The CSI Effect: Kate Bendelow talks about forensics and how you can join the next Crime Fiction Masterclass

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Today Kate Bendelow, who is a servicing CSI and teaches the sections on forensics and pathology in the hugely popular Crime Fiction Masterclass, is taking the reins here at the CTG blog to talk about the CSI effect…

“As a serving crime scene investigator of 16 years, I have experienced a lot of issues brought on by the CSI effect. When I first started with the police I was employed as a SOCO (scenes of crime officer) and still refer to myself as such. The unfortunate introduction of ‘that’ awful American programme, led instrumentally to us being rebranded as CSIs as this became the acronym the public began to recognise. As a result, I have been asked at scenes why I am using the wrong torch, (it wasn’t like the ones the actors use on the telly) and why I wasn’t considering searching for traces of fibre at a burglary scene (useless without a suspect’s clothing to compare to and the cost implication of comparison would not be in the public’s interest). Whist frustrating enough in the day-to-day, its worrying that such misconceptions may influence a jury.

By providing writers of page and screen with advice on procedure and highlighting the most popular misconceptions, it gives them the opportunity to write with accuracy and authenticity. In turn, I hope this addresses the misconceptions brought on by the CSI effect and stops people like me throwing things at the television when I see things like detectives trampling through a crimes scene without so much as a pair of nitrile gloves on. I also like sharing anecdotes and talking about office culture to give people an insight into what my job is really like. From the tedious and mundane to the shocking, disturbing and downright hilarious.”

Want to learn more? Here’s how…

The acclaimed Crime Fiction Masterclass is coming to Cambridge! Whether you are a crime writer or just a fan, this is for you.

After a number of successful stints for The Guardian, as well as events in Manchester, Brighton, Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, Morecambe & Vice and the Harrogate International Crime Fiction Festival, four experts in their fields bring their unrivalled knowledge and experience to Cambridge.

Featuring bestselling author and tutor Erin Kelly, ex-senior detective, bestselling author and adviser to Peter James, Graham Bartlett, serving CSI and author of The Real CSI, Kate Bendelow, and bestselling author and practising criminal lawyer Neil White, the day-long masterclass will give you the inside track on how murders are really solved to vastly improve your crime writing.

The masterclass will inform, entertain and inspire you. Book direct at https://crimefictionmasterclasscambridge.eventbrite.co.uk

 

#CrimeFiction Event Alert: Second ‘First Monday’ coming up on 9th May at City University, London

After the stonking success of the sell-out first ‘First Monday’ crime fiction event in April the second event in the series is approaching. But, don’t be fooled, the May event is actually being held on the second Monday – 9th May – to avoid the bank holiday!

If you’ve not heard of it before, First Monday is a monthly crime fiction/thriller night held in Central London. It’s a mix between a social evening and a literary festival panel – with the panel event happening first, from 6.30pm in the College Building at City University (off St John Street, near Angel tube) and the social element taking place from 8pmish in a nearby pub.

Great for readers, writers and industry types, first Monday is an informal get together for like-minded folks to meet up, talk crime fiction, and have a few drinks! There’s a small charge for the panel part of the event – £5 which includes a glass of wine compliments of Goldsboro Books. Goldsboro Books also sell books by the authors at the event, and after the panel there’s plenty of time for signing.

Brought to you by the creative minds of the fab foursome David Headley, Harry Illingworth, Katherine Armstrong and William Ryan, along with new recruit Ella Bowman, this series of events is already set to become one of the must-attend monthly events in crime writing.

Line ups announced so far are:

Monday 9th May – Christopher Fowler, William Shaw, Jack Grimwood, and Sarah Hilary with chair: Jake Kerridge

Monday 6th June – Peter James, Sharon Bolton, Mark Hardie, and Chris Morgan Jones with chair: James Kidd

With a capacity of 110, tickets sell out fast, so to find out more and book your ticket go to www.goldsborobooks.com/events

Follow First Monday on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FirstMondayCrime/

And on Twitter @1stMondayCrime #1stMondayCrime

#BloodyBlogTour Day 9: CTG interviews Dr Kathryn Harkup – author of A IS FOR ARSENIC

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Today I’m thrilled to be part of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival #BloodyBlogTour and delighted to be welcoming the fabulous Dr Kathryn Harkup to the CTG blog. Kathryn’s background as an avid Agatha Christie reader, and chemist with a doctorate on her favourite chemicals – phosphines – plus loads of postdoc research, makes her perfectly placed to investigate just how much science fact went into the fiction of Agatha Christie’s novels. Her book A IS FOR ARSENIC: The Poisons of Agatha Christie does just that.

