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.

Eye Contact for 99p

I was beginning to think it would never happen, but my first novel EYE CONTACT has finally had a price reduction. Part of the Amazon's Autumn Kindle Sale, the ebook is currently just 99p - a huge saving on the normal price.
And, because Kobo and iBooks seem to track and match Amazon discounts, it's just 99p on those formats too!
So if you haven't read the first book in the Harland series, this is your chance. Just click the link below...


Thursday 27 August 2015

And breathe...

Well, that was quite a bit tougher than I thought it would be! If I've been a little quiet over the last year, it's partly because I've been finding it extremely hard to complete the first draft of my new book. I know quite a few authors who sail close to (or right past) their deadlines but, up until now, I've always been okay about hitting my dates. However, in this case I didn't have a particular deadline and, until the last few months when the words started to come more quickly, I wondered if the journey would ever end.
This book is something of a departure for me. Having previously written 3 full-length novels and a novella for my Detective Harland series, I was now being asked to do something different, ideally set in London rather than Bristol. I had an idea for a standalone psychological thriller, so I started typing.

That was just over a year ago.

This week, I finally completed the first draft. I’m not sure why it took so long, or why I found it so difficult. All the books have been an effort, but this one was so much harder, and I frequently found myself hating it. Perhaps it was because I missed spending time in Bristol, or perhaps because I missed my familiar series characters. Certainly, I realised early on that I was spending an awful lot of time getting into the head of a character who I didn’t really get on with.
I discussed all this with Anya Lipska at CrimeFest earlier in the year, and she pointed out that I probably enjoyed writing the charismatic serial killer in my first two books “because he enjoys what he does”. The more I’ve thought about this, the more I’m convinced that Anya knows a thing or two.
So it's been a long and difficult road, but I’ve finally reached that exciting first milestone: a complete draft. The characters and their stories have all changed quite a lot along the way, and I know that the book will change a lot more before it sees the light of day. But at least I’ve made it this far – ninety thousand joined-up words, with a beginning, middle, and end. And, having made it this far, I can finally unload the story from my head for a while – it’s been evolving and replaying in a continuous loop for quite long enough! But as I reached the latter stages of the book, something strange happened.
As you may know, I try to write "on location" as much as possible. Last weekend, I spent the morning in Highgate, writing one of the final chapters, then moved across to South End Green, to type up some notes for another scene. At the end of the afternoon, I finally left the café where I’d been writing, and walked towards the bus stop. I actually found myself slowing, turning around and looking back towards the café, towards the path that leads up onto Hampstead Heath, towards the road where my main character lives…
…and I realised that I was really going to miss all this. It sounds silly and sentimental, particularly after all that grumbling about how difficult this book has been. And I know I'm very far from finished. I know I'll spend days and weeks on the manuscript, editing and polishing...
But the story has happened now. For me, all those events are essentially "in the past".
You know how, when you're reading a book that really involves you, and you come to the end, and it leaves a sort of gap? Well, this story has certainly involved me, and the gap it's left behind is a big one.
Of course, it’s barely been 24 hours since I finished. I know I'll feel better, especially when I can enjoy a whole weekend relaxing, without spending half of it in another city. I'll be glad it's over.
And yet, I can already glimpse the sparks of new ideas, jostling for my attention. Part of me always wants to be writing. But next time around, I'm going to remember Anya's advice. Whatever I write next, I’m going to try and spend more time with a character who really enjoys what they do!

Friday 22 May 2015

CrimeFest XV

So, CrimeFest was good. And by good, I mean very good. Phenomenal. In fact, I'd only change three things:

1. In these enlightened times, there's surely no place for 9am panels on Saturday mornings. It's not the Dark Ages, though it was truly humbling to see all those brave and beautiful people who'd risen early to attend, most of them considerably more awake than some of us on the panel. Suffice to say that I've never been much of a 9am Saturday morning person, and never less so than when that Saturday follows a Friday night in the CrimeFest bar.

