5 Questions for Peter Lovesey

Peter Lovesey’s first novel WOBBLE TO DEATH introduced the redoubtable Victorian policemen, Cribb and Thackeray. He won the Gold Dagger Award with THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW and in 2000 joined the elite group of people awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award.

What was the last book you read?
Storyteller: the Life of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock. These days Dahl is regarded mainly as a children’s writer, but he produced some classic crime short stories as well. Sturrock’s biography is full of insights into this strange, gifted and not very likeable man. I’ve always felt a debt of gratitude to Dahl for the Tales of the Unexpected TV series because when the format was opened up to other writers it gave us good opportunities for us to come in on his coat-tails. I now have a better understanding of the mind that could write the brilliant Lamb to the Slaughter.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t read it?
Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith. Of course most people remember the Hitchcock film, but the book is even better, essential reading. I’ve always been fascinated by stories that tell the tale from the murderer’s point of view and no one does this better than Highsmith. This one has more interest for me than her Ripley novels because here we have an unwilling killer trapped into the act as part of a pact. It’s a fascinating idea, done with such economy.

What was the first book you remember having a big impression on you as a child?
When I was seven and discovering the magic of reading, our house was bombed by one of Hitler’s “doodlebugs” and we were homeless. With no books to read, I was desperate until my father brought in The Life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall, by Edward Marjoribanks. Not a promising title, yet it had me enthralled, for Marshall Hall was the great defence barrister of the early twentieth century and each chapter unfolded a real case he was involved in: the Brides in the Bath, the Green Bicycle Murder; Dr Crippen. After that, how could I be anything else but a crime writer?

When writing numerous books with recurring central characters do you find that you grow to love the character more or like them less?
I don’t think “love” is the right word for the way I feel about them, and even “like” doesn’t do it. I’m getting to know them, seeing how they cope in their job and in life. They become real to me, but I don’t necessarily admire them. If Peter Diamond knocked on my door I doubt if I’d invite him in. He is the longest running character in my books and this is only because I gave him a life-changing experience mid-way through. Up to then I felt I was getting to understand him too well. If the character gets predictable, then so do the books, and that’s a trap for a writer. In the new novel, called Stagestruck, Diamond is instructed to investigate a murder mystery in the Theatre Royal, Bath. His difficulty is that he has a phobia about entering the theatre. If he is to solve the crime, he must first face his own demons. So as the author I watch and try to make sense of his behaviour.

With the recent success of The King’s Speech, do you have any plans to re-release the sleuthing escapades of Bertie, Prince of Wales?
I doubt if “my” Bertie, the grandfather of King George VI, would make it into the cinema, but I had fun imagining him as a rather incompetent amateur detective. As Prince of Wales, he was bored waiting for his chance to become King, so it was reasonable that he should find something else to interest him besides ladies, horses and the South of France. The most amusing of the three to write was Bertie and the Seven Bodies, a sort of tribute to Agatha Christie in her centenary year, with a corpse for each day of the week at a house party and a nursery rhyme to help predict the outcome.

Peter Lovesey will be appearing on the Crime Writers Panel at WORDfest on Saturday April 2nd.

5 Questions for Christina Koning

Christina Koning is an award-winning author and critic, who has published five novels. Her first novel, A Mild Suicide (1992), was shortlisted for the David Higham Prize for Fiction; Undiscovered Country, her second book, won the Encore Award in 1998 and was long-listed for the Orange Prize; Fabulous Time (2001) was awarded a Society of Authors Travelling Scholarship. In 2010 she published The Dark Tower simultaneously as a print-on-demand text and an ebook. Her most recently published work is Variable Stars (2011).

What was the last book you read?
The last book I read was Hangover Square – Patrick Hamilton’s wonderfully louche depiction of the seedy Earls Court pubs and Soho dives of late-1930s London. I read it just after re-reading Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock – another noirish portrayal of Britain between-the-wars.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?
The book I’d have recommended to my younger self would have been Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a novel that changed my perception of Space, Time, and everything else! For a fuller discussion of this amazing book, see my website: www.christinakoning.com

What was the first book you remember having a big impact on you as a child?
The book that made the biggest impact on me as a child was Alice in Wonderland, which I first read when I was about seven.

Where is your favourite place to research/write and why?
My favourite place to research and write is the London Library.

