Saturday 27 September 2014

M J Arlidge and the prostitute's revenge

Today’s guest blog is by M(atthew) J Arlidge.  He has worked in television for the last fifteen years, specialising in high end drama production.  In the last five years Arlidge has produced a number of prime-time crime serials for ITV, including Torn, The Little House and most recently Undeniable which was broadcast in spring 2014.  He is currently writing for Silent Witness.

Prostitutes are easy targets.  For centuries these vulnerable and isolated women have been the targeted by violent men who view them as worthless, sinful and ripe for destruction.  Jack the Ripper was not the first and sadly the Suffolk Strangler won’t be the last.  In crime fiction, the same is true – all too often prostitutes are the victims of murderous and perverted desire.  The eviscerated prostitute found in the gutter is a staple of both books and TV.

Pop Goes the Weasel, the second novel in the DI Helen Grace series, is my response to this phenomenon.  This is the novel where all those fictional prostitutes get their own back.  It opens on the backstreets of Southampton’s real life red light district – a deserted industrial estate with not a red bulb in sight – and focuses on a man with depraved intent who gets his comeuppance in spectacular style at the hands of a young prostitute.  I’m not guilty of any spoilers here; as it is clear from very early on that Helen and her team at Southampton Central are chasing a serial-killing prostitute.  And that’s kind of the point.  I felt it was time to play the reverse of the norm and to “enjoy” the boot being on the other foot for once.

Climbing inside the story, I found that the killer’s crimes threw up some interesting points about how we view men and women.  We have a tendency to regard prostitutes as less than human, as somehow deserving of their fate.  But we are far less quick to judge – or even talk about - the men who pay for sex.  The men who abuse and mistreat prostitutes on a daily basis.  So it proves in Pop Goes the Weasel, as the families of the murdered men go to great lengths to deny that their husbands, fathers, lovers would ever pay for sex.  Deep in denial, they invent all sorts of excuses for their presence in the backstreets of Southampton – the innocent victims of muggings, helping out the unfortunate – as part of a concerted effort to defend “their men”.  Do women receive the same treatment either in this sphere or more widely in society?

The answer of course is no, whether it be in the realm of prostitution – Stephen Butchard’s brilliant BBC drama Five Daughters about the Suffolk victims a notable exception – or more generally in life.  Society loves judging women in a way they never would men.  More than that, they love judging women and finding them wanting.  Whether it’s for being too sexually provocative, or not being attractive enough.  Or for being a bad Mum, or for lacking ambition.  For all the progress that has been made in promoting gender equality in recent years, we are still addicted to belittling women and making life as hard as possible for them.  People often ask me why I - a man last time I checked – have a female protagonist and write novels that are dominated by women.  It might be because I find them more complex and interesting than men, but it’s principally because life is much harder for women and you always want to throw as many rocks as possible at your characters.  It’s no accident that the killers in Eeny Meeny (the first Helen Grace novel) and Pop Goes the Weasel are both women – nor that they are being hunted by female adversaries.  Society puts huge pressure on women every day of the week and it’s endlessly interesting to see how people react when that pressure becomes too great.  Some give in, some fight back.  The killer at the heart of Pop Goes the Weasel belongs in the latter category.  In her own depraved way, she’s trying to settle the score.  Finally, someone is sticking it to the man.

Pop Goes the Weasel

 The body of a middle-aged man is discovered in Southampton's red light district - horrifically mutilated, with his heart removed. Hours later - and barely cold - the heart arrives with his wife and children by courier. A pattern emerges when another male victim is found dead and eviscerated, his heart delivered soon afterwards. The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse; revenge against the men who lead sordid double lives visiting prostitutes. For Grace, only one thing is certain: there's a vicious serial-killer at large who must be halted at all costs . . . 

Pop Goes the Weasel is published in paperback by Penguin and is out now.

You can follow MJ Arlidge on Twitter @mjarlidge

Tuesday 23 September 2014

VM Giambanco - From film editing to writing crime fiction

Today's guest blog is by author (VM) Valentina Giambanco.  She has worked on a number of well known and award-winning films such as Donnie Brasco, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Secrets and Lies as a film editor. She is the author of the Detective Alice Madison series set in Seattle.

