Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Festival, jobs and books and stuff

It’s been a while since I blogged and – having nothing better to do than count the amount of snow outside and wait for the central heating to be fixed – I thought I should redress that with a four-month round-up. Or at least as best as I can remember.
In mid-August I did an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival along with Gillian Galbraith, author of the Alice Rice series. It was my debut in terms of standing up in front of people and making a fool of myself, well in a professional capacity at any rate. Public speaking isn’t really my kind of thing – frankly I’d rather have my nuts eaten by a squirrel – but I think I just about got away with it. I was mildly terrified and under-prepared, apart from a couple of pints of Guinness with my agent Stan, but I settled for just talking nonsense. Gillian and I weren’t exactly helped by our panel’s chairman opening up the discussion to questions from the audience with 35 minutes of the hour still to go! I had to revert to the (then) day job and start interviewing Gillian in order to keep the gig jogging along. Thankfully she was more than able for the task and we managed to pull it off.
Also in August, the big news was that I signed a new two-book deal with the fantastic folks at Simon & Schuster. Book three is contracted to be delivered to S&S by the end of June 2011 and published a year later. The book four dates are a year further on. Actually, saying that book three is due at the end of June reminds me that I haven’t actually started writing it yet…
The timing of the new book deal was near perfect as just a few days after signing the contract, the chance came to take redundancy from the day job. I’d been in journalism for 21 years and the chance to write novels full-time was just too good to turn down. I took the money and ran before they could change their mind. Am I missing journalism? Nope.
The second draft of book two was duly delivered in November – with the addition of an extra 27,000 words amidst the rewrite – and final notes for a tidy-up are to be sent by my wonderful editor Maxine this week. This revision business is all new to me and I’m enjoying the process – or at least I am until I see Max’s latest set of notes…
This week should also see a title settled on for book two. We are down to a shortlist of five as far as I’m aware. I’m still backing my own choice so it’s time for some bargaining.
Next up is the paperback release of RANDOM in February, the same month that the German version hits the buccheregale.
That’s all folks. Nick Clegg is on the telly and I have to go and shout at it and him. Bye for now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Drogba in, Dagger out

I asked if it was a dagger, I saw before me and now I’ve got the answer. Er, no it wasn’t.

The shortlist for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger has been reduced to a final four and – dagnabbit – I didn’t make the cut. Oh well, it was good while it lasted and anyway, I didn’t really have time to spend an evening in London drinking champagne with people off the telly. I’m pretty sure I’m washing my hair that night.
The final four comprises…

Acts of Violence, Ryan David Jahn (Pan)
Rupture, Simon Lelic (Picador)
The Holy Thief, William Ryan (Mantle )
The Pull of the Moon, Diane Janes (Robinson)

Congratulations and good luck to all of them. I’ll settle for trying to win the office fantasy football league instead. Which reminds me… Rooney or Drogba up front and will Milner start every week if he goes to Man City?

In other news, I interviewed Stuart MacBride yesterday for the day job. Top bloke, top beard, and it was just a pity I had to dash off to catch a train south again just an hour after we sat down.

He was even kind enough to take a copy of Random from me (well I foisted it on him to be honest) even though he has little chance of actually being able to read it due to a current workload that would shame a Dickensian urchin. The latest in his Logan McCrae series has been brought forward six months and by the time it hits the shelves he’ll have had four books published in 18 months. Ouch.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Crime writers called to the bar

The shortlist for the coveted, nay prestigious, CWA John Creasey Dagger (have I mentioned this already…) was announced at the The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

It was my first visit to the UK’s biggest crime writing fest and I must admit I was very impressed. There were more crime writers than you could shake a stick at plus a host of publishers, agents and readers.

Over 8500 tickets were sold over the course of the weekend to hear the likes of Ian Rankin, Jeffrey Deaver, Karin Slaughter, Christopher Brookmyre, Joanne Harris and Jeff Lindsay give the benefit of their writing wisdom.

Simon & Schuster were represented by Chris Carter (The Crucifix Killer and The Executioner), Jeremy Duns (Free Agent and Free Country), Chris Ewan (The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, Paris, and Vegas) and myself.

