Writing Competition

This week I’ve been working on a new short story, I don’t often write short stories, but I heard of a competition and I thought it looked good, and I instantly knew what short I wanted to tell.

So for other women writing crime, this might be of interest to you too:

Four Thoughts on Research for Writing

Writing historical fiction requires a lot of research, but it’s not just historical authors that need to think about research, it’s all of us. This is an area that Chris Lloyd knows a great deal about, as and “The Unwanted Dead” releases today, he’s here with his advice on research.

I write novels set in Paris under the Nazi Occupation. Inevitably, this calls for large amounts of time and planning spent on research, which can be immensely frustrating – for example, when you’re trying to find what colour ration tickets for wine were in June 1941 – but it can also be extremely rewarding. This is especially the case when the research turns up a whole story or character – or simply vignettes and small details of everyday life – that I would otherwise never have dreamt of. It can provide the central theme of the novel, or simply background that adds colour and authenticity to the story. And that’s when all the frustrations reduce to nothing and the hours spent tracking an isolated fact down becomes instantly forgotten. Along the way, I’ve come to a few conclusions about research that have helped me and that I hope might be useful to others.

1 Research, Research, Research

You can never do too much research.

I begin with a sort of immersive research. History books, films, documentaries, novels, anything that gives me a sense of the time and the place. This starts with the ‘big’ history – what was going on with the war elsewhere, major events in France, political machinations and so on – and then moves on to the fine detail. How my characters would have dressed, what they would have seen as they walked through the streets of Paris. Were the cafes and restaurants open? How many cars were there? How frequently would ordinary people have seen German soldiers or been stopped by them? How afraid were they? And how much did they simply try to get by despite the soldiers’ presence?

The next stop is to narrow the research down. My stories are set over a specific time period – The Unwanted Dead covers the first ten days of the Occupation, the second book (which I’m currently writing) takes place between September and November 1940. That’s actually extremely helpful and quite a relief. Whereas the immersive research can leave your head reeling with an information overload, the focused research not only pins the story down, it offers all sorts of opportunities for extra threads and characters thanks to the odd snippet of detail here and there that it throws up. This is where the research really helps the story start to gel.

2 Then stop researching

You can do too much research.

I know I’ve contradicted myself, but that’s research for you. Once the story starts to gel, that’s the time to stop researching. And for me, it’s important to know the exact moment. That’s partly because it’s much too easy to send yourself down a rabbit-hole, finding out all sorts of things you don’t need and confusing the issue. It’s all very well knowing what colour ration tickets for wine were in June 1941, but it’s a massive distraction if your story’s set in autumn 1940. There’s nothing like it for taking you off the boil. The main reason, though, is because it’s time to start exploring, time to start getting the story down on screen while it’s still fresh and exciting in your own mind. That’s when you can allow your characters to react to the research you’ve learned and do something with it.

3 Then do a bit more research

This is where it gets frustrating. You’ve got your story, the characters are lined up and waiting in the wings, they’ve already made their first moves, the streets are populated with your extras, and foul and bloody murder has already been committed. And that’s when you find you want Eddie, your protagonist, to go to a café for a glass of pastis with another cop to calm their nerves after the foul and bloody murder. But for them to do that, I have to know if that would have been possible under the Occupation. And it’s that moment of trying to find a very specific and very small piece of research that determines whether a scene can happen or not, or if it has to be adapted. And there’s nothing like it for slowing your writing down, as it can take hours and even days to find out that one minor piece of information. The sad news is you have no choice. If you want your story to be as authentic and accurate as possible, you just have to roll your sleeves up and dive into the deep research. That’s when you learn patience.

And in case you’re wondering – no, they couldn’t have a glass of pastis. The Vichy government had banned all drinks over sixteen per cent proof, so they had to drink wine instead, and use up a ration ticket each. Ration tickets, by the way, whose colour was changed from one month to the next to prevent forgeries being made and sold on the black market.