I have always been writing, one way or the other, but when I started writing my first novel the time spent working and watching stories actually being built in cutting rooms really came together: from the first word on the page film editing has informed and shaped the way I write.

Just to give a little context: my first novel, ‘The Gift Of Darkness’, was published last year and the second, ‘The Dark’, is coming out this September but before that I worked in film editing for almost 20 years. As an assistant editor I was involved in tiny no budget British films, in American studio pictures and anything in between from romantic comedies to Bollywood romances, from thrillers to dramas.

By the way, I say I worked in cutting rooms because that’s what they were. I worked on 35mm and we would cut film with extremely sharp and dangerous blades, and we’d join the ends with sellotape.  Surprisingly, this was not in the Middle Ages, this was 10 years ago. Now they’re called edit suites, films are cut digitally and the difference between the two methods could fill volumes.

As a starting point, I don’t see a novel as a film and I don’t write as if I was writing a screenplay. However the words you write and read are meant to create images: when Stieg Larsson described Lisbeth Salander he did it so that we could see her, in the same way that Agatha Christie described Poirot so that we could see him.

A novel is made of chapters, paragraphs, descriptions, actions, dialogue, down to the
smallest elements…the word and the punctuation mark.  A film is built by scenes and shots within those scenes, with music, performances, lighting, art direction and the work of hundreds of people in different departments. These are the building blocks of storytelling: film editing helped me to see the individual parts that make up the whole and it showed me how to play with them. Compared to other genres crime fiction relies on the element of urgency and the need to solve a jigsaw puzzle: The Gift Of Darkness opens with a horrific crime but nothing is what it seems and the full picture is only revealed as the layers are added one after the other and the characters’ individual truths come together.  

From the practical point of view how did my editing background influence my writing? Well, let’s look a dialogue scene. You have two characters talking to each other, they are exchanging information, maybe they are withholding information.  Whatever they are saying to each other they are interacting in a way that must bring the story forward.  If I was looking at it from a film editing point of view I would ask myself:
-       At which point in the scene do I want to get in?
-       At which point do I want to get out?
-       Do I want to start the scene when the characters meet, before they meet, am I following one of them to the place where they are meeting?
-       How about starting right in the middle of the scene and getting out early? I know that they would be saying goodbye, they would get up and leave but do I need to see that? That’s the real question and it is just as valid on the page: as a reader what do you need to see of that dialogue scene?
-       And where do I want to be in the scene in terms of a character? What are my characters seeing around them? What are they hearing? How fast are they speaking to each other? What is the rhythm of their exchange?
These are all necessary questions if you’re telling a story, whatever your medium.

A good example of the difference between storytelling in film and on the page is The Shawshank Redemption.  Originally it was a novella by Stephen King, ‘Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption’.  I’m going to look at the end of the book and the end of the film because they are very different but achieve the same goal. This is a story about the human spirit: what happens when it is crushed by circumstance, what happens when it rises above violence and aggression.  Now, the end of the film looks beautiful: Morgan Freeman is walking along a beach that stretches into forever, Tim Robbins is working on his boat, he looks up and he sees his friend. It’s a very emotional reunion – after all those decades of confinement the sky is huge above them, the ocean is endless and there is this powerful lift.  That final shot – a helicopter shot – of the two men on the beach is exactly what we need after the hell hole of corruption and despair that was the prison.  Except…that’s not how the book ends. In the book we never see the friends meet, we don’t see Morgan Freeman on the beach, we don’t see the sky and the ocean. What we have is an old man – Red, Morgan Freeman’s character – jumping parole and getting on a bus. And this is what Stephen King writes:

I hope Andy is down there.
I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.
I hope.’

Two words. ‘I hope’. In the film you need the sky, the beach, the men embracing, the blue ocean (which, by the way, was not cheap to shoot if you consider the crew going to the Virgin Islands doubling for Mexico, the helicopter shot and everything else).  
Stephen King managed that huge emotional lift with two words. ‘I hope’.  King is very skilled, this is about rhythm and repetition: the first ‘I hope’ sentence is 6 words long, the second is 9, the third 10, the fourth 14, the last – the most important – 2.  As if the whole story is an inverted pyramid resting on that one notion. ‘I hope’.  So, if we are looking to see how that ending works in film and on paper…on one side you have this massive shot – white beach, blue skies, blue sea, men embracing. On the other, two words. And that’s storytelling and the power of what we’re dealing with here whether on the screen or on the page.  

