Monday, 20 June 2016

The story behind the book - 'The Locker'

It’s not often I get inspired by a visit to the gym. I get bored easily and think of all the writing I could be doing instead. But there was one time when an idea hit me and took root. It illustrates how something seemingly insignificant will stick in the memory until days or even months later.

I’d just completed Close Quarters, the second in the Marc Portman spy thriller series, and hadn’t got anything specific in mind. It's a bit like that for me, after completing a book; suddenly the ideas cup seems horribly empty. However, I knew I wanted to try something different, to see what came out. I’ve always worked that way, switching between magazine fiction, features and books, and within the book genres themselves; from the Inspector Lucas Rocco crime series set in France (Death on the Marais, etc), to the Harry Tate spy thrillers (Red Station, etc) and the Portman series.

Anyway, here I was at the gym, opening a locker to put away my clothes, when I saw a business card on the shelf. A white one, stark against the dark interior, with a name, telephone number and address - I forget the details, but they’re irrelevant.
When I turned it over out of idle curiosity, I saw it had my name scrawled on it. Adrian.

 It was a little spooky for a second, although I knew it couldn't be addressed to me. Call me psychic.

I put it back, did my session of self-torture and went home. But what stayed with me was the sheer randomness of a piece of card with my name on it being in a locker at a public gym.

I kept thinking, what if... ? What if it wasn’t a guy’s name written on the card, but a woman’s? What if the woman - let’s call her Nancy - is the mother of a little girl named Beth. She arrives at her gym one morning to find a card lying on the bottom of her chosen locker. And it's addressed specifically to her.
Hello, Nancy.
You’re at your usual locker at Fitness Plus. The time is approx. 09.15. Your cell phone is dead, your home phone won’t answer and your daughter Beth is alone with Tiggi, her cute Polish nanny.
It will take you 18 minutes to get home. If you drive fast.
Shame. You’re already 18 minutes late...
She checks, of course, and to her horror finds her cell phone dead and the landline doesn’t answer. Worse, when she gets home there’s no sign of Beth or the nanny. But there are instructions which tell her two things: she mustn’t tell the police but she has to tell her husband, Michael.
The problem is Nancy has no way of reaching him; he’s a charity field worker somewhere in Africa or the Middle East. She recalls, however, that he’d once impressed on her one important fact: that if anything out of the ordinary ever happened, she should call a special number and mention CODE RED. This she does.
Shortly afterwards, two people arrive. One is a former British soldier and cop, Ruth Gonzales;  her colleague, Andy Vaslik, is an American, and former Department of Homeland Security agent. They are investigators with a private security contractor/insurance company called Cruxys Solutions, and they’ve come to solve the problem of Beth's kidnap and provide whatever other assistance she might need.

As they quickly discover, Nancy's husband, who is clearly fundamental to the kidnappers’ actions although they have no idea why, not only out of reach, he doesn’t seem to have a footprint: no bank account, no documentation, a seemingly invented past… and only Nancy’s word that he actually exists.

Other queries quickly begin to mount, such as why have the family moved house several times within a short period? Is the nanny, Tiggi, in on the kidnap? Who would have been close enough to know which locker Nancy might use… and how did they disable her cell phone? Most important of all, why does Michael appear not to exist?

When they discover that Nancy has been under covert surveillance from a nearby empty house, and is then subjected to an attempted snatch off the street, followed by the murder of a charity expert Ruth Gonzales has consulted, it’s soon obvious that this is no ordinary kidnap-for-ransom, and involves something much darker and deeper, with implications involving international terrorism.

And that's how THE LOCKER was born: by chance encounter with a piece of card, followed by a whole series of what ifs and maybes.

Of course, being a series writer, I was asked if this was the first of a series... and I replied, 'of course.' The second in the Gonzales & Vaslik story is called 'THE BID', which is due out next January. But that's for another time.
'The Locker' (Midnight Ink) - now available in paperback and ebook.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Book review

'Riker's Calling' by Rico Lamoureux

I rarely review books off-piste, as it were, because I'm either reviewing books sent to me by the Shots Magazine website or writing my own books - usually to a tight deadline.

However, I happened on one book in between projects, and this was 'Riker's Calling' by Rico Lamoureux. It's not a long book, but packs a lot into the pages, with investigator Jeremy Riker
finding that he has a psychopath on his tail for reasons he can't fathom. But the Spyderco Killer, as he is known, isn't interested in Riker alone; he wants to take out the people Riker knows and values, and in the most personal and coldly brutal way that he can.

Rico Lamoureux's writing has a deft touch and a nicely descriptive style alongside the fast pace. He spares some of the characterisation in preference to action, but that's not a bad thing in a story that goes from wham to bam and back again, and his main character, Riker is a likeable one to follow.

'Riker's Calling' - available for pre-order on Kindle right here.


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Writing for beginners (19)

Who do you write for?

