Sunday, 22 April 2018

Alice Blanchard on How Her Book Came Together

Before I can sit down and write a 350-page novel, I need three things—a dream, a memory, and a true story that fascinates me.  Only then can the alchemy begin.

1.  The Dream:
Each one of my novels was inspired by a dream.  Before I wrote “A Breath After Drowning,” I had a dream that my husband and I came home and couldn’t get our front door open.  I slid the key into the lock but it wouldn’t turn.  Inside, the phone was ringing off the hook, and I knew in my heart something horrible had happened.  That dream was the seed that grew into my new novel. 

Dreams contain an underlying truth.  What did this one mean?  I was suddenly homeless. I’d lost my identity.  An unknown force was threatening everything I held dear.  I’d been locked out of my own home—this ignited my imagination, and I became obsessed with its literary implications.

2.  The Memory:
My father was admitted to a psych ward after his first suicide attempt.  I remember visiting him there was I was sixteen years old.  The clocks in the waiting room told the wrong time, and the magazines were three years old.  Dad shuffled toward us in his pyjamas and bathrobe.  He looked washed away.  His eyes were faded.  He talked to us as if he’d forgotten who we were.  As if something alien had replaced him.  This memory still haunts me, and it inspired the pivotal scene in “A Breath After Drowning” where, as a young girl, Kate visits her mother in the asylum.

3.  The True Story:
The murder of Jessica Lunsford effected me deeply.  She was a nine-year-old girl from Homosassa, Florida, who was murdered in 2005.  Her body was found 150 yards from her home.  She’d been buried alive.  Her death was so tragic and cruel, it filled me with anger and sadness.  I couldn’t imagine how her parents coped with such a loss, and so I gave their terrible pain to my main character. 

In my novel, “A Breath After Drowning,” child psychiatrist Kate Wolfe’s world comes crashing down when one of her young patients reveals things about Kate’s past that she shouldn’t know—things involving the murder of Kate’s sister sixteen years earlier. In writing this book, I felt a powerful connection to Kate, a connection so strong it propelled the book forward.  She took the dream, the memory, and the true story, and she put it on her shoulders—I followed

A Breath After Drowning by Alice Blanchard (Published by Titan Books)
Sixteen years ago, Kate Wolfe’s young sister Savannah was brutally murdered. Forced to live with the guilt of how her own selfishness put Savannah in harm’s way, Kate was at least comforted by the knowledge that the man responsible was behind bars. But when she meets a retired detective who is certain that Kate’s sister was only one of many victims of a serial killer, Kate must face the possibility that Savannah’s murderer walks free. 
Unearthing disturbing family secrets in her search for the truth, Kate becomes sure that she has discovered the depraved mind responsible for so much death. But as she hunts for a killer, a killer is hunting her…

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Ripley Uncovers

I always enjoy the company of the Talented Mr Ripley, for as a raconteur he is incomparable in the literary end of Crime and Thrillers; and he has a wickedly amusing sense of humour and proportion to boot.

Mike and I found ourselves spending a day together paying our respects to Phil Kerr, who passed away far too early. Mike Ripley was one of the group of new emerging talent in British Crime Writing in the late 1980s / early 1990s, as was Phil Kerr. Mike pays his respects to Philip Kerr in his April 2018 column of Getting Away with Murder – read it HERE

Apart from his own writing, his reviewing, literary commentary, bee-keeping and interest in archaeology, Mike acts as a literary consultant for Ostara Publishing, unearthing classic work from the Thriller genre. He is obviously well qualified for this role, as the writer / editor of the extraordinary Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang CLICK HERE for more information.

At Crimefest 2014 held in Bristol, in-concert with Barry Forshaw and Peter Guttridge, our trio of writer / critics presented an amusing, as well as insightful look at the British Golden Age of Thriller Writing. We have archived the video presentation from the event HERE and I am still giggling from the memory of the that day.

I was delighted to hear that The Talented Mr Ripley has uncovered two extraordinary thrillers - that I can still recall from my adolescence, so let Mike tell us more. 

New Titles from Top Notch Thrillers

First published in 1970, Kenneth Royce’s thriller The XYY Man introduced a new anti-hero into the world of spy and crime fiction and despite the rather questionable premise behind the main character, Spider Scott, the book launched a popular television series which spawned not one but two distinct spin-offs.

