Larry Darter Interview: “When in comes to fiction, my tastes are quite eclectic”

larrydarter

This week I speak to Larry Darter, a Crime Fiction author who writes in a really original, interesting style modeled on some of my favorite authors, including the legend that is Raymond Chandler. He discusses his work, the inspiration behind it and where he hopes to himself in the future.

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

I’d define my writing style as efficient, with a definite lack of a lot of lofty, eloquent language. By intent, I try to avoid the complicated or ambiguous that may lead to misinterpretations. My aim is to write in such a way that readers really engage with the characters which I think makes for a more realistic and interesting novel, particularly with regard to my chosen genre. I credit my maternal grandmother with the genesis of my interest in crime fiction. She was quite taken with the old-school, hard-boiled American detective greats, authors like Raymond Chandler, Hammett, and Ross MacDonald. You could always find those kinds of novels in her library, and I’d read them sometimes when visiting her. Soon I became as taken with it all as grandmother. Ironically when I first decided I was going to write a novel, I chose to write an Old West novel. But once I started writing I always had in mind to write crime novels. I’ve always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and given my background I feel it’s the genre I’m most suited to writing.

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

I spent a good many years in military service, first in the U.S. Navy after high school and later as an infantry officer in the Army. After leaving the Army, I worked for the U.S. Department of Justice for a few years. My experience there provoked my interest in becoming a police officer. I worked in law enforcement for a little over 20 years, primarily in patrol and crime scene investigation. During the last four or five years before retirement, I did some freelance writing and had some success with that. Writing novels, I think, was just a natural progression from that. After retiring, I finally had the time to write full time.

Please tell me about your books. What defines your writing style?

Since I started writing crime fiction, I’ve written and published two novels, Come What May and Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair. They are really two very different books. Come What May was inspired by a true story, an actual cold case homicide that went unsolved for 23 years. The book is more a Joseph Wambaugh-like police procedural than a Raymond Chandler-style detective novel. I wanted to be as true as possible to the real story and felt the fictional version was most effectively told as a police procedural. Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair is quite a different story. It truly is more of an old school, hard-boiled American detective novel, the kind of book I really wanted to write when I decided to write crime novels. Both books are part of my current Malone Mystery Novels series. I’m presently writing the third book in the series, Cold Comfort, which will be released in November of this year. As mentioned, I define my writing style as efficient. Some might call it bare and spare. Part of that comes from my deliberate effort to follow in the footsteps of some of the old-school, hard-boiled crime novel masters I most admire, authors like Chandler, Hammett, and, Robert B. Parker.

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

As far as that goes, I do employ figurative language to a degree, figures of speech and even occasional clichés for artistic effect. I rely a great deal on Shakespeare in my current series for a unifying theme. That starts with the titles of the novels, each of which comes from a line from one of his plays, phrases that have over time become so familiar that they literally have become sayings that repeatedly appear in our everyday speech. I strengthen that Shakespearean connection with a hero, Ben Malone, who frequently quotes Shakespeare in the novels. The purpose of that is to present Malone as a bit of a contradiction. He is tough and street-smart but at the same time an intelligent and educated man. He is a man with foibles, an insolent mouth, a bad attitude toward authority, and a part of him likes the violence he gets involved in. But he is unapologetically heroic and truly wants to help the people he meets who need it. The model for Malone is the anachronistic knight-errant with a pistol in a shoulder holster, which I see as one of the archetypes of American culture.

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

I’m a voracious reader, as I think most authors are. I read both fiction and non-fiction. While I have a university degree, I feel I’m more self-educated than traditionally educated. I attribute that to the non-fiction books I’ve read over the course of my life, the source from which I believe I have learned the things of most enduring value. With regard to non-fiction, I truly love reading history, biographies, and books on finance and investing. When in comes to fiction, my tastes are quite eclectic. I enjoy military thrillers, crime thrillers, mysteries, westerns, historical fiction, as well as the classics by authors like Steinbeck, J.R.R Tolkien, Tolstoy, Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Crime fiction is easily the genre I read most and truly enjoy. My favorite contemporary authors are John Roswell Camp who writes as John Sandford, Lee Child, and Robert B. Parker. Not a surprise then that I feel the works of authors like Chandler, Hammett, and Robert B. Parker most influence my own writing. I deliberately use their writing styles as a template for my own.

