Desmond Ryan Interview: “My readers like the books because they are reading authentic stories filled with believable characters”

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Former Police Detective Desmond Ryan talks me through how his time in the force has influenced his writing.  

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

Crime fiction lends itself well to the type of writing I have been doing for the past thirty years as a police detective. I used to joke with my colleagues that I would be that guy who sits in the corner of the pub and tells police stories to any poor soul who has the misfortune of sitting down anywhere near me. And then I retired. Sensing that a semi-permanent seat in the pub wouldn’t serve me well (on so many levels), I decided to take some of those stories, give them a bit of a twist, and write crime fiction instead. I love noir and the classic sleuth novels and try to incorporate a bit of that flavour into my work.

How do you draw on your experience as a detective when writing?

A lot of my storylines are loosely based on bits and pieces of events that I’ve been involved in either directly or indirectly. I find that the characterizations of both my protagonists and antagonists are where I really draw upon experience. My characters tend to be a compilation of the people I’ve worked with or had dealings with. This makes writing so much easier, doesn’t it? Especially for crime fiction. I mean, at the end of the day, a crime fiction novel tends to be about someone murdering someone and then getting caught. Not much fun in that. It’s the juicy bits that make it fun, and I think those juicy bits are the characters. 

Please tell me about your books and what you believe draws readers to them.

The six books in the Mike O’Shea Crime Fiction series are police procedurals that follow the life of Detective Mike O’Shea over a number of years on and off the job. My readers like the books because they are reading authentic stories filled with believable characters. The dialogue, the little details, the plot twists and turns- all bang on because I know what I’m talking about. I have lived that life. And, as a writer, I assume that my readers are not only crime fiction fans, but also clever readers who enjoy complex characters, a gripping storyline, and reading well-written material.

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

As I mentioned earlier, I expect my readers to be intelligent and informed. I know that they don’t want to be spoken down to or presumed to be incapable of understanding the complexities of a police investigation. I use dialogue to create an authentic experience and direct engagement between the characters and my readers. I use a lot of police jargon, but not for the sake of it. Every piece of it is intentional and establishes the mood of the scene. I also use a lot of profanity because that is what I have heard and said (but don’t tell my mother!) as a real police detective. As a reader, I enjoy novels—regardless of genre—that draw me in completely. As a writer, I believe that it is my obligation to provide that experience for my reader, who has given up however many hours out of their busy day to read my books.

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

I kind of binge-read. I will find an author and read as much as I can from that author and, regardless of the genre, will draw some clever bit out and apply it to my own writing. For example, I recently went through a slight Peter Temple phase. I loved one of his books and did not enjoy another as much, primarily because I didn’t like the protagonist in the second book. Both books held my attention and I would recommend them, but I much preferred the first over the second. What I learned from that as a writer is that it’s okay for your reader to not love your protagonist as long as the story is strong.

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

I have just discovered Simon Brett (I know, what rock have I been living under, right?) and absolutely love his writing style. I seriously doubt that he and I will ever co-author a project, but I’d gladly settle for sitting down with him for a few pints!

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

I am so glad you asked! As well as an outrageously rigorous writing and publishing schedule for the Mike O’Shea Crime Fiction series (Book Two will be out in February 2019, followed by Book Three in June 2019) I have a cosy series on the go. I know. Who writes police procedurals and cosies? And, the main character of the Mary Margaret Mysteries is Mike O’Shea’s mother! There will be some crossovers of characters and dialogue (and room for so many inside jokes referencing the series). I am really looking forward to it and am anxious to see how it all comes together.

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

My bedside table at home often looks like a game of Jenga. Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide, Catherine Hernandez’ Scarborough, Aldofo E. Ramirez’ The Purple Cloud Project…the list goes on and on and on. I’m looking forward to a book by a friend of mine, Christine Newman, a debut author, later this year (I hope!).

Anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers. It is a privilege to be a writer who is read by others. And I hope that you enjoy reading 10-33 Assist PC as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thanks for taking the time, I’ve really enjoyed hearing from you! 

 

 

 

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Killing Eve: Sure, We’ve Had Female Villains, But Not Like This

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Bandwagon Alert! My friend has been talking about the new TV series Killing Eve since the BBC first aired it, so I bit the bullet and watched the first episode, expecting to find the usual tawdry stereotypes and then be able to turn it off, safe in the knowledge that my indifference or disdain was justified.

