Sleepwalking, Synesthesia and other Stories – guest post by Ruth Dugdall

Delighted to welcome Ruth Dugdall to the blog today to celebrate the launch of her new book, The Things You Didn’t See. It’s a tense psychological thriller, a novel about families and love. It is about the nature of guilt and innocence. It is about the secrets we keep, especially from ourselves.

But more about the book later. First Ruth will be telling us a little about sleepwalking, synesthesia and other stories.

Over to Ruth…

When my mum was a girl she would inwardly groan if any relative ever bought her a book. As an adult the only ones she ever opened were cookbooks, and yet she is a natural storyteller. She likes dark tales, and she likes to tell them again and again. And she’s good at it – I haven’t watched Coronation Street in years but I know exactly what’s happening! I grew up with Mum’s stories, and would ask for specific ones the way you might ask for a favourite food or film, enjoying the familiarity of it.

One of my favourite stories was about my great Uncle George, who died before I was born. He was a poultry farmer, living in rural Lincolnshire. He was also a sleepwalker. His sleepwalking was well known locally, especially after the time he jumped through an upper floor window thinking he was still jumping fences on his horse.

One day, so the story goes, George had been culling chickens for market. Wringing their necks and tossing them into a steaming pile of feathers. That night his wife awoke in a panic to find hands tight around her neck. Someone was trying to kill her. She fought and screamed and, luckily, George woke up. He had been dreaming about those chickens.

Years later, I learned about people who had committed grave acts in their sleep, including murder. Some were terribly sad – one boy had killed his father, whilst dreaming he was defending the home from a burglar. Other cases seemed less believable, like the murderer who drove many miles to his victim’s home whilst apparently asleep.

Non-insane Automatism is the legal defence used when someone kills whilst asleep, meaning that they aren’t culpable because they were unconscious. When this defence is used, which isn’t often, the stats show that a jury will believe the suspect only half the time, the other half they convict. It is this defence that Hector Hawke gives in The Things You Didn’t See, after his wife Maya Hawke is discovered at the bottom of the stairs, shot in the head.

The second trait featured in the book is synesthesia, a neurological condition in which wiring in the brain works differently so the senses are blended in an unexpected way. Some synesthetic taste words, others see sounds as colour. There is an argument that we all have a little synaesthesia; many of us listen to music and experience emotions, or associate a smell with a place, or dislike certain words because of how they make us feel. It is a diverse trait, and studies have recently discovered a genetic link, but there is still much more to understand about it.

Holly Redwood is the paramedic who arrives at the farm after Maya’s shooting has been called in. She has a form of synesthesia, known as Mirror Touch, which means that she can feel what others feel. If she sees someone get slapped, her cheek stings. If she sees a couple kissing, she experiences that too.

When Holly sees Maya, who is unconscious and in a critical condition, she can feel her pain. But she can also feel emotions, and within the house are Maya’s husband and daughter. As suspicion builds about what really happened to Maya, Holly must work out what her overloaded senses are telling her, and establish if they can be trusted. For someone wishing to solve a crime, synesthsia can be a talent, so long as they know how to interpret their feelings.

The title, The Things You Didn’t See, refers to both traits: sleepwalkers don’t see clearly, even though they move with their eyes open. Synesthesics sense things beyond their vision. The crime at the heart of the book can only be solved if these two things are addressed, and Holly and Cassandra must work together to do this.

I don’t know if my mum will read my book, but I’m grateful to her for sharing her stories. And thank you for letting me share mine with you.

Thanks Ruth. The Things You Didn’t See is published on 24th April 2018 by Thomas & Mercer.

Her instincts are telling her something isn’t right…
On a chilly morning in rural Suffolk, Cassandra Hawke is woken by a gunshot. Her mother is clinging on to her life, the weapon still lying nearby. Everyone thinks it’s attempted suicide—but none of it makes any sense to Cass. She’s certain there’s more to it than meets the eye.
With her husband and father telling her she’s paranoid, Cass finds an unlikely ally in student paramedic Holly. Like Cass, she believes something is wrong, and together they try to uncover the truth. But is there more to Holly’s interest than she’s letting on?
With her family and loved ones at risk, Cass must ask herself: is she ready to hear the truth, and can she deal with the consequences?

Ruth Dugdall studied English at university and then took an MA is Social Work. She worked in the Criminal Justice System as a social worker then as a probation officer. Her novels are informed by her experience, tackling human relationships at their most dysfunctional. She lives in California with her family.

