Writing crime and thriller fiction is not an easy game; you always have to be aware of strategically building the tension and sense of the threats as your plot progresses, navigating the peaks and troughs of anticipation as your reader moves towards the final climax that has your readers on the edge of their seats.
But if that wasn’t hard enough, if your setting is based in eras past, you’ve got a whole host of elements to balance too. No fancy computer searches to aid the police, no high-speed getaway car and a whole lot more horse poo.
Therefore who better to talk about the sub-genre than my second author of Crime and Thriller Month: historical thriller pro Chris Nickson is in the chair!
Yesterday, I read a fascinating article by American novelist Ben Winters. I had the pleasure of working with Winters briefly whilst I was at Penguin Random House and found his unique predicament intriguing.
The article, published on Slate.com, is discussing how the global pandemic of coronavirus and COVID-19 has basically screwed the plot of his new book, The Quiet Boy. It begins in January 2020 and hurtles towards a finale in July 2020 – in a music festival. Well, that’s not happening any more . . .
So it got me wondering how writers and namely the plots of fiction novels have been affected by the pandemic. It must be soul-destroying to have worked so hard, giving up months if not years of your life to curate the perfect plot line, create the characters that you need and finesse the timeline just so until you have a novel that you’re truly happy with . . . for a global pandemic to make it no longer relevant.
But my question is, does it matter? The role of fiction isn’t about facts. As the dictionary defines it, fiction is ‘the type of book or story that is written about imaginary characters and events and not based on real people and facts’. Of course, the best inspiration comes from the world around us – and no doubt the market will be flooded with coronavirus diaries, novels, etc. (Although I question whether there will be a market for them after we emerge blinking in the sunlight post-lockdown – we don’t want to go through that again *shudders*.) But, what better excuse than the world going a bit bananas around us to make use of this fantastic tool that we have hidden deep in our brains: the imagination. There is no better time to let our minds wonder and think of what-if and how-about.
Winters has a point when he says that ‘Right now, we are in the middle of total and utter upheaval. What reader will accept that my characters blithely go about their business in Los Angeles in the spring and summer of this year we’re in?’ Perhaps we should have more faith in our readers. Every day, fiction asks us to suspend our disbelief and fall headlong into a world that isn’t real, not based on fact, the product of the workings of someone’s mind. Yes, it looks a little like the world we live in, but the fiction form is prism not a mirror, twisting the light of the real world into a kaleidoscope of colour – otherwise the sci-fi and fantasy genres would already be in deep water!
With this in mind, over the weekend, I had the delightful experience of kicking my heels up and devouring Rebecca Serle’s smash-hit novel In Five Years. The whole concept of the novel taking a classic interview question – ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ – and twisting it on its head. The novel is all about how no matter how much we try to plan our ideal lives and how we see ourselves in five, ten, even twenty years time, life has a funny habit of getting in the way. Serle’s characters begin in 2020 and happily work, live, love their way through to 2025 (when it starts getting a little pear-shaped), no mention of pandemic in sight. Of course, when Serle wrote her manuscript, COVID-19 hadn’t reared its ugly head, but the novel is no worse off for it. In fact, it might even be an added strength as it reminds us that although the world looks less than peachy at the moment, we’ll get through it, whatever happens.
Admittedly, there might be a new couple of new courses on the syllabus for future literature students – Pre, Post and COVID Literature – but I’m excited to see what new writing this situation brings us, and whether authors choose to engage or not – some already having voiced their claims of not touching the topic with a barge pole, Anne Tyler and Harlan Coben being among their number. I feel for Winters, who has decided to push the events of his novel back to 2019, but whether you choose to set your next writing project in a world affected by COVID or not, I think the readers are willing to welcome you with open arms. To be honest, we’re just thankful for something to read!
‘Death? Seen him. Loads of times. Death’s just a bloke.’
