Killer Women Weekend – Saturday

I’ve invented a new sub-genre for Crime writing – Kid Grit – where children do unspeakable things to their parents for getting the dates of the LEGOLAND fireworks wrong. I merrily went off to Killer Women on Saturday at Browns in London, blissfully unaware that the fireworks were finishing that night and not Sunday, as I thought. Oops.

But I had a great time on Saturday. I’m sitting here now, eating the last of my cookies, looking at my 26 pages of A5 size notes and wondering how I’m going to condense it all! In fact, I could have written more but my brain and hand had given up by the time I got to the fifth panel of the day. So I just listened instead.


The first panel was How Publishing Works. It was great to hear from Tammy Cohen (author), Will Francis (agent at Janklow & Nesbit) and Sophie Orme (Editorial Director at Bonnier Zaffre). Amanda Jennings kept them all in check as they took us through the process of getting published from agent submission all the way through to publication. It was really interesting to hear things from an agent and editor’s perspective and the different roles they play. Looking through my copious notes, I’m going to pull out one tip from each of the panellists.

Will Francis (agent) – When submitting, an agent prefers to feel chosen. Personalise that cover letter but keep the letter short. FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.

Sophie Orme (editor) – It’s not just the editor who has to love a book in order for it to be signed. An editor has to pitch to other colleagues, including Sales and Marketing. In particular, Sales need to the love the book as they need to pitch to retailers.

Tammy Cohen (author) – Finish the book! Tammy originally wrote 10k words of a book and sent it to an agent she’d been introduced to. The agent liked it but Tammy had to finish the book before she received an offer of representation.



The second panel was Historical Crime. This was chaired by Alison Joseph and Antonia Hodgson (writing 18th century), Kate Griffin (writing 19th century) and William Ryan (writing 20th century) were the guests. Again, I have lots of notes so I’m just going to tell you why these authors love writing historical crime.

Antonia Hodgson sets her Thomas Hawkins series in the 1720s. A friend once told her that no one wants to read about the Georgians but Antonia loves finding the bits of history that get lost and then presents them to the world. In some ways, the early Georgians may seem a bit boring as there was no big war and the monarch at the time (George I) wasn’t that interesting. However, the history at street level was more interesting. London was the biggest city in the world at that time. With no standing army or police force, how did that all work?

The Victorian Music Hall is the inspiration for Kate Griffin’s Kitty Peck books.  Set in Limehouse, where her own family comes from, Kate finds freedom in writing about the past. People know about contemporary places and if the author has got it right or wrong. As she’s researched more, she’s found that there were fantastic acts on the stage including dancing lions. The music hall was also outside the boundaries of polite Victorian society which allows for far more diverse characters.

William Ryan has a Korolev series set in Russia in the 1930s but his most recent book, The Constant Soldier (shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger), is set in Germany during WW2. William finds it harder to get a handle on the ever-changing contemporary world. For him, historical fiction is just contemporary fiction in disguise. Parallels can always been drawn – now, more so than ever.



Trying to grasp this ever-changing world was the subject of the next panel – Changing Crimescape. Taking part was Matthew Blakstad, Imran Mahmood and Vaseem Khan. Katherine Quarmby chaired. As the world changes, how much do crime novels have to reflect this?

Imran Mahmood is a criminal barrister and his debut novel, You Don’t Know Me, has the protagonist standing in the witness box, telling the story. He’s a young black male and is the defendant. As a barrister, Imran can see how fascinated people are by real crime but itAs’s often the more sensational crimes that grab the public’s attention. Most real crimes stem from boredom or a fight in a street over a spilt drink. They’re chaotic and random. For Imran, fictional crime goes beyond the randomness and tells us something about ourselves and society.

Matthew Blakstad’s debut novel, Sock Puppet, is set in the world of social media and how technology can be used to make people suffer. Reputations are being challenged online. The crimescape is changing because the world is changing. Power is being exerted in different ways and terrible things are being done.

