blog

a general update…

Posted by on March 12th, 2016

1. book ten

Which is the only title the poor thing has right now. The working title has always been The Red River, but as I mentioned in my last update, nobody has any real love for that and it will most likely change before publication. But anyway! Book Ten is the reason I’ve been absent from here for the last couple of months, as I’ve been racing to hit the end of February deadline (which I ended up going over, but only by a few days). The first draft went off to my editor earlier this week. It’s always a strangely anti-climactic moment: you wrestle with the book; you dream of finishing it; and when it actually happens … it kind of feels like nothing at all.

But it’s good to get it sent. As always, I’m expecting there to be changes in the next draft (if nothing else, there are a couple of bits I know I personally want another run at), but in general I think it’s okay. Or at least, I’m not unhappy with it for this stage in the process.

90,000 words, anyway. Serial killers. Grief and love. Stories within stories. Twists and turns. Tears before bedtime. You know the drill by now.

2. I know who did it

It’s a real pleasure to report that I Know Who Did It will be coming out through Pegasus this September in the US, with a new title – The Reckoning On Cane Hill – and, as you can see to the left there, a nice new cover. From my point of view, Pegasus have been fantastic to work with, previously publishing both Dark Room (as The Murder Code) and The Nightmare Place, and I’m thrilled they’re going with this one too. The title change, if you’re interested, may be the first time anybody’s been worried I might be confused with O J Simpson.

I’m also very pleased that it has been taken on by Lithuanian publisher Sofoklis, who liked the book so much that they took The 50/50 Killer too. (IKWDI is a sequel to 50/50, although both work as standalones). I’ll post more about that as and when I know more detail.

3. a night of crime

I had a great time attending this evening down in London in February, as Orion gathered ten of its crime writers together and let them loose in a swanky room full of journalists, bloggers and – we’re all adults here, so let’s be frank – a vast amount of booze. It was a really fun event. As part of it, all ten of us were required to give a one minute pitch about our latest book. And as what might be described as the opposite of an act of kindness, these pitches were filmed. Shotsmag Confidential has the videos, along with a comprehensive report on proceedings. Thanks to everyone who organised it and everyone who came along.

4. some interesting links

There have been several that I’ve failed to take note of over the past couple of months, but here are a few.

I really enjoyed this article on disguised drinking dens. It resonates with that sensation we all have from time to time that there are secrets hidden in the cities around us. Because, of course, there are.

This is an older article on the Tamám Shud mystery, but new to me. A year or so back, I moderated a panel on how realistic crime fiction was, and I broke it up by presenting the authors and audience with strange and bizarre scenarios and asking them to decide whether they were real or made-up. This was one of the examples I used.

This long read on the ‘death of a troll’ is intriguing, twisty and very much worth your time.

And finally, this article on the unsolved case of the Long Island serial killer is fascinating and disturbing in equal measures, and a good piece of true crime writing.

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onwards and upwards

Posted by on January 20th, 2016

Okay – some quick updates as to what’s going on with me.

1. I Know Who Did It

My ninth book came out last September, and I’m generally very pleased with the reception it’s had. I’ve collated most of the reviews I’ve found on the page for the book here, and they’re pretty much universally positive. For what these things are worth, at the time of writing, it has average scores of 4.5 on Amazon and 4.32 on Goodreads. It was also really nice to see it hit a few ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year, including The Times here(£), Vicky Newham’s here and For Winter Nights here.

I’ve no idea how well it’s sold as yet, but I suspect it’s more or less in line with my previous books, which, as always, doesn’t amount to world-beating figures. But there seems to be a lot of good will for the book out there, and hopefully more people will discover and enjoy it when the paperback comes out (which I think is currently scheduled for June).

In the meantime, a massive thank you to all the people out there who have bought it, enjoyed it, reviewed it and commented on it either online or in person to me. It means a great deal to me, I promise.

2. The Next Book

The next book – Book 10! – is what is currently occupying most of my waking hours. The working title is The Red River, but that will likely change, as it sounds a little too much like a Western. And the book isn’t a Western, of course. It’s the usual mix of psychological thriller, police procedural and … well, I don’t know how to put this. Slight weirdness? Maybe. Regardless, while it’s too early to say what it’s about right now, imagining a cross between The 50/50 Killer and Black Flowers will give you some idea of what to expect. A serial killer story, basically, but one that’s also about stories themselves.

It’s due to be delivered by the end of February, so I’m flat out on that at the moment. The current word count stands at about 60k, which sounds a little slack, but: a) there were a couple of false starts; and b) I was always the type to desperately cram most of my revision in the night before the exam, and that’s generally how I write too. So I’m pretty happy with that progress, and I’m enjoying seeing all the fragmented ideas and chapters beginning to come together pretty well right now.