The unique aspect of XYY Man Spider Scott – said to be based on a professional criminal Kenneth Royce met whilst a prison visitor – is that he is blessed, or cursed, with an extra male ‘Y’ chromosome in his genetic make-up. This predisposes him to a life of crime, which was in fact a common theory in the late 1960s, though there was little – if any – scientific evidence for this.

Whatever his genetics, Scott is a ‘creeper’ or cat burglar and a very good one, so good that his talents come to the notice of British Intelligence when a dangerous piece of house breaking is called for – the ‘house’ in question being the Chinese Legation in London. Unfortunately, Spider is also firmly on the radar of Detective Sergeant Bulman and it was this antagonistic relationship which was not only the mainstay of the 1976 television series The XYY Man but allowed the Bulman character to develop in the spin-off police series Strangers in 1978 and then to star in his own series as a private eye, in Bulman in 1985.

Kenneth Royce (1920 -1997) wrote seven Spider Scott novels and, later, three novels featuring Alf Bulman. Top Notch Thrillers is proud to be able to reissue the first two novels, The XYY Man (which has been out-of-print for more than 20 years) and the immediate sequel, The Concrete Boot from 1971.

When The XYY Man was first published, Dame Ngaio Marsh called it ‘a brilliantly sustained thriller’ and the Manchester Evening News rated it ‘A new dimension in thriller writing’.

Top Notch series editor Mike Ripley, the author of the ‘reader’s history of British thrillers’ Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, said: ‘The Spider Scott books were not big, brash, shoot-em-up spy fantasies, as was very much the norm when they first appeared. They were down-beat tales of betrayal and fear, more Callan than Bond. Quite often Spider Scott – a criminal who is outside the protection of the law – when pursued by the KGB, the CIA, the Chinese secret police and goodness knows who else, has only his underworld contacts and fellow criminals to rely on. The books are highly recommended for their descriptions of Spider’s London, especially by night, in the early 1970s; a cold, hard city which has millions of inhabitants but where Spider is always alone.’

Top Notch Thrillers is an imprint of Ostara Publishing and has so far revived more than 60 British thrillers ‘which do not deserve to be forgotten’. The XYY Man and The Concrete Boot are available as trade paperbacks and eBooks.

Further details:

New Blood Showcase: Criminally Good Class of 2018

Val McDermid has unveiled her four ‘New Blood’ debut crime novelists for 2018.

Val McDermid co-founded the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival with literary agent Jane Gregory and arts charity, Harrogate International Festivals in 2003.

Since 2004, she has hosted her annual New Blood panel at the festival, which has become one of the most anticipated events on the publishing calendar. Just four debut novels are picked out of 50 submissions the ‘Queen of Crime’ receives each year.

Over the years, McDermid has introduced some formidable new talents to the Harrogate audience, and through them to a wider readership.

Val McDermid said: “Choosing the four debut novels for the New Blood panel at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and presenting them to the 700-strong audience is the best job in crime fiction. I get to immerse myself in new voices and fresh ideas. My quartet this year have each produced a provocative and entertaining excursion into their very distinctive worlds. I guarantee each of these books is a riveting read.”

2018 New Blood authors are:

DARK PINES by Will Dean
A deaf journalist investigates the case of an eyeless corpse in this promising debut novel set in rural Sweden.

THE RUIN by Dervla McTiernan
This unsettling crime debut draws us deep into the dark heart of Ireland as the secrets of the past will expose the crimes of the present.

Already a 2018 must-read, this thrilling and suspense-filled debut will have readers glued to every word and guessing until it’s shocking sinister finale.

With time loops, body swaps and a psychopathic footman, Turton’s debut is a dazzling take on the murder mystery.

New Blood authors Val has picked over the years include Jane Harper, SJ Watson, Stuart MacBride, Clare Mackintosh, Belinda Bauer and Dreda Say Mitchell. Dreda said: “Being invited onto the New Blood panel hosted by the amazing and legendary Val McDermid was one of the key springboards that launched my career.”

New Blood takes place during the 2018 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival on Saturday 21 July, 12 noon, at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate.

