As we speak, I am in the midst of a Blog Tour for the publication of my new book, the second in the Lakes Crime Thriller trilogy, BONES IN THE RIVER. I should have been talking about the book at Newcastle Noir and CrimeFest as well.
Current circumstances—UK lockdown for Covid-19 coronavirus—have put paid to any physical festivals or conventions. So, everything has moved online, with panels and interviews and readings. I took part in the recent Virtual Noir At The Bar (Episode 5 on April 29, from about 44:00min to 51:00min) instead of actually meeting up, in an actual bar, to do actual readings from our works.
As well as keeping on top of the Blog Tour, I’m also deeply into the planning of the next two books. And that’s where I run into the biggest questions of all.
How are we going to write about the events of 2020 in the future?
If I look at BONES IN THE RIVER, for instance, the events of the story occur at the annual Appleby Horse Fair, held in the Cumbrian market town for hundreds of years and famous as being the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.
This year it has been cancelled.
The opening scene, in which a man accidentally runs down and kills a child on a deserted country road at night, could still happen in lockdown—but not after he’d just spent an evening having a meal with friends where they were undoubtedly all sitting around a dinner table—inside—in close proximity.
My CSI, Grace McColl, goes from crime scene to office and out into the field again, mixing with both the public and her colleagues. My detective, Nick Weston, goes to interview suspects and potential witnesses in person rather than by phone or Zoom, because how can you really get a feel for the reactions of the people you’re talking to unless you can see them while you talk.
People are brought in for questioning—their legal representatives sitting alongside them. What will happen in future? Zoom again, or will this cause a major leap forwards in projection hologram technology?
Grace visits her mother, Eleanor, who has moved back from the south coast up to Appleby. Grace’s ex-husband, Max, has been making himself useful around Eleanor’s new house and garden, perhaps as a way of trying to reinsert himself into Grace’s life. Even with the slight easing of lockdown due to take place in the UK from June 1, this is dubious behaviour. They have a barbecue—which as it’s outside would probably be allowed. But Nick also attends and he doesn’t count as family. Not sure he and Grace stay the full six feet apart at all times there, either…
Besides, Nick’s a father with a young daughter, Sophie. Would he risk her health by associating with others more than he absolutely had to for his job? And what about Nick’s partner, Lisa, who has been working suspiciously late at a hair and beauty salon that wouldn’t be open for business yet anyway.
While one of the other CSIs is suspended for a supposed error. He’s staying at home in his scruffs, watching the TV and playing video games—perfectly feasible in these lockdown times! But then he gets a visit from one of his colleagues and, instead of insisting the man stays on the doorstep so they can chat (no garden available in a little terraced house in Workington) he invites the man inside his home—without hand sanitiser, gloves or face mask.
The Travelling community at the Fair live in close proximity inside their vardo and bow-top horse-drawn caravans, and spend their time largely out of doors, but at the Fair they all mix and mingle with no thought to cross-contamination. There’s plenty of washing goes on, but it’s mostly of horses in the River Eden, as fits with tradition rather than to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection.
And at the stand-off near the end of the book, the police are more concerned with the numbers involved than the risks of getting too close to the saliva of others.
If I’d been writing this book next year, and setting it this year, it might have been a very different story altogether.
So, what do I do about the third instalment? Do I mentally set the story pre-winter 2019, when Corona was still just a beer, and a virus was something more likely to be contracted by your computer than by your elderly relatives?
After all, I didn’t specify that BONES IN THE RIVER was set in any particularly year. It’s contemporary but not tied to any specific, non-transferrable event—the millennium, for instance.
But, in a few years’ time, the obvious setting of a book pre- or post-Covid-19 will undoubtedly date it. I went through my very first book recently, KILLER INSTINCT and UN-dated it. I didn’t change the story but I did take out references to minor things that I felt dated it badly. References to computer floppy disks, video cassette tapes—even public phone boxes, most of which have either disappeared from our streets or been turned into tiny libraries or stations for community defibrillators.
The next book I have planned is a bit more of an experiment, and therefore could be set at any time in the last few years. I don’t intend to make reference to Covid-19 in that story. It still feels too soon. Too raw.