3. Yeah, about the Leather thing…

So. Yes. I’m not going to bang on about this too much – or at least, not for the moment – but it would seem remiss and even odd not to mention what’s happened in an update. Following my last post, the author Jeremy Duns wrote a blog of his own about Stephen Leather, which received a great deal of attention, including coverage in the Independent, Guardian and Times. I was pleased to read the initial response from Hachette (our mutual publisher), and while Leather hasn’t publicly responded to any of the allegations yet, I’m also pleased to report that the fuckstevemosby.com site has at least been taken offline for the moment. So that’s a good start.

4. Some interesting links

And finally, since I’m going to try and blog a bit more this year, I thought I’d flag up any articles or posts that I’ve found particularly interesting recently. If nothing else, it means I won’t lose them.

I found this two part piece on The Tragic Tale of Mt Everest’s Most Famous Dead Body fascinating and moving. At first, there was something almost bizarrely intriguing about an environment so extreme that a dead body might be used as a waypoint – an actual landmark – but then both parts of the article do a good job of humanising the individuals involved and exploring the mindsets of the people driven to risk, and often lose, their lives attempting the climb.

And secondly, A Brief History Of Books That Do Not Exist, a great article that appeals to me for a load of probably very obvious reasons.

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fuckstevemosby.com

Posted by on January 4th, 2016

In the weeks before Christmas, this site about me finally went live.

I say finally because the web address was bought some time ago, but the site itself has only just been populated. It’s a site dedicated to exposing my bad language on Twitter, and encouraging people not to buy my books on that basis. I am “a vile and unpleasant little man”, apparently. To which I can only say: look – vile and unpleasant I may well be but, at six foot three and over fifteen stone, you’ll forgive me for taking umbrage at that “little”.

But no, seriously, I swear a bit on social media (although not nearly as much as that site implies; it’s all been culled – amazingly; almost psychotically flatteringly – from tweets going back to 2009), and I make no apologies for my language. Picture me shrugging right now – it’s a fucking enormous shrug, trust me. I swear. You swear. He, she or it swears.

Anyway. It’s reasonably clear that bestselling author, ebook superstar and fellow Hachette author Stephen Leather is responsible for this website. I won’t say how I know that; I’ll save all the screenshotted internet incompetence for later potential laughs. But I’m amused that, following his vague baseball bat threat last May, he promised to ignore me (as I then did him) and yet, clearly, he can’t. I’m also amused that he still doesn’t have the courage to attach his name to his activities. How pathetic. Three and a half fucking years ago, it was revealed how he cyberbullied a writer named Steve Roach into submission. Three and a half fucking years later, he’s still imagining the same tactics will work on me. They won’t. When I saw the obsessive content of the site, I laughed. When it was briefly replaced by an advert for acne cream, I laughed even harder.

It was actually a wonderful Christmas present. I’m looking forward to a lot more laughter in 2016.

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my five favourite books of 2015

Posted by on January 3rd, 2016

It has – once again – been a lacklustre year for me in terms of reading: 22 books read in 2015 in total, which is a much smaller number than I would like. So I feel a little … guilty, almost, in selecting a top five. It doesn’t feel earned. I’m going to anyway, obviously, but I’ll be having some stern words with myself and attempting to correct this in the year ahead.

In the meantime, these were my five favourite books of 2015. They’re in no particular order, and they’re presented with the usual caveat that my favourites do not necessarily overlap perfectly with what I thought was best. Best is a trickier term to pin down; favourites is considerably easier. But even then, it was difficult to choose. There are several other books that could easily have made this list.

Anyway.

Here we are…

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August, by Claire North

Harry August is born in the early 1900s in difficult circumstances. He lives a relatively undistinguished life until his first death in 1989. At that point, he is born again – into the exact same circumstances, and with the full knowledge of the life he led before. That second life understandably does not go well, but as his lives pass, he makes contact with the supportive Cronus Club, and realises he is a ‘kalachakra’: one of many individuals who relive their lives thousands of times over without forgetting the previous ones. Harry learns to explore and exploit this ability until, at the end of his eleventh life, he receives a message from a little girl about the state of the future.

There are almost too many joys to be found in this novel. It is beautifully written, for one, but the real fun is in the exploration: the way it takes a single, relatively simple idea and runs with it, following every aspect of the concept to its natural limits. And so – of course – it is possible for ideas and messages to be passed back and forth through time over eons, either as warnings or as jokes. It feels obvious and natural that secret clubs and communities of such individuals will evolve, that rules will be established and that shortcuts and helplines will be created. It’s the ultimate secret society, and the idea is fleshed out and made real. So it’s the world, filled to its edges, that enchanted me here, even more so than the plot (which is rewarding and clever) and the depth of character (which is great). I was trying to think why I responded so positively to it all, and I realised I can give it the highest compliment: it reminded me of reading The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones for the first time as a teenager. That was the first time I was this transfixed by a world so simultaneously neverending and wonderful and sad and moving. A fantastic book.

