writing

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.

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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.

Niki Mackay-I Witness

 

10 Things I Learned From Research

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Nosing Around in the Boston Aquarium

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I knew I wanted to set part of Second Shot, the sixth Charlie Fox book, in Boston. Partly this was to set up the contrast of the city against the small-town feel of North Conway up in New Hampshire, where other scenes of the book take place. The internet is great for research, but sometimes there really is no substitute for going there and seeing it for yourself.

For one thing, while visiting Boston I paid a visit to the fabulous Aquarium on the edge of the harbour. Immediately, I could visualise some of the action taking place there. And, having been in person, I was able to better describe the place. Not just the look, but the smell.

As soon as you walk in through the entrance to the modern, open-plan building, you see the penguin enclosure in front of you. Upstairs is the café, so the first smell that hits you is the smell of fried fish. A little unfair on the inhabitants, I thought, but a very useful splash (pun intended) of colour to add to my description of the place.

How to Mix the Perfect Cocktail

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For one of the major action scenes in Road Kill, I needed to have Charlie and several others hijack a moving vehicle from motorcycles while they’re in Ireland. For the best way to do this I picked the brains of an ex-military friend who suggested the good old-fashioned Molotov cocktail might be the best method, with a twist.

Petrol in liquid form is actually very difficult to ignite—it’s the vapour that burns. So, I had Charlie leave quite a gap at the top of the bottle for the vapour to build up. She also added sugar to the mix, which both makes it burn hotter and stick to whatever it hits. The final problem was how best to light such a mixture, bearing in mind she and her cohorts are on solo motorcycles, chasing a speeding van at the time.

Here my ex-military mate—who just so happened to specialise in bomb disposal during his time with the RAF—suggested firework sparklers. These are usually made from an iron wire coated at one end with a metal fuel, an oxidiser and a binder. Different types of metals will produce different colours, so Ferrotitanium will give a golden glow, while Titanium will give silver or white. The advantage of a sparkler is that, once lit, they’re very difficult to put out, so they would survive being in the airflow of a bike. They also provide a time delay fuse, if part of the sparkler is outside the cap of the bottle containing the cocktail, and part is inside where the vapour has built up.

I did wonder, in these paranoid times, if I should have described this process here, but I’ve done so in the book, and a quick Google search will bring up any number of pages that go into far greater detail. Anyway, for the purposes of the chase scene in Road Kill, it worked a treat!

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

 

CrimeWritersInCafesProcrastinating with CrimeThrillerGirl

Fellow crime author and CrimeThrillerGirl blogger, Steph Broadribb recently invited me to answer questions about procrastination, writing in cafés, and the perils of cats.

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#CRIMEWRITERSINCAFESPROCRASTINATING – ZOË SHARP TALKS PROCRASTINATION, WRITING ON THE MOVE AND THE PERILS OF CATS @AUTHORZOESHARP

“Today kick-ass thriller writer Zoë Sharp is joining me for Crime Writers In Cafés Procrastinating. As the title suggests, this feature is all about the lengths writers go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.

“I’m a huge fan of Zoe’s books, and super excited to grill her about procrastination, her writing habits and her latest book DANCING ON THE GRAVE.

“Welcome Zoë! So tell me all about your latest book—Dancing On The Grave?”

Zoë Sharp: “Basically, it’s my take on the Washington Sniper incident from a few years ago, but set in the English Lake District. If you want the slightly longer explanation, it’s an exploration of what it means in today’s culture to desperately want to be famous, regardless of what you want to be famous for. It’s about the way we treat our ex-military personnel when we’re finished with them. It’s about loyalty, betrayal, love, and revenge. Just the everyday story of country folk.”

“How long did Dancing On The Grave take to write?”

ZS: “Far too long. I actually finished the first version of this book eight years ago. It was just about to go out on submission when Derrick Bird went on the rampage in the west of Cumbria, shooting twelve people dead and injuring a further eleven before taking his own life. It wasn’t close to the storyline of my book, but at the same time it was too near the mark. The book was withdrawn from submission and I put it away for a long time. It was only recently I felt able to get it out and work on it again.”

“What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot—home, café, bar, other?”

ZS: “Home, probably, although ‘home’ is something of a moveable feast at the moment. As I write this, I’m actually sitting in the kitchen of a house in the Aveyron valley in southern France, where I’m house and cat-sitting for the whole of the month. That’s always been the beauty of this job—the fact you can do it anywhere.

“Of course, the flip-side of that is that you can also fail to do it anywhere. I like to make pencil notes when I’m out and about, in cafés, usually, or waiting rooms, or wherever, and then type up my notes and expand on them when I get back to my desk. It doesn’t feel right to make notes at my desk. Here, I go and sit at the bottom of the garden, then it’s back to the kitchen table, or the one under an awning outside, to attempt to transcribe my scrawl onto my laptop.

