Thursday, 30 December 2010
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
But in the end I answered: the middle. The beginning of a book is exciting, because it is a fresh start. And you always think you are about to write the most amazing book ever.
And the end is exciting, because it’s nearly finished, and you can see how the whole thing looks.
But there is a chunk in the middle, between about 40,000 and 60,000 words, where it is all a bit of a slog. It’s then you need to dig deep to find the will to get it finished, and not to get distracted.
I’m there right now with ‘Ice Force’. Getting up to about 60,000 words though, so hopefully after Christmas I’ll be into the home straight.
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
It’s easy to lament the sad truth that real talent so often goes unrecognised by decision makers in the industry, but sometimes it’s wonderful to celebrate talent for its own sake. Recently invited to judge a short story competition I was blown away by the standard of writing submitted. There are so many talented writers around most of whom will never reach the dizzy heights of publication. (Believe me, it is a very dizzy experience – you can read about the rollercoaster ride of being published on many author blogs, my own included.)
Yes, it’s great to be published, but the real buzz is writing. Anyone passionate about writing knows that visceral excitement when you write words that perfectly convey your meaning. There’s a magic to it that no publishing deal could ever match. Yes, it’s fantastic to be paid for doing what you love doing, and to have the financial validation of experienced publishers. But writing is the real joy.
And writing is a great leveller; you never know where it might take you. As an established author with two bestsellers to my name, I’ve been invited to run a workshop at Get Writing hosted by the University of Hertfordshire, just eighteen months after my first book was published. A lot can happen in less than two years!
A conference like Get Writing is exciting because we will all be rubbing shoulders together - published authors, aspiring writers, serious students of writing – all writers and all passionate about writing. And this time next year, any one of us might have a bestseller on the shelves.
I’ll be sharing some of my tips about how I write my bestselling books at my workshop, because the lure of making money from writing can’t be ignored. But it’s really a red herring. As a character in Get Shorty says, “I once asked this literary agent what kind of writing paid the best. He said, ‘Ransom notes.’ ”
So my advice to aspiring writers? Don’t let the desire for a lucrative publishing deal override the joy you find in writing. If you do, you might as well be penning ransom notes – (something no one in their right mind would ever do, I hasten to add!)
Friday, 17 December 2010
Friday, 10 December 2010
If you’re like me, the next couple of weeks aren’t usually that conducive to writing. Does a writer truly take a break though? Even when you’re traversing the high street and frantically trying to find some inspiration for gift ideas, the imagination has a sly habit of skulking back to any unfinished creative business.
Mine does this all the time - when I’m sleeping, when I’m eating and when I’m (meant to be) socialising. Subconscious thought is often a very good way of solving a problem or refining an idea. It’s frequently better than trying to focus a hundred percent and I’ve found that, after a night of my brain chewing something over, I often wake with the solution to a problem I spent the day before trying to solve.
To use another worn metaphor – it’s like that swan gliding along the surface of the water while underneath its flippers are paddling furiously.
Whether you like Christmas or not it’s full of the sort of diversion that will allow your brain to function in a way it probably doesn’t the rest of the year. Daily routines are changed and thought patterns get a different work out to normal including that classic reboot method of systematically attacking them with alcohol.
It is good to get away from the keyboard, if only for a few days of gluttony, and the start of a New Year is a great way to reflect on what you’ve done and what you’d like to do.
I do enjoy Christmas and will dutifully immerse myself in its excesses purely because of the above. The more I enjoy myself, the better start I’ll have to my writing year.
I’ve convinced myself – how about you?
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
One of the things you have to do as writer is create a believable atmosphere. Books vary, of course. Some are set in very, ordinary everyday locations -- the suburbs, for example. I like to set my books in fairly exotic places. I think that is part of the appeal of the adventure-action thriller genre. There is a big element of escapism in these books. Nobody wants to escape to Swindon. They want the book to take them somewhere exciting, and preferably dangerous as well.
