CTG Interviews: Julia Crouch, author of The Long Fall

The Long Fall cover image

The Long Fall cover image

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

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

So, to the questions …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

CTG Interviews: Bruce McCabe, author of SKINJOB

SKINJOB cover image

SKINJOB cover image

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

Welcome to the CTG blog, Bruce.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce McCabe

Bruce McCabe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Interviews: CTG talks to Quentin Bates

Quentin Bates - Cold Steal

Quentin Bates – Cold Steal

Today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Quentin Bates to the CTG blog for a chat about his fabulous Nordic crime novels and new book – Cold Steal, the atmospheric setting for his books – Iceland, and to find out more about his writing process …

As well as writing the fabulous Nordic crime novels featuring police officer and single mother, Gunnhildur Gísadóttir, you’ve had successful careers as a trawlerman, a teacher and a journalist. What was it that attracted you to becoming a novelist?
I wasn’t actually a teacher for very long and abandoned it as quickly as I could… But I’ve been writing for a living for a long time now, journalism and a few non-fiction books, mostly extremely dull technical stuff about shipping. I had always seen fiction as something of a mug’s game, extremely hard to get published and maybe even harder to stay published, so it was a challenge I couldn’t resist. I didn’t seriously expect the first Gunna story to get published, and certainly didn’t expect it to turn into a series.

Your new book, Cold Steal, is out this month. Can you tell us a bit about it?
This one involves a fairly disparate group of characters, including some of Iceland’s immigrants who I find interesting – having been in that position myself along time ago as an expat living in Iceland. There’s also a burglar who has been a thorn in the police’s side for a long time as he is exceptionally careful and leaves very few traces and is very successful until he breaks into the wrong house one night and finds himself facing far more than he had bargained for. Then there are a few killings, including a businessman and a few people placed in the difficult positions that call for desperate measures.

Your Iceland-set books always have a fabulous sense of place about them, what’s your secret to creating this?
I think it’s weather. Icelanders may live in centrally-heated houses, but they still live on the edge of the habitable world and weather has always been crucially important to survival in the past when it was a nation of fishermen and farmers, and a hard winter could mean not making it through to spring. So people are extremely conscious of weather; it’s in the blood, and Icelandic weather is extraordinarily changeable as it can rain, snow and hail all in one day, interspersed with blazing sunshine. I’m infected with this weather consciousness as well so I always have weather at the back of my mind and especially when I visualise a scene. One of my first questions to myself will always be what was the weather like?

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?
I’ve done both, the seat-of-the-pants method and the intricate plotting, and neither of them suit me. I’m somewhere between the two and have a fairly loose outline of what I want to touch on, like as series of waypoints, but not necessarily with a direct route between them. I don’t get on with over-plotting as I like the flexibility of using a good idea as it crops up along the way, and I don’t normally know quite how things are going to end until I get there.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to publication as crime writers?
This is purely personal advice, and everyone’s experience is different. I’d say just get on with it and stay with it. Don’t wait for a muse to strike, as if you do that, then she won’t. Try and do something every day as that keeps things ticking over in your mind. Unplug the router if that’s what suits you. And just enjoy it, laugh at your own jokes. If you don’t enjoy your own work, then probably nobody else will. Don’t go to anyone who loves you for an opinion. People who know what they’re talking about will give you advice, and it’s very much worth listening carefully to what they say, but also take notice of your own instincts and stick to your guns when the moment is right.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
I’m not sure at the moment. There’s a kindle-only Gunnhildur novella planned for later this year although I’m not sure yet when that will appear, probably in the summer some time. There is more Gunna in the pipeline but I’m still mulling over ideas at the moment and I really do need to pay the day job more attention. November this year is also Iceland Noir, the tiny crime fiction festival in Reykjavík that I’m involved in organising with Icelandic crime writers Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and Lilja Sigurðardóttir. It’s something of a labour of love, but we did the first one last year and it was just great – because when crime writers get together they do tend to be a lot of fun. They’re not precious or pompous, and they can be extraordinarily irreverent – these are people it’s just great to be around. That’s what happens when people who spend their days sitting over a laptop dreaming of murder get let out into the daylight. There’s an interesting line-up for this year, including rising stars Johan Theorin and Vidar Sundstol, and some more intriguing writers, and hopefully we’ll be able to add more between now and November.

