CTG Interviews: Claire Seeber author of psychological thriller THE STEPMOTHER

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Today I’m delighted to be joined by the fabulous Claire Seeber who has agreed to let me grill her about her latest thriller – THE STEPMOTHER.

Welcome, Claire!

Your latest book THE STEPMOTHER is out now, could you tell us a bit about it?

It’s a kind of spin on Snow White and a look at whether the age-old adage ‘the evil stepmother’ is justified, or a skewed take on a complicated relationship – and why the stepmother is always the outsider (and the father never gets blamed!). It’s also about mental health, I suppose, as in what drives us to the edge; and about familial relationships generally – it centres around two sisters, Jeanie & Marlena, who’ve had a raw deal growing up. That may or may not have pushed them to extreme behavior as adults…and it’s about jealousy, generally.

I found THE STEPMOTHER a real page turner. The relationship between the two sisters, and their unique voices, really hooked me in. What was your inspiration for creating them?

Thank you! I originally wanted to make Marlena the central character (the younger sister, who is a newshound, very career driven, has blotted her copy book in the phone hacking scandal) and I was more interested in her trying to find out what had happened to the girl who’d run off to join ISIS. But my editor was a bit worried Marlena was too ‘controversial’, I think – she’s quite spiky! So I came up with Plan B…tell the first part of the story from Jeanie’s point of view, because she’s (possibly) more sympathetic…and I made it more about families generally. But I managed to sneak the ISIS bit in too J

Within the narrative, you use a twist on a well loved fairy tale to great effect. Did you enjoy fairy tales as a child? And, if so, what are your top three?

Yes, I loved fairy tales, though I wasn’t a particularly girly girl, but I loved books generally. My dad worked in publishing when I was little (he had nothing to do with my writing career though, I ought to add!) and he brought us an amazing big hard-backed fairy-tale book, which I loved. Also all the old Ladybird books, I can still remember Cinderella’s dresses from those, and I also remember Rose Red and Snow White! My favourite…hmm. The ones I remember most are Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Mermaid and probably Cinderella – but having said that, I chose Snow White because I was so interested in the relationship between the child and the stepmother, & the obvious jealousy it causes in that tale.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot everything out first, or just dive in and we where the story takes you?

A bit of both. It depends on my deadline really. I had to be super discliplined on THE STEPMOTHER because I had very little time to write it in. I had to make myself a plot outline and stick to it, and having that as a reference point was handy. I’ve written books with no plot outline, and I think it makes me feel more panicked!

What’s your favourite part of the writing process and why?

Probably just making it up as I go along on the first draft, and feeling like ‘ooh I’m onto something here’ and being really lost in the process. That’s when I really love it and it feels a bit like flying.

“Grip Lit” is a label that’s started being put on a lot of thrillers these days. As a well established writer of psychological thrillers do you see Grip Lit as something new within the genre, or just an new label?

Just a new label and a slightly irritating one at that!! It’s something I’ve pondered a lot as my first novel was written in 2004, before this whole ‘domestic noir/ grip lit’ became such a ‘thing’. Now the media heralds it as new, ‘specially since Girl on A Train, and I think – what’s new about reading the voice of women like us, telling us how it really is?! Worrying about relationships and drinking too much and fancying the wrong people, with some crime / plot twists thrown in?! It’s a bit galling, to be honest, when I’ve been doing it for about twelve years now!

And, finally, what does the rest of 2016 hold for you?

Well, having written 6 psychological thrillers, much as I love them – and I do – I’d like to do something hopefully new…still in the thriller area, but quite different. It’s written, and it’s with my agent – but you’ll have to watch this space because I’m so superstitious, I don’t want to jinx it, not because I’m being precious J !! And I probably will write another pysch thriller but I’m not sure what yet!

Sounds very intriguing! I can’t wait to read it.

A massive thank you to Claire Seeber for popping over to the CTG blog and letting me grill her (I owe you a drink, Claire).

