June Trop Interview: “I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge”

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This week I speak to June Trop about her Miriam bat Isaac Series, especially her fifth and latest book, The Deadliest Thief. She gives me a guided tour of her work and shares an exclusive piece written in the style of her protagonist.

Please talk me through your background and how you got into writing.

A transplant from New Jersey, I’ve lived in New Paltz, New York in the mid-Hudson Valley for more than thirty years. I began my professional life as a science teacher in New Jersey and moved to New Paltz when I married Paul R. Zuckerman. I taught biology at the local high school before earning a doctorate in science education from Columbia University Teachers College. Then I served as a professor of science teacher education at the State University of New York before retiring to write professionally in 2007.

When taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry, I encountered Maria Hebrea, the first-century alchemist who, living in Alexandria, became the legendary founder of Western alchemy and held her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World. Years later I would model my protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, on her.

How about your protagonist, can you tell me something about her?

Actually, Miriam is right here and will tell you about herself as long as you swear by Alethia to keep her work a secret:

Times are dangerous here in Roman Alexandria. I am an alchemist, and while the goal of our league is to perfect human life—to heal, extend, and rejuvenate it—we also focus on base metals like copper and iron, to perfect them as well into gold. But that’s where we can get into trouble, big trouble. The emperor is afraid that by synthesizing gold, we will undermine his currency and overthrow the empire. And so, the practice of alchemy, even the possession of an alchemical document, is punishable by the summum supplicium, the most extreme punishment. Like the vilest of criminals, any suspect is summarily crucified, left to hang outside the city gates to serve as an appalling warning to others. And so, when an alchemical document was stolen from my home, I began to practice sleuthing. Now don’t forget: You must swear to keep my alchemical work a secret.

I live in the Jewish Quarter of Alexandria, on the coast and farthest from the main necropolis. So, we inhale the scent of the sea instead of the stench of the embalming workshops. If it’s exceptionally hot or I’m carrying valuables, my bearers take me in a sedan chair to the agora, our central marketplace. Otherwise I walk to the heart of our city, this cloaca of gossip, our venue for seeing and being seen, for hearing and being heard. Approaching the plaza, I feel its vigor filter into my arteries as haranguing hawkers and hucksters, orators and priests, soothsayers and astrologers, tricksters and swindlers, magicians and conjurers, snake charmers and peddlers, wizards and sorcerers promise me a miracle for a price.

But I used to have another reason for going to the agora, and that was to see Judah. I can still dream my way to that first encounter with him, that unexpected ache when I walked into his shop. He raised his lids to look at me and then squared his shoulders with a slow, deep, almost guttural intake of breath and an even slower exhale. That sensation of his nearness, close enough for our air to mingle and for his hand to brush against mine, would ignite my private fantasies.

Tell me about your latest book.

So far, I have written five books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series, all with three-word titles beginning with “The Deadliest…”.

In my latest book, The Deadliest Thief (Black Opal Books, 2019), the only surviving accomplice in a jewel heist vows to kill Miriam and her occasional deputy, the itinerant potbellied dwarf, Nathaniel ben Ruben. At the same time, a kidnapper seizes Miriam’s closest friend, Phoebe, and threatens to butcher her piece by piece. Miriam suspects the events are connected, but can she find her friend before it’s too late?

When Did You Discover Your Love Of Mysteries?

I became addicted to mysteries when, as an eight-year-old girl, I borrowed my first Nancy Drew mystery from a classmate.  Of course, I wanted to be Nancy Drew or at least be a detective just like her. Search as I might though I could find no secret passages, whispering walls, or unclaimed treasures. The only thing I could do was read more mysteries. When I’d read all the Nancy Drews, I graduated to Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately, with our ever-expanding genre, I’ve never run out of great mysteries to read.

So, What Was It That Made You Decide To Write Your Own Mysteries?

Aside from my own love of mysteries, I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge. Readers should have access to all the clues to solve the puzzle but, at the same time, be unable to do so. And then, the solution must satisfy. That is, readers should see that the author was fair. And finally, justice should triumph. The writing doesn’t get more challenging than that!

How Did You Turn That Idea Into A Book?

One source for plot ideas is the stories I’ve read or heard about but with a “what if” twist that would suit my characters and setting. Of course, that’s just the beginning of a plot idea. I keep a journal of them. Most of the storylines reach a dead end, but some come alive.

When I’ve fixed on a plot, I make a list of all the scenes to get from the beginning to the end and record the conflict that must occur in each scene to move the story forward. Then I create a subplot or two and insert those scenes where I want to leave the reader hanging for a while. This framework is what I use to flesh out each chapter. And, as a new idea emerges along the way, I insert that idea into the relevant scene or string of scenes.

Of course, that gets you only the first draft. But you really can’t know, really know your story until you’ve finished that first draft. Then the editing begins.

What Are Your Favorite Mystery Books To Read?