The Way Inn, by Will Wiles

Neil Double is a professional conference attendee. He’s happy to be paid to replace you at all those boring, anonymous business conferences you can’t be bothered to go to but your work says that you should. He loves all the badges and tote bags and random people. And most of all, he loves The Way Inn: the chain of cheap, identikit hotels that make him feel at home (or at least in exactly the same place) wherever he might be in the world. But on his latest assignment – at a conference for conference organisers – he meets a strange woman in the hotel, and follows her into the increasingly surreal netherworld that lies below the surface of the Way Inn chain.

What starts off as a wonderfully funny satire on the culture in question (anybody who’s attended a conference or stayed in a similar hotel will laugh frequently, generally in painful recognition) descends quickly into a kind of (still very funny) Lovecraftian horror. This book puts the ‘psycho’ into ‘psychogeography’. An awful description, I know – but really, not far off. From the moment Double meets the mysterious woman, who is trying to photograph all the abstract art in the various hotels and find meaningful patterns in them, you know you’re in safe hands, and the feeling never falters. Filled with great one-liners and set-pieces, and ultimately real feeling, it’s a pitch perfect novel. Like Harry August above, The Way Inn stretches and explores its crazy conceit to its limits, while still managing a very human landing.

The Death House, by Sarah Pinborough

The Death House has hit a fair number of ‘Best of 2015’ lists – and for good reason – but in many cases, the genre of the book has been touched on. Is it SF, for example? Or perhaps horror? Is it YA? What exactly is it? But Pinborough is a prolific writer who has spent years flitting successfully between many different genres, and who now seems to have found her feet combining aspects of whichever ones she wants into beautifully crafted stories that defy genre expectations and simply work on their own terms. So the truth is that this is just a Sarah Pinborough novel.

It’s a futuristic setting: the ‘Death House’ is a hospital-cum-boarding-school to which children who have been identified as defective in some way are taken by force. When they show signs of illness, they are taken to the Sanitorium, from which they never return. The main characters are Toby, a teenage boy, and Clara, the teenage girl whose arrival transforms his world. But there are many others. The relationships are skillfully drawn: none of these teenagers are heroic, as such, and many of the expected confrontations play out in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Obviously, the Death House is a metaphor for life itself – we’re all stuck with each other; we’re all about to die at any time – and as the tagline suggests: “Everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.” There are no happy endings in life; there are just happy, if transient, presents. And just as the novel explores the cruelty and uncertainty of the situation, it also conjures up several moving and beautiful moments that reinforce that point.

Pretty Is, by Maggie Mitchell

I wrote about this for The Murder Room:

“Abducted children are a long-standing trope in crime fiction, and it’s easy to understand why: a missing child immediately creates urgency and tension and a mystery to be solved, along with intense emotional engagement. The trope seems very popular right now, but if Pretty Is – the excellent debut novel by Maggie Mitchell – sounds at first like it will be ploughing familiar territory, it swiftly becomes clear that it’s working much more fertile and interesting ground…”

Read my full thoughts here.

Viral, by Helen FitzGerald

This is the third year that one of Helen FitzGerald’s books has appeared on my list of favourites, and yet the population at large still somehow refuses to give her the huge sales figures her work deserves. Go figure. But perhaps that will change in February, when Viral is released, because from its attention-grabbing first line, through a story drawn straight from the headlines, it’s a novel that plays to all of FitzGerald’s strengths, and which is engaging and charming to the very end. (More of which in a moment).

Su-Jin is a strait-laced seventeen year old Korean girl, adopted as an infant by the Oliphant-Brotheridge family. On a holiday to Magaluf with her infinitely more experienced sister, Leah, and her friends, Su-Jin gets drunk and is filmed performing a sex act on a number of men in a nightclub. The video goes viral. Su-Jin is villified by the media and her life is gradually destroyed. As her mother, Ruth – a respected court judge – seeks justice here, Su-Jin goes into hiding from the hounding press attention abroad, and then on the run.

The anger here, at least to start with, is palpable. We’ve all seen similar online stories be appropriated by the media, with the attention and blame generally focused on the drunk women in question rather than the men participating or the people filming. Here, FitzGerald tells the story from the other side (and indeed, the right side). But that’s really just the starting point for a tale of a young woman learning to reject various pressures to conform to expectations, whether social or familial, and instead using a moment of personal trauma as a springboard to leap out into the world and form her own identity on her own terms. Stylishly written, this is an incredibly funny novel, and ultimately a very touching one. That first sentence is certainly memorable – I’ll leave it to you to discover it – but it’s a testament to the strengths of the story in between that the last sentence, beautifully judged, is the one that will stay with you.

