Saturday 30 July 2011

Two-Way Split: One-Month Old (digitally speaking)

Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie

Amazon UK, Amazon US.

Two-Way Split has received some very nice mentions since the Kindle release at the end of June. Thank you one and all! Here are a few first-month highlights.

Les Edgerton, at his writing blog, says: "this is a novel that is enormously entertaining. The words such as “riveting” and the phrases such as “couldn’t put it down,” or “this was a page-turner,” are overused in assessments like this—many times, undeservedly--but dang it, all of those and more apply to this novel. I couldn’t put it down; it was riveting; it was decidedly a page-turner… and I’ve become a huge, huge fan of Guthrie."

Luca Veste at Guilty Conscience says: "'Two-Way Split' was a complete surprise to me. I didn't know an awful lot about it when I started reading, but straight away I was pulled in. Guthrie has superb knack of setting the pace early, the story never drags. The way the story unravels, you're never sure of what will happen next, no words wasted or spent overly describing anything incidental, it is a fast paced, edge of your seat thriller."

There's also an interview with me at the Guilty Conscience blog.

AJ Hayes at Octogeek says: "In Two Way Split, Mr. Allan Guthrie with a maniacal laugh, knocks your derby clear off your head, sends it flying with the wind and announces that people, events and even life itself always come down to the jagged edge of a two way split. Buckle your chin strap and hang on, troops. You’re in for a RIDE!"

There's another interview with me at Anthony Neil Smith's Herman's Greasy Spoon.

And a Russian review from Ray Garraty at Endless Falls Up: "Two-way Split is Allan Guthrie's debut novel, and it's hard to believe. The book is so masterfully written, so there is lots of energy here, that it can be seen: the author is a great writer. Very, very good book."

Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays says: "Fans of classic crime writing will get a kick or five out of TWO-WAY SPLIT, and we’re talking classic: Allan Guthrie’s multi-character exploration of Edinburgh’s underbelly marries the spare, laconic prose of James M. Cain with the psychological grotesqueries of Jim Thompson at his most lurid … The result is a gut-knotting finale that unfurls with the inevitability of all great tragedy and the best nasty sex – it’ll leave you devastated, hollowed out, aching to cry and craving more."

Jay Stringer at Do Some Damage says: "If James M Cain wrote a heist story set in Scotland, the result would read a lot like Two Way Split. It's a book that sets the fuse on page one and then runs like hell, and you won't find a better debut crime novel."

There's yet another interview with me at Audacious Author.

Daz's Short Book Reviews says: "[Guthrie] masterfully blends all these ingredients together with fast paced and gritty descriptive writing. He simmers several plot lines until boiling and mixes them all together to create a fantastically enjoyable novel. Another great creation from one of Scotland’s finest crime writers."

And finally, entirely unrelated to Two-Way Split, here's a piece I wrote as part of Dead End Follies excellent Ten Rules To Write Noir series.

Tomorrow, a post about sales.

Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie

Amazon UK, Amazon US

Friday 29 July 2011

Bill Cameron interview: Puppy Love Noir

Puppy Love Noir by Bill Cameron

Bill Cameron is the author of dark, gritty mysteries featuring Skin Kadash: County Line, Day One, Chasing Smoke, and Lost Dog. Bill’s short stories have appeared in Spinetingler, Portland Noir, First Thrills, and the forthcoming West Coast Crime Wave and Deadly Treats anthologies. His work been nominated for multiple awards, including the Spotted Owl Award for Best Northwest Mystery, the Left Coast Crime Rocky Award, and the 2011 CWA Short Story Dagger Award. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Bill tweets at Learn more at

Can you sum up Puppy Love Noir in no more than 25 words?

One kid wants to get laid, another wishes he hadn't got laid, and a third wonders if he'll live long enough to get laid.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I have a particular fascination with adolescence, that time in our lives when hormones and our twisted society conspire to totally fuck us over. Some of us are lucky enough to come through it reasonably whole. The rest become C-list celebrities, politicians, or the stuff of Nancy Grace's repressed sexual fantasies.

How long did it take you to write?

The three stories are separated by twenty years. I wrote first version of "On the Road to Find Out" in 1985. "The Thunderhead and the Beast" got its start in the early '90s, and I wrote "Counterflow" in 2008.

How much difference does an editor make?

Editors illuminate our blind spots and force us to think about what we're doing in a way we can't on our own. Even if we choose to disregard an editor's recommendations, I feel our command of our stories improves by listening. But more often than not, editors help us make our stories better.

Who designed your cover?

'Twas me. By day, I'm a mild-mannered graphic designer. I've had the privilege of designing my covers with Bleak House and Tyrus. With Puppy Love Noir, I chose to extend the design metaphor I established with Day One and County Line.

How much difference does a good cover make?

My gut is that a bad cover hurts more than a good cover helps. Of course, as soon as I say I think of covers which are so delicious I'd buy the book for the covers alone. Duane Swierczynski's covers do that for me. Of course, the books inside his magnificent covers are even more delectable.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

I've heard this attributed to Nora Roberts, Stephen King, and several others, my mantra when the words won't come: "You can't fix a blank page."

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I think this makes me a bit unusual, but revisions are my fave. Filling blank pages is an often slow, almost tedious process for me. But by the time I have a draft, I've begun to understand what the story is really about. My enthusiasm for explodes in the second and third drafts.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

Broad. I read everything from gritty and hardboiled to cat mysteries. What can I say? I appreciate a gentle poisoning in a cup of tea as much as a brutal lead pipe bludgeoning.

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

Ideally, readers will have broad tastes as well. Category granularization strikes me as more limiting than helpful. Good stories can be found in every category and genre.

