Thursday, 22 September 2011

Why I Love Kate Atkinson's Crime Anne Cassidy

After reading BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM many years ago I was surprised to hear that Kate Atkinson had written a crime novel CASE HISTORIES. I’d thought of Atkinson as a literary writer and although I love Crime Fiction I didn’t think of it as literary.

CASE HISTORIES changed all that. Here was a brilliant, moving, pacey, clever crime novel. It was full of startling stories seemingly unrelated. The detective didn’t turn up for four or five long chapters and even then it wasn’t clear how he related to what had been described so far.

What a read! A book that described the powerful love of families and the terrible heartache of loss. Plus several wonderful whodunits and a great laid back detective. Jackson Brodie had the usual difficult past and his own heartaches but he also had the luck of the devil and crimes seemed to solve themselves around him.

When I heard there was a second book A JOLLY MURDER MYSTERY I thought no, bad idea, to follow up a brilliant book. It can never be as good. But it was, in an entirely different way. The same can be said of a further two books WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS and STARTED EARLY TOOK MY DOG.

Thank you Kate Atkinson for making crime fiction matter so much.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Joys of Adermatoglyphia Malcolm Rose

Why do we have fingerprints? Science isn’t sure. Some say they improve grip, but more recent research suggests that the ridges reduce friction. Maybe they are there to improve the sensitivity of our fingertips. One thing’s for sure. They didn’t evolve to reveal our identity to forensic scientists.

So, what’s this about adermatoglyphia? It’s a rare genetic mutation and it’s an attractive medical condition if you’re a criminal. Very handy indeed. I’m tempted to say groovy but that’s entirely inappropriate. People with adermatoglyphia have no fingerprints. Great! That’s the basis of a new crime story, surely. But hang on. So far, only five families worldwide are known to have this gene variation. That makes the premise somewhat implausible. Still, I’ve read many implausible things in crime stories and successfully suspended my disbelief.

I know of two other reasons for a lack of fingerprints. But, sorry, I’m keeping them to myself for the moment. Sooner or later, you’ll read about them in a novel.

Right. That’s fingerprint evidence taken care of. Now, how am I going to avoid leaving my DNA at the scene of my crime?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Why I Love SPIRAL Anne Cassidy

SPIRAL is a French language TV cop drama. So far there have been three series. It was shown on BBC4 and gathered a cult audience. I love SPIRAL. Here are my reasons why:

1. The characters are believable. They have different aspects to their personalities. They can do good things for bad reasons and vice versa. I particularly like Laure, the female detective who has an explosive temper.
2. The plots are layered. There are a number of stories going on at one time, not all of them linked. They look at different aspects of the French law system.
3. The main crimes are violent and nasty and mean that I have to cover my eyes sometimes. I like this. Death and murder is violent and nasty and I want to feel uncomfortable watching it.
4. There is passion and sometimes love in the series. As in life it does not run smoothly.
5. There are parts of the series that are tremendously exciting. The end of series three was a race for time and I was moving around on my seat desperate for things to go right.

What more can you ask from an intelligent TV series?

Friday, 9 September 2011

A sideways glance at detectives Malcolm Rose

Who is the best detective of all time? Elementary. Surely, it’s Sherlock.

Who is the worst dressed cop? Easy. Columbo.

Who is the hairiest? Tricky. Poirot in places or perhaps Miss Marple.

Who is the most methodical, irritating, funny and non-human detective? I know this one. It’s Malc in my own quirky Traces series.

Here’s the most important question, though. Who is the thinnest detective of all time?

The thinnest detective of all time? It’s got to be Skulduggery Pleasant, hasn’t it? After all, he is a skeleton. Not a gram of fat on him. The ultimate size zero – even thinner than most supermodels

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

X rated? Violence in YAF Anne Cassidy

When I was a teenager some films had an ‘X’ rating. This meant that under eighteens could not go and see them. They contained explicit sex or violence.

Every teenage girl I knew was desperate to see an ‘X’ rated film and many tried dressing up, wore high heels and loads of make up and tried to pass for 18. I did and once I managed it and saw what I thought of as a very rude film!

When writing crime fiction there is always the question of how explicit to be. Not about sex because I truly believe that less is more when it comes to describing sex in words. No, I mean how explicit should we be when describing violence and death.

