Crime series peeves

I watch quite a lot of crime series on tv these days; I particularly enjoy most of the Scandi-noir that turns up on BBC4 but will also settle down with home-grown fodder such as Ann Cleeves’ Vera and Shetland series, plus new kids on the block (Harlen Coben’s recent The Five; Broadchurch; the Beeb’s jazzy entrant New Blood).

Most of the time I’m happy to suspend disbelief in the name of good drama.  However, there are a few things which crop up so regularly, on tv and in the movies too, that they start to scream ‘device’, ‘formula’ and ‘lazy writing’ at me.  Here are my top five, in no particular order – let’s see if you agree with them!

  1. Photophobics.  They must have a genuine fear of light, mustn’t they?  And photophobia must be one of the most common phobias out there.  Because characters do this all the flipping time.  What am I talking about?  Walking into their home, after dark, and not switching the blinking lights on, that’s what.  I mean, would you?  I sure as hell wouldn’t, and I’m not that bothered about the sort of ‘psychopath lying in wait behind the kitchen door’ scenario that tv characters have to contend with.  In my case, it’s more the furniture.  Go blundering around in pitch darkness and I’m bound to collide with something heavy, and end up hopping up and down on one leg swearing.  So why do so many characters do it?  Presumably, because the plot needs them to in order to provide a scare.  But there are loads of less formulaic, more original ways to do that.
  2. Characters who find an open door at the home of a friend/neighbour/family member/witness/complete stranger, and instead of phoning the person to check if they’re okay, or calling in the authorities, just walk on in.  Usually while bleating something inane like “Hello?  Is anyone here?”  No, just a dead body and that mad axe murderer behind the kitchen door…  I don’t know about other countries but here in the UK it’s considered trespass; even the authorities need permission before entering someone’s home, unless they suspect someone’s life is genuinely in danger.  And while I can swallow the occasional outbreak of rule-bending to get into a target property, this happens with monotonous regularity and often involves characters who aren’t even police.
  3. “Everything will be all right, darling, I promise you.”  Quite possibly the most overused piece of dialogue ever, in films and tv series in all genres – but because of the implied tension, it seems to be particularly prevalent in crime and action dramas.  And it sucks.  Because here in the UK at least, people just don’t say that sort of thing.  Not even to their kids.  They’re far more likely to say something tactless, which creates a tension of its own and is far more interesting than endless stock platitudes.  (A great example being a recent Peter Kaye advert where he tells a child they shouldn’t worry about monsters in the wardrobe, they should worry about the burglars trying to break in through the window – and then wonders what he’s done!  Now that’s real life for you.)
  4. Dialogue that becomes nothing more than a series of thinly-disguised stage directions.  “You go the market and see if you can head him off.  I’ll drive to Mo’s and get him out of bed.”  The worst cases of this are often US tv series that are in their third or fourth season and running out of ideas.  It’s horribly stilted, and surely there are better ways of getting that information across to the viewer.  Whatever happened to show not tell?
  5. Back-up.  This really is my pet peeve at the moment, because it’s turning up everywhere, from silly populist shows that might expect to get away with it, to more intellectual, ‘serious’ programmes that really should know better.  Nobody waits for back-up.  It doesn’t matter what country they’re from, whether they’re police or civil crime fighters, or how dangerous the situation is.  They simply grab a gun (even in countries where the authorities aren’t routinely armed) and dash in.  Usually through a handily-open door, and without bothering to switch the lights on.  It’s hardly rocket science knowing what’s going to happen next, is it?  And that in itself takes away most of the tension, because the key to genuine shock is not expecting it.  Which doesn’t happen if you’re watching the same damn scene for the fiftieth time, yawning, and saying “Any minute now the killer’s going to jump out from behind the kitchen door.”

So go on.  What are your worst offenders in the peeve department?  I’d love to know!

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Location shots

Several months ago, you may remember I shot off to Birmingham to take some photos of the locations I’d used in ‘Raise the Blade’.  They came out remarkably well and I was able to use some of them for a display at the book launch, which seemed to be quite popular.

