On the 4th day of Christmas my true love sent to me, 12 writers writing…
Yes, I know that’s a bit screwed up but last night, on the 4th of December, First Monday Crime didn’t just give us 4 amazing authors to delight and dazzle us but 12! Claire McGowan introduced us to the first panel – Chris Whitaker, Susi Holliday, Louise Jensen and Mel McGrath. Later, after a quick cookie break, Chris and Susi were joined by 8 other authors to pitch their best worst ideas to the audience. But first, the Christmas panel.
Claire asked the panel to tell introduce themselves and talk about their current books.
Chris introduced himself as ‘award-winning author’ and rightly so! In October, his debut novel, Tall Oaks, won a prestigious Dagger Award. But Chris was here to talk about his second book – All The Wicked Girls. It’s set in the small town of Grace in Alabama. (He originally set it in England. It became clear very quickly that it wasn’t going to work in that setting). Summer Ryan, the golden girl of Grace, goes missing. It’s up to her troubled sister, Raine, to find her.
Susi’s Christmas-themed book is The Deaths Of December. There’s a Christmas serial killer on the loose. When an Advent calendar is sent to a police station, depicting crime scenes rather than the Nativity, grumpy DS Eddie Carmine and DC Becky Greene have only 9 days to find the murderer.
Mel introduced herself as the ‘old-timer’ of the panel. Personally, I think ‘wise and experienced’ is a much more apt description. Mel’s first book was published in 1996 and she’s written both fiction and non-fiction. (More on that later). Her current book is Give Me The Child. A couple, Tom and Cat, are woken up in the middle of the night by the police. They have with them an eleven-year-old girl, Ruby. Her mother is dead and she claims that Tom is her father. What are Cat and Tom going to do? The idea for this story came from a family that Mel knows. They had adopted a child and soon, disturbing things started to happen.
Louise’s book, The Surrogate, is about an infertile couple who need a surrogate to help them have a child. Kat’s friend, Lisa, offers to help her and Kat’s husband, Nick, to have a baby. This is a dual-time book looking at the current day and in the past, when Lisa and Kat were close childhood friends.
Claire mixed in some Christmas questions with the literary ones. First question – what makes Christmas essential?
Mel McGrath is secretly The Grinch. She finds the best way to deal with Christmas is to ignore it.
Susi Holliday isn’t a massive fan of Christmas either but as long as she has Baileys and a Chocolate Orange, she’s happy. [Maybe I could add Baileys to my cookies?]
Chris Whitaker has two young sons so they’ve been on Christmas build-up since the summer. The boys are insanely excited.
Louise Jensen is looking forward to have all her family around the table for Christmas lunch.
Back to the literary questions – the path to publication.
Chris pretty much told us his life story so I’ll attempt to condense it. When he was younger he was mugged by someone trying to steal his phone. He was stabbed in the process. This left him in a pretty bad way so he wrote to help himself get over the trauma. He later became a City Trader but he really wanted to write. He quit his job without telling his wife (never a good idea) so wrote Tall Oaks as quickly as he could. He didn’t really know what to do next but sent it out to some agents. He was fortunate to get offers very quickly.
Susi’s background is in Science and she still works as a statistician for a pharmaceutical company. She always wanted to write though. She first met her agent when he dropped a drink on her foot at Harrogate. She asked him for his card. Four years later, she sent him her book. Getting the agent was simple – it’s everything else that’s been hard!
Mel had lots of jobs in her 20s but got sacked from them all (although organising a strike may have not gone in her favour). She came up with a proposal for a book and sent it out to someone who’s surname was Profit. She thought it was a good omen. She got a deal. A later memoir about her grandparents revealed that her family had criminal connections with the Kray twins no less. So this got Mel into writing Crime.
Louise was told by her school Careers Advisor that she would never be a writer. Much better to get a job in an office so she could still be a good wife. She did as she was told. Later, Louise had an accident that left her in a wheelchair for four years. She wrote for therapy and that lead to her first book. She got an agent quickly but then the agent decided to change career entirely. Thankfully, Louise managed to get another agent.
OK, there were lots more questions from Claire and the audience but I’m going to finish with a Christmas one. Best Christmas film?
Mel – The Grinch
Susi- Die Hard
Chris – Bad Santa
Louise – Die Hard
A fab festive panel for Christmas! Normally at this point, I’d be finishing up my post. But not this time, there’s a bit more to come. After a quick break to buy books and eat cookies (I made 130. I think people enjoyed them), it was time for 10 authors to pitch their best worst ideas to the audience and a select panel of experts made up from the First Monday Crime team – Katherine Armstrong, Liz Barnsley, Joel Richardson and Steph Cleary.
At this point, I mostly put down my pen so that I could properly listen to these ‘fantastic’, or should I say, ‘fantastical’ pitches. Howard Linskey was MC and did his best to keep everyone in line. The authors were Lisa Hall, James Carol, Susi Holliday, Mason Cross, Rod Reynolds, Leye Adenle, Abir Mukherjee, Chris Whitaker, Derek Farrell and Neil White.
There were plenty of fabulous ideas from murderous quilting circles to dinosaurs to some dodgy behaviour near a canal. My cookies even made it into Lisa’s pitch – at this point though, I’d like to state that as far as I’m aware, no one has ever become comatosed as a result of eating my cookies.
There were some corkers though, that were so bad they were good. Susi’s Panda Cannibals was definitely a hit with the panel. Rod’s story was set in space, although it would have worked equally as well on Earth. Abir had us chuckling with a new detective agency set in Africa – Great Uncle Bob’s Detective Agency, featuring Bob, aged 93 and a former President. Chris told the story of Christopherson (not sure if I’ve spelt that right), an award-winning, talented genius of a writer who isn’t fully appreciated until his no.1 fan kidnaps him. (Any resemblance to Misery is purely coincidental).
But the overall winner, chosen by the panel, and I heartily concur, was Leye Adenle, with his sparkling pitch for Not All that Glitters is a Scam. Leye, a well-respected Nigerian author (currently without representation), told us the incredible story of the man behind firstname.lastname@example.org, who’s doing his best to raise money by sending out emails to unsuspecting victims, sorry, people. One woman in Somerset decides to help him. It’s a story of money, scams (sorry, not scams), kidnap, ransom and love. Will it end well?
So, First Monday Crime ended in a very crowded pub! Everyone seemed to enjoy the panels and pitches, the Secret Santa and the wine. And also my cookies. I ate the last of the 130 cookies on the train on my way home. First Monday Crime will be back in February. Details of authors will be confirmed soon. Happy Christmas everyone!
If you’d like to find out more about the panellists and their books then:
For Susi – click here
For Chris – click here
For Louise – click here