Tuesday, 26 March 2019

From the Personal to the Universal: Weaving Personal Stories into Fiction by Jacqueline Winspear

It was 1973, and I was sitting in the front passenger seat of the car, with my fourteen-year-old younger brother in the back, reading a comic. Dad pulled over opposite the hardware store, and he was in a hurry. “Quick son, nip in there and pick up the paint I’ve ordered.”  My brother rolled his eyes as he threw down the comic and stepped out of the car. My father watched him saunter across the road and shook his head.  “When I was that age, I living away from home and fending for myself,” he said. I didn’t think any more of it, assuming that, like my mother, he had been evacuated from London during the war. However, it was decades later, in the hospice where he would spend his final days, that we revisited stories about his childhood, about family and the things he loved, that he began telling me about the years when he lived away from home – and it wasn’t the story I was expecting. Like most working class kids in those days, my father left school at fourteen to go to work – in his case for a painting and decorating business, taking up an apprenticeship secured for him by his father.  It was 1940, and his employer had landed a government contract to paint every RAF building in the country with a special fire retardant – at the time, new aerodromes were being built in a hurry, so there was a lot of work.  Dad joined a crew moving from one region to the next, living in lodgings, and he was doing the sort of work that an apprentice was landed with. He was blending the emulsion as well as painting, and testing each wall as it was finished fell to him.  

I had to line up blowtorches right next to a wall,” he said. “And after three hours I’d come back, and do you know – there wasn’t a mark to be seen.”

Really?” I asked. “What was that stuff called?

Oh it never had a name, just a number.

This was in the days when men did not wear protective clothing or masks, so an adolescent boy, still growing, was exposed to an unnamed toxic emulsion that had doubtless not been subject to adequate testing because it was wartime and they needed those buildings to resist fire. I knew in that moment that I had a story, yet it wasn’t until 2017 that I began work on To Die But Once, about a young apprentice painter, a member of a crew applying toxic emulsion to airfield buildings in the spring of 1940.  My character, young Joe Coombes, is not my father – but every aspect of his work is based upon the story my father shared with me that day, just a week before he died.  And because my father loved one of his “billets” more than any other – on a farm in Hampshire – so Joe loves the county.  Of course, other threads had to be woven into that central story, but I drew upon personal experience to give color and texture to the characters. Joe’s sister is a telephonist on the government exchange – an easy choice for me, as my mother worked on the government exchange, and she’d told me a lot about what it was like to be a telephonist working on secure lines in the 1940’s.  Over the years I’ve cherry-picked nuggets of my own and family experiences to provide those often telling details – some very small – that give color and texture to a story; tools to draw in the reader so that they are transported, in the moment, to a different time and place.  And sometimes, it’s those seemingly miniscule details that make all the difference in the crafting of a narrative.

My mother always said I was a nosy child – the kid who asked the embarrassing questions.  I once revealed the pregnancy of my mother’s friend’s teenage daughter, when it transpired I was the only one who’d noticed her swollen belly and asked, in innocence, when she was having her baby! I might use that vignette in a story one day.  Yet I don't think I was nosy, as much as curious – and I believe that we writers were probably all curious kids who kept that curiosity going into adulthood. We noticed details – things we come back to, slipping into our writing something observed in human behavior so it plays a key role in touching upon universal truths.

It was during one of my visits to Whitchurch in Hampshire, where I have family, that I garnered two golden nuggets – precious pieces of information I would come back to.  My cousin happened to mention that paper money was printed locally, and that the Bank of England had moved some of its operations to the area during the war. I tucked that one away, did more research, and used it in To Die But Once. Then my aunt told me a wartime story of having to make her way home through a daytime bombing raid, when the office where she worked sustained damage.  She was walking along when she saw a woman clambering over a pile of searing hot rubble, pulling at bricks and burning her hands. “My girls!  My girls!” she screamed, while the ARP men tried to tear her away.  My aunt began to run, stumbling, crying because people were dying in the street, when she saw my mother running toward her in the distance.  The American Agent opens with a war correspondent broadcasting her report of a nighttime bombing – where she has witnessed a woman tearing at burning rubble searching for her daughters, who have perished in the attack.

