Saturday, 6 March 2021

Writing Crime Fiction in a time of Plague


Merilyn Davies is a new name on our book-shelves and on our eReaders; with two novels bisected by this Covid-19 business. Her debut was released in the summer of 2019, and for readers awaiting her sophomore work, there has been a delay due to the ubiquitous nature of this plague, but the wait has been worth it, as this March [2021], we finally get to read the disturbing follow-up.

I use the word disturbing, because of the authenticity of the backdrop to IF I FALL

We were told to meet at a rooftop bar.

Four friends, bound by one terrible secret.

No one knew why we were there.

Then we saw a woman, watched as she fell from the edge and plunged to her death.

The police think it's suicide, but I know better.

Someone is sending a message.

Now they're coming for us.

This appears to be taking a sinister turn for Crime Analyst Carla Brown and Detective Sergeant Nell Jackson following their first appearance in 2019’s When I Lost You

I was intrigued at her work because some of us enjoyed works of Russian Literature from writers such as Dostoevsky and Bulgakov, which also appealed to Davies, so for Shots’ readers we present some insight into this interesting writer of disturbing crime thrillers.

Ali Karim: As a new writer, with this COVID business bisecting your debut When I Lost You released 2019 and the sophomore work IF I Fall this March 2021, can you tell us what it’s been like to be a new name on the crime fiction scene, during the pandemic?

Merilyn Davies: I want to say something uplifting here but I’m struggling! There was a much longer gap between the two books than usual and that sort of took the wind out of my excitement at ‘being a published author’. I struggled a lot to focus on writing a new book, to read other people’s books, or to focus on anything other than just surviving this pandemic really. Home-schooling doesn’t help but it’s more than that, it’s like my brain is using all its energy to keep me from getting very depressed about it all and it has no room left to imagine anything else. Or maybe it’s just because imagining a new plot can never match up to the plot structure of this pandemic with all its twists and turns. But it’s still been amazing to see my book in my hands and to hear people say how much they liked it and even a global pandemic can’t ruin that!

Ali: Your biography indicates you worked as a criminal analyst for the Metropolitan Police, but what does that actually mean?

Merilyn: The role of a crime analyst is very varied. Some work with officers going out on a shift, providing local intelligence information – who is wanted, what vehicle needs a stop, the types of crimes being committed – and others, like me, work on murders or murder re-investigations. My role was to analyse the information given to me, so, for example, I may be given a number of witness statements and have to go through them to see where they match and where there are discrepancies. I would then plot these so they were easily viewable by officers or a court. My favourite analysis was telephone analysis. You get reams and reams of calls – both made from a phone and made to it – and you work through identifying potential accomplices or plotting the activity of the subject. You can tell an awful lot about a person from their telephone bill, from the takeout food they like to the friends they meet and the car they drive.

Ali: And the background I assume helps inform your writing, as well as give the reader an insight and high level of authenticity to your crime writing?

Merilyn: Analysts use software which slows them to show visually how people link to each other, what they did, the weapons they used, the cars they drove, the address they live at and I tend to do a manual version of this for my books. So, I draw all my characters and put lines between them, with a note for why they are linked, and it gets larger and larger as the book goes on! I think very analytically about everything, always thinking what would happen if I wrote X, what would that mean for Y, but I am a more ‘seats of my pants’ writer than a bog plotter. I tend to plot three chapters at a time – how is this moving the story forward being central to this as well as where do I want to be at the end of them – and go from there. I always know my beginning and ending though but how I get from one to the other is a bit of a muddle! 

Ali: What spurred you to write crime fiction, and was When I Lost You your first attempt at a novel?


Merilyn: When I Lost You was a total rewrite of the first book I ever submitted to an agent (and got rejected!). It was also the second one I sent to my agent after my first one didn’t get any interest from publishers. I think I had written five books by the time I got an agent and If I Fall is a rewrite of the second. Is that confusing?! I’m confused. I write crime because it fascinates me as to why people commit criminal acts – what motivates them, what options did they have and what choices did they make and why – and also because I love reading crime books. It also really helped that I knew how the police work so could write it authentically and without having to do too much research. The fact my husband is a police officer aids that process because I can just yell ‘how long does it take for a body to decompose?’ and have the answer right away!

Ali: Can you tell our readers a little about the new work, IF I FALL?

Merilyn: This is a hard one because I can’t say what it’s actually about because it will give the plot away! A lovely blogger recently said “without giving too much away the subject in this novel deserves to be widely recognised and confronted” which is very much how I feel. The book starts with three people turning up to a university reunion at a rooftop bar in Oxford. They don’t know who invited them or why they are the only guests but when a homeless woman falls from the building, they realise whoever invited them knows their long-buried secret. Carla Brown, the crime analyst, and DS Nell Jackson, have to work out what links the dead woman and the three friends and what it is in their past that they are trying to hide.

Ali: And your writing process, are you a plotter or do you chase an idea seeing where the muse leads?

Merilyn: As I said earlier, I know the beginning and end but the middle just sort of happens! But I don’t think I go where the muse leads either. I’m very practical about writing; if you don’t sit down every day and write as if it is a job, you won’t ever finish a book (a theory I have proved during this pandemic!). I am also very ruthless; if it isn’t working, I take it out, regardless of the number of words or how much work I would need to do to the rest of the book. Writing a book is a lot like building a house, so when you decide to knock a wall down you have to make sure you put a support in, so the ceiling doesn’t fall down! The editing process is very much like this – if you are lucky you will get an editorial note that just means you have to do a bit redecorating, but if you’re not you’ll get feedback that means you have to knock down walls, build extensions, or, sometimes, just demolish the whole house!    

Ali: And tell us about your work at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival?