I am extremely pleased to say that I was completely wrong. I loved this show so much I binge-watched it and finished it in about two days. Many people argue that it is a great feminist black comedy, and I completely agree. It is fantastic to see an inclusive show where women, and particularly women of colour, at the forefront, although it would’ve been great to have seen some differently-abled women as well.

She fights dirty, she sleeps with whomsoever she pleases and she is generally a well-rounded, three-dimensional character. Also, it is truly great to see a woman eating on TV that isn’t sexualised- think lollypops and ice creams being sucked seductively (in fact, the opening scene is literally a parody of this). Instead, Eve and Villanelle are seen eating simply for nourishment, because they’re hungry. It’s great to see that, even if it is a strange thing to say. How often do you actually see women eating on screen?

Also, she buys things she likes, plays tricks, and is generally a well-rounded, defined character. She is more than just a sex object or a one-dimensional form of feminist rebellion. Unlike many female villains, such as Amy in Gone Girl, she does not have an ordinary life from which she is escaping, and unlike Irene Adler from the Sherlock Holmes stories, she is not defined entirely by her life of crime. There are nuances to her character that have not been seen in female villains before, either on screen or in literature.

The trick is that the show was created by women, and portrays real women doing real women things. Although the original novellas were written by Luke Jennings, it was Phoebe Whatsit-Brigadier who created the series and adapted the books for TV.

Having never read Jennings’ work I cannot say how accurate the portrayal is, but it’s clear that the Fleabag creator has defined the character and made it her own. She has developed a TV series unlike any other, and this is redefining the female villain for a generation of crime fiction readers and watchers, which can only be a good thing.

N. M. Brown Interview: “I spent most of my teenage years gleefully devouring horror novels”

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With a focus on serial killers, Norman M Brown’s writing takes readers deep into the heart of a mystery. I invited him to talk me through his work and how he crafts his often terrifying narratives.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards serial killer books?

My writing style is very much an extension of how I speak. I try to keep my novels short enough to read on flight or on a couple of hours, but still pack a punch in terms of plot. My typical narrative voice is conversational, but that is intentionally designed to ease readers in a world that is brimming with dangers. I try to keep the descriptions lean, and reduce chapters down to the most relevant information. If my writing were compared to painting I’d be more of an impressionist than a realist. This is mainly because, I often feel a little cheated when I pick up a book that is packed with superfluous description of every object in a room, or if there’s a ten-page explanation of the coffee shop in which the protagonist briefly pauses. I love writers who can establish an atmosphere or scene through a couple of key descriptions or objects. That leaves space for the reader to add elements from their own imagination.

In regard to my interest in Serial Killer fiction, like many crime writers, I spent most of my teenage years gleefully devouring horror novels– from the Gothic vampires and undead of Victorian classics, to the contemporary monsters of Stephen King and Clive Barker. Later on, as undergraduate, I learned how these monsters often serve as mirrors reflecting the fears and anxieties of the society which spawned them. In that respect, serial killers-whether real or imagined- are our 21st century monsters. The problem is that they are no longer so easily identifiable by their hideous appearance on their sprawling castle in the mountains. The work in our offices, live in our streets and smile to us as we pass them. That’s what fascinates and scares me. My novels are my attempt to exorcise those fears.

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to writing thrillers?

I have written fiction throughout my entire adult life, but my interest in writing a Crime Thriller was a direct result of forgetting to take my Kindle on holiday two years ago. I arrived in the villa and sighed with genuine relief when I discovered a fully stocked bookcase. However, the books were almost all Crime Thrillers One the first books I read was The Black Echo by Michael Connelly. I enjoyed the book so much that I decided to set myself a personal challenge – to create my own detective and take him on a journey that people would hopefully want to experience. Having taught high school English for a couple of decades, I knew the elements of setting and character that appealed to me, so it was simply a case of sitting down with my laptop and tapping it out.

Tell me about your books. How did you come to write them and what was the inspiration behind them.

