Category Archives: Crime writing

Before I go to Sleep

Last Wednesday (after an exciting day full of steam engines and train rides at York Railfest) I went to York Library to see the Crime on Tour event.

Peter Robinson, creator of the DCI Banks series which starred Stephen Tompkinson on tv was presenting a ‘New Blood’ Panel discussion. Alongside him were new authors Steven Dunne and David Mark. Sadly there were only about 10 people attending which is always a shame when these kind of events are put on but then the obsession with reading and crime doesn’t extend as far as I’d like I suppose.

Despite low attendees the event was great. It was a very informal evening, introduced by Peter where the authors talked about how they had both got published, and how their respective settings had reacted to the book. It was interesting to hear how their publishing journeys differed, David was previously a journalist and ‘The dark winter’ was his first novel. Steven however had written previous books and was now on his third novel, but his first with a more mainstream publisher.

All three authors were very entertaining and there were some great snippets of information. For example Sky TV wanted to commission the DCI Banks tv series, but only if they could have Ross Kemp as the lead role (there’s something to be grateful to ITV for!)

There was a big discussion over the difference between paper novels and e-books. David was quite vocal about the fact that he only felt like a real author once he saw his novel in print. I completely agree, whilst I love my kindle I still prefer real books when I can. Where we did differ though was him saying how upset he gets when he sees people mistreating books by folding the corner over, or putting them face down to keep the pages open. I love books and I love the whole process about them including seeing them on my shelves, but I can’t say my books are kept pristine. They have soggy pages from reading in the bath, battered edges from carrying them in bags, broken spines from leaving them open next to the bed. Books are about the content, appearance is secondary is all contexts.

There was an opportunity for questions (which is always the point my mind goes blank, and I desperately try and think of something witty and intelligent to ask. What are you having for tea? is probably not the question they want to hear) There was some interesting discussion around how they chose their main protagonists, and why they chose the settings they did.

Seeing these authors talking was a great taster for the full festival at the end of July, and I’ve got two new books in my ‘to read’ pile!

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The body farm

Last weekend was a total washout weather wise. Half of York was underwater, roads were flooded and the garden was a soggy mess. It was a good weekend to be a duck. It was also good weekend to stay indoors and read if you ask me. There is nothing better than a Sunday afternoon when it’s raining cats and dogs, to curl up on the sofa with a good book and a hot chocolate (Ok a glass of red but hot chocolate sounded better in that particular scenario!)

However this weekend the parents were visiting, so rather than stay indoors we braved the elements and took a trip over to Knaresborough and Harrogate. Both of these are lovely places. Knaresborough has a great walk down by the river, where you can stare at all the houses you can’t afford and look at all the amazing gardens. This is not so much fun however, in gale force winds, temperatures that penguins would moan about and sheeting rain.

This was also the weekend for the Harrogate Flower Show. Whilst a bit of mud never hurt anyone, I went on the Thursday and you needed your wellies. By Sunday I imagine even pigs would have been calling for their sties to be on stilts. Luckily I managed to dodge the worst of the showers and pretty much see everything the flower show had to offer.

One of my favourite bits was the outdoor gardens, this year the theme was ‘small spaces’ (I have to say their idea of small was a bit different to mine, they were definitely free range size, my garden is more a battery hen size) One of these ‘small’ gardens was called The Writers Pad, which was a decking area, some shelves with books on them, a seat with a bench for a laptop and a water feature. The idea being it was meant to provide inspiration for writers.

Putting aside the obvious practical issue of storing books outside in this country, whilst it was lovely and calming, it wasn’t really what I would call inspirational. I suppose it depends what type of books you want to write as to what you would want as inspiration. Beatrix Potter would have probably been quite at home in the Writers Pad, dreaming up stories for Froggy the frog.

As a crime reader personally I thought that the Farming Museum I went to on Saturday with my Dad would provide more inspiration. If they got rid of the lambs and baby rabbits, it could have been renamed Museum of killing instruments. Massive machines with big spikes and conveyer belts were everywhere. Allegedly most of them were for turnip related things, but it looked like a great place to dismember and dispose of bodies if you ask me. They even had a man trap hanging on the wall (to be used on poachers not just passing single men!)

