Maggie James's Blog

June 30, 2020

When truth is as strange as fiction

His Kidnapper's Shoes by Maggie James A tragic case made the news a few years ago with the revelation that a young American woman, Kamiyah Mobley, had discovered she'd been abducted as a baby. It seems she'd harboured an inkling for a while that she may have been kidnapped. DNA tests subsequently proved that she was the baby abducted from a Florida hospital in July 1998 by a woman posing as a nurse. Gloria Williams, who is now in custody, brought her up as her own daughter, unbeknown to the man who believed himself to be the child's father.
 
The case caught my eye because it mirrors some of the events in my novel 'His Kidnapper's Shoes'. While Daniel is abducted as a young child, not a baby, and from his home rather than a hospital, other facts are similar. Laura Bateman brings him up as her own child, and the truth only emerges after Daniel reaches adulthood. Like Kamiyah, he has nursed suspicions that Laura may not be his biological mother, although his doubts stem from early childhood.
 
The original idea for 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' came from a conversation I had in 2010 concerning missing children. I put forward the opinion that most children who are kidnapped are taken by opportunistic predators. Someone else disagreed, saying that perhaps some are stolen by people unable to have children of their own. That makes sense when a baby is concerned, of course; it's believed Williams suffered a miscarriage a week before she kidnapped Kamiyah. A tragic set of events for all concerned.

Anyway, the conversation got me thinking. How would it feel to discover as an adult that you'd been kidnapped as a child? That the woman who you considered your mother was actually your abductor? From that seed the idea for 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' was born. Here's a taster:
 
On some deep level inside, Laura Bateman knows something is wrong. That her relationship with her son is not what it should be. That it is based on lies. But bad things have happened to Laura. Things that change a person. Forever.
 
For twenty-six-year old Daniel, the discovery that his mother is not who he thought comes close to destroying him. As his world turns upside down, he searches for sanity in the madness that has become his life. Daniel is left with nothing but questions. Why did Laura do something so terrible? Can he move past the demons of his childhood?
 
And the biggest question of all: can he ever forgive Laura?

 
A tense novel of psychological suspense, 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' weaves one man's quest for his identity with one woman's need to heal her troubled past.
 
You can buy the book from Amazon in e-book, audiobook or paperback format via this link: His Kidnapper's Shoes
 
 By a strange coincidence, round about the same time as I finished the first draft of the book,  another case came to light in America in which a young woman discovered she'd been kidnapped from hospital as a baby. A while back I blogged about novels based on real-life crimes. You can read the post here: Five Novels Inspired by Real-Life Crimes.
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Published on June 30, 2020 16:00

June 2, 2020

Review of 'Sandrine' by Thomas H Cook

Sandrine by Thomas H Cook 'Sandrine' by Thomas H Cook is an unusual novel, and might annoy some readers because it falls between two stools genre-wise. On the face of it, it's a legal thriller; much of the action centres around the trial of Samuel Madison for the murder of his wife Sandrine. Here's the Amazon description:
 
How did Sandrine die? There was no forced entry. She had been gradually stockpiling prescription drugs. A lethal quantity of Demerol was found in her blood. But did the beautiful, luminous Sandrine Madison really take her own life? The District Attorney doesn't think so. Neither does the local newspaper. And so Sandrine's husband must now face a town convinced of his guilt and a daughter whose faith in her father has been shaken to its core. But, as he stands in the dock, Samuel Madison must confront yet more searing questions: Who was Sandrine? Why did she die? And why – how? – is she making him fall in love with her all over again?
 
The last line gives the clue as to the book's other focus. 'Sandrine' is one of the most moving love stories I've ever read. Not that I read much in the romance genre, as I find a lot of what's on offer is clichéd, full of lantern-jawed heroes and catwalk-beautiful heroines. If all love stories were as good as 'Sandrine', however, I'd read more widely in the genre. No cardboard stereotypes are found among the book's cast of characters. Instead, Samuel Madison is flawed and very believable; he's failed to achieve his ambitions and is disappointed by his marriage. Once madly in love with his wife, over time he becomes indifferent towards her, as well as apathetic about his own life. Sandrine's death forces him to acknowledge, through a tortured examination of his behaviour, how people often don't realise they possess a treasure until they lose it. The book charts Sam's gradual realisation of his faults and asks whether love can be reawakened, even after death. And poses the question: did he murder Sandrine?
 
