#CrimeWritersInCafesProcrastinating – Howard Linskey reveals his procrastination habits! #TheChosenOnes

Today is the first of a new regular feature – Crime Writers In Cafes Procrastinating! As the title suggests, it’s all about the lengths writers go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.

First up for a grilling about his procrastination habits is the fabulous Howard Linskey whose latest crime novel is published this week.

Welcome, Howard! So tell me all about your latest book – The Chosen Ones…

Thanks Steph. Great to be here. ‘The Chosen Ones’ begins when a young woman called Eva wakes inside a large metal box with no idea how she got there. She understands she is being held captive but has no idea why. Investigative journalists, Tom Carney and Helen Norton, team up with Detective Sergeant Ian Bradshaw to investigate her disappearance and quickly learn that this is not the first time women have been taken but what links Eva to cases from almost two decades earlier and how can they possibly find her?

You can read more about it here: http://www.howardlinskey.co.uk/work#/the-chosen-ones/

How long did The Chosen Ones take to write?

The best part of a year, which is normal for me. I usually start writing a new book in January, just as the editing process draws to a close on the previous one. I’ve then got eight months to turn in a first draft by the end of August that’s usually around 100,000 words or so. My editor and literary agent will read it and send me some notes then I’ll do a second and third draft, or even a fourth before I’m fully happy with it. By the end of the calendar year it’s almost done then the process starts all over again!

What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?

All three! I mostly work from home and aim to begin once my daughter has gone off to school but in reality, I start with coffee, breakfast, the Times newspaper and internet-based distractions, while I sit in the conservatory at the back of our house and enjoy the sunshine, if there is any. I also have to remember to feed the squirrels. Wild ones visit our garden daily and they expect breakfast, to the consternation of our dog. It can be mid-morning by then and I’ll suddenly panic and get down to some actual writing. After a couple of days in the house, I get stir crazy and venture out. There’s a good café in my town and I’ll have lunch there while ‘plotting’, which sounds sinister but I mean it in a book sense. My favourite place to procrastinate though is the pub. Sitting with a pint of bitter and your lap top, writing away in a quiet corner of a pub during the day time feels like playing truant from life. I don’t do it often but when I do my venue of choice is the White Horse in Old Welwyn Village. They even opened up early for me once, so I could be filmed there for the true crime series ‘Written In Blood’. The viewers probably think I’m an alcoholic.

What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?

I do a little bit of planning up-front but I’d be lying if I said it was very detailed and most of this is in my head rather than on pages of notes. In the early stages I like to get some words down and write scenes that are likely to end up in the finished book, hoping that one scene will lead to another. I don’t write chronologically either but do the bits I am in the mood for then curse myself months later, as I wade through thousands of words that are quite literally in the wrong order. I end up putting them together again somehow. I have no idea why I write like this. It makes no sense at all but somehow it works for me and the books are always well received, thankfully.

When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?

Definitely at the beginning. As I race towards a deadline, the procrastination is inevitably replaced by panicked, guilt-ridden bursts of activity, where the word count climbs faster than usual. I used to be a reporter, so I have a journalist’s respect for deadlines and I’ve never missed a single one, which isn’t bad after numerous drafts for eight books.

Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)?

I quite like doing the second draft, if I feel like I am going in the right direction. That first hundred thousand words grants you a certain amount of freedom with your writing but there’s always a stage where I start to severely doubt myself and the book. That’s natural and I push on through past it to the finish line. There is always quite a bit to be fixed and I do that with the second draft but by then I will have had some positive feedback from my editor and agent, which spurs me on. By the end of the book, I am sick of the sight of it as I will have been over and over the words countless times and will need several weeks away from it by then. My enthusiasm returns once I see the final copy. It always hits me then that something I dreamed up has been worked on, edited, printed and published until it’s a real book with my name on the cover.

When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?

Reading. I get distracted by research in the early days, so I’ll start with articles on line. I can lose hours doing that and it goes way beyond research that I can actually use. I had to learn a bit about underground bunkers for my new book and started researching them. An article about a bunker could then lead to one about the Cold War then what a bad guy Stalin was and how he almost lost the Second World War? Then, before I know it, I’m reading articles about Hitler’s inner circle and what happened to them all, which has nothing to do with my novel. Cue guilt, panic and a writing frenzy to make up for lost time till I get back on track again.

When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?

Coffee is a necessity, particularly first thing in the morning. I’ve got one of those capsule machines that delivers a small cup of very good coffee with a strong enough kick to wake my brain up. I try and avoid snacks because I have too much of an addictive personality for them. If I put a packet of Hobnobs next to my lap top they would all be gone by the time I’d written a thousand words and there would be chocolatey finger prints on my keyboard. I make sure I have a decent breakfast though and a good lunch, because hunger is too distracting and I have enough distractions already.

