CTG Interviews KJ Howe about The Freedom Broker

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While I was at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate I met up with fellow debut novelist KJ Howe to chat about her fabulous thriller THE FREEDOM BROKER. Over coffee, we talked research, writing process, and how she created the kick-ass action heroine Thea Paris…

Thea Paris is such an authentic all-action female lead – what inspired you to create her as a character?

I always wanted to write a strong female protagonist. As part of my research I went out to the Phoenix desert and trained in hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting and more. I’m a big believer of if you’re going to write about it you should have experienced it. I’ve got this rolodex of Special Forces guys I can call on – they read the book – and wanted to bring an authenticity to the page. I would have loved to have been a spy! I’ve been zip lining, cage diving with sharks, but I’m also feminine and enjoy dressing up – I wanted to show a woman can be a real woman but also really strong too, but not in a comic book way. Thea Paris has very human baggage and with her diabetes there’s a ticking clock – she has to have her insulin [which can be tricky given some of the situations she gets into during the course of The Freedom Broker]. I wanted to show that if you have a chronic illness it shouldn’t stop you, and if you’re a woman it shouldn’t stop you doing your dream job.

Thea’s job as a Response Consultant [kidnap negotiator/rescuer] is an unusual one – what research did you do?

I’ve spent the last four years immersed in that world and found out first-hand about what it’s like. As well as speaking with people who’ve been in real life hostage situations – like Peter Moore who was the longest held hostage in Iraq – I’ve found out about the world of kidnap and ransom. I attended the Kidnap and Ransom Conference – I didn’t know anyone, and it’s a dark, closed world – but I needed to learn about it so I could write authentically. Now I’ve got contacts all over the world – including special ops people, response consultants, a psychologist who specialises in hostage mentality, and security guys who protect journalists in war zones.

I wanted to do something fresh and unique, and I didn’t want to do FBI or Police as I’m not a rule follower – I wanted the freedom to go wild! Private industry doesn’t have the same restrictions, and it’s interesting how the whole system works – from big companies, to kidnap insurance, through to response consultants [interestingly, Lloyds of London are the people who first started selling kidnap and ransom insurance]. People can be insured for as much as fifty million dollars, and negotiators will often haggle down from the ransom demand – usually 10% or so. In the US and the UK the penalty for kidnap is high, and there’s also a 95% chance of getting caught. But in Mexico there are no laws on kidnap and a 95% chance of not getting caught – so it’s more worth the risk to kidnappers. Plus there’s no lack of potential victims – everyone has loved ones – it’s scary. With every book in the series I’m hoping to explore a different aspect of kidnap.

THE FREEDOM BROKER is super twisty-turny – what was your writing process?

I’m an organic writer. I do plan ahead, but mostly the story is held in my head. I do go back and plant things later though. You can’t fight who you are – if you need to plot to feel in control then do that. I find there’s a freshness from organically writing – the characters come alive. So listen to your heart and write how you want to – my style is ‘pants on fire’ writing. You can sometimes get into trouble writing organically, but for me it’s well worth the risk. If I get into a corner I think ‘what’s the theme of the book?’ – it’s often family – and can work out what next from there.

What got you into writing thrillers?

When you look at the book you’re reading and the books you chose to read there’s always an emotion attached to them. With thrillers it’s energy and adrenaline, with mysteries it’s puzzle solving, with romance it’s hope, and with sci-fi it’s wonder. I’m into adrenaline and energy – I’m a very action orientated person. I read David Morrell’s Brotherhood of the Rose – a spy thriller – and thought I’d love to be an author and be able to do what he did to me to another reader, to take them to another place – like Athens – and fascinate them. The Eye of the Needle and Day of the Jackal are great books. I grew up in different places around the world and wanted a character that can go anywhere – each book will go to different countries.

KJ HOWE

What words of advice do you have for those aspiring to be published?

