Friday 31 January 2020

Alice Teale Is Missing – by Howard Linskey

Write what you know.’ Authors are always being advised to do that, as if anything else would be too difficult or come across as unauthentic. That’s a bit tricky when you are a crime writer. Unless you used to be a gangster or drug dealer and used your prison time to take a creative writing course, you are unlikely to be writing what you know. I’ve never been to prison and I’ve certainly never killed anyone. Honest, trust me on this, not even once, for research purposes. 
I suppose it might have helped if I’d been a detective or a forensic scientist but I am the kind of person who would become obsessed with detail and accuracy, rather than character and plot and the books would probably be less interesting as a result. So, instead, I do some research, to get the important details right but mostly I just use my imagination. 
Every one of my books has its origins in a single thought, an idea that kicks them off, a ‘what if?’ moment, if you like. That moment in ‘Alice Teale Is Missing’ comes at the beginning, when a seventeen-year-old girl walks out of her school building one evening, following after-school activities. I visualised her being seen by someone, a teacher, who would look out of the staff room at just the right moment and watch, as Alice walked away from the building and went down a path between two rows of old miner’s cottages. What if, at that point, she simply, inexplicably, vanished.
That was my starting point. Next, I introduced two new characters, Detectives Beth Winter and Lucas Black, who are given the task of investigating Alice’s disappearance. Beth is new and happy to take on the case, because she wants to make a difference. Surely, finding Alice is a worthwhile endeavour but then she learns that her new partner, DS Black, once killed someone. It’s an ominous start to her first major case.
They soon learn that Alice has secrets but then so do most of her friends and family. Almost all of them have something they want to hide. It’s up to Beth and Lucas to work out how any of this is linked to the disappearance of Alice. They begin to realise that her secret was the biggest of them all. 
So far, so fictitious but there is one area of ‘Alice Teale Is Missing’ that does border more on write-what-you-know territory than normal for me and that is Alice’s fictional hometown of Collemby. As I was writing the book, it started to look suspiciously like my own hometown. I don’t know why but, from the moment my two detectives, Winter and Black, took a left turn and drove up a hill into Collemby for the first time, I started to visualise it as the place I grew up in; Ferryhill in County Durham in the north east of England. The town hall, the market square, the pubs and shops that border it, are all very similar to the ones I knew. The lay out of my old school helped too. When the teacher watches Alice walk away, she has the exact same view you would get from its staff room and, helpfully, the miner’s cottages are there too. 
So why not just set the book in the real Ferryhill, instead of the fictional town of Collemby? I didn’t want to burden myself by having to be entirely accurate and receive complaints that I misspelled a street name or got a detail wrong. Also, I’m not entirely sure that the good people of Ferryhill would be too impressed with me if I made their town the factual location of fictional crimes. 
Keeping my town fictional means that Ferryhill and Collemby can be similar but different, when it suits me or my plot. Collemby is a darker, more oppressive place with narrower streets, taller, more Victorian-era buildings and subsequently darker shadows are cast upon its occupants, lending it an atmosphere more conducive to crime fiction. 
I also created a derelict railway station for plot purposes. Ferryhill used to have one but it is long gone now, even though the part of the town that used to house it is still known as Ferryhill Station, more than fifty years after its closure. I liked the idea of someone from the town, a moderately wealthy eccentric perhaps, taking over its platforms and buildings, hoping to preserve and restore them but ultimately lacking the funds to do so. When they give up, the location is left in a spooky form of limbo, its nooks and crannies used only by ‘courting’ couples or cheating ones.  Alice is seen down there but with whom? That question and others, surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the seventeen-year-old, are eventually answered in ‘Alice Teale Is Missing. I hope you enjoy it. 

Alice Teale is Missing by Howard Linskey (Published by Penguin Books)
Alice Teale walked out of school at the end of a bright spring day.  She's not been seen since.  Alice was popular and well-liked, and her boyfriend, friends and family are desperate to find her.  But soon it's clear that everyone in her life has something to hide.  Then the police receive a disturbing package.  Pages from Alice's precious diary.  Who could have sent them? And what have they done with Alice?

