September 23, 2011

An interview with Keith Walters

Hersilia Press @ 3:20 pm

Keith runs a wonderful blog at which is one of the best sources for all things crime fiction. Since he’s used to interviewing authors I thought I might ask him to be on the other side and answer a few questions, which he very kindly agreed to: that will give you an idea of the busy life of a crime blogger. Crime *fiction* blogger, I mean….

What’s the strangest thing that happened to you in an interview?

Maybe not the strangest, but certainly the most memorable.
A few years back (quite a few in fact as was in my college days, writing horror film and book fanzines – yes this was pre-internet!) I had the privilege of being asked to interview Jay Clarke (one of the Canadian team of lawyers that write collectively as Michael Slade) over lunch at Langhams Brasserie.

A great lunch and a lovely chat with a very like-minded guy.  But, perhaps too like-minded as we both loved horror movies and when we got to discussing those and the magazine, Fangoria, his publicist admitted to feeling a little green around the gills and left us to get on with it :)

The day was topped off by the fact that, as we’d had such a great conversation, in the evening at the launch party, Jay spotted me amongst the crowd of the much more professional press guys and called to me. I was a bit gob-smacked, but not as much as those in the room who were clearly wondering who the hell was this ‘kid’ amongst them.

It was great to interview CJ Box over breakfast at Harrogate this year – but I was so embarrassed when a few other attendees (including author David Jackson) were about to sit with us and then I had to ask if they would mind giving us a while.  They were very understanding and gracious – I must get a bigger tape machine as I don’t think they realised I was interviewing at the time.

What’s the best perk of being a crime blogger?

Where to start? I don’t think I could single one out.

Obviously it’s great to receive free books – that’s a given. To get them in advance of publication is a greater bonus and an honour too, and there’s nothing better than somebody telling you via twitter or on a blog comment that they are going to or have bought the book based on a review you’ve written.

Then there are the book events, the launches and the special memories – those at Goldsboro Books in London are always fantastic and draw great crowds, and when there’s something a bit different, such as the Jack the Ripper tour walk for the launch on SJ Bolton’s ‘Now You See Me’, it will stay in the mind for years to come as a really memorable and fun evening.

Meeting crime writers in general is always a great time guaranteed – genuinely the nicest bunch of people you could hope to meet.

And, of course, without the blogging (and twitter, plus the support of many) I wouldn’t have won the ‘blogger in residence’ gig at this year’s excellent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

We may not have won the quiz, Ilaria, but we can’t have everything :) [I have to butt in here and add that Keith and I were on the same quiz team…. we didn’t win, but we didn’t do too bad…]

Crime fiction blogging seems to spin off into all sorts of  other things I never would have had the opportunity to do before – this year I attended and took part in the World Book Night launch, attended the filming of three episodes of the TV Book Club, and have written for the We Love this Book website – so, all good and thoroughly enjoyable stuff.

Conversely, what’s the worst aspect of being a crime blogger?

I wouldn’t really necessarily call it the ‘worst’, but maybe the most difficult, if that’s okay to twist things a little? That would be time – or lack of it.

There really are so many great books out there that, with the full time sales job I hold down to pay the mortgage, bills and keep the kids in shoes, sometimes a few chapters and I’m asleep on the sofa far too early some evenings.

This is all, without a doubt, self-inflicted, however, particularly as I also delve into YA books every now and again (something my 11 year old daughter is now assisting with on our JNR version of the blog), so some days more YA books arrive than crime fiction titles to review.

It’s also a bit of a challenge to make sure a balance is being struck and that all the lovely folk who look after us bloggers are getting an even spread of reviews – there’s nothing worse than a site that looks like every review is a book from the same publishing house.

I have invested in a dry wipe board, just to keep a better track on what I’m doing so that I can switch off from the day job in the evenings and take a look at what I ‘really’ want to be doing.

A great hero or a great villain? [IM: I am indebted for this question to the wonderful Dan Holloway, author of The Company of Fellows as one of his ‘how long is a piece of rope’]

In life, the great hero would have to be my Dad.  If I can be half as good a Dad to my kids as he is to me then I would have done a pretty good job.

In crime fiction, my author hero would likely be the late great Ed McBain – I love the ensemble work of the 87th Precinct novels and the man was so prolific – my bookshelves of his work shout at me to get my own books written.

For a crime fiction character, my hero would probably be Charlie Parker from John Connolly’s excellent novels – he has just the right balance of being a haunted character whilst also being tough and ready to do his bit when required – and I just love the way those books tread the border between crime and the supernatural.

For a villain – I will avoid real life and authors and go with a character only, and here’s where I go more horror than crime I guess, with Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s masterpiece Misery. Although, I guess the title villain may not strictly apply in that case as she clearly believes she is only acting in the best interest of the author Paul Sheldon and his work – as chilling as that becomes.

What’s the book plot you’d rewrite? 

Ooh – good question.

To be honest, I wouldn’t profess to thinking I could do anything to improve on anyone who’s actually had something published.

But, there are lots of books where I guess I would have preferred the ending was different of the plot changed in some way.

In some ways, although I absolutely loved Justin Cronin’s The Passage, I was sad when the first section of the book ended and I felt rushed years ahead as I wanted to stay in the first section for longer – maybe for that whole book – especially as it was the first of a trilogy.

What’s the best idea you’ve had which has gone (so far) unappreciated by everyone else?

Well, nothing that I’d take to Dragons’ Den if that’s what you mean.