I have three: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and A Long Line of Dead Men by Lawrence Block. I love Doyle’s stories for their atmosphere; Christie’s for their twists; and Block’s for his character Matthew Scudder, the noir streets of New York, and his dialogue. Block makes the written word sound like the spoken word. To me, these three mysteries are like chocolate ice cream. I never get tired of them.

Why Will Readers Enjoy The Deadliest Thief?

My books have won various awards, which include praise for their riveting suspense, their authentic portrayal of life in Roman Alexandria, and for bringing the reader right there. The Deadliest Thief in particular is a puzzle filled with action, a startling twist, and an array of distinctive characters that support Miriam in her pursuit of justice against the thrust of time. Although fifth in the series, The Deadliest Thief, like all the others, stands alone. You can enjoy any of them at any time. So, let Miriam take you into the underbelly of her splendid city to help solve her most baffling case yet.

Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers?

These precepts guide me. I hope they can bring encouragement to others.

  1. Avoid comparing yourself to other writers. You have your own distinct voice and stories to tell.
  2. Accept your failures and learn from them. In fact, if you’re not getting rejected some of the time, then you’re not taking the chances you need to improve your craft.
  3. Be grateful you have this opportunity to express yourself.

Do You Have Anything To Add?

I welcome visits and comments.

Readers can learn more about The Deadliest Thief and the other books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series and watch the book trailers for each story on my website. I also post a weekly blog about life in Roman Alexandria on Facebook. My books are available in bookstores and online platforms. Readers can easily find them on Amazon. Most of the book trailers are on Youtube here.

Thanks for your time June, it’s been great hearing your thoughts!

Kim Booth Interview: “I think police procedures can be quite complex”

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Another awesome interview with a true crime writer today as I speak to Kim Booth, who wrote about an intriguing fraud case in his book A Cruel Deception. Read on to find out more about his book and how his former career as a policeman has influenced his writing.

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards
true crime?

I would describe my writing style “as it comes” really with true crime I write it as it is. You cannot really “Sex up” true crime as the facts of the offence are already established. I was drawn to true crime as having spent a career investigating numerous offences of different types I have always been interested as to why the offender commits the offence and how they were caught. I have been involved in the investigation of about 29 murders from domestic murders to contract killings, kidnaps and extortions a couple of serial killers with a bit of corruption thrown in.

In one instance I was present on surveillance when three contact killers arrived and shot our surveillance suspect in the head not knowing that he was under surveillance (the story is subject of a future book). I have specialised in offences of fraud over the years and have investigated just about every type of fraud going including a £350 million “Ponzi” scheme during which I travelled and conducted enquiries into foreign jurisdictions in Japan New Zealand The Bahamas U.S of America and Canada working with the local enforcement agencies.

My first true crime book is A Cruel Deception, which is the true story of a fraud I investigated. The family involved were financially ruined by the offender and it lasted 6 years until I came along. The victims an elderly couple were so embarrassed at being conned that they asked me to write a book about their experience also to act as a warning to others. I had to promise I would write the book but had to agree that it would be published after they had both passed on, which I did and that’s how it came about. In my opinion fraud is the crime where the effect it has on the victims is all too often underestimated as the repercussions can last for years afterwards. It is also so severely under resourced by the police and is in fact getting more and more common.

Tell me about how your background in the police? How do you draw on your experiences in law enforcement in your writing?

I have “survived” a 35-year career within the police and mainly in investigative roles. The roles have included general CID for a number of years, Detective Sergeant in the drugs squad, Head of Special Branch and Detective Inspector in charge of the Fraud Squad now Economic Crime Unit. I was previously on the regional Crime Squad (now National Crime Agency specialising in “cropping” (Rural surveillance). I have also been in charge as D/I of the Hi Tech crime Unit investigating all offences of internet crime involving frauds and paedophile offences on-line.

In an investigative role in the police you encounter so many different scenarios and offences committed that some do have a lasting effect and help to develop an enquiring mind, which does help in investigations. It really doesn’t surprise me anymore how devious and cruel people can be to each other.

As well as writing, you also advise other writers on police procedure, can you tell me a little about this side of your work? Have you worked with anyone exciting you can talk about with me?

I was approached a number of years ago by an author I met at a lecture on crime writing and he asked me if I could read his WIP and check it with regards to the accuracy of the police procedurals. I have been doing it ever since for a small number of authors. It’s not a paid situation but I do enjoy helping fellow authors with their books and reading their stories.

I think police procedures can be quite complex and it is important for them to be absolutely correct, as there will always be somebody who will be critical or find fault. I only advise authors who make contact but I have two or three regulars, one being Nick Louth of the Body Found series. I’m only too pleased to be of help.

What do you read yourself and how does this influence your books?