Many adult crime writers have gone down the bloody road of explicit violence. Mo Hayder’s books are great but can be stomach turning, likewise many of the serial killer sub genre. This may be OK for adults (or not). When you’re writing for young people it’s a different matter.

How explicit should a young adult novel be?

In the 1990s I wrote a crime book in which I described a girl who had a scar on her face. I said that she’d got this from an attack with a Stanley knife. The editor said this had to come out. It wasn’t the scar that was the problem but the image of a Stanley knife, an everyday tool. This was too plausible. I felt this gave the image an unpleasant reality. The idea of a knife attack can bring about any number of visuals, a penknife to an ornate machete. The term ‘knife’ was too general, too vague, it didn’t touch the reader. A Stanley knife could make the reader wince.

Ten years later I wrote a book which showed football violence STORY OF MY LIFE. The editor was unhappy with the fight scenes because they were too graphic. My argument then was that if one is to show violence then it should be horrible, disgusting. It should make the reader flinch. If we sanitize it, make it palatable, then we lose the shock value about how it can hurt lives.

I’ve been watching some of the 9/11 footage and still cannot get out of my head the image of a fireman guiding people from the building. There is the sound of thumps. One after the other. These sounds were people falling from the towers onto the ground behind where he was. They seemed to fall continuously making the fireman flinch. In ten years I've never forgotten this and I don't think I ever will.

Explicit violence? Maybe sometimes it has to be.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


Every detective needs a sidekick. Holmes and Watson; Morse and Lewis; Inspector Wexford and Burden. When I wrote THE EAST END MURDERS in the 1990s the hero, Patsy Kelly had a best friend called Billy. Billy was mechanical and organised; Patsy was emotional and headstrong. They complemented each other and their discussions and arguments informed the reader about the development of the plot.

My new series THE MURDER NOTEBOOKS also has a headstrong and temperamental hero, Rose. At the beginning of the first book she is due to meet up with the ‘stepbrother’ that she hasn’t seen for five years.

Together they are investigating the disappearance of their respective parents who went out for a meal one night and never returned.

Joshua is Rose’s sidekick. He is organised and determined. But because he is emotionally involved and because we live in a technologically sophisticated age he needs a sidekick of his own. Enter Skeggsie. Skeggsie is a computer whiz and after a bit of fiddling round on the laptop he can access CCTV photos, maps, information. He can break codes and find identities via Facial Recognition software. Skeggsie is a buttoned up character who doesn’t show his feelings. He’s happier at a screen than with people. He’s fiercely fond of Joshua and sees Rose as a bit of a nuisance. His skills allow the plot to develop.

Skeggsie is the sidekick’s sidekick. In a movie he would be played by a ‘character’ actor and not get top billing. But without Skeggsie Rose and Joshua would be stumbling along in the dark.

I sometimes wonder if he needs a sidekick of his own.

My favourite sidekick? Lewis. His forbearance and patience and common sense were completely necessary for Morse to work.

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


Friday, 29 July 2011

NOTHING A different kind of crime - Linda Strachan

Janne Teller

At 4.30pm on 22nd August I will hopefully be in a tent at the Edinburgh International Book Festival listening to Danish author Janne Teller talking about her incredible novel - NOTHING

I am fascinated to hear what drove her to write it.

"A Lord of the Flies for the twenty-first century -  bleak, existential and yet utterly gripping'

It has also been described as 'disturbing', 'horrifying', 'uncomfortable' and 'intriguing',

I found it was all of these things but it was also thought- provoking and fearless.

Pub. STRIDENT Publishing 2011

"When Pierre Anthon left school that day he realised that nothing was worth doing because nothing meant anything anyway.

The rest of us stayed on."

The children in Nothing are a class of 14yr olds. When one of their classmates leaves school telling them that nothing matters and life isn't worth the bother, they go to horrific lengths to persuade him, and themselves, that he is wrong. As he sits in a plum tree their efforts to create a 'heap of meaning', drive them to dreadful lengths.

I started reading Nothing and found myself beginning to wonder what does make life matter, and perhaps that is exactly what it is about.

But as I read on I found myself more and more cautious when it came to turning the page, almost afraid to discover just how far these children would go in their quest to persuade Pierre Anthon that he was wrong.

Nothing is the winner of:Le Prix Libbylit 2008, and the Best Children’s Book Prize awarded by the Danish Cultural Ministry.

