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…

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.

Inspirational writers – guest post by Paul Harrison

Today I’d like to welcome Paul Harrison to the blog. Paul is the author of Revenge of the Malakim, book 1 of The Grooming Party trilogy.

The question for Paul today is this:

“Which authors inspired you to write and who do you follow avidly in your own reading?”

The first book I ever read, that had a profound effect, on me, was Moby Dick by Herman Melville. The character, Captain Ahab, and his obsession with catching the white whale, which he turned into a monster, had me gripped. A fundamental fight between good and evil. Yet, by the end of the book, I was left contemplating, which was which.

It was that volume, that aroused my interest in writing stories. At school, I excelled in all areas of English. My reading habits changed, as new interests came to the fore, girls and football. Not necessarily in that order. Later in life, I began to avidly read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I still enjoy reading his Sherlock Holmes stories. Both authors undoubtedly paved the way for my own writing career.

However, it was my great, great grandfather, Will Scott, who was my true inspiration. He was employed as a letter reader/writer and story teller in Victorian times, there were tales within the family of his writing exploits and stories. I believe, the writing gene, if there is such a thing, has been passed down to me from him. In reverence to him, I have named the main protagonist, in my book Revenge of the Malalkim (DCI Will Scott) after him.

The twists and turns and plot lines within Revenge of the Malakim, are very much inspired by both Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. I want the characters to engage with the reader, and become friends, or in some instances, someone to seriously dislike.

The first author I physically met, was the late Jonathan Goodman. He became a trusted friend, and a mentor for my true crime writing. Together, we would often take off on case research expeditions across the UK. I learned so much about the writing craft, from Jon, he too was an excellent story teller. I still miss him to this day.

My interest in reading crime fiction re-emerged with Mark Billingham books. That man can write a gripping, down to earth book, he’s someone whose books I will always find time to read. Another author who I thoroughly enjoy reading, is Malcolm Hollingdrake. He’s got a story telling style that really appeals to me.

Revenge of the Malakim is my first crime fiction novel. It’s the first book in the Grooming Parlour trilogy, published by Williams and Whiting. I can promise the reader many twists and turns right through to the last page. One of the crime scenes is, let’s just say, unique. I’ll leave that surprise for the reader to find.

Thanks Paul. Revenge of the Malakim is published by Williams & Whiting and is out now.

It’s high summer and the streets of Bridlington East Yorkshire are awash with tourists. A serial killer is on the loose. DCI Will Scott and his team embark upon a fast paced investigation to catch a killer with a unique agenda. As the body count rises the killer randomly moves location and the police are unwittingly drawn into a dark and sinister world where cover-ups and corruption reigns. A place where no one can truly be trusted and nothing is ever what it seems.

From the Shadows – a guest post by Neil White

Delighted to welcome Neil White to the blog today. Neil is the author of From the Shadows, a new series. I’ve read Neil’s The Domino Killer, and Neil has been a guest here before talking about plotting his novels, and here he is again!

Over to you, Neil.

