James McCrone Interview: “I’ve wanted to write professionally since I was a boy”

James McCrone

Political thriller author James McCrone discusses his work and where he finds his inspiration.

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

I’m drawn to taught stories, strong characters and good writing. These are what (good) mystery-thrillers deliver. The writers I admire—Le Carre, Follett, Greene, to name a few— propel their stories relentlessly, economically. At the same time, though, they’re not afraid to pause over a question or to notice beauty. Le Carre and Greene in particular are masters of putting to work every little thing they pack into their narratives. I hope my work is as full.

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

I’ve wanted to write professionally since I was a boy. I’ve written stories, and some of them have been published. I studied for an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Washington in Seattle, but most of my work was unpaid.

It wasn’t until 2015, when we moved abroad for a year in Oxford, that I finally made a good fist of it. My wife had a fellowship appointment at the university, and I didn’t have a work permit for the UK. I threw myself into writing, finishing and publishing Faithless Elector in March of 2016 and beginning Dark Network that same month. Since returning to the United States last year, I’ve continued writing full time.

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 can come from anywhere, but I’m most interested in stories where the official version of events seems thin, naïve, or deliberately misleading. I want to know the rest of the story, the other side. For instance, when I first learned about how the Electoral College works and that electors weren’t bound to vote as promised, I thought it was mad. It seemed ripe for mischief. The idea and the outline for Faithless Elector came quickly. The writing of it came much slower.

As to writer’s block, I’ve been fortunate. When I find myself blocked in one area, I move to another. If a scene isn’t working, I work on a different scene, or I make notes about a different story entirely.

All kinds of incidents creep into my work, sometimes unconsciously. For instance, when I was writing about Imogen’s isolation at the FBI in Dark Network, and likened it to “traveling through a country where she didn’t speak the language,” I had just returned from a pretty frustrating grocery shopping trip in Konstanz, Germany, where I didn’t speak the language. I was struck by how little interaction I had with anyone else, how isolated I felt. I had typed the sentence before I’d even thought about it.

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

I’d love to work with Oscar Wilde, though I don’t think it would be much of a collaboration, really—more just me transcribing whatever witticisms he was saying at the time. Still, it would be great fun. Moss Hart, one half of the Kauffman & Hart screwball comedy team, would also be fantastic, and I think I’d learn a lot.

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

I’m working on Consent of the Governed, which will complete this series (due out fall of ’18); and I have some sketches for a fourth Imogen Trager novel. Before starting that fourth novel, though, I want to focus on my play, Culinati, a comedy set in a busy New York restaurant kitchen. It asks the question, “what would you serve if your life depended on it?”

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

I got the new Le Carre, Legacy of Spies. I’m very excited to make a start there. I also want to check out Attica Locke’s work. She’s the author of Pleasantville and Bluebird, Bluebird. My wife raves about her writing so much I’m getting kind of jealous!

Thank you James, it’s been great hearing your thoughts. You can learn more about James and his work HERE.


The On-going Relevance of Stephen King’s Books

stephen king

As the latest movie adaptation of IT continues to be a box-office favourite, his last collaboration with his son, Sleeping Beauties hits shelves and the Netflix adaptation of Gerald’s Game also hits screens, I explore the reasons behind King’s enduring success.

His first published work was a short story which was sold in 1967, and since then King has had a number of hits, with many of his novels and stories gaining popularity with readers before being made into successful TV or film adaptations which garner him international attention. The Shawshank Redemption, based on King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption from his 1982 collection Different Seasons, regularly tops lists of the best films of all time.

Despite having won copious awards, gained worldwide acclaim and amassing a fortune from his vast back catalogue, King, who is aged 70, still remains a great public figure and often publishes multiple books each year, and holds numerous promotional tours and appearances to promote them. According to his publicist, he is so incredibly busy that he doesn’t even have time to do an interview for this blog (the horror!).

Additionally, King also maintains a strong social media presence, with many followers enjoying the tales of his Corgi, Molly, AKA The Thing Of Evil, as well as reading about his latest exploits and seeing trailers for the latest adaptations of his books.

