Strike On Screen: Is It Worth A Watch?

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The opening scenes of the BBC’s bank holiday series based on the Robert Galbraith/ J.K. Rowling novel of the same name show a model in a strangely sterile party environment. Leaving her friend, she poses for the paparazzi before elegantly sashaying back to her stunning, hotel-esq penthouse apartment, where she twirls in a number of glittering dresses before eventually abandoning all these options in favour of a plain white jumper and jeans.

After a confrontational phone call, the viewer watches as she goes to answer the door, the camera following her down the corridor. A few tense moments later and the camera pans out to revel the model’s body, face down in the snow.

This listless start was a sign of what was to come from this hotly anticipated adaptation of Rowling’s first foray in Crime Fiction. Whilst her books were evocative and recreated a gloomy and dingy London, they lacked conviction and were plagued by inconsistencies; specifically, the descriptions of the characters and the way they were shown to behave did not correlate. Strike is often described as being a loner who does not get on well with people, but the novels show him as a man with a keen sense of humour who can converse well and actively seeks out the company of others on a regular basis.

It is this lack of continuity that puts me off the novels, alongside Rowling’s overuse of detective fiction tropes; it is one thing to have a dysfunctional protagonist, but Cormoran Strike, the rock-star’s illegitimate, one-legged, former solider son with the volatile relationship with a wealthy socialite and a camp bed in his office is a step to far. Add this to the inconsistencies between the description and depiction of the characters and the often slightly overworked plots and you have a serious turn-off for readers who aren’t blinded by the spectre of Harry Potter, which looms over the Strike novels like a dementor over a crowd of muggles.

However, as previously mentioned, the novels do have a certain charm when it comes to the use of setting and the brisk pace at which the main characters, Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott go about their business. The TV series, on the other hand, holds none of this appeal. Tom Burke’s Strike has all the wit and charisma of a blocked toilet, with a fairly inconsistent limp and a dry manner of speaking which makes even the vaguely witty, trailer worthy sound bites that comprise his dialogue sound like they’ve been pre-recorded on a machine.

Atmosphere is where this adaptation really lets itself down. There is absolutely no tension whatsoever, and no amount of piano tinkling or deft camera work can make up for that. The uncomfortable characterisation is a real problem, particularly in the scene in which Strike confronts Tony Landry, played by an incredibly wooden Martin Shaw, in a fancy restaurant. The pair exchanges witticisms almost wearily, as if both actors understand that the scene is a complete bust and are just going through the motions.

The world of the victim, supermodel Lula Landry, is neither tawdry nor remotely glamorous, and although her home is certainly stylistically beautiful, it presents no intrigue for the viewer. The show’s creators have offered the watcher none of the usual glimpses into the spectacle that is the fashion world that are evoked so vividly in the novel.

What lets the show down is, ultimately, is its complete lack of tension. There is nothing driving the narrative forward, making this simply a walk through the life of a vaguely dysfunctional PI and his absurdly beautiful assistant. Personally, I am disinterested already, although given the amount of time I have already invested to reading the books, I will probably persevere with Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling for at least one more episode.

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Fiona J Roberts Interview: “The only way you can find out if writing is for you is to give it a go”

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Fiona Roberts, author of three innovative novels, talks over her work and how she creates unique plots.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

I thought about the things that I liked and didn’t like in books I had read. I wanted my stories to flow and made a decision to have a couple of basic rules when writing. I wanted lots of short chapters so that readers could dip into it and not get stuck in the middle of a 30-page chapter! I understand the need for description but it is sometimes used as a filler. I only put in what was necessary so that it wouldn’t hold up or interfere with the narrative. Whilst initially a bit wary of how to do dialogue, I got over that worry because it is vital to give your characters a voice.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I was born in London but have spent most of my life in Poole. I worked in the banking industry for many years and once I stopped working I took the plunge into writing. I had been cultivating an idea for many years, Ebb and Flow, and had even written the first paragraph. The only way you can find out if writing is for you is to give it a go. I started and have not been able to stop since then. I thought that I would write one book but the floodgates have been opened and three have now been published with more to follow.

Friends often ask “Am I in your book?” No one is in a novel in a recognisable way but elements of people go into the characters that I create. My books so far have included a mystery, middle aged ladies as vigilante killers and a body swap tale. None of these things, you will be glad to hear, is taken from a past experience.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

The stories I write are not formulaic and explore different genres. Ebb and Flow is a tale of a woman’s dramatic change in personality and the reasons behind it. Everyone who has read it has said that they did not expect the ending. Just Des(s)erts is the story of three ladies aged 52, 55 and 60 who have been conned by a fraudster. They are infuriated by the fact that conmen get short prison sentences and then offend again once they are released. A chat over Sunday lunch leads them to plan a more permanent solution to these criminals. They begin a purge of fraudsters in their area and Detective Mike Nash is given the task of catching the killer.

