Monday, 30 May 2011

EGA interviews...Anne Cassidy

The reading group from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School interviewed Anne Cassidy. We ran the first half last are the rest of their searching questions.

Award-winning author Anne
12.  What inspired you to write Looking for JJ?

I was shocked and horrified at reports of two child murders in this country over the last forty years. The killing of James Bulger by two ten year old boys and the case of Mary Bell, a ten year old girl who killed two small children.

13.  Out of all your books, which was the most difficult to complete?

None. The most difficult bit is always the middle. That’s where it becomes complicated and you have bad days and wonder why you ever started it!

14.  Do you relate a lot to your main characters?

There is always some of me in the main character of my book. This is how I am able to write them convincingly. Even JJ’s temper tantrums came from times when I remembered exploding as a child.

The girls from EGA
17.  Which book did you enjoy writing most?         

I enjoy them all. Really. No lie. It’s much easier work than being a teacher.

18.  Do you think your books help people who are going through the same things your characters face?

I don’t know. I just try and tell a good story. If my books change the way people look at something then that’s a bonus.

19.  Who are some authors that you admire?

Some adult crime writers I admire are  Kate Atkinson, Ian Rankin and CJ Sansom.

20.  Do you take characteristics from your friends and family and incorporate them into your books?

Yes, I do. There is often a well dressed older lady in my books with smart hair. This is my mum.  There is always someone who supports West Ham. This is because my husband loves West Ham.

21.  Does it take very long to finish a book?

It takes me six months to write a book.

22.  Are you currently writing a book? If yes, when does it come out?

I’ve just finished a book called DEAD TIME which is the first of a series called THE MURDER NOTEBOOKS. This comes out in May 2012.

23.  Do you think your books are suitable for all audiences?

Books find their own audience. If a very young reader picks up one of my books she or he will simply not be able to get into it. If a reader is too old they will not engage with it.

 Are you part of a school reading group, and would you like to interview a crime writer? Get in touch at and we will try and organise it.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Have you ever done it? by Hilary Freeman

When people find out that I’ve written Lifted, a novel about a girl who achieves celebrity through

shoplifting, the first thing they invariably ask me is (you’ve guessed it): ‘Have you ever shoplifted 


Hilary Freeman: has she?

It’s an interesting reaction. If I’d written a book about murder or armed robbery I’m sure nobody would dream of asking me if I’d killed anyone, or raided the local post office with a sawn-off shotgun and a pair of 15 deniers over my face. But shoplifting? It’s not like other crimes. It’s something we assume most people have done at least once in their lives - more a rite of passage than a sign of being bad or mad or dangerous. And that’s what makes it so fascinating.

While some people shoplift because they need to, the majority do it for the thrill, the buzz, the delicious risk of getting caught. Sometimes it’s a cry for help. Sometimes it’s just an expression of futility. The stats show that the more materialistic society becomes, and the more ‘things’ we all possess, the more young people seem to shoplift. Why is this? Why do people like Hollywood actress Winona Ryder, who appears to have it all, need to shoplift? How do we view them when they get caught? What does it say about the world we live in? These are all questions that I hoped to explore while writing Lifted.

So, back to that initial question: have I ever shoplifted myself? Now, that would be telling.
 Lifted is shortlisted for the Lancashire Book of the Year Award

Monday, 23 May 2011

Simon Cheshire's Three All-time Favourite Detective Stories

The reason I started writing the Saxby Smart detective stories for 8-12 year-olds was that I'd always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and one day it suddenly occurred to me that I'd never actually tried writing any. Or, at least, nothing you'd specifically label as crime fiction. Since then, I've often been asked what my own favourites are, so here they are:
            Firstly, there's The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, widely credited as the first detective novel ever written, and still a thumping good read. I have to admit, I love Wilkie Collins's work. I'm always surprised he's not more widely read these days, since personally I think he's a more accessible Victorian author than even Dickens. His later novel The Law And The Lady is another great detective yarn, although for some reason it's never presented as such. (It also contains an unintentionally comic female protagonist, all fluttering eighteenth century virtue and pre-feminism ideals!)
            Secondly, another Victorian masterpiece: Conan Doyle's The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Few novels of any kind are as thoroughly atmospheric, and this one positively reeks of lonely, windswept moorland. It's odd that this is still perhaps the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories, because it's so untypical of them. For a start, Holmes is, of course, absent for most of it.
            Thirdly, The Maltese Falcon. Well, you just can't go wrong with Dashiell Hammett, can you? It's one of those books, like the novels of Edgar Wallace, that you feel you've got to read in a yellowed, dog-eared old paperback edition to get the full effect. American noire of the '30s is so powerfully evocative of its period, I always think it ought to be given to history students.
            Now, where did I put my trenchcoat...?