This isn’t an 'edge of the seat' type of legal thriller; the pace is slower than anything John Grisham might write. The novel has its issues; some readers report being turned off by its frequent literary references, which are frequent and colourful. Given both Sandrine and Sam work at a liberal arts college, and Sam's ambition is to be a writer, it seems reasonable they'd make such references, so they didn't bother me. The main weakness, for me, was that some aspects of the story stretch belief, but I can't elaborate without giving major plot spoilers! Overall, though, this novel was a joy to read, and the ending moved me to tears. I highly recommend it.
 
Have you read 'Sandrine' and, if so, what did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!   
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Published on June 02, 2020 16:00

May 26, 2020

Five useful books for writers

In this week's post, I want to share five books I've found helpful along my writing journey. They cover a range of topics from mindset to productivity, and I dip into them regularly. I hope you find them useful. To view each book on Amazon UK, click or tap the individual images. 1: Rachel Aaron - 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love  
2,000 to 10,000 This was one of the first books I read on writing productivity, and it's one of the best. I know several of my author friends have already benefitted from its wisdom. Adopt its principles and you'll find the annual NaNoWriMo competition, in which contestants attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel within thirty days, a breeze.

A caveat - it's aimed at those who prefer to plan their books rather than adopting a more 'seat of the pants' approach. But if you're hoping to increase your daily word count, while enjoying the process of writing more, then this book may be what you're looking for. Why not try it?  
2: Libbie Hawker - Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing  
Take off your pants! by Libbie Hawker Talking of writing with a 'seat of the pants' approach, my next recommendation is Libbie Hawker's wonderfully titled book. I bought this one because I was curious about other methods of planning and plotting a novel. So far I've used Randy Ingermansson's Snowflake method, which I love - it suits the way my brain works. However, apart from mentioning that novels should contain three disasters, the Snowflake method gives little guidance about novel structure. Step into the picture, Libbie Hawker!

Libbie's excellent book gives detailed instructions for pacing your novel properly, with plenty of examples. I highly recommend it.        
3: Jacqueline Garlick - The End: Edit Smarter Not Harder: Ten Simple Fix-Its Guaranteed To Strengthen Any Manuscript The End Jacqueline Garlick Want to learn how to become a better self-editor, but you don’t know where to start? Seeking to learn how to edit your own writing more confidently and more efficiently, with less stress and drama? Jacqueline's book doesn't pretend to be a detailed treatise on how to edit a novel. Instead, what she provides are eleven (yes, eleven, despite what the subtitle says) useful things to remember when editing. Ditch those adverbs, watch out for annoying speech tags, etc... all helpful stuff.

I worked through 'The Second Captive' using this book, pruning the narrative according to her advice, and it really helped. Once I'd removed the offending words, the prose was cleaner, crisper and better. Why not give Jacqueline's book a try?
4: Joanna Penn - How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More 
How to make a living with your writing by Joanna Penn Joanna Penn is a well-established novelist, and one of the most helpful people on the planet when it comes to assisting other writers. Her non-fiction website, The Creative Penn, is packed with useful tips and advice, and Joanna blogs and creates podcasts regularly.

So it's no surprise that she's also written a series of excellent books aimed at authors. I've bought most of them, but the one I want to highlight today is 'How to Make a Living With Your Writing'. It's full of practical advice, including tips on mindset, productivity and advice on your options for getting published. There's also a companion workbook to guide you through answering the questions.       
5: Honoree Corder - Prosperity for Writers: A Writer's Guide to Creating Abundance 
Prosperity for writers by Honoree Corder My final book today is Honoree Corder's very helpful 'Prosperity for Writers - A Writer's Guide to Creating Abundance'. As the title suggests, it's about adopting the right mindset concerning the earnings you can expect as a writer.

When I tell people I'm a novelist, they often ask whether I can sustain a living that way. I get tired of this assumption that all writers earn a pittance, and it's one Honoree aims to dispel. She discusses the importance of positive thinking and of not succumbing to the notion that your writing won't be lucrative. As she's a full-time writer herself, she knows a thing or two about this!                           
I hope you've found these suggestions useful!
Are there any books you've found helpful in your writing journey? Leave a comment and let me know!             
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Published on May 26, 2020 16:00

May 19, 2020

Review of 'The Widow' by Fiona Barton

The Widow by Fiona Barton This week's blog post is a book review of 'The Widow', Fiona Barton's first novel. The book was published in 2016 and has achieved both Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller status. It's billed as 'the ultimate psychological thriller... a terrifically chilling exploration of the darkness at the heart of a seemingly ordinary marriage.'

