Today I'm delighted to welcome novelist Ian Skewis to my blog. Ian's first novel, 'A Murder of Crows', was published in 2017. A proud moment for any writer! Let's get going with the questions.
Tell us about 'A Murder of Crows'.
'A Murder Of Crows' is a crime thriller featuring DCI Jack Russell, who is on his final case before retiring. He is led to believe that the case will be relatively simple and it proves to be anything but. A serial killer has emerged and seems to be just getting started and it becomes a race against time to prevent the evolution of this new menace.
Sounds great! What inspired the plot for the book?
It was part inspired by an event that happened to me when I was nine years old. I was out for a walk in the country with my parents and we found a dead man hanging from a tree. My dad called the police and my mum kept me away from the site. But my imagination kind of filled in the gaps and from there a very strange little tale emerged. Needless to say, the countryside has long since taken on a rather more sinister aspect for me and this is very much evident in the book. This was in 1979. Now finally, the story, which I officially started writing in 1989, has taken flight as it were. Pun intended!
What’s next for you? Will A Murder of Crow be the first in a series, and if so, can you give us any hints?
About three years ago I came up with an idea for a sequel of sorts but I was determined that I wouldn't write it unless I could find something really challenging about it - I think I now have a really good follow-up story - one that will take on some very surprising twists and turns. As for hints, it begins six months after A Murder Of Crows ends and will involve a psychic, a female detective and the return of an old enemy...
What is your all-time favourite novel?
Atonement by Ian McEwan is still my favourite. I loved the fact that this character felt so bad about what she had done to what were essentially two innocent people, that she completely rewrote their history in a book - an act of kindness, albeit many years too late. I was surprised at how good the film version was too. Books that comment in some way on writing and its gift to heal always appeal to me - Life Of Pi being another example.
Do you prefer to read e-books or paper books?
I always prefer paper, and in particular, paperbacks. They yield and become old, dog-eared and yellowed with age and there is something very human and comforting about that. Hardbacks are good too but they don't bend easily and are less portable, I feel.
Do you think the cover plays an important part of the buying process?
Absolutely! I had a whale of a time designing my book cover. My publisher actually sent me a three page questionnaire asking things like what font I wanted to use, how I would describe the contents of the story and what images did I reckon would be suitable for the cover. I always knew it would be a lone crow. I actually had some sketches from 2009 that I did when I could only dream of such things as book covers and it was amazing to be able to literally draw on that and see it come to life! I'm thrilled with the end result, and all thanks to Mark Ecob for being very patient and such a good collaborator. The book cover is very stark and haunting and the crow's eye contains other elements such as a blood red moon, and a farmer's scythe - all very symbolic...
What is the hardest thing about writing a book?
For me it was always a lack of confidence. I spent years listening to those doubts in my head telling me that I wasn't all that good, and who did I think I was, deigning to write? I know now that this was just my inner critic, which is healthy and no bad thing. But a healthy balance is what's needed. It goes back to believing in yourself and reaching for the stars but keeping one's feet on the ground.
What is the easiest thing about writing a book?
The freedom to do anything you like. One of the reasons I gave up acting (I was a professional actor) was that I always felt like part of a greater whole and often I had bigger ideas than that. Now as a writer I can conjure up entire worlds. I have the last word on everybody's destiny. That is an incredible palette to be able to work from. However, when you play God, and all writers do to a greater or lesser degree, then that comes with a huge responsibility. So when I have to end someone's life in a story for example, I never take it lightly. When I had to kill someone in 'A Murder Of Crows' I cried as I wrote it because I wrote it not from the point of the gore or the violence but from the memories of that person as they faded away, the ground rushing up towards them, all their regrets, all the things they still could have done, had their life not been cut short. Another character in the book has a tragic and very emotional ending that was really difficult for me to write. I felt I had somehow locked them up and thrown away the key, condemned them to a terrible existence. If these characters were real they would probably slap my face for what I did to them - and deservedly so!
What advice would you give to would-be novelists?
