Tuesday, 22 September 2020

The Reacher Guy: Always Lucky by Dr Heather Martin

He loved stories. He’d always loved them, ever since he was a little boy. One day he would grow up to write them. But the one story Lee Child didn’t want to write was his own. He knew too much about it. He might get bored. He wanted new stories. There were too many unread books in the world to go back over old ones.

It was something the author of the bestselling Jack Reacher novels had become famous for - not planning his writing in advance. Mainly this was down to his preoccupation with authenticity. He didn’t want to mess with the instinctive narrative voice that had served him so well from the start, and anyway, once he’d set Reacher up, it was up to Reacher to ‘sort things out’. But it was partly to save his own sanity. It was already a monumental challenge to write book after book about the same character, to keep the series going for upwards of twenty years. If he knew the ending before he started out, he wouldn’t be able to summon the necessary energy and enthusiasm. He wanted to experience as a writer the joys of the reader: the same twists and turns, the nail-biting suspense, the righteous passion, the pursuit of justice, and the satisfaction of resolution.

So no, he wasn’t going to write his own story. It wasn’t that he’d never thought about it. He had a title, ‘Always Lucky’, which I stole for chapter 13 of my biography The Reacher Guy, a title that Lee had likewise served up on a plate in countless interviews across the globe. Still, he’d done a few rough sketches, three of which are included in my book. 

The first dates from 2014, when on the one hundredth anniversary of the declaration of war, Lee wrote a letter to his late Irish grandfather (wounded at Suvla Bay), reassuring him that he would survive to father a son, who in turn would father another, who would be born into ‘a different world’. ‘It comes out well in the end,’ he signs off. ‘I promise.’ It’s precisely the promise Lee makes to his readers, and so reliably keeps (hence in the same year Forbes magazine pronounced him the strongest brand in publishing, commanding the greatest loyalty among returning readers). At 277 words, this is the longest of the mini-autobiographies, informed not only by his big-picture view of history, but his warmth and humanity too.

The second dates from 2017, when Lee reestablished contact with his best friend from Sixth Form at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. ‘Not much to report . . . 18 years at Granada TV, which was a fun job, but it all fell apart in the upheavals of the 1990s, and I became a writer as a desperation move, but fortunately it worked out OK.’ Only forty words, but eloquently conveying the lack of self-importance that so endears Lee to his millions of fans both in and beyond the book-writing world.

I learned to write in my Physics class,’ Lee said. ‘The teacher was an absolute tyrant, but he taught me how to be brief and concise.’

He wrote the third in 2017, for me. It started well: After ten years as Aston Villa’s top scorer and a brief marriage to Charlize Theron ... But he never got beyond those 15 gem-like words.

Therein lies the problem. This is a guy who loves making things up, not least about his own life. In The Reacher Guy I’ve tried to stick to the facts - and to be fair, Lee did his best to help.

There are a few ways I tested his memory. One of the most instructive was by sifting through the 22 boxes of his literary archive, held at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at the University of East Anglia. Another was by interviewing witnesses at the scene. I spoke to old school friends, and teachers, and colleagues from Granada Television, and sometimes I would go back to Lee with what they’d said, setting up a dialogue between past and present in the hope of locating the truth somewhere in between. 

I don’t want to be remembered,’ Lee told me. But I doubted others would feel the same way. ‘No one will want to read about me,’ he said. ‘No one will be interested.’ In writing The Reacher Guy, I hope just for once to prove him wrong. 

The Reacher Guy by Heather Martin is out from Constable at Little, Brown on 29 September. 
Jack Reacher is only the second of Jim Grant's great fictional characters: the first is Lee Child himself. Heather Martin's biography tells the story of all three. Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the bestselling Jack Reacher novels. With millions of devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is lauded by critics and revered by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself. The Reacher Guy is a compelling and authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, refracted through the life of his fictional avatar, Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as the strongest brand in publishing. Heather Martin explores Child's lifelong fascination with America, and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession, shedding light on the opaque process of publishing a novel along the way. Drawing on her conversations and correspondence with Child over a number of years, as well as interviews with his friends, teachers and colleagues, she forensically pieces together his life, traversing back through the generations to Northern Ireland and County Durham, and following the trajectory of his extraordinary career via New York and Hollywood until the climactic moment when, in 2020, having written a continuous series of twenty-four books, he finally breaks free of his fictional creation.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Bloody Scotland from Infinity to Beyond

Scottish Festival Goes Global

Sponsored by The Glencairn Glass with match funding from Culture & Business Fund Scotland

Bloody Scotland online concluded today with an audience far greater than we could have ever squeezed into the Albert Halls for a conversation between two of the biggest crime writers on the planet, Val McDermid in Scotland and Lee Child in the US.

The virtual Festival allowed us to break down borders and have authors and audience from across the world. Five Continents of Crime challenged time zones with J P Pomare, an award-winning Maori author nursing a midnight dram on one side of the world and Attica Locke having breakfast on the other. Throughout the weekend the chat forum was buzzing with crime fiction fans from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Netherlands, Poland and South Africa.

