I've been pestered for some time by friends (and friends of people I know) about getting the physical copies of my new book. They've been very patient, but they'll be thrilled to know that you can now purchase paperback copies of The Writing's on the Wall on Amazon. (You'll also be able to get the Kindle version for free if you've bought a paperback copy.)

a touch of Frost 

Anybody who knows me personally is aware that I'll verbally espouse for hours about books that I love. Over the Christmas period I've been able to do this online. (Not just in person to those who'll tolerate my ramblings.)

 

Wander over to the LA Review of Books to see my piece on the fun you can have reading the Inspector Frost novels. I can never recommend them enough to any crime fiction enthusiast.

The other day I was surprised to see my father reading a book by a well-known author. I don't want to say who, because I know their work and I didn't think it would be my Dad's cup of tea. He had no idea who they were, but thought he'd give it a go. The praise on the side of the back of the book was high... absurdly so. In fact, it's one of my pet peeves in modern literature that the PR gurus really are overpromising on most books. The latest PR line I'd read on this particular book was "One page and you're hooked." It took me a moment to try and digest that. I've never been hooked after a single page. Ever. Not even on any of my favourite books of all time. In fact, a couple of my favourite classics didn't "hook" me until about halfway through. So I find this PR line to be laughable. That said, it did raise a very important point. How do we try to encourage people to read more? Absurd, generic overpromises don't help in my opinion.

I've found in my personal experience that many people who don't read... just can't find something they enjoy reading. They've picked up a bestseller and just not been impressed by it. And why should they? Just because a book sells well or picks up awards does not mean everybody will like it. Nor does it mean that it will be to your individual taste. There's nothing wrong with that. Thanks to the increasing popularity of review systems on books, we're getting savvier about what we pick up. However, how does that help the non-reader who doesn't know where to start looking? (Short answer: it doesn't.)

In my opinion, the solution is simple... and it has worked well for some of my non-reading friends. Don't just recommend them whatever floats YOUR boat. Don't let the industry, that is profit-driven to try and sell as many books as possible, tell them what to read. LISTEN to them and then think: "What would they enjoy reading?" It's so simple, yet we're not doing it. Everywhere I look is lists of X books you need to read before you die. Or the ultimate list of best books this year. No, let's try a different approach. It's easy enough, let's make a list based on the premise "If you liked X, then you might like Y." I've tried this out on friends, some of whom didn't read crime fiction until now. Results aren't 100% but hey... this is a subjective game and people don't tend to get upset at me for trying. So I've put together a list of books that I think are a good recommendation for someone (if they have an interest in a certain area) which might get them into crime fiction. The list is based partly on genres and is not exhaustive... For example, I've skipped out period dramas which would be a great place to recommend some of the golden age "cosy crime."

 

Thriller and suspense

If you're a fan of suspense or thriller movies or such series on the television, then I'd recommend The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I'd be willing to bet you've probably seen the movie already, but seeing the movie doesn't reduce the impact of the book. Research that Harris did will shine through for anyone who has enjoyed a documentary on real crime/psychopaths/serial killers or the FBI's Behavioural Sciences Unit. He spent years with them during his research of Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Will Graham is a very likable character in Red Dragon, but The Silence of the Lambs trumps this for me because Clarice Starling is even more endearing. (Particularly because of her interactions with Lecter.) A fast-paced story with a cast of characters who all feel very real - frighteningly so in the case of Lecter - makes this book a serious page-turner. Even when you think that it has to be over and your nerves are shot, that's when Harris puts things into overdrive. Of course some will claim this is a thriller. They have a point (it's actually been classified as thriller, crime and horror,) but I think that is more of a reason in favour of recommending this book. It makes an excellent gateway piece into crime fiction.

 

Comedy

I can hear you thinking "comedy? In crime? Has he lost the plot?" Some would think that seriously allowing A Touch of Frost on any serious police investigation is reasonable grounds to have you sectioned... but that's the joy and the comedy of Frost. The bumbling detective stumbles around from one screw-up to the next in this great example of R.D. Wingfield's cult classic detective. If you hear "Frost" and then think of the television series, please erase that from your mind right now. The books and the television series are nothing alike. In these books, Frost is a lazy, incompetent detective with a morally dubious streak. He'd sooner be stealing his boss's fags and forging his expenses than actually having to do any real police work. The Denton district where Frost seems to constantly find dead bodies is undermanned, underfunded and perpetually out of luck. The humour comes from Frost's self-deprecation and childish antics juxtaposed against the backdrop of serious crimes. The book is something of a hidden masterpiece as Frost lurches from one mistake to the next, poking his fellow officers in the backside and blowing raspberries at his boss, before seeming to accidentally solve his laundry list of cases. The skill required to make this believable should not be underestimated. So if you enjoy a chuckle while you're reading, then this would be an excellent starting point to get you into crime fiction.