This will give me time to see what’s going to change in societal behaviours in the slightly longer term before I start the next Charlie Fox book. If Charlie’s greatest threat to someone in the future is that if they don’t stop what they’re doing, she’ll cough on them, it’s going to change things in a big way…
What are your feelings, both as writers and readers about the inclusion of Covid-19 in books written right now, to be read in the next year or eighteen months? Do you want them to reflect these strange times in full and horrible detail, or do you read as more of an escape of what’s going on around you, and therefore not want to be reminded?
And will pre-2020 become seen as the new Golden Age—both of crime and of life?
This week’s Word of the Week is petrichor, meaning the smell of rain on dry earth. It comes from the Greek petra which means stone and ichor, which means the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. My thanks to EvKa for sending me this among a whole list of wonderful words. A gift to treasure for a logophile like me!
You can read and comment on this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.
Today is Day 4 of the Blog Tour for BONES IN THE RIVER. Today I’m the guest of Tina Hartas at TripFiction. This site specialises in the locations of books, so wherever in the world you live, or are thinking of visiting, you can find a book there which is set in that particular place. As Appleby-in-Westmorland is central to the story of BONES IN THE RIVER, that was the obvious topic of our conversation:
Talking Location With author Zoë Sharp: APPLEBY-IN-WESTMORLAND
#TalkingLocationWith…. Zoë Sharp, author of BONES IN THE RIVER: Lakes crime thriller Book No2 in Appleby-in-Westmorland
It was the street names of Appleby that first fascinated me—Scattergate, Low Wiend, Battlebarrow, The Sands, Doomgate. They sound more like something out of Game of Thrones than a small market town in Cumbria.
But Appleby—the ‘in-Westmorland’ part was only added in the 1970s when the county of Westmorland was abolished—dates back to the Norman conquest. Its claims to fame include the fact that George Washington’s father received his classical education at the Grammar School in Appleby, and the town has been represented in parliament at different time by William Pitt the Younger and by Viscount Howick, who became Earl Grey. Both men went on to become Prime Minister.
Lady Anne Clifford lived and restored Appleby Castle in the 17th century. She founded the alms houses on Boroughgate, gives her name to an ancient path, Lady Anne’s Highway, that stretches a hundred miles from Skipton Castle to Brougham Castle in Penrith. Independent of spirit at a time when women were seen mostly as property, I give a nod to her in BONES IN THE RIVER by creating a pub called the Lady Anne’s Arms. There are plenty of fine pubs in Appleby but, considering the events I have happen there, I don’t think any of them would thank me for using a real location.
The river of the book title is the Eden, which runs through the middle of Appleby. It rises high above the Mallerstang valley to the east, and eventually spills out into the Solway Firth, ninety miles to the north. It is, apparently, one of the few rivers in England that flows northwards.
Appleby is the home of the annual Gypsy Horse Fair. This is held in the second week in June, lasting from Thursday to the following Wednesday, although the main days are Friday to Sunday. It takes place on Fair Hill, which was originally unenclosed land just outside the borough boundary, where the old Roman road crosses Long Marton Road. The latter is closed to traffic during the Fair, when it becomes the Flashing Lane, where horses are trotted up at great speed to show them off for potential buyers. This is after, of course, they’ve been washed in the Eden.
There are records of the first fairs at this site going back to the medieval period. They went through various incarnations until, at the turn of the last century, the event had become a major fixture on the Gypsy and Traveller calendar. Today, the Fair is huge, attracting around 10,000 from the Travelling community—the largest such gathering in Europe. Another 30,000 spectators descend on Appleby.
It’s a misnomer that the Fair takes place by Royal Charter from King James II. It actually has a ‘prescriptive right’ to exist, after having done so for so many years. In 2020, sadly, the coronavirus outbreak has led to the Fair’s cancellation.
I can’t help a certain feeling of irony that the very year BONES IN THE RIVER comes out (on May 26 2020), where Appleby, the Fair, and the surrounding area plays such a big part—will be one of the rare occasions the Fair will not go ahead.
When I lived in Appleby, I always knew it would be a wonderful time and place to set a crime thriller. After all, such a large influx of strangers into a small community is always going to cause friction. Not only between incomers and locals, but also among neighbours. “It’s a good time to settle old scores,” I was told. “You can get your own back on people who’ve annoyed you all year, and blame it on the Gypsies.” The fact that so many people converge on the town, stay for a limited period, then scatter again, creates a time imperative to solve any crime that takes place there.
