Thursday, 4 February 2016

Tastes Like Fear - new Marnie Rome cover reveals

I'm hugely excited to be revealing the new series look for Marnie Rome.

My editor Vicki Mellor and her team at Headline have done an absolutely amazing job, finding the right model for Marnie and dressing her for an exclusive photo-shoot, before creating these beautiful and compelling covers.

The new-look Someone Else's Skin will be on the cover of the books handed out on World Book Night on 23 April. Tastes Like Fear is on sale in hardback on 7 April.

Readers in the UK can enter a signed proof copy in a Goodreads giveaway that's running from now until 29 February.


Saturday, 9 January 2016

Crawl Space welcomes Ian Rankin

Not many crime writers will tell you, "I've never regretted not plotting," but when Ian Rankin says it, you pay attention. His Rebus series has been translated into 22 languages and is bestselling across continents. He consistently serves up the top plots in the business, makes twists and turns look like child's play, keeps readers guessing to the last page. And he does it without plotting. Sits down with no more than a page and half of notes and ... writes.

So of course I had to ask him how the dickens he does it. And to tell him how chuffed I am that he does, because I too prefer not to plot but it'd been making me feel a bit of a fraud. We got chatting on Twitter and, since we're both busy writing new books, of course we wanted to extend our chat a bit further. Here's what happened.

SH: Have you always winged it, or did you ever try plotting? I did, once. It involved an A3 pad and a lot of coloured post-it-notes. The result looked like a science project, and made me hate the story. I think writing it down, for me, does two things. First, it reveals too many weaknesses in the story which I then obsess over. Second, it bores me rigid.

IR: I have the feeling that if I knew what was going to happen in a story I wouldn't need to write the story. I know as little as my characters when I start. Their journey is mine. I did once plot a book (Sabbath Child) so completely that I never felt the need to write it…

SH: Yes! That's exactly it - knowing the story inside out, why write it? Okay, but have you ever regretted not plotting? What's the worse corner you've written yourself into, and how did you get out? I'm guessing it's not a problem you've had recently, if ever, but maybe I'm wrong?

IR: If something works for you as a writer, you tend to stick with it, so I've never regretted not plotting. I trust to the muse. I have a theme I want to explore or a question I want to try and answer, and I wait for the narrative (muse) to show me the way. Have I ever written myself into a corner? Not radically so. If I get a bit stuck, I talk it through with my wife. She reads a lot of fiction, including crime novels, so she knows the terrain. I also find that if I lie in bed late at night and think the problem through, especially just before sleep, that my mind starts to provide answers. Or I might be walking to the cafe of a morning and the answer arrives. We are all different in our approaches, I'd say. What works for me might not work for you. Writing is more art than science.

SH: My favourite thing about not-plotting is having a character pull the rug out from under me. What's the most surprising thing one of your characters has ever done?

IR: I've had characters die on me who weren't supposed to. The politician in Set In Darkness was supposed to be in three books. Halfway into the first book, he was already dead. The story demanded it. Oh well, I thought. On the other hand, Cafferty, Rebus's nemesis, was only supposed to be in one book, but he got beneath my skin and stuck around. 

SH: Cafferty got under readers' skins too, so that was a good call. Did you ever change who the killer was, by writing free-style?

IR: I'm not sure I've ever changed who the killer was, but I've had plenty of books where the identity of the killer only came to me twenty or thirty pages before the end. In fact, in The Hanging Garden, it was the second draft before I worked out who the killer was. The first draft had these blank spaces, to be filled in once I'd made up my mind. Reading that first draft helped me realise who had done it and why.

SH: And The Hanging Garden is almost impossible to guess before the reveal - obviously that's partly down to your evil-genius, but I bet it helped that you hadn't decided in advance who the killer was. I kept changing my mind about the killer in the final third of Tastes Like Fear because the story kept flipping as it hit that final stride. I always think that if we don't know the Big Reveal then we can't give it away. And writing to find out the answers is as close to our readers' experience of reading to find out answers as we can get. Do you ever envy plotters? I know I do, usually at the editing stage …

IR: Not having a clear idea of the plot makes for a nervy process. It's a high-wire act. Certainly would be nice, maybe, but it's not the way I've worked, and not doing it has always worked for me, if you see what I mean. So I just have to trust that all shall be well. I need to hand in a new novel by the end of June and right now I've got about a page and a half of notes. That's not so unusual. I know what I want the book to be *about* (in thematic terms), but the plot is as vague as ever. Re plotters, I remember James Ellroy saying he does 300-400-page synopses of his books. He needs to know everything before he starts. Seems to work for him! 
SH: know several who get it all down to within an inch of its life and then start writing. They spend about three times as long plotting vs writing. That would make me miserable. The writing is the best bit, for me. Are your readers surprised when they hear you don't plot? I imagine quite a lot would be, because most people think great twists can only be managed with great plotting.

IR: Yes, readers and interviewers often don't believe me. But then they never see my first drafts, which are chaotic affairs full of bracketed instructions to myself about what needs to be done in second draft now I've worked out what's going on! Second and third drafts tidy everything up, and make it look like I knew what I was doing all along.

Another thing, though not especially pertinent, is that I do the bulk of the research after the first draft, by which time I know what I need to know rather than what I might need to know. Speeds the process up!

SH: Excellent point about the research. I always retro-fit mine, to avoid time suckage. Do your bracketed instructions and/or notes include lots of questions for yourself and your characters? Mine do. I find having questions is better than having a list of scenes/beats etc. The real art is knowing when to answer the questions, of course, in terms of the story arc. I'm still fathoming that one.

IR: My first draft notes are more a kind of dawning: 'oh, *you* were in the hotel bar that night, so maybe it was you that found the room-key' - that sort of thing. I can then go back to early scenes (in the second draft) and place that character in the setting.