Thursday 30 January 2020

An evening with Lynda La Plante - Ambassador for London Book & Screen Week

Lynda La Plante announced as Ambassador for London Book & Screen Week as festival unveils blockbuster 2020 line-up 

The sixth London Book & Screen Week (9- 15 March 2020) will celebrate 40 years of the iconic Yes Minister, the incredible career of Lynda La Plante, and national favourite Doctor Who, explore coming of age classics, poetry beyond the page, and serve up delicious meat free meals with ‘One Pound Chef’ Miguel Barclay. 

Produced by The London Book Fair, London Book & Screen Week is the capital’s biggest celebration of books and the films, TV programmes and virtual worlds they inspire, bringing together readers, writers, game, film and TV fans for events across the creative capital of the world. 

Heading up the 2020 programme as festival Ambassador, queen of crime drama Lynda La Plante will discuss her illustrious career across page, stage and screen. From early performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in The Sweeney and Bergerac, to writing scripts for BAFTA- winning shows including Prime Suspect and Widows, recently adapted for a second time by Steve McQueen. Lynda has also achieved international success as author of over 30 novels and, in this special event, will offer a preview of her forthcoming book Buried (Zaffre, April 2020), the first in an exciting new series. 


Venue: Groucho Club 
London Book & Screen Week are delighted to welcome you to an evening to celebrate one of the UK’s best-loved writers, queen of crime drama Lynda La Plante. 

Join Lynda for a gin cocktail at this special event as the writer discusses her illustrious career across page, stage and screen and offers a preview of her forthcoming book Buried (Zaffre, April 2020), the first in an exciting new series from the author. 

Born and raised in Liverpool, La Plante trained for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and worked with the National Theatre and RSC before becoming a television actress starring in notable productions including Z-Cars, The Sweeney, The Professionals and Bergerac

She then turned to writing and made her breakthrough with the phenomenally successful Widows, recently adapted for a second time by Steve McQueen. Her original script for the much-acclaimed Prime Suspect (starring Helen Mirren) won awards from BAFTA, Emmy, British Broadcasting and Royal Television society, as well as the 1993 Edgar Allan Poe Award. 

Lynda has produced over 170 hours of international television and is one of only three screenwriters to have been made an honorary fellow of the British Film Institute. She was awarded the BAFTA Dennis Potter Best Writer Award in 2000. 

In addition to work as an actress and screenwriter, Lynda is the author of over 30 novels, all of which have been international bestsellers. In 2008 she was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to Literature, Drama and Charity. 

Ticket includes a complimentary drink. Attendees will also receive an exclusive first extract from Lynda’s new novel and first in a brand new series, Buried, before it publishes in hardback, eBook & Audio on 2nd April 2020. 

Ticket: £20 | 6:30pm | 

Baghdad Central Channel 4 Series starts Feb 3

The Channel 4 Series based on Baghdad Central by Elliott Colla Starts Monday February 3 at 10pm. 

Watch the trailer below.

The TV series Baghdad Central starts in the UK next Monday, 3rd Feb at 10 pm on Channel 4, airing weekly. You can also stream the entire box set immediately after on All 4.  It will be on HULU in the US later this spring.
Watch the TRAILER, then binge the series or read the book. All good decisions.

The TV series is based on Elliott Colla's novel set in October 2003 in Baghdad. The occupation forces have disbanded the army and there is no police on the streets of Iraq. Inspector Muhsin al-Khafaji is a mid-level Iraqi cop who deserted his post back in April. Captured by the Americans and imprisoned in Abu Ghraib, Khafaji is offered one way out, helping the authorities rebuild the Iraqi Police Services. But it's only after US forces take his daughter Mrouj that he figures out a way to make his surrender palatable, and even rewarding. Soon, he is investigating the disappearance of young translators working for the US Army.

The international cast is led by Altered Carbon star Waleed Zuaiter, who plays Khafaji, and Homeland’s July Namir who plays the role of Mrouj, his daughter. The cast also features a double Olivier Award winner in Bertie Carvel (Dr FosterJonathan Strange and Dr Norrell) who plays Frank Temple. Also featuring in a variety of roles are Clara Khoury (Homeland), Leem Lubany (Condor), Neil Maskell (Utopia) and Golden Globe-nominated Corey Stoll (House of Cards). More information.

