Saturday, 27 August 2011

There's more to this life than MURDER Malcolm Rose

Theft has been on my mind. If I wanted a character to steal something valuable, what would it be? A mobile phone, an iPlayer, a Kindle, an iPad, a laptop, a car, a yacht, jewellery, someone’s credit card, cash? There’s a lot of valuable stuff out there. Quite a choice. But what if I wanted my character to steal something really really valuable? I might think of an important painting. But that sort of thing is closely guarded and hard to sell afterwards without specialist knowledge of the black market in artwork.

Gold. That’s expensive. But it’s also held in secure places and a decent quantity is very heavy. Difficult to walk away with a good pile. No. I’d want something very expensive but light and small. So, weight-for-weight, what’s the most valuable human-made object on the planet? I’ll get my character to nick that. Well, it’s a postage stamp. To be precise, it’s the 1855 Swedish 3 skilling stamp in yellow and it last sold for £1.42 million. Weighs almost nothing, costs a lot.

Wait. I used that theme in an old crime story called ‘Flying Upside Down’. Sadly, the book’s almost as hard to find as a yellow 1855 Swedish 3 skilling stamp. New copies from me (via Second-hand copies from the usual online sources.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Ten Things About THE KILLING Adele Geras

The Killing is being repeated on BBC4 and rightly so. Adele Geras picks out the things that she loved about it.

1) The emphasis is on the effects of the crime on the parents of the murdered young woman and on the police who investigate it as much as on the crime.

2) The interweaving of a story about politics not only adds some extra twists but gives viewers who don't know much about Denmark a kind of easy way into understanding the political systems there.

3) The sensational aspects of the story are not dwelled on in a gratuitous way but dealt with very matter-of-factly.

4) Even in translation, the script is a good one.

5) Sophie Grabol as Sarah Lund is a star. No make up, that dreadful scratchy jumper and she is beautiful as well as clever, driven, haunted etc.

6 ) Her sidekick is terrific. Every detective needs a sidekick and he's one of the best.

7) All the politicians are potentially crooked which makes the political bits great fun.

8) Troels (and you learn how to say it properly by the end of 20 episodes) shouldn't really be dead fanciable but he is.

9) Nanna's parents are the best characters in the whole series. It's wonderful to watch their relationship develop.

10) Even if you emerge after 20 episodes with a whole lot of unanswered questions relating to the workings of the plot it's still the most exciting, twisty-turny, three-dimensional, brilliant crime series you'll see for ages. Only SPIRAL can compete.

Adele’s new book for children is CLEOPATRA
Now in paperback from Kingfisher Books.

Monday, 22 August 2011


When you write a crime novel it’s often a good idea to start with a dramatic event. In my book JUST JEALOUS I started with a girl staring at a dead body in a children’s playground. This happened on the morning of New Year’s Day. The boy had been shot and the girl clearly felt responsible.

What’s it all about?

In order to find out what led to this situation we have to travel back in time to September. The events start when the girl, Elly, and her best friend Carl (her secret love) are at the trial of Elly’s brother who is sent to prison for GBH. The chapters then go through the months that lead up to Christmas and the events that culminate in a boy being shot in a children’s playground early on New Year’s Day.

Crime novels are like this. If we are to start at a dramatic moment then we must whiz back and forth in time to tell out story properly.

Time travel can also be used to manipulate the reader. LOOKING FOR JJ is a story about a ten year old girl who kills another child. The story starts when she is released from prison six years later with a new identity. The details of the crime are kept from the reader for about a third of the book. The story is told in the present and the reader meets Alice and, I hope, gets to like her, to feel sympathy for her. The middle of the book goes back to when she was ten and the events that led up to the killing.

So the reader’s sympathies are with the killer BEFORE they read about the killing. This was a deliberate act on my part.

I like time travelling. I read a novel once (not a crime novel) that started at the end and worked backwards. This might be interesting…

Friday, 19 August 2011

Ruth Rendell - No Thanks Nick Green

Ruth Rendell – no, she’s not for me.

Or so I used to think.

Her name was associated in my mind with whodunits, and the snob in me would have rather been caught reading something more worthy. Besides, I had a problem (still do) with the whole idea of crime fiction: the idea that you need a dead body before any reader will be interested. It’s ghoulish, and it makes me uncomfortable – killing for entertainment.

