Friday 30 June 2017


Charles Harris, author and film director is the latest conscript to submit to some gentle questioning on reading and writing habits. 

The Breaking of Liam Glass featured yesterday - here.

 I don’t believe the writing is full time? What’s the day job? Can you tell us a bit about your career to date?

Interesting that you say that, in fact writing is my day job, or rather at the moment the day job is publicising my new novel.

I started in the film industry, as projectionist, working my way up through the cutting rooms and then wrote and directed a number of films in just about every possible medium – cinema, TV drama, TV documentary, you name it. I also wrote far too many scripts that never went anywhere. Looking back, they probably didn’t deserve to, but they were a great way to learn the craft and be able to hide all my mistakes.

I understand you have previously had some non-fiction works published. The Breaking of Liam Glass is your debut novel, how did it come about? Have you always written?

To answer the last question first, when I was trying to become a film director, the best advice I was given – by Mike Leigh, as it happens – was to keep doing something creative. It’s the biggest problem in film. You spend so much time waiting around you can forget what you’re all about.

So I spent a lot of time writing and keeping it well-hidden (see above). Then I started writing short stories, and had some success, two being shortlisted for awards.

The non-fiction books were accidents. I’d done a great deal of research into police slang for an unpublished novel and found it to be wonderfully funny, scurrilous, drily sarcastic. I pitched the idea to a publisher and he went with it.

After a while, I actually found I knew a bit about writing and was approached by two publishers, one for a book on general screenwriting and the other for a book on pitching.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

I get up at four in the morning, run a half-marathon, mow the lawn, feed the cats, make bread and then settle down to write from four fifteen to…

OK, the truth is that I always mean to get up earlier, but generally get into my study by ten. If I don’t spend most of the morning at least thinking about writing I get very grouchy. Then the afternoon is for reading and doing all the other stuff that somehow accumulates, like fluff, around the edges of life.

Have you inserted family, friends, and colleagues into any of the characters in the book?

That’s a dangerous question. I can hear the lawyers panting in the background. The truth is – yes, but you’d never recognise them. I draw on true life to make characters real, but never the bits you’d expect.

For example, I once used my grandmother as a model for an elderly homicidal Portuguese farmer. She was not homicidal, as far as I know, nor Portuguese or a farmer, but she had something of the tone I was looking for. She never knew.

Jason – the desperate young journalist, stuck on a local paper – draws a great deal on my own frustrations over the years, my memories of dead-end jobs making unmemorable corporate videos.

But in many other ways, he is quite different from me. He’s braver, for one thing. Or perhaps more foolhardy. And is used to charming his way out of problems, which I’ve never learned to do.

Did you plot the book or make it up as you went along? Does the end result differ greatly from how you envisaged it?

I started the book seven years ago – and one of the starting points was a story about a knife crime that had been shortlisted for an award years before. So, to that extent I already had part of the ending on paper.

I did plan a fair bit, but I also changed a fair bit. I find the process is like cleaning a window, to see the view better. When you can see the view, you forget the grubby marks that have been wiped away.

Which is easier to craft – fiction or non-fiction?

I don’t think it depends on whether it’s fiction or not.

All good ideas push you into areas that are new and scary. Liam Glass was a massive challenge, a darkly comic crime satire, with multiple storylines and characters who have to be brought together in a satisfying way at the end.

In both cases, you have to be enormously honest and truthful, even with satire and comedy – maybe especially with satire and comedy. Anyone can put words on a page. It’s the honesty that makes the job difficult.

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

If they were gems they wouldn’t be in my bottom drawer, but there are a number of projects I keep getting out and looking at, and saying to myself that one day I’ll solve the deep underlying structural problems of.

What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?

As it happens, I’m back on the police novel that sparked off the Police Slang book.

It’s darker than Liam Glass  - a psychological thriller. The latest draft has just gone off to the editor, and I’m distracting myself with the launch of Liam Glass and telling myself I don’t really care what she says and won’t try to throw myself out of the window when it comes back.

As it happens, I work on the ground floor, so that would be a rather ridiculous thing to do.

What’s the best thing about writing?

It’s all down to me. All film directors are control freaks, but actually you get very little control. There are too many ungovernable factors. In writing, no other idiots get in the way. It’s just me.