I mainly read true crime, terrorism and books on crime such as Robert Whiting Tokyo Underworld (having spent two months there following the fraud money) books on drugs dealers and investigation anything true crime orientated. Obviously I also read the crime fiction books author send me to check out procedural issues. I have found on occasions that the truth can actually be stranger than fiction. If I wrote some of my experiences down people wouldn’t believe them!

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

Having fulfilled my promise to write A Cruel Deception I have been challenged light-heartedly to write a crime thriller, which I have nearly completed. It also contains details of some M.Os of actual cases that I have been involved with which will serve for a good purpose to keep the reader thinking!   After that I have two more true crime books to write outlining certain murders I have investigated, one being a serial killer and a drugs investigation that resulted in a murder and a contract killing. I think that’s enough for now!

In your work as an advisor to other writers, do you have any big projects coming up you’re happy to discuss?

No really big projects, but I have been contacted by a film company that has shown an interest in A Cruel Deception, let’s see where that goes!

Anything you would like to add.

Corny as it seems I joined the police to help people and solve things. After having dealings with a fraudster I encountered whilst working in the hotel industry, I was interviewed by the CID. I thought, “I could do that”

I have taken great pleasure in investigating serious offences and putting people where they belong but I must add that it has not been hassle free over the years- but it has been worth it!

Thanks for the invite. I shall keep plodding on as they say!

A big thank you to Kim for taking the time to answer my questions!

Nate Hendley Interview: “The best way to keep the reader interested is to tell a compelling story”

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As a lover of true crime novels I was honoured to interview Nate Hendley, a Toronto-based journalist and author who has written several books, primarily in the true-crime genre. Here’s what he has to say about his work and the books he loves to read.

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards crime writing?

My style largely stems from the fact I work as journalist. I like to state the facts and tell a story while avoiding too much moralizing. I describe the actions of people in detail but don’t attempt to explain what they were thinking at a given time, unless I have direct knowledge of their thoughts, derived from interviews, reports or personal correspondence. I like to write in a direct, lean fashion that avoids too many flashy words unnecessary explanations.

I was drawn to crime writing almost by accident; ever since I was very young, I always wanted to write a book. I did write a few (unpublished) books in the fiction genre (primarily action type stories). In the early 2000s, an opportunity came up to write books for a Canadian publisher. The publisher was looking for short, punchy “pop history” books (that is, non-academic books about historic events or people). I pitched them a book about Edwin Boyd, a notorious Toronto robber from the 1950s. They liked the pitch, I wrote the book and they proceeded to suggest other topics to me, primarily in the crime genre. I accepted and became the publisher’s “go-to” person when it came to crime writing.

I like the crime genre because it’s extremely broad: you can discuss history, social issues, politics, personalities, cultural events and psychology all in one book. For example, I wrote a book about bandit duo Bonnie and Clyde that delved into the socioeconomic conditions they operated in (that is, the Great Depression of the 1930s) and how they actually had better guns and faster cars than most police departments at the time.

Tell me about how your background in journalism. How does this influence your writing?

My background in journalism has been extremely helpful to me as an author. When you’re a journalist, you learn the importance of deadlines, word count, interview techniques, research techniques and self-discipline. Journalists don’t have the luxury of “waiting for muse to strike” (unless they’re looking to lose their job). They have to be prepared to write a story any time, any place under just about any circumstances. All these attributes help in getting books done.

What aspect of your books do you feel attracts your readers and makes your work so hard to put down?

Storytelling. Keeping the reader interested. The best way to keep the reader interested is to tell a compelling story, usually based around people rather than an issue. Nothing will draw a reader in than a good story. Nothing will turn a reader off faster than a dry, dull recitation of facts or pompous opinionating.

Where do you find the inspiration for your work? Are there any specific exercises or tricks you use to get your creative juices flowing?

As a journalist you learn quickly how to sit down and write, even when you’re not in the mood. That said, there are certain helpful tricks that can kick-start creativity. I call one of these techniques, “Trick Yourself to Write”. Tell yourself, “I’m not going to do any real writing on my book today. I’m just going to put down some information/data in point form.” Write down your info/data—in rough form. Then, start “fleshing the points out”—adding details, transforming data/info into proper sentences. Then turn these proper sentences into paragraphs. Keep going. You will often end up writing several complete pages—even though your actual goal was much more modest.

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

Truman Capote ,author of the classic true-crime book, In Cold Blood, would be an interesting person to collaborate with. He never took notes (he claimed he had a photographic memory) and he had a weird, squeaky voice and theatrical mannerism. Yet, he did a brilliant job covering the murder of family in rural Kansas in the 1950s (the subject of In Cold Blood). Capote was accompanied by his friend, Harper Lee, the future author of the classic anti-racism novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, during his Kansas travels. It would have been fascinating to watch the two of them in action, interviewing locals and gathering facts about a horrendous crime.

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

I am playing around with some ideas for future books. Most of these ideas are based on historic crimes that occurred in Toronto. I live in Toronto so I figure I might as well cover my hometown. And it’s a lot easier to research a Toronto crime when you live in Toronto (as opposed to say, a crime that happened in the Baltics).