Merilyn: Myself and a group of other writers in West Oxfordshire decided to start a literary festival, with Clare Mackintosh at the helm. For the first two years I programmed the children’s element of the festival weekend but I also developed a school programme which saw authors going into all schools in the area over a two-day period. This came as a bit of a shock to Clare, who had assumed she had asked me to just cover the small number of schools in Chipping Norton itself, and who was slightly shell shocked when I came back with a programme covering twelve school across a very rural area. It was a logistical nightmare and the first year aged us all but it’s the part of the festival I am most proud of. For another three years I programmed the adult part of the festival which meant I got to beg publicists for their authors to such an extent I’m sure some took out restraining orders against me. It was extremely hard work, not least for the festival itself – authors are not easy to get from one place to the other and caused much shouting into the radio of ‘broken arrow, author down’ when we lost them – but I would go back and do it all again in a second.

Ali: And keeping on the literary theme, who are writers that you enjoyed in-so-far as enticing yourself to have go penning a novel?

Merilyn: I think reading Crime and Punishment was when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was at University and going through a Russian phase and it was that book as well as The Master and Margarita which really made me want to create a world as real as Dostoevsky and Bulgakov had. When I became a mum, I started reading crime fiction. Partly because I missed being a crime analyst but also because I found I could be immersed immediately in the story and pulled along without even realising it, which was vital in the early months with a baby. Tana French is my absolute hero, and I loved Mark Billingham, Stuart MacBride and any police procedural I could find. Later, I discovered Psychological suspense and devoured everything Sophie Hannah wrote along with SJ Watson and Elizabeth Haynes. I think it was then that I decided I wanted to give writing a real go. To make twisty-turny books that dragged people in, making them desperate to get to the end but knowing that when they did, they would not want to leave the characters behind.

Ali: And what have been up to while under lockdown? And any clues as to what we are likely to see from your pen?

Merilyn:  I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix to the extent most of my time now is spent scrolling through films I’ve seen in a desperate attempt to find one I haven’t. I’ve also eaten far too much and developed a terrible internet shopping addiction. But I have started my third book, working title, ‘Ivy’s Lie’ which is less procedural and more suspense. It’s about a troubled young woman – Ivy – who is released from a mental health ward and is placed overnight in a hotel. When she arrives, she finds a note saying ‘I know what you did, you’re next’ but who knew she was going to be there, how do they know her secret, and how much danger is she in? It spans the past and present – winding her past living at Blenheim Palace in West Oxfordshire, through her present, where the two intertwine to reveal what Ivy’s lie was, and the devastating outcome that lie created.

Ali: Thank you for your time, and we look forward to book #3

Merilyn: Thank you so much for having me!

So, with both her novels now available [and can be ordered together, online], as they provide an excellent distraction, a dark escape from this ubiquitous plague and associated lockdown protocol.

They can be ordered direct from her publishers PenguinRandomHouse HERE

More information on the work of Merilyn Davies is available from her Twitter feed > @nellbelleandme as well as this interesting article which can be accessed HERE  

Shots Magazine would like to thank Lydia Spooner for her help in organising this article.

Images © 2019-2021 PenguinRandomHouse



Friday, 5 March 2021

Sleepless Nights and Inspiration by Caroline Green

 

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of weird sleep disorders for a very long time. Even as a little girl I was a prodigious dreamer and can still remember every detail of the baroque and scary nightmares I had then. I was so fearful of the dark that I created a literal barrier around myself with teddies and toys in bed. It was mainly so that Dracula wouldn’t ‘get me’ in the night. The Hammer Horror films of the seventies have a lot to answer for.

But it wasn’t until I was at university that I had my first experience of a terrifying phenomenon known as Sleep Paralysis. Years later, this provided inspiration for my new crime novel, SLEEP TIGHT, where a serial killer prays on people via their nightmares.

For me, an episode of sleep paralysis happens like this. You become aware of ‘waking up’ in your bed. Then you realise someone’s there in the bedroom – someone who means you harm. That’s when you try to leap out of bed but find your body completely immobilised. You try to scream but all that happens is a desperate raw croaking coming from your mouth. It seems to go on for ever until you crash back to wakefulness.  Some people have a crushing feeling on their chest and there are stories of creatures that squat on top of sleeping forms from many different cultures. It has been said that stories of alien abduction and many ghostly visitations were really episodes of sleep paralysis.

All that’s really happening is a misfire in your brain’s waking processes. When we sleep, our muscles relax in a way that stops most of us getting out of bed and re-enacting our dreams. With sleep paralysis, our bodies are still in sleep mode but our brain has got caught somewhere in between the two states. It’s incredibly scary when it happens, which thankfully is relatively rare.

More commonly, I get something called hypnagogic nightmares, where I have a few seconds of nocturnal hallucinations in vivid detail. It’s usually a person who has broken into the room and is standing over the bed. I begin to ‘wake’ and think, ‘It’s okay, it’s just a dream’. But then the face comes into high-definition detail and I can see every feature. I think, ‘No! This time it’s real!’ That’s when I wake up screaming. My poor husband has had so many nights of this over the years. When my son on the floor below hears it, he just tells himself it’s Mum being weird again before going back to sleep. (Heaven help us if we really do get an intruder.)

I’d wanted to write about this for years and started off with a children’s book idea about a ‘Sleep Witch’ who stole into people’s bedrooms when they had nightmares. Yep, it was probably too scary for kids and it didn’t really work, so ended up being dumped.

But I firmly believe no idea is ever wasted and somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I would return to this subject one day.