The worst?

I’m the idiot getting in the way.

 What are the last five books you’ve read?

Two O’Clock Boy – a lovely debut crime novel by my friend Mark Hill. (It’s always a relief when a friend’s book turns out to be good).

Proust – I’ve always meant to read him and I’m working my way through. I couldn’t tell you what on earth is happening, if anything, or why it’s so fascinating, but it is. Characters, insights... honesty and truth again, in spades.

Dead Writers in Rehab – another friend, as it happens, the very funny Paul Bassett Davies. I sound like I’m log-rolling but it’s a very good, warm, compassionate, comedy with a serious theme. (Another sigh of relief).

Daily Rituals – by Mason Currey. Not a friend, this time. A compendium of the routines of all kinds of people, writers, inventors, artists, etc. Whatever odd routine you have, you’ll find someone here to reassure you that you’re not mad.

Teach Yourself Japanese – I started the book when I fell in love with Japanese cinema at the age of eighteen, but stopped when I got to numbers. Japanese number systems are very, very weird. But then I went back to the book recently when we were planning a trip there, and after we came back I kept going for no good reason other than I wanted to do something for which I had no good reason.

Who do you read and enjoy?

Just about everything and anything. I would have said I didn’t read fantasy, but then I read Ursula Le Guin. There’s so much to read and so little time.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Many. Catch 22, Bonfire of the Vanities. Most recently, John Niven’s The Second Coming.

God goes on a long fishing trip four hundred years ago, thinking mankind is more or less sorted, comes back today and is horrified at the mess – so he sends “the kid” down to deal with things again – by entering a reality TV talent show… It’s mad and very funny.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

Lying on a beach.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?

Nightcrawler – a great noir and that rare thing a serious satire that makes you sit up and think. The greatest and most underrated film of a couple of years ago.

In a couple of years’ time, will we have seen more novels from you?

God willing. There’s all those gems in that bottom drawer, remember. As well as the crime noir currently being edited, I also have a draft of another novel and scribbled notes and rough drafts for at least three more.

Of course, they all have problems that need solving first, but it keeps me off the streets.


Many thanks to Charles for his time.
Charles Harris bio

Charles Harris is an international award-winning writer-director and a highly-respected script consultant, writing and directing for cinema, television and theatre. He is also a best-selling non-fiction author with titles including A Complete Screenwriting Course, Police Slang, and Jaws in Space. Several of his short stories have been published, with two shortlisted for awards.
Charles has a black belt in Aikido and teaches police, security personnel and the public, self-defence against street violence, including knife attacks.
He has a wife and two cats who live with him in North London and two sons who don’t.

To find out more about Charles here are some links:  
Twitter: @chasharris

Thursday 29 June 2017



With London knife crime now on the rise, this is not so much a whodunnit as a blackly comic what-they-did-after-it satire, that resonates in a timely way.

Teenage footballer Liam Glass is stabbed on an estate next to London’s Regents Park and, with an eye to the main chance, journalist Jason Crowthorne sets out to make the most of the story and build a crusade against teenage knife-crime. 

In the following 24 hours, Jason creates his campaign, hiding a scoop from rival journalists and avoiding arrest. But other powerful figures are determined to exploit the boy’s story as much as they can, and they have fewer scruples! Liam Glass is a darkly satirical look at the deep splits in modern communities, asking deep moral questions in a sympathetic and humorous way. 

A slight departure from my usual crime fiction reading with Charles Harris and his satirical novel, The Breaking of Liam Glass. A young teenager gets stabbed at a cashpoint and robbed of his phone and while he lays in a coma in hospital, the aftermath unfolds.

Jason Crowthorne, a journalist with a local rag seizes the opportunity to build a career for himself and a healthy bank balance by manipulating Liam’s story - sexing-it up with the introduction of an absent celebrity footballer father (fake or real, who cares?) and running with it in one of the nationals. A tad delusional, he sells it to his conscience, by convincing himself that a campaign to raise awareness about knife crime might also take off.

We also have a local politician, concerned about a forthcoming election and the prospect of losing her seat. A struggling gym owner and his partner – a good guy who foolishly discovers a blood-stained knife (the knife in question – who knows?) and moves it, then in another panicked action moves it again. A police detective, struggling to cope with fatherhood and thrust to the forefront of the investigation into the crime.