The Girl on the Bus has an element of personal experience: about twenty years ago, I took a bus from Stirling to Inverness in the Highlands , a journey of over three hours through the picturesque but isolated Cairngorms National Park. The trip was lovely and the scenery stunning. Stirling merged into Perth then Perth into Pitlochry. As I sank into my bus seat, complete with curtained window and a complimentary cup holder, I lost myself in the pages of a cheap paperback book. Occasionally, I would drift off and wake with my face sliding on the cold glass of the window.  But at some point, as the bus weaved its way through the rugged mountains, I realised that the dramatic landscape outside was quite devoid of civilisation. If anything happened to the coach party out there, no one would ever know. Then, in the typically morbid spirit of any crime fiction fan, I considered how terrible it would be if anyone on that solitary bus was actually a killer. Glancing nervously around at my fellow commuters, I studied their faces for traces of psychopathy, and concluded that they all had potential (it was Scotland after all). I then hit on an even more worrying possibility. What if everyone on the bus, including the driver, were actually killers? It would be a mobile crime scene. And what if that bus picked up a naïve passenger who felt safe because there were plenty of other people on the bus with them? That idea grew into my first published novel.

Carpenter Road was the result of the research I had carried out for the first book. The story was inspired by the setting. When writing the first Leighton Jones novel – The Girl on the Bus- I wanted to make the central character as real as possible, without getting too tangled up in backstory. I therefore tried to include just enough details from the past to give the reader a sense of the Leighton’s history, and hopefully make him a little more three dimensional.

In that capacity, there are a couple of times in the book when police officers make references to a historical incident at Black Mountain involving Leighton Jones. We never find out what this incident was, but some of Leighton’s colleagues seem impressed by it. We are also told that the incident also resulted in Gretsch becoming Chief of Oceanside P.D. In his typical style, Leighton is reluctant to speak about it. Carpenter Road is the story of that incident.

I got the seed of the idea when I was originally researching the San Diego area whilst writing the first novel. As I poured over the maps, I made notes on any places of interest. Most of the time I was looking for good places to hide a sinister old bus. However, sometimes I would simply notice an intriguing place name. One such name was Black Mountain. When I first read those two words, my mind was flooded with images. It sounded like the perfect place for the climax of that novel. To me, the name conjured up images of a craggy place – some fusion of Tolkien’s Mount Doom and Castle Dracula.  After pouring a cup of coffee, I sat down at my computer and began looking at images and street views of Black Mountain. I felt my heart sink…

Rather than some sinister location, Black Mountain was actually a rather picturesque area of California, complete with a private development of luxury homes. However amongst the many images, I discovered one that hinted at a darker side to this beautiful part of the country. It was a picture taken from the fascinating website: hiddensandiego.net, featuring an old mineshaft in Black Mountain Canyon. Obviously, there was no way to take my scary old bus into a mineshaft – although I did eventually use the idea of it tumbling into a canyon – so I saved the images in a folder of potential locations.

In that same folder were images relating to a second place name that had also struck a chord with as I read it was Carpenter Road. For some reason it reminded of the absolutely terrifying The Walrus and the Carpenter by C.S. Lewis – you can easily find it online if you’re brave enough. I had read the narrative poem at university and it gave me nightmares. In the poem, the eponymous characters are described walking along a beach where they encounter a group of little oysters. The seemingly respectable convince compliant little oysters to accompany them on a walk to some distant rock. Upon stopping for a rest, the oysters look in horror as their two new friends produce bread and vinegar and begin to feed. Many academics have debated the significance of these two characters, but to me they were simply killers.

Once I had completed The Girl on the Bus, I sat down in front of the computer to write the prequel and opened the folder of locations. Seeing images of both Black Mountain and Carpenter Road together was enough to ignite my imagination. I therefore decided to write a story involving a character that shows up – like the Walrus and the Carpenter– in desolate places to kill whoever they want. Fortunately, for me, Carpenter Road in Oceanside is a fairly deserted place at night and fits the idea well.

As for Black Mountain and the old arsenic mines, I decided that this would serve as the belly of the beast for Leighton Jones. A mineshaft is dark and remote. Not the sort of place you want to enter to confront a serial killer.  So the settings helped inspire the story. Of course I still had to consider how a traffic officer – as Leighton was at the time – would become embroiled in the case. I figured that the simplest way would be to start off with a car, a missing person, and a witness that nobody would believe. At that point I knew I had a story that even as the writer had me hooked. Hopefully it will have a similar effect on some readers too.

