Friday, 27 May 2011

Making a Killing

Maureen Carter is the creator of the acclaimed DS Bev Morriss crime series. Booklist USA’s recent verdict: Detective Sergeant Bev Morriss is quickly becoming one of the most interesting characters in British crime fiction.

A former BBC TV news journalist, presenter and producer, Maureen’s gritty police procedurals also reflect the influence and impact of the media during high-profile criminal investigations.

Here she muses – tongue in cheek – on a lesser known and light-hearted reason for writing crime fiction.  

Killing for a living can settle scores so satisfyingly. For instance, I didn’t know – had never even met – my first victim.  The leggy blonde Michelle Lucas appears on the first page of Working Girls – the opening title in the Bev Morriss crime series – by page two, Michelle’s clocked off for the last time. I despatched her as a favour for a friend. Let me explain…

This friend was in bits when her husband took off with another woman. As she related the sad news, the sliver of ice in my writer’s heart took on iceberg proportions. Almost my first words to her were: tell me what she looks like and I’ll bump her off. Hence the tall blonde’s sharp exit. Naturally, the names were changed to protect the…guilty.  

The irony is that as I wrote the book, I grew quite fond of the posthumous Ms Lucas. And the even bigger irony? The next time I saw my friend, her man was back in the marital home with his tail between his legs; metaphorically, at least. I learned two lessons: maybe I should have despatched the male in the first place. And: a crime writer can indulge – no, better make that, acquire – a taste for blood.

Ten years on since that first killing, there are now seven novels in the Bev series and off the top of my head I reckon I’ve seen off a score of villains in a variety of ways: beatings, stabbings, bullets, overdoses, death by express train. You name it… 

The vast majority of victims – I hasten to add – are totally imaginary baddies, but it’s rather good to know that if someone crosses me, I can wreak fictional payback. Revenge doesn’t even have to be fatal.  I encountered an incredibly rude, patronising GP a few years ago. Back at the desk later that morning, I created a fat guy with a comb over then threw in a Hawaiian shirt and halitosis for good measure.  It was purely a case of giving him a taste of his own medicine, wasn’t it? - Maureen Carter
The latest eBook version of Maureen Carter's Bev Morriss series, "Bad Press," publishes today.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Herstory: Should women narrate the history of war?

We at Creative Content are very proud of our Short Histories series – it’s given us the chance to work with some fantastic historians and terrific narrators. 

Next in the series is “The Lowdown: A Short History of the Origins of the Vietnam War”, by Dr. David L. Anderson – and we’ve taken the decision to have a female narrator. I thought it was a little unconventional, but as my business partner Ali (Muirden) said at the time, “Why not?”

And it got me thinking – why are there so few history titles narrated by women?
I did some casual research of the top-selling 100 general history titles on Audible UK and Audible USA. About 95% of them are narrated by men – and the ones that are narrated by women have either been written by them or are histories of particular women. (Yes, there are one or two exceptions, like the very well-received “This Sceptred Isle” by Christopher Lee, narrated by Anna Massey.)

When it comes to war, the titles narrated by women are even fewer – and those usually have to do with particular women, or are about the civilian experience of war -Don't Forget to Write: The True Story of an Evacuee and her Family by Pam Hobbs, narrated by Penelope Freeman, Clara's War by Clara Kramer, narrated by Rula Lenska, The Blitz: The British Under Attack by Juliet Gardiner, narrated by Catherine Harvey.

I asked Ali, “Why do you think it is that around 95% of best-selling non-fiction history audio books are narrated by men?”

She said: "I think it's because people assume that history is a genre that appeals more to men than women. There is also the feeling that the sex of reader should be the same as that of the writer of the book being recorded.  Perhaps subconsciously we feel that if a man has written the book then the reader should be male too - and vice-versa! And a lot of history, particularly military history, is written by men.”
Maybe. Do we think women’s voices don’t suit the material? I’m not sure it’s that: we accent female newsreaders delivering the grimmest details of combat. Is it because war is usually fought by men, or because most significant military figures (with some exceptions) have been men? Is it, as Ali suggests, because most consumers of military history are men, and they prefer to hear male voices reading it? Or is it simply a convention that we don’t question? 

I’m not trying to be provocative, and I’m not even saying it should be different – I’m genuinely curious! Why do you think it is? 
And we’d love to know what you think of our ‘experiment’ - having a straight military history title read by a woman.* - LK

*“I think it's great that we're challenging these assumptions and it's been really interesting to hear so many different view points on the subject on Twitter this week!" - Ali Muirden

Photo by Beverly & Pack

Our Short History titles in eBook:

Friday, 13 May 2011

Our guest blogger this week is Penny Deacon, author of the near-future thriller, "A Kind of Puritan".

