It was a cracker of a night at First Monday Crime, complete with accompanying fireworks. Our sparkling authors were W.C. (William) Ryan, Fiona Cummins, Liz Nugent and D.B. John. Jake Kerridge was in charge.
First up are the all-important books.
D.B. John’s second book is Star of the North, set in North Korea. David actually lived in Seoul in South Korea for several months and visited North Korea for a couple of weeks. He was fascinated by the reaction of North Koreans when Kim Jong-Il died in 2011. There wasn’t a dry eye because they all knew they would be punished if they didn’t show public grief. He saw first-hand the huge personality cult of the Kim dynasty, as well as the lights that only shine bright in the capital of Pyongyang and the malnutrition in the villages that still exists after the famine in the 90s. He’s tried to base his novel on true events. In his story a young American woman is kidnapped from a South Korean beach. Her twin sister is recruited by the CIA to find her. In the past, North Korea did abduct random people from beaches. Notes are included with the novel because some of the facts seem so far-fetched.
A House of Ghosts is the new novel from W.C. Ryan. Set in 1917 on an isolated island in December, Blackwater Abbey is a very haunted house. We see them through the eyes of Kate Cartwright who sees ghosts everywhere, so much so that she’s actually a bit bored by them. She particularly sees the drowned sailors in fishing ports. There are lots of different styles that have influenced William – Agatha Christie, John Buchan and Georgette Heyer for a tongue-in-cheek romance. The book also explores WW1 and the interest in spiritualism at this time. With so many soldiers missing in action, families often turned to spiritualism to find out information about their loved ones.
Ireland, London and Monaco are the destinations for Skin Deep by Liz Nugent. The book begins with the protagonist, Cordelia, on the Riveria. Liz likes to put her characters in extreme situations and then see how they deal with it. For Cordelia, there’s a gruesome discovery in her apartment. The book goes back to her childhood on a small island off the coast of Ireland. It wasn’t until after she’d finished writing the book that Liz realised that this little island was very much like Cordelia – beautiful, wild and dangerous. Another influence was the song ‘Lady of a Certain Age’ by The Divine Comedy – a lady whose beauty and luxurious lifestyle were rapidly fading.
The Collector is the sequel to Fiona Cummins’ Rattle. Originally there wasn’t going to be a follow-up as Fiona doesn’t always like neat endings. She only decided to write The Collector after talking to the editor at Pan Macmillan when Rattle was out on submission. The editor was very keen to know how the story ultimately ended. Fiona wanted to create a troubled, young man who would be an heir for the Bone Collector aka Mr Silver. He had no children of his own and his crimes had been handed down to him through his father, grandfather and great grandfather. Fiona is particularly interested in why people commit crime and how upbringing can affect this. So there’s sections in the novel looking back to Mr Silver’s childhood and how it shaped him. As Jake pointed out, by writing about children, Fiona was really wringing our hearts. As a former journalist, Fiona has covered many tragedies and the most important part was to tap into emotion – to find the personal details – that would hit home. Fiona gave the example of the Westminster Bridge attack. You might hear that five people have been killed and feel quite sad. But once you know their names and their reasons for being in London that day e.g. a holiday of a lifetime or a mother on the school run, there’s an emotional connection. And it’s this kind of connection that Fiona wanted to create in Rattle and The Collector. [And having read both, I can confirm that she’s absolutely achieved this.]
So with all these incredibly dark stories, Jake asked if you have to have a dark side to be a crime writer?
For D.B. John, he’s obsessed with tyrannies and what happens to society in a totalitarian state with a strong personality cult. His first novel, Flight From Berlin, was set in 1930s Nazi Germany and his next one will be in Putin’s Russia. He wonders if his fascination stems from being bullied at school.
William Ryan thinks the most important thing is to work out the motive for the killer and that then makes it interesting. He’s also written about Nazism and Stalinism and how tyrannies start.
Liz Nugent doesn’t have a dark side and gets all her angst out on the page and then moves on. She leaves her characters in the laptop and doesn’t get nightmares from her stories.
Fiona Cummins isn’t tormented by her characters. It’s more life experiences that affect her and her writing – being scared of the monster under the bed as a child, being stalked at age 15 and family illness – all those fears fed into the book and it was cathartic to write it all down. She might scare herself with writing late at night, home alone or with researching real life stuff. But she’s a sunny person really – she likes to bake and has a puppy!
A member of the audience asked about the problems of research. Both William and David said that researching guns (even historic ones) were a problem because there was always someone who would point out a mistake. For Liz, there was a particular condition she wanted to use in a story but all the experts said it wasn’t possible until she find one who said it was unlikely but possible. That was good enough for her. Fiona’s latest manuscript was read by a pathologist who told her that her method of murder was completely impossible which meant having to find a new one!
All that was left to do was to buy some books from Big Green Bookshop (thankfully we live in a society that reads books rather than burning them on a bonfire) and head to the pub. For those of you who couldn’t make it you can buy the books at your local bookshop or online.
D.B. John – click here
W.C. Ryan – click here
Liz Nugent – click here
Fiona Cummins – click here
First Monday Crime will be back on Monday December 3rd with a spectacular panel and some Christmas entertainment! And as it’s Christmas, I’ll make lots of cookies to bring! So don’t forget to reserve your free seat at First Monday Crime