To find out more about Claire and her books visit her website here and be sure to follow her on Twitter @claireseeber

To buy THE STEPMOTHER from Amazon, click here

 

CTG Interviews: Brooke Magnanti about writing #TheTurningTide

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Today I’m delighted to welcome the fabulous Dr Brooke Magnanti to the CTG blog to talk about her crime novel THE TURNING TIDE.

Brooke is the writer behind the best selling Belle de Jour books, and has a PhD in Forensic Pathology which she uses to great effect in THE TURNING TIDE – her first crime novel. Having read the book (it’s awesome), I couldn’t wait to find out more about how the story and characters were developed and all about Brooke’s writing process.

So, to the interview …

Welcome, Brooke. The Turning Tide is your first thriller, can you tell us a bit about it?
The story starts in Molesey near London, where a woman named Erykah MacDonald finds out the husband she was about to walk out on has just won the lottery. What she doesn’t know yet is that the money comes with significant strings attached. The very careful, anonymous life she struggled to rebuild after a scandal in her teens is about to be blown apart. There’s also a dodgy new political party trying to establish its roots on Scotland, and a decomposing body that washed up on the beach there – Erykah has to quickly learn who she can and can’t trust before she ends up getting killed too.

Erykah is a great female anti-hero; resourceful, determined and dynamic. What was the catalyst for creating her as a character?
Initially, Erykah wasn’t the main character – the story was told more or less as it is now, but from the point of view of the radio station intern, Kerry. And much as I loved the plot and the characters something about that just wasn’t working out. I realised that I was still trying to write as a twenty-something, someone who was the age I was when I wrote the Belle books. That’s not where I’m at now and writing twenty something when you’re forty something doesn’t really ring true. And there was this already existing character, Erykah, who was someone closer to my age, with more experience of life than Kerry, and who had more at stake, more to lose when things went wrong. As soon as I rewrote the book to put her at the centre of the story it all made sense.

In the book you have some great mortuary scenes and forensic details. How did your PhD in Forensic Pathology and experience in a mortuary laboratory help influence your fiction?
It was a huge influence. The layout in the Cameron Bridge mortuary is patterned like a smaller version of the Sheffield Medico Legal Centre where I studied, though a little bit smaller and a lot older. The techniques and equipment being used, as well – all the things that were used day to day at the MLC. While none of the cases I saw during my time there were exactly like the bodies in this book, I did lean pretty heavily on the many decompositions I did see in my time there to try to put together something that would be both realistic and unusual.

The story also covers social media use (and abuse) and tracking people through technology. How did you go about researching these aspects of the plot?
Nearly all of the social media parts were either something I have done, or seen people do on the internet. For example, getting someone to click on a link to a domain you have control over, to find their true identity… that’s been a strategy to unmask anonymous abusers since long before Twitter. When I was anonymous, I had to be very aware of what technology people might be using to unmask me, and to avoid getting trapped. It helped that I had a background in computer science and web design. A lot of other people have tried to be anonymous and didn’t realise what clues they were unwittingly leaving behind, so were quickly unmasked. Even when fashions in social media change the basic investigating techniques really don’t.

Brooke Magnanti with her book The Turning Tide

Brooke Magnanti with her book The Turning Tide

There’s a lot of ruthless political shenanigans in The Turning Tide. How did you go about setting up this element of the story?
I started writing the book before the Scotland referendum, and of course with no idea how that would turn out, had to follow the news very closely to keep up with all the incredible developments. Once you get your eye in with politics, though, it’s tough both to craft a story that isn’t too close to reality – you don’t want to libel anyone – and that won’t be overtaken by real events. This is almost universally the case in political trillers: the last season House of Cards is not remotely as gruesome as the current US election, and The Thick of It seems a lot like a documentary at times. It was a very strange thing to be writing about, but I loved it.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot the story out first, or do you start writing and see where it takes you?
A bit of both. I like to start with a big idea – in this case, it was how much the media controls what we think of other people, and how it feels to survive that – and then start putting characters in that world. From there, I try to keep to a chapter by chapter plotting plan. Though sometimes the characters speak up for themselves, and end up doing things I wouldn’t have expected. That was a fun experience with writing this. I really didn’t know, until the end, what would happen to Erykah.

