Thursday 27 August 2020

BAD - Sydney Crime Writers Festival

This year the BAD Sydney Crime Festival has gone online and the festival this year has been split into two parts. The International Festival will take place between 10 to 13 September 2020. and will feature such authors as Ann Cleeves, Don Winslow, Karin Slaughter, Jo Nesbø, Kathy Reichs, Camilla Läckberg and Nicci French to name a few. 

The second part of the Festival will be the Face to Face Festival that will tae place between 5 to 8 November when the Danger Prize and Award will be awarded. The Danger Prize is awarded for the best book, TV Series, podcast or film about Sydney crime released in the 2019/2020 financial year.

Tickets can be bought here.

Wednesday 26 August 2020

2020 Ned Kelly Awards Shortlists

This year’s Ned Kelly Crime Awards entries are testimony to the strong increase in crime reading and crime writing, despite a challenging year for book publishing and retailers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australian Crime Writers Association chair Robert Goodman said the large number of entries in this year’s awards demonstrates that Australian crime writing and reading has never been stronger.

This is not just evident in the number of submissions but the diversity and quality of the entries. Congratulations to all our entry authors.’

Fiction entries include page turning thrillers, police procedurals, lone detectives and dirty dealings with many fascinating characters across a range of vividly portrayed settings.’ Goodman said.

This year, for the first time, the Ned Kelly Awards also include a category for Best International Crime Fiction published in Australia, adding to the regular categories of Best Crime Fiction, Best Debut Crime Fiction and Best True Crime.

It is exciting to be able to recognize not only our incredible home grown talent but also some of the world’s top international crime authors,’ Goodman said.

The 2020 shortlist for the Ned Kelly Awards headline category, Best Crime Fiction features: Death of a Typographer, by Nick Gadd, a ‘quirky and original story which is funny and very Melbourne’; The Strangers We Know, by Pip Drysdale, a ‘conspiratorial well-paced read that keeps you glued to the page’; The Scholar, by Dervla McTiernan, ‘an elegant and tightly constructed read with depth and excellent characterisation’; The Wife and the Widow, by Christian White, is ‘cleverly plotted with a major plot twist threaded extremely well through the action’; River of Salt, by Dave Warner, is an ‘evocative tale about the Australian surf scene in the early 1960s with compelling characters’; and True West, by David Whish-Wilson, is a book with ‘a distinct sense of time and place where you can almost smell the outback’.

The Debut Crime Fiction shortlist covers a diverse range including Eight Lives, by Susan Hurley, an ‘original medical thriller viewed through the lens of the migrant experience’; Where the Truth Lies, by Karina Kilmore, is ‘a great read with an interesting new setting and good twists’; Lapse, by Sarah Thornton, is ‘atmospheric rural crime with well-drawn characters’; The Nancys, by RWR McDonald, is ‘full of quirky characters and pays homage to Nancy Drew’; Six Minutes, by Petronella McGovern, considers ‘the nightmare scenario of a missing child’; and Present Tense, by Natalie Conyer, ‘has a great setting, complex taut plot and flawed characters’

This year’s True Crime shortlist includes Dead Man Walking: The murky world of Michael McGurk and Ron Medich by Kate McClymont which has a cast of true characters to rival any fiction novel; Bowraville, by Dan Box, addresses themes of endemic racism and justice as well as the ethics of true crime reporting; Shark Arm, by joint authors Phillip Rooper and Kevin Meagher, centres on an old but almost forgotten tale retold with great research and powerful writing; and Snakes and Ladders, by Angela Williams, about a young mother’s experience of addiction, recovery and serving time clean.

The new Ned Kelly Award for international crime fiction included submissions from some of the world’s biggest-selling crime fiction authors and the shortlist has been narrowed down to: The Night Fire by US author Michael Connelly, The Last Widow by US author Karin Slaughter, The Chain by Irish author Adrian McKinty and Cruel Acts by Irish author Jane Casey.

The Ned Kelly Awards are Australia’s oldest and most prestigious prizes for crime fiction and true crime writing. First established in 1995 and now in their twenty-fifth year, previous winners include: Peter Temple, Shane Maloney, Gabriel Lord, Candice Fox, Garry Disher, Helen Garner and Duncan McNab.

2020 Ned Kelly Awards Shortlists
Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd (Australian Scholarly Publishing)
The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale (Simon & Schuster Australia)
The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan (Harlequin Enterprises Australia)
The Wife and the Widow by Christian White (Affirm Press)
Rivers of Salt by Dave Warner (Fremantle Press)
True West by David Whish-Wilson (Fremantle Press)
Present Tense by Natalie Conyer (Clan Destine Press)
Eight Lives by Susan Hurley (Affirm Press)
Where the Truth Lies by Karina Kilmore (Simon & Schuster Australia)
The Nancys by RWR McDonald (Allen & Unwin)
Six Minutes by Petronella McGovern (Allen & Unwin)
Lapse by Sarah Thornton (Text Publishing)
Bowraville by Dan Box (Penguin Random House Australia)
Dead Man Walking: The murky world of Michael McGurk and Ron Medich by Kate McClymont (Penguin Random House Australia)
Shark Arm by Phillip Rooper and Kevin Meagher (Allen & Unwin)
Snakes and Ladders by Angela Williams (Affirm Press)

Cruel Acts by Jane Casey (Harper Collins Australia)
The Night Fire by Michael Connelly (Allen & Unwin)
The Chain by Adrian McKinty (Hachette Australia)
The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter (Harper Collins Australia)

Monday 24 August 2020

The Bloody Scotland 2020 online programme is here!

