Recently on the news there have been a lot of pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, mounted on an eye-catching white horse, riding through snow up the sacred Mount Paektu, the highest mountain in the country.
It struck me when I saw those pictures that there was something vaguely familiar about them. It didn’t take long to recall why. Back when I was a horse-mad small child (and indeed, a horse mad NOT-so-small child) I had a wonderful book about famous horses through history. One of them was a small grey Arabian stallion, Marengo, who belonged to the Emperor Napoléon I of France.
Napoléon apparently once told an artist who inquired how he’d like to be portrayed, “Paint me calm, on a spirited horse.”
It is said that the Emperor owned 130-150 horses during his career, but the most famous of these is probably Marengo.
Napoléon Bonaparte was noted for liking small, agile horses although it is said that he was not a particularly skilled horseman. He was raised modestly on the island of Corsica, and did not learn to ride until beginning his military career. He had joined the artillery and was serving as an officer when Revolution broke out in France in 1789. Capitalising on the opportunities provided by the Revolution, he climbed the ranks very rapidly—he was a general by the time he was twenty-four.
Read the rest of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere
As I write this, early in October, the news is full of what’s happening in Syria. In human terms, it’s an utter tragedy that is unfolding as we watch. In political terms, the ramifications could resonate world-wide.
Normally, I shy away from commenting on politics. But last year when I was looking at the underlying themes for BAD TURN, the latest Charlie Fox crime thriller, I knew there was going to be an international arms dealer involved. I also knew I there were going to be differing opinions within the dealer’s organisation about which side of a conflict he was going to supply—or refuse to supply—with arms and equipment.
Syria was, to me, an obvious candidate. And not just Syria but the Kurdish population of the region. The Kurds inhabit eastern Turkey, areas in the north of Syria, Iraq and Iran, as well as touching into Armenia and Azerbaijan, almost up to the border with Georgia.
When Syria slowly disintegrated into civil war following the Arab Spring, the rebels, including the Syrian Kurds, were supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was backed by Russia, Iraq, Iran and Hezbollah.
The situation in the region is incredibly complex and has no easy solution. I knew the Kurds had been instrumental in the suppression of ISIS in Syria and northern Iraq. I also felt, rightly or wrongly, that the Coalition forces involved in the first Gulf War had called upon groups such as the Iraqi Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then abandoned them to his not-so tender mercies afterwards.
The civil war in Syria has been ‘characterised by a complete lack of adherence to the norms international law’ according to a United Nations report. More than five million Syrians have fled the country during the conflict, with over six million being recognised as Internally Displaced Persons. An estimated 13.5 million required humanitarian assistance.
While both sides of the conflict are guilty of human rights abuses, the Syrian regime was named by the UN as one of the worst offenders on its annual ‘list of shame’. It is estimated that at least 60,000 people have died through torture or the dire conditions in Syrian government jails since 2011. Many of the violations are judged to be war crimes.
As things seemed to quieten down over last winter, I wondered if the underlying themes I’d chosen for BAD TURN were still relevant. And particularly the point that one of the major players in the story might have a certain sympathy for the plight of the Kurds and want to find a way to assist.
For one thing, during their battle against ISIS, the Kurds captured and held many thousands of accused ISIS members in detention camps across north-eastern Syria. This included more than ten thousand actual fighters as well as supporters. Pleas for international help in dealing with these detainees have gone unanswered.
Now, with the Turkish incursion across the border into Syria, there are fears that the inevitable chaos could lead to a wholesale release or escape of prisoners and ISIS regaining a foothold in the region.
When I originally looked at the situation in Syria as a theme for BAD TURN, I saw it as a larger conflict being played out on a smaller stage. I tried to condense it down into one man’s efforts to do the right thing when there was no right answer. Events of this month have suddenly made it all rather more prophetic than I ever intended.
Somehow, I’d much rather have been way off base.