It would be interesting to know what does inspire crime readers, do they all sit around with pictures of torture and weapons on their walls, or do they look out over calming waterfalls and flying geese (real flocks, not the Hilda Ogden version) Personally were I to write a book a nice wet day would be my best inspiration, at least I live in the right country for it.

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Devil’s Peak by Deon Myer – a review

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Last weekend I finished reading Deon Myer, Devil’s Peak. Set in South Africa it’s the story of three main characters, an alcoholic detective, a revenge seeking assassin and an ex prostitute. (Not exactly the basis for a PG rated comedy)

The assassin is seeking revenge against child abusers by slicing them to pieces with what I assume is a very big knife (its given some fancy name I can’t remember), the alcoholic detective is trying to track him down whilst staying sober for six months so that his wife will take him back, and the ex prostitute holds the key to the whole thing and is looking for her daughter.

Mostly I really enjoyed this book. The setting was fantastic and seemed to give a real insight into South Africa, although knowing very little about the country, at times the politics took a little following. The characters were quite engaging and I felt you quickly grew to care about what was happening to them. I did get the impression that the serial killer element of the book (i.e. the revenge seeking assassin) was a bit of an afterthought, although I suppose it was used as a hook for the characters to hang off. The focus of the book was the people and their background stories rather than the crimes but I felt this was actually a really interesting and different way of doing it.

The structure was quite unusual in that it mixed between the three characters stories as the ex prostitute tells her story to a priest, and gradually the two male characters intertwine. I think the writing is very clever (it’s been translated into English from Afrikaans) and although it took a bit of getting into, once I got into the flow it was enjoyable.

The ending is a bit of an anti-climax and as much as I enjoyed it at the time, looking back I’m not really sure how much actually happened. This could also be that since finishing this book I’ve started reading a Jo Nesbo and thats really excellent, so maybe this review is a bit coloured by that.

I would be interested in reading Deon Myer’s other books as this was the first one of his I’d picked up and like I say it was good in parts and he will definitely be on the list of people we go and see at Harrogate.

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Birthday Girl

Today is my birthday, and whilst many of you may think there is no way I can link that fact to books – you’d be wrong! That means it is exactly one year today since I started keeping a notebook of all the books I have read. This started as an idea I had when (as mentioned in a previous post) I started reading a book and got almost to the end before I realised I’d actually read it previously. Therefore I thought if I started keeping a list of books that I’d read hopefully that wouldn’t happen again.

What began as a little ‘aide memoir’ for myself seems to have caught on as a proper hobby with family and friends. (Plus whilst I can’t prove that Moleskine stole my idea and turned it into a journal its obvious they did!) I think it’s interesting to see how different people record their efforts though.

My sister unsurprisingly has an alphabetised book, and diligently records them by authors surname, whilst a friend bought one of the Moleskine journals I inspired and has a neat page per entry again listed by author surname. Mine unsurprisingly is a rather haphazard affair. Its a list starting with the first book I read last year, and simply numbering them as I go along with a brief synopsis and a score out of 5. I have of course spotted the flaw in this plan, that both my sister and friend had already pointed out. To find out if I’ve read a book already I have to trawl through all the pages to try and find the entry. Personally I think this just adds to the fun and again like Magnus Magnusson, I’ve started so I’ll finish it, next time I buy a new notebook I may alphabetise.

I think my inbuilt dislike of alphabetising things is down to the fact I don’t like waste. Lets be honest neither my sister or my friend are likely to have many authors to include under X or I so it just seems like those sections will be wasted. What do you do when you’ve used all the space in S and R but still have whole sections not used? It’s a big dilemma as then you end up having to cross reference the end of S over to X and its all too out of control. Maybe the 80s had it right and a filofax system is best so the pages can be moved around?