What began with disappointment and seemingly endless challenges has turned into a genuine opportunity to try something a bit different this year. I'm particularly pleased with the diverse range of voices appearing on the panels from all over the world. The festival has a truly epic scale from our biggest ever panel featuring no less than 27 authors to a session that will bring five continents online together, and there will be more spotlights for debut and emerging writers than ever before. We all know the festival won't feel quite the same this year (has anything?) but we have all the makings of a classic Bloody Scotland year nevertheless!' - Director Bob McDevitt

Bloody Scotland reveals its 2020 programme today - an entirely on-line festival over the
same weekend it should have been taking place in Stirling.

Highlights include two Criminal Masterminds panels featuring Val McDermid in conversation with Lee Child and Ian Rankin in conversation with Lawrence Block plus events with Tess Gerritsen; Mark Billingham; John Connolly; Linwood Barclay; Jo Nesbo; Jeffery Deaver; Ann Cleeves; Peter May; Professor Sue Black; Steve Cavanagh; Simon Mayo; Attica Locke; Helen Fitzgerald; Chris Brookmyre; Denise Mina; Deon Meyer; Sheena Kamal and Oyinkan Braithwaite. On the opening night, an event with all of the crime writers on the Bloody Scotland board – Craig Robertson, Lin Anderson, Abir Mukherjee and Gordon Brown - will give everyone the Bloody Scotland welcome they would normally have in Stirling!

Bloody Scotland has always been praised for going beyond the usual remit of a literary festival and there is a determination to keep that fringe feel with a film of the play, You The Jury, which sold out last year, a virtual cabaret at The Curly Coo and a criminal spin on Desert Island Discs – Desert Island Crooks. There is also a desire to push boundaries with contributors from all over the world in Five Continents of Crime and a new digital challenge for this year – The Never-Ending panel – which will feature 27 Scottish writers
from all over the world.

Mairi Kidd from Creative Scotland said: ‘Covid-19 presents a huge challenge for book festivals but the team at Bloody Scotland clearly feel it would be criminal to let readers and writers down now, when community matters more than ever. They have cooked up an inspiring digital programme with something for everyone. The events are sure to be a must-watch for crime fans everywhere, and the accessible digital format offers new readers the chance to discover the world of crime writing in all its gory glory.’

Tickets will be completely free and the digital format will extend the festival to crime fiction fans who wouldn’t normally be able to travel to Stirling but who we hope will return next year to help us celebrate our 10th Anniversary in person.

Convenor of Stirling Council’s Community Planning and Regeneration Committee, Cllr Chris Kane said:  ‘Bloody Scotland has grown into one of Stirling’s most loved events. It has become a key fixture in our ever-growing events calendar and we are already looking forward to welcoming the festival back to Stirling in 2021 to celebrate its tenth anniversary. For now, it is great news that the show is still going on in digital form, providing a showcase for some of our best loved and brand-new writers. In this year like no other, the importance of books to entertain, educate and inspire us has never been greater, and I have no doubt that this year’s online programme will offer huge rewards and enjoyment for readers and writers alike.

In addition to the Debut Prize which was new last year, Bloody Scotland remains committed to encouraging new writers who have been affected by bookshops being closed. This year there won’t be individual debut panels but the authors selected by Alex Gray have automatically earned places ‘In the Spotlight’ appearing on the virtual stage ahead of the headline acts. New names to look out for, recommended by Alex, include Dugald Bruce Lockhart (The Lizard, Muswell Press); Sam Lloyd (The Memory Wood, Bantam Press), Russ Thomas (Firewatching, S&S) and A J Parks (The First Lie, Orion). The winners of the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize and The McIlvanney Prize will be announced on Friday 18 September .

For further information or to arrange an interview with the Director, Bob McDevitt, or one of the crime writers on the board of Bloody Scotland – Lin Anderson, Gordon Brown, Abir Mukherjee, or Craig Robertson - please contact 07767 431846

Friday 18th September

Pitch Perfect
The Bloody Scotland Board
The McIlvanney & Debut Prize
Jeffery Deaver
The Fun Lovin' Crime Writers

Book your tckets to the Masterclass here

Register for Friday's free events here.

Saturday 19th September

Dame Sue Black
Peter May
Ann Cleeves
Ian Rankin
Lawrence Block
Simon Mayo
Adrian McKinty
Steve Cavanagh
Attica Locke
Oyinkan Braithwaite
Shamini Flint
JP Pomare
Lin Anderson
Tess Gerritsen
Linwood Barclay
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Helen FitzGerald
Robert Crais
Deon Meyer
Crime at the Coo

Register for Saturday's free events here

Sunday 20th September

Lee Child
Val McDermid
Denise Mina
Chris Brookmyre
Mark Billingham
John Connolly
Harriet Tyce
Ruth Ware
Liz Nugent
Lou Berney
Sheena Kamal
SA Cosby
Katherine Ramsland
and many more in the Never Ending Panel...

