Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mad Motives for Murder: by Malcolm Rose

That’s “Mad Motives for Murder” written by me, not mad motives for the murders I’ve just committed. Anyway, why do people murder? Resentment, revenge, racism, robbery and rage are just a few obvious reasons. There are many more, including all those that don’t begin with r. But what brings on these strong feelings? Sometimes the underlying causes are quite surprising. All of these have actually happened and have been reported in the news.

Husband kills wife because she burnt a hole in his favourite shirt when she was ironing it. The weapon was the iron.

Japanese mother kills neighbour’s toddler to secure last place at local nursery for her own child.

Driver of ice-cream van murders rival with a home-made sword after a clash for the best spot for selling ice-creams.

Man kills wife and four others because his breakfast eggs were cold.

Chinese computer-gamer murders his friend for stealing his dragon sabre – a virtual object in an online game.

Lawyer (yes, a lawyer!) kills person sitting next to him in a cinema after an argument about noisy eating of popcorn.

Probably not a good idea to use any of these in a crime story. Your readers wouldn’t believe them. Do you know any other (genuine) weird ones?

Malcolm Rose is the bestselling author of the Jordan Stryker and Luke Harding series, among many others. When he says they aren't his own mad motives, I think he's another one who's protesting too much (see Anne Rooney). Re the popcorn, I'd have done the same as the lawyer.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Hercule Poirot and Stephanie Plum - Crime can be FUN: by Bryony Pearce

I’ll say upfront that I don’t mean criminal activities should be undertaken as a form of entertainment (please nobody sue me). What I mean is that for well over a century, certain writers have proven that crime fiction can (and sometimes should) be FUNNY.

Reading ‘fun’ crime gives us a nice break from everyday life – a laugh along with the suggestion that we live in a comprehensible universe and that even death is a mystery that can be solved. Fun crime is worth reading.

At first glance Poirot and Plum are worlds apart. Christie’s first Poirot novel was published in 1920, the thirty-ninth in 1975. Janet Evanovich’s first Stephanie Plum novel was published in 1994 and the seventeenth just last year.

Poirot is an apparently asexual, utterly fastidious French speaking Belgian private detective, perhaps best embodied by David Suchet who played the role in the successful nineties television series.

Stephanie Plum is a ditzy Bounty Hunter from Trenton New Jersey, who constantly ends up in disgusting messes and perilous situations and whose love triangle with fellow bounty hunter Ranger and cop Morelli form the backbone of the series of books. She is due to be played by Katherine Heigl in the upcoming film of the first book ‘One for the Money’ (although I always imagined her as more of a Sandra Bullock).

Poirot travels, solving mysteries in places from an English country house to Mesopotamia and the Nile; Plum remains in Trenton, New Jersey, solving mysteries at the local funeral parlour or ice-cream shop. In seventeen novels the furthest she gets from home is a trip to Las Vegas.

And yet both Poirot and Plum are totally beloved of fans (I’m one of them) and I can say that I love both, partly because there are similarities that tie the books together.

Both writers are easy to read (I regularly recommend Evanovich / Plum to reluctant adult readers). In both sets of books the narratives are well-paced, the dialogue is lively and the setting is described with the minimum of description, but oh so effectively.

Both Poirot and Plum solve mysteries, both are in the ‘eccentric detective’ mould (like Sherlock Holmes), both have ‘a stooge assistant’ (Hastings and Lula) and both have real police to deal with (although Poirot’s relationship with Japp is strikingly different from Plum’s with Morelli).

Most other characters are stereotypes. In Christie we have the rich newcomer with his mysterious butler or secretary or the ne'er-do-well relative, in Evanovich we have the prostitute with the heart of gold, the crazy grandmother, the long suffering parents, the slimy pervert, the hot mystery guy, the roguish cop. All of these have a wonderful universality that means the stereotype is always welcome.

And the descriptions themselves are genius. Poirot as first described by Hastings

"He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible.”

