Saturday 14 January 2017

London Calling: “Warming the Blood” alongside the Thames Embankment

Hachette Livre’s UK publishing team understand the importance of the Crime Thriller Genre, as a key constituent of their publishing portfolio. Contained within the Hachette UK Fiction Operation, is the Little, Brown Group which was originally part of AOL-Time Warner with many niche imprints such as Sphere, Virago, Constable, Robinson, Atom, Piatkus, Corsair [among others]. Hachette’s UK operation also contains the mighty Orion Publishing Group, which incorporates the Weidenfeld & Nicolson Imprint.

Also contained within the Hachette Livre UK conglomerate are six separate imprints, each ploughing their individual niches: Hodder & Stoughton, Mulholland UK, Quercus, riverrun, John Murray and of course the mighty Headline Publishing, home of my very dear friend and publishing dynamo Martina Cole [among others]. These imprints combine their Crime and Thriller publications, pooling them for an excellent web resource entitled Crime Files, which can be accessed Here

The Crime Files team, put on an annual party, hosted on the fifth floor of Hachette UK’s corporate HQ situated on the Thames Embankment in London. There is good natured rivalry between Hachette and Penguin-Random House as to which publishing conglomerate has the best roof-top view of London and the river Thames; with Penguin-Random House’s vantage-point being along The Strand, while Hachette’s is on the Northside of the Thames Embankment.

Here’s the view from Hachette’s fifth-floor roof garden, taken at night –

The start of a calendar year is a busy time for Publishers, Booksellers, Reviewers, Award-Judges, Bloggers and Journalists. I was intrigued to see that the Crime Files Team of Hodder & Stoughton, Quercus, riverrun, Headline, Mulholland, John Murray are the first crime-fiction publishing team announcing their list of books and authors that will be coming to our physical, as well as digital bookshelves in 2017.

The annual preview by these five imprints, under the Crime-Files umbrella comes in the form of a literary party / gathering entitled ‘Warming the Blood’. Click Here to see last year’s ‘Warming the Blood’ 2016

So the Shots Team of Mike Stotter, Ayo Onatade and I joined our colleagues from the London bookselling and reviewing community to head to the Thames Embankment. As we all age, [for Time’s Arrow goes only in one direction] it is good to spend time with colleagues from the literary world, many who have become friends. Traversing Time’s Arrow is a good method of getting to know people, for many become more than colleagues thanks to a shared passion for the darkest edge of literature: Crime, Mystery & Thriller Fiction.
It was good to compare notes with fellow literary enthusiasts such as Broadcaster / Journalist Mike Carlson, Crimesquad’s Chris Simms, Kirstie Long, Jon Coates from The Express and Jake Kerridge of The Telegraph, and many others.

The Marketing Teams from these six niche imprints [and many of their Authors] were in attendance; with canapes, beer and wine to assist lubricate the conversations; as we anticipate what is coming in terms of publication schedules; and our own timing for reviewing.

Welcoming us to the event, in an amusing faux Headmaster’s Assembly Roll Call, was the legendary Publisher Nick Sayers of Hodder and Stoughton. We’ve known Nick for many years now; from the days when he was Publishing Director at HarperCollins, before taking on Directorship of Hodder and Stoughton. Nick is softly spoken and one of the major Gentlemen of British Publishing. I recall when Jamie Hodder-Williams referred to him as "one of the best fiction editors in the industry".

I took the opportunity to thank Nick for managing to persuade former Journalist and acclaimed political thriller novelist Gerald Seymour to attend last year’s Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime-Writing Festival in Harrogate; as I managed to get my collection [of the Harry’s Game author’s work] personally signed.

Nick took the opportunity to tell me about a new work he’s rather excited about publishing in May [as he was aware of my avid interest in the work of Joseph Conrad, especially The Secret Agent].

The debut is entitled “The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy”, introducing me to the writer H B Lyle. The novel is set in London in 1909 and picks up the story of Wiggins, now an ex-soldier earning a hard living as a bailiff on the streets of East London. Once the leader of a group of urchins, known as the Baker Street Irregulars, employed as spies by Sherlock Holmes, Wiggins is persuaded by Captain Vernon Kell to join the battle against covert threats to the Empire by becoming an agent in his newly-fledged Secret Service.

Sayers said: "I love the way Kell knows he can’t win the secret war with officers trained on the playing fields of Eton, but he still finds it hard to deal with Wiggins and his street smarts. This is the start of a wonderful series, which will appeal to thriller fans and historical fiction fans alike. And the Sherlock Holmes connection won’t do any harm. It will make for fantastic television – but first it will be a very enjoyable book in its own right. We are really looking forward to publication."