Hall of Mirrors – guest post by Christopher Fowler

Today I’m delighted to welcome Christopher Fowler to the blog as part of the tour for his new Bryant & May book, Hall of Mirrors.

Without further ado, I shall turn the floor over to Mr Fowler…

ARTHUR BRYANT: ‘These hippies are selfish and irresponsible. I’ll tell you what made our nation the bastion of patrician morality it is today; the ability to be profoundly miserable. It’s one of our greatest strengths, to be ranked beside shutting the boozers at ten thirty and regarding the waterproof mackintosh as an acceptable item of clothing.’
– From ‘Hall Of Mirrors’

In case you haven’t encountered them before, the Bryant & May mysteries are a bit different. Readers often ask me what they’re most similar to, and I’m really hard pushed to think of anything they’re like.

You could say that Arthur Bryant and John May are Golden Age detectives who’ve been left behind in a modern urban world. They head the Peculiar Crimes Unit, London’s oldest specialist police team, a division founded during WWII to investigate cases that could cause national scandal or public unrest. (My father worked in something very similar.) They’ve been there forever but won’t leave – and why should they when they still solve the cases that defeat everyone else?

The technophobic, annoying Bryant and smooth-talking modernist May, together with their glamorous sergeant Janice Longbright, head a team of misfits who I suppose are just as likely to commit crimes as solve them. The books are written chronologically, but I’ve cunningly arranged it so that they can be read out of order (in fact, some volumes benefit from doing so).

The cases take on the different styles of the classic detective stories.
The latest one, ‘Hall of Mirrors’ is, incredibly, the 16th volume featuring my senior detectives. This one, according to Bryant’s deeply unreliable memoirs, is set back in swinging London, in a grand country house called Tavistock Hall. Back then the detectives were young and energetic (they’re always playing silly word games) and are ready to solve a proper country house murder.

The interesting thing about writing flashback cases is getting immersed in the period and writing about the recent past with a fresh eye. I had a lot of fun with the fashions! Although ‘Hall Of Mirrors’ is very mischievous, comedy still requires a moral viewpoint. Humour and tragedy go together very well in crime novels. However, I have to follow a set of rules, one of which is that the serious parts of my plot are taken seriously, while the comedy comes from character.

It helps that my detectives are facing mortality, as it lets me use graveyard humour. I’m very careful to respect victims and honour them over villains. I don’t like books in which women are always the victims, and even when I’m being funny there is a serious intent underpinning the laughter. The mysteries reflect the way we learn to deal with life, and you’ll always find a strong underpinning of reality in the books. There are often arcane details about hidden or secret London that I’ve discovered in old libraries. Many of the weirdest facts I use are absolutely true.

Having said that, I love writing Arthur Bryant most of all, because he’s so mischievous, and is usually described as looking like a disreputable teddy bear. He gets away with being rude to people because he’s everyone’s cheeky old grandfather, and knows that people will miss him when he’s gone.

You can find Christopher Fowler on Twitter- @Peculiar.

Hall of Mirrors was published in hardback by Doubleday on 22nd March 2018.

The year is 1969 and ten guests are about to enjoy a country house at Tavistock Hall. But one
amongst them is harbouring thoughts of murder…
The guests also include the young detectives Arthur Bryant and John May – undercover, in disguise
and tasked with protecting Monty Hatton-Jones, a whistle-blower turning Queen’s evidence in a
massive bribery trial. Luckily, they’ve got a decent chap on the inside who can help them – the one
armed Brigadier, Nigel ‘Fruity’ Metcalf.

The scene is set for what could be the perfect country house murder mystery, except that this particular get-together is nothing like a Golden Age classic. For the good times are, it seems, coming to an end. The house’s owner – a penniless, dope-smoking aristocrat – is intent on selling the estate (complete with its own hippy encampment) to a secretive millionaire, but the weekend has only just started when the millionaire goes missing and murder is on the cards. But army manoeuvres have closed the only access road and without a forensic examiner, Bryant and May can’t solve the case. It’s when a falling gargoyle fells another guest that the two incognito detectives decide to place their future reputations on the line. And in the process discover that in Swinging Britain nothing is quite what it seems…
So gentle reader, you are cordially invited to a weekend in the country. Expect murder, madness and mayhem in the mansion!