I knew that I wanted to make the course of the River Eden an integral part of the story. From Water Yat at Mallerstang—an open area where the Gypsies often set up camp—through the amazing waterfall at Stenkrith and the wide, shallow stretch in Appleby where the horses are taken into the water to be washed. The river became more than simply a location—it became another character in the book. And it’s those stories, where the setting is as vital to the narrative as the things that happen there, are so often the ones I enjoy reading—and writing—the most.
Read the illustrated version of this piece over on TripFiction.
Day 3 of the Blog Tour for BONES IN THE RIVER is a review by Sarah Hardy at By The Letter Book Reviews. It is always fascinating to see what different reviewers pick up on in any book, and this was no exception:
It always horrifies me when you hear of hit and run accidents. I would like to think most of us would do the right thing if the unfortunate ever happened but sadly this isn’t always the case.
The fact that there are two deaths to investigate made this story much more intriguing. Especially as one happened years before. Throw into the equation that gypsies have set up home, the police, like most of us, can’t help to jump to conclusions as to who might be behind the deaths.
From the start the reader knows who the culprit is for the hit and run. I loved that we knew, adding to the tension of the already gripping story line and making me want to scream at the characters at who its was. The author spends time on the investigation and the leg work of interviewing. This leads to some shocking discoveries as well as getting to know the people under investigation better. Of which some had me disliking more whilst others my empathy increased.
BONES IN THE RIVER is a realistic crime thriller that kept me hooked throughout. The author makes every minute of the investigation interesting and I couldn’t wait to discover what was waiting for me with each new chapter. It is a story filled with hidden secrets and lies which made it all the more exciting as Grace and the team work hard in unveiling the truth. A tense, page turner of a read.
You can read the review or comment on it over on By The Letter Book Reviews.
My Interview With The Author!
Q1. When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
A1. I guess I always wanted to be an author, but the first time I realised it might be a realistic possibility was when I was fifteen and I actually finished writing my first novel. Before then, most of my story efforts ran out of steam by the end of the first chapter—sometimes even the end of the first page. I wrote the whole of that first one in longhand, then my father typed it up for me. That first manuscript did the rounds of publishers, where it received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’. Everybody loved it. Nobody wanted to publish it.
The first pieces of writing I had published were non-fiction. I began working as a freelance journalist, specialising in the motoring industry, back in 1988. After a few years, I taught myself enough photography to sideways into photo-journalism. I’ve been making a living from word and pictures ever since, including—since 2001—numerous works of fiction.
Q2. What inspired you to write this book?
A2. When I wrote the first Lakes crime thriller, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, I fully intended it to be a standalone novel. I’d tried out the character of CSI Grace McColl in a short story, Tell Me, and liked her enough to take her forward into a longer work. (That short story was also made into a short film.) The first book was my take on the Washington Sniper incident of a few years ago, but set in the English Lake District.
After DANCING came out, the reaction was such that I knew I really needed to revisit Grace and the detective she works with, Nick Weston. Having lived in and around Appleby-in-Westmorland for years, I’d always wanted to set a story during the annual Gypsy Horse Fair. Established in the 1600s, the event has become the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe. It attracts off-comers in huge numbers and causes all kinds of friction. Locally, it’s also known as a very good time to settle scores. Or, as is the case in BONES IN THE RIVER, to try to escape blame.
Q3. If you could see this book in one sentence what would it be?
A3. ‘Driving along a country road at night, you hit a child; there are no witnesses and you have everything to lose, so what do you do?’
Q4. What are you up to next?
A4. I’m just finishing off an eBook of Bonus Features for the revised edition of DANCING ON THE GRAVE—it’s been given an eye-catching new cover to link in with BONES IN THE RIVER, now it’s part of a series. I did an eBook giveaway to my mailing list of Bonus Features & Behind the Scenes articles, features and interviews for the last Charlie Fox book, BAD TURN: #13. I wanted to do the same for DANCING. Afterwards, I have another standalone novel in the works, before I write the next Charlie Fox crime thriller. And then, of course, I’ll start on part three in the Lakes trilogy. Apart from that, and some moderate house renovation in what I laughingly call my spare time, I’m just loafing…
Q5. Who is your biggest inspiration?
A5. I think I have to have to say Lee Child. Not only is he someone I greatly admire as a writer, but he’s also the consummate professional, always approachable, unfailingly entertaining as a panellist or interviewee, generous with his time, and always ready to support other writers. I’m proud to call him a friend.
