Thursday, 29 December 2016

Most Wanted Crime Books of 2017

Woke to find myself on this terrific list, alongside many of my favourites. New books in 2017 from Denise Mina, Paula Hawkins, Chris Brookmyre, Jo Nesbo, Dennis Lehane, Benjamin Percy and more. Which books are you most looking forward to in 2017? Recommendations for my TBR pile, please!

Most Wanted Crime Books of 2017

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Quieter Than Killing now on NetGalley

Two of my favourite authors - Mick Herron and Alex Marwood - told me this week how much they loved my new Marnie Rome book. Thus making me very, very happy.

If you're registered on NetGalley, you can now request Quieter Than Killing to read, review and (hopefully) recommend. You may also like to pre-order it, which you now on Amazon and elsewhere.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Quieter Than Killing cover reveal

Delighted to be unveiling the cover for Marnie Rome book 4, which is published in hardback and ebook on March 9 2017. Do you like it? I love it!

Signed first editions will be available from award-winning Bookseller of the Year, Goldsboro Books.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Crawl Space welcomes Mick Herron

There was a time, and not that long ago, when I hadn't read any of Mick Herron's books. When I was a stranger to the allure of Slough House and its many denizens, yes, even to Jackson Lamb himself. Happily, I rectified that enormous gap in my thriller reading and am even now devouring Mick's latest, Spook Street, which is out on 9 February. Not only is this series up there with my all-time favourites, but it's solved my Christmas shopping in a single fell swoop; everyone I know is getting Slow Horses, Dead Lions and/or Real Tigers in their stocking this year. Welcome to Crawl Space, Mick.

SH: What’s the first thing you do when you sit down to write a new story? (Come out in a cold sweat, stare at the blank screen/page, sharpen a pencil, drink a gallon of coffee...) I’m guessing you have it all plotted out in advance, but maybe I’m wrong?

MH: I should know the answer to this, as I’ve just started writing a new book – almost literally, I mean; the day before yesterday – but it’s strange how much of the process remains impenetrable even while I’m in the middle of it. What was I thinking on Saturday morning, when I put the book I was reading (The Punch – Noah Hawley) to one side, turned my laptop on, opened a new file and began to write? I couldn’t say. I just knew it was time to begin. I’d been putting it off for days.

Except, of course, I’d already begun. When I claim to have started last Saturday, what I really mean is, that’s when I started writing page one. I already had half a notebook full of half-formed thoughts. And I already had a folder on my laptop – called, as all my new book folders are, “New book”, because I have a superstitious dread of writing down a novel’s title until it’s finished – and it already held nine files. The oldest of these (“Quotes”, created 9 January), contains snatches of dialogue and short bursts of prose which either never found their way into SPOOK STREET, or have occurred to me since. The next oldest, thrillingly enough, is called “Plan”, and sounds like it should contain an outline of the book, though what it mostly does is ramble haphazardly through a number of contradictory ideas transcribed from my notebook, which it then laughably tries to break down into a plot structure. It does include some useful guidance (“Make this bit funny”), but on the whole, you’d get more sense out of the scribblings on a serial killer’s wall. And the other files contain scenes, or half-scenes, or scrambled conversations between characters, some of which will end up in the book and some of which won’t.

And all of this rather scrappy preparation is a way of ensuring that when I do start, I’m not entirely looking at a blank screen. For example, the file called “Intro” contained a list of the words I thought I’d need when writing the opening two pages: these include [spoiler alert] “sunglasses”, “chickens – blood/feathers” and “stone”. And on Saturday/Sunday, I duly converted that list into 989 words of continuous prose.

Only about 89,011 to go.

SH: I’m now entertaining thoughts of Jackson Lamb running amok in a chicken coop wearing a pair of battered Ray-bans ... Does he whisper in your ear when you’re writing? I’m guessing you hear voices, like the rest of us. Which one is loudest, or do you have them all under control? 

MH: An entertaining thought indeed – thanks for that. Lamb bellows rather than whispers, I’d say. But he’s the only one whose voice I hear; the only one who can surprise me. I’m not going to get mystical about this: Jackson Lamb doesn’t exist, and the words ascribed to him in the books are my work, not his. But I often find that lines of dialogue that he’ll end up saying pop into my mind without warning, when I’m not actually writing. This might just be my own inner bastard trying to get free. There must be a huge liberty in not caring what other people think about you: it’s Lamb’s genuine unconcern that allows him to be a monster. Most of us filter our opinions. Otherwise we’d not hold down jobs.