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

Anything by Jeff Guinn (click here to see his books on Amazon). Amazing writer who books about Jim Jones (the cult-leader who oversaw the mass suicide of his followers at Jonestown in South America) and Charles Manson. Guinn did a huge amount of research for these works and did a great job demystifying both Jones and Manson (who have achieved cartoon-like “super villain” status among many crime writers).

I also love Erik Larson (click here to see his books on Amazon). I’ve read two of his books, Devil in the White City (which tells two separate stories, about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers who was murdering people in Chicago) and Dead Wake (about the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, an ocean liner, by a German submarine, an action that brought America into the First World War).

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for hosting this blog. Writers hugely appreciate people who promote writing. Not enough people do.

Thanks to Nate for answering my questions! For more information about his books and background, please visit his website at www.natehendley.com or click here to check out his books on Amazon.

Alice Boatwright Interview: “I have loved mysteries ever since a librarian handed me a Happy Hollisters adventure”

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On Halloween weekend I catch up with mystery writer Alice Boatwright to learn more about her work and the extensive inspiration behind it.  

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

I have always been drawn to clean prose with good, insight-provoking metaphors and wit, rather than jokes. Although I admire more complex and experimental styles (James Joyce, William H. Gass, and Mario Vargas Llosa come to mind), this is not “me.” I loved “the Russians” when I growing up, but I never aspired to be Dostoyevsky. Willa Cather would be nice. Other writers who influenced me early on were Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and I do think E.B. White’s Elements of Style is the only writing book that is essential. Master that, and you know everything. I am still working on it.

I have loved mysteries ever since a librarian handed me a Happy Hollisters adventure when I was about eight years old; and there is something irresistible about the idea of trying to write the kind of books you enjoy so much.

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

My father was a musician and college professor, who began writing his first textbook when I was very young. I loved to go to sleep listening to the sound of his typewriter (an old Underwood that I still have). When this book was published, and he put the publisher’s special boxed edition on our mantel, I announced that he was not going to the only one in the family to publish a book. I began writing stories right away and studied writing all through college. I also have an MFA from Columbia.

Writing professionally turned out to mean something different than what I first imagined: a tenure-track teaching job and the bestseller list, of course. I have held a variety of jobs based on my writing skill, and I am very grateful for the amazing career I’ve had, which has taken me around the world. I have always written fiction too, but it is only recently that I have made an income from that.

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

My first book, Collateral Damage, had its origins in the thesis I wrote in graduate school. It slowly evolved into three linked novellas about the impact of the Vietnam War on those who fought, those who resisted, and the family and friends caught between them. I grew up during this era, and the conflicts at home and abroad, the brave decisions, and tragedies of this war influenced me profoundly. I wanted to write this book “no matter what” – but it took a long time and finding a publisher was not easy. Eventually it came out, won an award, and has now been released in a new edition in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the war.

I turned to writing mysteries during the time I was seeking a publisher for Collateral Damage. Vietnam remains a difficult subject that many publishers would not touch, and I thought I ought to try writing a book on a subject people enjoyed reading about – murder! I also knew it would be fun for me to write. My husband and I are both long-time Anglophiles, as well as avid readers of English mysteries, so we used to make up plots as we explored the countryside. One of my ideas was to write about an American married to an English vicar, and I still have the notes I scribbled down about this. A few years later, we moved to a village in Oxfordshire – and I had the time and experience to develop that idea into the first Ellie Kent mystery, Under An English Heaven (Cozy Cat Press, 2014). The second book in the series, What Child Is This?, came out in 2017; and the third will be out in the coming year.

I am delighted to say that the Ellie Kent books have proven to be very popular. Ellie’s experiences as an incomer and her outsider perspective as an American – as well as the opportunities for a certain amount of nosiness as the vicar’s wife – give her reasons to get involved in solving crimes. The books also give me the chance to write about England, which I love, and explore questions such as the meaning of home, the value of faith, and the challenges of blended families. Under An English Heaven won the 2016 Mystery and Mayhem Grand Prize and the first two books have both been Amazon bestsellers, reaching #1 in the traditional detective mystery category.

I have also always written short stories – another form I love. This year I had the pleasure of collaborating with an artist friend on Sea, Sky, Islands, a chapbook of three stories set in the beautiful San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington. She provided the cover painting and interior illustrations, so it is really a very pretty little book. I love today’s freedom to create any kind of book you want. It’s so different from the age of “no”, when agents and publishers had the final say about what you could offer to readers.

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

I like books that have strong believable characters and whose stories – regardless of genre – are grounded in the real challenges of life. I like to be inspired by the writer’s fresh and skilful use of language as the medium for creating a world and experiences that entertain, inspire, and move me. There are many writers I admire, so I will just name a few recent ones – Elizabeth Strout, Alice Munro, and Patrick Modiano. Amongst mystery writers, my go-to models are primarily from the Golden Age – Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie – but I love Georges Simenon and P.D. James too.

