Thursday, 27 May 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

Kudos to the organisers of Crimefest for providing such an enjoyably engaging weekend in Bristol. While the sun blazed there was great mix of enthusiastic readers, writers (published and aspiring) and luminaries from the literary crime scene including Colin Dexter, Tonino Benacquista, Mike Hodges and Marcel Berlins.

It was great to see so many visitors from the US and I bumped into a few people I knew only from exchanges on the Internet.

The Curzon Panel I was part of on Friday was a very informal affair with good-humoured discussion and plenty of thought-provoking questions from the audience. It threw up a debate that we’ve covered before: What exactly constitutes a thriller and what is the definition of a crime novel? There’s clearly a significant crossover. A lot of thrillers involve crime. Does a crime novel have to feature a police officer as a protagonist? If so, where does that leave Miss Marple?

All The Young Punks started the day on Saturday with fellow debut authors and I, ably conducted by Marcel Berlins, discussing our different experiences of getting a book into print. Everyone had a different story to tell and we only seemed to be getting to the meat of things when our time was up.

I then had the opportunity to go and sit in the audience on some of the other excellent panels that were cued up. From Gyles Brandreth’s no-pause-for-breath, anecdotal ‘interview’ with Peter Guttridge about his Oscar Wilde mysteries to Chris Carter’s lecture about serial killers there was something for all criminal tastes. I then supported Zoe at her self defence demonstration as well as sitting in on Leigh’s discussion about writing a series and finished with Matt's chat about wartime thrillers (see below).

My only criticism was that the hotel bar was so vastly overpriced that everyone dispersed around Bristol at the end of the day and the weekend lacked that community drink-up that I’ve experienced at other literary conventions. Not the fault of the organisers but perhaps there could have been an implied alternative drinking hole.

I had great fun though and saw plenty of copies of STOP ME shifted as well so thanks to everyone who asked me to sign theirs.

And big thanks again to the organisers who were so accommodating and friendly. The whole event flowed effortlessly - from my perspective at least.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Sneak Preview!

ROAD CLOSED has been published slightly ahead of schedule as WH Smith's Travel want to do a promotion of my new book in June. I am so excited about it that I thought I'd share a sneak preview with you here. I hope you enjoy reading it...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Return of the Wartime Thriller

by Matt Lynn

I've just returned from CrimeFest in Bristol. While I was there, I gave a talk on the return of the wartime thriller, which attracted a fair bit of discussion. Still, some of the six billion or so people who didn't make it to the talk might well be interested as well, so here are the notes I spoke from.
"When I staretd work on the Death Force series, it seemed to me that a military thriller was precisely the right kind of book to be writing at the moment.
After all, Britain has been involved in two long and fairly nasty military campaigns, one in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan.
The last decade has seen more sustained combat operation by the British army than any decade since the 1950s when the British Army was fighting in Korea.
But, so far there hasn’t been very much fiction about it.
There have been plenty of non-fiction books such as ‘Sniper One’ or ‘Eight Lives Down’ and some of them have been really good.
So far, however, thriller writers haven’t been tackling those wars directly.
They’ve been stuck in still writing the kind of spy and espionage thrillers that were popular in the Cold War.
Or else they’ve been writing crime thrillers, usually featuring ever more gruesome serial killers.
But they haven’t, on the whole, been writing about the wars we are fighting right now.
Which is pretty odd.
Because popular fiction is one of the ways we discuss and debate things that are happening in the world around us.
And thrillers have always been a genre that draws on and reflect the world around us.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that the world was ready for the return of the military thriller.
After all, if you go back to the origins of the genre, it was often bound up with military matters.
Think, for example, about a book such ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’, which many people would quite rightly regard as one of the foundations of the whole thriller genre. Richard Hannay, its hero, isn’t a solider. But it’s a First World War novel, as indeed are the subsequent Hannay stories Buchan wrote. They are bound up with the wars that Britain was fighting at the time the stories were written.
If you fast forward, the work of a writer such as Eric Ambler, who many people quite rightly regard as one of the first literary thriller writers, is bound up with Word War Two. A book such as ‘Journey Into Fear’ is a wartime thriller that capture brilliantly the strange half-war, half-peace atmosphere of early 1940s, and probably tells you more about how people felt about the war at that stage than any history book.
In the wake of World War Two, the military thriller really came into its own. Look for example at the work of Alistair MacLean, one of my favourite thriller writers of all time. Books such The Guns of Navaronne and HMS Ulysses are classics of the genre.
Hammond Innnes started out as military thriller writer, based mainly on his experiences in the Royal Artillery.
And Dennis Wheatley, probably mostly remembered now for his occult novels, also wrote a series of World War Two thrillers.
In fact, when I started reading books, around the early 1970s, the World War Two thriller genre was one of the most popular. There was an endless series of them to choose from in the bookshops or in the libraries.
Then, I think, from the 1970s onwards it went into decline.
There were still military thrillers around. But it became an historical genre – think, for example, about the Flashman books, or Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe series.
There was a reason for that, I think.
As I said earlier, the thriller genre reflects the world around it.
And for most of fifty years after World War Two, we didn’t fight any proper wars. We just had the Cold War. And, of course, in the Cold War all the actual fighting was done by the spies and secret agents. The actual soldiers – thankfully - stayed in their barracks.
Thriller writers latched onto that. From Ian Fleming to Len Deighton to John Le Carre there were countless spy thrillers. Indeed, there were so many of them, and that kind of warfare went on for so long, that we tended to think that the thriller genre and the spy story were virtually the same thing.
But, of course, that wasn’t true. It was just that thriller writers were reflecting the war we were fighting then.
Now, of course, that has changed.
One thing that’s happened to the world since the end of the Cold War is that we are fighting lots of small, hot wars, rather than one big cold one. Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan…and no doubt there will be more.
And in these wars, the fighting is done by soldiers, not spies.
So, in fact, this is precisely the right time to be writing a military thriller.
It’s already been happening to some degree.
Ask yourself this question. Who are the most successful British thriller writers of the last decade?
Well, Lee Child most obviously.
But also Andy McNab and Chris Ryan.
I may know a bit more about those books than I really should. But they are both writing great books which are firmly in the tradition of action, adventure thrillers.
I think Alistair MacLean could pick up any book by either writer, and feel instantly at home with them.
But, surprisingly, not many other British thriller writers have been tackling those wars directly.
How many thrillers have been set in Helmand, for example?
In fact, the thriller genre is too stuck in the spy story.
The real conflict in the world right now is military. That’s where the drama and the conflict and the stories are.
And that’s what thriller writers who are interested in the world around them should be writing about."