There is no secret to using personal experiences in fiction.  As a writer, you’re already an observer of people every day.  But the key is in using those golden nuggets with care, weaving them into the narrative so they fit – and writing from the heart. 

The American Agent (number 15 in the bestselling Maisie Dobbs series) by Jacqueline Winspear is out now and published by Allison & Busby.



Sunday, 24 March 2019

Books to Look Forward to from Penguin Random House incl Michael Joseph

May 2019

Catching Teller Crow is by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina.  Nothing's been the same for Beth Teller since she die.  Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her, and he's drowning in grief. Only a suspected murder, and a mystery to solve, might save them both.  And they have a potential witness: Isobel Catching. Aboriginal by birth, like Beth, she seems lost and isolated in the world.  But as the two get closer, Isobel's strange tale of glass-eyed monsters and stolen colours will intertwine with Beth's investigation - and reveal something dark and terrible at the heart of this Australian town . . .

PARIS 2017. THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE HAS RULED EUROPE FOR OVER 300 YEARS.  As a respected special investigator for the state police, Kamal Agha is committed to keeping the empire safe from threats inside and out. But these are dangerous times in the empire. Under the sultan's autocratic regime, no one is beyond suspicion. When a naked man covered in tattoos appears on the banks of the Seine and murders a passer-by, Kamal is tasked with tracking him down. But asking too many questions can be a highly risky endeavor-especially when the mysterious man's trail leads Kamal to a secret buried deep in the empire's past, a secret that goes to the very core of the empire's success. A secret the sultan and his security services will do anything to silence.  Kamal is forced to question his own loyalty when his own family attracts unwelcome attention from the security services. Soon, he has no choice but to flee. But on the run from the all-seeing organisation with which he made his reputation, can he save himself and his family?  And, if he does, what might that mean for the existence of the Empire itself? Its past, its present and its future .... The Ottoman Secret is by Raymond Khoury.

The Copy Cat is by Jake Woodhouse.  Jaap Rykel is on the brink, his dark past driving him to breaking point - and ending his police career.   Visiting the station one last time, he stumbles across an investigation into a particularly violent murder. A murder where the details exactly match a case he solved years earlier.  But that killer was caught - and is still in prison.  Is there a copycat killer on the loose, playing games with Rykel's fragile mind? Or did he get it wrong, and send an innocent man to prison?  This might be his last chance to make things right - or it could be the blow that finally takes him over the edge . . .

June 2019

On a remote island off the coast of Argentina, a team of elite counter-terror commandos prepare to assault a newly-discovered Hezbollah hideout.   What they don't expect is to be brutally ambushed themselves - slaughtered with no survivors.   What they don't realise is that, on screens around the world, the enemies of the West are watching.  Back in Washington DC, the growing obstruction in the Senate has reached crippling levels, as a crucial treaty to strength NATO in Eastern Europe is inexplicably blocked. Suspecting that key politicians may have been compromised - but aware of the explosive consequences of making such accusations in public - the President dispatches Jack Ryan Jr to Poland to investigate.   In Warsaw, Jack partners with beautiful and brilliant Polish agent Liliana Zaleski, and it's not long before they find evidence of a tangled web of corruption. But what Jack and Liliana don't realise is that this conspiracy stretches further than they could ever have imagined, and the danger has already crept terrifyingly close to home… Tom Clancy’s Enemy Contact is by Mike Maden.  

Every Monday, 49-year-old Ellie looks after her grandson Josh. She loves him more than anyone else in the world. The only thing that can mar her happiness is her husband's affair. But he swears it's over now, and Ellie has decided to be thankful for what she's got.  Then one day, while she's looking after Josh, her husband gets a call from that woman. And just for a moment, Ellie takes her eyes off her grandson. What happens next will change her life forever.  Because Ellie is hiding something in her past.  And what looks like an accident could start to look like murder . . .  I looked Away is by Jane Corry.

