Monday 28 September 2020

Bloody Scotland Virtual Festival 2020 Now Available on YouTube


Bloody Scotland closed its virtual doors on Sunday evening (20th) but the majority of the programme is now available on YouTube at- via our channel:

The virtual Festival will be online for the next month until October 30th allowing crime fans to dip into sessions they missed or revisit events they particularly enjoyed. Authors are still available for interview to promote their events online.

The response to the virtual Festival has been resoundingly positive:

Where other festivals might have shrunk, this one grew in ambition. The organisers of Scotland’s annual crime writing festival refused to let the small matter of a global pandemic get in their way, upping the ante with some truly international online events.’
David Robinson, The Scotsman.

The Festival happened but like so many cultural events it was all online. I have to say, WOW! Big respect to the team. Everyone’s talking about it. It was a huge success.
Janice Forsyth, The Afternoon Show, BBC Radio Scotland

Congratulations, brilliant numbers for terrific events.’
Karen Robinson, Times Crime Club

Online #BloodyScotland has been fun… the chats are awesome! Instead of being told to shush during panels we’re encouraged to talk. Brilliant @BloodyScotland
Anthony Neil Smith, Professor of English at South West Minnesota State University

Bloody Scotland was absolutely wonderful. You all did a brilliant job with it. I did miss being up in Stirling and getting to see everyone but it did let me finally get a taste of Crime at the Coo.
Alison Campbell, Blogger, A Bookish Life.

One unusual result of the virtual Crime at the Coo is that it has led to debut author, Dugald Bruce Lockhart releasing an EP featuring the track he sang at Bloody Scotland. Crime writing clearly maketh music stars…

My Atomic Love by Jennie Fields

Writing a novel is like mixing a cocktail. The elements must balance, the flavors need to be complex and interesting, yet marry well. And given a good stir, the final product must have a kick. The first element of the cocktail which makes up my new novel Atomic Love was inspired by the fact that my mother was a scientist. Or to be clear, she began as a scientist, a biochemist trained at the University of Chicago in the 1940’s and someone whose cancer research was so significant, her cancer paper was referenced well into the 1960’s. I didn’t discover the impact of her work until recently. She sometimes mentioned to us that she’d worked on an important cancer paper, but frankly, I thought her tale was apocryphal. 

You see, by the time I came along, my mother was no longer a pioneering researcher; she was a housewife. Like many American career women in the late 1940’s, when she married, she was expected to forfeit her job to a returning GI, give birth to 2.5 babies and in between host themed dinner parties which ended with towering gelatin desserts. She took her task as seriously as she had science. Even after three babies, her dinner parties were legendary, and she showed up at every Parent/Teacher meeting on time with pearls on. But her love for science and the powerful position she’d once held haunted her. She told me constantly, whatever you do, don’t give up your career. Don’t be like me

Another family story also found its way into the mix. My mother walked every day to the University of Chicago with her cousin Jean, who worked at the Metallurgical Laboratory. Jean would never tell my mother what she did there. She was so secretive, it put something of a rift between them. It wasn’t until years later that my mother discovered the Metallurgical Laboratory was home to the Manhattan Project. I believe Jean was a clerical worker for the Project, but even late in life, she’d been so sternly warned to keep her job a secret, she never whispered a single specific. That enforced silence made me want to know more. 

Research told me that there was, in fact, a female physicist, Leona Woods who was the
youngest member of the University of Chicago team and the only woman. Woods was a mentee of Nobelist Enrico Fermi and an important contributor to the first nuclear reaction. I took the liberty of putting my main character, Rosalind Porter in Woods’ position. Young, female. But unlike Woods, Rosalind abruptly loses her career. Deeply depressed by the destruction and loss of life caused by the bomb, then abruptly left by her colleague and lover, Thomas Weaver, Rosalind discovers someone’s written a report that says she’s unstable. With men coming home from the war, it didn’t take much to push a woman out of a job they didn’t believe should have been hers in the first place. She feels certain it’s Weaver who’s betrayed her.

The book begins four years later when a contrite Weaver contacts Rosalind saying he must explain what happened between them. Shortly afterwards, she’s approached by FBI agent Charlie Szydlo, a wounded vet suffering with PTSD from his years as a Japanese prisoner of war. He asks Rosalind to let Weaver back into her life and spy on him, because the FBI believe Weaver’s selling atomic secrets to the Russians. 

