August 14

Ava Marsh – Untouchable Q&A

Untouchable coverToday I am delighted to welcome Ava Marsh to Grab This Book.  Ava’s novel Untouchable released earlier this year in digital format and instantly became one of my favourite books that I have discussed on this blog (review link below).  This week Untouchable receives a paperback release and Ava has kindly taken some time to answer a few of my questions:

 

Shall we start with an easy one? Tell me about Untouchable and who is Stella?

Untouchable is the story of a high-class escort, Stella, who finds herself uncovering a top-level conspiracy after the murder of friend and fellow call girl Elisa. But as she becomes more deeply enmired in Elisa’s death, Stella’s own shadowy past starts to catch up with her.

Can you outline Untouchable for me in a single sentence?

Oh goodness, I’m so rubbish at summing things up neatly. How about ‘call girl revenge saga’? Hmm, no. Okay, what about ‘Gone Girl meets 50 Shades’? Perhaps not. I think I’ll go with ‘a compelling story about one woman’s fight for justice against a powerful and corrupt elite.’

You will probably be aware that there was considerable Twitter speculation over how you researched the lifestyle of an escort. Is there a balance of research and author imagination or did you actually base Stella’s routine on recounted events?

You’re right, I have been asked that question a few times! The truth is it’s a combination of both. I know several intelligent, professional women who have gone into escorting, for various reasons, and some of the scenes in Untouchable reflect their experiences. But there’s also a wealth of stuff on the internet; many escorts have blogged about their lifestyle, and how they feel about it, so it’s not hard to research.

And yes, I just made a lot up.

As Stella/Grace is the hero of the story does that make her clients default villains?  At no time while I read Untouchable did I feel that the reader was asked to make judgment on prostitutes or their clients.

I’m pleased you didn’t. I get tired of the widely-held stereotypes and general demonization of prostitution. Not all prostitutes are alike, just as not all writers are alike either – there is a world of difference between a woman with a drug habit working in Kings Cross to someone operating at Stella’s level, just as there is all the difference between being a hack writer for the Daily Mail and writing 1,000 page literary novels a la Donna Tartt or Haruki Murakami. The idea that all escorts are downtrodden or degraded by their work just isn’t true, as Brooke Magnanti (Belle de Jour) has amply illustrated.

The same holds for punters. Men have myriad reasons for paying for sex, and many of those reasons are perfectly understandable. It’s not uncommon for men to find themselves stranded in sexless marriages, for instance, and rather than leave their wife or have an affair, some decide that discreet, paid-for physical companionship is the lesser of several evils. Which is entirely fair enough, in my opinion.

Did you ever consider that you were taking a risk making your lead character a prostitute? I cannot imagine everyone will respond sympathetically to a character that has chosen this lifestyle.

I did consider it. I think there’s still a huge taboo around sex work, and there’s always the danger of being tainted by association. But I wanted to tell Stella’s story, as well as undermine some of the popular mythology around escorting.

This may be a bit of a chicken/egg question: as Untouchable developed did you start with the idea of building a story around escorts? Or was the basis of the story in your head and the characters (and their profession) subsequently fell into place?

Untouchable started when I realised that high-end escorts can find themselves in a unique position of interacting with sometimes very powerful men, in a situation where those men might well let down their guard. That led me to start wondering what might happen if an escort heard or discovered something significant or dangerous. What might she do with that information? How might she react?

I know that Untouchable has been available digitally for some time – does holding a paperback of your novel make it feel more special or real?

There’s nothing quite like holding your book for the first time. Especially when it has a lovely velvety-feel cover like Untouchable.

You were one third of the Femmes Fatales panel during the Brit Crime online book festival.  As a reader I found the whole event an absolute joy, how was it from the author viewpoint?  

Oh, such fun. I love interacting with other writers and with readers, and will debate anything almost endlessly. Just wind me up and watch me go!

A few years ago I was at the Aye Write festival in Glasgow and I got to hear Mark Billingham and Jo Nesbo compare their ‘journey’ to publication.  How long did it take you to get Untouchable from concept to a finished article that readers could enjoy?

Untouchable got its fair share of rejections. A number of agents and editors seemed unsure how to peg the book, especially as it’s fairly explicit. In terms of the time it took to write, that was about six months, then another six or so to find an agent and publisher. After that came the long slog of editing and tweaking and waiting for publication, which in this case was about 18 months after acceptance. You need patience to survive in this industry.

On a more personal level, what do you enjoy reading? Who do you consider to be your favourite authors?

When I was younger I tackled many of the classics with enthusiasm, and I still read quite a few literary novels. I particularly love Haruki Murakami, Anne Tyler, Kate Atkinson and Donna Tartt. In recent years I’ve been drawn more to genre fiction – hard to pick favourites, but Gillian Flynn is a fabulous prose stylist, while Elizabeth Haynes, Sarah Ward, Mark Edwards, Eva Dolan, and SJI Holliday are all up there on my must-read list.

When do you find time to write?

Whenever I can find the energy. I tend to fit it in around whatever else I’m doing, though I’m trying to prioritise it more these days.

Can you give us any clues as to what you are working on now?

Certainly. My next book, currently in the first round of structural edits, is called Exposure and kicks off with a porn star in prison for double murder. The rest of the story essentially explores how she landed up there.

When not writing how do you enjoy spending your downtime?

