evseymour

Word on the Wire

Tag: Writers/Crime

PROMISES, PROMISES…

I like to think I’m pretty good at keeping my promises. If I say I’ll do something, I generally do it. Specific others may be forgiven for thinking, ‘Yeah, right’. By specific, I mean writers whose books I said I would read and review but, months on, spectacularly failed to do so.

I cannot blame it on Euro 2016 or Wimbledon – yes, I watched a lot of matches, but only in the evenings and at weekends. Crimefest is now a distant memory. (I read four fab novels in preparation – see previous post). Stonking family events are par for the course when you have a tribe the size of mine, so I can’t use this as a mitigating factor either. Have I been sunning myself in the sweltering heat or in foreign climes? Fat chance. Even my blog has reduced to once a month instead of once a week.

With regard to watching TV dramatizations and film, I confess that I’m guilty as charged.   Too many to mention, I particularly enjoyed, ‘The Five’, Harlan Coben’s superb and gripping thriller about a disappearing boy, ’13 Hours’, based on a true story about the secret soldiers of Benghazi, TV Western series ‘Texas Rising’, clue in the title, and (enjoyed is stretching it because of THAT scene) ‘Bone Tomahawk.’ So when not slumped in a heap at the end of the day, precisely what have I been up to that renders my reading for pleasure time minimal to non-existent? WRITING.

Aside from crafting reports for my day job in which I work with unpublished writers, and carrying out edits on ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ scheduled for publication in December 2016, and ‘An Imperfect Past’, in March 2017, I’m working on a brand new stand alone. I delivered the first 70k words only a couple of days ago to my agent to give her a steer.  There is still much work to be done to finish the novel.  Once this is ‘in the can’, I intend to honour my commitment.

In the same way I like to vary what I eat, I take pleasure from mixing up my reading. So, in no particular order, the following are first up on my menu: ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories, by Sarah Vincent, ‘In Her Wake’ by Amanda Jennings, ‘The Corruption of Chastity’ by Frank Wentworth, ‘Killer Plan’ by Leigh Russell and ‘The Locker’ by fellow Midnight Inker, Adrian Magson. Starters fully consumed, hopefully, I can move on to main courses that are already stacking up on my ‘to be read’ bookshelf.   Promises, promises…

 

 

 

 

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BEAUTIFUL BOOK LAUNCH

Book launches are unpredictable affairs. You can promote and tweet, blog and bleat but every writer realises that folk are busy, have commitments even if it’s slumping in front of the TV with a glass of wine or block of chocolate at the end of a busy day. Those who would love to come often live in different parts of the country so that’s another factor to take into account. Throw into the mix that the official launch of ‘Beautiful Losers’ coincided with the Referendum – what were we thinking, you may ask – and, by rights, it should have been a disaster.

BUT also throw into the mix the fabulous venue – none other than The Suffolk Anthology, the finest independent bookshop in Cheltenham – and the odds were already stacked in our favour for a respectable turnout. I’ve done a few of these types of events, but this rates as the sweetest. It wasn’t simply the environment or the glasses of fizz or the support of bookshop owner Helene Hewett for ‘Beautiful Losers’, but the people who took the time to turn up. I had a natter, if only briefly, with each and every one of them. It was a lovely warm occasion which probably explains why I was a lot more open than usual when giving a brief chat about myself and how I ‘fell into’ writing.

DSC_1508Oh, and as I’d hoped, not a single word was uttered about ‘you know what’.

 

FROM THE CRIMEFEST COALFACE

I went, I saw and, no, I didn’t conquer, but more importantly, came back in one piece. Restrained beyond belief, only one glass of Prosecco passed my lips after I’d done my final stint, and very good it was too.   Not that I feel smug. I was so wired on Friday night, I slept the patchy sleep of the inebriated – something to do with the strange alchemy that takes place when a collection of writers get together.   And this, for me, is the big plus of an event like Crimefest.

It’s such a smashing occasion to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and generally put faces to people you might only have conversed with on Twitter, Facebook or through email. It’s the one time you can stop being a loner and hang out with others who also spend the majority of their time travelling around inside their own heads. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary activity. It can become slightly obsessive and alienating so it’s good to chat with those who ‘get it’ because they suffer from it too.

But I wasn’t there simply to natter. The ‘Shades of Grey’ panel, with moderator (and surely, stand-up comedian) Kevin Wignall, and panellists Hugh Fraser, Emma Kavanagh and Coline Winette, had to rate as the most surreal of experiences.   It went down a storm with the standing room only crowd and I was still receiving comments about it over breakfast the next morning. Probably the least said about my risqué contribution, the better.

