’s identity. As her and Jonathan become closer, the stalker gets angry, and those around Maria start to pay the price.

Beautifully written, one of the many things that stand out about this book is the lightness of touch and originality in the prose, and the use of acute observations that gives the everyday a supernatural twist.

Quirkily original, with deeply drawn unique characters and a brutally magical London setting, this story has you traversing all the emotions from darkness to delight with a gut wrenching honesty – rather as if you’ve been kissed and sucker punched all at the same time, but in a good way.

A stunning read. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is, quite simply, marvellous.

 

JONATHAN DARK OR THE EVIDENCE OF GHOSTS is out today. You can buy it here from Waterstones and here from Amazon.

To find out more about AK Benedict visit her website at www.akbenedict.com and be sure to follow her on Twitter @ak_benedict

 

Book to Film: WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT

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Originally published as The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kim Barker’s much talked about non fiction book – part memoir, part witty tale of self discovery – WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT is out today.

In the book, Kim Barker chronicles her experiences as a journalist after arriving in Kabul in 2002 with nothing more than her passport and a pressing need for a translator. She shares her growing love for the troubled countries, and the dangers and challenges of working in them.

The book has already been attracting rave reviews, and has been made into a movie starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Alfred Molina that’s coming out in March. You can see the trailer here.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT isn’t a crime thriller, but it certainly looks interesting and could be well worth checking out if you’re looking for something in the non fiction section …

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT is published today by Anchor. You can find in on Amazon here

Orion Crime Night: The final word …

Brooke Magnanti with her book The Turning Tide

Brooke Magnanti with her book The Turning Tide

Last week I was super excited to be invited along to the Orion crime night – The Final Word in Crime Writing – where Orion publishing were showcasing all the fabulous new books they’ve got coming out this year. Held in the swanky bar ‘Christopher’s’ it was a fun night of books, bookish chat and wine!

As part of the evening, each of the featured authors pitched their upcoming book – timed to one minute by Orion’s Head of Publicity, Angela McMahon. Reviewers and bloggers were given a ‘dance card’ with each author’s picture and name on, and challenged to get a signature from each one. Once the dance card was full, they were entered into a draw to win an iPad mini! It was lovely to chat with all the authors and to hear more about their next books. Here’s a little taster of what to expect from each of them …

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

The sixth book in the PC Peter Grant series takes Grant back to London and facing up to the terrifying legacy of London’s hangings. Out in hardback on 16 June 2016. Follow Ben on Twitter @Ben_Aaronovitch

Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts by A.K. Benedict

This gloriously quirky and chillingly creepy crime novel has supernatural elements, and will ensure that you never look at London the same again! It’s out in Trade Paperback on 25 February 2016. Follow Alexandra on Twitter @AK_Benedict

AK Benedict and Ayo Onatade

AK Benedict and Ayo Onatade

The Dead House by Harry Bingham

The fifth novel in the darkly unique DC Fiona Griffiths series is out on 28 July 2016 in Trade Paperback. A police procedural with a twist, this is one not to be missed. Follow Harry on Twitter @Harryonthebrink

The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

The critically acclaimed serial killer thriller The Killing Lessons is out now, and not for the faint hearted. You’ll have to wait until later this year for the second in this spine-chilling series, but put 17 November 2016 in your diary now as that’s when it’ll be out in Hardback.

The Defence/ The Plea by Steve Cavanagh

It’s a great spring for Steve Cavanagh fans – his debut legal thriller The Defence is out in paperback this month, and it’s not long until the second book in the Eddie Flynn series – The Plea – comes out in Trade Paperback on 19 May 2016. Follow Steve on Twitter @SSCav

The Samaritan/Winterlong by Mason Cross

It’s a great spring for Mason Cross fans too! Richard & Judy spring reads pick, The Samaritan, is out in paperback now, and the third book in the Carter Blake thriller series is due out on 30 June 2016 in Trade Paperback. Follow Mason on Twitter @MasonCrossBooks