4 Forget the research

There’s a famous photo of Adolf Hitler taken the one time he visited Paris, in June 1940. In it, he’s standing in the Trocadéro with the Eiffel Tower behind him, on the opposite bank of the Seine. He’s flanked by architect Albert Speer and sculptor Arno Breker. Albert Speer claims the photograph was taken on 28th June, Arno Breker says it was 23rd June. They can’t both be right. My dilemma is which date do I choose.

I’ve got a similar problem with the second book. For the purposes of the story, I need Eddie to go to a specific opera on a specific day. I know the opera was staged in Paris – Fidelio, a story of political prisoners and freedom, a strange choice for the Nazis to have made – and I know it was in the autumn. The problem is I can only find one source for the actual date… and it contradicts itself. It first says Fidelio was staged at the end of October, and a few chapters later, it says it was in December. Again, I have to make my choice.

In both cases, I’ve driven myself up the wall trying to find a definitive date, but it’s impossible. And that’s when you have to forget the research and remember what it is you’re doing. You’re writing fiction. My own research in both cases has led me to a specific date for each of the two events, and I’ve made every effort possible to be accurate, but I also have to realise that this is when another element becomes important – the story. As I said, I write fiction. The history has to be accurate, the research has to be true, but it also has to contribute to the story I’m telling. Faced with contradictions in the research, and there are many, your choice has to come down to one fact. You’re a story-teller. You have to be authentic, you have to respect the past, but your story has to come first.

Chris Lloyd grew up in Cardiff and, after graduating in Spanish and French, spent twenty-four years in Catalonia, where he taught English and worked in educational publishing and as a travel writer and translator. Besides this, he also lived in Grenoble for six months, researching the French Resistance movement, and in the Basque Country and Madrid. He now lives in his native Wales where he works as a writer and translator.

He writes the Eddie Giral crime thriller series, the result of his lifelong interest in resistance and collaboration in Occupied France. Living under the shadow cast by his experiences in World War One, Eddie Giral is a Paris police detective forced to come to terms with the Nazi Occupation of the city. Seeking to negotiate a path between the occupier and the occupied, Eddie struggles to retain some semblance of humanity while walking a fine line between resistance and collaboration. However, his greatest challenge possibly lies in overcoming his own inner struggle in asking what justice is when the notion of justice itself becomes as dangerous, blurred and confused as the times. The first book in the series, The Unwanted Dead, is published by Orion and comes out in paperback on 18 March 2021.

Chris is also the author of the Elisenda Domènech crime series, published by Canelo, featuring a police officer with the devolved Catalan police force.

Hard Return

Amy Lane is an agoraphobic who fights crime from her computer. If you like your crime with a side order of geek, you’ll love this series. Hard Return was the first of the Amy Lane mysteries that I read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even through it is the fifth book in the series, you don’t need to have read the rest to enjoy it.

Rosie Claverton grew up in Devon, daughter to a Sri Lankan father and a Norfolk mother, surrounded by folk mythology and surly sheep. She moved to Cardiff to study Medicine and adopted Wales as her home.

Her crime series The Amy Lane Mysteries debuted in 2014, about an agoraphobic hacker and streetwise ex-con who fight crime in Cardiff.

Between writing and medicine, she advocates for accurate and sensitive portrayals of people with mental health problems in fiction. She is a co-founder of the Welsh crime writing collective Crime Cymru.

Rosie lives with her journalist husband and her young daughters

Featured Authors

This blog is a thank you to all the lovely authors who had something to say and share through February, I really enjoyed what people had to say, and I hope as readers, you did too. I learned a lot and now have a much longer to be read list.   If you missed any, below are the links to each one individually, they are worth a bit of an explore, who knows, you might just met your new favourite author.

Sam Blake
Helena Dixon
Trish Finnegan
Jenny O’Brien
Paul Waters
Philippa East
Louise Mumford
Thorne Moore
Jessica Jarlvi
Judith Barrow
Robert Scragg
Ann Coates
Paula Harmon
Alis Hawkins
Jackie Baldwin
Stephen Edgar
Caroline England
Fiona Leitch
Graham Smith
Chris Lloyd
Cathy Ace
Evonne Wareham
Victoria Dowd
Chris Curran
Tina Baker
Mark Hill
Alison Layland
Charlotte Barnes

Again, thank you all you lovely wonderful authors for taking time out to take part, I really appreciate your taking part.

