Christoffer Petersen Interview: “I think the setting for my books helps to define their style”

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As the Beast from the East continues to keep the UK cold and damp, I talk to someone who knows the true meaning of tough weather; Denmark based Arctic explorer Christoffer Petersen, whose novels are set against a backdrop of the harsh Greenlandic landscape. He talks to me about his books and how they are enhanced by their unique setting.

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

I think the setting for my books helps to define their style, especially the crime books. Before I lived in the Arctic, I read a lot of Jack London stories and became fascinated with how the environment was just as much a character as the characters themselves. It’s like the ring in The Lord of the Rings; it has a voice, and I’d like to think I capture that in my style of writing. Of course, I have to show it through my characters, something I did a lot with Fenna Brongaard in my Arctic thrillers, but less so with David Maratse in the crime books, as he is more in tune with the environment. He is Greenlandic, after all. I let Jack London influence my style of writing when I write short stories featuring Maratse.

I think I was forced into crime fiction when Maratse, a Greenlandic policeman, demanded his own series. That might sound silly, but when you spend enough time with your characters, it is easy to imagine them wanting something. Crime is the best genre for Maratse, and, during my time in Greenland, I had a lot to do with the police in the local communities where I lived, and I even worked at the Police Academy in Nuuk during my last year in Greenland. However, Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith is perhaps where my interest in crime books started. I read about Arkady Renko when I was in my teens, and the character and the writing, not least the setting, continues to be a big influence on me.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I started out as an outdoor instructor and canoe guide, working in England, Scotland, Canada and the USA. I spent a few months each year for a few years as a sledge dog handler in Norway, England, and the USA, while working odd jobs, before I trained to be a teacher in Denmark and moved to Greenland in 2006. I had always tried to write, including terribly depressing poems in my early twenties, but it was in Greenland, particularly during the winter months of complete darkness, that I really started. I decided to learn how to write for a career by enrolling on the Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Falmouth University. I started studying by distance learning while in Greenland and graduated in 2015. The Ice Star was my final project together with an accompanying contextual essay where I studied environmental determinism in literature, looking specifically at how Mary Shelley used the Arctic to define her characters in Frankenstein. The MA gave me the academic foundation and tools to begin to write well, and that was when I knew I had to be a full-time writer. I have been working towards that ever since and decided to go for it in January this year.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

First, I love that the question suggests that my books have become popular. They are certainly selling, and there are lots of people leaving reviews on Goodreads. As to why they have become popular, I think that has a lot to do with the return of Nordic Noir, helped massively by the British interest in Danish crime fiction and series on television. Forbrydelsen (The Killing) has certainly boosted interest in the genre, along with more recent crime series set in Iceland. My books are on Amazon, and I am consistently listed alongside Icelandic writers such as Ragnar Jónasson and YrsaSigurðardóttir. The series Trapped is set in Iceland, and I think it always helps crime books when crime series on television capture the interest of viewers.

Greenland is, of course, the setting for my books, and it is geographically close to Iceland. Both countries are stark, raw, beautiful, and fascinating. The challenging environment provides plenty of scope for isolation, survival, and murder. Crime books set in the Arctic are not new, but they are gaining in popularity.

However, I hope that Fenna’s story in particular is popular in part because of who she is. I wanted to create a strong independent woman that gets the job done, no matter how uneasy it makes her feel. She operates within a world of men, but it is her actions, not her sex, that defines her.

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

I tend to experiment with my writing in the short stories, imagining how Jack London might approach writing crime novels. I have used the idea of the unnamed narrator in my short stories, but tend to stick to a close-third POV in my thrillers, and a more omniscient third person style in the Maratse crime novels. I remember being very impressed by John le Carré’s Tailor of Panama when the main character’s lie is revealed by another character, and the reader is left with the feeling of being left out for a page or two. I would be very happy if I could emulate that particular writing foil.