When I came to the end of my book contract for psychological thrillers, I decided I wanted to be brave and write something really ‘out there’ that would get my imagination firing on all cylinders. I settled on the idea of a killer who targets people with sleep disorders. I discussed it with a friend who said, ‘Great, but how will you get the supernatural bit to work?’ Supernatural? Huh, that wasn’t what I meant! But that night as I was climbing into bed, the thought came to me: What if there was an element of the supernatural to it? And even better, what if there was a secret division of the Met Police who dealt with crimes of this nature?  That night I didn’t sleep much either, but it was from pure excitement this time. I knew I wanted to write that book even if no publisher wanted it. I’m happy to say that Harper Collins did, and SLEEP TIGHT is the first of the series featuring the Uncharted Crimes Investigation team and DC Rose Gifford.

I did wonder, while I was writing it, whether my brain would be so immersed in sleep-related scares that I would experience at best bad dreams and at worst, episodes of sleep paralysis. But it was the strangest thing: for the entire period of writing this book, I didn’t even have one hypnagogic nightmare.

I’d love to report that I was cured for ever, but as soon as I’d handed the book in, things went back to normal.

Still, it was nice while it lasted.

Sleep Tight by C S Green. Published by Harper Collins (Out Now)

Even in your dreams you're not safe...  The nightmare is only just beginning...  When DC Rose Gifford is called to investigate the death of a young woman suffocated in her bed, she can't shake the feeling that there's more to the crime than meets the eye.  It looks like a straightforward crime scene - but the police can't find the killer. Enter DS Moony - an eccentric older detective who runs UCIT, a secret department of the Met set up to solve supernatural crimes. Moony wants Rose to help her out - but Rose doesn't believe in any of that.  Does she? As the killer prepares to strike again, Rose must pick a side - before a second woman dies.


Thursday, 4 March 2021

Trisha Sakhlecha On Teenage Friendships and Thrillers

 

When I set out to write my second novel, my main aim was to write the kind of book I like to read: a fast-paced, twisty thriller with deeply buried secrets and complex female characters. I wanted to write about an intense, intoxicating friendship where the emotional stakes are high and the consequences of any fallout catastrophic. And as any woman will tell you, there are few periods in a woman’s life as emotionally charged as adolescence and few relationships as intense and pivotal as the friendships we forge in those heady teenage years.  There is a kind of energy, a rawness of emotion that comes with being at an age when you’re full of hormones that makes every snide comment, every small betrayal feel colossal and life altering.

I’m not the only author to be seduced by the mercurial highs and lows of early friendships. The volatility of teenage friendship, particularly teenage female friendship is often explored in psychological thrillers. Why? At its best, a teenage friendship can be enlightening and supportive, intense and joyful, the experience of finding a new best friend a lot like that of falling in love. But underneath the strawberry-flavoured lip-gloss and heartfelt promises to stay friends forever, there are often layers of anger, insecurity, guilt and conflicting loyalties to be found. When a friendship turns sour, with hormones and insecurities running high, the results are often catastrophic.

A group of close girlfriends is fertile breeding ground for deep-seated resentments, bitter competition and simmering jealousies, particularly when a new girl enters an established group and upsets the existing hierarchy. Everyone has a tipping point. The question is who will reach that tipping point first? And when they do, who will they unleash their rage on and to what effect? Boys might fight but girls engage in far subtler and infinitely more damaging forms of torment. Subtle comments, misinterpreted actions, and petty arguments can lead to dangerous, even fatal consequences that reverberate far into the future.

All of which makes for great drama and serves up the two crucial elements of a taut psychological thriller: high stakes and a sense of urgency and inevitability.

As adults we’re all haunted by our adolescence. We look for ways to go back and make sense of the moments that dictated our futures. In Can You See Me Now?, my protagonist Alia finds herself continually drawn back to her adolescence and to the intense, claustrophobic friendship she shared with Sabah, the strait-laced queen bee who repelled and dazzled in equal measure and Noor, the mercurial force who unleashed in Alia a hunger that still drives her years later. She is haunted by a secret so dark, it has the power to destroy everything she’s worked for and so alluring, she can’t bear to leave it alone.

The result, I hope, is a psychological thriller so compelling that it keeps you up long past your bedtime as well as a story that investigates what happens when teenage restlessness and ambition collide and when friends who once loved each other find themselves capable of dark and devastating deceit.

Trisha Sakhlecha is the author of Can You See Me Now? Published in February 2021 by Pan Macmillan

Can You See Me Now is a gripping psychological suspense thriller about a young Indian woman, now a government minister, whose past secrets are about to reverberate into the present and shatter her life. Fifteen years ago, three sixteen-year-old girls meet at Wescott, an exclusive private school in India. Two, Sabah and Noor, are the most popular girls in their year. One, Alia, is a new arrival from England, who feels her happiness depends on their acceptance. Before she knows it, Sabah and Noor's intoxicating world of privilege and intimacy opens up to Alia and, for the first time, after years of neglect from her parents, she feels she is exactly where, and with whom, she belongs.  But with intimacy comes jealousy, and with privilege, resentment, and Alia finds that it only takes one night for her bright new world to shatter around her. Now Alia, a cabinet minister in the Indian government, is about to find her secrets have no intention of staying buried ...


Tuesday, 2 March 2021

The Return of Angel

Telos Publishing have reissued all 16 of Mike Ripley’s ‘Angel’ books as B-format paperbacks. The fifteen novels were first published between 1988 and 2008, with a collection of short stories following a few years later.

It is a fantastic boost to an author to realise that his early work is still being read after more than thirty years,’ said Ripley (aka The Ripster), ‘and is the only thing which has kept me going during lockdown. Well, that and the fact that my Italian wine merchant still delivers...’

As well as being the author of the incredibly well received monthly Getting Away With Murder (GAWM) column on the Shots website, Mike Ripley is the author of the Angel series of comedy thrillers set mainly in London and Essex.