I’d already heard lots of good things about it by the time The Keeper by Jessica Moor dropped through my letterbox courtesy of Viking Books. But this is no ordinary thriller. As much as it is compelling to read, it’s also incredibly comfortable for the simple reason it’s so well written.
Moor has succeeded in writing both a gripping crime thriller – with one helluva sick twist! – but also raises awareness of the incredibly important issue of domestic violence. For this reason, although I appreciated the writing, The Keeper is also hard-going at times in that you read in sickening detail about the abuse, both physical and psychological, that the women in the narrative suffer. My God, it was tough reading at times. But in this case, this is no criticism but heartfelt praise as it forces the reader to exam the structure of the human psyche and psyche that allows such tragedies to occur in the first place.
Happy Publication Day to an important book about an issue all too often hidden behind closed doors and masked behind make-up. Congratulations to Jessica on her powerful debut!
It is terrifying really how quickly time passes, isn’t it? This time last year I’d just arrived in Australia and now our Ozzie adventure is over and I’m already partway through the next chapter: New Zealand.
I arrived in Auckland a couple of days ago now and, although it’s only been a couple of days, I have fallen a little bit in love with this city. I have loved exploring and finding all the cool indie shops, trying all the food and investigating the green spaces. And there is still so much more to see!
I can’t wait to make the most of these weeks and catch up on some me-time – which means lots of reading! The place I’m staying in has the biggest windows so I’m revelling in all the natural light and curling up with a good book!
I am officially out of the office but I will continue to answer emails for the next week or so before we head to the South Island. If you have a question, need some advice or want a quotation for an editorial service, don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact page or the quotation request form. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Kit De Waal’s THE TRICK TO TIME is an exploration of life, love and loyalty. We meet Mona, an older woman who runs a doll shop in a coastal town in the UK. She is dedicated to her work, showing love, care and attention to the dolls, helping others through her work. However, we learn that part of this springs from a tragic incident that happened when she was young and newly arrived in Birmingham from her native London. The trick of time for Mona is how fast and slow is passes, how her life has been concertinaed by tragedy, so much so that she doesn’t know where her life has gone.
De Waal has written a gorgeous character in Mona, complex and also incredibly likeable. I found her unrelenting loyalty in the face of tragedy endearing but I also wanted her to break free, cheering her on from the sidelines. This made me feel confused about the ending, struggling with myself as to whether it was the conclusion I wanted or the one that Mona deserved.
THE TRICK TO TIME is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, where our outlooks on time, reminiscing, living in the moment and day-dreaming about the future all swirl together into that beautiful and yet cruel whirligig of time. It is a novel that causes you to value what is important in life, as we just don’t realise how fragile the present is.
Thank you to the author and publisher for this free copy in exchange for a review.
One of the most effective ways of improving your skills as a writer is to research. And what does research involve? Reading! And lots of it. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to read around your genre, whether it’s police procedural or epic romance. Knowing your market not only helps improve your craft but also shows publisher and agents that you know what you’re talking about. You know the market you’re writing in to – it’s not a romantic image, but it’s the truth.
So, I was tagged in a challenge the other day on Instagram (if you’re not following me, go check out my page for exclusive content including reviews, behinds the scenes sneak-peeks and tips.) As an editor, I do even more reading for both the manuscripts I’m working on but also in my own time. So check it out…
One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with such an array of talented authors. I always love to follow an author and their book’s publishing journey after I have helped them along the road. So, I wanted to share with you a fantastic book that I had the wonderful pleasure of working on.
Where the Wolf Lies by Tyler Flynn is a fabulous read, a high-paced race against time across the streets of New York, Paris and London, as our hero attempts to bring down a money-laundering scheme that has just turned deadly. With some of the most evocative scene-setting I have come across, you are totally immersed in the world of the novel and it’s very hard to put down.
Kirkus Reviews say it ‘crackles with energy’ and I completely agree. A perfect read for a rainy day when you’re stuck inside and want to escape.