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

I mentioned Gorky Park, but I would be remiss if I didn’t name Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. These are two books that have seriously influenced me. Both authors set the bar very high. I’m not even close, even standing on tiptoes and reaching. I love John le Carré’s trilogy featuring George Smiley, I can easily get lost in Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy, and I absolutely loved Dan Simmons’ The Terror. I save Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series for those guilty pleasures, and when I really want to explore a strange new world, no-one does it better than China Miéville.

Now, you might ask, where are all the female writers? And more crime writers for that matter. Well, I don’t want to read too much crime for fear of being “inspired”. As for female writers, Ursula le Guinn’s Wizard of Earthsea was a game-changer of a book, and E. Annie Proulx’ The Shipping News changed my life and sent me on a quest to kayak alongside icebergs and whales in the Arctic. Proulx’ Brokeback Mountain is also a beautiful and universal love story – far better than the film. Sadly, I read less than I used to, now that I write as much as I do. When I need a break from words I see a lot of films.

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

I think this is the most difficult of your questions, Hannah. If the purpose was to learn through collaboration, then I think Wilbur Smith could teach me everything I need to know about writing long and exciting chase scenes through open terrain. Martin Cruz Smith could teach me about character, and Peter Høeg could inspire me lyrically. I’d like to sit by the wood burning stove in the cabin listening to Jack London mutter as he wrote, and I’d be pleased to add an idea here or there. I could learn so much from screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. Specifically, I would want to pick his brains about dialogue. Cormac McCarthy, because I read The Road, and then I read Blood Meridian and found a sentence at least one page long. I need to know how to do that. As for actual collaboration, Michael Ridpath, if you’re reading this, let’s collaborate.

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

Actually, yes. I am in the process of writing a series featuring a Scottish-born Danish detective called Freja Hansen. It is set partly in the Scottish Highlands, and partly in the area of Denmark where I live called Sønderborg, in southern Denmark. The introductory short story is called Fell Runner and comes out in June.

I lived in Scotland for seven years, got my BA in Outdoor Education from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and met my Danish wife when working in Aviemore. My real surname is Scottish, so, it’s a bit like coming home to write about Freja solving crimes in the Scottish Highlands.

I do have more crime books in the Greenland crime series coming out later this year, and I am not quite done with Fenna’s story. So, more Arctic thrillers on the way, too.

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

Philip Pullman. I didn’t mention him earlier, but Northern Lights was yet another book that encouraged me to keep moving north to the Arctic. I bought La Belle Sauvage on pre-order – both digital and hardback – and I can’t wait for the next in the Book of Dust trilogy. Neal Asher has a new science fiction book coming out called The Soldier which I am excited about, and I have to keep an eye on the Icelanders. I am currently reading Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series.

Anything you’d like to add?

I really appreciate you taking the time and interest to ask me about my books and my writing. Thanks.

Thank you for speaking with me Christoffer, it has been a pleasure. You can find out more about Christoffer and his Arctic adventures HERE.

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Jane Austen’s House at Chawton: A Great Literary Adventure

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Recently I had the pleasure of spending some time in Hampshire, the county in which Jane Austen, the famed writer of such classics as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma, resided for many years. As we were travelling through, myself and my companion decided to visit her former home in the picturesque village of Chawton, which has now been turned into a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of her charming and intriguing life.

As a bookworm who has always had a fascination with Austen and her works, which were ahead of their time and are still utterly compelling to this day, I was delighted to visit this beautiful house and gain an insight into one of my favourite authors. In the past month I have also had the pleasure of exploring the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire, which was a great place to learn about another extraordinary writer and revel in the childlike glee which his work inspired in readers around the world.

However, the Jane Austen museum is something altogether unique, and I would throughly recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in this exceptional novelist visit this perfectly preserved and lovingly curated house. Filled with fascinating curios and insightful notes on the history of Austen’s family and their lives, this is a great way to indulge your reading hobby in a more sociable, outdoorsy manner.