Stirred right into this mix is the paradoxical culture of the early 1950’s. The war is over. People desperately want to be happy, to wear a smile again. But almost everyone is damaged by their war experiences. Many of the returning G.Is, like Charlie suffer from disabling PTSD. A large number of women, like Rosalind, have lost the jobs they loved, and have been relegated to being helpmates. The common trope of the day is the happy four person household with the wife in an apron and heels handing a stiff drink to the husband who’s loosening his tie after a long day. The children are playing quietly in the corner. Everyone is smiling, but in truth, almost no one is happy. 

So here’s the cocktail of Atomic Love: a disgraced female scientist, a possible spy, an FBI agent looking for answers. All stirred into the backdrop of a scarred postwar America. To find out more, you’ll have to take a sip.

Atomic Love by Jennie Fields is published by Penguin Books on 17 September 2020 £12.99
Chicago, 1950. Rosalind Porter has always defied expectations - in her work as a physicist on the Manhattan Project to design the atomic bomb, and in her passionate love affair with coworker Thomas Weaver. Five years after the end of both, her guilt over the results of her work and her heartbreak over Weaver are intertwined. She has almost succeeded in resigning herself to a more conventional life . . . Then Weaver gets back in touch. But so does the FBI. Agent Charlie Szydlo wants Rosalind to spy on Weaver, whom the FBI suspects of selling nuclear secrets to Russia. As Rosalind's final assignment launches her on a dangerous mission to find the truth, she faces a heartbreaking choice . . . Believe the man who taught her how to love? Or trust the man who her love might save?

Sunday 27 September 2020

Mark Timlin on Animal Kingdom

We were delighted when crime writer Mark Timlin joined Shots Magazine as one of our reviewers. Though he’s still occasionally writing about Sarf-London bad-boy Private Investigator Nick Sharman; like many of us he’s locked-down [in a secret location with Literary public relations impresario Lucy Ramsey  and a violent cat], due to the ubiquity of this Covid-19 situation – he spends his free time, reading and watching crime thrillers – it’s a busman’s holiday.

You can read some of his recent book reviews HERE

As a old fan of Mark Timlin’s writing, here’s some background on his work CLICK HERE 

If you missed Mark’s seasonal tale “Merry Christmas, Baby” which we serialised here, just before COVID became ‘a thing’ –

Part One HERE

Part Two HERE

I have to thank many writers, including Mark Timlin - as his violent [and thought provoking] tales of Nick Sharman, got me through some difficult times, though when I think back to who I was then, it was indeed a lifetime ago.

Stephen King wrote a maxim in his non-fiction work ‘On Writing’ – one that I hold firm within my own value system - one that is now so very important while we contemplate the isolation, the loneliness we find ourselves in, due to the pernicious nature of Covid-19 – and how to cope, with Books and TV drama.

“Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.”

It was with Mark Timlin, Mike Stotter and many friends and colleagues that I finally got to meet Stephen King, again a lifetime ago but a memory that makes me smile.

With the event over, Timlin and I strolled outside to get some air. And as we were talking, Kerry Hood and Phillipa Pride exited in company with King, for whom a car had already been summoned. Kerry introduced Stephen King to Mark Timlin, and then turned to introduce me, but the wordsmith from Maine smiled and said, “I’ve met Ali, and he’s a funny guy.” Nice touch. And one that I’ll remember for the rest of my days. For a moment--maybe just one--I was no longer some middle-aged dude. Instead, I was that fanboy of 29 years back, who ran into town clutching two £5 notes borrowed from his mother, ready to buy his first-ever hardcover book.

Read More about that surreal day from Jeff Peirce HERE

As ever I digress, so without further wiffle, we present Mark Timlin’s review of a Crime Series on TV, that may distract the mind from lockdown due to Covid-19.

Stay well, and keep watch on your own mental health, and that of others.  

Ali Karim, September 2020


The Colby family live it large in Oceanside CA. Ruled by the matriarchal Janine Colby aka Smurf (She once turned blue. Long story. Watch the show) - like some shade of Ma Baker, permanently pissed off with life as she cooks and cleans like a maniacal gruesome hag on speed. With a million and a half dollars in cash in a lock-up, surely, she could afford some help with the washing up.