A topical book. We get a glimpse of life in the world of tabloid journalism with the vultures gathering as rumour and counter-rumour spread with a fake celebrity involvement in the tragedy. Facts are no longer a consideration if a falsehood can sell some copy. Shady deals for lies, as Jason worries about getting his byline on the story before the opposition hijack it. Dreams of a foot up the journalistic ladder and being able to offer more to his daughter; a daughter who has always taken second place to his quest for a story.

Social media also plays its part with rumour circulating about the racial identity of the attackers spreading and causing tension in a community used to being ignored by politicians. Sounds familiar.

I enjoyed the book and Harris had me flip-flopping in my attitude and feelings towards Jason. One minute I deplored his tactics and actions; at other times I sympathised with his plight and wanted him to succeed and seal the deal and get his story over the line.

An interesting book, with some serious points made regarding life in present-day Britain, with a few wry chuckles along the way.

4 from 5

Charles Harris is an award winning film writer-director and a best-selling non-fiction author. The Breaking of Liam Glass is his debut novel.

He has his website here and is on Twitter@chasharris

Read in June, 2017
Published - 2017
Page count - 422
Source - review copy received from author via Linda MacFadyen (publicist)
Format - paperback

Wednesday 28 June 2017



Two Women, One Quest, Grave Consequences 

When Maggie Laird's disgraced ex-cop husband suddenly dies, her humdrum suburban life is turned upside down. With the bills mounting, she takes on his struggling detective agency, enlisting the help of neighbour ‘Big Wilma’. And so an unlikely partnership is born. 

But the discovery of a crudely mutilated body soon raises the stakes... and Maggie and Wilma are drawn into an unknown world of Aberdeen's sink estates, clandestine childminding and dodgy dealers.

Cross Purpose is surprising, gritty, sometimes darkly humorous – a tale combining police corruption, gangs and murder with a paean to friendship, loyalty and how ‘women of a certain age’ can beat the odds.

Maggie Laird is grieving and at her wit’s end. Her husband, a former police officer has passed. She’s in debt and struggling to cope with life. Two children, one at Uni, one a teenage son living at home and some heavies knocking on the door for overdue payments for the rent due on her late husband’s business premises.

Enter larger than life, Wilma her feisty neighbour. Wilma suggests Maggie continues with her husband’s business, a down on its heels – detective agency. How else is she going to earn some money? And Wilma dangles the carrot of focussing some of their energies on restoring her husband’s good name. George Laird had resigned from the police force under a cloud after a trial collapsed when a witness perjured himself and made Laird and his partner look like chumps, alleging corruption.

I found the prospect of Maggie and Wilma, taking up a detective agency and running with it slightly implausible, though in truth so did Maggie to begin with. Wilma convinces her and with baby steps initially they get the show on the road. I did warm to this odd couple.

There are several strands to the plot. Maggie is trying to find the perjuring witness from her husband’s trial, who has gone to ground. She has a hard-on for the debt collector’s boss, a shady character with his hands in a few pies and who the police haven’t touched. His masquerading as a successful businessman seems to be fooling some. And there are some kids who Maggie is worried about. She’s a part-time teaching assistant and fears some of her charges are going down the wrong path and acting as drug runners. We spend plenty of time in the company of a lonely teenage drug-dealer Fatboy and his little gang of wannabees. The mutilated corpse body of a young student adds to the mix.

I loved the setting of Aberdeen. It’s a difficult environment for some - the high rise flats, no jobs or ambition, drug use and drug dealing, kids with no fear or concern for the police, dodgy baby-sitters on benefits, absent parents – never present or now locked up. I don’t think MacLeary will be getting a call from the local tourist board anytime soon. There’s plenty of local vernacular in the dialogue, most of which I understood. It did add a layer of authenticity to the mix, without bewildering this reader.

Great characters, a warm tale of a developing friendship, the dealing with grief and the getting on with life, the depiction of the social problems faced by some of the poorer elements of society and the loneliness of our young drug dealer. All elements which left an impression.

The separate strands storylines link up well and give a cohesive structure to the plot in my opinion, but I was slightly less convinced by the outcome. The end result was a little bit twee for me I’m afraid.