I do wish I’d started this list many years ago. I think it would be great to have a record of every book I’ve ever read (again that’s where my non alphabetising could cause problems, imagine having to go back through hundreds of non organised notebooks, I’d never actually have time to read anything new!) It would be interesting to know how many books I’d read. I can do a bit of extrapolation of course, which discounting the first 10 years or so of my life would give a figure in the thousands. That’s a lot of words and stories to have got through.

For anyone interested in the maths according to my notebook I’ve read 56.5 books this year (.5 as I’m halfway through one), which is slightly more than one a week although it does mean its not looking hopeful for completing the TOPCWFC. I was asked at lunch yesterday how many books I had to do in total, I think its best not to count them up. I’ll forget how many I’ve got to do by lunchtime anyway so no point in wasting the time!

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Live Wire by Harlen Coben – a review

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Back to the TOPCWFC and my latest book was Live Wire by Harlen Coben. I am sure that I have read books by him before however I have a pretty terrible memory so couldn’t remember them. Luckily I didn’t get half way through this one and then realise I’ve read it before as has often been the case in the past.

This book was based around the character of Myron who was a sports agent/detective, with a previous life as a super athlete (as we are told many times!) He is asked to help out pregnant former tennis star Suzze T who’s husband, a famous musician, has gone missing. Amongst this Myron also has to look for his sister in law and brother who have been missing for years, and track down a nephew who lives near an ice cream shop, which has a link to the partner of the famous musician mentioned previously who is, guess what, missing!

Now despite the black hole that obviously surrounded Myron’s family, I did quite like this book. It was most definitely written by a man, and I felt it was a bit like reading an action man comic with lots of guns and fight scenes and completely unrealistic escapes from brutal Mafioso types. However it was a fun and compelling read with some witty one liners between the main characters, although sadly I felt these were sometimes rather forced (This could of course be because I previously read Mark Billingham who is a master at the wit)

There were lots of characters in it, and I sensed it was the kind of book that if you started and then put down for a day you’d get lost so it was best to read it pretty quickly.  I felt the story was a bit far fetched, bordering on ridiculous but then it didn’t advertise itself as a ‘true crime’ book so it’s not a complaint, that’s one of the joys of fiction things don’t always have to be completely true to life.

My only issue was about the use of the word ‘blackberry’. Practically in every other sentence Myron used his blackberry, or told someone he was looking for his blackberry, or checking his blackberry. I realise I’m a product of the BBC and therefore have an inbuilt dislike of product placement (Remember how they used to have tomato sauce bottles with all the labels peeled off in the Eastenders café!) but there really was no need for such blatant advertising. Surely most people with a mobile phone simply say, I’ll just get my phone, not I’ll just check the james bond app on my Samsung Galaxy 2000. It really grated on me for some reason, but it is a minor point.

Overall I liked the book, and enjoyed the pace (although in my head there were a lot of batmanesque ‘Kapow’ signs popping up during the reading of some fight scenes) I think it would be a good series to read from the beginning in order to learn more about the main characters, and also to remind myself if I have actually read any of his previous books!

 

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Close enough to kill

A couple of weeks ago I met a friend for lunch and one topic of conversation was facebook (Not a book, although if it were a book, if you ask me Facebook accounts would be on a par with the telephone directory. We all have one sitting around and don’t really want to get rid of it, but have no interest in 99.9% of the people in it. Am I the only person who uses the phone book once the first time it arrives and only then to look myself up?)

At  lunch we were discussing the fact that lots of people with accounts on facebook have a huge amount of ‘friends’ but how many of these do they ever actually meet up with, or even have the ability to contact outside of Facebook means? They are virtual not real.

That’s one of the most exciting aspects of the Theakstons Crime Writers Festival, all these people that I’ve only seen on the fly covers of books are actually there in real life, walking around, signing books and having face to face conversations.  However, having a conversation with Martina Cole last year (where incidentally she told me my name would make a good name for a prostitute in one of her books) does not make me her friend. In the same way ‘poking’ someone on Facebook does not make them a friend.  I’m as nosy as the next person, and do use Facebook as a way of looking at what people are doing, but that tends to be people who I haven’t had a conversation with in 10 years. If I want to know what a real friend is up I’ll talk to them.