The new format didn’t mean we lost old favourites. The much loved cabaret, Crime at the Coo, normally sells out as soon as tickets go on sale with around 80 packed into the whisky bar but the virtual version, brilliantly chaired by Craig Robertson, brought in ten times that on Saturday night with a combination of archive footage, live performances and pre-recorded packages from various members of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, some debut authors and a stellar performance from Festival Director, Bob McDevitt.

One of the most exciting new additions was the Never-Ending Panel, a rolling event which went on for four hours with authors and chairs coming in and out every 20 minutes. Chaos, entertaining and fun which pretty much sums up what Bloody Scotland is all about.

The transition to online proves that although Covid-19 may have temporarily floored us it couldn’t take away the spirit of the Festival.

Bob McDevitt, Festival Director, said: 'Bloody Scotland 2020 was quite unlike any other year but rather than being the poor relation of previous years, I think it will stand proud as one of the most enjoyable festivals yet with a truly dazzling array of international talent, a sizeable and engaged (often emotional) audience and just as many memorable moments as any other year. We may not have been able to visit Stirling in person, but we were definitely still able to go to Bloody Scotland!'

Bloody Scotland 2021 will be back 17-19 September 2021 hopefully in Stirling, possibly on-line or a combination of the two. Thanks to everyone who has supported us this weekend.

Most of the panels will be available on YouTube for a month after the Festival.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

A Q & A Interview With Kate Simants

Ayo: - For those who don't know you would you like to give us a bit of background information    about yourself.

Kate:- Of course. After my degree in English I worked for several years in the UK television industry, specialising in undercover investigations and police shows like Crimewatch UK. After that, I left London for Bristol, where I lived on the river Avon and focused on my writing. My first novel was published in 2019 by HarperCollins, and my second, A Ruined Girl, came out last year with Viper/Serpent’s Tail. I’m working on my third novel at the moment, which will be published by Viper in 2021.

Ayo:- Your first novel Lock Me In was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger, did that (do you think) put more pressure on you when you started writing A Ruined Girl.

Kate:- You know what, that had never occurred to me. The CWA shortlisting really gave me a lot of momentum I think – I had been writing for a while when it happened and I’d almost lost faith in anything really happening with it. But after the shortlisting, I applied for a place on the UEA’s new Crime Fiction MA, and won a scholarship to study there, which was obviously another bog vote of confidence. A Ruined Girl was written as part of that course. I think getting on the CWA shortlist took the pressure off if anything -it kind of reassured me that I was going in the right direction, when before I had that old doubt that maybe I was wasting my time! 

Ayo:- Congratulations on A Ruined Girl winning the Bath Award. How did you feel after you heard that you had won?

Kate:- Thanks! I was utterly thrilled, and very surprised. I almost didn’t enter because I’d read some previous winners and didn’t think I had a chance, and then at every stage - longlisting, shortlisting – I was just so excited, and humbled, actually. It’s such a lovely thing though because Caroline Ambrose who runs it has created this wonderfully supportive community around the prize, and all the other entrants were so generous. Winning it was just mad, I was stunned. 

Ayo:- You have been an investigative broadcasting journalist how did this job impact on your writing.

Kate:- Well, apart from the in-depth knowledge that I picked up from the documentaries I worked on, I learned how to research efficiently. Obviously when we were making documentaries that exposed wrongdoing and/or criminality we had to make sure everything we alleged was absolutely watertight from a legal point of view: a discipline which isn’t strictly necessary when you’re writing fiction, but it was good training. I learned a lot about the police working on Crimewatch UK, the kind of behind-the- scenes cultural and social stuff that money can’t buy, which really stood me in good stead when I started writing about law enforcement. Scriptwriting was also great training for writing fiction – any experience of getting ideas across to a wide audience using words is basically invaluable when you become a novelist!

Ayo:- A Ruined Girl is as much about trust as it is about finding out what happened. What was the impetus for the story?

Kate:-  It’s always so hard to think back and find the source of where a story came from, but I think it was the convergence of a lot of particular themes of mine. Even before I worked on the Dispatches documentary in which I worked undercover in children’s homes, I was very conscious of children’s social care. A close family member was temporarily in the system, as were several friends, and even though there were plenty of people who worked in the industry who cared deeply for these young people, there were quite a few who saw opportunities for exploitation.

Ayo:- One of your main characters is Wren Reynolds, a probation officer who is investigating the disappearance of a young girl in a care home. How did your own experience in investigating care homes impact on your story?

Kate:- Well, I haven’t come across much other fiction set (even partially, as A Ruined Girl is) in children’s homes, so I think if I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t have known much about what those places were really like as an insider working in them. The absolute gift of undercover work is that you get to see things for what they really are, without the people around you being observed. 

Ayo:- What are your favourite type of characters?

