Category Archives: Tania Carver

And Lo, There Shall Be . . . An Ending!

By Tania Carver (Martyn Waites)

The first thing I should say is that Cage of Bones is out this week in the States. Yep, the new Tania has arrived at last. There’s a link to it here. Hope you enjoy it.

That’s a beginning. Everything else in this column will be about endings.

The other thing to say is . . . the new Tania Carver novel is finished. Well, not finished finished, but finished.  You know, for now. It’s been handed in. I don’t think books are ever truly finished. Even when they’re on the shelves and have been reviewed and read and translated and re-jacketed and reissued and everything else that goes with them, they’re still not finished. Because I don’t think they ever can be.

There have been times when I’ve been doing a reading at an event and have stopped dead in the middle of the bit I’m doing. Why? Because I’m not happy with it. Because there’s always a better way to say things. Better sentence structure. More apposite words. A much more interesting or evocative turn of phrase. Something that shows a character in a new and/or surprising light. A more subtle way of saying something. Something like that.  Anything like that. And it’s too late to do anything about it.

I once read an interview with the brilliant Peter Gabriel where he stated that he never actually finished anything, it just had to be taken off him. And he’s right. I think you reach a tipping point on piece of work you’re doing, whether that’s a book, song, movie, whatever. You can keep refining and refining and polishing and polishing only up until that point. After that . . . oh dear. It’s like you’ve built something and instead of standing back to admire it you keep picking at it until it all collapses. Not good. The trick is in knowing where that point is and stopping there. Hopefully I get it right. But I’m sure I don’t all of the time. I’m sure I’ve come in under or gone over on several occasions. I’m sure we all have. Because nothing is ever truly finished.

One of the ways in which I know I’m approaching the end of a novel (and not just because it’s building up to a climax) is because routine sets in. I’m sure everyone does this to some degree and I’m sure everyone’s is different. Yet also quite similar in its way.

I’ve been getting up and writing in the mornings. A sure sign that the deadline is upon us as I usually don’t do that until the afternoons. And I always start the same: five games of freecell on the computer then off I go. Then when I’ve done my word count I’ve gone for a lunchtime swim. Thirty two lengths is half a mile. Then I’m out of there. While I’m driving back and forth to the pool I listen to the same songs every time, all by Bill Nelson. Here’s one of them:

Back to the desk and hitting the word count. Then once that’s done I watch an episode of something on DVD. Usually Gangsters, a 1970s tv show set in Birmingham. Then, if I’m feeling up to it, some more words. Then bed.  That’s my day. That’s how I know I’m near the end. 

But just because I reach the end, as I said earlier, doesn’t mean its finished. It’s going to come from the editor with copious notes. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. They often know better than I do when something does or doesn’t work. Then rewriting. Then hand it in again, then proofing, copyediting, typesetting then, eventually, it’s on the shelf. And I’ll pick it up, look at it and think what I always think. I should have done that differently.

Because that’s the thing. I always start out thinking I will. And I never end up that way. At the beginning of a new novel I’m always chock full of hope. This one’s going to be different.  Bigger, better, more structured, nuanced . . . this is the one I’m going to reach my full potential with. Not only is it going to be the best novel I can write but also one of the best ever crime novels ever written ever. Why stop there? Best novels written, full stop. I can hear the Pulitzer winging its way to me now.

Of course that never works. I end up with what I always end up with. One of my novels. I like to think that each one is better than the last but I honestly don’t know if that’s happening. I’m never the one to judge. I’m just the one who has to have the book taken away from him in the end.

So there you go. Or, as Stan Lee used to say, ‘Lo, there shall be . . . an ending!’ 

Except with a lot more exclamation points.

So that’s me. Does anyone else have any little quirks or tics? How do you know when you’re finished? Are you finished? Can we ever be finsihed?

Selling or Selling Out?

By Tania Carver (Martyn Waites)

Last week, the internet got itself into one of its all too frequent tizzies.  You probably don’t remember, as by the time this one blew over there was another one already brewing up.  Or several. Like the green-garbed supervillain outfit HYDRA in the old Nick Fury, Agent Of SHIELD comics. Cut off one head, many more will take its place. But this was one I got interested in. It was about the concept, and indeed practice, of selling out.

Now, selling out is something that’s been around as long as selling has. If not before. One of the earliest historical examples that I know of concerns Galileo. This is a very truncated form, as filtered through Bertolt Brecht’s version of events. As you probably know, Galileo worked out through his calculations that the world was in fact round not flat and that we orbited the sun, not the other way round. At the time the Catholic Church was running the show and he presented his findings to them. They objected, said it contravened what they were teaching. Contradicted their version of the word of God. If word got out about it they would lose their authority. Yes, argued Galileo, but the world is round and it orbits the sun. And that’s a fact. Fine, said the Catholic Church. You tell people that fact and we’ll have you killed. Okay, said Galileo. The world is flat and the sun orbits us.

Now, did Galileo sell out? Or did he take the prudent and sensible option in order to protect his own life? It’s easy to take a morally highhanded approach about this years later when your life’s not in any danger and say yes, he did sell out. But I like to think that he did what most of us would do presented with that situation. Compromise. Live.

Which brings us to the latest handbags episode on the internet. There was this: http://io9.com/5973921/how-to-write-fiction-for-money-without-selling-out-too-much

And then this: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/01/08/thoughts-on-selling-out/ If you don’t have the time or the inclination to read all that, let me paraphrase. A writer got annoyed by the fact that other writers were openly writing books to make money from them and gain readers. This, he saw, was a gross violation of what a writer was supposed to be doing. ‘What’s the point in writing,’ he said ‘if you don’t get to write whatever the fuck you feel like writing?’ Cue internet perfect storm.

This reminds me of a BA creative writing student in a university class I was teaching. I was chatting to them about writing, the craft of it, the art of it, the business of it, all that. One student, who clearly didn’t think I knew what I was talking about, piped up and told me I had everything wrong. That maybe what I was talking about was okay for me because I was writing crime fiction (Or possibly ‘just’ crime fiction. If he didn’t actually say that, that was his attitude.). He was going to be different. He was going to write what he wanted, when he felt inspired to do so. And publishers would be so grateful for him doing this they would offer him loads of money. He would then be a bestseller and get brilliant reviews. Yes, he said all this with a straight face, while sneering at my crime novels. I had two options – tell him the truth about what he had just said, or wish him the best of luck with his career. I wished him the best of luck with his career. This was a few years ago. At the time of writing this, the world hasn’t heard from him. Maybe he hasn’t been in a position to be inspired enough to be brilliant yet. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.    

I thought of him when I read all the pieces about selling out. I think it’s a tired, tired old argument and I really have no time for it, or for the kind of writers who argue in its favour. I don’t care if they’re well known or obscure.

So let’s look at this. What actually is ‘selling out’? What does it constitute? Well, the naysayers would have you believe that selling out means prostituting your art in order to reach a wide audience. Or a wider audience. Or any audience, even. Diluting your talent just to sell books. Just? Just? What else are we supposed to be doing? Sorry if that comes across as blunt and to the point. But there you go. I can’t see the point in a writer toiling in obscurity, writing their heart out (sometimes literally – stress and chest pains are all part of the job) just to be ignored. Or not published. Or left unread. What’s all the pain been for if no one else will ever read it? And why should it be seen as diluting? It’s just accepting a challenge to do something differently. If you regard whatever talent you have as something so rigid and immobile it can’t be bent into different shapes or used to see other perspectives, then it’s not much of a talent, is it?

Ah yes, the artist writer would say, my work is pure because it is not commercial. Because it is not popular. And therefore it is better because of it. And my response would be, ‘Tell that to Charles Dickens’. As everyone knows, Dickens wasn’t just hugely popular in his day, he was also regarded – and still is – as a literary giant. Popularity and literature are not mutually exclusive things.

Want a (slightly) more recent example? Or several? Jim Thompson. David Goodis. Charles Willeford. These men all wrote for money and they wrote fast. They didn’t deny it, didn’t try to hide the fact. They worked in the paperback original market, the most commercial of commercial part of publishing. They didn’t apologise for it, didn’t make excuses about it. But they turned out some of the most extraordinary fiction of the Twentieth Century while they were doing this. Not every time, admittedly, but then neither does Jonathan Franzen. I’m sure you can find examples of your own to use.

