writing

The Bay – new ITV crime drama in Charlie Fox’s home town

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The Bay crime thriller series

A new six-part crime drama series started this week in the UK on ITV. Set in Morecambe and called The Bay, it stars Morven Christie as a Detective Sergeant, Lisa, who is assigned as Family Liaison Officer when fifteen-year-old twins go missing in the seaside town. Her job is to support the family and be on the inside for the police investigators.

As soon as the distraught father, Sean (played by Jonas Armstrong) arrives home, however, she discovers that he’s the bloke with whom she had a quickie while on a girls’ pub crawl the night before. Much complication ensues.

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Morven Christie as Detective Sergeant Lisa Armstrong in The Bay (ITV). Photographer: Ben Blackall

Morven Christie’s recent TV credits include Grantchester, Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence, and The A Word. Jonas Armstrong’s recent outings include Ripper StreetTroy: Fall of a City, and Line of Duty. The work of playwright and screenwriter, Daragh Carville, The Bay has been mooted as ‘Broadchurch in Morecambe’—which I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t yet got around to watching.

I confess, though, that I do quite like TV dramas where one story is told over a number of instalments. You do seem to get more depth to the characters and, ultimately, more sympathy for the victim—and in some cases for the perpetrator as well.

Of course, I’m equally a fan of TV series made up of standalone stories—more like the way a book series is structured. At least if you miss one, you can still follow what’s happening in the next episode. Although, now we’re in the age of catch-up and box set TV, that’s not as much of a consideration anymore.

To read the rest of this blog, visit Murder Is Everywhere.

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Magic Words

On Friday evening I went to see The Magic Showcase, a group of four magicians who perform in sequence over the course of an evening. Actually, I’ve just looked up the collective term for a group of magicians and it turns out it’s an Illusion, appropriately enough.

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The show was organised by one of the illusionists performing, Tom Wright, and also included Dave Burns, Arron Jones, and John Morton. The event was held to raise money for Hulland Community Pre-School. If the packed house and crowded bar was anything to go by, they should have achieved their aim.

It’s a long time since I’ve watched any sleight of hand, and then it was by fellow mystery author James Swain, who is noted to be one of the best card-handlers out there.

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Dave Burns, making a member of the audience work.

This show was great fun, and the four performers were not above taking the rip out of the audience in the name of an easy laugh. I was surprised to be picked out, as for some reason in the past I’ve always managed to put out a ‘don’t pick on me’ vibe. I must be mellowing in my old age. Still, when Arron Jones asked me what I did for a living and I answered, “I’m a crime writer,” he paused a moment and then said, “I can’t think of anything funny to say about that…”

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Arron Jones playing with a pack of cards and a fox trap. Still had all his fingers at the end of the night.

Going to watch The Magic Showcase was as much for research purposes as for anything else. An idea has been germinating in the back of my mind for a while with legerdemain, deception, and misdirection as main parts of the story. I wanted to see it for myself, live and up close. Some bits I could spot, but others remained thoroughly intriguing bits of mystery.

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John Morton. “Envelope A, or Envelope B? No pressure…”

One piece from the show highlighted a feeling I had for this story—whatever it eventually turns into. John Morton put two envelopes, A and B, onto stands on the stage. He picked out an audience member and told them that one envelope contained a £50 note, and the other a lottery ticket. The guy chose A. Morton then put an X sticker on the A envelope and a smiley emoticon sticker on the B envelope, all the while asking if the man was sure, and didn’t want to change his mind. Periodically during his set, he would ask again if the man was certain of his decision, hinting that he’d got the wrong one. When it came to making his final choice, the man changed his mind and opted for envelope B. Sure enough, that contained the lottery ticket and the A envelope contained the cash. I’m sure, had the man gone for that one at the beginning, Morton’s patter would have been subtly different. And I’m sure it would still have ended up with the magician keeping hold of his money. Psychological mind games are a fascinating part of the act.

Magic Showcase predictions

Arron Jones and Tom Wright, unrolling the scroll of uncannily accurate pre-show predictions about the events of the night, which had apparently been in a locked box at the front of the stage throughout the entire performance…

To a certain extent, when we write, crime and mystery authors try to accomplish the same sleight of hand with words—or should that be legerdemot? We throw a clue into the mix but try to distract the reader from what it is with a flourish of description or action at the same time. The more accomplished the wordsmith, the less likely the move is to be noticed. It all has to be smooth and seamless and entertaining.

Just like magic.

This week’s Word of the Week is prestidigitation, which means conjuring tricks performed as entertainment. The word comes from the French preste (from the Italian presto) meaning nimble or quick, and the Latin for finger, digitus.

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The Magic Showcase line-up (l to r) Arron Jones, Dave Burns, John Morton, Tom Wright. (Apologies for blurry pictures. Combination of poor light and laughter.)

Talking of Books: Taking a Look at Audio

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One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about writing fiction was to read the words aloud. Reading your own work really helps you to pinpoint those clunky bits of narrative or dialogue, or those descriptive scenes that go on for just a bit too long.