Sounds great.

Thanks so much to Quentin Bates for dropping by. To find out more about Quentin and his Gunnhildur Gísadóttir Iceland-set crime series pop on over to his website at http://graskeggur.com/

And to learn more about the wonderful Iceland Noir crime fiction festival click here http://www.icelandnoir.com/

CTG Interviews: Rachel Abbott author of SLEEP TIGHT

Author Rachel Abbott

Author Rachel Abbott

Today I’d like to welcome Rachel Abbott, who has dropped in to the CTG blog to answer a few of our questions. So, to business …

Your new book, SLEEP TIGHT, came out last month. Can you tell us a bit about it?

SLEEP TIGHT is a psychological thriller, which poses the question “how far would you go to hold on to the people you love?” It’s a story of obsession, deception and retribution.

The story opens when Olivia Brookes calls the police because her husband took the children out for a pizza, and he hasn’t come home. Has there been an accident? But the police don’t think so.

The problem is, this isn’t the first time that Olivia has had to contact the police. Seven years earlier her boyfriend and father of her first child called to say he was on his way home. But he never arrived.

To say any more about this story would give too much away. It was incredibly difficult to write the blurb for the cover for that very reason. Just let’s say that things are not always as they seem, and some times good people are forced to do bad things.

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

I am a huge planner. I don’t always stick to the plan, but I have to really understand my characters and what is motivating them before I start. So I have detailed character outlines for each of them usually including a picture that I find on Google images. I know what their favourite drinks are, what colour lipstick they wear (when appropriate, of course), their hobbies, the biggest thing that has ever happened to them, and what their story goal is. It is so easy to write books in which the characters can’t be differentiated, and to avoid that I want to get to know my characters really well.

In addition to having a plot timeline, I also have character timelines. I need to know what year they were born, when they met their partners, when their children were born – things that happen outside of the story, but may be referenced. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book and thought “that’s not right – the child would have only been two at the time” or something similar.

And then because my books tend to have complex plots, I flowchart the main themes. This is the bit that sometimes goes to pot when I’m writing because the story starts to have a life of its own. But I use a piece of software called Scrivener to write my first draft. With that, I can attach keywords to individual scenes, with each keyword relating to a plot point in the story. I can then search on these keywords and reveal only the scenes that are relevant. That way, I can check each element of the story to make sure there are no loose ends or inconsistencies.

What books and authors have inspired you as a reader and writer?

I think my early inspiration came from Daphne du Maurier. I would say that Rebecca is one of my favourite books of all times – and of course, just like my books, in Rebecca you could say that good people are moved to do bad things. It was the whole sense of suspicion and threat that had me hooked, but a great love story at the same time.

Writers like Val McDermid are responsible for raising my interest in thrillers, and Harlan Coben’s early stand alone books made me think about writing from the perspective of the protagonist instead of always from the point of view of the police. I am now a fan of Sharon Bolton’s books too, which can be really dark. I am a member of a book club now, though, and trying hard to read as many non-thrillers as possible.

Sleep Tight cover image

Sleep Tight cover image

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

Make sure you do your research. Even if you decide to stretch the truth, be sure you have your facts right. There was one point in SLEEP TIGHT that I thought was a pretty safe bet – part of the book is set on Alderney, which is classed as the UK (it’s a Crown Dependency) and I assumed that – should it be necessary – a British policeman could arrest a suspect on Alderney. Not true! Fortunately, I happened to mention in passing to one of the two Alderney policemen, and he put me straight. So it really is important to check every detail.