Kate:- That’s something that’s changing all the time actually. I used to think we needed to really like our main character in order to care about them but some of the most powerful, compelling books I’ve read recently have had pretty awful protagonists. Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, for example, has an overwhelmingly selfish character at its heart, and is one of the most memorable characters I’ve come across in a long time. 

Ayo:- There is a dark side to fostering and care homes but on the other hand they are necessary for society. Is there anything you could think of that could make fostering and care homes better?

Kate:- Are you sure you want to get me started with this?! I’ll try to keep it polite… I’d start with funding. The cuts to children’s services in the last decade has just been outrageous, a 29% drop across all councils with per-child cuts of up to 50% in the most deprived boroughs. As with any social care, the cuts invariably cause the most suffering among those without a voice – children, vulnerable people, and the many older and disabled people who rely massively on the rest of society to treat them with dignity. 

Ayo:- What do you think is the most important, characterisation or plotting?

Kate:- If I absolutely had to choose, it would be character. I have a really terrible memory for plots but I’ll remember a great character forever. Once you have a really powerful character, it’s a lot of fun to see them struggle out of the horrible situations the author puts them in – but if you don’t care about them in the first place, you’re not going to be impressed by even the cleverest plotline.

Ayo:- Do you plot beforehand, or do you just let the writing flow?

Kate:- The first three books I’ve completed (there’s an unpublished one of which we do not speak) have been meticulously plotted, but that’s mostly because they’ve had such complicated storylines. Things have changed as I’ve progressed through the books but I’ve worked out most of it beforehand, sticking to an excel spreadsheet to remind myself who knows what and when, and what has to be revealed at what point. The next one is going to be a bit more linear so while I’ll still have a clear plan, I’ll be a bit looser with it

Ayo:- Your characters Wren and Luke are very believable. Are they based on people you know in real life?

Kate:- Not so much with Wren, but Luke is a kind of composite of a few friends I had who were in care when I was a teenager, and a boy I met when I was undercover. I think teenage boys can get pretty demonised: there’s this image of them all being the same, being monosyllabic and angry. Of course they can be intimidating in groups, but a lot of the time, taken individually they’re really just little boys vying for a place in a pretty scary society. Boys like Luke don’t get to go home to a cosy house and the kind of unconditional love that allows them to take their armour off – he had to be on guard and tough, shields up, all the time. And that’s such a hard way to grow up. 

Ayo:- How would you like your characters to be remembered?

Kate:- Luke, to me, is the star of A Ruined Girl – I’d like people to remember him as someone who you’d cross the road to avoid if you saw him out at night, but to remember that once you get in his head he’s a vulnerable like everyone else. 

Ayo:- What made you decide to stop working in television and concentrate on writing?

Kate:- It’s not a very nice story: it was 5am on the morning of my birthday and I was working on a pilot fly-on-the-wall show following police officers in Oldham. We had a call that they’d been alerted to a suicide, so off we went with our cameras and filmed them cutting this poor guy down from a tree. As I was filming I just thought, what the hell am I doing? How is this in any way a positive thing? I put my energy into the writing a lot more after that.

Ayo:- What are you working on next, can you tell us about it?

Kate:- Well, I can’t tell you much at this point but it’s definitely going to be crime, and the undercover stuff is going to feature a lot more prominently! 

A Ruined Girl by Kate Simants (Published by Profile Books) Out now
On a dark night two years ago, teenagers Rob and Paige broke into a house. They beat and traumatised the occupants, then left, taking only a bracelet. No one knows why, not even Luke, Rob's younger brother and Paige's confidant. Paige disappeared after that night. And having spent her life in children's homes and the foster system, no one cared enough to look for her. Now Rob is out of prison, and probation officer Wren Reynolds has been tasked with his rehabilitation. But Wren has her own reasons for taking on Rob as a client. Convinced that Rob knows what happened to Paige, and hiding a lifetime of secrets from her heavily pregnant wife, Wren's obsession with finding a missing girl may tear her family apart...

Friday, 18 September 2020

Winners of the Bloody Scotland International Crime Fiction Prizes revealed!!


Sponsored by The Glencairn Glass with match funding from Culture & Business Fund Scotland

It has been a rollercoaster year for debut writers. Closed bookshops meant that they could have sunk without trace but reviewers, innovative booksellers, established authors and the media have been incredibly supportive and at Bloody Scotland we have been hugely grateful for the enthusiasm shown for the finalists in our second Bloody Scotland Debut Prize – Francine Toon, Deborah Masson, Stephen O’Rourke and Marion Todd.

The prize was judged by Lin Anderson, author and co-founder of Bloody Scotland, Ewan Wilson from Waterstones and Kenny Tweedale from sponsors the Glencairn Glass, who at the opening of the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival on Friday evening revealed the winner of the Debut Prize to be Deborah Masson with Hold Your Tongue.

The judges described Hold Your Tongue as a 'well written, fast paced and gritty thriller with a strong female protagonist, who will stop at nothing to find the killer'.