The Danish Cultural Minister said;
"Janne Teller has written a novel about nothing less than the meaning of life. This book makes a deep impression on the reader and incites continued reflection."

David Almond is quoted as saying it is
'Bold, beautiful, terrifying . One of the greatest young adult books I have ever read.'

Nothing is one of those books that will challenge you, but I would suggest that it is not for the gentle-hearted and not for younger readers.

If you can, why not come along and listen to Janne Teller at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and hear for yourself what she has to say about it.
Nothing is always going to be a controversial book - so do you agree with the comments and quotes above?

It is, as always, up to you the reader to decide.

Originally published in Danish in 2000.
Translated  from Danish by Martin Aitken 2010 
2011 edition published in the UK by Strident Publishing

Monday, 25 July 2011


Continuing our look at Crime in Different Genre - SUSAN PRICE discusses her Sterkarm books.

If crime is your bag, then the Sterkarms supply it wholesale.

Their whole life is one of constant petty war-fare: they raid their neighbours and rob them, fight with them, kill them – and are raided and robbed in return.

They rob and murder for profit, for revenge, for honour.“Who dares meddle with me?” their anthem proclaims, and that is partly the point – to build so fearsome a reputation that no one will dare meddle with them.

One thing to be said for this way of life – it releases tension. At home the Sterkarms are affectionate, if a little boisterous and shouty. (Bottling things up and politely seething is not their style.)
As a visitor, if they have no quarrel with you, you will find them the most generous and attentive hosts possible, making every effort to ensure your comfort, and giving you the best of everything they have, even if the best, by way of food, is haggis and beer as thick as porridge.

Even if they do have a quarrel with you, you’ll be safe while within their walls. But once you leave… Then you’ll hear the hoof-beats coming up fast behind you.
Still, no matter how friendly you are with Sterkarms, don’t waste energy trying to make any kind of agreement with them. Since you’re a guest, they’ll smile, refill your cup with thick beer, pile your plate with haggis and say whatever they think you want to hear. It doesn’t mean a thing.

You’re not a Sterkarm, so you don’t count. No promise made to you has to be kept, no deal shook on has to be honoured.
Outsiders call them treacherous and untrustworthy liars. Since many of them are left-handed, it’s said that they shake with their right, and stab you with their left.(Their badge, a left hand holding a dagger, is known as ‘the Sterkarm handshake.) It’s said of them that, ‘..they rob and thieve and murder but have a hundred smiles and a thousand honeyed words to save their necks…’

Read an extract from the Sterkarm Handshake 

Of course, you’ll hear a different tale from the Sterkarms. If they occasionally rob others, they say, it’s reparation for the many times they’ve been robbed. If, occasionally, they murder, it’s purely in self-defence, or honourable revenge. If they seem warlike and aggressive, then it’s only because it would be fatal to be thought weak - their neighbours would take their land, their cattle and everything they had. As for keeping promises: a promise is sacred to them – if made to another Sterkarm.

They have a point. Sterkarms – who you can meet in my books ‘The Sterkarm Handshake’ and ‘A Sterkarm Kiss’ – live in the first part of the 16th Century, in the ‘Debatable Land’ between Scotland and England.

It was a no-man’s land and a war-zone. Since both England and Scotland claimed it, and refused to come to terms, it was a high-road for armies, while neither country could – or had any real wish to – impose law there.

The Sterkarms livelihood was cattle-rearing, but the depredations of their neighbours and passing armies soon made that impossible without fortified towers and armed men ready to fight off raiders. And if the armed men are to hand, and you’re feeding them – well, why not lead them on a raid, and rob others, as you’ve been robbed? The change from cattle-rearing to cattle-rieving was inevitable.

It’s an age-old problem with crime: people are driven to it by necessity, but then it becomes an ingrained way of life, in which children are reared and trained.
I wouldn’t want the Sterkarms as neighbours, not at any price. But in their time and place they had the choice of riding, or being ridden down – and they chose to ride. With that, I can sympathise
For further information read this fascinating interview with Susan Price about the Sterkarms

Susan Price’s website:

She blogs at:

And at:

Friday, 22 July 2011

Household Weapon of Mass Destruction?- by Jo Cotterill

OK, so a series called ‘Sweet Hearts’ might not sound as though it has much to do with crime!

However, in Book 3: Forget Me Not the heroine (Kate) works at a garden centre over the summer (where she meets and falls for a Mysterious Boy…) and one night there’s an attack on the centre and most of the plant stock is destroyed.