Vaseem Khan’s detective series – Baby Ganesh Agency – is set in Mumbai. Vaseem lived there for 10 years and saw first-hand the city change and transition from utter poverty to the bustling call centres and other businesses that have sprung up in India’s new economy. However, the poverty is still there. Publishers may want to hang the label ‘Cosy Crime’ on his series but having just finished reading his first book, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, I can assure you that there are lots of particles of grit in his stories.



Policing this ever-changing world, whether real or fictional, means that police officers have to keep up with the criminals. Looking at Police Procedural was Lisa Cutts, Stav Sherez, Kate London and Killer Woman, Sharon Bolton, as chair. Lisa is a serving officer and Kate is a former officer. As I write Police Procedural, I found this panel fascinating and I have a huge amount of notes. So it’s hard to know what to tell you but there was something that made the audience laugh a little.

Due to the complex nature of Police Procedural novels, Sharon’s view was that it had to be planned out first. She starts with three different ideas and then researches. She finds that the plot starts to come together at the same time. Once she has her plot, then she writes.

The other three authors disagreed and declared themselves ‘pantsers’!

Stev Sherez doesn’t plot at all. He’s tried but he finds he can’t conceive anything without writing it down. Themes are very important to him and this leads to ideas. He tends to plot backwards as he rewrites.

Kate London has tried to plot but gets no ideas. As her characters start to interact and do things, then she finds that the plot starts to come together.

Lisa Cutts doesn’t plot either! As a serving officer, she’s not allowed to write about cases that she’s worked on. She prefers to start with a theme and take her story on from there.

Needless to say, Sharon was most disappointed with them! This was a very entertaining panel and I got to ask Sharon and Stav about how they check that their Police Procedural is correct. They do have people they can check with but they also make it up. Kate London said that she doesn’t know everything so she has to ask former colleagues about certain things.



As I wrote earlier, by the time I reached the fifth panel of the day, my brain and hand had stopped working. I did try to write a few notes on Genre Splice with Helen Smith (chair), CL Taylor, Ben Aaronovitch and Sarah Pinborough but I didn’t get very far. The authors were sharing their experiences of changing genres or slicing them together.

CL Taylor has moved from Rom Com (she hates the term Chick Lit) to Psychological Thrillers and has now just this last week, released her first YA book – The Treatment.

Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series featuring PC Peter Grant, is considered to be Police Procedural with a supernatural element. However, when he wrote the first book, Ben considered it to be Urban Fantasy.

Sarah Pinborough has written over 20 books in lots of different genres. In fact her triology, The Dog-Faced Gods books were placed in a different genre for each publication by some retailers.



The final panel of the day was a pitching session where some very brave volunteers pitched to Felicity Blunt (agent), Joel Richardson (editor) and Karen Sullivan (Orenda books). Mark Billingham chaired. I only had time to stay for one pitch but then had to leave. Well done to the person I saw pitch. I’m not sure I could be as brave.

Thank you to all the Killer Women for a fabulous Saturday and I’m sure that Sunday was just as excellent. And also thanks to Katherine Sunderland, Jacob Collins, Rachel Emms and Laura Robinson for keeping me company.

If you want to know more about the Killer Women then check out their website here.

First Monday Crime Interview – Vaseem Khan

First Monday Crime is back a week today on the 6th November with Stuart McBride, Elodie Harper, Simon Booker and Vaseem Khan. The lovely people over at FM asked if I would like to do a little Q&A with one of the authors. Since I have heard so much about one of these authors in particular, I asked if I could interview Vaseem Khan. Thankfully, he said yes!

Vaseem Khan has had three books published so far – The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown and The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star. All three books are part of the Baby Ganesh Agency series. They can be bought here.

Vaseem Khan's books

Q1. I’ve only just started to read book 1. Could you tell me a little bit about your protagonist, Inspector Chopra?

Inspector Ashwin Chopra is a rarity – an incorruptible police officer in the Mumbai police service. We meet him in The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra where, on his last day in office (he is forced into retirement in his late forties), he is confronted by the body of a local boy. Chopra quickly realises that his seniors do not wish the boy’s death to be investigated – but when the boy’s mother suggests that he is letting the death slide because they are poor it rankles. Chopra is a man who cares deeply about the social ills in his country, the vast inequalities, the grinding poverty. He is nostalgic about ‘old India’, but understands that new, globalised India has its own problems. He is a man whose actions are guided always by a desire to see justice done in an often unequal society.