The finalists of the prestigious McIlvanney Prize included established names Ambrose Parry and Doug Johnstone (both of whom were finalists last year) alongside relative newcomer Andrew James Greig and debut author Francine Toon who had also featured on the Bloody Scotland Debut shortlist.

Judges Karen Robinson (Times Crime Club) and James Crawford (author, TV presenter and chair of Publishing Scotland) were chaired by writer and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove who revealed the winner of the McIlvanney Prize 2020 to be Francine Toon with Pine.

He described her book as‘an extraordinary novel which stood out because of the sheer quality of the writing and the dark brooding atmosphere of the remote rural Scottish village in which it is set. The book merges the supernatural with real crime in a very memorable way and brings an exciting new talent to Scottish crime writing.’            

Both winners are debuts. Both are published by Transworld, who coincidentally also published last year’s winner Manda Scott. It is the first year that the Glencairn Glass have sponsored the prizes. Kirsty Nicholson, Glencairn Crystal's Marketing Manager said:

‘First time authors winning both prizes this year highlights what a bright future the fantastic tradition of Scottish crime writing has.We are delighted and proud to sponsor such prestigious awards with the Glencairn Glass and would like to congratulate both Francine and Deborah, while wishing them all the best for the future.'

Francine Toon was brought up in Sutherland and Fife. She has lived in Dornoch, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Canterbury, London and Portugal.

Deborah Masson was born and bred in Aberdeen. She and her children now live in the family home where she grew up.

Stella Oni on writing Deadly Sacrifice

The writing bug caught me unexpectedly in my mid-20s. Before that, I was an avid reader. 

As a child in Nigeria, reading transported me to places that were beyond the experience of a child with great imagination and complicated childhood. I loved comics, fairy tales and read much of the English literary figures of the days – Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott. I also read James Hardley Chase, Barbara Cartland, Denise Robins and all of Mills and Boons!

I was a precocious child with a mother that owned an eclectic library of books from romance, crime, horror and all in between. I also loved my Saturday visits to the Library. I went through all of the Asterix and Obelix and Tintin comics that they owned. 

I had never thought to write because, in Nigeria of my childhood, writers were the greats like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. The rest of us had to be Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Accountants. I knew I did not want to be a lawyer – too dry! And my maths was not up to scratch for the rest! What a conundrum. I studied Linguistics and African Languages and took the option in English Literature and History. My most memorable class was English Literature, and in retrospect, I should have studied that but it meant that in the Nigerian mind, I could end up as a teacher! 

So, a few years after I settled back in the UK, I decided that I would write a great literary novel. I gave myself 5 years and if not published, would go on to study IT. I did finish it and had a great friend and mentor, the late Buchi Emecheta, who encouraged me. But I could not find a publisher. I finally gave up and consigned the work to the drawers. I still believe in it and hope to go back and rework and publish it. It had elements of my current style of writing - multiple characters that carry the story along. 

Nigeria is a rich country with endless possibilities, and any conversation with the average Nigerian would inevitably lead to bitter observations on corrupt leadership and those in power. Britain is entrenched in the class system, and these differences are clear enough to make exciting fiction for an ‘outsider’ like me. I like to weave multifaceted characters and stories, I hope, about the powerful, class system, the super-wealthy and how the ordinary man journeys around life. The average man envies the wealthy, and the wealthy are grateful not to be poor!

The idea for Deadly Sacrifice started 15 years ago when I decided to change direction and focus on crime fiction.  The only issue was that I had never written one. I was an avid fan of Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen, Karen Slaughter, Kathryn Reichs, Nicci French, Andrea Camilleri, Boris Akunin, James Patterson, Susan Hill, Lee Childs, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver. The list is endless but never thought to write like them. I had no crime author mentor, no black female crime writer I could approach (I only discovered Dreda Say Mitchell in 2016)

I found that City University taught a short course in crime writing and jumped at it. The author, Lesley Grant-Adamson, was our tutor and committed and patient. It was in her class that Toks Ade was born. I had thought of creating a black African female police detective because I wanted an outsider within the system. Adam, the torso in the Thames, had happened a few years previously and someone in the class said he would like to create fiction around it and asked if I could be his African consult. I thought NO! I would write it! 

I did a lot of research and remembered showing the earliest work to Lesley but was not sure of myself or what I was doing. In the end, I finished it, and over the years it went back and forth to agents. I took in the constructive criticisms and continued to tweak. Deadly Sacrifice is a matured ‘wine’ that was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize in 2016.

Who are my characters? 

Detective Toks Ade is a Nigerian British, a single parent of a 15-year-old boy. She loves food and struggles with weight and life. Toks is dogged, impulsive, loves God and is brave.

Detective Philip Dean is white British, male, haunted by the mental illness suffered by his twin sister, Emily, and the impact on his personal life. He is an outsider in the force, an atheist and respected for his brilliance as a detective. 