What was the last good eBook you read?

I'm about halfway through Brett Battles' Becoming Quinn and loving it. I've been a fan of Jonathan Quinn since The Cleaner, and really enjoy what Brett's doing with the character in the short stories and novella he's epubbed in the last year or so.

What crime book are you most looking forward to reading?

Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski is tops on my list, waiting only for me to beat an end-of-the-month deadline so I can give it my full attention. Can't wait.

What are you reading now?

On the Nook, the aforementioned Becoming Quinn by Battles. My back pocket book is The Final Evolution by Jeffrey Somers, rollicking mayhem at the twilight of humanity.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

I've had a hankering to revisit the Nero Wolfe vs. Arnold Zeck trilogy by Rex Stout. I think they'll be my next re-read.

What's the oddest question you've been asked in an interview?

When Lost Dog came out, a radio interviewer asked me if the people of Portland were rising up to run me out of town because of my depiction of the city. My answer: "Oh, shit. Was it really that bad?"

Puppy Love Noir by Bill Cameron

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Paul Bishop interview: Croaker: Kill Me Again

Croaker: Kill Me Again by Paul Bishop

A thirty-five year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, Paul has twice been honored as Detective of the Year. As well as numerous novels, he has also written scripts for episodic television and feature films. As a nationally recognized interrogator, he appears regularly on the hit ABC reality series Take The Money And Run . . .

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

L.A.P.D. detective Fey Croaker and her crew get put through the ringer when a current murder victim appears to have also been murdered ten years earlier.

Who designed your cover?

Keith Birdsong designed the covers for all my e-books. I lucked into finding Keith through another writer friend. He is a professional illustrator working for many Legacy publishers, so it was a big break for me to get him to work on my covers – and I’m delighted with them.

How important is a book's central character?

A strong central character can make up for a lot of other flaws in a novel. For me, a central character has to have some redeeming feature, something to make me like the character and spend time in their company. If a central character is too whiney, too crass, too stupid, or simply not fleshed out, I toss the book aside.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

There is no such thing as writing, only rewriting. It’s an old saw, but no less true because of it.

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

It isn’t going to get done unless you do it yourself – trust no one.

Do you enjoy writing?

I enjoy having written. Writing is an immense pleasure on the rare days it flows straight onto the page. The rest of the time, writing is hard slog. Typing The End is cathartic. Sometimes, I do it all day long, over and over again.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

I’m currently fascinated by the use of social media to reach new readers. Everybody knows Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and most writers are making use of blogs and websites, but there is a lot more out there (such as Ning and its ilk) to discover and use to your advantage. It’s fun, social, interesting, and staying on the cutting edge keeps you sharp.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

$.99 to $2.99 seems to be the appropriate price range. I refuse to buy an e-book listed above $9.99 – even at that price it’s still gouging the reader. Legacy/traditional publishers have still got their heads in the sand when it comes to e-books. The music industry was turned on its ear by MP3s, and e-books are doing the same thing in the publishing world.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

When self-publishing was ignored – and often rightfully so – as simply vanity publishing it was the kiss of death. Today, however, the paradigm has completely changed. As authors like Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and Barry Eisler lead the charge into e-publishing, authors are realizing how much opportunity there is in the e-publishing world. Opportunities abound and are increasing daily. It’s a great time to be a writer.

How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?

I think it’s fabulous. Those who grouse about the ‘tsunami of crap’ supposedly heading our way as more and more self-published authors find an e-platform are alarmists of the worst kind. The sky is not falling – the cream will rise to the top. All you have to do to separate the wheat from the chaff is look at an e-author’s cover and read the product description blurb. The quality of those two things will immediately tell you if a book is worth taking a chance on.

What are you currently reading?

I’m making my way through several novels by British thriller writer Stephen Leather. The last book I finished was Anne Perry’s Traitor at Lisssen Grove, which was riveting.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Along with two other writers, I’ve created a new e-series called Fight Card. The stories will be boxing novels set in the 1950s, emulating the sports pulps that were as popular as the traditional mystery and hero pulps with which we continue to be fascinated. The first two novels in the series, The Cutman and Felony Fists, will be released in late August. A third book, The Knockout, will debut later in the year.

Keith Birdsong has done the covers for us and they are dynamite. We had such a blast writing the books because not only do we love the genre, but we have control over the whole publishing and promotion process. The books have a niche appeal no traditional publisher would have taken a chance on reaching. However, as the authors, with all the tools of blogs and twitter, we know how to reach our following.

After the Fight Card series premieres, I have another series, The Interrogators, due out in early 2012.

Croaker: Kill Me Again by Paul Bishop

Monday 25 July 2011

Jarrett Rush interview: Chasing Filthy Lucre

Chasing Filthy Lucre by Jarrett Rush

Amazon UK, Amazon US, Nook, Smashwords

Jarrett Rush lives in the Dallas area with his wife, Gina, and their chocolate Lab, Molly. His short fiction has appeared at A Twist of Noir and Shotgun Honey. He blogs at Jarrett Writes.

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

In a world where cash is king and data is a drug, a group of reluctant rebels team up to fight a rising corporate power.

How's that? Twenty five words exactly.

How long did it take you to write?

From writing the first word to writing "the end" it was probably about 6 months. I don't have firm dates, but I started it around June 2010 and finished around Christmas. I worked on other short pieces while I wrote Chasing Filthy Lucre so that dragged things out a bit. But that was good for me. It allowed me to develop a rough outline and keep myself following it. If I had just charged straight through I think I would have started to deviate from the path I'd worked out.

