Thursday, 12 January 2017

Turning the page...

We are proud to publish "Death Wish", ninth in Maureen Carter's Birmingham-based Bev Morriss crime series - and many people have commented on its striking cover. Author and jacket designer are huge fans of each other's work, and today we bring you part two of a conversation they had recently. Today Dan is asking the questions...

DAN: Maureen, you’ve brought the character of Bev to life in nine novels now, and you must feel very close to her. What’s it like to have created such a richly complex character and have complete control over her destiny?

MAUREEN: Great questions, Dan, and you’re dead right with your conjecture that I must feel very close to Bev. After all this time I feel I know her better than some of my closest friends. I love the fact she shoots from the lip and refuses to take ordure from anyone: villains or VIPS, she tells it like it is.  She can be pricklier than a cactus convention but she’s also sensitive and caring and it’s this that gives her enormous empathy with the good guys and gals. 

Ironically, when I started writing Working Girls, I envisaged that Bev would very much play third fiddle to her boss, Detective Superintendent Bill Byford. I gave her a walk-on part but every time she appeared on the page and I put words into her mouth, she stole the scene.  Then I got to thinking, it’s about time crime fiction had a young female cop taking the lead role. Back then they were pretty thin on the patch considering how many curmudgeonly male detectives were around invariably carrying a back story crammed with emotional baggage. Bev was an antidote to all that and though I do put her through some dark and difficult mills, I’m always cognisant of readers and listeners who’ve taken her to their hearts.  If they think I’m giving her a really hard time, they let me know in no uncertain terms. It gives me a rosy glow that Bev is as real to them as she is to me. 

DAN: Many people have said that your Bev Morriss novels would make a great TV series (and I concur!) Have you ever thought about who would be good at playing Bev?

 MAUREEN: Bev on the box? Wouldn’t that be great? Like zillions of other books, the series has in the past been optioned for TV but it’s currently what’s known in the trade as ‘parked’. The idea might be revived at some point in the future and that would make my day but realistically only a tiny proportion of proposed new crime series make it onto the screen.

Having said that, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to discuss with producers our dream cast list. I’d love Jenna Coleman to play Bev. I’ve thought that since I first saw her in Dr Who. She has that essential feisty side but also real warmth and a twinkle not just in the eye but in the voice. Oh yes, and I’d like Olivia Colman to play Bev’s mum. And Adil Ray to play Oz. And  Greg Wise to play Byford. And . . . you get the picture.  

DAN: Your novels contain some hard-hitting and emotional issues —  how do you avoid carrying those feelings over into everyday life?

 MAUREEN: You’re right about the novels dealing with some pretty grim and gritty issues.  In my book – and books – crime is never cosy. Its impact on victims and the fallout on their families and friends is often devastating. I try and portray crime realistically and, therefore, seriously, but I do leaven the mix with humour mainly through the dialogue, banter between detectives that sort of thing.
Gallows humour is the clichéd way it’s described but, believe me, it happens in real life at actual crime scenes. As a TV journalist I witnessed it, took part in it, and to my mind as much anything it’s a way coping; a way of lightening the dark times. I’m sure this carries over into my crime fiction and helps give the necessary distance.  

DAN: Who would you say has had the greatest influence on your work?

 MAUREEN: I suppose it depends what you mean by ‘influence’. I’ve always read voraciously and admire a huge number of authors but I guess as far as my decision to write crime fiction goes, I guess that would be down to Ruth Rendell. I remember years ago being absolutely blown away by the first line of one of her standalone novels, A Judgement in Stone. It goes, ‘Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.’ What an opening! Thirteen words – but such resonance, such power. The book was definitely one of the springboards for my crime writing career. So yes, Ruth Rendell has a lot to answer for!  

On the other hand, if you mean who’s had the greatest influence on the way I write, unless it’s subliminally, I don’t think anyone has. I do know some writers won’t read books in their genre when they have a work-in-progress but I couldn’t imagine not reading. The way I see it, if an author’s developed a sufficiently distinctive ‘voice’ he or she has a style all their own and is immune from picking up anyone else’s writing traits. 

DAN: In Stephen King’s Misery, Paul Sheldon enjoys a cigarette and a glass of champagne when he finishes a book. What does Maureen Carter do?