Did any of these writers compromise in order to be published? Probably. Did any of them say the world was flat when they knew it was round? No. I don’t think so. They did what the best writers always do. They communicate shared truths about the human condition from writer to reader. They just happen to do it in the guise of hardboiled novels of suspense. Could they be considered sell outs? Only by the more precious. What they actually did, was sell. And in huge quantities.

Now having said all this, I’m sure you can tell which side of the line I come down on. Because seriously, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. But then I know why I write. Or most of the reasons.

I write crime fiction, for the most part. I write thrillers and mystery. Do I think I’m selling out if I want to sell? No. I know the market I’m working in. I’m not naïve or under any illusions. I write the kind of books that I hope people want to read. Should that mean I’m writing the kind of books I don’t want to write? Of course not. Why should the two things be mutually exclusive?

I accept the genre conventions. I know that they’re there for a reason. There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end. And the end has to satisfy. The murder – if there is one – has to be solved. The reader has to feel like they haven’t wasted their time. Like Chekov’s gun – if it’s there in the first act it’s got to be fired by the third. I know all this. I knew it when I made the contract. And not just with the publisher but with the reader too.

But, and here’s the bit the artist writers have trouble with, am I compromising what I want to write? I don’t think so. I’m telling the stories I want to tell in the way I want to tell them. At the same time I’m accepting market conventions because I want the books to sell. It’s still me writing them. It’s still me in them. My heart, my head, my life. I still want to write about the truth of the human condition. I just want to entertain people with a crime story at the same time. I think this is something we all do and accept, irrespective of what line of work we’re in. You could make the most brilliant computer the world has ever seen. But if you’re such a purist you refuse to make a keyboard to go with it you may as well not have bothered.

I want my work to be read. There, I’ve said it. And if they’re honest, so does every other writer who has ever written or ever will write. Unless there’s something wrong with them. My friend, the brilliant Christa Faust, summed the whole thing up perfectly on Twitter last week: ‘As a proud pulp hack, I don’t get the whole selling out thing. Why shouldn’t I use my skills to make a living?’

Why indeed?

And then she aced it with this: ‘It’s easy to make high falutin’ “art” when mom still does your laundry. The rest of us need to pay our own bills.’

Perfect. I’m sure even Galileo would agree.

 

Sarah Pinborough

By Tania Carver

Sarah Pinborough is, i think, one of the brightest stars in the British crime and horror writing firmaments. In the last few years she has come to prominence in the predominantly male arena of horror fiction. Not content with that, she moved over to crime fiction. She’s also written YA novels, fairy stories, historical fiction and for film and TV. If you’re on Twitter or Facebook you’ve probably come across her, likewise if you frequent the bars of West London. She is, for my money, one of the most exciting voices in fiction at the moment. Here’s Sarah!

 

Me: You came to crime fiction with The God Faced Dogs trilogy after a very successful career as a horror novelist. Did you notice much of a difference, either from inside (the community) or outside (how you were perceived)?

Sarah: It was a big change for me on many levels, not just the shift in genre. My first six books were straight horror novels, but they were mass-market paperbacks in the USA and never published in the UK, so when I signed the trilogy deal with Gollancz it was my first UK deal, and was a much bigger deal than I’d had before. And although I wouldn’t have got that deal without the first books (I was up for a best novel British Fantasy award for The Taken and that led to meetings and pitching to Jo Fletcher at Gollancz) I still consider signing that deal as the start of my career ‘proper’ as it were. Because of that it’s hard to judge a change in perception from people. To my American readership they probably thought I’d dropped off the side of a cliff rather than taken a step up! I’m very pleased that Ace (Penguin) in the USA have picked up the trilogy so I’ll be published there again. 
Me: The God Faced Dogs trilogy overlapped the two genres. We’re always constantly told not to do that but you got away with it and quite spectacularly. How did you manage that?
Sarah: Although people say it straddles crime and horror, I consider it more of a crime/Sci-Fi cross really, although the first book of the three probably seems more dark urban fantasy (How many genres can I try and fill??;-)) so I can see how it gets the horror tag. 

Before starting it, I had reached a stage where I was bored and restless writing straight horror, and I did – what was on reflection quite a stupid thing –  and quit my job to concentrate on writing a story that challenged me. I realised that I read far more crime and thriller novels than horror and had been thinking of trying my hand at something more mainstream for a while. I’d read Michael Marshall’s The Intruders and while talking to him – probably in a bar – he mentioned John Connolly’s Charlie Parker books to me.  I hunted them down and was blown away by Every Dead Thing. I loved the richness of the writing and storytelling and realised that if he and Michael Marshall were writing thrillers with a touch of weird in them, then there was a market for it, other than just in my own head. Thankfully, I sold the trilogy before I’d written it and therefore didn’t end up living in a gutter after packing in teaching.
Sarah with John Connolly. She has nothing but respect for him.
Sarah with Michael Marshall. She has nothing but respect for him too, obviously.
I can see why crossing genres isn’t encouraged from a professional point of view though – I’ve found the three books of the trilogy in three different sections of one Waterstones once. Quite frustrating. But, you know how it is, you have to write the stories that come to you, and the more I settle into my career, the more I’ve come to realise that the ideas I have tend to straddle genres. I seem incapable of shaking off the weird.
Me: I genuinely have trouble keeping up with you. You’re probably the most hard working and prolific author around. Yet you still have time for a full social media presence. How do you do it all? 
Sarah: Ha! I hear this about me quite a lot, although I’m not sure how true it is. I’m sure there are a lot of writers out there more prolific than me. If I’m honest, I would like to have more time on each project – but I’m also very aware that the market is tough for writers at the moment, and the sentence that rings in my head is always, ‘Getting published isn’t the difficult bit – staying published is.’ If you’re a mid-lister and not riding the top tens frequently then you just can’t relax. Not that relaxing comes that easily to me anyway, and even when I sort some free time out for myself, I inevitably end up working. I’m terrified of running out of time. It’s the same for all writers. Too many stories itching in our heads.
Plus, I can spend money like water so I have to work hard! As for the social media presence, I live alone and work alone, so I have more time for Twitter and Facebook, and on days when I’m not out and about, especially before I moved to London, they were easy social interaction for the day. BUT, they can be a time suck. I have Freedom on my Macbook that cuts me off from the Internet for set periods of time when I need to get some words down without distractions.
Me: You recently wrote an episode of TV cop show New Tricks as well as acting in and directing a couple of short films. (You see what I mean about prolific?) Any more TV and/or film work coming up?
Sarah: I didn’t direct the short films, that was my friend Abigail Blackmore (@snaxhanso), and the ‘acting’ as you very kindly call it, was all improvisation on the spot and under the influence of wine so didn’t require any effort from me, but were fun to do. 
Here’s a still from the film, She’s Behind You. Don’t take it too seriously.

As for TV and Film – I’ve got another draft of my horror film ‘Cracked’ to do this month with the director Peter Medak (The Changeling, The Krays, The Ruling Class, Breaking Bad and many more) which is slated to go into production at the end of this year, but we all know how these things can fall apart! I’ve got another film, ‘Red Summer’ under option, and I’ve got a 3-parter TV Crime pitch ‘Fallow Ground’ optioned by World Productions that’s doing the rounds, and a couple of other pitches to put together when I’ve got some time. But TV
Me: You see what I mean about prolific? How did you get into writing? Because it wasn’t what you’ve always done . . .
Sarah: I’ve done a lot of different things over the years, but I’d always written, right from a very young age – I wrote plays for school and 40 pages of a (terrible) novel when I was about fourteen, but I didn’t seriously think about writing professionally until I was about thirty. I wrote some short stories in my late-twenties that friends etc seemed to like and then one day, when I was about 29, I found three pages of an opening I’d written a year or so before, and suddenly I saw where it could go. It became my first novel, ‘The Hidden’ (which Cracked is based on). I’d been to America when writing it and bought some Leisure horror novels at the airport to read on the plane home and when I’d finished it, I sent it to them and they bought it. I was doing my teacher training at the time and my first 6 novels were published during my teaching career – one out every nine months.  Although they had great distribution the money was terrible, and it was only when I was asked to write a Torchwood book (I ended up doing two) that I had a little pocket of cash and could quit my job and concentrate.
Me: Mayhem is your next book, and another departure for you. What can you tell us about that?
Sarah: I’m quite excited about Mayhem although it’s probably the book I’m most insecure about as it was such a challenge. Again it crosses genres, as it’s historical crime, but there is a touch of weird thrown in. I’d read Dan Simmons The Terror and loved the way he’d used real historical events and built a fictional story around them, and it inspired me to try it. I’ve used the Thames Torso murders which were occurring at the same time as (and beyond) the Jack the Ripper killings, and like the Ripper cases, were never solved. My central character is Dr Thomas Bond who worked on both cases, and a lot of my main characters are real people, and although I’ve had to take liberties with personal lives for the sake of the story, I’ve stuck to the factual events for my framework. It’s a really rich period of time for crime and all these people had such interesting or damaged lives (Bond killed himself in the end) that there is a lot to play with.
It was also real challenge because normally in a thriller or crime novel your main concerns are your plotting and making it as tight as possible – with this I had all the historical stuff to worry about as well. It’s also structured quite differently to my normal books – it goes backward and forward, and has both first person and third person narratives. I’m really pleased with it, and I hope people like it. Plus, they’ve given me an awesome cover!
I’m about to start work on the follow-up, Murder.
Me: Branching out yet again, what’s this I hear about you and fairy stories?
Sarah: The fairy tales have been a really interesting project and one that I’ve enjoyed far more than I expected to. Gollancz came to me and asked if I’d be interested in doing three short novels re-working traditional stories, and being me and never liking to say no, I said yes. I was a bit flummoxed how I was going to do it at first, and then I had that moment of revelation and the whole thing slotted into place in my head. Poison, Charm and Beauty are all out next year – I’m just finishing the last one now – and although fairy tales seem to be everywhere at the moment, I really don’t think – touch wood – anyone’s done them quite like I have. They’re quite twisted and dark in places, but they’re also sexy and fun – which was a departure for me! 