(Taken from the chapter 'You as a Writer' in 'Write On! - the writer's help book' - Accent Press)

A subject which occasionally pops up whenever writers gather together in furtive huddles and talk about the art of putting words on paper, is ‘writing for a market’. Now, if you’re new to the business and taking your first tentative steps onto the page, this won’t mean much. You may, after all, still be wondering where the heck the market is, let alone trying to write for it.
The term simply means aiming a feature, story or book at a specific type of publication or genre, depending on readers’ interests. Thus, a short story featuring love and romance would usually find a home in women’s magazines. A non-fiction piece about cars would generally be best targeted at one of the motoring publications. (That said, depending on the slant, it might be of interest to other publications where an element of the same story – perhaps the personal experience of the writer – could make it more of a general-interest piece).
With any market, the most important thing is to study the available guidelines. These will tell you how many words to use, the style to follow, the ‘do nots’ as well as the ‘dos’, and how to submit your piece. Ignore these basic requirements and the editor will likely have an attack of the vapours and set fire to your manuscript.
It makes absolute sense for anyone trying to make a commercial go of their work to get used to writing for a market in this way. They may, after a while and a few acceptances under their belt, find themselves being commissioned to write more, ending up concentrating on a specialised market for which they feel comfortable writing.
Penning novels is somewhat less precise. Like pregnant elephants, they go through a lengthy gestation period accompanied by a lot of fuss and noise. They take longer to 'sell', edit and publish, and may finally hit the bookshops anything up to two years after acceptance. Many an eager writer has taken note of what is currently ‘hot’ in the best-seller lists and rushed home to feverishly thrash out their version, convinced of sure-fire success, only to find at the end that tastes have moved on and everyone is going bananas about something else entirely.
It’s essential for any writer to keep an eye on what is selling, whether producing a 1,000-word story or a book of 90,000 words. Choose a topic which hasn’t been in vogue since papyrus was the big thing, and you’re wasting your time. Magazines cannot use them, agents can’t place them with publishers and bookshops may have a problem categorising them. And in this compartmentalised and fickle world, if something can’t easily be labelled, it may be all too quickly ignored.
In effect, these are basic market rules that are as old as the hills. As Confucius might have said: ‘He who loads barrow with stuff nobody wants is dumb bunny’.
The only way round this is to study your target market. Haunt the racks in newsagents, browse the bookshops and see what's in vogue. Find out what keeps on selling and you stand a better chance of success than simply pitching any old story into an envelope and hoping for the best.
There was a time eons ago, when I used to write stories I knew my mother would like. (Not as weird as you might think because my mother used to inhale magazine fiction, and it seemed like a good idea at the time). It was also a great training ground. I didn't run my stories past her first, as early experience showed it merely led to doting smiles and being told to finish my tea. But I knew what subjects she liked and sometimes used her as a sounding board - until she turned to reading hospital stories, in which I had no interest whatsoever. It's a tough call when your own mother loses interest in your work... but character-forming.
This leads neatly onto an important proviso: be wary of writing anything that goes against your instincts, or about which you don’t feel comfortable. If romantic stories are what float your boat, then why not stick with what you know? If you prefer reading crime or fantasy novels, and are comfortable with the terminology, pace and style, then go with them.
The easier it is to begin writing, the easier it will be to finish.
Along with studying a market or genre, you first have to please yourself. If you aren’t happy with what you’ve written, ten pence to a pound of old kippers, neither will the agent, editor or reader. You should enjoy what you’re putting on the page, because if you like it, it will have a more genuine, fresher feel than if writing about something in which you have no real interest. Equally, creating characters you don’t really like will come across as cardboard cut-outs, lacking depth. (They may be thoroughly unlikable to the reader, but that's a different thing altogether).
They say it’s a poor comic who laughs at his own jokes. I take the view that if I’m not pleased with what I’ve written, why should anyone else be? Yes, most of us will feel at some stage that we could have structured something better, or approached a story from a different viewpoint and so on. But that’s the learning process, and how we become better writers.  

·       What market do you really want to write for? Having a focus is a huge help.
·       Writing against your instincts can be frustrating and off-putting.
·       Try to be pleased with what you have written.
·       Have fun with your writing – suffering for your art is an urban myth.



Tuesday, 7 June 2016

A sneak look at the latest new cover

Like most authors, I look forward with equal parts enthusiasm and trepidation to seeing what my next book cover image will look like. In this case, it's 'The Bid' (Midnight Ink), coming out in January 2017.

This is book No 2 in the Gonzales & Vaslik series (following on from 'The Locker'), and here is the cover blurb to give a taste of what's inside:

The prisoner who wakes up in a box miles from anywhere.

The jailer who doesn’t question his job.

The shipment of drones stolen in transit from a cargo hub.

The kidnappers planning a devastating attack on US soil.

When James Chadwick, a drone expert, disappears suddenly, Cruxys Solutions investigators Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik are assigned to track his last movements. With few clues to go on, the hunt moves from London to New York, gathering speed as they close in on a horrifying plan to kill the US President and inflict total damage on a US Air Force base.

And time is running out...

Not to influence you in any way, I have to say I love the cover image, which is telling as far as the plot goes, but sufficiently sinister in tone and colour to be very eye-catching. I think the Midnight Ink designers have done a great job here on my behalf.

'The Bid' - Out in paperback and ebook on the 8th January 2017 - see Amazon