It is this ongoing presence, as well as King’s willingness to embrace the changing publishing market (a number of his books have been run as online series), and his honesty and openness about writing, such as his non-fiction works, that has helped him to remain a key, cult figure in the horror and supernatural writing market.

After all, we know all there is to know about King and his life thanks to his ongoing social media sharing and his non-fiction books, such as On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He is also known to run podcasts and share his thoughts on social media and his official site has a YouTube channel, as well as pages on some of the most popular social network sites including Facebook and Twitter.

stephen king book

His works themselves are ingenious, varied and unique, and they make for great adaptations. Recently his fantasy series The Dark Tower was made into a film, and his murder mystery novel Mr Mercedes, which mirrored hardboiled detective fiction, was adapted into a TV series with Brendon Gleeson as the protagonist. By writing across genres, King has been able to reach readers with a variety of tastes, and the adaptability of these books, and their enduring popularity on screen, has helped him reach those who prefer to watch rather than to read.

The writer has also created an enduring legacy, with many members of his family now writing successfully, including his children and wife. In so-doing King has creating a writing clan comparable to the Kardashian’s in its influence, with himself firmly ensconced as the kingpin (deliberate pun).

At the end of the day, King’s works remain a strong influence throughout the horror/ thriller genres, and his enduring popularity and influence will, thanks to his extensive back catalogue, continue on for many decades to come.

The Top Five Alternative Detectives in Crime Fiction

Dirk Gently

Whilst classic detective fiction has always been a real favourite of mine, over recent years I have grown fond of creative versions of popular Crime Fiction styles. It’s always exciting to find something new, and although I love new takes on traditional genres, it is also great to see people subverting the style. Check out my top five alternative detectives, which I hope will introduce you to something new or throw up an old favourite.

5. Hercule Poirot: Agatha Christie’s spectacularly weird Belgium sleuth may not seem a likely contender for a list about alternative detectives, but even nowadays this strange little man with the egg shaped head, formidable moustache and penchant for order and neatness is considered unusual. In 1920, when The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel to feature this peculiar detective, was published this character was considered decidedly odd. Christie then went on to write novels featuring an elderly female detective, Miss Marple, which again subverted the tradition of having white, middle aged protagonists that had been prevalent in the genre for many years.

4. Cadfael: The monk turned detective is an innovative invention, but also rather unusual. Formerly a solider and man of the world, this newly appointed holy man works to uncover the truth during a series of twisted cases. A talented herbalist and sharp eyed observer of people, he uses his talents in both his roles to delve into the murkiest mysteries that the 12th Century monastic setting in which he lives is.

3. Thorpe Hazell: Victor L. Whitechurch’s Railway Detective is strange and unusual, but he has a sweet charm that makes the short stories in which he seeks out everything from kidnapped children through to missing paintings so enjoyable. A staunch vegetarian and train enthusiast, this enigmatic little man can untangle even the most complex of problems.

2. Monsieur Pamplemousse: Created by Michael Bond, the writer behind Paddington Bear, ‘Mr Grapefruit’ and his intuitive bloodhound, Pommes Frites, go on a number of light hearted adventures in this vast series of novels and stories. As a food inspector and gourmet extraordinaire, Monsieur Pamplemousse is often called in to investigate culinary conundrums that would baffle even the most astute of readers.

1. Dirk Gently: Douglas Adams’s quirky detective, who runs a Holistic Detective Agency that works on the power of coincidence to uncover the truth, is both witty and enticing. Don’t be put off by the two abysmal TV adaptations; neither the Netflix version nor its BBC predecessor do the novels any justice. Adam’s is very skilled at taking tried and tested tropes and distorting them, creating interesting and unique tales that are both fascinating and memorable.

Valerie Connors Interview: “I always knew I’d write a book one day”

valarie conners

Animal lover, businesswoman and general badass author Valerie Connors talks to me about her books and how she looks to her life for inspiration for her novels.