Thinking of a new series is always hard. It’s more than just thinking of a plot. There are characters and back-story and setting, all to get right from the start if the characters are to be repeated.
From The Shadows is a new series for me, my third series. The fundamental thing for me in writing a series is that there should a pair of principal characters. No lone heroes for me, and all of my books have been like this, other than my standalone Beyond Evil.
This reliance on pairings began with my second novel, Lost Souls. My first novel, Fallen Idols, had involved two main characters, a crime reporter called Jack Garrett and a detective called Laura McGanity. They were in a relationship but came into conflict in their working lives, as Jack wanted to know about her cases, and Laura wanted to keep him away from her cases.
My initial intention was to create a community of characters, and in my follow-up novel, Lost Souls, I was going to make a defence lawyer the focus, with Jack and Laura as peripheral figures. As I wrote it, however, I found myself wanting to put Jack and Laura into it more, and it evolved into a novel where the lawyer became the background figure and Jack and Laura became the focus. It was when I realised why that the Jack and Laura series developed, and the series after that, as well as the series that begins with From The Shadows.
It was about conflict, the push and the pull between the characters. The two strands kept bouncing the reader back and forth, pushing the story onwards, and created conflict between the main characters. From that second novel, I knew that I would always prefer pairings to solo heroes.
Not that the classic solo characters don’t have sidekicks. Jack Reacher roams alone, but he always picks up a helper along the way. Holmes had Watson. Morse had Lewis. Those were sidekicks though. I’ve always seen mine as equal partners.
When the Jack and Laura series ended after five books, my choice, and a standalone, I embarked on another pairing: the Parker brothers series. Set in Manchester, it involved two brothers, one a defence lawyer, the other a detective. As with Jack and Laura, there was an in-built conflict, the push and the pull, both on opposite sides of the criminal justice fence.
I ended the series after three books and turned it into a trilogy because I wanted to write a new series. It’s not that I have a low boredom threshold, but more that I don’t want to keep on with something past its natural expiry date.
What changed everything was the launch of BonnierZaffre, a new publishing imprint that I wanted to be involved with. I liked the people behind it, I liked the authors they were recruiting, and I wanted to be part of it.
It set off to a hungry start though.
I met the big guns of BonnierZaffre for the first time at a Chinese restaurant in London, a favourite of my wonderful agent, Sonia Land. They were adept with chopsticks. I was a beginner. They gleefully tucked into the stream of food landing in straw baskets, all of it confidently making its way to their plates, whereas I wobbled the food my way like I was balancing jelly on a knife-edge. I told them of my idea and watched them eat, and occasionally retrieved more food. They liked what I had to say and a fabulous new relationship began. They left, stuffed and contented. I left excited and happy, but immediately detoured to a kebab shop, still hungry.
The idea?
The series will focus on a defence lawyer, Dan Grant, and a private investigator, Jayne Brett. The hook between them is that Jayne was once Dan’s client, accused and acquitted of murdering her abusive boyfriend. Jayne has strong feelings for Dan, but can’t express it, because the last person she loved ended up dead, the knife in her hand. Dan has strong feelings for Jayne, but she’s a former client and he won’t cross that line.
The setting was important for me. I wanted to make them legal in nature, much more so than my previous books. After all, I’ve been a criminal lawyer for more than twenty years, so why not use. I wanted to set the books in the north of England, but in a smaller town than the Parker brothers books.
My feeling about that was that there’d been plenty of legal thrillers set in the big cities, but not so many in the small towns. There have always been plenty of police procedurals set in small northern towns, but rarely legal ones.
Here we are, two years on from that Chinese restaurant and the first book is out, From The Shadows. I hope you like it. I enjoyed writing it, and it felt like an exciting new chapter. The second is nearly finished and will be due out next year, and I can’t wait to start the third.

Thanks Neil – the new series sounds fantastic – can’t wait to read it!

From the Shadows by Neil White is published by Bonnier Zaffre and is out now in ebook. You can find Neil on twitter @NeilWhite1965.

He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .

Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.

When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.

But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.

Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost…

Twelve science fiction technologies: How close are we? a guest post by D. Nolan Clark

Delighted to welcome D. Nolan Clark to the blog today. Forsaken Skies is the first book in a new series – more of that later. Firstly we’re talking science fiction technologies – how close are we? Over to you…

2015 came and went, and the promises of Back to the Future II failed to be realized—real world hoverboards are less a fun sport accessory and more a disappointment that tends to explode. This wasn’t the first time science fiction had promised us cool new technologies that just kind of fizzled—we never got undersea cities or gorilla butlers, either. Some of the most familiar technologies from science fiction are more plausible, however. Let’s look at a dozen science fiction technologies and where they’re at now:

Faster-than-Light Travel: A long staple of sci-fi movies and books, the ability to travel between the stars without spending an entire lifetime doing it has always been one of our best dreams. Einstein said it was impossible, though, and it’s a bad idea to bet against history’s most iconic genius. News stories about subatomic particles that move faster than light (and thus, backward in time) are common but never quite pan out. A putative “Warp Drive” is being examined by NASA, which is exciting, but so far the jury’s still out—and expectations are low.

Laser Guns: Long thought to be a bust, lasers are back in a big way. The US and Israel are jointly testing a THEL (Tactical High Energy Laser) weapon system, which uses a chemical laser to detonate incoming missiles in mid-air. The energy needs of the weapon are staggering, but a projectile that travels at the speed of light is, it turns out, very useful as a defensive weapon.