Overall very enjoyable. Another author for me to keep an eye out for in future.

4 from 5

Cross Purpose is the debut novel from Claire MacLeary and has been long-listed for the McIlvanney Prize (Bloody Scotland's crime novel of the year).

You can find Claire on Twitter @ClaireMacLeary 

Read in June, 2017
Published - 2017
Page count - 362
Source - review copy from publisher Saraband Books
Format - paperback

Tuesday 27 June 2017


Matt Neal, co-author of Bay of Martyrs answers a few questions.

Bay of Martyrs featured yesterday on the blog - here.

I believe you are well-known across a number of fields in Australia – as a journalist, a film reviewer, a musician and as a songwriter. Which field receives most of your attention time-wise? 

"Well-known" would be a bit of a stretch, but sure, feel free to tell everyone I'm super-famous in Australia. Ha. 
The bulk of my time is dedicated to journalism because that's my day job, but in my spare time it's an even split between film reviewing and music. I have a movie blog ( and I review for a couple of radio stations, so that keeps me busy a couple of times a week, and I usually play a gig every week or two. 
Can you give us a bit of a bio as far as the music goes?

I play guitar and sing, and have done so for about 20 years in various rock bands (The 80 Aces, 21st Century Ox, The Extreme Sprinklers if you feel like Googling). It's taken me to some cool places. The 80 Aces got played on national radio and TV but we were still a long way off the big time. I've supported some awesome Aussie bands over the years though, and played some great gigs. My current line-up is called Doctor & The Apologies, and we're alt-country-ish. I'm not much of a singer or a guitarist, but I love writing songs.
Was it a natural progression from journalism into the world of fiction? Have you always written?

Writing is the only thing I've ever wanted to do since I was five years old. I became a journalist because I figured it was the easiest way to get paid to write. I just love writing. I've had a crack at writing anything and everything - radio plays, TV pilots, songs, poems, film reviews, feature film scripts etc.... About the only thing left was a novel, so I decided to have a crack at that too.
How did the collaboration with Tony Black on Bay of Martyrs come about?

We worked together at a newspaper about 10 years ago and stayed in touch, occasionally talking about co-writing a book. When my wife got pregnant and was hitting the hay early every night I found myself with some spare time on my hands, so I contacted Tony and said 'let's write that book we've always talked about'. And away we went.
How did the collaboration work? Any major disagreements along the way?

We worked in Google Docs, so we could both edit and write in the same document at the same time in real time. After the initial email chain about characters and setting and general story, Tony did the plotting, I wrote the first draft (tweaking a few things accidentally along the way!), Tony did the second draft, I did the third draft, and so on until we ran out of time.
Were you both happy with the end result?

I was really happy with it. And as far as I know, so was Tony.
Any further Clay Moloney books planned? Will they be a joint venture again?

Book two is in the works. I'm keen to write a dozen of these things. I'm a big fan of Clay Moloney and I want to see what he does next.
Do you have a typical writing schedule? 

For Bay of Martyrs, I was writing at night after my wife went to bed. Now that I have a kid, I don't have as much energy, so I prefer to do it in two or three day bursts where I shut myself away from everything and just write flat out until I have to return to civilisation/work/family.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?

A couple of friends popped up in Bay of Martyrs as very minor characters and I couldn't get them out again. Thankfully they were stoked with the result. But the majority of the characters are either inventions or composites.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

I wrote a script for a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which came to me in a dream and I reckon it's the best thing I've ever written. I'm mentioning it in almost every interview I do in the hopes that Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis gets wind of it and comes knocking on my door.
What’s the current project in progress, assuming there is one? How’s it going?

It's the sequel to Bay of Martyrs, which at this stage is called The Cutting. It's named after another location in the region where I live. It's coming along really well. At least, I think it is. Not sure what Tony thinks about it yet....
What’s the best thing about writing?

In terms of fiction, it's finding out what happens next and how it happens. I'm as excited about finding out as I hope the reader is. And I love the way words work. They're a puzzle you can keep pulling apart and putting back together again, making a different picture every time.
The worst?

The money could be better, haha.
What are the last five books you’ve read?