I keep saying we are all different, but your way of working seems quite similar to mine - maybe we are legion…

SH: I think there are more of us than readers realise, perhaps because the plotters tend to talk more widely about their methods? When I get asked how I wrote Someone Else's Skin I always feel I'm disappointing people with the honest answer ("I just sat down every day, and wrote"). I can remember really wanting to learn the science of writing a crime novel when I started out, but as you say there isn't one. It's an art. Plus a lot of hard graft.

I'm assuming you never had a 'series arc' for Rebus? That the answers to questions thrown up in early books weren't hidden in your notebooks for revealing in book 4 or 9? I deliberately don't answer certain questions because I want to be surprised by the writing. But I do get a bit edgy about dead-ending certain backstories, for instance, by saying so-and-so was in such-and-such a place at a certain time only to realise that a really good twist in book 4 depends on them having been somewhere else entirely. 

IR: Ah, that was something I wanted to bring up - thanks for nudging me. There was never a plan for Rebus. Still isn't. I know some authors who know what their next 3 or 4 books are going to be. I never know until about a month prior to starting what the next book might be about. For Even Dogs In The Wild I had the image of someone trying to shoot Cafferty, and I had the notion of a treasure hunt. That was about it.

Anyway, to return to your question, because Rebus book one was meant to be Rebus book only, I put in tons of elaborate back story, etc, all of which I then had to retain once I knew I was actually writing a series. Stuff like: father a stage hypnotist, brother a drug dealer, is scared of flying, etc. Oh, and I'd made him too old, which would come back to bite me.

SH: Spinoff series ‘Rebus Sr. Stage Hypnotist’. Final question's a bit of an odd one. Do you need to be physically slightly uncomfortable in order to write? I find I need to be a bit cold, or a bit too upright, or hungry. Then I promise myself the sofa and a gin when I hit 2,000 words for the day. I can't write if I'm too comfortable, either physically or mentally. (This one might just be me!)

IR: I need to be either in my office (spare bedroom in my house) or my retreat (house in Cromarty). I sit on a bog-standard chair, and my desk in Edinburgh was bought dirt-cheap in London in 1986. I've been suffering some back pain and have been told I should buy an ergonomic chair and an adjustable desk. Hmm. Maybe. But discomfort is nothing new to me. In France (1990-96) I wrote in a draughty attic with a calor heater for company. When we moved back to Edinburgh my 'office' was an alcove between kitchen and living room which also housed the washing machine and drying pulley. So, you know... Maybe if you're too comfy/cosy you write 'nicer' books! 

I never do a word count by the way. I know some writers do, and will stop when they hit a certain 'magic' number. Some days I'll do 10 pages (that's probably 3,000-3,500 words). Other days I might do 600 words or so. I do try and write every day once a book is underway, but the spirit can flag sometimes and soar others. I also don't revise as I go. I don't look back at anything I've written until I'm maybe 100 pages in. This means characters sometimes change names in the course of the first draft, but the second draft corrects all those things...


Many thanks, Ian, that was fascinating. And good luck with the new book; we can't wait!


Ian Rankin is the Featured Guest Author at CrimeFest in Bristol, 19-22 May 2016.

His latest book, Even Dogs in the Wild, is out now, published by Orion.

His website is ace, and he's brilliant on Twitter.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Tastes like Fear, and Happy New Year!


Happy New Year! I hope yours got off to a flying start. 2016 is already better than 2015 here in Bath, where the sun is managing to shine a little and the postman delivered this beautiful box of proof copies for Marnie Rome book 3: TASTES LIKE FEAR. It will out in hardback and on ebook on 7 April, with a different cover to the one in the picture but the proof copy gives a good idea of the new series 'look' for Marnie. I'm thrilled with it. If you'd like to be in with a chance of winning a proof copy then head over to my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter and look out for comps. If you'd like to pre-order the hardback or ebook, here's the link.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Flood auction in aid of indie bookshop

The Bookcase in Hebden was a victim of the pre-Christmas floods, losing all their stock and forcing the shop to close. In stepped Sam Missingham and RC Bridgestock, who set up an auction over on ebay to raise funds to help reopen and restock the shop. One of the books being auctioned is a signed copy of Someone Else's Skin - and the winning bidder will be put into a draw to win a proof copy of my third Marnie Rome book, Tastes Like Fear, which is out in April. So get bidding!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Someone Else's Skin and World Book Night

I'm very excited to be able to say that SOMEONE ELSE'S SKIN is a World Book Night title for 2016!

It's a genuine honour and a thrill to be part of World Book Night, which is just such a wonderful way to celebrate the power of words and of reading.

I'm chuffed to bits to think that Marnie Rome and Noah Jake will be meeting a whole host of new readers on 23 April 2016.


You can apply to be a ‪#‎WorldBookNight‬ volunteer here.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Introducing Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith, you may say, needs no introduction. But bear with me. Because I have some exciting news to share.

Highsmith is one of my writing heroes. I love her characters, her stories, even her misanthropy. Her books are on my all-time favourite reading lists. Her 1947 New Year's Toast have been words by which I've lived my writing life. I loved taking part in the panel celebrating her work at the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival earlier this year, with Peter James, Martin Edwards, Peter Swanson and Andrew Taylor.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I was invited to write an introduction to new editions of three of her books, being republished in style by Virago, who have done a simply splendid job of the recent batch including this beautiful cover for A Tremor of Forgery.

I was invited to choose from the list of yet-to-be-republished titles, and I picked This Sweet Sickness (one of my favourites), The Two Faces of January (recently filmed) and People who Knock on the Door (little known, but a true gem).

All three books will be published in June 2016. My name on three Patricia Highsmith books! The fan-girling starts here...


Saturday, 31 October 2015