Wow! When I read that, I decided this novel was right up my street, both as the kind of book I like to read and also to write.. Here's the description from Amazon:

'We've all seen him: the man - the monster - staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him? Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.'
Sounds gripping, doesn't it? 'The Widow' doesn't disappoint. I read it in one sitting, forcing my eyes to stay open one night as I devoured the contents into the small hours.  I loved Fiona's depiction of the two main characters, Glen and Jeanie Taylor.
 
Glen is a petty, self-absorbed tyrant. His persona is wonderfully drawn, shown through the myriad ways he controls Jeanie and his failure to accept responsibility for his actions. Everything is someone else's fault, never his. (Don't we all know people like that?!) He attributes his dismissal from his bank job to his boss's jealousy rather than his unsatisfactory performance.  When he's put on trial, he bills himself as a victim of police harassment. According to him, his obsession with child pornography is a medical condition for which he needs help. Not, of course, a sign of his warped nature, one that he keeps well-hidden. Here is a man who is outwardly unremarkable, yet, as the book asks, is he also a paedophile and a murderer? And is Jeanie complicit in his misdeeds?
 
The domineering Glen is mostly seen through the recollections of his down-trodden wife, who is a masterpiece of characterisation, expertly portrayed though subtle nuances. Jeanie adores her husband at first but her love fades as she realises the kind of man she has married. It's not long, though, before the reader starts to feel she may be hiding her own dark side. In addition, she might know more about Bella Elliott's disappearance than she's revealing.
 
The only flaw, for me, was that she comes across as older than her age, which jars at times. This may be deliberate, to emphasise Jean's unworldliness, but if so, I think it's overdone. It's not just that her name would be more appropriate for an older woman. At times Jean behaves like a stereotypical pensioner, so much so that when the narrative refers to her as being thirty-seven, it comes as a shock. Well, to me, anyway.  
An impressive debut novel
Fiona Barton Fiona Barton, courtesy of her website As a foil to Glen and Jeanie, the other central characters of journalist Kate Waters and DI Bob Sparkes are more crudely drawn. Sparkes is almost like a caricature of a detective inspector, and his scenes didn't come alive for me. Kate is a more convincing character, although hard to like. Ruthless in pursuit of a scoop for her newspaper, she's hard as nails despite the caring persona she projects. The descriptions of unsavoury press behaviour are hard to stomach, as they frequently descend into harassment and trial by media. Fiona Barton used to be a journalist, so the antics she depicts are presumably realistic, yet in my view they're abhorrent.
 
Those wanting thrills a minute and a high body count may be disappointed by this book. The story focuses more on Jeanie's character development rather than delivering a plot rollercoaster. There are no twists as such - the ending is fairly obvious from early on - and few startling revelations. That's not the strength of this novel. The interest lies more in the reader exploring every nook and cranny of Jeanie's mind, in understanding why she gradually turns against her husband during the course of her marriage. As a first novel, it's impressive, and I look forward to reading more from this author.
 
Fiona Barton is a former journalist who has worked for the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. In the latter role she won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards. She gave up her job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and has worked with exiled journalists all over the globe. The idea for 'The Widow' came from time spent during her journalistic career covering famous trials. Fiona began to wonder what the wives of the accused knew or allowed themselves to know about the crimes in question. Fiona lives with her husband in rural France and has written several other novels. You can find out more at her website: http://fionabartonauthor.com/  
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Published on May 19, 2020 16:00

May 12, 2020

Interview with Karen Long

This week I'm delighted to welcome novelist Karen Long to my blog. Karen Long is a Midlander by birth and now lives in Shropshire. She took up full-time writing many years ago and dedicates her days to writing crime fiction and observing nature.  Her first novel, 'The Safe Word', reached the Amazon bestsellers' list and has now been followed by the second and third in the Eleanor Raven series, 'The Vault' and 'The Cold Room'.