I try not to read books while I'm writing one, lest I inadvertently borrow/steal, so instead I read comics. I've been reading a truckload of Marvel comics - Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon, Guardians Of The Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers, Avengers Vs X-Men, and Ultimate Spider-man are the most recent. As for books, my last five (this took some remembering) were Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen, and The Spy & The Maven, which is the first book by my good mate Jono Pech and I can't recommend it enough.
Who do you read and enjoy?

My two favourite authors of all time are Hunter S Thompson and Terry Pratchett. I look forward to writing something some day that captures the spirit and humour of both.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas. It's my favourite book and the one I regularly re-read every couple of years. It's drug-addled and furious and insane but poignant and incisive and beautiful all at the same time. It's a hot mess of a book and I love it for that reason.

Many thanks to Matt for his time.

Catch him at his movie blog here and on Twitter - @DrMattNeal

Monday 26 June 2017



True Detective set on Australia’s South Coast.

Clay Moloney, a cynical reporter with a regional Australian newspaper, is expecting an easy Sunday at work when the body of a young woman washes up at the Bay of Martyrs. The death is an inconvenience for Clay, who’s content filing obituaries and re-writing government press releases on the new multi-million-dollar airport. But the more he digs into the Bay of Martyrs incident, the more he realises the girl’s death is not a case of misadventure, despite what the police tell him. Clay becomes obsessed with the murder investigation, putting himself and his co-worker Bec, an Irish-born photographer, in danger. Will Clay achieve justice for the young student, or will those in power stop him before he uncovers the truth?

Master of Tartan Noir, Tony Black, collaborates with Australian author and journalist, Matt Neal, to create a thrilling criminal case of murder and corruption set on Australia’s South Coast.

An enjoyable reading trip to Australia’s South Coast in the company of veteran author Tony Black and newbie Matt Neal.

Bay of Martyrs is where the body of a young woman washes up on the beach, frightening a visiting family and setting in motion the twitching nose of reporter Clay Moloney. The death is quickly ruled as misadventure, which fails to satisfy Moloney’s gut instinct.  Police laziness at work, or worse?

Clay and his sidekick, the new to Australia, Irish photographer Bec O’Connor sniff around the death in-between covering the more mundane aspects of the job on a regional newspaper.
I liked the two main characters. Bec O’Connor has a few skeletons in her closet regarding her family and clearly has issues with her mother. You kind of feel she is running away from events of the past, though I don’t think we fully understand why.

Clay Moloney is 40 and a bit world-weary. He likes a drink and the odd toke and has an on-off relationship with a bit of a bunny boiler. We discover a bit about his past life and loves as we venture through the book. Interesting, without distracting or taking any pace away from the mystery.

Together they make for a lively pairing. Adding a bit of spice to the mix is Bec’s romantic (or just casual fun?) relationship with one of Clay’s mates, a police officer – Eddie Boulton. Clay pumps Eddie for information on the police’s progress or lack of interest in the death, and feeds a few titbits back to stimulate some police action. Eddie pumps Bec and Clay doesn’t quite understand how he feels about the fling……amusement, jealousy or what?

In addition to the dead girl, we have a side story regarding a local politician and a major regional investment in an airport expansion at Warrnambool. An expansion which seems to benefit the politician pushing for it, Wayne Swanson and the wealthy developer, Lachlan Fullerton of Fullerton Industries that has been awarded the contract. It’s a deal which Clay has his suspicions about and which when the finances are taken apart analytically, doesn’t seem to stack up.

Ever the irritant we have Clay at various points annoying his newspaper bosses, the police, Swanson and Fullerton, as well as Bec and Eddie and the on-off girlfriend.  The - dig, dig, dig, shake the tree, see what falls out – school of investigative journalism seems to work. A beating from the police reinforces Moloney’s belief that not everything is on the up and up.

A really enjoyable mystery, a great setting with plenty of local flavour, interesting characters, and a decent resolution to our initial questions. I did feel a slight irritation at the twist on the final page, a kind of Disneyesque ending I could have done without. That said, I’ll be keen to see what Clay Moloney in the hands of the authors gets up to next.

4 from 5

Read in May, 2017
Published  - 2017
Page count – 234
Source – review copy from publisher Freight Books, after also being approved on Net Galley
Format – paperback version

Sunday 25 June 2017



Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum's life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he's accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material ... and who is seeking the ultimate revenge. When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest - and most personal - case yet. Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Wolves in the Dark reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world's foremost thriller writers.

