#DeepDownDead DEBUT DIARY: THE BLOG TOUR IS ROLLING!

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As Crime Thriller Girl I’ve hosted stops on loads of blog tours, but it feels kind of strange that it’s now my debut novel that’s getting a tour!

Strange but very cool!

I’ve been blown away by the number of stops on the DEEP DOWN DEAD blog tour and am totally indebted to the fabulous bloggers who are taking part. There’s going to be reviews, interviews, giveaways and guest blogs from me (and some double acts with a few of my writing mates).

Check out the dates above for details.

Wooooohoooooo – we’re off and rolling!

 

IN TRANSLATION: ROSIE HEDGER TALKS ABOUT TRANSLATING THE BIRD TRIBUNAL BY AGNES RAVATN

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Today I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on THE BIRD TRIBUNAL blog tour, and I’m joined by Rosie Hedger who translated this fabulous book by Agnes Ravatn from the Norwegian original.

Over to Rosie …

I was thrilled when Karen announced she would be publishing The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn – the book was very popular in Norway, and Ravatn is a well-respected writer in her homeland. However, I must admit to feeling anxious at the prospect of translating her work, fearful that I might not do the book justice. Every translation has its own unique challenges, but as much as I might tear my hair out in my attempts to find the right word or phrase, these challenges are really what make the job so interesting.

One particular challenge when translating Ravatn’s work was the style of the writing, which has an almost breathless quality at points: sentences would often be very short and staccato-like, and these would often start without pronouns. Whilst this works in Norwegian, it doesn’t have the same effect in English, so the challenge was often to replicate these aspects of the style in sometimes different ways, retaining the tension for readers that is evident in the prose, as well as in the plot. Short sentences did not present the only difficult, however, and equally challenging were those much longer sentences, as Allis’ mind churns over and over things, analysing everything she does in minute detail – one sentence on p. 63 leaps to mind, with one sentence coming in at around half a page! I always read the entire manuscript aloud at least once, and this sentence troubled me for many weeks before I felt that Allis’ obsessive inner monologue sounded right.

I’m hesitant to say too much about the ending for those who have yet to read the book, but I will say that it was one of my favourite sections to work on, as well as being one of the most challenging from a translation perspective. When I first read the final chapter, I returned to it three or four times to get my head around exactly what was going on. Agnes plays with language and form throughout the novel, but particularly in the final few pages, where she also weaves in the elements of Norse mythology peppered throughout the text. The final few sentences are some of my favourites; while translating, I did quite a bit of research and reading on ‘Völuspá’, the first poem of the Poetic Edda. According to this poem, a new world emerges after Ragnarok, but even here the dragon Nithhogg is seen ‘sweep[ing] through the air from Nithafjoll and into the new world with human corpses nestled among its feathers.’ This dark image has stuck with me ever since – it seemed the perfect symbol for Allis’ own shame, which taints her attempts at building a new life, and is a sublime conclusion to the novel.

The Bird Tribunal offers astute commentary on many topical social issues – it touches upon the expectations woman place on themselves (and other women) to exude perfect femininity, and the impossibility in achieving these arbitrary targets. It looks at notions of shame and vulnerability, and unhealthy relationships between damaged individuals. Allis worries about every word to cross her lips, idolising Sigurd in ways that he almost certainly doesn’t deserve, and finding her only validation in his approval. It takes a long time for reality to bite for Allis, and when it does, the consequences are severe. One of the most interesting aspects of the work for me, though, is the unreliability of Allis’ narration – her perspective is the only one that we have, leaving the reader with a number of questions, and making for many an interesting and enjoyable translation challenge.

A big thank you to Rosie Hedger for coming on the CTG blog today to talk about translating THE BIRD TRIBUNAL.

THE BIRD TRIBUNAL is out now from Orenda Books. You can buy it here from Amazon

In the meantime, here’s the blurb: “Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape … TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough … Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.”

And be sure to check out all the fabulous THE BIRD TRIBUNAL blog tour stops …

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Even the Dead Blog Tour: Guest Post by Benjamin Black

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I’m delighted to welcome Benjamin Black to the CTG blog for today’s stop on his Even The Dead Blog Tour. Benjamin’s kindly agreed to talk about how Even The Dead came into being.

So, over to Benjamin …

The origins of a novel are deeply mysterious, or at least they are so for me. When I look back at the end of the writing I cannot remember setting out, but seem instead to have been always somehow already on my way, by some kind of rough magic. Nor do I retain any memory of the process of devising the plot: it always just seems to have been there, ready-made and waiting for me to flesh it out. Unlikely, I agree, yet that’s how it is.

I am convinced that the less research a novelist does, the better. This is, I know, a convenient attitude for a writer such as I, who believes in the supreme power of the imagination—and who has not the historian’s tolerance for old, or even new, dry documents. It’s one of the peculiarities of fiction, that what a novelist makes up is always more convincing on the page than what he takes from the actual world. Of course, the ‘actual world’ and the people in it constitute the only material the writer has to work with, or from, unless his métier is science fiction or fantasy: and even then . . .