That does, of course, mean the writer has to create believable detail. You need to make it real, without overdoing the travelogues. The best way is to focus on little things. When I was writing about Helmand in Afghanistan for Death Force, for example, I mentioned the smell of the wild irises that grow in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border. In Ice Force, I’ve mentioned the grinding noise that the plates of ice moving beneath you make as you trudge towards the North Pole.
The atmosphere has to be woven into every sentence you write.
And, of course, it helps if it is snowing outside while you are doing it.
Monday, 6 December 2010
In unusual circumstances, books can be published within weeks. Michael Jackson’s biography was clearly prepared in advance and given regular updates, right up until his death at which point I seem to recall there was a race to be the first to have a book on the shelves.
For most authors, the process takes longer. There is a time lag between delivery of the final manuscript and publication. So the manuscript for Road Closed was delivered in December 2009, if I remember correctly, for publication in June 2010.
Addicted to writing, I started on Dead End as soon as Road Closed was finished in December 2009. By writing I refer not simply to the secretarial task of committing words to paper or screen, but also to the thinking, research and editing that go into producing a book.
A year has passed and YESTERDAY I sent Dead End to my publisher! The story that has dominated my thoughts for the past year is now out of my hands. Finished. Handed over. Delivered. Submitted. Gone.
Am I pleased with what I have achieved? Am I excited about the publication of my next book? As is so often the case, reality is very different to my expectations. So yes, I would have expected to feel happy at delivering my manuscript, but in reality a word like terrified might be closer to how I’m feeling right now!
True to form, I’m already working on my next book. The final manuscript is due with my agent in a month’s time, so I’m currently working on final edits for the book that follows Dead End. I’ll have to wait more than a few weeks to see that one in print but, in the meantime, you can guess what I’ll be doing... yes, the killer in my fifth book is already clamouring to be heard.
The last thing I want to do right now is think about Dead End, as it is prepares to be launched into the public domain, to run the gauntlet of reviews.
While writing is fun, I am beginning to realise that being an author is a serious business.
Friday, 3 December 2010
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
What does worry me is that the publishing industry might repeat some of the mistakes of the music business.
In The Bookseller today, Richard Mollet, the chief executive of the Publishers Association, is demanding that the Internet Service Providers should be clamping down on piracy.
This is the wrong route.
With my other hat as a business journalist on I’ve written a lot about the decline of the big music labels. What they got wrong was trying to sue their main customers – the music fans who download music. But a business can’t constantly be treating its customers like criminals. It doesn’t make any sense.
Interestingly, the music business is in pretty good shape. Total spending on music, when you add up CD sales, licensing fees, downloads and live performance earnings, has been going up over the last few years. It’s just the old music labels that have been struggling – largely because they couldn’t figure out how to deal with a changed market.
I hope the publishers don’t end up going down the same road.
The story-telling business is in good shape, even if the delivery changes. But attacking our customers is not the right way to respond.
Sunday, 28 November 2010
When I was a student (a very long time ago) I remember learning about the Pathetic Fallacy in literature, where natural events reflect human experience. It seemed to involve a lot of bad weather: Lear, a former king, naked in the tempest; storms at times of emotional turmoil in Thomas Hardy.
I was thinking about the pathetic fallacy while driving into work this morning in ominous weather. I don’t enjoy driving in the best of conditions and at this time of year I always start to feel a little nervous. What if the roads are icy and my car skids...?
This kind of anxiety may be pathetic in a different way, but being a worrier probably feeds into my writing and I wonder if a tendency for Shakespeare’s “horrible imaginings” goes with the territory of being a crime writer. Readers often ask how I think up plots for my crime novels and the answer is simple; I start with a ‘What if...?’ question, imagining a worst case scenario.
Let’s say you work in an office. One evening you are the last person to leave. As you are going to bed you recall leaving your mobile phone on your desk at work, so you go in early next morning to arrive before any of your colleagues. Entering the office you discover a dead woman sprawled on the floor. Only a few people have keys to your office, and no one admits to knowing the murder victim.
This raises a number of questions. Who is the unknown victim? Why was she killed? You were last out at the end of the day and first in next morning - does suspicion fall on you? How do the police find the killer? If you write answers to the many questions raised by the body in the office, a basic crime thriller will virtually write itself.