The ‘Obsession’ panel with Tim Weaver, Caroline Kepnes, Aga Lesiewicz, on which I moderated for the first time, was as tough as I expected it to be, which only goes to prove the incredible skill of those moderators who make it look dead easy. Fortunately, a terrific panel of highly intelligent writers came to the rescue as did the audience with a host of interesting questions.

So yesterday afternoon, punch-drunk with enthusiasm and conversation, I boarded the train to head back home.   Did I feel tired?   Absolutely. Did I have fun? You bet.

I’ve been gabbing about it ever since…

OBSESSION- MOI?

A couple of days ago, I finished the fourth novel for the panel on which I’m moderating for Crimefest. I’ll be honest, having never moderated anything other than rows between my five offspring, I was slightly concerned with – scrap that, obsessed with – doing the best job I could. Not for me simply cruising through websites or mugging up on reviews. I genuinely felt I needed to read the authors’ most recent work to get a handle on who they are, how they write and what they have to say if I were to stand any chance of asking interesting questions (rather than asking the obvious). Once I’d made that decision I do as most people do when confronted with something they have never done before: I phoned a friend. Who better person to turn to than highly experienced writer and moderator, Anne Zouroudi. Two of her tips immediately stuck in my brain: ‘When you read the novels make notes,’ and ‘Write more questions than you ever think you’ll need’. There was a whole lot of other stuff in Crimefest’s Moderators’ Manifesto, too, including the exhortation to ‘Relax’. Are they serious?! Anyway, the truth is, so far, it’s been a treat to do the spadework, which actually felt nothing more taxing than choosing which gorgeous plants to put in the garden, no expense spared.

With the title of the panel firmly in mind: ‘Obsession: A Thin Line Between Good and Bad,’ I steamed through ‘You’ by Caroline Kepnes, ‘What Remains’ by Tim Weaver, ‘Betty Boo’ by Claudia Pineiro and ‘Rebound’ by Aga Lesiewicz. Each book is quite distinct in style and approach and, if you haven’t already read one or all, I highly recommend you do so. And no, I’m not going to spill the shout lines other than to say obsession creeps in, in one form or another.

So all that remains is for me to craft a mighty list of questions and then ensure everyone gets a fair shout on the day. My intention is to make the experience for writers and audience as entertaining as humanly possible. It goes without saying that, if you can grab an opportunity to see us in action, we appear on Saturday 21st May at 11.20 a.m.

If this isn’t enough to whet your appetite, I’ll also be participating in ‘Morality, Justification, Excuses and Reasons – Shades of Grey in Crime Fiction’ with Hugh Fraser, Emma Kavanagh, Colin Winette and participating moderator, Kevin Wignall on Friday 20 May at 14.50 pm.

Crimefest is held at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel, and runs from 19-22 May. Don’t miss it!

 

 

 

 

 

TELLING FIBS.

I reckon that, however confident or self-assured, any author that claims to be relaxed when his or her book is published is telling fibs.

Imagine spending a year on a story, maybe more, crafting, cutting, researching, revising, and reworking. Oh yeah, and listening:

To your agent.

To your reading buddy if you have one.

To your other half if he or she dares.

Picture investing time and energy in characters that are as real to you as friends and family, only to bid them farewell, let them go and make their own way in the world. As with children, it’s only natural that a parent worries. We want out kids to be accepted. So too with books. This is especially important if, as I’ve done, a writer diversifies by writing in a different genre in which reader reaction is an unknown quantity.

Sarah Vincent, writer and good friend, wrote a brilliant blog recently, entitled, ‘Does Writing Make You Miserable?’ See her website: http://www.sarahkvincent.co.uk. In my case, honestly, no, writing doesn’t make me miserable, yet I’d be a liar if I didn’t ‘fess up to morphing into an unhinged obsessive the moment a novel is released. Tell me an author who doesn’t read reviews or check ratings, sometimes at hourly intervals, as if by simply looking one can actually influence a reader’s choice.

As if.

With so many books published daily, it’s no wonder that a novel can take a death-defying nose-dive one moment, only to ping right back up the ‘hit parade’ the next. All of this can take its toll on a writer’s nerves.

And I haven’t even started on reviews.

The fact is, no matter how many five star reviews a book acquires (and I’m talking independent reviews) it’s the one and two stars that a writer remembers, sometimes in gory detail. Critics, particularly of the armchair variety, can be cruel. I’d love to issue a lofty smile and say that criticism from any direction glances off me. It doesn’t. If you have a beating pulse and, trust me, in common with the rest of the population, writers bleed, a nasty remark, especially if it isn’t particularly constructive, can hurt like hell. What is one to do? Sometimes, once the sting abates, something will resonate and you can learn from it. Sometimes, it’s best just to ‘delete’. There is some truth in the adage, ‘No such thing as bad publicity.’