The others don’t make their voices heard in the same way, but as the books go on, I find I’ve enough of a handle on each of them to drop into their tone of voice without much difficulty. It never takes me long to find Catherine’s pitch, for instance. She’s also the one I’ve the strongest visual image of. But one of the pleasures of writing about a large cast is adopting different points of view, and I get a kick out of that.

As for control, no character ever really takes over. But what can happen, especially in a series, is that keeping faith with the way a particular character has been established forces changes of direction. I’ve deleted lines in the past, or had to rethink a particular scene, when I realise that River Cartwright, say, wouldn’t speak the line, or perform the action, that I’d originally had in mind.

Having said all that, I had the uninvited image not long ago, while working on a non-Slough House book, of Jackson storming into a room wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and wielding a bottle of bleach. The why and how and where of it, I don’t know. But it’ll be a shame if it doesn’t happen.

SH: I’m very interested in what you say about tone of voice and finding a character’s pitch. Catherine is one of my favourites; you write her so well. I can’t resist asking how you get on with writing your female characters. I find it far easier writing Noah Jake or Tim Welland than I do writing Marnie Rome. Everyone’s always very surprised by that, but it makes perfect sense to me (ego vs. id). You’re writing all kinds of wonderful women, too, from your malevolent fire hydrant with the coke habit to the deliciously devious Lady Di. How easily do they spring to life? Do they need more, or less. coaxing than the male cast?

MH: Male novelists are praised for writing female characters more often than females are for writing males, aren’t they? But that’s par for the course. Most of those who’ve been acclaimed Queens of Crime – from Christie and Sayers to James and Rendell – wrote about male detectives for the most part, and I don’t recall this being remarked on much. But then, such choices were a reflection of the times in which they began their writing careers, when female police officers of a rank to be heading up murder investigations were rare, if not non-existent. So who else were they going to write about – women detectives? The male voice was the default setting.

But I digress, as the columnists say. My earlier novels had female protagonists, and I used to explain this by saying that it kept me on my toes as a writer. If I’m writing a male character, I don’t have to look too hard for a male response to a given situation, because such responses come ready-made; if I’m writing from a female viewpoint – and I always take my characters’ viewpoint, even though I don’t use the first person – I have to try harder, think more, write better. But I don’t know any more if that’s actually true. I like to inhabit all my characters’ minds, and I find Catherine’s the most interesting. Her alcoholism gives me something to hang onto every time I take up her story. I admire the quiet strength it takes to battle her demons: she’s not making a huge fuss, she just gets on with life, and rarely allows anyone to know the struggles she contends with. But it’s true, too, that she’s one of the only characters I’ve written whose origins lie in other people, so it’s possible there are levels of empathy there that I’m not able to access with the others. But the truth is, I don’t know.

With the males, it’s mostly frustrated pride they’re battling against – or, in Roddy Ho’s case, complete lack of self-awareness – so maybe I’m short-changing them as far as their inner lives go. In SPOOK STREET, though, a character turns up from an earlier novel, NOBODY WALKS. He’s suffering PTSD, and has deeper issues to cope with than some of the others, so I found writing his story quite absorbing. Damaged characters give the novelist more licence, as you’re well aware. You can take them places you’ve never been yourself, and wouldn’t want to go.

SH: I think sometimes you can ruin a character by digging too deeply into their character, either on the page or in interviews like this one. It’s one of the reasons I don’t have too many details about Marnie’s past or her taste in music etcetera; I want her to be a surprising voice in my head rather than a deliberate construct. And I write to find out the details and truth about characters. Curiosity is what drives me as a writer, and a reader. If it’s all there on the page (or in a notebook somewhere) I get bored. So I think your not knowing is perhaps why characters like Catherine are so very good.

There’s a certain character in your Slow Horses series with a blond fringe and a bicycle whom you describe as a ’public buffoon and private velociraptor’. Do you approach these sorts of characters differently to others? Part of the joy for the reader comes from recognition, but I imagine you’re walking a careful line between fact and fiction?

MH: As a writer, I entirely agree. I’ve held off delving into Lamb’s back story, for instance, because I don’t want to reduce him to an equation: that happened to him, therefore he’s now this. That’s not to say I won’t examine his origins at some point – the occasional blurry image presents itself, one of which I inserted into REAL TIGERS – but I’m aware of the risks that might involve, and besides, it’s his current self that most interests me. He’s not a bastard with a heart of gold, I’m quite sure of that. But he is a bastard with a moral code, however obscure it might be, and I enjoy discovering what sort of situations might trigger him into action.

