First Monday Crime Interview – Chris Whitaker

December is steadily creeping closer. I’m slightly in despair over my Christmas shopping but First Monday Crime is there on the horizon to inject some Christmas spirit into the season. It’s a fabulous line-up with Susi Holliday, Mel McGrath, Louise Jensen and Chris Whitaker. Chris has been kind enough to answer some questions for me. And he only swore once. I think this might be a record. I’ve read both of Chris’ books and you can read my review for Tall Oaks here and All The Wicked Girls here.

 

Firstly, have you come down from the ceiling yet after your magnificent win at the CWA Daggers for the New Blood category for Tall Oaks?

I haven’t. I went to the gala dinner with zero expectations, and that’s not me being modest (I’m not that kind of guy) I was just happy Tall Oaks was included amongst the mega books. It’s been such an amazing journey from slush pile to Dagger winner. I’m a lucky author.

Tall Oaks dagger cover

I only read Tall Oaks this year (I know, I was very late). Manny’s my favourite character – where did the inspiration for him come from?

I had a rough idea for Tall Oaks and then just sat down and started writing, and Manny appeared. Although he’s introduced in chapter 2 his was actually the first scene I wrote. I had such a strong visual of him in his ridiculous suit and hat. Once I started writing him he just evolved from a bit of a joke to this troubled boy trying to make sense of his father walking out on the family. I love him.

 

 

Did you set out to write Tall Oaks with such black humour or did it arise naturally?

I set out to write a book about a town, not necessarily a book about a crime. I gave no thought at all to what would come next, that I would need to find an agent and a publisher and they would have to try and market the book. And I think that helped, otherwise I might have been too scared to mix so much humour with crime.

 

Unlike Tall Oaks, I had the opportunity to read All the Wicked Girls early. I absolutely loved Tall Oaks but ATWG is something else. There are still pockets of humour but generally, your writing is laid bare and not found wanting. How much harder was this book to write?

Ah thanks, Joyous, that’s lovely to hear. It was immeasurably harder, each and every sentence, the plot and the characters, all of it. And I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps there was an element of second book syndrome, the weight of expectation, but I think more than that it was writing something so dark in tone, with such a strong sense of place.

ATWG - Final Cover

 

You tackle some pretty serious themes in your books. Do you consciously choose to do that?

Not entirely. It was never a box-ticking kind of plan, I just liked the idea of this broken town and these broken people that end up there, looking for redemption and not really knowing where to find it. I think most of us have been through something traumatic in our lives, and I wanted to explore the kind of shadow these events cast over us.

 

 

 

How do you manage to write so many different voices and do you decide beforehand how many you’re going to have?

Never. I’ll know my main characters, and roughly where they’re heading, but from that point on it’s all a bit of a shitshow. I am aware that there can be a lot of voices to keep track of so I’ll give some characters very distinctive looks/traits (Jerry in Tall Oaks, Samson in ATWG). I spend as much time working on peripheral characters as I do those at the centre. It’s important to me that no one character feels like a plot device, if that makes sense, so I’ll work on their mannerisms and appearance and quirks until they feel whole.

 

Both books have been set in small towns in America. Why have you chosen this setting?

It’s partly escapism. I sit down at my desk and feel the need to move far from my street and town and life, I like that total separation. And America is just a great setting, with such a sprawling, varied landscape. I think there’s a little more freedom when it comes to police structure and guns etc. it lends itself very well to crime writing.

 

So what’s next for you?

A story of a little girl on a quest for revenge.

 

Thank you Chris for answering my questions and to First Monday Crime for organising the interview. If you want to buy his books then click here

 

About the author

Chris Whitaker

Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city.
His debut novel, Tall Oaks, won the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger.
Chris’s second novel, All The Wicked Girls, was published in August 2017. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two young sons.

 

Don’t forget to book your place for First Monday Crime in December. It’s going to be busy and there are a limited amount of seats so click  here to reserve your place. Remember, there’s a free glass of wine, cookies and other goodies to eat, a free book bag when a book is purchased and there’s a Secret Santa too – just bring a wrapped book to give. Hope to see you there on Monday 4th December 6.30pm.