He won the Crime Writers Association Last Laugh Award for humorous crime for Angel Touch in 1989 and again in 1991 for Angels in Arms. Angel has been described as being a trumpet playing thirty-something year old layabout and sometime private eye. He drives around in a his trusty delicensed black Austin FX45 cab which he named Armstrong and has a black cat called Springsteen and a sleeping bag he refers to as Hemmingway.

Fitzroy Maclean Angel gets by partly through gigging as a jazz trumpet player, partly through taking illegal fares in his de-registered black taxi cab, and partly by various other means.

 

GŴYL CRIME CYMRU FESTIVAL 2021/2022

Wales’ First Crime Fiction Festival is on its way 

and it’d be a crime to miss it!

Get your diaries out and your little grey cells ready to do some work. Wales’s very first crime fiction festival kicks off in 2021 with its own brand of murder, mystery and mayhem. Over the weekend of April 26 – May 2, Gwyl Crime Cymru is bringing armchair detectives their first opportunity to enjoy a Wales’ based crime festival absolutely free.

THE MOTIVE?

‘How is it possible?’, you may ask, that, with crime fiction the biggest selling genre in Britain, and more Welsh crime writers than ever, that Wales has no dedicated crime event of its own? Nothing to rival the likes of Scotland’s hugely popular Bloody Scotland, Newcastle’s Noir festival or Bristol’s Crimefest? Especially with writers like Matthew Hall (Keeping Faith) appearing on both bestseller lists and our TV screens, and Welsh crime dramas (Hinterland/Y Gwyll, Keeping Faith/Un Bore Mercher, Hidden/Craith) sparking a whole new appreciation of Wales.

It seems that crime fiction set in Wales is simply not, as yet, as well known as its UK counterparts or Scandinavian neighbours, despite the fact that Wales is also home to award-winning and bestselling authors Clare Mackintosh, Belinda Bauer and Amy Lloyd – to name only three

THE MEANS?

Crime Cymru, the Welsh crime writing collective, believes that Wales is often overlookedby publishers, booksellers and even readers. We don’t all write about Wales but whatever the connection, we believe we have something unique to offer the world of crime fiction and are determined to change perceptions with our own international crime festival.

The first physical festival will take place in Aberystwyth in spring 2022 (April 29 – May 2). But this year, a taster event is being launched with a free, digital festival – Virtual CRIME CYMRU Digidol – from April 26 – May 2, 2021, fully online.

THE OPPORTUNITY?

This is a fantastic chance for crime fans to join us and our guest authors for some amateur sleuthing, sitting in on author panels, hearing bestselling writers talk about their work and maybe finding a new favourite writer as we explore the Who-dunnit? Why-dunnit? Where-dunnit? and How-dunnit? of crime fiction from the safety of our living rooms.

  • Our list of authors will be a high-profile taster ahead of the full festival in 2022, taking place in Aberystwyth at a series of live venues, in full partnership with Aberystwyth Council. 

It’s so exciting to be bringing Wales its first official crime fiction festival and there’s going to be something for everyone,’ says one of Crime Cymru’s founder members and chair of the festival organising group, Alis Hawkins.

‘The 2022 festival will open on April 29th, with a torch-lit dragon parade, starting in the town centre and finishing at the castle. Then the winner of a primary schools’ competition to make the best dragon model will be announced.

‘Following that, there’ll be a quiz where you can compete against the authors, but don’t worry, only one round will be on crime fiction!

On the Saturday night there will be a Noson Lawen for authors and members of the public – a great chance to chat to famous authors in an informal atmosphere. Then, on Sunday evening we’re planning a champagne reception at which the winner of the inaugural Crime Cymru, First Crime Novel prize will be announced.

‘Basically, all weekend, you’ll have the chance to see household names from TV and crime fiction talking about their work as we run events throughout Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning. What could be better than that, crime fiction fans?’

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

As well as events for adults, in 2022 we are planning storytelling sessions for little ones, and sessions with authors who write for children and young adults.

Aspiring authors will be catered for, too, with a chance to chance to pitch their book to an agent and workshops on writing crime fiction and thrillers.

True Crime fans will also have the opportunity to meet real detectives, real CSIs and investigative writers as they discuss real crimes such as the Pembrokeshire Murders.

If you’d like to get involved, we’ll be looking for stewards for each event and to help visiting speakers find their way around.

COME FOR THE CRIME, STAY FOR THE CYMRAEG!

The Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival in 2022 will feature events in both English and Welsh as we want the festival to be an inclusive event that will showcase Welsh language and culture.

Participants will be welcome to ask questions in Welsh, as several of the Crime Cymru members are fluent Welsh speakers. The full 2022 festival will also provide bilingual opportunities as well as an extensive shop window for our wonderful Welsh food producers, artisans and community organisations through the non-panel events.

The free, digital festival in 2021 – Virtual Crime Cymru Digidol – will feature both English and Welsh language events.

Website:- www.GwylCrimeCymruFestival.co.uk



 

Monday, 1 March 2021

Bloody Scotland Book Club

 

Announcing: Bloody Scotland Book Club!

Bloody Scotland have launched a new initiative to keep crime fans entertained! Every month, They will be hosting an exclusive discussion with a variety of journalists, bloggers, podcasters and booksellers. Their guests will hand-pick a selection of crime novels, from exciting new works to old favourites.

We invite you to read along and join our Facebook Group for discussion, then tune in to Facebook Live as we broadcast the panel’s discussion on the last Wednesday of every month.

Head over to their new Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/bloodyscotlandbookclub/

Craig Robertson will be hosting the first event and he says -

I'm delighted to be hosting our first live event at the end of March and really looking forward to getting stuck into our first three books.