Of course it’s not that simple. It takes a certain type of imagination to develop a starting point like this into a plausible novel with intriguing plot twists and convincing characters, and this requires a lot of thought. So life as an author can be hard work. Following the writing itself comes the need for promotion, and success has imposed increasing demands on my time until there are times when I watch my life slipping out of control, like a car on an icy road...
As for the road ahead, if anyone had predicted sixteen months ago that I would have two bestsellers to my name by now, one of them shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award, I would have laughed. So I’m taking my journey as an author one day at a time. Who knows what the future holds?
At least my car didn’t skid this morning - although if there was any ice on the road I wouldn’t have seen it through the dense fog up ahead...
Leigh Russell is the author of the Geraldine Steel series
CUT SHORT (2009)
ROAD CLOSED (2010)
DEAD END (2011)
Friday, 26 November 2010
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Still, the Telegraph had an interesting survey to mark the occasion. It found that freelancers were on the whole happier than people who had jobs. Not very surprising, really. If you consider that most jobs consist of some idiot shouting at you all morning, then getting a terrible, over-priced sandwich that tastes like mouldy cardboard, with some bloke you’re only friends with because he happens to sit next to you, and then spending the afternoon in a crushingly dull meeting, it is surprising that us freelancers aren’t even further in the lead.
Its ten years now since I had a job in an office, so I’ve spent a decade now sitting around at home writing stuff. It takes a lot of discipline, of course. You have to get up in the morning and crack on with your work. You need to set yourself targets and deadlines.
And it has it ups and downs. But when you hit a down it is worth remembering that you are a lot happier than you would be in an office.
In fact next year I might even celebrate National Freelancers Day – possibly with a plate of foie gras and a glass of Bordeaux at my desk.
Friday, 19 November 2010
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
So what would my advice be?
First, learn about structure. Thrillers are very mechanical. They need great engineering. They are a bit like cars in that respect. They can look beautiful, but if they don’t work properly, then what’s the point (unless it’s a Jag, of course, in which case we’ll overlook the fact it doesn’t work).
So the most important thing you need to do is learn about structure and pace and plot. For my money, the best way to do that is to take an early Frederick Forsyth novel, and go through it again and again until you have learned absolutely what he is doing. Then do it for yourself. It’s a bit like taking a BMW apart, then re-assembling. If you do that enough times, you will figure out how to make a car. Same with a thriller.
Next, get with the times. Thrillers are stories of events. They reflect the world around them. So don’t write an old-fashioned Cold War spy thriller. Think about private military corporations (my subject). Or financial conspiracies. Or Iran. Or piracy. But make it something now and fresh we haven’t read about before.
Okay, that’s two pieces of advice – but both valuable.
Sunday, 14 November 2010
On the spur of the moment we once went to visit a public gardens that turned out to be closed. Having travelled so far, we decided to drive on to the nearest town. As we drew level with a sign welcoming us to Milton Keynes, my mobile rang. My daughter was calling because she was bored waiting for a train in... Milton Keynes. I can’t recall the purpose of her visit, but like ours it was an unprecedented trip to Milton Keynes and neither of us had known of the other’s visit beforehand. It was fluke that we chanced to be there at the same time, and discovered we were there together before either of us left.
I could tell you a few more coincidences that have happened to me - although one is so strange that I wouldn’t relate it here for fear of being dismissed as an advocate of impossible supernatural events. It really was that unlikely.I’m not alone in this. Most people can recall at least one astonishing coincidence they have experienced. How often do we introduce anecdotes with the words, ‘You’ll never believe what happened!’ But of course we do believe the story that follows, because it’s true.
So how is it that real life can throw up such coincidences with impunity when my editor warned me early on to avoid coincidences in my writing because ‘Readers don’t like them’?When writing my crime thrillers I try to make them believable, researching small details to create a convincing illusion so my readers ‘buy into’ the world of my book. I’m pleased to come across epithets like ‘plausible’ and ‘authentic’ when reviewers comment on my fictional forensic science. (It should be authentic. My advisers range from an experience medical practitioner to a professor of forensic medicine, and even the human remains department of the Natural History Museum!)