Monday 27 January 2020

Whodunnit? The Perfect Ending in Detective Fiction

Please join Cleanprose on 22 February for an afternoon of detection at Clean Prose, London's first co-working space for writers.  

How can a solution be satisfying, yet unexpected? A successful solution is essential but it’s as elusive as a master criminal.

Join a panel discussion with Lucy Foley (The Hunting Party), Andrew Wilson (A Talent for Murder) and Mia Emilie (The Watchers Trilogy), in discussion with J C Bernthal and Brittain Bright, to explore how crime and detective novels are constructed and what makes the perfect ending.

The panel will be followed by a cream tea with the authors, then attendees will have the opportunity to purchase books and have them signed.

Tickets are £25, now available on Eventbrite.

When: Saturday 22nd February 2020 from 14:00

Where: Clean Prose, 2 Charlotte Road, EC2A 3DH

Sunday 26 January 2020


The next thing I knew I woke up lying on a strange bed in a strange room with a strange man sitting and looking at me with concern.
“What the.... I said through dry lips.
“Sorry,” the strange man said, ‘I didn’t mean to startle you.
He was middle aged, silver haired, on the plumpish side, wearing suit trousers and an unbuttoned waistcoat. His shirt was open at the collar, tie pulled down, and it looked like it was a few days since seeing an ironing board.
I sat up, and I had a light bulb moment. “Robert?” I said.
A nod, then “How do you know?”
“Your son Timothy. He hired me to find you”
“I’m a detective. Private. You’re missing, He suspected that you might be involved in something dodgy. Hence, no police. I swallowed. Dry mouth. “Is there anything to drink?”
“No. Had enough coffee for now. Something with a sealed top. I looked at my watch. The date-a-day read 24. The time, half ten. Outside it was light, so it had to be morning. Looked like the goose and accoutrements had been cooked though. “Christmas eve,” I said.
He nodded. So I had been out for almost a day.
I felt in my pockets. Telephone absent. “Phone?” I asked.
He shook his head. Course not. Silly me.
“Bathroom,” I said.
He pointed at the door to an en-suite. I went and relieved myself. Afterwards I checked the medicine cabinet. Corporate hospitality. There were new toothbrushes in cellophane, and new combs the same. I cleaned my teeth to get rid of the aftertaste of the Mickey Finn, and combed my hair because I could. Feeling better I went back into the bedroom and he showed me round our digs like a estate agent looking for a rental from a punter. It wasn’t half bad for a prison as it goes. A large sitting room, sofas, armchairs, a dining table and chairs, no bars on the windows, but it was up at least half the building, so there was no escape that way. A flat screen plasma TV mounted on the wall was playing It’s A Wonderful Life with the sound down. Someone’s idea if a joke I imagined. The door was shut tight with no handle or keyhole on the inside. Off the room was a small kitchen with all the usual accouterments including a large fridge. Inside I found a bottle of Becks still sealed. I lopped off the top and dived in. That was better. There was also a plate of sandwiches which meant we weren’t supposed to starve. I helped myself. Egg mayo on whole-meal. Not bad.
“So, Robert,” I said, when I went back into the main room and sat on the arm of an armchair.
“Bob. Why are we here?”
“I made mistakes. I was blind. No. There’s an old saying ‘none as blind as those who will not see’. That was me. I’m a rich man. A very rich man. Marley Inc made me so. I have a wonderful wife, wonderful children. I live in a house fit for a king. But there was a price to pay. There always is. Then one night I had a dream. I dreamt that I could see my past, my present and my future. Not a pretty one. I won’t go into details. So, I looked closely at what previously I had ignored. Marley Inc is rotten from the ground up. From the bottom down. Right to the core.
“In what ways?”
“Money laundering, fraud. Plain theft. We rake in money from the third world and decimate their countries, then leave them broke. It was all there and I collected the evidence and put together a file. Then I made my last mistake.
“Which was?”
‘I went to our CEO, Ebenezer Scrooge and told him what I knew, and what I intended to do.
“Which was?”
