Saturday, 2 December 2017

True Liar

In between finishing a draft of the latest novel, and planning two more, I took some time out to write a new short story. It features Detective Harland (albeit briefly) and I can't deny that it was fun to spend some time in the company of familiar characters once more.
For a limited time, the e-book is available free. Simply CLICK HERE and select TRUE LIAR to get your copy.
I really hope you enjoy it, and do please let me know what you think.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Twin Peaks

From the moment I heard that Showtime was reviving Twin Peaks, I had mixed feelings. Like any return to a beloved story, I wanted it to be great but I dreaded it being bad. News that David Lynch would be directing the whole show raised my hopes, and made me more anxious. I waited until all 18 episodes had aired, so I could binge through the whole series and, just before I started watching, I asked a friend what he’d thought of the show. He sent me a text message that read: It’s bloomin’ hard work, but I think it pays off. Episode 8 is a proper WTF! So at least I knew it wasn’t going to be a complete disaster. Armed with that knowledge, I began watching.

(fair warning: spoilers)

The first couple of episodes did seem slow. My friend had said that, where the original Twin Peaks series felt as though it needed more David Lynch, this series almost felt as though it had too much.
We’ve all seen what can happen when a director becomes too revered to be questioned. Ridley Scott and George Lucas did their finest work when they had to fight for their creative vision, but with nobody daring to challenge them, their later films suffered. Was it happening again?
I found myself becoming unhappy with the pacing – I was so eager for the story and wanted more things to happen, but I started to worry that there wouldn’t be enough time (even in 18 episodes) because of those long lingering shots that seemed unable to cut away. The Dougie character was particularly frustrating, as I was impatient for him to snap back into classic FBI Cooper.
Episode 3 did encourage me a bit – the combination of editing and sound design, when Cooper falls onto the island and goes inside to meet the faceless woman, was wonderfully eerie and strange.
But there was still a lot that I didn’t really like. With so many new characters, and plotlines snaking off at tangents, I began to realize that the series would leave me with a host of unresolved issues. And seeing beloved familiar faces now ravaged by age was also rather gloomy – less so with Kyle Maclachlan, though I suppose seeing more of him on screen in the intervening years may have softened that particular blow. The Horne brothers seemed so old, and not very relevant, while the bands at The Roadhouse burned away precious moments of screen-time.

And then I hit episode 8, which was one of the most unsettling things I’ve seen on TV since… well, since Leland killed Madeline all those years ago. The bearded men were a stroke of genius – from that first glimpse of one sitting in the prison cell, they completely freaked me out. The explosion in New Mexico and the intense black-and-white sequence that followed left me wondering how to process what I’d just watched.

In the end, however, it was seeing James Hurley singing at The Roadhouse… that’s when I began to figure out what was troubling me. This new Twin Peaks wasn’t comparing unfavourably with old Twin Peaks. It just wasn’t quite as good as the rose-tinted Twin Peaks in my memory.
In my memory, I’ve edited the series considerably. I’ve fast-forwarded through some of the slower sequences, and I’ve weeded out agoraphobic Harold Smith with his orchids. I’ve completely erased James and his angsty sing-songs, and that daft sabbatical with the wealthy wife and her psychotic chauffeur.

So I kept going, all the way to the finale. And when the real Cooper woke up so perfectly, the Dougie character finally made sense to me. Over all those weeks, he’d raised the stakes, exerting a gentle yet powerful influence on other characters’ lives (especially his family) and in the process making me care deeply about them. I found myself leaning forward in my seat, silently begging David Lynch for a happy ending… and I got one.

Well, kind of.

I also got what felt like the opening to another season of new Twin Peaks. I wasn’t sure about Laura’s plastic-wrapped body disappearing from the shore, and the thought of undoing so much story felt risky. Bringing Laura home to her mother (and, presumably father?) could have been very powerful but I knew it was the final episode… I’d prefer to have seen that at the start of another series. I found myself resenting the cliff-hanger, as well as being unsettled by the deliberate difference in Cooper once he’d crossed over.

But, when I think about it honestly, that’s all just so Twin Peaks.

I know people will disagree with my thoughts on the show, but that’s all these are: my thoughts. Am I glad I watched it? Definitely. There were so many moments that made it all feel worthwhile, even if there were times when I wanted it to get there faster. Like other David Lynch projects, I found it properly disturbing and, like other Twin Peaks projects, I learned a lot but came away with many unanswered questions. But I’m glad I watched it. I’m glad we got to say farewell to Albert, the Log Lady, and Carl. And who knows… maybe in a few years, I’ll look back with my rose-tinted glasses and remember this latest series as being the best Twin Peaks of all.
  

Monday, 13 February 2017

The End. Again.

