Keith Wright Interview: “I know that even in the heat of a drama sometimes humour can invade”

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Author Keith Wright talks to me about his work and the influences behind it this weekend!

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

I think my writing style comes from reading an author called Ed McBain, who was a master of the crime novel in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. These were the first crime novels I had read, many of which were before my time. I read them retrospectively, when I was about 14 or 15 years old. They blew me away; I couldn’t get enough of them. They were gritty, fast paced and seemed to be honest.

The key elements of my writing style seem to be well-paced, gritty, painfully truthful and good use of epigrams. (I had to look it up too, when a reviewer mentioned it).

I guess my experience in the subject matter also fuels my style, as I like to think that I know how things evolve in that seedy world. I don’t have to guess. I know that even in the heat of a drama sometimes humour can invade. I know how criminals and cops tend to talk to each other, and it is not always the way it is portrayed in books and films. This gives me a confidence, I think, which may not be evident for others dealing with a genre that they have not experienced personally. I was listening to an eBook recently and an arms dealer was showing resistance to a proposal; he used the phrase ‘I should Coco.’ I’m not sure that would have been the phrase used by such a man. Books don’t have to be true, and there is an element of escapism, but for me at least, within that escapism we have to believe it, or we become self-aware of the fiction.

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

I come from a working-class background. As a child we lived in a two bedroomed pre-fab, which had been built for the war as temporary accommodation until they were pulled down and we moved in 1970. My Mum and Dad were in one bedroom and five kids were in the other. I don’t mind disclosing that my Dad was a functioning alcoholic, he’s long since dead and he left home when I was 10. Maybe escaping some of his shenanigans in my mind helped grow a fertile imagination? I went to a comprehensive school and our ‘careers’ advice, consisted of being given a list of about thirty jobs, and we had to choose three.

I ticked: Postman / Journalist / Policeman. The fact I picked journalist perhaps indicates a love for the written word. My career teacher told me I had no chance of becoming a policeman. So, in 1979 I left school and joined the police force. Within a few years I was on CID working the area I was brought up in, and was eventually promoted to Detective Sergeant.

I had always thought about getting into writing and when I was about 26, I began to write a book as an experiment. I wrote a manuscript out longhand with a pen, and I realised that it was pretty good. I then hired (yes, hired) an electronic typewriter and typed it up. I sent it to various agents and was eventually accepted by a terrific old guy called Jeffrey Simmonds, whom I met and he was so insightful. He found me a publisher with Constable (now Little Brown) and the rest is history.

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What books do you read yourself and how do they influence your own work?

I don’t read as much as I should. I tend to read autobiographies, as I love people and their stories. Good crime fiction is a rare treat also. I like Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin, as well as the American author Ed Mcbain, of course. I have had dinner with all three, bizarrely over the years. It’s a strange world.

I don’t like to let others influence my work too much, and I am much too critical; too much description, bad speech patterns, nothing is happening etc. I’m sure other authors may well say similar things about my work. We don’t read books as readers; we read them as writers, if that makes sense.

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

My inspiration for plots come from active thinking; what sort of plot is meaty enough to get into? I just invent it. Sometimes a life event could trigger a scene or a theme, but rarely an entire plot.

I have been both pantster and plotter with my novels, but I much prefer pantster. I need a general circumstance or a handful of story arcs and set off on the journey.

Usually particular scenes are influenced more from experience rather than the whole book itself. Even little episodes I will tap down in my phone to prompt me. An example of this happened recently, when I was visiting a relative who had just had a baby. The woman from the hospital catering arrived at her bedside.

‘Would you like a sandwich, my love?’

‘Yes please. What is there?’

‘Cheese, Ham or Tuna.’

‘Do you do cheese on brown?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘OK, well, can I have cheese then please, on brown, or if not, on white?’

‘So, you want a tuna sandwich.’

‘No, I don’t like Tuna.’

‘Okay, my love Ham it is.’

