Wednesday, 20 June 2018


"Forty-one years ago, William McIlvanney rocked the British literary world with Laidlaw, a gritty and socially conscious crime novel that brought Glasgow to life more vividly than anything before. This year's longlistees for the McIlvanney Prize demonstrate how modern Scottish crime writing has flourished from those seeds. From debutants to authors with more than 20 books, spy thrillers to long-running detective series, nineteenth-century mysteries to futuristic space station noir, there's an amazing range of talent on show."
Craig Sisterson – Chair of the Judges 2018
‘I went to Bloody Scotland and I was just knocked out... this event was so friendly, so supportive I was honestly overwhelmed’
William McIlvanney – speaking on BBC Scotland, 2012
Two years ago the Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award was renamed the McIlvanney Prize in memory of William McIlvanney who established the tradition of Scottish detective fiction. This year his son, Liam McIlvanney, has made the longlist for the 2018 McIlvanney Prize.

The complete longlist, revealed today, has been chosen by an independent panel of readers:
Follow the Dead by Lin Anderson (Macmillan),
Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre (Little, Brown)
Presumed Dead  by Mason Cross (Orion)
The Man Between by Charles Cumming (Harper Collins)
The Loch of the Dead by Oscar De Muriel (Michael Joseph),
Perfect Death by Helen Fields (Harper Collins)
Now She’s Gone by Alison James (Bookouture)
The Quaker by Liam McIlvanney (Harper Collins)
No Time to Cry by James Oswald (Headline)
The Suffering of Strangers by Caro Ramsay (Severn House)
The Hunter by Andrew Reid (Headline)
The Photographer by Craig Robertson (Simon & Schuster)

It features an intriguing mix of previous winners, established crime writing luminaries, some emerging talent and a debut.  The award recognises excellence in Scottish crime writing, includes a prize of £1,000 and nationwide promotion in Waterstones.

The judges for the next round will be chaired by Craig Sisterson and include comedian and crime fiction fan, Susan Calman who like Craig is joining the panel for a second year and crime reviewer, Alison Flood.

The finalists will be revealed at the beginning of September and the winner kept under wraps until the ceremony itself which this year will take place at the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling and followed by a torchlight procession – led by the winner accompanied by Denise Mina and Val McDermid – to their first event at the Albert Halls.

Both the opening ceremony and the torchlight procession are open to the public but tickets are selling fast and capacity is less than at the castle last year so people are urged to book them now.

Previous winners are Denise Mina with The Long Drop 2017, Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow 2016, Craig Russell with The Ghosts of Altona in 2015, Peter May with Entry Island in 2014, Malcolm Mackay with How A Gunman Says Goodbye in 2013 and Charles Cumming with A Foreign Country in 2012.
For further information or to request press tickets please contact 07767 431 846
@brownlee_donald @bloodyscotland

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Books to Look Forward to from Little Brown, Constable & Robinson

June 2018

She can give you everything you want... But can you trust her? Kat and her husband Nick have tried everything to become parents. All they want is a child to love but they are beginning to lose hope. Then a chance encounter with Kat's childhood friend Lisa gives them one last chance.  Kat and Lisa were once as close as sisters. The secrets they share mean their trust is for life... Or is it?  Just when the couple's dream seems within reach, Kat begins to suspect she's being watched and Nick is telling her lies.  Are the cracks appearing in Kat's perfect picture of the future all in her head, or should she be scared for the lives of herself and her family? The Surrogate is by Liz Jensen.

July 2018

The Pritchards had never been worth a damn--an evil, greedy family who made their living dealing drugs and committing mayhem. Years ago, Colson's late uncle had put the clan's patriarch in prison, but now he's getting out, with revenge, power, and family business on his mind. To make matters worse, a shady trucking firm with possible ties to the Gulf Coast syndicate has moved into Tibbehah, and they have their own methods of intimidation.With his longtime deputy Lillie Virgil now working up in Memphis, Quinn Colson finds himself having to fall back on some brand-new deputies to help him out, but with Old West-style violence breaking out, and his own wedding on the horizon, this is without doubt Colson's most trying times as sheriff. Cracks are opening up all over the county, and shadowy figures are crawling out through them - and they're all heading directly for him.  The Sinners is by Ace Atkins.

