Thrillerfest 2019 – see you in New York?

It’s been a few years since I’ve made it over to the wonderful Thrillerfest run by ITW each year in New York. But come July I’ll be there.

For those who don’t know Thrillerfest is an annual gathering of writers, readers, editors and publishers from around the world, a unique event that’s both a celebration of writing and a very useful networking and educational function for us all. It runs from July 9 to 13 at the Grand Hyatt next to Grand Central Station.

Hard to believe this is the fourteenth in a row — I was lucky enough to be in at the very beginnings of ITW when it was just a handful of us in a room.

I’ll be around for much of the proceedings, and taking part in two specific events. The first is a talk I will be giving at Craftfest on Wednesday, a part of the festival that’s an add-on for people wanting to know more about the craft of writing. I’ll be speaking about the opportunities and challenges of writing for audio at 1pm.

On Friday at 2.40 pm I’ll be on another audio panel as part of the general conference, entitled Voice, Accents or Cues? Jon Land will be moderating and my fellow panelists are Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association, Stacy Creamer, VP, Audible Studios, long-time actor and audiobook narrator Richard Ferrone, actor and narrator Therese Plummer and Robin Whitten, founder of Audiofile Magazine. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks.

But Thrillerfest is a very congenial event (from time to time you even see people in the bar believe it or not 🤔). So feel free to stop me for a chat any time.

You can find the full Thrillerfest schedule here and the Craftfest schedule here.


How Storytelling Works — a free talk in Bexley

It’s always a pleasure to talk in a library. Next month you’ll find me doing that in Bexley, spelling out a few of my personal theories about the craft of storytelling.

It’s going to be an illustrated talk lasting and hour, and using my current books, The Savage Shore, Devil’s Fjord and Juliet and Romeo as examples of how very different stories share the same kind of architecture and structure. If you’re a reader wanting to see inside the mechanism of stories I hope you’d find it interesting. If you’re planning to write yourself it should give you an insight into how this business works for me.

I don’t believe writing is governed by rules. We all work differently. But it can be useful to listen to authors talk about their working methods then cherry pick the tips you feel might work for you.

There’s lots more going as part of the festival too, with appearances from Stella Duffy, Lindsey Davis, Mike Gayle, Jean Fullerton, Alison Weir, Charlie Connelly, Stuart Clark and Nick Barratt. The poet, Wendy Cope will also be coming along and there will also be workshops on creative writing, film-making and how to get published plus much more.

You’ll find me at the Central Library in Bexleyheath at 2.30 pm on Saturday February 23. The event is free but you do need to register in advance here.

You can find out more about the festival here too.


Out today… Last Seen Wearing, an audio drama

Here’s my first new work of 2019… Last Seen Wearing, a novel-length audio drama exclusive commissioned by Audible with a fantastic cast and specially-written music.

You should find it going live in Audible English language sites around the world today.

In production for more than eighteen months with an American cast, this is a New York-based thriller about a young and disgraced NYPD police officer who’s trying to trace her vanished brother… while working as a private investigator specialising in missing person cases.

It’s the biggest and most exciting audio production I’ve been privileged to work on. Hope you like the results.

You can read more here.

And find the story on Audible US and Audible UK. You can listen for free with a 30-day trial of Audible too.

Many thanks to the talented actors, musicians and studio staff who contributed so much to this project.


Devil’s Fjord: A confession

Writing’s a funny old business. You never quite know what’s round the corner. At the moment that’s a new book, Devil’s Fjord, out from Severn House in hardback on February 1, a standalone mystery set in the Faroe Islands. Kind of gentle Scandi noir with a tough edge to it, I guess. Nothing like any book I’ve written before, which is no bad thing.

Readers always ask: where do stories come from? It’s often a hard question to answer. But on this occasion, not so tough. Let me explain…

Some years ago I was asked to adapt The Killing TV series into novel form. It was a highly enjoyable exercise, especially since I was given free rein to change whatever I wanted from the screen in order to make the narratives work as a book.

Successful too, so much that, after the third TV series was out and adapted to the page, my then publisher asked me if I’d like to write a fourth book with Sarah Lund, a novel from scratch, mine alone.

Now TV adaptations are contractually extremely complicated so my first question was: can we do that? Do we have the rights?

Sure, I was told. Put together a plan.

