Over the years, I have put my series main character, Charlie Fox, through the mill. She has been shot (more than once), stabbed (also more than once), pushed off her motorcycle and then shot (OK, that was just the once), shot down in a helicopter, mildly tortured, Tasered, experienced various broken bones, been punched more times than either of us can count, and buried by an earthquake.
So, I suppose it’s only fair that for the past month or so I’ve been suffering from the process of actually writing about all this stuff. Despite not attempting to play tennis since I was about twelve, I am now the proud owner of tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, if you want to be proper about it.
Charlie Fox would, no doubt, be greatly amused at my expense.
The problem is usually caused by ‘strenuous overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, near the elbow joint’. In other words, too much chipping away at the word-face and using a computer mouse.
I began to realise I’d got a problem on the run-up to Christmas. Pain in the outside of my forearm up near the outer knobble of my elbow, problems picking anything up that also entailed gripping with my hand, and discomfort regardless of my arm being bent or straight. Gripping and twisting motions, such as opening a jar, turning on a tap, or using a screwdriver produced the worst effect.
If the muscles and tendons in the forearm are over-strained, tears and inflammation occur near the bony lump (the lateral epicondyle) on the outside of the elbow. I’ve previously had similar problems with my left elbow, although on the inner side, which is golfer’s elbow.
And no, I don’t play golf, either.
I confess that, since the beginning of November, I’ve been working pretty much continuously on the sequel to DANCING ON THE GRAVE. (And yes, I know I originally said that was a standalone but events have somewhat overtaken me.) And now, as the end of January approaches, I’m almost done. In fact, I’ve just extended my self-imposed deadline by a week into February, just to give my elbow half a chance to recover.
My problem was not just caused by too much keyboard time. I think I can also put it down to poor ergonomics. I was using an old table in lieu of a desk, so the height of seat-to-desktop was never quite right because of the frame. It was also not quite deep enough for me to get the keyboard far enough onto the surface, and the top was slightly warped, leading to a raised ridge under my forearms.
So, for Christmas, my pressie to myself was a custom desktop, made from 15mm plywood on an Ikea height-adjustable frame. I’ve even covered the surface in dark green pleather, like a proper olde-fashioned desk. I also got a new upright mouse when my old one gave up the ghost, and a padded wrist rest. I have been using a curved ergonomic keyboard for years, plugged into a separate monitor.
But, nevertheless, this is a case of fitting new padlocks to the stable door, long after the horse has naffed off into the distance.
In lieu of being able to get a doctor’s appointment, I’ve been treating this in a number of ways. (As many as I can think of!)
I’ve looked up the appropriate exercises, and while doing any kind of strenuous work I’ve been using an elbow brace that consists of a Velcro strap with a padded lump that goes on top of your forearm. In theory this takes some of the strain off the inflamed area.
I’ve also been using an ice pack at regular intervals. I have one that contains gel and never freezes solid, so I’m not in danger of frostbite when I forget and leave it on for far too long. It’s in a cover that Velcros around my arm, which means it stays in place nicely.
I borrowed a TENS machine to zap myself with. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which uses low-voltage (or should that be low-amperage?) current through two or four pads placed strategically around the elbow. It’s like being constantly prickled but better than the alternative.
The scientific jury is still out, apparently, on the effectiveness of a TENS machine but I used one when I damaged my back a few years ago and it was about the only thing that allowed me to function. It’s having much the same effect this time.
Just as long as I don’t shuffle my feet across a synthetic carpet and then grab a metal door handle, I should be fine.
Apart from that, I’ve just been on occasional doses of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’m all ears!
Like I said, Charlie Fox would be laughing her arse off…
This week’s Word of the Week is selenology, meaning the study of the moon. Also, selenography, the study of the features of the surface of the moon. From the Greek name for the moon, Selene.
This blog also appears on Murder Is Everywhere.
I’m over the moon to have been one of the three female thriller authors interviewed for an article by Dr Andy Martin in The Independent. Andy Martin is the guy who shadowed Lee Child for his book REACHER SAID NOTHING, about the making of Lee’s Reacher thriller, MAKE ME. (Fascinating book, by the way. I have it on my shelf.) Andy has now done a second book about following Lee through the next book and movie, WITH CHILD. (I just ordered it!)
So, it was no surprise that Andy was going to get his teeth into the subject of female thriller protagonists and their authors in a thorough and thought-provoking way. He’s looked at the background and characters of myself, Steph Broadribb and Alex Callister.