So, this month we're reading Laidlaw by William McIlvanney; Worst Case Scenario by Helen FitzGerald; and Deborah Masson's Out For Blood. It took a lot of discussion to whittle all our thoughts down to three books but we got there, and I think It's a good mix to get us started.

If you want to read one, two or all three, then we can chat in here, spoiler free of course, then have our live discussion at the end of the month.

This is going to be your book club and I'm sure things will change along the way, so let us know what you think.


How to Survive Everything by Ewan Morrison

 EWAN MORRISON on the terrifying research that sparked the inspiration for the pandemic thriller ‘How To Survive Everything’

AMERICAN BLACKOUT

My fear of the end of the world used to be pretty average. That was until 2013, when my wife, scriptwriter Emily Ballou and I were hired to write the script for a two hour ‘Movie event - a docu-drama for National Geographic Television called ‘American Blackout’. It had been commissioned to launch season two of their eccentric and successful TV series ‘Doomsday Preppers’. Our script was about a cataclysmic cyber- attack on the US Electrical grid and the ensuing civilisational collapse.

Advertised during the Super Bowl, American Blackout managed to clock-up an estimated 30 million viewers. It was debated in US congress and became part of the canon of apocalypse survival movies and a hotly debated subject of Prepper and Survivalist chatrooms. We were thrilled that the preppers thought we’d got our facts right about the step by the step-by-step processes of civilizational collapse. Thrilled, yes, but we’d also been quite traumatised by what our research had uncovered.

THE TERRIFYING RESEARCH

As part of our research, we had access to information from FEMA, the US Energy Dept, and professors of Collapse Studies at Columbia and Delaware universities; professors of National Security Strategy at the National War College, Washington, grid engineers, the SANS institute, experts on homeland security and cyber security, scientists at the RAND institute, the director of CSIS and the US cyber Consequences Unit. We were only able to use about 2% of all that we discovered about the house of cards that is modern society.

What the research showed was that western nations with their global ‘just in time’ supply chains of food and fuel, are highly precarious. The tipping point could be brought about by many crises – eco-disaster, economic collapse, severe shortages such as ‘Peak Oil’, civil war or by an unexpected pandemic.

My wife and I started to become like the characters in Blackout. Secretly, we started ‘prepping’ to survive a global catastrophe (just in case). This was just after the MERS epidemic and my wife and I bought a tiny hideaway in a remote part of Scotland. We seriously started drawing up plans to escape from civilisation, when the SHTF (Shit Hits The Fan), as the Preppers say.

At this point in 2013/14, How to Survive Everything wasn’t really a fiction. It was more like a secret obsession.

PANDEMIC SAFE HOUSE

I wasn’t really thinking about a novel at this point. I was more concerned about what my family would do if there was a civilisation threatening event.

Preppers need to be self-sustaining and to survive for potentially years with no contact with the outside world, so I started sketching what an ideal Safe House would be like. To my surprise I found that the old Scottish farm format with farmhouse, three barns and a quad in the middle was the most castle-like, defensible structure. The quad shape also meant that the interior survival technology would be unseen from outside. 

Hidden inside would be fruit and vegetable poly-tunnels, solar panels, goats, a chicken run, weapons storage and water catchment and filtration systems. Below that would be two bunkers, one for cold food storage and the other as a panic room, in case of severe emergencies. Beyond that I decided we needed a fortified, razor wired and electrified outer wall and beyond that 3/4 of a mile away would be a perimeter fence, 3 metres high and topped with razor wire. Maybe I went a bit nuts on the design but I knew from the research that in a civilizational collapse, you have to protect yourself from starving gangs and at this point it was all just ‘on paper’.

I took inspiration for this from the high security at the Nuclear bases at HMNB Faslane and RNAD (Royal Navy Armarments Depot) Coulport in Scotland; these are two of the biggest military enclosures in Europe, and they are only ten miles away from where I live on Loch Long. In fact, in driving to my own rural get-away, I always pass a mile of razorwire, armed guards and infrared CCTV cameras at Faslane.

So, having designed this formidable prepper fortress, two things became really clear to me.

  1. There was no way we could build anything like this paranoid fantasy enclosure in reality.

  2. This set up would make for a brilliant thriller.

Which posed a big question:

PREPPER PARENTS & ABDUCTION

The question needs a little background - I was divorced back in 2004, and every weekend, and once a week on Wednesday, I took my teenage son and daughter for an overnight stay. That was our weekly set up. In thriller terms, a man like me, with five days a week in which his kids can’t see what he is up to, would be the perfect Apocalypse prepper. So, the character of Ed Cooper, the divorced ex-journalist with two kids emerged. Ed was like me but much more extreme. In my mind, Ed had seen classified Govt intelligence about virus research and he’d had a nervous breakdown because no-one would listen to the terrible truth. Not even his then-wife Justine, who would soon become his ex-wife due to what she saw as his paranoid delusions. 

So, Ed had got a group of likeminded apocalypse preppers together to build the safe house I’d designed in the wilderness in the 5 days a week when he didn’t see his kids. Great, I often find that writing a character who is a more unhinged version of myself, adds a level of psychological realism. This all made sense to me as the set up for a story about a man driven to the edge who wants to save his kids.

This then raised an important question, if Ed sensed that a civilisation threatening event was about to happen, how on earth would he convince his ex-wife to let him take the kids away to his secret prepper safe house? She would, of course, think he was totally insane, and refuse to let him have the kids. Maybe she’d even have him arrested or sectioned. 

I asked myself what I’d do in Ed’s shoes and the answer was pretty horrible.

I’d have to abduct my own kids. With force if necessary.