Now, for those of you who couldn’t be at the launch, I’m posting some of them on here, complete with appropriate snippets from the book itself.  Hopefully it’ll give a better idea of the various settings I used, and the atmosphere.  Although I have to say it’s very hard to drum up spooky evening atmosphere in Highbury Park on a gloriously sunny morning… but you’ll just have to blame the weather for that!  Best laid plans…

Anyway, here, in no particular order, are the shots:

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Edgbaston Reservoir: The property backed onto the reservoir, so presumably that fence in the distance, beyond the clump of conifers, was where Brian had got in…

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City Centre Gardens: ‘Over there’ proved to be behind them, in the narrow space between bench and road, bounded by thick bushes and a low brick wall…

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Birmingham & Worcester canal: …stuck on the towpath with nothing but trees for miles.  Or at least that’s what it looked like, although in reality they were only a mile or so from the centre of town…

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Highbury Park: It was quiet tonight.  A duck quacked, and out in the water something plopped, but there was nobody else about…

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“Floyd Road, Hall Green” (not a real location, but might look something like this): The house looked ordinary enough – one neat semi in among all the rest.

 

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Good night had by all

I’m back from Newcastle after Noir at the Bar: NE on Wednesday evening, and what a great event it was.  Thirteen authors reading from their work, plus a wildcard from the audience on the night, and the choice and quality of readings was excellent.  Everything from hilarious (Jay Stringer’s wonderful tale of koi carp) to totally chilling (an extract from KA Richardson’s novel), with police procedurals, dark short stories, and urban fantasy crime thrown in between.

The event was organised with military precision by Jacky Collins and Vic Watson, and the venue was a dream.  The Town Wall is a stunning pub near Newcastle’s main station, converted from two floors of a wonderful old building and serving tasters of real ale and some amazing, home-cooked food.  Sadly, the food was my downfall.  Having survived the train journey and actually got to the place in one piece, I thought I’d be healthy and order salad with my meal.  Which I really enjoyed… right up to the moment it tried to kill me.  I had a nasty allergic reaction which put me, more or less literally, on the floor.  I honestly think this event is jinxed for me!

I recovered enough to do my reading (from the first main section of ‘Raise the Blade’, where a body is found) and if I struggled in places I’m hoping nobody noticed!  I also stayed on and listened to as many of the other authors as I could (about nine, I think) and enjoyed them very much indeed.  But after that I had to admit defeat and totter back to my hotel, which was very disappointing.  I ended up missing the last four or five ‘acts’ and didn’t get to meet all the people I was hoping to.  So if I didn’t stop to chat, this is why.  I’m very sorry, and hope to have another chance soon.

And here’s a group photo to give you some idea of the night:

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Noir at the Bar x2

noirnewcastleTomorrow sees me and my Other Half heading for Newcastle, for the second Noir at the Bar: NE event.

This will be my second attempt at getting there, after an unfortunate tussle with some furniture last time round.  This time, I’m hoping for an accident-free day so I can get there in one piece, have a meal, meet lots of my Facebook and Twitter friends, and read another piece from ‘Raise the Blade’.

Do come along if you’re anywhere near the area, as these events are great fun and the quality of the readings from the authors involved is very high.  Other Half was really impressed by Noir at the Bar: Carlisle a few months back.  This one is at the Town Wall bar on Pink Lane in Newcastle (where they apparently serve excellent food) and starts at 7.00 pm.  Thirteen different authors are booked to speak, plus a “wild card” from the audience, so it sounds like being quite a lively night.

As ever I’ll post a report once I’m back.  In the meantime, if you can come along then I’ll look forward to meeting you.  Oh – and I’ll have a few signed copies of ‘Raise the Blade’ in my bag, just in case.  So if you’d like to get your sticky paws on one of those, for the special discount price of only £4.00, then you’ll have to see me there!

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Launched with a bottle of bubbly

I haven’t updated this for a few days but I have a very good excuse because I was busy preparing for last Friday, which was launch day for ‘Raise the Blade’.

The launch party went off really well, with friends, relatives and fellow writers gathering from various corners of the UK to help me celebrate.  I’d booked the local community centre, which turned out to be the ideal setting for a mixture of readings, an interview, a display of location photographs from the book, a ‘crime board’, and of course, tea and cake!

The cakes were an absolute knockout – bespoke cupcakes designed and baked to perfection by the lovely Shirley at J’aime Cakes in Kendal – who I’m forever grateful to for fulfilling the order at a rather difficult time.  Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.

The interview, by good friend and fellow crime-writer LP Mennock, threw up some really interesting questions.  Cue much head-scratching and pen-sucking with the answers, but it got me thinking about how and why I wrote the book and what ideas I was trying to get across, and I may well use it as a basis for more blog posts in future.