And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?

At some point, on publication day or when the box of finished books arrives at my home, I will open a bottle of champagne. I think something that takes a year of very hard work to complete deserves it, don’t you?

Huge thanks to Howard for being a great sport and letting me quiz him about all things procrastination.

Be sure to check out his great new book – THE CHOSEN ONES.

Click on the book cover below to view it on Amazon UK. It’s a bargain at 99p on kindle at the moment…

#BehindDeadEyes Blog Tour: Exclusive Sneak Peep at Chapter 1 of Howard Linskey’s new book

Behind Dead Eyes

Today I’m delighted to be able to bring you an exclusive sneak peep at the first chapter of Howard Linskey’s latest crime novel – BEHIND DEAD EYES.

Here’s what the blurb says: “A corpse is found: its identity extinguished in the most shocking manner imaginable. Detective Ian Bradshaw can’t catch the killer if no one can ID the victim. Out there, somewhere, a missing young woman may hold the answer. Journalist Helen Norton is about to uncover a massive criminal conspiracy. She just needs the final piece of the puzzle. Soon, she will learn the price of the truth.

True-crime writer Tom Carney receives letters from a convicted murderer who insists he is innocent. His argument is persuasive – but psychopaths are often said to be charming …”

So, to the extract …

 

Letter Number Three

Perhaps you think I’m a monster. Is that it?
Maybe that’s why you‘ve not been in touch. Have you read terrible things about me Tom? Heard stories that disturbed you? None of them are true.

I’ve done bad things of course, who hasn’t? None of us are saints. Let’s not bother to pretend we are. I know the one thing you truly understand is human frailty Tom. I’ve had to account for my actions and I’ve paid a very heavy penalty for my misdeeds but I can assure you I never killed anyone.

Did you believe the poison that drips from the pens of those so- called reporters? They’re not interested in the truth, none of them. They spend their lives wading through other people’s trash looking for dirt, turning over rocks to see what crawls out. And they have the nerve to call me names.

The Ladykiller.

What chance did they give me?

Please see me. I’d visit you but clearly they won’t allow that. If we were to meet face to face, I’m certain I could convince you I am not the man they say I am. If you can look me in the eye and actually believe I am capable of such savagery, then I promise I won’t blame you for leaving me here to rot, so what exactly have you got to lose?

I think you are a truth-seeker Tom but you don’t seem to be at all interested in my truth. That’s disappointing.

You are my last and only chance Tom Carney. Please DO NOT continue to ignore me.

Yours, in hope and expectation.

Richard Bell

1995

Chapter One

Tom Carney was having a very bad day. Maybe it was the new kitchen cupboard doors and the way they refused to hang straight or the boiler going on the blink again or perhaps it was the letter from a convicted murderer.

No, it was definitely the boiler. Bloody thing.

He hadn’t owned the house long but it seemed virtually every part of the offending boiler had failed and been replaced at great cost, only for another of its components to buckle under the strain soon afterwards and cease to function. He should have got a new boiler when he bought the creaking, old pile but funds were short then and virtually non-existent today, so he’d opted for the false economy of replacing it bit by bit instead of wholesale. How he regretted that now, as he stood tapping the pipes with a wrench in an attempt to knock the ancient thing back into life; a tactic that had, amazingly, actually worked once before but, unsurprisingly, failed to bear fruit this time. Tom exhaled, swore and surveyed the stone-cold water tank ruefully. It came to something when a personal letter from a man who had beaten someone to death with a hammer was the least of his concerns.

He went back downstairs and tried to phone the plumber again but the guy didn’t pick up. If events ran their usual course, Tom would have to leave several messages before the plumber eventually got back to him. He might then grudgingly offer to ‘fit him in’ towards the end of his working week. The plumber would do this while making it sound as if he was granting Tom an immense favour. If Tom was really lucky the bloke might even turn up on the actual day but he knew this was far from guaranteed.

Tom recorded a message then picked up the envelope from the hall table. The words ‘FAO TOM CARNEY’ were scrawled on it in large block capitals with a marker pen, above an address hand written in biro. It was disconcerting to realise one of the relatively few people who knew where Tom lived these days was a murderer.