What made you decide to branch out and self publish and how much influence did new publishing technology have on your decision?
My first three novels were published by Penguin Books during the late 1990s and early 2000s. At around this time, publishing was going through a massive shake-up – largely as a result of the collapse of the Net Book Agreement, which led to the closure of so many bookshops, and the subsequent decline in demand for good literary fiction. Suddenly, book selling was dominated by the big chains, whose aggressive ‘three-for-two’ marketing of an increasingly restricted range of books was bad news for serious writers. I decided I wasn’t prepared to give up on my career just yet. Fortunately, new technology has meant that writers can now wrest control back from the mainstream publishers and booksellers, and produce high quality fiction in both textual and e-book form. I’ve been lucky to be part of this new publishing revolution, and am about to publish my second novel with Arbuthnot Books, one of the new online publishing companies. My intention is to re-publish all my earlier novels in the same format.

Christina will be at WORDfest for the Working With Words panel on Tuesday 5th at 7pm at Crawley Library.


5 questions for Will Atkins

Will Atkins is Editorial Director for Macmillan Publishing. He was kind enough to answer some questions for WordFest.

As an editor, what’s the primary bit of advice you would give to any writer?
Read. And write. And keep at it.

Outside of the slush pile, what type of books do you read for pleasure?
I publish fiction, and perhaps for that reason I read a lot of non-fiction – currently a wonderful memoir by Andrew Barrow called Animal Magic. And short stories – Stuart Evers’ Ten Stories About Smoking is a cracking debut.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?
I’m fond of Where the Wild Things Are.

What was the last book you read?
Edgelands, by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley – a travelogue written by two poets, about Britain’s unloved suburban hinterlands.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?
I imagine I’d ignore me, but poetry – Heaney and Hughes’s Rattle Bag anthology is a good place to start. Or else Roger Deakin’s Waterlog.

5 questions for Julia Crouch

Before becoming a writer, you were a graphic designer/illustrator. Do you think being such a visually literate person has informed your writing in any way?

Yes – I tend to write with my eyes. I ‘see’ the scenes as I’m writing them. If I get stuck, I shut my eyes and play the ‘movie’.

A big part of my work as a designer/illustrator was drawing. If you’ve ever sat and drawn anything, you’ll have observed something closely – a great exercise for all writers. Simiilarly, looking for the right image, typeface and layout to get the client’s message across is all about defining character, detail, tone and narrative. More or less what a novelist does. The structuring, logical part of a designer’s thinking is also very handy for the second draft.

You’ve recently had your first book released. Has the experience of being published differed in any ways to your expectations?

Publication day was a bit weird – I’m on a deadline for novel #2, so it was more or less business as usual during the day – except for a tad more tweeting and blogging than normal. The launch the following day was better than I could have expected – Brighton Waterstones, wine provided by publishers, new frock, stacks of my books, loads of friends and colleagues, signings and sales. And I’ve got lots of author events lined up for the next few months, so the public side of it is very much as I had hoped (I like getting out and about).

The process leading up to publication was wonderful. It is such a great feeling to have people taking your work seriously and to work with an agent and an editor to make it as good as it possibly could be. As is the case for most writers, this followed years of working on my own, in my spare time, with publication only a wild dream. Now I get to write full time. Life is good.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?

I guess it’s got to be The Cat in the Hat, the first book I read on my own, at a precocious three years old. I remember being so excited by the imagination at play there – the way the words could lead to anything, the feel of the pages, the big broad flat planes of colour…

I always had my nose stuck in a book – it was a bit of a family joke in our decidedly unbookish family that I could always be found at parties curled up behind the sofa, lost in my own little world.

An illustration of the importance reading plays in my life is that when I arrived in the marvellous city of Venice for the first time, on my own, aged 19, I checked into the Youth Hostel there, but I didn’t go out and explore. Instead, I spent the next three days on my bunk, completely gripped by John Fowles’s The Magus. Venice could wait. I had to finish that book first.

What was the last book you read?
Funnily enough, I’m just finishing Someone Else’s Son by Sam Hayes, and I’m loving it. She is such a great storyteller, and captures the darker side of life brilliantly. The book suffered a hiatus when I left it, half-read, in the hairdresser, so before I went and picked it up I read The Hand that First Held mine, by Maggie Farrell. I loved that too – the characters really come to life, and there’s a great sense of London in it. It is ultimately a hopeful book about love, but there is a thread of threat wound through it that keeps the pages turning.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

The Summer Book by Tove Janssen – although it would have been difficult, because it was only translated into English about 8 years ago. This simple story was the book I read that made me realise that I could write a novel. It’s nothing like my own work, but there is something about the way the setting and character and story work that I found incredibly inspiring. Perhaps if I’d read it sooner, I’d have got started earlier!

Julia Crouch will be appearing on the Crime Writers Panel at WordFest. Find out more about her and her writing on her website. Her debut novel, Cuckoo, is out now.

5 questions for Mark Chadbourn

In a previous life you were a journalist who experienced his share of hairy situations. Which would you say was the most extreme?