Force Fields: The idea of a personal shield that will protect you from all harm is still a ways off. Magnetic bottles, though, which are designed to hold back dangerous substances like plasmas, are very real and are part of many new technologies. Powerful electrical fields have been proposed for use to protect interplanetary spacecraft against debris, but they only work against charged objects, so they need to be supplemented with good old armor plating. Give this one some more time to bake.

Teleportation: Theoretically, it’s possible. Quantum mechanical effects like entanglement and tunneling suggest that bodies could be moved almost instantaneously across massive distances, even through barriers. Theoretically. A more accessible tech is the rise of 3D printing, which would allow you to make copies of just about anything, even half a world away. It may not be as exciting, but the potential to create replacement parts in the field could revolutionize how many present-day technologies work.

Suspended Animation: Need to travel to Alpha Centauri but it’s going to take 120 years? Just put yourself on ice and sleep your way there—right? Yeah, it turns out if you freeze somebody in liquid nitrogen… they just die. Nowadays scientists are looking into a state called torpor, instead. This is the same physiochemical process that lets bears hibernate, and it could massively reduce the amount of food, water, and oxygen an astronaut would need on a long journey. It’s a bit more… messy, though. Robots and catheters would be needed to keep the torporous astronauts clean and healthy.

Space Habitats: Is your local city feeling too crowded? Don’t like the local laws? Why not build your own nation in space? Sadly, of all the technologies on this list, this is easily the most feasible but also the one we’re moving away from the fastest. The International Space Station is slated for destructive de-orbiting (that means exactly what you think it means) in 2024, and there’s currently no planned replacement. The Chinese have suggested they might build a space station soon, but they’re a little hesitant on sharing details. Cities in space are still a distant dream.

Fusion Power: The world has needed this one since the 1970s, and it’s still not here. Which isn’t to say nobody’s trying. Germany is pouring money into something called a Stellerator, which has shown promising results, while France is building a twenty billion dollar Tokamak (the original fusion reactor design, and arguably still the best). Real progress has been made, but so far it takes more energy to start the reaction than the reaction produces. Don’t give up hope, though—this one would change the world overnight, and solve many, many problems, so it’s definitely worth pursuing.

Virtual Reality: 2016 was often described as the year VR was truly born… yet at this point that means sub-Mario Bros. graphics and a headset that gives most people headaches and nausea after half an hour’s use. Well, baby steps. The promise of a simulated reality so perfect you can’t tell it from the real thing—like the Matrix—remains on the horizon, but it gets closer every day. This is definitely a technology to watch.

Mind-Computer Interfaces: Do you want a chip implanted in your head that will let you control things in your environment just by thinking really hard at them? I mean, do you? Well, if you’re still saying yes, you’re definitely in luck. There have been huge strides in this technology every year. The most exciting application for the tech is to create artificial limbs that respond to the user’s mental commands just like their biological limbs do, and allowing the blind to see and the deaf to hear by bypassing nonfunctional organs and sending info from cameras and microphones directly to the appropriate lobes of the brain. Using your brain to turn up the thermostat or send subconscious texts to your friends isn’t far behind.

Robots: The robots are here, and have been for decades, working in our factories. But recent developments have led to robots that look almost like what you see in the movies—robots that can walk like humans, manipulate objects, navigate the environment. This is one of the fastest growing fields in science fiction technology—and it could have a massive impact on how we live our lives in the current generation.

Artificial Intelligence: Do not be fooled when IBM, Google and Microsoft talk about AI. They’re using over-zealous terminology for what are really just neural networks and expert systems. Fantastically advanced computers, to be sure, but nowhere near the self-aware, thinking machines of fiction. We’re still hampered from that development by the fact that we don’t truly know what consciousness is, or how it works. Which isn’t to say we couldn’t accidentally develop it in the lab… a lot of Big Thinkers have recently warned about the dangers of runaway AI, but so far they’re just thinking forward. “Strong AI” is still very much a future technology.