For the attention of Tom Carney? Why not some other reporter? One who was actually still reporting perhaps and not so disillusioned he’d turned his back on the whole bloody profession, to plough what was left of his money into renovating a crumbling money pit? This was the third letter he’d received from Richard Bell. Tom had read then studiously ignored the previous two, hoping one of the north-east’s most notorious killers would eventually tire of contacting him but, just like his victim, Tom had clearly underestimated the killer’s resolve.

Bell was a determined man but was he a psychopath? He read the letter again, surveying the handwriting for evidence of derangement but there was none. This wasn’t some rambling, half-crazed diatribe, scrawled in crayon and inspired by demonic voices. It was angry and there was an undeniable level of frustration at Tom’s failure to engage with him but that was all. Having singled Tom out, Bell presumably felt the hurt of rejection. The handwriting was neat enough and it flowed evenly across the page. Tom couldn’t help wondering if this really was the same hand that brought a hammer crashing down repeatedly onto a defenceless woman’s skull until she lay dead in the front seat of her own car? A jury thought so and the judge had told Bell he was a monster. Tom remembered that much about a case that dominated the front pages for days a couple of years back. Was Richard Bell insane or was he really an innocent man; the latest in a long line of miscarriages of justice in a British legal system discredited by one scandal after another.

Tom took the letter into his living room, if he could still accurately call it that with the carpet ripped up and tools scattered everywhere. He sat in the room’s solitary arm chair and read it once more. Richard Bell’s message was consistent and clear. He wasn’t mad and he wasn’t bad. He hadn’t killed his lover. Someone else had done that and he was still out there.

BEHIND DEAD EYES is out now. You can buy it here from  Amazon here

Find out more about Howard Linskey at www.howardlinskey.com and follow him on Twitter @HowardLinksey

And be sure to check out all the other great stops along the tour …

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What happened at the brilliant #BloodyScotland Crime Writing Festival 2015 (Part 1)

Whose Crime Is It Anyway? (c) Eoin Carey

Whose Crime Is It Anyway? (c) Eoin Carey

The Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival is one of those festivals that goes from strength to strength. This year the organising team, led by the ever sparky Dom Hastings, put on a fabulous programme of events from panels to interviews, an awards dinner, a pub cabaret, and a football match – there really was something for everyone. In fact, it was so good it’s taken me a week to recover enough to blog about it!

The weekend kicked off with Val McDermid and Peter May in conversation, followed by Whose Crime is it Anyway? – with TV presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli throwing out the challenges to crime writers Christopher Brookmyre, Kevin Wignall and Caro Ramsay to improvise on the spot. Once the opening events finished, as ever at crime writing festivals, the rest of the evening was spent in the bar at the Stirling Highland Hotel with a glass of wine (or two, or three …).

Scotland v England

Scotland v England

On Saturday, I wasn’t able to get to many events as I was in training for a special performance with The Slice Girls at the Crime in the Coo event later that evening. But I heard great things about the Killer Women panel – Louise Millar, Helen Giltrow, and MJ McGrath – who discussed whether the Woman is deadlier than the Male? The thought provoking Self Publishing session with Alexandra Sokoloff and Allan Guthrie, and the New Crimes panel with debut authors Lucy Ribchester (The Hourglass Factory), Chris Dolan (Potter’s Field), SJI Holliday (Black Wood) and Mark Legatt (Names of the Dead) – which all sound like fabulous reads.

In the afternoon, in a brief pause between practices, I did get along to the Breaking the Law panel which had dynamic law buffs Steve Cavanagh, Neil White and Jeffrey Siger, along with Craig Sisterson, talking about the difference between the law in crime thrillers and crime fact, how they draw on their real life experiences in their writing, and the legal thrillers that they especially admire. After that, it was a quick sprint to get ready for the Crime in the Coo before meeting my fellow Slice Girls for one final practice (more about that on the blog tomorrow!)

(c) Eoin Carey

(c) Eoin Carey

After a late, late night on Saturday, my start on Sunday wasn’t especially early! The first event I got along to was the Thriller panel with Simon Kernick, Tom Wood, G.J. Brown and Mason Cross. In a lively debate they talked locations – whether to visit them or not, and the perils if you don’t, the fun of writing “lone wolf” characters, and about their routes to publication (the key, so they say, is not to let rejection stop you).

Then, with the sky getting darker by the minute, it was a short walk up the hill to the bowling green at Cowane’s Hospital where the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers Football Match: Scotland v England was happening. After Scotland’s convincing win last year there was a lot at stake, and as the game kicked off both teams looked very determined. In a tense game, where the players had to contend with alternating sunshine and pouring rain, the two sides looked pretty evenly matched with goal keepers Luca Veste (England) and Craig Robertson (Scotland) kept busy as both sides battled it out to win.

