Hot New Crime Blogger @SmDee13 talks about why she chose @citywriting for her creative writing MA

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Today I’m handing over the reins at CTG HQ to a fabulous new crime blogger and crime writer – Sam Dennis. I met Sam earlier this year when she was in her second term on the City University London Creative Writing MA, and about to start her own crime fiction blog.

Today Sam’s talking about why she picked City University for her MA …

I’ve always known I wanted to write books one day but I wasn’t very good at it. I have plenty of half-finished stories, characters begging to tell their stories and book ideas in various notepads, diaries, scrap pieces of paper, etc. but I kept on getting stuck. One day I decided to search for a course that could help me. I came across City University London’s course and immediately felt intimidated by the prestige and the amount of work I’d have to do – to write a full-length novel sounded terrifying but I knew it was something I had wanted from a young and so I applied.

Fast-forward to today and I’m a few weeks away from finishing my first year. It’s been very intense but extremely rewarding Creative Writing MA. (They haven’t paid me to say that.) It’s not your average course and although I had done my research about how much writing we’d have to do in the first year, it was a bit of a culture shock to have to write between 1,000 – 2,000 words a week. Before this course I had starting writing many stories but had never really planned a story from beginning to end – I didn’t think you needed to, I thought it ‘just came to you in a dream’. That’s where the course came in and turned my scribbles into fully fledged idea that could one day (I hope) be published.

What I love about City’s course is that we focus solely on crime fiction, our teachers are published crime novelists so they’re more than qualified to give advice and teach us how to write, but more than that, we have regular visits by some of the best crime writers also. In our bi-weekly workshops we don’t spend time searching for ‘meaning’ – although we do have some hilarious conversations about what was going through the authors head when they wrote a particular scene – instead we think about the immediate questions the author poses, how they create tension, whether we need to like the main character or not (we do), the twists and turns, and then we think about how we can do the same for our novels and actually do it. In the beginning I was so scared and nervous to share my work and had immediately dismissed it but then everyone’s feedback encouraged me and let me know we’re all a bunch of dark people who enjoy writing about and discussing gruesome things.

As we’re almost at the final hurdle of the first academic year I’m now at the stage where I’m writing my first novel – I never thought I’d get to this point. We had to spend a lot of time planning and plotting, working on the characters and throwing plenty of curveballs at them, and it’s been a great help. I’m very much a plotter so I absolutely loved that part of the course. But this is the bit that really counts and where everything I’ve learnt from September 2015 to today will see me through writing my novel from start to finish so that it’s completed by September 2017. It’s amazing to me that I will have written over 100,000 words.

I’m completely sold to crime thriller books and spend a lot of my time reading, reviewing, discussing, recommending them alongside studying and writing one of my own. It’s very surreal. What I’d say to anyone who’s toying with the idea of writing a crime thriller novel and would like a little guidance on how to do so, invest in yourself and do this course – you won’t be disappointed at all. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made so far and I’m excited to see where my book takes me one day.

A massive thank you to Sam Dennis for taking the helm of the CTG HQ today. 

You can catch Sam blogging about all things crime fiction over on her fabulous site www.thiscrimebook.com and be sure to follow her on Twitter @SmDee13

For more information about the brilliant Creative Writing MA offered by City University London (Twitter – @citywriting), hop over to their website here

 

CTG Reviews: The Accident by Chris Pavone

The Accident cover image

The Accident cover image

What the blurb says: “Isabel Reed, one of the most respected and powerful literary agents in New York, is in possession of a time bomb and she’s about to give it to her good friend and trusted editor at one of the top publishing houses in the US. Anyone who begins reading the manuscript is immediately struck by the importance of its contents. They can also see that publishing it could be dangerous, but it could also be the book that every agent, editor and publishing house dreams of … What they don’t realise is that reading it could get them killed.

Veteran CIA Station Chief, Hayden Gray, is a man not to be trifled with. At his beck and call is a vast artillery of CIA personnel and he’s prepared to use every single one of them to stop that manuscript from getting into the public domain. He has twenty-four hours to do so.”

Set in the world of publishing, this book takes what starts out as an everyday occurrence – a new manuscript delivered to literary agent Isabel Read’s office – and turns it into a twist-filled story with danger lurking around every page turn. The book – entitled ‘The Accident’ – is filled with secrets so explosive, about a media tycoon so well-known and influential, that there are people prepared to do anything to stop the book being read.

So Isabel’s day turns into a 24-esque chase, with lots of running, hiding and dodging. As the body count rises, she knows that someone, or some people, are trying to kill her and the manuscript, but she doesn’t know who. So she turns to the one person she’s sure she can trust: Jeff Fielder – her long-time friend, and editor at a major publishing house – to help her get the book published, and to stay alive.