If you’d like to comment on this blog, or ask any other questions, why not visit DonnasBookBlog?
Today kicks off the Blog Tour for BONES IN THE RIVER with a review from the amazing Karen Cole at Hair Past A Freckle. Karen has taken a deep dive into the book and really got to the heart of what the story is all about in her perceptive, detailed review:
I’m thrilled to be launching the blog tour for Bones In The River today. Huge thanks to Zoë Sharp and Ayo Onatade for inviting me and for my advance digital copy of the novel.
When I reviewed Zoë Sharp’s DANCING ON THE GRAVE a couple of years ago, I concluded it with the hope that the standalone would become a series and so I was delighted to discover that yes, Grace McColl and Nick Weston were going to appear again in BONES IN THE RIVER, the second book in what is now the Lakes Thriller trilogy—although each story can easily be enjoyed as a standalone too.
The novel opens with the death of a child and though it was an accident, the killer makes a panicked decision to hide the evidence. His identity is revealed to the readers very early in the book but rather than diminishing the tension, knowing who was responsible ahead of the investigating team actually increases the sense of nerve-wracking anticipation to the proceedings. There’s a tantalising game of cat-and-mouse played out as the perpetrator takes progressively wilder steps to evade being caught even as a crucial piece of evidence lies in the hands of the police.
The discovery of the boy’s badly damaged and bloodied bicycle sparks a concerned investigation into his disappearance and if a missing child is always likely to stir up emotions in a community, the prospect of violence becomes even more probable here with the influx of Gypsies and Travellers arriving for the Appleby Horse Fair. Relations between locals and the Travelling Community are always strained but as a second body is discovered, the age-old stigma and mistrust of Gypsies means many are quick to accuse them of both crimes and to make it clear they are even less welcome in the area.
The Fair also brings with it the added complication of old arguments—among different Gypsy clans and with the locals. Usually the Shera Rom (head man) keeps a tight grip on things but Hezekiah Smith’s recent death means the position in waiting to be filled. More than one man wants the role and they won’t risk losing face even if it results in bloodshed. Zoë Sharp writes of the difficulties arising from hostilities between locals and the Travelling Community with empathetic insight and her use of Romany words throughout adds an authentic flavour to the story. She draws attention to the abiding bigotry directed at Gypsies whilst still acknowledging their own difficult issues—perhaps most notably regarding some of their less than enlightened attitudes towards women. With that in mind, Queenie Smith is undoubtedly one of the most engaging characters in the novel; her strength and courage in the light of all she endures here meant that I looked forward to every scene this superbly rendered woman appears in.
The strong characterisation extends beyond Queenie, of course; I loved Detective Nick Weston and CSI Grace McColl in the first book and that was cemented here as their contrasting roles and investigative styles perfectly complement one another. The chemistry between them continues to simmer and I welcomed the introduction of Grace’s mother, Eleanor who interferes just enough in her daughter’s life. Meanwhile, the acting Head of CSI, Chris Blenkinship is a thoroughly unlikeable man whose arrogant behaviour ensured I was desperate for his comeuppance. On that score, I particularly loved the fabulous Force Medical Examiner, Dr Ayo Onatade (that name will obviously be familiar to many crime fiction lovers!) whose cool attitude and depth of knowledge so ably puts him in his place on a few occasions.
BONES IN THE RIVER is a gripping police procedural and the intertwining investigations into both a tragic new case and the discovery of a body killed a decade ago are captivating throughout.With long-hidden and more recent secrets gradually being uncovered, the drama is never less than compelling, the sense of place is vividly evoked and the perceptive exploration of complex family issues is thoroughly engrossing. Zoë Sharp’s writing is always first-rate but there are moments when it becomes utterly beautiful and the lyrical poeticism she uses in her descriptions of the river or the day as a storm approaches are simply outstanding passages that I read twice just to savour them.
BONES IN THE RIVER is as brilliant as I’ve come to expect from an author who has become one of my favourites. It’s dark, shocking and exciting but is imbued throughout with intuitive empathy and a dry wit—I loved it!
If you’d like to comment on the review, please visit Hair Past A Freckle.
Every week, Mark DeWayne Combs interviews a different author in an indepth interview that takes in their writing, background, and latest books. It was a pleasure to talk to Mark and an honour to be invited to take part in the show. If you’d like to listen to the podcast, you can find it here.