Embrace criticism from credible sources. I worked on my book for two years and had to go on the journey – it’s 10% about talent and 90% about perspiration – and you have to be in it for the long haul. Everyone I know has been at it for a while. Write every day or as often as you can – get out the junk words and keep going! David Morrell is my mentor and he has a saying ‘Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else’ – only you can write your book. It’s like with me having had a very international life – I’ve lived in lots of places where the shadow of threat is always there – I can bring to the page what I’ve learnt. Be fresh. Unless there’s great writing and a unique voice don’t do something that’s already been done. Stay the course and get help – never bring your ego to the table. Although I’m published I feel like I’m at the beginning of the journey. I want to stay at it, keep getting better, and then getting word out about my books and reaching readers. Learn everything you can about this business. Do your own social media, and get involved and be part of the writing community (events like the Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival held at Harrogate every July are a great place to start). I try to help as many writers as I can – playing it forward as I’ve had a lot of help from authors. You can contact me through my website and the ThrillerFest website [she’s the Executive Director of the fantastic crime writing festival] – I’m always happy to hear from people.

And with that the coffee was drunk and the interview was over. KJ Howe was a brilliantly fun interviewee and it was great to meet her and talk about all the fascinating research she’s done – she really is an action woman herself!

To find out more about KJ Howe visit her website HERE and be sure to follow her on Twitter @KJHoweAuthor

You can read my review of THE FREEDOM BROKER HERE and then hop over to Amazon to buy it by clicking the link HERE

And check out the ThrillerFest website HERE for all the details on this amazing crime writing festival held in New York every summer.

CTG shameless plug: #VoteLori #FearlessFemale @DeadGoodBooks Reader Awards 2017 – thank you!

DEEP DOWN DEAD Dead Good Readers-2

Please excuse the shameless plug but…

I’m totally thrilled that DEEP DOWN DEAD is on the shortlists for two awards – Fearless Female Character and Most Exceptional Debut – at the Dead Good Readers Awards that are presented at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate this July.

These awards are nominated and voted for by readers – so if you enjoyed DEEP DOWN DEAD I’d be real grateful if you could throw a vote in Lori Anderson and DEEP DOWN DEAD’s direction!

The voting is open now over at the fab Dead Good Books website here: http://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/dead-good-reader-awards-2017/

#VoteLori
THANK YOU!!!!

Memories from #TheakstonsCrime 2016: CTG’s Harrogate in pictures

The annual Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival 2016 in Harrogate was, as always, an amazing weekend of crime fiction, bookish antics, parties, and awards. It was a time to rub shoulders with like-minded types who write and read crime fiction, and to catch up with friends and meet new ones.

I always vow to take lots of pictures, then usually don’t manage to take many at all. This year I snapped a few, and here they are …

 

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Look like your kind of thing? Make sure you check out Harrogate Festivals and join the mailing list for the details of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival 2017

 

Confessions from #TheakstonsCrime (Part 3): Some New Blood, A Secret Garden and the Crime Writers Football Match

The annual Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate happened last weekend and, as always, it was an amazing weekend of crime fiction, bookish antics, parties, and awards. It was a time to rub shoulders with like-minded types who write and read crime fiction, and to catch up with friends and meet new ones.

Here are a couple more of the highlights from the weekend …

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The New Blood Panel

Every year Val McDermid picks her four favourite debuts and showcases them on the New Blood panel. It’s a fab panel for readers to be introduced to some brilliant new authors, and always has a great vibe to it. This year was no exception, with the four debut authors – Martin Holmen (CLINCH), JS Law (TENACITY), Beth Lewis (THE WOLF ROAD) and Abir Mukherjee (A RISING MAN) – doing a fantastic job of enticing the audience to read their books.

I was lucky enough to get to sit in the front row for this panel. It was great to see the four debut authors having such a fun time with Val McDermid who expertly put them at their ease. As they talked about their books, it was fascinating to hear about their inspirations and research. It emerged that something they all had in common was the desire to explore what it is to be an outsider, and to have lead characters who recognised their own ‘otherness’.