Sharing her palatial digs are various sons and grandkids, all fathers absent, either KIA, MIA, or Mullered and buried deep in the desert on the road to Vegas. Her offspring are either surfers or psychos who pay their (and her) way by scams and robberies. These fuckers will rob anything: Banks, yachts, planes, drug dealers, pill mills, grass farms, jewellers’ shops, art galleries, you name it. In fact, the three series available on Prime (there’s five in all) are like one long heist movie. But don’t get the mistake that this mob are like modern day Robin Hoods. They are nasty bastards one and all, only caring about themselves and ‘family’ of course. Actually, keeping it in the family is pretty well hinted at, as Smurf is rather too over-familiar with ‘her boys’ as she calls them. No, the family are the sort of folks who would borrow your shorts and hand them back unwashed, shag your girlfriend, then shoot her full of smack, and dump an old lady with dementia on the side of the road because she might grass you up.

The upside of watching the show is hunky blokes, good looking women, cool cars, bikes and boats. Lots of loud music by bands and singers I’ve never heard of. That part of the zeitgeist passed me by. The downside is that the sex scenes, both gay and straight are too frequent, overlong, and frankly not sexy. The director should’ve stayed outside the bedroom door, or indeed the shower, the kitchen (unhygienic) or simply al-fresco. Also, there’s far too many surfing episodes, including a memorial for a dead friend which approaches bathos.

Based on an Australian film of the same name that I must get on DVD, Animal Kingdom is about as nasty as a dose of coronavirus whilst suffering with acute bowel trouble.  I am forced to watch it on my own, as no one else in the house will.

They hate it, I love it.

There, I’ve said it.

Mark Timlin September 2020

Friday 25 September 2020

Thrillers, Crime Novels, and Neuroscience Psychology

“How much will it hurt tonight, and when will the itching drive me crazy?” I said. I was lying on my stomach, trying to stay very still, while my doctor stitched up my right shoulder blade. I have reached the age where my skin is occasionally described as “suspicious”.

“It shouldn’t hurt,” my doctor said. “It might itch in a week.”

“Have you ever had stitches?” I said, soaking up every sensation, committing them to memory because they may come in handy for a story. Writers are an odd bunch, aren’t we?

“No, I never have,” she said.

That night, it felt like invisible little knives jabbing my shoulder at an irregular rhythm. Of course, it hurt! I had two layers of stitches, deep and superficial. Even as the prickly and throbbing pain under my skin drove me nuts, I thought it was funny how badly my doctor had misled me. She hadn’t lied to me. She was a conscientious doctor. She just didn’t know what it felt like.

Should doctors have to have stitches before they give them? Of course not; that’s cruel. Should doctors have to undergo surgery or take drugs before they perform or prescribe? No, that would be monstrous. (It wouldn’t even necessarily be valuable because the same drug has different effects on a genetically-varied population.)

But these questions dig deeper into the differing perspectives of reality and how they can affect psychiatric diagnosis and prescription. Psychotropic drugs are both overprescribed and underprescribed. They have saved lives and ruined lives. They are still prescribed mostly as one-size-fits-all, but should they be? The brain is complex, and variation rules.

Crime novels and thrillers are especially heavy on neuroscience psychology. The genre is rife with diagnosis and drugs (legal and illegal), serial killers and psychopaths, and relatable, stable people who are simply pushed too far. 

We all have the potential for violence within us; it’s a defense mechanism for survival. Neurologist Robert Burton explains that, even after 30 years of searching for patterns, psychiatrists and psychologists cannot predict who will commit murder, which is unsettling, but also a great relief. Screening populations for violence sounds like a frightening dystopian novel. (Sadly, it’s not. Police use of AI and facial recognition is all over the news.)

Psychiatric issues are at the gooey center of so many novels in the genre: Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane), The Girl on The Train (Paula Hawkins), Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn), American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis), The Silent Patient (Alex Michaelides), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (Patricia Highsmith). Internal struggles with PTSD, drug addiction, depression, anxiety, obsession, and psychopathy drive plots and characters.

Those of us who don’t have psychiatric issues still have differing perceptions of reality and psychological quirks. Some of us buy into conspiracies. Others are awake in the middle of the night, worried sick over inconsequential things. Some are dependent on their evening glass of wine or get pissy if they don’t exercise. Many of us replay conversations over and over, thinking, I’m so stupid, I’m so stupid.

Some of us embrace our psychological quirks; others don’t. That’s another nuance of the topic. What are we comfortable exposing about ourselves, and what do we feel compelled to keep secret?

In She Lies Close, Grace Wright is the secretive type. She has anxiety and insomnia, she takes meds for ADHD, and her meds exacerbate her insomnia, which leads to other troubling behaviors. She is worried about losing custody of her kids, so she keeps a lot of secrets.