When choosing books to read, what style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I like Cormac McCarthy. He has a wonderful for voices, and his prose is sometimes so sparse that it almost seems like poetry. I also like the old masters – especially Ray Bradbury who imbued much of his writing with a feeling of real affection for all aspects of life. In terms of my own genre, Michael Connelly gets my respect for his meticulous research, and the scale of the world he has built around Detective Harry Bosch.

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

Michael Connelly for the reasons given above. I would love to see how Leighton Jones would cope with working alongside Harry Bosch.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Yes, my third Leighton Jones novel, Toys in the Dust takes my protagonist to his first unofficial missing persons case. It is loosely based upon two of the oldest, most disturbing cold cases in history: Maria Ridulph and The Beaumont Children. However, I wanted to write about an abduction case in which the child escapes from their captor, and has to rely on their wits to survive.

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

I have been looking forward to Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia. I have always been drawn to stories involving woods and forests. Add a disappearance or two and you have me ready to turn those pages.

Anything you’d like to add?

Just my thanks to you for taking an interest in my work.

It’s been great to hear from you, thanks ever so much for answering my questions. You can find out more HERE.

Gazelle In The Shadows Review: A Sizzling Portrayal of Spying in Syria

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Former Foreign Office employee Michelle Peach offers a truly gripping thriller that draws on her own personal love of travel, in particular Arabia and Syria, where the novel is set. Thanks to an educational background focused on the region, and time spent at an embassy there, Peach is able to offer a fascinating story that expertly weaves an evocative setting into a breath-taking adventure.

The plot centres around a young woman named Elizabeth who, having excelled at Arabic studies at University in England visits and falls in love with the region and settles into an amazing life in Damascus. Kind and caring, she makes new friends and soon comes to love this beautiful country and the people who call it home.

However, it isn’t long before things take a dark turn and she is thrown into a world of lie, deceit and espionage, with no idea who to trust and danger lying in wait around every corner. Intense and fast-paced, the novel is packed with intrigue and brings readers into contact with a myriad of unique characters who capture the imagination and drive the plot forward.

From the very first sentence Peach creates an atmosphere of tension that permeates throughout the novel, and with many exhilarating plot twists readers will find it difficult to put this engaging thriller down.

Accurately capturing President Hafez al-Asad’s Syria, the novel takes readers on a journey through this beautiful land, and as such, as much as it is a coming-of-age novel and a thriller, it could also be seen as a postcolonial depiction of the region. Sensitively navigating the difficult issues of class, race and gender, Peach packs a lot into one beautifully crafted narrative.

With such strong plotting, tense narrative and cleverly constructed characters Gazelle In The Shadows is a great thriller to keep you entertained as the nights draw in and you find yourself in need of an exciting story to keep you entertained.

Rona Halsall Interview: “I’ve always had writing at the heart of my work”

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This week I caught up with thriller writer Rona Halsall to find out more about her debut novel and upcoming projects.

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

Well I didn’t start off writing psychological thrillers, although they’re one of my favourite genres. I didn’t think I’d be able to work out plot twists and plant little clues – all that planning! So I started writing romance. I finished writing my first book and pitched it to an agent at a literary festival. She said she really liked my writing style but didn’t think the story was commercial enough. So I put that to one side and started again. This time I wrote more of a mystery/suspense. When I finished I sent it to the same agent who said she thought my voice would be better suited to psychological thrillers and she suggested a re-work of the story. So, with her help to work out a suitable plot, I did a complete re-write and I so enjoyed it, I realised this was the genre I wanted to write.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I was a business adviser and management consultant for twenty-five years, which involved a lot of writing in the form of business plans and grant applications and notes from meetings. So I’ve always had writing at the heart of my work. When I turned fifty, I decided that I’d better get a move on if I was going to write a novel and when my husband took early retirement, I had a career break to do a bit of writing and this has been my work ever since.

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

I have had quite a nomadic life, living in lots of different places and I think I have been through quite a wide range of life experiences – lots that can be spun into stories.

Inspiration also comes from news stories or things that friends say, bits and pieces online and personal experience. Also, once you start researching an idea it can lead you weird and wonderful places!

If I find I’m stuck with a storyline, I tend to take the dogs out for a walk and let my mind sort things out while I get a bit of fresh air and exercise. Or, if the weather’s really horrible, I’ll read the news or do a bit of admin and let my mind wander.