London, present day - Jean, a failing journalist in her late thirties, finds herself entertaining a married man - a handsome, arrogant ex-barrister, universally known by his surname: Coates. Unsure of the relationship and wanting to develop her career, she begins to write a one-woman show about a mind-reader she comes across in her research - a woman who performed in the 19th Century under the name The Martian Girl, before disappearing without a trace.  London, 1898. - Kate French, a striking young woman with a love for the stage, is honing her craft in the music halls of East London at the turn of the century. As the Martian Girl, she performs each night with her mind-reading partner, the cynical and money-grubbing Joseph Draper.  As Jean makes progress on her show, Kate - long since dead - begins to consume her thoughts. Jean starts to suspect that Draper fully believed in Kate's ability to read minds and that he found the idea deeply disturbing. What really happened between the two of them all those years ago? And why does Jean feel such an intense bond with The Martian Girl? As the line between Jean and Kate begins to blur, the fates of the two women are destined to transcend time, and finally to intersect.  The Martian Girl is by Andrew Martin.

The Missing One is by Patricia Gibney.  The hole they dug was not deep. A white flour bag encased the little body. Three small faces watched from the window, eyes black with terror.The child in the middle spoke without turning his head. 'I wonder which one of us will be next?'  When a woman's body is discovered in a cathedral and hours later a young man is found hanging from a tree outside his home Detective Lottie Parker is called in to lead the investigation. Both bodies have the same distinctive tattoo clumsily inscribed on their legs. It's clear the pair are connected, but how?  The trail leads Lottie to St Angela's, a former children's home, with a dark connection to her own family history. Suddenly the case just got personal.  As Lottie begins to link the current victims to unsolved murders decades old, two teenage boys go missing. She must close in on the killer before they strike again, but in doing so is she putting her own children in terrifying danger?  Lottie is about to come face to face with a twisted soul who has a very warped idea of justice.

Kill for Me is by Tom Wood.  For years, two sisters have vied for the turf of their dead crime boss father. Across the streets of Guatemala City, bodies have piled up; the US Drug Enforcement Agency, operating far from its own borders, is powerless to stop the fighting.  But now one sister has a weapon that could finally win the war - a cold, amoral hitman known, fittingly, as 'Victor'.  Freed from previous employers the CIA and MI6, Victor is a killer for-hire whose sense of self-preservation trumps all else. Yet as betrayal and counter-betrayal unspool in the vicious family feud, Victor finds himself at the centre of a storm even he could be powerless to stop.

Childhood sweethearts William and Mary have been married for sixty years. William is a celebrated surgeon, Mary a devoted wife. Both have a strong sense of right and wrong.This is what their son, Joe O'Loughlin, has always believed. But when Joe is summoned to the hospital with news that his father has been brutally attacked, his world is turned upside down. Who is the strange woman crying at William's bedside, covered in his blood - a friend, a mistress, a fantasist or a killer?  Against the advice of the police, Joe launches his own investigation. As he learns more, he discovers sides to his father he never knew - and is forcibly reminded that the truth comes at a price.  The Other Wife is by Michael Robotham.

August 2018

Broken Ground is by Val McDermid.  'Somebody has been here before us. And he's still here . . .' When a body is discovered in the remote depths of the Highlands, DCI Karen Pirie finds herself in the right place at the right time. Unearthed with someone's long-buried inheritance, the victim seems to belong to the distant past - until new evidence suggests otherwise, and Karen is called in to unravel a case where nothing is as it seems.It's not long before an overheard conversation draws Karen into the heart of a different case, however - a shocking crime she thought she'd already prevented. As she inches closer to the twisted truths at the centre of these murders, it becomes clear that she's dealing with a version of justice terrifyingly different to her own . . .