“Press one key on any of the keyboards here and hold it down for ten seconds, then the file would go”
“Everywhere I could think of. The Bank of England, Bank of America, financial regulators, newspapers, TV, radio. But it didn’t happen. Scrooge called in Sykes and his bully boys, and dragged me down here. Then you arrived.
“What do you think they have in store for us?”
“Not a merry Christmas.  There’s millions, billions involved. I think they planned to dispose of me. And now, I’m afraid you. I’m so sorry Mr Sharman. The firm closes down this afternoon for a week for Christmas. The only staff on duty answer to Sykes. He’ll be free to do his worst.
“Call me Nick. And not if I have my way,”
“What can you do?
That was a question I couldn’t answer right then.
I sat and cogitated, and Bob stood by the window looking at the snow falling. Suddenly he said, “do you see what I see?
“Do you see what I see?”
“Are we singing carols?”
“No. Outside. Look”
I got up and joined him. By stretching my neck, I could see down to the street outside through the snowstorm, and which was swirling with blue lights. “Are they here for us?” Asked Bob.
I didn’t have a chance to answer as the room door burst open and Billy Sykes burst in dragging his dog behind him by the leash in his right hand. In the other hand he held that thick leather quirt. He was wearing the same costume as the day before except he’d changed his shirt, and his scarf was blue. “Did you do this?” he demanded, looking at me. ”Bring in the police.
I shrugged. I hadn’t a clue, but I wouldn’t admit it to him.
“Did you tell anyone you were coming here?” he demanded.
“I may have mentioned the place.
But he was interrupted as Ben blew in through the open door, skidded on the carpet and ended up in front of me, bum against my leg to protect me, fur bristling and teeth bared at Sykes.
“Get him Bullseye,” ordered Sykes.
But Bullseye knew, like I did, that Ben was the alpha dog in that room, like any other room he might be in. Bullseye pulled back behind his master’s protection only to get a kick from one of the riding boot Sykes was wearing. ‘Bastard,” he yelled and raised the quirt to batter his dog. But Ben was too quick for him and launched himself at his arm. Cloth ripped and Sykes yelled and went down on one knee. I ran across and kicked him hard in the ribs, knocking him flat, as Jack Robber and a load of coppers arrived. Jack was out of breath. “Christ,” he said. “For a three-legged dog he can’t half run.
“How did you know?” I asked as Sykes was hauled to his feet by a pair of uniforms and relieved of his quirt and his dog.
“Fido was seen in your car. Traffic warden tried to get him out. Then traffic. They checked the reg and put out a call to find you. I saw the telex and when I saw where the car was found, and it looked like you’d not been seen or heard if for more than a day, I put two and two together and did what I’m paid for.
“Thank God you did. I think this crew were about to dispatch us to an early grave. By the way this is Bob Cratchit. I think he’s got some intel that might interest you and the fraud squad.
Jack and Bob shook hands and I looked at my watch. Just past eleven. “Bob. You’d better hurry if you want to get your Christmas dinner.
“I need to call my wife first. Have you got a phone?” he asked Robber. “Ours were confiscated.
Robber handed over his Nokia and Bob punched in a number. “Mary, it’s me,” he said. “I know. Now don’t cry. Thanks to a Mr Sharman and the police I’m safe. I’ll be home soon I hope. Got to go. It’s not my phone. He disconnected and handed the instrument back to Jack.
He held it up and said to me, ”you?”
“Nobody’s missed me, but you Jack,” I said.
”So, what’s the score with wild Bill and his merry men?” I asked.
“We’ll hold them for kidnapping for now, and make further enquires.
“Are Bob and I free to go?”
“Free as air. For now. But we’ll need statements.
“Come on then Bob,” I said. “Hold on. Jack, where’s my motor?”
“In impound. Don’t know whether you’ll get it back before Christmas.
“Lovely. Come on, we need rides.
Jack went and talked to one of the plain clothes cops who’d come in with him. Then back to us. “Let’s go.
“What about Bullseye?” I said.
“Kennels. Don’t worry about him. We look after animals better than people.