And I spend time working out how my detective can come across an essential piece of evidence without any unlikely coincidences which my readers might find unbelievable.So it annoys me intensely that real life can be completely absurd and ridiculously far-fetched when we authors can’t take similar liberties. It’s just not fair!
Friday, 12 November 2010
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
I’ll be taking part in a couple of the upcoming discussions. But I think the first in the series looks really good: ‘Why Do You Read/Write Thrillers’.
It’s a fascinating issue for any writer. I mean, obviously I love thrillers. But I don’t only love thrillers. There are loads of different kinds of books I really enjoy, and I would be just as happy to write.
In the discussion, I think Todd Ritter gives the best answer when he says: “Reading a thriller that makes my pulse race takes me briefly into a world of danger and fear and excitement that I won’t experience in real life. It’s an escape and, well, a thrill”.
Still, that is more of an answer to the question of why you read thrillers rather than why you write them.
For me, I think the answer is that the thriller is such a great canvass. They are widescreen stories. They have action, characters, jokes and drama, but they can also take in politics, economics, war, technology, and international relations. They are very outwards looking books, which weave stories out of current events, but which also, at their best, are timeless. Other genres tend to be much smaller scale, rooted in one place or time.
But I guess every thriller writer will have a different answer to the question.
Sunday, 7 November 2010
Recent figures show the number of active library users has dropped by over 2% while visits to library websites increased by almost 50 per cent. In 1849 William Ewart introduced a Public Libraries Bill. Conservatives objected, concerned that the middle and upper classes would pay for a service used only by the working classes. One MP announced "people have too much knowledge already: it was much easier to manage them twenty years ago; the more education people get the more difficult they are to manage.” Nevertheless the Public Libraries Act was passed in 1850.The 19th century MP who complained that reading makes people more difficult to control had a point. Setting aside powerful arguments about the arts, culture and the advancement of knowledge, reading is essential if we are to have a population able to think for themselves. Because reading gives the individual access to all the information (and misinformation) in the world.
Over the past four centuries we have established a largely literate society in the West but literacy is losing its appeal. Today’s children feed their imaginations playing interactive games where their parents’ need for stories was supplied by books. We have the technology to move towards a largely post-literate society. All the text we need can be recorded with voice activated software for a listening audience rather than a readership. It’s easier. Already we access much of our knowledge from the television or online, and we see more stories on the small screen than the page.
But watching or listening to stories or information is a very different experience to reading. Apart from the argument about using imagination, when you’re reading you can speed up, slow down, pause to reflect, reread and refer back to an earlier passage. There is no one else’s voice to influence or interpret the meaning of the words for you. As reader you control how you read and interpret the words for yourself.All of this makes books not only valuable but “an essential part of having and educated and literate population” as Wikipedia puts it. So it is worrying that libraries are not mobbed by people wanting to access free books.When Britain’s first public lending library opened in Manchester in the mid 19th century it was seen as an event so significant for literacy and democracy that Dickens visited, saying this was an institution “knowing no sect, no party and no distinction; nothing but the public want and the public good.”
He would surely be turning in his grave to know that libraries are losing their popularity. If enough people lose interest in books, we risk losing our independent access to knowledge and even our ability to think for ourselves.
Friday, 5 November 2010
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
So is it better for writers to rattle out a book fairly quickly? I certainly think there is something to be said for it, particularly when you are writing thrillers. They are by definition pacey books. A sense of speed is one of the things that readers like about them. Like roller-coasters, they need to be designed to go very fast, and have lots of twists and turns. It is easier to create that kind of breathlessness when you are working at high speed yourself.
That said, you don’t want that to turn into sloppiness. The other key element of a thriller is structure. And that takes time to build. There is nothing worse than reading a book that is all over the place, because the writer hasn’t taken enough time to construct the plot, or do the research.
My own solution is to spend ages on the outline – the structure – but then to write pretty quickly. But I’m sure every writer has their own approach.
Friday, 29 October 2010
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
by Matt Lynn
Jane Austen has been getting some flak in the press, although I guess she can survive it. An academic has been studying her letters, noted how confused they are, and how different they are from her books, and concluded that her editor must have done a lot of re-writes on her books.