Charlotte Barnes

The last, but certainly not least of our authors this month, Charlotte Barnes share news of her latest books.

When did you start writing, and why?

It feels a bit fanciful to say it, but I feel like I’ve always written. Mum takes great pleasure in rolling out books that were stapled together by yours truly – written and illustrated by my own fair hand too. I remember always loving the telling; to be gifted the experience of hearing a good story. I think that created a real drive in me from quite a young age. I wanted to give something similar to people. I’ve no idea whether I’ve reached that point yet or not, but either way I still feel that drive, to create the feelings, the entertainment, to give people something to take away. Granted, young-Charley wasn’t as big on crime fiction as adult-Charley, but tastes change!

Which do you like to write, series or standalones?  If you write both, what do you find the difference?

I have written both and I’ve loved writing both, so this is a great question! For the series – that is, The Copycat, The Watcher, and The Cutter – I think I created some real ties with those characters, because I came back to them so often. I was invested in what was happening to them, around them, even what might have happened to them off-screen – or rather, in the time between books. Whereas, with a standalone, my works in that area have been, at least to me, much more grizzly. Rather than juggling many characters and caring about them all equally, standalones (especially when they’re written as first-person voices) require a real mental investment to make sure you get the character just so, and that you can hold them that way for the length of your book.

Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?

Not much, but certainly some things. I find it very difficult to read fiction – well, crime fiction, that is – that deals with children, anything below the age of around thirteen. It’s always been a troublesome area for me to navigate as a reader and, because of that, I’m not even sure I could attempt writing about it without pushing my boundaries a little too far. I’ll stick to the other crimes!

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Gillian – and I have to say that because she scares even me! Gillian is the narrative voice in Intention, which is the first psychological thriller I had published with Bloodhound Books. She steers the first novel that I’ve ever really carried through to its end. She’s vicious, unknowingly so, and curious in terrifying ways, and to this day I’m exceptionally proud of things she does, and ways she behaves, in that novel.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

There is a pesky journalist who crops up for the first time in The Copycat; Heather, her name is. I originally introduced her to be a bit of a pain during an interview, which she was. But then the DI Watton series continued, into The Watcher and The Cutter, and despite my dislike of her I did always find a place for her – to add a bit of drama, I think! Although she always pokes holes in my other characters.

Tell us about your last book…

The Watcher is the middle DI Melanie Watton novel, but it can easily be read as a standalone piece too. A video surfaces in the local area that looks to show a man being murdered. Watton and her team first have to verify the video is what it looks like, then they have to hunt a killer without having a murder, a crime scene, or even a victim.
But when other snuff films start to surface, it becomes clear the killer is more experienced than anyone first thought…

What’s coming next…

The Cutter is the third and final DI Melanie Watton novel, coming on March 15th. In this final book, things get personal. A taxidermist is murdered and his studio robbed of various structures and projects. But soon these stolen items start to appear at other crime scenes – with messages attached.
The team knows that one of them is being targeted. But the who and the why are yet to be discovered…

Anything else you want to share?

The Cutter is one of three novels that I have coming out with Bloodhound Books this year. The other two, though, are standalone psychological thrillers, which I’m very excited about! All I See Is You will arrive in May 2021 and Sincerely, Yours will arrive in September.

Photo credit:
Marcus Mingins

Charlotte ‘Charley’ Barnes is an author and academic from the West Midlands, UK. She is a Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, where she teaches Creative and Professional Writing, and she is also the Director of Sabotage Reviews and the Editor of Dear Reader. Charley writes crime under the name of Charlotte, but also publishes poetry as Charley Barnes.

Thanks Charlotte, lovely to hear from you and best of luck with everything

Well folks, that’s it from the February Blog Run, 28 excellent authors sharing their stories with us. Thanks to each and every one of them and to you for reading.

Alison Layland

Alison Layland, another Crime Cymru author talks to us about her novels, skills with foreign languages and upcoming events to watch out for.

When did you start writing, and why?

