Monday, 26 June 2017

Confessing by Sarah Stovell

I have a confession to make. I am an imposter in the world of crime and psychological thrillers. I have tried to avoid making this confession and pulling some sort of convincing expertise out of a hat when people at festivals have asked me probing questions about the history and characteristics of the crime novel, but each time, I have floundered. So I am coming clean. Before Exquisite, I had never written a thriller and I'd scarcely read more than a bit of Kate Atkinson. There is an assumption in the crime thriller world that if you write it, you must know about it. This is fair enough. I tell my students *all the time* that they can't write if they don't read, but clearly I fail to listen to my own advice. I am, though, frantically and humbly trying to catch up. Erin Kelly and Julie Crouch are two of my recent, joyful discoveries.

I turned to crime writing after several years of writing for the sort-of literary market. I say 'sort-of literary' because I was that little bit too highbrow for the commercial market, but not highbrow enough for the literary market, and so my other books sold about 56 copies each. Probably just as well.

After writing my last novel - a biographical novel about the life of Dorothy Wordsworh (yes, quite) - I decided to ditch the attempts at literature and go for what people like to read: strong, compelling stories with a dark heart.

This was actually easier than I'd imagined. I found I could still be absolutely true to my desire to write character-driven fiction in moderately poetic language. Some thrillers gain their strength from the ingenious plots that twist and turn and keep the reader guessing, but although Exquisite isn't without its twists, it's not in the same league as Paula Hawkins or Ruth Ware in that respect. It's quieter. The characters of Bo and Alice are the driving forces of the action, and this has always been the way I write. I like writing about the darker sides of love: the obsession, the pain and the patterns of loving that are, for better or worse, set in our earliest relationships. Bo and Alice are both damaged women, and this paves the way for an explosive encounter that leads ultimately to disaster.

The actual, recognised crime of violence is only a small element of Exquisite. The real crime, in my mind, is the psychological violence inflicted on one of the characters. Psychological violence is common, but it is not yet and possibly never will be, recognised as criminal. But it is psychological violence that I am most interested in exploring, and how a skilled manipulator can be capable of taking a healthy person to the very brink of madness. There is no punishment for this sort of crime because sadly, the victim is often so deeply distressed that they can appear bonkers to onlookers who have also been taken in by the manipulator. There is a technique called 'gaslighting' which is one of the cruellest and most insidious forms of hell manipulators can put their victims through. One day, when I am ready, I shall write my magnum opus about gaslighting.

In the meantime, though, I cannot tell you how pleased I am to have made the switch to thriller writing. I plan to stay here for as long as my readers will have me.



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Sunday, 25 June 2017

What Makes Me Write asks Peter Murphy

I’m Peter Murphy.  My day job, from which I’m now retired, was in the law, as an advocate, teacher, and judge.  I worked in England, the United States, and for a decade as counsel at the Yugoslavian War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.  I began writing fiction seriously more than twenty years ago, partly as an antidote to the legal writing that consumed so much of my life, but I’ve only been published in fiction in the last six years.  I’ve published five legal thrillers set in Sixties and Seventies London, featuring barrister Ben Schroeder: A Higher Duty; A Matter for the Jury; And is there Honey still for Tea?; The Heirs of Owain Glyndŵr; and Calling down the Storm.  I’ve also published two political thrillers about the US presidency: Removal; and Test of Resolve.  More recently, I’ve completed a volume of humorous short stories, under the title Walden of Bermondsey.  My publisher is No Exit Press.  

My parents told me that I’d learned to write the alphabet and a few odd words before I went to school.  When I was a bit older, I remember boring one or two baby-sitters by making them read short stories I’d scribbled on a page or two of paper.  In other words, for whatever reason, I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve always loved language.  When I became a lawyer there was ample opportunity to write, as part of my practice and also academically.  I have been widely published on legal topics.  But when I was in my forties, I found that technical writing wasn’t enough. I wanted to write fiction, and I didn’t want to wait any longer.  The novel was a natural form for me, because I’ve always loved to read novels, both older writers like Henry James and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and contemporary novelists.

The first novel I completed was the first in the Ben Schroeder series, A Higher Duty.  I was teaching at a law school in the United States at that time.  It was by working on this novel that I learned most of what I know about writing novels.  But it wasn’t the first to be published.  After re-working it endlessly, as it seemed, and getting equally endless rejection letters from agents, I changed direction with Removal, a political thriller about the American presidency.  When I eventually returned to England in 2007, a chance encounter with Clem Chambers (creator of the excellent Jim Evans series) led me to No Exit Press. They liked Removal.  After Removal had been published, we started the Ben Schroeder series with A Higher Duty. The moral of this is: never give up, however many rejection letters you get.

When I retired from the law in 2015 I was able to become a full-time writer.  I’ve suddenly entered the world of literary festivals and library events – and blogs, which are something of a mystery to many of my generation, myself included.  I enjoy writing just as much as ever.  I’ve recently tried my hand at humorous short stories. I’ve always loved John Mortimer’s books and the great TV series starring Leo McKern.  My Walden of Bermondsey is an unashamed homage to Rumpole.  It is based partly on experiences I myself had as a lawyer and judge, and partly on imagining what Rumpole would have been like as a judge. 