Most of the time the authors, including such luminaries as Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Peter James and Stuart MacBride could all be found within a few feet of the bar. This was a practice that I found particularly laudable, allowing as it did maximum opportunities to mingle with readers. Some authors showed dedication beyond the call of duty by staying at their post until last orders and beyond. If that is what it takes to be a proper writer then I am glad that I have put in years of serious training on that front.

Despite being responsible for thousands of deaths between them, the assembled crime writers seemed a very friendly bunch. They were always accommodating to requests for chats, book signings and photographs and genuinely enjoyed meeting the people who bought their works.

My own event at the festival was on the Saturday evening when I hosted a table at the Come Die With Me: Murder Mystery Dinner. It was a fun event where as well as enjoying dinner we had to find the murderer of Mark Billingham among a quartet of literary suspects. With judicious employment of deduction, experience, criminal psychology and dumb luck, we had no problem in identifying the killer as being Stella Duffy. When our expert reasoning was allied to outrageous flattery of Stella’s outrageous shoes, we sealed overall victory. I consider the prize of an XXL Theakstons t-shirt, some literary pencils and an Ian Fleming mug to be my first award as an author. For the avoidance of doubt, yes the t-shirt was far too big.

If any crime fan gets the chance to go to Harrogate next year, when I know some stellar names are already signed up, then I’d heartily recommend it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is this a dagger I see before me...

I’m trying to play this as cool as possible while desperately attempting an air of casual indifference. But failing. Badly.

Last Friday, the shortlist for the 2010 CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger was announced and, whether by error or design, my name was there. I did a little jig in the manner of Riverdance (the post-Flatley years naturally) and then quickly looked around to make sure no-one noticed.

I suspect, like the other seven writers who have been shortlisted, that getting a book published was itself the realisation of a dream and anything that comes after that really is a bonus. So I’m taking this for what it is, recognition from people who care about crime writing and who must think I’ve done something right. The eight are reduced to a final four on August 9 and my editor Maxine has left me in no doubt how important it is to make the cut. After all it will make the difference between her getting a new frock or not. Fingers crossed, Max.

Reading about the others on the shortlist is a depressing task because they all sound excellent. My hopes for a couple of duffers in there just haven’t materialised at all. The list is …

Acts of Violence, Ryan David Jahn
Cut Short, Leigh Russell
Martyr, Rory Clements
Random, Craig Robertson
Stop Me, Richard Jay Parker
Rupture, Simon Lelic
The Holy Thief, William Ryan
The Pull of the Moon, Diane Janes

Congratulations and good luck to everyone on the list. I’ve a fair idea how much hard work has gone into each book and sincerely hope that all do well both in terms of the dagger and beyond.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eyes snap shut

Yesterday, Tuesday June 29 at 5.33 pm I finished writing what I have always referred to simply as Book Number Two.

Now that it is finished – and I say hallelujah to that, not caring whether it is the Alexandra Burke or Jeff Buckley version – I can call it Snapshot. Although to be honest, right now I am just glad to call it completed.

How do you feel now that it is finished, I’ve been asked. Excited, proud? Nope. Absolutely knackered.

The overriding emotion is just tiredness. Sheer exhaustion, even. This wasn’t how I pictured it at all.

Maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t been writing it while also doing the day job. Or while watching the World Cup. Or being a naturally lazy sod. Or if I hadn’t let my deadline get quite so close before I finished.

The deadline was today. I hadn’t realised it would mean dead beat, dead tired, dead on my feet.

I ‘celebrated’ with a bottle of champagne, a smoked sausage supper and Spain v Portugal. Then falling fast asleep.

Romantic, it ain’t.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Unhappy happenstance

The title of this blog has never been more apposite, or more ironic, than in the past few days.

On the one hand, I’m the author of a thriller about a taxi driver who goes on a killing spree, murdering people seemingly at random. On the other, I’m still doing the day job as a reporter on a Sunday newspaper.

Last Wednesday, I was told to pack a bag and head for Cumbria – after a taxi driver went on a killing spree, murdering people seemingly at random. No shortage of blood and no shortage of irony.

I’ve been parachuted into “similar” situations often enough before but the odd parallels between my fiction and Derrick Bird’s reality made this slightly different.
Not that there was any time to consider the oddness of the coincidence as there was work to be done. This was a story of national significance and global interest and, whether people think it right or not, the job of the media is to report on it and that meant being there.