For the past ten days since the new Charlie Fox novel, BAD TURN, came out, I’ve been on the road—virtually speaking. I’ve travelled halfway around the world without ever leaving my desk. I’ve been Blog Touring—or perhaps that should be Tour Blogging?—rather than the physical kind of touring. And it’s been fun.
Of course, in the past I’ve travelled all over the place to libraries and bookstores for the publication of various books in the series, quite often using a trip to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention to kick things off. As Bouchercon is held in a different city/state every year (even making it over to the UK several times) it means that the starting point has also always been different.
But, this time around I knew I wasn’t going over to Bouchercon and work-in-progress projects are beginning to pile up. So, doing another blog tour, ably organised by the fearsomely efficient Ayo Onatade, seemed like a good choice.
I’m told that sometimes authors rely on their blogger hosts doing a series of reviews but I hesitate over this way of doing things. What happens if one of the reviewers involved really doesn’t like the book? After all, I would have thought they have far too many books on their teetering TBR piles to read it first, just to make sure.
So, I prefer to do guest posts and articles on topics related to the book, mixed in with a few reviews where blogger/reviewers are happy to do them.
Read the whole of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.
Hard as it is for me to believe it sometimes, this will be book thirteen in the series. They do not get any easier to write.
Mostly, though, I feel that’s the way it should be. If something is worth having, it should be worth struggling for. And I do agonise over the story, the development of the characters and the continuing journey of my main protagonist, Charlie herself. I always try to find a slightly different problem to throw at Charlie, a different means of testing her.
This time, the question I posed at the outset was, having resigned from the executive-protection agency run by Parker Armstrong and been forced to give up her company-subsidised apartment in New York, has she gone over to the dark side by taking on a job for a shady international arms dealer?
Usually, you have the reassurance of your agent and publisher behind you. They are excited by the initial idea, approving of the outline, and then they get to go through the delivered manuscript, line by line, to give you their feedback and advice.
Or not, as the case may be. I’ve delivered books to publishers before now only to be greeted by weeks of silence before the copy-edits turn up with no comment on the work other than corrections to punctuation and spelling.
It can make the approach of publication day something of a nail-biting experience.
This time, however, is different.
Read the rest of this blog over on MurderIsEverywhere.
I’ll be talking about the story behind the story, the settings and the characters with either a guest blog or a review every day from pub day, September 27, through to October 06. It should be an interesting ten days. I hope you’ll join me!
Day 1: September 27
Day 2: September 28
Day 3: September 29
Day 4: September 30
Day 5: October 01
TripFiction with Tina Hartas https://www.tripfiction.com
Day 6: October 02
Day 7: October 03
Day 8: October 04
Day 9: October 05
Day 10: October 06
Last weekend I wrote about the story behind the titles to my books, both in the Charlie Fox series and the standalones. That was Part One of this blog, which came about because of a question I received from a member of my Advance Reader Team about my titles—where they came from and at what stage of the story they were decided upon.
So, for Part Two this week I asked all my blogfellows over at MurderIsEverywhere to provide a quick story about their titles—if any had to be changed, and the story behind them. In a panic that perhaps nobody would want to take part, I also asked a couple of author friends for their stories, which are also included.
“My original title for my debut novel was probably silly—DEATH BY SILVER. My publisher said that they didn’t want the word “death” in the title. That word they told me diminished the type of story I had written. We changed it to CITY OF SILVER. I omitted the word death from the ensuing titles. When the same publisher with the same editor was about to publish my fourth novel, I gave it the title STRANGE GODS, hoping to subtly communicate that the series would follow the Ten Commandments. They didn’t like that title. They wanted a title with “death” in it. I asked, “Why?” My editor said the “fashion” in titles had changed. I held my ground and won because no one at the publisher could think of a better one than STRANGE GODS.
Conclusion: In publishing, Plus ça change, plus ça change! When it comes to titles, the answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind.
My titles are simple. MURDER IN / AT / BELOW—then insert the different quartiers of Paris.