Q2. I love your opening line of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – ‘On the day that he was due to retire, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant.’ Why an elephant?

You could say the idea of the elephant was born on my first day in India back in 1997 when I arrived in Mumbai to work as a management consultant. I was in a taxi and we had stopped at a set of traffic lights. As I looked out into the passing traffic of rickshaws, trucks, bikes, cows, goats and dogs, I saw, lumbering through the chaos, an enormous grey Indian elephant – not something you see in East London where I was born! This surreal sight stuck with me and eventually led to an elephant being cast alongside Chopra in the novel I wrote when I returned to England ten years later. On a purely practical level elephants possess all the qualities of the best detectives. They’re highly intelligent, and have those amazing memories – yes, that’s not a myth. They also have a great range of emotions, which is important because part of the charm of my books is the dynamic between Chopra and the baby elephant he is forced to adopt.


Q3. You were born in London and grew up there but you’ve spent ten years in Mumbai. Two major cities. What differences did you find between the two? I particularly liked your description of the high rises in Mumbai resembling ‘a giant pin cushion’.

Mumbai is a non-stop assault on the senses. I’ve tried to encapsulate this in my book, to give readers an idea of what the city looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like, and even tastes like. However, once I’d spent some time there I began to see that there were aspects of this amazing place that required me to take a closer look. My first trip to the Daravi slum, for instance, left me open-mouthed. Extreme poverty, poor sanitation, limited medical facilities, terrible transport infrastructure, all the things we take for granted in the West. There is a massive gap between rich and poor, and although social change is taking place, there are still prejudices ingrained in people’s thinking (such as the caste system). In this respect Mumbai is not so different from London, which also suffers from inequality, though not on the same scale – the recent Grenfell disaster brought this sharply into focus.


Q4. You have just won an award for your second book, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown. Could you explain a bit more?

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown has just won the 2017 SHAMUS AWARD for the Best Original Private Investigator Paperback. The Shamus Awards are one of the world’s most prestigious crime awards, awarded by the Private Eye Writers of America. Previous Shamus winners include the likes of Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane, one of my favourite writers, which makes this honour particularly pleasing. The book sees Chopra on the trail of the world’s most famous diamond, the Kohinoor, first mined in India during the Raj, ‘appropriated’ by the British, and ever since installed in the Crown Jewels. The Kohinoor is brought to India for a special exhibition, and stolen in a daring heist. Chopra is soon tasked to recover the great diamond.


Q5. I’ve heard others compare you to Alexander McCall Smith. Who are the crime writers that you admire?

I freely admit that Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency has been an inspiration for me. I only hope my books do justice to the comparison. (My favourite such comparison is by Jake Kerridge of the Sunday Express: “There have been many insipid imitators of the Alexander McCall Smith formula … but Khan has the quirkiness and hint of grit to make his portrayal of modern Mumbai memorable.”)

I am also a fan of some other usual suspects: Rankin’s Rebus series is wonderful, as is Louise Penny’s Canada-set Inspector Armand Gamache. I love Jeffrey Deaver’s quadriplegic hero Lincoln Rhymes. (Deaver is brilliant at putting in twists.) But America’s Michael Connelly is my favourite – his L.A. based detective Harry Bosch is my kind of crime fighter – grim, gritty and utterly implacable in his mission. In terms of newer authors I’m a fan of Abir Mukherjee whose Sam Wyndham series takes us back to 1920s India. They are beautifully written books and evocative of the period.


Q6. I asked Amer Anwar this question so I’m going to ask you too – are you excited by the rise of Asian crime writers in Britain?

Diversity in the creative arts is very much on the agenda right now. I waited 23 years to be published and there were times during that long apprenticeship when I doubted that I ever would be. My experience since being published, however, has been wonderful.  I have had nothing but friendship and support from the crime fraternity – from publishers, writers, bloggers, bookshops and readers. I think one reason Asian writers are late to the party is that traditionally writing has not been considered a viable career option by Asian parents – so support and encouragement is lacking. Yes, I am excited by more Asian writers coming to the fore – but the bottom line is that readers are astute – they can spot a good crime novel from a mile away, and don’t care who wrote it.