Simon Cheshire is one of the UK's leading children's writers, and his Saxby Smart detective stories for 8-12 year-olds are among his most popular titles. You'll find more information at Simon's website

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A Cushion Out of Place by Claudia Hyde

This crime story won a London heat of the National Young Crime Writer’s Competition in May. It will go forward to the national competition in June which will be judged by senior CWA members.  We LOVED this story. Good luck Claudia -  Anne Cassidy

Winning writer Claudia Hyde and Anne Cassidy

A Cushion Out of Place by  Claudia Hyde

There was only one time in my childhood where I was happy. I mean, where I genuinely felt the phenomenon of happiness.

I can still recall the feeling of the squeaky leather of the psychiatrist’s armchair underneath my pinafore. I remember the noise it made, too; it was a high pitched whining noise, as if it were protesting from my weight. Not that I weighed an awful lot as a child; sometimes I refused to eat my meals even when I was starving hungry, just to upset my mother. That seemed to be my number one priority, to upset my mother. But I knew I could do it eventually.

“So tell me Ilse, what seems to be the problem?” Dr. Holtzmann said tapping his Swiss fountain pen elegantly against a cork clipboard. I knew for a fact that he wasn’t intending on writing anything on that clipboard.

“Well, she’s become very complacent recently,” my mother began. The vigorous ceiling lights of Dr Holtzmann’s office were reflecting off the surface of her pearls.
“I don’t think she’s been handling the…”
“Actually, if it’s alright with you, Frau Tessler,” Dr Holtzmann interrupted, “I would like to speak to Ilse.”

My mother looked dejected; she probably wanted to spend the hour long session complaining about me and have Dr Holtzmann agree that I was an unruly child and it was not her fault. She’d wasted her hour’s worth. It served her right, too. She reclined back onto her squeaky armchair, and rested her head on one well-manicured hand.

“What’s wrong, Ilse?”
I glared back at the doctor. Did he honestly expect me to pour out my heart and soul to a stranger who my sadistic mother was paying to agree with her?
“Perhaps we should have some privacy,” he whispered to my mother in confidential tones.

“So, what’s wrong, Ilse?” he repeated, as if he honestly expected me to reply. “Your parents tell me you’re not getting on with your younger sister.”
I scorned that sentence. My sister was three months old at the time. Of course we couldn’t get on, she was the most boring, useless lump of cashmere and baby spit I had ever met in my life. But Dr Holtzmann and my parents didn’t know the half of it. They were such ignorant fools.

I had snuck out of bed late in the night; I could tell because my parents were both asleep and the neighbour’s cat was yowling like it normally did at midnight. I creaked open the nursery door in my circus animal onesie, being careful not to wake my parents. I switched the light on dimly – I had to be able to see what I was doing – and made my way over to the crib. She looked like one of those strange Bavarian sausages my grandmother used to make for me – short, fat and pink, flecked with whiteness. I stuck my hand into the crib and pulled out a soft white cushion with tiny pink hearts embroidered onto it. The baby was still snoozing, her arms bent either side of her. It was all too easy, like taking candy from a baby.

No, no; it was easy, too easy. I had to challenge myself, otherwise it wouldn’t be any fun at all. I placed the embroidered cushion back in the crib and crawled back to my bedroom.
The next morning my parents had worried why the door was ajar and the light was on; they thought perhaps there had been a burglar break in during the night, but their worries quickly subsided when they realised there wasn’t so much as a cushion out of place.

