Friday, 19 August 2011

Go on, go on, go on ...

Read this, you'll love it ...

Proof of Life by Karen Campbell

Here be the review wot I wrote for the good peeps over at -

“The girl in the foyer could not hear them, could not possibly have heard Anna, or know that she was there through two thick doors, but her pale neck flexed and her head came up, longer and higher as her profile turned , as her face took form to stare directly at the camera.

And Anna's life, her future, froze.”

Chief Inspector Anna Cameron is a woman with everything to lose. Her life is finally back on track, but the mistakes she made in the past are about to come back to haunt her.

When a body is discovered in a Glasgow canal, the death proves to have an unexpected link to something Anna wants desperately to forget. As Glasgow pulses with the threat of terrorist attack and growing civil discontent, she realises everything she holds dear is at risk.

What did I make of it?

Verisimilitude is a very big word – and this book, and all the work of Karen Campbell just sings of it. You want to really know how a police investigation is carried out? Look no further than Ms Campbell if it is this kind of detail that sends your boat into a spin.

As well as all that detail you’ll get as fine a stylist as you’ll read this side of a poetry collection. Pick a page, any page and you’ll find an arresting phrase (pun intended) or a sentence that makes you go "ahhh". 

And then there’s the actual investigation, the need to know that carries the reader forward, and again with 
this element of fiction Karen Campbell comes up trumps. Simply said, she offers everything this reviewer looks for in a novel.

In Proof of Life we have multiple points of view, each invested with care and attention, each crucial to the story and each moving it on with delicious reveals at just the right point. And on this occasion Campbell works the successful trope of the detective and her loved ones being at risk, because of something she did in her past, providing a full-circle link to the first book in the series.

There’s an element to the story that I’m dying to talk about, but that would spoil it for you – I may just have to accost a total stranger in the street and demand they listen to me. Suffice to say when I finished the book and set it to the side, I said one word out loud...

... WOW!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

More Impressions from Harrogate Crime Festival 2011

Given that my debut novel BLOOD TEARS will be released next May (2012) I was especially interested in the author sessions at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.  How would I answer that, was the thought that ran through my head several times a day.

One session homed in on the subject of violence against women in fiction. Why we read it and why writers write about it. In the past I’ve heard opponents of this argue there is misogyny at work here.  This is too facile an answer and doesn’t account for the fact that women write roughly the same amount of books as men, read 70% of fiction and make up 85% of the publishing industry. If women really thought this was a form of misogyny would they read/ write/ publish it? Don’t think so.

A prime facet of reader interest in thriller/ crime fiction is tension and my own theory is that this issue raises the stakes. If the subject is male I don’t care quite so much. Harsh but true. If the potential victim is female or a child then my anxiety levels are raised so much higher.

Val McDermid spoke eloquently about it and explained her view that women live with the threat of violence all of their lives. She said that women are warned from a young age to not walk alone in certain areas, to be aware of how they dress, or behave – and these warning have a strong impact – and one of the side effects of this is to enjoy the violence in novels. It’s a vicarious fear and thrill when on the page. A woman may not be able to feel safe walking home in the dark, but she can read about it in the safety of her bedroom.

In another session Tess Gerritson words chimed with my own opinion. She said that she polled her readers for their views on this subject. She was amazed by the response. Her readers told her they don’t want to read about male victims of violence because they simply didn’t care.

That same evening I had talked myself out at the bar. Thinking it was around 11pm, I checked someone’s watch to see that it was gone 2am. How the feck did that happen? I said my goodbyes (I know, I’m a wimp) and set off on the half mile walk to my hotel. This was around about the time I regretted wearing a brand new pair of shoes. Which is what you do, innit? Wear new shoes when you are going to be on your feet for a good chunk of eighteen hours a day for three days. I had a bruise on one heel and a blister on the other as I negotiated the narrow, poorly-lit, tree-lined streets.

Around the first corner and a young man was energetically emptying the contents of his stomach over a hedge while his girlfriend rubbed his back.  I gave them a wide berth, in my strange double limp while offering the woman a smile of sympathy. She shook her head slowly and mouthed the word “wanker”.