This was the first thing I'd written with an outline. I typically wrote from the seat of my pants. I knew the beginning and the ending, but not much in the middle. With Chasing Filthy Lucre, I had much more of the structure figured out before I wrote it. I think that helped quite a bit.

Who designed your cover?

I did my own cover. I work in newspaper design so I'm not unfamiliar with layout and typography. I knew what I wanted and executing was pretty easy. Chasing Filthy Lucre is the first in a planned series and I wanted a look that I could replicate across all the books. Basic colours. Simple typography. Iconic imagery. I'm sure that professional cover designers can look at it and pick it apart, but I'm happy with it.

How important is a good title?

When I'm buying a book it's critical. The title has to catch me. There's no arguing that a great cover is vital to sales, but a great title can overcome a mediocre cover. At least it can if we are talking about me spending my own dollars.

Typically, I like shorter sharp titles. Something with punch. However, that's not always the case. I have been drawn in by the longer title. But again, it's got to grab me. Give me something in that longer title to pique my interest. The titles that don't do anything for me are those that are basically labels. Not to pick on Dickens, he was a great writer but A Tale of Two Cities does nothing for me.

How important is a book's central character?

Again, it's critical. The character doesn't have to be a good person. There are plenty who aren't. But, as long as they're relatable, central characters can typically overcome any flaws an author wants to lay on them.

Speaking for me, I don't like the perfect character. I can't relate to perfect. If I'm reading and a couple chapters in we still haven't found something that the central character struggles with then I'll put a book down.

I was reading something a few months ago that I'd heard lots of good things about. It was a thriller and the story itself sounded good. Once I dived in, though, the central character was the smartest, most athletic, best looking guy, and the only person in the world who could fix the novel's central problem. I take that back. There was one other person with the skills necessary to save the world. It was a woman and she was also the prettiest, smartest, and most athletic. I never finished that book. I don't mind smart. I don't mind athletic. But when a central character's main flaw is that they are too perfect there's nothing there for me to grab onto. I need them to have a problem bigger than being too good at everything.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

Write. You hear it all the time, but it's really true. Just write. Don't worry about getting the words perfect the first time. That's what revision is for. Besides, you can't edit words that aren't on the page. Worry, at the start, about just getting a first draft.

I love process. I love hearing how others go about creating, but I think too many times we can get so caught up in trying to emulate how someone else does things that it can paralyze us. I know it's happened to me. I'd read an interview or an article and someone who I admired would say they did things a certain way so that's the way I'd try to do it. It never worked for me. We are all unique. We all have the way that works for us. The only step in the initial creative process that we all share is that we have to write if we want to finish anything.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

The best part is writing that first draft, when the story is unfolding before you, when you get surprised by a character's actions. Thomas Harris said in an interview I read somewhere that he felt like he was a reporter in the scenes of his books just observing and recording everything that's happening. When I read that originally I couldn't relate. Now, I think there's some truth to it. I feel a bit like that myself. Yes, I know generally where the story is going, but I can still be surprised. Your characters do take on the personalities you give them. They do make their own decisions. Sometimes, we have to override those decisions for the sake of the story. We are the gods of the worlds we create, after all. But when the words are really flowing and the scenes are coming and you are just along for the ride, there's no better feeling.

That's my favourite part of the writing process.

What makes you keep reading a book?

A compelling plot and a compelling lead character. Give me a protagonist who I can relate to and stick him in a plot that it looks like he might not get out of and I'll keep reading. I'm a genre fiction guy. Literary fiction doesn't really do it for me. Honestly, some of the books that are the most exciting to me are in the Young Adult genre. The kids don't have time to waste on navel gazing. They like action from Page One and that's what authors are giving them. One of my favourites is the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. The stories start quick and never stop, and Artemis is a great character. Who doesn't love a kid super genius who is also one of the world's greatest super criminals? But there's more to him and it's the "more" that makes you read on. The books are a series and they read quickly. Pick them up if you can to see what I'm talking about. All action. Satisfying story.

Where do you find out about new books?

Lately, all my purchases have been because of recommendations from Twitter, either from the writers themselves or from other writers sharing books they've found. I also find some recommendations on blogs and through Facebook.

When that fails, I can always go to the bookstore and find something. It's usually a good title and an eye-catching cover that will get me first. Read the blurb and a page or two. If I'm hooked I'll pick it up.

Honestly, though, most of the time I'm going off of recommendations from folks on social networking sites. They haven't let me down yet.

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

I'll give you two. The most recent was 8 Pounds by Chris F. Holm. The writing, the voice, the variety of stories. It was all great.

The other is Rumble, Young Man, Rumble by Benjamin Cavell. I found it a few years go on a discount table at one of the major chain bookstores. The book sticks out in my mind because of the opening story, Balls. It's about a guy who runs a sporting goods store and is obsessed with the standing of his competitive paintball team. It stands out because of the voice. The character is so arrogant and thinks so much of himself, but there is a real insecurity behind his words. It's fantastic.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

Overall, my philosophy is to each his own. You have to price where you're comfortable. I went with 99 cents because Chasing Filthy Lucre is a 21,000 word novella. With where pricing was at the time, I chose 99 cents because it didn't seem fair to price it at $2.99 since many full-length novels were priced there. Ideally I would have loved to try and make a go at $1.99, but that seems like a bit of a pricing black hole so I went with the lower option.

In general, though, I think that self-published and independent works are priced too low, traditionally published books are priced too high, and that it will all work itself out in the end. Once everything settles, I think you'll see many independent novels priced at $4.99, or close to it. That seems like a fair price for both the reader and the author. It also leaves some flexibility to work out a pricing standard for shorter works, like novellas and short stories.

