Today it’s my great pleasure to welcome fellow author Lorraine Mace as a guest on the blog. Like me Lorraine writes mainly for adults but she has written for children as well. She’s best known for her series of crime novels – the latest of which is Rage and Retribution which you can find out more about below.
So, welcome, Lorraine, it’s lovely to have you here.
Can we start with why and how you became a writer?
I left the UK in 1979 to live in South Africa. At that time the only way to stay in contact with the family and friends I’d left behind was via letter – the old-fashioned hand written and snail-mail posted kind. I discovered that I had a knack for descriptive pieces, being able to put the recipients into my day to day life.
Twenty years later, when I moved to France, I decided I would turn to fiction and wrote some terrible short stories which were, quite rightly, rejected by every magazine I’d targeted. However, it was at this point that I realised how much I wanted to write, so knuckled down to learn the basics. Fortunately, this worked out well for me.
What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?
My fiction falls into two genres and they couldn’t be more different. I write for children aged 8 to 12, but I am also the author of a hard-boiled crime series.
How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about your latest.
I have had two children’s novels published, but I now concentrate mainly on crime. I have four published by Headline featuring D.I. Paolo Sterling: Retriever of Souls, Children in Chains, Injections of Insanity and the latest, Rage and Retribution. Each of the books has a dual narrative. D.I. Sterling is the main character, but I have some chapters from the perspective of the villain. In Rage and Retribution I have used diary-type blog entries where the antagonist glories in dealing out punishment to those in need of correction. For a change, all the victims are male.
Tell us about a typical writing day?
I write for two hours in the morning and then have to move on to my day job, which is working with other authors on their manuscripts.
Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?
Not fully. I always know the crime, the perpetrator, the reason behind the crimes, and how the novel will end. I have a rough idea about the middle section but am always amazed at the characters who arrive unbidden, but turn out to be essential to the plot.
What comes first for you, characters or plot?
I suppose it’s a mixture of both. I tend to get the idea for the plot at the same time as the antagonist comes to my mind. I can’t ever remember getting one without the other.
Where do you get your ideas?
I think I just have a twisted and slightly evil mind!
Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created? Tell us about them if you have – or is it too hard to pick just one?
It has to be Paolo Sterling. He’s a good man with lots of flaws simply trying to do his best in a very sick world. I have put him in some awful situations with regard to his family and romantic life. It seems the more I throw at him, the stronger he becomes.
Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?
I have had some fabulous reviews about the series. I’ll put a few comments below. I hope it doesn’t come across as too boastful.
The Northern Witch’s Book Blog – great British crime drama: I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I can’t wait to start the next book in the series!
Books and Emma – excellent police procedural: This book kept me hooked and at one point I was convinced up to 4 different people could be the killer!
Feed the Crime – could not put my kindle down while reading this! It isn’t very often that I just know I’m gonna fall in love with a series halfway through the first book!
K T Robson Reviews – kept me guessing right until the end: Every time I thought I had it figured out, another spanner was thrown in the works and all my amateur detective work was thrown out the window!
Wow! What great comments – and not boastful at all to share them – you should be loud and proud 🙂
Thank you so much for dropping in today, Lorraine, and for telling us about yourself and your books.
And here’s more about Lorraine’s latest book:
The latest in the series is Rage and Retribution. This is the fourth instalment in Lorraine Mace’s dark, gritty and shocking series featuring D.I. Paolo Sterling – perfect for fans of Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen and Mo Hayder.
Can two wrongs ever make a right?
A man is found by the side of a canal, comatose and brutally attacked.
It quickly becomes clear that someone is abducting men and subjecting them to horrific acts of torture. After three days they’re released, fighting for their lives and refusing to speak.
A councillor is accused of fraud.
Montague Mason is an upstanding member of the community. That is until he’s publicly accused of stealing the youth centre’s funds – an accusation that threatens to rip through the very heart of the community and expose his best-kept secret. But how far would he go to protect himself?
Two cases. One deadly answer.
As the two cases collide, D.I. Paolo Sterling finds he has more questions than answers. And, when torture escalates to murder, he suddenly finds himself in a race against time to find the killer and put an end to the depravity – once and for all.