I am often asked what it takes to write a novel, and how to go about it.  I’m never quite sure how to answer that question.  But I have put together a few pages of notes on the subject, which anyone interested can download from the home page of my website

The basic principles, it seems me, are:

1.   You must really want to do it (it’s a very laborious and time-and-energy-consuming process);

2.   You must have a story, or combination of stories, strong enough to keep the reader engaged for 300-400 pages;

3.   You must do your research and prepare a detailed synopsis of the book before starting to write.

4.   Then all you have to do is to sit down and write the book (harder than it sounds).  If you have a good synopsis, this should be a mechanical process of writing each scene as well as you can.  You shouldn’t be having ‘writer’s block’ or sitting around waiting for the ‘muse’ to descend. If you do experience this, your research or synopsis isn’t good enough.  Go back and work on it again.

5.   Never show your work to anyone until it’s finished.  This is controversial – there are many flourishing writer’s groups bearing witness to the opposite idea. It’s just my own experience talking.  With A Higher Duty, I showed the developing text to a number of people, and got so many conflicting comments and suggestions that I ended up feeling that I had to scrap what I had and start again.  Others have different experiences, and I’m not saying that my way works for everyone.

6.   But this is important: don’t revise the book until you’re well over half way through.  If you try to revise too soon, you may have to change back again and you may upset the stability of your synopsis, and if that goes wrong, you’re back to square one.

7.   Finally, don’t worry if you’re not sure how the book ends.  I was at least 75% through Removal before my heroine, FBI Agent Kelly Smith, told me how she would end it.



Calling Down the Storm by Peter Murphy (Published by No Exit Press) Out 29th June.

Calling Down the Storm is the story of two separate but strangely parallel lives: the life of a defendant on trial for murder, and the life of the judge who presides over his trial.  April 1971. When DI Webb and DS Raymond receive an emergency call, a horrific scene awaits them. Susan Lang is lying on the ground, bleeding to death. Her husband Henry is sitting nearby, holding a large, blood-stained knife. In shock, Henry claims to have no memory of the events that led to his wife's death, leaving his barrister, Ben Schroeder, little to defend a potential charge of murder.  Unknown to his strict Baptist wife, Deborah, Mr Justice Conrad Rainer has a secret life as a high-stakes gambler. In his desperation for money, he has already raided his own and Deborah's resources, and now he has crossed another line - one from which there is no return.  To his horror, as the trial of Henry Lang starts, Conrad discovers a sinister connection between it and his gambling debts, one that will cause his world to unravel.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Angela Clarke & Casey Kelleher in Conversation (With Added Gin)


The air was thick with heat, anticipation, and hairspray. The sultry blonde poured the bottle of gin slowly, seductively drawing out every moment of liquid joy. The ice cracked like a smashed phone screen. The sweaty blonde skidded on a stray lemon slice and fell over.

Well, when the fabulous Casey Kelleher and the slightly less fabulous me, Angela Clarke, met up over the magic of the internet it went something like that. With more laughter. And swears. Here’s what we talked about:

Casey: Huge congratulations on having the first book in the series, Follow Me, optioned for a TV series. If you had unlimited budget, who would you cast to play your central characters DS Nasreen Cudmore and Freddie Venton.

Angela: That’s such a difficult question! Like it should be easy, but when you actually think about it, it’s so hard to choose. I’m gonna go for Lena Dunham five years ago for Freddie. With a British accent, obvs. And Freida Pinto five years ago for Nas. (I really need to brush up on my actors in their early twenties.) How ‘bout you? Your books are full of feisty characters and gritty urban backdrops, which would you most love to see made for the screen?

Casey: I think The Betrayed would make great TV. It's a really gritty story about a crime family set in the underbelly of society. Ultimately the story is about family loyalty and betrayals, hence the title.

Angela: Ohhh, and who’d be in it?

Casey: I'd pick my all-time favourite actor, Ray Winstone to play Jimmy Byrne. He'd be perfect for the role. A real old-school gangster type. Ruthless, but a lovable rogue too.  I absolutely love Kierston Wareing from Martina Cole's The Take too. She'd be a great Colleen Byrne. She's so fiery and feisty, but she has an inner vulnerability too that people really champion. 

Angela: I can totally picture it!

Casey: Ha! So, tell me about your latest book, Trust Me.

Angela: What if you witnessed a serious crime, but no one believed you? Except the attacker. That’s what happens to Kate, a teacher, when she accidentally stumbles across a live stream showing a serious assault. By the time she’s got the police there, the account’s been deleted. At the same time, my protagonists, DS Nasreen Cudmore and wannabe-journalist Freddie Venton, are looking for the missing daughter of a gangland criminal, and they begin to think she could be the one Kate saw on screen.

Casey: Dark. So, between publishing books, presenting radio shows, attending book launches and broadcasting live audience podcasts – and that's just this week going by your social media account - do you ever get a chance to just relax?

