John Knock Interview: “I’ve been involved in story making all my life”

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Scottish Crime Writer John Knock talks me through his work and the many books and authors that have inspired him.

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

As a reader, I read Ian Rankin’s excellent Black and Blue, which my father and I were excited about because he remembered the Bible John killings. I then read a lot of the Rebus series and particularly liked Let It Bleed, which had a really well plotted conspiracy thriller that impacted on ordinary people’s lives. I think that is what Rankin does well, drawing on the Raymond Chandler tradition of the corruption of power.

I love thriller movies or great TV series that have a great plot that really makes you work as an audience. I remember as a kid being so disappointed with Colombo. Peter Falk was a fine actor and the character of Colombo so brilliantly created and yet the plots are all open, they require no effort on the part of the audience, which I feel really disrespects them. When I watch or read a thriller, I want to guess it out as I go. When I came across Christopher Brookmyre, I guess that’s what got me really excited because here was someone who had worked for Sight and Sound and got movie plotting. What he did was to give it a great comic voice. A lot of crime writers get their work adapted for the screen, what I think Chris did was to adapt the screen for the novel.

I’ve always been able to work out plots but I needed to find the voice. The skill to give each character a voice and to write with those voices. It took me a while to get there. When re-writing, I always let the voice dominate. What was the character’s experience? What did they know or not know? What did they regard as important or not? That way the reader acts as detective. Bram Stoker did that with Dracula. He’s a mystery writer. The reader has to work out whether to believe the evidence presented to them.  He’s an action thriller writer as well. In fact, until he came across the legend of Vlad the Impaler was going to set the story in Scotland.   Just imagine if you’d asked Irvine Welsh to write it today, that I’ll be close to the style. It’s hybrid. I’m writing a whatdunnit rather than a whodunit.

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

I’ve been involved in story making all my life. I’ve worked in education, working on group creating, analysing structure and narrative and all that stuff. Therefore, plot and structure and roles etc. was something I naturally can grasp. I just decided to do it for myself.

What took time was the prose, getting it right. I just took the decision to take time to write and re-work bits of material I had being pulling together. Confidence that what you have is good and the feedback from test readers and now readers that what I was trying to do has worked.

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

Inspiration is a bit of a misnomer. Writing is a job like any other, it’s task driven. I have to deliver. I have a clear task in my head when I write. Then I might do some research, make a visit, go for a walk and clear my head of all the distractions so I can find a voice, find a plot point or character idea. By setting a wider goal it makes it clear what I have to do. Then I can work to that. Lee Child is great on this; he makes it clear that you are writing for an audience and that you owe them a service. Once you put these two rules together the tension helps to create.

I’m lucky to live somewhere where I can just get out into the countryside and walk. I find listening to radio shows, dramas, comedy, documentaries etc. a great resource. I shelve the block until I do this. So, I’m working on several books at a time plot wise. I get stuck on one, I can just jump to the other. I might hear something I can use and I’ll just mentally shelve it to be drawn on later. It’s all nebulous filled away in the creative cloud, just a feeling and then later I can draw on it. I can’t find my glasses or car keys but I can recall something that clicks into place while I’m trying to get out the door.

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

I have to say Terry Pratchett. I like the way his later Discworld novels were going, dealing with issues that we face but giving them the prism of a fantasy setting. That’s what Brecht was trying to do. So, I have an idea for a Discworld novel and I’d like to write it. He and Neil Gaiman worked on Good Omens together and I’d like to do that. I loved the Sandman series and Neverwhere by the way. He said that it was a proper partnership that they wrote it together not him writing the plot and Terry making it funny.

Anyway, I would like to work with Terry. I get why his daughter has said no more Discworld to protect his legacy. I would want him to keep that focus on his creation and get to the big debates that he was trying to provoke.

I would love to work with Neil on a TV project both my daughter and I are fans. She loves Coraline. Maybe a radio project., it has more scope. I’d also like to work with Agatha Christie. To really play with the genre she created.

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

I’m currently working on the next novel. It’s going to be set in Glasgow and will feature Craig Miller. I really don’t want to say too much about it until I reach Chapter Five or Six, just in case I end up going off in a different direction. I also want to get the Glaswegian voices right and don’t want to end up being too stereotypical. Glasgow has been very good to me and I want to do it justice.