The TV series consisted of three different stories, produced years apart. The books gave me the chance to turn these into more of a deliberate trilogy about the curious character of Lund. I changed the endings of all three in ways I felt worked better as a book. All the same at the end of the third — I am trying to avoid spoilers here — it’s obvious that a fourth story could not run sequentially on from the way that concluded. So my idea was to try to explore what made Lund who she was: a strange, obsessive woman, with a difficult son and a failed marriage.

Oh, and an obsession with those jumpers too.

The jumpers came from the Faroe Islands. My idea was to write a prequel, one in which a newly-divorced Lund went there to recover with her son and found herself dragged into a local murder that made her the odd person we meet on TV.

Two months I spent on research and planning. Only to be then told: the complex hierarchy of the various rights holders in Denmark was barring the book going ahead. So we didn’t have the rights really at all.

Two months, unpaid and wasted. Well, hey. It’s only ‘author time’ and we know how much that is worth.

The thing is all the research I’d done on the Faroes rather got to me. There were, at the time, only two works of Faroese literature translated into English. I read them both. One was a rather odd historical tragedy. The other an equally strange but more entertaining and modern story of fishing folk struggling with the feudal system of the 1930s, The Old Man and His Sons. I found the latter hard to get out of my head. So gradually a story emerged from this original research for Lund: a mystery set in a remote Faroes fishing village in which two outsiders arrive seeking a peaceful retirement only to discover themselves in the midst of a brutal community torn apart by its own divisions.

I wrote the first twenty thousand words and my editor at Severn House loved it and said: yes.

Which generated the first dilemma. This was the beginning of January. The Faroes aren’t an easy place to get to at the best of times from the UK, and the weather and daylight at that time of year aren’t conducive to research, or representative of high summer, with its whale hunts, when I wanted the story to take place.

Now perhaps it’s my journalistic background but usually I’m a stickler for research. For the Costa series I moved to Rome for a while and signed up at a language college. Whether it’s Venice or Calabria (for The Savage Shore), Copenhagen with Lund or Amsterdam with Pieter Vos, I’ve always made a point of visiting pretty much everywhere I write about and trying to see it through the eyes of locals.

But you don’t have to work that way. Jules Verne wrote Around The World In Eighty Days when he’d barely set foot outside of France. Lots and lots of authors set their stories in locations they’ve never visited. That’s why we’re filed under F for Fiction. Was this the time to leap into the unknown myself?

There’s the confession. I’ve never been to the Faroes. I’d like to because it sounds a fascinating mix of wildness, northern culture and extraordinary landscapes. But this story isn’t set in the real Faroe Islands. It may use some of the real locations and practices, such as those in whale hunting. But Devil’s Fjord is a myth, a fabrication. A work of the imagination and in no way a guide book.

I invent and mangle as I see fit, ignoring, for example, the complex Faroese naming system and the fact that women do not take their husband’s surnames on marriage. I don’t want it to be ‘authentic’, whatever that means. I simply crave a riveting and unusual story, one set in a wonderful location that hovers between the real and the mythical. A place where whales die in a bloody and happy harvest on the beach, the night is illuminated by the neon strangeness of the Northern Lights, and firesides resound to the primal richness of old folk tales.

This is the world Tristan and Elsebeth Haraldsen enter looking for a peaceful paradise in which to retire. As the story opens Tristan, the District Sheriff, a part-time official required to monitor the seasonal whale hunts, is on his roof mowing the turf that stands instead of tiles. Out to sea a pod of whales has been sighted. Villagers are gathering at the harbour, anticipating a rich catch that will see some of them through the coming harsh winter. And two young brothers are arguing about what to do when the dying whales are chased ashore, there to be dispatched in the bloody waves.

As I said, a new horizon in storytelling for me. I hope you like it. I’m delighted to say the audio will be available simultaneously with print publication, narrated as usual by the wonderful Saul Reichlin who, dutiful as ever, visited the Faroese Embassy to learn how to pronounce some of the words I threw at him.

But let me emphasise again: this is fiction through and through. The real Faroe Islands are a much more peaceful place than I depict here, and quite different in many details too I’m sure.

Oh and here’s a photo of some creatures you will meet in the book: puffins. I did take this picture. But at the wonderful Bempton RSPB bird reserve in Yorkshire, though who knows? Perhaps these chaps did visit the area of Vágar where I invented the fictional fishing village of Djevulsfjord for the story.