Martin Holmen said that his inspiration for writing CLINCH was to create a book that combined Swedish expression with the great American thriller tradition. JS Law talked about coming to the realisation that a female naval officer’s experience of the armed forces was very different to his own as a male officer – Val McDermid referred to TENACITY as a feminist Submarine Thriller – and wanting to explore that difference with a female main character. Beth Lewis jumped into THE WOLF ROAD with the premise – what if the person you love is actually a monster? And Abir Mukherjee talked about creating his main character, who while being British in India doesn’t align himself to either culture. Add in Abir’s stories of researching in Indian, Beth’s survival skills course anecdotes (what ever did happen to that pigeon??) and JS Law’s talk of putting his arm into the waste tanks on-board a submarine – which had the whole audience recoiling at the grossness! And this panel had to be a top highlight of the festival.

All four debut authors are well worth checking out:

Click here to buy CLINCH by Martin Holmen

Click here to buy TENACITY by JS Law and follow him on Twitter @JSLawBooks

Click here to buy THE WOLF ROAD by Beth Lewis and follow her on Twitter @bethklewis

Click here to buy A RISING MAN by Abir Mukherjee and follow him on Twitter @radiomukhers

And, of course, be sure to pre-order Val McDermid’s latest book OUT OF BOUNDS here and follow her on Twitter @valmcdermid

 

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The Bonnier Zaffre Secret Garden Party

When you get a party invitation that promises ‘Prosecco, canapés and cake’ and is being held in a secret garden, you just have to go! And Bonnier Zaffre know how to throw a seriously good party. In a (relatively) secret location, the sun shone as I drank Prosecco and mingled with the fabulous stable of authors that Bonnier Zaffre have put together.

It was great to catch up with the Bonnier authors including the ever-bubbly Alex Caan (CUT TO THE BONE), my pal David Young (STASI CHILD) who I did the MA in Creative Writing at City University London with, the lovely David Jackson (A TAPPING AT MY DOOR) and criminal lawyer Neil White (FROM THE SHADOWS). I also got to have a good chat with bloggers Liz Barnsley, The Book Trail and Northern Lass, PR wonder Jamie-Lee Nardone, and crime writers Susi Holliday, Anya Lipska, Zoe Sharp, Martyn Waites, and Mark Hill.

 

The North vs South Crime Writers Football Match

The annual crime writers’ football match was held on Saturday afternoon in front of a large crowd, and as well as crime writers there were a few agents and publishers among the players.

Players for The North were: Luca Veste, Craig Robertson, Howard Linskey, Col Bury, Nick Quantrill, Michael Fowler, Vincent Holland-Keen, Rob Sinclair, and Neil White

Players for The South were: Tim Weaver, James Law, Ian Ayris, Darren Laws, Ed Wood, Phil Patterson, Tom Witcomb, Steven Dunne, and Emad Akhtar.

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As always it was a fiercely fought battle, with the South scoring first (Emad Akhtar), and the North equalising shortly after (due to an own goal by Ian Ayris). Both sides had brought their A-games, but as the end of the match drew closer they started to tire. When referee Mark Billingham announced there would be a penalty shoot out, and the players started to take their shots, it looked for a while as if there’d be no goals. But Rob Sinclair came through for The North and won them the match when Phil Patterson missed the last kick.

So The North remained victorious and, unlike last year, there were no bones broken during the course of the match so all players from both sides were able to celebrate fully in the bar afterwards!

 

Be sure to stop by the CTG blog again tomorrow to see my photo galley from Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (including lots more action shots from the football)!

Sound like your kind of thing? Make sure you check out Harrogate Festivals and join the mailing list for the details of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival 2017

Confessions from #TheakstonsCrime (Part 1): Things CTG did for the first time …

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The annual Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate happened last weekend and, as always, it was an amazing weekend of crime fiction, bookish antics, parties, and awards. It was a time to rub shoulders with like-minded types who write and read crime fiction, and to catch up with friends and meet new ones.

Over the next few days I’ll be blogging all about it, and today I thought I’d share four things I did over the weekend for the first time …

 

 

 

1. Got a photo of the iconic ‘chalk outline’ at the front of the Old Swan Hotel

Okay, so I had to word this one very carefully. I couldn’t use the words ‘Took a photo’ as technically that isn’t true. I did see the chalk outline – it’s one of the iconic features of the ‘scene setting’ for the fabulous Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. I just didn’t photo it! Big thanks to crime writer Caroline Mitchell (@Caroline_writes) for taking the picture!