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

I’m looking to read the latest Brookmyre series. I stopped reading him a while ago and I want to get into his newest work. He killed off Jack Parlabane and then brought him back. I agree with him that the hero of a series can get very unbelievable and I always found the other characters much more interesting.   I’m going to find time to read his Jasmine Sharp series.

I am currently trying to read both Lee Child’s Echo Burning and The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connolly. They are two writers that I really admire and I want to enjoy their work. I’m finding crime writers the most interesting bunch as much for them as for their work. I really love the podcast A Stab In The Dark and the interviews are inspirational. It’s great to find writers talking to writers. The crime writing community is a very supportive one. I would like to find the same for the horror community. HP Lovecraft was great in that respect, he supported and mentored other writers including Bloch, who wrote Psycho. I’m looking to get into both communities.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to invite readers to give me feedback. Go to the site John Knock Author or email me on johnknock@gmail.com.

Thanks for speaking to me, it has been really interesting to hear your thoughts.

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The Continued Relevance of Sherlock Holmes in Modern Crime Fiction

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Recently, following the release of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, (read my review of the film HERE), I’ve been on a bit of a Golden Age binge. Alongside my usual re-read of some of the best Christie novels (not Murder on the Orient Express, because it’s not a great novel with a really crappy ending), as well as some more modern novels which either mimic or eco the era.

These include Guy Fraser-Sampson’s enticing novel A Death in the Night, (my review can be found HERE) and a number of Kerry Greenwood’s brilliant Phryne Fisher mysteries (my top five can be found HERE). It was whilst reading Greenwood’s most recent Miss Fisher novel Murder and Mendelssohn that I realised the influence that Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eccentric detective.

In Murder and Mendelssohn, Greenwood depicts two characters who are obviously based on Sherlock and Watson; Rupert Sheffield, an enigmatic mathematician lecturing about the science of deduction, and his travelling companion, Dr John Wilson, a former army Doctor who was invalided during the war. Sound familiar?

I thought the similarities only coincidental until I read the following passage, in which Dr Wilson tells Phyne’s family about how he came to be Sheffield’s roommate and travelling companion:

‘I was slowly dying of boredom. And grief. My friend said he knew I was looking for an apartment to share and this Rupert Sheffield, a mathematician, was looking for a roommate. They were very nice rooms, we have a housekeeper, and he warned me that he played the piano all night long, and didn’t speak for days on end, and writes equations on the wall, and I didn’t mind those things, because I was moody and still so sad, and angry, because Arthur had left me after only a few years.’ Murder and Mendelssohn page 191.

It was then that I realised just how far Holmes has infiltrated into modern Crime Fiction. Later in the novel, Greenwood depicts a sex scene between Wilson and Sheffield that must have been incredibly fun to write, and is so utterly bizarre that I can’t decide if it’s genius or a contender for the Bad Sex Awards.

In the micro-essay at the back of the novel, Sherlock Holmes and me (a love/hate relationship), Greenwood discusses the fact that she believes that the deductive powers Holmes posses are akin to women’s intuition, and that the idea of Holmes and Watson’s homosexual relationship stemmed from her reading of other books which touched on the subject, as well as some of the inferences made in the stories, such as in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs, in which Watson gets shot during the investigation and Holmes becomes distraught at the prospect of harm coming to his dear friend.

Kerry Greenwood is not alone in her desire to bring Holmes and Watson into modern literature and cinema. Not only are many authors and filmmakers still reinventing the character today, but also he is often integrated, in some way, into detective novels. The character remains a key influence in detective fiction, despite the fact that he was created in the Victorian era, and therefore could be considered out of date.

The character of Sherlock Holmes is based on C. Auguste Dupin, Edgar Allan Poe’s detective who appears in three short stories. Despite this, Dupin is not the popular figure in pop-culture that Conan Doyle’s character has become.

This got me thinking about why Holmes and Watson remain such popular influences whilst Dupin is often forgotten. Granted, Dupin is the inspiration for Holmes, but Poe’s stories are not referenced so obviously in modern fiction as Doyle’s are. Partially, this could be put down to the number of Sherlock Holmes stories Doyle wrote, which far outstrips Poe’s three Dupin novellas, but there is also more to it than that.

Fundamentally, it is my belief that Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson embody key characteristics that everyone sees in themselves, and have, thanks to these characteristics, achieved the excitement and adventure that many readers crave. After all, Holmes is a bizarre, often unconventional detective, whilst his companion is a reliable Dr who is as baffled by his friend’s brilliance as Doyle’s readers.