Better yet, I’ve found, is to get somebody else to read your work back to you. After all, you as the author know how the rhythm of the story should run and where the emphasis should go for maximum dramatic effect.

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But, if those clues are not present in the way the words are presented on the page, then your reader is never going to be able to reproduce that same rhythm in their head. I’ve always believed that more than the subject matter, the characters or the plot, it’s the individual voice of the writer that turns casual readers into continuing fans.

When you pick up a book by an author unknown to you, before you’ve finished the first paragraph—often even the opening sentence—you just know if you like the sound of that writer’s voice. I had this with the first Robert B Parker novel I picked up, the first Ken Bruen and the first Lee Child. More recently, I happened across the Wyatt Storme series by WL Ripley. They all have such a distinctive style that flicks a switch inside my head. Something in the back of my mind goes, “Yes!” and I have to read on.

If you would like to read on, go to MurderIsEverywhere.

Sit, Stand, or Kneel?

There’s no doubt about it, spending most of your day hunched over a computer keyboard does not do your neck/back/shoulders any good. I’m making regular trips to my physio at the moment in order to be able to keep working while still actually being able to sleep at night. In this job, it counts as Repairs & Maintenance.

He examined my upper spine and said it looked like I’d been, “dropped repeatedly on my head.”

Yeah, thanks for that.

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But, all this has got me wondering about a better way to work. If you read my blog of a few weeks ago, you’ll know I’ve been experimenting with dictation software. Sadly, there are times when there’s no substitute for sitting down with hands on keys.

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Yes, I do have a proper ergonomic typing chair at my desk. If I’m away I have a mesh backrest which I can attach to a normal chair to give more lumbar support. But, I’ve also been looking at standing desks (a treadmill desk being a Step Too Far, methinks) and kneeling chairs. I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience of these, so please drop me an email if you use either and find them brilliant/terrible.

I’ve even looked at kneeling chairs which have an added backrest. The reviews are very polarised, however, which makes me a bit reluctant to try one without a personal recommendation.

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Besides, where would the cat sit? Ah, across my hands as usual…

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This week’s Word of the Week is egotist, which comes from the Latin ego for ‘I’. It means an inflated sense of your own importance, feeling intellectually or physically superior to others. This is versus egoist, which does not necessarily mean to feel superior to others, but certainly to have an unpleasant preoccupation with yourself. Whereas to be a narcissist is to have a recognised psychological disorder where a person shows excessive self-admiration. The name comes from Greek mythology where Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water.

Crime and Publishment coming soon!

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The annual Crime and Publishment three-day course has become a firm favourite for would-be crime authors. Organised by author and reviewer, Graham Smith and held at The Mill Forge in Gretna, the event has enjoyed considerable success. So far, ten attendees have gone on to sign publishing contracts. Not to be sniffed at.

This will be the second time I’ve been invited by Graham to teach a couple of workshops. This year, they will be on the subject of Getting Your Fights Right. As the name suggests, they will focus on how to write convincing action and fight scenes.

My fellow MurderIsEverywhere blogger, Caro Ramsay, is also teaching at this year’s C&P. Caro is an osteopath as well as a top crime writer, so she will be explaining the joys of Breaking Bones For Fun. Between us, we should have a cracking time. (All puns intended.)

Crime and Publishment takes place this year from Friday, March 8 to Sunday, March 10. There’s a residential option, of course, so those staying at The Mill Forge have the chance to mix and chat with the authors and instructors away from the classroom. I’m really looking forward to taking part.

For more details, visit the Crime and Publishment website, or email: crime@themill.co.uk.

Talking to Myself: First Steps Into Dictation Software

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I have always been a fairly fast typist. Ever since I first learnt to put my fingers on the home keys and type without looking at them, I’ve picked up speed from there. I can now type without looking at the screen, never mind at my hands. And when I wore most of the letters off the keys of my last keyboard, it didn’t matter to me at all.

But, I’m intrigued by the daily word counts that people who use dictation software seem to be achieving on a regular basis. Last year, I purchased a copy of Dragon on eBay, but sadly, despite the seller’s assurances, it was not compatible with my Mac. I even tried using the dictation element of Word, but ended up shouting at the computer when it consistently mocked my accent by mishearing things. I swear it was doing it on purpose.

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Nevertheless, I was still intrigued by people who tell me how much they can get done during a limited period of the day just by talking to their computer rather than sitting with their fingers at the keyboard. You Lie. (That last bit the computer’s response to me giving the instruction “New line.” Hmm, is it passing comment, I wonder…?)

Yes, in case you haven’t get guessed, I’m using dictation software to write this blog. It’s my first attempt. Please bear with me.

Read the whole of this blog over on MurderIsEverywhere.

The Bad Sex Award 2018

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JamesFrey-KaterinaEarlier this month, the winner of the 26th annual Literary Review Bad Sex In Fiction Award was won by author James Frey for KATERINA. The novel is described by its publisher, John Murray, as ‘a sweeping love story alternating between 1992 Paris and Los Angeles in 2017.’ It is billed as a fictional retelling of a love affair experienced by Frey in France in the 1990s.