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

Collaborating on a writing project isn’t a concept I find particularly appealing. I’m the guy who back in my school days absolutely hated it when a teacher or professor dictated that the class participates in a group or team project assignment. It isn’t that I can’t see the potential value of collaborating with another writer on a joint project. I’m certain I could learn a lot from working with another author, especially if I could pick any author I liked, living or dead. I’m actually not an introvert by nature, but I consider the craft of writing to be a solitary pursuit and feel I’m most creative working autonomously.

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

As far as writing goes, as mentioned earlier, I’m currently writing the third book in the Malone Mystery Novels series, Cold Comfort. I’m about midway through the first draft. I’ve also outlined the fourth novel, Foregone Conclusion, which is due for release in the spring of 2018. A related project that I’m pretty excited about is the launch of my new street team initiative, Team Malone. With so many books being published these days,        visibility is the biggest challenge that authors like me who aren’t exactly household names face. The golden age of publishing when all you had to do was write a book and upload it to Amazon and then just wait for readers to discover it has long since passed. Street teams have I think become increasingly important to the successful launch of any book, and so for the first time, I’m trying to organize one. I want my books to be discovered and read, but that’s not the sum total of my desire to build a street team. I’m also looking at it as a way to more closely connect with my readers. Team Malone is still in the very early stages of development, and I’m still sorting it, but a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/725102497695722/) is in place for anyone who might be interested in checking it out and learning what a street team is all about.

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

Yes, I’m really looking forward to the November 2017 release of the next Reacher novel by Lee Child, The Midnight Line. I’ve read every one of the books in the series and really love the Reacher character as well as Lee’s writing. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed in his last novel, Night School, which was another flashback-type story to Reacher’s former days in the Army. I think the series is a bit mature for that now and so I’m very hopeful that Lee’s upcoming novel returns us to the kind of Reacher story we fans have come to expect. In addition to the big name authors I like reading, I also read a good many first novels, and I recently discovered a very fine UK crime thriller writer by the name of Jennifer Lee Thomson. I just recently read the first book in her new series, Vile City, and it was literally the best thriller I’ve read in years. I’m not sure when it’s meant for release, but I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series, Cannibal City. Jennifer is truly a special talent, and I think she has the potential to become one of those household name-type authors in the not too distant future.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’ll just end things with a thank you, Hannah, for choosing to interview me. It has been both an honor and a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed reading the interviews on your site that you’ve done previously with some truly amazingly talented authors. I do hope we speak again in the future. Take care.

Thanks Larry, it’s been great to hear your thoughts and it’s always an honor for me to learn more about the lives of awesome authors. You can read more about Larry’s work HERE.

Five Novels Kenneth Branagh Should Have Adapted Instead of Murder on the Orient Express

poirot branagh

As you can probably tell by my recent POST, I am both excited and slightly dubious about Kenneth Branagh’s foray into Agatha Christie adaptations. What perplexes me the most about this choice is that while it is universally renowned, Murder on the Orient Express isn’t actually a great novel, and as such it seems an odd choice when there are so many great, Golden Age or Golden Age esq novels out there for Branagh to choose from.

Granted, this classic novel does contain some great characterisation, Christie’s typical flair for the dramatic and some superb dialogue, but Murder on the Orient Express is, fundamentally, dull and slow, with a very strange and improbable ending, even for the Queen of Crime herself. So I have made a list of five novels I think Kenneth should have adapted instead, and while I’m pretty sure this will never get back to him and that he will never read this blog, maybe the universe will align and one day he will take my suggestions of his own accord. You never know!