“If I’m in the UK, there are always other jobs that call to me. I’m in the midst of a house renovation project, so there are a million other things to do that are particularly difficult to ignore when the weather’s good and you don’t know how long that state of affairs might continue. This is why there are fewer distractions in the winter. Except for the cats, of course. They love to sit on paper (particularly with muddy feet) or my lap. Or my keyboard. Or my hands. Maybe they’re the feline equivalent of literary critics?”

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Lulu, at work proofreading, while absorbing the plot she’s currently sitting on.

To read the rest of this entertaining interview, click here.

Steph Broadribb

Steph Broadribb, aka CrimeThrillerGirl, who also writes as Stephanie Marland

On Writing: Keeping Characters Straight

It was a comment on Twitter that sparked this blog. Someone brought up the subject of trying to keep characters’ names straight in your head while you’re writing, and ensuring that you don’t have too many characters whose first or last names begin with the same letter.

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My notes of the opening page of the new Charlie Fox book!

I came up with a solution to this problem ages ago and discovered, somewhat to my embarrassment, that I had not applied it to the current Charlie Fox book. A quick check revealed that I had, indeed, not got the balance quite right. Thank you to fellow author, Graham Smith, for reminding me to make use of my own system!

Even if you don’t outline or plan, this method works well and is very simple. I jot down an alphabet in a line across the middle of a page. Then I start with the recurring characters, like Charlie Fox herself, and put a mark above the letter C to indicate a first name starting with that letter, and another below the letter F to indicate a last name.

I carry on in this way through the entire cast list, although when it comes to family members who have the same last name I usually put just one mark under that letter. I try to make the mark bold if it relates to a continuing character.

Having now gone through this for the current WIP, I can see at a glance that the letter F has become overcrowded. I’ve also got three characters with last names beginning with S, none of which are recurring from previous books, so I could pick different names for at least a couple of them. And I’ve not only got one first and two last name uses of E, but the names are all four or five letters, so there isn’t even the variety of length to separate them.

OK, back to the drawing board for some of these minor characters’ names!

Google-names-search

When it comes to searching for character names, Google is your friend!

This week’s Word of the Week is pusillanimous, meaning cowardly or timid. It comes from Latin pusillanimis, having little courage, and is a translation of the Greek oligopsychos, small-souled.

Farewell to France

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Leaving France, where I spent just about the whole of July, was hard. Not only because it was beautiful, but because it was also a place that seemed to inspire creativity. Had I realised how distracted I would be once I got back to the UK, I might have been tempted to stay on another month or two! Just until the latest Charlie Fox book was finished, anyway.

Of course, it had its downside, like the flying ant invasion that suddenly appeared in my bedroom one night. The problem was, they disappeared during the day and you never quite knew when they might pop up again. I’m not particularly squeamish, but I was feeling severely outnumbered.

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Read the full story over on Murder Is Everywhere

In Full Retreat: Writing in France

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I went to France at the beginning of July planning to get a start made on the new Charlie Fox book. I’m happy to report that the tentative 15,000 words I’d hoped for morphed into 20,000 once I got into the writing, and I’m even cautiously pleased with the way it’s going so far. I promised myself I’d have a break when I hit that point, and do some driving around to look at locations for later on in the story, but at the same time, I’m anxious not to lose too much momentum.

No chance of getting out of practise with the writing itself, though. I also had a last-minute Q&A to write for the #BlogTour I did at the start of the month for the launch of the new crime thriller standalone, Dancing On The Grave. Thank you so much to everyone who took part or supported me along the way.

And then I was reminded that I’d promised to provide a short story for a proposed anthology earlier in the year. The editor contacted me and asked for a brief sentence or two about the story, and particularly the setting of it. Within a week, if possible.

Argh!

My mind was a complete blank.

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ZS and Libby Fischer Hellmann at the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy

To read the rest of this blog on MurderIsEverywhere, please click here.

Retreating Somewhere Else to Write: Does it Work?

A close friend of mine decamps from the UK every year to Italy in order to get any writing done. You might think the climate had something to do with it, although it can be just as cold in the wilds of Tuscany as it is in the wilds of the Derbyshire Peak District.

I’ve managed to get quite a bit of work done over the first half of this year. Nevertheless, when I set off for the Aveyron area of southern France at the beginning of July for a month’s house and cat-sitting, I had hopes that my own writing retreat would prove fruitful.

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grapes on the vine at the Château de Bournazel

One of the reasons for this was the company I was keeping. I travelled down from the UK through France with my American friend and fellow crime author, Libby Fischer Hellmann. Libby was on a deadline for a book she needed to finish. I really wanted to come back with a decent start made on the next in the Charlie Fox series.