Read More from The Bookseller Here

So here’s Nick Sayer’s amusing welcome to ‘Warming the Blood’ 2017 >

There was an abundance of authors in attendance. I enjoyed comparing notes with my fellow reviewers and literary commentators, chatting to the publicity and marketing teams from the imprints, and far too many to mention, apart from Kerry Hood, who is one of the greatest publishing professionals I have had the good fortune to have worked with. The conversation naturally drifts back to Stephen King, whenever I have a drink with Kerry; as she handles PR and Publicity for Mr King. She has looked after Mr King related-reading for more years than either of us will admit publicly, without a lawyer present.

It was via King’s UK editor Philippa Pride who also manages The Book Doctor, a consultancy that provides editorial support for writers; that I got the gig to write some of the Stephen King Reading Guides [downloadable .pdfs] for Book Groups that were downloadable from as .pdfs. Kerry was kind enough to organise a party for Mr King, during which I was shocked and stunned to find myself actually talking to a writer, who has striated my life and challenged my thinking since my teenage [aka ‘clueless’] years.

I always recall the frantic work that Kerry and Philippa had organised, when Stephen King visited London several years ago. I wrote about that experience for Jeff Pierce’s The Rap Sheet, Here as the memory which was a decade ago, but remains as fresh in my mind as the first time I read ‘Carrie’, back when I was a clueless teenager, struggling to understand reality. Though looking at the world today in Macro Geo-Political terms; I remain as clueless as to what got us to where humanity is today; and more troubling, is perhaps where we are headed; 

especially if you’ve read King’s novel [or the David Cronenberg film adaptation] - The Dead Zone, when taken in context to the upcoming US Regime Change which is almost upon us, as many of us fear Greg Stillson.

I chatted with Kerry, yet again about how much I loved King’s last collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which she had sent me as an early review copy. This startling collection is now currently available in paperback. I know I have been boring anyone within earshot about my exuberant championing of such a remarkable series of stories about aging, loss and what it means to live and to die; for Time’s Arrow only points forward, and for purposes as yet unknown; though some of us have suspicions.

King has in my opinion, and that of many others hit second wind for his most recent work has been in a word, remarkable. Though little had prepared me for the sheer thought provoking quality of the stories contained within The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. This collection struck a chord with me, as King focuses on the effects of age, with dark reflections using fiction with the motif ‘that there are worlds other than these’.

I wrote at the time when evaluating this extraordinary collection –

It contains some new work, though a significant proportion of the stories here have been available previously; but King has updated them for this collection [as he indicates in his introduction].

There is also pathos blended in with the horror, such as in ‘Batman and Robin have an Altercation’, which has the theme of the ravages of age upon a Son and his elderly Father whose mental faculties are dimmed, but not totally gone.

The short introductions by King where he prefaces the stories add welcome insight, showing the story in context as well as inception.

Specific favourites are the very droll ‘Drunken Fireworks’, which started life as an audio novella, and is indeed a very engaging morality tale that when placed into context, mirrors the inherent madness in humanity’s need for the arms race. Though my favourite is the dark reflection of age and the mysteries of death in ‘The Dune’ [originally published as a story in the British literary journal Granta].

I subsequently purchased the audio version of this collection from Audible, which is remarkable, as King prefaces the stories vocally, but each is narrated by professional actors and vocal artists, such as Craig Wasson; and these narrations brings the stories to life [and death].  

Read the Full Review Here or listen to a clip from Audible / Amazon Here

So after Nick Sayers welcomed us all to the party with his amusing Headmaster routine, we followed his orders, refreshing our drinks and headed off to mingle. I was delighted to meet many authors, editorial & promotional staff from these niche imprints. I particularly enjoyed meeting up with Sarah Hilary, Julia Crouch and Colette McBeth remarking upon the stunning new covers from Headline’s Art Department for Hilary’s award-winning series featuring D.I. Marnie Rome. 

I have an avid interest in cover design, especially some of the recent work coming from Headline – Click Here for more thoughts on crime / thriller fiction book jackets.

It was also great to bump into Peter May again, as we had lunch earlier that day and toasted his success with Jon Riley’s riverrun imprint. It was also good to meet Medical Student and Crime-writer Rob McCarthy, as I thoroughly enjoyed his debut The Hollow Men. It came as little surprise, after reading that work, that he too was an enthusiastic fan of Season One of Nic Pizalatto’s TRUE DETECTIVE, an HBO 8-episode mini- series that had captivated me, and turned me into an obsessive Thomas Ligotti reader.

And another of Jon Riley’s riverrun authors that I was delighted to meet up with again was William Shaw. Jon had introduced me last year mentioning his novel The Birdwatcher, which is a remarkable narrative. We reminisced about last year’s Bouchercon which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana and the breakfast meeting we shared. I wear my New Orleans Mardi Gras beads, to remind myself of that wonderful time, thanks to prolific best-selling Heather Graham, Connie Perry and her Bouchercon team; besides the beads add much welcome colour to the darkness that pervades much of our reality, and my own thinking.