Cloning: Banned pretty much everywhere, and considered unethical by just about everybody, human cloning is one of the few technologies we’ve turned away from—probably because there’s no killer app for it, yet. Don’t get too comfortable, though. Genetic science and stem cell research is already developing the ability to grow human organs on the lab, constructing kidneys and livers and such around collagen scaffolding. There’s a lot of potential there, if we can get past the ick factor.

Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clark is published by Orbit, and is out now.

forsaken-skies

Commander Lanoe is one of the navy’s greatest heroes, but the civil war left him with nothing but painful memories. When a planetary governor is murdered, it falls to Lanoe to hunt down the killer and bring them to justice.

Yet his pursuit will lead him towards the greatest threat mankind has ever faced.

An unknown armada has emerged from the depths of space, targeting an isolated colony planet. As the colonists plead for help, the politicians and bureaucrats look away. But Lanoe has never run from a fight – and he will not abandon thousands of innocents to their fate.

Pen names – a Question of Flexibility – guest post by Hanna Winter

I’d like to welcome Hanna Winter, the author of Sacrifice, to the blog today to talk about the fascinating subject of pen names.

Over to Hanna…

One of the more common questions about me and my writing career, is why I publish my work using different pseudonyms, Hanna Winter and Eva Sternberg. The answer is quite simple: I don’t want to limit myself to a single genre.

The dark depravities of the human mind have always held a deep fascination for me, and writing my sinister murder mysteries will always be my passion. That’s what Hanna Winter stands for, dark and morbid thrill rides. But I don’t want to miss out on the chance to stretch my literary wings into other genres, and I enjoy every minute I spend as my alter ego Eva Sternberg, writing upbeat, fast-paced “chicklits”, putting a smile on “her” readers’ faces. It’s a conscious decision, too. Alternating between my literary personas not only puts me in the right “frame of mind” for the type of story I am creating, it also provides a most welcome emotional counterpoint. Devoting myself to a more “sunny” genre as Eva Sternberg after finishing one of my thriller manuscripts, helps to cleanse the months of gloom and darkness that Hanna Winter had to wade through in order to put the expected fright into “her” readers’.

But to be honest, my different pen names are probably more of a service to the readers, both first timers and longtime fans alike. As flexible as the author may be, his or her readers want to know what to expect when they pick up one of their books. In the minds of the audience, an author’s name often becomes synonymous with a certain genre. Just imagine you’re a fan of cleverly insidious crime fiction, looking for your next fix of John Grisham or Ian Rankin from the shelves of your favorite bookstore, only to discover that your author of choice this time chose to try himself at a deeply romantic love story. Similarly, a Nicholas Sparks devotee might even feel “robbed”, if he was unexpectedly forced to go through chapter after chapter of blood, guts, murder and violence – no matter the quality, there’s bound to be some disappointment.

In the early stages of my rather bifurcated writing career, I was determined to keep my author’s “double life” a secret. I will admit, I was a bit worried how my readers might react, the genres and their respective fan bases as different as they are. So I always appeared for interviews or readings using the “appropriate” pseudonym, and made a note of only ever being addressed accordingly, keeping both of my personas strictly separate. I even went as far as having them included on my passports, one for each. These days, I don’t mind that much, anymore. I’ve grown to embrace it, rather than shy away from it. But I will continue to use my different pen names for my work, of course. No sense in creating unnecessary confusion.

 

 

Hanna Winter

Hanna Winter is (as we’ve just found out!) the pseudonym for Eva Rehberger who is a hugely successful catwalk and fashion model in her native Germany. Hanna Winter’s first thriller, THE CHILDREN’S TRAIL (2010), became an instant bestseller and Sacrifice has sold over 30,000 copies in Germany since first publication in 2012 – this is the first time it’s been available in English. We have just published the eBook of Sacrifice and the paperback is due to be published on the 17th November 2016. The former German model has since published six novels under several pen names. Sacrifice has been received with critical acclaim.

sacrifice | Hanna Winter

He must kill her. Hunt her down. Destroy her . . .

In her very first case, criminal psychologist Lena Peters is confronted with a killer on a murderous vendetta. And though she is unaware, Lena will play a prominent role in his deadly mission. Lena knows what makes killers tick and all about obsession, for she has been close to the edge herself. But soon she will become the hunted…

Thanks to Emily at Bonnier Zaffre Books (find them on twitter at @BonnierZaffre) for organising the blog tour.