The book alternates between character point-of-views, primarily Isabel, Jeff, Hayden Gray, and the unnamed author of the book. With each character’s narrative you get a glimpse of the history that led to the book being written, and the impact it having been written, allowing you as the reader to piece together the complex web of secrets that have been hidden for so long.

This story has intrigue and mystery in spades. As the plot unfolds, and more about each of the key characters is revealed, you start to understand the complex relationships that connect so many of them.

A gripping read, with an artfully crafted plot and fabulously engaging characters, the story includes some major twists towards the end – several of which I really didn’t see coming. The Accident is an engaging, entertaining, page-turner of a thriller.

Highly Recommended.

 

[with many thanks to Faber & Faber for my copy of The Accident]

 

CTG Reviews: The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly

The Poison Tree cover image

The Poison Tree cover image

What the blurb says: “It is London in the sweltering summer of 1997. Karen is a strait-laced, straight-A university student. When she meets the impossibly glamorous Biba, a bohemian orphan who lives in a crumbling mansion in Highgate with her enigmatic brother Rex, she is soon drawn into their world. As the summer progresses, Karen becomes tangled up in their tragic family history and the idyll turns into a nightmare, culminating in murder.

A decade later, Karen collects Rex from prison. Together with their nine-year-old daughter Alice, they try to settle into family life. While Rex has served his time, Karen keeps dark secrets that mean she has her own life sentence to serve. What happened that summer casts a terrifying shadow over her future. Will the past catch up with her?”

I have to confess that this book has been in my To Be Read pile for months. Having opened it up, I was hooked by the claustrophobic immediacy of the prologue and read the whole thing in a single weekend, cursing myself for not having got to it sooner.

After the panicked situation in the prologue, Chapter One starts with conflict of a different kind, Rex is coming home from prison and Karen, Alice and Rex are all having to adjust. As they start to live, for the first time, as a family, Karen finds herself remembering the sequence of events that led to murder all those years before.

This is one of those books that gets into your head and keeps you trying to guess what happened. The reader knows that Karen has secrets, things she’s never told anyone, not even Rex. As the 1997 timeline unfolds, Karen turns from disciplined student to bohemian party girl. The writing is so vivid, the descriptions so atmospheric, that you can almost feel the heat on your skin, see the wine in your glass and imagine yourself joining in with the endless house parties hosted by Biba. But as the long, hot summer plays out, and Biba’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic,  cracks, tensions and jealousy cause events in the seemingly carefree household to take a deeply sinister turn.

I especially loved the characters of Karen – the diligent student on a journey of self discovery, Rex – the sensible, reliable one who’d do anything for his sister, and Biba – beautiful, neurotic and gifted. As the story progresses, and the events of 1997 return to threaten Karen and her family in the present, the tension reaches its climax and Karen is, once again, pushed to her limits. Like all great psychological thrillers, this story keeps you guessing what will happen right to the very end, and finishes with a shocking dramatic twist.

The Poison Tree was a major ITV drama, a Richard & Judy Summer Read in 2011, and was longlisted for the 2011 CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger Award.

Highly recommended.

CTG Reviews: The Beauty of Murder by A K Benedict

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

What the blurb says: “Stephen Killigan has been cold since the day he came to Cambridge as a senior lecturer. Something about the seven hundred years of history staining the stones of the university has given him a chill he can’t shake. When he stumbles across the body of a missing beauty queen, he thinks he’s found the reason. But when the police go to retrieve the body they find no trace of it. Killigan has found a problem – and a killer – that is the very opposite of reason.

Killingan’s unwitting entry into the sinister world of Jackamore Grass will lead him on a trail of tattooists, philosophers, cadavers and scholars of a deadly beauty. As Killigan traces a path between our age and seventeenth-century Cambridge, he must work out how it is that a person’s corpse can be found before they even go missing, and whether he’s being pushed towards the edge of madness or an astonishing discovery.”

Wow. Wow. Wow. They are the first three words (or one word repeated) that comes into my mind on finishing The Beauty of Murder.

This is a literary crime thriller which ticks all the boxes with a flourish: intriguing characters, fascinating storylines, gorgeous settings, beautiful prose and a sprinting pace. And it’s A K Benedict’s debut novel.

Stephen Killigan is a likable guy – he’s smart, likes a beer (or two, or more), and is looking for love. He also wants to do the right thing when he discovers the body of a missing woman. But being a good citizen soon turns out to be the start of a journey that threatens to destroy all he holds dear. When the police find no trace of the body, Stephen is determined to find out what happened to her. But as he finds clues to the mystery, each one makes less sense than that before it. Is he losing his mind as so many suggest? As the body count rises, and the links of the modern-day murders with those in 1635 become clearer to him, Stephen becomes the prime suspect. Yet he finds an unlikely friend in Inspector Jane Horne, who is trying to solve the series of seemingly unsolvable cases whilst keeping her own private health battles secret from those at work.