Mason Cross talking about The Samaritan

Mason Cross talking about The Samaritan

The Turning Tide by Brooke Magnanti

An intriguing thriller about secrets and lies written by the anonymous author of the award-winning blog Belle de Jour and Doctor of Forensic Pathology, Brooke Magnanti. The Turning Tide is out in Trade Paperback on 25 February 2016. Follow Brooke on Twitter @belledejour_uk

Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

The fifth book in the Alex Morrow series will be released in paperback on 24 March 2016. A chilling tale of crimes and secrets set against the picturesque scenery of Helensburgh and Loch Lomond. Follow Denise on Twitter @DameDeniseMina

I Know Who Did It by Steve Mosby

The return of a woman seemingly back from the dead sparks a dark journey of innocence, guilt and retribution. Out in paperback on 1 July 2016 the next book from Steve Mosby sounds scarily intriguing. Follow him on Twitter @stevemosby

Hear No Lies by Robert Wilson

The next book in the acclaimed Charlie Boxer series sees Boxer uncovering trafficking, political corruption and crime on an international scale. Look out for it on 6 October 2016 (Trade Paperback) and in the meantime follow Robert on Twitter @RobWilsonWriter

Steve Mosby talking about I Know Who Did It

Steve Mosby talking about I Know Who Did It

A big thank you to Orion for inviting me along to this fab event. Look out for all these great books over the coming months and be sure to follow @orion_crime on Twitter and check out their Murder Room blog at www.themurderroom.com for all the latest news.

 

 

 

CTG Interviews: Ruth Ware about her psychological thriller IN A DARK, DARK WOOD

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The night I called Ruth Ware was suitably eerie. Torrential rain and high winds were causing the branches of a tree to bash the window I was sitting next to, and the security light outside kept going on and off ‘for no reason’. All in all it seemed a fitting context for the call to discuss Ruth’s brilliant psychological thriller IN A DARK, DARK WOOD.

If you’ve not read this fantastic thriller, here’s the blurb to give you a flavour: “Leonora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back. Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her? As the champagne corks pop, and the secrets begin to flow, and a hen do for an old school friend begins to take a sinister turn …”

So, to the interview …

I found Nora a hugely compelling character – likeable, genuine, and self-doubting, yet refusing to be beaten by everything thrown at her. What was your jumping off point for creating her?

I like to think of Nora as being vulnerable on the outside but with a core of steel on the inside. The idea for IN A DARK, DARK WOOD came about from a conversation with a friend. They said they’d never read a thriller set on a hen night, and I knew instantly that I wanted to write that book (and luckily they didn’t!).

In the beginning I knew that Nora would struggle with accepting the invitation, and wanted to create an atmosphere of claustrophobia and threat. I think most people, unless they’re real extroverts, find being in a group of relative strangers for a long period tiring. I wanted to bring this out.

Through working with my editors I explored the reclusive, introverted side of Nora’s character, but I also strongly wanted to keep an ‘everywoman’ feel to her. I felt this was important, and it lets the reader ‘tread the path’ with the character – which is something I enjoy to do in a thriller.

The book tells both the modern day action of the hen party, and the past events that led to Nora and Clare not speaking for ten years. Did one of these timelines come to you before the other, or did they develop alongside each other as you wrote?

I always had the sense that there was a lot of history between them, you know the weight of shared experience – good and bad – you have with people you’ve known a long time. And I knew there was a big reason in their past that made Nora reluctant to accept the invitation.

I knew the incident where things all kick off would happen a long way into the book, so the hospital timeline and hen night timeline were really important to get all the players in place first, and for the reader to get to know them. I always find it more interesting to start from a place where you know something dreadful has happened – it’s an easy way to show something bad is coming, without having to do a lot of tedious signposting.

What I especially loved about the book was the uneasy dynamic between the friends at the hen party, and that they felt so incredibly real. When you’re writing do you use actors (or real people) when you picture your characters and how they’ll react in a scene?

I tend to keep everything in my head. I do keep a few notes on basic stuff – eye colour, height if that’s relevant to the plot – but that’s it really. There are quite a few scenes where the guests at the hen are all together, but without any other characters, so that made it easier to flesh them out. Also, the set up [of them meeting on the hen] meant they could introduce themselves, and allowed them to talk about themselves.