I’ve always told myself stories, including a couple of long-running soap operas, and I recently came across a treasure trove of childhood poems and songs. However, I only began to realise that I could actually be a writer when we moved to Wales, I took to learning the language, and our Welsh classes continued in the form of creative writing sessions. I found that writing in a language that wasn’t my mother tongue somehow broke down inhibitions and opened doors. I was thrilled when my Welsh short stories won Eisteddfod prizes, and I had a number of Welsh flash fiction pieces published. Since my first published novel, however, I’ve written mainly in English, my native language, and mainly novels, though I’d love to return to short stories and flash fiction as well.

What motivates you to write?

I love telling stories. There’s nothing more fulfilling than developing characters and then spending time with them, along with the satisfaction of a plot unfolding and loose ends coming together. From that, it’s probably obvious that I’m a character-led “pantser” when it comes to first drafts; meticulous planning takes over in subsequent drafts, however, and I enjoy both stages equally.

I’m also keen to explore a variety of issues in my fiction, and love the research that involves. In my first novel, Someone Else’s Conflict, the central issue, and springboard for the story, was the long-lasting effects of war – a fictional atrocity during the 1990s Croatian War of Independence – on two of my characters. I did a lot of research for the Croatian part of the story, including historical reading, travel and even learning the language to deepen my feel for the culture.

My second novel, Riverflow, was initially motivated by a desire to draw attention to environmental issues. As the story unfolded, I found myself drawn into my characters’ relationships and the effects of external events on my protagonists’ marriage.

Which do you like to write, series or standalones? 

My two published novels are standalone psychological mysteries. However, having spent months or years invested in my characters and their worlds, it’s tempting to revisit (on paper as well as in my mind!) and I’m attracted to the idea of a series. I’m not sure if it counts, but my work-in-progress is set in the future, and it refers back to some of the characters in Riverflow.

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

One of the things I most like about fiction, both writing and reading, is that you can get close to characters you’d probably run a mile from in real life. A classic example is Bede, the protagonist in Riverflow. As I would in real life, I admire and respect his ideals, but he’s a really prickly character who would be difficult to know in real life – but the reasons for this are revealed in the novel. I know several readers feel ambivalent towards him and, as I do, sympathise with his long-suffering wife, Elin, but think of him as a difficult but ultimately sympathetic character.

All in all, however, my favourite character is itinerant busker and storyteller Jay Spinney, from my debut, Someone Else’s Conflict. Although he has a dark past and a reluctance to be open and honest, he is ultimately compelled to do the right thing, and several readers have fallen under his spell.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Although I try to see the nuances of all my characters and understand their motivations, some are nevertheless distinctly unlikeable. Mihal Novak, a small-time gangster in Someone Else’s Conflict is one of them, and in Riverflow it’s arrogant landowner Philip Northcote. Although he’s a true antagonist, I drew on aspects of a couple of people in real life when creating the character, so who knows, there may be some who relate to him more than I do!

Tell us about your last book…

Inspired by my own environmental activism, my second psychological mystery, Riverflow, was published in 2019, and chosen as a Waterstones Book of the Month.

“In a village in the Welsh Marches, the undercurrents are as dark and strong as the River Severn. After a beloved family member is drowned in a devastating flood, Bede and Elin Sherwell only want to pick up the pieces and pursue their off-grid life in peace. But when a local landowner applies to start fracking near their smallholding, they are drawn in to the frontline of the protests. Mysterious threats and incidents begin to destroy trust, rake up the past and threaten their future together. Who is trying to ruin their world and how far will they go?”

What’s coming next…

I’m working on a novel set in the mid-21st century, about a community of people who have chosen to live an island life apart from a troubled society. As well as some intricate character relations and intrigues, I’m also really enjoying developing a vision of what the world might be like in three decades’ time…

Anything else you want to share?

I’m proud to be associated with Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival, the first international crime festival in Wales, for which I’m helping to organise a special competition. We’ll be holding a digital festival on 26 April-3 May 2021 and our inaugural in-person festival in Aberystwyth on 29 April-2 May 2022. Watch this space!