In terms of writing, I have completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the past few years.  Two years ago my children expressed an interest and wanted to know what I was writing, so I changed tack and chose to write a childrens’ fantasy book featuring them. It meant that, every night at bedtime, I got to read them a few pages and then got their feedback and ideas as to where the story would go next – cheating in a way, but I felt that was a pretty good idea to keep them happy and to get the book written.

If I’m allowed two, then I also changed the design on the architects’ plans when we had a loft extension a few years back, to put a turn in the new staircase rather than a straight run – this resulted in me gaining a lovely little office and reading space – a bit selfish, but I thought it was a good idea :)

Tidy desk or messy desk?

A bit of both really.

I like nothing more than getting organised.

Today for example, my desk (which is actually now our dining room table) is covered in paperwork from the day job to file away for next week along with the work laptop, calculator, car keys, work bag and several phones, along with a pile of books received today, this laptop and paperwork relating to book-ish things.

So, right now it’s very messy, but I will no doubt spend a couple of hours this evening getting everything organised in the expectation that this will be the weekend where I get stuff done. Then my wife will come home, the kids will start fighting, washing up in the kitchen needs doing and dinner to be sorted out – and my nice tidier desk will sit like that until it’s time for Monday to hit with vengeance.

Most stupid question you’ve ever been asked? (no, you can’t answer with “this one”!)

That’s not a stupid question, but it is the toughest of the bunch.

It doesn’t relate to books or writing, but to somebody taking dictation (from a cassette machine) at a place I used to work.

The guy on the tape had asked the temp to type a quote (we repaired shop signs) and he’d said ‘Two engineers attending site and carrying out repairs…’. The temp actually asked me if what she’d typed was correct, clearly not engaging brain before showing it to me.

She’d typed ‘Two engineers attending site and carrying out some bears’ !

September 1, 2011

The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen

Hersilia Press @ 10:30 pm

The Killing Place (Jane Rizzoli & Maura Isles, #8)The Killing Place by Tess Gerritsen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tess Gerritsen worked as a medical doctor: and you can certainly tell. A killing place really keeps you on edge, and without being particularly crude, it manages to come up with situations where even medical science could not help.

This is the eighth in the Rizzoli and Isles series, which was published in the US under the title “Ice Cold”. Forensic anthropologist Maura Isles is at a conference where she meets a former University acquaintance and joins him and some of his friends for a post-conference tour in snowy Wyoming. Soon they find themselves in a village where all houses seem to have been suddenly abandoned, and with a casualty on the verge of losing a limb even the knowledge of two doctors is not very useful without any equipment. It is impossible to call for help and Maura tries to entangle the many suspicious circumstances that surround the situation.

Her partner Jane Rizzoli, who incidentally (unlike Maura) seems to be one of very few fictional detectives with a normal family life, is very much in the background in this novel but shows how close and loyal the two characters really are to each other.

I loved this book: it is fast-paced, has the right amount of twists in the plot and characters I like and empathise with. What I really liked about the book was how real, how likely it felt for me and how much strange and apparently inexplicable situations had a perfectly rational and reasonable (after you’re told) explanation. The end was of course not what I was led to believe but in general I’m not terribly good at guessing endings…

I see this has been called a non-typical book by Tess Gerritsen by some reviewers, but I think the style of writing which is one of the main qualities I liked about it will be the same in other books. I do look forward to reading not only the others in the Rizzoli and Isles series, but the stand-alones and even the romantic suspense (I have an open mind!).

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August 15, 2011

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah

Hersilia Press @ 4:29 pm

A Room Swept WhiteA Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a novel which despite being a work of fiction reminded me of significant real events in the recent past.

The story runs two parallel threads, one which sees TV producer Fliss Benson rising to the post of director of the company she works for, and at the same time landing her boss’ job directing a documentary about women accused of killing their babies; the other thread following the story of some of the accused women and their families.

Felicity’s boss, Laurie Nattrass, who was heavily involved in campaigning for the innocence of these women and even founded an organisation to this aim, has suddenly decided to move on to another company and leave Fliss in charge. As she starts work on the documentary, she gets to know more some of the people involved: the women, their husbands, and the paediatrician Judith Duffy who as expert witness in many of these trials seems to bear most of the responsibility for sending these women to jail.

With the second murder of one of the women it becomes clear that the two deaths are linked and Fliss also starts feeling in danger. Her work on the documentary, which she is determined to finish, will uncover strange and dark aspects of the personality of some characters as well as the culprit behind the murders.

I enjoyed the book and its “dizzingly complicated” plot and although I was expecting a different type of psychological tension I enjoyed the moral and psychological dilemmas which are more than touched upon in the book: miscarriages of justice, reliability of eye witnesses and expert witnesses, and the trauma of an innocent person not only losing a loved one but being accused of a heinous crime.

However, I found Fliss highly irritating despite the fact that she redeems herself in the end, and in common with another reviewer I was annoyed at the apparent recognition given to a scientifically discredited theory about vaccines. I did enjoy the very deep psychological insight into many characters as well as the writing style, which seems to be easily spanning between a Bridget-Jones-like single thirty-something, and a scientific report on causes of cot death. Sophie Hannah seems to be at ease with either style. Fliss’ occasional very funny comments contributed to lightening the mood from a very thoughtful topic.

The police characters are very much in the background, almost sketched, and the story isn’t as much about the investigation but it is told in the majority by the characters themselves: I found this aspect quite refreshing.

I will certainly read more of Sophie Hannah’s books.

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