For those people aspiring to publication as crime writers, what advice would you give?
Write every day. I can’t tell you the number of amazing elevator pitches I’ve heard from people over the years, but 99% of them never sit down and write the damned thing. Start writing, keep writing. You wouldn’t believe the number of unpublished manuscripts I have sitting on my hard drive. It’s all experience.
But also, you know, don’t forget to live life. You can tell the difference when someone is writing from what they know versus just going through the motions. Clare Macintosh’s I Let You go rang absolutely true because she had been in the police, it really stood out a mile. Books and expert sources can fill some gaps but you do the best research by living an interesting life.

And, finally, what does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
I’m currently working on a follow up to The Turning Tide. It’s not a straight sequel, but it’s set in the same world. You’ll definitely see more of the mortuary staff, and there will probably be a few other cameos as well. After that? I’d love to stay in Scotland, and I’d love to stay with thrillers. So we’ll see!

Massive thanks to Brooke for letting us question her about her latest book – THE TURNING TIDE – and her writing process.

The Turning Tide is out now, published by Orion Books, and it’s great read. You can buy it here from Waterstones, or here from Amazon.

To find out more about Brooke, like her page on on FaceBook and follow her on Twitter @belledejour_uk

To read my review of The Turning Tide click here

CTG Interviews: Sanjida Kay about BONE by BONE

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Today I’m delighted to welcome writer and broadcaster Sanjida Kay to the CTG blog to talk about her book BONE BY BONE, her writing process and why she loves crime fiction.

Her debut psychological thriller BONE BY BONE is out now. Here’s the blurb: “How far would you go to protect your child? When her daughter is bullied, Laura makes a terrible mistake… Laura is making a fresh start. Recently divorced and relocated to Bristol, she’s carving a new life for herself and her nine-year-old daughter, Autumn. But things aren’t going as well as she’d hoped. Autumn’s sweet nature and artistic bent are making her a target for bullies. When Autumn fails to return home from school one day Laura goes looking for her and finds a crowd of older children taunting her little girl. In the heat of the moment, Laura is overcome with rage and makes one terrible mistake. A mistake that will have devastating consequences for her and her daughter…”

Now, to the interview …

What is your favourite genre to read?

Psychological thrillers! Although I do like the odd classic and work of literary fiction too!

Who is the biggest influence on your writing?

The writer that has most influenced me is Emily Brontë and, in particular, her novel, Wuthering Heights. I’m haunted by the relationship between Heathcliff, Cathy and Edgar Linton; the Gothic savage beauty of the moors and the undercurrents of class, racism and misogyny.

Margaret Atwood is another great influence because of the way she weaves science and politics into her work. I prefer her later books, Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, for their creativity, environmental themes and because her writing has a lightness of touch it lacked when she was younger. Cormac McCarthy is one of my favourite novelists; he writes about the landscape and nature in such an elemental way, as if human nature were allied to it. And Henry James, especially The Golden Bowl, for his understanding and subtle portrayal of how people think about what others are thinking about them.

What inspired you to write Bone by Bone?

Just after I had my own daughter, I used to take her out in the buggy to get her to go to sleep. I felt incredibly vulnerable – recovering from the birth, on my own and now responsible for a tiny, fragile newborn.

I started to imagine a character who has a much older daughter than mine, but feels vulnerable, isolated, lacking in confidence all the time. And I imagined what would happen if that person found out that her daughter was being bullied. She would want to protect her child with all her heart – like any parent – but she might not have the resources – particularly if there’s nothing the bully won’t do to her child.

What were some of the challenges you faced whilst writing this novel?

It’s incredibly upsetting to write about bullying, both from the point of view of a parent and a child. Every time I read through a draft of my novel, I would cry. From a technical perspective, it was challenging to put myself in the head of a nine-year-old, especially as it’s a long time since I was nine!

You’re Bristol-based – how does the city inspire your work?

I’ve always been inspired by landscape and the natural world and it features heavily in my fiction. When I came to write Bone by Bone, I thought I’d aim for a gritty urban landscape, graffiti-ridden and litter-strewn, in Bristol, where I live.