I was inspired, I confess, by a scene in a Midsomer Murders episode, where someone’s prize orchid collection is destroyed by a rival orchid-grower (or was it his resentful wife? I can’t remember).

How very visual! How awful, to have rows and rows of brown, shrivelled plants where only the day before they had been green and healthy.

But how could it be done?

At first I thought of acid. But how does one actually get hold of acid, I wondered?   Not as easily as you might think (which is just as well).

So what else could you spray onto plants that would kill them? Something householdy – bleach? But that seemed a bit dull, and besides, you’d need tons of the stuff to kill shelves and shelves of plants. Caustic soda, suggested my dad. It’s easily available and eats through just about anything (eek, scary thought).

So that’s what my villain uses – an ordinary household item that’s usually used for unblocking drains – as a weapon of mass plant destruction. Kate, my heroine, comes into work to find a wasteland of dead and dying plants, including her very own flower display. All very upsetting, and also providing the perfect plot device for discovery of Evidence later on!

(and some time I might tell you about how I wrote the police scenes, with the help of a good friend who just happens to be a police inspector. Aren’t friends useful!)

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.


Friday, 15 July 2011

Under the Spotlight - HEARTBURN by Anne Cassidy

Heartburn is set in London- do you think it is important to set your
stories in a specific place or town?

I’ve lived in London all my life. When I set a story in an urban environment I use London, in particular East London. I know the streets and the feel of living somewhere urban. It’s full of noise and smells and movement. There are great contrasts in London. There are rows and rows of terraced houses and narrow streets alongside huge skyscrapers and big public buildings. I have used the area around Canary Wharf in a couple of my books. In Heart Burn I use the river at night. A dark ominous strip of water that seems to twist and turn through the heart of London.

What was your inspiration for this story. Was it a real life event?

No, in fact it was something quite different. I used to teach creative writing and have done many workshops for young people. One of the assignments I give them to do is to imagine they were standing on the street waiting for someone. That person is late and they are getting concerned. While they’re waiting something happens. When I was working on a new book I decided to use that format. Ashley is waiting for her best friend to come along. She is late. While waiting a boy she knows comes along. He tells her that Tyler Harrington, a boyshe was in a relationship with a year before, has been badly beaten and is in hospital. This triggers her memory of what was a painful affair. Inevitably she becomes involved in Tyler’s story.

Anne Cassidy
The story has a twist in the tail and I was curious to find out if you
planned it all out before you started writing it?

I never know how my stories will end. I have a plan for the first six chapters or so and then I hope the story will grow. The characters and the plot develop and any twists or secrets grow out of this. Of course this approach means an awful lot of rewriting. But that’s OK.

The relationship between Ashe and Tyler is an interesting one. Was that something that you decided on at the beginning or did it develop as you wrote about them?

I love writing about love affairs that go wrong, particularly if one person is carrying a torch for the other. I think longing is a powerful emotion and can make people do extreme things. So Ashley longs for Tyler but won’t admit it to herself. Putting herself in danger and trying to help him, this is the way she shows her love. When I was a teenager I was always falling in love. It was hardly ever returned so I spent a lot of time

Your books are often quite dark, and often don't have happy endings. Do you prefer to write books that end happily for the characters?

I just try to imagine what would happen in real life. Unfortunately there aren’t always happy endings. I try also to leave the ending a bit ‘open’ to let the reader think about what might happen. I made an exception to this rule with Heart Burn.

Can you tell us anything about your latest project?

I am currently finishing the second book of a four book series called THE MURDER NOTEBOOKS. It’s called KILLING RACHEL and I’m getting that euphoric feeling that it’s almost done! 
These books start coming out in May 2012.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Pubescent Police and Pesky Parents by Malcolm Rose

Malcolm Rose

Young people engage most with young people.

That’s a problem when writing crime stories for them. It suggests authors need to come up with young yet credible sleuths. Having the characters’ parents around is a bit of a pain as well.

In my quirky crime series, TRACES, set in a parallel version of the UK, families are organized differently. Parents hand over their five-year-olds to the school authorities for upbringing. And schools work differently – they are much more focused on career from an early age. The brightest students graduate into their careers at the age of sixteen. That’s how I can have a believable 16-year-old detective who has lost all contact with his biological family. Two birds, one stone.