In this dark psychological thriller, recently divorced Grace Wright moves her two small children into a new house, hoping to start a new life, longing to reset her crippling insomnia, but finds out she’s moved in next door to the only suspect in the kidnapping of five-year-old Ava Boone. Grace becomes obsessed with her menacing neighbor and the family of the missing little girl, and then a body turns up...

She Lies Close has already gathered strong early praise, with New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica declaring it as "an explosive, darkly comedic psychological thriller with one of the most memorable protagonists I’ve read" and USA Today bestselling author Hank Phillippi Ryan describing it as a “masterclass in voice, a psychological tour de force, and one of the most original stories I've ever read.”

She Lies Close is by Sharon Doering (Published by Titan Books)

Five-year-old Ava Boone has been missing for six months. There have been no leads, no arrests, no witnesses. The only suspect was quiet, middle-aged Leland Ernest. And Grace Wright has just bought the house next door. Recently divorced, Grace uprooted her two small children to start again and hopes the move will reset her crippling insomnia. But now she understands bargain-price for her beautiful new house. With whispered neighborhood gossip and increasingly sleepless nights, Grace develops a fierce obsession with Leland and the safety of her children. Could she really be living next door to a child-kidnapper? A murderer? With reality and dream blurring more each day, Grace desperately pursues the truth - following Ava's family, demanding answers from the police - and then a body is discovered...

She Lies Close is available now in the UK and releases on November 10 in the US and Canada.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

The Reacher Guy: Always Lucky by Dr Heather Martin

He loved stories. He’d always loved them, ever since he was a little boy. One day he would grow up to write them. But the one story Lee Child didn’t want to write was his own. He knew too much about it. He might get bored. He wanted new stories. There were too many unread books in the world to go back over old ones.

It was something the author of the bestselling Jack Reacher novels had become famous for - not planning his writing in advance. Mainly this was down to his preoccupation with authenticity. He didn’t want to mess with the instinctive narrative voice that had served him so well from the start, and anyway, once he’d set Reacher up, it was up to Reacher to ‘sort things out’. But it was partly to save his own sanity. It was already a monumental challenge to write book after book about the same character, to keep the series going for upwards of twenty years. If he knew the ending before he started out, he wouldn’t be able to summon the necessary energy and enthusiasm. He wanted to experience as a writer the joys of the reader: the same twists and turns, the nail-biting suspense, the righteous passion, the pursuit of justice, and the satisfaction of resolution.

So no, he wasn’t going to write his own story. It wasn’t that he’d never thought about it. He had a title, ‘Always Lucky’, which I stole for chapter 13 of my biography The Reacher Guy, a title that Lee had likewise served up on a plate in countless interviews across the globe. Still, he’d done a few rough sketches, three of which are included in my book. 

The first dates from 2014, when on the one hundredth anniversary of the declaration of war, Lee wrote a letter to his late Irish grandfather (wounded at Suvla Bay), reassuring him that he would survive to father a son, who in turn would father another, who would be born into ‘a different world’. ‘It comes out well in the end,’ he signs off. ‘I promise.’ It’s precisely the promise Lee makes to his readers, and so reliably keeps (hence in the same year Forbes magazine pronounced him the strongest brand in publishing, commanding the greatest loyalty among returning readers). At 277 words, this is the longest of the mini-autobiographies, informed not only by his big-picture view of history, but his warmth and humanity too.

The second dates from 2017, when Lee reestablished contact with his best friend from Sixth Form at King Edward’s School in Birmingham. ‘Not much to report . . . 18 years at Granada TV, which was a fun job, but it all fell apart in the upheavals of the 1990s, and I became a writer as a desperation move, but fortunately it worked out OK.’ Only forty words, but eloquently conveying the lack of self-importance that so endears Lee to his millions of fans both in and beyond the book-writing world.

I learned to write in my Physics class,’ Lee said. ‘The teacher was an absolute tyrant, but he taught me how to be brief and concise.’

He wrote the third in 2017, for me. It started well: After ten years as Aston Villa’s top scorer and a brief marriage to Charlize Theron ... But he never got beyond those 15 gem-like words.

Therein lies the problem. This is a guy who loves making things up, not least about his own life. In The Reacher Guy I’ve tried to stick to the facts - and to be fair, Lee did his best to help.