Today’s female heroes are fighting back and sticking it to their male counterparts
Telling men to behave nicely hasn’t worked…so a trio of authors has created a new breed of literary hero: women who are prepared to hit back. Andy Martin talks to the writers
Here is a brutal biological fact, the fruit of some evolutionary asymmetry: statistically speaking, men are bigger, heavier, and more muscular than women. They can run faster and they hit harder. So there is a crucial question in the post-#MeToo era that is yet to be properly answered: Can a woman fight back against a man and win? And the “fighting back” here is completely non-metaphorical. In a straight physical encounter between a man and a woman, can the woman ever hope to come out on top? The whole history of patriarchy is predicated on the assumption that the answer is no. There is a vast tradition of sexual violence that says, no way! But there are strong voices out there that say otherwise.
With the domestic abuse bill going through parliament, and “coercive control” now officially illegal, it feels like more than ever the right time for a new generation of hardcore female role models who aren’t just going to lie down or take it on the chin or turn the cheek any more. Think of Big Little Lies: wouldn’t it have been better for all concerned if Celeste had seriously kicked Perry’s arse for him? Broken his jaw or given him a black eye? And maybe Jane could have fought him off – or tasered him – instead of getting raped?
“You’re a woman,” snarls the serial murderer and rapist. “Women are weak, stupid, vain… I showed them who was in control… You think you’re equal to a man, but you never will be… You’ll scream and you’ll beg me to stop just like all the rest.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” retorts Charlie Fox.
Read the whole of this article at The Independent.
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.
For Day 9 of the Blog Tour for the launch of BAD TURN, I’m with the superb Sharon Bairden of Chapter In My Life. For this, I wrote a guest post on HEroes vs SHEroes, particularly in those old thrillers where the women were more decorative, shall we say, than useful.
I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Bad Turn, the latest in the Charlie Fox series from the brilliant Zoë Sharp. And I think we need to give praise to that cover! Isn’t it stunning!
Thanks to Ayo Onatade for inviting me to take part. I’ve got a cracking guest post lined up for you all.
HEroes vs SHEroes
BAD TURN: Charlie Fox #13
I’ve always loved to read thrillers, starting back with Alistair MacLean, Ian Fleming, and Arthur Hailey and reading just everyone in the genre from there onward.
The only problem I found was with the women portrayed in those old books. They tended to be a bit on the passive side. And even today, if you read action/adventure novels, you still come across female characters who seem to have no role other than to be rescued by the hero, scream in a firefight and tend to the wounded.
I wanted to read about women who would do their ownrescuing. If they screamed in a firefight it would be more by way of a war cry, and they would be more likely to deal outwounds than have to deal with them, thank you very much.
That was when the character of Charlie Fox really started to come to life in my head. I wasn’t sure, when I first began to write about her, that other people would have the same desire to read about such a strong, no-nonsense heroine. Fortunately, they did and still do—BAD TURN: Charlie Fox #13 is just out. So far, the series has seen Charlie go from teaching people to defend themselves in a northern English city to working for a top New York close-protection agency. Although, this time out her employer—as well as her motivations—are a little harder to fathom.
It bugs me a little that I have to use the word ‘strong’ to describe Charlie. To me, she’s a capable woman who happens to work in a very male-dominated field. To succeed, she’s got to be not simply as good as the men, but demonstrably better. There’s no reason why she can’t be as skilled with weapons or why she can’t have the same mind-set as the guys she works alongside. No reason why she can’t fight on equal terms, either.
Read the whole post over on Chapter In My Life.
I’ve always said that when you write a continuing protagonist in a long-running series, you have to make a choice right from the beginning how much you’re going to allow them to change.
Keeping them static does have its distinct advantages, I must admit. For one thing, it doesn’t matter which book a new reader picks up first, as they’re not going to encounter any big spoilers for earlier stories. It’s also a lot easier for the character not to age significantly, although I think most readers accept that book-time works at a far slower rate than real time.
When I began writing the Charlie Fox series, I knew right from the outset that Charlie herself was going to develop and grow from book to book. Part of the fascination with the character for me is being able to set her personal as well as professional challenges in each story. I like to take her on a personal journey—one that she will learn from and grow in some way—quite apart from the dramatic events of the book.
At the beginning of the series, in KILLER INSTINCT, Charlie was not yet working as the close-protection specialist she later becomes. She was still very much an amateur when it came to her involvement with crime. By that I mean that she didn’t work for any kind of agency, private or government, who were paid to investigate. She gets caught up in events and has to deal with them as best she can to find a way out, protect the people she cares for, and to survive. It turns out to be very good training for what comes later.