Now this sort of conversation is too bizarre to be made up. I think sometimes writers may miss opportunities by writing about, in this instance, a woman ordering a cheese sandwich, and it would be flat, yet these sorts of conversations are happening around us all the time, if we only happen to notice.

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

I would love to collaborate with Ed Mcbain, but as I have mentioned him a couple of times, I would also love to work with Charles Dickens. That Dickensian truthfulness, and despair wrapped around humour and characterisation. A man who clearly loves the themes he is writing about, and hypnotising all who read them.

What’s up next for your writing? Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I am in the process of re-writing my third book Addressed to Kill. Set at Christmas time. (Charles Dicken would be pleased), I have new characters and scenes I am adding as well as giving more depth to the existing characters and narrative. It gives me the opportunity to deal with things like anxiety, through my characters, and being set in the 1980’s it gives me the opportunity to address issues such as racism and sexism, so long as it flows naturally and does not become the main theme of the book, rather adding some thought provoking moments than preaching.

I am also preparing to put my first novel One Oblique One on to Audible and have taken the decision to narrate it myself. I am also doing promotional work on both One Oblique One and Trace and Eliminate, my two latest books, which are currently available on Amazon and Kindle and KU. I am doing some interviews on radio and magazines, as well as writing articles for magazines here in the UK and in the States.

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

Trace and Eliminate the second book in the Inspector Stark series has just been released, and as I have touched on – Addressed To Kill should be out in the next month or two.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

For my final comments I’d just like to discuss my books. Firstly, One Oblique One is about the Marriott family, who are discovered murdered in their own home. The daughter; 19 year old Faye, seems a good girl, but DI Stark and his team discover there is more to her than meets the eye. Tragedy strikes before they capture the true killer.

Next is Trace and Eliminate, about a young solicitor who lies on a mortuary slab having been brutally murdered. Within a short space of time there is another killing. It appears that a group of former college friends are embroiled in the multiple deaths. 6 of them are left. One is the killer, and one is the next to be killed. But who is who?

Finally, Addressed To Kill is my upcoming book about a disturbed sex attacker is tearing Christmas apart. His psychosis is so entrenched, that each crime appears to be getting more and more grotesque. Death being the only outcome. The killer is not caught before DI Starks own family become wrapped up in this maniac’s diseased mind, with tragic consequences.

Thanks very much to Keith for taking the time, it’s ben great. You can follow the author on Twitter @keithwwright. Visit his website for free short stories and samples of his books: keithwrightauthor.co.uk

Subverting The Form: Crime Fiction Can Either Be Perfectly Parodied Or Decidedly Destroyed

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Recently, during my trip to Dubai, I had the blessing of several hours peace and quiet in the form of a long-haul flight. Six hours on a plane each way, plus the time at the airport where you get to while away the hours people-watching, reading or browsing through the insane array of shops these places always seem to have.

On the flights themselves I made use of the in-flight entertainment system to catch up on all the latest cinema releases. Two of the half a dozen movies I watched during my travels stuck out to me, for different reasons.

Whilst both films subverted traditional crime fiction narratives and made parodies of the formulas they use, one did so incredibly successfully, and the other failed miserably.

The Happytime Murders was the film that impressed me in its parodying of the hardboiled detective. Whilst critical reviews have been poor, audiences have received the film better, and I personally enjoyed it.

Unlike something like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or other sit-coms or films that simply use the police as a space to keep their characters, The Happytime Murders combines comedy with crime fiction. The film adapts certain aspects of the crime fiction genre and combines them with the use of puppets, swearing and sex to create a funny version of a crime fiction narrative.

“The city of angels; a dirty sun-drenched beauty contest at the edge of the pacific.” This is the film’s opening line, and it could have been a opening from a Raymond Chandler novel.

Another good example of parody is the new Murder Mystery film Netflix created, in which Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler take a trip to Europe and are caught up in an adventure on a yacht. The movie offers both laughs at the expense of the hapless American couple, as well as thrills in the form of a number of car chases and a murder mystery plot that revolves around some very hilarious yet implausible killings.