It’s a fascinating read, investigating fourteen of the poisons Christie used in her books and looking at the scientific reality behind the poisons, the feasibility of getting hold of them, administering them, and detecting them historically and in modern times, and comparing actual cases with the murders written in Christie’s books.

So, welcome Kathryn to the CTG blog. Let’s kick off with my first question …

The premise of A IS FOR ARSENIC – a book focused on fourteen of the poisons Agatha Christie used, and the novels she used them in – is so intriguing. What was it that first gave you the idea?

It came about from a discussion with my editor at Bloomsbury. At first I was going to base each chapter on a different Agatha Christie book, but as I started researching it I realised it would be better to base the chapters on the poisons and draw on several different books for each. As I worked on it, and chatted about what I was doing with friends, I got asked the question ‘are you ordering it alphabetically?’ I wasn’t at that point, but when they asked me it seemed a great idea.

You say in the book that you’ve been a Christie fan since you were a teenager. How did you decide which poisons to feature in A IS FOR ARSENIC?

Well, the ones everyone knows were easy to pick – like cyanide and barbiturates. Some poisons have the most fascinating histories, in the way they were used, or in medical terms, so I picked them too. The science is subtle in Christie’s work, but it’s all there, so I re-read all her books, made a list and revised down from there. The list of novels including arsenic and cyanide was huge, but including Sparkling Cyanide was an obvious must!

In the book, you show how each poison was used in Christie’s novels, and investigate the feasibility of its use both at the time the novel was written and in the present day. How did you go about researching this?

Lots of background reading! Scientific texts and Christie’s novels. My Google search history is amazing – I must be on all kinds of watch lists! The British Library was great, they answered all my many questions and were so helpful. Reading isn’t a chore when what you’re looking at is so interesting. I just wish I could have fitted in more [to the book]!

What was your favourite part of the writing process?

The reading and the research. I love learning new things so any opportunity to do so is fantastic. As the focus of A IS FOR ARSENIC is so specific I had a clear goal and could be really structured in now I did the research.

Have you been tempted to follow in Christie’s footsteps and write a novel?

No! I absolutely couldn’t. I’m in awe of people who do. Having read 83 of her books I’ve only once guessed the murderer! I’d be rubbish at writing fiction – I’m creative in some ways, but not in that. You could say that the focus of my work is very different to Christie’s – my aim is to illuminate how things are done, Christie’s was to disguise and cover.

If you had to pick one Christie novel, which would you say was your favourite?

For sheer fun it would have to be the ABC Murders, but there’s no poison in that. So, if you’re after a poisoning one, I’d pick Five Little Pigs as it’s so well plotted, with the poison symptoms threaded so brilliantly into the plot.

You and Christie share a passion for chemistry. Do you think that reading her books had any influence on your choice for career?

I’d like to say yes, but I doubt it did. It was the problem solving aspect of Christie’s books that I loved so much. And you could say it’s the problem solving, puzzle, aspects of science that interests me. In terms of the chemistry in her novels, I think it probably passed me by back then. Christie explains all the necessary information, but does it in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re having a science lesson.

Christie was a pioneer of her time, both in terms of her writing and also as a women working in a scientific profession. Still today there are far fewer female than male scientists; what do you think can be done to encourage women into science?

I think it’s great that there’s lots more popular science around now. It makes everyone more aware of science. When Christie was working and writing science was a lot more distant – it was mainly done by men who’d been to University – but now it’s more accessible. I would really encourage anyone – whatever background or gender they are from – who wants to do science to do so.

You’ll be appearing at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in September. What can the audience look forward to hearing about during the event?

All sorts of disgusting stories about horrible poisons! It’ll be good fun. Christie has a great humour to her books. Also, as far as it’s possible, I’ll talk about the good things about poisons too. The main thing I want to do is to show how awesome Agatha Christie is and how great the science behind her books is too.

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

I’ll be very busy this autumn going all over the place talking about Agatha Christie and her poisons. I’ll also be doing more research and more writing. I have the best job!