Charlie is a little more raw at that point in her life, she’s still looking for direction and purpose after being kicked off the Special Forces training course she’d fought her way onto, and then being thrown out of the army altogether. At the start of that story she’s on the way back up from her lowest ebb, and I included a nod to her then-job working nightclub security in the latest outing, BAD TURN.
Read the rest of this article over on By The Letter Book Reviews.
Day 4 already on the Blog Tour for the launch of BAD TURN and I’m in New Zealand (virtually, more’s the pity!) with the wonderful Judith Baxter at Growing Younger Each Day. Judith has already reviewed BAD TURN on her other blog site, Books & More Books, but Judith asked me to write an article about the intricate relationships within the family Charlie is tasked to protect.
Judith Baxter: I had written and scheduled my post for the blog tour in advance as I was going to be away for a few days. Earlier I had asked Zoë about this, one of my all-time favourite, series and she generously agreed to write something for my post. Here she gives us a hint of how she gets into a book and bit of a background into Charlie Fox’s character and the effects some of the situations in which she finds herself, have on her. So a second post for today.
And a really big thank you to Zoë for this :
“Dysfunctional (Crime) Family
BAD TURN: Charlie Fox #13
At their heart, the Charlie Fox novels are action-filled crime thrillers. But I hope that’s not all they are. Exploring the effect that the events of the stories have on Charlie herself, as well as on the other characters involved, has always been one of my main interests.
I like to know what makes people tick. How far they can be pushed. And, in the end, what makes them break.
It’s why my bad guys are rarely all bad. Everyone has shades of light and dark about them. After all, if you’re going to make your antagonists think they are really the heroes of their own story, you have to give them some reason to believe it. You don’t have to like them, as a reader, but you have to be thoroughly engaged by them.
Charlie usually arrives as an outsider into an already established group. Often she is seen as unwanted interference. She has to do her best to protect people almost in spite of themselves.
As was the case with BAD TURN.
Read the rest of this article over on Growing Younger Each Day.
Inevitably, when you write, you ‘borrow’ characteristics or mannerisms you’ve noted in friends, relations, enemies, or complete strangers. This is one of the reasons writers love to sit somewhere crowded and people-watch like crazy. A twitch, a tic, a nervous gesture, the way some people look down at their shoes and pace very deliberately when they’re taking a phone call. It’s all grist to the writer’s ever-hungry mill.
I freely admit there were aspects of different real people in the early Charlie Fox books, although I refuse to comment on which characteristics those were and what use I made of them! It wasn’t until I did an event at my local library while I was plotting book four in the series that I realised people might actually want to appear in my work.
My local library in Lancaster were hugely supportive of my first steps into the world of being a published author. So, when one of the librarians mentioned that another member of staff, Andrew Till, would really, really like to be a character in a book, how could I refuse?
When FIRST DROP came out, Andrew Till was an FBI Special Agent-in-Charge who plays a vital role in helping Charlie defeat the bad guys—even if he does try to arrest her the first time they meet.
Since then, I’ve used numerous real people as characters in the books. Over the course of the series they’ve taken on the roles of PIs, LAPD detectives and CIA agents, as well as billionaire philanthropists, Charlie’s principal, main suspect, and even the outright bad guy.
Read the rest of this blog over on Anne Bonny Book Reviews.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about writing the Charlie Fox books is that they are not tied to one location. A part of me can see the attraction of a familiar locale and I know it might be a good idea to do this. After all, tours of Rebus’s Edinburgh, Morse’s Oxford, or Aimée Leduc’s Paris are undoubtedly popular.
But every time I sit down to write the next instalment in this series, deciding where she’s going to be heading off to is one of the things that keeps me hooked. The very nature of Charlie’s job in close protection means she has to be minutely aware of her surroundings. I take it as a challenge to try to weave in as much of the ever-changing dynamic between Charlie and her environment as I can into the fabric of the story.
For BAD TURN, number 13 in the series, I wanted a real European setting. I took Charlie to a bodyguard training school in Germany for one of the early books, HARD KNOCKS, and on a bikers’ fast trip around Ireland in ROAD KILL, but this time out I decided it was high time she made a return to mainland Europe.
I’d driven down to the southern area of France just before starting BAD TURN, and the scarcity of both people and other vehicles once we got away from the cities really set my imagination going. Tailing someone without other traffic to use as cover, for example, would present its own difficulties for Charlie.
Read the rest of this article over on Shotsmag Confidential here.
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.
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.