Also, the pair make for the perfect template on which many writers can base their detectives. Duos often consist of one bumbling action man and one awkward eccentric; think of Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings, Bulldog Drummond and James Denny, and, in television, the likes of Jonathan Creek and his various female companions. This is because each member of the pair offers skills that the other lacks, with the more reliable companion usually relaying the narrative and translating the detective’s actions for both the reader through the guise of doing so for other characters.

Ultimately, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson remain entrenched as cult figures in the Crime Fiction space, and as the media continues to remember and reinvent them they will continue to grow and evolve as characters. Although I always lament the loss of fresh ideas to reinvention (Hollywood and the constant remakes), it is always interesting to see new interpretations of classic characters.

Blood Rites Review: Grizzly, Gritty Greatness

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Having previously enjoyed his novel The Scarlet Coven, I expected great things from Blood Rites, the newest Inspector Paul Snow novel by David Stuart Davis. I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in 1980s Yorkshire, the novel dictates the work of Detective Inspector Paul Snow, a closeted homosexual battling both personal and professional demons.

His case is that of a serial killer charting an uncertain course, with his victims seemingly chosen at random. As he navigates a world full of deceit and violence, he is forced off the case by his dubious superiors who are dismayed at his lack of progress and unconventional methods. Desperate, the detective disappears underground, where a killer is lurking in the shadows.

The inner turmoil of this fascinating and deeply troubled protagonist is what drives the novel, with his dogged determination to unmask the murderer and prove his own worth sending him into some of some of the darkest recesses of human depravity.

Slightly stilted dialogue is the only factor that lets this otherwise dark and tense novel down- it can be hard to follow and it all but ruins otherwise exceptional characterisation. Everyone in the novel seems to speak as if they are narrating a children’s story, in that breathy, posh sort of English that does not ring true with the otherwise gritty, varied vagabonds that the author portrays.

This is earthy, Northern British Crime Fiction at its finest. Blood Rites shows you the very worst of human nature and puts our fears on full display, creating an chillingly atmospheric thriller that you’ll want to reopen as soon as you reach the final page.

 

A Death in the Night Review: Another Stylish Modern Novel with the Wit of a Golden Age Classic

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Having already reviewed and enjoyed two of Guy Fraser-Sampson’s Hampstead Murders novels, Miss Christie Regrets and A Whiff of Cyanide, I had high hopes for A Death in the Night, the latest Golden Age style modern crime novel in this intriguing series.

Beginning at a dinner dance set in a fictionalised women’s club that Dorothy L Sayers used to frequent, the novel quickly catapults the reader into a fiendish mystery, as a guest is found dead in her room. Shortly afterwards, it is discovered that she has been wrongly identified and her death incorrectly diagnosed as being from natural causes, giving the detectives, two of whom were at the dance on the night of the murder, an incredibly tough case to crack.

Despite the devastation caused by the revelations of the previous novel, the team remains solid and continues to investigate with the usual flare. Bob Metcalfe remains stoic as ever, Karen Willis as confident and capable and as for the flamboyant and Golden Age obsessed Peter Collins, he is still the most hilarious and riveting character I have read over the past two years.

With physical evidence almost entirely destroyed and suspects aplenty thanks to the evening’s revelry, the team employ a combination of modern technology and old fashioned detection to uncover the culprit.

What I love about these books is how Fraser- Sampson effortlessly combines modern police techniques with antiquated language and characterisation that would not be out of place in a Lord Peter Wimsey or Poirot novel. Everyone has an archaic sort of job, such as the Doctor with her private practice inherited from her father. Despite this, readers are never in any doubt that the novels are set in the present day, and this makes for a fascinating education in how to combine styles when writing Crime Fiction.

In all, A Death in the Night is a riveting novel with enough classic detective novel techniques and references to keep readers on their toes.

Pat Krapf Interview: “What drew me to darker fiction was my fascination with delving into the sinister side of human nature”

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Pat Krapf, author of the Darcy McClain and Bullet series of mysteries, talks me through her work and the journey she made to create it.

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

When I began my career, I worked as a copywriter and technical writer. Writing concise, snappy advertising copy kept me focused on the message. As a technical writer, I wrote and edited operation and service manuals, which helped me hone my organizational and descriptive skills, paying close attention to small details but never losing sight of the big picture.

