Monday 31 March 2014

Prison Life by Antonia Hodgson

Today’s guest blog is by Antonia Hodgson whose debut historical crime novel The Devil in the Marshalsea has just been published.

When I started research for The Devil in the Marshalsea, I didn’t realise I was going to set the whole novel in a debtors’ prison.

I knew that’s where it would open.  The novel begins in September 1727.  His clergyman father following an unfortunate misunderstanding in a brothel has disinherited my main character, Thomas Hawkins.  Tom spends his nights in gaming houses and taverns and never plans for tomorrow.  Of course he ends up in gaol for debt - it’s his destiny.

I began to read up on eighteenth-century London gaols and quickly stumbled across a fascinating true story about the Marshalsea.

In 1729 the head keeper was put on trial for the murder of four prisoners.  His name was William Acton and he ran his ‘Castle’ with a mixture of charm, corruption, and cruelty.  At the trial the prosecution described how the prisoners had been chained in a filthy storeroom and left to rot.  All later died of their injuries.

Why would Acton behave in such a brutal manner?  In a word - money.

The prison was run for profit.  Ironically for a debtors’ prison, everything cost.  When you first arrived you had to pay to have your shackles removed.  Then you paid for your cell, your bedding, your food, and drink.  If you died your loved ones had to pay a fee before the turnkeys released the body.  Prisoners would often pay off their original debts but still languish in gaol because of the crippling additional costs.

Where did the money come from, when you were already in debt?  Well, if you had a business, you could continue to run it from the gaol.  In the Marshalsea there was a barber called ‘Trim’, a tailor, even a French fortuneteller!  You could become one of Acton’s ‘trusty’s’, helping him control the other prisoners.  (There were several riots during his time as governor.)  Otherwise you had to rely on your friends or on charity - except that Acton had stolen all the donations.

If this sounds bad, it could get even worse.  The prison was divided in two - the Master’s Side and the Common Side.  On the Master’s side life was relatively civilised, with a coffeehouse and a tavern and a general store.  In comparison the Common Side was, as one poet put it, ‘Hell in Epitome’.  Crowded cells, rife with disease, that were so stifling people often died of suffocation, especially in the heat of summer.

Terrified of ending up ‘over the wall’, prisoners on the Master’s Side would pay anything they could to stay safe.  So it was in Acton’s interest to make the Common Side as wretched as possible.  And that included torturing those Common Side prisoners who caused him any trouble.

In the end a government enquiry and public scandal forced Acton from power.  He was found not guilty of murder (in suspicious circumstances), but his reputation was badly damaged.  Not quite justice, but then real life - unlike fiction - doesn’t always deliver a satisfying ending.

The Devil in Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson is out now, £13.99 (Hodder & Stoughton)

You can follow Antonia Hodgson on Twitter @AntoniaHodgson

Friday 28 March 2014

Pavone’s Accident in London

A thriller writer who is getting a great deal of attention is Chris Pavone. I first bumped into Pavone at Bouchercon Albany last autumn, where he was discussing his debut, the award-winning THE EXPATS, and tucked into our book bags was a proof copy of his follow-up THE ACCIDENT, which is a remarkable tale, and one that is a ‘one-sitting read’. As Bouchercon is always a blur of panels, events, and parties we only had a few minutes after his panel to discuss his debut THE EXPATS, so I was delighted to join my fellow literary critics to meet him in London, thanks to Faber and Faber.

At Shots, we are not alone in our admiration of Pavone’s talent. The New York Times reported -

Chris Pavone managed to turn his experience in book editing and living in Luxembourg into an Edgar-winning spy novel, “The Expats.” With “The Accident,” he matches that first novel’s nail-biting level of excitement while continuing to write about what he knows. “The Accident” is a thriller about publishing, and if that sounds like an oxymoron, Mr. Pavone is very good at rendering it wildly dramatic. He’s also good at diverting close scrutiny about where any holes in his story may be. He just keeps the shocks coming and leaves the head scratching for later.

Just take it for granted that “The Accident” is about a manuscript so earth-shattering that people in the publishing world would kill to get their hands on it. Mr. Pavone’s first deft move is to steer the red-hot manuscript, a biography, toward Isabel Reed, the glamorous New York literary agent who is the natural choice for dealing with a book of potentially nuclear impact. Isabel is renowned for her discretion. She knows how delicately the book needs to be handled.