Downtime? What’s that? On my rare days off I like to get out and get active – running and kayaking both help me work off a head of steam. I read, obviously, and go to the cinema as often as I can. I also watch a lot of news and documentaries.

These days it’s the ordinary stuff that pleases me more and more. Too much drama puts me off my writing stride. I save it for my novels.

 

My thanks to Ava for joining me today.  As promised my review can be found here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=773

 

The Untouchable blog tour continues on Monday 17th with @crimethrillgirl

UntouchableBlogTour (2) [77433]

Untouchable is available in paperback and digital format.

Ava Marsh is on Twitter: @MsAvaMarsh

And online at:  http://www.avamarsh.co.uk/

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August 1

Sarah Hilary – No Other Darkness

No Other Darkness PbkToday I am delighted to be able to welcome Sarah Hilary back to Grab This Book. Sarah’s second Marnie Rome novel No Other Darkness has just released in paperback and today’s visit is my leg of the Blog Tour.

I know Sarah is a horror fan and I was keen to find out if this filtered through into her writing:

 

It’s alive! Tapping the rich vein of horror

by Sarah Hilary

If you have a sofa handy this might be the moment to duck behind it. Because I’m going to riff about how much I love horror. This will come as no surprise to readers of my Marnie Rome series. No Other Darkness starts in an underground bunker, and doesn’t really let up until the very end.

Adding a dash of horror is a worthy tradition in literature; the Brothers Grimm were writing about cannibalism a century before Thomas Harris gave us Hannibal Lector, and it’s hard to beat the Room 101 rats in Orwell’s 1984 for nail-biting nightmare potential.

Crime writers have known this trick for decades, seasoning our stories with a dash of darkness. Arthur Conan Doyle served it up in spades, from The Hound of the Baskervilles to The Creeping Man.

Photo by Linda Nylind.
Photo by Linda Nylind.

Contemporary crime writers use horror to great effect, too. Mo Hayder’s Tokaloshe in Ritual and its sequel, Skin, is a blood-curdling example of how a skilled writer can weave a disturbing sense of the supernatural into hard-hitting crime stories. French crime writer, Fred Vargas, has given us ghosts, werewolves, plague rats and vampires. Enough supernatural horror to satisfy any aficionado, although Vargas (like Hayder) does a neat line in explaining everything in rational terms in the end.

 

Horror works best when it’s used sparingly. A surfeit can force the reader to look away or worse—to laugh in order to relieve the tension. Maestros know this and will provide a little light relief so that you chuckle in the intended places (usually right before you jump a foot in the air). The very best exponent of this is George A. Romero, one of my favourite film directors. Yes, zombies can be funny — cheerleader zombies, barbershop quartet zombies, Hari Krishna zombies — but always watch out for your feet and elbows. (If I have a criticism of The Walking Dead it’s that it lacks a sense of humour.)

A glimpse of the monster under the bed (or in it) is always more effective than a lingering twelve page forensic examination. Plant a seed, refer to it on occasion to be sure the idea doesn’t die in the reader’s mind, let their imagination get to work. Then—let them have it.

No Other Darkness, I hope, lets you have it with both barrels.

There’s a little horror lurking in everyone’s head. My job is to let that little horror out to play.

Blog Tour

My review of No Other Darkness can be found here:  http://grabthisbook.net/?p=468

Back in April Sarah kindly took time to join me for a Q&A to discuss No Other Darkness, our chat is here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=743

No Other Darkness is available in paperback in all good bookshops and can be purchased in digital format too.

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July 24

Guest Post: Neil White – The Domino Killer

25643638Today I am delighted to welcome Neil White to the blog. Neil’s new thriller, The Domino Killer, is released on 30th July and my review appears below.  

Regular visitors to the blog may know that I like to ask my guests to discuss why they feel readers like stories about serial killers.  Today I ask Neil White to step into the spotlight and share his thoughts on our serial killer fascination.

 

Over to Neil: Why are readers attracted to serial killers?

The answer is wider than that, because the question is really why are people attracted to serial killers. TV viewers devour factual shows that highlight the trail left behind by some maniac. Newspapers sell copies when a new mystery arises. The water cooler debates swell when there’s a new psychopath in town.

People are attracted to serial killers, so when readers turn to a book, it is no surprise that serial killer novels feature highly.

So why the attraction?

People are attracted to death. It’s why people peer over the edge of a cliff, even though they are scared of falling. They edge forward but the need to see over is compelling. But they don’t peer over the edge to see how nice the beach looks. They look to see how awful it would be to fall, to crash onto the rocks. Staring at death is life-affirming, re-assured by that quiet sigh of relief as you step back, safe again on the clifftop.

Then there’s the fascination with someone doing something they cannot comprehend doing, along with the vicarious tingle of fear.

People can understand some murders. The crime of passion, for example, or when violence goes too far when wearing the red mask of rage. But cold-blooded killings done just to satisfy an urge? Most people are not capable of that, cannot understand it, so it’s easy to be fascinated by someone who can plumb those dark depths.

Ian Brady described serial killers as the only brave ones in the world, because they are the ones who are fearless enough to give vent to their fantasies with no thought of the consequences. That’s complete nonsense, just grandiose boasting from a man who lives off scraps of infamy, but it’s an insight into his thinking, that it is all about the fantasy, about the lack of fear of the consequences, that the lack of empathy means that there is no thought for the victims. The victims are an irrelevance.

neilThat is so different from the usual human experience. On the whole, people empathise, couldn’t hurt someone just for the pleasure of it. There usually has to be a reason, like hiding behind a war or political cause or because their emotions got the better of them. We can understand those reasons. We cannot understand the selfishness of a serial killer, so we are fascinated by people who behave differently.