That story got lots of play in newspapers, and on the web. For some reason, people like the notion that authors don’t really write their own stuff, and there is some team of the people in the publishing house who actually put the book together
But anyway, whoever came up with this piece of research obviously knows very little about how writers actually work. There is a big difference between the writing we do for a living, which on the whole we take very seriously, edit and polish and worry about, and the writing we do like everyone else, which is dashed off without much thought.
Now obviously I don’t have much in common with Austen. I’m better at tank battles, for starters. Plus I’m still alive. But my e-mails, letters, Xmas cards, and indeed blog entries might well lead you to conclude that I couldn’t possibly have written my books either.
But, of course I did. And so, of course, did Jane Austen.
Friday, 22 October 2010
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Friday, 15 October 2010
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Most of it is exploration stories, and its useful for the atmosphere, and survival techniques. But not much has been written about Arctic warfare. Eventually, I stumbled across a book called ‘We Die Alone’, which was written in the early 1950s by David Howarth. It tells the story of Jan Baalstrud, a fairly ordinary Norwegian guy during the Second World War. He signs up with the British Army, and is sent on a commando mission into the far north of Norway. It goes terribly wrong from the start, the rest of his unit is killed, and he has to trek a massive distance chased by Nazis to escape.
The brilliance of the book is in its descriptions of Arctic warfare, and the endurance and fortitude of its hero. And it reminds you of what an extraordinary conflict WWII was, and how many ordinary people were caught up in extraordinary events.
The scene where Jan saws off his toes with a bread knife and a bottle of brandy to prevent them getting frostbite is memorable.
It’s now been reissued, with a forward by Andy McNab – and highly recommended.
"Road Closed is the second crime novel by Leigh Russell, featuring Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel. We were first introduced to Steel in the gritty and totally addictive debut novel, Cut Short, and once again Russell is in top form with this new crime thriller...
Like all good crime and thriller writers, Russell gives us just enough morsels of information in each page-turning chapter to whet our appetites for the bigger banquet at the end of the book. Road Closed is a gripping, fast-paced read, pulling you in from the very first tense page and keeping you captivated right to the end with its refreshingly compelling and original narrative. The rapidly building fan base of Russell and Steel will be on the edge of their seats waiting for the next installment, tentatively titled Dead End..."
Friday, 8 October 2010
By Richard Jay Parker
The rabid beast has been loose again. You know the animal – the one who takes large bites out of mornings, afternoons and evenings when you’re at the keyboard.
It’s been my unwanted guest since I was a teenager. Every time I move home I can’t leave it behind.
It’s lying in the corner at the moment looking sated. It should – it’s just eaten most of my morning. I never see it feed. One moment I’m looking at the clock in daylight and anticipating how much work I’m going to get done. The next moment a huge chunk of the day has been gobbled up and the cursor hasn’t made it anywhere near the page number I wanted it to.
I’m looking at it now and it’s just scratching itself. When I look away to my screen though…
It seems to get extra hungry during rewriting. Polishing paragraphs is like ringing one of Pavlov’s bells. It ran off with a whole week once but its ribs were still rattling on Monday.
Currently its menu comprises of:
Catching Up With Emails
Funnily enough, when I want it to feed, the beast is nowhere to be seen. When I have a glut of time and I’m waiting for the phone to ring about the project I’ve been working on it immediately loses its appetite and scavenges elsewhere.
But it really chows down, really gets its snout in the trough when I’m writing.
Doesn’t matter how its furtive feeding disgusts me, however. I hope I never slay it.
More info about Richard and his work at:
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
One of the questions writers get asked is how much they say they have over their covers. To which the simple answer is: About as much say as we do over the weather.
My experience is that publishers send you the cover, and then whilst theoretically you could throw a tantrum and say you didn’t like it, that probably wouldn’t be a very welcome response.
Fortunately, I’ve never been in a position where I haven’t like a cover. I’ve just received the jacket for ‘Shadow Force’ and I think it’s fantastic: exciting, direct, in keeping with the previous two books in the series, but different enough to mark out its own space. (Then again, when a book is about mercenaries and pirates, it’s quite hard not to come up with a decent jacket).
