Guest Post: Why I Love ‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’ (Learning storytelling from the masters) by V.M. Giambanco

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Today I’m handing over the reins of the CTG blog to crime writer V.M. Giambanco who’s talking about how she learnt storytelling from the masters …

Telling stories is a dizzying business. When an idea begins to find its legs and pulls the writer into unknown territory with a wink and a shove, it is always possible to see that energy on paper, the sheer joy that went into the construction of that story.

If someone is interested in writing – let alone crime fiction writing, which lives and dies in the layering of action, information and resolution – it is crucial to understand and relish how stories come together.

I have always been intrigued by storytelling and before I wrote ‘The Gift Of Darkness’, the first book in the Alice Madison series, I worked for many years in film editing and was involved in all kinds of projects, from romantic comedies to Mafia thrillers and Bollywood-style musicals, and I have always been keen to see how different elements fit together – or perhaps how they don’t fit together at all. Yes, I’ve been involved in some pretty awful pictures too.

These are some of my favourite examples of storytelling and any aspiring crime-writer could do a lot worse than look at these different films, take them apart and put them back together. They might not necessarily be crime-related but some particular elements make them relevant and significant.

‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’are masterpieces in the building of suspense around an unseen enemy who takes innocent lives – a kind of serial killer, if you will, and that’s definitely a familiar type of device in crime fiction.

Both films have unusual heroes: the first, a cop who is afraid of water; the second, a woman pushed into leadership by extreme circumstances. The tone of the stories is very different: ‘Jaws’ has a lighter atmosphere with humour and moments of comedy while ‘Alien’ is relentlessly grim, and even in the early parts of the film – when all the characters are still alive – there is the constant, claustrophobic feeling that they are surrounded by an environment that is just waiting to kill them. Outer space after all is the ultimate psychopath: fascinating and lethal.

Two small gems in terms of building tension are the scene when Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is looking for the xenomorph in the air-ducts in ‘Alien’ and the scene when Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) reacts to viewing the remains of the first victim in ‘Jaws’.

By the way, we never see those remains: instead we are left with the impression of something so awful, so upsetting that even a capable scientist like Hooper is left choking and gasping for a glass of water. Both films are cunning in the art of withholding information and letting us imagine the worst – believe it or not, the Alien was on screen for less than four minutes in total; second for second it was better value than Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ who’s on screen for just under sixteen minutes.

Point in question, when Ridley Scott was casting the part of Brett he told Harry Dean Stanton that ‘Alien’ was ‘Ten Little Indians’ in space. Stanton took the part and was rewarded with an unforgettable scene.

It is a well-known fact that Steven Spielberg took ‘Jaws’, written by Peter Benchley, and re-worked it extensively: gone are the sub-plots about the affair between Hooper and Ellen Brody (the hero-cop’s wife) and about the Mayor involvement with the Mafia.

The story in the film is utterly streamlined but it manages to create fully shaded characters using quiet scenes in the middle of the inexorable hunt – moments like Brody at dinner with his son and Quint telling the story of the USS Indianapolis, a ship in WW2 which sank after delivering the nuclear bomb and whose crew was mostly killed by sharks in open water.

The skill of the writers (Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb) and the director is that they give us unflagging pace and yet we have characters that feel real, not just a jumble of clichés waiting for the next set piece.

There are a number of devices in the ending of ‘Alien’ – like failing to abort the self-destruct sequence and the reappearance of the ‘villain’ when all seems safe – however Ridley Scott was at the top of his game and even those clichés miraculously work in a nerve-racking last few minutes.

After all these years I still love ‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’ because they grab me by the lapels and keep me hooked, and that’s what great storytelling does, whatever the medium. Crime fiction should definitely grab you by the lapels and give you a good shake – the shark is optional.

Huge thanks to V.M. Giambanco for stopping by the CTG blog today and talking to us about how she has learnt from the masters.

The third book in her Alice Madison series – BLOOD AND BONE – is out now. Here’s the blurb: “After two years in the Seattle Police Department, Detective Alice Madison has finally found the kind of personal and professional peace she has never known before.

When a local burglary escalates into a horrific murder, Madison is put in charge of the investigation. She finds herself tracking a killer who may have haunted the city for years – and whose brutality is the stuff of myth in high security prisons.

As she delves deeper into the case, Madison learns that the widow of one of the victims is being stalked – is the killer poised to strike again? But then her own past comes under scrutiny from enemies close to home, and Madison’s position on the force – and the fate of the case itself – are suddenly thrown in jeopardy.”

To find out more about V.M. Giambanco and her books hop over to her website at www.vmgiambanco.com and follow her on Twitter @vm_giambanco 

And you can buy BLOOD AND BONE from Amazon by following this link

Crime In The Court Crime @GoldsboroBooks 2015 – What a great night! #IBW2015

David Headley opens Crime in the Court

David Headley opens Crime in the Court

Fabulous independent bookstore Goldsboro Books in London held their hugely popular Crime in the Crime evening last night. I’ve heard loads of great things about the event before, but yesterday was my first time going along to one.

It was a wonderful evening. With over 70 crime writers in attendance and around 400 people filling the gorgeous bookstore and all the outside space in shop-lined Cecil Court (luckily a pedestrians only street!) it was a friendly, fun and swelteringly hot London night out.

David Headley – Goldsboro owner and literary agent – was the perfect host. With free drinks and the shop’s beautiful shelves to browse, plus lots of laughter and the perfect opportunity to catch up with crime writers and readers – it was a crime fiction addict’s heaven!