‘A dark, cleverly plotted tale . . . I was gripped from the opening scene and raced through the book to its final, shocking ending. Crime writing at its very best‘ Sheila Bugler
‘Gritty, topical, sometimes lacerating, but always enthralling. A truly compulsive read‘ Abbie Frost
When not working on her best-selling D.I. Sterling series, Lorraine Mace is engaged in many writing-related activities. She is a columnist for both Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum and is head judge for Writers’ Forum monthly fiction competitions. A tutor for Writers Bureau, she also runs her own private critique and author mentoring service.
Hello and thank you for coming along to event number twelve at the Virtual Book Festival. Estate agents put a huge amount of importance on location when it comes to selling houses – and for writers, too, getting the setting right can be crucial to a book’s success. Today it’s the turn of JJ Marsh author of the fabulous Beatrice Stubbs crime novels which are set in various locations around Europe and she’s brilliant at conveying the settings. So I’m delighted she’s going to share her thoughts on the use of location when writing fiction. And we also have an extract from her latest novel Honey Trap which is set in Italy.
Welcome, Jill – and over to you.
The Little Differences
“You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences.” (Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction)
Authors such as Monique Roffey (Trinidad), Stef Penny (Canada), Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana), Barbara Kingsolver (Mexico) and John Steinbeck (Monterey, California) have all transported me to places I’ve never seen but can vividly imagine, thanks to their descriptive skills.
Nothing makes me happier than when a reader tells me they’ve been transported to the location by one of my books. A sense of place is integral to my work and I consider the city, village or countryside to be a character in its own right and worthy of as much attention as any other.
Creating a sense of place requires a variety of elements: sensory detail, geographical, architectural and meteorological notes; observations on cultural habits and perhaps even upending some clichés. But the primary consideration must be perception.
Think about your last holiday. What did you notice, photograph and remember to tell your friends? I’ll bet it was all those little differences that aren’t the same at home.
What matters is deviation from the norm. The setting for The Beatrice Stubbs Series is Europe, varied enough to be interesting, close enough to be familiar. And that is the key word – familiar. To whom?
Let’s start with the character. For example, we’re in the city of Naples. A tourist is likely to exclaim at the chaos of traffic, the plethora of Vespas, the strength of the coffee and the constant noise of the cobbled, crowded streets.
Our local man sees all that as background. He’s much more likely to notice his usual route blocked due to a political demonstration or the looming clouds over Vesuvius suggesting a storm.
Now turn this point-of-view into a recently arrived immigrant. Some elements will delight and others dismay in comparison to what she knows. Does the volume of everyday conversation reassure or alarm? Depending on where this person is from, trying to cross the road may seem terrifying or surprisingly ordered.
How do we experience a new environment? Via our senses and comparative memories. In many European languages, the question word people use to elicit subjective description is ‘How?’ – Comment, Wie, Como, Hogyan, etc. In English, we ask ‘What was it like?’ In other words, please compare it to something I understand.
Sensory detail can wield immense suggestive power, particularly in combination. Taste and smell, texture and sound can all equal the overworked first choice of descriptive passages: sight.
A walk along Porto’s River Douro is a feast for the eyes. Washing flapping from wrought-iron balconies, crumbling façades the colour of sponge cake, the retro-style wooden trams and shimmering water reflecting the masts of the distinctive black barcos.
But take a deep breath. Absorb the details. There’s a peixeira (fishwife) selling pungent salt cod while humming along to the fado from the nearby café. Hop on the tram and run your fingers over the cracked leather seats. Leave the trundling vehicle at Foz, take your shoes off and press your toes into the sand till you find a beachside bar with a free deckchair. Enjoy a glass of white port and a plate of grilled sardines while you inhale ocean spray from under a striped umbrella.
Smooth not lumpy
That chunk of description above is all very well in terms of employing all the senses, but where’s the story? Where’s the assassin with his mirrored sunglasses? Or rippling chested romantic hero bounding across the dunes? Or massive shark leaping out of the waves to consume you and your sardines?