Believe in yourself - but keep your feet on the ground. And beware of who you take advice from. All industries have their charlatans. It's worth stating here that if something feels wrong then it probably is - so above all, trust your instinct!
Thank you, Ian, for your time! It's been a pleasure interviewing you.
If you'd like to know more about Ian and his books, check out his website: www.ianskewis.com.
This week's blog post is a book review of 'The Widow', Fiona Barton's first novel. The book was published in 2016 and has achieved both Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller status. It's billed as 'the ultimate psychological thriller... a terrifically chilling exploration of the darkness at the heart of a seemingly ordinary marriage.'
Wow! When I read that, I decided this novel was right up my street, both as the kind of book I like to read and also to write.. Here's the description from Amazon:
'We've all seen him: the man - the monster - staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him? Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.'
Sounds gripping, doesn't it?
'The Widow' doesn't disappoint. I read it in one sitting, forcing my eyes to stay open one night as I devoured the contents into the small hours. I loved Fiona's depiction of the two main characters, Glen and Jeanie Taylor.
Glen is a petty, self-absorbed tyrant. His persona is wonderfully drawn, shown through the myriad ways he controls Jeanie and his failure to accept responsibility for his actions. Everything is someone else's fault, never his. (Don't we all know people like that?!) He attributes his dismissal from his bank job to his boss's jealousy rather than his unsatisfactory performance. When he's put on trial, he bills himself as a victim of police harassment. According to him, his obsession with child pornography is a medical condition for which he needs help. Not, of course, a sign of his warped nature, one that he keeps well-hidden. Here is a man who is outwardly unremarkable, yet, as the book asks, is he also a paedophile and a murderer? And is Jeanie complicit in his misdeeds?
The domineering Glen is mostly seen through the recollections of his down-trodden wife, who is a masterpiece of characterisation, expertly portrayed though subtle nuances. Jeanie adores her husband at first but her love fades as she realises the kind of man she has married. It's not long, though, before the reader starts to feel she may be hiding her own dark side. In addition, she might know more about Bella Elliott's disappearance than she's revealing.
The only flaw, for me, was that she comes across as older than her age, which jars at times. This may be deliberate, to emphasise Jean's unworldliness, but if so, I think it's overdone. It's not just that her name would be more appropriate for an older woman. At times Jean behaves like a stereotypical pensioner, so much so that when the narrative refers to her as being thirty-seven, it comes as a shock. Well, to me, anyway.
An impressive debut novel
As a foil to Glen and Jeanie, the other central characters of journalist Kate Waters and DI Bob Sparkes are more crudely drawn. Sparkes is almost like a caricature of a detective inspector, and his scenes didn't come alive for me. Kate is a more convincing character, although hard to like. Ruthless in pursuit of a scoop for her newspaper, she's hard as nails despite the caring persona she projects. The descriptions of unsavoury press behaviour are hard to stomach, as they frequently descend into harassment and trial by media. Fiona Barton used to be a journalist, so the antics she depicts are presumably realistic, yet in my view they're abhorrent.
Those wanting thrills a minute and a high body count may be disappointed by this book. The story focuses more on Jeanie's character development rather than delivering a plot rollercoaster. There are no twists as such - the ending is fairly obvious from early on - and few startling revelations. That's not the strength of this novel. The interest lies more in the reader exploring every nook and cranny of Jeanie's mind, in understanding why she gradually turns against her husband during the course of her marriage. As a first novel, it's impressive, and I look forward to reading more from this author.
Fiona Barton is a former journalist who has worked for the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. In the latter role she won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards. She gave up her job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and has worked with exiled journalists all over the globe. The idea for 'The Widow' came from time spent during her journalistic career covering famous trials. Fiona began to wonder what the wives of the accused knew or allowed themselves to know about the crimes in question. Fiona lives with her husband in rural France and has written several other novels. You can find out more at her website: http://fionabartonauthor.com/
This week I'm delighted to welcome novelist Karen Long to my blog. Karen Long is a Midlander by birth and now lives in Shropshire. She took up full-time writing many years ago and dedicates her days to writing crime fiction and observing nature. Her first novel, 'The Safe Word', reached the Amazon bestsellers' list and has now been followed by the second and third in the Eleanor Raven series, 'The Vault' and 'The Cold Room'.
