Blog Tour – That They Might Lovely Be by David Matthews

TTMLB BLOG TOUR part 1

Today, I’m welcoming David Matthews onto my blog. His book That They Might Lovely Be, has just been published by John Hunt Publishing. He’s telling me (and you!) about his ideal day.

 

An Ideal Day

I don’t know why there are so many semi-derelict houses in the villages in France. When we bought ours, for the price of a broom-cupboard in South London, it had been empty for eight years and on the market, steadily depreciating in value, for four. Whatever the cause, I am grateful that this is the case. It has meant that re-locating to south-west France can be more than a pipe-dream.
Our house was a wreck. As far as I was concerned, this was ideal. The scope for DIY-ing was considerable. Acquiring the house coincided with stopping teaching and focussing on writing so I found myself faced with a delicious tension – never being at a loss for something creative to do. I could fashion new stories out of words or renovate an old house into a new home.
My ideal day might start waking to a recollection of having heard the nightingales singing during the night. I had never heard a nightingale before spending time in France and I had to Google the song, on first hearing it, to make sure it really did match. Once up, the day would begin with some routine chores: short drive to the boulangerie or, in winter, raking out the ash and getting the wood-burning stove going to warm the rooms before others in the family were up. I might take a cup of tea into the garden and ponder, reading a hymn from my school-days’ copy of Songs of Praise and setting the day straight with prayer.
The next two hours would be devoted to writing, picking up the notes I’d left from the day before. On a good day, getting into the swing of writing would come easily; the sub-conscious would have been paving the way, processing ideas from the days before. The plot would unfold without any characters behaving in contrary ways. The dialogue would be natural but also further the story-line. The right words would spring effortlessly to mind with sets of vocabulary identifying themselves as thematically significant. Two hours hard at it and I’d be pleased with what I’d written whilst knowing that, if I carried on for much longer, what I produced would start to wobble and I’d end up scrapping much of it the next morning. It is far better, I have decided, to leave notes for the morrow and turn my hand to something else.
‘Something else’ in France means working on the house or garden. The more transformational the task the better. I’d rather build than decorate. I’d rather plant than weed. When a place has been neglected for nearly a decade, the scope for ‘doing’ is almost limitless.
I am aware that I have described an ideal day where nobody else features. This is probably still a reaction from nearly forty years of teaching. The legacy of all that time in a people-dominated career has been a craving for solitude. I am perfectly happy in my own company with no-one else’s agenda to accommodate. It is completely selfish and is probably not at all healthy. The thing is, I get jittery and nervously agitated (sometimes to the extent that I go into a manic overdrive cleaning or rearranging the contents of the shed) if I don’t carve out the space to write or create.
So if I find myself on my own for days and days and if I begin to suspect that an absence of human contact is turning me morose, then I can fall back on the people my imagination has concocted for my stories. They are a mixed bunch but make for fascinating company.

 

Thank you so much for that, David. I’m not too sure about all the renovating but a little getaway in France sounds perfect for writing.

 

The Blurb for That They Might Lovely Be

TTMLB cover

No—one thought Bertie Simmonds could speak. But , when he is heard singing an Easter hymn, this is not so much the miracle some think, but a bolt drawn back, releasing long–‐repressed emotions with potentially devastating consequences… A decade later, Bertie marries Anstace, a woman old enough to be his Mother, and another layer of mystery starts to peel away. Beginning in a village in Kent and set between the two World Wars, That They Might Lovely Be stretches from the hell of Flanders, to the liberating beauty of the Breton coast, recounting a love affair which transcends the conflicts of class and war.

 

 

 

About the author

David Matthews

David Matthews grew up in Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire. Following his degree at King’s College London and various jobs, including selling personalized matchboxes and working in a Covent Garden printing house, David became a teacher. He taught English for twenty-two years and was a head teacher for eleven. His play ‘Under the Shadow of Your Wings’ was professionally directed and performed in the summer of 2015, as part of Croydon’s heritage festival. He now divides his time between family life in Croydon and renovating a cottage in south-west France.

You can buy That They Might Lovely Be

here.

 

 

 

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My Top Ten Reads of 2017

This year, I’m determined to only have a top ten. Choosing these ten books has been incredibly difficult. So I have to mention some of the other novels that almost made it onto my list. SJI Holliday has spoilt us this year with two incredible books – The Damselfly and The Deaths of December. Daniel Pembrey’s Night Market is a brilliant sequel to The Harbour Master. Marnie Riches’ new series set in Manchester looks to be as good as her The Girl Who books. Born Bad is the first. Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome series goes from strength to strength with Quieter Than Killing. I just hope she hasn’t predicted this winter’s weather. Block 46 from Johana Gustawsson sent shivers down my spine and Louise Beech had me in tears with Maria In The Moon. David Young’s Stasi Wolf transported me to East Germany and threw light on hidden history. I could write about even more but it’s time to focus on my top ten reads. I do have a top three but the other seven are in no particular order. Kicking off is a new kick-ass heroine.

 

Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb

 

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Lori Anderson, Florida bounty hunter, kick-started the New Year into action. With mounting medical bills for her daughter, Dakota, Lori is forced to take a high risk bond capture. But this is not your average criminal – it’s Lori’s former mentor, JT. He taught her everything she knows. How on earth will she catch him?

You can buy Deep Down Dead here.

 

The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry

The Dry recently won the CWA Gold Dagger. Pretty impressive for a debut. Set in Australia during a devastating drought, police officer Aaron Falk returns to his hometown for a funeral, after leaving twenty years before. He has to confront secrets both past and present. The setting of a town gripped in a two year drought is compelling and adds to the tension of the story.

You can buy The Dry here.