What actually happened was that I ended up placing most of the action in a tiny urban nature reserve!

The lines began to sing, a shrill, electric song, and then the cacophony of the train roared out of the darkness. The carriages were almost empty and painfully bright as they hurtled along the tracks to the heart of the city. In the fleeting light she saw the meadow, dotted with stunted hawthorns, their twisted limbs dense with red berries, and then a shape: achingly familiar, child-sized, shockingly still.

Bone by Bone is set in a mad mixture of two areas in Bristol: Montpelier and St Werburghs. For those who know Bristol intimately, it’ll be obvious that some of my descriptions are realistic but that I’ve shunted whole sections of the landscape around to make my plot work!

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Do you feel that multiculturalism is sufficiently represented in the current literary climate?

I think it’s lacking. I’m mixed race and I rarely see my experience portrayed in the books I’m reading. In psychological thrillers, which are very middle-class, the majority of authors and characters within them are white. I include racial diversity and prejudice in my novels as standard – rather than writing stories that are solely about race.

Bone by Bone places the parent’s perspective at the forefront of the narrative. Did you feel it was important to represent Laura’s point of view?

It’s hard for any parent to see their child being hurt, whether it’s because they’re picked on at school or they fall and hurt their knee. On the one hand, we want to protect our children, and on the other, we want them to grow in courage, independence and confidence so they can survive the bumps and bruises the world throws at them. It’s a difficult balancing act, for parents and children.

Do you feel that the public is suitably aware of the continual issue of bullying? Do you think that children are provided with adequate support?

I’m delighted to announce that I’m donating a percentage of the profits from my thriller, Bone by Bone, to the anti-bullying charity, Kidscape. The NSPCC says that almost half of all children are bullied. I don’t think parents are aware the figures are so high – nor do most people know what to do about cyber-bullying, which is increasing. Kidscape has some fantastic resources for schools, carers, parents, children and young people.

How would you describe a typical working day?

I start my writing day by exercising – writing is such a sedentary job, I need a bit of a buzz and some movement before I begin! Then I have a strong coffee and start! I aim to write at least 1,000 words a day during the writing period. I have set hours for writing – I love it but I treat it like a job. I spend at least three days a week working on my novels. Usually I write in my office, which is lovely. It’s all white with botanical prints and an oak desk. It looks out over the allotments that feature in Bone by Bone. I need peace and serenity to help me write. Sometimes I’ll go to a cafe and write too – if they do good coffee and cake! It’s a welcome contrast to the monastic stillness of my office. If I get stuck, I grit my teeth and force myself to sit in front of my computer screen. When I need to think big or wrangle with a knotty plot problem, I’ll go for a long walk.

What are some of your favourite contemporary thrillers?

Gone Girl has an incredible plot, the characters are chillingly Machiavellian and the prose is pitch-perfect for this kind of thriller. Flynn’s previous novel, Sharp Objects, doesn’t have such a rollercoaster plot, but it’s much edgier with a searing twist; perfect Southern gothic-noir. I loved Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing, Maggie Mitchell’s Pretty Is and The Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin. The prose in Jane Shemilt’s, Daughter and The Drowning Lesson is beautiful. On my bedside table is Holly Seddon’s Try not to Breathe.

A big thank you to Sanjida Kay for talking to us all about BONE BY BONE and her own writing process.

To find out more about Sanjida check out her website at www.sanjida.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @SanjidaOConnell

BONE BY BONE is out now. You can order it from Waterstones here, or from Amazon here.

 

STASI CHILD Blog Tour: CTG interviews debut author David Young

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I’m delighted to welcome David Young, author of STASI CHILD, to the CTG blog and to be hosting his blog tour stop today. STASI CHILD (published by Twenty7) is David’s debut novel and is the winner of the PFD 2014 Crime Prize. He’s popped along to see us today to chat about the book, his writing process, and his route to publication.

So to the questions!

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!

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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.

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, 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 2015 have in store for you?