There are a few ways I tested his memory. One of the most instructive was by sifting through the 22 boxes of his literary archive, held at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at the University of East Anglia. Another was by interviewing witnesses at the scene. I spoke to old school friends, and teachers, and colleagues from Granada Television, and sometimes I would go back to Lee with what they’d said, setting up a dialogue between past and present in the hope of locating the truth somewhere in between. 

I don’t want to be remembered,’ Lee told me. But I doubted others would feel the same way. ‘No one will want to read about me,’ he said. ‘No one will be interested.’ In writing The Reacher Guy, I hope just for once to prove him wrong. 

The Reacher Guy by Heather Martin is out from Constable at Little, Brown on 29 September. 
Jack Reacher is only the second of Jim Grant's great fictional characters: the first is Lee Child himself. Heather Martin's biography tells the story of all three. Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the bestselling Jack Reacher novels. With millions of devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is lauded by critics and revered by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself. The Reacher Guy is a compelling and authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, refracted through the life of his fictional avatar, Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as the strongest brand in publishing. Heather Martin explores Child's lifelong fascination with America, and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession, shedding light on the opaque process of publishing a novel along the way. Drawing on her conversations and correspondence with Child over a number of years, as well as interviews with his friends, teachers and colleagues, she forensically pieces together his life, traversing back through the generations to Northern Ireland and County Durham, and following the trajectory of his extraordinary career via New York and Hollywood until the climactic moment when, in 2020, having written a continuous series of twenty-four books, he finally breaks free of his fictional creation.

Sunday 20 September 2020

Bloody Scotland from Infinity to Beyond

Scottish Festival Goes Global

Sponsored by The Glencairn Glass with match funding from Culture & Business Fund Scotland

Bloody Scotland online concluded today with an audience far greater than we could have ever squeezed into the Albert Halls for a conversation between two of the biggest crime writers on the planet, Val McDermid in Scotland and Lee Child in the US.

The virtual Festival allowed us to break down borders and have authors and audience from across the world. Five Continents of Crime challenged time zones with J P Pomare, an award-winning Maori author nursing a midnight dram on one side of the world and Attica Locke having breakfast on the other. Throughout the weekend the chat forum was buzzing with crime fiction fans from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Austria, France, Spain, Netherlands, Poland and South Africa.

The new format didn’t mean we lost old favourites. The much loved cabaret, Crime at the Coo, normally sells out as soon as tickets go on sale with around 80 packed into the whisky bar but the virtual version, brilliantly chaired by Craig Robertson, brought in ten times that on Saturday night with a combination of archive footage, live performances and pre-recorded packages from various members of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, some debut authors and a stellar performance from Festival Director, Bob McDevitt.

One of the most exciting new additions was the Never-Ending Panel, a rolling event which went on for four hours with authors and chairs coming in and out every 20 minutes. Chaos, entertaining and fun which pretty much sums up what Bloody Scotland is all about.

The transition to online proves that although Covid-19 may have temporarily floored us it couldn’t take away the spirit of the Festival.

Bob McDevitt, Festival Director, said: 'Bloody Scotland 2020 was quite unlike any other year but rather than being the poor relation of previous years, I think it will stand proud as one of the most enjoyable festivals yet with a truly dazzling array of international talent, a sizeable and engaged (often emotional) audience and just as many memorable moments as any other year. We may not have been able to visit Stirling in person, but we were definitely still able to go to Bloody Scotland!'

Bloody Scotland 2021 will be back 17-19 September 2021 hopefully in Stirling, possibly on-line or a combination of the two. Thanks to everyone who has supported us this weekend.

Most of the panels will be available on YouTube for a month after the Festival.

Saturday 19 September 2020

A Q & A Interview With Kate Simants

Ayo: - For those who don't know you would you like to give us a bit of background information    about yourself.

Kate:- Of course. After my degree in English I worked for several years in the UK television industry, specialising in undercover investigations and police shows like Crimewatch UK. After that, I left London for Bristol, where I lived on the river Avon and focused on my writing. My first novel was published in 2019 by HarperCollins, and my second, A Ruined Girl, came out last year with Viper/Serpent’s Tail. I’m working on my third novel at the moment, which will be published by Viper in 2021.

Ayo:- Your first novel Lock Me In was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger, did that (do you think) put more pressure on you when you started writing A Ruined Girl.