There is also the second reason, that tingle of fear.

We read thrillers to be thrilled, read horror to be horrified, read scary stories to be scared. We enjoy that fear, because we know it isn’t real. It’s some distant thing, a shiver to be relished, that we have been dragged into the dark world of the killer, are brushed by that madness.

But distance is the crucial thing. Ripper walks are an industry in London, where the crowd oohs and aahs as the guide describes how women were slaughtered, running his thumb up his body to show the track of the knife at the spots where they died. I confess that, even now, when I go to London, I find myself in Spitalfields at the end of the day, enjoying a pint in the Ten Bells, where Mary Kelly spent her last night, trying to evoke the feeling of how it must have been back then, looking for the shadows of the Ripper.

Imagine how you would fare if you tried to organise such a guided tour around Leeds and Bradford, where Peter Sutcliffe murdered his victims. It would evoke rage. It would be wrong. Too close. Too recent.

So distance is crucial. It has to be a remote fear, a view from afar, because we love the tingle of fear but we like to be safe, where no one really gets hurt. Crime thrillers do that. They allow a glimpse over the cliff edge, but fundamentally it’s for the relief when the killer is caught, when the book is closed and our own lives are untouched

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July 24

The Domino Killer – Neil White

25643638When a man is found beaten to death in a local Manchester park, Detective Constable Sam Parker is one of the investigating officers. Sam swiftly identifies the victim, but what at first looks like an open and shut case quickly starts to unravel when he realises that the victim’s fingerprints were found on a knife at another crime scene, a month earlier.

Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Joe – a criminal defence lawyer in the city – comes face to face with a man whose very presence sends shockwaves through his life. Joe must confront the demons of his past as he struggles to come to terms with the darkness that this man represents.

Before long, Joe and Sam are in way over their heads, both sucked into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to change their lives for ever…

 

My thanks to Little, Brown UK who provided a review copy through Netgalley

 

The Domino Killer was my first introduction to Neil White’s books. The two central characters, Sam and Joe Parker, had clearly featured in previous books so the first question I have to address is “Does not knowing the back-story create any problems?” The answer would seem to be NO. I suspect that there are several elements which will reward returning readers that (as a new reader) I totally failed to grasp the significance of. However, as an introduction to the Parker brothers I found The Domino Killer to be a great read – important events and incidents from previous novels were explained (or discussed in such a way that I never got confused with the latest developments.

The book opens with a particularly nasty murder. In a lonely park on a dark evening a man is beaten to death, he dies clutching a bunch of flowers. An illicit rendezvous gone wrong perhaps? The police investigate but not much progress is being made. However, all this will change when a second murder is committed and the two deaths are found to be linked in the most unexpected of ways.

Meanwhile lawyer, Joe Parker, is called out late to meet a new client, a man who is accused of stealing and then torching his own car. What seems a routine client call is about to send Joe’s world into chaos – although he has never previously met his client he knows who he is as the two men are bound by a single event, one which has shaped Joe’s whole life.

The Domino Killer is a captivating read and the villain of the piece is one of the nastier characters I have encountered in recent reads. I enjoyed the fact the two Parker brothers adopt very different approaches to counter the perceived threat they feel they face. Sam, the policeman, follows procedure and acts within the confines of the law. His brother, Joe, is a defence lawyer – however, Joe has a secret that has haunted him for many a year and the Domino Killer knows this. Joe finds himself confronting a demon from his past and he is prepared to sacrifice friendships and his career to put the ghosts of his past to rest.

Neil White writes with an easy, entertaining and very readable style. The action ticks along at a great pace and I found I wanted to keep reading long after I should have been setting the book down. Although I only finished The Domino Killer within the last week or so I have already picked up a couple of Neil’s earlier books to add to my TBR pile.

 

The Domino Killer is published by Little, Brown UK Ltd and is available from 30th July in both hardback and digital formats.

Neil White is on Twitter: @neilwhite1965

He also has a wee corner of the internet at: http://www.neilwhite.net/

 

 

 

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July 22

Secret Life & Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne – Andrew Nicoll

Secret Life Miss Jean MilneWhen the door opened and he came out, there came with him the stench of a dead thing, the sweet, sulphurous, warm, rotten chicken smell that only ever comes from unburied flesh.

A dead body is found in a locked house. It has been stabbed in a frenzy, the hands and feet bound, the skull smashed, false teeth knocked from its jaws. Blood pools around the corpse and drips from the staircase. Yet nothing is missing: money and valuables remain untouched. Who could have murdered an old woman in such a horrifying way? And why?

This is the mystery facing Sergeant John Fraser and Detective Lieutenant Trench when wealthy spinster Miss Jean Milne is murdered in the quiet seaside town of Broughty Ferry. Yet, despite an abundance of clues and apparent witnesses, the investigation proves troublesome: suspects are elusive and Miss Milne herself is found to be far from a model of propriety. And when sensational headlines put pressure on the police force to find a culprit, Fraser and Trench must work fast to prevent the wrong man from going to the gallows. But will they ever unravel the secret life and curious death of Miss Jean Milne?