5. Farewell, My Lovely: Alright, alright, so I doubt there’d be a part in this novel adaptation for Branagh, but it would be good to see a decent film version of Raymond Chandler’s masterful second novel (since the 1975 Robert Mitchum movie wasn’t up to very much) and I reckon Branagh would be the best man for the job. As I say, there’s not a part in it for him, not one that wouldn’t make him look ham-fisted at any rate, but he’s done a great job directing gritty, American style thrillers such as the remake of Sleuth and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit before so I think, if he could get some really decent actors in, that he could make an amazing version of this witty and intelligent hardboiled pulp fiction classic. The dialogue is superb and the setting allows for great creativity when it comes to costumes and set design, and if Branagh did adapt it then we would have the chance to see this droll novel to finally get the adaptation it deserves.

4. Cold Granite: Stuart MacBride’s first Logan McRae novel is superb, with excellent dialogue, some brilliant plotting and a truly vicious villain. Children are being abducted and the returning DS McRae is in over his head, with a new DI and some persistent journalists all on his case to turn things even worse. If Branagh wanted to take on the main role in this film version he could just re-channel his inner Wallander- playing the character as a Scottish version of Mankell’s famously dour detective. Accents are clearly something Branagh enjoys bringing to a new role and I’m sure he could get a strong Scottish sorted in no time.

3. Urn Burial: Kerry Greenwood’s novel is written in a classic Golden Age style, making this a great book for Branagh to develop into a thrilling and fashionable film. The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher is nothing if not sophisticated, and this would be the ideal space to show off a massive Hollywood budget with exquisite clothing, lavish settings and some of the finest music ever composed. If Branagh wanted to snag a part for himself (and let’s face it here, he almost always does. He reminds me of that Dennis Waterman sketch from Little Britain ‘write the theme tune, sing the theme tune’- picking a part for himself even if he is unsuited to it, like playing a Belgium detective or a Russian villain) then he could easily fit the role of gracious host Tom Reynolds, a former publisher hosting a decedent party at his garish home when sinister happenings force long buried secrets and unflattering home truths to the surface. Drawing on his Gilderoy Lockhart style charm, adding a slight Aussie twang, he could easily portray the belligerent and grumpy Reynolds, giving him both a starring role and directing kudos.

2. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club: I’m not sure which would be funnier, Kenneth Branagh as Lord Peter Wimsey or as Bunter; either way, Branagh directing one of Sayer’s masterful novels would be intriguing, and I think this is one of the best. Combining mystery with class criticism, this is a real meaty novel for Branagh to get his teeth into, much like Murder on the Orient Express, only with genuinely interesting characters that readers can actually invest in and an outcome that doesn’t defy all logic and reason.

1. Dead Man’s Folly: If you’re going to do Christie, pick a good one. I can just image Branagh as the evil Sir George Stubbs, but even if he chose not to star in the film it would still make for an exceptional adaptation. The characters are rich and, unlike many of those in Murder on the Orient Express, two dimensional; all of the characters feature in the plot and make this a genuinely tantalising whodunit. Although ITV did a good job with Suchet’s version, I would like to see Branagh give it a go.

A Whiff of Cyanide Review: Another Exceptional Modern Golden Age Mystery

a whiff of cyanide

The follow up to Miss Christie Regrets (read my review HERE) and the third in the Hampstead Murders series, A Whiff of Cyanide is another great spin on a traditional whodunit, with enough modern touches to really bring the Golden Age into the twenty first century.

Opening with a dinner party in true Golden Age style, the novel moves on to a writer’s convention, the inspiration for which, I am convinced, must have been taken from author Guy Fraser- Sampson’s personal experience. The vivid, scathing portrayal of the characters and the quick witted dialogue must have a holding in real life, I am sure, and there is something in the smugness of many of the main suspects that is definitely drawn from a previous encounter.

The victim is the unlikeable Chair of the Crime Writer’s Association, which is hosting the convention. With her leadership in dispute, her former friends in revolt and her career on the wane, the character has a troubled time until her eventual death, shortly after she revealed that she carries a bottle of cyanide with her as a sort of deranged prop.