Register for Sunday's free events here.

Saturday 22 August 2020

Slaughter Fest 4 & 5 September 2020

HarperFiction is thrilled to announce the programme for SlaughterFest, a crime writing festival curated by Karin Slaughter to mark The Silent Wife, her 20th book in 20 years.
SlaughterFest will be broadcast on Killer Reads over the weekend of 5th and 6th September.

Friday 21 August 2020

Why did I (temporarily) leave my Detective Avraham to write "Three" by D.A Mishani

©Yanay Yechieli
The idea for "Three" came to me while boarding a plane back from a crime fiction festival I attended in Lyon, France. 

It presented itself - how and why I will never know, this being the most mysterious part of writing – not as a story but as a pure structure: a book in three parts, with three different reading-processes, about three women meeting the same man. Who the three women are and why they are meeting the man I didn't know yet – but when I got off the plane in Tel Aviv, I had no doubts that it would be my next book. 

There was only one problem with my idea: it didn't include the detective who appeared in my first three novels, Inspector Avraham Avraham. For the time being, I kept the idea for "Three" a secret from him. 


In retrospect, I think I have identified a few of the reasons why I needed a break from Avraham. 

After writing three more-or-less classically-structured detective novels, I felt I needed an adventure. And I believe that for a writer, an adventure is almost always an adventure in literary form, or a literary experiment. I wanted to write a novel with a structure that was new to me, and its writing experience - unexpected. 

Moreover, experiencing a few sad departures of close family members and friends in recent years, I wanted to write a book that would recreate the true shock of violence and death that one feels in real life. 

In a classic detective novel, the readers (and the writer too) are somewhat protected from the shock of death by structure itself: you know, when you open the book, that you'll find a corpse on page 15 or 20 and so you're ready; and seeing it through the detective's eyes helps with distancing or ‘regulating’ death.

"Three" had to be something else. It needed to strike the readers with the real grief caused by violence, and to achieve that I needed to turn the classic structure upside-down, to tell the story from the victim's perspective alone, and also to make the readers lose some of the protagonists in the middle of the book, like we sometimes lose our beloved in the midst of life's journey. In order to that I needed to part with my detective. 

Starting "Three", I felt all was going well. 

Writing the first part, I was becoming more and more attached to its protagonist, Orna; I enjoyed the new pace I found for the book, a pace that wasn't Avraham's almost-famous – or infamous – sluggishness. When I had doubts – Am I really not writing a detective novel?! - I calmed myself down by defining "Three" as a crime novel in which it isn't clear if a crime will happen or not, or a detective novel in which the detective might never appear. 

Written under the influence of a shift in my reading-diet in recent years – less realistic-psychological detective novels (Simenon, Sjowall\Wahloo, Mankell) and more novels that use the mystery or the detective story as a starting-point for an adventure in form or in storytelling (From Patricia Highsmith and Friedrich Durrenmatt to Ian MacEwan, Julian Barnes and Ricardo Piglia) – I told myself, and Avraham, that a detective is simply not always needed.

And then I got stuck. 

Writing Part 1 and Part 2 was such a pleasure that I overlooked something: there's a killer on the loose and somebody has to catch them. But since I left Avraham out of my office, who the hell will do that?

For more than two months I didn’t write a single word. My new adventure had derailed completely. I heard knocking on my office doors and I knew who that person was, outside. 

It was Inspector Avraham and he wasn't just offering his services but also telling me in his newly-gained confidence (after all, there's a TV series and a movie now, based upon him): "Let me in. You'll never catch the killer without me. In fact, you've never written a novel without me and you won't finish that one, if you don't let me in".

The truth is that I was tempted. Isn't a detective always right? 

But I didn't want to give up my literary adventure so quickly and I honestly believed in my three female protagonists – Orna, Emilia and Ella. I knew they could carry the novel by themselves. I knew they could catch the killer without Avraham too. 

When the book was out - and found more readers than all of the Avraham novels I wrote before – the knocking on my office door stopped. Was Avraham somewhat embarrassed about his vanity? It was only then, of course, that I could open the door to him again and invite him in – to work together on his new investigation.

Three by D. A Mishani (Published by Quercus Books) Out Now
Three tells the stories of three women: Orna, a divorced single-mother looking for a new relationship; Emilia, a Latvian immigrant on a spiritual search; and Ella, married and mother of three, returning to University to write her thesis. All of them will meet the same man. His name is Gil. He won't tell them the whole truth about himself - but they don't tell him everything either.

Thursday 20 August 2020

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”: The Dot-to-Dot Crime Novel

Robertson Bennet hasn’t seen his parents since 1986, but he’s never reported them missing… until now. As DI Birch soon realises, there’s far more to their disappearance than meets the eye. This is only the beginning of Cover Your Tracks, my third novel and the third outing for my fictional Edinburgh detective Helen Birch. As the book goes on we come across trainspotters, prison gangs, forgotten diaries and long-ago cold cases. And I return to some of the themes I’m most interested in exploring through my writing: family, “good” vs “evil”, and whether or not it’s possible to truly disappear.