Angela: Says the woman who writes a book every six months and has three kids! I think we’re as bad as each other. I’m very good at sleeping, and I love a day nap – that’s my relaxation. That and painting, when I get the chance. What about you?

Casey: When I'm not slogging away over the hot MacBook, I spend time with my family and friends. Have nice meals out. Walk our little dog and pop into my local pub. Just chilling out really and having some real quality time with people. I love to read too and I'm also addicted to watching The Real Housewives or whatever the latest box set is that people are raving about.

Angela: Oh god, me too. Both to books and television. I’ve got a bit of a YouTube habit too.

Casey: TV is total escapism for me. You don't have to think, you can just switch off.

Angela: Exactly! I need something to actively distract me from work. To hold my attention.

Casey: Though catch me on the week of my deadline and I'll be lucky to have had time to brush my hair, let alone catch up with watching any TV.

Angela: I’m the same. I don’t usually get dressed when I’m on deadline – it’s a waste of valuable typing time. That sounds unhinged, saying that. Right. That’s it. I’ve decided we work too hard. We need a break… maybe. Who keeps you going, like, who inspires you?

Casey: Martina Cole. No question.

Angela: Good choice.

Casey: She's such an inspirational woman. Not only because of the huge success she's had in her career but also because she's extremely supportive of other authors too. I first read one of her books when I was just fourteen and to say it was an eye-opener would be a huge understatement. I'd never read anything so gritty and captivating before and from then on, I was completely hooked on her work. Total Fan girl. 

Angela: We need those people though, those ones that inspire us and make us try harder. I’ve got a raft of people who inspire me, from good friends, to family members, to people I’ve never met. I’m gonna say Hilary Mantel, in terms of writing. I’ve got a quote from her taped above my desk. It says: “The inner process, the writing life, it doesn’t change at all. Every day is like the first day, it’s like being a beginner. There’s no time for complacency. You need to be extending your range all the time.” I try to live by that.

Casey: Do you extend your range when it comes to research, too? The research that you've done for the Social Media Murder series must have lead you to some pretty harrowing, graphic experiences from the real-life victims of the similar crimes that you have covered in your books. Do you ever get nightmares about the subject matter that you cover? Has any part of your research really stayed with you?

Angela: Yes, I’ve had moments where I’ve researched, and in some cases witnessed, some dark things (online). After I just need to be alone with my thoughts. It’s a lot to process sometimes, what humans are capable of. You feel like you need to emotionally recharge, before you can pick work back up and get on with it again. You know what I mean?

Casey: A hundred percent. When I wrote The Taken, I did a lot of research on The Jungle - the migrant camp in Calais and people trafficking. There was a lot happening at that time in the press too and some of the stories about what people endured to escape from countries they were fleeing from, and some of the things that they'd encountered on their journey were just unthinkable. The most harrowing moment for me was seeing the image of the little Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, when he was found washed up on a Turkish beach. Utterly heart-breaking. That still haunts me now. 

Angela: That poor boy. His poor family. And all the other faceless and nameless ones who’ve gone through similar things. I feel that writing fiction is often another way of bearing witness. It’s the old thing about crime fiction holding a mirror up to society. Yes, it’s an entertaining medium, but I can’t help but try and slip a few flags in there to try and make people think. Like exposing the ways in which social media dissects with misogyny. It’s a theme that reoccurs in my work. That and how we ought to behave better online. Someone said to me, you shouldn’t post anything online you wouldn’t be willing to shout in the middle of a packed bus, and I think that’s a pretty good guide.

So, what’s next? The Betrayed is out this week, isn’t it?

Casey: It is! And I'm back to doing what I love, focusing on the female characters and their roles in the notorious crime family. Colleen and Nancy are incredibly strong characters and can be just as ruthless, if not more so, than their male counterparts.

Angela: I love that! I’m all about the strong ladies. Though Nas is quite a straight-laced cop, she’s still a total badass. And Freddie’s just off the scale. She’s ended up working alongside the police, but has never made any alterations to her character or actions: she does what she believes to be right. And consequences be damned. Do you reckon Colleen and Nancy would get on with her and Nas?

Casey: Colleen and Nancy couldn't be more different from Freddie and Nas! They’re from completely different worlds. The Byrnes family don't let anyone in. They don't trust anyone, not even their own. 

Angela: I think Freddie and Nas have a sisterly relationship, the way young women in their twenties often do. They’re tied together in so many ways, despite their differences. They bicker constantly, but if anyone else dares say a word against the other, they’ll be the first to defend them.

Casey: Do you want another drink?

Angela: The answer to that question is always yes. Let’s do it!

The conversation then becomes somewhat blurred around the edges, so to find out the rest you best pick up our books…

Trust Me (Avon) by Angela Clarke is out now. The Betrayed (Bookouture) by Casey Kelleher is out now. Click the links to purchase from SHOTS AStore at discounted prices!


You can find Angela Clarke on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @TheAngelaClarke.  You can also find Casey Kelleher on Facebook and on Twitter @caseykelleher