Probably being set on fire (accidentally) while sleeping in a tent in the Arctic circle.  I was reporting on NATO manoeuvres in northern Norway and living with the soldiers in minus 20 degree blizzard conditions.  A lamp exploded, spraying burning oil over me and the soldier who was working on it.  I dived into a snow drift to put the blaze out.  He was more badly burned, but was airlifted out and survived.  It was the first time I realised it was actually possible to die while working.  If the oil had splashed a different way, I might not be here now.

How does making your living as an author of fiction differ from doing so writing journalism?
As an author, you only have yourself to answer to, whereas when you’re a journalist you’re following the direction of various strata of editors.  That’s definitely a plus.  Journalism is certainly more short, sharp shocks – quick deadlines, constantly moving on to something new.  Writing novels is a long haul and you have to make sure you have strategies for keeping your focus and your drive.  Writing fiction is a solitary job and you have to be disciplined and a self-starter.  Journalism is very social, with lots of camaraderie – that’s quite a big, and tough, adjustment to make. 

What do you think you would be doing if you didn’t write for a living?

It’s hard to really answer that as I’ve always earned a living writing in one form or another, since I left university.  I’d probably be doing something in the music industry as that’s a big love of mine.  I once ran an indie record company and managed bands, which I found hugely stimulating.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was Mysteries by the philosopher Colin Wilson.  It was an eye-opening examination of what is often called paranormal experience, but filtered through psychology and science.  Highly recommended.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

Probably Mysteries as there’s so much in it that altered the way I think about the world.  But other than that, I’d recommend House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski which shows how much it’s possible to break form and structure yet still achieve an emotional result.  Or Little, Big by John Crowley which is possibly my favourite book of all time, a whimsical, magical examination of family, history, love, meaning… so many things.

Mark Chadbourn is the author of lots of novels, including The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, Jack of Ravens and the Kingdom of the Serpent Series. Find out more on his website.

5 questions for publisher Scott Pack

Scott PackFormer Waterstone’s bookbuyer turned publisher Scott Pack will be bringing the infamous Firestation Book Swap to WordFest next month. Although still responsible for the reins at The Friday Project, an imprint bringing the best of the web to print, Scott’s role at Harper Collins also encompasses that of digital publisher for the company too.

So, Book Swaps are all about the cake, right? For anyone hoping to ingratiate themselves with you at the Crawley Bookswap, what’s your favourite cake?

I’ll be honest, pretty much any cake would do. But cherry cake would be top of the list.

Book swappers take note. Staying on cakes, can you think of one of your favourite books, and then recommend it by summarising it as if it were a cake?

[Desperately tries to think of cake puns and fails]. Perhaps Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec because he was quite nutty and it goes down well with a cup of tea. That was a bit shit, wasn’t it?

How can anyone accuse someone who looks like this of being a fruitcake?

Georges Perec

Seriously though, a fine fine choice. Perec and cakes aside, what was the first book you remember having a big impact on you as a child?

The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preussler was the first book that truly thrilled me. I was, at various points, scared, upset, excited and overcome with joy. I was about 9 or 10 at the time. In a delightful twist of fate I have now re-published it for the first time in 30 years under its original title, Krabat. Sorry for the plug but it’s the only honest answer I can give!

No problem. People might like to know that the back story to your encounter with it is fleshed out a bit on your blog, here.

What was the last book you read?
Don’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli. Imagine Jeeves & Wooster starring in an episode of Lovejoy directed by the bloke who made The Long Good Friday.

And lastly, Scott, which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

I would tell myself to stop snogging Catherine Oldham and read The Odyssey earlier than I did.

First Lorelei King recommends The Iliad, and now you’re going with The Odyssey. I also felt I came late to Homer, as I wasn’t properly exposed to The Simpsons until Do The Bartman hit the charts. Thanks very much for your time. We’ll see you at the Bookswap.

5 questions for author Sam Hayes

Sam HayesSam Hayes is the author of four novels for Headline, including Blood Ties, Unspoken and her latest, Someone Else’s Son. She will be appearing at WordFest as one of the panellists on the Crime Writers panel.

Before becoming a writer, you had a slightly eclectic career history. Which would you say was most useful for you as a writer?

I’d say that would have to be the time I spent working as a Private Investigator. For a couple of years I did everything from serving court documents on reluctant recipients to tracing missing persons to negotiating with a rather large and angry man with a German Shepherd about debt recovery. It was a fascinating insight to how people react in emotional situations.

You’ve enviably successful as an author over the last five years or so. Is the life of a full time writer what you had expected it to be when you set out to attempt to be one?