I’ve been on a few hens, and I think you start to notice archetypes. In fact, I’ve probably been all of them at one time or other over the years – the organiser, the bride, the new mum – so you could say the characters are all different aspects of me. The alpha girl was also a lot of fun to explore!

The glass house in the forest is chillingly cut off from civilisation, yet the glass allows those outside to see in. It’s creepy and adds an added layer of tension to the story – what gave you the inspiration to create such a setting?

I’ve always been fascinated by forests. Pine forests are always so dark, because they’re evergreen and never lose their leaves. And I love the Scottish forests that go on and on for miles. So setting the story in a forest was a bit of wish fulfilment!

The glass house I pinched from all those American horror films – the ones where the people are going round the house checking all the doors are locked, but you know it’s too late! I thought about the time of day, as it gets dark, when windows stop being a way of looking out, and become a way for people to look in – that’s when I close the curtains! But when I see houses with huge walls of glass, like on Grand Designs, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live in a house like that – where you can’t have curtains.

One of the themes of the book is exposure – exploring the face we choose to present to others and the face we choose to hide. In a way, the glass house is like a physical representation of this.

IN A DARK, DARK WOOD has been likened to the sort of locked room mystery Agatha Christie would write if she was writing crime novels today. Are you a Christie fan, and what other crime novels do you count among your favourites?

Yes, I’m a Christie fan, although I didn’t set out to write that type of novel – my agent was the first person to say the story was like a modern Agatha Christie. I read a lot of Christie’s books when I was a teen. She was a great plotter and I’ve always loved books which have intricate workings and red herrings. Gone Girl is a lot like that – the plot locks together in a really satisfying way.

I worked in the publishing industry for a long time so I got to read a wide variety of genres and authors, and I still have a magpie reading habit now! I’ve just read the non-fiction book that the movie Pitch Perfect was based on – which was great. I love psychological thrillers – books like Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, and Tammy Cohen’s When She Was Bad (which is incredibly scary!)

What would you say your favourite part of the writing process is?

I love the ideas stage, that point where you’re nudging at an idea and letting in take shape. It’s like an unscratched lottery ticket – it could be the most wonderful book ever written. It’s like being in the early stages of a love affair – full of possibility.

IN A DARK, DARK WOOD is your debut thriller, can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?

I wrote YA books before, but this feels very different – the types of events you do, the amount of exposure you get. It’s very nerve racking, putting yourself out there, and it definitely felt like a risk, trying something out of my comfort zone, but I’m so glad I did. If I’d sat down to write a fantasy wish list, then I think the top three things would have been getting onto the New York Times Best Seller List, the Sunday Times Best Seller List, and achieving a film deal. I would have been over the moon to get any of those – I still can’t quite believe that IN A DARK, DARK WOOD has done all three.

You mentioned the film deal, can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes, it’s still at an early stage at the moment, but very exciting. It’s been bought by New Line (part of Warner Bros) and Reese Witherspoon, who produced Gone Girl, is attached to the project.

Will you be involved in the writing of the screenplay?

A part of me would love to be involved, but I know about books not film, so it’s best to leave the screenplay to those in the film industry I think.

And how have things been since IN A DARK, DARK WOOD was announced as one of the Richard & Judy Book Club Spring Reads?

Surreal! I knew when it was on the shortlist, and that was really nerve racking. Being chosen is a dream come true. The Richard & Judy Book Club persuades people to take a punt on an author they’ve not heard of, because it’s Richard and Judy saying ‘try this, you might like it’. It feels incredibly special to be part of it.

And, finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

Well, I’ve just finished the structural edits on my next book. It’s called The Woman in Cabin 10, and I’ll be spending the next few months doing the copy edits and proof reading on it. Then I’ll start writing the third book. I’ve got a skeleton outline of the plot already, and a cast of characters – I’m in the love affair stage of writing!

 

A huge thank you to Ruth Ware for letting me interrogate her for the CTG blog.