I take a different approach in my JORDAN STRYKER series. In the first chapter, I simply blow up the hero’s family in a massive but realistic explosion in the Thames Estuary. Jordan is the only one to survive and he does so only with serious injuries. He needs modern robotic and medical technology to keep him alive. It’s an underground organization that funds his repair and body enhancements, turning him into a fourteen-year-old bionic agent. With the amazing resources at his disposal, it doesn’t really matter how old he is. There’s no lower age limit when the crime-fighting organization is secret.

But I’ve had enough of careful justification. If/When I write another crime series set in an alternative Britain (and, yes, it’s in the pipeline), I’m going to refuse to explain why my two main detectives are sixteen years old. I will trust the reader to accept that’s just the way it is.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Literature Festival with a difference!

This weekend 9th and 10th July a very special event is taking place.
PhotobucketThe Awfully Big Blog Adventure blog  is celebrating its 3rd Birthday and holding the very first ever  ONLINE LITERARY FESTIVAL,  run entirely by children’s authors, and we want YOU to get involved in supporting us!

On 9th and 10th July 2011 40 (yes FORTY) children’s authors from the Scattered Authors’ Society, will be bringing you something new and special every half hour from 9.30am to 7.30pm.

There will be:
• Amazing Blogs
• Stunning Videos
• Exciting Giveaways
• Fascinating Interviews
• Mind-boggling Competitions

Join all the fabulous guests & contributors at the exciting ABBA Online Litfest!
To join in the conversation! Follow @AwfullyBigBlog on Twitter, tweet about us on the day and before, using the special hashtag #ABBAlitfest 

Crime Central's  very own criminal masterminds Anne Cassidy, Gillian Philip, Keren David and Linda Strachan are all taking part, as are some of our favourite contributors.

Look out for
Anne Cassidy's blog Post: To Blog or Not To Blog? at 9.30am on SATURDAY morning.
 Gillian Philip will be there At 12.30pm on SATURDAY with a  Competition: Win 'Bloodstone' and 'Firebrand'
At 2.30pm on SUNDAY Fiona Dunbar & Keren David Video: In Conversation
At 5.00pm on SUNDAY Linda Strachan & Cathy MacPhail Video: In Conversation- tutoring creative writing at Arvon

And there are so many more fabulous authors taking part - There's something different every half hour on each day!   See the  Full Programme here.

Naturally, there will be virtual champagne and cake on the day, so come and join in on this fantastically fabulous literary party!  

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Agatha Christie - Adèle Geras

When I was growing up, if you liked reading, you went straight on from Enid Blyton to Agatha Christie without drawing breath.

Nowadays,with dozens of detectives (including Poirot) vying for our attention in print and on the television screen, it’s hard to imagine a world where this wasn’t the case. Agatha Christie writes simply, briefly and her mysteries are most cunningly put together. She’s the perfect writer for young people and millions of teenagers of my generation (I’m 67) devoured her complete works with enormous pleasure.

I haven’t read Christie recently but I retain a strong memory of what her books gave me….the plots have long ago disappeared, though I do recall the more startling ones, such as Murder on the Orient Express.

The one I’ve chosen to highlight here is a book called The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

It has a very startling plot twist, which I won’t give away, but apart from that, it’s a good one to begin with because it has all her main characteristics as a writer, so that if you like this one, you’ll love the others too.

Christie’s plots are like clockwork. That’s to say: they work. If you read her novels twice, you can see how every single thing she mentions is relevant to the unravelling of the puzzle. She is a genius and one who’s often dismissed by the literary establishment, but you can’t quarrel with sales like Dame Agatha’s.

There are good reasons why only the Bible outsells her books. Read her!

Saturday, 2 July 2011


It’s a pity about crime novels set in the present day.
All this DNA, mobile phones, CCTV, laptops, emails, even fingerprints – it seems criminals nowadays shouldn’t stand a chance. Though of course they do. Crime stories set in the present day are good to read and great to write: I’ve done a few myself.

But if you want to write a murder mystery of the old sort, one which is solved with just your eyes, your ears and your commonsense, you’ve got to think differently. And that’s where setting crime stories in the past comes in. You’ve got to work out the solution to the mystery for yourself because there’s nothing to help you. You don’t know where people are because there are no phones, not even landlines, you can’t move faster than walking pace unless you’ve got a horse, a letter will take months, nobody has thought about fingerprints and DNA wasn’t even heard of. That’s why I turned to writing crime stories set way back in the past – and decided to set them in the Middle Ages.