We three went to the lifts and headed down. In the foyer icy knickers was still behind the jump. She smiled when she saw Bob. “We were worried,” she said. Her insincerity didn’t fool me, or him.
“No problem,” he replied, then said. “Let me see your keyboard. I knew what he was going to do, and he did it. He held down a key, then came back to me. “It’s done,” he said. “For good or ill.
Robber led the way to his car and we all piled in. “Theobalds Road,” I said. ”I hope we’re in time.
We were barely. The butchers were on the pavement, fish and fowl safely inside, and the guv’nor was just about to pull down the shutters.
Bob dived out of the car and shouted, “hold on.
“Mr Cratchit,” said the boss. “Almost missed us.
“My stuff.
“Ted,” said the boss to one of the others. “Mr Cratchit’s parcels. Look lively.
Ted did as he was told and came back with three huge brown paper parcels all tied up neatly with twine.
“Better take you home,” said Robber as the snow kept falling.
“I’d be obliged” said Bob
So we all jumped back in Robber’s car with the parcels in the boot, and merry Christmas’s all round.
We drove through the snow to Bayswater, and Bob directed us round to a beautiful street full of beautiful houses. Bob’s was one of an elegant five storey terrace. All white with Doric columns outside. Black railings, and steps down to the basement.  “Come in,” he said. “And have a drink.
“No,” I said. “You need to get back to the family. They’ve missed you.
“Then do come for lunch tomorrow. You’ve seen the makings we’ve got of a feast.
I looked at Jack. Jack looked at me, and we both nodded.
Bob pointed at his house, Robber opened up the boot and Bob hauled out his parcels.
“Noon tomorrow,” was the last thing he said as we headed off again.
“If I’m out tomorrow I need to sort a few things out,” said Jack. “Mind if I drop you off? I’ll get you a cab.
We drove to Bayswater Road and as luck would have it, a blackie was dropping off a fare. Robber turned on the blue lights under his radiator grille and pulled in front of the lobster. The cabbie gave a look through his window like he’d just had a demand from the revenue. Robber hopped out and shouted. “Got a fare for ya”
“I’m just off home,” came the reply.
Where’s home?”
“So, you can drop my mate off in Tulse Hill.
“South of the river?” said the cabbie.
“Is that a joke?”
“Sorry. Just having a laugh. Come on then.
I got out with Ben and we dived into the cab, and were regaled with tales of who this geezer had had in the back of his taxi, including a minor royal who had his hand up his companion’s skirt from Paddington to the palace all the way home.
I looked at Ben and he looked back, but neither of us spoke.
Our road was deep and crisp and even when we got there, but had been gritted so we were good to be dropped off at the garden gate. ‘How much? I asked the driver “Have it on me mate,” he said. “I never charge the Bill.
“I’m not the Bill.
“Close as, by the looks of it. And your dog could pass for police.
“Army,” I said.
“Me too,” and he threw me a salute as he did a three-point-turn. “Merry Christmas.
“You too,” I said as we went into the front garden where Ben turned some snow yellow before we went indoors.
Upstairs the flat was freezing, so I ramped up the thermostat and got out the gold watch for me, and a beer for Ben, There was a bag of albums I’d bought from my friend Al next to the stereo, so I put in my thumb and pulled out a plum. The Blue Note Christmas album, Yule Struttin’. Everyone from Baker to Basie. Fantastic. Then, all the hits from the Orleans, a fantastic dance album that had me up showing a few moves much to Ben’s disgust, followed by Etta James live in the house, on British Chess. Rare as hen’s teeth, and twice as expensive.
Later on, I cooked what was going to be our Christmas lunch for supper. A sausage bap. I had ketchup on my bit, Ben had brown sauce. I shook my head at his choice, but said nothing
Next morning after just coffee for breakfast for me, and Bonio for him, we took a taxi up to Bloomsbury. Double fare for Christmas Day, but I didn’t complain. The Cratchit house was, as Bob had said, fit for a king, and the size of a palace, and it needed to be, the number of Cratchits en famile. There was Mrs Cratchit, Mary, Timothy, Martha, Peter, and some whose names slipped past me, plus grannies and grandads and sisters and brothers, in and out of law.