As a successful woman writer, what do you think the literary industry can do to provide more support for women looking to succeed?

Support for women writers begins with support for the idea that women and their ideas and experiences are as important and as autonomous as those of men. This requires a global effort to reverse centuries of tradition, law, and practice. Progress is variable, depending on where you are in the world. Of 774 million illiterate adults worldwide, 2/3 are women. So, the bottom line is education needs to be available to every girl and woman: these are potential writers and readers.

The next level of success is achieved if you actually write. The obstacles here are mainly in your own head. If you have a pencil and paper, you can write whatever you want. Making the time, having the interest and confidence to keep at it and develop your skills, believing in yourself: these are all challenges faced by every writer.

For training, if you have access to a library, you can educate yourself in every way from reading a wide variety of books to researching the business of writing and publishing. There are also many other options for learning from self-run writing groups and small workshops to degree programs. Today in the US, some 50% of graduate arts degrees are awarded to women. When I went to graduate school, there were 2 women and 13 men in my workshop.

I’m not sure the “industry” sees itself as responsible for cultivating women’s voices, but women demanding to read books by women certainly make a difference. From what I have read, men still predominantly prefer books by men (or are predominantly interested in the topics men tend to write about).

Sisters in Crime is an organization that was founded more than 30 years ago to address the disparity between men and women in getting published and reviewed, as well as bias in other areas, such as award programs and size of advances. Its programs supporting the professional development of women crime writers are well-respected, and it has been successful in raising these issues and documenting progress.

One indicator of success for women mystery writers is that the percentage of women on the NY Times bestseller list has risen from 15% in 1950 to 44% in 2010. But there are undoubtedly many challenges facing women writers as in other fields. The possibility of self-publishing has created new opportunities, but making a living from writing fiction is probably as hard as making a living from acting or painting or playing the violin.

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

To be honest, I can’t imagine collaborating with anyone. The joy of writing fiction comes from being free to do whatever I want. It’s my show. I would be interested in being a fly-on-the-wall to watch Georges Simenon produce a beautifully written mystery in a weekend. Of course, he had a wife. That makes a difference.

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

My primary focus is on finishing the third Ellie Kent mystery, which will come out in 2020. I also fiddle around with my stories and make notes when other book ideas come along.

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

My Puget Sound chapter of Sisters in Crime is very prolific, so I have a stack of books I am looking forward to reading by authors such as Marty Wingate, Candace Robb, Ingrid Thoft, Curt Colbert, Waverly Fitzgerald, and Jeffrey D. Briggs. It’s very special to follow the progress of writers you know, because you know both the book and all that went into making it happen.

Do You Have Any Final Words Of Advice?

If you want to be a writer, keep writing, no matter what, and never give up on a story you want to tell until you get it right and get it out!

Huge thanks to Alice for answering my questions, it’s been a pleasure to hear your thoughts. You can learn more about Alice’s work HERE.

Alex Callister Interview: “Audio is a genre in its own right”

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Today I talk to Alex Callister, an industry expert on media, telecoms and internet stocks. By day, she visits high security web hosting sites, by night, she writes about a dystopian world where organised crime have harnessed the power of the internet and are taking over. Her award-winning books are the talk of the town, so naturally I was keen to find out more.

What is your background and what drew you towards writing thrillers?

I spend my day wondering and worrying about the latest internet developments. City analysts ask the question, ‘What if’ for a living.

What if you could murder someone easily and anonymously online? Would there be many takers? How would people respond? Would some cultures take to it more than others? What would it do to society? How would the government respond?

These were the questions I was turning over in my mind at the start of the Winter Dark process.

How did you get into writing? Did you always want to write?

I have always wanted to write Winter. She is my version of a Hollywood action hero – Bond, Bourne, John Wick, Vin Diesel, John McClane in Die Hard etc.

As a writer of both audiobooks and printed books, what skills do you need to create engaging content for these very different mediums?

You have to be really on your game with audio. Every word is going to be performed. You can’t have a single duff line. With print the eye glides over boring bits – audio there is nowhere to hide.

I have been really lucky to have an amazing narrator. I deliberately put in a range of nationalities because she is so good at accents. The twist at the end of Winter Rising came about because of her skill with different voices. I could see how the reveal would work really well.

Audio is a genre in its own right. It is like being told a story round the campfire. I am fascinated by what you can do with sentence length and rhythm. I hear what I am writing in my head: the rise and fall of it.

I had a great letter from a speech therapist in Florida who said she had been late for work every day for a week because she couldn’t stop listening in the staff car park. That’s the real challenge, to immerse the listener and make it hard for them to leave.

What features do you believe are vital to creating good thrillers and how do you incorporate these into your work?