 

 

 

 

 

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First Monday Crime Review – The Deaths of December by Susi Holliday

I absolutely love SJI Holliday’s Banktoun series (I say series rather than trilogy in the hope that she might write one more – you can’t leave it like that, Susi!). I adore her police officer, Davie Gray, so it was with some trepidation that I started reading The Deaths of December (written under Susi Holliday). Would I love her new characters as much? You’ll have to wait and see. Here’s the blurb first.

The Blurb

The Deaths of December

It looks like a regular advent calendar.

Until DC Becky Greene starts opening doors… and discovers a crime scene behind almost every one.

The police hope it’s a prank. Because if it isn’t, a murderer has just surfaced – someone who’s be killing for twenty years.

But why now? And why has he sent it to this station?

As the country relaxes into festive cheer, Greene and DS Eddie Carmine must race against time to catch the killer. Because there are four doors left, and four murders will fill them…

 

My review

I mused the other day that the new trend for gift advent calendars was perhaps getting a bit out of hand. I can understand chocolates (definitely) or even the beauty products or the whiskey bottles. But I draw the line at cereal and sausages (not in the same one, although it might work better if it did). When I was a child, I had a picture one that I used again and again. The Photographer in The Deaths of December clearly appreciates the old style advent calendar, except he uses negatives instead of pictures. Unfortunately, he’s focused a little too much on the Massacre of the Innocents, as each negative depicts a crime scene of a murder. All of the murders are unsolved and spread around the country. Nothing seems to connect the victims apart from one thing – they all occurred in December over a 20 year period.

This is such a great idea. Susi has used her usual style of multiple viewpoints but has also changed tenses for her characters, creating distance for The Photographer but immediacy for the police officers. And there’s that favourite little statement that gets used every Christmas – how many sleeps are left until the big day. As the sleeps tick down, so the tension increases. Will Becky and Eddie find the murderer in time?

So, having declared my love for Davie Gray, how did Becky and Eddie measure up? Actually, very well. I really enjoyed both characters and liked seeing the investigation from both their points of view. This is a partnership that could run and run (after another Dave Gray book of course). Although Susi Holliday freely admits that she doesn’t stay too close to correct procedures, she certainly creates authentic officers juggling the stresses of work with home life.

It’s hard to tell you about this book as I don’t want to give too much away. There’s a twist that I hadn’t spotted and it’s so clever. But I’m not going to give any spoilers! Suffice to say, this is a cracking read and would make an excellent Christmas gift. In fact, it could even be part of a new Advent Book Calendar. Now there’s an idea.

The Deaths of December is published today and you can buy it here.

Thank you to Susi for sending me a copy of the book. I choose to review it for First Monday Crime.

 

About the author

Susi Holliday

S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize. She has written three crime novels set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which are a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller. They are: “Black Wood”, “Willow Walk” and “The Damselfly” – all featuring the much loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray.

Her festive serial killer thriller “The Deaths of December”, featuring Detective Sergeant Eddie Carmine and Detective Constable Becky Greene will be published in November 2017.

Susi will be taking part in First Monday Crime on 4th December along with Chris Whitaker, Mel McGrath and Louise Jensen. To book your free place for this Christmas extravaganza, click here. As well as the panel, there will also be other authors pitching their best worst book ideas, free wine and cookies and a Secret Santa. Bring a wrapped book to take part.

 

First Monday Crime – November

Remember, remember the 6th of November,

Booker, Harper, MacBride and Khan,

In City abiding, with Forshaw presiding,

As the authors spin us a yarn.

 

As you can probably tell, poetry isn’t really my thing. It’s much easier to kill someone on a page than get the scansion right in a poem but the sentiment was sincere. Barry Forshaw did an excellent job with chairing and the authors did not disappoint us with their yarns.

FM Nov1

Stuart MacBride

Stuart MacBride’s latest book is Now We are Dead. This is a standalone novel about DS Roberta Steel, a former DCI who was demoted for fitting up a suspect. If you saw Stuart on Celebrity Mastermind, then you’ll know that his specialist subject was AA Milne. So the title of this book is a small, albeit slightly unusual, tribute to the great man. Now We Are Six is a wonderful book of poetry.

 

 

 

 

Kill Me Twice Simon Booker

Simon Booker’s second novel is Kill Me Twice and is the sequel to Without Trace. Both books feature Morgan Vine, a single mother and investigative journalist who looks into miscarriages of justice.  Simon has previously written for TV including The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and Holby City. His partner is author Mel McGrath and they regularly discuss murder over the breakfast table.