BONES IN THE RIVER, the second book in the Lakes crime thriller series with CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston, will be published on May 26 2020. Even without the current UK Lockdown situation due to Covid-19, I enjoy taking the book on the virtual road with a Blog Tour.
So—drum roll, please—here are the dates and stops on the tour of the best and brightest book blogs for BONES IN THE RIVER. As well as getting the opinions of the various bloggers and reviewers, I’ll be writing, about the particular setting of the annual Appleby Horse Fair for this book, about starting this new series, answering questions, and talking about how past jobs have influenced my writing career. I hope you’ll join me.
Day 4: May 29
Trip Fiction with Tina Hartas
Day 5: May 31
Book Lovers Forever with Sara Weiss
New Zealander Judith Baxter has always been a Charlie Fox fan, so it was wonderful to read her Books And More Books review of the upcoming Lakes Crime Thriller and find she’s warming to Grace McColl and Nick Weston, too.
As part of Zoë Sharp’s Advance Reader Team, I am delighted to say I recently received a copy of her latest book in the Lake Thriller Trilogy,
This is book No 2 and once again we meet CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Watson whom we met in DANCING ON THE GRAVE. This time they are brought together on a couple of murders which may or may not be linked.
‘The traditional Appleby Horse Fair hosts the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe…’ And it is in this setting with the rivalry between the Travellers and locals that Ms Sharp sets the scene.
As she says “Half the businesses in town rub their hands in glee about all the extra income, and the other half shut up shop and treat it as an enforced holiday. It’s a well-known fact … it is the ideal time of year for settling scores.”
A child’s bicycle is found dumped in a skip at the side of the road. Grace McColl is called in when it is discovered there is blood on the frame, human blood. Enter Nick Watson, detective recently moved from London to this quiet region of the Fells. But is there a body? and to whom does the bike belong?
While investigating this, the body of an adult is thrown up by the fast-moving river. But there is no identification on him, and why would there be when it is determined that the body has been in the water for ten years or more?
So our protagonists are working on a missing child and a dead adult, both cases at the same time. And all the while in the background, Grace’s boss is working against her and actively confusing one of the cases on which she is working.
Apart from McColl and Weston we once again have the familiar characters of Pollock and Ty Frost and we are introduced to more characters such as Queenie and Bartley Smith, Vano Smith, the Elliots and their complicated family.
As always, the story is well-plotted, the characters well rounded and the plot is believable. And thanks to Ms Sharp for the research that leads to such a strong and believable background to this gripping story. Thank you; I really enjoyed reading about Travellers and their traditions.
I love all of Ms Sharp’s writing and while Charlie Fox will always be my favourite, the more I read of this pair the more I like them. I am looking forward to Book 3.
I recommend you get a copy of this without delay.
You can read Judith’s review and comment on her site, Books And More Books 2017.
NOT Newcastle Noir with Neil Broadfoot, Noelle Holten, Ed James and Zoë Sharp
Over the first weekend in May, I should have been in Newcastle, attending Newcastle Noir, organised by the wonderful Jacky ‘Dr Noir’ Collins. I was lucky enough to attend the very first crime fiction event Jacky organised, back in 2014 at the Literary & Philosophical Society—the Lit & Phil.
The event has grown hugely since those early days and is now a fixture in the crime writing festival calendar (ahem, 2020 excepted, of course). It now finds its home at the Newcastle City Library, a fitting place for readers, authors and books to combine.
Jacky is still planning to hold some virtual panels online but in the meantime, having got together with my intended fellow panellists for the Murder They Wrote item on the programme, I thought it would be fun to do a bit of a Q&A on writing and publishing with them over on Murder Is Everywhere here.
If you missed the Virtual Noir at the Bar event on Wednesday, April 29th, you can watch the recording of the event, with fantastic readings from all the authors, by clicking on the archives here.
Authors attending were (top row, left to right) Robert Scragg, Kirsten McKenzie, Lesley Kelly, Karen Murdarasi, Roz Watkins and (bottom row, left to right) Zoë Sharp, Ashley Erwin, Derek Farrell, and Alan Jones. Vic Watson was in the hot seat as moderator and Simon Bewick was furtling about behind the scenes. Huge thanks to everyone who stopped by to listen to us reading from our latest books.