And as a reader, I take enormous pleasure in seeing a character develop over a series of novels, especially when they arise from murky circumstances. What happened to Marnie Rome, for example, clearly colours what’s going to happen to her; the unanswered questions in her past cast shadows over her future, and the fact that you’re – at least in part – discovering the narrative arc at the same time as writing it must contribute to the suspense the series generates. The same is true of Harry Bingham’s Fiona Griffiths, who stands alongside Marnie as one of the most interesting and complicated protagonists in current UK crime fiction; a character who’s investigating her own past as well as current crimes. Her back story slowly comes to light in the course of – so far – five novels, and it’s a fascinating process.

When characters have their origins in real-world counterparts – which most often happens in satirical novels, I guess – the colour they’re shaded ultimately depends on the attitude their author has towards them. If he or she regards a particular politician, say, as a harmless idiot, then the fictional version will no doubt reflect that. But if he or she thinks a prominent public figure is in fact a self-serving, ethically challenged sociopath, well, that’ll probably come across in the writing too.

As for my “public buffoon” – you’re not seriously suggesting that anyone in public life remotely resembles this monstrous caricature?

SH: Good heavens, no. Can you imagine if there were actually monsters like that at large in the world ..? Can you talk a little about your new standalone novel? Or is it classified?

MH: Not classified, but difficult to talk about, because it’s structured in such a fashion that any detailed discussion will involve spoilers … But as my publisher kindly informed me: “You’re going to have to find a way.” So here goes. It’s called THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED. (titular punctuation: it’s the next big thing) and involves the recruitment of a young woman, Maggie Barnes, as an intelligence service asset. She works in a lowly position for a financial services company in London, a company that’s apparently a cover for a foreign power intent on disrupting the national economy, or even national sovereignty. She’s tasked with planting a bug in their internal communications system, a relatively simple job which goes horribly wrong. That, anyway, is the starting point. The plot undergoes some changes of direction.

It was written in a short, intense burst, and I hope will be read the same way.

SH: I love your heroines; really looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for sharing Catherine Standish and Jackson Lamb and co with Crawl Space. It’s been a genuine pleasure.

MH: For me too, Sarah. Thank you so much.

An Evening with Mick Herron is being hosted at Waterstones in Bath on 26 October. Tickets are free but you should reserve a place.

Mick's website is here, where he writes about being a commuter, chasing after Smiley, and why one of his ex-spooks is called River.

No Other Darkness published in Poland today

I'm very excited to be celebrating my second publication day in Poland, where readers have taken Marnie Rome to their hearts. The reviews (and sales!) are been just wonderful. Thank you, Poland! And huge thanks to my publishers, PoznaƄskie, who have bought Marnie Rome books 3 and 4, and are doing such a great job on my behalf.

Friday, 7 October 2016

A Stab in the Dark: new crime podcast for UKTV

Thrilled to be part of the first of these new crime podcasts, which shot up the iTunes charts on its release last week. Mark Billingham, Val McDermid and Kate Harwood talk about great characters, on TV and in crime fiction. I pitch in with a word or two about Marnie Rome, and whether men and women share the same ideas about what makes a 'strong female character'.

Listen here

On The Level: interview with Gaby Chiappe

I enjoyed interviewing Gaby and her co-writer, Alex Perrin, ahead of Gaby's appearance at the Killer Women Festival on 15 October.
Crime dramas have (too) often created a landscape in which to be a woman is to be a potential victim, and even more perniciously in which violence against women is sexualised. Gaby is a woman, Alex has a female parter and a female child – why would either of us want to create a TV world in which women are the victims and the bait?
Gaby will be talking Ann Cleeves and Douglas Henshall at the Serial Thrillers panel for Killer Women. Last few tickets remaining so book yours now!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Peaky Blinders, Sherlock & Killer Women - Crawl Space welcomes Natasha O'Keeffe

I've had my eye on Natasha O’Keeffe (Peaky Blinders, Sherlock, The Last Panthers) since I saw her in Channel 4's Misfits. For my money, she's the perfect person to play Marnie Rome: vulnerable, chameleonic and unknowable. I caught up with her to chat about her roles in two of my favourite TV crime dramas, Peaky Blinders and Sherlock. 