 

2. Sat in one of the Green Chairs

Another of the iconic fixtures at Harrogate is always the fabulous green chairs. They’re huge. High also (as I discovered). And almost impossible to get into in a ladylike fashion when wearing a long dress. I say ‘almost’ impossible, as with a bit of improvisation using a white plastic garden chair, and a few well timed instructions from the helpful chap already sitting in the other green chair, I was able to scale the chair-face in a relatively elegant way. I have the picture to prove it – here’s me and crime writer Susi Holliday (@SJIHolliday), sitting proudly in the chair. Photo curtesy of crime writer Rosie Claverton (@rosieclaverton) – who also provided the garden chair and removed the evidence!

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CTG (looking a bit grumpy – it was hot!) and Susi Holliday (looking much cheerier!)

 

3. Watched a panel from the front row reserved seating

The first two rows of the massive festival room are VIPs only. The room (well, two rooms joined together) that’s used for all panels and interviews is so huge that there are big screens halfway down it – same as at the O2 arena, or Wembley and the like – just so everyone has a good view of the action on the stage. Anyway, as I was looking for some seats to watch my mates on the New Blood panel (having arrived just moments before the planned start), a very lovely man from Theakstons said he had space up the front and I was welcome to sit there. So I got to view the panel from the front row (and what a brilliantly fun and interesting panel it was – more to come on that in my next post). Fabulous.

 

4. Sang live in a gym

Technically this happened in The Cairn Hotel rather than at the festival, but it’s in Harrogate so I’m counting it! On Friday and Saturday morning, The Slice Girls had band practice. We don’t get to practice together in the same place that often, and with performances coming up in September at both the Bloody Scotland Crime Festival, Stirling, and Bouchercon, New Orleans, we needed to try out some new songs and practice our routines. The best place for this was the gym at The Cairn Hotel. It has great acoustics and (as it used to be a lounge bar) it still has the bar in place – so we could get up on it and practice our moves. It was a lot of fun practising with my fellow Slice Girls – Susi Holliday, AK Benedict (@ak_benedict), and Louise Voss (@louisevoss1) and our dynamic maestro Alexandra Sokoloff (@AlexSokoloff). But it might have been less fun for the poor male crime writer (who will remain nameless) who had to run on the treadmill for over an hour to the sound of us singing our new number for Bloody Scotland!

 

Pop back tomorrow for the next instalment in my confessions from Harrogate …

Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival launches BIG READ 2016: PD James’ AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMAN

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This year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival BIG READ has launched and is celebrating the life and work of the ‘Queen of Crime Fiction’ PD James. In partnership with Faber & Faber and libraries and reading groups in the North of England, the book chosen to be 2016’s Big Read is James’ An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. This iconic book introduces Cordelia Gray, the first modern female detective in crime fiction.  When she created Cordelia Gray, P.D. James was working as a civil servant in the crime department of the Home Office. About the novel, she wrote: ‘I wanted to have a young heroine of courage and intelligence who faces the problems of life with a determination to be successful in a job which everyone else thinks she won’t be able to do.’

P.D. James began writing aged 40 and went on to write over 18 novels and collected numerous awards and honours. Aged 91, she received the Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award in 2011. She died in 2014, aged 94.

The Big Read initiative aims to encourage as many people as possible to celebrate great crime writing by reading the same novel at the same time and then getting together to talk about it. Literature Festivals Manager Gemma Rowland said: “We are enormously proud of the Festival’s outreach and literacy initiatives … Thanks to the generous support of publisher Faber, the Festival has been able to distribute 1500 copies of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman to local reading groups through our partner library services across Yorkshire, Middlesbrough and Tyneside for free.”

Crime writer Mari Hannah

Crime writer Mari Hannah

The Big Read begins on Monday May 9 and runs until Friday May 13, with free events in libraries across the North. This year, Festival Reader in Residence and bestselling crime author, Mari Hannah, will be talking about the book and leading the conversation. Mari Hannah is the award-winning author of the fabulous Kate Daniels crime fiction series. Her latest crime novel, a standalone book, The Silent Room, is available now.