Coretta is biracial of mixed Nigerian and British heritage. She was an investigative journalist turned true-crime author. She is forceful and manages to get what she wants in her personal life and in the job.

Finally, I am working on the 2nd in the series and also created two other series which are different from the Detective Ade mystery. 

The start of my new cosy mystery series, The London House Mystery, appears in a holiday anthology by ten Crime Writers of Color titled FESTIVE MAYHEM coming out in October 2020. 

Deadly Sacrifice by Stella Oni (Published by Jacaranda Books) Out Now
When a child's severed hand is found, DC Toks Ade and DS Philip Dean are put on the case. Thrown into a world of Nigerian traditional customs, ritual sacrifice, and international trafficking, they must find the guilty parties before more children are lost and more limbs are found. A chilling new thriller introducing Detectives Toks Ade, Philip Dean, and investigative author Coretta Davis.

More information about the author can be found on her website. She can also be found on Facebook and you can follow her on Twitter @sonithewriter.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Nordic Noir author Max Seeck on how a love of music inspires his crime fiction

The fact is: I’ve always loved music more than most people. Already as a kid, it was music that caught my attention in the movies more than the cinematography or acting. Nino Rota’s Godfather Waltz, Giorgio Moroder’s Tony’s Theme, John Williams’s Theme from Schindler’s List or Chi Mai by Ennio Morricone - just to name a few - made an instant impact on a young listener. 

Already as kids my friends and I were making gangster movies with my handheld video camera. They were okay enough to make us feel like real movie producers, but then an audio editing device (my parents bought me when I was 12ish?) brought our productions to a whole new level. This happened in 1997, so there still was a long road to walk before we’d be able to record and edit the videos in digital format, which we started doing almost 10 years later. Anyway, now it was suddenly possible to spice up the atmosphere with soundtracks without the music being painfully paused between takes. Suddenly we were one step (out of 10 000) closer to decent movie making. It was around those times I stated my ultimate goal in life: to win an Academy Award, for whatever category. 

When I reached the teenage years, my taste for music expanded enormously. Suddenly I wasn’t that into movie soundtracks anymore, but for groups and artists like Rage Against The Machine, AC/DC, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Xzibit but I also liked more calm and traditional favorites like Queen, The Beatles, Bon Jovi and many bands who sang their lyrics in Finnish. Back in the days I was used to sit next to a tape recorder, listen to radio and hit the record button anytime a good song would be on. That’s the way we collected hit mixes and listened them on our walkmans. Nobody ever managed to get the entire song on the cassette and there were always short bits of the radio station tunes or a word or two from the announcer. Good times though. 

Unfortunately we grew up and I didn’t continue to pursue my movie career for many many years. Once I started writing novels in 2013 I returned to listening to soundtracks and fell in love again. Listening to movie scores while writing has become a crucial part of my writing process. I have different playlists for different scenes - there are specific songs for scary, intense, action-packed, romantic, sad and funny scenes. It really helps me to orientate as a writer because (as an old movie freak) I can imagine how the scene would look and feel onscreen. And maybe because of this (or despite of it) many readers say my novels feel very cinematic. I’m always happy to hear that, because to be frank - that’s what I’ve always aimed and hoped for. 

And maybe that is also one of the reasons The Witch Hunter is being adapted by Stampede Ventures, a Hollywood based production company. At least I’d like to think that it’s not just coincidence, and that I’ve taken yet another small step towards my (once childish) dream of winning an Oscar. 

The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck is published 17 September by Welbeck (price £7.99 paperback original). 
When the story ends, the hunt begins... Detective Jessica Niemi is drawn into a high-profile investigation after the wife of a famous author, Roger Koponen, appears to have been killed in a bizarre ritual. As more twisted murders occur in the coming days, it becomes obvious that Jessica is hunting a serial killer - one that is taking brutal inspiration from Koponen's bestselling trilogy . . . Has a devoted fan lost their mind, or is this case more personal?

Espionage and the Real-Life City of Spies by Mara Timon

When I tell people that my debut novel is set in Lisbon during WW2, most people give me a confused look. ‘Why Lisbon?’ they ask. ‘Wasn’t Portugal neutral during the war?’

It was. Well, kind of. 

Officially, Portugal was neutral, with a dictator as opposed to democracy as he was to communism. Dr António de Oliveira Salazar’s policies were conservative, nationalist, and Catholic and while he distanced himself from German fascism/Nazism, he did consider Germany the last bastion against communism, so maintaining any semblance of neutrality was a balancing act that was perhaps necessary for its survival: lean too close to the Allies, and Germany would give Spain the green light to invade. Lean too close to Germany and Portugal could kiss some, if not all of their colonies goodbye (all of which eventually gained their freedom, but that’s a different discussion). 

Wartime Lisbon became a real-life city of spies. It was a magnet for exiled European aristocrats, businessmen hoping to capitalise off the war (from relative safety), desperate refugees fleeing the Nazis (some with help from Portuguese diplomats like Aristides de Sousa Mendes and Carlos Sampaio Garrido), artists, smugglers, diplomats, and of course spies.