These days commercial fiction can be quite formulaic. You need a hook, inciting event, reveal, surprise twist etc. When you are trying to get published you have to play by the rules. A good thriller actually makes your heart race while you are reading. That’s my goal. Not every scene obviously but most of them. Doesn’t have to be fear. There is plenty of erotic content in the Winter books.

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

Lee Child has the biggest influence on my actual writing style. No one can touch him for tightness of prose. Mick Herron, Ian Fleming, John Le Carré are my genre. John Fowles, Angela Carter. Lord of the Flies. Fight club. Mustn’t forget Fight club. What is the first rule of Fight club?

Where do you take your inspiration?

The movies. Winter Dark is FULL of one liners! I also love fairy stories like Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Snow White and use a lot of fairy tale tropes – mirrors, pills, eyes, sweets etc..

Winter Rising is set in an old graveyard in South East London. The Guardsman has a particular gravestone where he likes to kill people. A real gravestone was the inspiration for this. The angel looks like it is weeping…

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Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

I work at night 10pm – 2am. Put the earphones in to get me in the mood. Each of my characters has a signature song. I just have to play it and I am right back with them. Winter’s is Bette Davis Eyes, the Dean Ray version. It has this line, ‘Pure as New York snow….’

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

How to choose?? The Marquis de Sade? I would love to write a Terry Pratchett. Winter is basically Granny Weatherwax fifty year younger

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

Winter Rising, the sequel to Winter Dark, is out on 1 October. It features the Guardsman, a classic character from a gothic horror. It is interesting to reimagine this kind of killer in a technologically developed age and to see what opportunities that gives him.

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

One of Winter’s early supporters, Robin Morgan Bentley, has his debut novel The Wreckage out in February which I am excited to see.

Anything you’d like to add?

You can find me on acallister.com Thank you for having me!

It’s been a pleasure talking to Alex! Winter Dark was the Audible Thriller of the year 2019 and is published by Bookouture Jan 2020. Her second book in the series, Winter Rising, is out on Audible today- keep a look out for it!

 

 

Janet Roger Interview: “What really got under my skin was Marlowe’s voice guiding me around the next street corner”

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As a fan myself, it’s great to hear from someone whose work was heavily influenced by Raymond Chandler. Therefore it is my great privilege to introduce Janet Roger, who spoke to me about her work and how the great creator of Philip Marlowe came to inspire it.  

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

As a teenager I’d read all of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories – not so long after they were written as I’d like to think – and they knocked my socks off. He wrote about Los Angeles and its neon-lit boulevards, its sour, gritty downtown and gun toting cops (a novelty to this young European) and made them exotic. But what really got under my skin was Marlowe’s voice guiding me around the next street corner, and beyond it into a stale apartment block or a down and low bar. He invited me to look over his shoulder, let me into his highs and lows, talked me through them and then put me in the seat beside him to drive me home. It was heady stuff, up to the point where the story began to seem incidental to the city and its moods, its characters and their speech patterns. What really mattered was the time, the place and the people you might run into. I’d discovered a new kind of mystery writing and got hooked.

How did you get into writing crime fiction?

By the back door. I’d been fascinated by a discovery made in the City of London in the early Cold War, a true detective story in its own right, and wondered how to tell it. Now the fact is, in those years a radically new wave of crime fiction was hitting its stride. Meanwhile, Hollywood had embarked on a slew of dark, ground-breaking movies: think Double Indemnity, The Third Man, Gun Crazy or Out of the Past. In other words the story I was interested in had unfolded right at the heart of classic noir. So the way to tell it, and at the same time set it in period, seemed obvious. How to bring that off? How do you stay convincingly close to the conventions of a classic genre and still bring the modern reader along for the ride? Well, that gets into larger questions of how you choose to write your historical fiction. But it was absorbing, and great of fun to do. 

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

Read Shamus Dust and you’ll know I’m absolutely sold on Chandler’s landmark essay on crime fiction, The Simple Art of Murder. He wrote it for Atlantic Monthly in 1944, and I’m not the only one who thinks that – along with his collected letters – it’s the very best of his writing. Yes, you can include the Philip Marlowe novels in that! I won’t paraphrase the original. It argues his case to perfection and the essay is still in print, as a preface to his short stories. Spoiler warning: he’s not at all complimentary about the classic, murder-over-high-tea puzzler!

Please tell me about the books you read. How do they influence your work?

First thoughts are two very slim books that I’d have given my writing arm for. First is Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Forget the movie, it’s a travesty. The original story is lyric, sparkling, spare and unsentimental about its heroine, who goes her own way first and last, entirely her own woman. Such a shame that Hollywood didn’t serve Capote anywhere near as well as his childhood friend, Harper Lee, when To Kill a Mockingbird reached the screen only a year later.