I’m often asked in literary Q&As: “what one idea started you writing this novel?” I don’t think anyone is ever ready for the sheer length potential waffle of the answer. Because in truth, there’s never one idea: every novel starts out as a kind of dot-to-dot puzzle. Each dot is the tiny kernel of an idea – often they’re flung wide, the connections between them neither obvious nor easy. Writing the first draft is the act of joining each dot to the next, so that slowly, a picture begins to form. By the time I submit the final novel, the whole image has become clear.

With Cover Your Tracks, the first ‘dot’ appeared out of a conversation with my mum about our family tree. My mum is very into genealogy: she’s traced both lines of my family as far back as she’s been able, which means I have a very comprehensive record of exactly where (and who!) I come from. She has whole shelves of photocopied birth certificates, marriage records, photographs and obituaries – not that she needs them. The whole thing is also committed to memory, so I can ask her literally any question about our family’s history and she can answer it instantly.

One day, my mum was complaining about a distant ancestor she’d struggled to track through census records. He was counted in some years, but not others, she said. It took her a great deal of searching and re-searching and re-re-searching before she realised what had happened. This man went by two different names. Some years, his birth name was given. Other years, he appeared under a nickname – presumably the name his close family used. By doing this, he’d almost succeeded in disappearing forever: if it weren’t for my mum’s perseverance, our family line would have stopped with him. Obviously, this got me thinking: how powerful can a second identity be? Is it still possible to become officially invisible, by doing nothing more than changing one’s name?

Another crucial ‘dot’ was added to the picture one hot day in autumn 2018, when I found myself stranded on Peterborough Station by a broken down train. I had a long wait for the next service and it was sunny, so I decided to walk out to the end of the platform where the overhead coverings ran out, and there was direct sunlight to sit in. I didn’t realise I was walking into gricer territory. Gricers are perhaps better known as train-spotters, though they generally don’t like that term. A dwindling breed, they’re people – usually men – who visit stations across the UK to study timetables, track arrivals and departures and generally study the comings and goings of trains.

Sitting in the sunshine on Peterborough Station, I watched one particular gricer go about his business. Every train that stopped or passed through was logged in his notebook. The ones that stopped at our shared platform, he also photographed. His camera was pretty snazzy, and its accompanying kit included at least one long lens. I started wondering what this man’s photos must look like. Okay, they’d obviously contain a lot of trains… but what else? What might be visible in the distance, what details unwittingly captured? A face in a window, perhaps, caught in the long reach of that lens. Someone standing or walking where they shouldn’t be. Someone disposing of something. An anomaly, that might also be a clue.

Cover Your Tracks is the result of many months spent finding a way to join these two seemingly un-connectable dots together, via a whole series of other, smaller idea-dots. How cold does a cold case have to be before it becomes unsolvable, for example? In policework, how far can a hunch really take you? And perhaps the most important question: can you ever completely cover your tracks, or can you – as my grandmother would say – be sure your sins will find you out? 

Cover Your Tracks by Claire Askew (Published by Hodder & Stoughton)
Robertson Bennet returns to Edinburgh after a 25-year absence in search of his parents and his inheritance. But both have disappeared. A quick, routine police check should be enough - and Detective Inspector Helen Birch has enough on her plate trying to help her brother, Charlie, after an assault in prison. But all her instincts tell her not to let this case go. And so she digs. George and Phamie Bennet were together for a long time. No one can ever really know the secrets kept between husband and wife. But as Birch slowly begins to unravel the truth, terrible crimes start to rise to the surface.

Behind the Scenery by Paul Finch

While many of my previous crime novels have been set up and down the country, there’s always been a strong bias towards the North of England, and the Northwest in particular. 

This was always inevitable, I suspect. Not only was I born and raised there, but when I was a policeman and later, when I was a journalist, my hunting ground was Greater Manchester. I’ve never made any apologies for this because the Northwest, with its post-industrial landscape of depressed towns, derelict factories, and extensive, rubble-strewn spoil-land, makes an atmospheric backdrop for crime and thriller fiction that is almost second-to-none.

ONE EYE OPEN, though, will be very different. Because this new novel of mine is set in the border country between Essex and Suffolk, a pastoral landscape famous in the past for such practitioners of fine art as John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, and well known today for its prosperous villages, scenic woodland walks and genial country pubs.

As settings for crime thrillers go, it’s a far cry from anywhere I’ve been previously. But there’s a story behind this.

I first became enamoured of this leafy corner of England because I have in-laws there. We’ve been visiting them more and more recently, slowly getting to know their friends and neighbours, and one summer day a couple of years ago, during a very genteel garden party, I was introduced to a chap who, like me, was a former copper. 
We chatted amiably, gradually comparing notes about the job. I confidently expected that mine would blow his out of the water. After all, rapes and murders were regular events on our patch. We’d had arson, aggravated burglaries, repeated gang violence, an armed robbery during which machine-guns were discharged. The Suffolk ex-copper’s recollections weren’t quite as lurid as mine, but he told me some fascinating tales all the same, making it quite clear that it wasn’t just poaching they had to cope with out there in the sticks. Okay, it wasn’t MIDSOMER MURDERS, but there was plenty going on behind the lovely scenery. 