Anyone who’s ever listened to a story or anecdote, whether round a fire, tucked up in bed or with a gang of mates in the pub, knows the formula of scene-setting. And it’s not just English. Every European language I’ve attempted to learn has at least two forms of past tense: what was happening (set the scene) and what happened (action).
SCENE SETTING: The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the breeze was ruffling Anastasia’s blonde locks as she rushed to the creek, desperate for cool water against her sunburnt skin.
ACTION: She slipped off her dress and stood on tiptoes to dive into the pool. A crashing noise startled her from the undergrowth. A Martian burst from the tree-line, tentacles akimbo, its seven eyes focused on her slight form.
Description doesn’t just belong in Scene Setting, it should play a part in Action. Weave in your perception, sensual nuances, weather, environment and atmosphere into everything, but make it matter. Use detail – not flowers but daffodils. Not birds but ravens. Plant that wobbly plank in the early chapters and bring it back to trip your axe-murderer when you change into fifth gear.
SCENE SETTING: Sun beat through the palms and parrots shrieked like cheerleaders as Anastasia ran for the creek. Sweat ran down her temples and her blonde locks dampened into honey-coloured curls, a light breeze encouraging her to sprint the last five metres. She focused on the limpid turquoise pool ahead, craving its cool green relief and the balm it offered to her rosy skin.
ACTION: On her favourite smooth stone, she peeled off her dress and stood on tiptoes. Nothing could stop her now. She bent her knees and raised her arms to the point of an arrow, preparing to dive. Just as she drew her in-breath, the foliage behind her burst into life. Both impossible and recognisable, a shape emerged. Seven matt-black eyes fixed on her slight form, its tentacles vibrating with unearthly energy and a sulphurous stench emanated from its suppurating flesh. What else could it be? The last surviving Martian.
This is where working with other writers opens your eyes. Our lovely hostess, Anne, noted on an early draft of my first novel that my characters descended into a crypt, lit by wall scones. As opposed to wall sconces. Apart from such oafish examples of my clumsiness, my mentors and editors have saved me countless times if standards slip.
One element is finding new ways to circumvent the dull, bland adjectives of ‘hot’, ‘dark’, ‘tasty’, ‘disgusting’, ‘smooth’ for something less expected. My Triskele colleague Liza Perrat (Queen of Descriptive Language) told me off for lazy writing. “The sky darkened ominously? – not good enough. What colours? What did it remind you of?” The reworked line developed into ‘Grey, yellow and violet clouds – the colours of a bruise – obscured the white tip of the mountain.’ Liza’s insistence on raising basic to beautiful is a lesson I won’t forget.
It’s not easy to find new way of avoiding natural collocations such as ‘heavy rain’, ‘imposing architecture’, ‘rolling hills’ because that’s our shorthand in conversation and the fast food of journalism. Writers need to work harder, winkling out the detail which means something to the character. Raindrops on metal? An unpleasant recollection of the refuge at the border or a happy memory of that saucy weekend in a caravan?
The Little Big Things
Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue between two hit-men is superbly judged. They are who they are, they do what they do, but a glimpse of another culture holds them both in thrall. There’s another world out there and the safest observation point is from a story.
Expressive touches that transport a reader come from many sources but I’d argue the key elements are creative use of detail coupled with your character’s view of the world. Only from details do we – as readers and adventurers – form the big picture.
Anne: Thank you so much Jill. What a fascinating insight into location and all the nuances that go with it.
Below is an extract from Jill’s latest novel along with an online link for buying the book and some more information about Jill.
From the back cover:
“Chaos or order is simply a matter of taste”
A half truth is a whole lie
Ecco, the world-famous Michelin-starred restaurant in Naples, has a problem. A chef is dead and there’s a spy in the kitchen, selling their secrets to competitors. What they need is a food-loving detective to go undercover. Isabella Lopez knows just the person.
Over Holy Week in Italy, Beatrice Stubbs takes on her first paid job as a private investigator, accompanied by family and friends. Posing as a wannabe pastry chef, her job is to hook the worm out of the apple.
