Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Pic 1 L-R Zoe Sharp, Matt Lynn and Richard Jay Parker take questions.
Pic 2 L-R Matt Lynn, Richard Jay Parker, Zoe Sharp and organisers Chris Heward, Trish Kenny and Alasdair Kean.
(Photographs courtesy Andy Butler ZACE Photographic)

Afraid this report is a little tardy as I've been away for a week but just thought I'd let you know what an enjoyable night The Curzon Group had in Derby debating the great British thriller and the world of thriller writing in general.

Matt Lynn, Zoe Sharp and I were pleased to see such a good turnout - one of the best attendances the library's had - according to our hosts.

An hour of debate between writers flew by with discussion focussing on what constitutes a thriller (a question that we could have debated for another few hours), British thrillers, violence in fiction, characterisation, research and how each of us approaches our writing. After a wine break we then read passages from our books and took questions from the audience.

It was informal and great fun and we were made very welcome. Thanks Derby.

If there's anyone out there who would like to organise a similar event at their UK library then don't hesitate to contact Matt, Zoe or I through our respective websites.

Have a peaceful Easter.


Friday, 26 March 2010

Leigh Russell interviews Alistair Duncan

LEIGH RUSSELL, author of runaway success thriller CUT SHORT, in conversation with Sherlock Holmes scholar and author ALISTAIR DUNCAN whose latest book, THE NORWOOD AUTHOR, has just hit the shelves.

Alistair Duncan talks to Leigh Russell

Leigh: Many fans of Sherlock Holmes give little thought to his creator, Conan Doyle. What first sparked your interest in him?

Alistair: I was initially far more interested in the creation than the creator. When I wrote my first book it naturally included some details on Conan Doyle. My interest really gained momentum when I found myself living in South Norwood where Conan Doyle himself had lived. As I researched I became more and more interested. This reflected itself in my second book where the balance between Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes became close to 50/50. Finally this interest culminated in my third book where the book is primarily focused on Conan Doyle.

Leigh: Even though I write fiction, I spend quite a lot of time researching my books. I wonder what proportion of your time is spent on research, and what proportion is spent on writing?

Alistair: Good question, and it has varied for each book. Taking the last book I would say that the allocation of time was roughly 50/50.

Leigh: How much of your research is conducted on the internet and how much of it consists of studying original documents and consulting other scholars?

Alistair: The internet is often a good starting point for any research but it is not good to rely on it. I generally begin with the internet and if a promising lead comes up I pursue it through libraries and other sources. For my latest book internet research was far less than the other two and most of my time was spent in front of microfilm readers at Croydon Library where films of the old Norwood newspapers are kept.

Leigh: Can you share with us the most surprising fact you have discovered about Conan Doyle?

Alistair: I unearthed the fact that he became president of the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society. Very few books (in fact only one that I found) mentioned that he was even a member of the society. None had mentioned that he became president.

Leigh: You mentioned The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Can anyone become a member or do you need to have published a scholarly work on Sherlock Holmes - or have red hair?

Alistair: The original society began in 1934 but was suspended due an unfortunate event otherwise known as The Second World War. When the Festival of Britain was held in1951 it demonstrated such a continued fascination with Holmes that a small group decided to resurrect the society. Unlike some other societies, the SHSL does not operate any old-fashioned admissions policy. An interest in Holmes is deemed sufficient.

You can read the rest of the interview on

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Writing A Short Story

by Matt Lynn

I’ve just been writing a short story for the Red Bull magazine that goes out with The Independent. Funnily enough, despite having written quite a few novels, both under my own name, and under other people’s, I found it really difficult to get started.

A lot of people graduate from short stories to novels, but it is quite hard to go the other way. I’m used to the flow of a novel. I have the structure pretty much hard-wired into my brain. I know when to speed up, slow down, how to develop the characters, and so on.

But a short story is 2,000 words. It’s hardly any space at all to get a story started, never mind finish the whole thing. It’s more like an anecdote than an adventure.

Anyway, in the end I think I did ok.

But it was a very steep learning curve.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Twitter Effect

See Curzon post of 19th March in book2book
Number 1 in Most Popular Stories in book2book March 24th

Monday, 22 March 2010

Oi! Publishers! Get a ****ing move on!!