"Gunnar Staalesen is one of my very favourite Scandinavian authors. And this is a series with very sharp teeth"
Ian Rankin

This was my first Staalesen book and while I enjoyed it I'm not rushing headlong towards hoovering up his other English translations. Wolves in the Dark is the 21st in his Varg Veum series and about the eighth to make it into English.

We start with Veum being picked up by the police in regards to an investigation into a child pornography ring. Images are found on his computer and he is remanded in custody. His lawyer who believes Veum in his assertions that the material has been planted, engages a computer expert to find evidence to that effect. Meanwhile, Veum tries to rack his brains for clues as to who has set him up. A feat not made an easier by the fact that the last three or four years have been mostly spent as a barely functioning alcoholic in a brain-pickling drunken stupor.

Progress in clearing himself is slow and Veum escapes custody when the opportunity arises. With the police convinced of his guilt, Veum has to unpick the past, discover the guilty all the while avoiding recapture. Simple.

Great storytelling, I like how the period in jail, allowed Staalesen to introduce various suspects for the crime into the story, by using Veum's limited recall of his previous cases. The period outside after the escape is very tense, with Varg Veum, trusting his girlfriend to shelter him and provide him the means to stay free. He cuts a fairly isolated figure most of the time.

Tense and enjoyable, littered with some fairly abhorrent individuals and crimes which are thankfully never explored too graphically. What Staaalesen depicts is enough to feel disgust, anger and shame that adults can derive satisfaction from the abuse of those too young and vulnerable to protect themselves.

The second half of the book, read quicker for me than the first as I had gotten used to the Scandinavian names and places. I was initially a tad confused but soon cottoned on to who was who and what they were to everyone else. I think this confusion often surfaces for me in Scandi crime. I'll have to deal with this and overcome it if I'm to enjoy more books from this neck of the woods.
Staalesen's The Writing on the Wall awaits.

4 from 5

Read in June, 2017
Published - 2017 (originally 2014)
Page count - 308
Source - review copy Orenda Books
Format - paperback

Saturday 24 June 2017



A visual story of sex drugs and social deprivation, based in Dublin, Ireland. Drug dealers Tommo and his father-in-law Jimmy receive a new batch of pills from a very different source to their usual guy, they test them out and things get very strange indeed. Tommo is on a mission to confront this new dealer, Will he survive this Dangerous overlord? Not for the easily offended.

Hmm......well not sure I will be seeking out further adventures from our drug dealing pair.

I liked the artwork, but I’m not a massive fan of comic books/graphic novels. I do appreciate the skill and talent that goes into the creation of characters and being able to consistently reproduce recognisable people. I can’t do anything better than stick figures myself.

The story was mildly amusing but the whole shebang was let down by the formatting for Kindle readers. I don’t want to get too picky, (it was a freebie book after all) but the pictures to the RHS of the screen were cropped which also affected the dialogue which showed up incomplete. I know I’m an old bugger but there was also a lack of sharpness to the screen images and in places the speech was also indecipherable. That said I got the gist of events. You would be better off seeking out a printed version if you want to give this one a go.

A short tale of drugs, drug-dealing, and an uncomfortable outcome for our two main participants when the pills they imbibe take them on a trip they probably wouldn’t want to take otherwise.

Social commentary? Not sure, maybe a bit laddish and immature with the crude depictions of two men getting it on together and the shame they feel about it afterwards. Like I said earlier, maybe I’m just getting old.

2 from 5

Olly Cunningham can be found at his Black Lines Comics website here.

Read in June, 2017
Published - 2016
Page count - 28
Source - Instafreebie
Format - Kindle

Friday 23 June 2017


Alis Hawkins, author of None So Blind, takes a turn in the stocks, answering a few questions.

None So Blind was featured on the blog yesterday - here.

Is the writing full time? If not what is/was the day job?

I can’t afford to write full time but I actually quite like the balance of going out to work and staying in to write. I work two days a week for the National Autistic Society running a family support project.

From a bit of “googling” I see you had a historical novel - Testament previously published. Similarly, None So Blind is a historical novel, do you find yourself drawn to write more about the past than contemporary times?