(c) Eoin Carey

(c) Eoin Carey

At the end of the match, the score was 5-5.

The Scotland goals came from Mark Stanton, Christopher Brookmyre, and Doug Johnstone (3). For England the scorers were Vincent Holland-Keane (2), Col Bury (2) and Howard Linskey. The team captains – Ian Rankin (Scotland) and Simon Kernick (England) held the trophy aloft and then, as the rain got heavier, it was time to trot back down the hill (to the bar!).

The final event of the festival was Literary Agent, Jenny Brown, interviewing bestselling crime thriller writer, Linwood Barclay, who was on his first visit to Scotland. To a packed audience, Linwood talked about his writing career, his latest book Broken Promise – the first of a sequence of three connected stories – and on creating a story with a killer hook. Very interesting and highly entertaining, this was the perfect session to end the festival with. Then it was back to the bar, for one final night, before setting off home the next morning.

Jenny Brown interviewing Linwood Barclay (c) Eoin Carey

Jenny Brown interviewing Linwood Barclay (c) Eoin Carey

Next year the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival runs from 9 – 11 September 2016. If you love crime fiction then you absolutely need to be there – put the dates in your diary and book a hotel, now! Trust me, this is one festival that you won’t want to miss out on.

But, of course, there’s something that I haven’t told you about in this blog post – just what happened at Crime in the Coo on Saturday night.

If you want to know, pop back tomorrow for my “(Not so) Secret Diary of a Slice Girl post. 

In the meantime, here’s a sneaky peep …

The Slice Girls on the bar at The Curly Coo (c) Eoin Carey

The Slice Girls on the bar at The Curly Coo (c) Eoin Carey

Confessions from Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (Part 2): The Football Special

The Ref and The Players - The North (in Red/Black) The South (in Yellow/Blue)

The Ref and The Players – The North (in Red/Black) The South (in Yellow/Blue)

One of the great new additions to the festival programme this year was the football match. At 6.30pm on Saturday evening two teams of brave crime writers lined up to be counted in a passionate and thrilling match for the Harrogate Crime Writers North vs South Challenge Cup.

The teams, pictured here at the start of the match with Referee Mark Billingham, were:

  • For the North (sponsored by Fox Spirit): Luca Veste, Craig Robertson, Nick Quantrill, Col Bury, Howard Linskey, Vincent Holland-Keen, Dan Stewart and Graham Smith.
  • For the South (sponsored by Crime Files): Tim Weaver, Chris Ewan, James Law, Graeme Cameron, Tom Witcomb, Adam Hamdy, Ian Ayris and Darren Laws.

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With a large crowd of spectators assembled to watch them the match kicked off and right from the start the competition was fierce. The North, with great form from their convincing win at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers Football Match last year, started strong, but the South were determined to give them a challenge and at first possession seemed equally held.

Then the first goal came – from Luca Veste for the North – and from then on the goals from the North kept on coming.

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A short time later it seemed like the South might shorten the gap with Tim Weaver putting the ball in the back of the net. But the goal was disallowed because it occurred after Craig Robertson saved a goal from Tom Witcomb – whose momentum took him illegally (but accidentally) into the box where he illegally (accidentally) flattened Craig – both players were still on the ground when the ball went in the net). Despite some player protests, Referee Mark Billingham stood firm in his decision to disallow the illegal goal, and the teams played on.

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The action was fast and the teams were cheered on as they chased the ball up and down the field with vigor and determination right to the final whistle. Although the South played valiantly to the end, this match was all about the North – with the final score standing at 6-0 to the North. The goals scored by Luca Veste (1), Howard Linskey (2) and Col Bury (3). Craig Robertson saved two penalties.

The match was a real crowd pleaser, with the enthusiastic crowd cheering on the teams the whole way through. But this sporting event didn’t pass without the sheading of blood, sweat and (probably) tears. Confirmed injuries included a fractured wrist (Graeme Cameron) and a fractured ankle (Luca Veste) – and it’s worth noting the grit of these players as they played on with their injuries, Luca still managing to hit the bar and post after his.

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As the triumphant North held high the Harrogate Crime Writers North vs South Challenge Cup later that evening, talk was already turning to the 2016 rematch, and the rigorous training schedules that the players would be putting in place in preparation.

Massive kudos to all who played. It was a fabulous event and one that I’ll be super excited to see return in 2016!

Val McDermid presents the cup to The North (photo credit: Fenris Oswin)

Val McDermid presents the cup to The North (photo credit: Fenris Oswin)

[with thanks to Kat Miller and Luca Veste for the excellent action photos]