The figure of a seventeen year-old French minstrel lost in England stole into my mind and the Joslin de Lay Mysteries were the result.
They were published by Scholastic and came out between 1998 and 2001 – six novels set over six hundred years ago in about 1370, telling the story of Joslin’s quest from France to Wales to find his mother after his father was murdered. Being a minstrel, Joslin sings his way through the land because he’s welcome everywhere. He can sing in inns and taverns to ordinary people, he can sing in Oxford colleges, he can sing in castles to Earls. All of society is open to him.
He has his own big mystery to solve, which finally comes clear in the last book. But on the way, in every town he comes to – London, Oxford, Coventry, Hereford -murder stalks him.

Of Dooms and Death,  
A Pact with Death, 
Hell’s Kitchen, 
A Devil’s Judgement, 
Angel’s Snare, 
The False Father.     
Six separate mysteries, lots of dead bodies – and Joslin solves them all.

But it’s not just murder which follows him: a forbidding, threatening, evil character is hunting him across the land as well - and he possesses the key to the whole of Joslin’s story.

The Middle Ages really are another world. So much research to get everything right, all of it fascinating. Here are some ways in which I tried to make the facts come alive.
  • At the time the novels are set, Europe was just getting over the Black Death. So one of the books concerns the villain using the bubonic plague for his own ends to kill his victims. 
  • The Hundred Years War, between England and France was on. It’s very important to the books. It sets off the first and is part of the solution of the last. 
  • The Church believed some things couldn’t even be thought of because they were so dangerous. That meant that some books were forbidden: it was mortal sin to read them. One of Joslin’s mysteries concerns a forbidden book about something the Church thought was about the most dangerous thing of all. But some people read it and murder follows. 
 I loved writing these books. I said I’d do just six, separate novels but with a larger story overarching them.  My hero wouldn’t die but I’d make sure there couldn’t be any more books about him.

When they came to an end and I finally had to say goodbye to Joslin I felt really quite upset. We’d been through a lot together but I knew he would be happy and well-provided for and I often think of him still singing and living with his wife, the girl he met in the first book and who he finds again in the last..
Joslin de Lay books are out of print at the moment. I hope they’ll soon reappear as ebooks and later on be published again as paper books. Because I think he’s worth it.

And so is historical crime. I may write some more, But they may be about an older and wiser Joslin.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Playing the System by Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce: the picture of innocence

Would I ever commit a crime?  I can safely and confidently say, no, I wouldn’t.  I don’t download films or music over the Internet I don’t buy pirated DVDs and when I was a teenager, I once walked half a mile back to a sweet shop, because I had bought a penny chew (remember those?) and realised half way home that two were stuck together – I had to go back to pay the extra penny (don’t laugh). 

I attribute this rather extreme form of honesty to my mother, who, when I was a toddler caught me filling my pockets with nuts in a hardware store (they are so very shiny, aren’t they?).  She made the shop assistant (whose instinct was to tell me it was OK) inform me that she was in fact calling the police.  Apparently I spent some considerable time terrified that I was going to prison and hiding every time I heard a police car!  Thanks Mum.

My point however, is that although I would never commit a crime, I have thought about how I would go about it, y’know - if I did. 

Nowadays we have excellent forensics, everything gets recorded, uploaded, downloaded etc. so the chances of really, properly getting away with any crime, well it’s kind of small.  A criminal mastermind could perhaps do this – get away scott free with the will in his pocket, but I think a cunning criminal, one just clever, not genius, nowadays doesn’t try to duck the system, she plays it.
An avenging angel?

I live in a lovely village, but unfortunately there are some less than lovely people in it.  Recently there has been a spate of burglaries (my own house was broken into, but nothing was taken thanks to a bat-eared neighbour who heard my garage door being opened and hit all the security lights).  The police know exactly who is doing the B&E … but they can’t do anything about it.  They’ve even caught the man with stolen goods in his hands, but can only get him on possession as he claims he’s looking after the stuff for someone else. 
A couple of months ago, my neighbour caught this individual in her front room with a torch at 4am.  The police had her word that he was in her house, they had his wet footprints on the cardboard box she had inside her back door and they picked him up at 420am sneaking back into his own home (they didn’t have to chase him around the village, they just went to his address and waited for him to turn up – that’s how confident they are in his identity).  A couple of weeks later we heard that he wasn’t being prosecuted – there wasn’t enough evidence.  He hadn’t actually taken anything from my neighbour’s house (she scared him off first) so they were letting him go.  He got to pick up a nice benefits cheque and my neighbour hasn’t slept since.  