By January 1666, the plague has almost disappeared from London, leaving its surviving population diminished and in poverty. The resentment against those who had fled to the country turns to outrage as the court and its followers return, their licentiousness undiminished.  The death of a well-connected physician, the mysterious sinking of a man-of-war in the Thames and the disappearance of a popular courtier are causing concern to Thomas Chaloner's employer. When instructed to investigate them all, he is irritated that he is prevented from gaining intelligence on the military preparations of the Dutch. Then he discovers common threads in all the cases, which seem linked to those planning to set a match to the powder keg of rebellion in the city.  Battling a ferocious winter storm that causes serious damage to London's fabric, Chaloner is in a race against time to prevent the weakened city from utter destruction.  Intrigue in Covent Garden is by Susanna Gregory.

Fall Down Dead is by Stephen Booth. They knew the danger, but they went anyway...  "Almost before she'd stopped breathing, a swirl of mist snaked across her legs and settled in her hair, clutching her in its chilly embrace, hiding her body from view. It would be hours before she was found."  The mountain of Kinder Scout offers the most incredible views of the Peak District, but when thick fog descends there on a walking party led by enigmatic Darius Roth, this spectacular landscape is turned into a death trap that claims a life.  For DI Ben Cooper however, something about the way Faith Matthew fell to her death suggests it was no accident, and he quickly discovers more than one of the hikers may have had reason to murder their companion.  To make things worse, his old colleague DS Diane Fry finds herself at centre of an internal investigations storm that threatens to drag Cooper down with it.

One year on from being reunited with the family she abandoned, successful lawyer Liberty Chapman is still in Leeds - although she has stayed well away from the Greenwood's business activities. Their criminal life style may not sit right with Liberty, but blood is thicker than water and surely what they do is their business not hers?  But when her youngest brother, Frankie, is seriously injured in a shooting, Liberty is forced to decide which side she is on and how far she will go to protect her own. And if that means torturing the local gangster for information or kidnapping another at gun point, then so be it. Turns out Liberty is a Greenwood after all.  Meanwhile, PC Amira Hassani will do whatever it takes to put Liberty and her family away for good, and if that includes blackmailing her colleague Sol Connolly to secure evidence against them, then so be it too. Will Sol betray Liberty to protect his wife and his career? And how far will any of them go to do what they think is right?  Bang to Rights is by Helen Black. 

 September 2018

Mma Ramotswe's friend will persuade her to stand for election to the City Council. 'We need women like her in politics,' Mma Potokwani says, 'instead of having the same old men every time . . .' To be elected, Mma Ramotswe must have a platform and some policies. She will have to canvas opinion. She will have to get Mma Makutsi's views. Her slogan is 'I can't promise anything - but I shall do my best'. Her intention is to halt the construction of the Big Fun Hotel, a dubious, flashy business near a graveyard - an act that many consider to be disrespectful. Mma Ramotswe will take the campaign as far as she can, but lurking around the corner, as ever, is the inextinguishable Violet Sephotho.   The Colours of all the Cattle is by Alexander McCall-Smith

Brothers in Blood is by Amer Anwar.  A Sikh girl on the run. A Muslim ex-con who has to find her. A whole heap of trouble.  Southall, West London. After being released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders' yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put the past behind him.  But when Zaq is forced to search for his boss's runaway daughter, he quickly finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge.  With time running out and pressure mounting, can he find the missing girl before it's too late? And if he does, can he keep her - and himself - alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?

What would you do to protect your family?  When Paul Rogan sets off a bomb at his office, killing eleven people, no one can understand why. He was a loving husband and father, with everything to live for. Then his wife and daughter are found chained up in the family home, and everything becomes clear. Rogan had been given a horrifying choice - set off the bomb, or see his loved ones suffer and die. Lieutenant Eve Dallas knows the violence won't end here. The men behind the attack are determined, organised and utterly ruthless. In this shocking and challenging case, both Eve and husband Roarke are heading into serious danger.Leverage in Death is by J D Robb.