Saying that though, the crime loving part of me does enjoy the emergence of Facebook and especially twitter. Last year I was lucky enough to see Patricia Cornwall talk in Harrogate, and on my way home I set up a twitter account as she had mentioned that she was a prolific user. That evening I was therefore able to see that bad weather had grounded her flight and she had to drive all the way to Heathrow to fly back to America, rather than boarding at Leeds Bradford. I found this ability to track her movements rather fun, but there is still a big part of me that feels this is bordering on stalking. I know obviously I can only see what she wants to put on but still it somehow feels wrong and rather creepy.

I bet the ability to track people’s movements is becoming more and more a part of the serial killers armoury.  It must certainly save them time, no more of that hanging around on street corners waiting for the victim to return. They can just check out a potential victims status whilst sat in the warm with a nice glass of Chianti and wait until they see posted ‘loving spinning class tonight, now time to hit the shower’ then have a leisurely drive round!

Another conversational topic at this particular lunch was of course books (you may have gathered that a lot of my conversations involve books, its not even limited to friends, people at work, strangers on the bus, I bore them all!) I’ve recently introduced Patricia Cornwell to my friend, in return they suggested Carl Hiaasen, describing them as comedy crime capers. Not someone I’ve read before, although I’m always happy to try new books. Unfortunately however, as he’s not on the list for the festival I may have to wait a while. Maybe I should contact Mark Billingham via twitter and ask him to invite Carl Hiaasen, I am after all his twitter friend!

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J is for Judgement

This week I watched ‘The Help’. I’m not really a big film fan, in fact most of my favourite films I still have on video they are that old but I read this book last summer so thought I’d give it a try.

The film was good, it was 2 and half hours of gentle story and didn’t need a lot of concentration, but it just wasn’t as good as the book. I remember reading the novel over a couple of nights as I really couldn’t put it down, and I found the whole thing incredibly moving, The idea that people could be treated that way purely because of the colour of their skin has always both enraged and fascinated me at the same time. That this happened in the 1960s at the same time as flower power and over 40 years after women fought for equality still amazes me.

The book also gave me hope that there are people out there who care about things other than their own materialism and greed. It doesn’t take money or power, it just takes courage. Everyone knows who Rosa Parks was, but do many people also remember Paul Stephenson who led a boycott of the Bristol Bus Company around the same time and persuaded thousands of people to join him?

Books are something that I think cross all boundaries. Books are available free at libraries, or the wealthy can buy the hardback versions, the blind have access to audio books or brail. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what judgements people might make, books can be accessed and read by all.

People tend to jump to the wrong judgements of people, as seen today in my street. The Hilda’s were out in force this afternoon (whats the collective term for a group of Hilda’s, a herd?) Hildas 1 and 2 were joined by Hilda 3 from up the road. The herd were joined by Howard the elder and Howard the Junior – being about 120 and 70 respectively – all because of a group of youths spotted hanging around outside.

Normally I would avoid all such herds whether young or old but one of said youths knocked on my door (I should point out here that the youth was actually the son of a friend of a mine and not some random stranger) These boys were very polite, completely non scary and there for no longer than 5 minutes (something to do with water balloons and the wrong kind of tap) but the street instantly assumed they were up to something.

 There is something of a fear of groups on our street. When I moved in I was warned about the gangs of youths that hang around down the road causing trouble. This is a big issue, although from what I have witnessed the biggest argument amongst these ‘youths’ was over one of them hitting the other one with their Fireman Sam lunchbox. Luckily the Mums stepped in to stop the riot before Hilda1 could call the police.

We all make judgements about people based on what they look like, its human nature. But that is where I think books are powerful. How many people pick up the Help (or watch the film) and are horrified anew by the way black people were treated and are reminded that racism in any form is wrong. How many people read Anne Frank’s diary and want to help fight injustice? How many children read Changes in Latitudes by Will Hobbs and become obsessed with animals and the plight of the sea turtles? (Ok maybe the last one is just me, but it is a fantastic book!) Books not only entertain, they educate, and education is the key to making sure history doesn’t repeat itself (in my opinion of course!)

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