One of the many great times at Bouchercon New Orleans, was the Saturday Night Rock and Roll Show, hosted by the New Orleans’ House of Blues, which featured some remarkable jam sessions such as –

Mark Billingham, Doug Johnstone and Stuart Neville 

And direct from Bloody Scotland - The Slice Girls, which featured British writers AK Benedict, Steph Broadribb, Susi Holliday and the American writers Louise Voss, Alexandra Sokoloff & Harley Jane Kozak.

And of course, I was delighted to watch Heather Graham and her Band perform one of my favourite songs from the late Leonard Cohen

As ever I digress; for New Orleans has that effect on anyone who has been to this strange and surreal American city; for even when you leave NOLA - remember The French Quarter stays with you, as does a Bouchercon event.

So with my mind back to London, after a cognitive digression on days now passed; It was good to see crime-writer Laura Wilson, and her editor, the renowned Jane Wood; we discussed much, including the work of Philip Kerr [another of her authors] as many of us are in awe of his Historical Bernie Gunther novels.

As ever Mike Carlson got talking about our mutual love of Philip K Dick, and how the current world appears to resemble his writing, frighteningly.  Then again, Mike and I share liberal sensibilities when it comes to political governance, though we rarely share recipes for Lentil Broth or sing Kumbya, I hasten to add.

There were far too many authors in attendance to mention; though I was looking forward to meeting the enigmatic JP Delaney, as I had an early read last year of a remarkable thriller ‘The Girl Before’, which is due out on at the end of January from Quercus Publishing.

I had unfortunately missed Delaney [as he had to leave the party early]; as I wanted to congratulate him on this remarkable thriller ‘The Girl Before’.

I had initially groaned when I started reading it, due to the now ubiquitous ‘Girl’ in the title which many of us have sighed about its use in titles that commenced with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, The Girl with all the Gifts, Girl on a Train et. al. However, within a few pages I was locked into Delaney’s dark tale. 

The late Stieg Larsson has much to answer for, I guess changing the direction of the crime / thriller genre, both in novels and film too.

I had initially thought JP Delaney was a female writer, scribbling under a pseudonym; though I have since discovered who JP Delaney really is. In fact I discovered to my amusement that I actually interviewed him, over a decade ago at Crimescene 2003; when he was published by the Transworld imprint of Random House UK. 

If you Click Here from my report of Crimescene 2003, you might discover who J P Delaney really is, by reading through the author interviews contained within; but in case you think JP Delaney is in fact my very dear and old friend Martina Cole, I would remind you that J P Delaney is a male author, and another clue, JP Delaney is not Walter Mosely.

I would also advise that global rights for ‘The Girl Before’ have been sold, as well as a film option from Ron Howard, in Hollywood, and it comes highly recommended, trust me. Remember it was indeed Quercus Publishing [via Christopher MacLehose] who discovered this bloke.

So after a most enjoyable day, lunching with Peter May, thanks to Sophie Ransom, Quercus Publishing and riverrrun’s Jon Riley, followed by Karen Sullian’s launch of Rupture by Ragnar Jonasson hosted by David Headley’s Goldsboro Books and the Warming The Blood party, it was time to say my farewells thanking the Crimefiles team, Kerry Hood and Nick Sayers for hosting a lively gathering of Bibliophiles.  The only regrets being I had to miss Angela Clarke’s launch for ‘Watch Me’ in Piccadilly, as well as Steph Broadribb’s Deep Down Dead launch, as I had more diary Clashes than Joe Strummer.

So now we’ll need to evaluate what’s in store for 2017 from the other British Publishing Houses, such as Hachette’s Little Brown and Orion Publishing divisions; as well as Penguin Random House, Faber and Faber, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury and Macmillan - as well as other Publishers, especially the thriving independent sector.

Good Night after what I would term a Top Biff day in London; and Happy Reading as we all need distraction from what may follow with the imminent regime change in North America.

The world would be a much nicer place, if more people switched off their TV sets, and read novels, especially dark fiction, for it gives narrative contrast against the surreal backdrop that appears to be our reality; and helps develop critical thinking and empathy towards others - as the ability to think with logic, as opposed to prejudice is vital, for in our World, we see truth and lies becoming intertwined, by some within our ranks, who have an agenda to forward.

I draw comfort from the words of Dr Hannibal Lecter, of Johns Hopkins, Baltimore when I view our current reality; contrasted against the fictional world in Crime, Mystery & Thriller Writing

“I collect church collapses, recreationally. Did you see the recent one in Sicily? Marvellous! The facade fell on sixty-five grandmothers at a special mass. Was that evil? If so, who did it? If he's up there, he just loves it, Officer Starling. Typhoid and Swans - it all comes from the same place.” 

Ali Karim, London
January 2017

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