THE UNWILLING HEROINE

So, in story terms, father Ed Cooper abducts his two children and steals them away to the rural safe house - this all seemed good thriller material to me, but when I started to write it from Ed’s perspective it seemed to be like so many ‘crazed dad tries to save kids’ stories. And I thought, who would be most shaken by this situation? Whose perspective should I write the story from? Both daughter Haley (15) and mother Justine (42) would clearly be very upset; Haley’s little brother Ben (6) might imagine that this whole abduction thing was quite fun. Whose world would be turned upside down most? I decided Haley should be the protagonist.

Imagine being stuck in a tug of war between two divorced parents who have two entirely different views of what’s happening in the world, who have had a terrible divorce and don’t trust each other. Imagine always being the peacemaker, always being caught in the middle. I thought Haley’s Point of View, as a child of divorce would be the most awful position to be in. Haley has a terrible choice to make - is her dad right and a pandemic is ravaging the world? Or is her mother right and her dad is having psychotic breakdown and acting out a divorce-revenge?

Once I started writing from Haley’s perspective I realised that there was some very dark humour to be had with her predicament. I thought, ‘what is the worst thing in the world that could happen to Haley? Death of her brother? No, it was for her mother to be locked in the survivalist camp with her dad, and for the two to be screaming at each other 24/7. And perhaps Justine was right, and the pandemic was just in Ed’s head? How would Haley know?

So, I realised that Haley’s mother, Justine, needed to try to rescue her kids from the safe-house. The thriller, was developing into a dark satire of the modern dysfunctional family, with conflicted Haley at its heart – an everyday teenage girl who really doesn’t want to be in the middle of world ending pandemic at all, or stuck between two warring parents. I loved the dynamic as well, of a daughter who really loves her Dad, but fears he might be insane.

BETTER TO BE TEN YEARS TOO EARLY THAN ONE MINUTE TOO LATE.

How to Survive Everything is set in 2025. The Covid-19 pandemic has ended and life comes almost back to normal again. At least that’s what Justine and the kids think, butt Ed is attentive to Bill Gates warning that there would be another global pandemic in our generation. As Ed says: “Better to be Ten Years Too Early than One Minute too Late.”

According to Ed, the post covid-boomtime - the massive trillion dollar expansion in the Virus and Vaccines business - leads to aggressive international competition for ownership of pathogens. As I was researching this in May 2020, I was deeply alarmed to find that are already many cases of ‘pathogen theft’, with scientists stealing live and deadly viruses from one country and attempting to smuggle them to other countries. In 2019, Scientists in Winnipeg were caught illegally shipping Ebola virus to China, while a student was caught in Logan international airport attempting to “smuggle vials of ‘biological material’ out of US hidden in a sock”. An inventory at Fort Derrick Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), discovered as many as 9,200 dangerous pathogens and toxins, that were not logged into their database. Illegal experiments and secret trade in Pathogens is real.

In How to Survive Everything, it is the uncontainable growth of the vast new virus and vaccine trade that leads to the new pandemic. Ed’s belief is that short-sighted human greed and government cover-ups cause the creation of a super-virus that is then stolen and leaked by accident.

Being always obsessed with prediction and how narratives play out in history, I realised that Ed’s scenario was altogether too credible; we are living a time in which international bio-security problems are escalating and so writing the novel in 2020, became a matter of urgency for me. 

I would hope that How To Save Everything is a thriller about the danger of things collapsing – civilisation, families and most of all, our belief in what used to be called truth. Who can Haley believe? And who do we believe these days?

Ewan Morrison’s new novel How to Survive Everything follows a teenage girl whose life is upended when her survivalist father abducts her and her little brother.

Morrison’s last novel Nina X, was the winner of the Saltire Prize Fiction Book of the Year 2019.

How to Survive Everything is published by Contraband, an imprint of Saraband on March 1st 2020

N.B All of the images in this article are copyright cleared and either come from me or from Copyright free sources.






                       

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Audible’s Sarah Denzil: Relief from Lockdown

 


Many of us have been relying on Audible during the long nights where sleep can be elusive, with all this Covid-19 lockdown business. When travel is prohibited [unless an emergency], and shops remain closed [with exceptions], then health and economic damage weigh heavily on one’s mind – dominating our thoughts. When the solitude becomes a claustrophobic vacuum that is hard to escape – then it’s time to consider bibliotherapy to confront the loneliness and anxiety of this age.

A dear friend of mine, an avid bibliophile would often say to me, “you’re never alone if you have a novel, because books are your friends,” and I would concur, recalling my own bouts of reflective solitude.

Reading for promoting mental health has been shown to be an effective tool, against the black dog [as Winston Churchill described his bouts of depression]. Though there are times it becomes hard to concentrate, to actually read. My strategy is to listen to audiobooks when I can’t read, with a mind all fuzzy with existential angst; thoughts knitting together to create anxiety. There’s much comfort in being read to, especially if the work is sufficiently immersive and hypnotic. It recalls our childhood; of being a developing mind being read stories before bed, as we struggled to understand our world and the scary reality around us.  

Recently, audiobooks have become a crucial part of my mental rampart, to keep negative thoughts at bay, to prevent them linking together to create weird [and disturbing] scenarios in my head, in my thinking, because negative and frightening thoughts are not helpful for our mental well-being.

In 2019, I was fortunate to become obsessed by one such immersive [and hypnotic] reading experience – it was Cari Mora by Thomas Harris. Despite receiving a lukewarm [at best] reception, I found it helped control my mind [in a personally difficult year] from becoming derailed by problems that started to grow worryingly in my mind, and developing beyond ‘the blues’ – and I don’t mean John Lee Hooker, or Howlin’ Wolf.