Tickets go on sale Monday 23rd April, 10am. Box office: 01423 562303

Friday, 20 April 2018

CrimeFest Awards Shortlists

CrimeFest co-director Adrian Muller said: “CrimeFest announces the shortlist for the tenth CrimeFest Awards. Over the past decade the awards have highlighted breakthrough debut novelists as well as a number of established crime fiction authors delving into children’s fiction and nonfiction. We are also pleased to continue showcasing audiobooks which have undergone a meteoric rise since we began presenting our awards. We are all extremely proud and excited to present the 10th annual CrimeFest awards, and find out who wins on 19th May.”

The 10th anniversary of CrimeFest this year will host crime fiction royalty Martina Cole, Lee Child and Peter James as some of the top names set to speak at this year’s convention. Close to 500 attendees, including more than 150 authors, agents, publishers and crime fans from across the globe, will descend on the city for a jam-packed four days of over 60 speaking events and panel discussions.

Best Unabridged Crime Audiobook:
The Child by Fiona Barton (Audible Studios), read by Clare Corbett, Adjoa Andoh, Finty Williams, Fenella Woolgar & Steven Pacey.
The Midnight Line by Lee Child (Transworld), read by Jeff Harding
The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney (Quercus), read by Emilia Fox, Finty Williams & Lise Aagaard Knudsen
Silent Child by Sarah A. Denzil (Audible Studios), read by Joanne Froggatt
Something I Lie  by Alice Feeney (HQ – Harper Collins), read by Stephanie Racine
The Girlfriend  by Michelle Frances (Pan Macmillan Audio), read by Antonia Beamish
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz (Penguin Random House Audio), read by Rory Kinnear
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz (Quercus), read by Sail Reichlin

Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre (Little, Brown Book Group)
The Ghost of Galway by Ken Bruen (Head of Zeus)
The Late Show by Michael Connelly (Orion)
IQ by Joe Ide (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane (Little, Brown Book Group)
You Can Run  by Steve Mosby (Orion)
Wolves in the Dark by Gunnar Staalesen (Orenda Books)
Exquisite by Sarah Stovell (Orenda Books)

Blotto, Twinks and the Stars of the Silver Screen by Simon Brett (Little, Brown Book Group)
Bryant & May - Wild Chamber by Christopher Fowler (Doubleday)
Spook Street by Mick Herron (John Murray)
The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan (Mullholland Books)
East of Hounslow  by Khurrum Rahman (HQ – HarperCollns)
Sweetpea by C.J. Skuse (HQ – HarperCollins)
The Man Who Died  by Antti Tuomainen (Orenda Books)
Herring in the Smoke  by L.C. Tyler (Allison & Busby Ltd)

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards (British Library),
America Noir by Barry Forshaw (No Exit Press)
Sherlock Holmes in Context by Sam Naidu (Palgrave Macmillan)
Sherlock Holmes from Screen to Stage by Benjamin Poore (Palgrave Macmillan)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang  by Mike Ripley (HarperCollins)
The Man Who Would Be Sherlock by Christopher Sandford (The History Press)
Arthur & Sherlock by Michael Sims (Bloomsbury)
Getting Carter  by Nick Triplow (No Exit Press)

Chase by Linwood Barclay (Orion Children's Books)
The Misfits Club by Kieran Crowley (Macmillan Children's Books)
A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan (Usborne Publishing)
The Royal Rabbits of London: Escape from the Tower by Santa & Simon Sebag Montefiore (Simon & Schuster)
Toto the Ninja Cat and the Great Snake Escape by Dermot O'Leary (Hodder Children's Books)
Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure by Alex T. Smith(Hodder Children's Books)
Violet and the Mummy Mystery by Harriet Whitehorn (Simon & Schuster)

Girlhood by Cat Clarke (Quercus Children's Books)
The Ones That Disappeared by Zana Fraillon (Orion Children's Books)
After the Fire by Will Hill (Usborne Publishing)
Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence (Hodder Children's Books)
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (Hot Key Books)
SweetFreak by Sophie McKenzie (Simon & Schuster)
Dark Matter: Contagion by Teri Terry (Orchard Books)
Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten (Hot Key Books)

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Ghost in the Basement By Julia Heaberlin

In Julia Heaberlin’s new psychological thriller, Paper Ghosts, the title refers to old photographs that taunt us with their silence. In this essay, she recalls the childhood moment in real life she met a paper ghost she can never forget.