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant

I read this book on my summer holiday and absolutely loved it. Not exactly a crime book but a crime does take place. At first, I found Eleanor a little bit annoying, as does everyone in the novel. But it wasn’t long before she won me over. This is a book that made me howl with laughter one minute and then sob the next. It’s featuring on Book at Bedtime on Radio 4 this week.

You can buy Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine here.

 

Two O’clock Boy by Mark Hill

High res TTOCB

I do love my police procedurals and Mark Hill has created a rather special new officer in the form of DI Ray Drake. Set in two time periods, Hill twists the two stories together but just when you think you’ve worked out what’s going on, the story swings in another direction. A stunning debut.

You can buy Two O’clock Boy here.

 

Sealskin by Su Bristow

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Again, this isn’t a crime book as such but starts with a man making a terrible mistake and he has to live with the consequences. Based on the Selkie legend from Scotland., Sealskin is packed full of atmosphere and is beautifully written.

You can buy Sealskin here. 

 

The Lies Within by Jane Isaac

The Lies Within

Another one of my favourite police procedurals is the DI Will Jackman series by Jane Isaac. In this novel, Jackman is on secondment to the Leicestershire Police Force and has to investigate the murder of a young woman. Jane Isaac often writes from two points of view and so we also see the story from the victim’s mother. I think this is Jane’s best book so far.

You can buy The Lies Within here.

 

 

Race to the Kill by Helen Cadbury

Race to the Kill

It’s bittersweet to include this novel in my top ten but it absolutely has to be here. Sean Denton has to be the most loveable police officer ever created. We’ve seen him move from being a PCSO to PC and now, in this final book, a DC. It’s terribly sad to think that this is the last book due to Helen’s death earlier this year. I’m sure she had far more Sean Denton stories to tell. Sean goes through quite a lot in this novel but it ends with hope.

You can buy Race to the Kill here.

 

 

And now, the top three. Coming third…

 

An Act of Silence by Colette McBeth

An Act of Silence

This is such a clever book. It starts with the murder of a young woman but quickly changes direction. It’s the story of Linda Moscow and her son Gabriel. Not only are there multiple viewpoints but there are also different time periods. Very skilfully, McBeth also shows the same scene but from two different views. But the thing that got me most with this book, was how real it felt. Dealing with historical abuse, this novel is disturbingly relevant. It’s a book that stays with you, long after you finish it.

You can buy An Act of Silence here.

 

 

Oh dear. Choosing between the last two was so difficult. There was one debut that came storming in at the beginning of the year and set the bar for everyone else. But like the last round of the high jump, another book just inched over that bar. So coming in second (but first in the debut stakes):

 

Rattle by Fiona Cummins

rattle-hb2191

‘On still nights, when the curve of a winter moon is smudged in the flow of the River Quaggy, the dead clamour for him.’

This is the opening line to Rattle. It sets the tone and the atmosphere for the book. Fiona Cummins has created one of the creepiest serial killers – The Bone Collector. He’s no ordinary grave snatcher as he has specialised tastes. Told from multiple viewpoints, including those the Bone Collector seeks, I ‘rattled’ through this book last Christmas holidays. It was impossible to put down. I’ve had the opportunity to read the sequel, The Collector (due out next year) and I can tell you now, it’s already booked its place in next year’s top reads.

You can buy Rattle here.

 

 

So who is first, I hear you cry. Who sneaked over that bar? Well, this is the second book from this author. He recently won a prestigious award for his debut novel. His second book is even better.

My top read of 2017 is (drum roll please)…

 

All The Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker

ATWG - Final Cover

‘There was moments so pure and perfect I almost can’t bear them. Maybe a sunrise so stark that line between us and the heavens blurs to nothing but a smudge.’

If you’ve read Tall Oaks, then you probably think you know what to expect from Chris Whitaker. Tall Oaks was laced with dark humour. But All The Wicked Girls is something else entirely. Without the humour to fall back on, Chris Whitaker’s writing is laid bare and is not found wanting. Utterly beautiful. It has a similar setting of small town America. Grace, in Alabama, seems like a lovely little town on the face of it but dangerous undercurrents flow through Grace and the surrounding area. Teenage girls are going missing and there’s talk of a monster taking them. When Summer Ryan disappears, it’s up to her sister, Raine, to find her.

When I love a book, I normally race through it. Not this time. I slowed down to savour it, to drink it all in. It’s an extraordinary book and therefore, my top read for 2018. Brave and fierce, Chris, brave and fierce.

You can buy All the Wicked Girls here.

 

Well, that’s my top ten for this year. The more eagle-eyed of you may have noticed that there’s a book missing. One that I absolutely raved about. I chatted with the author and we agreed that maybe it should go into next year for a very good reason. Western Fringes by Amer Anwar would have been in this year’s list and he would have been giving those top three books a run for their money.  However, something amazing has happened for Amer. He originally self-published Western Fringes but it’s now been picked up by Dialogue Books. It’s due to be published by them on 6th September 2018 and I can reveal that it’s new title will be Brothers in Blood.

In fact, next year is shaping up to be a fabulous year for books. Not only will we have the re-release of Amer’s book but there will be sequels coming from Fiona Cummins (The Collector), Steph Broadribb (Deep Blue Trouble) and Mark Hill (It Was Her). Add to that, Rod Reynolds third Charlie Yates story (Cold Desert Sky), Rhidian Brook’s new novel (The Killing of Butterfly Joe) and a sequel from Alex Caan (First to Die). So if I thought I had problems choosing my top ten this year, it’s looking almost impossible for 2018!

I have two more blog tours before Christmas but this is my last slightly more personal post. So I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you for reading my blog this year and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

First Monday Crime Christmas Special

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.

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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).

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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 fineboyjoe@gmail.com, 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?

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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 Mel – click here and also here

For Louise – click here

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.