The Beauty of Murder is filled with unusual, memorable supporting characters like Stephen’s friend, Satnam, who likes a few beers and loves the girl in the library, and Robert Sachs, the “poncey philosopher who loves himself” who muses over the beauty of the dead. I think my favorite of these is Iris Burton, the eccentric academic who takes it upon herself to teach Stephen Killigan about time travel including what to carry in your kit bag and how to avoid paradoxes (in my mind she was played by Helena Bonham Carter!).

The relationship between Stephen Killigan and Jackamore Grass has real Sherlock/Moriarty feel to it: two highly intelligent men pitting their wits (and their lives) against each other to solve the mystery (in Stephen’s case) and win the game (in Jackamore’s case). Jackamore, who finds getting away with murder tiresomely easy, is pleased to at last have a worthy opponent, but as Stephen hones his skills and closes in on the truth, Jackamore starts to pick his victims from those close to Stephen.

Quirky, mind (and time) bending, and compulsively addictive, this is an outstanding literary crime thriller. I can’t wait to see more from this author.

The Beauty of Murder is out on 10th April in paperback and available for pre-order over on the Amazon website right now.

Highly recommended.

[I bought my copy of The Beauty of Murder]

I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes

I AM PILGRIM cover image

I AM PILGRIM cover image

What the blurb says: “Pilgrim – the codename for a man who doesn’t exist – who once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into deep-cover retirement, he put all his experience into the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation. But that book will come back to haunt him.”

Pilgrim has retired from the spy life. He’s walked away from the job, written his book, and disappeared into a new life in a new country. But when NYPD cop, Ben Bradley, comes to call he realises that he didn’t erase his previous life (or lives) as thoroughly as he’d thought. Drawn back to New York, Pilgrim is pulled in to help solve a seemingly unsolvable crime – a woman found in a bath of acid, all forensic evidence destroyed. He recognises the case – it’s straight from the pages of his book – and finds only one small clue to the whereabouts of the killer. But that small clue, and the horrifying discovery of the US intelligence agency, sets Pilgrim on the first steps of an against the clock race to prevent a devastating attack on his country.

It’s tough to give a worthy description of I AM PILGRIM. Perhaps it’s a spy thriller, it certainly immerses the reader into the world of espionage and counter-intelligence, like a cross between Bourne, 24 and Homeland. But it’s also more than that. As a reader it feels like you’ve been sucked inside the private world of Pilgrim – you see what he sees, know what he knows, and feel what he feels – and that’s one hell of a scary place!

As Pilgrim pursues the man believed to be preparing a terrorist attack on US soil, he learns how the events in his life have led him to believe in the absolute necessity of the devastation he is planning. What I found particularly powerful about this story is how it builds a vivid picture of the life of the antagonist. It allows the reader to understand his conviction, although not forgive the horrendous actions he chooses to take as a result.

And the book is a brick: 700 pages of captivating story. By the end, not only had I learned more than I’d ever imagined about the intelligence world, travelled around the world, and been pulled along by the story, reading well into the night to discover what would happen next, but I’d also developed some pretty good muscle tone on my biceps! [although I guess this isn’t so relevant if you read the story on Kindle!]

A must-read for fans of spy thrillers, action thrillers and stories which have you thinking about the characters, and their world-apart realities, long after you’ve finishing reading the final page.

Highly recommended.

 

[Many thanks to Bantam Press for my copy of I AM PILGRIM]

The Beauty of Murder by A K Benedict

The Beauty of Murder cover image

The Beauty of Murder cover image

What the blurb says: “Stephen Killigan has been cold since the day he came to Cambridge as a senior lecturer. Something about the seven hundred years of history staining the stones of the university has given him a chill he can’t shake. When he stumbles across the body of a missing beauty queen, he thinks he’s found the reason. But when the police go to retrieve the body they find no trace of it. Killigan has found a problem – and a killer – that is the very opposite of reason.

Killingan’s unwitting entry into the sinister world of Jackamore Grass will lead him on a trail of tattooists, philosophers, cadavers and scholars of a deadly beauty. As Killigan traces a path between our age and seventeenth-century Cambridge, he must work out how it is that a person’s corpse can be found before they even go missing, and whether he’s being pushed towards the edge of madness or an astonishing discovery.”

Wow. Wow. Wow. They are the first three words (or one word repeated) that comes into my mind on finishing The Beauty of Murder.