October 2018

Bright Young Dead is by Jessica Fellowes.  As the glamour of the Bright Young Things crashes into the world of the Mitford sisters, their maid Louisa Cannon finds herself at the scene of a   Meet the Bright Young Things, the rabble-rousing hedonists of the 1920s whose treasure hunts were a media obsession. One such game takes place at the 18th birthday party of Pamela Mitford, but ends in tragedy as cruel, charismatic Adrian Curtis is pushed to his death from the church neighbouring the Mitford home.  The police quickly identify the killer as a maid, Dulcie. But Louisa Cannon, chaperone to the Mitford girls and a former criminal herself, believes Dulcie to be innocent, and sets out to clear the girl's name . . . all while the real killer may only be steps away.
gripping murder mystery.

When New York psychologist Will Hardy's wife is killed, he and his teenage daughter Bernadette move into Godwin Hall, a dusty, shut-up mansion in the small town of Abbeville, Ohio.  Meanwhile, Abbeville Chief of Police Ivy Holgrave is investigating the death of a local girl, convinced this may only be the latest in a long line of murders dating back decades - including her own long-missing sister.  But what place does Will's new home have in the story of the missing girls? And what links the killings to the diary of a young woman written over a century earlier? The Buried Girl is by Richard Montanari.

Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer is by M C Beaton.  The team of bells at St. Ethelred church is the pride and glory of the idyllic Cotswolds village of Thirk Magna, together with the most dedicated bell ringers in the whole of England: ringing the special peal of bells created for the occasion and start bullying the other bell ringers, forcing them to rehearse and rehearse . . . so much so that Joseph Kennell, a retired lawyer, yells at the sisters that he 'felt like killing them'!the twins Mavis and Millicent Dupin.  As the village gets ready for the Bishop's visit, the twins get overly-excited at the prospect of  When the twins' home is broken into one night and Millicent is found dead, struck from a hammer blow, suspicion falls onto the lawyer.  Will Agatha unmask the real killer and clear Joseph's name?

November 2018

If everyone is lying, who can you trust?  The Halfway Inn is closed to customers, side-lined by a bypass and hidden deep in inhospitable countryside. One winter's night, two women end up knocking on the door, seeking refuge as a blizzard takes hold. But why is the landlord less than pleased to see them? And what is his elderly father trying so hard to tell them?  At the local police station PC Lissa Lloyd is holding the fort while the rest of her team share in the rare excitement of a brutal murder at an isolated farmhouse. A dangerous fugitive is on the run - but how can Lissa make a name for herself if she's stuck at her desk? When a call comes in saying the local district nurse is missing, she jumps at the chance to investigate her disappearance.  The strangers at Halfway wait out the storm, but soon realise they might have been safer on the road. It seems not all the travellers will make it home for Christmas.  Halfway is by B E Jones. 

December 2018

It is 1920 and Scotland Yard detective, DI Albert Lincoln, is still reeling from the disturbing events of the previous year. Trapped in a loveless marriage and tired of his life in London, he's pleased when he's called to a new case in the North West of England.  Before the War, he led the unsuccessful investigation into the murder of little Jimmy Rudyard in the village of Mabley Ridge in Cheshire and now a woman has been murdered there and another child is missing, the sole witness being a traumatised boy who lives in a cemetery lodge. Albert's first investigation was a failure but this time he is determined to find the truth . . . and the missing child. As Albert delves into the lives of the village residents, many of whom are wealthy cotton manufacturers from nearby Manchester, he uncovers shocking secrets and obsessions. Then there is the dramatic scenery of the Ridge itself which conceals its own disturbing mysteries while the wealthy residents of big houses nearby pursue pleasure relentlessly, trying to forget the hell of the war years.  With the help of a village schoolmistress with her own secret past, Albert closes in on Jimmy's killer. Then, as more bodies are discovered, he realises that his young witness from the cemetery lodge is in grave danger, possibly from somebody he calls 'the Shadow Man'. And as he discovers more about the victims he finds information that might bring him a step closer to solving a mystery of his own - the whereabouts of his lost son.  The Boy Who Lived With The Dead is by Kate Ellis.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Does every crime author need to think like a criminal?