The steps to my grandfather’s basement were steep for a little girl hugging the wall on the way down. His basement was damp and dark, a scary world carved into the side of a Virginia mountain. It sat right above the hell that adults liked to talk about. Things crawled in the damp shadows.

Yet it was one of my favorite places. When I pulled the chain at the bottom, and light scattered the shadows, it was as if I’d entered my grandfather’s brain. Here is where he painted portraits and abstract blobs of color on wooden easels, cleaned guns and camera lenses, enlarged pictures, hung old tools with big teeth.

Here, in an old trunk, is where he stored a grim set of photographs.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t a particularly brave one. I was afraid of roller coasters, back flips, horror movies, even the wall beside my bed. At night, after my mother turned off the light, I’d bang my fist on the wall to be sure it was solid. I was certain I would slip through the wall while I slept, and no one would know where I’d gone tumbling.

Nevertheless, on once-a-year visits to my grandfather in the Smoky Mountains, I opened the little door off his kitchen and risked tumbling. I wasn’t called by the washing machine, which gurgled down there, too. I was called by his art, by the creepy and intimate chaos, and by a particular little black book, about 8x10 and two inches thick. It was held together with a snap that always made me think twice before I opened it.

It was a book of horror. A book of sorrow. A book of death. Of dead people. And my grandfather was on the other side, looking through the lens.

For a short stint, my Granddaddy, a professional photographer, shot crime scenes and unusual deaths in a rural area. He was called the county morgue photographer. This book was a portfolio of people who left the earth in confusion and violence.

Horror can wash away the picture, they say, but not always the feeling. I remember mostly fuzzy things from secretly looking at that book. A dead man on an autopsy table. A live dog by a body of water. The idea that the dog belonged to someone who went in and didn’t come out.

I remember only one victim with perfect clarity. A young woman, limbs sprawled at right angles on kitchen tile. High heels. Her blood, pooled and black, because it was a black-and-white photograph. The feeling that her husband got away with it.

My grandfather was a wonderful man. He shot documentary pictures of coal mines, sang a twangy Amazing Grace, fostered Eagle Scouts, told dirty jokes, drew snowy scenes in charcoal pencil, smoked rich cigars, wrote letters to me in perfect calligraphy, drank too much, loved so hard he divorced and re-married my grandmother.

And yet he also was capable of shooting a dead woman with a cold and realistic eye.

He died when I was 19. If I could go back and be that little girl, I’d ask him: How did you do it?

Maybe he’d take me on his lap and ask: Why did you open the book?

Every time I did, it was a punch in the gut. Every time, it was a wave of intense sadness and guilt. Every time, I had to shut the book quickly and put it back before I finished.

The murdered woman trailed after me when I climbed back up the stairs to the warmth of the kitchen. So did the questions. What was her name? Who loved her? What came before this picture? What came after?

I just had that single flash.

I saw her framed in the calculating, detached way that only the police and the camera—and the killer—ever would.

I was a child. An audience of one in a cold basement.

I will never forget her.

That is what old photographs do. They become paper ghosts. They sink into our souls.

They make us ask questions. But they don’t tell us their secrets.


Paper Ghosts
by Julia Heaberlin

published 19 April 2018 (Michael Joseph £12.99) 

Carl Louis Feldman is an old man who was once a celebrated photographer. That was before he was tried for the murder of a young woman and acquitted. Before his admission to a care home for dementia. Now his daughter has come to see him, to take him on a trip.  Only she's not his daughter and, if she has her way, he's not coming back...  Because Carl's past has finally caught up with him. The young woman driving the car is convinced her passenger is guilty, and that he's killed other young women. Including her sister Rachel. Now they're following the trail of his photographs, his clues, his alleged crimes. To see if he remembers any of it. Confesses to any of it. To discover what really happened to Rachel.  Has Carl truly forgotten what he did or is he just pretending? Perhaps he's guilty of nothing and she's the liar. Either way in driving him into the Texan wilderness she's taking a terrible risk. For if Carl really is a serial killer, she's alone in the most dangerous place of all ...