And the lovely remarks, the five star reviews, the general warm pat on the back from enthusiastic readers? I won’t tell fibs about that either. I absolutely love basking in the warm fuzzy glow.

My latest novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ is released in the UK on April 1st by Midnight Ink. If you’d like to hear me talk about the novel, tune into Nicky Price’s programme on BBC Radio Gloucestershire after 3.00 pm the same day.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

I am a huge fan of John Hart’s novels. If my house were burning down, ‘The King of Lies’ would be snatched from the flames. As we’re in Oscar winning mode, I’d definitely hand Hart a trophy.   Yes, I admire his work that much, which is why I picked up ‘Down River’.

‘Down River’ features Adam Chase, a young man exiled for a murder he didn’t commit. His stepmother, who originally testified against him, has very different ideas, and when Chase returns home, predictably, he isn’t made to feel that welcome. Especially as, no sooner than he touches base, the body count coincidentally rises.

These are the bare bones of the novel and you’ll have to get hold of a copy to find out what transpires but suffice to say, that, in common with much of Hart’s work, this is a story about family, betrayal, human frailty and unrequited love.

As Hart himself says, family provides a rich hunting ground for the writer. For it’s within the close confines of family that the greatest pain is inflicted and received, and the scope for treachery and double-cross boundless. In this regard, I was reminded of Phillip Larkin’s famous quote about what your mum and dad do to you: ‘They f***k you up…’ Hart’s complex characterisation and his portrayal of destructive family dynamics is observed with such acuity and depth of psychological insight, I was pretty convinced that he must have endured a troubled childhood. However, after reading Acknowledgements, I’m glad to flag up that Hart’s mum and dad, to whom he pays tribute, are wonderful, as are his in-laws, wife and children. It exemplifies even more strongly, if that’s possible, what a fine writer he is.

And it’s not just about the compelling nature of his storytelling. Hart is one of those rare writers whose sentences I’ll often read at least twice. Beautifully constructed, sometimes spare, his prose conveys how someone really feels about a situation, how someone would genuinely react. There is no artifice, no false emotion to suit the requirements of plot. Master of the complex up/down ending, there is nothing cosy or false about his final scenes.   Apart from encouraging any reader to buy John Hart’s books, I have one final word on the subject: Sublime.

‘Down River’ is published by John Murray

IT’S OFFICIAL

According to latest PLR (Public Lending Right) figures, crime fiction dominates lending in libraries.   Great news, but what’s also intriguing is that US authors lead the market in the lending field, with James Patterson reigning supreme. It’s been suggested that his short (sometimes extremely short) chapters hold particular appeal for readers who, in our time-sensitive, pressurised 24/7 lives, prefer to read a book in double-quick tempo and then (speaking softly) chuck it away. Hmmm.

Musing on this put me in mind of something Kazuo Ishiguro, (The Remains of the Day) said some years ago in an interview.   He questioned whether people read quite as many books as they claim. When I heard it I wanted to cheer because, although I read a lot of books, as you might expect, they are not confined to crime fiction. Are there gaps in my crime repertoire? You bet.

Let’s be clear, even if I weren’t a writer, I don’t consider reading a book a chore, degenerate activity or an excuse for not cleaning the kitchen. It rates as one of the most satisfying and pleasurable, occasionally challenging, activities on the planet. When I wrote book reviews for the Cheltenham Standard newspaper, I read a book a week (and I mean really read it, not skipped through) in addition to working as a freelance editor for Writers’ Workshop and writing my own novels. Despite this, for all the ‘must reads’ I’ve consumed, there are plenty I haven’t. Initially, this became apparent when I took part in my first crime quiz at a literary event almost a decade ago. Was I really this ignorant, I thought as I sloped off to the bar afterwards to bolster my wounded pride. To be fair, it didn’t help that the walking encyclopaedia of crime, author Martin Edwards, was on effervescent form that evening.   Anyway, determined to smarten up, I set myself a target to plug any glaring literary gaps. My self-imposed crash course included an array of contemporary crime novelists and, somewhat oddly and in a rush of blood to the head, Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, not exactly your average ‘easy reading’. Am I better informed now?   Hard to say because every year new and exciting novelists take the crime writing arena by storm and, of course, I have my favourite authors to whom I return again and again.   In this regard, Mariella Frostrup in her book programme once made a comment that resonated with me. She said that of all the books one reads, it’s hard to remember every storyline. For me, of all the books one reads only the best stories remain forever.

And they certainly don’t get chucked away.