Sacrifice Blog Tour

Kings or Pawns – JJ Sherwood

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for JJ Sherwood’s Kings or Pawns: The Kings, book 1, the first of her epic fantasy series. I first heard about the book from the successful Kickstarter campaign – I was intrigued by the premise and backed the project. And now here we are, promoting the book!

Kings or Pawns | JJ Sherwood

8,994 P.E.—The elven city of Elvorium has become corrupted to the core by politics. With his father dead and the Royal Schism at his back, Prince Hairem ascends the throne as king of the elven world on Sevrigel. Young and bold, Hairem is determined to undo the council’s power, but the brutal murders by an assassin loosed within the city threaten to undermine the king’s ambitions.
As corruption and death threaten to tear Elvorium apart from within, the warlord Saebellus threatens the city from without, laying siege to Sevrigel’s eastern capital. With the elven world crumbling around him, Hairem finds himself in a dangerous political balance between peace and all out war.

Here’s an excerpt from the prologue:

Prologue

A fierce howl of wind tore in from the north, bringing with it a fleeting chill. The rain pelted against the armor of the soldiers scattered across the earth below as thunder cracked and bellowed in Aersadore’s evening sky. The two armies stumbled and sank into the muddy ground of the canyon floor, voices and weapons lost in the tumult of the raging storm.
Jikun swung his blade around swiftly and plunged it into the soldier behind him, throwing his weight away to spin back into the teeming mass of enemy troops.
“General, Saebellus is retreating!!”
Jikun rounded toward his captain’s shout, seeing the soldier stumble from the fray. His captain lurched to the side, black hair plastered to the sides of his pale face as one hand groped for balance on the face of the canyon wall. The captain tore the clasp from the drenched cloak about his neck, letting it fall to the mud beneath his feet. Relieved of its weight, he pushed free of the canyon’s face and shoved Jikun aside, his blade whistling through the air as he swung high to decapitate the soldier behind him.
“I know, damn it!” Jikun shouted in return, eyes narrowing against the onslaught of rain. It bit into his flesh like shards of ice, but in the midst of battle, he was hardly aware of the pain. He stepped forward, willing the meager distance to grant him vision through the torrent of rain. Vision of the enemy that lay ahead. A tremble coursed through the earth as thunder cracked once more. A bolt of lightning lit the towering walls of the surrounding canyon, capturing the deep shadows in the jagged stones and the sunken faces of his weathered troops. “Don’t let him escape!” he bellowed to his soldiers, fighting to be heard above the wind, his throat raw. He shoved forward, leaping over the body of a dying soldier, kicking the grasping arm away from him.
He could see him now.
Saebellus.
The throng of fleeing enemy troops had parted, just long enough for Jikun to glimpse him twisting through the grey. The warlord shoved his blade through one of Jikun’s soldiers, grabbing the elf by the hair and wrenching his blade free as the body slumped to the mud. He glanced up abruptly, as though aware of someone’s gaze, and his eyes caught Jikun’s in a moment of calm, cold solidarity: an acknowledgement of each of their roles in the war. Then he turned, raising his hand high. The throng of soldiers closed behind him, fighting to defend the backlines as he and his army fled toward the north.
For a moment, the image of those emotionless, black voids had stilled Jikun. Then he found his voice, bursting forth louder and stronger in his anger. “Move! MOVE! Don’t let them escape!!” he shouted, a rumble of thunder following his screams with equal fury.
There came another rumble, resounding almost immediately after the last. It had come too soon.
Jikun paused, jerking his head upwards along the walls of the canyon, searching the length of sky for the source of the unnatural sound. There was another flash of light from ahead, but this one came red and hot, erupting from the midst of Saebellus’ army. It struck the canyon wall with a ferocious crack that sent a tremor through the earth about them.
Jikun’s eyes widened in horror. “AVALANCHE!!!” he roared. He stumbled backward, raising an arm above his head. A thick dome of water swept upward from the mud at his feet, freezing as it grew, forming at once into a thick shield of ice that protected him and his surrounding soldiers.
He could hear the crashing of stones as they plummeted down the mountain face, smashing through the troops and horses before him, plowing through the line of soldiers behind him. They slammed into the side of his icy barricade, hurling him backwards into the far wall.
And then there was silence.
Jikun looked up, raising a hand against the ice to let it fall once more to mere water about his body.
Saebellus and his army were gone.

~~~~
Meet the author:
JJ SherwoodJ.J. Sherwood lives in Ohio with her husband and four near-identical cats. Her childhood was spent tearing through the woods, playing out fantasy worlds, and tying Barbie to the roof so that the Power Rangers might rescue her. Middle and high school carried on this roleplaying, while college encompassed creating and refining over 250 characters in the world of Aersadore. When not orchestrating the lives and deaths of the people of Aersadore, JJ’s hobbies include drawing, video gaming, wearing a bathrobe, and eating too many baked potatoes.

Connect with the author:  Website Twitter Facebook   Goodreads

Behind the Book – a guest post by Wendy Walker

Today I’m delighted to host a guest post by Wendy Walker, author of All is Not Forgotten. Today Wendy talks about what went into the writing of her book.

Without further ado, over to Wendy.
~~~~~