Eventually, my parents stopped taking me to see Dr Holtzmann. I rarely said anything during the sessions, and when I did, it was only to ask my mother when we could go home. During those sessions, the only thing I could think of was my baby sister lying in the nursery, growing bigger and stronger while I wasted my time sitting on the squeaky leather armchair.

We’d gone home early from the park on one very rainy Sunday afternoon a few weeks later. We came flooding through the front door with our raincoats wet and shiny, and our Wellington boots squelching with mud on the beige jute carpet. The baby had been screaming non-stop ever since the rain had started. I didn’t see what she was complaining about; her pram had a see-through rain cover that kept her snug and dry while the rest of us wallowed in the weather. My mother took her up to the nursery whilst my father cleaned the boots in the kitchen sink.

I sat idly on the stairs waiting for something terrible to happen.

The screaming didn’t stop. It continued and continued; I could hear mother singing lullaby after lullaby, hushing and shushing, comforting and cuddling, but simply nothing worked. After a while mother ventured downstairs to sterilise a bottle, leaving the Bavarian sausage-baby screaming in her crib. I tip-toed upstairs to the nursery, seizing my opportunity. I picked her up; she was heavier than I remembered, but looked a bit more like salami than a Bavarian sausage because she was so red-faced. She was screaming so hard I could actually feel her vibrating in my hands, like a bomb.

“Stop screaming!” I shouted, loud, right in her angry, puffed-up face. “Stop it! Just stop it, stop it, stop it!”

Suddenly, the screaming stopped, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. Without realising it, I had been shaking her up and down like a Magic-8 ball. A smile as wide as the Danube crept onto my face. Everything was calm, everything was peaceful. I finally knew what it meant to be happy.

I placed the silent cadaver back in the crib with the embroidered cushion under her head. She looked well rested. And you know the best part? I knew this, this alone, would upset my mother more than I could’ve dreamed.

(Copyright:Claudia Hyde)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Taboos by Savita Kalhan

The list of formerly taboo subjects for writers of teen fiction has become shorter and shorter. Now we can write about sex, oral sex, teen pregnancy, sexuality, drugs and suicide. There are lots of teen books that deal with those issues.
There are no subjects that are taboo any more, you might conclude, not even incest.            
But go into any book shop and you will still be hard pressed to find teen books that deal with the kinds of crimes that are committed by adults on teens and younger kids, particularly abuse, whether it is physical, psychological or sexual abuse. And you won’t find a crime section in the kids’ department, although you will now find a teen section, so that’s a huge leap for all you teens out there. But within the teen section, books dealing with abduction and abuse will be few and far between. They are not considered suitable subject matters for kids to read about, and so have traditionally been taboo subjects. Even now, publishers tend not to want to take a chance on a book that might be deemed too ‘risky’.
But we all know these crimes happen. We read about them in the papers, hear about them on the news. They happen to young kids, older kids, teenagers and young adults. The point is they happen, but rarely figure in books for kids or teens.
I was lucky with my book, The Long Weekend. Despite the fact that it explores a taboo in teen/YA lit, it somehow slipped through the net, and it’s on the bookshelves of book shops and libraries. It’s about two boys who are abducted after school on a Friday afternoon by a paedophile, and yes it’s suitable for anyone over the age of 12.
As a writer I think it depends on how such taboo subjects are approached, how sensitively the subject matter is dealt with, and what kind of story it ends up being. The Long Weekend is at heart a gripping thriller that most teens just don’t want to put down once they’ve started it. It appeals to young adults – and even older adults, too.
I think it’s important to break through walls and go where others have not gone before as long as the writer knows what they’re doing – and remembers the age of their readership. There is still so much scope for breaking traditional taboos in teen lit.
Have you read a book recently that has been devastatingly good and that has explored a subject you have rarely seen on the shelves before?
For a chance to win a copy of The Long Weekend, check out the competition box at the top of the page 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Crime, ghosts and laughs by Tamsyn Murray

