April 07, 2014

Public Service Announcement

Tammy Moore from New Writing North, the writing development agency for the North East of England, has asked me to circulate the following info to anyone who's interested in crime writing - especially if you're based in the north. 

Crime Story

A weekend festival for crime writers and readers


Spend a weekend getting under the skin of a fictional crime with top crime writers, criminologists, lawyers, police and forensics experts. New Writing North and Northumbria University invite crime writers (aspiring or established) and readers to Crime Story – a weekend of discussion and workshops focusing on a fictional crime and how it would be investigated in real life.

Ann Cleeves, prize-winning author of the Vera Stanhope series (now a major ITV series) and Shetland Island Quartet series, has created a crime especially for this weekend. Throughout the Crime Story weekend criminologists and forensic scientists will give insights into how labs work, experts in policing will talk you through scene of the crime procedure and journalists will discuss the moral responsibility of reporting on heinous crimes. There will also be prize-winning crime writers at the festival – Louise Welsh, Margaret Murphy (AD Garrett) and Ann Cleeves – who will talk about how to incorporate the forensic facts into fiction. Participants will be guided ably throughout the weekend by author and former crime fiction critic for The Observer Peter Guttridge.

This is an unmissable opportunity for any lover of crime fiction, whether you’re an aspiring writer or want to dig deeper into your favourite, fictional world. To find out more about Crime Story, and to book your place, go to www.crimestory.co.uk.

I'm sorry I won't be able to make it because it looks like a great event. 

April 03, 2014

The Booktrap - a nice place to be caught.

I haven't posted for a while because I've been busy writing the next installment of Sam Dyke's investigations.

However, I have had time to get involved in the creation of a new site produced by writers but aimed at readers. It's called The Booktrap and it's been set up by writers from the Authonomy.com site. This site is run by publishers HarperCollins and is a place where writers can upload work for critique from other writers and eventually, if their work is popular enough, be read by the professionals at HarperCollins.

The Booktrap is an entirely separate undertaking, however, and includes a website promoting the authors' books and a Facebook page for general Facebooking stuff. Here are the links. Please go along and do the Liking thing.

The Booktrap webpage.

The Booktrap on Facebook.


February 06, 2014

James W Hall - the brightness of Going Dark

James Hall is a poet and professor of literature, and this literary background informs all of his books. Hit List was an entertaining examination of what exactly best-sellers did to become best-sellers, and Hall's knowledge of structure, character and dialogue are, as usual, well to the foreground in his tenth Thorn book, Going Dark.

January 10, 2014

Michael Connelly - is he guilty?

A long absence on this blog, folks, because I've been finishing a (non-crime) book and, you know, having Christmas and New Year and stuff.

So what's to report?

Well, I've recently read Michael Connelly's latest Mickey Haller book, The Gods of Guilt, and thought it was pretty terrible, actually. As with his Harry Bosch series, Connelly seems to be running out of steam. He relies way too much on exposition and not enough on placing us in the middle of the action. This is always a danger with court-room dramas, and writers have two possible options - one is to make the out-of-court story interesting in itself; the other is to make the examination of witnesses compelling and revelatory.

Strike out on both counts here.

Haller's storyline when he's not in court is essentially to track down and talk to witnesses. As we might have expected, he falls for an ex-prostitute who suddenly, without further ado, becomes his girlfriend and then vanishes into the background. There's a lot of time spent setting her up, and Haller's relationship to her ... but the next thing we know he's waking up in her bed and driving home. How did that happen? And what are the consequences? And what do his team members think of his sudden shacking up with an ex-hooker and potential witness in the current case? All it does is attempt to show Haller as a human being, but it actually portrays him as someone shallow.

The other element of his out-of-court activity is his non-relationship with his daughter, who's moved away from home and is living with mom. For most of the book Haller tries to get her involved in his life but she ignores him. And in the end, we don't care. We don't see or hear her and so the relationship has no life and we can barely feel his pain. The time he spends on hillsides watching her through binoculars as she plays field hockey just seems creepy. I suppose it's supposed to act as a counterpoint to Harry Bosch's relationship with his daughter but it doesn't work.

What can't be ignored, either - and hasn't been by many review critics - is the way the death of one of his team members is almost brutally ignored. The person dies (no spoilers) ... cut to next part, a couple of months later. No aftershocks, no emotional soul-searching, no change in behaviour. Given the way he used to be able to handle this kind of personal trauma in the Bosch series, it's a severe disappointment that he can't really deal with it more sensitively here. As a result, the book becomes eminently plot-driven, and the characters lose their reality - after all, they're just pawns in Connelly's hands and they have to do what he wishes. (There's a strange semi-postmodern game that he's playing with readers these days, too ... he has his characters refer to films made of earlier 'cases' - for Bosch, Blood Work, made into a film starring and directed by Clint Eastwood; for Haller, The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey. Their references to these films create a weird virtual world in which fictional characters talk about real films made from fictions. You feel a bit like Alice going down the rabbit-hole and not knowing which way is up.)