July 2019

A Fatal Game is by Nicholas Searle.  A terrorist attack has just hit a busy railway station. Jake Winter was the British intelligence officer in charge of stopping the attack and now his career, and his conscience, are in freefall . . .  Jake's next anti-terror operation has to be a success. He has got himself a new source - a young British Asian man, Rashid, recently returned, apparently disillusioned, from battle, who he hopes is the key to foiling the next attack and to getting Jake to the leader of the network. But is Rashid really working for British intelligence, or has Jake put his faith in the wrong man once again?

It's evening, you're leaving work, and in your pigeonhole is a note:  A DEATH THREAT  - and it warns that time is running out.  But the note is for another person. And soon you learn that they are dead. They are just the first.  As more victims are found, you know that soon, very soon, a note will arrive for you - unless you do something . .  Tell No Lies is by Gregg Hurwitz

Inspector Kosuke Iwata returns to Japan after ten years to confront the ghosts of his past, and catch a dangerous killer.  Tokyo. 2020, As Japan prepares to host the Olympic Games an English exchange student is found bludgeoned to death in a love hotel. She lies in an empty room with only a dead spider for morbid company. Could this be a calling card from her killer?   The world's eyes are on Tokyo's Homicide department who are so desperate that the Commissioner picks up the phone and calls his old protege, Kosuke Iwata. A brilliant detective whose haunted personal life has forced him into exile thousands of miles away. Iwata wants no part in an investigation that means stepping back into a past he had no intention of revisiting. Until he is is given an offer he can't refuse.  Black Suit City is by Nicolás Obregón

 August 2019

It's been fifteen years since Simon Meier walked out of his house, never to be seen again. And just one day since politician Bernard Clausen was found dead at his cabin on the Norwegian coast. When Chief Inspector William Wisting is asked to investigate he soon discovers he may have found the key to solving Meier's disappearance.  But doing so means he must work with an old adversary to piece together what really happened all those years ago. It's a puzzle that leads them into a dark underworld on the trail of Clausen's interests and vices . A shady place from which may never emerge - especially when he finds it leads closer to home than he ever could have imagined.   The Cabin is by Jørn Lier Horst.

Ice Cold Heart is by P J Tracey.  On a bitterly cold winter night, Kelly Ramage leaves her suburban home, telling her husband she's going to meet a friend.  She never comes back.  When her body is discovered, murdered in what seems to be a sex game gone horribly wrong, Detectives Gino and Magozzi take the case, expecting to find a flirtatious trail leading straight to the killer.   However, Kelly's sinister lover has done a disturbingly good job of hiding his identity. This isn't his first victim - and that she won't be the last.

 One missing. One a murderer. One trying to find the truth.Flora has her whole life ahead of her - until the summer night she vanishes.  Her sister Heather was a good girl - until the spring morning she kills two people. Jess Fox was once like a sister to them both.  But called home to investigate Heather's crime, she begins to wonder if she really knew either sister at all . . .  And Then She Vanishes is by Claire Douglas.

October 2019

Set in London in 2018, Agent Running in the Field follows a twenty-six year old solitary figure who, in a desperate attempt to resist the political turbulence swirling around him, makes connections that will take him down a very dangerous path.  Agent Running in the Field is by John le Carré.

All the Rageis by Cara Hunter.  A teenage girl is found wandering the outskirts of Oxford, dazed and distressed. The story she tells is terrifying. Grabbed off the street, a plastic bag pulled over her face, then driven to an isolated location where she was subjected to what sounds like an assault. Yet she refuses to press charges. DI Fawley investigates, but there's little he can do without the girl's co-operation. Is she hiding something, and if so, what? And why does Fawley keep getting the feeling he's seen a case like this before?

The Dying Room is by Nicci French.  Neve Connolly looks down at a murdered man.  She doesn't call the police.   You know, it's funny,' Detective Inspector Hitching said. `Whoever I see, they keep saying, talk to Neve Connolly, she'll know. She's the one people talk to, she's the one people confide in.'  A trusted colleague and friend. A mother. A wife. Neve Connolly is all these things.  She has also made mistakes; some small, some unconsciously done, some large, some deliberate. She is only human, after all.  But now one mistake is spiralling out of control and Neve is bringing those around her into immense danger.  She can't tell the truth. So how far is she prepared to go to protect those she loves? And who does she really know? And who can she trust?  A liar. A cheat. A threat. Neve Connolly is all these things.  Could she be a murderer?