The German and British embassies were more-or-less across the street from each other at the time and several real-life spies operated out of Lisbon, or visited the city to meet their handlers. The most famous of which was the charismatic triple agent, Duško Popov, whose lifestyle (and actions) some say was the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s 007. It shouldn’t surprise, then, that Popov’s codename was Tricycle – officially because he was running a trio of double agents, although some claim that it was because he always had a beautiful woman trailing on either side of him. 

He had charm and glamour, as well as a keen eye for intelligence. He was, in fact, a lot more glamourous than the Spaniard, Juan Pujol García, (codename Garbo) who, despite his degree in chicken farming, hated chickens. Garbo was recruited as a double agent in Lisbon to pass on misinformation to the Germans (although operated mostly from the United Kingdom). 

I imagine that someone living in Lisbon during the time could go to the cinema and watch the German newsreels one day, and the next see the British one depict the same event with a different outcome. It must have been a field day for the intelligence communities.

Likewise, there really was a “secret” passageway between Lisbon’s main train station and the Hotel Avenida next door. Imagine how easy this made the process of sneaking into the city for a dodgy meeting, and exiting the country before anyone knew they were in the country!

And let’s pause and talk about the oldest profession. Let’s follow the “what-ifs”. What if, when sailors dock in port they visit a house of ill repute? Maybe after months at sea, and a battle or three, they get far too comfortable in the presence of a local woman.

What if that local woman is passing on any useful information to the Germans. And what if they in turn, pass on news of a potential target to the Luftwaffe base in the South of France? See where I’m going? And what if this wasn’t fiction? 

Sure, it was espionage on Portuguese soil, and Salazar’s surveillance and state defence police, the Polícia de Vigilância e de Defesa do Estado (PVDE), officially maintained a neutral stance towards foreign espionage – as long as it didn’t intervene in Portugal’s internal policies… In June 1943 when the Criminal Code was finally amended to criminalise espionage of foreigners against 3rd parties in Portugal, although in fact, the practice lasted long past ’43.

With all this going on, how could Lisbon not emerge as its own character? 

In City of Spies, my debut thriller, Special Operations Executive agent Elisabeth de Mornay (codename Cécile) had to identify and break a German espionage ring targeting Allied ships before more British servicemen die. Under the guise of Solange Verin, a Frenchwoman of independent means, she gathers intelligence from friend and foe, forging links with the very people who she’s been fighting. The closer she comes to discovering the truth, the greater the risk grows. But in a city where no one is who they claim to be, who can she trust?

City of Spies will be published by Zaffre in September 2020.
LISBON, 1943: When her cover is blown, SOE agent Elisabeth de Mornay flees Paris. Pursued by the Gestapo, she makes her way to neutral Lisbon, where Europe's elite rub shoulders with diplomats, businessmen, smugglers, and spies. There she receives new orders - and a new identity. Posing as wealthy French widow Solange Verin, Elisabeth must infiltrate a German espionage ring targeting Allied ships, before more British servicemen are killed. The closer Elisabeth comes to discovering the truth, the greater the risk grows. With a German officer watching her every step, it will take all of Elisabeth's resourcefulness and determination to complete her mission. But in a city where no one is who they claim to be, who can she trust. 

Information about Mara Timon can be found on her website.
You can also follow her on Twitter @maratimon.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

When history taps you on the shoulder by Chris Lloyd

There was a moment when I was researching for The Unwanted Dead that stopped me in my tracks.

For me, one of the most important parts of research is walking the streets where my characters walk. I need to experience all the sights, sounds and smells that they do, the light at certain times of day, the sense of place that they take for granted and that I can’t. And even though the book is set in Paris in 1940, the city stays the same, a witness to its own past, and the streets and squares all resonate with that history. So I’d spent days losing myself in its heart. I’d wandered around the Fifth Arrondissement, where my protagonist, Eddie Giral, lives and I found his street and his apartment block. I’d walked to and from Thirty-Six, the police station where he works. I’d looked into the windows he’d have looked out of. I’d tracked down all the hotels and buildings that had been requisitioned by the Germans and where Eddie might have been summoned. I’d found the now-gentrified parts of town that would have been the unloved and ragged refuge of villains and rascals in Eddie’s day. I’d even had an unexpected moment of calm in the apiary in the Jardin du Luxembourg, which ended up as the setting to a few key scenes in the book. 

And throughout all this time, I’d come across unassuming plaques on nondescript walls, marking the place where a Resistance fighter fell or where a gun battle took place during the battle to liberate the city. I came across the building where poet Robert Desnos was living when he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 – he survived Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Flossenburg only to die of typhoid in Theresienstadt a month after the camp was liberated. Bullet holes still mark the stone around the windows and doors to ordinary homes and office blocks. Metro stations and squares are named after exceptionally brave but ordinary people murdered under the Occupation. And each one left their mark on me.