Attending authors included: Rebecca Whitney, Elizabeth Haynes, Terry Stiastny, Susan Wilkins, Clare Mackintosh, Antonia Hodgson, Louise Millar, Christobel Kent, Kate Rhodes, RC Bridgestock, Charles Cumming, SD Sykes, William Shaw, V.M.Giambanco, Ali Knight, Elly Griffiths, L.C.Tyler, Dreda Say Mitchell & Tony Mason, Elena Forbes, Julia Crouch, Mick Herron, Colette McBeth, T.R.Richmond, Vaseem Khan, Jenny Blackhurst, Robin Blake, Sabine Durrant, JS Law, Clare Carson, Erin Kelly, Jane Lythell, Stuart Prebble, Simon Toyne, Anya Lipska, Fergus McNeill, SJI Holliday, Helen Giltrow, Claire McGowan, Eva Dolan, Mark Billingham, SJ Watson, Sharon Bolton, Renee Knight, David Hewson, Emma Kavanagh, Sarah Hilary, Alison Joseph, Cal Moriaty, Saul Black, Diana Bretherick, Rod Reynolds and Mark Hill.

crime writers Helen Giltrow, Rod Reynolds & Mark Hill

crime writers Helen Giltrow, Rod Reynolds, Mark Hill (with a copy of Rod’s debut The Dark Inside – out in September)

Definitely an event I’ll put in my calendar again for next year!

In the meantime, be sure to visit Goldsboro Books at Cecil Court, London (just a minute walk from Leicester Square tube) or hop on over to their website at www.goldsborobooks.com

Competition Alert: WIN a fabulous bundle of Quercus Crime Books!

The Prizes!

The Prizes!

Love crime fiction? Well, you’re in for a real treat. Those darling people over at Quercus have teamed up with the CTG blog to give away a gorgeous set of novels just perfect for the avid crime reader.

The lucky winner will receive a copy of the following books: Alex by Pierre Lemaitre, The Chessmen by Peter May, Screams in the Dark by Anna Smith, The Gift of Darkness by V.M. Giambanco, and The Deliverance of Evil by Roberto Costantini.

How to enter
To enter all you need to do is send a tweet to @crimethrillgirl Your tweet must include the answer to this question: Where is Peter May’s novel ‘The Chessmen’ set? [hint, check out the prize descriptions below!] Your tweet must also include the hashtag #CTGQUERCUS. [You’ll also need to be follow us on Twitter, so that we can send you a direct message should you win].

If you’re not on Twitter don’t worry. You can also enter by emailing crimethrillergirl[at]gmail.com. Give your email the header CTGQUERCUS and be sure to include the answer to the question: Where is Peter May’s novel ‘The Chessmen’ set? [hint, check out the prize descriptions below!] plus your name and address.

Rules
(1) One entry per reader (2) UK residents only – due to postage costs – sorry! (3) We will draw the winner at random from the entries containing the correct answer (4) No cash alternative (5) The competition closes for entries at 10pm GMT on Tuesday 24th December 2013 (6) The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNER HAS BEEN NOTIFIED

The prizes
Here’s the blurb for each of the fabulous books  …

THE CHESSMEN by Peter May

Fin Macleod, now head of security on a privately owned Isle of Lewis estate, is charged with investigating a spate of illegal game-hunting taking place on the island. This mission reunites him with Whistler Macaskill – a local poacher, Fin’s teenage intimate, and possessor of a long-buried secret. But when this reunion takes a violent, sinister turn and Fin puts together the fractured pieces of the past, he realises that revealing the truth could destroy the future.

ALEX by Pierre Lemaitre

In kidnapping cases, the first few hours are crucial. After that, the chances of being found alive go from slim to nearly none. Alex Prévost – beautiful, resourceful, tough – may be no ordinary victim, but her time is running out. Commandant Camille Verhœven and his detectives have nothing to go on: no suspect, no lead, rapidly diminishing hope. All they know is that a girl was snatched off the streets of Paris and bundled into a white van. The enigma that is the fate of Alex will keep Verhœven guessing until the bitter, bitter end. And before long, saving her life will be the least of his worries.

SCREAMS IN THE DARK by Anna Smith

Crime reporter Rosie Gilmour has learned to be tough … The places she’s been and the stories she’s covered, she’s had to be. Her experience stands her in good stead for a grisly new investigation: the body of a refugee in a Glasgow canal, missing limbs and vital organs. He’s not the first person to go missing – are there vigilantes at work or is there something far more sinister going on? It’s up to Rosie to find out – but will what she discovers leave her with murder on her hands?

THE GIFT OF DARKNESS by V.M. Giambanco

Twenty-five years ago in the woods near the Hoh River in Seattle, three boys were kidnapped. One did not come home. A quarter of a decade later, a family of four is found brutally murdered, the words thirteen days scratched near their lifeless bodies. To stop a psychopath, Detective Alice Madison must go into the woods and confront the unsolved mystery of the Hoh River Boys. She must forget her training and follow her instincts to the terrifying end …

THE DELIVERANCE OF EVIL by Robert Costantini

On 11 July 1982, Elisa Sordi was beautiful. Commissario Michele Balistreri was fearless. Italy was victorious. A killer was waiting … On 9 July 2006, with Sordi’s case twenty-four years old, and Balistreri haunted by guilt and regret, Italian victory returned. And so did Sordi’s killer … But this time Michele Balistreri would be ready. This time he would fear no evil.

To find out more about these fabulous novels hop on over to the Quercus Books website at http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/blog/2013/11/30/for-the-crime-lover/