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

Some of my earliest characters sounded an awful lot like me talking, which I think is fairly common for beginning writers. But by the time I finished my fourth novel, A Better Truth, I felt I had finally created a main character whose voice was completely and consistently different from my own. I write commercial fiction, so my stories are plot driven, but I want my readers to feel an emotional attachment to my characters as well. I try to put in lots of twists and turns so my books will keep people reading late into the night because they want to know what happens next. And I hope that some of my characters will stay with them for a while after they’ve turned the last page.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I always knew I’d write a book one day. I didn’t know when, and had no idea what I’d write about, only that it would be fiction. My business background is in finance, accounting, and accounting software implementation. My mother was an artist, and my father is a musician. I had a decade or so of music studies too, until I discovered boys, and all that went straight out the window. So until I started writing a decade ago, my creative side had been neglected during all those years of working only with numbers.

It was actually a story from my mother’s past that finally inspired me to sit down and start writing. My third published novel, A Promise Made, is based on that story. I draw on my past experiences for settings in my books. Most of them are set in places I’ve lived or visited, places that evoke strong emotions for me. I also use people from my past as the foundation for my characters so I can visualize them when I’m writing. People who have given me a hard time at work appear in my books as villains, and that’s fun for me!

Please tell me about your books. What really makes you work stand out from the crowd?

My first novel, In Her Keeping, is about a woman who wants desperately to have children, but can’t. When her marriage falls apart, she moves to the mountains and finds herself living next door to a tiger sanctuary and caring for a tiger cub instead of a baby.

Shadow of a Smile is about a mother and daughter, family secrets, and lies. When the main character’s mother dies suddenly, Meredith discovers that her mother’s life was very different than she thought it was. The story is told from two points of view, the main character in the 1990s, and through the mother’s journals that were written in the 1960s. As the story unfolds, Meredith learns the truth about her mother’s life as well as her own.

A Promise Made is set in post World War II America. It’s about a young woman who finds herself with a small child and an abusive husband. When she has finally had enough, she leaves the marriage and takes her three-year-old son from a small town in Upper Michigan to New York City to make a new life for herself and her child.

V book

A Better Truth is a psychological thriller whose central character struggles to recognize the difference between reality and hallucination, nightmare and memory. Willow St. Claire experienced a horrible trauma as a small child, and the harder she tries to forget it, the more vivid her memories become. She finds peace and tranquillity alone in a mountain cabin, until a knock at the door one night sets in motion a chain of events that will change her life forever.

Readers tell me that my books are hard to put down. They seem to enjoy my twists and turns, and they love to hate my villains.

Writing across a number of genres, how do you adapt your writing style to suit each novel?

It’s interesting, the business of choosing a genre to write in. My first novel, In Her Keeping, was categorized as women’s fiction, but I wasn’t thinking of that when I was writing it. My publisher was the one who made the designation. Same thing with my second, Shadow of a Smile. When I wrote A Promise Made, I didn’t set out to write historical fiction either, my story just happened to have taken place in the past. My latest, A Better Truth, didn’t start out to be a psychological thriller; it just sort of evolved into one. Sometimes your characters can surprise you, and it’s best to follow their lead. I will say, though, that A Better Truth turned out to be the book I had the most fun with. Adding a touch of madness to your protagonist can make a story much more interesting!

If you had to choose, which style of writing is your favourite and why?

I would definitely choose the thriller/suspense genre because it’s just so much fun to write it. It’s fun to keep readers guessing, and me too sometimes, right up until the end.

What books do you enjoy reading and how do these impact on your writing?

I listen to audio books on my commute to and from work five days a week. I live in the city, so it’s not unusual for me to be in the car for an hour or more each way. So I like books that are long and involved, which is how I started reading Stephen King, and Ayn Rand. I enjoy psychological thrillers, mysteries, and suspense, but I also love a good literary novel, women’s fiction, or historical fiction, particularly the ones set in the World War II era. I believe that for a writer, reading lots of different kinds of books is a requirement of the job. It’s like continuing education. Some authors demonstrate how to create tension and suspense. Others can teach you character development. Ayn Rand taught me that it’s possible for an eleven hundred-page novel (Atlas Shrugged) to keep my interest all the way to the end. Perhaps more surprising is that I’ve read that book several times. I’m a different kind of reader now, however. I find myself analysing the writing, looking at structure, pacing, and point of view.