My latest book is entitled The Dog and The Girl. Ellen has had a disappointing life and is finally ready to make changes. She will leave her penny-pinching husband and start again. Unfortunately, she dies before she can put her plans into action. Her body has gone but Ellen’s consciousness is now in Barney, her pet dog. She leaves home and finds a new family who have problems. Lara, who is 16 years old, is mourning her mother who died the year before and is suffering with depression. Ellen can still understand language and can read but what can she do to help the teenage girl who is so sad?

The books I have written are very different from many of the others on offer. When you read one of my books you will be discovering a tale that you have not seen or imagined before. This is the appeal of my stories and the feedback I have had has been wonderful.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

As I said the idea for the first book had been with me for years but subsequent inspiration has come from many places. I had been reading Stephen King’s Mr Mercedes, which is about a serial killer. His protagonist was a white male in his twenties, which is the standard description of this type of murderer. My thought was what if it was a woman? What if it was a group of women? And so Just Des(s)erts came to be written.

I had watched the television series Sleepy Hollow and liked the idea of a person being in the wrong time. How do you cope when the language, behaviour and advances in technology are alien to you? This thought led me to going one step further, and putting someone in the wrong body.

When I finished The Dog and The Girl I had no ideas for a new book. I opened a newspaper and stabbed my finger onto a page. The word I had pointed at was “Crate”. Ruth and her Aunt Loretta were born and their story revolves around a crate full of mementos which is bequeathed by Loretta to her niece Ruth. As the story of her aunt’s life is revealed through the artefacts she collected Ruth begins to make long needed changes to her life. This story will be published next year.

There are times when you lose enthusiasm for your project. That is okay and there is no need to panic. I take a few days off to recharge my batteries and then go back to it. Editing is the most difficult part. Reading what you have written and then embellishing or changing things can be a bit of an ordeal but when you get it right and you are happy with the result it is all worth it.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

There are many writers that I admire. My choice of reading material tends to be crime and mystery books although I have enjoyed books as diverse as The Hair with Amber Eyes, Pure, The Historian and sci fi and sci fantasy.

I do like Stephen King. His books tell great stories in an accessible way so he would probably be the one I would like to sit down and talk to. I’m not sure about collaborating though as I, and other writers I’m sure, get quite proprietary about our characters and ideas.

Twitter gives me a chance to get a glimpse of what other writers are working on and how they go about their craft. We all approach writing in different ways so I would think you would have to know someone very well to consider collaborating.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My next release will be Crate, which will come out in February 2018. I have written a couple of crime stories which will come after that. I am happy to tackle any genre and have recently been working on a horror novel which will be titled Anthony. I do like the horror genre which gives the opportunity to explore the supernatural and create your own folk lore and demons.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I have bought a couple of books for my holiday reading. I have got the popular book He Said She Said as I like to find out what makes a best seller. I have also got a book called Adversary, which is based on a true story of a man’s massive deception, which led to tragic consequences. I did get a James Herbert novel The Ghosts of Sleath at a car boot sale for 50p as well.

I have read many Margaret Atwood books and really enjoy them. I also look out for books by Harlen Coben and Jo Nesbo.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to feature in your blog. Authors love talking about their books and writing so I’ve loved answering your questions and hope people will enjoy reading them.

Thanks to Fiona for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been fascinating to hear more about your intriguing work. You can find out more about Fiona and her books HERE.

Crime and The Church: What’s the Connection?

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Throughout the history of Crime Fiction there has always been an ecclesiastical connection. From Chesterton’s Father Brown through to James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers, there are plenty of vicars solving mysteries, as well as the numerous religious characters across the genre (Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, was notably fond of vicars) the Crime Fiction genre has always strongly involved religion.

Recently, the conspiring and slightly Machiavellian face of organized religion reared its head in a number of ways, as actor Elizabeth Moss defended Scientology, an oppressive and dubious, almost cultish modern phenomenon, despite her recent portrayal of life under a society in the grip of a similar regime in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Additionally, the spate of devastating terror attacks around the world, which have led to an increase in Islamophobia and a questioning of the role religion has to play in the collective conscience, have all offered an interesting perspective from which modern writers can examine the world of crime.