Her murder forms the core backdrop to this fascinating novel, along with a number of interesting and well-integrated sub-plots revolving around the complicated lives of the investigative team that Fraser- Sampson expertly entwines with the main story. Fleshed out, the investigative team are a real success here, and this is one of the main things I like about these novels; the author knows exactly when to take example from Golden Age Crime Fiction, and when to insert more modern touches. In this case, the private detective, sidekick (usually of military extraction) and tame policeman trio which usually forms the protagonists for a traditional novel of this style is overhauled in favour of the more realistic team of experts from various fields, allowing scope for genuine discussion on the case and making the novel feel much more believable (in any day and age I find it tough to imagine former soldiers so at a loss for something to do with their time that they have to follow arrogant, eccentric detectives around and do their dirty work for them).

For anyone seeking an updated Golden Age series, the Hampstead Murders is, to my mind, the best out there. Fraser- Sampson weaves a thrilling and complicated narrative with enough to twists and turns to make the Queen of Crime herself proud. The only criticism I have is that, unlike the first two novels, A Whiff of Cyanide is, at times, a little heavy handed with the symbolism. One of the suspects is a character who has changed her name, by Deed Poll, to Miss Marple. Although Fraser- Sampson wins points for the fact that, as the character is portrayed as an actor who previously played Miss Marple of TV, I did have a bit of a laugh trying to work out if this had any real life significance, and if so who it would be based upon, this seems a little like overkill to me and made the novel feel a little obvious.

However, looking beyond this, the novel is, overall, a triumph for modern detective fiction and I feel certain that A Whiff of Cyanide, alongside the two preceding novels in this masterful series, will end up as a classic novel in a few year’s time.

Matt Johnson Interview: “It never fails to surprise me how much I recall as I write”

Deadly Game cover 2

Matt Johnson, a former solider and policeman who has since turned his hand to writing engaging and exciting thrillers, talks me through his work and the process he uses to create it.

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

I describe myself as something of an accidental author. I say that as becoming a writer had never been an ambition of mine and I came to it almost by accident. Many years ago, I received counselling as part of a therapy treating PTSD. Included in that therapy was writing about my experiences, emotions etc. I found I enjoyed it and the counsellor was moved to comment on how much she liked the result. One day, I sat at my PC and started to weave my notes into a work of fiction. That it became Wicked Game, a crime thriller, is almost certainly a product of my working life.

Please tell me about your books. What key narrative tropes do you draw on?

With two books now published, I’m about half way through my third. I haven’t had the benefit of any formal training as a writer so what I generate comes very much from the heart. I just let the words flow as the story grows. Tropes – the use of words for artistic effect – are something that may or may not result. I describe what I see, and use words in the best way I can to do so. If that may be described by those better qualified than me to say as a ‘trope’ then so be it.

How do you draw on your past as a former solider and policeman when writing fiction?

It never fails to surprise me how much I recall as I write. Ask me, face to face, about something and I may not be able to access the memory. But, once I start writing that changes. Something happens as I ‘get into the groove’ and it all comes flooding back.

How do your various hobbies (beekeeping, motorbike riding etc) influence your work? I’m intrigued!

They don’t really! In fact they are a terrible distraction. I’m the world’s worst at committing myself to the work in progress. So, it might be said that those hobbies slow me down. But, all the hobbies give me time to think. Some of my most creative ideas occur when I’m walking the dogs, out in the fresh air on the mountains near my home in Wales. For the reason, I try to remember to carry a digital recorder as, so often, by the time I’m back at the PC, I forget what the idea was!

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

One thing I have learned is ‘just write’. So often we want to get that sentence, that chapter beginning, that point in the plot right, and first time. We forget that the first writing is just that and that it’s going to change. It really doesn’t matter if we get it right first time. So now, I just write and mostly, but certainly not always, the words will flow. And if I get a block, I walk the dogs and just unwind. Ideas often come when you least expect them.

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

Oh goodness, that’s a tough one. I think it would be Peter James. Peter writes very well and is really thorough with his research. I’d quite like to have my protagonist, Robert Finlay, work on an enquiry with Roy Grace.

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

I do, but for now I’m keeping them close to my chest. One thing I have learned since my introduction to publishing as that the real competition between writers is not for sales – there are lots of readers who read many different authors – it is for ideas, especially that real gem that will become a best-seller.