And, of course, authors shouldn’t assume they know what is the best cover for their book. The editor and the illustrator will have their own take on it, and how it fits into the market, who it is going to appeal to, and how it will stand out from the rest of the books on the market.
That said, it would be awful to see a cover you really didn’t like on your book. After all, it is the most obvious statement about your work.
Friday, 1 October 2010
The other story - and the one I prefer - is that Cain dreaded the arrival of the postman and knew that if he rang twice he would have a weighty parcel ie his manuscript returned from another publisher.
The novel, of course, has nothing to do with a postman so I like the idea that this non sequitur of a title came from the writer’s frustration at trying to get his work published.
It’s a harsh reality for writers – that something you spend months working on and losing sleep over can be dismissed with a standard letter or a phone call. In fact, nowadays, it can be dismissed even quicker. Emails are a great way of speeding up the communication process but can sometimes seem even more impersonal.
But the waiting and then the casual cold shoulder is something every writer has to come to terms with. Purgatory by the phone is something every writer, however successful, has to experience.
Is the phone still working? Has it been left off the hook?
But it’s good to get things into perspective by considering how many writers out there are going through the same torment. And some of that work is probably jostling for position on the same desk as yours.
I used to submit scripts to TV and got very frustrated with the rate of turnaround. Then I worked as a script editor and got a revealing perspective on just how much time there is in a day to read. The volume of submissions was staggering and although I always tried to give personal feedback to everyone who submitted, it was sometimes impossible.
Agents are very busy people and reading new manuscripts only accounts for a very small percentage of their time. Most of them need a 36 hour day to service the clients they already have and sometimes only have an hour or two in the week to catch up on reading. Here’s an interesting article from the Andrew Lownie Agency about the average week for an agent. I recommend reading some of the other articles on the site re submissions as well.
As promised, here’s the interesting link for writers seeking agents that explains how to compose a cogent query letter. Always remember to read the specific guidelines of each agency though. Best of luck and hope these provide an insight while you're waiting for the postman.
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
I got a call out of the blue the other day from an actor called Paul Panting. He was about to start recording an audio version of Fire Force, and he wanted to have a chat about accents, as well as checking the pronunciation of some of the military hardware.
As anyone who has read either ‘Death Force’ or ‘Fire Force’ will know, there is a big group of character in the stories, and they all come from quite different places. Steve is South London, working class. Ollie is a public schoolboy. Dan is an Australian, Maksim a Russian, Chris a South African, and so on.
We were discussing what kind of voices to give the different men, and how far too push it. In the books, I don’t really give them different accents all the time, in the sense that, Chris, for example doesn’t talk about ‘Seth Eefrica’. That’s partly because I’m not very good at writing accents, but also because it could turn into an accent fest, and get very silly and distracting. I prefer to let their characters comes through by the type of things they say, and how they react to situations, rather than by giving them funny voices.
Paul and I agreed that that was the way to do it in the audio version as well – even if it meant he didn’t get a chance to show off all those accents he learned in acting school.
But it also struck me that just hearing the audio book – which I’m really looking forward to – is going to change my perception of the characters. I already hear Steve and Ollie’s voice in my head when I’m writing them, but of course an actor’s interpretation will be slightly different to mine. It will be fascinating, but also a bit strange to hear a different take on all the guys in the unit. It may even change the way I think about them.
Sunday, 26 September 2010
or from the Box Office 023 9247 2700.
Friday, 24 September 2010
Friday, 17 September 2010
Wednesday, 15 September 2010
Why do I feel I have to apologise for holding that view? If it implies criticism of some of my fellow writers, where does the blame lie?
Just the other day my dentist apologised for extracting the wrong tooth. ‘Sorry’, he said as he wiped my blood from his grubby fingers, ‘I’ve done a shocking job for you. Now I must be off, I’m up for an award as Dentist of the Year.’