At the same time, we wanted to get out and see something of the surrounding area. Libby had spent time in France years before, and her French came back to her like she’d never been away, whereas I’m a stumbling linguist at the best of times. We agreed that we would spend the mornings chipping away at the word-face, and the afternoons out and about, part exploring and—for me, at least—part researching locations where I’d like to set the book I’m working on right now.

I confess to a certain apprehension. This is the first time I have taken my own, right-hand-drive car onto Continental European roads. Fortunately, coming from the States, Libby found it natural to remind me to stay on the correct side of the road.

 

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ZS and Libby Fischer Hellmann, somewhere in rural France

We took the traditional Dover-to-Calais route and our first stopover was a short hop down the coast, arriving at the Normandy beaches in thunder, lightning and flash-flooding. I was doubly glad I’d remembered to use Rain-X on all the glass in the car. Call me old-fashioned, but I do quite like to be able to see where I’m going when I’m behind the wheel of a vehicle. With that, and Mrs Google doing sat-nav duties and sending us into fits by mangling the French place names—“périphérique” became “perry-ferricker”—we arrived in good time and good temper.

The following morning was the Fourth of July. We visited the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. A stunning setting for a sobering experience. Row after row of white grave markers looking out over the tranquil beach they died to secure. That place, on that date, brought home the true price of independence.

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part of the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach

 

Omaha Beach

Juno, Omaha, Gold, and Sword. Names that resonate.

There are certainly themes here that resonate with the new book, and after visiting I wanted to try to include them in the story.

We were not the only ones making a trip through France. In Tours, heading south, we chanced upon a Slovenian-registered big Honda, so laden down with luggage it was hard to spot the make, never mind the model. No doubt the rider, too, had stopped off to see the beautiful cathedral.

 

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Touring Tours by Slovenian Honda. (pic courtesy of Libby Fischer Hellmann)

 

Tours Cathedral

Amazing architecture of Tours Cathedral

The place we were looking after is in a small town in the Aveyron area between Toulouse and Rodez, lovely open roads with little traffic, winding down to river valley bottoms with narrow stone bridges. Villages with medieval architecture of picture-postcard prettiness.

Belcastel was one such example. Set on a steep hill by the side of the Aveyron river, the ancient castle began life in the ninth century before falling into disrepair at the end of the seventeenth century. It was purchased by a French architect in 1973, who restored and extended it to the current building.

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Belcastel castle. The original dates back to the 9th C.

 

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View from a balcony at Belcastel castle, where it’s possible to stay.

Today, the Château de Belcastel houses exhibitions and art, and it’s even possible to stay there. Not wildly expensive, either, considering the views, not to mention the fact guests have their own moat.

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The study at Belcastel. Hm, wonder how much work I’d get done here…?

 

Belcastel Borg art

What looks like a piece of sculpture commissioned by the Borg at Belcastel.

 

Working in someone else’s house, both Libby and I discovered, certainly has its advantages. For me, the temptation to renovate was removed from me. For Libby, deeply engaged with current American political shenanigans, the lack of twenty-four-hour news channels was a boon to her creativity and productivity.

I found a shady spot in the garden that appealed to me, with the butterflies flickering over the lavender and two cats to keep me company.

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A shady spot in the garden. I don’t think this is what they mean by Open Office…

 

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Butterflies and lavender. A winning combination.

 

Spatz and Inky in the garden

Spatz (tabby) and her daughter Inky in the garden.

 

So, has our French writers’ retreat proved successful? Well, by the time I took Libby across to Toulouse to catch her train for Paris, where she spent a few days before flying home, she was a few pages away from the final chapter of her latest novel. And this was something she’d feared at the outset she would not be able to complete in time to meet her deadline.

As for me, I’d cautiously hoped to end my sojourn with perhaps a 15,000-word opening to the next Charlie Fox book. As I write this, I have already reached 17,000 words and should have a solid 20,000 done by the time I head up-country again next week for my return ferry.

So, having another writer—or maybe even other writers—present to encourage or lead by example, is clearly very good for me. I shall definitely be repeating this method of working. And the sunshine, lovely fresh food, and open roads of southern France proved a very good place to do so.

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My notes of the opening page of the new Charlie Fox book!

 

This week’s Word of the Week is peradventure, a Middle English word from the French par aventure, meaning perhaps as an adverb. As a noun, it means to have doubt that something is indeed the case, and is often used (when it’s used at all, as it’s a fairly archaic word) in a humorous or slightly mocking context.

Today is also the final installment of the #BlogTour for DANCING ON THE GRAVE. Thank you to everyone who joined me along the journey, and especially to those who invited me to contribute an article, or interview, or who reviewed the book to celebrate the launch at the start of July.

 

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