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

Three spring to mind. One is a chap called John Sutherland. John is a Chief Superintendent in the Met and is just about to retire following a serious issue with depression. John’s first book, an autobiographical account of his battle with mental illness is called Blue and is an incredible read. I’ve followed John’s blog – Police Commander – for a long time and I was so impressed with it I suggested he should write a book. I’m pleased he did, because Blue’is quite incredible’

My second choice would be Amanda Jennings, one of last years WH Smiths’ Fresh Talent authors. I loved her book In her Wake.

Finally, I recently met a young man called Matt Wesolowski whose debut is a crime story called Six Stories. The book is very original in both style and content. It’s also very good. Matt is, to my mind, a real talent and one to watch.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just to say thanks for the opportunity, and for getting me writing again! I’ve just returned from a break abroad and was finding it a little challenging getting back to the coalface. Completing this interview has kick-started the grey matter!

Thanks to Matt for taking the time, it was really great to hear from you.

Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express Trailer: My Thoughts

Murder on the Orient Express is an iconic novel, although I personally have always found it overrated. The novel is stunningly crafted right until the end, when we are left with a very strange conclusion in which there is no single murderer.

There’s no conclusive evidence that Branagh’s version of the film will remain true to the novel’s plotting, but I imagine this would be the case; there is no point in changing the ending, as this is what makes the novel truly revolutionary and unique.

I have awaited this film adaptation with bated breath ever since it was announced; I am a fan of Branagh’s thanks to his fabulous, if a little dreary, adaptations of Mankell’s Wallander novels, as well as his brilliant Shakespeare work. His cast is impressive; everyone from old favourites such as Judy Dench, Penelope Cruz, Olivia Colman and Derek Jacobi through to shiny new faces such as Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley and Sergei Polunin is in this star studded adaptation, as well as box office favourites Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Willem Dafoe.

All this money and flummery cannot make you a good Agatha Christie adaptation, however. No matter how hard you try, the atmosphere and tension need to be there; without this there is no intrigue and without intrigue there is no point. The trailer is certainly visually stunning, and the voiceover is captivating (although I have to question Branagh’s accent).

Which brings me on to the casting. Pfeiffer is excellent in her brief appearance as Caroline Hubbard, and making the character vampish was a great choice for Hollywood. Depp is uninspiring as ever, and I question Judy Dench’s casting as the Princess- she doesn’t have the shabby, slightly seedy feel you get from the character in the book.

The big question is Poirot himself. Branagh has a hilarious moustache, which makes him look more like Peter Ustinov than David Suchet, the ultimate Poirot. His voice is very forced but it his lack of presence throughout the trailer that bothers me. Although a small man in stature, Christie’s Poirot takes up a great deal of space as he assimilates himself into new situations and generally draws attention to himself in his pursuit of the truth. Although this may simply be artistic imagery used to attract attention during the trailer, I am concerned that the great detective may be reduced to a walking, strangely talking prop in his own case for the sake of a good film.

Only time will tell as to whether I enjoy this film but for now I’d be fascinated to hear the thoughts of any Christie fan: do you think you’ll enjoy the new adaptation?

Charlot King Interview: “I didn’t consciously choose a writing style, it chose me”

charlotte king

Charlot King, author of the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series featuring the feisty Elizabeth Green, discusses her work, how she draws on her time at the BBC and her new role as mother to a very excitable puppy!

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

I didn’t consciously choose a writing style, it chose me after I’d written for a while. I think writers are trying to figure out why we humans are like we are, to try to make sense of the world – even if just for themselves. If that’s the case then there is space for endless stories and styles because we are still so far away from understanding everything about human nature. In the end, writers write what they know don’t they? I feel very lucky to be able to write about Cambridge.

The Cambridge Murder Mysteries and writing crime fiction I suspect came about because I grew up loving so many detective shows like Columbo, The Rockford Files, Magnum P.I., The Sweeney, etc… I also read Raymond Chandler and P.D. James when I was a little younger and still dip in now and then. And I especially enjoyed reading Colin Dexter’s Morse books. I was lucky enough to live in Oxford for a bit and was absorbed into that world of Dons and garden parties and great characters, which he captured so well.