There’s a great rift dividing writers’ circles. No, not Brexit, but whether you’re a plotter or a pantser – do you outline the plot in advance, or let it unfurl as you type (writing by the seat of your pants)?

The latter certainly sounds more glamorous and it’s probably what most non-writers have in mind when (if) they ever imagine the writing process: perhaps a eureka! moment at some picturesquely ink-spattered desk, or even while the author's musing in a bubble bath.

In fact, no less than Stephen King announces: “I won't try to convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible... I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. (Then again, he also recommends: “The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season.” Tell that to some writers and watch them slowly turn white with horror...)

Still, when you’ve been writing as much – and as well – as Stephen King has, the mechanics of story and plot will surely have become second nature. Perhaps he doesn’t need to outline, because it has all become so ingrained in the workings of his mind.

The reality is, I suspect, that many of writers are meticulous plotters, outlining their novels in detail, particularly in the crime and thriller genre. For instance, John Grisham’s as passionate in his defence of outlining as King is against it. “Most writers will tell you... they create a great character and that character takes over the action and they follow that character wherever he or she wants to go,” says Grisham, adding bluntly: “That's total BS.”

And yet, at the same time, I wonder if it’s a false dichotomy - if all writers sit on some sort of continuum between plotting and pantsing, at least.

Take Agatha Christie, the queen of crime, famed for her intricate plots. She scatted fledgling ideas for her meticulously constructed novels across dozens of notebooks (73 of which are deciphered by a self-confessed arch fan John Curran, who taught himself to unlock what he calls her "bloody awful handwriting” for his book Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks).

One note to herself reads: “West Indian book – Miss M? Poirot ... B&E apparently devoted - actually B and G had affair for years ... old 'frog' Major knows,” pointing to the way that stories can start as fragments then coalesce into a whole that ticks along like clockwork. (That became A Caribbean Mystery, published in 1964.)

But, crucially, as Christie said, “Nothing turns out quite in the way that you thought it would when you are sketching out notes for the first chapter, or walking about muttering to yourself and seeing a story unroll.”

Which is just what I found out, after I outlined my psychological thriller, about a mother’s desperate search for her missing daughter. On a practical level, if I didn’t know whodunit when I started, how could I seed my clues and misdirections with any precision?

More specifically, I had beats I wanted to hit: I knew I wanted to give the reader short, sharp electric shocks throughout the book, to keep her or him intrigued. I even re-watched Hollywood movies that had left me hanging white-knuckled off my seat and puzzled over screenplays to work out how to create a fast-paced narrative, with that same urgent sense of building to a climax.

And so, I busily planned and I plotted, setting out the basic shape of my story as an outline, before I ever started to type a word. And yet, as I wrote, I found that this synopsis – which I was using like a map to find my way through my story – was still growing by the page (not to mention the index cards which supplemented it, which seemed to be breeding in my living room).

The story was taking on its own life, I realised. What’s more, having an outline still left room for inspiration – a final twist that struck me as I wrote really did come to me in a flash, just as I’d been promised. 

So perhaps it’s time to end the debate and admit that writers are all plotters and pantsers to some extent, sliding about somewhere in between those two poles.

After all, much like the characters we write about, crime and thriller authors can scheme and plot as much as we like, but we all know what they say about the best-laid plans. And in the same way, those innocent-seeming souls who don’t seem to have a calculating thought in their brains? Something tells me they might be worth keeping an eye on...
Emma Rowley’s Where The Missing Go is out in paperback from Orion on June 14.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Writing What You Know by Ali Carter

Write what you know, that’s what they say. For me, a first-time novelist once described in a school English report as “an undisciplined thinker with a tendency to surprise with sentences and phrases of arresting inappropriateness”, it was highly unlikely I’d ever move off first base (… and I’d give anything to know what sentences of ‘arresting inappropriateness’ I was writing in my early teens).