Some time in the next three or four weeks the US paperback edition of what they call No Survivors (or The Survivor as it was titled in the UK) will finally be published, a mere three years after I started writing the damn thing and 27 months after I delivered it. In the middle of August, the UK paperback of Assassin will appear, almost 18 months after its delivery, and at roughly the same time as the first hardback editions hit bookshops in Germany and Canada.
Now, I don't wish to prejudice my relationships with any individual publishers, because there is no suggestion that mine have been any more dilatory or careless than anyone else's. My schedules are everyone's schedules. So the following question is addressed to the publishing industry as a whole, to wit: am I the only person in our business who thinks that these delays are, to put it mildly, f*cking ridiculous?
I can't speak for other thriller-writers, but I put a lot of effort into coming up with ideas that feel contemporary and if possible slightly ahead of the game. There are elements in Assassin, for example, that were quite original when I first conceived them, but have now passed into the realm of the everyday. That may, in some sense, be a good thing: readers won't have a hard time believing things they now know to be possible. But I have the lifelong journalist's love of speed: I want to get the story out as fast and as fresh as possible. I hate seeing my words decaying over time like piping hot gravy congealing into unpalatable fat.
What frustrates me even more is that these antiquated schedules, essentially determined, so far as I can see by the available slots on supermarket and bookstore-chain shelves make no sense at all in an age of instant digital publishing. Very soon I will have on my computer the final, copy-edited, proof-read manuscript for my next book, Dictator. There is no technical reason why I could not put it online a minute later. Now, I'm not in the business of making my work available for nothing, any more than Tesco, Ford or your friendly local plumber are. But the point remains: there is no need for delay.
What's more, there's a fantastic opportunity here. Publishers and authors alike spend a lot of time fretting about the impact of the internet and digital technology, but less time embracing the ways in which it could revolutionize our trade, and art for the better. I'd love to be able to write books the way that Dickens and Conan Doyle did, in serial form. I don't know what the deadlines were for 19th century magazines, but I'd hazard they worked on lead-times of days, rather than months. So Dickens was able to respond to current events and affect debate by being absolutely of his moment. How ridiculous that we have gone so far backwards since then.
But what fun it would be to use modern technology to recover the immediacy and relevance that our distant predecessors took for granted and make fiction a vital, contemporary, spontaneous part of our culture once again!

Friday, 19 March 2010

You Have to Love Twitter

Matt Lynn, Richard Jay Parker and Zoe Sharp are speaking at Derby Library tonight, so here's a post to cover their absence.

Many in the publishing industry fear that electronic media are threatening to replace printed material. But a recent post on The Literary Project illustrates how, by adopting a co-operative approach, new media can provide valuable support to traditional books and even help promote their sales.

According to Gemma Noon of The Literary Project, 'You have to love twitter. Less than an hour after I sent out a random tweet along the lines of"anyone know a debut crime novelist who might like to be interviewed?" than a couple of people tweet back Leigh Russell's name at me.'

As a direct result of readers tweeting her name, Leigh Russell was interviewed on The Literary Project, an interview bound to boost sales of her debut thriller, CUT SHORT.

Read the interview
with Leigh Russell on
The Literary Project March 19th

Thursday, 18 March 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

Earlier blog this week as tomorrow (Friday 19th March) I’ll be debating British thrillers with Matt Lynn and Zoe Sharp at the Allestree Library in Derby. Details HERE. Should be a fun event.

This whole debate was used as a springboard to launch The Curzon Group before I joined in. It seemed to have the desired effect and got some national newspaper coverage before I stumbled across the website on the Internet.

When Matt invited me to get involved I breathlessly awaited the arrival of my Curzon Group uniform and wondered when I would have to swear allegiance to flag of the Great British thriller. Turns out, like most organisations, it’s an excuse to have a pint and a chinwag.

I like all manner of books besides thrillers (British or otherwise) but I do think we have a very healthy writing scene in the UK – past and present – so I’m looking forward to hearing other people’s thoughts.

Thriller is such a generous umbrella term. You’ve only got to look at the three writers involved. Matt Lynn is a military thriller writer, Zoe Sharp writes about a female bodyguard and my own work is about malignant stalkers lurking within the Internet.

Thriller can mean anything from the cold burn of Le Carre to the explosive WW2 action of Jack Higgins. To pick up on Matt's discussion, my own fave from British shores is ‘ROGUE MALE’ by Geoffrey Household. I recommended this to a friend recently and she went through hell and high water to try and find a copy. It’s not a conventional book by today’s standards and I can imagine it having problems being picked up for publication in the present climate (the protracted underground incarceration scene springs to mind). However, it’s definitely worth checking out if you hanker for something less formulaic.