Other than that, I would advise any writer to have their book professionally edited. I always believed that editing meant proof reading, and had no idea what it REALLY meant. There is the structural editing in which you might be told to cut things down, reorganise them, change points of view – and that can be expensive. But as a minimum you need a proper copy-edit – somebody to tell you about inconsistencies as well as typos. My copy edits are more red than black when they come back – but it’s all really good stuff. My copy editor picked up things such as two different people being described as deranged, even though the descriptions were a hundred pages apart. Repetition of words is a huge thing that they can help you to improve on, and I would seriously consider this.

But other than that, make sure your book is as good as it possibly can be, with a great title and then if you can’t find an agent or a publisher, don’t be frightened to self-publish. But if you do, you need to ask yourself a question: why are you publishing your book? The three most obvious answers would be:

I just want to see it in print (or virtual print). If that’s the case, stick it up there, and admire your Amazon page from time to time, and get on with the next book

I want as many people as possible to read my book, but I’m not concerned with making money.If that’s the case, consider using Amazon’s free posting and just make sure you let as many of the free sites know as possible.

I want my book to be a commercial success. If that’s what you want, then not only do you have to be sure your book is the best it can possibly be, but also you need to learn about marketing, and you are going to have to dedicate some time to getting it noticed. And you are probably going to have to pay for a really good cover design.

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

I am really looking forward to the rest of this year. I am starting on my new novel, and I am going to be attending a few events in the UK over the course of the year, including the London Book Fair, the Literary Festival and the Crime Festival at Harrogate, so I’m hoping to meet a lot of people that up to now I have only spoken to on Twitter or Facebook.

I’m also hoping to move in to a new place to live, which, if I can reach agreement with the current owners, will be a spectacular home overlooking the sea. I’m also hoping to take a trip up the Irrawaddy River in Burma – but that’s gone on the back burner a bit because of the move and the new book. But there’s certainly plenty to be excited about.

It sounds like it’s going to be a busy year!

A huge thank to you Rachel Abbott for dropping by and answering our questions.

You can find out more about SLEEP TIGHT and Rachel’s other books on her website over at http://www.rachel-abbott.com/ on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RachelAbbott1Writer and follow her on Twitter as @Rachel_Abbott

 

 

CTG Interviews: Author Jessie Keane

Author Jessie Keane

Author Jessie Keane

Today I’m really excited to be joined by bestselling British author, Jessie Keane, crime writer and creator of several crime series including the Annie Carter crime novels featuring the fabulous strong female lead character Annie Carter. 

So, to the interview …

What inspired you to create Annie Carter?

Annie Carter sort of appeared in my head when I was at a very low ebb. I wanted to write something entirely for my own pleasure – I didn’t care whether it got published or not, this was for me. So I was able to let rip and let aspects of my own personality come to the fore when I created Annie. She’s not so much me, as everything I would really like to be. Forthright, beautiful, a firm friend and a deadly enemy. She’s tough, and I like that. Not perfect, but a real trooper. She dominated Dirty Game, my first crime novel, and she’s been chucking her weight about ever since.

Did you plan the Annie Carter series from the outset?

Emphatically, no. Once I’d written her in Dirty Game, it just seemed a natural progression to continue her story in Black Widow, and then I got excited about her and the Mafia in Scarlet Women, and then Playing Dead, and Ruthless.I would love to do another Annie book, and when I get that crucial idea, I will.

Dive right in, or plan the story first?

I so admire writers who plan everything first! I have friends who do this, and I wish I did too, and I’ve tried … but it just doesn’t work for me. If I try to plan, I find I’m bored with the story before I’ve written even a handful of chapters; whereas in my own style (strictly seat-of-the-pants) I rush up to my study every morning, keen to get started on whatever comes next.

RUTHLESS cover image

RUTHLESS cover image

What advice can you give to new crime writers trying for publication?

Make sure you love writing crime. Always write what you love and what comes easiest to you, what really suits your writer’s ‘voice’. You’ll know it when you find it. And persist! That’s really boring advice, I know, but you’ll get rejection slips (unless you’re very lucky) and some downright rude refusals. Take it on the chin. Keep going.

And, finally, what does 2014 have in store for you?