Most interesting of all (certainly to me), rural Southeast England had allegedly become a retirement land for the London underworld. Apparently, this wasn’t something that even local people knew about widely. But the story was that gangland bigwigs who had been forced out of the game either through age or simply because they’d decided the time was right and didn’t fancy tangling with incoming syndicates from overseas (who by reputation were particularly deadly), had set up shop in secluded rural residences, some of them pretty extravagant, but nearly all hidden at the ends of long drives, or behind walls of privets or manicured shrubbery, where they were leading the lives of wealthy, law-abiding citizens.

I wasn’t quite sure how to take this, and my new pal was at pains to stress that it wasn’t happening everywhere, and that there’d never been a corresponding increase in local crime as most of these old lags were done with all that.

But I found the idea fascinating: that inner city crime, or the proceeds of it, could be flourishing unnoticed in England’s cosy heartlands, where the most dangerous thing that most visitors normally encounter are clumps of nettles or crumbling stone steps in idyllic country churchyards.

I checked with other guests, and while many were adamant that this wasn’t so, a couple advising that while there were lots of successful people locally, all had risen to prominence legitimately, some were more circumspect. 

It was a mixed bag of views, but by this time I’d been inspired.

I mean, is it really possible that a truly nefarious past can ever stay buried? I’d never considered organised crime as being like a village club, something you joined by paying a membership fee to and left by stopping paying. There is much mythology woven around the underworld, of course: that once you’re in, you’re in; that it never forgets; that by the nature of the beast, you are embroiled in activities from which you can never just walk away.

Whether any of this is real or not, or just a flight of imagination I’d gone on after a tipsy summer afternoon with a fellow ex-officer, I can’t say. But I knew I had the kernel of a new book.

And this one wouldn’t work so well in the smoky gloom of the North. Not when I had the garden of England as an alternative. 

A garden in which, in ONE EYE OPEN, serpents abound. 

One Eye Open by Paul Finch is published by Orion and is out now.
A high-speed crash leaves a man and woman clinging to life. Neither of them carries ID. Their car has fake number plates. In their luggage: a huge amount of cash. Who are they? What are they hiding? And what were they running from?
DS Lynda Hagen, once a brilliant detective, gave it all up to raise her family. But something about this case reignites a spark in her...
What begins as an investigation soon becomes an obsession. And it will lead her to a secret so dangerous that soon there will be nowhere left to hide.

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Midnight at Malabar House: Writing that difficult second series

After five novels and two novellas in the Baby Ganesh Agency series, my next book is a historical crime novel set in 1950 in India. It's called Midnight at Malabar House and introduces Inspector Persis Wadia of the Bombay Police, India's first female police detective. 

So… why would I leave behind a successful series, published across 15 languages, and instead go back to the drawing board and all the nerve-wracking uncertainty that comes with launching a new idea? 

Writing a new series is a daunting prospect, rather like trying to begin a new relationship following a divorce – but, in my case, without the divorce. Fans of the Baby Ganesh Agency have besieged me with letters, emails and tweets expressing their alarm that there may be no more books in the series. I offer here the same explanation I have given them. 

As a writer, you have certain milestones that you want to achieve. Get published. Get published around the world. Get nice reviews. Achieve a bestseller. Win an award or two. Establish a connection with your ‘reader base’. Having now ticked off everything on that list, I came to a point where I wanted to challenge myself. Could I do it all over again? And if so, could I come up with an idea that excited me and that would appeal to readers too – both my current ones and a new audience? 

The Baby Ganesh books are set in modern India, featuring Inspector Ashwin Chopra and the baby elephant sent into his care. I lived in India for a decade and these books are my chronicle of a country that has undergone an incredible transformation over the past two decades. 

But modern India is also a reflection of her past. 

India’s historical legacy permeates everything you see on the streets of a place like Mumbai (once Bombay), from the slums to antiquated cultural attitudes. A large part of that legacy is tied up with the Raj, and the cataclysmic end to that period in late 1947.

Midnight at Malabar House opens on New Year’s Eve 1949, just two years after Independence, the horrors of Partition, and the assassination of Gandhi. India is still trying to work out what sort of democracy it is going to be. Social, political and religious turmoil is rife in the country. Economic reform is pitting the old nawabs, maharajas and feudal classes against the newly enfranchised masses. Yet Bombay remains in its own bubble, incredibly cosmopolitan, a city of jazz and self-indulgence, with tens of thousands of foreigners still living and working in the city. 

As India celebrates the arrival of this momentous new decade, Inspector Persis Wadia, still the only woman on the force, is summoned to the Bombay home of English diplomat Sir James Herriot. Herriot has been murdered. Soon, Persis, accompanied by Scotland Yard criminalist Archie Blackfinch, finds herself leading an investigation that becomes more political by the second… 

This new series is my way of drawing together the threads of India’s past and using them to shed light on India’s present. It is also a celebration of female pioneers on the subcontinent. Indian society has a reputation for being intensely patriarchal. Even now many women struggle to enjoy the same rights that women in other countries take for granted. Persis, however, is a woman who refuses to be told what her place in the new India should be. She believes in herself and in her own notions of justice and equality. She is a singular woman, fierce, committed, intelligent, a trailblazer in a sea of antipathy. 

I would love for you to join her on this journey.

Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan (Published by Hodder and Stoughton) 
Bombay, New Year's Eve, 1949. As India celebrates the arrival of a momentous new decade, Inspector Persis Wadia stands vigil in the basement of Malabar House, home to the city's most unwanted unit of police officers. Six months after joining the force she remains India's first female police detective, mistrusted, sidelined and now consigned to the midnight shift. And so, when the phone rings to report the murder of prominent English diplomat Sir James Herriot, the country's most sensational case falls into her lap. As 1950 dawns and India prepares to become the world's largest republic, Persis, accompanied by Scotland Yard criminalist Archie Blackfinch, finds herself investigating a case that is becoming more political by the second. Navigating a country and society in turmoil, Persis, smart, stubborn and untested in the crucible of male hostility that surrounds her, must find a way to solve the murder - whatever the cost.

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Tuesday 18 August 2020

Escape to the Country? Why Small Towns Smoulder - Erin Kinsley

Some years ago, I made my own escape to the country, fulfilling a life-long dream by moving to a charming cottage in an idyllically pretty Derbyshire village. Up to that point, I had lived mostly in cities, and what a revelation village life was. The pub, the post office and the school-gate gatherings were all hotbeds of sizzling gossip: secret affairs which were all too public, bankruptcies and domestic assaults everyone knew about, rumours of corruption in the ranks of parish council. 

Happily, there was never murder. Other small towns and villages aren’t so lucky.
The Anglesey village of Llanfair PG (pop 3014) is best known for the long form of its name (Llanfair pwllgwyngyll gogery chwyrn drobwll llan tysilio gogo goch, 58 letters and second longest in the world). But in 2001 it was the scene of a horrific murder, when ninety-year-old widow Mabel Leyshon was stabbed 22 times as she watched TV in her bungalow. Once she was dead, her 17-year-old killer cut out her heart with a kitchen knife before draining her blood into a saucepan and drinking it. In court, the killer was described as obsessed with vampires; he thought the village an ideal hunting ground as there were so many old people who no one would miss. Which might make one question the wisdom of a country retirement. 

The murder in my second novel, Innocent, is less bloody, but the setting’s a not-dissimilar country town, where everyone believes they know everyone else’s business. Small towns draw crime writers like bees round honeypots, and with good reason. As Miss Marple knew all too well, all human life – and human nature – is there, and proximity to one’s neighbours seems to supercharge emotions, turning what elsewhere might be mild aversions into bitter hatred and harmless crushes into mad passions. 

As I was writing Innocent, I thought long and hard about why that should be so, and to me, the answer came down to the lack of choices in remote communities. If it’s a long drive to somewhere else on a Saturday night, you’ll be going to the local pub, along with your mates and all those people who get on your nerves. If you need bread or milk, you’ll visit the local shop, where you might bump into someone you can’t stand, but for appearances’ sake, you’ll be polite, pass the time of day. If your wife’s been indiscreet, it cuts deep to see her lover walk his dog past your house every day. Undercurrents flow like torrents. 

But I loved writing about the shifting sands of small-town relationships: one-time best friends might ignore each other at the Christmas carol service; punches are quite believably thrown by a jealous husband in the golf club bar; whispers follow a young mum, speculating on her child’s paternity. So many motives and opportunities; in small-town settings, the red herrings swim in shoals. 

Which is not in any way to denigrate how situations fester and boil over in real-life small towns. Consider the 1988 murder of poor Helen McCourt, who had a very public row with Ian Simms, a married man and landlord of her local pub. Simms had a fancy for Helen, but she had no interest in him. After their disagreement, he told several customers she’d been gossiping about his young mistress, and how he hated her – enough, apparently, to murder her. Traces of Helen’s blood were found in Simm’s flat over the pub, and her blood-soaked clothing was recovered from a riverbank twenty miles away. But the spurned landlord was thorough in his disposal of her body, which to this day has never been found. 

As for Mable Leyshon’s small-town killer, maybe the neighbours didn’t know him as well as they thought. ‘He wasn’t a weirdo,’ said one. ‘He didn’t wear black, and neither was he a village bad lad. He was just a normal kid who wore jeans and trainers.

So if you’re thinking of escaping to the country, be careful not to upset your local landlord, and be sure your teenage neighbour doesn’t have vampires on his mind. 
The grass is always greener – except where it’s stained with red. 

Innocent by Erin Kinsley (Published by Headline Publishing)
A murder tears a small town apart but who did it? The pretty market town of Sterndale is a close-knit community where everyone thinks they know everyone else. But at a lavish summer wedding a local celebrity is discovered slumped in the gardens, the victim of a violent assault that leads to a murder investigation. As the police search for answers, suspicion and paranoia build - and the lives of the locals are turned upside down. Secrets that lurk beneath the pristine façade of Sterndale come to light as detectives close in on the truth... 

Monday 17 August 2020

A Question of Love by Antonia Hodgson

Why don’t you write romance novels?’ the woman in the audience asked. She sounded reproachful. It was perfectly obvious that I had chosen the wrong genre. What was the matter with me? 

The audience Q&A is my favourite part of an event. The tone is more conversational, the questions more unpredictable. I gave a lecture at a prestigious history festival once (terrifying) and a man put up his hand to complain that I had not talked enough about syphilis. I do apologise, sir. 