 

Horror

Are you one of those people that gets a little rush from that twinge of fear? Or a thrill from your heartbeat increasing with the creepy atmosphere? Then look for your closest copy of the first book in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid. This creepy psychological piece takes a strong stomach to counter your imagination and certainly isn't for the faint hearted. The story of the serial killer flows while you quickly become invested in the odd-couple combination of Tony and Carol. For the fan of horror, the way they slowly explore the mind and madness of the serial killer torturing each victim is likely to leave you looking over your shoulder to make sure you're not next. For me, atmosphere and feeling is key in a horror book, and McDermid is one of the best in crime for creating an atmosphere in your imagination. You'll find with this piece that crime fiction can tweak just as many nerves when the story is presented in the right way. A great way to make the jump.

 

Paranormal or Occult

If you're into the paranormal or the occult, and would like to have a sprinkling of that with your crime... then look no further than Natural Causes by James Oswald. The piece became a self-published hit before it surged further into the stratosphere with his traditional publishing deal. Some fans of crime will say (and it is said in a fair few reader reviews) that the paranormal possibilities have no place in a serious crime fiction story. Ignore those people and dig in if you're already a fan of anything paranormal or occult. Oswald beautifully crafts a story full of emotion with a protagonist that anybody could empathise with. While Inspector McLean investigates the case, it's likely your room will feel a tad chillier than normal. Some scenes could happily be dismissed as an overactive imagination... but hey, what's the fun in that? Strange markings and a hint of dark ritual give way to some chilling scenes that make you wonder whether everything is really what it seems. So, if you enjoy letting your imagination run wild when you feel the room suddenly go cold, or hear an unknown noise... this is probably your best way into crime fiction.

 

Magic

Have you ever watched the latest episode of Dynamo and thought of a darker way to use his magic? You could always pick up Jeffery Deaver's The Vanished Man and see where that takes you. The Lincoln-Rhyme series about the paraplegic forensics expert has been popular for some time. In this instalment, the simple locked room mystery piece suddenly becomes an exciting chase for a villain who has started putting his mastery of the magical performance to deadlier use. If you're still trying to figure out "how on earth did he do that?" then this could be your ideal gateway into crime fiction.

 

Drama

Do you enjoy your serious drama on the television? Then no further argument needs to be made. Grab a copy of Somewhere to Hide by Mel Sherratt and watch the drama unfold in your mind. The Estate series spans three books at the moment, and I always think starting with the first in the series is a good idea. Sherratt's writing is powerful, gritty stuff. It's impossible to avoid getting very attached to certain characters as you watch the drama unfold. Not for the faint hearted, some of the subject matter is quite unpleasant and has left at least one of my friends a little disturbed and upset. Though this just demonstrates the power of the writing all the more. The combination of stories unfolding in Cathy's "safe" house and the heart wrenching sympathy you feel for almost all the characters allows Sherratt to drag you from the edge of your seat to an amazing finale. The realism of the dialogue and the worries of the characters sell the realistic atmosphere. People have mentioned that this should be made into a television drama. They have good reason to say this, so any fans of serious realistic drama on the telly are likely to find this as a great way to sink their teeth into some crime fiction.

 

I have little doubt that I've missed some out. If you mention any good ones in the comments then I'll add them to the list. In the meantime, maybe this has given you an idea for something to read yourself... or hopefully you can recommend some crime to your friends. Share the article with them and maybe they can find something to their taste. You never really know what's going through the mind of the person sitting next to you. Maybe they've got a secret blood lust?

It's finally arrived. The exciting day when I publish for the very first time. It's been a tough journey to get to this stage, but it's also been thoroughly rewarding. The Writing's on the Wall is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Kobo and some other smaller sites. Now seemed like the right time to reflect on how I've managed to get here.

I recently read a piece which covered how the remarkable changes in the publishing industry had made things better for writers. It's affected both traditionally published and self-published writers alike.

This made me reflect on just how significant these changes have been and how heavily they've been influenced by the new breed of indie authors taking risks and experimenting in the new digital marketplace. This is nothing new. The digital revolution is hitting different industries at different paces. It's the speed of the impact on writing and publishing which keeps astonishing me.

It's staggering to think about how wide the gap in the experience is for guys like me starting out now. You compare that to the current established authors (now providing advice in self-publishing,) back when they started out... and you wonder how they ever managed to do it.

These pioneers of the new digital market who have shared their knowledge and experiences, have not only seen the landscape alter, but they have also provided a roadmap for anyone new. Something which they never had.