As a writer, I’m always looking for real life events that would make a good story. Back in 2010, I came across an article in the New York Times about the use of morphine to treat PTSD, and how its use might spread from soldiers wounded in the field to victims of other traumas, like rape. When I finally decided to use this in a novel, I knew it would make an intriguing psychological thriller.

I wrote All is Not Forgotten in the spring of 2015, and by that time the research into memory reconsolidation had exploded. At the core of this research was the finding that memories are like files on a computer – they can be recalled and then altered, or perhaps even erased entirely.

Now, a range of PTSD therapies are being developed which utilize this new understanding about how memory works. Within the first few hours after an event, drugs can be administered to try and block the memory entirely. By interrupting the stabilization process which turns a short term memory into a long term memory, the short term memory can (possibly) be erased. Alternatively, pain medication like morphine or propofol can be administered so the emotional attachment to the memory is lessened. Theoretically, a victim could remember the event but not have any emotional reaction. For victims whose traumas have already been stabilized into long term memory, the same treatments are given in an attempt to reconsolidate that memory either factually, or by lessening the emotional attachment. As the person recalls the painful memory, the drug or other method is used so that the memory becomes altered before it is re-filed – just like changing a computer file before hitting the save button.

When I thought about using this in a novel, I was drawn not only to the science, but to the moral and legal implications if these treatments were to be used on victims of crime. The choice between justice and emotional pain, for example, fascinated me. I also wondered about the ability to truly erase the emotional implications of a traumatic event. As a mother, I had come across information about brain development in children and how early traumas can cause lasting emotional issues even if the child had no factual memory of a painful event (because the brain was not mature enough to store the memory). In those cases, the child can have unusual fears or phobias that do not have any causal relationship to the triggers. That made me wonder – even if we can pull out a painful memory, uncouple it from the emotional element and then return it to storage, does that emotional element really go away? Or does it live inside us, looking for a home, and provoking us at times or for reasons that make no logical sense?

Combining all of these theories and questions, I came up with the story of Jenny Kramer.

There can be no doubt that the next decade will bring groundbreaking changes to the way we see our memories, and the treatments available for PTSD, addiction and other disorders like anxiety and OCD. And like most scientific advancements, we will be faced with the legal and moral implications that arise.

When I tell people about this story, I always go back to the question that was in my mind back in 2010 – what would I choose, for myself or a loved one? Would I choose to remember? Or would I choose to forget?

All-is-not-Forgotten

You can erase the memory. But you cannot erase the crime.

Jenny’s wounds have healed.
An experimental treatment has removed the memory of a horrific and degrading attack.
She is moving on with her life.

That was the plan. Except it’s not working out.
Something has gone. The light in the eyes. And something was left behind. A scar. On her lower back. Which she can’t stop touching.
And she’s getting worse.
Not to mention the fact that her father is obsessed with finding her attacker and her mother is in toxic denial.

It may be that the only way to uncover what’s wrong is to help Jenny recover her memory. But even if it can be done, pulling at the threads of her suppressed experience will unravel much more than the truth about her attack.

All is Not Forgotten is published by @HQStories on 12th July. You can also read a review by Gordon over at Grab This Book.