The difficult thing though is that Americans don’t know or can’t pronounce some of these areas so I go for an easier roll off the tongue area. My latest book, MURDER IN BEL-AIR, was supposed to be called MURDER IN PICPUS—but that’s an ancient reference to fleas who brought the plague in this quartier and the name stuck. Not a very nice one. So I went with Bel-Air the name of the Metro stop. So many people thought it was Bel Air in Hollywood!
To read all the other MurderIsEverywhere authors’ stories, plus John Lawton and Mick Herron click here.
The title of this blog sounds as though it should actually be the collective noun—like a Parliament of Owls, a Wiggery of Barristers, a Decanter of Deans, or a Shrivel of Critics. (Honestly, I’m not making these up.) Perhaps a Shelf of Titles be more appropriate? Or, these days, a TBR of Titles?
In fact, the title was suggested by my fellow MurderIsEverywhere blogfellow, Jeffrey Siger. And the subject matter came about because of an email I received from a member of my Advance Reader Team, Patti Ruocco:
“One thing: when you have the time, I’d love to know how you come up with your titles, and how much of the story you know when the title occurs.”
I started to reply to this email but it quickly struck me that there was more to say about this and perhaps other people might be interested, too.
The first of the Charlie Fox books was KILLER INSTINCT. This title, it turns out, had already been used back in 1995 by tennis champion, Martina Navratilova and Liz Nickles. Fortunately, there is no copyright on titles, so I was able to call my debut novel the same. To my knowledge, the title has been used twice more. First by Joseph Finder in 2007 and next month James Patterson & Howard Roughan will be bringing out the latest incarnation.
I can’t remember at what point the title suggested itself for this book. I wrote it in fits and starts over a period of years. I believe it originally had THE at the beginning of it, but this was soon dropped. I felt it fitted in with the idea of Charlie discovering, after being a victim, that she had what it took within her to fight back. Indeed, earlier in the book one of the other characters tells her, somewhat disparagingly, that she’s got the moves but not the killer instinct to go with them. Needless to say, she proves him wrong.
I’ve always tried to make the titles have some connection to the stories, if not to be actually referenced during the narrative. RIOT ACT was about civil unrest due to racial tensions between two neighbouring housing estates and HARD KNOCKS was about a tough bodyguard training school.
I particularly liked the title FIRST DROP for book four. The story not only starts at a Florida theme park where Charlie is having the wits scared out of her on a giant rollercoaster, but I also felt it was a good analogy for the story. After all, once you’ve climbed the lift hill on that rollercoaster and hit the first drop, you can’t stop or get off. You simply have to cling on for dear life and hope you make it to the end of the ride.
By now, of course, I was firmly entrenched in two-word titles for the series. ROAD KILL was about ‘accidents’ befalling motorcycle riders and seemed an obvious choice once I’d decided on that theme.
SECOND SHOT was not so easy. I played with other titles, too, but by this time my US publisher had taken on FIRST DROP and dropped heavy hints that they’d like the next one to be a) set in the States and b) called Second something-or-other. As it turned out, SECOND SHOT suited the storyline right from the start of the book, as Charlie is shot twice on the first page. Of course, then the publisher wanted to follow this numerical sequence, ignoring the books that didn’t fit into it.
THIRD STRIKE took a bit of coming up with, but it fitted the story as it largely centres around Charlie’s consultant surgeon father, who is on the verge of losing his medical licence – or, as it would be put in the UK, to be struck off. I wanted to combine this with the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ idea as well. I seem to remember I was well into the story before the matter of what to call the book was settled.
But I was already thinking about the next title way before I came up with the story for the next in the series, although I’d been toying with the idea of Charlie getting involved with a cult of some kind for a while. When I was looking for a good name for this cult, Fourth Day suggested itself. Taken from Genesis, it is the moment God creates light and dark and the divide between them. Even if I hadn’t wanted to continue with the numerical titles (and by that time I’d changed US publishers so, strictly speaking there was no need to do so) I would have stuck to FOURTH DAY for this book.