Will report back my findings from this first event. Should be a great precursor to continuing this fun discussion at CRIMEFEST.

I’ll be on holiday next week so unable to blog but if you miss my addled meanderings you’ll find links to a number of my articles posted on various pages of MY WEBSITE.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Second Book Blues

It's my day to post and I'm still thinking about Matt's post on the publication of his second book FIRE FORCE. After I'd left a comment I realised I hadn't even congratulated him, I was so busy commiserating with his 'second book stress'.
I have to say, the rollercoaster ride I've been on since I started writing three years ago doesn't seem to have slowed down with my second book. If anything, the pressure has increased. One difference is that I can no longer hide behind the excuse of being a novice. My latest reviewer on amazon wrote, very kindly: "For a first book this is excellent. A well deserved five stars." Having lulled me into smug security at yet another great review, he added, "Of course the expectation will be much higher with book two." No pressure there, then!
I won't pretend my ego isn't concerned about how my second book is going to be received. (Like anyone would believe me if I did!) But I am also genuinely concerned that I have somehow gained a small but loyal following. Only today I saw CUT SHORT BY LEIGH RUSSELL listed on a blog as one of the blogger's four favourite books. To a new little writer like me, that's huge! CUT SHORT was listed by a Eurocrime reviewers as a Top Read of 2009. I could go on, but I don't want to sound smug when really I'm feeling concerned. Because a lot of readers enjoyed CUT SHORT and, as the reviewer on amazon pointed out, "expectation will be much higher with book two." And all I can think of writing in response to that is, "Oh heck!" I'm going to have to better than that, I hear you think. Well, I'm confident that ROAD CLOSED (published this June) will be a lot more interesting than "Oh heck," but whether it will be enough of an improvement on CUT SHORT to satisfy my fans, remains to be seen. I hope I don't disappoint anyone. I actually rather like ROAD CLOSED. I certainly enjoyed writing it so I hope other people will enjoy reading it. But, as Matt Lynn said, you never really know...
I'm glad I have a third book in the pipeline so once ROAD CLOSED is published, I'll have something else to think about!
Leigh Russell

Finishing a Book

by Matt Lynn
I haven't posted here for a bit because I've been through that annual bout of angst and exhausation known as finishing a book. I finally handed in 'Shadow Force' to Headline last week. No idea what they think of it yet. It seemed pretty good to me, but then you never really know....
One thing struck me as interesting. I have a strange reluctance to actually finish a book. I completed the first draft in January, then spent ages flaffing around, making small changes, tweaking lines, trying to iron out the typos. But I came away with the distinct impression I was reluctant to finish the thing.
I wonder if all writers experience that. It wouldn't surprise me. Finishing a book is a psychological hurdle that needs to be cleared much more than starting one. Up until, that point, you can always fiddle around, change things, fix things. But once it is in, it's in. There's nothing much you can do. You go from having total control over the manuscript to almost none. Scary.
And then of course there is the whole business of what people will think of it.
In fact, all that considered, it's amazing I got it in at all.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The art of the cover blurb

Last week we sorted out the cover-blurb for the fourth Samuel Carver novel 'Dictator'. It was actually a very painless process: no arguments, fights, bitter struggles to impose ones view of the book against that of the publishers, none of that. All was peace and light. Which is by no means always the case. After all, you've got around 120 words, max, to sum up a 100,000-word novel. An the aspects of the story that matter to an author may very well not be the ones that the men and women in the editorial and marketing departments think will actually sell the damn thing. So I'm always trying to flog the personal dilemmas that Carver faces, as he tries to square what he does against his moral standards (and establish at least one successful relationship with an absurdly attractive leading lady while he's at it), whereas the commercial imperative is squarely focused on the desire to let buyers know that they are going to get a belting portion of slam-bam action, delivered at a pace that makes Usain Bolt look like a pavement blocker. Clearly, it would be nice to convey both the yin and the yang, Carver's violence and his vulnerability ... but given the choice, the violence tends to win. This time, though, I think we've at least hinted at the moral argument that runs through the new book - which essentially debates the pros and cons of killing a corrupt leader in a bid to foster a new, democratic society (see 'Hussain, Saddam' for details) - which explains why I signed off on it quite happily.

Anyway, here is the blurb ...

Africa has had more than its share of dictators, but Henderson Gushungo may be the worst. Millions starve and opponents are flung in jail, while Gushungo and his cronies get rich on the country’s rich natural resources.

