Wednesday 31 August 2016

Four finalists for McIlvanney Prize announced - Bloody Scotland

Four Finalists announced for the McIlvanney Prize Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award 2016

Winner to be presented at Opening Reception of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival live on BBC TV on Friday 9th September 2016.

A panel of judges chaired by Magnus Linklater today reveal the four finalists for The McIlvanney Prize from a ten strong long-list featuring some of the best names in Scottish crime fiction.

The finalists include two leading crime writers – Val McDermid and Chris Brookmyre – who the judges praised for keeping their established series fresh, with contemporary themes which are immediately relevant to society today. In addition, Doug Johnstone, with a stand-alone psychological thriller and E S Thomson with an atmospheric historical crime novel, the first in a planned series, have made the cut.

The winner of the Scottish Crime Book of the Year will be awarded The McIlvanney Prize in memory of William McIlvanney at the opening ceremony of Bloody Scotland. His brother, Hugh McIlvanney OBE, will travel to Stirling to present the award on Friday 9th September. The winner will receive £1000 and all four finalists will be presented with a full set of William McIlvanney novels.

The judges who included award-winning librarian Stewart Bain and journalist Lee Randall commented that the list demonstrates the huge variety and vigour of crime writing from Scotland and explained why each book made the final four.

BLACK WIDOW by Chris Brookmyre  - this novel is like watching Olympic diving – just when you think the plot can’t twist again, it takes a new turn.  Even the twists have twists. With a theme of cyber abuse, this shows an author taking a long running series to new heights.

THE JUMP by Doug Johnstone – a taut psychological thriller with a powerful and absorbing narrative which makes this work a compelling read. The reader is drawn into a family drama, suicide, murder -- and a plot whose outcome remains nail-bitingly unresolved until the final pages.

SPLINTER THE SILENCE by Val McDermid - set in a totally believable world of internet trolling, this novel features established characters but moves their relationship into a new place, suffused with longing.  Easily accessible, even to those readers who have not been introduced to earlier books in the series.

BELOVED POISON by E S Thomson - an ambitious and original novel, full of vivid historical detail about Victorian medicine, and a richly gothic atmosphere with a large cast of wonderfully named characters,  including the strong lead character.

The Expendables by S J A Turney

We’ve all read books or seen movies where we know damned well that the hero will survive and the villain will die a grisly death. After all, that pretty much describes 90% of all books and films. And usually, when the hero does die or the villain does live, it’s expected too. Gladiator had to turn out as it did. Any tale or movie of the life of Julius Caesar us unlikely to throw you an unexpected ending. Angus Donald’s recent ‘The Death of Robin Hood’ might be the most extreme example I can come up with, but it proves the point well. And (at least in literature rather than on screen) Batman’s enemies are always banged up rather than killed. The point is we expect lead characters to survive and villains to die. And usually when that’s not the case, we are led to expect that from the beginning.

Often that’s a thing a writer is comfortable with, because their readers are comfortable with it. And if you’re writing a series (say a run of detective novels) it might give you something of a headache to kill off your detective part way through. On TV this has not always been the case, of course. Taggart without Taggart. From Morse to Lewis. But on the whole it doesn’t work well in book series. Writers don’t like to kill important characters without the readers wanting it.

But sometimes it’s nice to buck the trend. Lord of the Rings threw me my earliest curveball when Boromir took those three arrows to the torso less than a third of the way into the story! Guy Gavriel Kay in ‘A Song for Arbonne’ kills off the character we all spent the book hoping would reconcile with his brother and come back. Darth Vader! Be honest. No one ever wants Darth Vader to die. He’s too cool for that. And on the flip side, James Wilde in his Hereward books actually has Hereward the Wake live through the end of his revolt and go on to whole new adventures where historical record sees him disappear. Go on… kill off the ones they like. You know you want to.
Perhaps the best example of that for me is also Star Wars. Because we all know that Boba Fett is the cool customer, and don’t you just wince at the awful decision of George Lucas’s to drop him in the Sarlacc Pit? And that’s why a novel was written around how he got back out. Because that sat so badly with fans.