It's great to have you here, Karen, so let's get started! Here's my first question:
Will there be a set number of books in the Eleanor Raven series? If so, how many?
It was always my intention to create a series of three novels that were linked thematically. The series takes place over the span of eighteen months and shares the same cast of characters and place but deals with a separate central story. All three books have now been published. I don’t intend to drop the Eleanor Raven character but have no plans for book four any time soon.
Do you share any character traits with DI Eleanor Raven?
Ah, that’s difficult. It would be disingenuous to suggest that there aren’t some aspects of the characters I create buried within my psyche. I don’t think I feel the anger, or the self-loathing that Eleanor Raven does but I like my independence and feel more comfortable alone than in company. Like Eleanor I am not religious but have an innate need for redemption. I believe most writers amplify their own characteristics when creating; how else can you achieve authenticity?
Do you see yourself writing in other genres besides crime fiction? If so, which ones, and what attracts you to them?
I like historical fiction and would love to write one but feel a little overawed by the amount of research I’d need to do. I suspect any story would have to be combined with a good murder plot, as I have little leaning towards romance. I have copy of a YA fantasy novel set in Victorian London, which is tucked away in my desk drawer. Every now and then I pull it out with the intention of self- publishing but never quite commit.
What’s a typical writing day like for you? Routines, that kind of thing?
I am not, in any way, organised as to a writing routine. I harbour a deep sense of guilt regarding my glacial output but have to be completely distraction free. I have an office but like to write in the conservatory, which has a great view of the numerous birdfeeders. Generally, I do write every day and it tends to be late morning into afternoon.
How long does it take you to write the first draft of a novel? Are you a plotter, a pantser or somewhere in between?
It takes me about seven months to get a first draft completed, and then another couple to complete the second and third drafts. I am not a deadline sort of person, I’m way too vague and unfocussed. I used to write copious notes but found they didn’t really help with plotting. Now I just keep mental images of actions and storylines.
What issues have you faced with research and accuracy with setting your books in a different country?
It’s very liberating to set your novels in a different environment because it can be moulded into the vision of a cityscape that responds to your plot. That’s not to say that I am lazy with place or time. I always check distances and environments with virtual maps, and read about places from as many sources as possible. I do have a working knowledge of the detailed landscapes and buildings that feature in the novels. However, it is because I am not native to Toronto that I have been able to create a vision from the flavours I experienced. It’s not accurate but then I’m writing fiction, not a travel guide.
What do you do to relax after a hard day’s writing?
Running, reading and a couple of glasses of wine.
Tell us about the rescue work you do with injured and distressed birds.
I’m a huge bird fan, particularly of the crow family. I used to have an aviary filled with rooks, magpies, crows and jackdaws, all in various stages of decrepitude but sadly we no longer have any left. Every spring I manage to look after and release a few babies that didn’t quite make their first flight a success. I’ve kept ravens, which are wonderful. All have deliciously dangerous and cantankerous personalities but the mayhem and home destruction can be very alarming and expensive. There are few things more delightful than having a clever wild bird sit on your shoulder and share a biscuit.
Thank you, Karen! It's been great talking to you.
'Six Minutes Early' is a suspense novel involving a drug cartel, which aids ISIS in a plan to attack the heartland of the United States. A former Special Operations officer, forced to resign from the Army, leads the planning and attack.
I have captured the current political climate in Washington DC and have used some recent events to make a relevant and believable story. This book is another fast-paced, suspense-filled book that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
My writers group keeps telling me they’ll miss me when I’m carted away and placed in the witness protection program. I certainly hope they are wrong and I don’t disappear!
Your books so far have focused on issues of war. Will you write about other themes and in different genres in the future?
How does your writing fit in with your non-writing life?
What are your literary aims and ambitions?