Publication of LAWLESS, the second Ruby Darke book (sequel to NAMELESS) in July. Lots of interviews and festivals and fun, in between which I’ll be writing a brand new book (my 10th) with a brand new heroine, the deadline for which is November. So it’s going to be a full year, and by the end of it I’ll be starting out on my 11th book, so it’s all go!

Sounds great – and lots to look forward to reading.

Many thanks to Jessie Keane for popping by and answering our questions.

You can find out more about Jessie and her writing over on her website at http://jessiekeane.com/

And check out our review of RUTHLESS, the most recent Annie Carter novel, here

CTG Interviews: Ed Chatterton author of DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN

Author Ed Chatterton

Author Ed Chatterton

Today I’m excited to welcome Ed Chatterton to the CTG blog. As well as having writing over twenty children’s novels (published under the name Martin Chatterton), Ed is the author of the recently published crime novel, Down Among the Dead Men, the second book in the DCI Frank Keane series, published by Arrow.

And so, to the questions …

Before you starting writing crime fiction you’d already written over twenty highly successful children’s books. What fresh challenge did writing fiction for an adult crime reader audience bring?

‘Highly successful’ might be overstating it: I’d been doing pretty well with some books and less so with others, just like most writers. The books I write for children are largely comedies – surreal farces, often with big themes like ‘death’ or ‘the physical universe’ or ‘nose-picking’. There were, particularly in some of the more recent children’s books, crime elements in there too. Two books – ‘The Brain Finds A Leg’ and ‘The Brain Full of Holes’ – were full blown detective fiction, albeit with a comic twist. So the transition into adult crime fiction was less challenging than it might have been for a debut author. The main change I found was that my characters can swear (and some of them do, a lot), can have sex, and can be more violent. From a technical point of view, adult crime writing requires more precision in terms of plot and, given that my books are complex, requires me to use my rapidly shrinking brain more often. In my children’s books if I got to a difficult plot point I would usually insert a T-rex or a time machine. That’s less easy with gritty adult fiction, as most crime readers tend to notice things like that.

Your recent crime novel, Down Among the Dead Men, is set in Liverpool, Los Angeles and Australia. What was it about these particular settings that inspired to you to pick them?

Liverpool featured because the story is a continuation (in terms of some of the characters) of the first book, A Dark Place To Die. In that first book Frank Keane is one of a number of characters. In Down Among the Dead Men I wanted to focus on Frank and see how far I could push him. Frank’s a Liverpool cop who gets pulled into a case that starts relatively small (an apparent  domestic murder-suicide) but quickly gets darker and widens out into something much larger in scale. I picked Los Angeles for two reasons: the first is that I’ve been there a number of times and there were locations I wanted to use. The high desert near Palm Springs and Twentynine Palms is a very evocative landscape (the working title for Down Among the Dead Men was Twentynine Palms). The second is so that I could continue to open out the stories from a single location. I’m not a huge fan of every case in a series being located in exactly the same place. I’d make an exception for George Pelecanos with his Washington-based novels, but single location books too often end up becoming sterile or repetitive. I used to live in the US so I am fond of the place and enjoy writing American characters. The Aussie connection dates back to A Dark Place To Die. Two of the characters from that book, Menno Koopman and Warren Eckhardt, make a re-appearance. Koopman, I think, will become a character who I might develop more as a stand alone. If he lives through Down Among the Dead Men that is . . .

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

Raymond Chandler said that a good story isn’t devised, it is distilled and I think that’s a pretty good description of my approach. I start with a basic idea, or set of ideas and then I let them go wherever they take me. I often have a rough ‘destination’ in mind with a skeleton narrative and a very strong sense of the kind of story I want to tell, but the fine details are worked out in writing. This usually means that I am constantly redrafting and editing – which is fortunately something I love doing – and I find this approach prevents the books being formulaic. My thinking is that if I don’t know exactly where the story is going then that makes it doubly interesting for the reader. I think you can overplan, just the same way that you can over-write. In my stories, I honestly don’t think the reader can guess what way the story is going.