Alison Layland is a freelance writer and translator who lives and works in the Welsh borderlands. She is the author of two psychological mysteries, Someone Else’s Conflict and Riverflow, both published by Honno Press, and has also translated a number of best-selling novels.

You can find out more on her website at www.alayland.uk and her Alison Layland (Amazon Author Page), and follow her on Twitter @AlisonLayland

Thank you Alison, Wales is quite a seductive place to live, and I envy your skill with foreign languages.

Tomorrow and last up is writer Charlotte Barnes

Mark Hill

Today Mark Hill talks to us offering some odd insights into secondary characters and bay leaves and mixed up tenses.

What motivates you to write?

I am literally useless at everything else. Some people will suggest that I’m not that much good at writing novels either, but at least I enjoy doing it… most of the time. Sometimes – at least twice a week – it drives me over the edge with frustration and anger. I’ll cry and sob and howl, and vow never to write another word. But then I’ll remember that I’m totally useless at everything else, so I may as well get on with it.

Which do you like to write, series or standalones?  If you write both, what do you find the difference?

I have two detective series. Two books feature my unstable North London copper Ray Drake; two are about the altogether lovely and very stable Sasha Dawson, and those are set in Southend.

I’ve just started my first standalone, a psychological thriller. In One Bad Thing my protagonist Hannah discovers that the past has a terrible way of coming back to haunt you.

It’s been a fascinating and challenging experience, and I’ve made a conscious effort to make it as different from my series books as possible. It’s kind of intense, because I’m also writing in first person present tense, so the reader is locked very firmly into Hannah’s head. Sometimes my tenses will get confused, and then I’ll get confused, and I’ll have to go for a nap.

Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?

I’ve written books which have managed to touch on very dark and serious subjects, such as institutional abuse, but I’ve managed to hint at those things rather than tackle them head on. I wouldn’t write about animal cruelty, I’m ambivalent about catalytic converters, and I will never, ever tackle the thorny issue of what exactly a bay leaf adds to a meal, taste-wise.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

I don’t have least-favourite characters, because they’re all fantastic and compelling, and it feels unkind to even consider singling out any of them. I tell you which characters it can be hard to write, though. It’s those walk-on characters who pop up as witnesses to a crime. My detectives will often spend a scene interviewing them, and then they’ll head off-page and we’ll never hear from them again.

I think all those minor walk-on characters deserve to be written just as well as the main characters. There’s so little space to give them a chance to shine, but it’s worth putting the effort in. In my book It Was Her there’s a chapter featuring two old gay gentlemen, Douglas and Bailey, who recount to the police a home-invasion they were victims of. Douglas has dementia and mistakes one of the intruders for his dead wife. Douglas and Bailey only appear in one chapter, but I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever written.

Tell us about your last book…

The latest Sasha Dawson book, The Woman In The Wood, is out on March 4th, and it features a former Essex reality star who finds himself in a world of trouble when his mates are targeted by a killer. Abs may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s is a lovely guy. Trouble is, he’s got a dark secret, and as we all know, dark secrets never stayed buried.


What’s coming next… 

Psych thriller One Bad Thing is out early next year. Did I mention I keep getting the tenses mixed up? Don’t worry, I’ll have that sorted by the time it’s published, I’m sure I will…

A former radio producer, Mark Hill is the author of four novels. His First Lie and It Was Her are written as Mark Hill and The Bad Place and The Woman In The Wood as MK Hill. He still occasionally gets his tenses mixed-up.

Thank you for joining us, and I agree, secondary characters can be tough – but not always as tough as the tense!

Tomorrow we get to hear from Alison Layland.

Tina Baker

Tina Baker joins us to share her fear of going under, cat ownership and new release, Call Me Mummy

When did you start writing, and why?

I remember writing when I was very small. I could write by the time I started school when I was five. The first word I spelled myself was my aunty Zita’s name – a process of putting letters together and pestering my dad, ‘Does this spell anything?’ over and over.

I wrote poems at school and kept them secret, so it didn’t result in one of the many fights I had – living in a caravan I was branded a ‘gyppo’.
I wrote short stories at school. I told no one.