SH: Peaky Blinders seemed to sneak up on viewers as an underground hit (I’m seeing Tommy and Arthur tunnelling under the Beeb’s schedule to plant the explosives when no one was looking). How big a part do you think the women play in the show’s success?

 NoK: Yes, Peaky Blinders does seem to have sneaked up on the public, and then reeled them in quite quickly further down the line. I have heard a lot of people say they have been binge-watching it on Netflix and question why they hadn’t joined the Peaky party earlier! The show’s title gives away the fact that it’s about THE ‘peaky blinders’ who were a real gang in Birmingham in the 1920s. So it’s no surprise the show is centred on these men and their antics. The Peaky women are gangsters themselves, I suppose, but go about their business under the radar. They don’t need no razors in their hats! As much as I would love to don their spectacularly cool outfits and shaved heads of hair, it wouldn’t ring true to that time. But what does absolutely ring true throughout the show is the heartbeat of the Shelby family business being held together by these tough and intelligent women. I believe if you took the women away from the show, there would be no spine. Don’t get me wrong—more stuff for the women, please! Always! And I believe they’ll not stop there in future series … Perhaps they’re just warming up? That’s what I like to think.
SH: You’ve starred in two of British TV’s best crime drama hits of the last decade: Peaky Blinders, and Sherlock. And also in The Last Panthers which is set in Bosnia, Hungary, France and the UK. Crime dramas are winning gongs all over the place. Do you have a theory about why crime is such a popular genre?

NoK: This is a good question. I think it may be because it’s an interactive medium; viewers feel they’re participants in the unfolding of a crime, and that they’re figuring it out along with the protagonist. 

SH: Do you have a favourite ‘killer woman’ on TV?

NoK: I had to think hard about this one! Film seems to have more of an abundance of ‘killer women’. I can straightaway think of True Romances’ Alabama, and Uma Thurman’s Bride in Kill Bill as two of my top favourites. With TV, I find it trickier, but one that sprung to mind is Lol from Shane Meadows’ This is England. You feel such a raw empathy towards her and the choices she’s forced to make. Though not a natural born killer, she kills for survival and for sanity.

Natasha O’Keeffe tweets as @moussetash

The Killer Women Crime Writing Festival takes place on Saturday 15th October 2016 (9 am to 8.30 pm) at Shoreditch Town Hall in London. The full programme, which features Val McDermid (Wire in the Blood), Mark Billingham (Tom Thorne), and Ann Cleeves talking about Shetland (with Douglas Henshall hoping to join her) can be found hereFollow @killerwomenorg for news and scoops

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Tastes Like Fear in iBooks Bank Holiday promo

This weekend, you can grab all three Marnie Rome books for under £7 over in the iTunes store where Tastes Like Fear is down to £1.99 and No Other Darkness is just 99p.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Tastes Like Fear out in paperback today

Tastes Like Fear is out in paperback today with special bonus material including an interview with Noah Jake and an exclusive first peek at the opening of book four, which begins with *that* morning six years ago when Stephen changed Marnie's life forever. Do look out for it in independent bookshops, as well as the usual places, including WHS, Amazon, WaterstonesThe Book Depository (who give free shipping to the US) and the supermarkets including Asda who have it in a 2-for-1 offer with No Other Darkness. Go wild!


Monday, 25 July 2016

Tastes Like Fear director's commentary

Written for the WH Smith blog as part of this week's build-up to the paperback publication on Tastes Like Fear on Thursday 28 July.
Battersea Power Station, the best and most evocative of London’s derelict landmarks, plays a central part in Tastes Like Fear. I’d been wanting to write about it for a long time, and this is the story where it belongs.
On publication day itself I am reading at the Polari literary salon in the Southbank Centre from 7.30pm. Do come if you can, it promises to be a terrific evening.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Creative Thursday in Harrogate

On Thursday 20 July, Alex Marwood and I will be sharing our award-winning, bestselling crime writing secrets as part of Creative Thursday which kicks off this year's Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. It's going to be a great day and a great weekend. Do come if you can.

Details and tickets here

Friday, 17 June 2016

Dead Good Reader Awards

Thrilled to be on two shortlists for the Dead Good Reader Awards. Tastes Like Fear is contending for the Reader Recommends Award, and the Marnie Rome series is up for the Tess Gerritsen Award for best series. Much thanks to everyone who nominated me, and it would tickle me pink if you voted for me in these two categories. Thank you!