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i know who did it

Posted by on September 18th, 2015

So! I have a new book coming out next week. The official publication date is Thursday 24 September, but publication dates are moveable feasts: there were copies available at Bloody Scotland last weekend, and I’m sure there will be some lurking in bookshops before too long. If not, it will at least be available as an ebook from next Thursday.

Here is what it is about:

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The hardest crimes to acknowledge are your own…

Charlie Matheson died two years ago in a car accident. So how is a woman bearing a startling resemblance to her claiming to be back from the dead? Detective Mark Nelson is called in to investigate and hear her terrifying account of what she’s been through in the afterlife.

Every year Detective David Groves receives a birthday card for his son…even though he buried him years ago. His son’s murder took everything from him, apart from his belief in the law, even though the killers were never found. This year, though, the card bears a different message: I know who did it.

Uncovering the facts will lead them all on a dark journey, where they must face their own wrongs as well as those done to those they love. It will take them to a place where justice is a game, and punishments are severe. Nelson and Groves know the answers lie with the kind of people you want to turn and run from. But if they’re to get to the truth, first they’ll have to go through hell…
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Now, I never usually worry too much about publication dates. For one thing, I’ve been in the game long enough by now that I know what to expect: ultimately, a day like any other. You may or may not spot copies in your local bookshop on the day, but even if you do, it’s just one novel sitting amidst many other hopefuls. It’s lovely to see it out in the wild, of course. But books live or die on longer timescales, and none of my books have ever emerged into the world doing elaborate commercial gymnastics on day one.

That said, I’d obviously like it to do well. For two reasons. The first is that this book has been a long time coming: over three years since I started writing it, in its first failed form. The second is that I like it. That might sound like a strange thing for a writer to say about his or her own work, but for me, it’s certainly not always the case. I’m proud of my back catalogue, but it usually takes a couple of years for me to appreciate the books for what they are without just seeing the disparity between my expectations when I started them and the reality of how they actually turned out. That isn’t the case with I Know Who Did It. I like it – quietly – already.

And I’m pleased to say that others seem to as well. It’s very, very early days, but the book is currently standing at five reviews, all five stars on Goodreads. That will change, of course. But in the meantime, here is a handful of samples from early reviews. I genuinely appreciate each and every one of them. Very much indeed.

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“Strange and powerful, this is Mosby’s best.”
(Marcel Berlins, The Times)

“Mosby has become renowned for thrillers that reach into dark places where most British crime writers are afraid to go, while the low-key lyricism of his style makes his books moving as well as terrifying.”
(Jake Kerridge, Express)

“Meaty issues, violence, and a well realised blend of police procedural and psychological thriller. Highly recommended, and quite deservedly my book of the month.”
(Raven Crime Reads)

“Those who know their crime fiction have long been aware that Steve Mosby is one of the most idiosyncratic and ambitious of current UK practitioners, and this new book is well up to his customarily impressive standard.”
(Barry Forshaw, Crime Time)

“If you don’t mind a touch of wild gothic in your police procedurals, you’ll find this one highly entertaining. And, as ever with Mosby, it’s stylishly written.”
(Mat Coward, Morning Star)

“It is without doubt one of the top crime novels of the year for me so far. Possibly even one of the top novels in any genre … And if that’s not enough to get you reading, there is also a completely jaw dropping moment that had me throwing the kindle aside and letting out a yell … I Know Who Did It is an emotionally resonant, multi-layered crime drama with some characters so full of depth and reality that they pop off the page and one that will stay with me for a long long time.”
(Liz Loves Books)

“And now for something completely different …. and that’s exactly what you get with Steve Mosby’s sequel to The 50/50 Killer … it’s a totally unique read, there’s a moment where everything you thought you were reading suddenly gets turned on its head, I’ve read it twice now and it was just as good the second time with hindsight.? If you like something that’s just that little bit different from your average crime novel this is the book for you. I’m off to read it again.”
(Angela Oatham)

“I have used the words ‘strange’ and ‘slipstream’ when reviewing his work. I now think that I need to add another word to my vocabulary: I Know Who Did It is his cleverest to date.”
(Shotsmag)

“A gripping seventh novel from the talented Mosby whose reputation has been growing steadily … Neat storytelling, coupled with Mosby’s sure touch for characters that demand our sympathy, help make this one of those crime novels that linger in the mind long after the final page.”
(Geoffrey Wansell, Daily Mail)

“Mosby’s writing speaks to the human condition with sophistication, subtlety and insight … I highly recommend I Know Who Did It. It crackles with menace, there’s plenty at stake, and the plot is unlike any other I have read. I seriously challenge you to guess its resolution! I think Mosby is one of the best male crime writers around.”
(Vicky Newham)

“I can’t believe how great this novel is … this really stands out amongst the crowd as an excellent, fast-paced novel that keeps you guessing until the end … It is more complex, more exciting and more clever than many crime novels I’ve read … Though its storyline is, at times, quite dark and disturbing, it’s certainly an enjoyable and intriguing read that I’ll be strongly recommending to any crime lovers.”
(Snazzy Books)

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Today, Jonathan Jones at the Guardian set the internet on fire with his article about Terry Pratchett. I’m bored, so here are my thoughts…

*****

“It does not matter to me if Terry Pratchett’s final novel is a worthy epitaph or not, or if he wanted it to be pulped by a steamroller. I have never read a single one of his books and I never plan to. Life’s too short.”