Yes. I’ve always been fascinated by social history, and I get to do a lot of really absorbing research for my books – the kind of stuff no course in history would ever teach you. On any given day I can be looking in to when the first public toilets were introduced (1851 during the Great Exhibition), the most likely route a man riding a horse (as opposed to travelling in a carriage) would have taken between two towns in West Wales ( I have a lot of facsimile 1831 OS maps defaced by highlighter pen and sprouting post-its like scabby eczema) and what implement kids used when they were practising writing on their slates (clue: not chalk).

Its not that I shy away completely from setting stories in the present day –Testament is a split time narrative in which half the action takes place in the modern world and the other half in the fourteenth century – I just don’t get such a buzz out of it. To me, twenty-first century people aren’t as fascinating as people from the past. I know what we’re like, I have to find out what they were like.

Would you have liked to have been born in a previous era?

Absolutely not. No period before the later twentieth century was remotely acceptable in its treatment of women. And that’s without mentioning life without sanitation, central heating, electricity, anaesthesia or antibiotics!

Was Testament a mystery/crime novel or something else entirely?

There’s no real crime element but there is a historical mystery that has to be solved in the present day. It’s set in a fictitious medieval university city called Salster. (I was going to set it in Oxford but the level of research required would have added another 2 years to the writing time, so I decided to invent my own city which turned out to be much more fun.) The fourteenth century element concerns Simon of Kineton, a master mason who’s been commissioned to built a revolutionary college and his struggles to do so (basically, the all-powerful church isn’t keen), while the contemporary story follows its head of marketing, Damia Miller, as she tries to save the college from financial ruin by following a trail from a newly-uncovered medieval wall painting in the Great Hall through the archives to the story of the master mason’s ‘cursed’ son.

Have you always written?

Pretty much, one way or another. But I think that to be a successful historical writer takes time – you really need to understand people in your own time before you can begin to imagine what they were like in somebody else’s.

What’s your typical writing schedule?

I do my best work in the morning and evening, so, if I’m writing new stuff, I tend to work pretty consistently from 9 till 1, then do other stuff in the afternoon – social media, this kind of writing, housework, etc – then get back to the book at about 5 and work till 7, usually working through what I did in the morning. If I’m editing, I like to get immersed in the book and I’ll work 12 hours a day if I can. The more your editing is broken up, the more you miss and the less well you can see the whole structure and flow of the book.

Of course, some days less writing gets done and more research, or planning. But I’m not too hung up on word counts. As long as what I’m doing is moving the book forward in some way, I’m happy.

Have you inserted family, friends or colleagues into any of the characters in your books?

No. A friend did ask if she could be in the next book and I had to explain that I don’t base my characters on real people because I don’t feel as if I’m making them up. They just appear, fully formed. Even walk-on parts spring to life in my mind like real people who’ve always been there and whom I just hadn’t met before. I have no sense of making them up at all.

Are you a plotter or a make it up as you go along sort? I think I can answer my own question, I’m guessing with historical fiction, research is key?

Research is key, of course, but that doesn’t mean I’m a plotter. I do a lot of research about a general area before I start, and some ideas for plot will come from that research. But then, once I’ve got going on the book, I’ll research as I go and as needed. The main thing about research is not to get things wrong rather than making sure you include it all – that’d make books both long and tedious.

In terms of plotting, I’ll have a starting point, a few waystops and, usually, an idea of an ending but any of those things are up for grabs as I write. In the book I’m writing at the moment (book 3 in the Teifi Valley Coroner series) the person I thought was the murderer has just turned out not to be and I’m not sure, yet, who will turn out to have done it. Stephen King once said that if you, as the writer, aren’t surprised by your book, neither will the reader be. I want my readers to be surprised, and I want to feel surprised and excited myself – otherwise writing would be dull. Plotting in detail, for me, ruins any element of surprise.

How much research did you undertake before setting down to write None So Blind?

Probably about 9 months. I had to learn not only about the Rebecca Riots but about the whole social context of rural West Wales in the 1850s.

How long did None So Blind take from conception to completion?