What drew me to darker fiction was my fascination with delving into the sinister side of human nature. But out of the darkness, there is light—that light being my main character Darcy McClain, who, with help from her giant schnauzer sidekick Bullet, does her best to right the world’s wrongs.

What is your background in writing and how did you get into writing crime fiction?

At age nine I became addicted to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and started penning short stories, all the while wondering if I would ever have enough to say to write an entire book. In college, I worked for the school newspaper and wrote a weekly column. After I earned my journalism degree from the University of Oregon, I worked in the aerospace and medical industries, which introduced me to a wealth of scientific and technological data. Intrigued by this knowledge, I’ve used it in my series to do some good, but mostly to weave dark plots.

Tell me about your books and how you came to write and then publish them.

My debut novel in the Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series was Brainwash. The gist, is that what begins as a missing person’s case soon escalates into a dangerous game that places Darcy’s life at stake after she infiltrates the top-secret biotech labs at LANL, where shocking neuroscientific research soon comes to light.

Book two, Gadgets, was also set in New Mexico. The reader is introduced to The Carver—Albuquerque’s most brutal serial killer. Only one person can end his carnage—Darcy McClain. That is, if he doesn’t kill her next.

This year, I released Genocide. Sean Ireland, the first gay presidential candidate in US history, is guaranteed the election—until he’s found dead at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

I completed my first novel in 1987. By 2010, I had five completed manuscripts for my thriller series and rough drafts for an additional four. Rather than pursue the traditional route—a very slow process—I decided to self-publish.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

My inspiration comes from nonfiction books, current news stories, and/or firsthand experiences. Many of Darcy’s adventures were at one time also mine. As for the settings in the series, they are global. Like me, Darcy grew up overseas. The series begins in the US, but with book five I will transition to setting the novels abroad. I’m constantly reading or searching for the next theme to my next novel. It’s an ongoing process and inspiration is everywhere. No, I don’t have any rituals because Darcy is constantly calling me back to the computer to continue her adventures with Bullet. My only complaint is that I can’t always shut out real life.

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

Robert Ludlum. I started reading Ludlum in 1971 and was captivated by his powerful storytelling. His Bourne series is the inspiration for a future Darcy McClain thriller that will be set in the EU. Posing as a double agent, Darcy finally realizes her dream to become a spy. But at what cost, and to whom?

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

Yes. Besides being a prolific blogger—I post on a weekly basis—I am polishing the fourth novel in my series—CLON-X. The storyline: while out for a run in Texas, former FBI Special Agent Darcy McClain and her giant schnauzer, Bullet, find a trash bag submerged in a creek. Inside are the pulverized remains of renowned geneticist Dr. Catherine (Cate) Lord, who has been receiving death threats for her alleged research on human cloning. I recently received the cover design for CLON-X and am quite pleased with the outcome.

What new books or writers are you looking forward to later in the year and beyond?

When it comes to reading, I search by topic as opposed to specific authors. For instance, currently I am hooked on spy, espionage, and bioterrorism as subjects for future novels, so I will seek out books on those subjects, and about 75 percent of what I read is nonfiction.

Anything you’d like to add?

If you’d like to know more about me and my books, visit us—Pat, Darcy, and Bullet—at patkrapf.com. Thank you, Hannah, for the opportunity to talk about our thriller series.

Many thanks for your time Pat, it has been fascinating to hear your thoughts.

My First Film Review: Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express

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As I have mentioned in my previous POST, I have been anticipating Branagh’s big budget version of one of Agatha Christie’s most overrated novels since the trailer dropped earlier this year. I have now had the privilege of watching the film, and so have decided to share my thoughts with you.

Visually, the film is stunning, with an all-star, A-list cast including Branagh himself, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Olivia Colman and Judi Dench, all of whom offer exceptional performances. The costumes are sumptuous and the setting lavish, with the visual effects designed to thrill; the scene where the viewer witnesses the moment of an avalanche advancing upon the train is a feat of real cinematic beauty.

It has everything you could possibly want from a Hollywood Blockbuster, with witty dialogue, funny one-liners and a lavish soundtrack that would make a true connoisseur proud. I am sure any real historian (I make no bones about the fact that I am not one) would be able to tear the film apart for its historical inaccuracies, but there’s nothing overly glaring and overall the effect is enticing, engaging and a real pleasure to watch.