Initially, I’ll be concentrating on promoting the Stasi Child ebook, and I’ve my first appearance at a literary festival, as part of the past prizewinner’s event at Yeovil on Friday October 30th. 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!

A huge thank you to David Young for coming along to the CTG blog to chat with us today. 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 in eBook (and will be out in paperback in February 2016). To buy the eBook via Amazon click on the book cover below

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And don’t forget to check out all the other fabulous stops on the Stasi Child Blog Tour:

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The Jump Blog Tour: CTG interviews Doug Johnstone about #TheJump

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Today I’m delighted to welcome author Doug Johnstone to the CTG blog as part of his blog tour marking the launch of his new thriller THE JUMP.

And so, to the questions …

Your latest book – THE JUMP – is out this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

The book is all about Ellie, a woman in her forties who is struggling after the suicide of her teenage son six months ago. Her son jumped off the Forth Road Bridge near their house in South Queensferry, and the story opens with her finding another teenage boy on the bridge about to jump. She sees a chance at redemption for what she thinks are her failings as a mother, but in reality she gets sucked into a whole new nightmare that threatens everyone around her.

I’ve been skirting around the issue of suicide for a long time in my writing, and this book feels like a culmination of that obsession. I wanted to write about the loss and lack of resolution for those left behind by suicide, how there are no easy answers, but I wanted to embed that in a thriller storyline. Hopefully The Jump manages to pull that off, but I guess readers will have to decide for themselves. Although Ellie does some terrible things, I think she’s the most sympathetic central character I’ve had in a book, and hopefully, if I’ve done my job, the reader will care about what happens to her and those around her.

How did you get into writing thrillers – what was it about the genre that attracted you?

I kind of fell into it really. My first two books were less obviously thriller-ish, though they were marketed as crime books by the publisher. I’ve always read thrillers and crime, in fact, I never really thought about the distinction between any genres of book when I was reading and then also when I first started writing. All good books have conflict at their core, and more often than not that involves criminal activity.

I suppose I write domestic noir, if you want to define it, thrillers about ordinary people like you or me getting sucked into horrible, extraordinary, tragic situations. Hopefully the reader then wonders what they would do in a similar situation. I’ve always been interested in how ordinary folk act under extreme pressure – we all like to think we’d do the ‘right’ thing, but morality is never black and white, and I have a lot of sympathy for people doing wrong things in seemingly impossible circumstances. So that’s what I write about.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot everything out first or dive right in?

I’m somewhere in between. I like to be pretty organized before I begin the first draft, but I don’t have everything nailed down in terms of plot. I usually have a pretty clear idea about the opening few scenes, and the same goes for the final few chapters, but I deliberately leave a little bit of a grey area in the middle to get to where I’m going to. So much of the story depends on the characters and how they react to the crap you’re throwing at them, you have to leave a little wriggle room there. Plot ultimately stems from character, so if I need to change ideas about what happens because of the way the book is progressing, then I’m happy to do that.

What advice would you give a writer aspiring to publication?

It’s kind of banal advice, but just keep at it. Getting published can feel like a war of attrition sometimes, like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, but you just have to keep plugging away at it. Keep reading all the time, even the rubbish books teach you something and act as inspiration to write better. And keep writing all the time, you get better and better at it without even noticing sometimes.

It’s good to be clued up about the industry, but writers should never try to chase whatever they think the next big trend is going to be. For one thing, that bandwagon will be long gone before you can get on it, but more importantly, you’ll be writing something that isn’t true to yourself. Write the story you want to read, write it as well as you can, and eventually, hopefully, people will notice. Don’t be disheartened!

And, finally, what does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?

I’m currently re-drafting the next novel, a kind of femme fatale thing set in Orkney that starts with a plane crash and gets nastier. I’ve still got a fair bit to do on that, so that’ll take me to the autumn, then I usually spend a month or two working on new ideas before I settle down to the next book. I have a few kicking around at the back of my mind, but I try not to think about it while I’m still working on something. Apart from that, two of my books are optioned for film and television, so hopefully there will be some movement there, and I also work part-time at Queen Margaret University as a literary fellow. Plus I’m looking after my two young kids, so plenty to be getting on with!