2. Mention of the CrimeFest bar leads me neatly onto my second point. Why did nobody stop me? I'm older than I used to be, and should really drink accordingly. In future, don't hesitate, just stage an intervention.

3. Okay, serious point now… were there fewer readers attending this year? I know that Bristol has always been popular with reviewers / bloggers / authors but I could have sworn there used to be more honest-to-goodness-readers in the audience. Perhaps we simply need to spread the word – most of the UK crime-writing community is milling around in that one hotel, and we really need readers to talk to. I watched Lee Child do about 5 circuits of the bar, before he finally found someone to latch on to. No, honestly – I did, and I have witnesses.

CrimeFest is an amazing festival, lovingly organised, and packed with brilliant people. It was great to catch up with old friends, and make new ones, to exchange recommendations then buy the books and play hunt-the-author to get them signed. Who wouldn't want a few days of that? Exactly! I'll see you there next year!

Thursday 30 April 2015

Location, Location, Location

It's not long until CrimeFest arrives in the heart of Bristol, so I thought it might be fun to compile a map of nearby locations from the D.I. Harland books.

Just follow THIS LINK to access a fully interactive map (you should even be able to use it on your phone).

The blog side-panel has also been updated to include individual maps for each story. Enjoy exploring, and my apologies if I've set part of my book in your street!

eBook Prices

I've just written a piece for The Writer's Workshop, called The future of eBook prices: a lesson from the app industry. It's aimed at writers and people from publishing, so feel free to link to it or Tweet about it. Thanks!

A Series Of Fortunate Events

I had a hugely enjoyable time celebrating World Book Night at Bristol Central Library last week. Together with fellow authors Philip Purser-Hallard and Lucienne Boyce, we discussed the process of getting into print, and hopefully helped to encourage our audience of writers.

I'm back in Bristol for CrimeFest, with runs from the 14th to the 17th of May, and I'll be doing two panels on Saturday the 16th.
Following that, I have Library talks at Hythe on the 3rd of June, and Totton on the 10th of June - please contact the libraries for ticket details.
Then it's off to the wonderful Goldsboro Books for Crime In The Court on the 25th of June. And as if that wasn't enough, I'll also be wandering around Harrogate in July. If you're at any of these events, do please come and say hello!

Monday 9 March 2015


Oh dear. I appear to have reached that terrible moment that I reach in almost everything I write - the moment when another story starts to intrude on my imagination, tempting me with its simplicity and its lack of baggage, promising me that I can do whatever I want...

It’s a problem. I don’t want to be thinking about another story, particularly one in another genre, and certainly not now, when I still have a lot to do on my current book… but even as I push those thoughts and ideas away, I worry. I worry that if I don’t explore them now, when seem to burn so bright, that they’ll somehow fade; that when I do return to them, I’ll find them diminished.

Why can’t I have my ideas in a more orderly fashion, one at a time? Writing would be so much simpler if I could.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Broken Fall

When my editor suggested that I write a shorter, ebook-only story, I really wasn't sure what would happen. Yes, I'd written short stories before, but this was different – a 20,000 word novella, roughly a quarter of a full-length novel. After a bit of time mulling over different ideas, I began making weekend trips to Bristol, researching and writing on-location, just as I do for my full-length books. It took a while to complete, but hopefully you'll enjoy reading the results.

Broken Fall features my troubled detective, Graham Harland, in his very first murder case for Bristol CID. Set a little while after the events of Knife Edge and just before Cut Out, it's an ideal entry-point to the series for new readers. It's also my first real whodunit, so I'm eager to know how many of you correctly identify the killer, and whether you do so before Harland does – contact me via @fergusmcneill on Twitter and let me know once you've read it.

You can order Broken Fall on Kindle, Apple iBooks, Kobo, or Google Play, and it's only 99p – I really hope you enjoy it.