MAUREEN: I remember finishing writing a Bev book and immediately going out to get my eyebrows threaded, but that’s so uncool. Have to say that apart from breathing a huge sigh of relief, I mostly catch up with friends over a glass or three of Prosecco. What I definitely DON’T do is drive to Los Angeles through the mountains in a snowstorm. 


"Death Wish", by Maureen Carter, is available in eBook format from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and all good digital retailers. 

Cover design by Daniel Raven-Clift of HCT Creative.  

See more of Maureen's books (and Dan's designs) at Creative Content

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Maureen Carter covers it...

We're so proud to have published "Death Wish", the ninth book in Maureen Carter's Birmingham-based crime series featuring Detective Bev Morriss. Throughout the series, designer Daniel Raven-Clift has created wonderful covers. He and Maureen have become great admirers of each other's work. We got the two of them in conversation, and Maureen - a former BBC journalist - gave him a grilling...

MAUREEN: If, as they say, a picture paints a thousand words then a book cover has to encapsulate getting on for a hundred thousand! It’s quite a task. How do you set about it?  

DAN: It really depends on the design brief from the publisher. Sometimes I’ll be given specific direction, other times I’ll have a completely blank canvas to work with. If the latter, I’ll usually ask for a summary of the plot and I’ll also have the manuscript to refer to when I’m thinking of ideas. I prefer to keep things simple and, for a novel, I like the cover image to be something that’s both literal and symbolic. For Death Wish I knew I wanted to have a long braid of hair, which features in the book, but I also wanted to get across a sense of isolation and vulnerability, themes I felt were a strong thread throughout the story. And I really liked the idea of using an image that perhaps isn’t quite what it seems at first glance; to me this felt representative of the series, and maybe even Bev herself.

MAUREEN: I usually ‘see’ a cover in my head as I write a novel but I have to admit it wasn’t the case with Death Wish. The plot has so many strands I couldn’t picture a single striking image that ‘said it all’. I love what you produced, Dan, but do you find some covers more difficult to design than others?  

DAN: Thank you, Maureen!  And yes, some are more difficult. A while ago I designed the covers for some classic titles and these were surprisingly challenging. Partly because I had pre-conceived ideas about the books themselves which, of course, had an immediate influence on my ideas, but also I couldn’t resist heading to Google to see what other designers had done in the past. This was both useful and daunting at the same time! With a book like Heart of Darkness that’s had countless jacket designs over the years, to think of something completely different didn’t make it the easiest job ever. Hopefully readers enjoyed my efforts!

MAUREEN: Are there differences between designing covers for stand-alone novels and those for a series of books? 

DAN: Yes, there’s a bit more freedom with a standalone book in terms of the general layout of the cover. For something with a series or author style, there will be certain things that have a set look and feel. Like with Bev Morriss series, we always have the title and your name in the same typeface and size, and I work within those constraints so the series has a cohesive feel to it.  Having said that, with Death Wish the publisher and I decided to give the cover a slightly updated look. I think this is important as you have to be mindful of trends and look to see what the general flavour is for book jackets of a particular genre.  I think even with some quite subtle changes we’ve given Death Wish a fresh look, but it still feels part of the family.

MAUREEN: Does it help when you’re designing if you like the story?!

DAN: Yes, it does make the process more enjoyable! I did a cover for a book of short stories (Gracious Lies by Hilda Lolly) which I really enjoyed, so much so that I thought it would be fun to have individual designs for each story. We ended up using these in the book as an introduction to each one. For the book’s cover I wanted to reflect both the style of the writing and the mood of the stories in one, so the wonderful Carol Kemp did the hand lettering for the title which was all flowing and lovely, and then I made it look like it had sprouted some sinister looking thorns. 

MAUREEN: Authors are often asked if they have a favourite book they wish they’d written. Is there a book ‘out there’ you’d really like to have designed the cover for?

DAN: Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes — simple, clever and oddly amusing. 

Tomorrow we turn the tables, and Dan asks Maureen about writing, influences, and champagne!

"Death Wish", by Maureen Carter, is available in eBook format from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and all good digital retailers. 

Cover design by Daniel Raven-Clift of HCT Creative.  

See more of Maureen's books (and Dan's designs) at Creative Content

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Future of Our Country

Paul Kent, author of 'The Lowdown: The EU - Should We Stay or Should We Go', is fed up with fearmongering!