The Gift of Darkness is published in paperback and The Dark in hardback on 25th September.

More information about her books can be found on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @vm_giambanco

Monday 22 September 2014

Specsavers and Penguin team up to launch crime novella

CRIME thriller enthusiasts are being called upon to help decide the narrative fate of a brand new novella this autumn using social media to plot out the direction for three celebrated crime authors in a unique literary experiment.

After the success of #youdunnit, Specsavers and Penguin’s social media crowd-sourced novella in 2013, crime readers will be enticed with a new kind of involvement this weekend.  

In a partnership between Specsavers and Penguin’s crime community Dead Good Books, crime fans will steer the story through Facebook and on a dedicated website, influencing the very direction the narrative will flow in.

Best-selling crime authors Christopher Fowler, James Oswald and Jane Casey will be challenged to write their chapter based on the decision made by readers. Each author will follow on from the last, shaping the narrative and adding their own unique style and take on the journey presented to them. A digital only eBook will be given away free from the 24th October including all chapters and their hidden alternatives.

Dame Mary Perkins, founder of Specsavers, says: ‘We have been supporting the Crime Thriller Awards for a number of years now as there is of course such an intrinsic link between reading, watching crime thrillers and eye sight. How exciting though to see that crime writing enthusiasts and future crime writers could create a new crime thriller story with the help of some of the best crime thriller writers!’

Penguin digital marketing manager, Lynsey Dalladay, says: ‘We’re delighted that Dead Good can work with Specsavers on creating an innovative and exciting novella. The three authors are extremely talented and looking forward to the challenge of shaping a book with the readers in the driving seat.’

The mass participation event, called #ChooseThePlot, begins on 23rd September. Contributors can find all information about the campaign by visiting The site will guide them through every step of the process, and all the details about the progress of the stories.

The partnership between Specsavers and Penguin was created and project managed by Manning Gottlieb OMD.
- Ends -

For more information please contact: Lynsey Dalladay, Digital Marketing Manager, Penguin Random House UK
T: 0208 231 6793

About the authors
CHRISTOPHER FOWLER is a Londoner born (in Greenwich) and bred. For many years he jointly owned and ran one of the UK's top film marketing companies. He is the author of many novels and short story collections, from the urban unease of cult fictions such as Roofworld and Spanky, the horror-pastiche of Hell Train to the much-praised and award-winning Bryant and May series of detective novels - and his two critically acclaimed autobiographies, Paperboy and Film Freak. His most recent novel is Bryant and May The Bleeding Heart.

JAMES OSWALD is the author of the Detective Inspector McLean series of crime novels. Currently there are four available, Natural CausesThe Book of Souls, The Hangman’s Song and his most recent Dead Men’s Bones. He has also written an epic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfroinas well as comic scripts and short stories.In his spare time he runs a 350 acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep.

JANE CASEY is an internationally best-selling crime author, married to a criminal barrister, she has a unique insight into the brutal underbelly of urban life, from the smell of a police cell to the darkest motives of a serial killer. This gritty realism in her books has led to critical successes; while D.C. Maeve Kerrigan has quickly become one of the most popular characters in crime fiction. Twice shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award as well as the Mary Higgins Clark Award. The fifth book in her Maeve Kerrigan series The Kill is published on 20th November 2014. 

About Penguin Random House
Penguin Random House ( is the world’s first truly global trade book publisher. It was formed on 1 July, 2013, upon the completion of an agreement between Bertelsmann and Pearson to merge their respective trade publishing companies, Random House and Penguin, with the parent companies owning 53% and 47%, respectively. Penguin Random House comprises the adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction print and digital trade book publishing businesses of Penguin and Random House in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India, Penguin’s trade publishing activity in Asia and South Africa; Dorling Kindersley worldwide; and Random House’s companies in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Chile. Penguin Random House employs more than 10,000 people globally across almost 250 editorially and creatively independent imprints and publishing houses that collectively publish more than 15,000 new titles annually. Its publishing lists include more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors.