 November 2019

In an off-limits computer lab near Chicago, a mole infiltrates and steals a sophisticated piece of government security software. The implications are devastating - but it's only half the prize.  In Indonesia, an American engineer is seduced into spilling secrets about a cutting edge Artificial Intelligence chip. The information seems harmless, but will wreak havoc the wrong hands.  In the White House, discontent with the President is rising - but could it amount to treason?  Tom Clancy's Code of Honour is by Marc Cameron

As usual, seventeen-year-old Alice Teale walked out of school at the end of a bright spring day.  She's not been seen since.  Alice was popular and well-liked, and her boyfriend, friends and family are desperate to find her. But when the police start asking questions, it becomes clear that almost everyone has something to hide.  Torn between a host of suspects, Detectives Beth Winter and Lucas Black don't know which way to turn. But then they receive a disturbing package: pages from Alice's precious diary.  Who could have sent them? And what have they done with Alice? Alice Teale is Missing is by Howard Linskey

Come a Little Closer is by Karen Perry.  Leah is in love. It should be the happiest summer of her life, but she can't help feeling lonely with Jake's attention divided between her, his ex-wife and his young son. As insomnia sets in, the walls of their new basement flat feel as if they're closing in around her.  Until she meets her upstairs neighbour, Anton, who has recently moved back in after a long absence from the street. He's a sympathetic ear when Jake can't be, and even though others on the street seem strangely hostile towards him, Leah soon comes to rely on Anton and their secret conversations in the night.  Leah has no idea that nineteen years before, Anton was convicted of killing his wife. A wife who looked a little bit like Leah. He has always said he didn't do it.  Is Leah his redemption? Or is she befriending a killer intent on luring her closer and closer?

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Bodies from the Library - 2019 Programme


9:30 Doors open: Registration
9:55 Welcome
10.00 Is The Golden Age Humdrum? - Jake Kerridge, Moira Redmond and Richard Reynolds
10.30 The Puppet Master: John Dickson Carr (1906-1977) - Tony Medawar
11.00 City and Countryside in ECR Lorac’s crime novels - Sarah Ward
11.30 COFFEE
11.50 Two (Undeservedly) Forgotten Crime Club Authors - John Curran
12.20 The Max Carrados Tales of Ernest Bramah - Dolores Gordon-Smith
12.50 LUNCH
1.50 Radio Play
2.20 Murder in Mind: The Crime Novels of Helen McCloy - Christine Poulson
2.50 Agatha Christie: Playwright Julius Green and John Curran
3.20 Solving Crimes Down Under: June Wright (1919-2012) - Kate Jackson
3.50 COFFEE
4.10 Cyril Hare: Master of the English Murder - Martin Edwards and Christine Poulson
4.40 The 10 Types of Impossible Crime - Jim Noy and Daniel Curtis
5.10 Ask The Experts

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Running Away with Harlan Coben



After reading Harlan Coben’s latest thriller Run Away my thoughts drifted back to a pivotal point in this novelist’s career – what we term his breakthrough book. I am writing about a novel that was extraordinary. It was different from what came before, and one that would launch Harlan Coben’s career as one of the World’s most engaging thriller writers, and one that changed the direction of his writing career, as well as being one (that I firmly believe) nudged the direction of the thriller genre. The book I allude to was of course TELL NO ONE, the first of his work that would be adapted for film, and curiously it would be Europe that acclaimed his talent.

But first a little context, and also a look at the surreal happenings in this reality, that at times makes one feel as if life contains the elements, reflections and occurrences that would not be out of place in a Harlan Coben novel.

I was first introduced to the work of Harlan Coben, thanks to one of my regular visits to the long-gone Murder Ink bookstore in Dawson Street, Dublin. It was in the late 1990s, and I recall sitting with Mike Gallaher, Murder Ink’s owner and as we sipped coffee, we discussed what books we’d read. Michael asked if I had read the Myron Bolitar novels penned by Harlan Coben? As I hadn’t, Michael told me about them, and about Myron Bolitar who was involved in investigating sports……and at that point I told Gallaher, sorry I’m not interested in sports, at which Gallaher told me “trust me Ali, the sports angle is just a foil. These novels by Harlan Coben are terrific, funny and exciting”. Michael also knew of my fascination with the music of Bruce Springsteen, so he added “and he’s from New Jersey, like Bruce Springsteen”.  