Both of these films parody the crime fiction perfectly and offer funny examples of how the genre can be mocked and showcased at the same time. One example of a film that does not parody the genre properly is Holmes And Watson, the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly vehicle that is so deeply unfunny it is almost painful. The film is neither funny nor does it exhibit any of the exhilaration and thrills of a traditional crime fiction film.

Its titular detectives are lame and bawdy, whilst the plot itself is slow and not remotely gripping. There is no real danger, and the jokes simply make the plot worse, if anything. By making the detectives randy, raunchy idiots and the villain a cackling fool surrounding by goons, the writers create a truly boring and pointless film.

Parody is, in my opinion, best showcased on screen, although obviously crime fiction as a genre is incredibly open to parody, and indeed entire sub-genres, such as Golden Age crime fiction, arose as a means of altering and parodying the established form of the genre. On screen, however, this technique can really be bought to life and comedy is more easily portrayed.

So, in all, parodies are a great way to enjoy a genre, especially crime fiction, but when they’re done badly they really do suck. Good parodies of the genre need to combine comedy with the thrills and make their jokes about the ways in which the formula falls down. Parodies also need a good plot to succeed, and well-rounded characters, and all of the general characteristics that go into making a good crime fiction piece in the first place. Only once the building blocks are in place can filmmakers and writers start to toy with the formula and create something that will make their audience sit up and take notice.

Come Back For Me Review: Summer’s Contender For Most Enticing Plot

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Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts over the past week, I’ve been on a very exciting work trip to the beautiful city of Dubai!

Whilst I was out there I took one of the ever-growing stack of books that I still haven’t got round to reading to keep me occupied during my long waits at the airport. As I wanted something I knew I would enjoy I selected Heidi Perks’ latest novel, Come Back For Me. 

Having already read and reviewed her previous novel, Now You See Her, I was certain that I would enjoy her latest offering, and I wasn’t wrong.

Come Back For Me tells the story of therapist Stella who, as a young child, fled with her family in the middle of the night from their home on a remote island off the coast of Dorset (my home county and the best place in the world, fact). A fictional place named Evergreen, Stella’s childhood memories show an idyllic space where her family gambolled and played happily and freely.

Now living in Winchester, Stella is a family counsellor hoping to support other families that have been through trauma such as her own, without fully understanding or acknowledging the seismic events that led to the breakdown of her own family all those years ago.

That is until one day a news item appears announcing that a body has been found on Evergreen, at the site of Stella’s beloved former family home. She is shocked to discover that there might be more to her past than meets the eye, and as such she sets out on a quest to find out the truth about what drove her family to flee.

Perks is a skilful and brisk storyteller, and as a result Come Back For Me is a fast-paced thriller that readers will hardly be able to stop reading. Every time I felt I could put a bookmark in and go do something for a bit I found myself driven further into the narrative by the gripping plot and the incredible sense of foreboding that haunts every aspect of the narrative, from Stella’s prickly sister Bonnie and haunted brother Danny through to the enticement of her trip back to Evergreen, which seeps out of the pages and makes the reader almost urge her on to go and check it out.

So in all, if you’re looking for a tantalising and thrilling tale to keep you occupied this summer, I can recommend nothing better than Come Back For Me. Trust me when I say that you won’t be able to put it down or forget it in a hurry.

Agatha Raisin Is Great On TV: Why The Fuck Do The Books Suck?

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I’d not heard of Agatha Raisin before it was televised, and I was keen to find out more about this modern version of what appeared to be Golden Age crime plots. When the TV series came out I found myself enjoying it immensely: Matthew Horne as her former assistant turned best friend is a particular pleasure.

So a few weeks ago, when I spotted some of the books in the local Oxfam, I was keen to check them out and see if they were as good. I was expecting a cross between Miss Marple and Kerry Greenwood’s amazing Phryne Fisher.

They’re really not.

I was completely taken aback by how god-awful the books were. I’ve tried a few of them, and I’ve been completely unable to get through them. I’m not usually willing to give up on a book, but these are so boring and poorly written that I can’t get through them.