We can see Poirot with perfect clarity and there is a wonderful comical element to the way Christie puts the bird-like pose and pink tipped nose next to his ‘dignity’.

Evanovich has similarly wonderful descriptive passages, spare, yet telling us so much.

"My professional aspirations were simple - I wanted to be an intergalactic princess."

One of Plum’s less attractive suitors is described as having a tent in his fly made by his zipper. That’s pretty much all the description you get, but isn’t it enough?

It is the characters drawn by Christie and Evanovich that are so vital to the success of the books. And because the characters are so easy to imagine it is perhaps not surprising that Poirot and Plum have spawned films.

If One for the Money is as good as the book, I reckon you’ll enjoy it.

Bryony's debut novel ANGEL'S FURY will be published on the 4th July by Egmont Books

Monday, 21 March 2011

Things you didn't know about NEMESIS: Catherine MacPhail

When I was asked to write a crime thriller series, I decided on a boy hero, mainly because when I write my books if I have written with a girl as the main character in one book, in the next I try to have a boy. I had just finished Roxy’s Baby. I needed a hero. Should he be a boy detective helping his policeman father to solve crimes? Boring. Could he be part of a teenage detective agency? Even more boring. I wanted him to be able to follow people, go from place to place, but how could an ordinary boy do that. I didn’t want him to have any special powers or gadgets to help him. I wanted him to be just a boy. Then I thought, what if he is a runaway? A runaway can go anywhere he pleases. And of course, hot on the heels of that thought...why is he on the run?

I hadn’t a clue, and because I’m too lazy to think things through I decided he wouldn’t have a clue either. He was going to wake up at the beginning of the first book, not know who he was, or how he got there. All he knows is that someone is after him, someone he calls the Dark Man, and he has to stay out of his clutches.

Then in each book he could solve a mystery, and in each book he gets a little bit of his memory back, until in the final book he remembers everything. And maybe wishes he hadn’t.

Good. Now I had my hero, and the idea for the story.

All I needed was a plot for each book. A mystery for him to solve. I think sometimes your brain is like a magnet. Things slam into it just when you need them. I needed a mystery? I found one.

There was a body found in a lift in one of the tower blocks in my home town. A resident pressed for the lift, the lift came and there was a man lying inside in a pool of blood. He’d been stabbed, and I thought right away, what if my hero wakes up in the stairwell in that tower block, and he finds that body...and then he gets the blame for the murder. I thought that would be a great way to begin a thriller, and I used it. We writers really do have a sliver of ice instead of a heart. We use everything!

I love putting things in my books that readers might not pick up the first time, but when they go back they realise the clue was there all the time. It’s called foreshadowing. I love it.

So here are a few things you might have missed if you’ve read my Nemesis series.

For instance, the clue to the whole mystery is there for all to read in the first Nemesis book, Into The Shadows. Even my editor missed that when she first read it.

When my young hero is asked his name he calls himself Ram, doesn’t know why, but it is another clue to the mystery.

In The Beast Within the Dark Man calls himself, Mr. McGuffin. The McGuffin was a favourite plot device of the film director, Alfred Hitchcock, something you thought was important but had no bearing on the story at all. The McGuffin didn’t really exist. And of course, neither does Mr. McGuffin.

How many beasts can you find in The Beast Within? Wilkie is called a beast, and Kirsten’s mum drives a Jaguar. There are lots more and it seems to me the beast that roams the Moorshap Mire is the least dangerous of them.

When Ram first stays the night with Uncle William and Aunt Mary there are books by his bedside. One of them, Hansel and Gretel, is another clue to what William and Mary have planned for him.

In Sinister Intent there is a character called Catman. Here in Greenock, there really is a Catman, all the children know of him. He roams the streets, never quite being seen. Probably nothing more sinister than a poor homeless old man, but for my story, he became something quite different.

I was watching a documentary set in Florida, and they were filming in the sewers. The man who worked down there carried a rifle. “ We get alligators down here,” he said. “ You never know when you’ll see them, and when they rush you, you gotta get shooting fast.”