Massive thanks to Doug Johnson for stopping by to chat about his latest book THE JUMP and tell us about his writing process.

THE JUMP is out now. Here’s the blurb: “You can do anything, if you have nothing left to lose. Struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her teenage son, Ellie lives in the shadows of the Forth Road Bridge, lingering on its footpaths and swimming in the waters below. One day she talks down another suicidal teenager, Sam, and sees for herself a shot at redemption, the chance to atone for her son’s death. But even with the best intentions, she can’t foresee the situation she’s falling headlong into – a troubled family, with some very dark secrets of its own.”

To find out more about Doug Johnstone and his books hop on over to his website at www.dougjohnstone.wordpress.com/novels/ and be sure to follow him on Twitter @doug_johnstone

To look at THE JUMP on Amazon click on the book cover below:

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And be sure to check out these other fab stops on THE JUMP blog tour …

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CTG Interviews #NeilWhite for THE DOMINO KILLER Blog Tour

crime writer Neil White

crime writer Neil White

Today I’m delighted to be hosting the latest stop on best selling crime writer Neil White’s blog tour. Neil’s kindly agreed to let me grill him about his latest books and his writing process.

And so, to the questions …

Your latest thriller – THE DOMINO KILLER – comes out this week, can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s the concluding book in the Parker brothers trilogy and deals partially with the running thread through the first two books, the murder of their sister many years earlier. As well as that, men are being murdered in Manchester, with a link between each one. The story starts with the murder of a man in a park, and it’s discovered that the dead man’s bloodied fingerprint was found on a knife near a body a few weeks earlier. What links them, and is there a connection with Sam and Joe’s murdered sister?

Your lead characters are brothers Joe Parker (a top criminal defence lawyer) and Sam Parker (a talented detective) – what gave you the idea for them?

It was really the notion of conflict, which I hit upon by accident when I was writing my first series involving a crime reporter and a detective who were also in a relationship. What seemed to work was that the reporter wanted to know about the cases his partner was involved in, and of course she wanted to keep him out of them.

When I realised I had to come up with a new idea, I stuck with the notion of two people who are close but have conflicting roles. Two brothers on the opposite side of the legal fence seemed to fit.

It fitted also with my own desire to make the books more legal.

I’d flirted with legal elements in the earlier books, but had always worried that I would become obsessed by making them so accurate that they ceased to be interesting; a day in court can occasionally be as mundane as any other job, punctuated by delays and often filled with so much routine.

When the drama does happen, however, it’s often pretty fun. I’m a prosecutor, and I’ve been shouted at and threatened, and at one point invited outside to “resolve matters”, and that’s just from the defence lawyers (yes, really, including the invitation to a street brawl). The criminals, on the whole, have been okay.

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You’re a lawyer by day and a crime writer by night, what’s your secret to juggling these two roles?

I wish I knew it. I do what I have to do, and I don’t doubt that each job impacts negatively on the other through fatigue.

I’m not as good as I used to be after a day at work. I work just three days a week now, so I write off those nights, but I find it hard to believe that it isn’t that long since I was doing both full-time. I remember getting to the end of one of my books, I can’t remember which, and just said that was it, I was beat. I was shattered, a squeezed sponge. So I gave up a couple of days of work and now it feels more balanced.

The hardest thing is losing so much of my time. I never truly have a day off, and have taken my laptop on most of my family holidays.

What got you started writing crime fiction?

That is probably a two-part question.

What got me writing fiction? Because I always thought it was something I could do. That is just about as simple as it gets. It was something I was able to do well at school and seemed to stand me in good stead during university. I said even then that I wanted to be a writer, and at one point thought of giving up my law degree to switch to journalism, just because I thought putting words on a page was my strength.

So why crime? It’s because that’s what I read, and crime has always been my interest. As a student, I imagined myself in a courtroom, not a boardroom. I’m a criminal lawyer because I like crime. I write crime fiction because I like crime. Who couldn’t be interested in the extremes of human behaviour and emotion?

What’s your best writing moment so far?