All of this got me thinking about the creepy and intrusive nature of some religions and how this makes it a great benchmark for criminal activities and investigations. The freedom and trust offered to vicars and pastors is what makes them such great detective characters, and their close capacity to death makes them ideally suited for even gruesome manhunts.

In classic Crime Fiction, vicars are as often shown as suspects as they are detectives, as the freedom these characters have to move around and their natural secrecy that is an inherent part of their job makes them perfect suspects. Older, more traditional societies, particularly in England, often gave great credence to vicars, who often formed the heart of communities, often small, rural ones, making them the ideal characters for Golden Age novels, which often used isolated communities to form the basis of locked room style plots. The confined nature of the setting allowed for a limited number of characters to be used, and writers therefore often utilised vicars or priests as plot devices, to provide exposition through confessional dialogue inspired by their position or to add tension to the narrative thanks to their secretive dispositions, which arise from the nature of the church and its practices, such as the sanctity of the confessional.

The concept of religion is also a specter in many thrillers, featuring heavily in a lot of novels, particularly more modern texts, such as the work of writers such as Moshin Hamid, Tayeb Salih and Henning Mankell. The idea of fundamentalism is key to many of these texts, such as in Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, in which the issue of modern American society fuelling terrorism is explored, as well as in Mankell’s Before the Frost, in which Christian extremism is shown as a motive for crime. In each novel the reader is shown the motives for extremism as well as the aftermath, utilizing religion as an interesting insight into the human condition.

In conclusion, religion will always play a key role in Crime Fiction as a genre, and the ever changing landscape of the world’s view on religious bodies and the people who operate them will offer a number of exciting future possibilities for readers and authors alike.

Riding Shotgun Review: American Story Telling At Its Finest

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Riding Shotgun and Other American Cruelties is an inventive collection of three novellas by the multi-talented Andy Rausch who is, alongside being a writer, is also an American film journalist, author, screenwriter, film producer, and actor.

This selection of three novellas pays homage to a range of genres, offering the reader a glimpse into the crime market in the USA. In the opening story, Easy-Peezy, the reader is transported to into an innovative take on a western as a group of outlaws pull off daring heists as they seek the riches stored in the country’s banks. The titular story, Riding Shotgun, is a pulp fiction esq caper featuring some superb examples of swearing in action (of which I thoroughly fucking approve).

Finally, Rausch portrays the exploits of a criminally minded hip-hop crew as they seek riches by sticking two finger to the established music scene in $crilla. Each novella is uniquely tailored to its setting and set-up, making for a consistently strong portrayal despite the varied styles Rausch employs.

Dialogue, something that, if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I am a massive fan of when done right, is expertly utilized here, particularly in Easy-Peezy’s wild west setting, where the characters are each given a individual voice to allow their status as establishment or out law to shine through. As mentioned before, the swearing Riding Shotgun is expertly crafted, and shows a great knowledge of how to really exploit voice in a story to heighten both the internal tension and the reader’s interest.

Overall, drawing on his vast and varied experiences, Andy Rausch has created three unique stories, each of which is an individual representation of America’s Crime Fiction history. From the wild west through to urban thrillers at their best, this creative selection of stories has something to please everyone.

Jackie Baldwin Interview: “I see criminals as real people”

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Former criminal lawyer turned Crime Fiction Author Jackie Baldwin talks to me about her writing, her inspiration and her enduring love for Agatha Christie.

Tell me about how the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for crime fiction in particular?

Like a lot of crime novelists I grew up in an era where there was no young adult genre, so when you were 12 you were let free in the adult library. There, to my delight, I discovered crime writers like Agatha Christie and thriller writers like Alistair MacLean. Although I read quite widely across various genres, I came to enjoy crime fiction in particular as for many years I was a criminal lawyer so I knew that world. I also love that nowadays there is such diversity within the genre. Anything goes, from hardboiled to psychological thrillers to cosy mysteries. They all have something interesting to offer the reader.

What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

I always loved mystery books like The Secret Seven and The Famous Five but I think my first adult crime novel was by Agatha Christie. I read them all one after the other but can’t remember which one I started with. I remember I was always getting into trouble for reading too much as I was always desperate to keep going and find out who did it. My catchphrase was, ‘I’ll just finish the chapter.’ It used to drive my mum crazy!

How do you draw on your background as a lawyer when writing?