The formation of the Alliance of Independent Authors could be considered a watershed moment for publishing. As I've been working through the two potential paths to publication, my research has given me a huge amount of food for thought. One thing which immediately occurs to me: learning and educating myself on publishing is significantly easier today than it was just three years ago. That gives an idea of just how fast this market has moved. Amazon only released the first Kindle in November 2007. Just seven years ago the Kindle Direct Publishing scheme was launched. After just a couple of years, tips were being openly exchanged as both traditionally published and indie published writers explored this new opportunity. By the four year mark Amanda Hocking became the first author who used the KDP route with staggering success, selling over a million ebooks between 2010 and 2011.

People like Joanna Penn and David Gaughran were documenting their journey through self-publication. Things which went right, and the things which went wrong. These pioneers and many others not only climbed the mountain the hard way, but they kindly put up some signposts for the rest of us. More impressive was that they simply didn't want others to repeat their mistakes and waste money. David's campaign against Author Solutions is a very strong example of this. He doesn't benefit in any way. I think he just doesn't want to see fellow writers wasting money and puts time and effort into accomplishing this without expecting anything in return.

The freedom with which writers share tips, knowledge and experience always leaves me feeling great about knowing these people exist. The altruistic and friendly nature of writers is probably one of the key reasons that the industry has been moving so quickly. After all, an industry can't move forward until a majority of people begin adopting new approaches. If there's one thing we have seen from this change, it's that authors tend to naturally experiment when given control over something new. Over the past five years, some authors have switched from traditional publishing to self-publishing and vice versa. During this time the frequency of these switches has increased.

I would posit that this is as a direct result of the writers who have so painstakingly charted the path for independent publication. Now it's never been easier to gather all the information you need to produce a professional quality ebook and print-on-demand book. The list of authors who have now sold hundreds of thousands of ebooks (on their own, with no help from a traditional publisher) is growing at an exponential rate. This naturally creates some fear because the level of competition seems high. The problem is that this is an emotional response. It's much more likely that more ebooks are being sold because more and more people are buying an ereader. The customer base is continuing to expand as the world economy recovers and people gain more disposable income. Maybe people are reading more because "there's nothing on the telly!" Or maybe the improved choice has brought people back to the book market who have been previously disillusioned.

Just looking at this staggering change over the past three years makes me wonder whether I'll be successful. Not only are there an infinite number of ways my writing career could go, but there's also an uncertainty about where the industry and online market will go. Knowing these two things leaves me in the dark when I look to my future. There are plenty of predictions from different people. Ultimately, whatever happens, I know I'm just going to get on with writing the sequel and any other short stories which pop into my mind in the meantime. As an incredibly slow writer, I know that most of my time will go on writing and polishing any story I come up with. My editor, John, deserves a special mention since he has made a significant contribution in tightening my prose and correcting my atrocious grammar. I also think that credit should go to the entire writing community because I've picked up so many tips on storytelling, composition and communication. So many different people have helped me to find the optimal way to convey my thoughts and the stories constantly playing through my head.

My story of publication is remarkably simple when you compare it to the exploits of these hardened veterans. Absorb the information in books from the experts. Read the blogs in spare time to gain more knowledge on any changes. Decide how to tailor and use this knowledge. Then enact the lengthy and gruelling plan. This is a world away from the amount of research that used to be needed. Don't get me wrong, it's a huge amount of work, but it's far less work than it used to be thanks to more sophisticated tools and well written tutorials on how to perform each task. The technical side will be easier for some than others, but now I can add myself to scores of people who are living proof that it can be done! (Even by a total numpty like me!)

In a way, writers have never had it so good when you're starting from nothing. We have options and an opportunity to experiment. With the industry in flux like this, there has never been a better time to try new things. Of course, my success will depend heavily upon the quality of my writing, but also on the visibility of the book. I don't have delusions about selling a million ebooks. I'd just like to be able to reach (and try to entertain) as many potential readers as possible. If you'd be willing to support me in these first steps, then grab a copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Kobo. There's a short story available for free here if you'd like to sample my work before checking out the novel. Any support is appreciated. Happy reading!

The following is a loose collection of thoughts... I doubt any of them are original. Does that make them unworthy of reading or thinking?

I recently had a discussion with a friend on the state of literature today. He took the view that it was all just rehashing the same old rubbish and that Hollywood was no better. There was such a massive, sweeping blanket of opinion in that statement that I had to take a breath and compose myself. I enjoy a sweeping opinion for the laugh as much as the next guy. (If only to see how difficult it is to defend such a point of view once somebody capable of critical thinking takes their mental dissection kit to it.) Now the underlying assumption to this view is basically all about originality. The conversation went something like this.