Well, nine days to go, and I must say as far as I’m concerned, this whole wretched process can’t be over too soon. The past few weeks have been a sobering reminder (if we needed one) of how low the standard of political debate in this country can sink. Nobody seems to credit the Great British Public with the ability to think in anything but binary opposites, which is not just patronizing but simply plain wrong. Yes, at the end of the process we’re going to have to come down on one side or the other, but that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice nuance and complexity while we’re making our decision – whatever it is - simply because our politicians and the media do. One of the reasons we published The Lowdown: The EU - Should We Stay Or Should We Go back in 2013, was that it was pretty apparent given their past behaviour that the closer we got to a referendum, the more misinformation would be passed off as fact by the interested parties. And so it has unfortunately proved. There’s very little genuine unspun data out there; and the lies and distortions have been repeated so many times, they are being taken for the truth, even by those who should know better.

The first thing to say is a reminder that this isn’t just about what we think as individuals: it’s about the future of our entire country. The UK. It’s not like a general election that comes round every five years. The consequences of what we decide on June 23rd will be with us for much longer than that. So we all need to park our short-term agendas and THINK BIG. The last referendum we had was in 1975, so that means we might not get the chance to vote on the issue again for another 41 years ...

There’s so much nonsense being written and spoken, I wouldn’t begin to know where to start correcting it. For example, you Brexiteers, Turkey is NOT, repeat NOT going to be joining the EU any time soon unless the 34 of the 35 essential criteria it currently doesn’t meet for joining are somehow ignored. And, here’s the clincher, Angela Merkel doesn’t want them in. So why pretend there’s going to be millions of Turkish economic migrants battering down our borders?

But are the Bremainers any better? Well, not really – if we are to believe David Cameron and George Osborne, everything, from pensions to food standards will be under threat if we leave the EU. Even house prices will fall, which, for the English, means ARMAGEDDON is coming - we’ll all be living in some Breughelian nightmare if we heed the paranoia being spread by what has come to be known as Project Fear.

So what’s REALLY going to happen if we leave?

We don’t know. Nobody knows. Or indeed can know, no matter how much they pontificate. For the simple reason that no full member has ever left the EU before. And not only that, if you asked these people at what level the FTSE’s going to close tomorrow night, they couldn’t accurately predict that either. What will have to happen is a lot of talking. Disentangling over forty years of trade agreements. Rewriting social policy. Getting a UK Bill of Rights. That’s going to take YEARS. Because on June 24th, nothing will have magically changed – it’s only the start. And if any of the Brexiteers had the slightest inkling of how much hard slog awaited them, they probably wouldn’t have begun this in the first place. Disengagement doesn’t happen “just like that”. It has to be addressed issue by issue, point by point. Massive amounts of new and revised legislation will have to be drafted, discussed and voted on.

I can’t wait, can you?

So what can we, the voters do?

Just don’t believe any of these dissemblers, of whatever persuasion: grab a cold drink, download The Lowdown: The EU - Should We Stay Or Should We Go, set aside a couple of hours to read it, and make up your own mind. Then switch of the TV and/or the iPad, bin the newspapers and go out and vote, secure in the knowledge that you haven’t been taken for a ride on anyone’s hobbyhorse. PLEASE. - Paul Kent

'The Lowdown: The EU - Should We Stay or Should We Go' is available in download eBook and audio formats.

Friday, 13 May 2016

What's All This About a Referendum?

In the first of a series of blogs, Paul Kent - author of "The Lowdown: The EU - Should We Stay Or Should We Go" - continues to consider the upcoming EU referendum.

 When I wrote The EU –Should We Stay or Should We Go back in 2013, I noted that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had pledged to allow a referendum on the subject should his Conservative Party win the 2015 General Election. Well, they did, and indeed he has – a full year before he originally thought he might.

So why the rush? Well, as I noted three years ago, opposition to the UK’s membership of the EU was growing more vocal both on the right wing of his party, and among voters who were seemingly flocking to a “new” phenomenon in British politics, the United Kingdom Independence Party, better known as UKIP, which, despite being twenty years old, was only then starting to gain political traction. Cameron, as a pro-EU Tory, had previously dismissed this opposition as a bunch of fruitcakes and wackos. Which may or may not be true, but what he couldn’t deny was that they were gaining considerable popular support, to the point where they could no longer be ignored. The boil had to be lanced simply to get them to shut up and go away. And he thought that a referendum was the simplest way to do it.

But Cameron seriously underestimated quite how difficult that routine minor surgery would prove, and now he’s got a real fight on his hands – one which he in in serious danger of losing, if polls are to be believed.