Q7. Would you like to see your books made into a TV series/film?

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra has been optioned for film. It would be great if it was actually made – so many readers have said the colour and vibrancy of the books would look great on screen. Personally, I’d love to sit in on the casting of the baby elephant!


Final Question!

Scenario – you’re due to be speaking at a big literary festival but you’re given VIP tickets to see England v India at The Oval. What are you going to do?

This one’s a no-brainer. Yes, I love all things cricket, but having waited two decades to be published, nothing is more important to me now than connecting with readers. I do a lot of talks and find it easy to engage with an audience. I love sharing stories – not just about my books, but about literature and life in general. Put it this way: no one leaves one of my talks without a smile on their face!


Thank you for answering my questions, Vaseem. And if you want to test Vaseem on his final sentence, then you can reserve your place at First Monday Crime here.


The author

Vaseem Khan

Vaseem Khan first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in India to work as a management consultant. It was the most unusual thing he had ever encountered and served as the inspiration for the Baby Ganesh Agency series.

He returned to the UK in 2006 and now works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science where he is astonished on a daily basis by the way modern science is being employed to tackle crime. Elephants are third on his list of passions, first and second being great literature and cricket, and not always in that order.

You can took a look at Vaseem’s website, which, apart from telling you about the books and Vassem himself, also has some photos of some very cute baby elephants. Surely that’s got to be worth a look –




















Blog Tour – The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen

man who died blog poster 2017

Today, it’s my turn on the blog tour for The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen. I’m sharing the tour today with The Quiet Geordie so feel free to check out her post. I have an extract for you from the first chapter to whet your appetite. But first, the blurb.


The blurb

A successful entrepreneur in the mushroom industry, Jaakko Kaunismaa is a man in his prime. At just 37 years of age, he is shocked when his doctor tells him that he’s dying. What is more, the cause is discovered to be prolonged exposure to toxins; in other words, someone has slowly but surely been poisoning him. Determined to find out who wants him dead, Jaakko embarks on a suspenseful rollercoaster journey full of unusual characters, bizarre situations and unexpected twists.

With a nod to Fargo and the best elements of the Scandinavian noir tradition, The Man Who Died is a page-turning thriller brimming with the blackest comedy surrounding life and death, and love and betrayal, marking a stunning new departure for the King of Helsinki Noir.


The Man Who Died new front (1)

The extract

Chapter 1

‘It’s a good job you provided a urine sample too.’

The oval face of the doctor sitting behind the desk exudes seriousness and gravitas. The dark rims of his spectacles accentuate the blue, almost three-dimensional intensity of his gaze.

‘This…’ he stumbles. ‘This requires a little background. I’ve contacted my colleagues in Kotka and Helsinki. They said essentially the same as what we’ve been able to deduce here. Even if we’d picked this up the last time you visited, there’s nothing else we could have done. How are you feeling?’

I shrug my shoulders. I go through the same information I told the doctor the last time I was here and give an account of the latest symptoms. It all started with a sudden, powerful wave of nausea and vomiting that quite literally knocked me off my feet. After that my condition seemed to stabilise, but only for a while. Sometimes I feel so dizzy that I’m worried I might faint. I have coughing fits. Stress keeps me awake at night. When I finally fall asleep, I have nightmares. Sometimes my headaches are so intense it feels like someone is scraping a knife behind my eyeballs. My throat is constantly dry. The nausea has started again and it hits me without any warning.

And all this just when my business is getting ready for the most important time of the year, the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced in the short time we’ve existed.

‘Right,’ the doctor nods. ‘Right.’