Full shortlists and voting here

Friday, 10 June 2016

Knocking on Highsmith's Door

The Sunday Times Crime Club has a link to my introduction to the new Patricia Highsmiths, as well as much else of interest to crime fans. Times Crime Club

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Patricia Highsmith's Gift for Killing

Here's a little feature I wrote for Virago's blog to celebrate the publication of their latest re-issues of Highsmith's novels.

Highsmith wrestled the descriptive ‘psychological’ from the broader tag of ‘crime fiction’ and for that we owe her a debt.

The new books, with beautiful new covers, are published tomorrow. The Two Faces of January is more complex and insidious than the film with Oscar Isaac. This Sweet Sickness is her most existential work. People Who Knock on the Door strips the pious veneer from suburban America.

All three are brilliant and brittle as only Highsmith's books can be. If you think heartsick unreliable narrators are a recent invention, you should and must read her.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Win CrimeFest tickets and signed copies of my Marnie Rome books

Two weekend passes plus £50 travel expenses to CrimeFest in Bristol, 19-22 May, are up for grabs over at Crime Files. Just enter your name and email to be in with a chance of winning.

Ian Rankin, Peter James, Sophie Hannah (and more) will be at CrimeFest 2016.

I'll be meeting up with the winner and signing the books in person.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Tastes Like Fear is Lovereading's ebook of the Month

And I'm delighted! You can read reviews, download an extract, discuss the book on Facebook and, of course, buy it. All here.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Tastes Like Fear - read an extract on the WHS blog

Yesterday was the launch of Tastes Like Fear, and my favourite book launch yet. In the lovely Toppings in Bath, with friends and family, answering questions about Marnie and signing a mountain of books. If you're buying a copy, do buy one of the cellophane wrapped, special signed first editions in stock at Toppings now.

Thank you to everyone who came last night, and those who tweeted, and sent message of congratulations and support. It was the loveliest evening in a very long time. And today I wake up to this exclusive extract over on the WHSmith blog, complete with banner and pull-out quotes and an intro that makes me blush.

Ah, WHSmith's! The hours I spent in there as a kid, breathing in that unique paper-glue-carpet scent that still greets you whenever you step inside a Smith's store, choosing the new pencil case for the start of a new school term, buying Malory Towers books in the summer holidays ... I want to wave back down the years to my 8-year-old self and smile hugely.

Read the extract on WHS blog

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Interview for the Bath Short Story Award

It was good fun to talk about writing, Marnie Rome, short stories and more with the Bath Short Story Award crowd.

The result is a terrific chinwag with links to all sorts of other things like my interview with Ian Rankin, and my advice on writing winning short stories.

Interview here

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Rooftop Book Club

In London and not afraid of heights? Do come and catch me and other crime writers talking about our books on 26 April. With goodie bags, and everything. Book tickets here.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Patricia Highsmith cover reveals

Virago has revealed the covers for the new editions of the three Patricia Highsmith books being published on 2 June with my introduction. It was such an honour to be asked to write this, and a privilege to have my name appearing on books written by one of my great heroes. The books are the perfect demonstration of Highsmith's range, each one dazzlingly brilliant in its own right. Do look out for them when they hit the shelves.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

No Other Darkness shortlisted for a Barry Award

Thrilled to report that No Other Darkness has been shortlisted for Best Paperback Original in the Barry Awards 2016.

Full shortlists are here. Congratulations, all!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Crazy, Happy, Cosy, Creepy & Sly — How Crime Fiction Defies Description

Whenever someone makes a sweeping statement about crime fiction I know they haven’t read very much of it. Even if you’ve only read half a dozen crime novels the chances are you’ve had a taste of the variety on offer in this genre, everything from cosy to crazy and back via barouche or Buick — hell, maybe even in the TARDIS.

 The latest sweeping statement made the daft claim that the victim is too often overlooked, a generalisation so broad it managed to discount almost every book written by female crime writers in the last century, along with vast numbers written by men. One of the things I love about my chosen genre is that you can’t pin it down. You just can’t. Its authors are writing about issues as wide-ranging as loss, morality, greed, slavery, alopecia, perfume, revenge, gardening, politic radicalism, gun-slinging, time-travelling, and frontier dentistry.

 It’s hard to think of another genre that welcomes cross-pollination to the extent that crime fiction does. We like our barriers pulled down, not put up. I think a lot of us are anarchists at heart. I know we’re interested in what urban explorers call edgework: finding the edges of society and pushing there, to see what gives. We’re also inquisitive, dissatisfied with easy answers, fascinated by the things that don’t quite fit, that threaten the status quo. We love difference.