Did she mean me, I wondered as I turned the next corner into another quiet, dimly lit street that swung round in a slow stretch to the left.  Just ahead of me was a young woman, tight jeans, strappy top, clutching a handbag to her side.

The way she tightened her grip on her bag and held it tightly to her side reminded of Val McDermid’s comments earlier. A young woman was ahead of me in the dark, alone in a quiet side street. I stopped walking as if I’d walked into a wall. I was the guy. I was the potential threat to this girl. How could I re-assure her I only wanted to peel off my shoes and get into my bed?

I started to hum. Loudly. Music is cool right? I was making noise. I couldn’t possibly be planning to run up and attack her. I stopped. I sounded deranged. I began to walk again. In a tip-toe. Now she would be worrying I’d gone silent, so I walked with a heavy tread. Which really hurt my blister, so I slowed down. Heavy and slow, that was how to do it. Right?

At this point she crossed the road. Jeez, I was freaking her out.  Should I shout a hello? Would that be friendly and non-threatening? I picked up my pace and placed my feet on the ground, leading with the ball of my feet. 

Quiet and fast that would be better, no?

I was drawing level with her now and gave myself a mental shake. I’d been in this situation plenty of times and I usually just minded my own business and forgot about the other person. So, I picked the pace up more, trying to disguise my limp which I’m sure made me look like I had taken a dump in my trousers.

As I kicked off my shoes in my hotel room a memory of a writers’ event at my local writers club popped into my head. A visiting CID detective informed us that statistically a young man is much, much more likely to be a victim of a violent crime (from other young men). So ladies, I would always be fully aware of safety concerns, but if there is a lone male behind you on a quiet street it is very possible he is going through the same pantomime I was.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Impressions from Harrogate Crime Writing Festival #2


A week or so has now passed since my visit to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and several highlights have stuck in the old grey matter.

As you may, or may not know, the people who attend the event are a happy mix of readers, writers, reviewers, press, publishers and agents. And unlike most other literary events I’ve been to, everyone mingles. Authors aren’t ushered off to a private space and only allowed out to go on stage to speak – if they want to they can hide in the “green room” – but most of them hit the bar with the crowd.

So, you end up speaking to a real cross section of the book public. Which is great fun.

If someone I met was unknown to me I hit upon a strategy of asking them in what capacity they were attending. 

This was not without its problems. I came unstuck a couple of times when the “stranger” in front of me turned out to be a pretty famous author (eeeek). No names, no pack-drill. What happens in Harrogate stays in Harrogate, and all that shit.

Let’s call one of them Stephen. ‘Cos that’s his name. His other name is Leather and I’ve been reading and enjoying his thrillers for over 20 years. Anywho, I was sitting chatting with MATT HILTON (great writer, and a man who is so nice I wanted him to adopt me) and he introduced me to this guy. I totally missed the name because of the hum of chatter all around me. I nodded, pretending to hear. As you do. When you're a frickin' numpty. Stephen laughed and said, you’ve never heard of me, have you?

When Stephen’s attention was deflected by someone else, I asked Matt – who’s he? When he told me I was mortified. I apologised later and explained that not only was I aware of him but I’d read a lot of his stuff over the years. Happily, Stephen doesn’t take himself too seriously and we ended up going for lunch the next day – and he even sneaked off and paid the bill before I could. How nice is that?

What’s extra clever about him is his commercial acumen. Many writers shy away from the business end of the business, but he is very much aware of it and was in the forefront of the e-revolution. He could see that e-books were going to be the next big thing and he positioned himself at the tail end of last year to cash in on the Christmas rush. I’m not sure of his sales figures in total, but he told me that he’s currently selling around 400 books a day. How about them apples?

I also caught up with the man with the coolest name in crime fiction, and the biggest hair - Stav Sherez, the author of The Black Monastery. It’s not often that I get feedback from authors about the reviews I write for their books, but Stav sought me out to tell me how much he appreciated mine. He took time to say that out of all his reviews, mine was the one that really “got” the book. How cool is that? Go  HERE  for my review over on And then go buy the paperback. It is that good.

(LATE POST - I just received an email from Stav to say that The Black Monastery is now available on kindle for the knockdown price of .99p. Crazy good value. Go KINDLE if you have one and you have 99p to spare.)

There's more. But I need to go and lie down after all that memory work.