Then I came off my high horse long enough actually to read one of her books, and I discovered something. Ruth Rendell isn’t interested in dead bodies either. She’s interested in live ones. There’s always a murder, that’s true, but the drama comes not from finding out who did it, but from the sheer excitement of meeting an extraordinary cast of real – often grotesquely real – people. And the result is that you really care about the murder, when it comes, because the person who has died is usually someone you have come to know very well. You also make the uncomfortable discovery that the dividing line between murderers and ordinary people is thinner than you supposed. So thin, in fact, that it can be hard to see at all. After all, even her murderers themselves aren’t murderers, right up until that fraction of a second before they do it.

Now I get annoyed whenever I see Ruth Rendell described as a great crime writer. She’s not. She’s a great writer.

Nick Green’s Cat Kin books are published by Strident. They are available on Amazon. They are supernatural thrillers with a feline theme.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Making CRIME out of a RIOT Anne Cassidy

The recent riots were grim. It’s awful watching young people (mostly) smash up the place in which they live. Then there are the headlines about feral youth and conscription and long jail sentences. I was a teacher for twenty years and experienced young people pushing the boundaries to see how far they could go. Mostly the adults who were in charge were able to hold and shape those boundaries so that most of the students found a face saving way to comply and get on with life just like the rest of us.

As a writer of crime fiction though the riots interest me in a different way. They concern the teenagers who I write for and about. They are a collective act of crime. Put the two together and I might have a book.

Every crime situation reported in the newspapers is a potential plot. The question is how to actually use the material. Here is the problem. A story about disenchanted youth going out and rioting isn’t enough to make a book work – at least as the story stands.

So the first thing a writer needs is a main character. There’s the boy who was doubly robbed and beaten on Barking station; there’s any one of the photographic images of looters, caught in a moment of self satisfaction; there’s the girl who jumped from the burning building.

Or, as a writer, maybe I’m more interested in the girlfriend of a boy who is involved. Or possibly the boy who is pulled along by the crowd as a laugh and ends up throwing a torch into a building. Or the girl who goes out in Croydon along with her mates to loot and is never seen again.

Then there is the shape of the book. It can’t run chronologically because there would be no suspense. A riot starts; it finishes; end of story. Maybe the book starts the morning after. Waking up with a sore head and not quite remembering what happened the night before. Maybe there’s a bloodied knife in among the main character’s possessions. Or possibly the best friend of the missing girl is phoning round to see where she is. Or the story starts as one young man is led down to the cells to start a long prison sentence and the book goes back and forth between his prison days and the night of the riot. Is he guilty? We won’t know until the end of the book.

I seem like a vulture tearing away at the entrails of this appalling episode. Or maybe I’m just a writer trying to go inside the events and find some individual stories.

Monday, 15 August 2011

I owe it all the crime… Celia Rees

My writing career, that is.
I began by writing crime fiction and the genre that is still close to me heart. Thrillers are still my favourite kinds of books. Exciting, page turning and the best are as well written as anything else you’ll find on the shelves.

I first started writing when I was an English teacher, interested in my students’ reading, and this decided my audience. At the time (in the 1980s) among the few authors who wrote specifically for teenagers, certain names stood out. 

American writers: Robert Cormier, Lois Duncan (who wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer) and Patricia Windsor; Alan Garner and Aiden Chambers in Britain were writing books that read like adult novels but with teenagers at the centre of the action. 

Many (although not all) of these books were thriller and most of them American. My students loved them, but they wanted to know why there were so few written about British teenagers. People like them. They had a point and that was when I thought that I might have a go (as you do).
I enjoyed reading these books, too, but I was also interested in what was happening in the adult thriller market. There were an increasing number of crime books being published that had been written written by women with strong female protagonists: Sara Paretsky, Val McDermid, Sarah Dunant and Gillian Slovo were all writing books where the P.I. or the main character was a woman.

I thought maybe I could put the two things together and write a thriller for teens that would read like an adult thriller and would have strong female characters, in the manner of the writers I had come to admire. 

This might have stayed just an idea but then a friend of mine told me a true story about how she’d taken a group of students on an Outdoor Pursuits trip to Wales and how they had got caught up in a murder hunt. 

The story had all the elements I needed: a violent crime had been committed, a murderer was on the loose, heading to an isolated spot in the middle of no-where with a group of ordinary British teenagers heading for the very same place. 

It was a gift and even then, before I’d started writing, I knew that such offerings happen rarely. It was just too good a chance to pass up and I used it as the central story in my first novel Every Step You Take (now long out of print).
I soon learnt that there was more to writing a thriller than a plot, true or not. I wove another true story into the narrative, involving a girl and a boy on the trip and a romance turned sour by male possessiveness, violence and jealousy. 