I always wrote bits and bobs but didn’t have much time as a journalist to write ‘my own stuff.’ Only after I stopped doing that did I have the brain space to write a novel.

What motivates you to write?

Fear. Pure and simple. Terror. Feeling I’ll go under if I don’t write. Even when I’m not putting the words on the page, I’m thinking about writing or feeling guilty (in bed) that I’m not writing. Or reading and thinking about my own writing.

What do you like to do to relax when not writing?

I last relaxed in 1978 and I’m pretty sure drugs were involved. I now don’t do drink or drugs. In the past, I sometimes relaxed in that rare point between drink 1 and 2. By drink 23 I wasn’t relaxed any more but dancing on tables and marauding around streets!

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

In Call Me Mummy I empathise with both Mummy and Kim – the woman who steals a child and the woman who loses her child. But I love Tonya – the child – the most. She’s a real fighter. And funny. She’s the daughter I never had.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

I’m currently working on book three and the lead character in that is terrifying! I can’t say more than that right now.

Tell us about your latest book…

Call me Mummy is my first book. It’s terrifying having it out in the world. (25th Feb)

Dame Lorraine Kelly said it’s ‘dark, heart breaking and totally absorbing.’
It’s about a woman desperate for a child – so much so, when she sees a child being neglected by her mother, she steals it. It’s also the story of the mother who loses that child – one branded a ‘scummy mummy’ by the media and social media trolls.

What’s coming next… 

Nasty Little Cuts is my second Viper Books novel – another psychological thriller out early 2022. It explores those small niggles, resentments and cruelties that build and build within relationships, and then in highly charged situations like Christmas can erupt into something horrific. Bridget Jones meets Jack Reacher.

Anything else you want to share?

The cats’ vet bills.

Tina was brought up in a caravan after her mother, a fairground traveller, fell pregnant by a window cleaner. She worked as a journalist/ broadcaster for thirty years, probably best known as a television critic for the BBC/ GMTV. After hours watching soaps gave her a widescreen bum, she lost weight and won Celebrity Fit Club. When not writing she works as a fitness instructor and rescues cats. Call Me Mummy is Tina’s first novel, inspired by her own unsuccessful attempts to have a child. Despite the grief of that, she hasn’t stolen one. So far.

Tina, thank you for being so honest, and entertaining, and making me laugh (mostly because of the I’ve-been-there syndrome).  Hope that the new release works out well for you.

Mark Hill is up tomorrow

Chris Curran

Today we are meeting Chris Curran and Abbie Frost, talking about her books.

Which do you like to write, series or standalones? 

I write standalones, probably because my first loves in crime fiction were standalones. Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel by the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart’s romantic thrillers and the sinister fiction of Patricia Highsmith. Even with writers like Ruth Rendell I preferred her standalones, like A Dark Adapted Eye (often written as Barbara Vine), rather than the Inspector Wexfords.

Later of course I came to appreciate the joys of a series. There’s something enormously satisfying about following a detective, professional or amateur, through a series of books. In effect you get two stories for the price of one: the immediate crime the sleuth is tasked with solving and the ongoing saga of their own complex, and often troubled, life.

However, so far, I’ve stuck with writing standalones. I did have a major police character, a family liaison officer called Loretta, in my third novel, Her Deadly Secret, and she proved so popular with readers I have considered featuring her in a series – we’ll see.

The special thing about standalones is that the reader can’t rely on anything. Even the narrator could be a killer (and I love an unreliable narrator!). Above all no character is safe, which adds an extra frisson to the whole thing.

Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?

I was asked this on a panel with two other crime writers recently and they both said they would never harm an animal in their books. Well, at the risk of alienating readers, I did actually kill a stray cat in one of my novels – a book where several people also die. The cat’s death was comparatively gentle and the animal didn’t really suffer. But, while no one seemed to have any sympathy for the humans, a couple of reviewers were outraged, not only that I let the cat die, but also that I hadn’t shown anyone feeding it!
Death and violence are givens in crime fiction and, as I said, no character is safe in my novels. So there’s probably not much I wouldn’t mention if it happens in real life. I do draw the line at graphic descriptions of violence, death or torture. I can’t bear to read that kind of thing myself and couldn’t face writing it.