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

I think it would be Lisa Jewell. I love her characters. They are always so fresh and real and different and that’s such a hard thing to achieve. I also admire her writing style, which flows so easily and is a joy to read.

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

My second book, Love You Gone has just gone on pre-order and is going to be published on 15th November. I’m really happy with the way it has shaped up and the cover is just gorgeous!

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

The new one by Fiona Barton, The Suspect. I love her books – they are so interesting, seeing things from the view of a journalist. Her plots are really twisty and her writing is a joy to read.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

My debut novel Keep You Safe is out now. This follows the story of Natalie, who has been separated from her baby son for three years. She was wrongly accused of a crime and imprisoned. Now she is free she knows that her son’s life is in danger and she is desperate to get him to safety. But who can she trust?

Readers can keep up to date on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RonaHalsallAuthor/

And on Twitter:@RonaHalsallAuth

It’s been a great pleasure hearing your thoughts and learning more about your books Rona, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Truth and Lies Review: A Nail-Biter From Start To Finish

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Another awesome Blog Tour post for you today! This time I checked out Caroline Mitchell’s latest novel Truth and Lies, in which the hunt for a kidnap victim turns sinister when it links to a decades old case and a manipulate psychopath who is trying to use her knowledge of the burial places of her victims as leverage.

Drawing on the author’s background in the police, the novel focuses on DI Amy Winter, who is still reeling from the loss of her beloved father when she learns a shocking revelation: she is in fact the daughter of renowned serial killer Lillian Grimes. Grimes leverages her position as Amy’s mother and the wife of a serial killer to manipulate her and those around her, and as Amy battles this and fights to uncover the truth behind a high profile kidnapping startling truths are revealed.

Much like Emelie Schepp’s brilliant debut novel Marked for Life, Truth and Lies revolves around Amy’s struggle to keep her past from destroying her present, and in so doing entering into a web of deceit that threatens to upend everything she has worked so hard for. Her relationships with her adoptive family and her friends are tested, and Mitchell’s exceptional characterisation shines through here, as we see many well-honed, multi-dimensional characters and relationships being put to the test by both this latest kidnapping and Lillian Grimes’ shocking revelations.

There are twists throughout the novel, and whilst at first I was annoyed that certain revelations were made too early, I gradually came to realise that the novel is so deviously plotted that it would have been difficult to confine all the twists to the final pages.

Being so hard to put down, this book is one to consume quickly, and as such I would thoroughly recommend Truth and Lies to anyone embarking on a late holiday, or anyone who simply fancies a gripping page-turner. There’s also a great cliff-hanger ending, so I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalment and can’t wait to find out what will befall DI Winter in the future!

Peter Corris: The Godfather Of Australian Crime Fiction Is A True Loss To The Genre

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It is with a heavy heart that I offer this tribute to the man often known as the ‘The Godfather of Australian Crime Fiction’, Peter Corris, who died on 30th August.

His career in crime fiction spanned nearly 40 years, with his first novel published in 1980. He retired from writing last year due to the onset of blindness, which was developing as a result of type-1 diabetes, a condition he had suffered from for many years.

Born and educated in the Australian state of Victoria, Corris went on to attend a number of Universities, including the University of Melbourne, as well as Monash University, before he gained his PHD in History at the Australian National University. Having enjoyed careers in journalism and academia, Corris set about writing crime fiction, and quickly gained acclaim for his Cliff Hardy novels, which centered on hardboiled detective and his work as he uncovered a range of gritty and often gruesome crimes. Comparable to many of the classic hardboiled detectives, Hardy is a great example of the genre, and his books are a treat for any crime fiction fan.

Alongside his Hardy novels, Corris also wrote novels featuring characters Ray Crawly, Richard Browning and Luke Dunlop. His vast body of work remains central to the Australian crime fiction space, and his work will live on as a memory of this skilled author who could expertly craft a thrilling novel that always hooked readers from the first page to the final full stop.

Corris’s death aged 76 came on the eve of him being named as the inaugural winner of the Sydney Crime Writers Festival Danger Lifetime Achievement Award, which was recognition for his vast back catalogue including more than 100 novels. This great writer will be sadly missed, and his contribution to the Australian crime fiction genre will never be forgotten.