The imagination, the concentrated act of imagining, gives life to character, plot, setting.

I am lucky in that my Quirke novels are set in the 1950s, when pathology was not the exact and intricately technical science that it is nowadays, with the consequence that my protagonist can get away with being such an amateurish professional.

‘Procedural’ novels bore me, and I would never attempt to write one. Quirke is interesting as a human being who happens to be a pathologist. And as for his old pal the Dublin detective Inspector Hackett, he could no more be a Sherlock Holmes or an Hercules Poirot than Quirke could don the white coat and rubber gloves of Patricia Cornwell’s admirable Dr Kay Scarpetta.

So where did Even the Dead originate? Search me—though the search would not turn up much. I suppose I must have started with the circumstances of a crime, and the idea of a shadowy Dublin fraternity determined to keep that crime hidden. I also had in mind an elderly chap I used to see about the streets of Dublin twenty or thirty years ago. His name was Michael O’Riordan, and he was the leader of the Irish Communist Party—a small party, as one might imagine—who as he passed me by used to roll a hard-boiled eye in my direction, seeming to know who I was. Perhaps he had read something of mine? He was generally reviled and ridiculed—I had an aunt who considered him the Devil incarnate—but I admired his fortitude and tenacity in an age of intolerance.

He it was who gave me the character of Sam Corless, Spanish Civil War veteran, leader of the Socialist Left Alliance Party, and the father of my murder victim. But by then, I was already on my way . . .

Big thanks to Benjamin Black for stopping by the CTG blog today.

EVEN THE DEAD is out on the 28th January 2016. Here’s what the blurb says: “Two victims – one dead, one missing. Even the Dead is a visceral, gritty and cinematic thriller from Benjamin Black. Every web has a spider sitting at the centre of it. Pathologist Quirke is back working in the city morgue, watching over Dublin’s dead. When a body is found in a burnt-out car, Quirke is called in to verify the apparent suicide of an up-and-coming civil servant. But Quirke can’t shake a suspicion of foul play.The only witness has vanished, every trace of her wiped away. Piecing together her disappearance, Quirke finds himself drawn into the shadowy world of Dublin’s elite – secret societies and high church politics, corrupt politicians and men with money to lose. When the trail eventually leads to Quirke’s own family, the past and present collide. But crimes of the past are supposed to stay hidden, and Quirke has shaken the web. Now he must wait to see what comes running out.”

You can pre-order it from Amazon here

To find out more about Benjamin Black hop on over on his website www.benjaminblackbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @BenBlackAuthor

And be sure to check out all the other fabulous tour stops on the EVEN THE DEAD Blog Tour …

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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 #PrettyBaby Blog Tour: CTG reviews Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

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What the blurb says: “A chance encounter. An act of kindness. A tangled web of lies. How far would you go to help a stranger? When Heidi Wood catches a fleeting glimpse of a teenage girl on a Chicago train platform, clutching a baby in her arms, she can’t get the image out of her head. Heidi is a charitable woman – but her husband and daughter are horrified when she returns home one day with the young woman, Willow and her four-month-old baby in tow. Dishevelled and apparently homeless, the girl could be a criminal – or worse. But despite her family’s objections, Heidi offers them refuge. As Willow starts to get back on her feet, disturbing clues to her past begin to surface and Heidi must decide how far she’s willing to go to help a stranger. What starts as an act of kindness quickly spirals into something far more twisted than anyone could have anticipated.”

This is a stunningly good second novel by Mary Kubica whose debut – THE GOOD GIRL – was one of my top reads of 2014.

Heidi is a caring, generous woman in a time-poor marriage complete with the challenges of a fast-growing up daughter and all the angst that can bring. She wants to do the right thing, driven by the need to help others, and so when she encounters Willow and baby Ruby she is unable to turn a blind eye like all the other commuters on the train. But bringing Willow and the baby home with her drives a wedge into the stress fractures in her family relationships, turning them from cracks to chasms. Becoming increasingly distant from her husband and her daughter, Heidi focuses on Willow and baby Ruby, even though she has no idea of the secrets they are hiding.

Both chilling psychological thriller and an emotion-filled study of a modern family’s life and the secrets they keep from each other – the doubts, the temptations, and the silent grief of a never spoken about sadness that never goes away – Pretty Baby has an ever building sense of unease that puts you on edge and compels you to turn the pages ever-faster to discover what has (and will) happen.

Perfect for psychological thriller fans.

 

Be sure to check out Mary Kubica’s website at www.marykubica.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryKubica

You can buy Pretty Baby from Amazon by following the link on the book cover below:

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Have a read of my review of Mary Kubica’s debut novel THE GOOD GIRL here

And be sure to check out all the other great #PrettyBaby Blog Tour stops …

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