Bibliotherapy is not purely distracting your mind from the troubles in your head, though the distraction, the corralling of one’s thoughts – is important. Bibliotherapy is more than that. It is helps channels one thoughts, by following a narrative, which at its core is viewing the world [aka reality] through someone else’s eyes. Reading books [or listening to them, via Audible] can help with ‘the blues’ and assist in preventing ‘the blues’ from getting worse, as the black dog’s bark can be heard in the streets, echoing inside the minds of people - as they tackle this Covid-Lockdown business, becoming fearful for the future, and that of our children’s and friends’ future.

This article from The Huffington Post explains more –

Whether or not a book can single-handedly tackle a person’s depression is difficult to determine, but positive thinking has been proven to help. According to a Psychology Today article titled “Depression Doing the Thinking,” “One of the most powerful actions you can take in combating depression is to understand how critical the quality of your thinking is to maintaining and even intensifying your depression—and that the quickest way to change how you feel is to change how you think.” The article goes on to explain how negative thoughts can enter one’s mind subconsciously, and therefore seem more raw or true to the depression sufferer than their own moods and feelings.

Read More HERE

So, what am I reading currently that is sufficiently immersive that it can help quell the barking of the black dog?

Actually, I’m ploughing my way through [actually listening to] the dark and disturbing novels of Sarah Denzil from Audible

I was only aware of this writer of dark and complex thriller novels, from an interesting article from the New York Times in 2019

Last year, while promoting his debut thriller, “The Woman in the Window,” Dan Mallory praised the tradition of literary mimicry: “It is often said that ‘good writers borrow, great writers steal,’” he said in an interview with The Guardian, borrowing a phrase from T.S. Eliot.

In retrospect, his choice of words was surprisingly honest, a rare acknowledgment in a medium that prizes originality of how deeply he was influenced by other popular thrillers.



Mr. Mallory — who was recently the subject of an exposé in The New Yorker that detailed his past as a habitual liar who feigned fatal illnesses and fabricated a tragic family history — has acknowledged that the plot of his novel, which became a best seller, owes a debt to several famous works, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and Paula Hawkins’s blockbuster thriller, “The Girl on the Train.”

“The Woman in the Window” is also strikingly similar to a novel by Sarah A. Denzil, “Saving April.”

Read More > HERE

So, who is Sarah A Denzil and which books of hers should I listen to and why?

I would urge you to look out for these two interlocking novels, dramatized by Audible studios - SILENT CHILD first and then the upcoming STOLEN GIRL [Release date: 1 March 2021]

Performed by: Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey, Liar), Rosalie Craig (Company, The Queen's Gambit) and Gerran Howell (1917, Catch-22).

The sequel to SILENT CHILD’s dark narrative -

When Emma Price’s daughter Gina is snatched, it is every parent’s nightmare. But Emma has lived the horror before. As the clock ticks, and Gina is still missing, a dark game of cat and mouse begins. Emma and Aiden must piece together the kidnapper’s puzzle, to discover who has taken her – and why.

Emma, Aiden and Gina stand on the brink of a new life. After the trauma of Aiden’s abduction and return, they are slowly healing and returning to a fragile normality. Emma is desperate to protect her children, but the world is fascinated by Aiden, the silent child who is finally learning to speak for himself.

Against her better judgment, Emma allows her son to attend a talk show. Her worse nightmare comes true when her daughter, Gina, is snatched from the studio and a chilling game begins.

Emma is convinced the answers lie in the darkest corners of the family’s past, and that Aiden must be able to work out the puzzle, if only he dare reach into the horrors of his memory.



Silent Child written by Sarah A. Denzil and narrated by: Joanne Froggatt

It became Audible’s 2017 Thriller of the Year

Ten years after witnessing the tragic loss of her son, Emma Price is finally rediscovering the joy in life… until Aiden returns. Too traumatised to speak, he raises endless questions and answers none. Named Audible’s Thriller of the Year in 2017, this exclusive production is the first in an unmissable series by Sarah A. Denzil, performed by the exceptional Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey, Liar). As one Audible Editor commented, ‘it will make your heart beat, your mind race and your spine tingle’.

If you want to read about extraordinary events in the lives of ordinary people, Denzil’s work may provide comfort in this lockdown and the ubiquity of Covid-19.

More information on Audible and their £7.99 / month membership CLICK HERE

More information on the work of Sarah Denzil CLICK HERE

All images © 2017 – 2021 Audible apart from AJ Finn cover of The Woman in the Window © 2017 HarperCollins

Shots Magazine wish to thank Edwina Boyd-Gibbons and Audible studios for their help in this feature article.



 

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Hull Noir Programme

 


FESTIVAL READ 18 MARCH 2021 7pm 

PLENDER by Ted Lewis 

First published 50 years ago, until recently PLENDER could justifiably be considered the ‘lost’ Hull noir novel. Not so in France, where director Eric Barbier, who placed the novel in the traditions of Cape Fear and Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, adapted it for his 2006 thriller, LE SERPENT. But beside Lewis’s best known work, JACK’S RETURN HOME/GET CARTER (1970) and his dark, uncompromising swansong, GBH (1980), PLENDER has always seemed unfairly placed in the shade. 

Originally hitting bookstore shelves at the same time as the ‘X’-rated GET CARTER screened in cinemas across the UK in 1971, PLENDER finds Lewis diving deeper into the noir world the first Carter novel inhabits, revisiting the Hull and Humber haunts of his art school years that were now a decade behind him. Lewis follows his demons wherever they lead, taking perverse pleasure in bringing the sleaze and corruption that he’d experienced in Soho to the streets of Hull. These were places and people he knew well and if the brutality and sexuality of PLENDER shocked the folks back home in Barton and Kirk Ella, so be it. 

With PLENDER, Lewis exploits the hinterland of autobiography and fiction, matching the ruthless, sadistic Brian Plender with the duplicitous and corruptible Peter Knott. The power game played between these twin antagonists is broken down in brief, punchy scenes. Resentment harboured, blackmail exacted, and revenge meted out. If you’re looking for redemption, try elsewhere. This is a Ted Lewis novel. A blueprint that came to redefine the possibilities of British noir. 