As far as traditionally published works, I can't see how pricing an ebook the same price as a paperback is sustainable. There are continuing costs associated with a print book – the paper and the printing of more books. With an ebook all of your costs are one-time things. You only edit the book once, you only format it once, you only upload it once. You aren't printing new copies. That makes it hard to justify the current pricing, at least to me.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

The greatest opportunity is the chance to take things into their own hands and have some success at it. For a long time self-publishing wasn't a financially viable option. The cost to get started was prohibitive and then the chance that you'd make any of that money back was slight, at best. With the Nook, the Kindle, and all the other ereaders, all of that changed.

I went to my first writing convention a couple of years ago. I was excited. I was going to listen to authors and experts speak on the one thing I've wanted to do my entire life. I just knew that I was going to come away from there a better writer and have the knowledge I needed to barge my way into the publishing world.

Instead, I left discouraged. All the authors leading the discussions I attended left a few minutes at the end for questions. Multiple times these authors were asked about finding an agent and breaking in. More often than not they answered the same way: "Don't go by me. I got lucky."

Now, writers don't have to rely on that luck if they don't want to. The ereaders and epublishing have made it possible to actually make a living self-publishing. I know that self-publishing doesn't guarantee any kind of success; there you still need a little luck. But now more writers can get their work in front of readers.

How do you feel about the ease with which anyone can publish?

I think it's great, obviously. I wouldn't have done it this way if I didn't think it was a good idea. There are some who will complain that now readers have to wade through too much junk to find the gems. No one was going to the book stores in years past and just picking up any old book and buying it because it had been through the traditional publishing process. That was no guarantee of quality. The unfinished books sitting on my shelves are testament to that.

Yes, there will be more books to wade through. And, no, not everyone is meant to be a writer. But things will naturally sort themselves out. Most of the good stuff will find an audience eventually. The stuff that's not as good will falter.

Chasing Filthy Lucre by Jarrett Rush

Sunday 17 July 2011

Neil White interview: Cold Kill

Cold Kill by Neil White

A quick bio if you would, sir.

I am a prosecutor who writes crime fiction. Or perhaps a crime writer who prosecutes during the day. I’m never sure which is the right way round. I’m from Wakefield in Yorkshire but live in Preston in Lancashire, and I am married with three children.

You persevered for quite a while before selling your debut novel to Avon. Do you think you'd have capitulated and self-published if it had been as easy and inexpensive to do so back then as it is now?

I started writing back in 1994, but I didn’t sign a publishing deal until 2006. I self-published my first ever novel in 2004, Salem, but I’m not sure I would have self-published any earlier because what I wanted to see was my book on a shelf, because I wanted the validation, the knowledge that someone else thought it was good enough to invest in.

I self-published because I had written two manuscripts, Salem and Creek Crossing, and got an agent pretty quickly, but things didn’t work out. When my first agent and I parted company, I realised that I had little chance of being taken on by a new agent, because I had already been rejected by everyone, but I had these two manuscripts that I liked. So I self-published the first and hoped to use the money raised to self-publish the second, just to get them off my floor. As it turned out, the self-published novel led to a terrific new agent, Sonia Land, who secured me a publishing deal.

So I think I would have self-published at the same time, because there was a reason why I self-published when I did.

Cold Kill is your fifth novel. Can you tell us a little bit about the others?

My books are set in the north of England and feature a freelance crime reporter, Jack Garrett, and his partner and detective, Laura McGanity. My novels are Fallen Idols, Lost Souls, Last Rites, Dead Silent, and now Cold Kill. They can be read as stand-alone books, although I try to make the characters progress in each one.

I like to think of them as suburban small-town novels, although they have a bit of northern grit and gristle to them. I chose a reporter as a character because I didn’t want to be tied down by the rules and regulations of the police too much, and a freelance reporter gave me all the fun of the crime without the restrictions of a police procedural. As he is personally involved with a detective, there is the conflict between them, in that he is interested in what she is doing and she has to keep him away from that.

Last I looked, Cold Kill was #1 in the Kindle store. Do you have any tips for getting a novel into the Kindle top ten?

It depends on how well known you are, I suppose. My book got there partly because of a massive price reduction, as a limited offer, by publishers. The more well known you are, the more the book will do the selling. If you are new or completely unknown, make it cheap and hit the internet. People will make impulsive purchases if the price is low enough. You will be underselling your hard work, but if you want to expose yourself to more people, then that is how to do it. It was certainly a great thrill to be at number one, my biggest buzz since becoming published.

Can you sum up the book in no more than 25 words?

Cold Kill is a pacy and dark suburban thriller about seemingly-unconnected murders of young women, investigated by a reporter in the north of England.

What was your motivation for writing it?

The motivation for writing Cold Kill was the same as with my previous four books: to write a book I would like to read. My preference is for crime thrillers that really bubble along, maybe make me squirm occasionally, and so I just try to write something that I like.

How much difference does an editor make?

Editors provide invaluable advice, because they are not as close to the story as I am, and sometimes you need someone to look at it who doesn’t care as much about you as a person. An editor wants to produce a good book, and that comes before massaging the ego of the writer. You get the truth from an editor.

I haven’t always agreed with their suggestions, and I have stuck to my guns when I thought I was right, but I have been lucky to work with a few good editors.

As an example, I tend to write from three perspectives: the reporter Jack Garrett, his partner and detective Laura McGanity, and someone else involved in the story. In the first four books, I wrote the Jack Garrett part in the first person perspective and the others in the third person. My editor for Cold Kill suggested that the Jack Garrett part ought to be in third person as well, as it would make it seem pacier. I wasn’t sure at first, because it was changing so much the way I had done the earlier ones, but once I made the change, I preferred the new way. You need that help sometimes, an outside perspective.