Christopher Fowler is the author of more than forty novels (fifteen of which feature the detectives Bryant and May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit) and short story collections.
The recipient of many awards, including the coveted CWA ‘Dagger in the Library’, Chris has also written screenplays, video games, graphic novels, audio plays and two critically accalimed memoirs, Paperboy and Film Freak. His most recent book is The Book of Forgotten Authors, drawn from his ‘Invisible Ink’ columns in the Independent on Sunday. Chris divides his time between London’s King Cross and Barcelona.

Wrestling with character – guest post by James Stansfield

Today I’m delighted to welcome James Stansfield to my little blog. James is the author of Anaconda Vice, which is published by Manatee Books.

The main character in Anaconda Vice is Lucas Winter, a retired pro wrestler who finds himself stranded on a lonely highway late at night, out of gas, near the small town of Anaconda, where nothing it quite as it seems.

More on that later – first, over to James!

Wrestling with Character

My debut novel Anaconda Vice introduces the world to Lucas Winter, a man whom on first glance may make for an unlikely action hero. Lucas isn’t a cop, a former soldier or hard-boiled marine; he’s a wrestler. More specifically, he used to be a wrestler until an injury cut his career short.

So why did I choose to make my protagonist a wrestler?

The old adage is that you should write about what you know. I’m not a cop, former soldier or hard-boiled marine and whilst I’m not a wrestler either, I have been a big fan of pro-wrestling since I was fifteen. Over the last twenty-five years I’ve followed wrestling through it’s good times and bad, initially cheering for Bret The Hitman Hart and Shawn Michaels, through being a Triple H fan boy and now enjoying the thriving UK scene with the likes of #CCK and Will Ospreay. I’ve read countless interviews in magazines such as the now sadly defunct PowerSlam and several autobiographies. In short, it was a profession I felt knowledgeable enough about that I could write a character who came from that world.

Making Lucas a wrestler played very well into the kind of character I wanted to have in my lead and allowed me to make him suitably different to his peers. As a wrestler, Lucas could be in good shape and physically capable of handling himself in a confrontation but without having to make him an authority like a soldier or policeman. Wrestling is an incredibly physical form of theatre that takes years of training, but ultimately that’s what it is, a performance. Having Lucas come from what is essentially an entertainment background helped form the wise cracking element of his character. I like to think he’s a cross between John McClane, John Cena and Chandler Bing.

A few things happen to Lucas in Anaconda Vice that were informed by his former occupation. At one point he is challenged by the notion that wrestling is “fake”. This is something that is certainly familiar to wrestling fans and no doubt those who step into the ring too. It’s an all too common reaction when a person finds out you like wrestling for them to tell you it’s “fake”, like this is going to be some huge revelation to you. I’ve always found this a rather odd reaction as there’s no way these same people would go to the theatre and boldly proclaim to everyone there that the play on stage isn’t real, but with wrestling it seems fair game. Lucas’ defence mechanisms against this kind of attitude are already firmly in place by the time he reaches Anaconda. It these traits that on occasion don’t help him dig himself out of the holes he finds himself in.

My own view on wrestling is reflected in Lucas’ in the book. When wrestling is done right, it is a form of entertainment that is like nothing else and can lift an audience in the same amazing way as books and movies. I’ve been in wrestling crowds where people have been moved to tears by what’s going on in the ring. I’ve witnessed matches that were so exciting, most recently Wild Boar vs Will Ospreay at Attack Pro Wrestling in Cardiff last January, that I couldn’t sleep once I got home. WWE, the all conquering behemoth of the wrestling world, may be going through something of a creative low at the moment but there’s still a lot of great wrestling out there for fans to get emotionally invested in.

The coolest stuff in wrestling is undoubtedly going on in Britain and Japan right now. The UK has a massive wealth of talent competing in promotions such as Progress and the aforementioned Attack. The shows are getting bigger and WWE have begun raiding the talent pool for their own ends.

Wrestling is a world that is chocked full of different personalities, ideas and stories. It’s a place where people come to cheer the ones they like and boo the ones they don’t and be entertained by a physical spectacle of timing, stunts and storytelling. It’s the place that spawned Lucas Winter and hopefully some of the fun that can be found at the shows has translated into Anaconda Vice.

Thanks James!