The problem is that, whilst this is a really great film, it is not an adaptation of a Christie novel. It may have the plot of the Queen of Crime’s most acclaimed book, but the film has something crucial missing. The protagonist.

There are many ways in which Branagh tries to link the film back to Christie’s novels, utilsing many of her key tricks, such as humour, racial tension and stereotyping. It also has the air of an older film, with many cinematic techniques derived from great old-school cinema. The scene in which the body is discovered, which is shot entirely from above the characters heads, lends the adaptation the feel of a play.

What this adaptation of a famed Hercule Poirot novel does not have, is Hercule Poirot. Branagh may have named his character that, but he does not embody the finickity, bizarre Belgium detective in any way. In some ways he does play lip service to the character’s traits, such as his fastidious nature (the opening scene shows him measuring eggs and blaming the chicken for not laying them the exact same size), but this is not a real part of Branagh’s depiction, and is only mentioned in passing. In his investigations, Branagh’s Poirot jumps from subject to subject in a haphazard and disorganized manner that does not befit the neat and orderly Hercule Poirot.

He is also far too attractive for Poirot, who, in Christie’s novels, is depicted as a strange little man with an egg shaped head and a massive moustache which dominates his face. Branagh’s moustache, impressive though it is, does more to accentuate his features than it does to overpower them, and he is far too tall and slim to be the round little man Christie created. One of the other characters repeatedly refers to him as ‘funny looking’, when the truth is that he is incredibly handsome, and far too much of the archetypal Hollywood man to be Poirot. His accent fluctuates constantly between camp faux-French and French-Canadian, to the point where I wondered if this was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek joke. If it was, it fell decidedly flat.

The character’s Hollywoodisation extends to being far too active. Christie’s Poirot was a man who enjoyed comfort and preferred to sit and think, whereas Branagh’s detective is incredibly strapping, and is shown taking down a man with his walking stick in the opening scene, using said stick to smash open a door to uncover the body, and then strutting about atop the snowbound Orient Express rather than sitting in a comfortable chair inside, as would be the sensible option. Chasing a suspect down icy scaffolding to apprehend him is no issue for Branagh, making his Poirot far more of an action hero than Christie’s beloved protagonist.

The acting itself is masterfully done, and Branagh is constantly in a state of extreme nervous tension that makes his performance unsettling to watch, and helps ramp up the tension in an already intense experience. Depp is brilliantly creepy as both the villain and victim of the piece, although Dench is the least convincing Russian I have ever seen. Many of the actors, such as Derek Jacobi in his depiction of a dying manservant, are nuanced and complex, offering the viewer a fascinating insight into the inner turmoil of these characters as the plot races towards its confusing but, characteristically for Christie, human nature centered conclusion.

Overall, this is a stunningly crafted adaptation which does a good job of making Christie’s frankly ludicrous plot seem almost sensible, although it does tamper with the ending a little in a way which displeases me immensely (I cannot tell you how, for fear of ruining the film, so you will just have to see for yourselves). There is a hint at the end of Murder on the Orient Express that Branagh may adapt another of the more well known Poirot novels, and I would be more than happy to watch that also. However, if you are a die-hard Poirot fan, I would suggest you stay at home and re-watch the ITV series, or better still re-read the books. This is, by no stretch of the imagination, an accurate portrayal of the Queen of Crime’s most celebrated detective, but it is a great film that has spent its massive budget well, and is definitely well worth a watch.

Mark Pepper Interview: “I definitely approach character building with an eye to my acting training”

Mark Pepper

Following on from my review of his novel Veteran Avenue, I spoke to Mark Pepper about his writing and what he thinks makes truly great crime fiction.

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

I’ve never given any thought to my writing ‘style’ and have never considered trying to adopt one. I hope I write with style rather than in one. My sole intention has only ever been to write well, with fluidity and intelligence. It’s clearly not up to me to say if that’s worked; that’s up to the reader. I think if a writer tries too hard to adopt a certain style, they run the risk that their expression becomes subservient to a certain effect they hope to achieve. You see this in some ‘literary’ work, where the meaning takes second-place to the word-play the writer believes is clever. For me, clever writing is simply that which the reader only has to read once to understand.