After all, reading is, primarily, a solitary activity, and one that is often difficult to share with others. With a trip to a museum such as this, book lovers can share their joy with their friends and family as they explore the life and learning of this beloved author. As Austen’s works are popular with a wide variety of readers and film fans, her former home is the perfect day out for a family or group of friends that can never decide where to go or what to do.

There are so many fascinating objects in the house, including the little table at which Jane Austen sat and wrote her letters, a muslin shawl she actually made and transcripts of a number of letters that she wrote to her friends and family. The walls are covered in beautiful portraits of the Austen family and drawings that they and their friends created. There is also a museum cat, who is definitely worth a mention!

So, overall, Jane Austen’s House Museum is the perfect trip for book lovers and Jane Austen fans seeking an innovative and exciting way to find out more about this pioneering female author. Although the house is not vast, there is plenty to see and do, and the building has extensive gardens which are stunning, especially in more clement weather such as this weekend (although, this is Britain, so we’ll just have to wait and see how long it holds on for!). There is also a local library where Austen took inspiration which is worth a visit, and with a pub and a tea room nearby you can truly make a day of it.

The Top Five Reimagined Classic Crime Fiction Novels To Bring On Your Nostalgia

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As you may remember from my recent post, I am a firm believer that the long winter is a great time to re-read the classics; however, sometimes you just want something new that you know you’ll enjoy. I find it a lot with films- I often want to watch remakes or sequels or film adaptations of sitcoms I love because I know that I am guaranteed to like it, but it is still something new. Something new that I haven’t seen before but something whose basic structure I will enjoy.

Whilst this isn’t always a good thing for culture, as many industries now rely too heavily on remakes rather than generating fresh ideas by giving young creatives an outlet, sometimes it is just what you want. As such, I’ve compiled my top five favourite reimaginings of classic detective stories that I think you’ll enjoy if you like the originals.

5. The Black Eyed Blonde: Philip Marlowe is a hardboiled gumshoe with a sharp wit and a unique style of detection that often gets him into more trouble than it’s worth. John Banville, writing under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, delivers a tense and slick thriller with Chandler’s voice reverberating through.

4. The House of Silk: Loads of writers have tried to reimagine Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, with varying degrees of success, but Anthony Horowitz has managed to create novels in which Conan Doyle’s style is replicated but also adapted. As such, these unique books read a lot like really good fan fiction, which can only be a good thing. Whilst not entirely true to the originals they follow a similar pattern, in this case with our intrepid duo take on a deadly crime syndicate that hides a horrifying secret.

3. The Return of the Black Gang: Gerard Fairlie, a Scots Guard veteran, was actually one of the inspirations for Bulldog Drummond, so it is fitting that he carried on the character’s legacy after Sapper’s death. The final contribution to the series is hard to find but I got a read of it in a library a few years ago and was very impressed that Fairlie bought back classic characters as a final send-off for this brash, bold and utterly unique character who is now the basis for so many renowned hardboiled detectives.

2. The Monogram Murders: Sophie Hannah is due to release a third Hercule Poirot novel later this year, but for now my favourite has to be her first. With Agatha Christie’s famed Belgium detective reclining in a boarding house, a chance friendship with an eager young policeman and a run in with a distressed girl quickly draws him away from his musings and into a devilish mystery. Hannah perfectly captures the essence of the Queen of Crime’s ideals and narrative styles so that this novel is a great book for those who fancy a Christie without having to re-read an old favourite.

1. The Attenbury Emeralds: The third (and, in my opinion the best) of Jill Paton Walsh’s take on Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels gives the reader into the aristocratic sleuth’s first case. Paton Walsh has the skill to write in Sayers’ voice and create realistic novels that actually could have been written by Wimsey’s creator. That is what you’re really looking for in a reimagined classic, which makes this series a great one to read when you’re craving Wimsey’s wit and his unique, creative detective style.