Down Among the Dead Men cover image

Down Among the Dead Men cover image

Your books have been likened to those of Peter James and Ian Rankin. Which crime writers’ novels do you most like to read?

I try to avoid British crime books as I get very jealous and envious and bitter and twisted if they are any good. I’m flattered to be compared to either Peter James and Ian Rankin and, weirdly enough, I met both of them recently although, since I was several continents off being described as sober, they may not look back on the meeting quite as fondly as I do. From what I can remember, they are both lovely blokes but far too successful for my liking. In truth, American crime writers are more my taste and, since they are further away, don’t seem as threatening. I already mentioned Pelecanos who I think is just a little bit special, but I also love Elmore Leonard, Richard Price, Joe Lansdale, Carl Hiassen. One of my favourite books is the one-off, Blackburn by Bradley Denton. I do have a real soft spot for Patricia Highsmith’s stuff too. Some of the Scandi crime is good but I’m a bit sick of the adulation doled out to anyone vaguely Nordic who so much as writes a shopping list at the moment. Of the Scandinavians I like Asa Larsson best. At one point, when I knew my crime series was coming out, I seriously considered adopting a Nordic-sounding pseudonym. In my bleaker 3am moments, I regret not doing so. I reckon I’d have scooped at least three awards by now.

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

All the usual gubbins: make sure you have something to say, make sure you keep reading, make sure you keep writing. Don’t think that publication is the ‘win’: publication is just the ticket into the gladiator ring. Maybe this too: don’t listen to too much prescriptive crap about the mechanics of story-telling, plot points, ‘arcs’, use of semi-colons, use of italics, whatever it is. If Stephen King tells stories a certain way that doesn’t mean that you need to do that. Elmore Leonard’s famous ‘ten rules’ of writing, including that ‘don’t start with the weather’ nonsense applies only if you are Elmore Leonard. Despite my healthy man-crush on Leonard, I always thought that was too restrictive. I actually began a kids book with ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ once just to prove a point. And never, ever, do anything Neil Gaiman tells you to unless it relates to hair.

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

I’m just about to complete the third in this series which takes place in Liverpool, Berlin and Western Scotland and has the rise of neo-Nazism as a backdrop. I’m continuing to write The Last Slave Ship which is a dual narrative novel about the final slave trading voyage from Liverpool and a contemporary race-hate crime which erupts into riots. This book is part of my PhD which just goes to show one of two things. Either (a) crime writers aren’t as dumb as we look or (b) they’ll let just about anyone do a PhD these days. I’m continuing to illustrate children’s books and will be drawing pictures for a book by Jonathan Emmett. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that my‘Mort’ kids series, which has just been bought for development as an animated series by Southern Star, makes it past the pilot stage and into production. Lastly, I’ll be working with a UK TV/film company on bringing Frank Keane to the screen in one way or another. Should keep me busy.

Sounds like it’ll be a hectic year!

A massive thanks to Ed Chatterton for dropping by the blog and allowing us to question him. Watch out for our review of Down Among the Dead Men next week …

CTG Interviews: Koethi Zan author of THE NEVER LIST

Koethi Zan (c) Pieter M van Hattem

Koethi Zan (c) Pieter M van Hattem

Today I’m delighted to welcome Koethi Zan, author of the fabulous psychological thriller, THE NEVER LIST, to the CTG blog.

I found THE NEVER LIST both spellbinding and chilling. Through Sarah (Caroline) the reader experiences the horror, and impact, of her ordeal in a way that feels very authentic. How did you go about researching the book?

I researched the book by reading essentially everything available about the experiences of women who have been abducted: their memoirs, trial transcripts, psychology textbooks, third party accounts and newspaper articles. I was quite submerged in it, which was a very dark and scary place to be for so long a time.  Of course, I can never know what that experience is truly like, but I feel I have developed a particular empathy for those victims, and I hope what I’ve learned comes across in the book.