Kate:- You know what, that had never occurred to me. The CWA shortlisting really gave me a lot of momentum I think – I had been writing for a while when it happened and I’d almost lost faith in anything really happening with it. But after the shortlisting, I applied for a place on the UEA’s new Crime Fiction MA, and won a scholarship to study there, which was obviously another bog vote of confidence. A Ruined Girl was written as part of that course. I think getting on the CWA shortlist took the pressure off if anything -it kind of reassured me that I was going in the right direction, when before I had that old doubt that maybe I was wasting my time! 

Ayo:- Congratulations on A Ruined Girl winning the Bath Award. How did you feel after you heard that you had won?

Kate:- Thanks! I was utterly thrilled, and very surprised. I almost didn’t enter because I’d read some previous winners and didn’t think I had a chance, and then at every stage - longlisting, shortlisting – I was just so excited, and humbled, actually. It’s such a lovely thing though because Caroline Ambrose who runs it has created this wonderfully supportive community around the prize, and all the other entrants were so generous. Winning it was just mad, I was stunned. 

Ayo:- You have been an investigative broadcasting journalist how did this job impact on your writing.

Kate:- Well, apart from the in-depth knowledge that I picked up from the documentaries I worked on, I learned how to research efficiently. Obviously when we were making documentaries that exposed wrongdoing and/or criminality we had to make sure everything we alleged was absolutely watertight from a legal point of view: a discipline which isn’t strictly necessary when you’re writing fiction, but it was good training. I learned a lot about the police working on Crimewatch UK, the kind of behind-the- scenes cultural and social stuff that money can’t buy, which really stood me in good stead when I started writing about law enforcement. Scriptwriting was also great training for writing fiction – any experience of getting ideas across to a wide audience using words is basically invaluable when you become a novelist!

Ayo:- A Ruined Girl is as much about trust as it is about finding out what happened. What was the impetus for the story?

Kate:-  It’s always so hard to think back and find the source of where a story came from, but I think it was the convergence of a lot of particular themes of mine. Even before I worked on the Dispatches documentary in which I worked undercover in children’s homes, I was very conscious of children’s social care. A close family member was temporarily in the system, as were several friends, and even though there were plenty of people who worked in the industry who cared deeply for these young people, there were quite a few who saw opportunities for exploitation.

Ayo:- One of your main characters is Wren Reynolds, a probation officer who is investigating the disappearance of a young girl in a care home. How did your own experience in investigating care homes impact on your story?

Kate:- Well, I haven’t come across much other fiction set (even partially, as A Ruined Girl is) in children’s homes, so I think if I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t have known much about what those places were really like as an insider working in them. The absolute gift of undercover work is that you get to see things for what they really are, without the people around you being observed. 

Ayo:- What are your favourite type of characters?

Kate:- That’s something that’s changing all the time actually. I used to think we needed to really like our main character in order to care about them but some of the most powerful, compelling books I’ve read recently have had pretty awful protagonists. Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, for example, has an overwhelmingly selfish character at its heart, and is one of the most memorable characters I’ve come across in a long time. 

Ayo:- There is a dark side to fostering and care homes but on the other hand they are necessary for society. Is there anything you could think of that could make fostering and care homes better?

Kate:- Are you sure you want to get me started with this?! I’ll try to keep it polite… I’d start with funding. The cuts to children’s services in the last decade has just been outrageous, a 29% drop across all councils with per-child cuts of up to 50% in the most deprived boroughs. As with any social care, the cuts invariably cause the most suffering among those without a voice – children, vulnerable people, and the many older and disabled people who rely massively on the rest of society to treat them with dignity. 

Ayo:- What do you think is the most important, characterisation or plotting?

Kate:- If I absolutely had to choose, it would be character. I have a really terrible memory for plots but I’ll remember a great character forever. Once you have a really powerful character, it’s a lot of fun to see them struggle out of the horrible situations the author puts them in – but if you don’t care about them in the first place, you’re not going to be impressed by even the cleverest plotline.

Ayo:- Do you plot beforehand, or do you just let the writing flow?

Kate:- The first three books I’ve completed (there’s an unpublished one of which we do not speak) have been meticulously plotted, but that’s mostly because they’ve had such complicated storylines. Things have changed as I’ve progressed through the books but I’ve worked out most of it beforehand, sticking to an excel spreadsheet to remind myself who knows what and when, and what has to be revealed at what point. The next one is going to be a bit more linear so while I’ll still have a clear plan, I’ll be a bit looser with it

Ayo:- Your characters Wren and Luke are very believable. Are they based on people you know in real life?