On Wednesday, reporters and photographers raced to west Cumbria as news of the shootings broke. By Thursday, Whitehaven and its surrounding villages were under siege by the press, me included. My remit was the stories of the bereaved and witnesses, what might be called the lost and found – those who lost loved ones or those who found the bodies of victims.

It’s a typically cavalier journalistic term, the kind of thing that gets you through a job like this where it doesn’t pay to become too involved, even if that is sometimes easier said that done. The dividing line between reporter and writer stands somewhere along that crevice, where one must remain detached as the other must make a connection in order to understand and therefore relate.

I stood, precariously, with a foot either side of the line.

It inevitably struck me how much easier it is to write fiction about someone being shot, revelling in all the gory detail, than it is to be confronted with the evidence of very real deaths and having to interview the lost and found. A photographer I know was one of the first on the scene and dashed from village to village, trying to record the mayhem as it unfolded. He personally found three bodies as he drove in the wake of the killer, just coming across them as they lay untended by the roadside, blood flowing into gutters, as the police concentrated on catching Bird.

A nice old gentleman that I spoke to, who from my parochial point of view had the added bonus of being Scottish, had to face the horror of one of the victims, a neighbour, being shot on his doorstep. He rushed to her aid but she had died immediately with half her face blown away, a situation that he described with remarkable understatement as “something that you don’t see every day.”

As part of my research for Random, I read extensively about serial killers including various tomes by psychologists who had conducted series of interviews with murderers. I know lots about trigger points and psychoses, Mad Emperor Syndrome, Fractured Identity Syndrome, Looking Glass Self and more.

I know the distinction between serial killers, mass murderers and spree killers – but then any fan of CSI could tell you that. I know the FBI’s Crime Classification Manual divide them into “organised”, “disorganised” and “mixed” killers. Their motives are generally categorised as being “visionary”, “mission-oriented”, “hedonistic” and “power or control”.

But does any of this give me a greater insight into why Derrick Bird embarked on his particular killing spree? Not particularly. As with Thomas Hamilton and Michael Ryan, Bird destroyed the most vital piece of evidence – himself. Without the opportunity to question him, all that is left is the tittle tattle of other taxi drivers, half stories of feuds and tax bills, taunts and vice girls. It’s all grist to the tabloid mill but is unlikely to ever give a definitive answer as to the Why.

It’s all so much simpler in the world of fiction. In Random, as in west Cumbria, there is never any doubt as to Whodunnit as the story is told by the killer himself. The Whydunnit unfolds in due course and all is revealed.

Being inside the head of my killer, The Cutter, was an uncomfortable place to be. Being inside the head of Derrick Bird might be too much for anyone and in the end, it proved too much for him.

Any way you look at it, there was far too much blood and far too much irony.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yer tea's oot!

It’s penguin suit time tonight. The annual evening of backstabbing, fistfights, hypocrisy and prodigious drinking that is the Scottish Press Awards take place at a city hotel.

A brilliant piece of planning means that the good, the great and the greedy of Scottish journalism gather at 7 and there will be no food served until 9. I’d loved to have heard the discussion process on that one. “We’ll get them there at 7, have the awards and then a lovely meal at 9. What could possibly go wrong?”

Guess what this is a recipe for... take a large banqueting hall, add a couple of hundred Scots journalists, a few hundred bottles of wine, assorted beers and spirits, a two hour time frame, empty stomachs and a succession of deadly dull awards.

Got it? Yes, it’s a recipe for disaster. It will be carnage.

The last time I attended– the time after which I swore I’d never go again – I disgraced myself by asking a particularly irritating award winner outside to discuss the finer points of fisticuffs after he failed to respond to more gentle requests to shut up and go away. I rounded off the night by telling my editor exactly what was wrong with the newspaper and why most of it was his fault. I told him this despite him politely asking me not to on three occasions. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t.

Tonight there will pomposity, obsequiousness, aggression, drunkenness, more aggression and the inevitable bit of one two buckle my shoe. And then there will be food.

Tomorrow, bacon rolls and brown sauce. On prescription.