Other influences drawing me to crime fiction may have come from spending years as a journalist at BBC news before I moved to drama. I worked on some big murder trials, sitting in courtrooms, listening to evidence, visiting locations, speaking to the police, and interviewing some involved. I found the trials fascinating, chilling and sad.

I find making up the puzzle side of crime fiction very absorbing and enjoyable. Working out when to plant red herrings and drop clues, to see just how subtle I can make them while ensuring that they still work at the end. I like the challenge of the whodunit and it keeps me out of trouble.

How do you draw on your past working in BBC Drama when writing fiction?

During my time at the BBC I worked with teams of writers, directors, actors, execs and crew in a wonderful ensemble of extremely talented people. I script edited close to a hundred episodes of television and read scores of film scripts while working in drama and film, so my time was pretty full on thinking about story and characters every day. It’s a strange existence. You go to work to make things up- you’re lying for a living. It was fun working with others to make characters do things, experience things, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes; all of that stuff that we can’t do ourselves in real life maybe because we’d upset someone or it might be to dangerous. It’s a totally absorbing and fun process.

When I chose to leave the beeb it felt like quitting an orchestra to go and play an acoustic solo in an empty room. I stepped off a big partying cruise ship onto a quiet desert island where I could hear the waves whoosh and not much else. I think I needed that time of quiet though to find my ideas for writing. It wasn’t until I left that I came up with the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series of novels. I have a great summerhouse in my garden where I do most of my writing; only this time the team around me consists of two cats and a dog.

Please tell me about the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

The Cambridge Murder Mysteries are a series set in the heart of Cambridge, featuring a vegan and animal loving sleuth Elizabeth Green, and her sidekicks Inspector Abley and grandson, Godric. In her fifties, the chief protagonist Elizabeth Green is quintessentially English. An eccentric professor in her ivory tower, she maintains a sharp wit and is not that interested in connecting with many people, instead giving off a cold, opinionated and sometimes acerbic air. Though very kind to animals and a great gardener, in truth she keeps her friends close, and only lets a few dear people into her world.

These books are ultimately about her journey following her husband’s death and how she copes and responds to what life throws at her. Elizabeth is a lecturer of plant sciences at the University of Cambridge, specialising in poisonous flora. From time to time Cambridgeshire police, especially Inspector Abley, call on her skills to help deal with cases involving poison. Book 1, Poison, starts when a junior lecturer dies an horrifically painful death and police pathology can’t establish the cause, Elizabeth Green is desperate to help, especially as it happened in her own back garden. Book 2, Cursed, continues with Elizabeth, Godric and Inspector Abley, this time the porters at All Saints’ College, Cambridge, feel under threat. There are witchy spells, hate mail and buckets of flour over the Porters’ Lodge and Inspector Abley’s mind is elsewhere, so Professor Elizabeth Green starts to dig out clues to try to help, but can’t solve the mystery before the death of a porter.

When I started writing I had absolutely no idea my novels would become as popular as they have, and I’m truly thankful to the readers. I started from a place where I wanted to read crime fiction based in Cambridge and have a strong female protagonist, so I thought why not try and write it myself. With Elizabeth, I didn’t want to write a likeable character. She’s not plucky or vulnerable, no dark secrets or big flaws she’s working through – all those things that usually might make a protagonist loveable and attractive to the reader. Instead she’s very strong, extremely clever, doesn’t suffer fools and doesn’t really have much time for more than a few people. She is the most together of all the characters in the book. Maybe that’s something people want to read? Many women are strong and formidable, yet on the whole there are more male main characters in crime fiction.

I get many kind messages from readers, for which I’m extremely grateful. These messages spur me on to write more. I certainly have a lot of plots swirling around in my head, and they often come to me while I’m out walking.

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 characters and stories come out of my imagination, which is increasingly very messy. Usually when I’m not consciously thinking about writing then the ideas will pop up. For the Cambridge Murder Mysteries, I also walk around The Backs and through the colleges quite a bit, and while on my walks ideas will often drift into my head. So I would say the beauty of Cambridge helps me write and find a sense of place, time and incident too.