It's great to have you here, Karen, so let's get started! Here's my first question:
The Cold Room, The Vault, The Safe Word The Eleanor Raven trilogy Karen Long Novelist Karen Long Will there be a set number of books in the Eleanor Raven series? If so, how many? It was always my intention to create a series of three novels that were linked thematically. The series takes place over the span of eighteen months and shares the same cast of characters and place but deals with a separate central story. All three books have now been published. I don’t intend to drop the Eleanor Raven character but have no plans for book four any time soon.
Do you share any character traits with DI Eleanor Raven? Ah, that’s difficult. It would be disingenuous to suggest that there aren’t some aspects of the characters I create buried within my psyche. I don’t think I feel the anger, or the self-loathing that Eleanor Raven does but I like my independence and feel more comfortable alone than in company. Like Eleanor I am not religious but have an innate need for redemption. I believe most writers amplify their own characteristics when creating; how else can you achieve authenticity? 
Do you see yourself writing in other genres besides crime fiction? If so, which ones, and what attracts you to them? I like historical fiction and would love to write one but feel a little overawed by the amount of research I’d need to do. I suspect any story would have to be combined with a good murder plot, as I have little leaning towards romance. I have copy of a YA fantasy novel set in Victorian London, which is tucked away in my desk drawer. Every now and then I pull it out with the intention of self- publishing but never quite commit.
What’s a typical writing day like for you? Routines, that kind of thing? I am not, in any way, organised as to a writing routine. I harbour a deep sense of guilt regarding my glacial output but have to be completely distraction free. I have an office but like to write in the conservatory, which has a great view of the numerous birdfeeders. Generally, I do write every day and it tends to be late morning into afternoon.     
How long does it take you to write the first draft of a novel? Are you a plotter, a pantser or somewhere in between?
It takes me about seven months to get a first draft completed, and then another couple to complete the second and third drafts. I am not a deadline sort of person, I’m way too vague and unfocussed. I used to write copious notes but found they didn’t really help with plotting. Now I just keep mental images of actions and storylines.
What issues have you faced with research and accuracy with setting your books in a different country? It’s very liberating to set your novels in a different environment because it can be moulded into the vision of a cityscape that responds to your plot. That’s not to say that I am lazy with place or time. I always check distances and environments with virtual maps, and read about places from as many sources as possible. I do have a working knowledge of the detailed landscapes and buildings that feature in the novels. However, it is because I am not native to Toronto that I have been able to create a vision from the flavours I experienced. It’s not accurate but then I’m writing fiction, not a travel guide.
What do you do to relax after a hard day’s writing? Running, reading and a couple of glasses of wine.
Tell us about the rescue work you do with injured and distressed birds. I’m a huge bird fan, particularly of the crow family. I used to have an aviary filled with rooks, magpies, crows and jackdaws, all in various stages of decrepitude but sadly we no longer have any left. Every spring I manage to look after and release a few babies that didn’t quite make their first flight a success. I’ve kept ravens, which are wonderful. All have deliciously dangerous and cantankerous personalities but the mayhem and home destruction can be very alarming and expensive. There are few things more delightful than having a clever wild bird sit on your shoulder and share a biscuit. 
Thank you, Karen! It's been great talking to you.
You can find out more about Karen and her novels via these links:
Amazon UK author page: Karen Long
Twitter: @KarenLongWriter

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Published on May 12, 2020 16:00

May 4, 2020

Review of 'From a Buick 8' by Stephen King

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King As many of you know, I love Stephen King's novels. I think he's a master of the writing craft, and I'm awed by his prolific output. I'm working my way through his books, a task that will keep me occupied for quite a while! On a recent trip to a charity shop, I bagged myself seven titles I'd not yet read. All were ones that aren't so well known, such as 'Desperation' and 'Just After Sunset'. I was curious about my purchases, wondering why they hadn't achieved the success of books such as 'Carrie' or 'The Shining'. The last one I finished was 'From a Buick 8', a novel about a supernatural car. The book gets very varied reviews on Amazon, and I can see why. For me, reading it proved a mixed experience.
 
First, let's deal with the good stuff. The prose is every bit as enthralling as King's other novels. I love the way he makes magic with words, and 'From a Buick 8' didn't disappoint in that respect. I read the book pretty much in one sitting, and was never bored. After all, diehard fans like me will enjoy whatever the man writes, even if it's his laundry list! So what was the issue? How come I could understand the scathing Amazon reviews, ones such as,  'It should have been titled "nothing happened"'? Or what about: 'A car that isn't really a car pitches up in a Pennsylvania backwater... and that's it. What we don't get is a story.'   Less leaves, more action, please Whilst the words are wonderful, 'From a Buick 8' lacks a coherent plot or much tension. It's a shame because the potential's there, but King fails to develop it. One  problem is that the story is largely revealed in hindsight, with the police officers of Troop D telling the story of the mysterious car they guard to a rookie recruit. Such a plot device lacks the immediacy present-day action offers, at least the way King does it. As those disgruntled reviewers pointed out, the plot is thin. The Buick could have been so much more menacing than it actually is. More victims should have succumbed to its power, thus upping the ante. Instead, Kind spends a lot of the book telling us how the car's trunk spawns all manner of weird things, most of which can't survive in our world. Instead of leaves that disintegrate minutes after they arrive on planet Earth, or dead flowers, how about giving the readers something truly scary? The one thing that does live is more ridiculous than frightening, and is soon killed anyway.
 