I plan to continue writing a book about every year or eighteen months. I want to continue growing as a writer, giving my readers quality stories that are believable and keep them on the edge of their seats.
My stories are well suited for film and I would love to see them made into movies. I would like to do a series someday. I am focused on the long-term, growing and keeping my readers. So far, the reviews have been great and I am very pleased with the feedback.
What's been the most joyful part to date of being a novelist?
What are your top three strengths (as a person, not just as a writer)? Your top three weaknesses?
Thanks, Patrick! It's been a pleasure interviewing you.
A few years ago, I was a phones salesman. Due to being a bit of an emotional wreck during my teen and young adult years, I had dropped out of the Army, university, and pretty much out of life. The one thing and only thing I had going for me was the woman who is now my wife. Her support and belief in me led to her pushing me into doing what I’d always dreamed of. She made me start writing in my spare time more and more, and most importantly she made me stay the course and actually finish a novel in full instead of constantly giving up halfway. Now, two and a bit years later, I have twenty-five novels out and am earning more than twice what I did working nine to five in a job I hated. Self-publishing very literally changed my life – it made me richer, happier, and less stressed (when considering how working in sales used to make me feel).
Have you always wanted to be an author? How did your interest in writing originate?
I would write awful stories as a kid that were pretty much just blatant rip offs of movies, but I enjoyed the act of writing and moved on to poetry as a teen. I’ve been an avid reader and movie watcher my entire life and really wanted to tell stories that moved people the way I had been moved.
What have been the greatest problems you've faced in gaining your success?
It’s difficult riding on the high that I am right now, because I want to plan ahead based on my current fortunes, but the way this business is, next year I could be a failure and having to go get a job. The hardest part of this job is not knowing what the future holds. There’s no contract of employment.
Who or what has helped you the most on your writing journey?
The author Joe Konrath has been instrumental in my success. When I started out, I followed the publishing/writing advice on his blog about pretty much everything. Everything he advised worked for me and I have now reached a point where I am trying new things out for myself and passing on that advice to the new guys coming up. I think if established guys all do their bit to help the newer guys get better then everyone benefits; and Joe Konrath is the absolute embodiment of that philosophy.
Who's your favourite author and what is it that resonates with you about their work?
I don’t really have one as it changes so much. I’m currently enjoying Matthew O’Reilly’s work, but in the past, my favourite authors have been Jeff Strand, Jack Kilborn, Brian Keene, Stephen King, James Herbert, Richard Laymon, J F Gonzalez, Kim Paffenroth, Scott Sigler, Max Brooks, Blake Crouch, Terry Pratchett… The list goes on and on.
Tell us more about your collaboration with Joe Konrath on the novel ‘Straight Up’. How did that come about?
Joe publicly announced that he was looking for collaborators and wanted short stories to be the test for authors to pass in order to work with him on longer projects. I wrote 'Straight Up' specifically to work with him but also used it as an introduction for one of my own characters, Sarah Stone. I have also just finished a full length novel that Joe and I have been working on, which is a sequel to both Joe’s 'Origin' and my own 'Final Winter'. It’s loads of fun.
She is a broken woman with a painful background. She is also an expert on Middle Eastern terrorist cells, which is why the Major Crimes Unit tracks her down and asks for her help. The only problem is that she’s a complete asshole and doesn’t want to help anybody. Eventually she gets roped in and starts kicking butts and taking names. She is a lot like Jack Bauer but with a very wobbly moral compass. She won’t think twice about killing a bad guy. Eventually all of the hate and hostility inside her will begin to take its toll.
Will you write in other genres besides horror/thriller in the future?
Yes, I switched over to techno-thrillers/terrorism books (featuring Sarah Stone) for a short while, but I imagine horror is where my career will lie for the most part.
Sounds great! While you are writing, do you ever feel as if you are one of the characters?
Not really, but sometimes I do act out scenes at my desk to get the emotion right.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Not wanting to work in a phone shop anymore!
How do you come up with the titles for your books?