Alligators in the sewers? Too good not to use in Sinister Intent.

The fair came to my home town, Greenock, which is on the River Clyde. I watched this huge Ferris wheel being erected right on the edge of the pier. I took a ride in it and when I got to the top, looking down at the dark water, I was sure it was going to topple over, and I thought...what if it did....? In Ride of Death, the Ferris wheel became a rollercoaster, and topple it did.

The climax in Ride of Death takes place in my own home town. Greenock. There really is an estate nearby just like Hanover House, and there are lots of tankers and other ships for the Dark Man to escape in. And of course, there really was a fair there when I was writing the book.

Cathy MacPhail recently won both the Red Book Award and the Royal Mail Award for her novel GRASS.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Easy Part: by Bill Kirton

There are as many ways to write crime
novels as there are writers.

I’m usually more interested in whydunits than whodunits (although I do try to keep the reader guessing). So I start with the characters, think about their motives and work everything back from there.

But recently, I’ve been asked to write a sort of CSI thing for a local charity at which people get to do experiments, compare DNA, fingerprints, shoeprints, fibres and so on, as well as interview actors pretending to be part of the story.

So what this means is that I have to start with clues, not characters, just as the police do. They know who the dead person is and they find powder on a car seat, fibres in a crack in a shoe, DNA traces on a screwdriver, tool marks where someone has tried to force a door, and that’s it.

I never realised just how different it is for them, because they then have to find everyone who might be involved, eliminate some, then ask the right questions to sort out those who are telling the truth from the liars. And it’s that last part – being clever at interviewing – that makes the difference.

Compared with real detective work, writing crime is easy.

Bill Kirton is a crime writer based in Aberdeen. He has written the fantastic Cairnburgh series of detective novels based in that city. His latest ebook The Sparrow Conundrum has just been published, and a FREE downloadable extract is available at Smashwords - though I hasten to add that parts of it may not be suitable for anyone under 17.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

AUTHORS FOR JAPAN! Please help - and bag a goodie!

A special quick blogpost today - because if you head over to AUTHORS FOR JAPAN, a site set up by author Keris Stainton, you can bid for all kinds of fantastic book loot from some wonderful authors - and help the tsunami recovery effort at the same time. Do please head on over and take a look!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

How Do You Lie About Everything? An Interview with Keren David by Anne Cassidy

Anne Cassidy loved Keren David's WHEN I WAS JOE. She decided to interrogate Keren about it. She may bring charges at a later date.

Joe’s story is written in the first person. As a writer, was it hard to get into the mind of a teenage boy?

It was hard at the beginning, but became easier as I came to know Ty/Joe. I had several guiding principles – for example he rarely says what he is thinking, and he often acts impetuously, and I also thought a lot about what it might be like being a boy going through puberty. In the end his voice became very easy – easier than writing as a girl which I’ve just done.

What made you write about knife crime?

I didn’t set out to write about knife crime - the crime that Ty witnessed was going to be very much in the background, with the emphasis much more on the experience of taking on a false identity. But as I was writing there was a horrific spate of knife killings in London, and everything I was reading in the papers seemed to tell me more about Ty and his world. So the book became about knife crime as well - and considerably longer as a result.

The girls in your book, Claire, Ashley and Ellie all seem damaged in some way. Was this an important aspect of yo
ur story?

I didn’t really think of it like that, the characters grew with the story. Ellie, in fact, came from a plot-planning exercise at the evening class in Writing for Children that I was taking. We had to get into pairs and weave out characters into a story. My partner had a disabled athlete as her character and I had my witness boy – at the end of the session I asked her if I could nick her character and write the book - she agreed, I’m sure she didn’t think it would ever happen!

I do think that the three girls all represented things about Ty’s mum, Nicki, and his relationships with them were as much about his relationship with her as about the girls themselves.

There are twists and turns in the plot which leave the reader breathless. Did you plan it all out before you started writing?