How much difference does a good cover make?

In the shops, it is crucial, because it is what draws the eye and makes the reader pick it up. Other aspects of the book may make the reader buy it, but it is the cover that forms the first impression and attracts the interest. The cover shouldn’t mislead the reader either. As readers, we know what we like, and so we want the cover to give us a hint that is the type of book we like.

Ebooks might change that, to an extent, because you might be drawn to other things about the book. For example, reader ratings. If I am skimming the Kindle page, I am more likely to stop at something with lots of stars than I am at something with a nice cover. It is like browsing in a book shop with someone nodding their approval or shaking your head.

How important is a book's central character?

It depends on the nature of the story. If the book is very much about the character, for example, the Rebus novels, then the central character has to be someone you want to read about and meet again. If, however, the book is very much about a concept, like the Da Vinci Code, then the character is less important. In the Da Vinci Code, for example, the Robert Langdon character was the vehicle to bring out the actual story, whereas each Rebus book is about how Rebus responds to the next set of grisly circumstances.

It’s a difficult balance though. I enjoyed the early Patricia Cornwell books, but I didn’t enjoy her book Scarpetta, because it was all about, well, Scarpetta. The strengths of her earlier books were the grisly details of human bodies and mortuary slabs, and the relationship between Kay Scarpetta and Wesley Benton was part of the dynamic but not why I read them. Scarpetta became about the character, the background thread was shifted too much to the foreground, and so I stopped reading.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

From Stephen King (I would like to say personally, but it is from his book On Writing): “it’s all about the story, dammit”

I write as a reader, I think, in that I write what I would like to read. I don’t need pages of description or the author’s views on the background to the plot, or proof that the author has done plenty of research. I just want to be told a story. Get on with it, so to speak.

In a pacy crime thriller, the writing should be invisible. I judged a short story competition not too long ago, and the best entries were the ones where I was interested in the story, not the prose talents of the writer. Don’t show off, tell the story. That wouldn’t apply to noir crime though, because in that genre the prose should smack you in the nose, but I don’t write noir.

Some people say “write what you know”. I don’t entirely go along with that. It should be “write what no one will realise you’ve got wrong”.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

My favourite part is when I have put the last full stop on the first draft and I know that I have got to the end without getting lost. Once I’m there, I love the rewriting, the shaping. It’s where I feel it improves into something I like rather than just something I’ve finished.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I think my strengths are that I have a fairly easy to read style of writing and can hold a plot together. I’m not sure if it comes from being a prosecutor in my day job, in that I’ve got used to looking at not just the whole picture but also at the individual parts, because you have to look at how the whole picture will look but be aware that a deficient small part can bring the whole thing down.

My weaknesses are my ego and my lack of creativity.

I don’t think I’m particularly creative, in that I can put words on a page and craft it into a long story, but things like concepts are truly creative. For example, I have never tried to write a short story, and I don’t think I would like to, because the point about short stories is that they have to be a neat concept told quickly. I can’t do that. I think I can write, but I don’t think I am creative.

Also, I bruise too easily. I like unqualified praise, who doesn’t, but I take criticism too much to heart. I can accept that not everyone will like my books, but I just don’t want to know, because it hurts me too much. It can ruin my evening. I wish I could shrug it off, but I can’t, and so I don’t read reviews anymore.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

I enjoy meeting people. I’ve done a few library events, and similar things with local bookshops, and it is great to meet people who come out for them. I enjoy the chatting, even when not many turn up.

The downside of still having a dayjob is that I’d like to do more of getting out and about. I’d love to do a tour of libraries and bookshops, and meet people away from the North, but so much time is taken up with writing and working, there isn’t enough left.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Lifeless by Mark Billingham at the moment.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

This is an interesting one, because there are so many opportunities and issues, because there is no cost for materials once it is formatted. It is only fair that the price should reflect what it is: many hours of entertainment and a lot of effort on the part of the writer. A friend of mine said that an ebook should not cost less than a cup of coffee, as it shouldn’t be cheaper than something that is consumed so quickly. I thought it was a good point.

On the other hand, the ability to price things with no reference to manufacturing costs means that people can reach out to bigger audiences. My current book went to number one in the Amazon Kindle chart due largely to my publisher’s ability to offer a large discount for a short period.

What I don’t agree with is the view of some people that ebooks should be automatically rock bottom price. Do we want books to be so disposable that we’ll give it a whirl for fifty pence and then switch off after ten pages if we’re not grabbed? The publisher is selling the hard work of a writer, perhaps more than a year’s work, and that’s what you are paying for, the story, the adventure.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

Ebooks change the landscape, to some extent, because of the pricing issues. If the prices becomes very low, readers will perhaps discard a story too quickly, and so publishers might feel the commercial pressure to have an explosive beginning rather than telling the story how it ought to be told.

I’m not too sure that piracy will become a huge issue, because I think the Kindle has learnt the lessons of the music industry. There will be some piracy, I’m sure, but it will be perhaps offset by the inability to swap, lend and resell books.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

Ebooks present challenges for published writers but provide great opportunities for undiscovered talent. Anyone can produce an ebook. That is perhaps a bad thing in some ways, because the nuggets get swallowed by the mud, but equally it provides a chance for those people who were overlooked by the publishing houses. Although there is some truth in the view that if you are good enough, you will get spotted eventually, becoming published is all about being liked by a very small group of people; ie, an agent and a commissioning editor. Ebooks by unknown writers have the prospect of being recommended by real readers on internet forums and chatrooms, and so helps a publisher know what people are actually reading and liking, not what they hope they will like.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I’m going to write a book about Johnny Cash and his songs next year (I’ll do it as a hobby, not instead of my crime books), but from a very specific angle. I’m looking forward to the writing and the research.