Mari said. “It’s a particular honour to be taking PD James on the Big Read, not just because of her brilliance and legendary status but because of the novel itself. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is a classic crime novel introducing a lead character ahead of her time. PD James was a true pioneer who gave the rest of us something to chase.”

The BIG READ events will be fantastic, great for crime fiction fans and those new to the genre – so get along to one if you can and chat about An Unsuitable Job for a Woman with Mari Hannah. This is when/where you’ll find her:

Acklam Library – Monday 11am 9th May

Killingworth Library – Monday 2pm 9th May

South Shields Library – Monday 6.30pm 9th May

Rowntree Park Reading Café Tuesday 11am 10th May

Ripon Library – Tuesday 2pm 10th May

Skipton Library – Tuesday 7.30pm 10th May

South Elmsall Library –   Wednesday 11am 11th May

Keighley Library – Wednesday 2pm 11th May

Holmfirth Library – Wednesday 7pm 11th May

Newcastle Library – Thursday 11am 12th May

Hartlepool Library – Thursday 2pm 12th May

Billingham Library – Thursday 7pm 12th May

Sheffield Library – Friday 10am 13th May

Rotherham Library – Friday 1pm 13th May

Barnsley Library – Friday 4pm 13th May

 

To find out more about Mari Hannah pop over to her website at http://www.marihannah.com/ and follow her on Twitter @mariwriter

To find out more about the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (and the BIG READ) – Europe’s largest event dedicated to the celebration of crime fiction – that’s taking place from 21st – 24th July 2016 check out their website here www.harrogateinternationalfestivals.com and follow them on Twitter @TheakstonsCrime

Confessions from Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival: Part 3

The New Blood Panel

The New Blood Panel

On Saturday (after a rather late night on the Friday) I started my day with the New Blood panel.

To a sold-out audience, Val McDermid talked to debut novelists Renee Knight (Disclaimer), Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go), Ben McPherson (A Line of Blood), and Lucy Ribchester (The Hourglass Factory) about the inspiration behind their books, their journey to publication, and what they had planned for their second books.

It was a real treat, especially as I’ve read, loved and reviewed Renee Knight and Clare Mackintosh’s books – find the reviews here for Disclaimer and I Let You Go. And wonderful find out more about Ben McPherson’s chilling psychological thriller about a seemingly ordinary family caught in the middle of a murder investigation, and Lucy Ribchester’s fabulous sounding historical murder mystery set in the world of suffragettes and trapeze artists – two more books to add to my To Be Read pile for sure!

 

Authors Paul Finch and JS Law

Authors Paul Finch and JS Law

After the panel I caught up with some friends for lunch before heading across the lawn to the tent where Headline Publishing had set up a submarine-themed game of battleships to celebrate the launch of JS Law’s debut novel (on 30th July) TENACITY.

 

 

Here willing volunteers battled it out in a game of wits and rum. Author Paul Finch was victorious in a game (pictured here with JS Law). I have to admit that I didn’t play the game – but I did get my picture taken with JS Law.

 

After that, I caught up with Graeme Cameron, author of NORMAL – which was one of the books available for festival goers to bag (if they were fast) from the bookshelves. I was chuffed to get myself a copy – and have Graeme sign it for me.

 

JS Law and CTG

JS Law and CTG

Then it was off to the Harrogate Crime Writers North vs. South Challenge Cup football match (you can read my post on the game here).

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t make it to any panels on Sunday morning. It was either that or the fact that it’s impossible to move more than a few feet at Harrogate without bumping into friends – hours seem to pass in a flash.

 

But all too soon the weekend was over and I was saying my goodbyes to all the fabulous crime folks and heading home weighed down by as many books as I could carry.

 

 

Graeme Cameron pointing to his book NORMAL

Graeme Cameron pointing to his book NORMAL

If you’ve not been to the festival before I seriously recommend that you check it out and make a plan to go next year – it really is a crime reader’s heaven.

 

You can find out more here

 

The 2016 programme chair is best selling crime writer Peter James – so go on, book now, I’m sure you won’t regret it!

 

The Quiz!!

The Quiz!!