 Even to my own ears, the elevator pitch for the first book I ever wrote sounds a bit grim:
My So-Called Afterlife is about a fifteen year old girl, who gets murdered in a London toilet and comes back as a ghost to catch her killer.’
The second book in the series, My So-Called Haunting, isn’t much lighter:
‘Hackney teenager Dontay dies in a gang shoot out and it’s up to psychic Skye to stop his brother from going the same way.’
I’m sure you’re getting the picture. It’s probably best not to ask about My So-Called Phantom Lovelife. My mother-in-law still hasn’t forgiven me for what I did to one of the characters.
So, from the descriptions above, you’d be forgiven for thinking I write crime novels , albeit with a supernatural twist. And on some level, you’d be right. When I was first thinking about writing a book for teens, it felt like scarcely a day went by without some report of knife crime in London. For me, the victims were all the more tragic when they were teenagers so it was natural that this should influence my writing.
But there’s a lot more to the Afterlife series than tragedy. I write for the lower end of the YA age range, so my books might cover death and suicide but I never forget who my audience is. Whether my main character is dead or alive, they’re typical teens. Lucy, from My So-Called Afterlife, is queen of the sarcastic one-liner, and she uses humour to get through her death. Skye is softer but still likes a joke and I ensure there’s plenty of comedy salted through the story to detract from the harsh realities of an inner city gun crime plot. It’s this humour which I hope lift the books out of being pigeon-holed as one particular genre and make them something unique.
The lightness of touch also means I can tackle some pretty full-on topics without depressing the reader – how many books have you read where a character was so horrendously bullied that she took her own life and yet there’s still the possibility of a happy ending? Or where a murder victim takes control of their own destiny and decides whether their killer is brought to justice or not?
I’m currently working on the fourth Afterlife book, which will be the usual genre-defying blend. And then I’m thinking about concentrating on a pure-blood YA crime novel, about a serial killer in London. One thing you can be sure of, though; there’ll be a joke or two in there somewhere. Humour has always helped us through our darkest days - long may it stay that way.

Monday, 16 May 2011

How to Name a Detective by Simon Cheshire

 When I started writing the first of what are now eight volumes of detective stories, “The Curse Of The Ancient Mask”, I was going to call my schoolkid hero Ed Deadly. I thought that sounded like a great name for a detective.
            Unfortunately, it wasn't a great name for this particular detective. When you hear the name 'Ed Deadly', what springs to mind? A hardboiled gumshoe? A darkened alleyway, a turned up trenchcoat, a fedora pulled low over the eyes...? Well, that's not what my detective is like, at all. He's still at school, and as a character he's miles away from Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. 'Ed Deadly' just didn't suit him.
            So he needed a new name. OK, something-Smart, because he's quick-witted, he's intelligent. What-Smart?... Something beginning with S! Simon Smart? No. Steve Smart? Yuck. Sid Smart? Definitely not. In the end, out of sheer desperation, I logged on to a website that suggests names for babies. I clicked on 'Boys', then 'S' and scrolled down the list. I literally shut my eyes and stabbed at the screen.
            Saxby. A medieval name, apparently, originally of Viking origin.
            Perfect! From that moment on, his name was Saxby Smart. Well, at least it's memorable!
How do other writers name their characters? Are there 'villain' and 'hero' names? Leave a comment...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Meeting the Best Young Crime Writers - Anne Cassidy

Anne with the winning writers
On Saturday 7th May I attended a small gathering at the Earlsfield Library in Wandsworth.

Six young writers had been shortlisted by librarians from Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond upon Thames and Wandsworth in the National Young Crime Writers’ Competition run for the second year by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA).

The six shortlisted authors (in alphabetical order) were:-

Veronica Chow                          
Danny Culhane-Rodulfo   
Claudia Hyde                             
Hassainah Khodabocus    
Chloe Poulter                            
Belle Whitehead             

The nationwide event organised by the CWA invited writers aged up to 18 to submit 1000 words of crime fiction.

The stories I read were terrific and made me think, for the first time, how effective this short ‘crime’ format is. A bite size narrative that doesn’t take long to read but leaves a shiver at the back of the neck for a long time afterwards.


This story will go through to the national final, which will be judged by senior CWA members. The national winner will be announced during National Crime Writing Week which runs from 13th-19th June.