But the things is that these deaths, especially when carried out in an arbitrary and off-hand fashion, create an atmosphere of tension and the unexpected. When Boromir dies, we spend the rest of the book on edge, aware that Tolkien could very easily kill off another of our faves. In Angus Donald’s Outlaw series, the Sheriff of Nottingham dies less than half way through the saga! And Little John is gone in the penultimate book! (Sorry for the spoiler there.) So that means that no one is truly safe from Donald’s pen. And that makes the series lively and tense. It adds something. Some writers take it to the level of an art form. I write in the historical genre and I do this often. Gordon Doherty and Anthony Riches are both well known for their body counts of principle characters, too. My latest novel (Insurgency) is the fourth in a series of historical fantasy books. And in the first of that series (Interregnum) I kill off a character so important to the plot part way through that I regularly receive emails from readers who are astonished that I did it.

On a similar note, with crime novels, while it’s fascinating to read about a murder and then follow the investigators through the book working out how it was done, it is often so much more exciting to read them when murders continue to happen throughout the book, perhaps becoming a race against the clock, or a race between criminal and investigator.

Expendables, you see? Throw an unexpected death in from time to time and keep the reader edgy and uncertain. It adds so much to the experience.

Insurgency by S J A Turney
For twenty years, civil war has torn the Empire apart, and the once proud soldiers of the Imperial army now fight as hired hands for greedy lords fighting over the remnants of a more glorious time.  Now the Empire is rising again under the benevolent reign of Emperor Kiva the Golden. Meanwhile his younger brother – the gifted warrior Quintillian – has been driven away from the Imperial Palace by an uncontrollable love for the Emperor’s wife Jala. Instead the honourable fighter chooses a life of simplicity as a sword for hire leaving the long legacy of his family behind. But not all ties of loyalty can be escaped and the bonds of family run deep…

Insurgency is published by Canelo, priced at £3.99 as an ebook

More information about SJA Turney can be found on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter @SJATurney or find him on Facebook.

Saturday 27 August 2016

2016 Ngaio Marsh Award winners

Crimechurch: Southern authors sweep Ngaio Marsh Awards

It was a hometown quinella on Saturday night as Paul Cleave and Ray Berard were announced as the winners of the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Awards at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. 

TRUST NO ONE (Upstart Press), a mind-bending psychological thriller about a writer with early onset Alzheimer’s who starts confessing the murders in his novels were real, earned Cleave his record third Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. The judges described it as “a stunningly audacious novel that functions as a literary hall of mirrors” – a book that “succeeds brilliantly on many different levels”. 

Fellow Cantabrian Berard scooped the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel with his Rotorua-set debut thriller INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE (Mary Egan Publishing). The judges praised his tale of the aftermath of an armed robbery that interrupts a drug deal as “a lucid and potent portrait of good people and gangsters that is unmistakably Kiwi in flavour and tone... a fine story with considerable depth.”

“It was wonderful to celebrate our best modern-day Kiwi crime writers at a terrific event just a short drive from where Dame Ngaio used to write her world-renowned mysteries,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “It was a tough year for our judges. We had a record number of entries, launched a new category, and ended up with eight superb finalists that illustrate how varied local crime writing can be. There was everything from a former All Black entwined in French match-fixing to a robotic private eye.”

Across the board the international judging panel was highly impressed with this year’s finalists, said Sisterson. “Every novel was a strong contender in the eyes of our judges, and we would have been happy to celebrate any of them as deserving winners. But we had to make a choice, and TRUST NO ONE and INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE edged ahead from a deep field. They’re both cracking great crime tales.”

Berard’s debut, which was a finalist for both awards, was inspired by a diary he kept during his years working as an Area Manager for the TAB across the upper North Island after he emigrated from Canada during the mid 1990s. He was mentored during his writing process by Barbara and Chris Else. 