I trusted Michael Gallaher as I had purchased many books from him, over the years and he was rarely off target. Never one constrained by the forces of moderation, I bought all he had in the store, the first four of the Myron Bolitar novels [Deal Breaker, Drop Shot, Fade Away and Back Spin].

To be totally honest, I had low expectations as they looked way too sports-orientated for my palate, but Michael Gallaher was my friend, so I placed them into the bag with some others I purchased. I put off reading them as they appeared (as what I term) ‘Spunkbubbles’ with tennis rackets, golf clubs, US footballs, baseball bats emblazoned on the covers. As a result, they languished for several months in my TBR [to-be-read] pile, as each time I looked at the covers, my heart sank, because I dislike sports, and the idea of a crime fiction novel set in the world of athletics made me feel nauseous, they made me feel ill. They appeared to me, like literary Ebola.

Then on one particularly rainy day, I sifted through my masses of books and stumbled upon those four books by Harlan Coben, the ones Michael Gallaher of Murder Ink recommended, the ones that were crime and mystery thrillers set in the world of sport.

I held my nose as I cracked the spine of DEAL BREAKER expecting to abandon it after a few pages; BUT following reading the first chapter I realised I had been an idiot. I failed that test, the adage - “never judge a book by its cover”.

The writing was exhilarating, I found myself laughing out aloud, and I also found myself thinking deeply for this novel provoked intense thought and introspection. Then I read the next three books, back-to-back and they were just so damned good, extraordinary writing, words that made me think. They contained a dry wit, a humour that made me laugh, as I turned the pages, but also the humour was useful, because they were in fact very, very dark books; all despite the amiable nature of Harlan’s protagonist (and alter-ego), Myron Bolitar.
The sports angle, the backdrop was just that – purely a backdrop, it provided a ‘frame of reference’ in which a thought-provoking narrative could unfold – it was the lens.

Though his work is dark, and when later I got to meet the writer, Harlan Coben, I understood that writers with the darkest and most troubling imaginations are the nicest and most life-affirming of people.

I was hooked, and at that time of my life, Harlan Coben joined my other favourite writers, on my bookshelves; novelists such as Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Thomas Harris, Michael Connelly, John Connolly, Martina Cole, Robert Crais, Jeffery Deaver, Philip Kerr among many, many others. What is impressive about these writers is the fact that despite selling books by the bucket-load, they could easily slack off and write ‘any old biff’ – but they continue to provide great and insightful novels, narratives that make the reader think deeply.

Harlan Coben is one such writer.

Harlan Coben’s work acts as a prism from which we can inspect our own lives, for his work makes us think, and that is what makes a novelist I consider to be ‘extraordinary’.

Just before Michael Gallaher closed down his shop Murder ink, we sat for a final coffee, and I thanked him for introducing me to the work of Harlan Coben.

We laughed at my initial reticence in cracking the spine of Deal Breaker, with all that Sports backdrop that had put me off. Michael amused me with an anecdote, which I will share –

“Do you remember when I told you about the work of Harlan Coben all those years ago? And as I knew the sports angle didn’t appeal to you, so I told you that Harlan Coben was from New Jersey, the same state as Bruce Springsteen?

I nodded.

“Well his guitarist Nils Lofgren was in the shop yesterday. He’s playing with Springsteen in Dublin tomorrow, and as he’s a big reader of Crime Fiction he was in the shop yesterday - and just like you, he asked for a recommendation, so I told him about Harlan Coben. Just like you, those many years ago, Nils Lofgren had never read a Harlan Coben novel before. He was intrigued due to the link to New Jersey, so he bought a few of his books here in Dublin.”