Years on from those unhappy school days I find myself having a crack at writing crime fiction. Or rather ‘cosy-crime’, definitely more appropriate in my case. My novels (yes there are a couple more in the pipeline) won’t make you wince with fear but hopefully the mystery and the characters will keep you reading. My protagonist, Susie Mahl, is an artist in her thirties who paints in oils and draws pet portraits to commission. Now spot the difference: I, Ali Carter, am an artist in my thirties, I paint in oils and draws pet portraits to commission.  It’s not that I have a massive ego and couldn’t wait to put myself in the forefront of my books – rather it’s all to do with the realisation that an artist and an amateur sleuth really do have crossover skills. Building a character who doubles as both has enabled me to breathe life into Susie Mahl by writing about what I know.

Being an artist involves immense concentration, hours of work, painstaking patience and determination to continue in the belief that you will get there in the end. Time lies outside of one’s control; the picture will be finished when it’s finished and the process always involves trial and error. Susie Mahl is an artist and the lessons she’s learnt have translated nicely to being an amateur sleuth: identifying a murderer takes time, patience, observation and tenacity. And applying an artist’s keen eye for detail to detective work means Susie enjoys a very individual interpretation of conventional circumstances – if there’s a whiff of foul play around she’s well equipped to sniff it out early on.

Art and sleuthing go through similar stages. There comes a point in every painting when you just can’t believe you’ll ever achieve a finished picture ... and the same goes for solving a mystery. It has its ups and downs. Just when you think you’re on to something, steaming off in a certain direction, it turns out to be a red herring. However, a detective must pursue all leads in order to get closer to the truth, just like the artist who must persist at getting down on paper or canvas what it is they’re trying to reveal.

No matter what you paint or draw – an onion, a dog, a shoe horn or a flower – you have to see them not for what they are but how light bounces off them. Accurately capturing this light through the medium of paint or graphite will in turn produce an image of the object you’ve been studying. In a similar way, detective work is about observing the bare bones of situations, drawing conclusions and piecing these bits together to make a whole.

I have had a lot of fun in my novel, A Brush With Death, developing Susie’s character. I live vicariously through her. She gets her paintings into galleries I dream of, the Tate Modern being one. She has a penchant for expensive underwear, something I’d definitely have if I had the cash. And she enjoys flirting with handsome men in the hopes she will bag them in the end. A tiny wee bit of me likes to dream that if I write these things down, and develop Susie’s character as my alter ego, they might just come true for me in the end!

Those of us who do it know only too well that writing is hard work. From time to time, when I’m struggling to get into that fifth gear where the story flows and words tumble effortlessly into my keyboard, I turn to the experts and read advice they’ve offered up. Stephen King’s On Writing instructs: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

As my little cottage has no internal doors other than one on the bathroom, I’m faced with a conundrum. One can think on the loo but no way is my laptop coming in there too. I sing in the shower of course, who doesn’t, and lounge in the bath developing my plot, but I’ve had to come up with my own strategy for hard graft. It’s important to me to make my bed as soon as I rise, get properly dressed before going downstairs, ensure the house was cleaned the night before and all washing up done in advance. This way I start each day with no possible excuses for procrastination. The earlier I get going the more productive I am. I sit at my desk, metaphorically glue my feet to the floor and discipline myself not to leave. Sometimes it takes hours to get in the zone, sometimes less, but I know if I’m patient and apply myself it will come.

If I am really struggling I take myself off to a busy place, a train station, a café, Oxford Circus. Suddenly ideas flow, people step on to the stage and I’ve bagged a wealth of character traits that will help the writing when I’m back at my desk.

My favourite part of the process is handing in a draft, blocking anything to do with Susie Mahl from my mind and throwing myself back into painting, with the relief that I’ve flown from first base. Here’s hoping that in sharing these strategies there might be a nugget to help you too.

Ali Carter’s debut novel A BRUSH WITH DEATH is published by Point Blank, paperback £8.99.