Once my gums had stopped bleeding I arranged to meet some friends for supper. I ordered fish. It arrived promptly, quite well cooked on the outside and only slightly frozen in the middle. When I tried to return my dish I learned that the chef was no longer on the premises. ‘He had to dash,’ the waiter explained. ‘He’s off to hear if he’s won Chef of the Year.’
‘The food must be good,’ one of my friends said. ‘The chef’s up for an award!’ The others were too busy chewing to speak.
‘Some of the seasoning could do with severe cutting,’ I muttered. ‘Didn’t the chef taste this before serving it up?’ The only response was the sound of someone choking.
Sir Andrew Motion commented recently that some of the books put forward for the Booker Prize were ‘pretty shocking’ and ‘quite shockingly in want of a decent edit.’ Does the author take no responsibility for the quality of the writing?
My own books have been described as ‘well-written’ (The Times, Marcel Berlins) ‘refreshingly compelling and original’ (The New York Journal of Books, Michael Lipkin) ‘intelligently written’ (Bookersatz, Helen M Hunt) ‘well-written’ (Eurocrime, Amanda Gillies) ‘accomplished’ (Watford Observer, Melanie Dakin). I could go on.
So why do books like mine, well-written though they are, never appear on a long list for a literary prize? Because my books are also described – to quote just a few of many similar reviews - as ‘gritty and addictive… gripping, fast-paced read, pulling you in from the very first tense page and keeping you captivated right to the end ..’ (New York Journal of Books, Sam Millar) ‘a gritty page-turner from the start’ (Star magazine,) ‘tense… fast-paced twisty narrative’ (US Publishers Weekly starred review)
Yes – well-written they may be, but I write crime fiction.
Sorry about the door slamming. That was just my credibility as a writer leaving the room.
CUT SHORT (2009) ROAD CLOSED (2010) DEAD END (2011)
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
One of my favourite themes is how thriller writers aren’t keeping up with the times. Britain and the US have been involved in two major and very nasty wars in the last decade, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. But you wouldn’t guess it from reading the thrillers on the shelves at your local WH Smith. The y are all old-style Cold War spy thrillers, stuff about hidden scrolls, serial killers, or lawyers. There is almost nothing about the wars we are fighting now.
There is a fascinating piece related to that in the New York Times. It points out that the most vibrant story-telling about contemporary warfare is in the video game industry, not in the thriller industry. Games like Medal of Honour and Call of Duty are far more relevant to what is happening in the world today than just about any book.
I’m trying to address that with my ‘Death Force’ series, which are bang up to date. But not enough writers are taking up that challenge. I suspect that is partly the fault of the publishers, who should be looking for more contemporary material. But it also because writers have lost the desire to be relevant. The video game already poses a big challenge for writers. In many ways it is a more interesting narrative form. But surely it is silly to leave the field completely top gaming, rather than the novel
Friday, 10 September 2010
Mel suggested a support group for writers' partners but I'm not so sure. Do we really want to be talked about - our habits dissected? No - let the bi-products of our writing remain shrouded in mystery. If writer idiosyncrasies became public knowledge we'd never persuade anyone to live with us.
Wednesday, 8 September 2010
I haven’t been writing very much on this blog, largely because I’ve been rattling out a quick book on the Greek crisis for Wiley. The book was written at huge speed – a couple of months – and will be out in November. That was exhilarating in itself. As most of us know, the process of writing can be pretty leisurely. It takes a long time to write a book, and just as long for the publisher to bring it out. This one will be about five months total from Wiley getting in touch about the idea to the book hitting the shelves.
For me, it was also a chance to reflect on the difference between writing fact and fiction. I wrote a couple of business books much earlier in my career, but this was the first one I had done since I took up writing fiction.
It is a very different process. Obviously, the non-fiction book involves a lot more research. On the other hand, the story is just there. You collect the facts, marshal them into a coherent argument, then tell the story.
In fiction, you have to create every detail of the story yourself. You have to create the characters, and make them real. You need twists and denouements. It’s far harder work.
The funny thing is, most people looking at ‘Bust’ would assume it was a far more serious book than, say, ‘Fire Force’. But a book like ‘Fire Force’ is far more difficult to write.