Kate:- Not so much with Wren, but Luke is a kind of composite of a few friends I had who were in care when I was a teenager, and a boy I met when I was undercover. I think teenage boys can get pretty demonised: there’s this image of them all being the same, being monosyllabic and angry. Of course they can be intimidating in groups, but a lot of the time, taken individually they’re really just little boys vying for a place in a pretty scary society. Boys like Luke don’t get to go home to a cosy house and the kind of unconditional love that allows them to take their armour off – he had to be on guard and tough, shields up, all the time. And that’s such a hard way to grow up. 

Ayo:- How would you like your characters to be remembered?

Kate:- Luke, to me, is the star of A Ruined Girl – I’d like people to remember him as someone who you’d cross the road to avoid if you saw him out at night, but to remember that once you get in his head he’s a vulnerable like everyone else. 

Ayo:- What made you decide to stop working in television and concentrate on writing?

Kate:- It’s not a very nice story: it was 5am on the morning of my birthday and I was working on a pilot fly-on-the-wall show following police officers in Oldham. We had a call that they’d been alerted to a suicide, so off we went with our cameras and filmed them cutting this poor guy down from a tree. As I was filming I just thought, what the hell am I doing? How is this in any way a positive thing? I put my energy into the writing a lot more after that.

Ayo:- What are you working on next, can you tell us about it?

Kate:- Well, I can’t tell you much at this point but it’s definitely going to be crime, and the undercover stuff is going to feature a lot more prominently! 

A Ruined Girl by Kate Simants (Published by Profile Books) Out now
On a dark night two years ago, teenagers Rob and Paige broke into a house. They beat and traumatised the occupants, then left, taking only a bracelet. No one knows why, not even Luke, Rob's younger brother and Paige's confidant. Paige disappeared after that night. And having spent her life in children's homes and the foster system, no one cared enough to look for her. Now Rob is out of prison, and probation officer Wren Reynolds has been tasked with his rehabilitation. But Wren has her own reasons for taking on Rob as a client. Convinced that Rob knows what happened to Paige, and hiding a lifetime of secrets from her heavily pregnant wife, Wren's obsession with finding a missing girl may tear her family apart...

Friday 18 September 2020

Winners of the Bloody Scotland International Crime Fiction Prizes revealed!!


Sponsored by The Glencairn Glass with match funding from Culture & Business Fund Scotland

It has been a rollercoaster year for debut writers. Closed bookshops meant that they could have sunk without trace but reviewers, innovative booksellers, established authors and the media have been incredibly supportive and at Bloody Scotland we have been hugely grateful for the enthusiasm shown for the finalists in our second Bloody Scotland Debut Prize – Francine Toon, Deborah Masson, Stephen O’Rourke and Marion Todd.

The prize was judged by Lin Anderson, author and co-founder of Bloody Scotland, Ewan Wilson from Waterstones and Kenny Tweedale from sponsors the Glencairn Glass, who at the opening of the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival on Friday evening revealed the winner of the Debut Prize to be Deborah Masson with Hold Your Tongue.

The judges described Hold Your Tongue as a 'well written, fast paced and gritty thriller with a strong female protagonist, who will stop at nothing to find the killer'.

The finalists of the prestigious McIlvanney Prize included established names Ambrose Parry and Doug Johnstone (both of whom were finalists last year) alongside relative newcomer Andrew James Greig and debut author Francine Toon who had also featured on the Bloody Scotland Debut shortlist.

Judges Karen Robinson (Times Crime Club) and James Crawford (author, TV presenter and chair of Publishing Scotland) were chaired by writer and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove who revealed the winner of the McIlvanney Prize 2020 to be Francine Toon with Pine.

He described her book as‘an extraordinary novel which stood out because of the sheer quality of the writing and the dark brooding atmosphere of the remote rural Scottish village in which it is set. The book merges the supernatural with real crime in a very memorable way and brings an exciting new talent to Scottish crime writing.’            

Both winners are debuts. Both are published by Transworld, who coincidentally also published last year’s winner Manda Scott. It is the first year that the Glencairn Glass have sponsored the prizes. Kirsty Nicholson, Glencairn Crystal's Marketing Manager said:

‘First time authors winning both prizes this year highlights what a bright future the fantastic tradition of Scottish crime writing has.We are delighted and proud to sponsor such prestigious awards with the Glencairn Glass and would like to congratulate both Francine and Deborah, while wishing them all the best for the future.'

Francine Toon was brought up in Sutherland and Fife. She has lived in Dornoch, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Canterbury, London and Portugal.