Reaching number one in the ebook charts with my fifth book, Cold Kill. To go onto Amazon and see my book at the top of the pile on the homepage was unreal. It was something I couldn’t have imagined when I started out.

For those aspiring to publication, what advice would you give them?

That depends on what sort of publication.

If someone is aspiring towards traditional publishers, keep on plugging. If you’re good enough, someone somewhere will spot you.

If someone is wanting to self-publish through ebooks or print, engage an editor. I self-published in 2004, and it was the self-published book that got me an agent and eventually a publishing deal, but the one thing I hate about it is the failure to engage an editor. There are typos and grammatical howlers in it, and it would have been so much better for me to be proud of it still, but instead it’s the one I’m happy to see fade into history.

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

I’ve just signed a deal for three books with Bonnier, under their new imprint Zaffre, and it sounds like they have exciting things planned. It’s a move of publishers but that brings new challenges and new adventures. The first book should be out next summer; once I’ve written it, of course.

Fantastic! Thanks so much to Neil White for taking the time to come and chat to us on the CTG blog today.

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Be sure to check out Neil’s latest thriller – THE DOMINO KILLER – which is out this week in hardback. Here’s the blurb: “When a man is found beaten to death in a local Manchester park, Detective Constable Sam Parker is one of the investigating officers. Sam swiftly identifies the victim, but what at first looks like an open and shut case quickly starts to unravel when he realizes that the victim’s fingerprints were found on a knife at another crime scene, a month earlier. Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Joe – a criminal defence lawyer in the city – comes face to face with a man whose very presence sends shockwaves through his life. Joe must confront the demons of his past as he struggles to come to terms with the darkness that this man represents. Before long, Joe and Sam are in way over their heads, both sucked into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to change their lives for ever …”

You can also now get your hands on THE DEATH COLLECTOR in paperback now (released last week). Here’s the blurb: “Danger sometimes comes in the most unexpected guises. The Death Collector is charming, sophisticated and intelligent, but he likes to dominate women, to make them give themselves to him completely; to surrender their dignity and their lives. He’s a collector of beautiful things, so once he traps them he’ll never let them go. Joe is drawn into the Death Collector’s world when he becomes involved in a supposed miscarriage of justice, and when the case becomes dangerous, Sam is the first person he turns to. In this gripping thriller, danger lurks for not only the Parker brothers, but also those closest to them.”

To find out more about Neil and his books hop on over to his website at www.neilwhite.net and follow him on Twitter @neilwhite1965

 

#ColdMoon Blog Tour: CTG interviews author Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra Sokoloff

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Alexandra Sokoloff to the CTG blog as part of her COLD MOON Blog Tour. Alexandra is the Thriller Award-winning, Bram Stoker and Anthony Award-nominated author of The Huntress FBI series. As a screenwriter she has sold original scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios, and teaches the internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops. 

And so, to the interview …

Your latest book in the Huntress Moon series – COLD MOON – is out this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

Cold Moon is the third in the Huntress series, and I highly recommend that new readers start with Book 1, Huntress Moon, because the action is continuous, really a binge read! – more like a serial than a series. The books are intense psychological suspense, and take the reader on an interstate manhunt with a haunted FBI agent, on the track of what he thinks may be that most rare of killers: a female serial. But here’s the thing. Arguably there’s never been any such thing as a female serial killer in real life. The women that the media holds up as serial killers actually operate from a completely different psychology from the men who commit what the FBI calls sexual homicide. I wanted to use that psychological fact to turn the cliché of the serial killer novel and the tired trope of “woman as victim” completely inside out. Whoever she is, whatever she is, the Huntress is like no killer Agent Roarke – or the reader – has ever seen before. And you may find yourself as conflicted about her as Roarke is.

How did you get into writing thrillers – what was it about the genre that attracted you?