Anaconda Vice by James Stansfield is published by Manatee Books. You can find James on twitter @jestansfield

When Lucas Winter, a retired professional wrestler, runs out of gas on a dark and desolate road, his only thoughts are on getting to the lights of the small town up ahead, getting some gas, and getting out of there…only things aren’t quite what they seem in the tiny town of Anaconda.

Before he has a chance to solve his transport problem, Lucas finds himself in trouble with the law after a local man picks a fight with him…and then ends up dead. Innocent, Lucas fights to clear his name, tangling with the local law enforcement and the family of the dead man, who seem set on taking their revenge. Can Lucas get out alive? And just what is it that the residents of Anaconda are hiding…

My route to getting published – guest post by Daniel Culver

Today I’d like to welcome Daniel Culver to my little corner of the internet. Daniel is the author of White Midnight, which is out in mid-March from Manatee Books.

Daniel is here to talk about how he got published. Over to you, Daniel!

My route to getting published

I was never a bookish kid – the only thing I read religiously when I was younger was Tintin. I was pretty much illiterate up until the age of fifteen. But for some reason, I was compelled to be a writer (my life if fraught with things I wanted to do on a whim, many of which I’m still paying for). I wrote my first storey at 15 on a rickety old typewriter – a thriller called The Dowder Pieces. I had no idea what I was doing and God knows what the title meant, but at the time I thought it was a masterpiece. It ended up as a stack of disorganized papers, which probably made no less sense than the story itself.

If you’ve ever seen The Simpsons, where Homer is doing or talking about something important and then he gets distracted because he sees a bird outside, or starts picturing a monkey playing cymbals, that is my writing journey.

I did a lot of travelling when I was younger (more whim-ing) and in 1999 I spent six months in Asia writing and researching my first full novel – something called The Lumbini Tree. (Again, no idea?)

I was convinced this was going to be the next The Beach. It wasn’t. After a year or so of sending it (by post) to every agent in the Writer’s and Artists’ Yearbook, every one of them passed. I shelved the book – the floppy disk the thing is saved on is now a coaster in my living room. I’m too scared to look at the words I wrote again.

I then decided if I couldn’t get published as a writer, I at least wanted to work in publishing somehow, so I did (blagged my way on to) a degree in Publishing and Writing – which was the first time I ever read any of my writing to an audience aloud. It didn’t suck and actually made the whole class laugh. Although I wouldn’t end up attempting another full novel for a number of years, it did leave me thinking I might at least have potential, albeit as a side-show clown. What I lacked was an idea and any motivation to write a full novel again.
By this time I had begun working in publishing as an editor, which strangely killed any desire I had to write again and I wouldn’t attempt another novel for at least half a decade.

Several years later I had moved on. I left publishing for a bit and was working in the art industry, where I finally got the urge to write again. Entitled Vespertine Prowling, my second full novel attempt was a satire of the artworld, about an artist who fakes his own death to get famous. I thought it was amazing. But again, after being rejected by every single agent I could find, I gave up. I figured this was it, the last time. My ideas were always a little too abstract; I have always been drawn to the indie, the cult of things, over the mainstream, so I was beginning to suspect I was just not publishable.

After more setbacks and another long break from writing anything, I began to get the itch again a few years later. It just kept coming back, like herpes. I saw an ad for The Curtis Brown writing a novel course, and had an idea kicking around, which wasn’t really a novel – more a scene – but I thought what the hell. I decided to give it one last (last) shot. I told myself that if I wasn’t published before I hit 40, then that was it. Kaput. So, I did the course, started writing the novel which would eventually become White Midnight (originally called Corrosive Lemonade) and I finished the course, rushed the rest of the book, and again started submitting. To my surprise, I actually started getting full requests. A least ten of them. This was it, I kept telling myself. Until it wasn’t. One by one, most of the agents came back with rejections; some never got back to me at all (which is a different rant altogether).

But despite the rejections, I did feel closer than I ever had, so I wasn’t done yet. In a strange turn of events, at the finish of the Curtis Brown course we were invited to a ‘meet the agents evening’, which was a massive let down. It was clear the agents had little interest in any of our novels. But one agent did mention how they had recently acquired novels from two Faber Academy students. So, instead of feeling discouraged, I went home and immediately applied to do the Faber Academy course, which was due to begin a few months later. In all honesty, I did it on a whim (again) and almost forgot about it. I didn’t have a new book idea, so just submitted a small extract from White Midnight. Then I forgot all about it.