Read More Here

The New York Times Interviewed Pavone in the lead-up to publication of THE ACCIDENT –

Mr. Pavone (pronounced puh-VOH-nee), who is 45, is not the typical suspense writer who speedily produces a book or two each year. But he does bring an unusual résumé to the task of making the publishing industry seem thrilling: He spent decades working as an editor, primarily at Clarkson Potter, an illustrated-book publisher, where he worked on nonfiction titles about interior design, dogs, cocktails and food, among other things. His first novel, “The Expats,” was published in 2012 and sold nearly 200,000 copies, winning critical raves and an Edgar Award.

He is also half of a formidable publishing power couple. His wife, Madeline McIntosh, is the president and chief operating officer at Penguin Random House and one of the industry’s most influential executives, often mentioned as a potential successor someday to Markus Dohle, the company’s chief executive.

It was Ms. McIntosh’s ascending career that indirectly led Mr. Pavone to start writing fiction in the first place. In 2008, she took a high-level job at Amazon that required the couple and their twin sons, 4 years old at the time, to move to Luxembourg, where Amazon has corporate offices.

Read the full interview here

So with a solid publishing background, Pavone’s work was picked up by Angus Cargill of Faber and Faber for release in the UK and Ireland. To celebrate the launch of THE ACCIDENT, Faber and Faber invited a selection of London Literary Critics to meet Chris and discuss this startling novel over wine and canapés. The Shots team of Ayo Onatade and Mike Stotter were joined by Delores and Maxim Jakubowski, Lizzie Hayes, Barry Forshaw, Jake Kerridge of The Telegraph and many others.

Faber and Faber have organised a competition to win 3 signed copies of a sample chapter of THE ACCIDENT for Shots Readers. All you have to do is email your name to with CHRIS PAVONE in the subject line, with a return Postal Address [UK and Ireland only we’re afraid as geographical restrictions apply] – three random emails will be selected as winners.

Terms and conditions for the Shots eZine / Faber and Faber competition

  • Closing date for entries is Monday 14th April  2014 12:00:00 AM
  • All correct entries will be entered into a prize draw and the first three correct answer picked at random on 14/4/14 will be declared the winners.
  • The winner will be notified by email within 14 days of the promotion closing date and is required to accept their prize by email or phone call within 14 days of notification.
  • In the event of non-acceptance within the specified period, the promoter reserves the right to reallocate the prize to the next randomly drawn correct and valid entry.
  • The winner will be notified within 28 days of the closing date. No responsibility can be accepted for lost or misplaced entries
  • The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative
  • Only one entry per person
  • Incorrect or illegible answers or entries received after the entry date will not be entered into the prize draw
  • The judges decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into
  • Sorry but geographical restrictions apply – Only readers from the UK and Ireland are eligible, [with postal addresses in the UK and Ireland]

Such is the intensity of Pavone’s THE ACCIDENT we are sure once the sample chapter is read, you will be desperate to read the novel, so Shots eZine Bookstore have discounted copies of Chris Pavone’s work available

The Accident in Hardcover can be obtained here

In New York City, Isabel Reed, one of the most respected and powerful literary agents in the city, frantically turns the pages of a manuscript into the early dawn hours. This manuscript - printed out, hand-delivered, totally anonymous - is full of shocking revelations and disturbing truths, things which could compromise national security. Is this what she's been waiting for her entire career: a book that will help her move on from a painful past, a book that could save her beloved industry... a book that will change the world?

In Copenhagen, Hayden Gray, a veteran station chief, wary of the CIA's obsession with the Middle East, has been steadfastly monitoring the dangers that abound in Europe. Even if his bosses aren't paying attention, he's determined to stay vigilant. And he's also on the trail of this manuscript - and the secrets that lie at its heart. For him, quite simply, it must never see the light of day.

As Isabel and Hayden try to outwit each other, the nameless author watches on from afar. With no-one quite sure who holds all the cards, the stakes couldn't be higher: in just twenty-four hours careers could be ruined, devastating secrets could be unearthed, and innocent people could die.

Gripping, sophisticated, and impossible to put down, The Accident is a masterful follow-up to one of the most acclaimed and striking debut thrillers of recent years.