Which of course they’re not – at least without a whole host of questions being asked first.

Cameron made a great play of admitting that there was plenty wrong with the EU, but nothing that a stiff dose of UK-prompted reform wouldn’t fix. So in he went to bat against the other 27 member states, to negotiate what he could sell as a fresh start and a new beginning to the British electorate. And here’s what he managed to get:

FINANCE: the UK will never join the Euro, and British financial institutions will be protected from Eurozone regulations being automatically imposed on them;

MIGRATION: migrants to the UK from other EU nations will not be able to claim tax credits and welfare payments immediately they arrive, and they will no longer be allowed to send so much of what they are paid out of the country;

SOVEREIGNTY: for the first time, there will be a clear commitment that Britain is not part of a move towards "ever closer union" with other EU member states - one of the core principles of the EU. This will be incorporated in an EU treaty change. Mr Cameron also secured a "red card" system for national parliaments. It will be easier for governments to band together to block unwanted legislation. If 55% of national EU parliaments object to a piece of EU legislation it will be rethought.

And that’s it. These are the reforms we need to add to my summary of what the EU is and how it works, as described in my book to get an up-to-date picture of what’s at stake. How the debate is proceeding will be the subject of my next blog – and it won’t be pretty! But in the meantime, in keeping with Should We Stay or Should We Go’s original premise, I’m going to remain impartial throughout. I will not be joining those vested interests promising you either Armageddon or the Promised Land if you vote for them, because my mind’s still open, and I’m damn well going to make the decision for myself no matter how much the two sides try to scare or entice me round
to their point of view. I want what’s best for the UK and its people in the long term – not what’s best for politicians, multinational corporations, the City of London, newspaper proprietors, racial bigots, little Englanders, Boris Johnson, bureaucrats on the gravy train, time
servers or journalists. So watch this space . . . - Paul Kent

"The Lowdown: The EU - Should We Stay or Should We Go" is available in eBook and audio versions from Amazon, iBooks, Audible - and most good digital retailers.

Paul Kent is also the author of "101 Short Essays on Shakespeare".

Friday, 29 April 2016

If it bleeds, it leads!

The audio book version of Bad Press, fifth in Maureen Carter's Bev Morriss series, publishes today.  She  joins us today to talk about what led her from news reporting to crime writing....

Like Matt Snow in Bad Press, I’m an old-school journalist who learned the ‘proper’ way. I cut my cub reporter teeth on a weekly newspaper in my home town, moved south to work on a daily broadsheet then back to the Midlands to join the news team on one of the first commercial radio stations in the UK. (A clue to how long ago that was? The job description was newswoman.) Anyway, I then spent nearly twenty years working in BBC TV newsrooms as reporter, editor, producer and sometime presenter. 

Being a reporter, especially with the Beeb, opened countless doors, helped me gain access to all kinds of people from all walks of life. I’ve interviewed everyone from pop stars to princes, prostitutes to police officers plus lots more non-alliterative professionals and personalities. 

Of course in news – as in fiction – crime sells. The cliché is true: if it bleeds, it leads. And it led me into a new career writing crime fiction.  How so . . .? 

I covered more crime stories than I care to remember but a number were impossible to forget. Especially the people involved: the victims, the grieving parents, police officers fighting back tears at a particularly poignant crime scene. I touched on issues that I found fascinating: how society treats the elderly (Dead Old): teenage sex workers (Working Girls); child abduction (Baby Love).  

As a TV reporter, I had maybe a minute and a half – that’s just two hundred and forty words – to tell these complex and amazing stories. Some I longed to explore further, venture far below the surface. Is it any wonder I decided to become a full time writer? And the news career undoubtedly helped make me the kind of author I am. 

I write spare but visual prose, come up with stories that are topical and fast-paced, create varied and, I hope, credible characters. Oh, and I set a daily word count, never miss a deadline and drink far too much coffee. 
As for my reporter in Bad Press, I’ve worked with many a Matt Snow in my time: dogged, persistent, cocky, massively competitive. He’s a hack who acts like a terrier – he never lets go until he has the story. I hope his story holds you captive, too. 

Personally, I’m never less than spellbound by the wonderful Clare Corbett whose narration brings all my characters to such vivid vocal life.- Maureen Carter

"Bad Press", written by Maureen Carter and narrated by Clare Corbett, is available from Audible US, Audible UK, and other digital retailers.