Through hours of sitting there trying to think of one. I find naming books really hard. Sometimes I have the title before I even start, but sometimes I am wracking my brains right up to the day it goes live.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Erm…The Rising, World War Z, The Rats, Under The Dome, Contagion. Only in that they made me want to write horror.
And which person?
Joe Konrath, Stephen King, and Joss Whedon.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Need you ask? Joe Konrath.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Just trying to improve with every book. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m trying really hard to be.
Lastly, how do you see the future for self-published authors?
Bright! What still makes me sad, though, is that there are many decent, talented authors out there who have not had the same success. I want to see more of them stuff their unfulfilling day jobs and live their own dreams – because, right now, it is more possible than ever.
Thank you, Iain, for agreeing to appear in my blog!
You can find out more about Iain and his novels from his website, www.iainrobwright.com; on Facebook or on Twitter: @iainrobwright. Iain's novels are all available from Amazon.
To what extent does DS Roy Grace reflect aspects of your own personality?
Out of all your antagonists, who’s been the most fun for you to create, and why?
What’s been your most challenging novel when it comes to plotting, and why?
How does your writing day shape up? Lark or Owl? Plotter or Pantser?
In the past, you’ve been very involved in film production. Do you see yourself returning to working in the film industry in the future?
With a book the creative process is utterly pure. There is just myself and my agent and my editor. If I don’t want to change one single word I have written I don’t have to. I love that freedom from the “committee” process of film-making. I’d be very happy never to be involved in that industry again!
Have you always been interested in the paranormal, or does your curiosity stem from your haunted house in Ditchling?
Tell us about the work you do with the charity The Reading Agency.
Like me, you’re passionately fond of animals. Tell us about your new venture into keeping alpacas!
Also like me, you’re a foodie. What’s your favourite savoury food? Favourite sweet dish?
You love cars. Are there any racing or driving ambitions you’ve yet to achieve?
Thank you, Peter, for a great interview! It's been a pleasure talking to you.
Tell us about your novel, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.
But … then I was told this wasn’t just to coincide with the new film but was going to be the official sequel to the novel itself. And then I found myself in the papers answering questions. And then I realised I’d taken on quite a daunting task. But I wrote it and really enjoyed it. It’s different to the first one and different to the film as well. I saw it as my chance to use every gothic trope that I could think of, making homages to all the great writers and filmmakers who had so excited me. So Poe is in there, a bit of M R James, hopefully a bit of Terence Fisher . . . Great fun to write.
Has your early career as an actor helped you with your novel writing? Do you see yourself returning to acting in the future?
Will you venture into any other genres? If so, which ones?
You also write as Tania Carver. How different is that from being Martyn Waites?
The other thing is writing under a female pseudonym. When the first Tania came out, The Surrogate, it was a massive bestseller, both here and internationally. I can remember standing in W H Smith where it was book of the week and watching people come in, pick it up and take it to the till. And of course I couldn’t say anything. Well, not without being forcibly ejected from the shop. I’ve got used to it now though. Tania is kind of my main writing at the moment. But doing things like Woman in Black and Great Lost Albums help to keep me and the series fresh.
Tell us how American crime fiction of the Nineties influenced your early work.
So I had a look at some of the American writing that was starting to appear then. And it was a pretty fertile time for it. Like punk and new wave happened over here in the late seventies and revitalised the culture, in the late eighties the same thing happened with American crime fiction. I read Andrew Vachss and it was like someone hadn’t just opened the windows onto a world, they had blown the side of the house off. James Ellroy next, then James Lee Burke, James Crumley, Walter Mosely, Sara Paretsky . . . wow. On and on. And that was when I realised I had found my thing. They wrote about urban landscapes I could recognise, about lives and struggles I could relate to. It was real life reportage, spat back as literature. And I couldn’t get enough of it. And then I thought (because I was already telling myself I was going to write a novel), why don’t I do what they’re doing? Transpose it for the UK but bring that energy, that sense of engagement the politics, the anger with it? Yeah, why not? I realised that quite a few other British writers were having the same idea at the same time. It just took some of us longer to actually get into print. But they were my literary touchstones, the ones who inspired me.