My second even has a connection of sorts to Shamus Dust, where there’s actually a passing nod to Homer. (How does an ancient Greek epic poet possibly fit in a hardboiled detective story? Newman, the private-eye narrator, asks the same question!). Christopher Logue’s War Music is a narrative poem, not a translation but a reworking of some of the first books of Homer’s Iliad. The writing is fast paced, knife-edge precision, thrilling in its accounts of hacking, screeching hand-to-hand combat. Exquisite in its fixing of the heroes of the Trojan War, the landscapes they maul over and the skies they die beneath. You’ll read either one of these two in an afternoon, then want to reread it next afternoon.

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

Absolutely no rituals! I have a mortal terror of routine in all things. It drives me completely nuts. Writing, like everything else, gets done wherever I happen to be, in the expectation I’ll be somewhere else tomorrow. There, got that off my chest! But you’ll gather I rely more on inspiration than method. Where does the inspiration come from? Probably from a lifetime of needing to get out of a soup I just landed in!

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

Collaborating isn’t really for me (see above!) but it’s an interesting question. It occurs to me that there are artists I’d love to talk to about their way of seeing things, for example the early-twentieth century paintings of Edouard Vuillard. He’s hard to categorize, and if you’re not familiar do look him up. His oblique, fragmented take on his surroundings – often interiors – invites you to loiter over what’s going on there. Another painter would be Camille Corot (earlier than Vuillard) who has a magical way of overlaying real landscapes with the lyric haze of visual memory. The common thread is how to represent seeing and remembering. Better stop there before this becomes a visit to an art gallery.

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

I’m well on into a sequel to Shamus Dust called The Gumshoe’s Freestyle, set six months later in the City (of course), in the summer of ’48. Those immediate postwar years made interesting times. Freestyle ties up some loose ends, returns to some characters from the first story and develops with them. Actually, there’s a connection planted toward the close of Shamus Dust, though you do seriously have to know your Chandler to spot it. I liked the idea of some oblique, passing link between two cases that Newman and Marlowe will never know they once shared an interest in. That said, Freestyle stands on its own and takes our private eye to an entirely new case. It’s been interesting to decide which characters to go back to, how fleeting or important they need to be, and of course, how to introduce them to a reader who doesn’t already know them from the earlier story.

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

Well, one that’s new to me is Jonathan Letham’s Motherless Brooklyn. It’s now arrived on the big screen thanks to the persistence of Edward Norton, who wrote the screenplay, directs and performs. The book was first published twenty years ago, so it’s time I caught up with another author who takes the private-eye genre and defies its expectations. The film, by the way, moves the setting back to the late 1950s. There’s something magnetic about the period, isn’t there?

It’s been great to hear from Janet; thank to her for taking the time to answer my questions! Her book Shamus Dust is out on the 28th October. You can find out more about her HERE

 

Daniella Bernett Interview: “People often ask me why I chose a journalist and a jewel thief as my protagonists”

Daniella Bernett Author Photo

Apologies for the gap between posts, I’ve been away on a well-deserved trip back down to Dorset! Today I’m back with an exciting interview with writer Daniella Bernett, who discusses her thriller writing and how she keeps her readers on the edge of their seats.  

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

Mysteries and suspense thrillers are terribly appealing, like a siren call to my soul. It seemed only natural that I when gathered up the courage to write my first novel, it would be a mystery (with a soupçon of romance to make things that much more interesting).

For me, mysteries have always been about the puzzle. I don’t need to know how much blood and guts have been spilled. I want to know why the crime was committed. The author dangles the answer before the reader’s eyes. The clues are like pearls that are strategically dropped here and there. It is the reader’s job to collect and arrange all of them so that they form a necklace. And voilà, the solution miraculously materializes. That’s what I wanted to do.

Specifically, talk me through your upcoming book When Blood Runs Cold. What do you think will draw readers towards it?

I’ve laced When Blood Runs Cold with layers of lies and betrayal. After all, whose interest isn’t piqued by a whisper of scandal and intrigue?

When Blood Runs Cold is about how one can never escape the past. Journalist Emmeline Kirby is reeling from the recent discovery that her parents were murdered while on assignment when she was five years old. She’s determined to find their killer. At the same time, she’s working on a story about the suspicious death of Russian national Pavel Melnikov, a man who tried to double cross Putin and Russian mafia boss Igor Bronowski. Her questions have garnered her a growing number of enemies. Along the way, two men are poisoned to prevent them from exposing these ugly machinations. If this wasn’t enough, Emmeline learns that everything she believed about her life has been a lie and she becomes a murder suspect.

Then there’s Gregory Longdon, her dashing fiancé and jewel thief-cum-insurance investigator, whose past has caught up with him in the form of ruthless entrepreneur Alastair Swanbeck. Swanbeck has ties to the underworld and Putin. He has been waiting years to exact his revenge for Gregory’s meddling in things that should have been left alone. And now, he has found his perfect tool: Emmeline.

To add a bit more tension, I’ve included a Sotheby’s auction of the Blue Angel, a flawless 12-carat blue diamond that men are willing to kill to possess.