Well, I suppose first and foremost I see criminals as real people. I also think you have to view people who commit crimes within their entire context and not in a two dimensional way. Nobody is all good or all bad. Most of us inhabit some shade of grey. During my time as a lawyer I met very few people who made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up although there were a handful. Mostly it was people who made bad choices in difficult circumstances, were reared in a family culture of criminality, or had spiralled down into offending through drug addiction.

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Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I write in the third person but I like to focus in very closely on the internal life of my main characters at times of pressure. I’m fascinated by psychology and people’s inner life. Often that is so different from the image they present to the world. I wanted to avoid the trope of the alcoholic hard- bitten detective with a failing marriage and offer the reader something a little different so my lead character, DI Frank Farrell is a former practising RC priest who suffered a devastating mental breakdown as a young priest but recovered.

What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

The weird thing is that since I was published I seem to have a lot less time to read than I used to and I do love to read. On the crime front, I enjoy books by Sophie Hannah, Susie Steiner, Robert Bryndza and Peter James. All of these have influenced me to the extent that they create memorable characters who feel very real to me and have a complex inner life which is what I have tried to create in my own work. I also love science fiction, particularly Asimov and Alisdair Reynolds. The only thing I tend not to get along with is romance!

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I would love to work with Sally Wainwright on a TV drama. I recently watched Happy Valley for the first time and was completely blown away. I admire her tremendously. It was so immersive. One night, I found myself screaming ‘Run!’ at the TV to the great consternation of my husband and daughter. Isn’t it infuriating when people say to you, ‘It’s just a TV show’?

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

At the moment I am nearing the end of book 2 in my DI Frank Farrell series. After that is submitted I have plans for a commercial fiction novel and then a sci-fi crime novel. It’s going to be a case of write, eat, sleep, and repeat for some time! I was late getting off the starter’s block with my writing so I feel I’m playing catch up to some extent.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year or in 2018?

Mike Craven has a new series coming out next year which I’m looking forward to as I loved his Avison Fluke one. Felicia Yap’s crime novel Yesterday sounds terrific and is out in August 2017. I’ve also just downloaded The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond which came out this month. There have been so many exciting new books released recently that I’m struggling to keep up with the ones I’ve bought so I haven’t really had time to contemplate what’s happening next year yet.

Thanks to Jackie for speaking with me, it has been fascinating. You can learn more about Jackie and her work HERE.

Price and Prejudice: Are Books Really Too Cheap?

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Recently, Philip Pullman, President of the Society of Authors, announced that the organization will be launching a campaign for publishers to stop damaging authors’ earnings by discounting bulk sales to book clubs and supermarket. The author, who is perhaps most famous for the His Dark Materials series, has personally slammed the cut-price culture which pervades in literature today.

However, in the age of stagnant wages and an ever-rising cost of living, is Pullman, a man of considerable fortune and whose books have grossed millions of pounds in profits, simply out of touch with the modern market?

After all, as paper books face stiff competition from the links of ebooks and Kindles, as well as the ease with which readers are being lured away by audiobooks and TV streaming, low prices are keeping the industry alive. Combined with the convenience of buying books at the same time as groceries, low prices lead readers to become more adventurous and explore new genres and styles.

Also, it is clear from the profits made by many publishers and huge authors (including Pullman himself) that the low prices of mainstream literature are justifiable, and although this may mean that some up and coming authors struggle, the fact is that there are other avenues to pursue to ensure profitability. Almost all of the creative arts offer low wages and many earn significantly less than Pullman and other members of the Society of Authors, which makes this petty argument simply distasteful.

As my recent post has demonstrated, physical books remain popular, and this is, in part, due to the ease at which they can be purchased- unlike films or songs, which now need to be downloaded and often synced to a device, books are easy to buy in many places, including supermarkets. Whilst Pullman and his cronies want to see supermarkets banned from bulk buying books, the reality is that the convenience of being able to buy a paperback at the same time as stocking up your kitchen cupboards is driving sales in the literature market.

Ultimately it is my belief that low book prices are not crippling the industry, but driving it. Whilst there are often loss leaders, particularly among hardback sales, book prices are always calculated to make a profit, and although authors are often paid a measly proportion of that money, this is the reality with many creative arts. Those who work in these industries do it out of love and passion, and there are many other markets in which workers are underpaid, such as the NHS, which need far more urgent attention. Pullman and his moaning pals should concentrate on pushing the literature market forward and encouraging and supporting new writers, rather than trying to line their own pockets.

Taylor Leon Interview: “The key for me is always the premise”

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Taylor Leon, author of the captivating Erin Dark series, talks to me about his work and explains the influence that other writers, as well as TV and films, have on his work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime and thriller writing?