I’ve also written them so that although they are all interlinked, you can start with any one of them and the rest of the story won’t be ruined. I guess it’s a circular story – you’ll just have a different perspective of the characters depending on which one you start with. They’re not female exclusive, but it is the first writing I’ve done with a female audience in mind and that’s been good for me.
Me:  And YA books too?
Sarah: The YA are on hold at the moment, although The Death House, which I’ll be writing for Gollancz, starting after Murder (I’m confusing myself!) I’m hoping will cross over between a teen and adult market. It’s a book that needs to be handled sensitively though and I may go away and hole up somewhere to write it. You can see what it’s about here.
Me: It could be said, uncharitably, that for a horror writer you’re woefully uneducated in classic horror films. What can be done about that, do you think?
Sarah: Ha ha ha! I need more horror movie nights with friends! Although ever since I said I found The Wicker Man (the original) comical, I think I’ve been disowned by the whole horror community. 
(In the interests of full disclosure, I should say we now get together for film nights with Sarah raiding my collection of old Hammer DVDs.)
Me: And finally . . . the future. In a year’s time where do you think you’ll be and what will you be working on?

Sarah: Gosh, well like all of us, I would like to still be working and climbing the ladder, but who knows? My book future is pretty much planned out for the next couple of years (I’ve got 5 books out this year and I owe four more full-length novels which I want to give some time to) and a lot depends on how the TV and film stuff goes. TV is very demanding time-wise and also very collaborative so you can’t just jet off anywhere because there are A LOT of meetings. I’m tempted to spend a few months in LA as I have friends there, but if I’m honest, by this time next year I’d like to have met a man to fall in love with and maybe even..*shuddersslightly* settle down. I have to give it a go some day. I put far too much focus on my work and not enough on my life. Oh, and I’d like to have a cat.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do that, Sarah. You can get back on to Twitter now.

And if you’ve never read her books – what are you waiting for? She’s brilliant. That’s OK, thank me later.

 

The Wildcard Tuesday New Year Interrogation

Zoë Sharp

The first moon of 2013

Welcome to the first Wildcard Tuesday blog of 2013, and an enormously Happy New Year to you all. For this I asked a few lighthearted questions of fellow ‘Rati past and present, and below are their answers. I hope you find them worthy of a giggle.

(As a small aside, I started off searching for sensible author pix, but what I’ve actually ended up going for are the silliest pix that came up on the first page of a Google Images search on that author’s name.)

ALLISON BRENNAN

Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home, as usual.

What would have been your ideal location?

Home! (Though, I would have liked to have gone to Disneyland right after Christmas … maybe next year!)

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

My husband once gave me an electric grout cleaner. Needless to say, I never used it.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

The absolute best Christmas dinner we’ve had was when I decided to cook prime rib instead of the standard turkey or ham. It was pricey, but oh-so-delicious! I think that was back in 1997 …

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Traveling for Christmas.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

Watching my oldest daughter graduate from high school—and hearing her and the Seraphim Choir sing the National Anthem. They were amazing.

I’m not going to ask about New Year’s resolutions, but do you have one ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Walk daily, meet my deadlines, don’t sweat the small stuff.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Two Lucy Kincaid books from Minotaur/SMP—SILENCED and STALKED; a short story in the anthology LOVE IS MURDER; an indie published novella MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

A Lucy Kincaid novella in March (RECKLESS), and two more book STOLEN and COLD SNAP. Plus a short story for the NINC anthology and maybe another indie novella. If I have time.

 

DAVID CORBETT

Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home alone, if “choose” and “celebrate” are the correct verbs. Mette arrives on the 28th, so things should get merrier at that point.

What would have been your ideal location?

Buenos Aires. Ireland. A beach in Mexico.

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

Best gift I ever “received” was one I gave. As a gag gift I bought my late wife a red flannel union suit with a button seat flap that she absolutely loved. Slept in it all the time. Cozy as hell. Damn, she was happy.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

When I was a kid one of my classmates’ families came over during the holidays and brought cookies that literally made me gag. I picked one up, sniffed it like a cocker spaniel, recoiled, and put it back. My brother started bellowing, “You touched it, you have to eat it.” Unfortunately, King Solomon (my father) agreed. I almost upchucked trying to get it down.

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Oh, let’s not go there.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

A weekend in San Antonio for the wedding of one of Mette’s dearest friends, when I got introduced to the inner circle. Also, the moments when I read the cover quotes I received for THE ART OF CHARACTER. I was incredibly humbled and grateful so many writers I respect said so many kind and generous things.

One ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Make the new book a success, and wrap up the novel I’m working on to my own persnickety satisfaction.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Open Road Media and Mysterious Press re-issued all four of my novels in ebook format in 2012, with a brand new short story collection titled KILLING YOURSELF TO SURVIVE.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

The new book, THE ART OF CHARACTER, comes out on January 29th, 2013 from Penguin.

 

ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF

Where?

New Orleans.

Ideal location?

It’s hard to top New Orleans.

Best/worst gift?

Well, there’s this pretty spectacular amethyst necklace…

Best/worst food?

I’ve served many a bad meal to others. For everyone’s sake I stopped trying to cook long ago. Personally I don’t care much what food gets served, but I do remember one Christmas morning in London with blackberry jam on waffles and whisky for breakfast. The blackberry jam ended up all sorts of places and it was all very lovely.  I could do that again.

Christmas From Hell?

It’s hard to narrow that down, actually. Endless scenarios spring to mind. I hate being cold, though, so winter is perilous.

Favourite moment from 2012?

For public consumption, you mean? The general reader response to HUNTRESS MOON has been a real high.

One ambition in 2013?

I’d like to find a really wonderful place to live.

Books this year?

My crime thriller HUNTRESS MOON, a boxed set of three of my supernatural thrillers called HAUNTED, a novella called D-GIRL ON DOOMSDAY in an interconnected anthology with three other dark fantasy female author friends: APOCALYPSE: YEAR ZERO. And I got several backlist titles back and put them out as e books at wonderfully affordable prices: THE UNSEEN, BOOK OF SHADOWS, THE HARROWING and THE PRICE.

And for 2013?

The next book in my Huntress series comes out in late January:  BLOOD MOON. My next book in the paranormal Keepers series, KEEPER OF THE SHADOWS, comes out in May.

I’m selling my house in January and buying another as soon as possible, probably in California.

 

PD MARTIN

Where?

Every year we have Christmas Day at our home (in Melbourne) and then go down to the Mornington Peninsula (seaside) for most of January. It’s the hottest time of year here in Oz, so it’s great to be near the beach. We stay in a 1970s holiday house my grandparents bought in 1972, and given I spent summers down there as a kid it’s particularly special to now be going down there with my children.

Ideal location?