The problem is, they’re just not very engaging. The Agatha Raisin of the books is a dry, dull old spinster and a complete sad act; the Agatha Raisin of the TV series is a vivacious, charming and hilarious character. The peripheral characters in the TV adaptation are fully rounded characters with personalities; in the books there are so many with so few lines each that they are just there to drive the plot forward.

Setting-wise, author M.C. Beaton a.k.a. Marion Chesney does very little beyond tawdry stereotypes of village life, making her version of Carsley boring and uninspiring, whereas on TV it comes to life as an additional character.

There’s a ton of these books, but unlike some prolific writers such as Stephen King or Peter James, these books have been written in a rush to a poorly constructed formula.

The initial murders often happen mere pages into the books, meaning the reader hasn’t had time to know or care about the premise or character. Also, information is dumped at random into the novels in a very haphazard way, for example when a client, in the middle of an unrelated conversation, asks Agatha in Agatha Raisin And The Blood Of An Englishman, if she has a license for her detection agency, all so the author can drop in the information that the laws have now changed and, as such, she now needs one.

The protagonist herself is a very strange character; she’s not even a very good detective. Whilst many of the world’s greatest fictional detectives have been mavericks with unusual methods, Agatha Raisin is downright rude, and often scares off witnesses or suspects, and has to send her associates to interview them because she’s been so nasty to them that they won’t speak to her anymore.

These ‘associates’, who either work at her detective agency or are merely nosy friends of the protagonists, are one-dimensional characters with dull dialogue who are defined by their appearances and relationships to Agatha. For example, one of the members of the detection agency is described almost exclusively as ‘the pretty assistant’ and not allowed to go on assignments where there are men that Agatha fancies. These tawdry stereotypes of women in positions of power and the petty jealousies that none of them ever really have are yet another example of how these truly dreadful books let the reader down and are completely unrealistic.

Much like the Grantchester stories, I was disappointed with reading the book version of a TV show I’ve been enjoying for some months now. Whilst often the TV show is worse than the books, owing to the dumbing down of plots, specifically mysteries, for a watching audience, in this case the books are poorly created while the formula translates well to the screen.

In all, if you want to read something great that’s a little formulaic and what might be considered easy reading, go for something better than this. You deserve it.

Killing Eve Season Two: Even Better Than The First!

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Just in case you’ve been living in a cave or something, there’s a new season of the brilliant Killing Eve out, with all eight episodes available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.

Although technically a spy show, the first series did not dwell on this aspect of the narrative, instead focusing on the relationship between Sandra Oh’s Eve, an MI6 Agent, and Jodie Comer’s serial killer Villanelle.

In this latest season, the spying really coming into the fore, with Fiona Shaw getting a much larger role (thankfully!) and delivering both laughs and shocks. I’ve always been a bit annoyed by spy novels or shows that try to bring in too much of a human element to their narratives, as if plot and spying aren’t as relevant or interesting.

Season two offers both a closer look at this, frankly unhinged relationship and the role MI6 plays in tracking down criminals and security threats. Villanelle is both brilliantly witty and expertly playing the system as she overcomes her dramatic stabbing from the end of season one and enters the real fray, working against the organisation that employed her previously.

Later episodes show the real power of MI6, and any Fiona Shaw fans will be impressed by her exquisite performance. She offers her lines with relish and there’s something uniquely powerful about her, even when she’s in vulnerable positions.

As well as being a great thriller, Killing Eve is also deeply feminist, and it’s a real pleasure to be able to see women in positions of real power, working alongside men and being respected. Eve and Carolyn are not in their roles because of diversity: they are there because they are bloody good at their jobs, and that’s refreshing, even in 2019.

Personally, I binge watched the entire second season in one day pretty much as soon as it came out, but if, unlike me, you have an actual life and don’t want to waste your precious free time on a show that sucks, please, take it from me, this one really doesn’t.