What do you like to do to relax when not writing?

When we’re not under restrictions I love to go out for drinks and meals with friends and family. At the moment I have to settle for long walks with my husband. We live by the sea and there are lots of lovely places close by, so that is a real blessing.

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

I have to cheat here and mention two because there is one relatively minor character who gave me so much pleasure as he developed. He is Bill from my second novel, Her Turn to Cry. The book is set in the 1960s and Bill started as just a scary gangster threatening my main characters. As I wrote however something magical happened and he became more and more complex and human. In the end he turned out to be utterly pivotal to the resolution of the story, which was totally unplanned.

But the character I absolutely love, and the one many readers have really taken to, has to be Joe from my third Chris Curran novel, Her Deadly Secret. Although I never base my characters on real people, Joe has a lot in common with my husband. That didn’t stop me putting him through some awful traumas!

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

In my Chris Curran books my villains would never think of themselves as baddies and are certainly not serial killer type psychopaths. They’ve often killed someone (or even more than one person) almost by accident – at least in their own minds! And readers not infrequently tell me they feel sympathy for them. This certainly happened with the murderer in my most recent Chris Curran novel, All the Little Lies. Several people have told me they were really upset when they found out whodunnit. And I have to say I felt the same!

However, I think the villain in my latest book, The Guesthouse, which is published under the name Abbie Frost, is as evil as they come and has few redeeming features.

Tell us about your last book…

The Guesthouse is a dark and gothic take on the country house murder mystery. The title refers to a remote mansion, on the coast of County Mayo in Ireland, that has been turned into a B&B. Hannah visits the place when she is trying to recover from the death of her boyfriend. Along with the other guests she soon discovers that they all have some connection to the house itself – and that they are unlikely to leave alive.

What’s coming next…

I don’t want to say too much about the book I’m editing at the moment, but it is a Chris Curran title. It’s about a young actress who joins a theatre group in the depths of the Gloucestershire countryside. They are plagued by a series of practical jokes that become progressively more dangerous.
And I’ve just started what I hope will be the next Abbie Frost. It’s set in an abandoned holiday camp on the coast not far from where I live. And it’s seriously creepy!

Chris Curran/Abbie Frost was born in London, but has lived in Hastings for more than twenty years. She has worked, amongst other things, as a teacher, a lecturer, an editor and an actor.

As Chris Curran she has written five psychological suspense novels for Harper Collins. Chris is lover of gothic fiction. So, for her most recent book, she decided to try something even darker than usual. This turned out to be The Guesthouse, which was published under the name Abbie Frost.

Follow Chris/Abbie on Twitter: @FrostyAbbie
Website:  https://chriscurranauthor.com/

Thank for taking the time to talk to us, and best of luck with The Guesthouse and all future releases.

Tomorrow we’re talking to Tina Baker.

Victoria Dowd

Today Victoria Dowd shares with us her love of the Golden Age, gardening and a Guide to Murder

When did you start writing, and why?

I’ve been writing since I was a young girl. I used to love making up stories and poems. I read a lot and dreamed of being a writer. It was just so fantastic to me that all these wonderful worlds existed, and I could create anywhere or anyone I wanted. I worked as a criminal defence barrister for many years but continued to write short fiction, which I started to get published in various magazines and journals. This then led into me taking the leap into writing full length novels. When I won the Gothic Fiction prize, I started to believe I really could be a full-time writer.

Which do you like to write, series or standalones?  If you write both, what do you find the difference?

I love writing series as you have room to really develop the characters over a number of books and there’s room to explore different aspects of them that a single novel wouldn’t allow for. It’s so exciting to start a new book and come back to the characters that are already there and I know so well. My crime series follows the Smart women who I absolutely love writing and with each new novel I get the chance to revisit them and expand who they are. I’ve just finished writing book three and it’s always a little bitter-sweet when I have to put them away for a while. I can’t imagine not being able to write about them again!

What do you like to do to relax when not writing?