Deborah Masson was born and bred in Aberdeen. She and her children now live in the family home where she grew up.

Stella Oni on writing Deadly Sacrifice

The writing bug caught me unexpectedly in my mid-20s. Before that, I was an avid reader. 

As a child in Nigeria, reading transported me to places that were beyond the experience of a child with great imagination and complicated childhood. I loved comics, fairy tales and read much of the English literary figures of the days – Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott. I also read James Hardley Chase, Barbara Cartland, Denise Robins and all of Mills and Boons!

I was a precocious child with a mother that owned an eclectic library of books from romance, crime, horror and all in between. I also loved my Saturday visits to the Library. I went through all of the Asterix and Obelix and Tintin comics that they owned. 

I had never thought to write because, in Nigeria of my childhood, writers were the greats like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. The rest of us had to be Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Accountants. I knew I did not want to be a lawyer – too dry! And my maths was not up to scratch for the rest! What a conundrum. I studied Linguistics and African Languages and took the option in English Literature and History. My most memorable class was English Literature, and in retrospect, I should have studied that but it meant that in the Nigerian mind, I could end up as a teacher! 

So, a few years after I settled back in the UK, I decided that I would write a great literary novel. I gave myself 5 years and if not published, would go on to study IT. I did finish it and had a great friend and mentor, the late Buchi Emecheta, who encouraged me. But I could not find a publisher. I finally gave up and consigned the work to the drawers. I still believe in it and hope to go back and rework and publish it. It had elements of my current style of writing - multiple characters that carry the story along. 

Nigeria is a rich country with endless possibilities, and any conversation with the average Nigerian would inevitably lead to bitter observations on corrupt leadership and those in power. Britain is entrenched in the class system, and these differences are clear enough to make exciting fiction for an ‘outsider’ like me. I like to weave multifaceted characters and stories, I hope, about the powerful, class system, the super-wealthy and how the ordinary man journeys around life. The average man envies the wealthy, and the wealthy are grateful not to be poor!

The idea for Deadly Sacrifice started 15 years ago when I decided to change direction and focus on crime fiction.  The only issue was that I had never written one. I was an avid fan of Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen, Karen Slaughter, Kathryn Reichs, Nicci French, Andrea Camilleri, Boris Akunin, James Patterson, Susan Hill, Lee Childs, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver. The list is endless but never thought to write like them. I had no crime author mentor, no black female crime writer I could approach (I only discovered Dreda Say Mitchell in 2016)

I found that City University taught a short course in crime writing and jumped at it. The author, Lesley Grant-Adamson, was our tutor and committed and patient. It was in her class that Toks Ade was born. I had thought of creating a black African female police detective because I wanted an outsider within the system. Adam, the torso in the Thames, had happened a few years previously and someone in the class said he would like to create fiction around it and asked if I could be his African consult. I thought NO! I would write it! 

I did a lot of research and remembered showing the earliest work to Lesley but was not sure of myself or what I was doing. In the end, I finished it, and over the years it went back and forth to agents. I took in the constructive criticisms and continued to tweak. Deadly Sacrifice is a matured ‘wine’ that was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize in 2016.

Who are my characters? 

Detective Toks Ade is a Nigerian British, a single parent of a 15-year-old boy. She loves food and struggles with weight and life. Toks is dogged, impulsive, loves God and is brave.

Detective Philip Dean is white British, male, haunted by the mental illness suffered by his twin sister, Emily, and the impact on his personal life. He is an outsider in the force, an atheist and respected for his brilliance as a detective. 

Coretta is biracial of mixed Nigerian and British heritage. She was an investigative journalist turned true-crime author. She is forceful and manages to get what she wants in her personal life and in the job.

Finally, I am working on the 2nd in the series and also created two other series which are different from the Detective Ade mystery. 

The start of my new cosy mystery series, The London House Mystery, appears in a holiday anthology by ten Crime Writers of Color titled FESTIVE MAYHEM coming out in October 2020. 

Deadly Sacrifice by Stella Oni (Published by Jacaranda Books) Out Now
When a child's severed hand is found, DC Toks Ade and DS Philip Dean are put on the case. Thrown into a world of Nigerian traditional customs, ritual sacrifice, and international trafficking, they must find the guilty parties before more children are lost and more limbs are found. A chilling new thriller introducing Detectives Toks Ade, Philip Dean, and investigative author Coretta Davis.

More information about the author can be found on her website. She can also be found on Facebook and you can follow her on Twitter @sonithewriter.