It would have been good to have a chapter or two in which the state troopers attempt to destroy the car, resulting in  casualties as it fights back, but it didn't happen. Instead we're given a flimsy reason as to why they're content to leave it be. Even the Troop D members admit long stretches of time pass during which nothing happens with the Buick. Neither are we given any notion as to why the car ended up in this world, abandoned by its mysterious driver. Again, I feel the author missed a trick here. This is not the stuff great supernatural fiction is made of, in my opinion. King does provide a welcome boost to the tension towards the end, but then the plot goes flat again.
 
So there you have it. I'm still an avid fan of Stephen King's work, given his talent with words, but 'From a Buick 8' will most likely only appeal to readers who, like me, are already hooked. 
Let's hear from you!
Have you read 'From a Buick 8'? What's your opinion of the book? Leave a comment and let me know!  
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Published on May 04, 2020 16:00

April 28, 2020

Interview with Rachel Amphlett

Today I'd like to welcome novelist Rachel Amphlett to my blog. Originally from the UK, then based in Australia and now back on our shores, Rachel’s novels appeal to a worldwide audience, and have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child and Michael Crichton. Wow! Let's get going with the interview…
Picture Picture Pick one of your novels in the Detective Kay Hunter series and tell us about it.  Thanks for having me on your blog, Maggie. 'Will to Live' is the second in the series, and sees Kay Hunter pitted against a serial killer who’s been using a stretch of the local railway known as “Suicide Mile” to dispose of his victims – until a witness stumbles across one of his victims before the train strikes. Kay and her team then have to revisit a number of cold cases to try to establish a pattern, while the killer is still at large. On top of that, Kay’s investigation into who tried to destroy her career intensifies, with catastrophic consequences.
You also write espionage novels. Which do you find the most challenging to write: crime or spy fiction?
I enjoy writing the spy fiction, but crime thrillers are where my heart is at. It simply took a few books under my belt before I felt I had the confidence to give them a go. The response to one of my standalones, 'Look Closer', is what gave me the nudge I needed – that’s the closest I’d written to the crime fiction genre at that time, and it’s proven to be a great success. By the time I got to the beginning of 2016, I had the inkling of a new series featuring a female detective, and that’s how the Kay Hunter series evolved.  
Would you consider writing in different genres and if so, which ones? I definitely want to write a historical/ crime fiction book – I’ve been researching in between writing the Kay Hunter series and have jotted down a few scenes and a rough outline. I’m hoping to spend some time on that later this year.  
What draws you to your chosen genre(s)? It’s what I’ve been reading since I was a kid – I love mysteries, so like a lot of authors I started off reading Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and went from there. I can’t recall a time I wasn’t reading crime fiction in some form!   Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you? 
I usually have the opening scene in my head and the “lift” points sorted out, and then I’ll take those and develop a rough outline using a five act structure. Once I have that, I get stuck into the writing. I do like to leave a bit of wiggle room for characters to develop, because that makes it interesting for me as a writer – a character could say something that takes me down a different path to the ending I have in mind that’s a better way than I originally thought, so it’s important to allow that to happen. 
How long does it take you to write a book to first draft stage?  The first draft usually takes me no longer than 12 weeks – and it’s a hot mess, I can tell you! However, it’s important to me to get it written down as fast as possible because it reflects the pace of the story. The fastest I’ve ever written a first draft is 9 weeks.
What book are you reading at present?  CJ Sansom’s 'Lamentation' – I’ve loved his whole Shardlake series of books, and I’ve finally found a bit of spare time to savour this one!      Thank you, Rachel, for a great interview! Like to know more about Rachel and her books? See below:​
Website:  www.rachelamphlett.com
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/rachelamphlett.author/
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/rachelamphlett

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Published on April 28, 2020 16:00

April 21, 2020

When characters go their own way

After She's Gone by Maggie James Something I remember after I finished the first draft of my fifth novel, 'After She's Gone' - how, along the way, something odd occurred. Many, if not all, other fiction writers report it's happened to them too; it's a concept that sounds a little off the wall, a bit wacky, at first. Readers who are not also writers tell me it's hard to understand, and I can see why. I'm talking about the tendency of fictional characters to resist doing what the author wants. Instead, just like real people, they often refuse to do what they're told, developing minds of their own and behaving in very contrary ways! Fiction writers will know what I mean. For others, though, this is a weird notion. 'But you're the author!' they say. 'Aren't you in control? Why not just make the characters do what you'd planned for them?' The answer is, I can't, not always. Let me explain.