I’ve been wanting to write a book set during the Rebecca Riots for a long time so, in that sense, I suppose it’s been gestating away for many years. But once I’d settled down to tackle it, 9 months or so for research and another 18 to get it written. However, we did move house during the 18 months and I was on painting, decorating and project management duty for 10 weeks so probably could have done it in nearer 15 months.

Did the end result differ greatly from how you envisaged it?

In terms of being able to tell a story which allowed me to look at the effects of a months of civil disobedience on people, no. One of the reasons I wrote None So Blind was to find out what it felt like to get wrapped up in events that were moving beyond your control and I think that comes over in the book. But in terms of the plot – the actual events I use to tell the story of the Riots – the book took on a life of its own, as my books always do. Characters became more important than I’d thought, they did things I hadn’t foreseen and the central relationship between Harry and John became much more nuanced than the simple sleuth-and-sidekick that I’d envisaged when the idea for the book first came to me.

Do you have further books planned involving the main players in None So Blind? Will we be seeing more of Harry Probert-Lloyd and John Davies in the future?

Absolutely! My publishers have already bought book two – provisionally titled In Two Minds – and I’m writing book three at the moment.

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

It’s not for me to say whether it’s a gem or not but I do have a psychological thriller set during the time of the Black Death on my hard drive. It’s called The Black and the White and I’m really rather fond of it. My current publisher may not be the right home for it, but we’ll have to see. Watch this space.

What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?

Harry and John, book three. The apparently accidental death of a much-loved school teacher turns out to be something much more sinister. It’s going OK but, because of the timescale to which books are produced, I have been interrupted quite a lot in the writing of it by getting In Two Minds ready for my publishers. It’s not always easy working on the editing of one book while you’re trying to write another with the same characters, sometimes you’re apt to forget what belongs where!

What’s the best thing about writing?

Dorothy Parker famously said that she didn’t like writing, she liked having written and I know what she meant. Producing new work – literally making something out of nothing – can be a real slog. You begin to see how 20% of the calories you consume every day are used by your brain. For me, the most enjoyable thing about writing is re-writing, working on draft two of the book. You’ve knocked your ideas into a roughly novel-shaped thing and now you need to work to refine and streamline those ideas into the most fluid form you can – the right words, the right scenes, the right pace. I love that process.

The worst?

Those days when your brain-space seems to be taken up by all the other stuff in your life and you’re trying to work out what happens next in draft one. It’s like trying to hear the radio through bad static. You know it’s all there, but you really can’t hear it and the more you try, the more wound up and frustrated you get. That’s when I just go for a walk and see if that clears the signal.

What are the last five books you’ve read?

Between the Crosses by Matthew Frank
The Fireman by Peter May
Daughters of Gentlemen by Linda Strattmann
Remember No More by Jan Newton 
Dark Asylum by ES Thomson

Who do you read and enjoy?

Unsurprisingly, I read a lot of crime and I enjoy lots of the different sub-genres but not all my top authors write crime fiction. Here are my top 10 in alphabetical order:
Peter Aaronovitch
Harry Bingham
Geraldine Brooks
Tracy Chevalier
Matthew Frank
Patrick Gale
Matthew Hall
Val McDermid
Phil Rickman
Joanna Trollope

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

No. Just a load of books I really admire and learn from.

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

Reading (alone), walking (with my partner) playing silly games (with my family)

What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?

Pride – the true story of the London-based group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and their relationship with a mining community in South Wales during the 1984 Miners’ strike. It’s fantastic – touching, funny, thought-provoking, and the end always makes me cry (in a good way.)

TV viewer or not? Is there anything that is must-watch TV in the Hawkins’ household?

I love Nordic Noir – I was glued to The Killing, The Bridge and Trapped. Same goes for Broadchurch and Hinterland. But our recent favourite was No Offence, the black comedy crime drama starring Joanna Scanlan and Elaine Cassidy. That and Mock the Week are definitely un-missable. Oh, and we do love a bit of property-porn especially Grand Designs. Mourning the passing of Bake Off.

Any writing aspirations for a couple of years’ time...

I’d really like to see The Black and The White published. And Harry and John’s Teifi Valley Coroner series thriving, obviously!

Many thanks to Alis for her time.

You can catch up with her at the following locations .....
Her website is here.
Facebook page here.
Twitter -  @Alis_Hawkins