Life is indeed short. Many would argue that it’s too short, in fact, to read the facile and superficial observations of a supposedly professional arts critic opining on the works of an author that he hasn’t read. As we shall see.

“No offence, but Pratchett is so low on my list of books to read before I die that I would have to live a million years before getting round to him.”

Well, at the rate of reading one book a week, that means Jones considers there are 52,000,000 books that are superior to Pratchett’s output – or at least books that are preferable to read for his purposes. It is impossible to know for sure what percentage of published books that amounts to, but an estimate in 2010 suggests there were around 120,000,000 books available at that point, which I believe includes non-fiction. The number will have increased. Let’s say it’s currently 200,000,000 fictional books. Jones is still placing Pratchett’s output in the lower quarter of all published novels: a catalogue as a whole that includes a significant number of self-published novels about people having sex with dinosaurs. I suggest he thinks again.

And of course, I understand that the original quote is an example of rhetoric and hyperbole, but sometimes pedantry is the only appropriate response to such things. We’ll get more serious shortly.

“I did flick through a book by him in a shop, to see what the fuss is about, but the prose seemed very ordinary.”

Right. So. What exactly is ordinary prose? (Never mind very ordinary – if you’re going to criticise someone else’s prose, it’s probably a good idea not to use qualifiers that make little sense in context). Pratchett writes in sentences, presumably, with clear meanings and no obvious linguistic fireworks. But that is – of course – not necessarily a problem. Let’s take this example from Night Watch, describing an upcoming riot:

As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up. What would run through the streets soon enough wouldn’t be a revolution or a riot. It’d be people who were frightened and panicking. It was what happened when the machinery of city life faltered, the wheels stopped turning and all the little rules broke down. And when that happened, humans were worse than sheep. Sheep just ran; they didn’t try to bite the sheep next to them.

That is straightforward, simple language that delivers a punch of recognition at the end. There are a couple of metaphors in there, but they’re not laboured or elaborated on at length. It’s a get-in and get-out kind of paragraph, and it’s artistically sound. Just because you’re not purpling your language at length doesn’t mean that plain and relatively unadorned prose can’t lead to a clear and precise understanding of quite complicated issues.

We’ll come back to the “flicking through” in a moment or two.

“I don’t mean to pick on this particular author, except that the huge fuss attending and following his death this year is part of a very disturbing cultural phenomenon.”

“Very disturbing”. Really? I think there was a huge outcry of grief about Terry Pratchett’s death for a number of reasons. He was an extremely talented and much-loved author, who died before his time as we see it, and whose death was, to some extent, detailed in the public domain. He wrote eloquently, passionately and intelligently about death as he faced it. Those who saw him at later events observed a diminished man who, nevertheless, retained the same commitment to his fans and his community as they had when he was first starting out. People loved him for his writing, amongst other things, and they really loved it. It is hardly surprising that his death affected hundreds of thousands of people very deeply indeed.

“In the age of social media and ebooks, our concept of literary greatness is being blurred beyond recognition. A middlebrow cult of the popular is holding literature to ransom.”

These two sentences are basically offcuts from a better article with a coherent argument behind it. As they stand, they are meaningless and unsupported here. Let’s give them a pass.

 “Thus, if you judge by the emotional outpourings over their deaths, the greatest writers of recent times were Pratchett and Ray Bradbury.”

No, it really just says that they were two much-loved writers who touched many lives. There have been others. There have actually been many others.

“There was far less of an internet splurge when Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014 and Günter Grass this spring. Yet they were true titans of the novel. Their books, like all great books, can change your life, your beliefs, your perceptions.”

Indeed, but there is an implied premise here that Pratchett’s works did not do those things, or at least did so in some lesser or less substantive manner than the authors mentioned. It may well be true, but it is an ambitious argument to attempt to make by someone who admits to not having read him, and indeed, does not then bother to make that argument in any meaningful manner anyway.

“Everyone reads trash sometimes, but why are we now pretending, as a culture, that it is the same thing as literature? The two are utterly different.”

Yes, indeed. But significantly lacking here is any attempt to differentiate the two. The question of what counts as “literature” (distinct from “literary) is not settled.

What do we value in artistic works? There are numerous possible answers. We value entertainment of some kind; we value an emotional connection; we value being moved; we value seeing the world anew as a result of experiencing the text in whatever form it takes. The latter seems most important to me, although opinions vary. Regardless, all are true with regard to Pratchett’s work.