As a novelist, I’m an outliner, plotting my books in a fair amount of detail before I write them. As part of my planning, I prepare notes about each character - their motivations, their hopes, their issues, along with a physical description and a precis of their role in the plot. After I've done that, I tell myself I know them quite well, but the truth is, I don't. It's not until I start writing that they take on lives and minds of their own, and sometimes those minds decide to follow a different route through the novel. If this all sounds a bit woo-woo, it is and yet it isn't. In one way, there's nothing mystical about what I'm describing. However carefully an author plots in advance, it's impossible to foresee every eventuality, and it's not until the writing begins that a novelist finds out whether his/her story works. What may appear feasible at the planning stage can unravel once written; inconsistencies and contradictions appear or the plot simply doesn't feel right. The same happens with characters. I'll explain by using Jake Hamilton, a minor player in 'After She's Gone'.

When I plotted the novel, Jake was a poor father, a lousy partner and an all-round deadbeat. As I wrote one particular scene, however, something didn't sit well with me. The storyline would work better, I decided, if I portrayed Jake as flawed in many ways, yet ultimately a man trying to do his best. Someone who regretted his past mistakes. So that's what I did. Nothing woo-woo about that, simply an author recognising that a different approach would suit the novel better. On the other hand, though,  Jake asserting his true character provided a magical moment. It was as if he was shouting at me, trying to get my attention, yelling, 'Hey! You behind the keyboard! You've got me all wrong - I'm more of a nice guy than you give me credit for!'

I hear you, Jake! And once I did, I changed my story accordingly. Characters don’t exist independently from an author's fiction, of course, however real they may become to a writer. The chances are, though, that if a character is pressing to go in a particular direction, then that's the best course for him/her to take. Here's novelist Dianne Doubtfire on the subject: 'Sometimes a character becomes so real that he refuses to do what you have planned for him. When this happens, don't coerce him; it means you have created a real person with a will of his own and this is a marvellous moment in any novelist's life. Hold him on a light rein, as it were, giving him his head to a certain degree but ensuring that he does not stampede you out of your story.' (Dianne Doubtfire, The Craft of Novel-Writing, published by Allison and Busby, 1978). Wise advice, Dianne - thank you! Oh, and a big thank you also to Jake Hamilton - I'm glad I listened to you! What do you think? Let's hear from you! Are you a fellow novelist who's had characters run out of control and do their own thing? Or are you a reader, someone who doesn't understand why authors can't exercise complete authority? Are there fictional characters who you think would have been more convincing if they'd been portrayed differently? Leave me a comment and let me know!  
 
'After She's Gone' is available from Amazon in ebook, paperback and audio formats via this link: After She's Gone.
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Published on April 21, 2020 16:00

April 14, 2020

Review of 'End of Watch' by Stephen King

As readers of my blog will have gathered, I'm an avid Stephen King fan; I'm working my way through all his supernatural thrillers. Apart from 'Nightmares and Dreamscapes' and the rather flat 'From a Buick 8', I've not yet read anything from King I haven't liked. So when I spotted the hardcover copy of 'End of Watch' in the supermarket, I bought it straight away. The novel is the final book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, the other two being 'Mr Mercedes' and 'Finders Keepers'. Here's my review of 'Mr Mercedes';  I didn't post a review for 'Finders Keepers', but I loved that one as well.
'End of Watch', eh? An intriguing title
End of Watch The title, one that fits the story perfectly, comes from an American expression for police officers at the end of their working life. Those who retire permanently, or die. Which one will Bill Hodges do? He's certainly an engaging sleuth, although a somewhat stereotypical one: retired police officer, divorced, battling health problems and with a past drinking problem. He's teamed with Holly Gibney, a woman with multiple issues of her own, along with Jerome Robinson, a student and former lawn boy for Bill. Books one and three of the trilogy concentrate heavily on the evil Brady Hartsfield, a mass murderer who's also obsessed with suicide. The middle novel, 'Finders Keepers', diverts to explore one of King's favourite topics, the writing life, although it involves the Brady Hartsfield character as well. Here's the sales blurb for 'End of Watch': ​
 
'Retired Detective Bill Hodges now runs a two-person firm called Finders Keepers with his partner Holly Gibney. They met in the wake of the 'Mercedes Massacre' when a queue of people was run down by the diabolical killer Brady Hartsfield. Brady is now confined to Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, in an unresponsive state. But all is not what it seems: the evidence suggests that Brady is somehow awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room. When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk, as well as those of Bill's heroic young friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city. The clock is ticking in unexpected ways... Both a stand-alone novel of heart-pounding suspense and a sublimely terrifying final episode in the Hodges trilogy, 'End of Watch' takes the series into a powerful new dimension.'  Absorbing characters, pink fish and a fast pace 
Sounds great, doesn't it? And 'End of Watch' delivers the goods. Brady Hartsfield is a wonderfully warped villain, aided by his sidekicks Felix Babineau and Library Al, both of whom end up zombie-fied after Brady invades their minds. Intent on revenge on Bill Hodges, Brady will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, as well as drive thousands of young people to kill themselves.
 