A powerful consortium of political and business interests offer Samuel Carver the job of enforcing regime change. Can the taking of one life save millions of others? And can Carver trust the men who hired him?

As the action hurtles from the plains of southern Africa to the teeming streets of Hong Kong, and an old enemy rises from the grave to haunt him once more, Carver becomes both the hunter and the hunted in a deadly game where the survival of a nation is at stake.

That leaves out a lot of my favourite parts of Dictator … like a particularly twisted and misshapen villain; a choice selection of deliciously attractive, but complicated ladies; a new addition to Carver’s repertoire of administering sudden death, and an homage to the game of golf in Goldfinger, but with loaded guns and a strong sexual undercurrent.

But in order to discover all that, people will have to buy the book. So that blurb had better do its stuff …

Friday, 12 March 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

I'm a sucker for trailers. From watching them on the big screen as a kid through the grainy promise of something uncensored on those weighty video tapes to the polished digital teases we have on DVD now. We all know that the large majority of them are showing you the best moments and that the glue holding them together is frequently as exciting as the stuff in the tube but I've always enjoyed having my curiosity piqued in this way.

But what about book trailers? The concept would have seemed faintly ridiculous a decade ago but now they're all over the Internet. Do they work? I suppose the slightly jarring thing about them is that they're a substitute for the reader's imagination. But then what is a book cover if not a catchy, visual way to get a reader personally immersed in the content of a book?

Also, having seen a movie before experiencing the book is it possible to read it without imagining the actors you've seen onscreen take the roles in your mind's eye? That's a whole new debate.

Like movie trailers, book trailers give a suggestion of the plot and glimpses of imagery without giving too much away. It's not always the case and I've seen plenty of trailers of both kinds that make two thirds of the viewing/reading expereince they're selling academic.

I haven't seen many memorable book trailers but that's because they're not as ubiquitous as their celluloid counterparts - you have to hunt them down. I've now seen author/book sponsorship of TV crime shows and there appears to be more imaginative book poster/transport advertising particularly around London. It certainly can't do any harm to the profile of a book.

I guess it's because it's still territory that has to be tried and tested but I've yet to see one that really grabs my attention.

I certainly think it's something an author should consider though. I made a trailer for STOP ME and it's been out there for a while. This week Michele Emrath, a writer and freelance news producer got in touch. She'd left a comment on my blog last week and had visted my website afterwards. She kindly posted my trailer on her website (SOUTHERN CITY MYSTERIES) and it sparked a debate amongst her fellow writers. Have a look HERE - it's obviously a subject that's dividing authors.

However, if I hadn't posted the trailer I wouldn't have connected with Michele's site, sparked the debate or have this blog topic. And somewhere within all this someone might even remember that there's a book attached to it.

View trailer for STOP ME HERE (Bottom of page)

For More Ino About STOP ME Visit:

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Planning - and keeping to the plan

I wonder what effect planning has on other writers? There's a continuing debate over whether writing prose is a creative art form or a craft, like chiselling a detailed pattern on a decorative wooden table. My first book, CUT SHORT, was an undisciplined outpouring of ideas, mainly because I wasn't writing it with a reader in mind. I never expected anyone to read it. I wrote it simply because I started and couldn't stop. It was great fun to write, and I thoroughly enjoyed the creative buzz. Those of you who follow my author blog may recall that when my publisher sent my MS to an editor, I had something of a wake up call. 'Your poor readers won't have a clue what's going on.' So I reworked my rather self indulgent MS into a more coherent form which thankfully went on to receive positive reviews and a lot of word of mouth buzz, resulting in two reprints in the first six months.
I did plan the second book in my series, ROAD CLOSED, but despite my best efforts, I still ended up making some very last minute changes to the MS. (Not in my publisher's good books at the moment, I'm afraid.)
Now that I have an agent, he has encouraged me to write a full synopsis for my third book, DEAD END. Problem solved? You might think so. But now I have to try and stick to my synopsis... and I've already had to make three major changes...
I honestly find the writing is quite easy. It's the planning that I struggle with.
Am I unusually disorganised or is this the same for everyone? And does anyone have any helpful hints about planning books? Any hints, tips or suggestions will be very gratefully received - preferably before my third book goes to the typesetters...
Leigh Russell

Friday, 5 March 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

This week I had an email via the STOP ME site. I've had some great feedback via the contact page but, by the same token, I'm quite prepared to engage with people who have negative comments. I've exchanged a small amount of emails with readers who wanted to call my morals into question in the past and, I'm happy to say, I'm still in touch with them having argued my corner. A victory for reasonable debate.