Huge thanks to Dr Kathryn Harkup for spending time chatting to us about A IS FOR ARSENIC: The Poisons of Agatha Christie.

Kathryn is appearing at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Stirling on Saturday 12th September. To celebrate 125 years since the birth of Agatha Christie, Kathryn will be joined by novelist Ragnar Jonasson – an Agatha Christie expert who has translated fourteen of her books into Icelandic. Together they will offer unique insights into the work of the enduringly popular author who’s still an influence and inspiration to crime writers around the world today. To find out more and book tickets, hop on over to the Bloody Scotland website at www.bloodyscotland.com/event/the-poisons-of-agatha-christie/

And be sure to check out A IS FOR ARSENIC: The Poisons of Agatha Christie – it’s a fabulous read and a real must for fans of Agatha Christie, murder mysteries, and anyone who wants to learn more about the real life science behind the poisons used in fiction. The book is published on 10th September by Bloomsbury. To find out more and pre-order, click here to go to Amazon.

And don’t forget to check out the rest of the wonderful stops along the #BloodyBlogTour …

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Event Alert: Chip Lit Fest – Crime Day, 25th April 2015

Chip Lit Fest logo

Chip Lit Fest logo

The lovely spring literature festival Chip Lit Fest has a day (and a package) especially geared towards crime fiction fans. On Saturday 25th April 2015 you can spend the day soaking up the festival atmosphere and listening to some amazing crime and thriller writers talking about their books and all things writerly.

Here are some of the great sessions they’ve got lined up …

10.00 – 11.00am* New York Times bestselling author Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher series, will be in conversation with bestselling crime writer Mark Billingham, creator of the Tom Thorne series.

12.00 – 1.00pm* Breaking Through: hear from bestselling authors Mel Sherratt, Mark Edwards and C L Taylor about what it takes to become a published author.

2.00 – 3.00pm* Nordic Noir: Three of Denmark’s most exciting writers – Sara Blaedel, Kenneth Degnbol and Dagmar Winther talk about the phenomenon that is Nordic Noir.

4.00 – 5.00pm New Voices: meet three new writers who’ve recently made a splash – Paula Hawkins, whose debut thriller The Girl On the Train had a huge buzz around it when it published last month, Renee Knight whose novel Disclaimer was an international sensation, and Jason Hewitt whose novel The Dynamite Room was long listed for the Desmond Elliott prize.

6.00 – 7.00pm* Second Life: SJ Watson, author of the bestselling novel Before I Go to Sleep will be talking about his latest book – Second Life.

Then from 7.45 – 9.30pm it’s the Chip Lit Quiz – hosted by bestselling crime writer Mark Billingham. Test your knowledge alongside writers and festival goers, compete for prizes and celebrate books!

And that’s not all, there are loads of non crime fiction related events, events for children and creative writing sessions for writers – it’s all set to be a fun and informative weekend.

With so many great sessions going on, I’m really looking forward to this festival!

For more information, hop on over to the festival website at http://www.chiplitfest.com/events/package/the-crime-festival and follow them on Twitter @ChipLitFest for up to date festival news.

 

*Indicates the sessions included as part of the Crime Festival package.

 

 

CTG Interviews: Helen Giltrow author of The Distance

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

A few weeks ago I caught up with Helen Giltrow, author of the fabulous crime thriller The Distance. Over a long lunch, sitting in the sun-drenched garden of a beautiful Oxfordshire pub, we tried to out-booknerd each other and talked all things books and writing.

First, a quick reminder about the book. Here’s what the blurb says:

“Charlotte Alton has put her old life behind her. The life where she bought and sold information, unearthing secrets buried too deep for anyone else to find, or fabricating new identities for people who need their histories erased.

But now she has been offered one more job. To get a hit-man into an experimental new prison and take out someone who according to the records isn’t there at all.

It’s impossible. A suicide mission. And quite possibly a set-up. So why can’t she say no?”

And so, to the questions …

Karla/Charlotte is a fabulous, strong female lead. What was your inspiration for creating her?

Well, originally the main character was supposed to be the hit-man, Simon Johanssen, and Karla was the character he went to for information. In the earliest draft she didn’t appear until the third chapter. Around that time I went on an Arvon writing course with Val McDermid as one of the tutors. When Val read the opening, she said that the first couple of chapters were okay, but the story got really interesting when Karla appeared.