It’s actually better! I have to say, though, there’s a lot more to it than just writing books. There isn’t really a typical working day for me and I love the variety. Sometimes I’m out and about meeting readers at events and signings, other times I’m catching up with paperwork and emails. Occasionally I get to have lunch with my editors and agents and I’ve been to some pretty decent events put on by my publisher. An evening at the Groucho Club meeting with lots of journalists was particularly memorable! But of course it is all about the writing and that’s what I love best. Nothing beats the solitude, peace and excitement of getting lost in writing a novel.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?

I used to read a lot as a kid and admit to being an Enid Blyton junkie when I was quite young. I also adored the Narnia books and read them often. But I didn’t read the book that had a huge impact on me until I was thirteen. Jonathan Livington Seagull by Richard Bach changed my approach to writing (yes, I wrote when I was a child) and also to living. It’s most uplifting and inspirational and I keep a copy in my office to read every now and again.

What was the last book you read?

The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha and I’m currently reading One Day by David Nicholls.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

Probably Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I used to get terribly bogged down with the classics as a teenager and this one passed me by back then. I blame this on my rather stern English Lit teacher!


5 questions for Lorelei King

Lorelei King is one of the most successful American actresses working in the UK, appearing in Hollywood blockbusters including Notting Hill and The Saint, and independent films, such as House of Mirth and 24 Hours in London. She is a prolific audio actress and co-founder of Creative Content, an audio publishing company.  If that wasn’t enough she also writes for television and radio, working frequently for the BBC.

As someone with at least two main jobs, what shared traits would you say are crucial to both an actor and a writer?

Discipline, attention to detail, understanding character….

How do you approach narrating an audiobook? Do you consider the various characters separately, as you would do were you playing a single character in a play, or is the main narrative voice essentially the ‘role’ that you’re playing?

If it is a book with first person narration, then yes – that voice is the main character and the other characters come out of her voice. There are a couple of schools of thought on this: some people think that with first person narration there should be very little characterization of other voices, as the narrator is essentially simply relating what they said – but I’m a ham, so I like to give it a bit of welly. But it’s also about clarity: I think it’s important to give each character a distinctive voice so that the listener can tell who’s speaking. Third person narration is different – the narrator’s voice is perhaps more neutral, and the characters can have more colour.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?

I learned to read when I was very young, but the first book that had a significant impact on me was ‘The Razor’s Edge’ by Somerset Maugham, which I read when I was nine. Much of the subject matter was way too old for me, but I was completely captivated by Larry and his spiritual journey. Inspired, I asked my parents for books on yoga meditation that Christmas – heaven knows what they thought! For me, it was an exciting and important book because it showed me that while the world was wide, there were also inner worlds to be explored. I was a deep thinker as a kid; I’m far shallower now!

What was the last book you read?

I am co-owner of a small digital publishing company, Creative Content, and one of the nicest parts of the job is proofreading the eBook versions of our crime fiction list. The last one I read was “The Broken Token” by Chris Nickson – a story set in 18th century Leeds. I really enjoyed it – the period detail was fascinating!

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

The Iliad – such a page turning, action adventure! I wish I’d come to it sooner….


World Book Night @ Crawley Library

There was a full house last night at World Book Night in Crawley Library. The event was organised by WordFest’s Neil Ayres, in fact the WBN event was how he came on board with this project.

Crawley Library is a particularly wonderful building by day, but the atmosphere of the place when dimly lit with live acoustic music, wine and of course free books made it even more so, which bodes well for many of the events we have planned for the beginning of April.

There were readings from authors Sam Hayes (pictured below), Julia Crouch & Alis Hawkins each of them giving just enough away to intrigue the audience, many of whom also bought books from the Waterstones mini-stall me and three colleagues were manning.

Sam Hayes @ WBN Crawley Library

We also busted open one of ten boxes of our programmes hot off the press, they’ve made it all seem even more real. I was particularly excited seeing them all done with no glaring errors- a big relief, I am also a big fan of the smell of printing ink so got a fix of that too.

WF Programmes all done and dusted.

I hope that all such events and those coming up will help illustrate just how integral to communities libraries are, so much is done within them already and there is so much potential too. What libraries need is more, not less, funding to expand on the resources they have and can potentially offer.  Wordfest will be an extreme example of what is possible in a community, with dedication, talent and enthusiasm. We aim to be apolitical in as much as anything ever is, but by no means do we want to an example of our society (whatever the specified size…) being based on always expecting people to do things for free, be they cultural or otherwise. Essentially this is a pilot which we hope will generate excitement and confidence in the need for further funded public projects that benefit a wide audience. Crawley deserves a rich cultural programme as much as any place, people should be able to expect such things without exclusion in the form of a privileged location or ticket prices.