 

 

The Binding Song Elodie Harper

Elodie Harper will be well known to you if you live in East Anglia as she’s a TV journalist with ITV News Anglia. Her debut novel is The Binding Song and inspiration came from the creepy landscape of Norfolk [especially with November fog!] Set in a prison, it features psychologist Dr Janet Palmer who has to investigate a string of suicides. Elodie has also won a short story competition that was judged by Stephen King.

 

 

Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra series is set in Mumbai. Having lived there for ten years, Vaseem was keen to show the various sides of India – the new modern side as well as the poverty. He also wanted to show that not everyone jumps up and dances every five minutes. Having said that though, his latest instalment is The Strange Disappearance of the Bollywood Star who is abducted in front of a live audience. (You can read my recent Q&A with Vaseem here)

Vaseem Khan's books

One of the questions that Barry asked was – are awards something to aspire to? With newly crowned CWA Dagger winners, Chris Whitaker and Abir Mukherjee in the room, it was a very relevant question.

Simon Booker posed the question – who doesn’t want to win an award? But sadly, no prize so far for this Booker! (This was Simon’s joke. I take NO credit for it whatsoever.)

Vaseem waited 23 years to be published so just seeing his book in print and being read, is prize enough.

Elodie suggested that no-one would say no but she would prefer to be a popular writer. If you win an award though, you probably deserve it.

For Stuart, it’s not the ‘be all and end all’. He’d rather write a really good book.

 

Another question from Barry – are there any areas that Crime Fiction can’t touch?

All the authors agreed that there aren’t really. Except as Simon pointed out, maybe don’t kill the dog. For Stuart, Crime Fiction reflects society. Vaseem  suggested that there are two issues here – the writer who wants to write about a particular topic vs the publisher who may not want to publish it.

 

Are we in an age of dumbing down?

Simon said yes and mentioned something about a particular building in the USA… He also thought that our attention spans are less.

Elodie thought that we live in challenging times and people are much less deferential these days – less likely to listen to ‘experts’.

Vaseem said that this is the first age where people, who should remain silent, don’t, and have a huge platform through social media to broadcast their views.

Stuart said that there was a growing lack of critical thought and people just listen to what they want to hear.

 

Final question was one from the audience – what’s a common mistake that writers make?

Stuart – not writing! Have to work towards that dream.

Elodie – not finishing your book.

Vaseem – not realising how bad you are! Important to get others to read and critique your work and not just your Mum who will love your book regardless.

Simon – got to finish something. Perfectionism is the enemy of progress.

 

If you want to know more about the authors and buy their books then

Stuart MacBride – click here

Vaseem Khan – click here

Elodie Harper – click here

Simon Booker – click here

 

So that was the end of First Monday Crime for November – a great evening all round and continued on in the pub. But what about next month, I hear you cry? Well, the line-up is terrific! CWA Dagger winner, Chris Whitaker will be there, along with Susi Holliday, Louise Jensen and Mel McGrath (maybe she can tell us more about talking murder over the breakfast table with Simon). Claire McGowan will be keeping the panellists in line (especially Chris Whitaker).

But wait, THERE’S MORE! There will be a very special pitching panel, where we, the audience, get to judge. So, which authors will be pitching their best, sorry – worst book ideas? MC Howard Linskey will invite Rod Reynolds, Abir Mukherjee, Cass Green, Leye Adenle, Susi Holliday, Derek Farrell, Lisa Hall, Christ Whitaker and James Carol to present their best worst ideas. But only one can be the First Monday Pitch an Audience Champion 2017.

There will be FREE wine, courtesy of No Exit Press.  There will be FREE cookies (yes, I am making them – just make sure you get one before Rod Reynolds finds them). Buy one of the panellists’ books from Big Green Bookshop on the night and receive a FREE goody bag. And finally, no Christmas/office party would be complete without a Secret Santa! Bring in a wrapped book (new or unused) of your choice and you’ll get to take one home in return. Now obviously, this is only going to work if we all do it. So have a think about what book you’d like to bring. Maybe it’s your favourite read from this year or an absolute classic. Maybe it’s a very well-known book, or maybe it’s one that you thought deserved more attention. Just remember to reserve your FREE place at firstmondaycrime.com

See you on Monday 4th December!