Several Years Ago

I’m sitting on a small (it feels small at the moment) yacht in the middle of the Atlantic with a seasick cat (Black Sebastian, fearless pirate, currently an unhappy bundle of fluff wedged in a safe corner) with the world going mad. Lots of lightning. Fresh wet stuff falling down all round to mingle with all the salty wet stuff leaping up from below. And I’m wondering what on earth (and how I wish I was on earth – good muddy stuff that doesn’t go up and down) I am doing here. And who is this Humility character who keeps telling me things about the way she grew up?


It got better. West Indies. Sunshine. Rum. And idle days wondering whether I would ever get round to writing that book. That one with the odd girl in it. I didn’t know much about her except her name and that she lived on an old Dutch barge based somewhere that might have been Hamble (near Southampton). And somehow the idea grew and the first draft of A Kind of Puritan sort of happened. I’ve seldom enjoyed writing anything more – except the moment about a third of the way in when I realised I was wrong about who the killer was. This is a disconcerting experience.  It makes me wonder who’s in charge of my brain (not me, clearly). I rapidly re-read what I had written and discovered that my current brain driver was relatively competent since she seemed to have put in most of the right clues to the right killer even if I hadn’t known about it at the time. I realised quite quickly that this revision to the killer’s identity was a definite improvement and told my subconscious to interfere whenever she felt like it. When my editor later told me that he thought Puritan was wonderful, and all sorts of other things every writer wants to hear, ‘except that the plot sags between pages 67 and 143’ I realised he was right, too. Advice to writers: do what feels right, but don’t ignore suggestions.

I think I wrote Puritan without a strong conviction it was publishable: it was just a story I wanted to tell. You can imagine how grateful I was to win Crème de la Crime’s competition and have both the guarantee of publication and the publicity that goes with it. I don’t enter many writing competitions (there aren’t enough out there for novels) but they are a good way of forcing yourself to work to a deadline. It’s so easy just to give in to the call from a friend (or that second glass of wine) and discover that you’ve just lost another day’s writing time. Displacement activities – is that what I’ve just being doing? Oh dear. - Penny Deacon

Friday, 6 May 2011

Communing With Your Inner Hero

Our guest blogger this week is Tracey Shellito, author of "Personal Protection", one of our latest titles in our eCC Creative Crime imprint.

Writing fiction is like game -playing. It allows you to be whoever you want to be. The limitations of deafness, a wheelchair or ugliness, the strictures of height, weight or skin colour, the restrictions of religion, sexuality or gender matter not one whit. You can be a superhero or a heroic cop, a damsel in distress or the dyke on a white charger who rescues her.

So it was for me. I was diagnosed with chronic asthma when I was four, together with eczema and a slew of allergies too numerous to mention. Running around playing with the other kids was a no-no. And so I discovered my adventures and new worlds though books, first reading them, then writing my own.

The asthma and most of the allergies are gone now but it hasn’t changed my love of fiction or of real paper books. Nothing can beat the smell and the feel of a work you’ve written and had published in your hands. But just as writing longhand has morphed into writing direct to a word processing suite, publishing has changed. Like my beloved science fiction, the book you’re reading now is just as likely to be a series of electronic bits, bytes, kilobytes and megabytes as type printed with ink on paper by an offset lithographic printing press.

The shift to electronic publishing doesn’t mean sacrificing the quality of the work. Many of the stories you can now access via your PC, Kindle or Sony Reader were once hardback or paperback fiction, which is where Randall first saw life.

Personal Protection was my entry to the original Search For the Crème de la Crime competition, that lead to an imprint of the same name. Crime has been my literary passion, along with fantasy and science fiction, from just about the moment I learned to read. Being taken to see Goldfinger at the movies when I was six, being named after Tracey Steele - private detective in the Hawaiian Eye television series - and loaning Casino Royale from the library on my mother’s card because the librarian thought I should only be reading children’s stories when I was eight, are some of my earliest memories associated with the genre. It wasn‘t surprising that I eventually crafted my own heroine.

Unlike my earlier heroes and heroines, Randall has a basis in fact. Of all my creations she is most like me. Her looks, temperament, gender and sexuality are mine. (Which led to a few friends asking if they were other characters in the book! No, for the nth time, you really aren‘t.) Incidents that happened in my life, or things I’d like to have happened, together with a healthy dose of artistic licence made the story.

Fiction is still the best lift, for the least money, in the safest fashion you can experience. In a world where we are increasingly stressed by our jobs, lack of money and an uncertain future, communing with your inner hero is something that can make you feel good for a few hours and allow you an escape your problems long enough to get perspective and attack them with renewed purpose; whether you are reading someone else’s creations and empathising with the protagonist’s plight, or writing the character for yourself. I hope you enjoy reading Personal Protection as much as I enjoyed writing it.  - Tracey Shellito