The Peninsula is pretty good ๐Ÿ™‚ Although we’ve always said that one year we’ll do a white/winter Christmas in New York or something.

Best/worst gift ever received?

Best gift I ever received was actually for my birthday this year—my Kindle. I’m a complete convert to the point where I can’t imagine ever reading a ‘real’ book again. I prefer the Kindle reading experience for some reason.

Best meal?

I am biased, but I make a mean Tira Misu. I got the recipe from a chef and it’s divine! And great because you make it a day or two before, so it’s one thing to cross off the food preparation list early.

Christmas From Hell?

Mmm….I guess having to run around. You know, multiple visits. We do that a bit on Christmas Eve, but I enjoy the fact that then on Christmas Day we just kick back. We start with oysters at midday, then it’s prawns (yes, on the BBQ), then an Asian style salmon fillet dish then Tira Misu (at about 4pm). Then a movie!

Favourite moment from 2012?

That’s easy for me—picking up our son, Liam, from Korea and making our family of three a family of four ๐Ÿ™‚

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I’ve got a few books I’d like to finish. And hey, a best seller or a lotto win wouldn’t go astray either.

Book(s) this year?

THE MISSING (two short stories), WHEN JUSTICE FAILS (two short true-crime pieces), HELL’S FURY (new book in spy thriller series), and two novels for younger readers that I’ve released under the pen name Pippa Dee—GROUNDED SPIRITS and THE WANDERER.

What’s next?

Probably what I’ve been doing the past few months—juggling motherhood and writing…and feeling like I’m going to crack under the pressure! 

 

JT ELLISON

Where?

Nashville and Florida.

Ideal location?

A family trip to Italy would have been fun.

Best gift you’ve ever received?

I got engaged during Christmas 1994, so that ranks up there….

Worst meal?

Italy, Cinque Terre, a large full fish the size of a cat, with its baleful eye staring up at me… I swear the thing was still breathing. Ugh! 

Christmas From Hell?

There’s no such thing. I love Christmas.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my DH in his gorgeous new kilt for the first time. *fans self*

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I want to learn how to paint. In oil, large canvas abstracts. 

Book(s) last year?

A DEEPER DARKNESS, EDGE OF BLACK, STORM SEASON

And for 2013?

Writing, writing and more writing. Deadline January 30!

 

 MARTYN WAITES (half of Tania Carver)

Where?

At my in-laws. The kids wanted to go to see all their cousins. They love a big family get together. As for me, I’m pretty bah humbug about it. I don’t care where I go or what I do or whether I get any presents or not. As long as I get to see Doctor Who, I’m happy.

Ideal location?

Somewhere abroad. Morocco would be good. If they were showing Doctor Who.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I’ve been lucky enough to get plenty of presents. I can’t think of specifics in terms of best or worst, but for me the worst kind of gift is the thoughtless kind that someone has put no effort, time or care into. The best ones are the ones you absolutely want. Even if you don’t know you do until you get them. I was lucky enough to get one of those this Christmas.

Best/worst meal?

At Christmas? It’s all the same. I’m not a fan of Christmas dinner. Or any roast dinner for that matter. I eat it, but that’s because it’s what you do at Christmas. Like getting into water and swimming. The best meal I was ever served was at a Persian restaurant in Birmingham in 1988. It involved chicken and pomegranates and I’ve never tasted anything like it to this day. The restaurant disappeared soon afterwards in a kind of Brigadoon fashion and I sometimes wonder whether I actually went there. As for bad food . . . loads. In fact, it probably outnumbers the good food. That’s why I try to remember the good ones.

Christmas From Hell?

Being forced to spend time with people I hate. That goes for the rest of the year as well. And not seeing Doctor Who.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Well, I wrote about my favourite cultural things on the last Murderati post—Y Niwl and the Hammer films retrospective—so they would be there in a big way. But other than that, it was something very small and personal that I’m afraid I couldn’t share and that I doubt anyone would be particularly interested in.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I do. I can’t say anything about it in case I jinx it, but it will be the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition. Or at least I hope it will.

Book(s) this year?

CHOKED, the fourth Tania Carver book came out in September in the UK. THE CREEPER, the second one, came out in the States. There have been other editions round the world and I think Russia finally got round to publishing my 2006 novel, THE MERCY SEAT.

And 2013?

Finishing the new Tania, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, which I’m uncharacteristically quite pleased with. Although it could all go horribly wrong. And then there’s the afore(not)mentioned secret project . . .

 

GAR ANTHONY HAYWOOD

Where?

At the family’s new home in Glassell Park, which we moved into in October.

Ideal location?

At the family’s new home in Aspen, Colorado, which doesn’t exist.

Best/worst gift ever received?

The best was a dictionary.  It was given to me many years ago by a wonderful woman who at the time was my mother-in-law to be.  She knew I was an aspiring writer and gifted me accordingly, which, oddly enough, no one in my immediate family had ever thought to attempt before.  I still own that dictionary, too.

Don’t get me started on the worst gifts I’ve ever received.

Best/worst food?

The best, far and away, is the egg nog my godfather makes over the holidays. It tastes great and man, does it have a kick to it.

Never been given a fruitcake as a gift, and I pray I never am.

Christmas From Hell?

I think I actually experienced it last year.  Attended the worst Catholic midnight Mass possible: cornball music, pointless sermon, and theatre lighting (the service was being video-taped) that would make a mole cover its eyes.  Awful.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The family’s spring break vacation in the Galapagos.  Unbelievable!

One ambition for 2013?

Completion of a manuscript that a conventional publisher buys for a tidy sum.

Book(s) last year?

Didn’t have a book published this year, though my Aaron Gunner novels were re-released as e-books by Mysterious Press/Open Road.

And for the early part of 2013?

Early?  Maybe my first book for middle-graders, which my agent is shopping now.  Later in the year?  With the grace of God, a publication deal for my first Aaron Gunner novel in almost 10 years.

 

STEPHEN JAY SCHWARTZ

Where?

Stayed at home with the wife and kids—enjoyed the beach and the beautiful Southern California weather.  Played Scrabble and hung out in cafés.  Enjoyed a big meal of matzoh ball soup and tofurky.

Ideal location?

Ireland.  Clifton or Dingle, to be precise.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I haven’t paid attention to holiday gifts for a long time.  I think the worst gift I ever got was for my bar mitzvah—it was a belt buckle.  No, actually, perhaps the worst was the beer stein my father gave me for my high school graduation.  This, instead of the car I had my eyes on.

Best/worst item of food?

Probably that tofurky we had last week.

Christmas From Hell?

Again, tofurky takes the price.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my son come back healthy and happy after a two-month hospital stay in Wisconsin.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Main ambition—work to live a creative life, 24/7.

Book(s) this year?

Move along, nothing to see here.

What’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

Move along, nothing to see here either…

 

BRETT BATTLES

Where?

The first half I spent in a hot, tropical location with my feet in the water, a beer nearby, and a Kindle in my hand; the second half at home in L.A. with my kids, my parents, and my sister and her kids.

Ideal location?

Nailed it this year.

Best gift ever received?

This year I got the complete set of Calvin & Hobbs from my parents. It was perfect!

Best food?

I made a pretty awesome ham this year that was juicy and delicious. Hmmm, I’m craving leftovers right now!

Christmas From Hell?

Not being able to spend time with my family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

It was a pretty good year all around, so one event…? Going to San Diego for a week with my kids and parents was pretty damn fun!

One ambition for 2013?

Just more of the same … write, travel, and spend time with friends and family.

Book(s) last year?

2012: THE DESTROYED (Quinn #5), PALE HORSE (Project Eden #3), THE COLLECTED (Quinn #6), and ASHES (Project #Eden #4)

And for 2013?

At least four more novels (hopefully five), including a secret collaboration I can’t quite talk about yet.

 

TESS GERRITSEN

Where?

At home. With family.

Ideal location?

Exactly the same place.

Worst gift you’ve ever received?

An orange pantsuit.  I mean, really. My husband has not bought me anything orange ever since. (I’m guessing it didn’t look like this, then, Tess? ZS)

Best/worst meal?

For Christmas?  Not one bad meal sticks out.  On Christmas, everything tastes wonderful.

Christmas From Hell?

Being stuck in an airport. Far from family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Standing on the Great Wall of China, with my husband and sons.

One ambition, for 2013?

To finally plant a vegetable garden that the deer can’t demolish.

Book(s) out last year?

LAST TO DIE was published this past summer.