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Curzon Group at CrimeFest 2010

The Curzon Group Panel behind the scenes in the Green Room at CrimeFest before our panel. From the left, Richard Jay Parker, Zoe Sharp, Leigh Russell, Tom Cain and Matt Lynn. Here we are in action. From the left: Zoe Sharp, Tom Cain, Matt Lynn, Leigh Russell and Richard Jay Parker (photo courtesy of Zoe). It may look as though we are all talking at once, but in reality our moderator, Zoe, kept us all in order with impressive wit and aplomb. The Festival was very busy - an amazing feat of organisation by Adrian and Myles, with concurrent panels, interviews and individual talks by various crime fiction authors from established bestsellers like MC Beaton and Colin Dexter to debut authors. Not all the new authors were unknown names. Curzon new authors Richard Jay Parker and myself (Leigh) appeared on a Debut Authors panel which included Mike Hodges who has just published his first novel, WATCHING THE WHEELS COME OFF. Mike Hodges wrote and directed the iconic film Get Carter (the original version!) The Debut Authors panel was moderated by Marcel Berlins. I felt a little daunted at the prospect of participating in a discussion he was to chair, but he put us all at our ease, even the inexperienced panellists like me, and he made the experience really enjoyable.

The Curzon Group were busy too. In addition to our own panel, Zoe Sharp gave a demonstration of self defense and participated on a panel entitled 'Grimly Fiendish', Matt Lynn discussed the appeal of the military thriller, I spoke about the challenge of writing a series, and Clem Chambers was on a panel 'Too Tough to Die'.

At CrimeFest I saw sale copies of ROAD CLOSED for the first time! Books were sent straight to the convention by the printers - genuinely 'hot off the press'. ROAD CLOSED wasn't due out just yet, but WH Smith's Travel wanted to do a promotion in June, so the printing was brought forward. So I hope you look out for it at stations and airports in June.

I've blogged more about my own experience at CrimeFest on my blog

Leigh Russell

Friday, 21 May 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

Was having a sort out recently and found some of my old manuscripts on CD, floppy (remember those?) and paper (remember that?). I didn’t feel tempted to read them – 21st Century time doesn’t seem to allow for this sort of indulgence. It would probably have been be good for the tightness of my butt though as my ‘buttockometer’ would have been on clench factor 11 while I read them.

It’s easy to be dismissive of earlier work particularly when umpteen rejections seem to devalue it. But something fired you up about writing that work in the first place and although it may have been part of your learning curve I think it’s worth continuing to respect it and archive it properly.