Cold Kill by Neil White

Friday 15 July 2011

Helen FitzGerald interview: The Donor

The Donor by Helen FitzGerald

Helen FitzGerald writes young adult fiction and adult thrillers which critics have described as dark, edgy and funny. A Dutch magazine recently described her as “the rock chick of crime fiction.” Her adult books have been translated into numerous languages and her fifth, The Donor (Faber and Faber), is out this month.

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

Sophie’s Choice with kidneys.

What’s the best piece of craft advice you’ve been given?

About ten years ago, I was sitting next to Bernard MacLaverty at an awards ceremony (okay darlings, the Baftas).
So you’re a writer,” he said.
I’d only written one screenplay at the time, so my response was apologetic, “Well yeah, I s’pose.”
How did you find your voice?” he asked.
It’s Australian,” I replied.
I cringed with embarrassment for days afterwards. I’d never heard of finding your voice before then. I thought he was talking about my accent.

When my husband explained my error to me, I fobbed it off as a lot of lovey codswallop. Truth is, I hadn’t found my voice yet. For years I’d been trying to write something earth-shattering, trying to be someone cleverer and more complex than I am. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t working.

After having two children, something clicked. I was at ease with my limitations and opinions and feelings. I knew all I wanted to do was write a bloody good story, and could do it honestly, as myself. Hey presto, my voice.

But I stand by my initial gaff, Bernard, in that my voice is definitely not New Zealand.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

As in life, I’m impulsive and impatient. I rarely stick to plans. I love beginnings. Middles bore me. Ends jump out from nowhere and knock me for dead. These are strengths and weaknesses.

What aspects of marketing your book do you enjoy?

I love Twitter. When I’m not online, I feel like I’ve been locked in the bathroom while a great party is taking place in the kitchen. It’s also really useful. I’ve made loads of connections with bloggers and librarians and journalists and fellow writers, and this definitely helps.

Author talks are fun, but it’s taken me a while to understand why people come along. Having someone read out loud to me only ever served one purpose – to make me fall asleep, and I find it very hard to suppress the urge to take a power nap when someone is reading. Thankfully, no-one has fallen asleep during one of my events, even in Germany, where you read for forty minutes in a language many of them don’t understand.

I also enjoy interviews like this. For years my job as a social worker required me to listen to other people talk all day. At last, I’m getting my own back.

What are your views on ebook pricing?

What would I know about e-book pricing? What is it even? After I left Uni, I decided to be a social worker because I was a bright-haired, placard-bearing, no-makeup-wearing anti-capitalist radical. I protested against this kind of question, scoffing at business types and chucking boyfriends because they did MBA’s.

Cut to 20 years later.

I don’t have bright hair. I wear makeup. I am writing this on a terrace in Tuscany, sipping Prosecco and listening to classical music.

Ebook pricing. Am I actually talking about e-book pricing?


This month The Donor has started its ebook life on Amazon kindle at £2.49. People are buying it like crazy. It’s number 88 in fiction as I write. I’m happy.

And while I still don’t have a fascination for business, I am starting to pay attention. My book is doing well because it’s on sale as a book of the month (and it’s a work of genius, obviously). So ebook pricing. I say keep mine low and make everyone else’s expensive so I can sip Prosecco on this terrace a while longer.

How important are book covers and titles?

Over the last five years, I’ve published seven books in five different languages. The covers (19 in all) and titles have varied widely.

In Germany the publisher, Galiani, stated with confidence that my books were impossible to categorise. (Bestsellers). In Holland, the publisher marketed my books as literary thrillers (Bestsellers). In Australia, Allen and Unwin packaged Dead Lovely as chick-lit meets crime, hoping to nab both markets (I didn’t rock the continent. My editor said that chick-lit lovers found it “a little ‘confronting’”.) In Italy, my book covers were dark, moody crime (The publisher never answers my calls). In France, the covers were either pretty or vaguely surreal. I have a new publisher there now. The Donor is being released soon alongside titles such as The Slap. Fiction. Not chick lit. Not crime. Wait and see.

At the Faber party last year, the marketing guy said, “Helen, we are determined to make you HUGE in the UK.” It wasn’t just the bubbles talking. He meant it.

Attempt One: Dead Lovely, 2007. The cover says chick-lit meets crime. CSI meets Sex and the City. Did very well. Top twenty in WH Smith charts.

My Last Confession, 2008. Pink plus a girl on the cover. Did well. No 25 in WH Smith. Downward spiral, though. Kill yourself, Helen.

And now, The Donor, out this month. While the tone remains the same, the cover looks like a Jodi Picoult book, moral dilemma fiction, a summer read. It seems to be working. Despite concerted efforts with Dead Lovely and My Last Confession, The Donor is the first one to be accepted into Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s. It’s already had great reviews in big magazines and I hear there are loads more to come. It’s selling extremely well on Amazon Kindle, and pre-orders for the supermarkets and WH Smith are much bigger than ever before.

What was your favourite book as a child?

The book I read over and over as a little girl was Ping, the beautifully-illustrated story of a Chinese duck who lived on a boat with about fifty relatives. Every morning, Ping’s mother and father and sisters and brothers and cousins and uncles and aunts marched off the boat to spend the day on the shores of the Yangstze River. At night, they marched back on: in line, in order. One day Ping decided to bugger off. He hid away when the others were marching back onto the boat for the night and went on a wild adventure. I can’t believe it’s taken me 38 years to realise that I am Ping. I have a ridiculously large family. I rebel against routine and orderly lines. I crave adventure.

I’m hoping one day I’ll be happy to get back on the boat.