I am delighted to have the opportunity to host the latest leg of the blog tour for The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne. My thanks to Black & White Publishing for my review copy.

My memories of visiting Broughty Ferry are of a nice wee town on sitting on the edge of Dundee. ‘Nice’ seems to damn it with faint praise but in Andrew Nicoll’s The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne (hereafter dubbed Secret Life) Broughty Ferry DOES seem nice. It is 1912 and in a small Scottish town life is calm, somewhat predictable and everyone knows everyone else. Not the sort of place you would expect to encounter a brutal murder – unfortunately for the titular Miss Milne a very brutal murder is exactly what we do find.

Secret Life is based upon a true (unsolved) murder. Andrew Nicoll has done a magnificent job of bringing the past to life and putting the reader into the heart of a murder investigation. We follow the developments with Sgt John Fraser of the Broughty Ferry police force. He was present when Miss Milne’s body is discovered and is responsible for assisting with much of the investigation that follows. It is an investigation which starts in Scotland but extends to London and even over the Channel to Belgium.

It is a complex and confusing case for Sgt Fraser; not helped by the fact it is not clear when Miss Milne actually died. In a small town the police are looking for strangers who may be responsible for committing such a foul deed. Unfortunately, Miss Milne has lead a somewhat unorthodox life and was fond of travelling. She seems to have received a number of gentlemen callers in the period leading up to her death which give the police a bit of a headache in tracking anyone down.

Or DID she? Witnesses seem somewhat unreliable and when faced with the intimidating policemen of 1912 the more genteel members of this quiet town may just tell the police what they believe the police want to hear.

I loved how Andrew Nicoll has captured the feel of the early 20th Century. The police expect (and receive) respect. The townspeople are scandalized but want a gossip. The servants and labourers are broadly ignored until it suggested that they may be able to help. Despite knowing you are reading a work of fiction everything feels very real, huge credit to the author for this.

Based on a true story but not actually a true story, Andrew Nicoll has provided a solution to the 100 year old mystery. A satisfying solution I felt and I enjoyed how matters were wrapped up. Secret Life is an enjoyable and highly entertaining read and I would urge to you to seek it out. As I write (22nd July 2015) you can purchase The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne for just 49p on Kindle: cheaper than a bar of chocolate and much more satisfying!

Jean Milne Blog Tour

The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne is published by Black & White Publishing and is available in paperback and (as noted above) in digital format.

Andrew Nicoll is on Twitter: @AndrewSNicoll

 

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June 28

The 3rd Woman – Jonathan Freedland

The 3rd Woman Jacket imageJournalist Madison Webb is obsessed with exposing lies and corruption. But she never thought she would be investigating her own sister’s murder.

SHE CAN’T TRUST THE POLICE

Madison refuses to accept the official line that Abigail’s death was an isolated crime. She uncovers evidence that suggests Abi was the third victim in a series of killings hushed up as part of a major conspiracy.

SHE CAN EXPOSE THE TRUTH

In a United States that now bows to the People’s Republic of China, corruption is rife – the government dictates what the ‘truth’ is. With her life on the line, Madison must give up her quest for justice, or face the consequences…

 

Day Three of The Third Woman blog tour and we are getting ever closer to publication on 2nd July.

 

Sometimes you can read a book and you know from quite early on that you are going to enjoy it. You get caught up in the story from the off: the lead character is engaging, the drama unfolding is gripping and in the background there is a (seemingly) unconnected plot which you KNOW will become very relevant. That was my experience with The Third Woman…hooked, drawn in and captivated.

There was a real sense of scale in reading The 3rd Woman, it reads like a Hollywood blockbuster movie. The lead character works for one of the biggest newspapers in America, the LA Times. There is an international tension building between the United States and the all-powerful People’s Republic of China (who now maintain a presence on US soil). Also, the apparent suicide of a school teacher is catching the attention of the mayor of California, why is he feeding false information to the press about the dead girl?

Well the dead girl in question is the ‘baby’ sister of investigative journalist Maddison Webb. Maddison is not satisfied with the official explanation of suicide and seeks answers to help her deal with her grief. It should probably come as no surprise to learn that suicide is quickly ruled out and our story becomes a personal mission to track down a murderer.

There are different threads to The 3rd Woman which all interweave in a delightfully twisty way. Maddison’s investigations cross with the local election campaign that the mayor is contesting. Maddy uses her position at The LA Times to expose her suspicions but this leads to conflicts at the paper and when she starts to rely on her contacts within the police we see how the Authorities try to shut down her renegade investigations. The ominous presence hanging over the whole story is that of the Chinese. In The 3rd Woman the Chinese are very clearly the enemy of the American people who resent their presence on their territory.

Photo by Philippa Gedge
Photo by Philippa Gedge

Jonathan Freedland has created a believable environment in which to base this story. Maddison uses Social Media outlet ‘Weibo’ to communicate with her followers. The Americans have a tense diplomatic relationship with the People’s Republic of China who now seem to carry more authority/influence in California than the mayor. It adds a delightful political undercurrent to all the conflicts and actions of the press and politicians.

I am quite certain that The 3rd Woman is going to be big. It is a powerful story, well told and has a brilliant roller-coaster of thrills and twists. Definitely a book to look out for this summer – perfect airport pickup!