All those earlier attempts will hopefully move every writer nearer to the work they’ll be happier with and although it’s not likely that many of us will be asked to pluck them out of storage (because a publisher is suddenly crazy about everything we’ve ever written) there’s a lot to be said for having access to your creative history.

We live in an increasingly throwaway society – books, movies, music. The material that does – rightly or wrongly - make it through the rigorous filters to the public doesn’t seem to have the same shelf life it did before. Does anyone really have time to analyse footnotes, extras, interviews etc or are they already anticipating the next thing?

But like a family tree, you may one day want to trace what led you to who you are as a writer so it’s worth reformatting, backing up and storing in a cool, dry place.

More at:

Thursday, 20 May 2010

A new author no longer...

I have just heard from my publisher that a box of ROAD CLOSED has been sent from the printers direct to CrimeFest. Tomorrow, for the first time, I will see a finished copy of my second book. I am so excited! I wouldn't have thought the publication of a second book would be so exciting. After all, I've been here before. Been there, done that - yes, I've even got the Tshirt... (In a mad moment I bought a white T-shirt with the cover of CUT SHORT printed on the front. I thought I might wear it to book signings... And no! I've never worn it!) I'm surprised how excited I am about ROAD CLOSED. The book is larger than CUT SHORT, and it even has printing inside the cover. I tried to post the full cover images here, front and back, but can't upload pdf images on the blog. Inside the front cover is a picture of CUT SHORT. Inside the back cover is with a photo of - well, me, looking like... Are you still awake?
The manager at WH Smith's in Watford called me today to tell me they ordered the last 48 copies of CUT SHORT for my visit at the end of May. No Exit are now out of stock of CUT SHORT. But don't panic! (?) CUT SHORT is being reprinted for the THIRD time in its first year, so more copies will be out very soon. Please check the schedule on my publisher's website if you'd like to come along and have a chat when I'm out touring around. Between now and the end of 2010 I'll be signing in bookshops, appearing at festivals or giving talks in libraries in these areas: Bristol, Watford, Reading, Shepherds Bush, Bedford, Ickenham, Ruislip, Hitchin, Harrow, Brent Cross, Norwich, Kenton, Cambridge, Earls Court, Yiewsley, St Albans, Tunbridge Wells, London, York, Newcastle, Heathrow T5, Heathrow T1, Chichester, Havant, Pinner, Hatfield, Guildford, Southampton, Winchester, Windsor, Basingstoke... for details. I think that's probably enough for 2010, although there are a few more stores that would like me to return in the autumn... So please come in and say hello if I'm in your area. I'll be wearing purple, and if I'm not already chatting to someone, I'll be scribbling behind a pile of books...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Bookseller Blog on the Supermarkets.

By Matt Lynn
Instead of my usual blog today, here's a piece I did for The Bookseller today on the rising power of the supermarkets.

Friday, 14 May 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

Somebody asked me recently what was the most surprising thing about being a published author. Without doubt it's how I've been knocked sideways by the generosity of readers who really have no reason to be in any way interested in my work.

Over the past year I've exchanged Tweets, emails and Facebook messages with so many passionate readers that I would never have come into contact with. They read my book and tell me exactly what they think of it and it's been the most valuable learning experience I've had since STOP ME was published.

Of course, everyone is looking for different elements within a book. Some want a breakneck plot others want to know a character inside out and it's a dificult balancing act between the two. But every reader comment I get is valued - positive or negative.

There's a couple of immediate dates coming up where I hope to meet more readers. I'm on several panels at CRIMEFEST next weekend as member of The Curzon Group and as a young punk (details here).

Then on the 2nd June I'll be on a panel with Leigh Russell Matt Lynn and Tom Cain at Sheperd's Bush Library (details here - tickets are free).

I look forward to putting some faces to familiar names.

Happy weekend.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

How to distinguish characters....

by Matt Lynn
I did an event up in Essex last night with two of my fellow Headline authors, Barbara Nadel and Michael Stanley. As is so often the case, I was really impressed by the quality of the questions people asked.

There was one that set me thinking a fair bit: How do you distinguish characters from one another.

I waffled away for a fair bit, but it was a good question, and one I probably haven’t thought about enough. I quite often read a book and find I get lost because the characters all blur into one. It’s particularly pressing in my case, because the ‘Death Force’ series features eight or nine main characters. And superficially at least they are quite similar: soldiers, blokes, etc.