And what’s on the cards for 2013?

Early 2013, I am headed to the Amazon River.

 

PARI NOSKIN TAICHERT

Where?

At home in peace. No requirements, no expectations. I just let myself be.

Ideal location?

The only other place I can imagine being this calm and relaxed would be Antibes . . .

Best gift?

Probably the best gift I’ve received so far is an essay my younger teen wrote about a difficult incident we shared last year and how it has taught her empathy. Made me cry, it touched my heart so.

Best/worst meal?

The best meal remains one brunch I had in Puerto Rico: fresh flying fish brought in that morning from a catch in Barbados, steamed bread fruit, Barbadian yellow hot sauce, fresh mangos picked minutes before from a tree just steps from where we ate.

Christmas From Hell?

I think it would be one filled with efforts to make it perfect, so many efforts that they’d hit the tipping point and tumble down to the other side of happiness.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The one where I finally realized I’m going to be all right, that the trials of this last year may continue . . . but they’re not going to pull me down into the depths of despair anymore.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Yes.

1. I’d like to e-publish the book that “almost” sold to NYC. It’s the first in a new series and I’d like my character to meet readers and vice versa.

2. To continue to explore my creativity in whatever ways it’s now manifesting, to give myself permission to let it fly.

Book(s) last year?

Nothing in 2012. I’ve been in hibernation for many reasons including the whole copyright issue and the divorce.

And for 2013?

To begin writing again and to enjoy it . . .

 

ZOË SHARP

As for me, I also spent Christmas this year with my family, which was where I wanted to be.

My ideal would probably have been a ski-in/ski-out chalet somewhere with plenty of snow. Not necessarily for skiing, but definitely for sculpting. I never did get to finish that Sphinx …

As for my ambitions for 2013, to find a life/work balance and to continue to improve my craft.

And books? In 2012 I brought out two e-boxed sets of the first six Charlie Fox novels, plus several short stories, and of course, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.

In 2013, DIE EASY is hot off the press in the States. I’m also editing two new projects—a supernatural thriller called CARNIFEX, and a standalone crime thriller called THE BLOOD WHISPERER, as well as working on the first in a new trilogy, the first in what I hope will be a new series, a novella project I can’t say too much about yet, and—of course—Charlie Fox book eleven. That should keep me going for a bit ๐Ÿ™‚

So, it only remains for me to wish you all an incredibly Happy New Year, and to thank you for your comments and your feedback during 2012.

Falling Beams

By Tania Carver

Greetings from Deadline Hell!

Yes, that’s where I am at the moment and seemingly stuck here for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, as the new book is supposed to be handed in in a couple of weeks time. So if anyone asks, I’m not really here.

At this time of year (Deadline Hell, not approaching Christmas) my world shrivels down to just one thing: words. That’s all, just words. No pictures, apart from the ones in my head hopefully being explained, but no other distractions. Just words.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Obviously there are some things that have to be there. Because they’re part of the ritual.

I’ve never thought I was particularly superstitious. I’ve had some great Friday 13ths (admittedly not while watching the movies as they’re uniformly awful – and I say that as a connoisseur of tat), I walk under ladders (as long as I check to see nothing’s going to be dropped on my head), I leave shoes on the table (bad luck, apparently. Especially if you’re searching for your shoes and someone’s moved them off the table.), I leave knives crossed on the cutting board, I laugh at horoscopes, wondering how the movements of planets light years in the past can affect whether we’re going to have a falling out with a loved one or authority figure that Wednesday. Yes, what a rebel. A thoroughly rational, humanist rebel.

And then I think of the way I write.

Like I said before, there’s a ritual. I’m sure every writer has one and I’m sure they’re all different yet all have the same intended result – to make us write and write better. Some writers can only write at one desk in one room, anywhere else and it just doesn’t happen. Some writers (like Philip Roth used to – and I can say that in the past tense now) have to stand up to do it. Some writers can only work in coffee shops with noise, music, conversation and (if you’re in a British branch of Starbucks) tax-avoidance all around them. Some have to have music playing constantly, some can only work in silence. And some writers – if not all – have their little rituals before they can even start work.

I don’t think I’m as hidebound as others but then I probably am. I always say that I don’t subscribe to any particular method of work or approach. I always treat each new novel as a blank slate, an opportunity to try different things, see if new exercises will yield better results. Outline. Don’t outline. Plot thoroughly. Don’t plot at all. Think of three characteristics that sum up this character you haven’t even decided on a name for yet. If this character was an alcoholic drink what would they be? All that. Yeah, I always start that way. But it never lasts long. I’m sure I end up going back to the way I usually do it. And that’s fine I suppose, because that’s the working method that has evolved best for me.

And I think that’s something inherent in human nature. Ritual, routine. We try to get away from it but we’re always drawn back to it. We can’t help it.

There’s that famous section in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, the so-called ‘Flitcraft Parable’. I’m sure you all know it. Flitcraft, a Tacoma businessman went out for lunch one day and never returned. He was wealthy, happy and he left behind a wife, two children and a very successful real estate business.

‘He went like that,’ Spade said, ‘like a fist when you open your hand.’     

And then his wife heard he had been spotted in Spokane so Spade was given the job of investigating. He tracked down Flitcraft – now called Pierce – and found him to have a new wife, a new son and a very successful business. Spade asked him what had happened, why he left. He said that when he had been on his way to lunch a beam had fallen from a building site, narrowly missing him. He wasn’t hurt but it made him realise just how random life is. He realised that ‘in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, not in step with life’. So he walked out. By the time Spade found him he had fallen back into exactly the same routine again. ‘He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling’.

Obviously I can’t say for definite, but I do wonder whether Hammett was talking about writing when he wrote that. Because that’s exactly how I – and I’m sure lots of other writers – work. I try to find a different way of doing something, saying something but it just ends up in the same routine.

So perhaps it’s time to stop trying to change things, to be different. Maybe it’s time to just accept that’s how one works, embrace it and get on with it.

For instance, my working day starts with coffee.  And it has to be served in one of my special Hammer films mugs.  Yes, honestly.  It may very occasionally be tea but the mug has to be the same. I’ve got two rooms tow work in, my office and the dining room. If it’s the office it’s at the desk (obviously) if it’s in the dining room it always has to be at the same end of the table. Then I open the computer and play freecell. Only five games, though. Then there’s the song. I have to have a song to start the day. Or the night, whatever. And each book seems to suggest its own song. For the last Tania Carver novel, CHOKED, it was Gerry Rafferty’s Night Owl. I don’t know why, I’ve never been a particular fan of his. But it came into my head one day like a persistent little earworm and wouldn’t leave. So it became my touchstone. I’d listen to it most days before and after work. And then when the book was finished, so was the song.

This time it’s Verdi Cries by 10,000 Maniacs that’s my daily listen. Or rather a solo performance of it by Natalie Merchant from a TV show in 1989. I don’t know what it is, the song, her phrasing, her playing . . . It’s just great. And it’s become the unofficial theme tune to the novel.

But that’s just one example, that’s just what works for me, my rituals. And I suppose that, as writers, we should always be trying to look beyond the rituals, get to the truth of what we’re writing without and mental clutter. Doing all of the above is like not walking under ladders or leaving shoes on the table. Things that, stripped of their totemic value are completely pointless. My rituals don’t make me a better writer or a worse writer. They don’t affect the writing at all, I don’t believe. We live in an indifferent universe, playing five games of freecell is not what will make me a better writer than Hemingway. Being a better writer than Hemingway will make me be a better writer than Hemingway.

I’m sure everyone had their rituals.  And please, feel free to share them. Because we all still cling to them. Why? Comfort, I suppose. Because, like Flitcraft, we do the same thing every day, sit down and work. Plough through it. We’ve adapted our lives to beams not falling.

However, if we want our writing to be even a bit more surprising and spontaneous, to live, to breathe, to excite, maybe the thing to do is to write like we’re standing there in the street, just waiting for the beam to drop, knowing our indifferent universe is about to remove us from it.  Write like that.

And see what happens.

Alison Gaylin

By Tania Carver

It’s Wildcard Tuesday again and here’s another interview by Martyn, the male half of Tania. Edgar-nominated crime novelist Alison Gaylin has long been a favourite writer of mine. Entertainment journalist by day and crime writer by night, she’s writing some of the best PI novels around. We first met at Bouchercon in Baltimore in 2008 when we shared a panel and immediately hit it off. In San Francisco Bouchercon in 2010 we both took the title roles in a reading of Declan Hughes’ play about Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, ‘I Can’t Get Started’. She was great. If you’ve already read her you’ll know how good she is. If you haven’t, (and why not?) here she is . . .