“There’s a real sense that local crime writing, #YEAHNOIR, is on the rise,” said Sisterson. “We have world-class crime writers in this country who are unafraid to provide their own unique spin on a globally popular genre. Kiwi readers have a big appetite for crime tales, and I urge them to try our own.”

The Ngaio Marsh Awards are made annually in Christchurch for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novels written by New Zealand citizens and residents. The Awards’ namesake, Dame Ngaio Marsh, was a Christchurch mystery writer and theatre director renowned worldwide as one of the four “Queens of Crime” of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. More than thirty years after her death, Dame Ngaio’s books remain beloved by many generations of readers. The Ngaio Marsh Awards were established in 2010 with the blessing of Dame Ngaio’s closest living relative, John Dacres-Manning.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Career Change

Today’s guest blog is by debut author Erik Storey who is the author of the Clyde Barr series set in Colorado.  Nothing Short of Dying is the first book in the series.

I once met an eighty-year old cowboy who’d always ask little kids, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” He didn’t really care for the kids themselves, he told me. But he still hadn’t figured out what he wanted to do with his life, and he was always looking for ideas.

His comments were funny at the time, but I soon realized that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up either. I decided to explore life, and see where it took me. When I graduated high school, my senior quote was: “Learn, try, see, do, and experience as much as possible in a lifetime.” So I tried.

As a young man, I worked on cattle ranches, riding herd on hundreds of cattle as we moved them from the winter feeding ground to the high country, then moved them from pasture to pasture. At the time, I longed to be a cowboy, and I thought I’d finally fulfilled my dream. But it wasn’t all romance. After a couple of summers looking at the tail-ends of cows and eating dust, I decided to find something else to do.

One summer I guided dudes (tourists) on horseback tours around Steamboat Springs. Then I went to college to study American Literature and, while there, learned how to guide hikers and backpackers into the high wilderness outside the old mining town of Leadville. I ventured out on some trips, but it wasn’t for me. I guided some folks on hunting and fishing trips, but again, it wasn’t for me. I worked one winter at a hotel in Breckenridge, then did a stint in a restaurant in Death Valley, then the next winter I found myself taking people on dogsledding tours near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A winter full of blizzardy days that combined temperatures of twenty degrees below zero with complaining tourists from sunny Florida and Spain didn’t appeal to me, so I continued my quest for something to be when I grew up.

The next fifteen years or so were filled with more odd jobs. At one point or another, I’ve worked as a bartender, locksmith, exterminator, utility locator, truck driver, Forest Service technician, weed sprayer, construction laborer, and janitor. What those years weren’t filled with was writing.

I dabbled a bit in college. Then pretty much gave it up for a decade. Then I scribbled a bit again when I got married and had children. Then I gave it up again, realizing that I’d never write the Great American Novel or win the Pulitzer or Nobel. It was only after my oldest daughter started going to school, and I was working seasonally, that my wife suggested I start writing again. It would be a way to fill the long winter days.

I told her how I felt about my failed literary aspirations, and she told me to write something I’d like to read. That got me unblocked. I recalled the paperbacks that, in my younger days, I used to love reading in cabins and bunkhouses, and I started writing again. The first time I got stuck, I again sought out my wife for advice. She told me to write what I know.

It’s a cliché, I know, but one I don’t mind repeating, because it worked. I based characters and events on things I’d seen in my travels and odd jobs, and eventually I had a novel. It had only taken a couple hundred revisions to see the light of day, but thinking about it in its finished form, I realized that all those odd jobs I’d taken had been subtly pushing me to become a writer. They were, as Louis L’Amour once said, “grist for the mill.”