 Crime fiction defies generalisation because it embraces diversity. Anyone who’s ever attended a crime writing festival will attest to this — with programmes that offer discussions on the morality of murder, on mental health, cyber crime, the clergy, stately homes and psychopaths. It’s a genre with awards that celebrate humour, longevity, newcomers, groundbreakers. And which encourages wide-ranging and often heated debates. Crime writers love a good ding-dong. We don’t speak with one voice, or adhere to one set of principles. Most of us love nothing better than arguing the respective virtues of, for example, the whodunnit and the whydunnit.

I suspect crime readers are the same. They’re after variety, and they like to be surprised; they have firm favourites, but they relish discovering new authors. No one’s in this for the sameness, or the safeness. Our genre’s great because it’s always unexpected. Here’s just a handful of crime novels that demonstrate what I’m banging on about:

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes has a time-travelling serial killer, but the standout characters are the shining girls themselves — victims who are the heart and soul of the story.

The Collector by John Fowles serves up an outstandingly creepy villain in the guise of a pettifogging bureaucrat (years before TV’s Being Human gave us Herrick) and it shares the story in equal parts between killer and victim.

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood makes us question the entire concept of ‘victim’ and the morality (or not) of how we judge those who break society’s laws.

 Plugged by Eoin Colfer is very simply very funny, fast-paced, laugh-out-loud villainy across the pond starring a hero who’s losing his hair.

The Glass Cell by Patricia Highsmith turns the notion of plot on its head by serving up the guilt ahead of any crime, making us question what we thought we knew about how crime novels work and what, if anything, they’re trying to teach us.

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor is a beautifully-told story poised in time as delicately as one of The Collector’s pierced moths.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas is gleefully unruly, delving into French history, urban legend and parenthood.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton is funny, wise, shocking and anarchic.

Unputdownable is a word often used to describe crime novels. Unpindownable should be another. Happy reading.

Originally published for Crime Reading Month 2015

Monday, 7 March 2016

First Monday Crime

Very exciting stuff is afoot at Goldsboro Books in London, who are about to launch a season of crime sessions on Monday evenings. I'm happy to be taking part on 9th May alongside Jack Grimwood, Christopher Fowler and William Shaw, with Jake Kerridge keeping us in line. Do come if you can. 

Friday, 4 March 2016

Killer Women: criminally good writing

I was never in the cool clubs at school. The girls who wore rugby shirts and Levis, and the ones with the shoulder-pads and pencil skirts, turned their noses up at me. The closest I came to street cred was when the punks let me hang out with them for a while. (Which was pretty damn cool, now I come to think of it.) Finally, however, it's happened. The coolest club in crime has invited me into its ranks  --and I couldn't be more thrilled. 

Killer Women is a group of London-based crime writers who write, talk, live and breathe crime. We run workshops, give interviews, organise events ... We have some nifty tricks up our sleeves for 2016 so sign up to our newsletter, follow us on Facebook and Twitter -- and stand by your beds for announcements that just might knock your socks off. And not a shoulder-pad in sight.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Get in Character with Marnie Rome #4

On 26 February, the CLIC Sargent Get in Character auction opens online and you have the chance to be a named character in Marnie Rome book 4 (which I'm writing at the moment). You might end up as a killer, a cop, a prison inmate or even a pal of Marnie's. Last year, Terry Waywell was the winning bidder and he appears in Tastes Like Fear, with a special mention in the Acknowledgements. The best bit? You'll be raising money for a really great cause.

CLIC Sargent works with children and young people whose lives are affected by cancer, providing emotional, financial and practical support to help them cope and get the most of out of life. Do join the auction, bid as high as you can, help a good cause and put yourself in my hands as I finish writing Marnie Rome book 4. And, if you don't fancy rubbing shoulders (alive or dead) with Marnie and Noah, there are lots of other authors lined up to take part. Last year we raised over £14,500. Let's beat that, this year. Thanks, everyone.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Tastes Like Fear 100 early copies from Caboodle

You can read the opening chapter online now, and enter to win one of 100 early copies of Tastes Like Fear from National Book Tokens via their Caboodle Firsts 'Next Big Thing' contest. Ends 10 March.

There's also a giveaway over on Goodreads who have 10 signed proof copies up for grabs. Ends 29 February.

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.