This is a literary crime thriller which ticks all the boxes with a flourish: intriguing characters, fascinating storylines, gorgeous settings, beautiful prose and a sprinting pace. And it’s A K Benedict’s debut novel.

Stephen Killigan is a likable guy – he’s smart, likes a beer (or two, or more), and is looking for love. He also wants to do the right thing when he discovers the body of a missing woman. But being a good citizen soon turns out to be the start of a journey that threatens to destroy all he holds dear. When the police find no trace of the body, Stephen is determined to find out what happened to her. But as he finds clues to the mystery, each one makes less sense than that before it. Is he losing his mind as so many suggest? As the body count rises, and the links of the modern-day murders with those in 1635 become clearer to him, Stephen becomes the prime suspect. Yet he finds an unlikely friend in Inspector Jane Horne, who is trying to solve the series of seemingly unsolvable cases whilst keeping her own private health battles secret from those at work.

The Beauty of Murder is filled with unusual, memorable supporting characters like Stephen’s friend, Satnam, who likes a few beers and loves the girl in the library, and Robert Sachs, the “poncey philosopher who loves himself” who muses over the beauty of the dead. I think my favorite of these is Iris Burton, the eccentric academic who takes it upon herself to teach Stephen Killigan about time travel including what to carry in your kit bag and how to avoid paradoxes (in my mind she was played by Helena Bonham Carter!).

The relationship between Stephen Killigan and Jackamore Grass has real Sherlock/Moriarty feel to it: two highly intelligent men pitting their wits (and their lives) against each other to solve the mystery (in Stephen’s case) and win the game (in Jackamore’s case). Jackamore, who finds getting away with murder tiresomely easy, is pleased to at last have a worthy opponent, but as Stephen hones his skills and closes in on the truth, Jackamore starts to pick his victims from those close to Stephen.

Quirky, mind (and time) bending, and compulsively addictive, this is an outstanding literary crime thriller. I can’t wait to see more from this author.

Highly recommended.

[A bought my copy of The Beauty of Murder]

The Deep Blue Goodbye by John D. MacDonald

The Deep Blue Goodbye cover image

The Deep Blue Goodbye cover image

What the blurb says: “Travis McGee isn’t your typical knight in shining armour. He only works when his cash runs out, and his rule is simple: He’ll help you find whatever was taken from you, as long as he can keep half.

Travis McGee isn’t particularly strapped for cash, but how can anyone say no to Cathy, a sweet girl who’s been tortured repeatedly by  her manipulative ex-boyfriend Junior Allen? What Travis isn’t anticipating is just how many women Junior has torn apart and left in his wake.

As Travis hunts for the ruthless man who steals women’s sensibilities and livelihoods, he can’t guess how violent his quest is soon to become. He’ll learn the hard way that there must be casualties in this game of cat and mouse …”

Gosh, where to start.

Well, within the first few pages of this story I was both shocked that it’d taken me this long to pick up a John D. MacDonald novel, and delighted that there is now a whole new series for me to work my way through. MacDonald’s straight-talking, uber observant yet fast paced style feels highly contemporary, despite The Deep Blue Goodbye first being published in 1964.

Travis McGee is a character you can’t help but want to spend time with: tough yet tender, honest yet outside of the law when necessary, and to-the-point yet charming. He lives by his own rules, even when those rules might well get him into life or death situations.

In The Deep Blue Goodbye, Travis McGee is living on his houseboat, the Busted Flush, and not especially looking for work, but when a friend asks him to help her friend, Cathy, he agrees to look into the situation. He starts following the trail of Junior Allen, an insincere, charmingly seductive but abusive con-man, and as he digs a little deeper Travis discovers the wartime secret Cathy’s father left behind and just why it made her a target of Junior Allen. In the process of trying to recover what is rightfully Cathy’s, Travis comes across another woman who has suffered at the hands of Junior. Determined to help both woman, Travis tracks Junior down and prepares to confront him during the climax of the con he’s working on a group of young people. It’s a bold and dangerous move, and one that requires all Travis’ resourcefulness to survive.

As well as a masterfully plotted storyline, MacDonald’s book takes the reader into Travis’ world – Lauderdale, Florida in the 1960s. It balances perfectly timed action and pace with deep emotion and heartbreak. It makes you want to keep reading, undisturbed, from the first sentence to the very last.

Highly recommended.

 

The Deep Blue Goodbye is available through Transworld Digital on Kindle. Over the coming months each of the Travis McGee series will be re-published in order. This new release of the series includes a foreword by Lee Child.

[A massive thank you to Transworld Digital for my copy of The Deep Blue Goodbye]