Meanwhile, her men folk explore the city, the volcano and the ruins of Pompeii, followed by a man in a black beret. Who or what does he want?
At the restaurant, kitchen staff are scared and mistrustful, the head chef is explosive and Beatrice’s culinary skills lack finesse. The pressure is on. She sets a trap for the mole before anyone else gets killed.
The Neapolitan family network and business links grow increasingly tangled, dragging in everyone Beatrice loves. This catch is bigger than she thought and she can’t handle it alone. Has PI Stubbs bitten off more than she can chew?
‘I thoroughly enjoyed Jill Marsh’s presentation of a hot and flustered Beatrice Stubbs amidst Italian pots, pans and flans, who at the flick of a whisk, manages to regain her cool and resolve a tricky Neapolitan intrigue and murder.’ – Janys Hyde, owner at Creative Retreats, Italy
A thrilling career change for Beatrice Stubbs amidst the chaos, beauty and gastronomy of historical Naples. – Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel Series
Extract from Honey Trap
The speedboat bounced across the waves, jolting the passengers perched on the plastic benches. Adrian found the spray and speed exhilarating, as did Luke, but Matthew’s posture remained stiff, as did his smile. The leathery boatman reached out a muscular forearm to assist them as they clambered onto the quay.
Adrian spotted the subtle transfer of Euros as Matthew shook their pilot’s hand. They all waved goodbye and gazed up at the colourful peak of Capri. The weather was warm enough to turn pale British skin pink, clusters of purple heather and yellow broom seemed to erupt from each corner and the cheerful chatter of the quayside lifted everyone’s spirits. Too romantic for words. Adrian was glad he’d re-watched The Talented Mr Ripley before leaving London. Now he knew exactly what to expect.
Luke ran ahead up the steep narrow street, pointing out ice-cream shops, souvenirs and on every other doorstep, reclining cats. Basil, oregano, thyme and marjoram grew on most windowsills, adding a herbal note to the lemon-scented air. They strolled uphill, snapping pictures of one photogenic panorama after another: small coves changing colour with each wave and cascading terraced gardens. On the winding streets, tiny one-person utility vehicles carried suitcases, their drivers hooting to clear a path between the tourists. Of those there were plenty. Adrian guessed the nationality by dress sense before he could even hear the accents. He took a decision to stop being judgemental and admire the beauty of this little island with its celebrated history.
Luke’s energy took him further ahead than Adrian deemed comfortable, while Matthew’s slow progress stretched the distance between them to a worrying degree. Adrian caught Matthew’s eye, indicated Luke and made the motion of a grabbing claw to indicate he’d catch the boy. The ex-professor rested against a wall and nodded his permission. Ducking groups of tourists dawdling up the congested little street and taking selfies, Adrian loped after the six-year-old, scanning both sides for a small blond head. With a surprising sense of relief, he spotted Luke watching a street vendor waving beribboned sticks to attract young eyes. Right behind him stood an older man in a black beret, equally absorbed in the display.
Adrian drew Luke away with a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Let’s stick together. Your granddad isn’t as fast as you and we shouldn’t spilt up. Now I’m not sure what you think, but I wonder if it’s too early for an ice-cream?”
Writer, journalist, teacher, actor, director and cultural trainer, Jill has lived and worked all over Europe. Now based in Switzerland, Jill is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs Series, a founder member of Triskele Books, co-editor of Swiss literary hub The Woolf and reviews for Bookmuse.
You can connect with Jill online at the links below:
Hello and welcome to the first item in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival programme which is scheduled to run throughout July and August bringing you interviews with authors, book bloggers and publishing professionals as well as book extracts and, writing related features. You can read more about the thinking behind this festival here.
Thanks for coming along to today’s event. Enjoy!
Today, I’m delighted to welcome crime fiction author Helen Forbes to the festival.
Hello, Helen. So, let’s get started with me asking you how and why you became a writer?