A few weeks later I got an email. I had been accepted onto the course. A course I realised I couldn’t actually afford to do, but I had started writing an outline for a new story, finally, and even had a couple of scenes. I started the course anyway (sorry), not knowing how I would be able to afford the payments, but I really wanted to do it. Then my mum passed away about a month or two into the course; she left me about enough money to cover the remainder of the course fees (thanks mum). The course was really helpful and as well as writing a new novel, I used everything I had learned to revise my previous book and on another whim, I heard about Manatee Books, so decided to submit it to them.

They replied the next day saying they would like to see the full and that was that. After several rounds of edits the thing is ready to go out into the world (and just before I turn 40, hurrah), while I am currently writing a follow up book entitled The Vacation Killer, and a third novel, as well.

The moral of this story is, don’t give up, kids. And don’t spend all your university grant money going to Asia to research a book unless you’ve outlined it first!

Excellent advice! Thanks Daniel.

White Midnight by Daniel Culver is published by Manatee Books in March 2018. You can find him on twitter @DanielCulver11.

Elizabeth Nowicki, a British woman and self-confessed stoic, settles down in the seemingly idyllic American town of Midnight, with her new husband and his two children. Six months on, life as a step mom is harder than she thought, and the shine of the American Dream has already worn off.

Bored and lonely, Elizabeth is drawn into a nightmare when someone in a duck mask murders two local cops…and the investigation reaches her new neighbourhood. When this is followed by strange happenings across the street, leading to another death, Elizabeth starts to conduct her own investigation….but can she find the killer before the killer finds her?

On the Road to Riverdale – Guest post by Campbell Jefferys

Today I’m delighted to welcome Campbell Jefferys to the blog for a guest spot. Campbell is the author of Rowan and Eris, but more of that later. Without further ado, take it away, Campbell!

 

On the Road to Riverdale

Say the words “road trip” and each person will get a different mental picture. Having just read that sentence, I bet you are imagining specific road trips of your own.

The words transport me back to Australia in the 70s and 80s, to the countryside on the outskirts of Perth, where the car is stinking hot and air-conditioning is something they only have at cinemas. I’m wedged between two older siblings on the back seat and the radio has AM only.

I’m too small to see over the dashboard at the road ahead and I feel constantly queasy, yet I’m told motion sickness is something I will grow out of (not true). The kilometres tick over slowly. The roads are straight, the speed limit is 110 km/h and it feels like we’re crawling. Arriving seems like a distant fantasy.

On these early (TV-less) road trips, my father encouraged me to pack a few of his battered Biggles books, so I could enjoy daring escapades like Biggles Goes to the Loo. My mother suggested the Famous Five, so I could lose myself in the mystery of Five Go through Puberty. But what I read were Archie Comics. And while the characters never ventured far from their small town in the U.S.A., each time I cracked one of those comics, I went on a road trip to Riverdale, and it was a trip far more interesting than the one I was on.

Then, I was seven years old, wanting to be seventeen. I also wanted to see America, presented in the squares as colourful, interesting and changing. There was snow, there were love triangles, there was weird football played wearing padding and helmets. They had lockers at school. And there was humour. In the Archie Comics, America was a place that was exciting and fun, and I wanted to go there.

This is what great road trip literature does: it makes us want to go along for the ride. Sure, it’s a stretch to call comics literature, but bear with me. At the very least, I was “reading” when I was a kid, rather than trying to master Donkey Kong.

Road trip novels might even succeed in getting us to one day travel down those very roads, which is what happened to me. As a young adult, I ventured across America, looking for Riverdale. That is, I was trying to find the place that would fulfil my childhood fantasies of Riverdale. What came closest was Ashland, Oregon.

I eventually grew out of the Archie Comics (though I’m loving the sublime absurdity of the TV series Riverdale), but the books I was drawn to as a young adult remained stories involving the road. Not simply someone jumping into a car and driving from A to B, but someone embarking on a journey that changes them, or perhaps even defines them. From these books, I think it was the escapism I liked the most.   

A road trip, as participant or reader, starts off as an escape. It’s packing a bag in the middle of the night and then jumping in a buddy’s car at dawn before anyone can stop you. It’s busting out and breaking free. It’s windows down and the stereo up. It’s throwing stuff out the window. It’s pure freedom. Open roads and unknowns. It’s reckless and haphazard, maybe without a specific destination; just get me away from here, from this job, from this town, and give me back some hope.