Let’s look at some statistics …

% of incidents reported to the police that are successfully convicted in the courts (attrition)
% of convictions after the case has gone to court (conviction)
Violence against the person

Leaving aside the horror that is the statistic on rape (that’s a whole other discussion) we can see that in 2009 only 4% of cases of violence against the person that were reported to the police ended in conviction (and if the case is taken to court, there’s still an almost 30% chance of getting off).

So, for example, if I wanted to say, take revenge on, someone … let’s call him Mr Bat Curglar I could:

1. Make sure everyone knew I was completely OK with his night time ‘habits’ – because I’m such a forgiving soul
2. Visit the doctor and make sure I was down on record as suffering, and I mean really SUFFERING with horrible, uncontrollable PMT (just in case it goes to court you can use this one to get off with temporary insanity)
3. Establish that I am having a bit of car trouble
4. Run the bastard over next time he’s out and about at 4am
5. Leg it home.

Now I might not even be reported.  But if I was, I have a 96% chance of never being convicted and then if I do go to court, a 30% chance of getting off.  To help that along, I have a decent temporary insanity plea, established car trouble (the brakes weren’t working that well) and let’s face it, even if I do get sent down – I’d be out in six months anyway.

When you weigh all that up, getting caught hardly seems like a deterrent at all. 

So there you go – my perfect crime.  Revenge manslaughter, maximum six months in prison, if I’m unlucky and I’d probably pick up a nice benefits cheque on my release.

Sadly I’m sure a lot of individuals out there have weighed up those exact figures (Mr Bat Curglar for example) and come to the same conclusion. 

It’s frankly terrifying. 

Bryony Pearce's debut novel Angel's Fury is published on July 4.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Creating a Believable Psycho by Colin Mulhern

    •  Clash, published in March 2011, is Colin Mulhern's first book for teenagers. It tells the story of  Alex, a young cage fighter, who goes off the rails when he witnesses a brutal murder and cannot fight anymore; and Kyle, a talented artist.
      When I first began writing Clash, it was meant to go off in a totally different direction. Alex Crow was just the school nutter – a cardboard cut-out character whose only real job in the story was to chase Kyle. He was someone to be afraid of, someone to run from. At the time, the story was purely from Kyle’s perspective. But bit by bit, Alex came to life, and as he did so, he brought a whole load of baggage with him.

      It all started with making Alex small and thin. I thought a bog-standard bully was a bit boring, so I changed the description. But in doing that I found that I had to justify why he was so scary to the other kids. I had to work out what was going on behind those eyes. What I ended up with was a snowball effect, where each reason I came up with filtered into the story line until the whole background of cage fights and his Uncle Joe blossomed. What began as a simple, uninteresting baddy suddenly began to muscle his way into the story until I reached a point where Kyle was battling for space on the page. That’s when I decided to put them up against each other and see how they’d do.

      In those first drafts, I never really knew what to expect. Having someone like Kyle stand up to a psycho like Alex is great for a story, but for a writer, asking yourself how a normal, quite nerdy kid like Kyle balance out chapter space with a cage fighting psychopath, is a far more interesting question - and a difficult one to solve.

      I think that’s what made Clash so interesting to write. It was a constant battle. The only way to keep the fight balanced was to deepen the boys’ characters with each successive chapter.

      Looking back, if I’d never expanded Alex’s character, Kyle wouldn’t be a fraction of the character he ended up. But that’s what writing is really about – trying to find a way to make your invented character come to life, to stand up on the page and become real for the reader.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Opposite of Amber: Gillian Philip interviewed

One of my absolute favourite writers for teens is the Scottish writer Gillian Philip, whose books are thrilling, terrfiying  -  she doesn't shy away from 'difficult' content -  and beautifully well written Gillian's latest book is The Opposite of Amber, the story of two sisters in a small Scottish town who fall into trouble and tragedy. I couldn't resist the chance to ask Gillian some questions about The Opposite of Amber, starting with the narrator, taciturn hairdresser, Ruby. -  Keren David