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

After I graduated from college with a B.S. in Journalism, in the four months it took me to find employment, I wrote a mystery novel. My first job was as a copywriter at the publisher Penguin USA. One day, I plucked up the courage to show my book to one of the editors. She actually read it. She told me that it was better than what she usually sees from debut authors. However, she said that I should think more in terms of a series. I tried revising the book and submitted it to several agents, who all rejected it. Thus, I chalked it up to a good exercise. But I didn’t forget the editor’s advice. The kernel of the idea for my Emmeline Kirby and Gregory Longdon series slowly started swirling around in the back of my mind, until one day when all pieces fell into place and Lead Me Into Danger, Book 1, came to life on the printed page.

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 derived from all sorts of sources. It could be a newspaper article; a snippet of overheard conversation; a real-life crime, or a dream. I get a lot of ideas from the sights and sounds of a city or an area that has made a strong impression on me. You’re either going to laugh or you’re going to run very quickly in the opposite direction, but oftentimes I come across a place and think, “Wouldn’t this be the perfect setting to find a dead body?”

For me, setting is an important character all its own, one that helps to establish the tone and propels my stories. ’ve been an Anglophile since I was a little kid, so naturally my characters had to be British and London had to figure prominently in my books. I also adore Venice. That enchanted city’s history of intrigues was simply begging to be featured in Lead Me Into Danger, where Emmeline and Gregory become ensnared in a hunt for a Russian spy in the British Foreign Office.

In terms of Deadly Legacy, Book 2, what set the story in motion in my mind was the 2003 heist at the Antwerp Diamond Centre. A group of Italian thieves stole $100 million in diamonds, gold, and other jewellery. Only one man was caught. The diamonds were never found. This captivated my imagination. From Beyond The Grave, Book 3, focuses on Emmeline and Gregory’s rekindled relationship. His recent resurfacing has thrown her safe world into turmoil. Therefore, I wanted to take them outside of London, where they wouldn’t be distracted by daily routines. I selected Torquay along the English Riviera in Devon because I love the sea. Gently lapping tides, a rugged coastline, romantic sunsets, and murder. A Checkered Past, Book 4, is back in London and deals with a looted Nazi painting, an IRA collaborator and, alas, a murder or two. I am passionate about the issue of looted Nazi art, as everyone should be about injustice.

In term’s of writer’s block, what I usually do is scream. No, not really. In my head, yes; out loud, no. Seriously, I sit for a bit going over the last paragraph I wrote hoping for a new burst of energy. A strong cup of tea often stimulates my brain cells. But when the muse utterly fails me, I turn off my laptop and step away to allow the plot to steep in my mind overnight. This is usually the best medicine. The next day, I come back renewed and refreshed with a different perspective. And what do you know? The words begin to flow once again.

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

Agatha Christie. There are so many things I admire about the grande dame of mystery. She was truly a master at her craft. What I love the most is that Christie conceived such deliciously wicked and ingenious plots that appeal to the reader’s intellect. Jealousy, love, and greed are the primary motives for murder. Christie took these motives threw them into a pot, swirled them about, and in each book conjured up a new way to explore these emotions. Her stories endure to this day because of her astute insight into human nature and all its foibles.

I would like readers to be talking about my books long after I’m dead. I try to leave readers wanting more, like Christie did with such consummate skill. I hope I’m succeeding.

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

Old Sins Never Die, Book 6, will be released in fall 2020. I’m currently working on Book 7. As you can see, Emmeline and Gregory are always dragging me off on another adventure.

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

My to-be-read list never dwindles, but off the top of my head these are some of the books I’m looking forward to: Summer Country by Lauren Willig; Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen; Northing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer; The Other Woman by Daniel Silva; Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini; Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

People often ask me why I chose a journalist and a jewel thief as my protagonists. A journalist is inherently curious about many subjects. His or her job is to ask questions to uncover the truth and ensure transparency. Naturally, a journalist would be intrigued by crime, especially murder. The determination to find answers and see that justice is served are all important.

Now, how does a jewel thief fit into the model of a sleuth? Aren’t lying and evading the law a thief’s modus operandi? Isn’t this in stark contrast to a journalist’s reverence for the truth and justice? Most definitely. That’s exactly the point. A portrait in contrasts. Who better than someone on the wrong side of the law to discern the twisted workings of a fellow criminal’s mind? A thief immediately recognizes things that the honest person would never even contemplate. In Gregory’s case, he has a certain code of honor. Murder is an offensive transgression, a line that should never be crossed. Thus, I have two diametrically opposed sleuths who are of one mind when it comes to the taking of a human life: the culprit must pay for the crime; otherwise chaos would reign in the world.

My website is http://www.daniellabernett.com/. You can follow me on Facebook and Goodreads.

Thanks to Daniella for taking the time to answer my questions, it’s been great.