One of the Amazon reviews for Frey’s KATERINA says, “I had never read any of his work. Then I read a few reviews saying that ‘Katerina’ might have been the worst thing published this year—which made me pay attention. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.” The reviewer gave the book four stars.

The Bad Sex Award was established in 1993 by Auberon Waugh, the then editor of the Literary Review, and literary critic Rhoda Koenig. It was designed to ‘draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.’ And it was not intended to apply to work that is intended to be erotic or pornographic right from the outset. For some reason, Vince Cable’s novel, OPEN ARMS, was deemed not to qualify for the Award in 2017 on the grounds that its author was a Member of Parliament.

The shortlist for this year was all male. I’m not sure how important that is in terms of how male authors or female authors write sex scenes in their novels. Perhaps there is a point to be made there? But, I think it may be one of the few times female authors will not be lobbying for a more gender-balanced final line-up.

Read the whole of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.

New short story anthology FOR THE SAKE OF THE GAME just out

FOR THE SAKE OF THE GAME: STORIES INSPIRED BY THE SHERLOCK HOLMES CANON

Edited by Laurie R King and Leslie S Klinger.

Pegasus Crime,  December 04 2018

‘A brand-new anthology of stories inspired by the Arthur Conan Doyle canon.

‘FOR THE SAKE OF THE GAME is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R King and Leslie S Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

‘The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

‘This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

‘A sensational follow-up to ECHOES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (2016), IN THE COMPANY OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (2014), and A STUDY IN SHERLOCK (2011).’

Featuring Stories by: Peter S Beagle, Rhys Bowen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni LP Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, DP Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoë Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F Paul Wilson.

“Laurie R. King and Leslie Klinger continue to breathe new life into Sherlockian tales.”—LitHub

“Entertaining. This volume contains something for every fan of the Baker Street sleuth.”—Publishers Weekly

My own contribution, Hounded, is a modern retelling of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, in which Holmes and Watson play their parts—but so does Charlie Fox!

To buy, see the Anthologies page.

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Writing Output – Is Size Important?

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I came to the conclusion years ago that I need to write faster. Actually, I should qualify that by saying, ‘faster without degenerating into rubbish’ because I’m sure I could rattle out thousands of words a day, if I wasn’t bothered about which words…

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The quality of what I do is always uppermost in my mind, however. It’s the thing I worry about most (probably) as I write. I’ve heard all the advice that says you can fix a page but you can’t fix a blank page, but find this hard. Once I’ve written a scene, I find it incredibly difficult to pick that scene apart and slightly alter the slant of it. Far easier to point it in the right direction to start with. (In this case, the word ‘easier’ is used in its loosest sense—in the same way that it’s far easier to prevent the glaciers melting in the first place than it is to reverse global warming. You get the idea.)

The result of this is that I tend to manage around a thousand words on a good day when I’m in the midst of a book. I have writer friends who can apparently produce ten times that amount. And yes, amazingly, they are still my friends!

Some of them use dictation software to achieve this. I’ve tried this method, but my somewhat mongrel accent seems to utterly confuse it, plus the delay between words spoken and some form of them appearing on the screen is disconcerting. I find myself quickly distracted.

train-of-thought

Read the rest of this post over on Murder Is Everywhere.

Female-led crime series interview

I’m delighted to be a guest of Niki Mackay author of I, WITNESS, for an interview on Female-led Crime Series, where we discuss the influences that brought about the character of Charlie Fox.

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Female-led crime series: Charlie Fox – Interview with author Zoë Sharp

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I’ve been interviewing authors who write female-led crime series, and starting us off is Zoë Sharp who writes the Charlie (Charlotte) Fox series.

Niki Mackay: Did you consciously decide to write a female-led series?

Zoë Sharp: Thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog, Niki! Did I consciously decide to write a female-led series? Yes, absolutely. The role of women in crime fiction has always fascinated me. They tend to be the victims—the ones having violence done to them rather than the ones perpetrating the violence. Writing a female main character who discovers she is capable of extremes of violence under the right circumstances, and following her journey, felt like a really interesting idea to explore.

NM: If so, why?

ZS: I loved to read thrillers growing up, but I was always frustrated by the female characters—they seemed to scream and fall over and require rescuing by the guys rather too much for my taste. I wanted to read about a woman who was more than capable of rescuing herself. Or, better still, someone the men would turn to when they needed rescuing. At that time, I couldn’t really find the kind of character I wanted to read about, so I decided I was going to have to write my own. Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox was the result. Paul Goat Allen in the Chicago Tribune described her as: “Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic—and coolest—heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”

NM: How did the idea for your protagonist’s background come to you?

ZS: At the time I started writing about Charlie, back in the mid-1990s, the scandal of the hazing of trainees at the military barracks at Deepcut was just beginning to break. I’d heard all the arguments against women in the forces—and am still hearing them, to be honest—and Charlie’s background grew out of a combination of those elements. I wanted somebody who had the ability to kill, but who was denied an official outlet for that skill, as the army would have given her. Where does she go from there?

Read the whole of this Q&A on Niki’s website.

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