An interest in Highland and Island culture, and particularly the islands of St Kilda, led me to do some research while I was studying law as a mature student in Edinburgh. I was struck by the derogatory way in which the islanders were portrayed by historical authors that had visited St Kilda, and I decided I wanted to write a novel written from the perspective of the islanders, to try and portray the people and their life in a more balanced way. I had begun to spend more time in the Outer Hebrides, where I have family connections, and I decided to write a novel with two parts, the first set in modern day North Uist and the second set in 18th century St Kilda. I started writing, using it as a welcome break from studying. I eventually moved to North Uist, and continued writing the novel on my old Amstrad, with no word count, until I had a novel of enormous proportions. I didn’t have any success in getting it published. One publisher asked to read it, and it was so long, I had to send it in two parcels. I never heard back from him. He’s probably still reading it now.
Anne: So you might hear from him soon 🙂
What sort of books do you write and what are the titles of those you’ve published so far?
After leaving North Uist, I started to write short stories while attending writers’ groups in Edinburgh and Fife. Someone commented that one of my stories would make a good novel. I started to develop the idea, and decided to write a crime novel with the short story as the prologue. It’s a police procedural called In the Shadow of the Hill’, featuring DS Joe Galbraith. It’s set in Inverness and Harris. I then wrote a sequel called Madness Lies, which is set in Inverness and North Uist. Both of those novels are published. I then wrote a third crime novel, a standalone psychological thriller called Deception, which is currently with my agent.
Anne: Having enjoyed your first two novels so much, I do hope it’s not too long before Deception is published.
Tell us about a typical writing day? (Do you have a writing routine, is it planned in advance, is it strictly adhered to).
I don’t have a particular routine; I write whenever I can get the spare time, which is usually in the evening. If I have a free day, my preference is to write in the morning and the evening, having a break in the afternoon. I really enjoy writing, so it never seems like a chore, and I would love to have more time to do it. Of course there are times when the writing doesn’t flow, but I use that time to edit, and that seems to work for me.
Anne: Yes, it can be tricky juggling a day job and writing. But that’s great that you don’t find writing to be chore.
Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?
My first two novels were pretty much unplanned. I just started writing and kept on going, plotting in my head as I went along, and spending a lot of time tinkering and changing things. This approach didn’t really work with Madness Lies, as I found myself going down dead-ends and having to delete sub-plots and big chunks of writing. I decided there must be a better way, so I tried plotting Deception before I started writing. It didn’t work. I found I couldn’t plot unless I was writing, so I tried to be very strict with myself at the start of each day, going over what I’d written the day before, to avoid dead-ends. This worked better for me. I would love to be able to plot in detail in advance, but I don’t think it’s for me.
Anne: I’m not much of a planner either I must admit and you’re right it can lead to pitfalls. But you have to do what works for you.
What are you working on currently?
Well, that enormous first novel of mine has gone through various incarnations, but it is now two standalone, vaguely linked, novels. I updated and completed the North Uist novel some months ago and it is now with my agent. I am working on the St Kilda novel just now, and hope to have completed it in the next few weeks.
Oh, interesting, can you tell us a bit more?
It’s called From the Edge, and is based on fact and set in the early 18th century, a time of great change for the St Kildan people. The population was decimated by a smallpox outbreak, and people were brought in from other islands to try and build a community. A few years later, just as the community was settling down again, a prisoner arrived on St Kilda. She was Lady Grange, the wife of an Edinburgh judge and politician. Her husband arranged her removal from Edinburgh and she was kept on St Kilda for seven years. The story begins with Lady Grange’s arrival, but the main character is Mairi, the daughter of the island officer, and one of the few youngsters to survive the smallpox. When Mairi fears for the safety of her new-born child, at a time when island infants are dying of tetanus, she takes off to a lonely glen where she is forced to remember and confront the island’s troubled past and her own mistakes.
Anne: Sounds intriguing
And finally, have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created?
That’s a difficult question. I like most of my main characters, but I do have a soft spot for DS Joe Galbraith. He’s a bit of an introvert and probably suffers from imposter syndrome, despite being a fine detective. I can identify with both those traits. I really enjoyed developing his character in both novels. I’m also rather fond of Sam Murray, a homeless beggar with a sad past and a very difficult life in Deception. I won’t say too much about him, but hopefully he’ll be introduced to readers one of these days.