Shortly afterwards, I had to take an eighteen month break from writing and by the time I went back to the story I knew it needed to be Karla’s book. I found Karla easy to write, in fact I probably share a few of her characteristics – like her need for control, and her obsessiveness!

The Distance – which I loved – is set in the near future. What made you decide that as your setting rather than the present day?

The setting came out of the plot and the characters. Johanssen has to break into a prison to carry out a hit on another prisoner, but as that prisoner is a woman – and we don’t have mixed prisons here in the UK – I needed a near-future setting to make it work. So, really, it wasn’t something I chose, it came from the needs of the story.

But it’s not a futuristic novel – the setting’s only a couple of years ahead of where we are now.

You use the present tense throughout The Distance which works really well. What was it that prompted you to go for present tense?

I didn’t plan it consciously. It was just that when I started writing, Johanssen’s viewpoint came out in the present tense. I was surprised as I’d always written in the past tense before, but I found I liked it. Then, when I switched to Karla’s viewpoint, present tense seemed to work for her too.

Karla’s scenes are all told in first person – she’s the ‘I’ of the story. Again, it’s just how it came out when I started writing in her viewpoint, whereas Johanssen’s automatically came out in third person – ‘he’. I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t be mixing the two, so I experimented early on, trying Karla’s viewpoint in third, but I didn’t like it – it lost so much of her intensity – so I carried on going with first.

Curiously I’ve had readers tell me that Johanssen’s story is told in first person too – which is wrong, but great! I don’t want readers to think I’m telling them a story. I want them to see it through the characters’ eyes. Of course, present tense helps with that sense of immediacy too. And it really ups the pace.

Helen Giltrow (c) Paul Stuart

Helen Giltrow (c) Paul Stuart

For you, does the creative process start with the character/s, the plot or a combination of the two (or something else)?

For me it’s character. I think even if you have an idea for something, the only way to get to it is through character – you bring out the story from the actions of the characters and what happens to them.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Bit of both! From my childhood up to my early thirties, I wrote a lot without too much planning, but increasingly I felt it wasn’t working for me – the narratives were too loose. I’d have loads of ideas, then fail to tie them together. My job involved a lot of planning, so I thought I ought to be able to plot. I mean, how hard could it be? So when I started work on The Distance, I decided to do a plan. Of course, as soon as I began writing in earnest, I started coming up with ideas I liked better, and dumped the plan completely!

The lure of advance plotting is still strong, and occasionally I fall into the trap of trying to write a detailed plan. I do it because I think it’ll give me the perfect book – which would spare me so much revising and redrafting. But every time the same thing happens. I never find plotting a happy experience: it’s always an outside-in process, whereas writing’s inside-out.

Having said that, it’s hard writing into a void! I think making a plan’s really useful if it’s the thing that gets you writing, or if it helps you get unstuck. Now I tend to write a bit, and then see where I am and retrospectively plan.

What’s your favourite drink?

Oh, definitely my cup of coffee in the morning, before I sit down to work.

Where’s your best place to write?

I’m not one of those people who can write anywhere, on buses or on park benches. I’m best sitting at my desk at home. I write on my battered old laptop; I ought to buy a new one, but I’m slightly scared of changing it now, in case that jinxes me … Does that sound weird?

What advice would you give to writers aspiring to publication?

There’s all the obvious advice like ‘Don’t give up,’ ‘Write every day,’ and ‘Don’t try to second guess the market.’ And that’s all valid. I also think it’s best to write what you want to write because ultimately if you don’t like it it’ll show in your writing. It takes a long time to write a book, so you’re better off writing one you want to read – that way you’re more likely to take the reader with you on the journey.

And lastly, what’s next for you?

I’m back at my laptop, writing the next book!

A huge thank you to Helen Giltrow for letting us grill her.

You can find out more about Helen and her fabulous debut novel – The Distance – over at https://www.orionbooks.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781409126621 and follow her on Twitter @HelenGiltrow

Bloody Brilliant Scotland 2014

 

The Female in Crime Fiction panel being introduced

The Female in Crime Fiction panel being introduced

Last weekend was Bloody Scotland 2014. This hugely friendly and welcoming crime writing festival is going from strength to strength. Now in its third year, the festival played host to a plethora of crime writers in three days of entertaining, informative and massively fun events.

