I’ve been hanging out with readers and writers at three very different events this month – the London Book Fair, a live fiction night at a pub in Birmingham, and the Hawkesbury Upton Litfest at a village in the Cotswolds. All were not only fun, but a chance to learn from other thriller writers. Most of all, I get a buzz being around others who love books as much as I do.
I wrote a blog about the London Book Fair in 2015. If you’re not sure why everyone in the book trade (apart from the most important people, readers!) hits town every year, do take a look! Deals are done, free wine flows and there’s frantic networking. For me, the key messages this year were to make my thrillers available as audiobooks and go for a darkly sinister cover for my next crime thriller. Watch this space!
I’ve also blogged about live fiction events and literary festivals before. I can’t recommend them enough to readers. Stories come alive when they’re read aloud by their writers. The pub night, organised by Donna of Twitter’s @TheCultureHour, featured the well-respected New Street Authors. They all proved to be polished live performers as well as writers. Even better, it was hosted by The Gunmaker’s Arms, the showcase and brewery tap for beers from the Two Towers Brewery. The beer was awesome, a bargain at under £3 a pint, and worth a trip to the pub in its own right. I indulged in their Birmingham Mild, a style of ale quite hard to find outside the British Midlands, yet one of the most delicious drinks on the planet.
It’s only natural that the Two Towers, named after nearby landmarks that inspired the great JRR Tolkien, would want to support the local literary scene. So, back to the books, the main event of the evening. Although there were stunning performances by master of suspense Andrew Sparke and the cutting, creative and comical Gareth J Wood, it was New Street Author David Wake who stole the show. His steampunk Derring-Do Club series had the audience in stitches. Check them out, and if you’re organising a litfest, ask him along. With a theatrical background, David knows how to make an audience very happy indeed.
Coincidentally, half of the Hawkesbury Upton Litfest was also hosted by a pub, the ancient Fox Inn. A sweet honey-coloured Cotswold stone village, Hawkesbury Upton is a world away from Birmingham’s gritty Gunmakers’ Quarter. Seemingly, everyone in Hawkesbury Upton loves to read. At any given time, at least two events were taking place for adults at this full-day festival, and there were art exhibitions and children’s workshops too. A charming green chalk line directed punters between the Fox and poetry performances at the Methodist Church Hall. Did I mention cake? It appeared the villagers were brilliant bakers too, with home-made goodies on sale with all those lovely books.
Highlight of the litfest for me was meeting cosy crime thriller writer Jackie Kabler, whose TV newsroom murder mystery is storming the charts. I too prefer to keep graphic violence out of my books (thriller author Joanna Penn used the term ‘torture porn’ at the lifest) and it’s encouraging to know that’s what readers like too.
I left Hawkesbury Upton staggering under the weight of new books to enjoy! As an amazing April literary feast draws to an end, these are next on my ‘to-read’ list:
Copper Trance & Motorways, by Andrew Sparke – I’m already chuckling at the office politics in this wryly observed crime thriller.
Screaming Blue-City Murder, by G J Wood – I’ve dipped into this fabulous collection of satirical, sweary short stories already. Although I write about a shinier version of Birmingham than Gareth, I love his focus on seedy, sinister secrets. He’s a genius.
Marry in Haste, by Debbie Young. Romantic short stories with happy endings, great with a cuppa.
Me-Time Tales, by Rosalind Minett. More short stories, the ideal solution for time-poor fiction lovers!
The Derring-Do Club and the Invasion of the Grey, by David Wake. After hearing his stirring steampunk at The Gunmaker’s Arms, there was no way I was leaving that pub without a copy to read!
I’m a British crime thriller writer, following in the footsteps of Ruth Rendell, Kate Atkinson and our transatlantic cousin, John Grisham. Read tasters of my work, including 5 minute crime thriller ‘The Gap’ here.
The Thriller of the Month is taking a back seat in March (not least because I’m busy writing my fourth crime thriller), so I’ve asked writer Pete Sutton for a guest blog explaining why he’s using crowdfunding to publish a bunch of short stories. Pete is the editor of Far Horizons magazine, and he’s crowdfunding in order to publish not just one, but THREE BOOKs of short stories that first appeared in Far Horizons! Here’s why…in his own words…
Far Horizons started with a simple idea. A bunch of writers on a Facebook group who were either unpublished or self-published wanted to create an anthology. That simple premise became Far Horizons e-magazine and we got enough stories and art to make a second then a third etc. Two years later the team and magazine have grown. Our original remit hasn’t changed though. We exist to give new writers a voice. We will edit new writers until they become publishable. It is a labour of love.
The magazine has always been free. This has been to get the widest possible reach for the stories which are mostly from writers learning their craft. No-one gets paid at the moment and we offer adverts for the author’s work in payment for sending us their stories.
Our original idea to create an anthology is still sound, and so we have now created three. Our hope is that by selling anthologies we’ll raise enough money to start paying our contributors. This is the main reason we are crowdfunding. The anthologies will be published regardless of how much money we make via the crowdfund. But we hope to raise enough money to cover our costs – and our real desire is to raise enough money to start paying our contributors.
We will do more anthologies and we will continue to publish the magazine (although the form may change after our second birthday). We also hope to publish some of the serials we have featured over the months as a thank you to the authors that have given us those serials.
Former Heroes we previously published but have remastered for this launch. It has stories in from published and self-published authors including David Gullen (Author of Shopocalypse and Open Waters), Gaie Sebold (author of the Babylon Steel and Shanghai Sparrow books), Sara Jayne Townsend (author of Soul Screams and Whispering Death) , Andrew Goodman (author of the Emperor Initiative series), Kate Charles (Author of Faisollus), Jim King (author of Trouble at the Docks) and Pete Sutton (author of A Tiding of Magpies and Sick City Syndrome). These are tales of men and women, and in one case a building, that have had a heroic heyday but that is now in their past. What do heroes do when they are no longer heroes?