That’s important: hope. It’s what comes after the escape, because that feeling can’t last forever. Hope says that down the road things might be better. I can reinvent myself at the town just around the next corner. I can wipe the slate clean and start again. Or I’ll keep going, keep moving, keep experiencing, keep myself open to the world and to whatever opportunities might come.

Because somewhere, up ahead, is Riverdale.

How to write a road trip novel

I could easily fill this space by lauding the road trip books I’ve enjoyed over the years (thank you, Maugham, for all those great stories), and by slamming the ones I didn’t like (Kerouac, I’m looking at you). But these are opinions, and let’s face it, the internet has enough of those.

Instead, I’m going to confess that it is very hard to write a road trip novel. The crux being: how do I make this person’s journey special and interesting enough that others will want to go on the journey with them?

My latest book, Rowan and Eris, is my attempt at a road trip novel. Whether I succeeded at writing a good one, well, I’m too close to it to judge. I did, however make some creative choices in the hope of making Rowan’s journey more interesting for the reader.

Yes, it starts with an escape, a mad dash to the airport to catch a flight to America. Rowan, an aspiring musician, is glad to leave Perth, to break the routine, to get a change of scene. But rather than blazing a well-worn trail, Rowan’s American road trip takes him to places like Little Rock, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Salt Lake City, Utah; Bozeman, Montana; and Dinosaur, Colorado.

His trip has an objective: to find Eris, who may or not be his daughter. But the journey matters just as much as the destination, if not more so. Because it’s on the road that Rowan grows as a musician. Inspired by his adventures, he writes and records his first album.

When writing the book, I knew that Rowan’s songs had to be produced, somehow. Because what’s a road trip without a soundtrack? Melbourne musician and fellow Hamburg resident Joel Havea took on the challenging job of bringing Rowan’s music to life. The resulting seven-track CD One Hand Clapping is absolutely brilliant. It’s more than a soundtrack; it’s an extension of the book. Readers have said it’s wonderful to listen to the songs, before, during and after reading the book.

And maybe one of those readers will tuck the book and CD into a pocket of their backpack, and set off in search of the places that inspired Rowan. Maybe, like Rowan, they’ll end up at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, wondering what on earth they are doing there, or dodging Highway Patrol on the back roads of Idaho and Wyoming in a car full of dope, or hitching a ride in the back of a pick-up with a dead deer. And in doing so, they’ll have a memorable road trip of their own.

I hope so.  

Rowan and Eris by Campbell Jefferys is published by Rippple Books and is out now.

It’s a simple story, a journey, a search, a pursuit. There is a man from Perth, an American woman, their daughter. The woman is intent on creating chaos wherever she goes, through urban art, and her work extends to creating chaos in her own life by having a daughter. The man is intent on finding his daughter and in doing so finds himself and the songs inside him. It’s a road trip novel, starting in Perth, Australia, and traversing America, Canada and Europe. It is also a meditation on art, creativity, success, growing up and taking responsibility.

About Campbell Jefferys 
Originally from Western Australia, Campbell Jefferys backpacked around the world working for prestigious travel publishers and as a journalist. He now lives in Germany where he runs a media company working in film, music, TV and books. His journalist has appeared in the likes of the Sunday Telegraph, the Globe and MailDecanter and Adventure. He has won four independent publishing awards. A keen athlete, Jefferys represented Australia in triathlon at the World Age Group Championships in London in 2013 and is a dedicated cricket tragic.

Joel Havea is a singer songwriter who cut his musical teeth playing live from a young age on Melbourne’s eclectic music scene.  He developed his own brand of reggae and soul-infused  accoustic songwriting with pop sensibilities, influenced by his mixed Tongan and Dutch heritage. He is now based with Hamburg and touring with his album, Setting Sail.

Beate Kuhlwein is a Hamburg artist who studdied at the Armgardstraße in Hamburg

HUNT YOU DOWN in Real Life — Online Mobs, Real Violence – guest post by Christopher Farnsworth

Taking part in the blog tour for Christopher Farnsworth’s new book, Hunt You Down, and I’ve got a guest post from Christopher for you.