Specsavers notes to editors 

·      Specsavers is a Partnership of almost 2,000 locally-run businesses throughout the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, all committed to delivering high quality, affordable optical and hearing care in the communities they serve
·      Each store is part-owned and managed by its own directors who are supported by key specialists in support offices that provide a range of services including marketing, accounting, IT and wholesaling, among others
·      There are currently more than 1,700 partners in the UK and Republic of Ireland alone, of whom 548 have been with the Partnership for at least ten years
·      Specsavers was founded in 1984 by husband and wife team, Doug and Dame Mary Perkins, who pioneered the optical joint venture partnership model and also revolutionised the industry with their innovative concept of affordable, fashionable eyecare for everyone
·      Specsavers is a champion of the National Health Service – of its 17.3m customers in the UK, 60% are from the NHS and the company is the largest provider of free NHS digital hearing aids
·      Specsavers is the largest employer of registered optometrists and dispensing opticians in the UK (around 3,500)
·      Specsavers was voted the UK's most trusted optician by a YouGov Plc online survey of 2,423 UK adults, 22-23 July 2014
·      Total revenue for the Specsavers Group was £1.8 billion in 2012/2013
·      More than 28 million customers used Specsavers globally in 2012/2013
·      Specsavers stores employ more than 23,000 staff globally
·      More than one in three people who wear glasses in the UK buy them from Specsavers - 10,800,000 glasses were exported from the warehouse to stores in 2013
·      Specsavers sold more than 300 million contact lenses globally in 2012/13 and has more than a million customers on direct debit schemes. Specsavers' own contact lens brand - easyvision - is the most known on the high street
·      The hearcare business in the UK has established itself as the number one high street provider of adult audiology services to the NHS

·      Specsavers supports several UK charities including Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Sound Seekers, the road safety charity Brake, the anti-bullying charity Kidscape and Vision Aid Overseas, for whom stores have raised enough funds to build a school of optometry in Zambia and open eyecare outreach clinics in much of the country.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Crime Fiction at the Beverley Literature Festival

Crime: Fiction v Reality

Join crime writer and former journalist, David Mark, as he discusses the most popular genre in contemporary fiction–crime–in conversation with award winning crime writer, Mari Hannah, Mo Dowdy, former Detective Inspector in the Serious Incident Squad of Northumbria Police and Anya Lipska, whose crime fiction has been described as, ‘A gripping reminder of how crime fiction reveals the world around us’ (Val McDermid). So how different are actual criminal investigations from the crime books we read?

Northumberland-based Mari Hannah has written four novels in the DCI Kate Daniels series. Her debut–The Murder Wall–won the Polari First Book Prize and her second–Settled Blood–won the Northern Writers’ Award. Former journalist, Anya Lipska is a TV producer and author whose books give insights into London’s Polish community. David Mark spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post. His first novel, The Dark Winter, was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club in 2013.

Date: Saturday 4 October 2014
Where: Toll Gavel United Church
                                              Time: 4:30pm to 5:30pm
                                              Cost £6.00

See You Tomorrow-

Described by Jo Nesbo as ‘one of Norway’s finest young writers’, Scandinavian author, Tore
Renberg, joins us to discuss his phenomenally successful, critically acclaimed novel, See You Tomorrow.  Considered by many a literary sensation, it is a story about young couples willing to risk everything.  It’s a feel-good novel about a group of gangsters with a leader in the throes of a midlife crisis.  A crime thriller, a coming-of-age story, an epic drama, a comedy, a romance, a gothic and starkly poetic tale of people making a complete mess of their lives, a vivid portrait of the underbelly of the richest city in the world.  Tore Renberg is a multi-award-winning author, literary critic, and TV host.  His novel, The Man Who Loved Yngve, became a major film and his subsequent novels have sold over 400,000 copies in Norway.  His work has been translated into 19 languages.

Date: Tuesday 7 October 2014
Where: Toll Gavel United Church
Time: 7:00pm to 8:00pm
Cost £6.00

More information about the Festival can be found here.