Anne: Yes, I can understand why you’d have a soft spot for DS Galbraith. And, thank you Helen for taking part in the festival and for sharing some fascinating information about your books and your writing life.
And below we have an extract from the first of the Galbraith novels
Extract from In the Shadow of the Hill
Job. A wee word, but such a big deal. His pals thought he was nuts. Half five in the morning? What sort of time was that to start work? Didn’t bother him; he’d always been an early riser. And he was finished at one o’clock. Could do whatever he liked then. Could even go back to sleep. Not that he would; not on a day like this. Mountain bike in the back of the van, and he’d head across the bridge, try the black trail at Learnie. His mother’s frown would follow him all the way, and her muttering. That biking nonsense would be the death of him. Look at Chrissie Martin’s brother’s wife’s cousin. Broke his neck falling off a bike. Time he was giving that nonsense up, now that he had a job and a uniform.
A job. A uniform. The pride on his mother’s face. A massive fry-up this morning and a gallon of sweet tea. How come she didn’t know that he didn’t take sugar in his tea? Didn’t even like tea that much, and he could still taste the bacon grease coating his tongue. Ach, she’d not be getting up every morning before five o’clock; that was a certainty. But she’d be waiting for him at one o’clock today; waiting at the window with that smile, and more tea.
Maybe he wouldn’t tell her what round he’d been given. He’d never hear the end of it. Her wee boy delivering mail Down The Ferry? What about Chrissie Martin’s son’s girlfriend’s neighbour? Mugged in broad daylight. And he wasn’t even properly Down The Ferry; he was three streets away. Talking to his mother on his fancy new mobile telephone when two of those neddy boys came and took it off him. Best to stay away from that side of the town.
Aye, Mum. He’d tell her he’d got one of those new schemes that kept appearing on the outskirts of the City of Inverness. City? Whenever his mother read that, usually on every front page of every local paper, it made her laugh. They could build as many new housing schemes as they liked, she would say, but Inverness would never be more than a big village.
Ach, it was fine Down The Ferry. Not that different from anywhere else, really. Just people getting on with their lives; three mothers pushing pushchairs, a boy and his staffie, an old lady with shopping bags, and a mobile mechanic bashing a car wheel with a hammer. Must be too early for riots and muggings.
These stairs were tiring, though. Three blocks of flats; twenty-four flats in each block; one block down, two to go. A row of birds were singing on the roof of the derelict building opposite the middle block. Their melody made him smile as he pushed the door open, and turned.
No. This couldn’t be. No way. Backing towards the door, shaking his head as the hot sweet tea, the greasy bacon, the half-cooked sausages, the soft fried eggs rushed back up his gullet and splattered across the floor.
(extract copyright Helen Forbes)
From the back cover:
An elderly woman is found battered to death in the common stairwell of an Inverness block of flats.
Detective Sergeant Joe Galbraith starts what seems like one more depressing investigation of the untimely death of a poor unfortunate who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
As the investigation spreads across Scotland it reaches into a past that Joe has tried to forget, and takes him back to the Hebridean island of Harris, where he spent his childhood.
Among the mountains and the stunning landscape of religiously conservative Harris, in the shadow of Ceapabhal, long buried events and a tragic story are slowly uncovered, and the investigation takes on an altogether more sinister aspect.
In The Shadow Of The Hill skilfully captures the intricacies and malevolence of the underbelly of Highland and Island life, bringing tragedy and vengeance to the magical beauty of the Outer Hebrides.
In the Shadow of the Hill is published by ThunderPoint and is available in paperback and kindle format. You can find Helen’s books on Amazon here
Helen Forbes is an author and a solicitor based in Inverness. She began her writing life with contemporary and historical fiction, but soon turned to crime. She is the author of two crime fiction novels set in Inverness and the Outer Hebrides, featuring DS Joe Galbraith. In the Shadow of the Hill was published in 2014, with book two in the series, Madness Lies. Helen has written a third crime novel, Deception, which is set in Edinburgh and is, as yet, unpublished. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in 18th century St Kilda.