At the end of the day, Killing Eve has everything you could possibly want from a spy thriller: death, international terrorists, security services, guns, sex, violence, the lot and more. Throw in some truly fabulous fashion, great writing and beautiful locations and you something genuinely spectacular.

Physical Books Won’t Die: Passing Then On Is Too Much Fun!

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Saturday is my day to do chores, and one of those involves going to town to do a shop and pick up anything I need.

As I’m due to go a short break shortly, while I was trudging around I decided to head into some of my favourite charity shops to have a look for books I want to take with me.

After all, I love reading and spend most of my time reading while I travel. As I was browsing the shelves I realised that some of the books on there were ones I’d previously donated to help clear my own shelves.

It’s a lovely feeling, knowing my old favourites (and some I couldn’t wait be shot of) will now be not only raising money for good causes, but also brightening up someone else’s personal library.

That’s why, with all this talk that digital media and eBooks should’ve put the kibosh on printed books, I know in my heart that they never will. Digital files aren’t nearly as fun as actual paper books, and you can’t pass them on in the same way.

Imagine trying to gift wrap a eBook, whereas it’s always nice to have an actual book wrapped up in shiny paper! As for shopping for books, it’s great to go rummaging through a second-hand bookstall on a market or burrowing about in charity shops. It’s not really the same looting through an online store of floating book covers only to download your chosen item in exchange for Bitcoins or whatever it you pay with these days.

Also, you can’t really get second hand online books. Once you’ve got it, it’s yours; if you don’t want it you just delete it. You can pass it on to someone else, but you’d still have your digital copy. Whereas with books, there’s something satisfying about handing an old favourite on to a friend and introducing them to something you’ve come to enjoy.

In all, as I’ve said before, I really don’t think eBooks and online readers will ever replace the joy of actually reading a physical book, and for those who haven’t yet experienced the sheer joy of passing on a book to a new reader you really should try it. It’s the greatest high book enthusiasts can get without stimulants, and I’d fully recommend you pass your old faves on to friends or drop off some to a charity shop. Not only does this make you feel good, but it helps others too, and that’s always a good thing!

Proximity Review: A Tantalising Thriller About The Terrors of Technology

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Personally, I’ve long thought that Jem Tugwell was an awesome writer. I interviewed him previously and was so taken by his idea I requested an early view of his at-the-time unfinished novel, Proximity.

The novel’s plot was one of such a uniquely original and fascinating idea that I just knew it would be a hit. Jem is a skilled writer and I could see at once that this was a truly creative, original idea that was in capable hands.

The premise is a simple one: in the future, people are embedded with technology that tracks where they are and what they do. As such, crimes are pretty much gone, as anything that happens can be tracked and the culprits apprehended.

In Proximity, everyone is accountable for their actions, and every aspect of their lives, from the food they consume through to the transport they take, is logged and controlled in the interested of benefiting society as a whole. After all, with fewer substance abuse, weight and exercise based health issues and less crime, costs will be reduced for the taxpayer, which is at least how Jem’s fictional society justifies its innovative new approach to government.

As a result, civil liberty is sacrificed for the good of society, as everyone’s thoughts and feelings are downloaded onto software embedded in their minds. Jem worked for more than two decades in the software development market, but he manages to perfectly combine expert technical insight with great storytelling to create a book that is equally fascinating and accessible.

Soon into the novel this causes trouble, with a crime coming in under the radar and forcing the now pretty much superfluous police force to put their thinking caps on. When things get personal and more murders are committed, the team is left to uncover the truth behind who could’ve both committed the crimes and tampered with the technology to cover it up.

Throughout the novel, the author’s eye for detail and exceptional characterisation drive readers towards the nail-biting conclusion. Everything, from the tightly wound plot to the tense dialogue, is designed to keep the reader hooked, and it works. You won’t be able to put Proximity down, and you’ll be happy about it.

So, in conclusion, when Proximity becomes the bestseller it deserves to be and Jem Tugwell is the name everyone’s talking about, just remember, you heard it here first.