Like most writers, I read a lot. I’m a huge fan of Golden Age Detective fiction and recently that’s had a huge resurgence so there’s plenty of books out there which is wonderful. I also love watching all the Agatha Christie adaptations which has recently gone from being a bit of a hobby to being asked to speak at various Agatha Christie festivals about adaptations. I write a series of articles called Adapting Agatha which are on my blog. I’m also a very keen gardener. It gives me a lot of opportunity just to think or completely empty my mind! I like sea swimming as well, for similar reasons.

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

This is a hard question. I love all my main characters as they are the backbone of the series. Ursula is sharp but quite fragile in many ways; Pandora, her mother, is a very complex, difficult woman but she has as lot of layers which I like unfolding; and Aunt Charlotte is wonderfully surreal. Their characters feed off one another. We only really get to know them through their interactions with one another. But if I was absolutely forced to choose one of them, it would have to be Ursula. She’s the narrator of all the books in the series so it really is all through her lens, in her words. What I love about writing her though, is that she is a very unreliable narrator. This isn’t helped by the fact that she drinks a little too much brandy which she carries around in a hipflask secreted in a cut out section of her father’s Bible. She misses things, she perceives them in a pretty warped way sometimes so she’s a fantastic tool for misdirection. The reader trusts her, when really they shouldn’t. She often leads them down the wrong path. She’s very bright and can be quite capable at times but then she sometimes struggles with even the most basic aspects of life. A lot of this stems from her inability to deal with grief at the loss of her father many years ago. Her response to death is one of my favourite parts of her, and in fact, the books as a whole. Murder mysteries don’t often deal with the actual impact of death. Whereas with Ursula, I can put this issue of grief and loss right at the heart of the books.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

This is slightly easier. Joy Cowdale in book 1 – The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder. She’s known by Ursula as Less, which is a shortening of Joyless. She’s the kind of annoying, self-indulgent person who talks a lot about themselves and their needs. She was actually great fun to write as I could put in all those irritating traits that I find so annoying. Unfortunately, at times I would actually find myself becoming increasing annoyed at her though.

Tell us about your last book…

My last book was The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder. It came out in May 2020 and is the first book in the Smart woman’s series. It’s also my debut crime novel. It’s a classic whodunnit updated with lots of dark humour. When a book club are snowed in at an isolated country house, the murders begin. The relationships between mother, daughter and sister are fraught from the beginning but to survive they have to try and put their differences aside. It’s been an absolutely wonderful experience having this first book published and I’ve been lucky enough to have it on a few Best Books of 2020 lists. It’s also been announced as a finalist in the People’s Book Prize which is really lovely as it’s a people’s choice award where anyone can vote.

What’s coming next…

Book 2 in the series – Body on the Island – is coming out on 23rd February. I’m really excited about this one as it follows the characters who survive the first book. They decide they actually weren’t very good at surviving so embark on a Bear Grylls’ style survival course and end up on an uninhabited island when the murders begin. It’s a little bit darker than the first one but with lots of opportunity for comedy as well. They’re not really the best characters to find themselves on a survival course! I had a lot of fun writing this one. There was also scope with this book to open up the more supernatural elements of the book that were hinted at in the first one. It’s quite a scary environment they find themselves in with lots of old folk tales and legends. These were fantastic to research.

Anything else you want to share?

Here’s the link to my book https://geni.us/smartwomanvictoria

I’ll be speaking at various festivals this year about Agatha Christie. If you’d like to read my Adapting Agatha series, here’s the link Adapting Agatha – Victoria Dowd

If you want to vote in the People’s Book Prize this is the link. THE SMART WOMAN’S GUIDE TO MURDER | Peoples Book Prize

Victoria is the author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder and the follow up book, Body on the Island. They are a dark comic take on the classic whodunnit.

She is also an award winning short story writer, winning the Gothic Fiction prize. She was runner up in The New Writer’s writer of the year award and her work has been short listed by Writers’ Forum magazine. She was also long-listed for The Willesden Herald International Short Story Competition. Her work has been published in various magazines.

After studying at Cambridge, she was a barrister for many years.

Thanks Victoria, I’m looking forward to reading the Guide, and best of luck with Body on the Island.

Tomorrow, we’re with Chris Curran