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

I find inspiration everywhere. The inspiration for my most recent novel, A Better Truth, actually came to me at the hair salon. When my old hairstylist left, they gave me an appointment with a tall, attractive blonde woman named Willow. I thought that Willow would be a great name for a character, and I immediately started assigning attributes to her. Before long the whole story unfolded. I usually get a first line in my head, and build the opening scene around that. The title comes next, or at least the working title. Then I decide where the story will end. Once I know where I’m going to start and where I’m going to end up, I get to know the characters and follow their lead. That’s where the magic is.

Fortunately, I haven’t experienced writer’s block yet. On the contrary, I currently have five projects started. Since I still have a full-time day job as the CFO of an engineering firm, I sometimes have to wait several weeks before I have the time to sit down and write. So by the time I get to the keyboard, I have lots of material that’s been simmering in the back of my mind and is ready to spill out onto the pages.

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

It would be Stephen King, absolutely. He’s such an amazing storyteller, and comes up with the wildest ideas. Imagine how much fun that would be!

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

Yes, at the moment I’m working on a dystopian thriller that’s still in the early stages. I’ve also started sequels to my first novel, In Her Keeping, and my fourth novel, A Better Truth. My detective series and a love story are also on my project list. One day I hope to spend less time at my day job, and more time writing.

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

Yes, the latest Stephen King novel, Sleeping Beauties. It’s written with his son, Owen, and is being released on my birthday next week. I’ve already pre-ordered the hardcover and the audio version. There have also been so many good psychological thrillers lately, by authors I hadn’t read before. I just finished two by Ruth Ware, who wrote The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood. There are so many amazing authors out there. I just keep buying more books. I have two writing rooms in my house where I can be surrounded by books while I work. That makes me very happy.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

To learn more about me, and my writing, I hope you’ll visit my website at www.valeriejoanconnors.com where you’ll find the first chapter of each of my books. My Facebook author page is: https://www.facebook.com/Valerie-Joan-Connors-Author-178400845541233/. Follow me on Twitter at: @VJConnors

Thanks for your time Valerie, it’s great to hear your thoughts!

Saigon Dark Review: A Fascinating Emotional Rollercoaster

saigon dark

Following my interview with Elka Ray, I checked out her innovative novel Saigon Dark, a thrilling tale focusing on morality and how seemingly small decisions can come back to haunt you.

The novel follows a desperate mother, disillusioned with her life, who finds herself in an impossible situation. In a bid to escape it she makes a decision that will change not only her own life, but also that of those around her. Spanning over a decade, the novel shows the fallout from this one wrong turn and how it impacts on the protagonist, Lily’s, life, as well as that of those she loves.

Elka, who has travelled extensively, draws on her strong knowledge of Asian culture and geography to provide a novel that, although exceptionally emotive and thought provoking, is also richly depicted, and filled with luscious descriptions of the Vietnamese way of life which her character now lives. Every description is well crafted and designed to stick with you- I can still picture the ‘four dark marks, like fingerprints dipped in ink’ that adorn the wrist of a local beggar.

Characters are often described, not in definite terms, but through a discussion of how they make the protagonist, Lily, feel or the memories they evoke in her. Through the first person narration we see a world filtered by Lily’s morals, memories and beliefs, creating an unreliable but fascinating narrative.

Fundamentally a strong thriller, Saigon Dark is a complex novel that does not fully belong to any genre. This is a tale of bitterness and betrayal, love, loss, and a desperate struggle to hide the truth.

Strike on Screen: Where’s the Charisma?

cormoran strike

The Silkworm, the BBC adaptation of J.K Rowling’s novel of the same name, has just finished, although perhaps not in the blaze of glory that viewers expected. More like a fizzle of fast running before the killer, who had barely appeared previously, was finally caught in quiet possibly the lamest struggle in the history of action scenes.

