Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Exclusive Chat with Nuala Casey!

I’m delighted to present an exclusive interview this week with Psychological Thriller author Nuala Casey! I was pleased to be introduced to Nuala at the Harrogate Crime Festival this year (in the beer tent - ahem), by our agent, Madeleine Milburn, where we discovered we were both born in the same area of the North East. She recognised my accent which I thought had all but disappeared, having lived in the south for 30 years!

About the Author

Nuala Casey was born in Stockton on Tees in 1979, the youngest of five children. After graduating from Durham University in 2001, Nuala moved to London to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. However, her experiences living in Soho where she chronicled the comings and goings of the people around her, took her life in a different direction.

She went on to work as a copywriter and was awarded an MA in Creative Writing. Her debut novel Soho, 4am was published by Quercus in 2013 and was described by the Huffington Post as “the London Novel revived.” Urban living and the voices of the city continue to provide inspiration for her writing. Nuala’s latest novel, Summer Lies Bleeding, was published by Quercus in August, 2014.

The Story…

Four lives are about to come crashing together...

Devastated by the murder of his sister in Soho seven years ago, Mark Davis travels to London to carry out an act of violence that he believes will avenge her death.

PhD student Stella is returning to London with her partner Paula to visit a fertility clinic. But Stella is hiding a secret that could tear their lives apart.

Recovering alcoholic Seb has left his wild days behind him. As he helps his wife prepare to launch her restaurant in Soho, he feels that his life is finally back on track. But a chance encounter with a stranger brings back tragic memories and puts his family in serious danger.

Kerstin Engel is a brilliant but troubled research analyst. Haunted by the events of 7/7 when she narrowly escaped death, she has spent the last seven years carrying out a self-imposed penance. But an unseen enemy lies in wait and threatens to destroy her career and her mind.

As crowds gather in Soho to mark the restaurant launch, a terrifying sequence of events brings these characters together and the last days of summer to a shocking end.

Over to Nuala…

1. Who is your favourite character in 'Summer Lies Bleeding' and why? 
The character closest to my heart in Summer Lies Bleeding is Kerstin. She is a brilliant young research analyst who is battling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I loved creating this character and watching as she came to life. She is such a troubled, solitary soul and she is led by her brain and her logic rather than her emotions. At many points, as I was writing her scenes, I wanted to scoop her up, give her a hug and tell her everything will be alright.

2. What's the nicest thing anyone has said about your book?
One of my favourite writers is Virginia Woolf and a lot of my writing is inspired by her novels and essays. I loved her novel, The Years, and I always intended Summer Lies Bleeding to be my own tribute to it so I was so flattered when Woolf's great-niece, the writer Henrietta Garnett described Summer Lies Bleeding as a 'remarkable translation of The Years.'

3. What alternative title did you consider?
It began with the working title of The Last Day of Summer but my publisher thought a grittier, darker title was needed to represent the dark themes of the novel. Summer Lies Bleeding is a play on words of the flower Love Lies Bleeding which is rather appropriate as flowers and horticulture are featured throughout the book.

4. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
I love the moment when a story takes on a life of its own and you become the vessel through which all these lives and characters are flowing. I have reached that point with the novel I'm currently working on and it is so exciting. Some days I get up from my desk and feel physically spent as though I have travelled round the world and back in the course of a working day - which in many ways I have!

5. Which novel do you wish you’d written?
Mr Vertigo by Paul Auster. One of the many reasons why I love Paul Auster's writing is the strange sense of 'otherness' he creates out of seemingly mundane things. In Mr Vertigo, he describes, in precise detail, the process of teaching a young boy to fly. And you believe every word.

6. Can you list 3 of your favourite reads, this year?
The Gamal by Ciaran Collins: One of the best novels of the last five years. A masterpiece of contemporary Irish fiction
You by Caroline Kepnes: Written in the second person from a stalker to his victim. Like a rap song, the writing gathers tempo so by the end you can almost hear the narrator screaming in your ears.
Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden. A meditation on time and what it is to be alive right now from one of my favourite writers.

7. In the reviews and feedback you’ve had for the book – what has surprised you most? 
 The York Press were so convinced by my depiction of Kerstin's OCD they thought I must suffer from it myself. That was surprising but also flattering as I had researched the subject and spoken to sufferers. I wanted to create as authentic a portrayal as possible. At it happens, I don't suffer from OCD but I do think all of us employ some sort of coping mechanism to deal with the pressures of modern life. And there is always the threat that these coping strategies can turn into dangerous obsessions.

8. Which authors would you invite over for dinner to get to know better?
They say you should never meet your heroes and I prefer to 'meet' the writer through the pages of a book. Having said that, it would be rather nice to chat with Paul Auster over coffee in Brooklyn.

9. What would you ask him?
If he would teach me how to fly!

Thanks, Nuala - and every success with the new book!
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Are Fictional Characters getting too Weird?

Following the first couple of episodes of Chasing Shadows (you know, the new ITV series with Reese Shearsmith and Alex Kingston?), I’ve been thinking about ‘character.’ It’s an area I want to develop in my writing, but I’m a little confused. DS Sean Stone, the lead detective in Chasing Shadows, has been accused of being far too extreme.
ITV
We presume his complete lack of social skills, abrupt over-directness and inability to smile is medical (due to some form of Autism, but this is never stated, to avoid misrepresentation). But DS Stone is SO antisocial, it leads me to question how he ever got into the police force in the first place, where trust, sharing of information and reliance on your colleagues is fundamental?