YOU SAY ‘TOMATO’…

Remember that song flagging up the differences between US pronunciation and British?   (Clearly, not taking into account regional accents).   Well, I’ve been off-air because I’m busy editing not one, but two novels due for release in September and March next year with my US publisher, Midnight Ink. Added to edits I carried out last year for ‘Beautiful Losers’ (March 2016 release), it’s provided me with a fascinating insight into the differences between two nations, not just in terms of language but culture. According to my sharp-eyed copy editor, there were not too many unwieldy Britishisms with which she had to tangle and unpick but, even so, for smooth communication, there have been some.

Before I got cracking on the actual text, I corrected every single speech mark. We Brits tend to use single while Americans use double. I’d love to be able to say that with one flick of a button on my Mac I could magically make the transition without lifting another digit. Not so. Or, at least, not so as far as I could fathom. However there are distinct advantages to adopting a painstaking, if slightly anal approach, I got to pick up on pesky if minor grammatical bloopers. My excuse for having any bloopers at all – no, I’m not going to reveal which ones – is that I invested too much brio in the writing and not enough in the grammar. Moving swiftly on, the way in which we Brits talk to each other can sometimes pose problems for US readers who might take us a little too literally. There were the rather more obvious branding problems. Halfords is unknown in the US so I had to rely on a broader term. ‘Walking in crocodile’ confuses the hell and, when we talk about calling someone (as on a phone) Americans believe this means visiting in person. ‘Hooking up’ for a chat has a whole different meaning, involving sex – not what I wanted to convey at all.

While on sexual terminology, I received a genuine eye-opener. There is a scene towards the end of ‘Beautiful Losers’ in which my heroine, Kim Slade, confronts ‘the bad guy’. It’s a genuine ‘in extremis’ situation. She’s right up against it and she curses fulsomely and extremely offensively with a very Anglo-Saxon word. Let’s put it this way, it begins with ‘C.’ This is even more offensive in the States than here – completely unacceptable in most circumstances. Fortunately, Americans have their own plethora of profane terms. Would ‘Motherf**r’ do, instead, I enquired.

 

 

Sound The Retreat

Last weekend I watched ‘Thirteen Assassins,’ ‘Inglourious Basterds’ and ‘The Raid’.  All three films came with an 18 rating and it was easy to see why.  Some of the violence was toe-curling and had me reaching for the nearest cushion to blot out the view.  By the time I finished, my mind was swirling with Samurai, nasty Nazis and Jakarta’s most crazy panga-wielding gangsters.  It’s amazing how the vilest characters stick in the brain. 

     Monday, it was back to my clinical psychologist, Kim Slade, the main protagonist featured in my forthcoming novel ‘Beautiful Losers’; Tuesday and Wednesday, I concentrated on detectives from someone else’s, as yet, unpublished work.  Add this to a load of virtual friends and followers and, mentally speaking, you have the ingredients for the perfect psycho storm. 

     Fortunately for me on Thursday, I beat a retreat and took off solo for a twenty-four hour pre-scheduled trip to see family and friends.  It was more than ‘touching base’.  It was a chance for me to hear and listen to news, talk about stuff that matters and to focus on others, rather than on virtual others, and it put me in mind of a conversation I had with a writer some years ago before my novels were published.

     Generous with her time and advice, she also confessed that she’d far rather spend time with the characters in her stories than members of her family.   To be fair, the writer in question wrote family sagas so, perhaps, there wasn’t that much of a disconnection.  Had she penned dark tales of serial killers, drug lords and rapists, would she have been so keen, I wondered?

     The fact is, that if you’re in the writing game, it’s easy to get caught up with all those fictional folk and let real life pass you by.  New writers are often told to ‘get inside the skin of’ characters in order to make them as vivid and three-dimensional as possible.  It’s good advice and, therefore, no surprise, that people on the page can often seem more real than those with whom we live.  So where’s the problem?

     The nature of spending oceans of time alone with good guys and villains can have a strange, detaching effect and it doesn’t stop when the shed or study door is closed, the computer switched off, or the pen parked.  Even asleep, the brain continues to process that last scene, who did what to whom and why they did it, so that when you wake – my optimum time appears to be around 3.00 a.m. when I’m writing a novel – it’s as if you never said goodbye.  I’ve lost count of the times my nearest and dearest have told me, individually and collectively, that ‘you’re not really here, are you?’  Rumbled, I used to respond with a rough grunt of denial.  Next, I progressed to a smile of apology.  (After all, it’s no fun being with someone who has their mind on other, seemingly more interesting and alluring, pursuits.)  Nowadays, I like to believe I’ve struck a healthy balance, but it’s taken me a long time, years actually, to achieve it.   So what changed?

     Age probably has something to do with it and the realisation that, as loved as they are, fictional characters are no substitute for flesh and blood, friends and, even, foes.   Sometimes, a writer needs to beat a hasty retreat.