In this case – a library talk – I explained that I had enormous respect for the genre. (Back when I was a publisher, I was lucky enough to work with Nora Roberts, the certified Goddess of Romantic Suspense.) I might explore other genres one day – I was a huge fan of SFF, for instance. But, for now, I was happy writing historical thrillers. Did this answer her question? Not really. 

I just think,’ she muttered, unappeased, ‘you should write romance.’

Well, I hate disappointing people, most of all readers who make the effort to come to library events. And – joking aside – it’s good to ask yourself from time to time, why am I writing this book, in particular? Why this genre? What exactly am I doing…? 

The truth is, although my novels are not romances in the strict sense, they are concerned with love and connection. Writing a series has given me the space to explore my characters’ longterm relationships – with family, with friends, and with lovers. Those relationships have transformed them over time, just as much as the troubles they have faced. 

From my first book, The Devil in the Marshalsea, to my fourth, The Silver Collar, I have been writing about two people who fall in love, and how that love deepens in the midst of danger, persecution and loss. 

We first meet Tom Hawkins in a crowded coffeehouse, celebrating a large gambling win. He seems happy, but in reality, he is lost and alone. Disowned by his family and swiftly betrayed by his ‘friends’, he is thrown into a debtors’ prison – locked in a cell with a murderer. 

It is here, at the lowest point of his life, that he meets Kitty Sparks. It takes him a while to recognise her qualities and even longer to realise he is in love with her. (But then Tom is, as Kitty often observes, ‘an idiot’.) He only realises how much he needs her when he believes she is dead. 

At the end of the book, I had to make a choice about their relationship. They meet up in the same coffeehouse where we found Tom at the beginning. I could have left things open – will they, won’t they?

I adore a bit of UST (unresolved sexual tension), as they call it in TV. Mulder and Scully. Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. It works brilliantly when it feels convincing, as in these examples. In the case of Tom and Kitty, given the nature of their characters (impatient, expressive), and what they had been through (hell), it felt more natural that they would jump on each other. Which they did, and continue to do, as often as possible.

That’s not to say they live happily ever after. At the end of The Devil in the Marshalsea, Kitty comes into a large inheritance. By book two, The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins, she has built a thriving business. Tom, by comparison, is a reckless gambler, who has already thrown away one fortune. This causes tensions between them. Kitty refuses to marry Tom, as that would mean surrendering her business and her fortune to him. These questions of power and trust are both specific to the period, and also, I think, universal. 

At the beginning of The Silver Collar, Tom and Kitty have a terrible row, but they recover from it. It’s when Kitty starts hiding things from Tom that they really struggle. Her deception – although well meant – puts their relationship and ultimately their lives in danger. What they don’t realise is that someone is working behind the scenes to pull them apart. And that this is just the beginning of a very dark act of revenge. 

The Silver Collar is a historical thriller. (Sorry, lady in the library.) But it is also a story of love in many forms, good and bad. At the same talk, I rather flippantly told the audience that I couldn’t imagine writing a book without a murder in it. I’m not sure that’s true. But a novel without love at its heart? Now that would be impossible. 

The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson (Published by Hodder and Stoughton) Autumn, 1728.
Life is good for Thomas Hawkins and Kitty Sparks. The Cocked Pistol, Kitty's wickedly disreputable bookshop, is a roaring success. Tom's celebrity as 'Half-Hanged Hawkins', the man who survived the gallows, is also proving useful. Their happiness proves short-lived. When Tom is set upon by a street gang, he discovers there's a price on his head. Who on earth could want him dead - and why? With the help of his ward, Sam Fleet, and Sam's underworld connections, Tom's investigation leads to a fine house in Jermyn Street, the elegant, enigmatic Lady Vanhook and an escaped slave by the name of Jeremiah Patience. But for Tom and Kitty, discovering the truth is only the beginning of the nightmare.

Sunday 16 August 2020

An interview with Denise Mina

    Ayo:- Your last couple of books Conviction and The Last Drop and have been quite different from your other books. What made you decide to to make a foray into true crime as the background to the books?

    Denise:- I have always used true crime stories as starting off points, I think a lot of writers do read the newspapers or keep their ears open for striking incidents, so it was more a question of degree than a volt face. I have always loved the form of true crime though and I think knowing that a story is largely true can add to the resonances for a reader like me. 

    Ayo:- The Long Drop is a reimagining of the trial and of the drunken night the two men spent carousing in Glasgow, Convicton about a true crime podcast and sexual violence whilst your latest book The Less Dead is about violence against women inspired by a series of real murder cases. What made you decide to write about this particular topical issue?

    Denise:- Books have to be written a year or so before they’re published so if the topic in them seems timely it’s usually just good luck! With The Less Dead it was the Staunch Book Prize which was established to draw attention away from crimes of violence against women by rewarding books that did not do that. It was very well intentioned but I think neglected the fact that victims in the real world are valued differently. I wanted to write about that and about a woman who couldn’t choose not to face up to her own privilege. 

    Ayo: Do you believe that violence against women is taken as seriously as it should be?