Today's a day of mixed emotions. I'm simultaneously relieved and nervous, excited and weary... because, late last night, I completed the first draft of another book. I've been working on this story (a historical thriller, set in Switzerland and America during the 40s and 50s) for almost a year now, and it's been a lot of fun to write... even if I didn't have the ending fully worked out until a few weeks ago!
So now I have a draft manuscript, littered with mistakes and notes about things I have to change. Normally, I'd take a few weeks off, then go back to it and start reworking the text. However, this time, I have a dilemma: there's another manuscript!
Some of you may know that I completed the first draft of a psychological thriller last year, a contemporary story set in London. As I said at the time, I found that book particularly difficult to write and, rather than continuing straight on into a cycle of edits and redrafts, I decided to take a break from it, and write something else. The idea was to give myself some distance, some perspective, so that I could return to it with fresh eyes...
So, now I'm faced with an unusual choice. Which book do I work on? Both stories are important to me, but I'm really not sure which one I should take forward first...
That was the thought that started nagging at me when I woke this morning. And then it occurred to me that maybe this isn't the moment to choose. Maybe I'll take a week or two away from both of them, and immerse myself in some different stories for a while. My pile of books-to-be-read is getting out of control and, after all those late nights and uncertain endings, I think I've earned some quality reading time!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Feedback

It's like that moment in a suspense film. You know, the bit where the tone of the music subtly shifts to a minor key. The main character may still be oblivious to it, but we know that something's about to happen.
Anyway, that's the feeling - a first flicker of excitement or a dawning sense of dread, and no way to know which it's going to be. Yes, it's time to get some feedback on the book I'm writing.
This one's quite a departure for me - historical thriller, rather than contemporary crime - but still a very personal story with plenty of murder and intrigue. I should point out that it's not actually finished - not yet - but most of the story is now in place, and I want to understand how readers will relate to the characters and the structure of the narrative. Unfortunately, the only way to achieve this is to let people read it.
It may seem strange to spend months and months writing something, and then be reluctant for others to read it, but this always seems to be the way with new stories. It's like sending a tiny loved-one off to their first day of school, and hoping that they will make friends and do well for themselves.
Hence that strange mix of feelings - excitement and dread - and an agonising wait for feedback. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Update

I've just come back from CrimeFest 2016 - the best CrimeFest ever, in my opinion - and, after a weekend of catching up with people in Bristol, I thought I should post a brief update here on my blog as well.
As I've probably mentioned before, I spent the last year or so writing a new standalone novel - a psychological thriller, set around Hampstead Heath and Highgate. I've now completed a couple of drafts, though it will still need some more time and thought before it's ready for editing. However, in the meantime, a couple of other projects have cropped up and distracted me. One in particular has been niggling at me for over a year now, and I've reached the point where I just need to get the new story on paper. Hopefully, once that's done, I can go back to the psychological thriller with a clearer head. Apologies for the delay!
Anyway, that's quite enough about me. How are you..?

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Bridge III

I resent the producers of The Bridge. Not because of what they did to one of my favourite characters at the end of season 2. No, I resent them because they've made me care. They've made me care so much, that I've violated my own sacred rule about not watching episodes of a crime series until all the episodes are available to stream online.
And now I'm regretting it. I have to wait a whole week for the next instalment, even though my head is buzzing with the story right now. I don't ev
en know if this series will be any good - I may have committed to something that will ultimately disappoint, and I won't know until it's too late...

...because for me, it's already too late. Last night's double bill dragged me straight back into The Bridge universe and rekindled all of the emotional investment I felt through the previous two series. So now I find myself resenting the producers, but there's a way they can make it up to me... if this series is anything like as good as the ones that came before it, all will be forgiven!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Best Seat In The House

People ask why fictional detectives are so often dysfunctional figures. Why can't we have nice, well-adjusted detectives, with happy families and settled lives?
And the answer? Because that would be… ordinary. And if something is too ordinary, it becomes boring. The strength of crime fiction is that it allows us to escape the mundane and go to extremes, seeing people at their worst and their best. So it shouldn't surprise us that fictional detectives are often broken, or haunted, or crippled by a tragic past… anything to make them more interesting.
But I like to go further.
Why should we spend all our time with the detective when we can spend some quality time with the villain? After all, "police procedural" stories have been done so well, and so often… why not focus more on a wildcard character? Why not focus on the murderer?
As soon as we take the killer's viewpoint, everything changes. The normal rules no longer apply – anything can happen when your character isn't bound by the law, or by rational thinking.
Anything can happen.
I like that as a starting point for a story.
But of course, writing from the villain's perspective has its own challenges. Most of us (I hope!) would find it difficult to empathise with a mindless thug or a sadistic monster; if the killer is entirely evil, we're unlikely to have anything in common with them. And without some common ground, it's difficult to empathise.
Perhaps that's why I prefer more complex characters – characters that you can't immediately gauge, who surprise you, who make you feel things you might not expect to feel. I want you to like my villains (well, some of them, some of the time) because that allows you to get closer to them. I want to let you get right inside their heads… because that’s the best seat in the house.
Yes, it’s dramatic when we read about a character doing something shocking. But I believe our experience is much more intense when we understand, when we’re so close to the action that we can see the world through the killer’s eyes.

So if you find yourself liking a villain, or feeling sympathy towards them, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, that’s the author’s intention. Because sometimes, that’s just where you need to be, to best experience the story.