The fabulous psychological thriller IN A DARK, DARK WOOD is out now. You can buy a copy from Waterstones here  and from Amazon here 

Be sure to check out Ruth’s website at www.ruthware.com and follow her on Twitter @RuthWareWriter

And you can read my review of IN A DARK, DARK WOOD here 

 

CTG Reviews: THE DEFENCE by Steve Cavanagh

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To celebrate the paperback release of THE DEFENCE I’m re-running my review of this fabulous thriller …

What the blurb says: “Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different.

It’s been over a year since Eddie Flynn vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy. Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial – and win – if he wants to save his daughter.

Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.”

The Defence is hands down one of the best legal thrillers I’ve read in years. Eddie Flynn – con artist turned lawyer – is haunted by the last case he took to trial. He’s turned his back on the legal profession, taken up drinking and become estranged from his wife and child. Things seem pretty bad, but as the reader discovers from the very start of The Defence, things are about to get much, much worse for Eddie Flynn.

With his daughter abducted, and a bomb strapped to his own body, Eddie is forced to represent Olek Volchek – a man he has no doubt is guilty of murder. In order to buy enough time to figure a way out of the terrifying situation he’s in, Eddie has to draw on all his skills – both legal and criminal – and his friends on both sides of the law, as he gambles against increasingly higher risks in his attempt to get his daughter safe. Smart, courageous and driven by the need to protect his young daughter, Eddie makes for a compelling character – someone you can really root for.

This rapid-paced, page turner has bucket-loads of action and piles of sky-soaring tension.

A fabulous must-read – highly recommended for all thriller fans.

To find out more about Steve Cavanagh and his books hop on over to his website at stevecavanaghbooks.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @SSCav

And to buy THE DEFENCE from Amazon click here or buy it from Waterstones via the link here

CTG Interviews: David Young debut author of Stasi Child

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In celebration of STASI CHILD being published in paperback by Twenty7 Books today, I’m re-running my interview with author David Young. STASI CHILD is David’s debut novel and the winner of the PFD 2014 Crime Prize. Here’s what he told us when he popped along to CTG Towers to chat about the book, his writing process, and his route to publication …

Your debut, STASI CHILD, is out this month. Can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s a crime thriller – part historical crime, part police procedural, part thriller, and I guess a dash of Cold War politics to boot. What it’s not is a traditional Cold War spy thriller – although it’s set in the era of the Cold War. It tells two parallel stories: one in third person past through the eyes of a female detective in the state police, Oberleutnant Karin Müller, who’s trying to solve a gruesome murder but has to battle obstacles put in her way by the secret police, the Stasi. The other, in first person present, follows the life of a 15-year-old female inmate of a communist Jugendwerkhof – which loosely translates into ‘youth workhouse’ or reform school. The two stories eventually collide in a climax on the snowy slopes of northern Germany’s highest mountain, the Brocken, near the border with the west. I think fans of Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 would enjoy it, and also those who read Anna Funder’s non-fiction account of the Stasi’s methods, Stasiland.

STASI CHILD is set in East Germany in 1975. What drew you to writing about this moment in history?

No-one had yet written a crime series set in East Germany – at least not in English as the original language. So I thought it filled a gap in the market, was something a bit different and – given the success of books like Child 44 and AD Miller’s Snowdrops – could prove popular. The idea originally came from reading Stasiland while on a self-booked (and at times chaotic) mini-tour of eastern Germany with my indiepop band about seven years ago. I was fascinated that you could still feel the ghost of the communist east even though the Berlin Wall had been torn down, at that time, twenty years earlier. Müller’s office is underneath Hackescher Markt S-bahn station – where we played our Berlin gig. So I wanted to choose a time when East Germany was perhaps at its most confident, and yet with enough years to fit a series in, if the first book sold well.

Given the modern historical setting, how did you go about researching the book?

A mixture of things, really. Watching films like The Lives of Others and Barbara, episodes of the original East German detective show, Polizeiruf 110, and the current German TV series set in the period, Weissensee – which is a great watch but inexplicably, and annoyingly, only has English subtitles on the second of its three series so far. I also read a lot of memoirs of inmates of Jugendwerkhöfe, that sort of thing, and true crime books by former GDR detectives. I don’t speak German – so it was a case of tearing out pages, feeding them into an OCR programme via a scanner, and then putting it all through Google Translate! What came out was barely intelligible, but you could pick out the facts even if the actual storytelling was mangled beyond repair. I also had great fun visiting all my locations, and interviewing former East German detectives (with the help of translators). So I loved the research, and I’m itching to get back out to Germany again. I also keep telling myself I must learn German!