I say nothing. He pauses before continuing. ‘This is not to do with prolonged, complicated flu symptoms, as we thought at first. Without a urine sample we might never have found out what was wrong. The sample told us a lot, and that’s what led us to conduct the MRI scan. With the results of the scan we’ve now got a fuller picture of what’s going on. You see, your kidneys, liver and pancreas – that is to say your most important internal organs – are extremely badly damaged. Given what you’ve told us, we can deduce that your central nervous system is severely compromised too. In addition to that, you may have experienced some amount of brain damage. All this is a direct result of the poisoning that showed up in your urine sample. The levels of toxicity – that is, the amount of poison in your system – would be enough to knock out a hippopotamus. The fact that you’re even sitting here in front of me and still going to work is, in my estimation, due to the fact that the poisoning has taken place over an extended period of time and in such a way that the poison has had time to accumulate in your body. In one way or another, you’ve become used to it.’

In my gut it feels as though I’m falling, as though something inside me tears free and hurtles down into the cold abyss beneath. The sensation lasts a few seconds. Then it stops. I’m sitting on a chair opposite the doctor, it’s a Tuesday morning and I’ll soon be on my way to work. I’ve read stories of how people act with great clarity in a fire or of how they don’t panic after they’ve been shot, though they’re bleeding profusely. I sit there and look the doctor in the eyes. I could be waiting for the bus.

‘You mentioned you work with mushrooms,’ the doctor says eventually.

‘But the matsutake isn’t poisonous,’ I answer. ‘And the harvest is just around the corner.’

‘The matsutake?’

I don’t know where to start.

I decide to tell the short version: back in Helsinki my wife worked in institutional catering, and I was a sales officer. Three and a half years ago the recession hit both our workplaces, and we were made redundant at around the same time. Meanwhile Hamina – like dozens of similar small Finnish towns – was desperately looking for new commercial activity to replace the empty harbour and recently decommissioned paper factory. We had a series of quick negotiations, secured a generous start-up grant, acquired premises that cost next to nothing and staff who were well acquainted with the local woods and terrain. We sold our one-bedroom apartment in suburban Helsinki, and for the same money bought a detached house in Hamina and a small fibreglass boat that we could tether to the jetty a mere seventy metres from our post box.

Our business idea was simple: the matsutake – the pine mushroom.

The Japanese were crazy about it, and Finnish forests were full of it.

The Japanese would pay up to a thousand euros per kilo of mushrooms in the early, sprouting phase. To the north and east of Hamina there were forests where picking pine mushrooms was as easy as plucking them from a plate in front of you. In Hamina we had treatment facilities, a dryer, a packing area, chilled spaces and employees. During the harvest season we sent a shipment to Tokyo once a week.

I have to catch my breath. The doctor seems to be thinking about something.

‘What about your lifestyle otherwise?’

‘My lifestyle?’

‘Your diet, how much you exercise, that sort of thing.’

I tell him I eat well and with a good, hearty appetite. I haven’t once cooked for myself since I met Taina, and that was over seven years ago. And Taina’s meals aren’t the kind in which a teaspoon of celery purée stares dejectedly across the plate at a solitary sprig of wheatgrass. Taina’s basic ingredients are cream, salt, butter, cheeses and plenty of pork. I like Taina’s food, always have done. And it shows around my waistline. I weigh twenty-four kilos more than when we first met. Taina hasn’t gained weight; it might be because she’s bigger-boned than I am and has always looked like a weightlifter in peak physical condition, ready for a competition. I mean that in the nicest possible way: her thighs are solid, round and strong. Her shoulders are broad and her arms powerful without being masculine; her stomach is flat. Whenever I see pictures of female bodybuilders who are not ripped and grotesque, I think of Taina. Besides, she exercises too: she goes to the gym, takes aerobics classes, and ever since we moved here she goes rowing out at sea. Sometimes I try to keep up with her, though that too is becoming a rare occurrence.

I don’t know why I’m speaking so quickly, so effusively, why I have to talk about Taina in such detail. The next thing we know, I’ll be giving the doctor her measurements down to the nearest centimetre.

Then, as it seems the doctor isn’t focussing his healing eyes in the right direction, I ask him what we’re going to do about it. The doctor looks at me as though he’s just realised I haven’t listened to a single word he’s been saying. I notice his eyes blinking behind his spectacles.

‘Nothing,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing we can do.’


Wow! What’s going to happen to Jaakko? You’ll have to read the rest of the book to find out. Thank you to Antti, Orenda Books and Anne Cater for letting me take part in the tour.