FIFTH VICTIM was about kidnappings on Long Island. Charlie is trying to prevent her young principal from becoming the fifth victim of the title. Again, it was another one I came up with before I started writing. To a certain extent, it shows how far ahead I’m planning the series, even on a subconscious level. I could have stopped using numbers after THIRD STRIKE, but I’d already worked out the plots for the next two books, even in vague form.
Rather than Sixth anything, I finally moved away from those dratted numbers for book ten. I’d wanted to set something in post-Katrina New Orleans for a while, and I’d also wanted to do my homage to one of my favourite movies, Die Hard. Combining this with the city known as ‘the Big Easy’ made DIE EASY almost inevitable.
ABSENCE OF LIGHT is an oddity in the series in that it’s a shorter book than the others and a three-word title. That comes from a Buddhist adage: in the absence of light, darkness must prevail. I had the title before I began work on the book, and I knew at some point in the story Charlie was going to end up underground in darkness. Indeed, that’s where she starts off in the flash-forward opening scene.
The title for FOX HUNTER was a suggestion from a reader, Thomas Talinksi. When I checked on Amazon, the only books with similar titles were about show jumping from years previously. Besides, the premise of this book is that Charlie is hunting for someone and could very well be being hunted herself, so it had a double meaning.
As for the latest book, BAD TURN, that title took a bit of coming up with. It seemed to fit as not only is there the connection with the old saying about one good turn deserving another but also because it hints at the direction Charlie’s life might just have taken…
One of the most difficult books to put a title to was last year’s DANCING ON THE GRAVE. This started out as POINT AND SHOOT, although I never quite liked that one. Then it became FALLING SHORT OF GLORY, which I rather liked but people thought suggested it was about the American Civil War. Then fellow author John Lawton came up with a line from a Dory Previn song BEWARE OF YOUNG GIRLS. When I looked up the full lyric, I found the lines immediately following that one are: too often they crave to cry / at a wedding and dance on a grave. And I knew as soon as I read that, I’d got my title.
Of course, originally, I intended that book to be a standalone. It is now the first in a trilogy, of which I’m working on the second book right now. Only, this time, I do have the title up front. And for the third instalment, too! But you’ll have to wait to find out what they are.
This week’s Word of the Week is prorogation, meaning the action of discontinuing a session of parliament or other legislative assembly without dissolving it. King Charles I, on the other hand, dismissed parliament altogether in 1629 and resolved to rule alone. It did not end well for him.
As climate change starts to move up a gear, so we begin to experience greater extremes of weather. Even in the normally temperate UK, last month’s heatwave has given way to torrential rain, high winds, and flooding. (Yeah, welcome to August.)
I’ve been interested in extreme weather for many years. In fact, one of the things I’ve always wanted to do is go tornado chasing. Just as long as I didn’t have to get too close.
But, with this in mind, I wondered what were the most extreme instances of extreme weather that had ever been recorded. And if you’ve wondered about that, too, read on…
When it comes to the worst recorded rain, it rather depends on how you choose to measure it. The most rain in one minute, for instance, was 31.2mm/1.23in in July 1956 in Unionville, Maryland. Holt, Missouri had the most in an hour—305mm/12in in June 1947.
When it comes to really being hit by rain, however, you need to go to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean during cyclone season. During Tropical Cyclone Denise in January 1966, Cilaos on Réunion recorded 1825mm/71.9in of rain in 24 hours. In January 1980, Cyclone Hyacinthe brought Commerson the most rain in a single tropical storm—a whopping 6433mm/253.3in. And Cyclone Gamede hit the same place again in 2007, this time dumping a record 4869mm/191.7mm of rain in four days.
Just in case you were wondering, the least rainy place on record is Quillagua in Chile, which receives less than 0.2mm/0.0079in per year.