But there was one moment that truly stopped me. A small grey plaque that affected me more than any other. It was in the Pletzel, the old Jewish quarter, on the Right Bank. You walk through narrow streets before coming to a bustling road, still fairly narrow but wider than any of the others in the neighbourhood. Along the way, you’ve gone past kosher bakers and halal butchers, patisseries and delis, restaurants and takeaways. Until you come to a school. A primary school. Almost hidden inside the unobtrusive entrance, a gateway like an old mews, is the plaque. High up on the wall outside the porter’s room, it’s easy to miss. It lists the names of the children from the school who were deported to Auschwitz in 1942 and who never returned. They were all aged six, seven, eight years old. And the list of names is long. I stood and stared, rooted to the spot, as shoppers and workers hurried around me. Like a freeze-frame in a movie. It was some minutes before I could bring myself to stop reading and rereading the names and move on. I didn’t take a photo, it wouldn’t have been right.

I write stories set in this city at this time. Their prime purpose is to entertain. My character, Eddie, is irreverent and cynical, mouthy and damaged. He fights the evil he finds in his work with flippant words and a dogged tenacity. His moral compass is not always how he might have wanted it to be as a young man going away to the First World War. He gets things wrong and does wrong things. Yet underneath the grim wisecracks and mocking iconoclasm is a sense of responsibility. Towards the victims and towards the vulnerable. 

And that, I think, is what I took away from my walks around the city and on the day I saw the plaque in the primary school. The job of historical fiction, be it crime or any other genre, is to entertain, but there’s another purpose, and it took history to tap me on the shoulder to bring that home to me. There’s a responsibility in writing historical fiction. In whatever story, set in whatever period, there has to be an underlying truth and honesty. It goes beyond ensuring your tale is historically accurate and your research is as painstaking as you can make it. There’s a responsibility in using fiction to give a voice to people who lost theirs long ago. To enabling a sense of justice for the victims and the vulnerable. And that, in my case, is where Eddie comes in.

The Unwanted Dead by Chris Lloyd (Orion Publishing) Out 17 September 2020
Paris, Friday 14th June 1940. The day the Nazis march into Paris. It made headlines around the globe. Paris police detective Eddie Giral - a survivor of the last World War - watches helplessly on as his world changes forever. But there is something he still has control over. Finding whoever is responsible for the murder of four refugees. The unwanted dead, who no one wants to claim. To do so, he must tread carefully between the Occupation and the Resistance, between truth and lies, between the man he is and the man he was. All the while becoming whoever he must be to survive in this new and terrible order descending on his home.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Books to Look forward to from Orenda Books

October 2020
When a body of a woman is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, it soon becomes clear that she’s no stranger to the area. Chief Investigating Officer Elma, who has returned to Akranes following a failed relationship, and her collegues Sævar and Hörður, commence an uneasy investigation, which uncovers a shocking secret in the dead woman’s past that continues to reverberate in the present day … But as Elma and her team make a series of discoveries, they bring to light a host of long-hidden crimes that shake the entire community. Sifting through the rubble of the townspeople’s shattered memories, they have to dodge increasingly serious threats, and find justice … before it’s too late. The Creak on the Stairs is by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir.

Burned out and traumatized by her horrifying experiences around the world, aid worker Ursula has returned to Iceland. Unable to settle, she accepts a high-profile government role in which she hopes to make a difference again. But on her first day in the post, Ursula promises to help a mother seeking justice for her daughter, who had been raped by a policeman, and life in high office soon becomes much more harrowing than Ursula could ever have imagined. A homeless man is stalking her--but is he hounding her, or warning her of some danger? And why has the death of her father in police custody so many years earlier reared its head again? As Ursula is drawn into dirty politics, facing increasingly deadly threats, the lives of her stalker, her bodyguard, and even a witch-like cleaning lady intertwine. Small betrayals become large ones, and the stakes are raised ever higher . . . Exploring the harsh worlds of politics, police corruption, and misogyny, Betrayal is by Lilja Sigurdardóttir

November 2020
When Bergen PI Varg Veum finds himself at the funeral of a former classmate on a sleet-grey December afternoon, he’s unexpectedly reunited with his old friend Jakob – the once-famous lead singer of 1960s rock band The Harpers – and his estranged wife, Rebecca, Veum’s first love. Their rekindled friendship come to an abrupt end with a horrific murder, and Veum is forced to dig deep into his own adolescence and his darkest memories, to find a motive … and a killer. Fallen Angels is by Gunner Staalesten 

The Coral Bride is by Roxanne Bouchard. When an abandoned lobster trawler is found adrift off the coast of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, DS Joaquin Moralès begins a straightforward search for the boat’s missing captain, Angel Roberts – a rare female in a male-dominated world. But Moralès finds himself blocked at every turn – by his police colleagues, by fisheries bureaucrats, and by his grown-up son, who has turned up at his door with a host of his own personal problems. When Angel’s body is finally discovered, it’s clear something very sinister is afoot, and Moralès and son are pulled into murky, dangerous waters, where old resentments run deep.