How do you feel about awards?

Bitter. I want one. I want more than one. I have bought the dress and written the speech. I don’t understand why all those other fuckers get them and I don’t.

The Donor by Helen FitzGerald

Thursday 14 July 2011

Ray Banks interview: Gun

Gun by Ray Banks

Ray Banks has worked as a wedding singer, double-glazing salesman, croupier, dole monkey, and various degrees of disgruntled temp. He currently lives in Edinburgh with his perfect wife and a fat, black cat named after a dead country singer, where he’s been known to fall into fits of curmudgeonly behaviour that normally involve creative swearing and lewd gestures.

Can you sum up Gun in no more than 25 words?

Richie’s just out of the YOI and charged with picking up a converted air pistol for a one-legged drug dealer. He gets robbed. Drama ensues.

How much difference does an editor make?

An editor makes the manuscript a book. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some astounding editors over the years, and I’ve learned from all of them. For Gun, my editor was David Belbin, who’s an exceptional author, and who went through the novella with a fine-toothed comb and eradicated as many clich├ęs (like “fine-toothed comb”) as he could find, and ultimately made the whole thing publishable.

How much difference does a good cover make?

All the difference in the world, especially when you’re talking about eBooks. They’re not tactile sales – all people have to go on are the cover and the sample, and they’re not going to bother with the sample if the cover looks like your Nan’s first go at Photoshop. There are some absolutely horrific covers out there, and so in some perverse way people think it’s okay to half-arse it – well, that book’s selling well and that cover’s terrible, so I don’t need to bother. But, no, you can’t half-arse anything with eBooks, which is why I got  JT Lindroos to design my cover. The man’s a legend, and easily one of the smartest people I’ve worked with.

How important is a book's central character?

Well, I read for character and voice, so an empathetic human being as a central character is essential. Even more so if it’s a first-person narrative (which I tend to favour myself), because you’re hanging the whole story on that viewpoint.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

The best dialogue doesn’t have tags, not even “said”. Give us an action or a look if you need to tell us who’s speaking. James M. Cain’s a great teacher in that respect. Also, most books start way too early in the story and take too long with the background. Another lesson from Cain: by the end of the first chapters in his major novels, his main cast are established and you’re already well into the story. There you go, a twofer. You're welcome.

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

Concentrate on what you can control. Everything else is a lottery.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

The cheaper, the better. It costs a damn sight less to produce an eBook than it does music, games or movies, so why can’t we use that to our advantage? There’s absolutely no reason why eBooks can’t be as popular as the original pulp paperbacks. Keep it cheap, and get people reading more.

From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?

Either Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. or The Easter Parade by Richard Yates.

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

Richard Yates again - Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.

Your Callum Innes quartet is quite something. Rarely has the British PI been seen in such a realistic and convincing light. Can you tell us a little about the series?

You’re a very kind and handsome man for saying so. The series follows an ex-con self-styled private investigator in Manchester who starts and ends his career working for the same gang lord, and in between becomes a babysitter for a boxing prodigy, a local hero, and a stroke victim. The impetus behind them was my love of PI fiction and my dissatisfaction with British PI fiction. It always seemed to be a transplanted American archetype and while American PI writers were doing new things with that archetype, us Brits seemed content to churn out the same Chandler-lite all the time. So I wanted to do a proper British take on the PI, and mess with a few tropes along the way, most notably the whole quick-healing PI thing. Unfortunately, once I decided that, I knew it wouldn’t be a long-running series. But they were all well-reviewed, and people seemed to like ‘em, so I’m happy enough. Polygon published them all over here, and the last of the series Beast of Burden is being published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in August.

Christa Faust recently described you on this very blog as her favourite living author. One of the things I think you have in common is that you both bring an emotional integrity to your writing that's really quite exceptional. Is that something you're aware of, that you're constantly striving for, or is it natural?

I read that, yeah. I can only assume she lost a bet or something. But you’re absolutely right about the emotional integrity in her writing. I think it has a tendency to be overlooked because the marketing and plots point to a pulpier book, but I challenge anyone to find another author who can pack that much humanity and inferred history into their protagonist and still keep the story moving.

If we have that in common, it’s because we both share a passion for first-person narrative. I’ve always thought that what makes a story interesting is the person telling it, because a storyteller’s truth is entirely subjective. We’re being told something through a warped lens of delusion, vanity and prejudice, not to mention whatever unspoken experience that’s brought the narrator to this point. First-person narratives also give you a natural inside view of someone else’s world. In third-person, any information like that always feels like exposition. At the heart of it - for me, anyway - is a preference for people over plot and a reluctance to cast anyone in predetermined moral roles. I mean, that’s an ongoing challenge, but it’s one that’s always been a key part of my writing. So I suppose it’s both natural and something I strive for?

GUN is a novella. How did your approach to writing it differ from writing a novel and which do you prefer writing?

My approach was exactly the same - outline the sucker, draft it, retro-outline it, draft it again and repeat as necessary until I’ve got something that feels whole. The differences were the length (which equated to about a third of a short novel, so it was easy to find a natural arc), the time it took to write (about two weeks) and the fact that I was commissioned to write it. Normally I’m writing on spec. It was fun, so much so I did another called California, but unless the idea’s right, I think they can feel like padded short stories. Ultimately, my preference is to write short novels, something along the lines of 50-60k, because those are what I love to read.

Are you much of an eBook reader?