The most snow within a twenty-four-hour period was in Capracotta, Italy in March 2015, when 2.56m/100.8in fell. The most in a calendar month was 9.91m/390in in Tamarack, California in January 1911.
The widest area ever covered by a single snowfall was when between 1-76mm/0-30in fell across nine countries in South Africa in August 2012. The deepest snowfall recorded was on Mt Ibuki in Japan in February 1927 when 11.82m/38.8ft was recorded.
Read the rest of this blog over on MurderIsEverywhere.
There will always be some authors whose work you absolutely adore. As soon as you hear their latest book is available for pre-order, you can’t wait to stake your claim on a copy. You get hold of your book on publication day and lock yourself away to devour it almost non-stop. Woe betides anyone who dares to interrupt you for anything short of the house being on fire.
I know—I’ve been there. With my favourite authors, I love their voice so much I’d read their shopping lists if I could get hold of them without coming across as a creepy stalker type.
And even then it might be worth it…
But when it comes to authors I’ve never read before, I’m always happy to take recommendations. Personal—from people I know and whose reading tastes mirror my own—is always best. But this is no longer always the case.
A survey carried out last year by BrightLocal showed that a staggering 91% of 18-34-year-old consumers now trust online reviews as much as personal word-of-mouth. Not only that but:
- Consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before feeling able to trust the product.
- 86% of consumers read reviews before making a buying decision. (And if you go back to that 18-34-year-old age bracket, the figure rises to 95%.)
- 57% of consumers will use a business only if it has 4 or more stars.
- 40% of consumers only take into account reviews written within the past two weeks.
So, if you’ve enjoyed a book and feel other people would, too, why not leave a review to help them not only find it, but have the confidence to give it a try? Your opinion matters, and carries just as much weight with potential readers as a conventional magazine or newspaper review.
Of course, whatever review you leave, it’s got to be an honest one. If you’re reading a series and didn’t enjoy the latest instalment as much as an earlier one, then say so. In fact, having a range of reviews (providing they’re predominantly positive, of course!) sometimes has more clout than only having five-star ones.
Reviews don’t need to be long or involved. They don’t need to examine the structure in great detail, deconstruct the narrative arc, or explore the underlying themes. (Some people enjoy going into this kind of depth, and it’s always fascinating for the author.)
A few sentences saying what you liked about the story and the characters works just fine. All reviews, short and long, help other lovers of books to decide what to read. After all, people read far faster than authors can possibly write, so there is always a desperate need for more fuel to feed the flames.
And reviews really help authors. Not only do they provide encouragement for those days when the words just will not come, but they also nudge sales along and help authors to be able to keep writing the books that you love.
So, would you be prepared to review books you’ve enjoyed on Amazon and goodreads? (Or, if you read on an ePub reader, on Barnes & Noble’s Nook site, or Apple Books, or Kobo?) Or maybe even a few lines on one of the crime-reading groups on Facebook?
If you’re already a regular reviewer, you’ll know exactly what to do, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?
How do I Review?
The first piece of advice I’d offer is always to write your review elsewhere and then copy and paste it into the review box on the appropriate site mentioned below. I know with reviews, or comments on blogs or other online forms, that it’s Sod’s Law, the longer the piece you’ve just written, the greater the likelihood you’ll press the Post button and your hard work will be eaten by the cyber gods, never to be seen again!
So, how to review:
On Amazon, go to the page of the book you want to review, scroll down the page and, on the left-hand side, you’ll find the star symbols and the [Write a customer review] button.
Click or tap the button, which will prompt you to sign in to your Amazon account, if you haven’t already done so. You’ll then get this screen to complete and fill in as you wish.
Goodreads helpfully provide full instructions:
On the book page on Apple Books, alongside the [Details] button is one for [Ratings and Reviews], as shown here for the first of my Lakeland trilogy, DANCING ON THE GRAVE:
Choose the [Ratings and Reviews] option, which gets you to this screen, allowing you to give a star rating. You can just rate a book one to five stars (one being low and five being high) and not leave a review. But, if you do, you’ll be asked to sign in to your account before you can go any further.