Books: Do We Really Buy With Our Eyes Anymore?

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The other day I wandered past my local Waterstones and noticed the vast effort that goes into book jackets and covers. The beautiful, colourful displays were inviting and enticing, but in the digital age and with readers increasingly choosing their next book through review sites and bestseller lists, is it worth all that effort now?

I can understand the need a few years ago, when buyers bought with their eyes. Without the ease that we have today of finding book reviews online, readers had their eyes drawn to a pretty cover, read the blurb and then made the decision to purchase or not. However, today there are so many other factors, yet still publishers and authors pay a fortune to have sumptuous designs created for their stories.

So many of them are truly stunning, and designers are always coming up with quirky new designs for both new novels and reimagined versions of the classics. After all, they are always recreating The Harry Potter Series with new and exciting covers, even making one for adults as well as children. Recently Penguin Books published The Wood by John Lewis-Stempel with a pretty cover with a sweet, floral design complete with a gamboling badger and swirling vines. Being a West Country girl, this cover really drew me in and, although I did not immediately buy a copy I know that I would never have bothered to read the blurb had it not been so enticingly pretty.

As such, it’s my opinion that books will remain aesthetically pleasing for a long while yet. Despite the advent of ebooks and the temptation for readers to review their books before they buy, purchase online or take recommendations, there will never be anything better than a good old-fashioned rummage through a good book shop. As such, I don’t believe that book designers have anything to fear from the technological revolution.

Red Agenda Review: Not As Engaging As It Could Be But Worth A Go

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With all the political turmoil going on in the world, now is the ideal time to read political thrillers, and as such I was looking forward to Red Agenda, Cameron Poe’s creative new novel. 

The plot centers around an international disaster that could have epic consequences. When Kuwaiti government officials seek to end their Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) alliance with neighboring Middle Eastern nations, they swiftly enlist the help of Russian engineers to successfully launch a nuclear missile and ignite war. Unbeknownst to all, a veteran American spy is hot on their trail, striving to remain one step ahead of the conspirators and unravel their plans before conflict erupts in the form of widespread global chaos.

Exploring a range of political conflicts spanning practically every major event in history, the novel has a tendency for info-dumping; dropping almost entire chapters worth of information in one fell swoop, which often ahs the negative affect of disinteresting the reader and breaking up the narrative.

However, despite this Red Agenda manages to just about recover, and the often sparkling dialogue, efficient use of swearing (of which I heartily approve) and vaguely enticing plot. The plot itself, as you’ve probably gathered, isn’t entirely fascinating and often with novels like this there is a tendency for too many twists, which creates serious confusion in the reader. Here the same can be said, but despite this the complex characters and inventive storyline keeps you going just long enough to get to the end.

A solid effort overall, there is nothing exceptional about this novel, but equally it is worth a read if you enjoy a good political thriller. If you like being a know- all and picking apart novels which incorporate numerous real-life scenarios, events and places, then this would also be the perfect book for you, which was my overriding thought as I reached the end. I know a few myself and will definitely be recommending this to them.

Francis Sparks Interview: “I’ve always had a fascination with crime and mystery”

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Mystery writer Francis Sparks gives me an insight into his writing and how he has come to develop his unique style.

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

That’s a great question. I think like a lot of writers I try to emulate some of the greats like Hemingway and Raymond Chandler, but I also pull from other writers that inspire me like Zadie Smith. I think what I try to do is write the truest sentence and then the truest paragraph until I have the truest possible story when I’m done. A lot of failure is involved for sure. I’m certain I’ve stolen or borrowed this answer in some form.

In terms of why mystery/thriller writing, I’ve always had a fascination with crime and mystery but when I started writing and told myself I am going to finish something I had no idea it would be what it turned out to be. I think we are drawn to stories about people at their basest and most vulnerable and want to know what they will or won’t do when put in those situations because we don’t know what we’d do.