December 2020
When the body of a nineteen-year-old girl is found on the main street of Siglufjörður, Police Inspector Ari Thór battles a violent Icelandic storm in an increasingly dangerous hunt for her killer … Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes. Ari Thór Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air. Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death… As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjörður, Ari Thór must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth … one that will leave no one unscathed. The chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing Winterkill is finale to the international bestselling Dark Iceland series. Winterkill is by Ragnar Jónasson.

Deity is by Matt Wesolowski When pop megastar Zach Crystal dies in a fire at his remote mansion, his mysterious demise rips open the bitter divide between those who adored his music and his endless charity work, and those who viewed him as a despicable predator, who manipulated and abused young and vulnerable girls. Online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the accusations of sexual abuse and murder that were levelled at Crystal before he died. But as Scott begins to ask questions and rakes over old graves, some startling inconsistencies emerge: Was the fire at Crystal’s remote home really an accident? Whose remains – still unidentified – were found in the ashes? Why was he never officially charged?

Monday, 14 September 2020

Books to Look Forward to from Simon & Schuster

October 2020
With a killer on the loose. As the scorching summer sun beats down on St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly, DI Ben Kitto and his team are training for the annual Swimathon, until they discover a body hanging from Pulpit Rock, dressed in a bridal gown. On a tiny island. An obsessive killer is hunting for female victims. Kitto has no choice but to stop anyone leaving St Mary’s, but soon another woman is attacked. Everyone is a suspsect. The killer must be a trusted member of the community. Kitto’s investigation is being watched closely, the killer always one step ahead, as the next victim is chosen . . . No One is Safe. Pulpit Rock is by Kate Rhodes.

When the body of a twenty-four-year-old man is found on Sunk Island, a quiet stretch of land in Yorkshire, two facts immediately stand out. First: the killer wanted the body to be found. Second,the dead man was a police officer, and he had been working undercover. Meanwhile,aimless 20-something Becca has multiple jobs to keep her head above water. At night, in the local pub, she serves punters and tries to work out what she wants to do with her life. One thing that keeps her going is Andy, a regular she always has a laugh with -and maybe something more. And then Andy vanishes. Becca is convinced that the shady manger of her pub has something to do with his disappearance. But in order to discover the truth, she'll have to put herself in danger. All for someone she doesn't truly know... Someone Who Isn't Me is by Danuta Kot.

The Couple in Room 13 is by John Rector. Seven strangers. One body. A decision that will change everything. Nate and Sara are broke – and on the run from the past. When a shady hitchhiker offers them cold hard cash for a lift, they can't afford to say no. But when the man dies in the back seat, with more than two million dollars in his possession, Nate and Sara are forced to make a difficult decision. And, with a blizzard closing in, trapping them for who knows how long in a motel with five strangers, it’s a decision they won’t be able to run from…

Following his brutal quest for revenge, former Navy SEAL James Reece has fled the United States, emerging deep in the wilds of Mozambique. But he can't stay hidden for long - when a string of horrific terrorist attacks plagues the Western world, the CIA tracks him down and recruits him. Now a reluctant tool of the United States government, Reece must travel the globe, targeting terrorist leaders and unravelling a geopolitical conspiracy that will have worldwide repercussions . True Believer is by Jack Carr.

November 2020
A Piece of My Heart is by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke. Television producer Laurie Moran and her fiancée, Alex Buckley, the former host of her investigative television show, are just days away from their mid-summer wedding, when things take a dark turn. Alex’s seven-year-old nephew, Johnny, vanishes from the beach. A search party begins and witnesses recall Johnny playing in the water and collecting shells behind the beach shack, but no one remembers seeing him after the morning. As the sun sets, Johnny’s skim board washes up to shore, and everyone realizes that he could be anywhere, even under water.

The Game is by Luca Veste. They know what you did. You receive a call, an email, a text – someone knows your secret and they want to ruin you. And they're out for blood. If you don’t do what they say, they’ll tell everyone what you’ve been hiding. They will come after you, destroy you, and they aren’t afraid to kill. It's time to play the game.

Kill the King is by Sandrone Dazieri. Reeling from a deadly bombing in Venice and her investigative partner Dante’s disappearance, Detective Colomba Caselli retreats to the rural countryside to nurse her wounds. When an autistic teenager appears in her yard, covered in blood, he leads her to a brutal crime scene where nothing is what it seems. As Colomba gets pulled into the investigation and the body count continues to grow, she is implicated in the violence. She is convinced that a powerful villain is working in the shadows to cause the carnage and frame her, but the only person who can help her is Dante—and he hasn’t been seen in over a year and is presumed dead. Colomba is sure he’s alive and out there somewhere, but will she find him before it’s too late? And can she clear her name and be free of the far-reaching legacy of the villain known as the Father...