And She Was, the first in the Brenna Spector series, came out in February. It’s a fantastic book, I loved it and it’s been a thoroughly deserved bestseller too. Can you fill us in on the background to it?

Firstly, thank you Martyn! That means a lot, seeing as I’m a huge fan of both you and your darkly seductive alter ego, Tania Carver. The book’s success has been really satisfying for me, especially since it was such a long time coming. I signed a three-book deal back in 2008 based, not on a manuscript, but an idea for one. The book itself didn’t come out til February of this year. I’m always a big rewriter (is this a word? My spell check says no. Anyway….) I rewrite a lot. But I think I worked harder and did more revising on this book — both in proposal form and the manuscript — than any of my others.

Brenna Spector herself must be one of the most interesting and engaging characters in contemporary crime fiction. She’s also got a very memorable affliction (geddit?). Where did she come from – and what came first, the character or the affliction? Or were both things the same?

The affliction came first. Back in 2007, I saw a magazine article about someone with hyperthymestic syndrome — perfect autobiographical memory. So, as opposed to someone with photographic memory (ie The 39 Steps) this is a person who remembers every day of their entire life in perfect visceral detail, with all five senses. After reading the article, I thought, “Man that sounds awful!” And then, as I often think when I read about something particularly horrifying, “Hmmm… Maybe I can write about it.” The thing that fascinates me the most about this disorder, which is very rare, is not so much the ability to remember — but the inability to forget. What a tragic burden, to carry every mistake you’ve ever made, forever in your mind…

In creating Brenna, I thought about how that disorder would affect not just a detective’s career, but her interpersonal relationships, and I sort of took it from there.

 

Your background is in journalism, particularly in the entertainment industry. How did you go from that to writing crime novels? And what made you want to write crime novels in particular?

I have my masters in journalism and my undergraduate degree in theater, so writing for entertainment magazines was a career I naturally fell into. But my interest in crime came first. I’ve always loved reading crime books — both true crime and crime fiction. It goes back to what I was saying about liking to write about things I find distasteful. In a way, it’s an opposite form of escape. Instead of going into an idealized world (as you might with a romance novel or a fantasy) you take a trip to the darker side, and then you come back to reality thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” I love writing crime because you can take very basic human emotions — envy, guilt, the desire for vengeance etc. — and magnify them until they’re terrifying. And hey…. that’s kind of true of writing for celebrity magazines too when I think about it.

And in one of your previous novels, Trashed, the heroine is working for a Hollywood celeb tabloid, using underhand means to get stories and going dumpster diving. Is this autobiographical in any way? (And could you explain what dumpster diving is to those of us who’ve never had to do it for a living?)

Ha! Yes. Outside of the murder stuff, and the fact it’s set in present day, TRASHED is pretty autobiographical I’m embarrassed to say…  One of my first jobs out of college was as a reporter for The Star. This was before its current glossy incarnation, when it was a down-and-dirty tabloid whose competition was the National Enquirer. Publicists refused to talk to us, celebs spit on us and slammed doors in our faces. So we had to resort to getting our information in other ways…. Posing as extras on the set of movies or cater waiters at weddings, crashing parties, hanging around the waiting rooms of plastic surgery wards, chatting up bouncers and yes, Dumpster diving… which means sifting through celebrity garbage cans in search of… I have no idea. A story? This was many years ago, Martyn. Anyway, a lot of that real-life experience found its way into TRASHED.

And have you any salacious Hollywood gossip you can pass along? Just between ourselves, obviously.

Hmmm…Oh, I know! What best-selling, darkly seductive female author is really a 6’2″ dude and his wife?

You missed out handsome. Now Lee Child gave what I think is the best description of your work: ‘A perfect blend of ice-cold suspense and warmhearted good humour. I’m not sure how she does it but believe me she does it.’ You seem to be able to combine dark, noirish plots with such a deft light touch without compromising on either. How do you manage it?

Oh thank you so much! I think it’s just the way I look at the world in general. Most of the time, I try to see the goodness in people and the humor in dark situations. It’s a survival tool more than anything else.  As for fiction, I think pure darkness loses its impact when it’s portrayed as such. You want to distance yourself, and I’m not big on writing that distances me. If I’m going to be involved and scared and everything else, I have to care. 

Is it true you have terrible taste in music?

 Absolutely, positively NOT. I have the best taste in music I know. And no, you cannot see my iPod… 

I’m not surprised. And finally, what next? More Brenna hopefully.

Yes! I’m finishing up revisions on INTO THE DARK — the sequel to AND SHE WAS, which will be out next February. I also just sold my first YA mystery, REALITY ENDS HERE — about a 14-year-old girl who’s on TV’s longest running reality show along with her six-year-old, sextuplet half-siblings, and whose life takes a dark turn when receives a gift, on camera, from her presumed dead dad. It was sold to PocketStar/ Simon and Schuster and it’s got lots of celebrity stuff and humor and murder in it.

And here’s an action shot of that play reading in San Francisco. I’m the tall one, obviously. Seated: Mark Billingham, Christa Faust, Brett Battles, Megan Abbott and Declan himself.

Thanks Alison, it’s been a blast, as always.

And here’s a link to Alison’s Amazon page. Here.

To Hull And Back

by Tania Carver

The title says it all, really.  This week I went to Hull.  And came back again.  The end.  Well no, not quite.  Obviously it wouldn’t be much of a blog post if that was all I was going to write so there’s more to it than that. 

I was there to chair an event called Crime On Tour, on offspring of the Harrogate Festival, in which a more established writer would introduce a couple of newer writers, chat, hopefully be entertaining and then hopefully sell books which we would then happily deface.  That was the idea.  My event was the fourth out of five, the others being chaired by Steve Mosby, Peter Robinson, Chris Simms and Ann Cleeves.  The two writers I chatted to were David Mark and Steve Dunne.  And I thoroughly recommend the pair of them.  OK, it wasn’t a hugely attended event but it was an enjoyable one.  I hope the audience liked it too.  And then it was home again on the train the next morning, job done. 

Now, originally, this blog post was going to be about writers having to make personal appearances.  You know, even though an event is only for an hour or two it might take a day to get there and a day to get home again, and there might only be two people who turn up.  That kind of thing.  But I’m not.  Because while I was travelling backwards and forwards I realised that there was something more interesting to talk about instead of writer who’s lucky enough to be able to write full time whingeing about what a hard life he’s got.  ‘I had to leave the house and no one turned up and I lost two days work and they may have been two brilliant days and I’ll never get them back again . . .’  Yeah, whatever.  Let’s talk about Hull instead.

Oh God, do we have to? says anyone who’s ever been to Hull.  Well yes.  But let’s look at Hull in metaphysical terms, as what it represented to me.  Or used to.  You see, one of the main selling points of Crime on Tour was the fact that it would be someone with a connection to the area it was taking place in, introducing two new writers who also wrote about that area.  Handing on the baton, in a way.  Except I’m not from Hull.  Nowhere near it.  The other writers are all either living in the place where the event took place or they base their work there.  I do neither.  But I did used to live in Hull.  And that was the connection.

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be an actor.  I trained at the Birmingham School Of Speech and Drama.  Now for those of you unfamiliar with British geography, that’s right in the middle of the country.  The most inland part of the UK.  And miles away from where I was born, in the North East of England.  Most of the drama schools are in London but I decided not to go there.  However, when my year all graduated, most of them headed off down to London to take the West End by storm, star in a BBC series, use it as a stepping stone to Hollywood, etc., etc.  I didn’t.  I went in the opposite direction.  I went to Hull.

My first acting job was with a company called Remould Theatre Company and it was a play called Steeltown, an oral history play, a semi-devised piece based on the lives of the people who worked at the nearby steelworks.  With music.  Folk music.  Oh yes, I play a mean bodhran.  And consequently Hull became my home for a while.  While I was there, I thought Hull was the most exciting place on Earth.  Now, obviously I was younger and could be forgiven for being a bit naïve but I was being paid to do what I loved, working on a show that I really enjoyed and getting to tour it round the region then the country.  It was what we’d all dreamed of doing in drama school and for me it was a reality.  So consequently everything about it was great.  The pubs were fantastic.  The restaurants too.  I lived in a great area.  Hull’s one bookshop was brilliant.  Likewise its comic shop.  The people were wonderful, especially the ones I was working with.  Wow.  I couldn’t have been happier.