I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m much, much closer. This writing thing feels right, like something I’ve been working on since high school. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey is published on 25th August by Simon and Schuster (£12.99)

Sixteen years. That’s how long Clyde Barr has been away from Colorado’s thick forests, alpine deserts, and craggy peaks, running from a past filled with haunting memories. But now he s back, having roamed across three continents as a hunter, adventurer, soldier of fortune, and most recently, unjustly imprisoned convict. And once again, his past is reaching out to claim him.  By the light of a flickering campfire, Clyde receives a frantic phone call from his sister Jen. No sooner has she pleaded with him to come rescue her than the line goes dead. Clyde doesn’t know how much time he has, or where Jen is located, or even who has her. All he knows is that nothing short of dying will stop him from saving her.  Joining Clyde in his against-all-odds quest is a young woman named Allie whose motivations for running this gauntlet are fascinatingly complex. As the duo races against the clock, it is Allie who gets Clyde to see what he has become and what he can still be.

You can find out more about Erik Storey on his website. You can also find him on Facebook and also follow him on Twitter @erikstorey

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Tricks Of The Journalists' Trade by Peter Bartram

Today's guest blog is by author and journalist Peter Bartram. He has written over 3000 articles for a wide range of newspapers and magazines.  Stop Press Murder is the second of a series of crime novels set during the "swingin sixties".

That brilliant Sunday Times journalist Nicholas Tomalin once said: "The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are, a plausible manner and a little literary ability and rat-like cunning."

When I first started work as a newspaper reporter in the 1960s, I soon found there was a lot of truth in what Tomalin said.

In recent years, we've read endlessly about the misdemeanours of journalists in the phone hacking scandals. But there was never a golden age when reporters behaved like angels.

Back in the 1960s we may not have had mobile phones to hack, but we had plenty other tricks up our sleeves. The aim was always to get the story before our rivals. And if that meant making it difficult for rival reporters to file their copy - well, they'd do it to us if they got the chance.

In the 1960s, mobile phones weren't even a gleam in Vodafone's eye - in fact, there wasn't even a Vodafone. But we needed plenty of telephone tricks to file our copy.

Often we'd be in situations where the only way to file copy was by using a public phone. And if there were several reporters on a story - and only one phone, the first one there gained a beat on the others.

One trick was to slip a helpful youngster a little pocket money to pretend to use the phone until you turned up.

In those days, all phones were operated by the Post Office. So another scam involved making official looking signs saying the phone was out of order.

In Brighton, where I spent time freelancing, it was useful to know hotel hall porters.
Get on their right side and they'd let you use the phones on their desks if the others were all engaged.

Taxis were another source of scam activity. In those days, reporters relied on taxis to get them to remote stories - and back to the office - more than they do now. I remember one colleague who was hard-pressed by rivals on a story.

All the reporters needed a taxi to get back to their respective offices. He reached the rank first and found three taxis plying for hire. He took one and just paid the other two to take off somewhere else so the rivals had to wait.

One of the perennial problems in newspapers is getting to talk to people who'd rather avoid you. I remember being commissioned by a national newspaper to get a quote from an important person.

The individual was at a dinner in a private room at a posh hotel and hired a couple of heavies to prevent any newsmen getting near him. In the end, I persuaded one of the waiters to take in a note with a single question on it. The note said that if he didn't answer the question, tomorrow's paper would report he had "no comment". He answered.

Unlike some of the phone hackers, we steered clear of breaking the law. At least, most of us did. But sometimes we skirted close to the edge of it if we insinuated we were someone else when trying to interview a hard-to-reach target on the phone.

Colin Crampton, the crime reporter in my mystery series, knows every trick in the book - and some. But he has a saving grace. When he pulls a scam it's in the service of a greater good - such as discovering a hidden truth or righting an injustice.

Few of us covered the kind of juicy murder mysteries that Colin investigates. But I like to think that, at heart, we had the same vision of the purpose of responsible journalism.

Stop Press Murder: a Crampton of the Chronicle Mystery is published by Roundfire Books.

There is a free Crampton taster novella - Murder in Capital Letters - available to download at

You can find more information about Peter Bartram and his books on his website