"Do you think nobody can produce an original thought?" I said.
"Not really. You can find a quote to prove just about everything has been thought of already. You've usually got one tucked up your sleeve."
Cue childish chuckling. "Well I think it was Lincoln who said something about how books show a man that any original thoughts he has aren't that original after all."
"Pretty much. But the books today are just showing it's all the same old crap."
"I disagree. Original interpretations are just as interesting.
"No original thoughts, just original interpretations?"
"Yes, the more perspective you get, the more you can understand something. If you only look at something from one angle, you can be deceived so much more easily."

The conversation went on from there, but it did get me thinking about just how many of my own thoughts have already been thought, discussed, written and analysed to death. There's a common idea that all writers are trying to be original. "Find a truly original idea. It is the only way I will ever distinguish myself." This is stated by John Nash in the film A Beautiful Mind. (I don't think he actually said it, so the screenwriter should probably be credited with this quote.) Though it makes me wonder whether the original idea is actually the Holy Grail for writers? What if we had an original idea? Could we even pull it off? It was suggested by Iris Murdoch that "Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea." I think you only start to appreciate the depth of that quote when you begin to write seriously. It makes me feel a little despondent, that even our best ideas could not be brought to life well enough to satisfy us. (This article is a perfect example for me.) Would it be enough to satisfy others and sacrifice your own satisfaction?

It would be easily possible to go and fill a little article like this with quotes from Iris Murdoch, so I'm going to refrain from that. Instead this took me towards another area of originality... that selection of people on this planet who insist what they know is original and not a rip-off of anything else. You don't need to look far for some ignorant fan of a boyband doing a cover of an old song, decrying the musicians who first created the song as evil thieves, ripping off their beloved boyband. (I won't mention which one or two acts spring to mind... because I don't want their fans here starting a pointless argument about this... but I'm pretty sure most people could guess.) Their ignorance comes from a poor breadth of knowledge and more importantly, a lack of experience... or memories.

An original idea. That can't be too hard. The library must be full of them.

"Only those with no memory insist on their originality." - Coco Chanel. She's another one of those people with a number of quotes to her name, but this one felt apt for the topic. The more I read and the more information I gather on the world around me, the less I feel capable of doing anything even remotely original. Instead, I've been writing the sort of thing I enjoy reading the most... hardboiled , gritty crime with a hint of that noir style that I love. At this point, you've probably got a good idea what I particularly enjoy reading. Maybe it's to your taste, maybe it isn't. (If it is, you should probably consider picking up a copy of my novel in November.) Perhaps I could argue that this particular combination of style with the modern day setting is enough to be considered an original interpretation. Though I don't want to, I'm happy enough to just think that I'm no more or less original that the majority of other writers today. That's enough to satisfy me on this topic; but this does leave me with one last big question to address my friend's fears on the current state of literature. Are we all just rehashing old ideas?

The answer is more complicated than the one I'm going to posit. (Articles are just that, short pieces to get the brain thinking... they're not a doctoral thesis designed to give a conclusive answer.) The short answer is yes, we're predominantly going over old territory, and some people will even subscribe to the draconian idea that there are only seven basic plots. Though is it such a bad thing for us to be reworking these seven plots ad infinitum? "There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance." - Socrates. The more we learn - more knowledge we gather, the more we begin to realise why people have been coming to the conclusion that there only seven plots or that genre fiction tends to frequently cover old ground. So if this knowledge is good, and knowing that we are repeating the same area is good [as opposed to ignorantly thinking we're being original when we're not, which would be classed as evil] then it suggests that being aware that you're not being original is a good thing. So why, oh why, do we still cry out for originality?

Perhaps this is just the reader who is unaware that it's all been done before? Though usually changing something minor will suit their expectations for originality.

"I've had enough of these killers who hunt women."
"Here, try this one, he kills children."
"Ooo, this is different."
Satisfied customer.  

I'm oversimplifying, but you get the idea. I'm oversimplifying because I don't actually think it's a bad thing. All the different variables in character, setting, pace, plot, and style mean that books can become radically different but essentially tell a similar story. C.S. Lewis summed this up far better than I probably could: "Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

By now you've probably been wondering why I've put so many quotes in this post. "A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought." - Dorothy L. Sayers. Not quite Dorothy... I wanted to prove to myself that while I don't have an original thought (the people I quoted have already had these thoughts) I can put all of this thought process together in an original fashion. Perhaps writers are more like composers... all the notes and scales are already know... but can you use these notes to produce a piece we haven't heard before that touches our heart? I'd like to think nobody else has done this topic in this particular style before... but who knows?

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