It was not long after that I noticed on Harlan Coben’s old website, before it became the ultra-slick www.harlancoben.com that there was a photo of Harlan backstage with the E-Street Band, and that a friendship developed with Nils Lofgren

But coming full circle, it would not be one of the first seven Myron Bolitar series thrillers that changed everything for me. it would be his standalone novel TELL NO ONE that would become the breakout, the novel that readers outside the confines of the crime, mystery, thriller genre would pick up, and the first that made it to film, the one that the French saw merit, and later Sky TV and Netflix would follow suit.  


When I read TELL NO ONE, I was very excited to meet Harlan Coben, and bought multiple copies of that hardcover (the one with that distinctive purple cover). Soon I found myself in a queue at the fondly remembered Crime-in-Store bookshop in London’s Covent Garden to get those books signed. For it was that year that many of my friends would receive signed copies of TELL NO ONE as gifts. It was also in that signing queue (just after the millennium) that I would first bump into Shots Blogger Ayo Onatade. I was in awe as Ayo had copies of those very rare paperbacks of Harlan’s early books Play Dead and Miracle Cure for signing.
Then over the years I would bump into Harlan at many book launches, award ceremonies as well as his appearances at Conventions such as Bouchercon, Theakstons’ Crime Writing Festival – and I applauded until my hands were red, when Harlan brought back Myron Bolitar a decade ago, as well as seeing his foray into YA fiction.

So, what were my thoughts on Harlan’s latest RUN AWAY?

Renowned for his twisty, serpentine plots, we often overlook just how great a novelist and narrative stylist Harlan Coben truly is. His latest, Run Away is a thriller but also a novel that makes you think deeply as the pages race, not unlike protagonist Simon Greene’s journey to save his daughter, and ultimately his family.

Simon and his wife Ingrid Greene maybe suffering middle-class guilt, in failing their daughter Paige who has slipped through the cracks within their picture-perfect suburban life. The three children, Sam, Anya, and Paige have all the opportunities afforded by their parents, New York professionals in paediatric medicine, and with PPG Wealth Management in the financial sector.

But something goes wrong.

Read the full review from Shots Magazine HERE because like TELL NO ONE, Harlan’s latest, decades on is extraordinary, very special.

So as Harlan launches his new thriller, as well as an upcoming visit to England as a guest of Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival 2019, In Harrogate, he kindly agreed to answering a few questions for Shots Magazine.

Ali:         Welcome back to Shots Magazine Harlan, so how exhausted are you after penning the breathless Run Away?

Harlan:      Ha!  Never! I feel more energized than ever!  (This is a lie)

Ali:        And again you mine the lives of normal families to create an extraordinary story, so what is it about the mysteries concealed in suburban life that interests you?

Harlan:          Well, the Greene’s live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan so it’s very much city rather than suburban life. Family fascinates me – the ties and bonds of blood. That was a good place to start. Throw in some of the new genealogy websites, a cult, a few killers, a drug problem….

Ali:        I felt Run Away to be perhaps your most personal book, in terms of the backdrop of Simon Greene’s wife being a Physician and having three children? The Lanford College; am I right?

Harlan:          All the books are personal, but here’s something funny. When my four kids read RUN AWAY, they all started trying to guess which one of them was supposed to be Paige, Simon’s most troubled daughter. (Answer: None – I’m remarkably lucky)

Ali:         So, tell me, was there a spark that ignited the story behind Run Away, or was it just your work ethic of needing to get your derriere onto your chair and releasing your imagination into the dark-side?

Harlan:  It’s always both. I had a few things I wanted to write about – family, religion, drugs, DNA – but nothing came together until, like Simon on the opening page, I was sitting on a bench in Central Park listening to street musician mangling out a John Lennon tune. That was the spark I needed.

Ali:         And I see you are back at Theakston’s Harrogate Crime Festival, so tell us what is it about Europe that you consider appeals to readers of your work, as Run Away, like much of your work is heavily set in America?

Harlan:          Oh, I don’t know. From what I’m told, the European reader really values thrillers with heart. I hope that’s what the appeal is, but whatever, I’m so grateful.

Ali:         I see that you are in conversation with Ian Rankin while a guest of Theakstons’ Crime Writing Festival, so what are we likely to expect?

Harlan:          A very serious, weighty, mono-toned, dry discourse that will put the audience to sleep. Or maybe the opposite. I’m not sure.