Mark Lawson (The Guardian) points out that the autism spectrum has become a ‘fashionable fictional accessory’. We saw it (first?) in Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and the recent Nordic Noir TV crime series The Bridge had Sofia Helin playing a rude but intuitive, Saga NorĂ©n. This trend for detectives who lack emotional empathy has now spread to the new Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Conan Doyle’s investigator more OCD and with far more ‘psychiatrically precise isolationism’ than he had in the original stories.

I’m not sure if I’ll continue with Chasing Shadows – I like both lead actors, but I’m torn about the hybrid nature of the drama, which seems to combine serious crime with slightly slapstick overtones…

It’s not just the Autistic spectrum, however, that is generating extreme characters, these days. Authors in general, seem to be creating characters who are rather OTT. Do protagonists need to have OCD and psychiatric disorders in order for us to be interested in their story? Personally, I’m more interested in the puzzle and mystery of a crime novel (Sophie Hannah is with me on this one!) than whether the protagonist can remember Pi to sixteen decimal places.

I remember reading Marianne MacDonald’s Death’s Autograph several years ago and thoroughly enjoying it, because I could identify with the lead female, because she was…well...normal. She wasn’t a sociopath and a world-class computer hacker, with pierced eyebrows, a huge tattoo and a phenomenal memory. Instead, she owns an antiquarian bookshop and has a doddery, but independent father as her side-kick. Miss Marple was a busy-body, a smart old dear getting the better of slow-witted detectives, but she didn’t also run a brothel or have a heroin problem. Did she need to, in order to make the stories exciting? Or Colin Dexter’s Lewis? He’s a rather dour, working-class family man in contrast to his more educated colleague (Morse, then DS Hathaway), but he doesn’t have any extraordinary traits, like the ability to break a person's neck with one hand, the penchant for discarding clothes after wearing them for two days or abnormally fast reflexes (sorry, Jack Reacher).

Fictional characters need to be distinctive and believable with individual personality traits – but do we need to be making them so out of this world? Isn't it the 'story' that really matters? Some might say that characters MAKE the story, but if a mystery is absorbing enough, I don't really mind whether Poirot, Scott & Bailey or Winnie-the-Pooh solves it. I know writers have to be distinctive to get noticed by a publisher, but I think this desire to make characters as off the wall as possible is going a bit far…

What do you think?
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Authors' Recommended Reads...

It's almost Autumn, so it's about time we had a handful of established authors (mostly from Crime Fiction) to share their favourite books in 2014! Who better to give their top recommendations than experts in their field:

1. Ruth Rendell's latest book The Girl Next Door came out last month. Ruth gives the thumbs up to Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, about 82-year-old Maud who finds herself embroiled in a mystery.

Lately, Maud's been getting forgetful. She keeps buying peach slices when she has a cupboard full, forgets to drink the cups of tea she's made and writes notes to remind herself of things. But Maud is determined to discover what has happened to her friend, Elizabeth, and what it has to do with the unsolved disappearance of her sister Sukey, years back, just after the war.

2. Ian Rankin likes Tana French and describes Broken Harbour as a 'clever and compelling mystery.'

In a ghost estate outside Dublin - half-built, half-inhabited, half-abandoned - two children and their father are dead. The mother is on her way to intensive care. Police think this is a simple case: Pat Spain was a casualty of the recession, so he killed his children, tried to kill his wife Jenny, and finished off with himself. But there are too many inexplicable details and the evidence is pointing in two directions at once. 

3. Louise Doughty is the author of the beautifully written, Apple Tree Yard (much admired by Ruth Rendell). Louise votes for Gloria by Caribbean writer, Kerry Young.

“Kerry Young tells the absorbing, uplifting story of a young woman's escape from the brutal poverty of rural Jamaica to a new life in the violent world of its capital, Kingston ... Written in the gentle, hypnotic patois and encompassing the birth pangs of Jamaican independence, this is a highly evocative portrait of a country in transition, and of one woman's search for self-awareness and self-respect” –  Mail on Sunday - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/gloria-9781408822883/#sthash.TdMqXpLR.dpuf
Jamaica, 1938. Gloria Campbell is sixteen years old when a single violent act changes her life forever. She and her younger sister flee their hometown to forge a new life in Kingston. Set against the turbulent backdrop of a country on the cusp of a new era, Gloria is an enthralling and illuminating story of love and redemption.

4. Justin Cartright, author of The Promise of Happiness, a novel I enjoyed in 2005, reveres the unique style of WG Sebald in A Place in the Country. Ironically, it is about the writers who most influenced Sebald himself.

When W. G. Sebald travelled to Manchester in 1966, he packed in his bags certain literary favourites which would remain central to him throughout the rest of his life and during the years when he was settled in England. In A Place in the Country, he reflects on six of the figures who shaped him as a person and as a writer, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Jan Peter Tripp. 

5. Hilary Mantell - the Queen of  historical literature, recommends Toby Clements' Kingmaker:Winter Pilgrims, which she describes as a 'savage and tender adventure story':


February, 1460: in the bitter dawn of a winter's morning a young nun is caught outside her priory walls by a corrupt knight and his vicious retinue. In the fight that follows, she is rescued by a young monk and the knight is defeated. But the consequences are far-reaching...

That brings an end to this little round up. Looks like the bookshop beckons...



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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

To get regular posts SIGN UP in the side bar --->