The person who got in touch with me this week had a number of issues mostly about the website itself. I won't go too much into specifics because the email was based on their personal values and I respect their privacy. It was the site itself that had offended them although I'm not entirely clear about which specific pages. I don't think it was the font though.

There was also more than an intimation that my work is a product of wish fulfilment in terms of the violent acts depicted. I've never considered the violence in STOP ME to be gratuitous but everyone has different thresholds. In terms of them being extensions of my own fantasies - before citing a writer like Bret Easton Ellis I pointed out that a respected author like Agatha Christie wrote consistently about murder but probably never hankered after doing it for real. Then again maybe the Devonshire police should dig up the garden of Greenway. They could close all sorts of files. This is, of course, a joke.

Having read the manuscript for my second book, my agent asked me if I'd ever stalked anyone. He quickly added 'or been stalked yourself.' I took it as a huge compliment because what he'd read was obviously convincing. I suppose following people on Twitter might constitute stalking but seeing as that's the whole idea of the thing I don't really consider myself ready for the old 'sofa in the back of the panel truck trick' just yet (see SILENCE OF THE LAMBS).

A lot of readers can identify when a writer is using their own imagination or amplifying their own experiences for effect but I suppose the skill is to make the process of belief suspension effortless through execution. This works well in the thriller genre because much of what constitutes the story is believable. The backdrop is familiar so when a thriller writer introduces their hooks the reader is already comfortably immersed.

Many of the mainstream book charts contain dark and violent thrillers that are enjoyed safely from the comfort of armchairs around the world but they're not for everyone. To some they're scary in exactly the wrong way. Personally, I've got a chin-high threshold and consider STOP ME to be pretty restrained. Maybe this does make me scary. I don't consider myself to be a scary person although one Curzon Group member has already accused me of this. But I know where I end and the keyboard begins and it's all part of the theatre around a book. Can't do any harm...can I?

More STOP ME info at:

Monday, 1 March 2010

So much for that whole 'plan' thing ...

So, that whole planning plan ... Turns out it didn't work out quite as well as I'd planned! Partly I was knackered and couldn't think straight: going from the end of the next Carver book directly into a new standalone without a day's break may not have been the greatest idea I ever had. Partly I was distracted other work and mundane personal/professional tasks. Or maybe I'm just not that great a planner.

I can't think up stories in the abstract, as it were. I have to let them grow organically. Of course I'm acutely aware of pace, structure, research and all the other technicalities of our craft, and I pay a great deal of attention to them. But in the end I rely on a combination of random inspiration - an image popping into my mind; a newspaper story;a line in an old book - logic and alchemy to get the desired results.

That said, my time was not entirely wasted. At least I was able to set up the questions that need to be answered. My protagonist as about to set out on what that movie script guru Robert McKee would probably describe as a Quest. Now, I already know what he is going to find on that quest. But until last week I'd never gone into the mechanics of how he'd reach his goal, who he'd meet along the way, how they would help/challenge/attack him and what he'd learn from them that would enable him to get there.

This was where the application of logic came in. I asked myself questions about characters. The story deals in part with events dating back several decades. So how had the conflicts between certain characters arisen? Why had they never been resolved before now? What pieces of information would certain characters possess? And so on ...

Plus, I started mapping out what I think is absolutely crucial in a thriller: the choreography. By this I mean that one of the absolute keys to the whole process is moving your characters around the fictional stage so that they arrive in the right place at the right time, with a very good reason for being there ... and then giving them things to do that involve action, revelation of character and progression of the plot.

After a few days mooching around, pretending to be deep in thought, I had quite a lot of that stuff sketched out on paper and in my head. I have a couple of strong images of places that I want to use as backdrops for action and I know who I want to be there. The fact that I haven't, at this point, got a clue how I'm going to get to these places, people and scenes is, for me, part of the fun. I don't remotely knock those authors who are disciplined enough to sort out everything in advance. it's just that (a) I can't do it, and (b) if I had successfully got the whole thing worked out, I wouldn't need to write the book. Part of the excitement for me is that I don't have a clue what's going to happen, either. If I did, then it would all just feel like colouring-by-numbers ... NB: I have the attention-span of a three year-old, which is why I have to be kept entertained!

Anyway, now I have a new problem. I have no excuse not to get back to writing again. The screen is staring at me like a cold swimming pool. I know I've got to dive in. Or maybe I should make myself a spot of lunch. Yes, that sounds like an excellent plan ... !!