 

 

 

The 3rd Woman is published by Harper Collins on 2 July 2015. You can pre-order the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-3rd-Woman-Jonathan-Freedland/dp/0007413688/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1435242557&sr=8-1

 

Jonathan Freedland is on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Freedland

Follow the Tour join in on Twitter through #The3rdWoman

JFBLOGTOURBANNER

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June 20

Devil’s Knock – Douglas Skelton Q&A

Today I am delighted to be able to welcome the Douglas Skelton to the blog. Douglas  has just released the third novel in the Davie McCall series, Devil’s Knock, and I was keen to discuss what we could expect from Davie this time around.

 

Devils Knock cover-1 case filesWhat I would like to discuss is the new book, Devil’s Knock. However, before we get there, would you like to set the scene and tell me about Davie McCall?

It’s the third in the series – the others being Blood City and Crow Bait – all set in Glasgow in the twenty years leading up to the new millennium. Davie’s a hard man with a heart but only a very few of his closest friends – and the readers – know that. To everyone else he’s a thug, a piece of muscle, working for his old pal Rab McClymont but underneath that there’s a haunted man who really doesn’t want to do what he’s doing but is trapped by the fact that he’s really quite good at it!

 

And how do events in Blood City and Crow Bait lead us to Devil’s Knock?

It’s now 1995 and Davie’s been scarred both physically and mentally by the events from the first two books. The Glasgow underworld has changed, become more vicious, thanks to drugs. Davie himself is colder, harder to reach. Big Rab is even more powerful but still open to being challenged by other factions, in this case the Jarvis Clan.

And to Devil’s Knock its-self – without asking for spoilers, what can we look out for in the new book?

The street war that the police have feared would come finally erupts. Davie’s caught in the middle. He’s colder but he still adheres to his code – don’t hurt women, children or animals, don’t involve civilians. He refuses to kill, still won’t use firearms. That makes him a target. He’s also helping an old pal whose grandson has been implicated in the bloody murder which kicks the whole thing off.

Does it become easier to write for characters by the third book in a series?

Davie’s always hard to write. I like writing dialogue but he’s so taciturn, everything with him is internal. As for the others, I don’t think it should ever become easy. In a series like this they have to change. They’re ageing in real-time, bad things are happening to them, so they must change. There are certain constants, of course, but I think you should always be looking to make your characters grow in some way. Not always for the better, though!

Davie seems to hold dear his personal moral code, despite moving in some nasty circles – is this fun to plot for him? I am almost envisaging you saying “right today he is going to encounter someone who has been beating his wife” then set Davie off on a course of retribution.

I’m dealing with a morally suspect world but I wanted to have my anti-hero as someone who has his own strict moral code, as I mentioned earlier. He may be a criminal and a violent man but I wanted the reader to root for him. These are not documentary accounts of Glasgow criminal life, they are thrillers, and you need characters the audience care about, if not wholly admire.

When looking through your previous publications I notice several volumes of true crime books. What prompted the switch to fiction?

I always wanted to write fiction – and some police officers say I’ve been doing it for some time. I’m also drawn to the dark side of life even though I’m of a naturally sunny disposition. That sound you hear are the people who know me guffawing. I’d done 11 true crime and Scottish criminal history books and by the time I reached Glasgow’s Black Heart, a history of the city’s crime, I felt I’d done everything I wanted to do. There are a couple of historical true crime cases I’d like to write about sometime, though. The true crime tag has never left me – I’ve been doing some short features for STV Glasgow on some older cases.

 

indian_peter-2When writing the true crime how did you choose your subject matter?

The first one I did was a casebook of fairly well-known Scottish murders but the next one landed in my lap. It was an investigation of a huge miscarriage of justice which eventually took up over ten years of my life. The others were either suggested by publishers or something I really wanted to tell, like Indian Peter, which I thought was a fascinating tale of true life adventure mixed with crime. As for the individual cases, there had to be a story to tell, something perhaps unusual or of legal or forensic interest.

 

While researching material for the true crime books did you uncover any incidents which have made the leap into the fiction titles?

Naturally what I’ve learned in my researches and the years I spent investigating cases for Glasgow solicitors have informed what I’m writing now but I don’t purposely use actual incidents in the fiction, although in Devil’s Knock there is one scene in a supermarket car park. However, that was born out of a character flourish rather than based on any real-life incident and apart from sharing a similar location it bears no similarity to actual events. None of the characters are based on real-life figures.

As a fiction reader I can tell myself that some of the ‘darker’ books I read are ‘just a story’ and that none of what I am reading actually happened. However, if you are researching true crime collections is it hard to accept that the horrors you are uncovering about DID occur and that the individuals concerned really did meet with a grim fate?

It can be fairly gruelling. While writing the first one, Blood on the Thistle, I did end up having nightmares. However, I was researching and writing much of that in a very tight timeframe. However, you have to retain a certain amount of journalistic detachment. Having said that, I stopped writing about more modern crimes because I didn’t want to upset relatives of the victims or the accused. That was when I turned to historical crimes.

I turn now to my recurring question which I ask most of my guests on the blog: why do the readers of crime fiction love a serial killer story?