It struck me later that in opera, each character has a theme, or maybe just a key, and that helps the listener tell them apart. And there is a clue in that for construction a novel. What I try and do is give each character a theme, or key: some fairly simple, but compelling, place they are trying to get to, or a demon they are trying to kill, or a journey they are trying to complete.

On top of that, you need to give them a voice. A way of speaking, and a way of fitting into the group. And you need to give them some really deep back story, so you know precisely where they are coming from.

But there is no doubt it is one of the hardest things a writer has to do.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Congratulations to Matt

Congratulations to Matt Lynn, one of the founder members of The Curzon Group, for having his books accepted by Tescos. However prissy we might be about supermarkets vs 'real' bookshops, the bottom line is that another quality author is now set to reap some financial benefit for the time he has dedicated to writing. In my book (sorry - I must stop these bad puns) that has to be good news. Of course we all write for the pure joy of writing, story telling is a passion for us, but deriving an income from writing buys an author time to write. It is hard for those of us who juggle writing with earning a living.
That said, I was very pleased this week when a fan emailed me a photo she took in Waterstones in Harrow, with my own debut thriller CUT SHORT displayed at number 3 on their bestsellers chart. Move over Tescos, the bookshops are fighting back!

CUT SHORT has been selling so fast that my publisher reprinted twice in six months, and a third reprint is scheduled this July. That makes four print runs in a year - not too shabby for a new author. The July reprint will be in B format, a larger size than the first print runs, to match the second in my series, ROAD CLOSED, published this June. The B format books look fantastic. Here is the new cover for CUT SHORT and the cover for ROAD CLOSED. You may notice the quantity of blood growing. Some of my fans have joked that the cover of the next in the series, DEAD END, will be all blood...

Personally, I'll be happy if my name is slightly larger on each cover. That is when you know you've finally 'arrived' as an author, when your name alone sells books. Or when Tescos agree to stock your books...

Leigh Russell

Friday, 7 May 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

So far I've done signings in bookshops and a debate in a library with other writers as backup but last night was my first solo gig. It was for a book club in Southampton and I wondered if I could retain the interest of my audience for more than a few minutes.

I needn't have worried. I was very warmly welcomed by an enthusiastic reading group who had all read STOP ME and had plenty of original questions to ask. But as I sat there it got me thinking about how writers need to get out more.

I've touched on this subject before and told this group that you can always recognise a writer at a party because they're usually the last to leave. They spend so much of their time locked away in a stuffy room with only their thoughts for company that any opportunity to talk about their work with similarly inclined human beings is seized grimly and firmly by both horns.

There's increasing pressure on writers to engage with their readers on every level and as I sat chatting last night it struck me that it really isn't a bad thing. How else can you get that sort of one-to-one feedback about your work?

So thanks to Caroline Petty for arranging the event and for everyone who turned up. I don't think there was anyone who didn't want to grill me about something.

I hope I didn't keep them from the polling station. Then again, if they had gone there instead they might not have got in.

Happy weekend.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Are The Supermarkets Bad For Authors?

by Matt Lynn

I heard recently that Tesco will be stocking ‘Fire Force’ when it comes out in paperback late this month. For a popular thriller author, that’s probably up there with winning the Booker prize. The supermarkets have become crucial to promoting and selling books.

That was confirmed today, with a story in The Bookseller about where people are buying books. They now account for 20% of adult book sales, compared with 9% two decades ago. The internet accounts for 19% compared with – fairly obviously – nothing back in 1989.

I expect to read lots of wailing from authors and the publishing industry about that. But I’m not so sure it is really such a bad thing.

Of course, it puts a huge amount of power in the hands of a relatively small number of big supermarket chains, and Tesco most of all. Publishers and authors have to work very hard to get the approval of the BMFC (the Big Man from Cheshunt).

But there are a couple of interesting points to make.

First, I’m sure the supermarkets are expanding the market. On the whole the supermarkets present books in an attractive way. The prices are great – less than £4 for a paperback, and you don’t have to buy two or three to get the lower price. They present books to tons of people who probably wouldn’t go anywhere near a bookshop. Overall, that must mean more books get sold.

Second, it’s not really the bookshops that are suffering. Their share is doing fine. The losers have been the old mail order book clubs and the stationary stores. They probably catered for the fairly general, casual reader anyway – the people who now buy their books in supermarkets. And they didn’t do such a great job anyway.

The book market is evolving into two audiences. The supermarkets for the mass market. And the bookshops and the internet for more committed readers.

There needn’t be anything for authors to worry about in that. They just have to make sure they find their own place in the market.