Claudia Hyde’s story will be published on CRIME CENTRAL soon.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Creating a Criminal Mastermind - Ellen Renner

I love writing villains, especially ones who aren't straightforward in their villainy.
Zebediah Petch is the villain of my second book, City of Thieves. He is the adoptive uncle of my hero, thirteen year old Tobias Petch.
 He kidnaps Toby and coerces him into training as an apprentice thief. The resulting battle of will and wits, as Tobias fights to retain his identity and determine his own future, seems hopelessly mismatched. Toby's efforts at resistance are ground down one by one. But there is a wild card in the mix, in the form of the series anti-hero, Alistair Windlass, former prime-minister, murderer, traitor and calculating adventurer. (More of him in another post.)

Although my books have been praised for their twisty plots that keep the reader turning the pages, it's my characters that motivate me as a writer. I want to know who they are and why they do what they do. Zebediah Petch was a particular challenge. What sort of person turns his own family into a criminal gang?

City of Thieves is set in an alternative Victorian England and I wanted Petch to embody the entrepreneurial spirit of that age. Zebediah constructs a network of receivers, safe houses and retailers for the stolen goods. Like most entrepreneurs, he's a bit of a control freak. It's a family business, employing his sons, nephews, cousins and in-laws. Petch looks after everyone as long as they do as they're told. He's the embodiment of a Victorian patriarch, with a strong sense of family responsibility. He's also a ruthless entrepreneur, eliminating anyone who stands in his way.

Zebediah Petch is an orderly man. He believes in hierarchy, as long as he's at the top of it. He believes in family values, as long as he determines them. He's large, dominating in appearance and manner, and possesses an iron will, suitable for a man at his prime in the Age of Iron. His ambition and ruthlessness have made him the King of Thieves, but it's those very character traits that will ultimately prove his downfall.

Ellen Renner's first book  Castle of Shadows was described in The Times as 'Gorgeously exciting and well written, with a hero as strong-minded and quick witted as its heroine, Renner's acute sense of psychology, politics and pace makes this one to revel in.' City of Thieves is the sequel. Castle of Shadows won the North East Book Award this week.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Simon Cheshire's Three Big Challenges of Writing about a Schoolkid Detective

I love reading crime fiction, but when I came to start writing it for children I discovered that the life of a schoolkid detective wasn't going to be easy to chronicle.
            1) My hero couldn't investigate murders. Or poisonings. Or stabbings. Or most other things that you might categorise as 'serious crime'. After all, he's a kid. The stories would need to retain credibility and realism (albeit a just-on-the-edge-of-what's-possible realism), so clearly I couldn't have him turning up somewhere and finding a dead body in a pool of blood. Readers wouldn't believe it. This leads into...
            2) My hero would need to investigate interesting crimes. Which is obvious, really, but when you can't include murders, poisonings, stabbings etc etc, how do you get your hero involved in the world of crime in the first place? Clearly, having him investigate someone's stolen cellphone, or a missing sports shirt, might just possibly get a little dull for readers. He needed mysteries with a bit more meat to them. Just not dead meat, that's all. Which takes us to...
            3) My hero would need complex, involving mysteries to tackle – cases which were significant, but not gruesome or out of his league. At this point, things became really interesting. I had a very specific set of perameters within which the stories had to function, and I had to find multiple plots which would present new and unusual scenarios to my readers.
            So far, my schoolkid detective Saxby Smart has filled eight volumes of casefiles (twenty-four individual stories, since there are three stories in each book). I have to admit, each successive volume had been harder to write than the previous one (see 1, 2 and 3 above!), but he's still there, in his garden shed, with his battered old Thinking Chair and his files of notes.
Check out Simon Cheshire's Saxby Smart books here  

Thursday, 5 May 2011

From TV to Peter Cocks

Peter's debut thriller, Long Reach
I have never considered myself a crime writer.
With a background in writing children’s TV, comedy and drama, I have had to bend my mind and writing skills – such as they may be -  to a wide variety of genres.
From Basil Brush, to animations such as The Cramp Twins,  to sketch writing on kid’s magazine shows from SMTV to Ministry of Mayhem. From shows that were commissioned from my ideas to ‘gun for hire’ work…even putting ‘words’ in Sooty’s mouth!
Peter cut his teeth writing gags for Basil

As TV budgets shrank, and my ambitions increased, I found that the more expensive ideas just could not find a home in British TV any more. My writing partner of 15 years, Mark Billingham (who you will now know as a best-selling crime author) and I pitched an idea to BBC for a long running , spooky kids thriller called Triskellion. The idea went through all the necessary development hoops but failed at the last hurdle: finance.