The Expats can be obtained in paperback Here

Kate Moore is an expat mum, newly transplanted from Washington D.C. In the cobblestoned streets of Luxembourg, her days are filled with play dates and coffee mornings, her weekends spent in Paris or skiing in the Alps. Kate is also guarding a secret - one so momentous it could destroy her neat little expat life - and she suspects that another American couple are not who they claim to be; plus her husband is acting suspiciously. As she travels around Europe, she finds herself looking over her shoulder, terrified her past is catching up with her.

As Kate begins to dig, to uncover the secrets of those around her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage - and her life.

Read More about THE ACCIDENT from the Chicago Tribune here and here’s Chris speaking in New York

Photos © 2014 Ali Karim and cover images © 2013 and © 2014 Faber and Faber

Cover Story by Marcus Sedgwick

Today’s guest blog is by Marcus Sedgwick. He has published a number of novels including Floodland which won the Branford Boase Award in 2001 and Midwinter Blood which won the 2014 Michael L Printz Award from the American Library Association.  He has also been shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal.  His novel My Swordhand is Singing won the Booktrust Teenage Prize in 2007 and The Book of Dead Days was shortlisted for an Edgar Award in 2003.

Never judge a book by it’s cover, they say. But we all do. Publishers, being smart, are only too aware of this and for that reason they usually go to great efforts to make the cover of a book as good as it can be.

It’s a stark fact for an author that you can spend some years of your life trying to make the best book that you can, and you might even achieve something worthwhile, but if your publisher puts a stinky cover on your book, no one, with the possible exception of your mother, is going to read it. Now, since I’d already got my mother to agree NOT to read my new book (because she’s been liking my books less and less over the years and this one is more unpleasant than most), I knew more than ever that with A Love Like Blood it was vital that we (the lovely people at Mulholland, and I) somehow put our collective finger on a the right cover.

But what is the ‘right’ cover? One of the most interesting things about being a writer is seeing how your books appear in foreign editions. What this implies, is that at best, each market has a distinctive literary culture into which your book is being published, and at worst, that no one really knows what the ‘best’ cover for your book is.

Here, for example, are four foreign editions of my book “My Swordhand is Singing” next to the British cover.
(If you read any Japanese, French or Italian you will also notice that the title of the book has changed, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

My Swordhand is Singing was a vampire novel, A Love Like Blood isn’t, and yet it’s been pointed out already that it plays with some of the tropes of the vampire novel. In fact, without giving too much away, one of the things the book explores is the idea that ultimately the supernatural cannot be as frightening as what happens in real life. Vampires with Hungarian accents are all very well, but to me, much more alarming is that there are, in fact, a few people who have a strong desire to drink blood, fetishize that act, and maybe murder to allow it to happen.

So when we were trying to get the right cover for A Love Like Blood, it was necessary to take those things into account – a cover that hints at what’s inside, yet doesn’t commit too much. And what a cover should be doing, of course, is trying to make you pick the book up. If it does that, it’s worked.

A Love Like Blood has a somewhat old style, classic feel to it – I wanted very much to keep away from the modern trend for thriller covers with a moody photo and a big bold sans serif typeface, and see if something illustrated would do the job better.

We hunted around for suitable artists for a while, and when we came across this alternative cover for Dracula by Dominic Clifford …

…we thought it was worth seeing what he could do. And what he did is wonderful, I think.

This is how it looks:

To me this cover is just what we were after – something that looks a bit different, which has a classic feel to it, and which clearly hints that his is a dark book, without giving too much away. In the flesh, I think it looks even better, because that big moon is picked out in elegant silver foil, but of course, these days, as most books are sold online, covers need to work without the need for lavish finishes, and they also have to work small, because that’s how they’ll be seen, onscreen, by most purchasers. And that’s one more skill a cover designer has to master now, to create a cover that works in real size as well as reduced to 300 pixels high.

I think A Love Like Blood meets that criteria, whether it has the pick-me-up factor remains to be seen when the book hits the shelves, virtual or otherwise.  

A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick is out now, £17.99 (Mullholland Books UK)

You can find out more about the author and his work on his website or his blog.  You can also follow him on Twitter @marcussedgwick and catch him on Facebook.