Again, the genre is not one I pursued; it was just the natural vehicle for the tale I wanted to tell, in this case Veteran Avenue. But I have always enjoyed stories that keep the reader guessing, so I do enjoy the mystery element, and crime fiction is something that never seems to go out of fashion. It is one of our strange human foibles that, as much as we fear pain and death in real life, we cannot get enough of it in books and films when it happens to someone else.

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

I tinkered with some (dark dark) poetry at university (it’s on my website), as befitted my mood, but properly started writing in 1991, about a year after leaving RADA, when I realised my plan to crack Hollywood was beginning to run a tad behind schedule. It was an alternative outlet. And I had read some stuff I wasn’t too impressed with, so challenged myself to do better.

My first novel was entitled Returntime, which got me an agent, but by that time I was halfway through The Short Cut, which was taken on in a two-book deal by Hodder & Stoughton. That and Man on a Murder Cycle were published hardcover and paperback between 1996 and 1998. They were both horror/thrillers. There’s a story behind the near-twenty-year gap until Veteran Avenue, but I’ll leave that for another day. At the heart of Veteran Avenue is the core idea from Returntime, so Veteran Avenue is actually the first book I wanted to write. But, although there is crime in it, it’s not really a crime novel in the traditional sense.

How do you draw on your work as an actor when writing? Do you use any of the skills you gained in this profession when creating a new book?

Excellent question. I think I have a very good ‘ear’ for dialogue, but whether I’d have that without my acting experience I don’t know. I certainly ‘run’ the lines out loud to make sure they sound right, as actors do with their scripts. I find that bad dialogue in a novel can ruin the otherwise sterling work of the narrative, so I believe it’s just as important in a novel as it is in a movie screenplay. Novelists really do need to ‘run’ their dialogue for authenticity. I find it off-putting when I read dialogue that’s not only unrealistic for the character, but for any human being.

It’s also possible I use my acting head to view the scenes as I’m writing them; something Stephen King brilliantly dubbed his ‘Skull Cinema’. I see everything as though I’ve seen the movie of the book, but that’s probably more from a director’s than actor’s point of view.

I definitely approach character building with an eye to my acting training. I think about how I would tackle the character for the screen. What traits and behaviours do they exhibit? What’s their back-story? It all helps to build three-dimensional characters that engage the reader. Having said that, I don’t believe in banging the reader over the head with character information and description that holds up the narrative, such as their appearance. There are two characters in Veteran Avenue who I give an age to and nothing more. Unless a character’s physical appearance is crucial for the plotting, I think it’s perfectly okay to do that. A lot can be gleaned from a character’s speech and behaviour, and the other characters’ response to them, and the reader’s Skull Cinema fills in the blanks on the rest. I think it’s fun to let the reader do that.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good crime fiction?

Apart from the obvious, such as clever plotting, a writer needs to get their facts straight. Research is paramount, especially when you’re dealing with crime and police procedure. It bugs the crap out of me when writers have clearly not done their homework, and have instead relied on what they think they know to be true, often trusting TV clichés or mistakes so oft-repeated in books that they have become accepted. For example, the myth of a sympathetic cop closing the eyes of a murder victim with the gentle downward stroke of two fingertips. It can possibly be done within the first hour after death, but not beyond. I know this because I attended an embalming as research for Man on a Murder Cycle and watched the undertaker superglue the open eyelids shut – something he said he always had to do.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I know this may sound weird, but my main inspiration comes not from great writing but from bad. Nothing is as certain to get me tapping at the keyboard as someone else’s published work I have had to discard because it was poorly written. I think aspiring authors can be put off if they look at the greats because they think: Well, I could never write something like that. So they don’t bother trying. Far better to read something awful and think: Bloody hell, I could do better than that.

I have no rituals, as such. I need a good few hours so I can get a flow going, and I do prefer silence.

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

Stephen King. I haven’t read any of his stuff for years, but I have most of his early work. He did inspire me – in all the right ways.

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

I’ve started a fourth novel but I try not to get too excited about it all these days. I’ve had too many let downs in the past. Excitement creates expectations, and they are the source of much misery in this world.

Anything you’d like to add?

My favourite bit of writing advice: Give the reader what they want, but not in the way they expect it. When you work that one out, your plotting shifts up several gears.

Thanks for taking the time Mark; it’s been a pleasure. You can find out more about him and his writing HERE.