People often assume that literary judgements are either objective (ie there are qualities that are somehow measurable) or entirely subjective (ie anything you like must be good), but while there are elements of both that are correct the real truth lies somewhere in between. As a society, we establish our touchstone texts intersubjectively, based on the cumulative and conflicting judgements of readers, reviewers, critical assessments, sales, cultural dialogue, academic discourse, cross-referencing with other work, and so on. It’s an ongoing discussion. But the fact that an apparently professional arts critic is writing an admittedly piss-weak article on an author, following a lengthy review and analysis of his last novel by A. S. Byatt, in itself suggests that the writer in question warrants a little more than simply writing off.

And what on earth does “trash” mean here? Trash. Seriously. However much you might differentiate between higher and lower works in the arts, is that an appropriate word to use? Roll it around your mouth. Trash. It’s a harsh word to use about anything somebody has spent a year of their life working on, and which other people have enjoyed. There are many books I haven’t enjoyed. I’d never call them trash.

“Actual literature may be harder to get to grips with than a Discworld novel, but it is more worth the effort. By dissolving the difference between serious and light reading, our culture is justifying mental laziness and robbing readers of the true delights of ambitious fiction.”

There is a great deal to unpack and potentially argue with in these two sentences. There are some underlying assumptions to untangle and make plain and shine a harsh light on. I won’t do that today. Again, they belong in a better article, probably written by somebody else.

“Because life really is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers. I am not saying this as a complacent book snob who claims to have read everything. On the contrary, I am crushed by how many books I have not read. This summer I finally finished Mansfield Park. How had I managed not to read it up to now? It’s shameful. But at least now it’s part of my life. The structure of Jane Austen’s morally sombre plot, the restrained irony of her style, the sudden opening up of the book as it moves from Mansfield Park to Portsmouth and takes in the complex real social world of regency England – all that’s in me now.”

Well, here we return to the initial criticism Jones made of Terry Pratchett. He “flicked through” one of his novels in a bookshop and found the prose “very ordinary”. You wonder if he would find a comparable level of criticism of Mansfield Park convincing. Leaving aside all other possible criticisms, you certainly won’t understand the virtues he recognises and appreciates in the novel if you take such a lacklustre approach to the text itself. Structure, style, progression, plot. You don’t get those by skimming. How astonishing that when you read whole books you find yourself in a position to appreciate them as a whole and understand what they have to offer? It’s not astonishing at all, of course. It’s blindingly, teeth-grindingly obvious.

 “Great books become part of your experience. They enrich the very fabric of reality. I don’t just mean 19th-century classics, either.”

Well, that’s a relief. Because, to be honest, the reality depicted in Mansfield Park represents my lived experience about as much as a world similar to our own that is balanced on top of four enormous elephants, in turn balanced on the back of a gigantic turtle. Which is to say: potentially, quite a lot. People are people, after all.

“I also read Post Office by Charles Bukowski this summer. My God, what a writer. Bukowski is a voice from hell with the talent of an angel. I must read every word by him.”

I will make no judgements on Bukowski, beyond the fact that it seems weird to me that Jones is just getting into him now. And that “a voice from hell with the talent of an angel” is a terrible sentence, and either a self-censor or an external one should have intervened.

“But Terry Pratchett? Get real. It’s time we stopped this pretence that mediocrity is equal to genius.”

We should abandon that pretence when it comes to literary criticism too. I suspect, after today, we won’t have to when it comes to Jonathan Jones.

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epic endings

Posted by on June 12th, 2015

Another reason for me to look forward to this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – the Dead Good books awards are announced there, and I’m thrilled to have made the shortlist for The Reichenbach Falls Award for Most Epic Ending. (Although obviously, it’s actually The Nightmare Place that has made the shortlist, not me personally).

It’s an ace shortlist, with fine company for me to be amongst. It’s also a public vote, so if you get the chance to vote, then please do. (And I don’t mean necessarily for me). There are other categories with equally great writers listed too, and I’m very happy to be part of it. Thanks to everyone who put me there.

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what i have been and will be up to

Posted by on June 2nd, 2015

It’s been a long while since I posted an update here on actual writing and events, so I figured it was about time. Part of the reason for that silence is that I’ve been hard at work on the next book, which is now finished and due to be released in September this year. And … drum roll … this is it:

i know who did it (forthcoming 2015)

The hardest crimes to acknowledge are your own…

Charlie Matheson died two years ago in a car accident. So how is a woman bearing a startling resemblance to her claiming to be back from the dead? Detective Mark Nelson is called in to investigate and hear her terrifying account of what she’s been through in the afterlife.

Every year Detective David Groves receives a birthday card for his son…even though he buried him years ago. His son’s murder took everything from him, apart from his belief in the law, even though the killers were never found. This year, though, the card bears a different message: I know who did it.