For me, the best crime fiction is not just a sequence of violent actions or a series of puzzles, it tells us something about the human condition. Similarly, the best teen fiction is not issue driven, they are there as part of the action, the whole picture.

I went on to write more two thrillers, Colour Her Dead and Midnight Hour, before moving on to other genre. My thrillers are all out of date but I regard them with great affection. They were my proving ground. The place I learnt how to write. I have never forgotten or, I hope, lost the storytelling skills I learnt when writing them.

With my next book, I’m going back to my roots.

This Is Not Forgiveness - publishes February, 2012

Celia's website
Celia's Facebook Fan page:

Celia will be in conversation with Nicola Morgan at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Sunday, August 21 • 12:00pm - 1:00pm
For more information go to

Thursday, 11 August 2011

How I drifted into a life of crime by Helen Grant

"I never meant it to happen“ must rank alongside "It went off in my hand“ as one of the world’s feeblest excuses.   Nevertheless in my case it’s true; I simply drifted into a life of crime.

My first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was reviewed by The Guardian as "crime fiction“. The German edition, melodramatically retitled Die Mädchen des Todes, has KRIMINALROMAN (crime novel) emblazoned across the blood red cover.

My UK publisher even, in a fit of hyperbole, described me as the "Stieg Larsson of teen fiction“ (thanks, guys; it hasn’t escaped my notice that poor Mr. Larsson is dead).

All the same, I didn’t set out to write crime. My first forays into fiction were ghost stories (you can read one on my website at

I’ve always been fascinated by tales of the supernatural, bizarre historical events and creepy legends, so it was natural that I should write that kind of thing myself.

When I wrote my first novel, we were living in Bad Münstereifel, a pretty little town in the German Eifel. As well as being a tourist draw and home to German folk singer Heino, Bad Münstereifel is one of the most haunted places I have ever come across.  Amongst others, it boasts an eternal huntsman, a fiery dwarf and a headless ghost.
Helen Grant

I adored Bad Münstereifel and dreaded the day we would inevitably have to leave. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden was born of my desire to create a memorial to my time in the town I loved. I wove the genuine legends of the town into the plot and made local folk hero "Unshockable Hans“ a kind of symbolic hero.
In the book, Hans’ adventures inspire the young heroine Pia Kolvenbach to investigate a series of sinister events. At no point, however, did I think to myself, "I’ll write a book about disappearances and murder.“ I actually set out to write a book about a town I loved, legends that fascinated me, and (hopefully) sympathetic characters faced with personally threatening situations. I was quite surprised to hear the finished book described as a "crime“ novel!

Since then I have written two further novels, The Glass Demon and Wish Me Dead.

Both of these indubitably contain crimes: I’ve written over a dozen bizarre and grisly murders now, plus one death by cherry streusel. However, my main interest is still the strange, the weird, the hint of the supernatural.

The Glass Demon, for example, was inspired by the true-life history of the Steinfeld Abbey stained glass, which vanished for over a century before being re-discovered by the mediaevalist and writer Montague Rhodes James, who wrote a ghost story about it.

Wish Me Dead was inspired by the witch trials that claimed thousands of lives in the Eifel. Bad Münstereifel itself is supposed to have had a coven of witches.

I am not inspired by true-life crime; in fact, had Bad Münstereifel ever experienced a chain of events like the one in my first book, I would probably never have written The Vanishing of Katharina Linden.

I am also a lot more interested in how my characters experience what is happening than in how the police or other authorities deal with it.
All the same, if you write a book with a crime in it, particularly murder, it is very difficult to avoid mentioning police investigations, and for this reason I have repeatedly picked the brains of the very helpful Polizeihauptkommissar Erich Trenz of the Bad Münstereifel police, to avoid making any mistakes with German police procedure.

Meanwhile my German editions continue to have KRIMINALROMAN printed on the front cover, the New York Times reviewed The Glass Demon alongside Ruth Rendell’s latest book in a round-up of crime novels, and my books are tagged as crime fiction on Amazon.

I never anticipated a life of crime, but it looks as though I’ve drifted into one!

My website:

You can follow me on Twitter @helengrantsays or meet me on Facebook at Helen Grant books fan page

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Ranked and Filed: Getting the Police Right! - By Jo Cotterill

I reached the copy edit stage of Sweet Hearts 3: Forget MeNot before I ran into a problem of authenticity.