The second option open to legal thriller writers is to build up the courtroom drama itself - something at which Scott Turow, for example, excels. In this book, unfortunately, Connelly shows us Haller questioning a lot of witnesses on the stand, but he has to keep telling us what's important about the testimony, because he assumes we don't understand. OR, what happens is so predictable (again, no spoilers) that we sigh when the plot-twist arrives. There is a major turn at the end of the trial, but this is so extreme and, really, so out-of-character for the person involved, that it just seems silly.

A symptom of how badly Connelly has misjudged this book is in the title itself: The Gods of Guilt. Haller tells us this is his name for the jury in a trial, because they're the ones who'll determine whether the accused is guilty or not. Well, OK ... but it's such a crap name for them I can't imagine anyone speaking the words out loud. But Haller does, on several occasions, and it just sounds lame. He'd just call them 'the jury', surely? Calling them Gods does them no favours and doesn't elevate the book to any kind of meditation on the justice system and its good or bad points, which is perhaps what he was intending.

I used to really look forward to a new Connelly. Now I'm starting to open the books a little more gingerly and hope he can get back to the standard of The Poet or The Narrows. Though I'm not holding out much hope.


November 12, 2013

Has Bond sunk Solo?

I've recently finished William Boyd's attempt at a James Bond novel, Solo, and pretty thin fare it is.
It pains me to say this, as I've been a fan of Boyd's for a long time, probably since Brazzaville Beach. He picks diverse subjects to write about and his style is straightforward and without too many literary flourishes, though he's always been regarded as a posh novelist rather than a commercial one, I think.

October 21, 2013

Online Crime-writing Workshop

I don't usually respond to advertising requests - well, all right, I do - but I thought this was interestingly and directly relevant to the topic of this blog, which is about how crime writers do what they do.

Carrie King from WritersWebTV has written to me asking if I would promote this event and I think it's interesting enough to warrant further publicity. Rather than try to paraphrase it, I'll just paste the main text of her email:

Crime’s best writers give you the scoop

Best-selling crime authors Ken Bruen, Jane Casey, Declan Hughes and Niamh O’Connor will be joining WritersWebTV on October 30th, ready to arm aspiring authors with all the best writing tips, tricks and methods at the upcoming workshop, Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction.

Multi-award-winning Ken Bruen - the author of the Jack Taylor series which has become a TV hit starring Iain Glen – will talk through writing great hook-lines and how to develop characters across a series. Jane Casey, author of the Maeve Kerrigan series of crime novels will guide participants through the basics of narrative and plot. Declan Hughes - author of the Ed Loy PI series - rigorously plans his writing and he’ll be giving his insights on how to plan for your novel while being open to new sources of inspiration. Niamh O’Connor, one of Ireland’s leading crime journalists, will lead us through the research process and crack the code of juggling family, writing and a day-job.

This free-to-watch-live, online workshop will cover all aspects of crime fiction and viewers will be able to interact with those in studio to help them develop their skills. WritersWebTV has developed a world-first innovation in online education for writers by providing livestreamed interactive workshops to a global audience, featuring Irish and international best-selling writers and industry professionals.

The one-day workshops are streamed live from a multi-camera broadcast studio in Dublin. Bestselling authors interact with an in-studio audience of aspiring writers, who present their work for critique. Online viewers can communicate with those in the studio using Twitter, Facebook or email. They can ask a question, take part in a workshop exercise, comment online and benefit from on-screen feedback from the authors in-studio.

Led by experienced workshop facilitator Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of writing.ie, the panel will consider the key elements of fiction writing and furnish viewers with tips, advice and actionable insights to help them improve their writing and get it on the path to publication.

Upcoming courses include Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction on Wednesday, October 30th, and Getting Published on Saturday, November 9th, with plans in motion for courses in 2014.


Viewers can watch the full one-day workshops for free when they watch them live. If they want to download a workshop or watch it later, they can pay to keep the course.

For more information, contact:
Carrie King
WritersWebTV
Tel: +353 1 2076476
Mob: +353 87 9918963

October 13, 2013

Awesome Indies

Not really a blog, more of a boast ...

I'm proud to say that Actress has been accepted by the discerning crowd at Awesome Indies, and is officially 'Approved' as an awesome independently-published work. A book has to go through some hoops to be allowed into the lists, so it's particularly gratifying Actress made it through.

You can find the site, and the list of books that have attained an excellent standard in writing, editing and production, here: http://awesomeindies.net/

Actress is in the Contemporary Fiction section. To the right of this page you'll see the badge, which will also be appearing on the cover of the ebook version.