Nick Triplow 

Hull Noir are pleased to have No Exit Press sponsoring our festival read. Publishing PLENDER and GBH in the UK for the first time in over 20 years, their 2020 editions have returned these two important novels to their rightful place in the lineage of crime/noir writing. 

To take part in the festival read, contact Hull Noir through our social media channels: Facebook @hullnoir Twitter @HullNoir 

The first 12 people to contact us using the hashtag #HULLNOIRPLENDER will receive a copy of PLENDER [print copy or e-book] and the code to enter the BOOK GROUP taking place via Zoom on the evening of 18 March. The session will be hosted by Ted Lewis’s biographer, Nick Triplow. Entry is free, but bear in mind, it’s important that you can make that date. 

In 2020, Hull Noir made the short film PLENDER. Taking extracts from the novel and filming in locations close to those Lewis envisioned. Adapted by Nick Triplow and Nick Quantrill, filmed by Dave Lee, with extracts read by Matt Sutton. 

View it on on the Hull Noir YouTube channel 

FESTIVAL LAUNCH EVENT: PETER ROBINSON IN CONVERSATION WITH NICK QUANTRILL 19 MARCH 2021 7pm 

(Event sponsored by 360 Chartered Accountants) 

Best known for his Yorkshire-set novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, Peter Robinson has established a reputation as one of the foremost crime writers of his generation. Set in the fictional north Yorkshire town of Eastvale, DCI Banks has made the transition to TV screens with Stephen Tomkinson in the title role. 

To celebrate the launch of his 27th Banks novel, NOT DARK YET, in which a gruesome murder uncovers links with the Albanian mafia, Nick Quantrill talks to Peter about the new novel, his approach to Banks, and how he manages to maintain the series’ uncompromising perspective on wider societal issues. 

HULL NOIR CRIME FICTION FESTIVAL 20 MARCH 2021 

Festival Panels

IN COLD BLOOD 10.00am – 11.00am 

As the wheels of crime fiction turn, three new and exciting voices, Alex North, Nell Pattison and Russ Thomas, give the lowdown about their novels, what it’s like to start out (and start again), and discuss what comes next. With Liz Mistry as our guide, we find out what it’s like to launch your book in the midst of a global pandemic and look at new ways of reaching an audience. 


GET CARTER AND BEYOND 11.30am – 12.30pm

With the landmark British crime film Get Carter turning 50, we’ll hear from Nick Triplow - biographer of Ted Lewis, from whose novel the film’s script was adapted, Hull’s Nick Quantrill about bringing crime fiction to the Humber, and journey to 1970s Glasgow with Alan Parks to explore Lewis’s enduring influence on crime writing and the evocation of the non-metropolitan north. Leeds crime writer Ali Harper keeps everything in check.                                                                                                                                                     

WISH YOU WERE HERE 1.30pm – 2.30pm 

Crime fiction’s thirst for new territories remains undiminished, bringing us new landscapes or fresh perspectives on the places we thought we knew. Under the watchful eye of Jacky Collins, Helen FitzGerald, Abir Mukherjee and Marnie Riches uncover the crime-culture influences of fire-ravaged Australia, Raj- era India and the contemporary streets of Manchester to consider what makes them tick. 

THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS 3.00pm – 4.00pm 

Since Edgar Allan Poe’s short story Murders in the Rue Morgue and his creation of C. Auguste Dupin, first published in 1841, the police detective has become a staple of crime fiction. But what of the new breed? Louise Beech, AA Dhand, and Harriet Tyce come together to talk about their own criminal creations and what makes them different, ably aided and abetted by Derek Farrell.                                                                                                                                    LOOK BACK IN ANGER 4.30pm – 5.30pm 

In the writing of Ian McGuire, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, and Cathi Unsworth, historical crime fiction feels fresh, dynamic and insightful. In conversation with Rhiannon Ward, they discuss the ‘power of the strange’ in the lives, times and crimes they write about, and what their explorations of the past can tell us about ourselves now. 

WATCHING THE DETECTIVES 6.00pm – 7.00pm 

Aided and abetted by Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre go full Holmes and Watson to investigate the scene of contemporary crime fiction. Sharing the secrets of their mind palaces, they examine 20 years of Mark’s acclaimed DI Thorne series, their new novels, what it’s like to be part-time rock stars, and pretty much everything in-between. 

Book Launch Event 21 March 2021 7PM

Yorkshire-based author D. L. Marshall talks to Nick Quantrill about his debut novel, ANTHRAX ISLAND. 

First pitched at Bloody Scotland festival, ANTHRAX ISLAND features John Tyler and is set on Gruinard Island, a small Scottish islet that has been off-limits for decades having been used as a testing ground for biological weapons during the Second World War. When a technician dies at the scientific station on the island, Tyler is flown in to assist. Can he uncover the killer in their midst before a new strain of anthrax is unleashed upon the world? 

The interview will be released on the Hull Noir Youtube channel at 7pm on 21 March. 

Festival Bookshop

Books are available for order and sale from our Festival bookseller, The Bookcase in Lowdham, nr Newark. Please help us in supporting independent booksellers and keep an eye out for editions featuring a special Hull Noir author-signed bookplate. 

https://www.thebookcase.co.uk/ 

Booking Information

All panels and events are free to access. Register via www.HullNoir.com 

You’ll find the option to make a donation via PayPal to Hull Noir. All proceeds go towards future Hull Noir events. We’re working to keep Hull Noir on the road and any support you can give us is gratefully received. 

Follow Hull Noir on social media.