Uncovering the facts will lead them all on a dark journey, where they must face their own wrongs as well as those done to those they love. It will take them to a place where justice is a game, and punishments are severe. Nelson and Groves know the answers lie with the kind of people you want to turn and run from. But if they’re to get to the truth, first they’ll have to go through hell…

I’m enormously pleased about this on a number of levels. The first is that out of all the books I’ve written this one has been the hardest. It began life about three years ago, as a novel that Orion and I decided between us wasn’t quite right. At that point, I shelved the material – all 90,000 words of it – and wrote The Nightmare Place instead. But I was reluctant to abandon the earlier work entirely, and over time I gradually worked out how to split the various strands up and then twist them together again.

The resulting book is very different from the one I submitted back then, but I really like it. It is also – yet another reason for my excitement – my first ever sequel. I’ve only ever written standalones up until now, and while I Know Who Did It works perfectly well as a standalone, it also follows up on characters from The 50/50 Killer, revisiting them a year and a half on from the events of that book. I should probably have done this a while back, all things considered, but sometimes you have to wait for the right idea. Perhaps in another eight years, I’ll make it a trilogy…

But not yet! Because in the meantime, I’m making a start on the next book, which will be something else entirely, and which I’m already looking forward to pulling my hair out over the coming months.

In addition to that, I have a few events coming up.

Not strictly an event, as such. I’ve never been to Crime in the Court before, but it seems like it’s basically an informal gathering of writers and readers in the courtyard outside the wonderful Goldsboro Books in London on 25 June. This is the third year of it, and it’s always looked like a lot of fun from the photos and reports that have appeared online. So this year, I thought I’d make the trip down to mingle and chat and have a laugh. There are already loads of authors listed as coming along, and it looks like it’ll be a really great evening. Here’s the website with more information. If you’re going, then please do say hello.

 

The Walk of Art is a totally awesome community-based arts project in Horsforth, where I live. Over the weekend of 4/5 July, there will be loads of activities, displays, pop-up galleries, talks, performances and so on, celebrating the huge amount of artistic talent to be found in the village. I feel really lucky to be a part of that. There’s a huge amount going on, as a brief look at the website will prove, and I’m going to be doing a talk at 11am on Saturday 4 July at Horsforth Library. I’ll be dealing with that dreaded question of where ideas come from by talking about my own books, the events that inspired them, and how I developed the final stories from those initial seeds. Probably, anyway. There may be waffling. It’s free though! Regardless, the whole weekend looks pretty cool to me, and my hat is off to the organisers, who have worked so hard to create something so ace.

 

Always the highlight of the crime fiction calendar, I will – of course – be at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, from 16 to 19 July. I would be there anyway, but this year will be especially nice for a couple of reasons. As much as I really enjoyed being Chair in 2014, I’m looking forward to being able to relax a little more this year. But not entirely! I’m going to be on a panel called ‘Yorkshire Pride’, along with Frances Brody, Lee Child and Peter Robinson, and moderated by Nick Quantrill, on Friday afternoon – which I’m very much looking forward to. And again, panels aside, it will be lovely to see loads of people there, and catch up with friends old and new.

 

I’ve never been to Bloody Scotland before, and I’m really excited to be a part of this year’s programme. The whole itinerary is absolutely awesome, and takes place from 11-13 September in Stirling. On Sunday 13 September, I’ll be in conversation with Sarah Pinborough about crime and horror and probably all kinds of other stuff. This is brilliant for me, as I love Sarah’s writing – and if you haven’t checked out her most recent novel, The Death House, then you really should. But it also looks like an excellent weekend all round, and I’m thrilled to be appearing there.

Of course, all this – as per my last post here – depends on me not ending up like poor old Hector. It seems fairly unlikely though, I think.

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How quickly love can turn to hate. Less than three years ago, bestselling Hodder & Stoughton author and “eBook superstar” Stephen Leather was admiringly telling me “you’ve a lot going for you … you could be selling tens of thousands a month”, and now … well, we all know where we are. In addition to bragging foolishly on stage about using sock puppet accounts to promote his books, Mr Leather has been revealed as a bully and a creepy stalker, and oooh, he has not liked being called out on it. There are numerous accounts detailing his behaviour. Here’s one, by Nick Cohen, which also includes the Press Complaints Commission’s outright rejection of the objections Mr Leather raised to a previous article.

I actually had no intention of blogging about Mr Leather again – it’s very boring; he’s very boring – but circumstances compel me slightly, as we shall see at the end. In the comments below that two year old Nick Cohen article, I noticed he had recently replied to an ancient comment of mine. Here are both:

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Which is interesting on a few levels. If anybody’s interested, the interview where Leather talks about the Thai bar girls he was meeting not being as pretty anymore, it’s here; it quite clearly makes no sense for him to be referring to my mother in the reply he made, although I’m genuinely not sure why he would consider that any better. I’ll just note that he accepts his own ‘Tick tock’ comment is a direct reference to me, or at least some member of my family.