Robber had arrived just before me and was already guzzling a Buck’s Fizz. A maid rushed to get me one too, and a bowl of water for Ben. It was too early for beer for him.
I was introduced to Mrs Cratchit in the kitchen, which was big enough, and full of enough equipment to cater for a small hotel, where she was overseeing a chef and a couple of helpers. “I hope we’re not intruding,” I said. “Seems like you have more than a full house already.
“Nonsense,” she said back, whilst tasting from a pot full of bubbling gravy. “You and Jack and Ben between you saved Bob’s life. The Lord only knows what would have happened if you hadn’t turned up.
“Fair enough. She seemed to have gotten over the trauma of her husband’s disappearance quite well, and I sensed the steel beneath her calm exterior.
“And there are presents for all of you under the tree,” she said.
“Thank you. You shouldn’t.
“Oh, I should.
“How did you manage to organise that at such short notice.
“It’s amazing what a Harrod’s platinum charge card can magic up on Christmas Eve. Now, off with you, I’ve got to make this meal happen dead on time.
She kissed my cheek and showed me out, and I went back to the sitting room which was big enough to hold my whole flat twice over, where a monstrous Christmas tree held pride of place next to a roaring open log fire where Ben had found his natural home from home, and two kids whose names I hadn’t got were rolling round next to him. Someone had found a Santa hat and he was happily wearing it on the side of his head.
Jack was sitting in an armchair nursing his champagne glass. He was wearing a Santa hat too. I declined. Why spoil perfection?
Christmas dinner was served on the stroke of two. The dining table could have landed a jumbo jet. And what a spread. The goose took centre stage, next to the beef rib and a rabbit pie. There was a mountain of roast potatoes, a tub of mash, sprouts, carrots, fine beans, roasted radishes, Jerusalem artichokes, sauces and gravies enough to float a boat. On a side table was the vegetarian option for Timothy’s benefit I imagined. A nut roast, and more vegetables and a veggie gravy, the chef informed us. The chef carved, and his two helpers served. Bob sat at the head of the table, Mrs Cratchit at the foot. There were fine wines enough to fill a swimming pool, and pigs in and out of blankets.
Dessert was a flaming Christmas pudding set on fire as the lamps were lowered, plus mince pies, an apple pie, custard, ice cream, brandy butter and cheese from every corner of the globe. Coffee and liqueurs completed the meal.
Bob made a speech and thanked Jack, me and Ben.
Timothy stood, glass in hand and asked God to bless us everyone.
What a day!
So that was that. As usual, there were no papers on Christmas Day, but the story was the lead on the news that evening. Boxing Day it exploded.
Marley Inc tanked in the new year.
Scrooge, Sykes, Dodge, and a whole bunch of others went to jail. Fraud, money laundering, kidnap, false imprisonment, perverting the course of justice, were amongst the charges.
Bob turned Queen’s and got away with a slap on the wrist and a suspended sentence. He works for a charity now, and is famous for his good works amongst the underprivileged in east London.
The Cratchit family keep in touch. Always a Christmas card and lunch invitation. The presents Mrs Cratchit got us that day were top notch. It’s amazing what you can get on Christmas eve with a Harrod’s platinum card. Jack and I got Pateke Philippe gold watches with leather straps. Oblong, with an ivory coloured face. Beautiful pieces of kit. Mine had Nick, Christmas 1998 engraved on the back, Jack with his name and the date. Of course, being a serving police officer, he should have refused the gift. “Bollocks,” he said, “it’s mine. And I don’t blame him. Ben didn’t need a watch, so instead, he ended up with a furry teddy bear that squeaked when it’s middle was pressed. He seemed satisfied.
The kite in my office drawer was for five grand and flew like bird. Good result.
A good result for Bullseye too. Seems Sykes was a regular at the butcher’s shop, and the top man was fond of the dog, when he heard he was in kennels, he made an offer and the dog was his. Fit as a butcher’s dog, as the saying goes.
Ben and Jack are in fine form. Me too.
Bueno Natalie.
© 2019 Mark Timlin