If you’d asked me this last year, you’d have suffered a contemptuous snort and I would’ve had my manservant show you the door. But then, a lot can change in a year. We had to let the staff go, for one. We moved to a much smaller place, for another. And my missus got me a Kindle for Christmas, which ended up being one of my favourite things ever and changed the way I thought about books. I still buy honest-to-God book-type books, but they’re hardbacks, ideally first editions, and they’re by authors I will always come back to. Everything else goes on the Kindle, and those books are bought purely for the content. So I still have the whole book fetish thing, but it’s much more controlled. I’ve also found that I’m more willing to take a chance on new authors, whether that be through samples on Amazon, or manuscripts that I’ve been asked to blurb.

Ian Rankin recently mentioned that "novellas and the like may be the Kindle's strength." How do you see the future for shorter works?

I think Rankin’s absolutely correct. The Kindle’s much better suited to novellas and short novels than those obese thrillers you see weighing down the shelves in airports, because when you read an eBook, you become immediately aware of padding. So I think it’ll be a perfect venue for shorter works, as long as authors clearly state what kind of work it is - people will still get crabby if they get a short story when they thought they were buying a novel, no matter what the price.

Just before GUN went on sale, you gave away copies to anyone who asked. What's your thinking behind that?

I figured that if you were following me on Twitter, you probably deserved some kind of reward, so I decided to give away copies of Gun for a week to anyone who could be bothered emailing or tweeting me. As it turned out, there were plenty of people who caught it on the retweets and bagged themselves a freebie, too. The upshot of the whole enterprise is that I now have a few more followers on Twitter and I’ve been in contact with a load of people who hadn't read my work before, so it’s been completely worthwhile. In fact, the only downside was that it ate right into my nightly writing time, so I might have to shorten the time frame a little next time.

You once mentioned that part of the problem with ebook piracy was in the nomenclature. Would you care to elaborate?

Alright, but don't say I didn't warn you. This is a pretty emotive subject.

First off, yes, using a pejorative term like "piracy" is problematic because it infers criminality, and that automatically limits discussion. It's also an inaccurate term when it's used to describe peer-to-peer networks. Piracy - as I understand it, anyway - is the manufacture and sale without permission of works in copyright. P2P networks offer copies, yes, but they're not actively selling them. It's a small difference, but an important one. It means it's inaccurate to equate P2P "pirates" with the dodgy blokes down the market who'll do you a copy of Avatar for a fiver. If anything, P2P is meeting a demand, and they're meeting it for free. And I think it'd be prudent to investigate further.

As I see it, the biggest and most pressing problem for any new author – especially a debut novelist – is obscurity, especially for print authors. The moment you're published, that's you on that slippery slope. Shelf space is limited, and turnover is rapid. Bookstores, despite their best efforts, have been forced into myopic buying habits and supermarkets aren't interested in selling anything that doesn't already have a massive audience. So unless you're an off-the-bat bestseller, people aren't going to be able to find your book very easily and there, as the saying goes, is the rub. We live in a culture of convenience, where "easy" trumps even "free". Unfortunately that culture also dictates that if your book isn't immediately available, then people probably aren't going to buy it in numbers that would support a career. And if it isn't in people's hands, then word of mouth is a tough thing to build, and word of mouth is about the only truly effective sales tool there is.

I think eBooks have gone some way to ameliorate the situation. We’re not dealing with physical print runs, there are no delivery charges or waiting times. I reckon cross-platform reading devices and conversion software like Calibre will render the so-called format wars redundant, too. Remember, this is just converting one file type to another, like mp3 to FLAC, not like Blu-Ray to HD-DVD. Currently, the only things stopping people from buying eBooks are the DRM (which actively punishes you for buying legally) and relative scarcity of e-readers. The former can be stripped with a Python script, and I have a feeling the latter will be a vital component of every iPad tablet PC in the future. So let’s just say that eBooks are here to stay, and that without effective anti-piracy measures, we’re likely to see an infinite number of books stripped of their copy protection that can be distributed in bulk to anywhere with an internet connection and the right (free) software. A waking nightmare, yes?

Not at all, and this is my point. Authors should be pleased they’re being pirated. I know I was. Over the last twenty years or so, branding has shifted from publisher to author, so when someone illegally downloads and enjoys your book, they’re going to remember you, not your publisher. Plus, it means there’s a demand for your books not currently being met. As for publishers, especially those spending bucketloads of money to play Canute, why can’t they harness the potential of the torrent to their own ends? After all, these are people who like to read so much, they’re willing to go to that extra length to get free copies. That’s word of mouth right there, and I’d much rather see a thousand copies of my book go for free to people who wanted it than see another ARC show up on eBay. Also, P2P networks still represent a no-maintenance, utterly free and worldwide channel of distribution. Most companies would kill for that kind of reach with that little overhead.

What about losing sales? Well, apart from the fact that there’s no guarantee that your illegal downloader would’ve bought your book, the book industry has form for selling in bulk at deep discount. And I think both publishers and authors - who rarely make a living from their royalties anyway - need to think about balancing those losses with the prospect of a much larger readership. P2P has the potential to bring a short-term, no-win game back to the long-term, and allow authors to find the kind of large and dedicated readership they deserve, and with publishers exploiting those distribution networks, they could quite easily turn "piracy" into cost-effective marketing.

Finally, do you have any other projects on the go?

Up to me ears, I am. Dead Money is currently doing the rounds at the moment - that's a page-one rewrite of my debut novel The Big Blind, and it's a far better book now than it ever was. I've also just sent the final third of Wolf Tickets to Needle, and I'm planning to put that out as an eBook if there's enough interest. As for work-in-progress, I'm currently writing a semi-sequel to Dead Money called Double Down - it's a casino robbery novel - and I've got some screenplays that need polishing. I'm also outlining two more novels, one of which may or may not be another Farrell and Cobb. So yeah, busy.

Gun by Ray Banks