The scene involved police officers investigating a crime at a garden centre. I’d written that there were plain-clothes detectives alongside the uniformed officers.

The copy-editor had written in the margin: ‘Surely plain-clothed not there?’ I was stumped. I wanted them there – they always turned up in TV dramas, after all. But I wasn’t entirely sure I was correct.

I emailed a friend, who just happens to be a police inspector. I can’t think why I hadn’t asked her before!

She said yes, of course there would be CID there; any crime where the damage was over £5k would involve detectives.

I was delighted (ha! One in the eye for you, copy-editor!) until she pointed out that there wouldn’t actually be an inspector there; the highest-ranking officer was likely to be a Detective Sergeant.

Oh bother! 

So now I had to demote my DI to a DS and my DS to a DC. By the time I’d gone through the manuscript looking for all the acronyms, I could barely remember the letters of my own name.

I highly doubt that the readers of my ‘Sweet Hearts’ series will notice if I’ve got the wrong rank of police officer. But it’s nice to feel that you can be as accurate as possible!

(And the moral of the story is: copy-editors don’t know everything.)

To find out more about Jo Cotterill and the Sweetheart series go to

Jo also blogs at along with thirty other writers of girly fiction.

Read Jo's other Crime central guest Blog Household-weapon-of-mass-destruction

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

My teacher went to prison... By Yvonne Coppard

My A level History teacher, Audrey Peckham, was a gifted storyteller.
She made the criminal scheming of royal courtiers, the bloody and murderous paths to the throne, as good as any murder mystery.

But a few years later, she was convicted of conspiracy to murder and went to prison.

She wrote a book about it: ‘A Woman in Custody’. It was a book that changed the system – what power words have, eh?

 The book became a set text for people working in the prison system (a sort of how-not-to-do-it manual).

Yvonne Coppard
Her observations of life on the Inside remind us that one person’s crime is also a tragic back story for many other people connected with the crime or the criminal.

I love crime fiction because I love Criminal Law.
I have studied it, worked in it, debated its greatness and its stupidities hundreds of times in a thousand different places, including lecture theatres , pubs, living rooms and courts. And all through its tangled history runs the weave of real stories about real people.

Their lives are shaped by crime: as perpetrators, victims or powerless witnesses whose lives are changed forever by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If they were presented as fictional characters, some of these people would be dismissed as ‘far-fetched’ or ‘unconvincing’. But they are living those far-fetched lives every minute of the day; they can’t put down the book and escape back into another, more ‘normal’ world, as the reader can.

Crime features in my stories from time to time ,(theft in ‘Copper’s Kid’, kidnapping in ‘Hide and Seek’), but although I don’t write crime fiction, I love to read it.
Detective stories are a favourite. Who dunnit?  Who cares - as long as the journey to discovery is an entertaining one that takes me on a roller coaster and then sets me down satisfied.
But the real challenge as a reader is to find books that take you backstage to the plot and make you understand what it’s like to be caught up in a crime, whether you’re the criminal, the victim, the family or the friend standing on the sidelines.

These are always the stories that stay with me, and make me glad and grateful for my dull, un-criminal life where I can enter into the dark and murky world of crime knowing that I don’t have to stay there.

Yvonne Coppard
Yvonne Coppard has been travelling overseas, filling notebooks and writing non-fiction and short articles lately; she has just returned to the ‘proper job’ of writing after a sabbatical that was supposed to end last year, but was just too much fun to give up...

She is currently writing ‘Amelie’s Secret’, set in occupied France in 1944 and England in the present day, and hopes to finish it later this year. In war torn France, Amelie’s father, a doctor, works for the Resistance, in danger of his life from the Nazis. But it is Amelie who has to flee from France after one terrifying moment compels her to do something that will ruin her own life and shape the lives of two generations to come. Now Amelie is dying, and she wants granddaughter Cat to return to France and put things right so that Amelie can die in peace. But what did she do that was so terrible, and will the family be able to cope with knowing the truth?

No publication details yet - keep an eye on Yvonne’s web site for details of the book’s progress:

Yvonne’s next published book, (unless ‘Amelie’s Secret’ goes much faster than expected,) will be 
‘The Arvon Book of Children’s Fiction’ ( co-written with Linda Newbery). 
 A how-to book for writers, it will be published by Bloomsbury 
– no firm date yet - but probably early in 2013