One of the things I loved about this book was the narrator, Ruby, who seemed to be full of contradictions. She says very little, she's left school young and she's working as a hairdresser. She jumps to conclusions and she makes tough decisions. But her inner voice is so intelligent and poetic, so deep and thoughtful. How did you create Ruby's voice? 
I think like all ‘book voices’, Ruby just grew on me. I knew from the start that she was a very monosyllabic, reserved person who was gauche in company and shy about expressing herself – indeed almost mute – but obviously that’s not ideal for the narrator of a whole book! Once I began to write from inside her head, I realised there was nothing reserved about her thoughts – that she was almost bound to be far more articulate in her own head, because she was repressing so much. She could be very grumpy and self-pitying at times, and she had to be able to express her anger somehow, and I found her (sometimes objectionable) thoughts more forgiveable when she could explain herself eloquently, but internally.

I was very impressed - and a little annoyed - that you managed to trick me right to the end - great sleight of hand. Is the plotting of a crime book something you enjoy? How much do you plan out beforehand?

Oh good! I hope you weren’t TOO annoyed... and I’m quite relieved that almost no-one has guessed, because I spent a lot of time worrying it was too obvious. That must be writers’ paranoia! I do enjoy plotting crimes (fictional ones), but it’s quite a haphazard process for me. I do plan it a little beforehand, but quite often things change unexpectedly, when characters don’t behave the way I thought they would, or unforeseen complications arise. This time, for once, I knew who the killer was from the start.

My absolute favourite character was Foley's vile little sister Mallory, who added comic relief. I was dying to know more about the Foley family, and indeed all the characters. Do you have to rein yourself in when it comes to developing minor characters? I get the impression that everyone has a long detailed backstory which is only given to the reader on a need-to-know basis.
Ah, I’m glad you liked Mallory. I have a soft spot for her, though she is diabolically awful. I have to rein in secondary characters in my head, because I do get interested in them, but I’m quite restrained when it comes to putting it on the page (that’s only now that I’ve learned the error of my ways – I used to overdo it enormously). I do know their backstories pretty thoroughly, though. I do remember that the appalling Ma and Pa Foley came about after I watched a dog training programme one night, where the parents actually did make daily roast dinners for their dogs, and stuck frozen pizzas in the microwave for their son.

How much research did you do for this book? I'm thinking about subjects like prostitution, drugs and serial killers.
More than usual. Normally I like to wing it to a certain degree, but for this book I had to find out details like what crack cocaine smells like, or how police forces share information. At one point I overcomplicated the prostitution subplot, which I blame on an overuse of Google. I had Jinn plying her trade via the web – I found a lot of sex workers promoting their business with websites – before I realised that she simply wouldn’t be that sophisticated, and she would be ‘winging it’ as much as I was. At that point I turned to a friend who had been a local policeman and picked his brains instead – I threatened to thank him in the acknowledgements for ‘help with prostitutes’, but he called my bluff, and I chickened out at the last minute!

And, leading on from that, these are strong subjects for teenage readers. Are there any taboos left, do you think? Personal and general. And has your appetite for challenging subject matter caused you problems getting published or with readers, librarians and booksllers?
It’s hard to think of a subject that would be completely taboo, even in the Young Adult market – there certainly seem to be no taboos left in adult fiction. If there’s a subject I personally wouldn’t like to touch, it’s probably the murder of a young child – but that’s a very personal thing.
I haven’t had problems with publishers – they’ll occasionally ask me to take out an f-word or two, but I’m usually happy to do that, and it usually makes the text stronger (an occasional obscenity always works far better than peppering the manuscript with them). Oh, and I’ve actually been ticked off by teen readers for swearing!
I have been told on the quiet, though, of an occasional school that won’t stock my books, or a shortlist that won’t have me – usually that’s down to fear of parents. The only time I’ve really been offended was when a school accused CROSSING THE LINE of ‘glamourising’ knife crime. Obviously they hadn’t read it.

I read this book a few weeks ago, and it's haunted me -  especially the character of Nathan. Was it hard to move on as a writer? 
Thank you – that is a really good thing to hear. I never intended to get so attached to Nathan myself, but his contradictions got to me after a while, and I became very fond of him (which of course doesn’t mean I cut him any slack). Funnily enough, though, it wasn’t so hard to move on from this one. AMBER was hard to write, and I spent a lot of time with the characters, and I was ready to say goodbye.