For the BDSM parts of the book, I read books on the topic, but also spent a lot of time going down the internet rabbit hole of that culture.  I found myself on many shocking chat boards, websites, and blogs. At a certain point, I’d read so many disturbing accounts that I started to believe I could never be surprised by anything.  But there was always that one more site, one more story, one more image.

The idea of Sarah and Jennifer, after experiencing loss and trauma while still at school, creating their never list is fascinating. How did you get the idea for the never list, and would you call yourself a list person?

The relationship between Sarah and Jennifer is loosely based on my own relationship with my best friend.  She and I never had a formal, written list of ‘don’ts,’ but we did have a set of rules we’d follow because we were both slightly paranoid.  Perhaps not as much as my characters, but there are many shared themes in their lives and ours.

I am definitely a list person, and always have been.  I keep multiple to do lists at all times, each with different time horizons.  Otherwise the world would be too overwhelming.

What books and authors have inspired you as a reader and writer? 

Two crime fiction writers who influenced my book are quite different from one another: Patricia Highsmith, whose pacing is slow and menacing, her technique literary and psychological, and Steig Larsson, who is all action, action, action, with complex and dramatic storylines.

I started reading Highsmith years ago, and though I would not dare compare myself to her, she sparked my interest in crime fiction.  I love how she follows the progression of the criminal mind, usually making the reader complicit with the perpetrator, living out the story from his or her point of view.  For my book, I wanted to flip her formula on its head and give the victim’s perspective, so the reader would be intimately involved with the crime and its impact on the psyche, not just trying to solve the who, where and what of it.

Only in retrospect did I realize that Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy had such a huge impact on my book.  On the one hand, I love his fast action and over-the-top plotting.  Anything can happen in his books as long as it propels the story along, and that’s liberating for a writer.  On the other hand, I think my approach to violence is in stark contrast to his.  I read (and love) a lot of Scandinavian fiction, and as with Larsson’s, the violence is often explicit and raw.  I believe in uncovering this dark side of humanity—I think that’s a healthy way to cope with it—but I prefer to use suggestion rather than elaborate, graphic detail.  I think that technique can be quite effective because the reader personalizes the terror, drawing on his or her own worst nightmares to fill in the blanks.

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

I knew from early on how the book would begin, how it would end, and generally how the characters would develop.  Those elements formed the outline of the book for me, and the rest fell into place as I wrote it. I never wrote an outline.

My actual writing process was driven by necessity. When I was writing The Never List, I had one hour a day to write, from 5 am to 6 am.  After that, I had to get the kids to school and go to work.  I set myself a minimum word count of 500 a day, five days a week.  And I had an incentive plan:  if I hit 10,000 words in any calendar month, I could take the rest of the month off.  I kept finishing earlier an earlier each month.

Now that I’m writing full-time, I still stick to my early morning writing routine and the word count requirements.  I’m conditioned to write in the early mornings now, and I love starting my day with my word count done.

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST was an outstanding debut, and one of my favourite reads of 2013. What was your route to publication?

I was quite lucky. My husband is a writer and so when I’d finished a draft of the book, he mentioned it to his agent. I wasn’t quite ready to show it to anyone—no one had read a word of it yet, but his agent wanted to see it and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.  It turned out that they liked it at the agency, so I was pretty over the moon about that.  They gave me some notes and we worked on it a bit, and then we took it to publishers. The day we sold it was certainly one of the happiest of my life. There were plenty of tears and celebrations in my house for at least a week.  I’m still pinching myself.

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

I am writing a second book now–not a sequel, but a different stand-alone book.  I continue to be interested in the same themes:  power, psychological disturbances, dealing with a dark past.  My goal is to write a book that builds suspense but also deals with complex issues.  I hope to finish it up this spring.

 

That’s definitely a book I’m  looking forward to reading.

A huge thank you to Koethi Zan for popping by the CTG blog.

THE NEVER LIST is out on 30th January in paperback. You can read our review of it here: https://crimethrillergirl.com/2014/01/27/ctg-reviews-the-never-list-by-koethi-zan/