I have already mentioned in my previous review of the TV show, that the books, although interesting, witty and adventurous, are also widely inconsistent and, at times, highly unbelievable. The TV series embraces both these qualities, whilst at the time offering us a protagonist who is about as charismatic as a dead fish.

Tom Burke is a solid actor, but his Cormoran Strike is dull and uninspiring. Despite the sharp lines he has as the one-legged solider turned private detective, his delivery is strangely monotonous. In the final episode, his portrayal of a man with one leg improves vastly as he is shown limping across the road after his glamorous assistant, who is chasing the unconvincing villain of the piece, a literary agent embroiled in a very long-winded revenge plot. That is perhaps the only saving grace to the show, which has gone on for far too long (and there was only two episodes The Silkworm, which accompany the three of the adaptation of Rowling’s first Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling).

Both adaptations were identical representations of the novels on which they are based, but this does not excuse the poor acting and casting. Burke, despite his stilted dialogue delivery, is a good choice for the foul-mouthed, large framed detective, but Holliday Grainger is a poor selection for Strike’s capable and empathetic assistant Robin Ellacott. She is too glamorous, which works well during the scene where the pair visit a literary party, but looks out of place in the homely setting of her partner’s parent’s house, or even in her employer’s gloomy office. Grainger seems to know this herself, and wears a bemused expression in almost every scene bar those in which she is allowed to wear her glad rags.

Overall, I was not entirely impressed by the visual depiction of the Strike novels, although they do capture some of the craziness that Rowling’s novels have to offer. There is something great about the way the books feel like those real life situations that are so weird that you only believe them because you have actually experienced them yourself. The TV series also encapsulates this, embracing the unusual names, bizarre situations and outrageous settings of Rowling’s London with ease. However, the wooden detective, his beautiful but out of place assistant and the unfrightening villains they chase all conspire to make the series less than enticing.

At the end of the final episode, the announcer stated that the adaptation of Career of Evil, the third novel in the series, will be shown sometime next year. A hard core Crime Fiction fan who has followed Strike ever since Rowling was first unmasked (deliberately, in one of the worst attempts at hiding the truth I have seen in years) as the writer of the series, I will of course be watching- if you’re not a fan and you didn’t catch all of the rest, I really wouldn’t bother.

The Lighterman Review: An Intense Thriller That Will Keep You Hooked

the lighterman

The third in the Charles Holborne series, Simon Michael’s gripping novel evoking the dark and twisted setting of 60s London. There is a hint of John le Carré in this tough legal thriller that packs a punch as the reader is swept along towards a fascinating conclusion.

Following on from the first two novels featuring Criminal Barrister Charles Holborne, The Brief and An Honest Man, The Lighterman begins with a jaw-dropping action scene. The spellbound reader is drawn into a bombing that evokes the horror of the Second World War with a flashback to 1940s London, which is in the grip of terror as Germany bombs the city and its residents flee.

It is in this intense start that sets the pace for this intense and well-crafted book, as we follow Charles in his quest to protect his family and his reputation. His past returning to haunt him, and Charles is forced to face up to the consequences of his previous actions.

One of the best things about this novel is the names, some of which could have come straight out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. From Ninu Azzopardi to Billy Hill, the characters’ names are so incredibly unbelievable that they become realistic, and add another dimension to the complex and intriguing people who populate this rich story.

With a great combination of history, adventure and crime, The Lighterman is makes for a unique read that stays with you. Every now and then I see something or hear a phrase that reminds me of part a of Simon Michael’s exhilarating book. Despite flicking between the 40s and 60s, there is something deeply relatable about the novel that makes impossible to put down and leave readers riveted. This was another book that I have been meaning to review for a while, but once I started it reading it I found it impossible to put down and devoured it in less than a day. I would urge anyone who enjoys challenging, dark thrillers to check this out- you will not be disappointed.