You recently completed the City University MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction), how do you think this helped you on your journey to publication?

I think it was the key to it, really. We had some great tutors who were all published crime writers: Claire MacGowan, Laura Wilson and Roger Morris were mine – although William Ryan, who writes in a similar genre to me, has now joined. Roger introduced me to Peter May’s Lewis trilogy, and the structure of Stasi Child – with its twin narrative – is quite similar to May’s The Lewis Man. Claire nurtured the original idea, Laura worked on the nuts and bolts as my main novel tutor, and then both of them read and fed back on the full draft. The result was that Stasi Child won the course prize sponsored by the literary agents, PFD, and by the shortlisting stage a young PFD agent, Adam Gauntlett, had already declared his hand in wanting to represent me.

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So, what’s it like having your debut novel published? What’s your best moment so far?

Because my publishers Twenty7 (part of the Bonnier group) are e-book first, the biggest thrill was getting a physical copy of the proof. It’s got a slightly different cover, very minimalist, which I love. I’ve only got one copy, though, and the publishers have run out now so I guard it with my life. And then in the last few days [after the eBook publication], Stasi Child became the fourth bestselling Kindle book in the UK, and the number one bestseller in Historical Fiction – for ebooks and paperbacks. It’s fallen back since, but that was a champagne moment, figuratively sitting on top of luminaries such as Robert Harris, Hilary Mantel …well, everyone who’s anyone in historical fiction. Ha! It’ll probably never happen to me again. We made sure we kept the screenshots of the charts!

STASI CHILD is the first in the Karin Müller crime series, can you tell us anything about the next book?

Yes Karin returns, but this time in the model East German new town of Halle-Neustadt, where underneath the ideal communist city gloss, dark things are happening a few months after the closure of the Stasi Child case. The Stasi are heavily involved again, and we also learn more about Karin’s past – with several surprises in store for her. It follows the same twin narrative format, but the second narration this time is darker, more disturbed, and unreliable. In fact the whole thing is darker and more disturbed, which is slightly worrying as most people seem to think Stasi Child’s about as dark as you can get.

And, finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

Initially, I’ll be concentrating on promoting the Stasi Child. Then it will be a combination of reshaping book two with my editor at Bonnier, and researching book three with a trip to Germany. Oh, and I might finally get around to starting to learn German … but no promises!

 

You can find out more about David by checking out his website at www.stasichild.com and follow him on Twitter @djy_writer

Stasi Child is a great read, perfect for fans of historical crime fiction. Here’s the blurb: “East Berlin, 1975: Questions are dangerous. Answers can kill. When murder squad head Oberleutnant Karin Müller is called to investigate a teenage girl’s body found riddled with bullets at the foot of the Berlin Wall, she imagines she’s seen it all before. But when she arrives she realises this is a death like no other: it seems the girl was trying to escape – but from the West.

Müller is a member of the People’s Police, but in East Germany her power only stretches so far. The Stasi want her to discover the identity of the girl, but assure her the case is otherwise closed – and strongly discourage her asking questions. The evidence doesn’t add up, and it soon becomes clear that the crime scene has been staged, the girl’s features mutilated. But this is not a regime that tolerates a curious mind, and Müller doesn’t realise that the trail she’s following will lead her dangerously close to home.

The previous summer, on Rügen Island off the Baltic Coast, two desperate teenage girls conspire to escape the physical and sexual abuse of the youth workhouse they call home. Forced to assemble furniture packs for the West, the girls live out a monotonous, painful and hopeless life. Stowing away in the very furniture they are forced to make, the girls arrived in Hamburg. But their celebrations are short-lived as they discover there is a price on freedom in the DDR…”

STASI CHILD is out now. To buy a copy via Amazon click here