    Denise:- Yes, but only against some women: white middle class stranger women. Everyone else gets a lesser service and that’s not just from the police or the courts. It’s from the public and from juries and from newspapers. If domestic violence was taken as seriously as it should be other crimes associated with it could be stopped. Crimes of violence against sex workers are treated as if they are inevitable. They’re no more inevitable than football violence.

    Ayo:- Are you often struck by the different ways in which books can be interpreted by those who read them and have you any thoughts on the way you expect The Less Dead to be interpreted?

    Denise:- I believe a book is half the work of the writer, half the work of the reader – readers bring the prism of our own experience and our own prejudices with us to every book. I don’t believe in original intention with book interpretations. Of course, sometimes people tell me what my book is about and I’m secretly thinking they’re completely wrong but I wouldn’t say that. For me the best writers ask questions that raise more questions. Boring writers tell you what to think. Some people are already very offended because I’ve used the terms ‘sex worker’ and they don’t think it should be classed as work, which I understand but I think if people are going to be legally protected the categorisation is useful.

    Ayo:- In all your books you appear to have this nuanced approach to seediness. Is this deliberate and do you feel that it is inevitable due to what you are writing about?

    Denise:- The great thing about crime fiction is that the story can go anywhere and I like there to be contrast in my books – from the top to the bottom. I’m always aware of how visceral the city is and how seediness can lie anywhere.
    Ayo:- What was the most interesting thing that you’ve found out while preparing to read a book that you’re working on?

    Denise:- The ring road around Glasgow (M8) was proposed after WW2 to contain a Bolshevik uprising. It was felt that Glasgow was the city most likely to fall to the Communists and the road was built so that the city centre could be cut off by the army.
    Ayo:- While you’re never one to repeat yourself, The Less Dead, on the surface, reads as a very different kind of thriller for you. How did it come about?

    Denise:- Several of my family members are adopted and quite recently made contact with their birth family, so there was that experience going on in the background. There was also the series of murders of sex workers in the 1980s and ‘90s that really bothered me. The last person to be murdered was a lovely person and came from a really sweet family, it was devastating for them, but I kept thinking about the women who had been killed before and how little of the same sort of coverage there was because so many grew up in care. They didn’t have nice families to go on Crime Watch and if felt wrong.
    Ayo:- What generally sparks the idea for what you want to write about next?

    Denise:- Usually I stumble on a story that makes me wonder ‘what does THAT feel like?’ It can be a bit of a newstory or something over heard in conversation. If I find it intriguing I think a reader might.
    Ayo:- I believe that writing crime fiction and reading crime fiction is a good way of having an insight into society and its ills. Do you agree that this is the case and do you think that today's crime writers do so.

    Denise:- I do agree but crime fiction is such a broad church. Some is sociological or criminological. Some criminological crime friction is completely wrong, for example, profilers are a bit useless on the ground but they’re all over crime fiction. You can’t find a murderer by correctly guessing he lives with his mum, can you? Some crime fiction is basically a puzzle and some is a very familiar story that we’ve heard a hundred times and I do love that sort of crime fiction as well. It would be a shame if we were all writing the same things.
    Ayo:- Over the years you have won many accolades for your writing how does your success make you feel as a writer?

    Denise:- I don’t feel successful but I do feel incredibly lucky that I get to do this for a living. That sounds trite and ever so humble but the longer I do this the more I’m aware that better writers than me stopped or got ill or got dropped or made a load of money and forgot to write the next book, got sucked into teaching or whatever. Sometimes I get all my prizes out of the cupboard and look at them to remind myself how incredibly fortunate I’ve been.
    Ayo:- Bearing in mind the issues that you write about do you think that there is such a thing as an apolitical writer?

    Denise:- No. All fiction is political. What we perceive as neutral is just closer to the status quo. I can’t believe we still have police procedurals with a resolution of the cops shooting the suspect. 
    Ayo:- Are the narratives of crime and justice still as important to you today as they were when you wrote Garnethill?

    Denise:- More so. I think I’m more nerdy about them and the hunch I had that they mattered -that the way we constructed victims and notions of justice in narrative fiction was important – is even more acute now. I see legal policy being made on the basis of fictional constructs. 
    Ayo:- What do you think about the state of crime writing today and do you think that it has become more gratitious?

    Denise:- It’s hard to answer that because I’m not really all the way across the genre. It’s vast now! I remember when it was just you me and Val McDermid, I don’t know how you do it!
    Ayo:- What question would like to be asked but never are?

    Denise:- Are you grateful? I think we should all ask ourselves that but it’s a bit existential. Anyway the answer is – not enough.

    Ayo:- What next?

    Denise:- OOOOO! I’m writing a follow up to Conviction called Confidence. Someone has found a document that proves Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans, they kill themselves and then the document ends up on the international market for historic artefacts. I’m very lost in that whole world right now!
The Less Dead by Denise Mina (Published by Vintage on 20 August 2020)
 When Margo goes in search of her birth mother for the first time, she meets her aunt, Nikki, instead. Margo learns that her mother, Susan, was a sex worker murdered soon after Margo's adoption. To this day, Susan's killer has never been found. Nikki asks Margo for help. She has received threatening and haunting letters from the murderer, for decades. She is determined to find him, but she can't do it alone...

The Less Dead can be bought here.