The Man Who Died can be bought here.


The author

Antti Tuomainen

Finnish Antti Tuomainen (b. 1971) was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. The critically acclaimed My Brother’s Keeper was published two years later. In 2011 Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. The Finnish press labelled The Healer – the story of a writer desperately searching for his missing wife in a post-apocalyptic Helsinki – ‘unputdownable’. Two years later in 2013 they crowned Tuomainen ‘The King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. The Mine, published in 2016, was an international bestseller. All of his books have been optioned for TV/film. With his piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen is one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and The Man Who Died sees him at his literary best.


A Deadly Rejection by LM Milford

Very excited to welcome Lynne Milford to my blog. Lynne’s debut novel has just been published and I asked her to tell me a little bit about her writing and her background.

Write what you know

This is the first piece of advice given to writers who are starting out. There are several schools of thought on whether this is the way to go – it might restrict what people think they can write about when most things can be learned through research.

For me, setting out to write what I know was a bit of a no brainer because the idea that presented itself involved a lot of what I already knew.

As a local news reporter, I’ve had a lot of good experiences, whether that’s patrolling the streets with the police, attending court cases or being called out at 7am on a Sunday morning by the fire brigade to the scene of a house destroyed by a gas explosion. That one was a great story. The householder was rescued from the ruins by three of his neighbours who ran in to the house to get him out. The man recovered but I couldn’t say the same thing for his house, which had to be demolished.

Some of the jobs I’ve been on you wouldn’t believe – for example, like the time I dressed as a beekeeper for a story, and I’m going to gloss over that one. County shows and ballet competitions I could have quite happily left behind, but then, you can’t pick and choose as a lowly reporter.

From these experiences, I decided that my target would be the planning committee. I’d sat through enough meetings to know that by-and-large they’re deadly dull, but they can also be very emotive when people don’t get what they want. People didn’t want their neighbours to build an extension that would block the light from their garden. Whole housing estates could be refused or delayed due to a certain type of protected newt being found living on the site. In the case of a housing estate, there’s a lot of money at stake. What would happen if a developer was keen to get their application passed, at any cost? What would they do if someone stood in their way?

I hasten to add that although I used my experiences, the story itself is completely made up and I never saw the scenario of this book played out in any council meeting I ever went to. However, I was lucky to have the experiences that would give me that kind of idea.

And no, Dan isn’t based on me, despite what you might think. I have written about fuchsia shows and nursery school sponsored walks, but I never had his ambition to join the national newspapers. I’ll leave him to that ambition and see how he gets on.

Thank you for telling us about how your job inspired your book, A Deadly Rejection. Here’s the blurb to tells us more.


The blurb

How far would you go to get what you want?

Beneath the bustling, respectable exterior of the Kent town of Allensbury lies a world of corruption and greed.

When local news reporter Dan Sullivan scents a story in the local council, he begins to ask questions. But when his source dies in mysterious circumstances, Dan is implicated. He is quickly drawn into a world of lies, ambition and avarice as he fights to clear his name.

The more he digs, the more someone tries to stop the story from ever seeing the light of day.

Dan must decide what’s more important to him…the story, or his life.

If that’s intrigued you then you can buy the book here.

The author

LM Milford small

By day, I work in PR and communications; by night (and at weekends) I write crime fiction (as well as baking pies and chocolate brownies).

In a previous life I worked as a local newspaper reporter. This gave me the inspiration for the story that has become my first novel, A Deadly Rejection.

I live in Kent and spend far too much time on trains commuting into London for work, which does however give me time to work on plotting and writing my books.

You can keep tabs on what I’m up to by following me on Twitter @LMMilford or by checking out my blog  I write about what I’m working on, advice on what I’ve learned through my work and how to move forward with writing.




October – First Monday Crime

Oct17 FM1
A wonderful array of books, sold on the night by Big Green Bookshop


First Monday bounced back to life last night at City University. The panel was Ann Cleeves, Mark Edwards, Lilja Sigurdardóttir and Caz Frear, with Rod Reynolds moderating. Rod obviously did his job well as I have 22 (small) pages of notes. I’ll give you some of the highlights.