Although his brain was seriously damaged by Holly Gibney, Brady avails himself of new powers, possibly resulting from Felix Babineau using him in unauthorised drug trials. King also hints that the savage head blow dealt by Holly may also have contributed, allowing Brady to access the 90% of his brain that lies dormant in all of us. As his extraordinary powers grow, the deaths begin…
 
Stephen King is a master at creating memorable characters (think Jack Torrance, Annie Wilkes, Jake Epping). 'End of Watch' also has an interesting cast list, one that develops both Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney, more so the latter. Whilst it's not specifically mentioned, Holly is either autistic or has Asperger's syndrome, and the book shows her shedding her coping mechanisms  as the story progresses. It's Brady Hartsfield, though, who receives the full Stephen King treatment, morphing from a catatonic invalid to a mind in motion, capable of transferring into other bodies at will. His evil mission poses a huge problem for Bill and Holly in their race to stop him. They can hardly tell the police what they suspect Brady is up to, after all!
 
I found some aspects of the plot a little far-fetched - the use of obsolete games consoles to facilitate mind control, for example, and the numerical pink fish. Perhaps that's a little unfair, as Brady's opportunities for evil are limited initially, and the use of technology, albeit outdated, fits what we already know of him as a computer expert. Besides, this is Stephen King, creator of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, supernatural cars and telekinetic teenagers. Beside them, digital pink fish seem small fry!
 
King can be verbose at times, but his mastery of words transcends what might grate if coming from a lesser writer. 'End of Watch' rollicks along at a fast pace towards the satisfying, if sad, conclusion. It can be read either as the third book in the 'Mr Mercedes' trilogy, or would work equally well as a standalone novel. If you're a fan of his novels, I suspect you'll love this book.
What about you?
Have you read 'End of Watch', or any of the other books in the trilogy? What did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!       
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Published on April 14, 2020 16:00

April 7, 2020

Interview with Andrew Barrett

This week I'm delighted to welcome crime novelist Andrew Barrett to my blog. Andrew has been writing best-selling thrillers since the mid-1990s, all set in northern England. He’s also written several short stories, and co-written a number of television scripts. His stories focus on the world of crime scene investigators, using his own expertise as a senior CSI to develop his fiction. I recently read the fourth book in his Eddie Collins series, 'Ledston Luck'. OK, let's get going with the questions! What inspired the plot for 'Ledston Luck'?
Ledston Luck Most writers tend to get going with their stories by asking the 'What If' question. I do too, but with most of my stories, and especially with 'Ledston Luck', first came a couple of scenes.

One scene I latched onto as I drove over a canal bridge, was the sight of a woman’s face just beneath the water’s surface. Of course there was no woman there, I’d imagined it, but it looked very real for a moment, and that stuck with me. I wrote a scene around Eddie pulling her from the water.