Ali:         The last time we met, was at Bouchercon New Orleans back in 2016 a wonderful party managed by Heather Graham and her team, so tell us about that time in Louisiana?

Harlan:          It was magical. Being guest of honor at a conference I first came to as a total unknown… well, wow, that was a pretty heady. Heather Graham is the best too. She’s just a great person in so many ways. I adore her.


Ali:        I hear that it was during a military assignment that Heather asked you about being one of Bouchercon’s GoH, so tell us about that assignment?

Harlan:          I traveled with Heather and several other crime writers – F Paul Wilson, Phillip Margolin, Kathleen Antrim – on a USO Tour to entertain (more like, hang with) the troops serving in Kuwait, UK, Germany and at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC. It was an incredible and poignant experience.
  
Ali:       Back to Run Away, I noticed a few subtle nods to previous work, such as Lanford College [from Six Years] being where Paige Greene’s problems may have started. So, are these references just part of the writing process, or written for fans of your work, and also nerds like me to uncover?

Harlan:  A little bit of both. I love what I think is commonly called Easter eggs in both books and TV. On the tv show THE FIVE, for example, savvy viewers/readers picked up that we named Pru’s medical clinic after Win from my Myron books. But I also do to show that I’m often working in the same world when I write my books. For that reason, overlap ends up being natural.

Ali:         And is it true that your own memories of Amherst College became fictionalised in your work and is it also true that while a student there, you met not only your wife, but an aspiring writer entitled Dan Brown? And what ever happened to that Dan Brown bloke?

Harlan:           Certainly, there are similarities between Amherst College and Lanford, but that’s true of many things, if not most things, I write about. Yes, I met my wife at Amherst College. And yes, I met Dan Brown there too. Dan and I remain friends, but meeting my wife was better. I think Dan would agree.

Ali                Can you tell us a little of what is happening to cinematic and TV adaptations of your work?

Harlan:          I just came back from Manchester where we started filming THE STRANGER, an eight-episode crime drama based off my book, starring Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Stephen Rea, Jennifer Saunders (yes, THE Jennifer Saunders – her first dramatic role), Hannah Kamen-John, Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Kaye, Shaun Dooley… it’s a dream group.
  
Ali:      Thanks Harlan for your time, we loved Run Away, and so what’s next?

Harlan:  Oh I never talk about the next book. It takes away some of the energy. To put it another way, I would LOVE to tell you about the next book, but the only way I get that satisfaction is to WRITE it. And thanks. I really can’t wait to hear people’s reaction to RUN AWAY. It’s one of my personal favorites – but who cares what I think??

Shots Magazine would like to thank Charlotte Bush of PenguinRandomHouse for her help in organising this interview


Click HERE for video and an insightful interview feature between Harlan Coben and Michael Connelly recorded at Bouchercon 2016, New Orleans

If you’ve not read Harlan Coben, then RUN AWAY is a great place to start, more information from www.harlancoben.com

Photos © 1997 – 2019 A Karim



Tuesday, 19 March 2019

A Friend You Haven’t Met Yet by Peter Swanson

One of the themes I wanted to explore in my new novel, Before She Knew Him, was the idea of friendship. Not those long, impervious friendships—the ones that begin in childhood and stretch through the years—but those friendships that start late in life. And in particular, I was interested in the couple friendship.

Making friends as an adult is hard. If you happen to be part of a couple, then making couple friends can be doubly hard. Everyone needs to get along. Inevitably, such relationships can become fraught with tension—who doesn’t like whom, or, worse, does someone like someone else too much?

The opening scene of my book depicts a neighbourhood block party in a suburb west of Boston. Hen, the main protagonist, an artist with a history of mental health issues, is reluctant to go, even though they are new to the neighbourhood. Lloyd, her husband, convinces her. Of course, if he hadn’t managed to get her to attend, the rest of the novel wouldn’t happen. At this party, Hen and Lloyd meet their neighbours, Matthew and Mira, and after a dinner party with the four of them, Hen becomes convinced that her new neighbour is a murderer.