I don’t do serial killers in fiction, although there was a hint in Crow Bait, but as to why they’re popular, I think it’s the bogey-man syndrome. We love to be scared and serial killers in fiction generally have that feeling of other wordliness that terrifies us so much. In classic crime fiction – the tea and scones school – the murderer is usually someone the victim knows. It’s safe in a way. But serial killer fiction taps into the stranger danger that we’re taught about from a young age. It’s the shadow in the dark, the face at the window, the footstep in the night.

On your Website you are promoting an upcoming event in Edinburgh: Assault n Battery vs Assault n Sauce – it is hailed as a rematch but what is it? For the record I will be Team Battery as I hail from the West!

It’s a panel of East Coast writers facing West Coasters in a fun game hosted by Craig Robertson. We did it last year in Glasgow and naturally the best coast won. Now the team from the East have the chance to restore their tattered honour! Seriously, it’s just a laugh. Craig makes the scoring up as he goes along and it’s mostly an excuse for us to slag each other off. Good to hear you’ll be supporting Team Battery, though. I think we’ll need it as we’re on foreign soil.

I had my first taste of a book festival last year when I got to visit Bloody Scotland. I see your name on the schedule this year, what are you showcasing and what other writers are you hoping to see (assuming you will have the opportunity)?

I’m on this year with Caro Ramsay and Michael J. Malone and it promises to be a lot of fun. Michael’s Beyond the Rage has a protagonist that is on the wrong side of the law, while most of my characters are crooks. Caro will be there to bring some semblance of law, if not order. I’ll see as many other authors as I can. I’ll catch Neil Broadfoot and Craig Robertson in whatever they’re doing. I may even watch the England v Scotland football match, although I’m not a fan of the game. The event on the Friday called Who’s Crime Is It Anyway? looks like an absolute belter.web

 What do you enjoy reading? If you were to take a picture of your bookcases which genre or authors would feature most frequently?

I’m afraid I’ve got to be predictable and say crime fiction. I’ve read it since I was a teenager. I’ve also got some true crime in there and some non-fiction. I’m a big fan of American authors – Lehane, Crais, Pelecanos – and I’m heavily influenced by Ed McBain. But there’s Agatha Christie in there, too, as well as Edmund Crispin, my favourite of the ‘traditional’ school. And John Mortimer – you can’t beat Rumpole.

 

Devil’s Knock is published by Luath Press and is available in paperback and digital format. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Devils-Knock-Mccall-Douglas-Skelton/dp/1910021814/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434756916&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=devilsknock

Douglas is on Twitter : @DouglasSkelton1

And is online at http://www.douglasskelton.com

 

 

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June 7

Interview With Aly Sidgwick – Lullaby Girl

lullabygirl blog tour

Today I am delighted to welcome Aly Sidgwick to the blog.  Aly has kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about her debut novel Lullaby Girl:

To open, I believe that I have to ask the most obvious question: what prompted the idea of a story about a girl with amnesia?

There were two main inspirations for the book. One was my long standing fascination with people on the edge of sanity- specifically people who’ve lost their sense of self- and the second was my own history of anxiety. The fragility of the human soul fascinates me, as does that ‘no man’s land’ people enter after they’re pushed beyond their limits. The rule book goes out of the window, then, and people can make wild decisions. Kent’s ‘Piano Man’ had gone through that process, and so had the Japanese girl whose desperate pilgrimage to Fargo ended in her death by hypothermia. Their stories moved me, because I’ve always been afraid of tipping over that ‘edge’ myself. When I started writing LG I was in recovery from a nervous breakdown, and was still heavily medicated. In a way the book was my attempt to make sense of what had happened to me. I wanted to create a fragile character, who’d reverted to a simple state in order to survive.

 

In Katherine’s sanctuary while she recovers there are two central carers. Rhona (who struck me as a Guardian Angel) while Joyce was the Nurse Ratched figure. Was Joyce a bully or was she worn down and frustrated by Katherine’s behaviour during her ‘recovery’.

I’m so glad you picked up on the Nurse Ratched similarity! With Joyce, it wasn’t so much about her being a bully… Rather, I wanted her to be vain, brusque and impatient, in a way that jarred with Kathy’s frame of mind. She’s the sort of carer who follows a script without any real empathy with the patient. However, I did want to leave it quite open… Joyce isn’t just being unkind for the sake of unkindness. She’s short tempered, so Katherine’s difficult behaviour pushes her buttons.

As a supplemental to this – does a story benefit from the presence of a bully to get readers on the side of the central character?

Every story’s got to have an antagonist, hasn’t it? I liked creating a character who’d cause tension, but it wasn’t a direct attempt to gain the reader’s sympathy for Kathy. The tension between them was my only goal.

 

Lullaby Girl covers a fair bit of mileage as the story unfolds. Are many of the locations in the story places you have visited (and are perhaps special to you)? Or does the remoteness of Scotland’s Highlands just provide a convenient hideaway for Katherine?

The places in the story are based on places I’ve lived, but taken to the extreme. For instance, I actually did live in a little wooden house on a hill in the country near Oslo, and I did have a boyfriend who lived in Trondheim. I spent a lot of time in Trondheim and Oslo, so my own observations of those places made it into the book. But the northern town in LG is fictional, as are the people and story. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the north-western Scottish highlands, so that landscape is very dear to me. I’m drawn to the wilderness and to isolated, northern communities, both here and in Scandinavia, so I wanted to describe the places I love. But those landscapes also produce a certain mentality- gentle yet fierce, deep thinking, resourceful and just a wee bit dark. Those landscapes and those people create a good backdrop for a story, and it felt right to place a fragile character in such a barren, wild landscape.