So that was why, when I was asked if I had any connection with Hull and would I present the Crime On Tour event I jumped at the chance.  I had nothing but positive memories of the place and was looking forward to renewing them.  Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way.

Everything was where it used to be, by and large.  But things had changed.  I walked down streets expecting the present to fall away and the past to reveal itself once more: There was the café I sat and read the new JG Ballard novel in, there was the pub the cast used to drink in, there was the restaurant we would treat ourselves to dinner in on payday.  There was our old rehearsal room.  And yes, they were all still there.  But they were all out of step with my memories.  The café had been renovated.  The pub still looked the same but I doubted it would be from the inside.  The restaurant was being pulled apart.  The rehearsal rooms were there but were now a marketing company and looked decidedly the worst for wear.  Wherever I went, the city refused to allow its present to fall away for me.  It refused to let me see its past.  It had changed.  And I expected it to – the last time I was there Sylvester McCoy was Doctor Who.  But I also expected to see what used to be there as well as what was there now.  And I found it difficult.  Because it had gone on without me, and I without it.  I saw it as it is now.  And it didn’t mean anything to me any more.

It’s always strange to go somewhere that was once familiar but you’ve put distance between for a few years.  It’s like meeting an old girlfriend who you were once intensely involved with and finding out they got old.  And in their eyes you can see them thinking the same thing about you too: ‘Do I look like that?  Really?  And Have I always looked that?  What was there that I liked about this person in the first place?’

And the answer is obvious.  I was in my twenties, I was immortal.  The films were brilliant, the music was brilliant, whatever I was doing and wherever I was doing it was brilliant.  Truly, it was the best time to be alive.  And it was.  For me, at that time.  Because, and I truly hate this phrase, it was my era.  Why do I hate that phrase?  It’s what people use when a certain piece of music comes on the bar juke box and sends them back over the years.  Like looking into an old lover’s eyes.  Like a trip to Hull.  That was from my era.  What they really mean is this is something from when my self-defining memories were being formed.  From our mid-teens to our mid to late twenties, we’re physiologically and psychologically programmed to experience things with some kind of intensity.  We can’t help it, it’s the way our bodies are.  We experience what makes us.  And we carry that with us through the rest of our lives.  Love punk rock but hate prog rock?  That was your era.  Love David Lynch movies but not Wes Anderson?  That was your era.  You get the idea.  But I do hate the phrase because it assumes your experiences are more valid than other peoples and also precludes anything that came before or after having as profound an effect on you.

Which brings us – or at least me – back to Hull.  I went round all my old haunts, or at least what was left of them.  But nothing took me back to the past.  Nothing physical, anyway.  I didn’t gain anything by walking the streets because I carry it with me anyway.  My memories, my feelings, my experiences.  We all do.  We’re all the sum of our memories.  And it made me think that this is what we do as writers.  We can honour the past,recreate it, make it live again.  Just as we do the present.  How?  Through ourselves, our experiences, by invoking and evoking them.  By putting them down on the page we work out what those experiences mean to us, good and bad, and we hope by doing so to share them with readers, to experience some kind of commonality.  To share some kind of truth about who and what we are as people.  It sounds pretentious but really, what else are we doing but telling others what defines us and hoping we strike a chord with them?

So you can never go home again.  But that’s OK.  Because I am home.  Here.  Now.  And you can bring the past to life again if you want to.  But only in your own head.  You don’t actually need to revisit the physical locations to do so, you carry it with you, always.  But the one thing that you mustn’t do when referring to the past is call it your era.  Because it isn’t.  It wasn’t.  This is our era.  Here.  Now.  This is all of our eras.  By all means look backwards.  But don’t get stuck there.  Get stuck here.  And now.  Because as that great philosopher Elvis Costello once said, ‘We’re only living this instant.’ 

How true.

Keeping It Unbelievably Real

By Tania Carver

Or at least half of her.  It’s Martyn here.  I’ve just got back from a week away, working hard on things to do with writing but not actually writing itself.  I know it’s expected of authors but it’s still time consuming and takes you away from what you’re supposed to be doing.

Not that it wasn’t enjoyable.  Far from it.  You see, for the past four years I’ve been Reader in Residence for the Theakstons International Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England (Or the Harrogate Festival for short, or just Harrogate, for even shorter).  I suppose a job description would be the go to guy for events involving and encouraging reader development among the audience and attendees for the Festival.  Part of that is the Big Read, which is what I’ve been on the road doing this week.

The Big Read is an annual event.  It takes a classic crime novel (Past books have been Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP, Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY) and gets readers all over the North of England reading it then coming together to discuss it.  It’s become quite successful.  The books are supplied by the publisher, the events are held in libraries.  I go along and host each session and it can be hard work.  I mean not digging ditches hard work, but quite demanding.  I have to be on top of things and know my stuff.  But it’s also very rewarding.  It’s a great opportunity to talk to readers, engage (or re-engage) with novels, to become involved with and celebrate the genre we love and live in. 

This year’s book is Reginald Hill’s ON BEULAH HEIGHT.  It’s slightly different from the others in that Reg only died this January and he was the first of the chosen authors that I knew personally.  But it’s still a classic book.  And, for an added frisson, set in the area the Big Read takes place in.  Reg was also one of the first special guests at the very first Festival and the first recipient of the Theakstons Lifetime Achievement Award we thought this was a good way to honour his memory.  I hope it is.  I hope we do him proud.

But that’s just an aside.  I wanted to talk about something that arose out of where I was for the weekend.  I was booked to do an event alongside Val McDermid, Mark Billingham and Frances Fyfield at the Astor Theatre in Deal, Kent.  Now Deal – for those of you who have never been and I’m guessing that’s quite a few – is an interesting place.  It’s a little seaside town on the Kent coast, just up from Dover, quite old and well conserved, and seems to have become a retreat for (usually rich and posh but not exclusively) the more bohemian-minded.  As a result, there are some genuinely interesting and lovely people there mixed in with some genuine eccentrics.  Think Midsommer (of ‘Murders’ fame) by the sea.  If that doesn’t work, imagine Patrick McGoohan being chased down the high street by a huge balloon.  You get the picture.  

I have to say, we were made very welcome.  Frances lives down there, as does mine and Val’s agent, so we were squired round to different people’s houses for food and drink.  It was like being invited to a party every three hours.  Consequently I think we consumed a week’s worth of food and drink (a lot of drink) in a couple of days.  And still did our event on Friday night.

And it was meeting one of the town eccentrics that got me – and Mark and Val – thinking.

We had been invited to a couple’s house for coffee.  A lovely couple, both archaeologists with fascinating stories, with a beautiful house on the sea front.  We sat on the veranda overlooking the beach chatting, drinking coffee and enjoying ourselves very much.  We were then joined by someone who I can only describe as a character.  Tall, thin, ascetic, imposing.  Dressed as if he’d just stepped out of the Weimar Republic and accompanied (or rather accessorised) by a small, dark, ugly dog.  He demanded he join us for coffee and came up.  Whereupon he, as Shakespeare once said, let loose his opinions.  This mainly involved making disparaging remarks, mainly about our clothes and professions.  Mark and Val and I were too gobsmacked to reply.  He was being quite offensive but we didn’t respond.  Not just because we were guests and therefore being polite but mainly because we were doing what all writers do in that kind of situation: filing him away for future use.  

Mark, Val and my agent eventually left to make our way to the next hosts, the next house and the next bout of eating and drinking, laughing as we went about the character we had just encountered.  My agent asked which one of us was going to be the first to use him in a novel.  And that’s when we fell a bit silent.  Because we realised that we couldn’t.  None of us could use him.  He was a larger than life character, a one off, someone who would need enormous toning down to appear in a novel.  Someone who, if presented as he was in real life, just wouldn’t be believable to a reader.  

And that was a shame, I thought, but it got me thinking.  In rather a sad way.  It’s one thing to encounter an extreme person and to use that encounter as a source for anecdotes to share with friends.  It’s quite another to use that person as a character – or even the basis of a character – in a novel.  And I’m not just talking about the morality of it.  I think all writers subscribe to Graham Greene’s statement about a writer having to possess that little chip of ice in their heart.  No.  What I mean is, how many times has a writer – and I’m not just thinking of myself here – been in a situation or encountered a person and thought, ‘There’s no way I could use that/him/her, no one would ever believe me’?  Yet the situation was experienced.  The person existed.