What is your career background and how did you get into publishing your work?

I’ve worked in IT for over a decade mostly in application programming. As a youth, I wanted to be a fantasy writer and later my tastes took a more literary turn but I think I applied a lot of my programming mentality to learning how to write. I started small and kept building on what I knew and continue to do so.

Talk me through your books and why you believe that your readers enjoy them.

My mystery/thriller novel Made Safe came out in January 2017 from Pandamoon Publishing. It’s a story about refugees, organized crime and people, set in the Heartland of America. The story is based in Des Moines, IA and is told from the perspective of a local PI named Moses Winter and Bosnian refugee turned cop, Raif Rakić. Anyone interested in unique settings (Iowa’s frigid winter temperatures are definitely a part of the narrative) and characters put through hell will enjoy Made Safe.

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

I definitely use metaphor in Made Safe quite a bit. Moses’ grandfather gave him a German gun he brought home from World War II and has a role to play in the larger narrative and in comparison, to Moses.

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

I read heavily in the mystery/thriller/suspense genre but also fantasy, non-fiction, and “literary” fiction.  I’ll read anything that has a good story. Reading outside the genre you write in has a lot of benefits. I think it keeps you fresh, giving your mind a break but also there are plenty of interesting methods and tricks you can “borrow” from any genre.

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

If I had to choose it would be Zadie Smith. I think I would learn an incredible amount and would get a peek at how that wonderful mind of hers works.

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

Yes! I’m currently in the middle of writing a very interesting true crime non-fiction book with a retired detective. I can’t go too deep into the details, but it involves a notorious and prolific criminal that the detective pursued for decades.

After that, I’ll be working on the next Moses Winter book and I’ve got some other ideas floating around for a stand-alone novel or two. It’s also possible that I have a nearly finished fantasy novel in my back pocket.

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

Lou Berney has a new book coming out later this year and I’m a huge fan of The Long and Faraway Gone, I can’t wait to see what he’s cooked up for his next book. Also, Tomi Adeyemi’s debut Children of Blood and Bone just came out, I’m excited to read that (my wife currently has possession) and Lauren Groff’s Florida is out this year as well and I admire her writing so much.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for the invitation! It’s been wonderful talking to you.

Many thanks to Francis for taking the time to speak with me, you can read more about her work HERE.

Silent Victim Review: A Gripping Tale of Deceit and Deception That Will Keep You Hooked

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As part of her blog tour I review Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell, who has previously written a number of riveting thrillers. As such, I had high expectations for her latest novel, and I was not disappointed.

The novel centres on Emma, a loving wife with a young son, and the secret she has been keeping for years. She has been hiding the dead body of the teacher who seduced her as a teen, which is buried in a shallow grave in the garden she now shares with her family.

Things get shaken up early on in the novel when Emma’s husband Alex decides to accept a promotion and relocate the family. Moving from a house that he never felt at home in to help further his career seems ideal for him, but for Emma it is nerve racking, and when she returns to find her secret has been uncovered she panics.

In her fright she shares her burden with Alex. Her new husband is initially incredibly supportive, however as the narrative reveals new truths about Emma and the secrets she has kept hidden over the years his resolve is tested as the couple’s idyllic life starts to fall apart.

Dancing between perspectives the first person narrative provides an intriguing insight into the characters; the world weary and tightly wound Emma, the conniving Luke and the stalwart Alex. Traipsing from past to present we see how their lives intersect and the driving forces behind the abominable crime which binds them together and changes their lives, or ends them.

Secrets and how far people will go to protect them are the heart of this gripping thriller, and Mitchell, a former police officer, shows a vast understanding of the human condition as she chaperones her readers through this tangled web of deception and betrayal to a nail-biting ending.

At the end of the day this is a strong thriller with an inventive premise and a cast of engaging characters whose innovative narrative drives the novel to its climatic conclusion.