 

Within the story there are numerous therapies and treatments described for Katherine – are these recounted with a degree of artistic licence or have you had to research how an amnesiac would be taken through a ‘recovery’ program?

Artistic Licence! Some of the treatment is based on my own experience, some is based on a close friend’s, who has stayed in an institution. The rest is how I imagined it would be. I also made space for the fact that Gille Dubh is not set in a metropolis! In the highlands, certain services are altered to accommodate the isolated setting. For example, some remote schools have less than twenty pupils, of all ages, and their lesson structure is rescheduled to accommodate this. I wanted to create the feeling that Gille Dubh is separated from the rest of the world, and kind of makes up its own rules.

 

lullaby girl coverAs I read Lullaby Girl I was telling friends (and Tweeting) how much I was enjoying the story but also that it was traumatic! I engaged with the plight of the Lullaby Girl and was often upset with how she was dealt blow after blow – was it hard to create a heroine then wake up each day with the aim of destroying her world around her?

I didn’t really think of it that way! Yeah, Katherine has a hard time! Her history was originally slightly lighter, but with the rewrites it became worse and worse. I lost myself in the planning really, so I became slightly detached. I wanted to create an event that was bad enough to send her into meltdown. It became like a mathematical equation!

 

You have set some of the more shocking scenes in Norway and Katherine encountered several very nasty people there – do you think you may now need to write a second book that portrays Norway in a more positive light? I am worried that you may be taken off the Norwegian Tourist Board’s Christmas Card List!

Haha! I think you’ll find nasty people no matter where you go in the world. I adore Norway and the Norwegian people… Kathy does have her little love affair with the place initially. I ended up using its ‘foreign-ness’ as a weapon against her. Her promised land ended up isolating her instead of nurturing her. I think a lot of people feel like an outsider when they emigrate, especially when there’s a change of language. Kathy’s situation was made worse by her isolation.

 

Sorry…back to the more serious questions: can you share your road to publication with us? Your profile on Amazon suggests you started writing in secret, at what point did you feel you had to share your work?

I’d been writing for about a year before I told anyone what I was doing. In the beginning it felt really special, and I didn’t want to detract from the ‘magic’ by blathering too soon. Then I truly had the bug, and knew I couldn’t stop writing. Telling people made it more real. It was a relief to finally explain what I was doing with all my spare time!

 

I believe that you have worked for some time as a tattoo artist? Over the years are there any stand-out designs or ideas that people have requested?  

Yes, I’ve been doing it for quite a while. There are certain ‘trends’ in tattooing that come and go. When I started out, tribal was all the rage. Now it’s gone full circle, and is considered ‘retro.’ I’m a custom artist, which means most of the designs are my own, and people come to me for my particular style. I do a lot of patternwork, plants and animals.

 

I would also love to know what the oddest tattoo you have provided was?

My pal Danne asked me for a skeletal Abraham Lincoln in a flaming wheelchair with a tommygun. That was pretty much the oddest one I’ve done.

 

If you were to describe what books are on your bookshelves what would you single out? Which authors or what types of book feature most prominently?

There’s a big old chunk of Haruki Murakami and Neil Gaiman, some vintage sci fi, some Crimethinc, Jon Ronson, Alasdair Gray, China Mieville, Mary Doria Russell, David Mitchell… The rest is a real mix. My absolute favourite writer is Shirley Jackson, and two books I’ve loved recently are ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver and ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig. I also have some Norwegian books and comics.

 

Are you able to share if you are working on a new title?

Yes, I’m currently working on a new project. It’s too early to talk about really, but the story is set in the highlands, and part of it is set in the 1960s.

 

Aly, many thanks for your time. I absolutely adored Lullaby Girl and I hope many more people get to discover Katherine’s story.

Thank you! It’s been fun!

 

Lullaby Girl is published by Black & White Publishing and is available now in both paperback and digital format.

Aly Sidgwick is on Twitter: @Menacegrrl

 

 

 

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June 7

Lullaby Girl – Aly Sidgwick

lullaby girl coverWho is the Lullaby Girl?

Found washed up on the banks of a remote loch, a mysterious girl is taken into the care of a psychiatric home in the Highlands of Scotland. Mute and covered in bruises, she has no memory of who she is or how she got there. The only clue to her identity is the Danish lullaby she sings…

Inside the care home, she should be safe. But, harassed by the media and treated as a nuisance by under-pressure staff, she finds the home is far from a haven. And as her memories slowly surface, the Lullaby Girl does her best to submerge them again. Some things are too terrible to remember… but unless she confronts her fear, how can she find out who she really is?

Taut, tense and mesmerizing, Lullaby Girl is a shining debut from an exciting and very talented new author.

 

Thanks to Black and White Publishing for my review copy and for the chance to join the Lullaby Girl Blog Tour. I had the pleasure of interviewing Aly Sigwick about her debut novel, you can read our conversation here: Q&A.

 

Lullaby Girl was a traumatic read. Aly Sigwick puts her heroine, Kathy, through the wringer and despite the fact the book should be about Kathy’s recovery from a life changing episode it is far from a smooth ride.