And in a way it’s a shame you can’t do that.  I remember when I was in drama school (I trained as an actor before I became a writer) a director told us why he didn’t have time for Method actors.  Method acting, he said, was something bad actors had to work at and good actors did instinctively.  And that a slavish adherence to the Method precluded any kind of spontaneity or surprise.  ‘How many times,’ he said, ‘have you walked down the street and seen something out of the ordinary?  Something unexpected?  And what would your response be as a Method actor?’  I knew what he was getting at.  There being more to Heaven and Earth than is dreamed off in a realist’s philosophies, as Shakespeare almost once said. 

I’ve thought about his words for years.  And when I met this character a few days ago and had a realistic novelist’s response to him it made me think of it again.  Was he right?  Should we be unafraid to present things and people that a reader may find implausible but were actually real?  Or should be temper our experiences to what a reader expects and prepare to be met with derision?

I don’t know the answer.  I’m not sure any of us do.  If anyone can throw light on the subject, please let me know. 

I’m off to the North of England for the second and final week of Big Read events now.  If I meet any more unbelievably real characters, I’ll let you know.    

 

ARCHETYPAL AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!

For a while now we’ve been putting on our collective thinking cap, trying to imagine who would be the best new addition to Murderati, to add but another unique voice to the mix (and spare Pari her Herculean every-Monday schedule). As we tossed various names around, one name kept popping up over and over: Tania Carver.

Only one problem. Tania Carver, well, doesn’t exist. 

At least, you can’t shake her hand—or borrow a fiver from her. But she’s alive and well as the pseudonym for husband-wife writing team Martyn and Linda Waites.

I first met Martyn at Bouchercon in San Francisco, and we shared a pint or two (but who’s counting) in St. Louis as well, so I was given the welcome task of, well, welcoming him and Linda aboard. I was beyond thrilled when they agreed.

Martyn, author of nine books himself (The Mercy Seat is one of my all-time favorites), got the idea of teaming up with Linda when a daring proclamation of chutzpah to his editor proved much harder to pull off solo than he’d thought. He needed Linda to seal the deal. And Tania Carver was born. (For the whole story, check out their website.)

The tale just gets better—Ms. Carver became an international bestseller.

The series features Detective Inspector Phil Brennan and psychologist Marina Esposito, and the books are set in Colchester, “a large town in the north of Essex, almost in Suffolk, [that] was once the capital of Britain but was destroyed by Boudica and the Iceni in revolt against the Romans… There are ghosts of crimes and the echoes of ghosts of crimes down the centuries. It feels like a modern, well-connected, rational city occupying the same space as an old, isolated, superstitious town.” The fourth novel in the series, Choked, comes out this year.

So, if you would please, put your hands together for the one, the only, quasi-existent Tania Carver.

David Corbett

 

And here she is / they are . . . Tania Carver!

 

Well.  I’ve just been to see The Avengers.

What?  That’s how they’re starting?  After that great build up David gave, that’s the first line?   Yes.  It is.  Well, OK.  Maybe I should explain a little more.  It’s Martyn here, half of Tania Carver.  The tall, male half.  If you’ve been to Bouchercon, as David will attest to, you’ll have seen me in the bar.  If you’ve been to virtually any crime fiction event you’ll have seen me in the bar.  And out of the two of us I’m the one with the thing about superheroes.  Which is why I’ve just been to see The Avengers.  Linda didn’t fancy it so I took our daughter along as my human shield and no one could feel uncomfortable about the middle aged man wearing a Jack Kirby t-shirt sitting on his own at a kids film.  As it was, it was just my daughter who felt uncomfortable about that.  It’s a good job cinemas are dark.

Anyway.  I digress.  I loved it.  What a fantastic film.  I wasn’t bored once.  As a lifelong comic book reader (and aspiring writer of them – still) it was everything I hoped it would be.  There were the characters I grew up with, whose adventures I’d religiously followed every month, whose imaginary lives I became completely intertwined with, up on the big screen, fully fleshed out and in action.  Avengers assembled, indeed.

And the cinema was just about full, which was heartening.  And not just with kids, but with middle-aged people like me, some of which hadn’t brought along their own kids as human shields and were shamelessly enjoying the movie on their own.  And that got me thinking.  Why would a whole load of middle-aged people turn up on a Saturday night to watch what is essentially a kids film?  Is it just childhood nostalgia for seeing brightly-coloured characters fight each other?  Or simple, uncomplicated escapism at its most reductive?  Is that it and nothing more?

So was that why I was there too?  Was it just a way to fill in a couple of hours with spectacle or was there something more to it.  Naturally, being a writer with a tendency to over-analyse, I found something more.  Something that could be reduced to a (deceptively) simple phrase: ‘Follow your bliss.’

If anyone reading this knows where that comes from then they’ve most probably read Joseph Campbell.  If you’re not familiar with him, here’s a brief introduction.  He was a writer, best known for his studies in comparative mythology and comparative religion in relation to the human psyche.  His most famous works were The Masks Of God, The Power Of Myth (where the ‘Follow Your Bliss’ quote comes from) and the book that brought him to my attention, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

It’s difficult to summarise Campbell’s work in a few sentences but for the sake of brevity I’ll give it a go.  He believed that all the human cultures of the world, dating back millennia, shared a common mythology.  Common stories, in other words, that were broken down locally to be told and retold.  The myths of Eastern and Western religions, he argued, came from the same source and were just different interpretations of those stories.  But these stories had one thing in common: they were narratives that not only addressed the human condition but allowed people to understand it and, in many cases, transcend it.  ‘Truth is one,’ he said, ‘the sages speak of it by many names.’  He combined this research with contemporary philosophical interpretation, especially the work of Carl Jung’s archetypes, by which time he thought that the telling of myths and stories had passed from religious speakers to artists, filmmakers and novelists.  His work can be looked on as a repository for every story type there is.

George Lucas discovered this after he’d made the first three Star Wars films.  He screened them for Campbell who agreed that everything he’d said was, coincidentally, up there on the screen.  After that, it was open season on Campbell’s ideas.  Everybody claimed them.  Filmmakers from Disney’s The Lion King to The Matrix, novelists, songwriters.  Even game and theme park designers.

Which brings us back to The Avengers.  What does that movie have to do with Campbell?  Well, more than you might think.  Let’s look at the story.  There’s a great evil.  Some heroes are brought together to combat that evil but, for various psychological reasons, they don’t think that they’re up to the challenge.  They then have to put aside their differences and conquer their own fears to face the enemy, defeat it, and in doing so learn truths about themselves that will make them better people.  It’s a classic mythic structure: challenges, fears, dragons, battles and the return home as a different person.  It’s a template that I imagine every single writer has used.  More than once.

I’ve often thought that superheroes were more than just juvenile escapism.  In the right hands they become the contemporary equivalent of, say, Greek mythology.  Or Medieval morality and mystery plays.  But it doesn’t just apply to superheroes.  We might, as writers, think we’re trying something new, something that’s never been attempted before.  We’re not.  We’re just shuffling the words around.  Admittedly some do it with such style and skill that they create scenes, characters and novels that make it seem like those words have never been used that way before while the rest of us just sit and take notes.  But they’re still following Campbell’s archetypes.

‘There are only seven songs,’ Michael Stipe of REM once said (and I may be paraphrasing slightly here), ‘and we do four of them quite well.’  Campbell’s work shows us that like songs there are no new stories and I doubt there ever will be.  Because there doesn’t need to be.  We have the same kinds of songs, we just have different kinds of singers.  When we write, we’re using the same narratives as the Greeks, as the Romans, as Cervantes, as Poe, as Dostoyevsky.  As James Joyce.  As Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  We use the same structures whether we call them by the names Campbell used or not.  Campbell would say that’s down to localism, where we are in the world and how we’ve interpreted those stories.  Where – and how – we’ve been taught or influenced.  Whatever.  All that matters is, we’re all doing the same thing.  Whether we’re writing about superheroes or private eyes, crinolined young women or knights in armour.  We’re all trying to tell stories in our own ways that, in their simplest forms, are doing the same things now that they’ve always done.  Making audiences – making readers – laugh, cry and think.  Connecting.

And in doing so we’re all, hopefully, following our bliss.