Our most popular issue was our Zombie special so we saw there was an appetite for braaaains, er for well-told tales of the shambling undead. This anthology was filled through open submissions. We had a lot of fun reading all the stories and choosing the best to highlight.
Fantastically Horny started as a Facebook IM conversation. One of the staff writes erotica under a pen name and inquiring minds wanted to know if they put aliens or elves in, since they also write SF&F. We then wondered if anyone had ever put together a SF&F Erotica book. Which then inevitably led us to wanting to put together a SF&F Erotica book…
So we have ended up with not one, but three anthologies to launch. We hope that people feel inspired by our magazine and want to help us help new writers. Please head over to the Indiegogo and pledge.
Writer Pete Sutton is signed to Kensington Gore Publishing, who are about to launch his collection of short stories, “A Tiding of Magpies”, very soon. His novel, “Sick City Syndrome”, will follow later in the year. Read Pete’s excellent blog here, and follow him on Twitter at @suttope.
Although I use my imagination to create fictional characters and plots for my crime thrillers, the twists and turns of real life occasionally cause a sharp intake of breath. Here are 5 real murder cases that caught my attention – and may even have provided a dose of writer’s inspiration!
#1. Sweet little old lady Melissa Ann Shepard has been in the news recently. When they released the 80-year-old from prison, the Canadian authorities took the precaution of warning the public to beware. She’d served time for killing one husband, drugging another and stealing cash from a lover after spiking his ice cream.
#2. Drug smuggler Martin Newman didn’t mean to kill anyone when he tricked three friends into carrying bottles of rum laced with cocaine on a flight for him. Unfortunately, one of them gave the rum away when Newman didn’t turn up at Heathrow to collect it from him. In a further unhappy twist, a bottle was passed on to a kind cabbie as thanks for waiving his fare. He poured himself a drink at a party – with fatal consequences. The concentration of cocaine was so strong that a single teaspoon was enough to kill.
#3. Once serial killer Joanna Dennehy had stabbed one man to death, she decided she’d acquired a taste for it. Over ten days, she murdered two more acquaintances and then embarked on a road trip, stabbing two strangers. Thankfully, they survived.
#4. After murdering his stepmother as a child, the St Albans Poisoner, Graham Young, slipped rat poison into his colleagues’ tea at a photo lab. Dozens became ill, and two died. Young’s motive appears to have been scientific curiosity. (In my professional life, I occasionally speak to a recruiter called Graham Young – I never have trouble remembering his name!)
#5. John “Babbacombe” Lee was sentenced to death in 1885. He’d been found guilty of murder – although on such flimsy evidence that a conviction would be unlikely today. His executioner made three attempts to hang him in Exeter Prison. After failing for the third time, the law wouldn’t let him try again. Poor John Lee served 22 years in gaol instead. The story inspired a concept album by electric folksters Fairport Convention.
As a British crime thriller writer, I take inspiration from many sources! My latest book, The Bride’s Trail, began with this old news story. Read the first few chapters of crime thriller The Bride’s Trail on Amazon to find out how.
I mentioned last week how friendships can develop from a writing group. Here are five more compelling reasons to join one:
#1. Your writing will improve. However good at self-editing, you’ll miss typos, repetitions, and even ways of doing things better if you work in a vacuum.
#2. Fresh ideas. My writing group is a broad church, covering sci-fi through to romance (there’s even one author who writes both). I’m not planning a switch from crime thrillers to fantasy any time soon, but I’ve learned about suspense, sentence structure and fashion from my fellow scribes.
#3. You’ll get practice at reading your fiction aloud. This not only winkles out typos, but is a stepping stone to reading your books in public. Live fiction events are fun, and a great way to reach out to readers.
#4. Expertise swaps. The technical aspects of publishing can be daunting – whether you want to do it yourself, or whether you’re looking for a traditional agent and publisher. As part of a supportive group, you’ll share expertise and contacts.
#5. Deadlines. Knowing the writing group meets tomorrow might just give you the impetus to finish that short story – or start it!
If in doubt, don’t delay – visit one or two groups (maybe even more) until you find the support that’s right for you. Good luck!
I’m a crime thriller writer with a particular focus on the buzzy British cities of London and Birmingham. I’m taking part in live fiction in Bristol and Birmingham soon. Both events are free and fun – do come along!
There are many compelling reasons why new and established authors should join a writing group (look out for a blog about this soon!). A quite unexpected, but delightful, benefit is the new friends who enter your world. Eileen Elsey, proud redhead, gin connoisseur and writer of deliciously quirky stories, was one of them. She turned up at the same writing group five years ago and sprinkled fairydust in my life ever since. Her solstice parties were a legend, her friends were fun, and the improvements she suggested to my stories were fabulous.
I miss her, and I’m not the only one. Friends say there’s an Eileen-shaped hole in their lives. Her funeral last week captured her spirit perfectly – a stylish ceremony in a woodland chapel (see the picture above), with jazz, wine, food and interesting friends. Best of all was the greatest gift a writer can give: her latest short crime story, Handbagged, was published in a limited edition by her family and handed to everyone on the day.
Three of Eileen’s wondrous stories have been published in an anthology under her pen name, DA Allen. You can see actor Alun Robins read one of them here (warning: there are four letter words) – it’s wickedly funny.
A beautiful spirit, much missed. I’m dedicating my next crime thriller to her.