More on the book later – first, over to Christopher.

~~~
The unthinkable happened again on a Monday night. Someone detonated a bomb at the Manchester Arena in England on May 22, just as an Ariana Grande concert ended. Twenty-three people were killed, including children there to see the pop star, and 250 were injured. Social media lit up with shock and grief.

And in the middle of all this, a freelance writer in Boston named David Leavitt tweeted, “MULTIPLE CONFIRMED FATALITIES at Manchester Arena. The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too.”’

It was a cruel, stupid joke when people were still searching for their kids. And in the midst of the uncertainty and horror, it was nice to have a reliably crappy villain to target. Leavitt’s name became a trending topic within the hour, with almost 50,000 tweets about him, pretty much all of them angry. People called for him to be fired, to be blacklisted by editors, to be punched in the face, and worse.

He was back to tweeting stupid memes the next morning. His profile pic seemed to smirk above it all, free from any consequences, as he tweeted, “I saw your face #AndThenIStartedToLaugh.”

Nothing really changed. The kids were still dead. And in the end, Leavitt got about a thousand more followers on Twitter.

But what if someone could tap into that outrage? What if someone could take all of that anger floating around the Internet and direct it against people like Leavitt? What if someone could turn social media into a weapon?

That’s what I wondered when I started writing my latest novel, HUNT YOU DOWN, which is out now from Bonnier Zaffre. At the time, I was looking at the GamerGate movement, and how it harassed, threatened, and abused women online. I thought it would be interesting to pit my character, John Smith, against an enemy he couldn’t really touch — an anonymous puppet master pulling the strings on millions of people, using social media to send them into violent rages.

At the time, I thought I was writing fiction. But now, the weaponization of the Internet has become very real.

Everyday social media users are also spreading information that can be just as dangerous as ISIS beheading videos, even if they don’t realize it.

Years ago, conspiracy theories were slow to spread because they had very few vectors to reach large numbers of people. They were limited to books and homemade magazines. The Internet changed all of that. Starting with the first message boards on Usenet and chain e-mails, conspiracy theorists found a quick and effective way to spread their version of the truth to millions of new potential converts.

Social media sped up the process even further. People disseminate half-truths, bad ideas, and memes designed to trigger our worst impulses. Outrage is the quickest way to get attention on the Internet, and when we read this stuff, we tend to drop down into a fight-or-flight response that feels just like a real threat.

Most people just move on to the next outrage, or, at worst, send some more angry tweets out into the void. But some people take it very seriously, and act on it.

A gunman walked into a pizza parlor with an assault rifle at the end of 2016 because he believed an online conspiracy theory about child sex slaves called “Pizzagate.” Despite the fact that the rumors are simply untrue, they are still circulating on the Net, gathering more believers every day.

In India, fake news shared over social media has reportedly led to multiple deaths as rumors about gangs and child kidnappers spread out of control.

The survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in modern history have had to deal with death threats from people who accuse them of faking the whole thing. A Michigan judge is facing death threats from anti-vaccine forces due to a child custody case. A right-wing writer and his sister have been threatened and harassed by the alt-right for his stand against his former employer, Breitbart News.

And some Russian-linked online accounts called for violence against minorities, immigrants, and police officers in an effort to spark riots and spread chaos. These accounts racked up hundreds of thousands of followers before they were shut down.

It only takes one or two individuals with a head full of bad wiring to take these posts seriously. If someone believes they are really in a war, then it’s a small step to fighting it.

Which means we need to pay attention to these warning signals. The online world is the real world now, like it or not.

Christopher Farnsworth is the author of six novels, including HUNT YOU DOWN, available now from Bonnier Zaffre.


When a reality TV star is gunned down at her own wedding, her mob boss father calls on the services of John Smith, a hitman who cleans up the messes of those rich enough to afford him, with a special talent for finding his man. But he’s no ordinary gun for hire.

Smith is a man of rare gifts, and he knows your every thought . . . Motivated by money and revenge, Smith comes across ‘Downvote,’ an encrypted site on the dark net with a list of celebrity names and a bounty for anyone willing to kill them. But taking down a shadowy figure who has weaponized the internet proves more difficult than he thought. And this criminal mastermind continues to remain one step ahead.

Sweet Little Lies – a guest post by Caz Frear