Kathy is found on a beach, she was on the brink of death yet is discovered just in time and ultimately finds herself in secluded convalescence home Gille Dubh in the remote Scottish Highlands. Kathy has amnesia, she cannot recall her name, her family or how she came to be washed up on a beach, however, in her dreams is the memory of a dark figure who Kathy knows she is terrified of and she is adamant that this figure must not find her.

When she is first brought to Gille Dubh Kathy will not speak but she does sing a mysterious song which is soon identified as a Scandinavian lullaby. The media are very interested in this mysterious girl and desperate for information they latch onto any morsels of gossip they can glean and, when word of Kathy’s singing leaks, the Press dub her the Lullaby Girl.

As Kathy begins the long road towards recovery we share her journey. She struggles to accept that the staff at Gille Dubh are working in her best interest. Kathy places her absolute trust in Rhona, one of the carers, and mistrusts almost everyone else. Unfortunately for Kathy, Rhona is facing issues in her personal life and she cannot devote the full time care to Kathy which both women would benefit from. This leaves Kathy also having to rely upon Rhona’s colleague Joyce. To say that Kathy and Joyce do not get on is something of an understatement and as a reader I was physically wincing at some of the scenes where the two clashed.

I am reluctant to discuss the story in too much detail as I am going to urge you to read Kathy’s story for yourself.

I loved Lullaby Girl as it evoked so many different responses and emotions as I read it. I feared for Kathy, anguished for her situation and then got frustrated with her when she fought those looking to help her – and that could all happen in just a single chapter. An intense and memorable book which I have to score 5/5. You have to read this – it is stunning.

Lullaby Girl is published by Black and White Publishing.  It is available now in digital format and in paperback.

Aly Sidgwick is on Twitter as: @Menacegrrl

 

 

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June 3

We Shall Inherit The Wind – Gunner Staalesen

We Shall Inherit the Wind BF AW.indd1998.  Varg Veum sits by the hospital bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin, whose life-threatening injuries provide a deeply painful reminder of the mistakes he’s made. Investigating the seemingly innocent disappearance of a wind-farm inspector, Varg Veum is thrust into one of the most challenging cases of his career, riddled with conflicts, environmental terrorism, religious fanaticism, unsolved mysteries and dubious business ethics. Then, in one of the most heart-stopping scenes in crime fiction, the first body appears…

A chilling, timeless story of love, revenge and desire, We Shall Inherit the Wind deftly weaves contemporary issues with a stunning plot that will leave you gripped to the final page. This is Staalesen at his most thrilling, thought-provoking best.

 

I am delighted to have the opportunity to host the latest leg of the blog tour for the astonishing We Shall Inherit The Wind by Gunnar Staalesen. My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my review copy.

Varg Veum is a long established and much loved character yet this was my first introduction to him. I would very much like the opportunity to read more of Staalesen’s books (and Veum will return in two more books from Orenda in 2016 and 2017). As a ‘jumping on point’ I can assure other new readers that the author provides more than enough background to allow you to pick up and enjoy We Shall Inherit The Earth without the need to have read previous tales.

Not just my introduction to Varg Veum but my first introduction to Nordic crime fiction: I was more than pleasantly surprised. We Shall Inherit The Wind is a gripping read, a story which is driven by the strength of the characters and the lies they will tell to protect their secrets.

Veum is a private investigator. He has been engaged to trace a missing man, Mons Mæland, who has vanished just as an important discussion on a proposed wind-farm was due to take place. Mæland owns land upon which the wind-farm may be built and his contribution to the development is vital. This is the late 1990’s and harnessing the environmental energies is a developing and controversial area. While there is potential for significant money to be made there are objections to the proposed development and rival factions are soon introduced to the story.

Veum is searching for Mæland on behalf of Mæland’s second wife. Over 20 years previously Mæland’s first wife, Lea, disappeared and was declared dead after she failed to return from her morning trip to the shore. Lea’s children do not appear to have accepted Mæland’s choice of a second wife and they seem reluctant to assist Veum’s investigations, seemingly believing their father will soon return. Veum finds his enquiries stonewalled at every turn and I began to feel some frustration on his behalf, however events were soon to take a sudden and dramatic twist.

Mæland has been murdered, his body left posed in a way that suggests that extreme religious fervour may be involved. Veum’s missing person investigation is now a murder enquiry and the stakes are significantly raised.

The discovery of Mæland’s body brings to question the lengths that individuals and corporations may go to when chasing financial gain. We are given to consider the justification of environmental terrorism and personal sacrifice to save a landscape and a way of life.

Gunnar photoVeum is a dogged investigator in pursuit of the truth and from the outset of the novel we know that his actions have consequences that will fall far too close to home. As he slowly unpicks the conflicting stories and unravels historic relationships, the reader is aware that his actions will result in the hospitalisation of Veum’s fiancée Karin. As much of We Shall Inherit The Wind is focused on Veum and Karin’s relationship it is a particularly bitter twist knowing that an innocent party will be caught up in the events we are reading about. By the time you reach the endgame you find yourself willing Veum to walk away…but if he had then we would have been robbed of a memorable finale!

We Shall Inherit The Wind is a story that needs to be read. Huge plaudits are due to Don Bartlett who translated the original novel from Norwegian and captured the beauty of Staalsen’s prose. Reading Inherit was a joy and (as my Norwegian is not too hot) I thank Don Bartlett for making it possible for me to enjoy this book.

If you have never read Nordic crime, or any translated fiction, then there are few better places to start.

 

 

 

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