The next scene grew in my mind from a small kernel: I saw a naked woman sitting in a stout wooden chair in a dark farmhouse kitchen. The door opened and in stepped two burglars. The naked woman didn’t scream or run away, she reached for the shotgun next to her. Both of these scenes excited me enough to then ask the 'What If' question, and I slowly constructed a story around them. Tell us what demons drive the angst-ridden Eddie Collins.
Eddie Collins is seen by many as angry most or all of the time. But he’s not. He’s just as angry at the man standing next to you in the bus queue noisily chewing on a toffee. What makes Eddie different is that he’s not good at controlling his anger. He’d most likely step away from the toffee-chewer because, if he didn’t, he’d say something that everyone else in the queue would be thinking – and it probably wouldn’t be pleasant. Eddie is not only poor at controlling his feelings, he’s not exactly tactful. He’s an honest, down-to-earth man who really does speak as he sees, and it doesn’t matter if that guy at the bus queue is a street-sweeper, a copper, or Prince Philip, no one is exempt from a Collins tongue-lashing. Eddie is a cuddly bunny if he’s on your side. And all you need in order for him to be on your side is to experience injustice. He hates injustice, whether it’s a victim of murder or someone scratching your car for no good reason. These extremes, and all the other things in between infuriate him; that’s the root of his anger.  
Tell us about the next book in Eddie's series. Next for Eddie is a novella called 'The Note'. As with all Eddie’s short stories, I write them in first person because I adore the immediacy of it, the relentless onslaught of thought and action. I don’t think I could sustain that through a full novel, but in short story form, it’s so exhilarating. I adore writing Eddie. And I think that’s because I can relate to him so much; he can say the things I feel and get away with them (I can’t, I’ve tried!), and that alone is a wonderfully refreshing experience, so I’ll definitely write more Eddie books.  Do you work to an outline or plot or do you go wherever an idea takes you? Novelist Andrew Barrett I have tried to work to an outline. And failed miserably. I find the story tends to grow from an initial scene or two. Having said that, I can recollect two books that benefitted from a bit of planning. 'Stealing Elgar' and 'Ledston Luck' both stalled at around the 100k words and 50k words mark respectively. I could see where I wanted to be at the end, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there. So I made myself stop staring at the cursor, and took out a sheet of paper and a pencil. I managed to draw up a list of scenes that could take me there, and plotted from each scene a consequence, incorporating that consequence into the following scenes until I reached my goal. I finished those books remarkably quickly once I knew exactly what came next.

Of course you (I mean me) can’t plan for the unexpected happening while writing a scene, so it’s always good to have written the list in pencil! I wish I could plot a book from page one to page 400 but I can’t. I’ve tried. How long does it take you to write a book to first draft stage? It changes depending on my circumstances. I began 'The Third Rule' in 2004 and finished it in 2012. That was because I took a seven year break from it while I chased a dream of writing for television. I wrote and published 'Black by Rose' inside six months. I’m pretty sure I could never do that again though; it damned near killed me! I should say I can easily write a book and a short in a year, but I don’t think I’d want to do more than that because I’m working full-time (about 60 hours a week), and I’m trying to become more normal. By that I mean that I’m trying to be a good dad, and I’m trying to sample life outside in the real world. I quite like some of it, though if truth be told, I feel more at home inside my head where my characters and my story live. 
How do you select the names of your characters? Picture Great question. I put a lot of thought into names for central characters, but I usually end up just choosing something that sounds right for that person. I began the first crime book with a central character called Jonathan Benedict. I have no idea where that name came from. But after the first book I disliked it; it felt too wimpish, so I changed it to Roger Conniston, and that gave him (in my eyes) a far more purposeful stance; he had more verve. I got ‘Roger’ from Mr Taylor of Queen (I love Queen), and Conniston from the Lake District (with an extra ‘n’). I took ‘Collins’ from the dictionary at my side because it was nice and easy to say and rolled from the tongue pleasantly when combined with ‘Eddie’ – also chosen because it was short, and I think, because it’s a trustworthy name. In Black by Rose, the bad man was called Slade Crosby. I got ‘Slade’ from HMP Slade. Remember Porridge with Ronnie Barker? Yes, that’s where my Slade came from. And I took ‘Crosby’ from Bing; it’s also a friendly-sounding name that I used for a most evil man because ‘friendly’ and ‘evil’ co-habit often. Most of the other names I choose are simply because they sound right rather than coming from a specially selected source; they fir the character’s time-frame and their social standing. ‘Divine Wright’ from Ledston Luck has a certain religious connotation, and how could a woman who was called Divine turn out to be so evil? Her mother, Lisbeth, was a religious woman, and I figured her own parents would have been too, and whether it’s correct or not, I thought ‘Lisbeth’ sounded religious, and it also sounded Edwardian, which is the time frame they would have grown up in. 
What kind of research do you do? Absolutely none. Well, no that’s not entirely true. I do research weapons; I had to for 'Stealing Elgar' and 'The Third Rule', and I did a little more in 'Ledston Luck' because I wanted to get a specific shotgun cartridge manufacturer and the details of their cartridge correct. What advice would you give to would-be novelists? If you don’t enjoy it, stop. If you do enjoy it, push everything else aside and do it until your eyes, fingers, and heart bleed. Then do it some more.  Thank you, Andrew! Readers can find out more via these links: Website: http://andrewbarrett.co.uk
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewBarrettUK
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AndrewBarrett.author
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/andrewbarrettauthor
Amazon.co.uk: https://goo.gl/Hqps9K
Amazon.com: https://goo.gl/nHdV8c

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Published on April 07, 2020 16:00