I am very lucky in that I haven’t suffered from writers block (yet). Once I get the spine of a story and the ending then I spend time plotting everything out in great detail before I start to write. I travel to other locations that I like to use for inspiration for the books, or that feature in my novels. I feel like I have put some distance between Cambridge and myself too, as it figures so heavily in the books that I’d be lost in the woods if I didn’t leave occasionally!

The characters of Elizabeth Green, Inspector Abley and Godric have all lodged themselves in my head now, and often keep me company when I walk about the city looking for inspiration. I don’t think they are leaving for while.

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

Oh, what a lovely question. Can I have two, as I can’t decide between them? It would be E.F. Benson and P.G. Wodehouse, because they wrote my favourite books, the Mapp and Lucia and Jeeves series. It would be real treat to sit with them (individually) and feed them stories and characters so they could make them funny. Everyone knows that writing funny is the hardest thing to write and I’m in awe at how both these writers made it look so easy. To spend time with such clever people would be the biggest treat. I hope they wouldn’t find me too ‘tarsome’.

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

Yes! I have just taken responsibility for a very bouncy puppy this year whose idea of helping me write is eating draft pages or knocking my laptop off my knees. She’s knocked me off course with my writing a little too, as I’ve taken a short break from the murder mysteries and I am currently writing a book from the perspective of dogs, and it is set in the future. But I will be back to writing the mysteries after this as I am beginning to miss writing them.

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

At the moment I’m reading Peter James’s Dead Simple, the very first Roy Grace novel – can’t believe I haven’t read before – it’s gripping and I’m so pleased that I have a big series to get lost in. I know it’s not a new book, but I have also just bought Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, as I’ve heard good things about it. Finally, I’ve been dipping into Why We Love Music by John Powell, which isn’t fiction, but it’s about how music can change our emotions, very insightful.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Hmm, only that I’m just wondering if the Dorset Book Detective has a secret life she doesn’t tell anyone about? I reckon she is also a super sleuth herself and this blog maybe just a cover? Down on the sand sifting for clues, in a tea shop watching the couple at the next table, or deciphering the clue from the new advert on card in the post office window… she’s there, isn’t she? Feels like a perfect lead character in a crime fiction series to me. Thanks for having me, and happy reading.

Many thanks to Charlot for taking the time- I wish I had a secret life as a super sleuth! You can find out more about her work by checking out her website HERE.

Need You Dead Review: Roy Grace is Back and Ready to Go

Need You Dead. HB. High Res Jacket

Following on from the fascinating interview author Peter James gave me recently (check it out HERE) I review his latest novel featuring his Brighton based detective Roy Grace, Need You Dead.

The thirteenth Roy Grace novel is as steely and intriguing as the others, with dizzying twists throughout the narrative that will keep even the most jaded reader hooked right to the end.

Grace, still reeling from the recent revelations about his missing, now late wife Sandy and the arrival of the son he never knew they had, is drawn into a seemingly open and shut murder case. The victim had an abusive husband with a history of escalating violence who runs when confronted by the police.

However, discoveries about the victim and her colourful private life come to light that threaten Grace’s team’s certainty. With twists and turns in every chapter, James does his utmost to keep the reader hooked right to the end, an even a seasoned whodunit reader won’t guess the explosive twist implemented right at the very end of the novel.

The ultimate thriller, this novel is well researched and features a number of memorable characters. It is characterisation that really scores James points in Need You Dead; from Grace’s team of coppers through to the myriad of shady suspects, everyone has a great internal monologue and a sense of purpose. The dialogue is equally strong, although sometimes the police meetings can become plodding, with everyone determined to say their piece. Whilst I appreciate James’ need for accuracy, there is sometimes something to be said for artistic license, and if ever there was an occasion to cut some dialogue, it’s here.

Overall this is a great novel that benefits from strong characterisation, an intriguing and virtually unguessable plot and more twists than a fairground ride. With plotting like this it is easy to see how James has managed to sell over 18 million Roy Grace novels around the world.