Firstly, the authors told us a bit about their books.

The Lucky Ones

Mark Edwards’ latest book is The Lucky Ones. This is a serial killer with a difference. He likes to make his victims happy before he kills them. He strikes at their happiest moment. Mark got the idea when he heard two women on a café slagging off someone else. He wondered what would happen if there was a twisted guardian angel who would help out. So he created a killer who looks to improve a victim’s life and then kills them with a smile on his/her face. It’s a comedy really.






Ann Cleeves admitted that she’s a pantser. She starts her books without knowing the ending. The Seagull is set in Whitley Bay and is a celebration of faded seaside towns. It’s a Vera novel and this book was triggered by a conversation too. Ann was talking with a former shipyard worker who worked nights. He mentioned how stuff would go ‘missing’. Also, Ann visited the elderly/disabled wing of a prison which provided inspiration. So the book starts with Vera giving a lecture in a prison and bumping into an old colleague who she helped to put away.





Lilja Sigurdardóttir’s book is Snare. Although it’s the third book she’s written, it’s the first to be published in English by Orenda books and is the start of a trilogy. Rather than looking at police procedural, Lilja has turned her attention to a Customs officer and a drug smuggler in a ‘cat and mouse’ story. The Icelandic financial crisis is the backdrop. Lilja knew that it was risky to have her hero as a criminal so she’s done her best to make her female protagonist sympathetic. She has a child and there is a reason for why she smuggles cocaine.




Sweet Little Lies


Sweet Little Lies is the debut novel for Caz Frear. It was the winner of The Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller competition but more about that later. The book features DC Cat Kinsella who discovers that her father may be involved with the crime she’s investigating. Caz had the story in her head for years but kept changing it until she finally wrote it down. She wanted to turn a police procedural on its head. She wondered what dilemma she could give her police officer and thought that a father/daughter dynamic was more interesting.



Since all the books have some kind of police/authority voice to them, Rod asked how far the authors have gone with police details or do they just focus on the story?

Ann Cleeves knows a pathologist and a forensic soil specialist. Although she may ask for their help, they realise that it’s fiction she’s writing. Real police and forensic work takes time and isn’t fast paced enough for a novel or TV drama.

Caz Frear bought a police training manual to help with details. But then she realised that she wasn’t training to be a detective! She found someone who could help though.

Mark Edwards just makes it all up!

Lilja Sigurdardóttir knows that she stretches details but the story can’t suffer for reality.

Sometimes, writing can be hard. Rod asked what keeps the authors going?

For Caz Frear, feedback is important. One of the reasons she entered the Richard & Judy competition was to get feedback. She was very excited to be shortlisted – possibly more so than when she actually won. Joining a class or a course is a good way to get feedback.

Ann Cleeves didn’t know any other writers when she started. Her motivation to keep on writing, is to find out how the book is going to end. As she doesn’t plot, there’s a wonderful scariness in writing.

Mark Edwards wrote for 15 years before he got a deal. He then got an agent but things didn’t work out as he had hoped. He then self-published his own work as well as co-authoring with Louise Voss. Writing with Louise was great as they could bounce ideas off of each other.

For Lilja, writing her first book was torture. It was important for her to find her own writing style (she saw an Icelandic publisher advertising for the next Dan Brown). You have to really love writing. As she writes multiple viewpoints, switching between characters is a good way of keeping the story moving.

Oct17 FM2
Apologies for product placement. Cutting it out would mean cutting out Rod Reynolds!


There were more questions from Rod and also from the audience. But I’m going to end on Rod’s final question – what’s coming up next?

Mark – The Retreat, due out next year, is set at a writers’ retreat in Wales.

Ann – Wild Fire, the last in the Shetland series, will be published next year.

Lilja – is writing a new political thriller series.

Caz – writing the second book in the DC Cat Kinsella series.


If you’d like to find out more about the authors and buy their books then

Ann Cleeves – click here.

Mark Edwards – click here.

Lilja Sigurdardóttir – click here.

Caz Frear – click here.

Rod Reynolds – click here.


First Monday will be back on Monday 6th November. Look out for more details soon.