When Mark was approached by Walker Books to write for the young adult market, we developed the Triskellion idea into a trilogy of books for the 11+ age group with some success in the UK and USA

With Mark up and running as a best-selling novelist, I began to think of ideas for my next book.
I looked around and saw a market saturated with fantasy, from Harry Potter to Twilight. I also noticed that these books aimed at teens and young adults were being widely read by an older adult audience. Readers who want strong stories, simply told.

Skins: which books are equivalent?
With young, teenage kids of my own, and taking into account my TV background, I also saw that a wide gap had developed in programming. Most new shows were being made for pre-school age and the older programming was patronising and missing the mark for kids who had been brought up on Friends and were now watching Skins, Waterloo Road and Inbetweeners….Where are the books that do this?

I set out to write an unpatronising book aimed at these young adults. I felt I should write at an adult level, not shy away from strong emotion, language, sex, drugs and violence, addressing issues that might be part of my reader’s lives. So, I created Eddie, a 17 year old protagonist, guided by an inaccurate moral compass.

I put him, as an antidote to fantasy, in a gritty, violent, but also glamorous and tempting world where his moral standpoint would be tested on every level.

Eddie Savage is an everyman…you’d like him as your mate. He’s as tough as you’d like to be, but his need for emotional fulfilment makes him an attractive figure for readers of both sexes.

My novel Long Reach was published earlier this year. Early signs are good: Eddie is picking up male and female fans everywhere, and many of my reviews come from readers in their 30s and 40s. I am also getting feedback from schools telling me that reluctant readers, and teenage boys in particular, are relating to Eddie and reading at last.

I hope I have crossed over, and put a crime-based novel squarely into the YA readership. See what you think…

View the trailer for Long Reach here

Peter Cocks and Keren David are appearing at the Hay Festival on June 4, talking about thrillers. From the programme: These two compelling writers know how to deliver their thrillers ice-cold. Join them as they talk flawed heroes, plot twists and danger.
Book tickets here

Monday, 2 May 2011

Why I Write Crime Fiction for Teens by Savita Kalhan

It all started out in a very roundabout way. I lived in the Middle East for several years, teaching English, but access to books was very limited. Most books were banned, so I ended up smuggling them in! I was reading everything I could lay my hands on, including lots of crime fiction and fantasy epics, teen books, YA and adult.  When some  books proved to be disappointing my friend and I decided we’d turn our hand to writing a book ourselves. I wrote a fantasy epic, which ran to hundreds of thousands of words, and had barely finished it when I returned to live in the UK. Somehow everything changed and I literally turned my back on epic fantasy literature and started writing teen and YA crime fiction.
I’ve always read teen and young adult books, so it came naturally to me to write it. There’s an immediacy about the plot and pace that I love and it suits my writing style.
But why crime fiction, you might ask? I adore a good thriller, the kind that takes you on a roller-coaster of a story and leaves you breathless but wanting more. And when you put it down when you’ve reached the end, you know you won’t forget it because it’s left a lasting impression on you. A psychological thriller will do that to you. It’ll be a gut-wrenching read; it’ll take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you. It won’t leave you behind at any point. It’ll make you care.
I hope I’ve created that in The Long Weekend. It’s fast-paced, it will definitely take you far out of your comfort zone, and when you reach the end, I don’t think you’ll forget it in a hurry. It breaks a traditional taboo in teen lit too – but more of that in my next blog here on 19th May.
The Long Weekend comes with a few warnings: Not suitable for younger readers, but if you’re any age between 12 and 100 you’re fine. The other warning? Do NOT under any circumstances read it late at night! And that applies if you’re 12 or a 100. It’s a little bit scary...
Look out for The Long Weekend GIVEAWAY that’s running this month – a signed copy is up for grabs!