Having spent the best part of seven hours on trains travelling from my home to Stirling, I met up with some friends at the Stirling Highland Hotel and then headed over to Hotel Colessio for Mark Billingham and Stuart McBride’s Dead Funny event. As with the Billingham and Brookmyre double act last year, Billingham and McBride answering questions from readers (allegedly) made for a hilarious evening with McBride’s dark poetry, and the skilful answering by both authors of some rather random questions from the audience, real high spots.

Next morning, Saturday, I helped out SJI Holiday (acting as her notetaker) at an interview with Kati Hirekkapelto, author of fabulous book The Hummingbird, before having a quick walk around Stirling – seeing the Castle, the city walls, and peering into the old Gaol.

Then it was off to the New Blood/Fresh Meat panel featuring Eva Dolan, Hania Allen, and Mason Cross. Each of the panel began by reading from their debut novels – three different styles and stories, and all super gripping. Then, led by moderator Peggy Hughes, they spoke about how they got the idea for the novel, the research they did, and what their route to publication was like.

At the same time, the Scotland versus England 5-a-side Football match was taking place. With Ian Rankin captaining Scotland and Mark Billingham captaining England there was a good turnout to watch the battle commence and the #BloodyScotland twitter feed was alive with score updates and photos. After a tense game, the final score was Scotland 13 – England 1, and the magnificent silver trophy went to Scotland.

Next up, I went along to The Female in Crime Fiction (in association with Glasgow Women’s Library) panel with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Lin Anderson, and Catriona McPherson. The panel debated female protagonists in crime fiction (including how many crime books would pass the Bechdel test which looks at whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man), the joy of reading a thriller that compels you to turn the page (crime writing top tip – always keep the secret withheld as long as you can!), and why it might be that women make up more than half the readership of crime fiction.

The next panel featured Luca Veste, Michael Malone, and Martyn Waites, chaired by Mark Billingham. This lively and entertaining panel discussed their most recent books, the importance of location and why they’d chosen to locate their books where they had, how they go about doing research, their route to publication and how Martyn Waites came to take on his alter ego – Tanya Carver.

The final event of the day was Ian Rankin in conversation with Kathy Reichs. This session in the Albert Halls seemed to fly by with Kathy Reichs talking about her route to publication, what it’s like working on a long running TV show (having to think up new murders after 200 episodes being one of the challenges!) and what it’s like co-writing a YA series with her son.

Then it was off to dinner with friends at the amazing Maharaja curry house before chatting in the bar well into the early hours.

On Sunday I was actually part of an event rather than just watching. Having submitted a 100 word synopsis for the Pitch Perfect session I was excited (and terrified) to hear that my story was one of seven that had been picked to be pitched. Along with the other six pitchers I was ushered into the green room and introduced to the wonderful Jenny Brown who chaired the session. From there it was on to the event with publishers Alison Hennessey (Harvill Secker), Krystyna Green (Constable & Robinson) and Tricia Jackson (Pan MacMillan) on the panel. Each pitcher had three minutes to pitch their story. There were some great pitches, and I think it was probably the longest three minutes of my life! But good fun and I’d definitely recommend it. The panel were friendly and their feedback hugely helpful, and Margaret Stewart was a most deserving winner.

And then it was over.

As I set off on my journey home, I reflected on what a fantastic weekend I’d had – great panels, a fabulous location, a warm and friendly atmosphere and the chance to catch up with all my writerly pals.

The seven hour trip was definitely worth it.

 

#ChooseThePlot launches today!

Specsavers

Those experimental folks at Specsavers and Penguin are launching a new literary experiment today – #ChooseThePlot.

They’re inviting crime thriller fans to get involved in the creation of a new novella through the online crime community Dead Good Books.

#ChooseThePlot will use social media to get your views on the plot, steering the story for crime writers Christopher Fowler, James Oswald and Jane Casey to write. Each author will write a chapter following on from the last, shaping the story and adding their own unique take on the situations presented to them.

On 24th October, at the end of this experimental process, a digital only eBook of the novella will be available to download for free.

Penguin

To get involved with #ChooseThePlot hop on over to www.specsavers.co.uk/choosetheplot where you’ll find all the info on how to get involved and the details of how the stories are progressing.

Happy plotting!