Thank you! Not really - I had an idea of a start and end point, and I knew the backstory of the murder, but apart from that the twists and turns came as I wrote each chapter. My favourite twist just came to me as I was driving the car home from dropping my son at school - I nearly crashed the car, I was so excited!

Tell us about the sequel

Almost True, which was published in September 2010 carries on Ty’s story. He’s in even more danger, and he discovers a lot of secrets about his past and his family and the crime which he witnessed. I’ve just agreed with my publishers that there will be a third book about Ty, which I’m writing now and should be published in 2012.

Thank you, Keren. You may now leave the interrogation suite!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Pants on Fire: by Michael J. Malone

‘So you tell lies for a living then?’ she arched an eyebrow and offered a half-smile.

“Well...’ I answered and wondered if she was looking down on me, or looking up to me. ‘ You could say that.’

Professional liar, that’s me. I spend hours making stuff up and let me tell you it’s great fun. (Sometimes, when the lies aren’t flowing – not so much).

I looked it up in the dictionary to be sure.

Liar – noun - someone who tells lies. Yup, that’s me.

Lie - noun – a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive. Fair enough. Guilty as charged. As a crime writer I often make such statements, but we call it misdirection. You look there, but I’m really going over here.

On the other hand if I didn’t also include the truth, the lies wouldn’t be quite so convincing. Every character I write about, I write about them in a manner that is true to them. Their actions and reactions are completely true to the person they are.

I work to find the truth of my characters’ emotions. How do they feel and why do they feel it? I hitch on to that and you, the reader (hopefully) take up their cause. Then for the crime writer those other truths are required. Whodunnit and more importantly in my view, why they did it. As a human being myself (I know – hard to believe) I am fascinated by other human beings and what makes them tick and in my humble opinion no genre gets to the heart of this more than crime fiction.

So, hands up. I make up lies and give them a core of honesty. And as all the best fibbers know, the most convincing lies are the ones that stick most closely to the truth.

Michael J. Malone is clearly a hot new crime writer in more ways than one. His debut novel BLOOD TEARS will be published by Five Leaves Publishing in spring 2012. He lives in Glasgow, reviews crime fiction for, and I notice he isn't telling us who 'she' is.

Monday, 7 March 2011

I didn't do it! by Anne Rooney

A favourite body-dumping spot of Anne's...

I was driving my daughter to school. She was unusually quiet for a long time, until…

‘Mum – have you killed someone?’

‘Er, no. Why?’

‘Are you sure?’

I thought back over people I’ve wanted to kill in the recent past, but their activity on twitter suggests they’re all still alive.

‘Yep. Sure. Why?’



‘On Google Earth, on your computer, it says “Dump body here”. So I wondered…’

Researching a crime story is almost as good as doing a crime. You get all the fun of the plotting but without (usually) actually being accused, tried and punished. Google Earth is great. You can see just where there’s a ditch that will hide a body from the road but that can be seen from the railway line. You can track your police chases, insert a hold-up at a level crossing in just the right place, and find a building to burn down.

Not all research is virtual. When I wanted to dump a body in a Venetian canal for three months, I asked a pathologist at the local hospital about the optimum conditions for a body to remain undecayed (the fat turns to a soapy substance called adipocere), how I’d have to protect the corpse from wildlife, and so on. You

have to be careful how you approach experts, though. Starting with ‘I want to dump a body in a canal…’ doesn’t go down well. As it turned out, the very helpful pathologist was so pleased to have something a little different to do he invited me to an autopsy.

You can get it wrong. One friend told me she’d phoned an embassy and asked if it was possible to drive a car with a bomb in it right up to the front door. That was a bad move.

(The body in the Google Earth debacle was not actually dead, but the kidnap victim in Off The Rails. So I really didn’t kill them at all.)

Anne Rooney sounds as if she's protesting too much. She is the author of more than 100 books, both fiction and non-fiction, including Off The Rails and her latest, The Story of Physics. She lives in Cambridge. The daft friend who phoned the Paris embassy about the bomb may be not a million miles from the poster of this blog.