Delighted to welcome Caz Frear to the blog today. Caz is the author of Sweet Little Lies (of which more later). First though, she wants to talk about creating Cat Kinsella.

Without further ado, over to you Caz!

DC Cat Kinsella began life as plain old Cat Kinsella. Her earlier incarnation worked in a clothes shop and had both a fiancé and a plucky step-daughter-to-be. On the darker side, she also had a spending habit that masked a deep inner turmoil – a turmoil rooted in the fact that she firmly believed her dad was responsible for the disappearance for a teenage girl from the west coast of Ireland in 1998.

So at least that bit sounds familiar, right?

Cat Kinsella joined the ranks of the Met Police the day I got over my HUGE hang-up about whether it was wise – or even possible – to write a convincing police procedural without one iota of police/judicial experience to my name. It seems ridiculous now but I was genuinely convinced for a long time that you had to be somehow ‘in the know’ to write within the genre and I completely disregarded the fact that I had done nothing but read, write, live and breathe crime fiction since the age of twelve when I first drooled over Prime Suspect. I mean, it’s not as if anyone could have accused me of not being well-schooled!

Thankfully, I got over my hang-up – eventually! After a few dark-ish nights of the soul, I accepted it was plain old fear of failure that was holding me back and lo, Detective Constable Cat Kinsella was born. Cat announced herself quickly as I knew exactly how I wanted her to come across from the off – like so many crime fiction fans, I LOVE a flawed detective, but it was important to me that Cat was flawed but entirely relatable. Someone you might like to go for a pint with. Someone you recognise. Someone who’s messed up on the inside but managing to function normally on the outside, at least most of the time anyway. I think that probably goes for most of us!

It was Ernest Hemingway who said you should create ‘people not characters’ and it’s hands-down the best piece of writing advice I’ve come across (cheers, Ernest!) While it’s so, so important to know both your protagonist’s main purpose and their main stumbling block before putting finger to keyboard, I think these are the things that create ‘character’ and it’s the little things that create people – so knowing what Cat would eat for breakfast, who she’d vote for, her go-to sleeping position, whether she can whistle, where she stands on onesies – you get the drift. With this in mind, before I even started plotting Sweet Little Lies, I wrote out ‘Top 50 Trivial Facts About Cat Kinsella’ and gave myself a mere fifteen minutes to complete. The quicker and more instinctive you are, the better – too much thinking and you end up with a manufactured ‘character’, I think, not a recognisable human being. Now, of course, very few of these facts actually end up featuring in your novel but you’d be surprised how much they inform the bigger decisions your protagonist makes. And at the very least, it’s a really fun way to get to know your new best friend (and make no mistake, your main protagonist does become your best friend – your only friend, in fact, when the deadlines start to loom!)

The first random scene I ever wrote featured Cat squaring up to her Dad in a I-know-what-you-did style denouement (very soap opera!) however, as the plot really started to take shape, I realised it would be far more unsettling if Cat never knew for sure – at least not until much later – exactly what her dad had done, just that he had done something. I loved the idea of them being trapped in this toxic dynamic – Cat never sure just how dangerous he is, and him never sure why she hates him so much. This ambiguity was obviously central to the plot but also central to Cat’s personality as it explains why she finds it so hard to trust, why she doubts every decision she makes, why she looks for validation from older father-and-mother-type figures (in Steele and Parnell) rather than from her immediate peers.

I’m currently working on Cat’s next adventure and it’s such a joy to be staying with her for the long haul. That’s the joy of the series character (or the series ‘person’ if we’re going with Hemingway) – you get to see the long-term effects of what’s gone before, and poor Cat, she really has been put through the ringer in Sweet Little Lies and it’ll no doubt come back to haunt her before long……*she said mysteriously

Thanks Caz. Sweet Little Lies is published by Zaffre and will be out by the end of June. You can find Caz on twitter @CazziF.

What happens when the trust has gone?

Cat Kinsella was always a daddy’s girl. Until the summer of 1998 when she sees her father flirting with seventeen-year-old Maryanne Doyle.

When Maryanne later disappears and Cat’s father denies ever knowing her, Cat’s relationship with him is changed forever.

Eighteen years later, Cat is now a Detective Constable with the Met. Called to the scene of a murder in Islington, she discovers a woman’s body: Alice Lapaine has been found strangled, not far from the pub that Cat’s father runs.

When evidence links Alice to the still missing Maryanne, all Cat’s fears about her father resurface. Could he really be a killer? Determined to confront the past and find out what really happened to Maryanne all those years ago, Cat begins to dig into the case. But the problem with looking into the past is that sometimes you might not like what you find.