You’ve held writing residences in prisons. Do you know if any of your students have published their work? How rewarding did you find encouraging offenders to write?
Tell us a little about the writing process for you. How long does an average novel take? How difficult (or not) are you to live with when creating a novel? Are you a planner or someone who writes by the seat of their pants?
Do I plan or make it up? Kind of both, really. I know that sounds diametrically opposed, but it’s not. I usually start with an idea or an image. That then suggests questions to me. And it takes the course of the book for me to answer them. I usually say that the first hundred pages or so are like an audition. It’s me finding out who the characters are, why they’re there, what they sound like . . . all of that. And the ones with the most interesting voices are the ones I want to stick with. Then I can see a structure developing so I start to plan ahead a little. Maybe fifty or a hundred pages or so. Then after that, take stock and plan the next section. And so on.
As for how long it takes, I don’t know. I try and allow myself a year to write a novel but always hope it takes less than that and I can fit something else in as well. But it varies. The longest it took me to write a book was five years. The shortest, three months. There are no hard and fast rules. And I also feel when I sit down to start the next book that I’ve learned absolutely nothing for my previous books. A blank screen is always a blank screen. And it’s up to me to be as creative as possible in how I fill it.
Finally, tell us something weird and wonderful about yourself that your readers might not know.
Thank you, Martyn! It's been a pleasure to talk with you.
I’d like to know more about your latest novel, the fourth in a crime series featuring DI Bliss and DC Chandler, called The Reach of Shadows. What can readers expect to encounter in its pages?
Recovering from injuries sustained in a road collision, DI Bliss is taken directly from hospital to a fresh crime scene and ordered to investigate the vicious stabbing and murder of Jade Coleman.
When Bliss realises the victim had reported being stalked, and that two of his own team had been drafted in to take her statement, he is given the unenviable task of interviewing both of his detectives.
Increasingly it appears that the stalker may be her killer. However, several other people soon become part of the team’s suspect list. Bliss also finds himself being questioned about his own past and has to battle to defend himself whilst continuing to investigate the murder. Soon more questions arise. Why would anybody target Jade Coleman? Why are the team unable to identify the victim’s close female friend? And why did Jade recently leave her job without any explanation?
With his work cut out, and his team under pressure, can Bliss solve the case before more victims show up? Or will the shadows of his own past reach out and drag him under before he can succeed?
What about your second Mike Lynch crime thriller, Cold Winter Sun, published in November 2018?
A missing man. A determined hunter. A deadly case.
When Mike Lynch is contacted by his ex-wife about the missing nephew of her new husband, he offers to help find the young man with the help of his friend Terry Cochran.
Arriving in LA to try and track down the young man, the pair are immediately torn away when the missing man’s car shows up, abandoned on the side of a deserted road in New Mexico.
When two fake police officers cross their path, Terry and Mike know there is more to the case than meets the eye, and soon they find themselves asking exactly who it is they are really looking for…
Tell us about yourself and what you get up to when you're not writing.
What is your all-time favourite novel?
What are you working on at present?
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?
Do you think the cover plays an important part of the buying process?
I don’t, however, believe they buy a book because of the cover. But being drawn to it can be enough, because that may then lead them to read the blurb and go on to buy it.
What kind of research do you do?
How long do you spend on research before starting your book?
What advice would you give to would-be novelists?
Thank you, Tony! Here's more information about Tony and his books:
Tony’s dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, featuring ex-detective Frank Rogers, was also published by Bloodhound Books. This is a stand-alone novel. Another book that was written as a stand-alone was Scream Blue Murder. This was published in November 2017, and received praise from many, including fellow authors Mason Cross, Matt Hilton and Anita Waller. Before it had even been published, Tony had decided to write a sequel, and Cold Winter Sun was published in November 2018.
Tony lives with his wife in Peterborough, UK, and is now a full-time author. You can find out more from his website, https://www.tonyjforder.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TonyJForder @TonyJForder
Amazon Author: https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B01N4BPT65
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/tony+j+forder?_requestid=248936