Scrolling down the book page on Kobo you’ll get to this section which invites you to share your thoughts and [Write your review].
And Barnes & Noble’s Nook book pages have a very similar option to be found by scrolling down the page to the [Write a review] button.
What kind of things do I say?
If you’ve read lots of book reviews, then you already have a good idea of what’s required. And, if you haven’t, just treat it like writing to a friend to tell him or her about the book you’ve just finished and why you think they ought to read it, too.
The only thing you don’t need to do is explain the premise of the story, as the book description on the page does that. And, please, don’t give away spoilers in the plot. Imagine reading a review of the movie The Sixth Sense, or The Usual Suspects, and it told you the big twist at the end before you’d had a chance to watch it for yourself.
It’s always a good idea to plan and write out your review in advance, so you can copy and paste it into the site. This saves the frustrating experience of having all your careful words disappear in a computer glitch.
- Decide the star rating for the book of 1 to maximum 5. This is not an index of quality, simply an indication of how much you personally liked the book.
- Think about a short title for your review that sums up what you think of the book.
Then choose a few of the following—or all of them if you want—and write in your own words:
- whether you liked the book
- what you liked most (or least)
- how you felt about the characters
- if you felt you could relate to them—did they seem like real people?
- if you felt the story kept you turning the pages
- if you recommend the book—and, if so, why?
Above all, your review should be honest, from the heart, and help other readers to discover new authors and new stories. And that, in turn, sells more books. So, everybody wins!
It’s perfectly acceptable for you to receive a free ARC so that you can produce your review. In fact, Amazon now requires you to mention this. So, if this has been the case, then at the end of your review, you should simply say: I received a free Advance Reader Copy of this book for review.
That’s it. Hope this has helped you with the What, Why, How and Where of reviewing. That just leaves…
Reviews on goodreads can be added anytime as you work your way through your To Be Read pile. They can be added for books that are not yet published or ones that are on pre-order. Reviews on the retailer sites, like Amazon and Apple, need to go up as soon after publication as possible, to give a book that initial boost.
If you like an author’s work, they would really appreciate you saying a few words about their books. But other readers will appreciate it even more.
This week’s Word of the Week is esprit d’escalier, which can be literally translated as ‘the wit of the staircase’ and means the predicament of thinking of the perfect response too late to use it. It apparently comes from a time when the smartest of Parisian gatherings happened in mansions that had their reception rooms one floor above the ground. Thus to think of a witty retort while on the stairs meant you had already left the party and the moment to use it was past.
Virginia Woolf famously said that what a woman writer needed to work was “a room of one’s own” and “£500 a year”. Of course, when she said that in 1928, women were not welcome in many of the institutions that were open to male writers, and £500 / $650 a year was a pretty hefty income. (It works out at around £30,000 / $37,500 in today’s money.)
Sadly, ninety years later many writers don’t earn much more than £500 a year. And that’s at the non-adjusted rate. Only a small fraction—a mere 5%—make in excess of £30k and even then they perhaps not do so with any great regularity.
Last month, the Royal Society of Literature published its own findings from a 2018 survey funded by the Author Licensing and Collecting Society into UK authors’ earnings. The report, called A Room of My Own, makes fascinating if sobering reading.
The RSL points out that although more than 184,000 books are published in the UK each year, and that sales of books and journals rose to £5.7 billion / $7.1 billion—not to mention all the other media which books give rise to—the majority of authors earn less than £10,000 / $12,400 a year. Considering the hours involved, that’s not even minimum wage.
But, for many of us, this is not simply a job. It’s an urge, an obsession, a compunction, and a catharsis. We write because not writing would be infinitely worse.
Anything else is a bonus.
Read the rest of this blog on MurderIsEverywhere.