I have been writing since I was about seven and over many years have experimented in probably every genre, but thriller writing comes the most naturally to me. I have a low boredom threshold so, if I’m reading a book or watching a film it really must grip me and not let go. That is how I naturally approach my writing. I must keep myself hooked first and foremost- hopefully that will then be the same for my readers.

The key for me is always the premise, it might be a scene that I “see” first, but it always comes back to the premise. If I ‘m choosing a book to read, or a TV show to watch, then I want it scream out to me: “Wouldn’t you like to know more?” That in a nutshell is what I’m trying to achieve when I start a book. The premise must consume me and prey on my mind 24/7 before I will consider turning it into a novel.

Please tell me about the Erin Dark series. What defines your writing style?

Erin Dark became a police detective after her mother was murdered and the killer never caught. Over time however, she has become disenchanted with her day-job which she doesn’t think always provides justice. Now she also leads another secret-life with a group of vigilante witches who, quite literally, send unrepentant, evil criminals to hell. The series follows Erin as she juggles the two very different lives she leads, and the moral questions she faces.

In the first book, Dark Justice, Erin and her new partner, Detective John Cade, are investigating what at first appears to be a straightforward gangland murder but which transpires to be something bigger and more sinister. Erin needs to convince her Coven to come out of the shadows and help her save thousands of people from a planned terrorist act.

In the second book, Dark Games, Erin is on the trail of the mysterious Games-Master who has created a game for serial killers to compete with one another for a huge cash prize, by murdering specially selected victims and earning points.

In terms of style, my writing is “efficient”; I steer clear of wordy prose, and concentrate on keeping the story moving forward and the reader interested. Of course, there are some ebbs and flows, there has to be in order to build tension and unleash the unexpected twists, but the story is king and it must always march on. Strong, interesting characters are vital in making this happen!

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I write in short chapters, each one ending in a way that, hopefully makes the reader want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next.

Otherwise, I don’t consciously use any particular medium or trope. I write what I “see”. I have the premise, a brief outline of where I think the story will go (which usually changes!) and a set of rules (in a series there is a larger story arc to keep an eye on). But then I let the characters take-over. I see things through their eyes, and hear their voices in my head, and then I write it all down.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I enjoy reading all types of fiction and styles, but my three favourite writers are Cormac McCarthy, David Peace and Stephen King. I could read anything those guys write.

When I was growing up I read a lot of thrillers, especially Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Dean Koontz and Stephen King. At the same time, I also read the so-called more “literary” writers (oh how I hate that term) like Isabel Allende, John Updike, Armistead Maupin and John Irving. I have always tended to veer away from nineteenth century fiction, with the exception of Charles Dickens.

Reading books to me is like watching TV. Sometimes you want a fast-thriller, other times you want something a little deeper, or maybe a comedy, and so on. I just read whatever the mood takes me.

I don’t think any single book or writer has influenced me, but my whole reading experience has shaped the way I write and subconsciously think about character, dialogue and plot.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I find novel writing such a personal and immersive business that I imagine I would find it quite hard to collaborate with anyone on a book. Hats off to those that do- one of my favourite books is The Talisman which was a collaboration between Stephen King and Peter Straub, and of course, James Patterson has built up an industry collaborating with other writers. For some, it clearly works- after all they don’t come much bigger or better than SK and JP!

But I would love to collaborate on a TV series. Say, contribute an episode or two to a show like Doctor Who. I actually have an outline for a Doctor Who episode that, believe me, would blow everyone’s mind, but I’m keeping it to myself for now, because you never know…

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I have three first drafts written and several outlines on the go at any one time, so it is always very exciting. My next couple of books are thrillers without a paranormal element so a slight difference from the Erin Dark series, but believe me, just as exciting. Maybe even more so! I am hoping the first one will be published in October. I am also working on my first YA novel which does have a strong sci-fi slant, and which I am really excited about. It’s different to my first four novels, but still retains the excitement and unexpected twists and turns. Then, of course, there is the third Erin Dark novel that is also in work. I can’t forget Erin, not after the way I ended Dark Games!

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?

Besides McCarthy, Peace and King, I tend to browse and choose books as I go along. Having said that I have enjoyed the last couple of Adam Croft books, so I imagine I will keep an eye out for his next one.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just that I hope you enjoy my books as much as I enjoy creating them.

Thanks Taylor for answering my questions, it’s been awesome to hear your thoughts. You can find out more about Taylor’s work HERE.