Most bizarre of all, of course, is the time lag, which I was surprised enough by to mention it on Twitter:

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Well. He did not like this.

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This may be entirely coincidental, of course; he may not be meaning it in connection to me and my tweet. But it does tie in with the content of comment on the Cohen piece, and it’s difficult to imagine who else he might be replying to.

It’s an interesting approach, incidentally. One of the things that narcissists find difficult to do is to avoid personal projection in their attacks on others. In terms of the overall argument, what has been in dispute is Leather’s personal and professional behaviour. His sales, looks, writing talent and the number and quality of his sexual partnerships have never had any bearing on the matter. But it is reasonably clear from his attacks on myself and others that he cares very deeply about these things. A psychologist I am not. But: he is vain and insecure about his looks; he worries about his status, particularly with regard to other men; he views women as objects and trophies; he derives self-esteem from external and often random means of validation rather than any sense of inner confidence. And because the comments he makes would hurt him, he assumes they will hurt others. Even after numerous failed attempts, he remains unable to understand that I am completely oblivious to these lines of attack. He simply can’t comprehend it.

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Because I directly name and link to people, I am somehow passive aggressive. And because he subtweets snide little asides without mentioning names, he is not. Which is obviously nonsense – it’s the opposite of the truth – and again, it’s likely projection. He associates passive aggression, correctly, with cowardice, and so is unable to accept he is guilty of it, whereas I very clearly am not. I have never written anything I would not say to his face. He barely dares to write my name.

Anyway. He did not like this. Read from the bottom up.

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To which I responded:

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As you can probably guess, he did not like this.

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That’s a link to a website for acne cream … oh, please don’t look at me with those eyes – I’ll survive. But it ties back to his initial comment below Nick Cohen’s article. Despite still being too afraid to mention me by name, it is perfectly clear that he is directing these tweets at me. Which makes the follow up, a few hours later, all the more disturbing:

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From the chronology above, and the correlation of the “you” in his various tweets with the comment on the Cohen piece (amongst others), and the direct reference to “Tick tock” (which he has admitted is a specific response to me, and which he may well be regretting placing on the end of that tweet), his tweet is clearly directed at me. It very likely falls foul of Section 16 of the Offences Against the Person Act:

“A person who without lawful excuse makes to another a threat, intending that that other would fear it would be carried out, to kill that other or a third person shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.”

While I highly doubt that Mr Leather is physically capable of carrying out such a threat in person, Steve Roach made reference to Mr Leather’s powerful friends, and Mr Leather is certainly both a very strange and a very wealthy man, and apparently very proud of both things. So yes, I absolutely believe he intends me to “fear it would be carried out”. For what other reason would he say it? And so I shall be considering my legal options with care. In the meantime, I’m still not so much of a coward as to avoid naming Mr Leather and calling him out for what he is.

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the 2015 election

Posted by on May 8th, 2015

Ugh.

So. A small handful of pros:

1) Seeing Farage and Galloway’s faces as they lost. The former is more important, of course, but the latter was probably more amusing, as Galloway is so pompous and serious, in addition to being an awful human being. There was some small joy in seeing him smashed into insignificance by the woman he’d smeared during the campaign. I don’t think Bradford is going to miss him.

2) With a slightly heavy heart, the evisceration of the LibDems. They conjured such goodwill in the run up to the 2010 elections as a genuine alternative. They then basically threw all that away to sit for five years beside the throne, enabling the Tories in so, so much. Whatever their alleged mediating effect, it simply wasn’t enough for me, and I find it impossible to forgive them for that. I’m glad that the oh-too-predictable outcome has come to pass, albeit sad for the many party members whose desires may not have been reflected by the actions of the leadership. They’ve been wiped out as a credible political force for a generation. They asked for it, and they deserve it. I hope the last five years have been worth it for Clegg, because anyone with the slightest amount of sense could have seen this coming.

Cons?

Well, pretty much everything else, from a personal perspective. There’s little more to say than that.

I know I have friends who will be pleased with the result to some degree, and look: there’s no denying the Tories won, and that Labour fumbled the ball in umpteen ways. They were unfocused, and they let the Tories dictate the narrative without ever successfully challenging it. Even given the fact that Ed Miliband comes across as a decent man, and the weight of the media was often against him in ridiculous ways – who doesn’t look stupid for at least one second while eating a sandwich? – it’s clear Labour lacked a coherent overall picture to present that differed enough from the Tories’ to reach voters.

Trying to look on the bright side, for my own views, the Tory majority is relatively slim, and perhaps this will give Labour the chance to reinvent itself that I think it desperately needs. But to be honest, for the moment, that bright side is fairly hard to find. Gah. Today, the rain outside feels entirely appropriate.

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