What interested me in writing this book wasn’t exploring the idea of whether Hen was imagining things, or if her neighbour is really the killer. It’s not a spoiler alert to say that Matthew Dolamore is a killer. The reader is told this at the beginning of chapter two. What interested me in writing this book was that Hen and Matthew ultimately form a relationship, one actually based on a strong, if twisted, bond.

After Hen becomes convinced that Matthew has killed someone named Dustin Miller, a former student of his, two years earlier, she shares her suspicions with both her husband and with a homicide detective. But because of Hen’s past, including a time in college when she falsely accused a fellow freshman of attempted murder, she is, understandably, an unreliable witness. And because she is such an unreliable witness, it provides an opening for Matthew, once he learns that she knows the truth. He can tell her anything, because she is powerless to turn around and repeat what he has said. No one will believe her. Most importantly, he can tell her the truth.

In a strange way, Hen gets something from Matthew, as well. When the two talk, it’s not just that he can confess to her what he’s done, he is also the only person who actually believes her, who knows that she’s not crazy. If that’s not the basis for some sort of friendship, I don’t know what is. 

I love these kinds of relationships in thrillers. There’s the relationship between Guy and Bruno in Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. There’s Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling from Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs. And my absolute favourite part of the recent TV series Luther, starring Idris Elba, was Luther’s relationship with the killer, Alice Morgan, played by the always brilliant Ruth Wilson. I have to say I lost a little interest when she disappeared from the show.

Strangers are scary, and sometimes friends are, as well. We never know what’s really in someone’s heart, and I think that’s a good basis for a thriller. It’s possible that my book is one long cautionary tale about attending neighbourhood block parties, but it’s also about putting yourself out there, getting to know people. Strangers are just friends we haven’t met. Or friends we wish we had never met.

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)
When Hen and Lloyd move into their new house in West Dartford, Mass., they’re relieved to meet, at their first block party, the only other seemingly-childless couple in their neighbourhood, Matthew and Mira Dolamore. Turns out they live in the Dutch Colonial immediately next door.  When they’re invited over for dinner, however, things take a sinister turn when Hen thinks she sees something suspicious in Matthew’s study. Could this charming, mild-mannered College Professor really be hiding a dark secret, one that only Hen, whose been battling her own problems with depression and medication, could know about? Lloyd certainly doesn’t seem to believe her, and so, forced together, Hen and Matthew start to form an unlikely bond. But who, if anyone, is really in danger?

More information about the author can be found on his website.  He can also be found on Facebook and follower him on Twitter @PeterSwanson3

Monday, 18 March 2019

Watching the Detectives



So, as we greet another adventure featuring the surreal detectives from the pen of Chris Fowler in the upcoming “The Lonely Hour”, Shots asked the author a little about these two iconic characters.

This may come as a shock but I don’t think of the Bryant & May mysteries (seventeen and counting) as a series. They’re a chance for me to write every kind of crime novel I can imagine, and to emulate some of my hero(ine)s. So far, I’ve tackled locked-room puzzles, whydunnits, how-will-he-get-away-with-its, races against time, comic capers, Christie and Crispin homages, and a dozen other crime sub-genres. I haven’t got around to gluing little clues into the pages as Dennis Wheatley’s publishers did but it can only be a matter of time. As a result, the books work well out of sequence because each is a fresh adventure.

The latest, ‘Bryant & May: The Lonely Hour’, is a darker, somewhat grittier adventure for my senior detectives. And it’s not a whodunnit, as I let the reader know the killer’s identity from the start, but there are questions about how and why, so there are still surprises to the very last page.

Each book feels like a new beginning, except that I get to use the same characters, and it really is like greeting old friends who have become so real to me over time, perhaps because each one is based at least in part on someone I know.

The new novel is about a man who knows what people fear most, and always strikes at 4:00am, the loneliest hour of the night, when we are all at our most vulnerable. To catch him Arthur Bryant changes his unit’s shifts to night-time, causing all kinds of havoc. It gave me a chance to explore the city at night and investigate murder, arson, kidnap, blackmail, bats and the psychological effects of loneliness on city-dwellers.

My research required me to chat to strangers hanging around in the street at 4:00am, many of whom didn’t make much sense. It’s a time when all the normal rules are upended, which only made the writing more interesting!

More information about these surreal detectives is available HERE