I have to admit, I love a good adrenaline rush in a book (in fact I pretty much require them, repeatedly!). And I’ve always had a dark turn of mind – I’ve always read and watched and written a lot of psychological horror, too. But a good thriller is so much more than that. I agree with Val McDermid that crime novels are the best way to explore the deep issues of society. I’m very passionately political, and I have a lot of social outrage built up from years working with abused and incarcerated kids in the California prison system. I learned a lot about what seem to me to be clear-cut issues of good and evil. And thrillers are a great vehicle to explore the roots of evil in a very emotional, visceral way. As long as you’re delivering great suspense, you can ask the hard questions – in the context of such a exciting story that people don’t even realize what you’re doing until they’re too hooked to put the book down!

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot everything out first or dive right in?

I’m a total plotter. I use index cards and a three-act, eight-sequence story structure grid to start brainstorming a plot. I was a screenwriter for ten years before I wrote my first novel, and the index card method is a very common plotting technique in Hollywood because you have to come up with full story ideas so quickly, sometimes literally overnight.

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But it’s also the fastest and deepest way I know to outline a novel, and a lifesaver if you’re writing thrillers with lots of subplots. I teach the method in my story structure workshops, on my blog (http://www.screenwritingtricks.com/) and in the two Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks that I’ve written, and I definitely practice what I preach!

What advice would you give a writer aspiring to publication?

How much time do we have? J The best and truest advice I’ve ever heard about becoming a writer was from Willam Saroyan: “Find a small room in a big city and put your desk in front of the window and sit down in front of the blank page. And when you stand up ten years later, you will be a writer.”

The trick, of course, is that you have to STAY in the chair. For ten years. That’s not usually what people want to hear. What people want to hear is more like this: Find a system. Read a lot of books on writing, take a lot of classes, and when you find a writing system that makes sense to you, follow it. And then expand on that. There are some very, very good teachers out there, and some not so good, but you have to decide for yourself who is the best teacher for you at a certain time.

And of course everyone is welcome and encouraged to check out my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog, which I have been told is a gold mine of information for free.

Lastly, I have to say – Read everything you can about the options in indie publishing as well as traditional routes to publication. I think the rise of indie publishing is best thing that’s ever happened for writers. It means that if an author is willing to work hard, they have unprecedented access to distribution, and can cut out the often crippling middleman of traditional publishing. It’s devastating to authors how much traditional publishers charge for e books. Indie publishing allows you to control your own prices. I’m both traditionally published and indie published, and that diversity has made for a much larger readership and much more stable living for me. Make sure you know the options before you sign a contract!

COLD MOON cover image

COLD MOON cover image

And, finally, what does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?

So much! Of course I’m working on the fourth book in the Huntress Moon series.

I’m also starting a new, dark crime series set half in Scotland and half in Los Angeles – I live with the Scottish noir author Craig Robertson, so I have someone to vet the Scottish parts!

In August the textbook version of my writing workbooks will be coming out – Screenwriting Tricks for Authors: Stealing Hollywood. I’ve doubled the material from the ebooks, and this version will have ten full story breakdowns. The e workbooks are being used in college film classes and it’s about time I had a full print textbook version available!

And I’m very excited to be working with a writer/producer I love and have worked with before to develop the Huntress series into a TV series. I am sick to death of the misogyny in crime series like True Detective. But I also think there is some absolutely brilliant television being made these days, on HBO and Showtime and FX, and I would so love to see a series that gives equal time and depth to female characters and deals with crimes against women and children as the evil they are. We couldn’t have made this happen just ten years ago, but I think finally, finally, it’s time.

Huge thanks to Alexandra Sokoloff for stopping by to answer our questions today. I can thoroughly recommend her excellent Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog and books – they’re packed with great tips.

Be sure to check out Cold Moon (you can read my review here) and the rest of The Huntress FBI series at

Amazon US http://amzn.to/1z3pSh5
Amazon UK http://amzn.to/1wEwxZo
Amazon AU http://www.amazon.com.au/Huntress-Moon-FBI-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B00NKTTDH4

And find out more about Alexandra and her books on her website at www.alexandrasokoloff.com and her amazing blog www.screenwritingtricks.com

You can also catch her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/alexandra.sokoloff and follow her on Twitter @AlexSokoloff

Also, don’t forget to check out all these great stops on the tour …

Cold Moon Blog Tour Poster