And finally, the book.  It seems to be going down really well.  The readings were well-received, even if people did get thoroughly creeped-out by the prologue!  And several friends have been in touch already to say they can’t put the book down.  It’s always a little unnerving ‘putting your work out there’, so I’m delighted they’re enjoying it so much.

Finally, huge thanks to my friend Fiona Macartney, who couldn’t be there on the day but who provided a lovely bottle of champagne to help lubricate the event.

Here’s a few photos  to give you a taster of both the event and those amazing cakes!

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On paper

Raise the Blade FrontFor those of you who prefer to read books the old fashioned way, in printed ink, on paper, on a book you can actually hold in your hand, then there’s some good news.

Because ‘Raise the Blade’ is now fully available in paperback as well as Kindle format.  It’s priced at only £4.99 on Amazon, or you can order it from “all good bookshops”. (This always makes me laugh, by the way.  Is there such a thing as a bad bookshop?  Surely all bookshops are, by very definition, good places to be – and even better places to buy books.  However, adverts on tv and in the press still adhere to this old cliché, and I’m afraid I couldn’t resist.)

The book will be on sale at the slightly lower price of just £4.00 at my book launch in Windermere on Friday afternoon.  If you’d like to come along you’re very welcome, but places are limited so please contact me to let me know you’re coming – and to get vital information such as the exact time and venue!  If you can’t come along and would like a copy of the book, then do head on over to Amazon.  Or your nearest “good” bookshop, wherever that might be.

 

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Clickbait…

I had some more good news today: the guys at Out of the Gutter Online have accepted a new short story for publication soon.

‘Clickbait’ is a thoroughly nasty tale of revenge and seizing – or even creating – opportunities.  Markie’s having a bad day.  He’s nervous about meeting his new boss, and then some nutter threatens him on the bus.  But maybe, just maybe, he can find a way to still come out on top…

The magazine has a hefty waiting list so it might be a few weeks until the story appears, but I’ll let everyone know the minute it’s available.

And apologies for the evil pun in the title of this post!  I couldn’t resist…

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The last laugh?

This little story caught my eye earlier for all the wrong reasons, because it reads like something from one of my own short stories, or perhaps from Paul Brazill’s wonderful collection of hapless tales The Last Laugh.

Basically a man was convicted of assault and sentenced to carry out unpaid work.  He refused, twice, and was caught boasting about it on social media.

The judge’s response was to jail him – and make the highly appropriate comment in court of ‘LOL’.

Clearly a man after my own heart!

 

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Raising a glass

blade_posterI’m raising a glass today to Caffeine Nights and their CEO Darren Laws because ‘Raise the Blade’ has duly been released on Kindle.

I couldn’t be happier.  This is a great independent publisher, small enough to care about its authors but large enough to get results, and its catalogue is a great fit for my writing.  Dark and gritty, in other words!  ‘Raise the Blade’ is in good hands.

And if you’re into noir, serial killers, twisted psychology, Pink Floyd, or even elephants, then feel free to check it out.  It’s available at Amazon for only £1.99.

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Exciting times

If there’s a sudden pause in this blog post don’t worry, it’s just me conking out because I’ve stopped breathing.  Today has been so exciting I’m not sure I can cope!

First of all, my author copies of ‘Raise the Blade’ arrived in the post.  They look terrific and I’m absolutely delighted with the cover, the overall look and the sheer professionalism of the product.  So much so I laid some of them out on my desk and took a photo:

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Then, just when I thought I was starting to get over that, I discovered that the Kindle version is now available for pre-order on Amazon – for only £1.99.  More excitement!  Now I’m dashing around trying to update all my social media, websites, blogs and what have you at the same time, and rapidly running out of fingers.

If you’d like to add your name to the pre-order list you can find further details here – and thank you very much!  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Teaser…

Raise the Blade FrontLike a reluctant stripper I’m revealing a little more every few days.  Not skin, you’ll be relieved to hear, but the excerpt of ‘Raise the Blade’, which has just grown by another couple of paragraphs.

Do check it out at the dedicated page over at my website – and don’t forget to check back in another couple of days.  You may not find the full monty,  but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait!

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Snippet

I’ve added a brief new excerpt from ‘Raise the Blade’ to my website, so you can get a sense of the book’s style.  I’ll be adding more to the excerpt every couple of days or so until the book is published, so do keep checking back for more.

You can find the current snippet, from the book’s prologue, here.  Given the subject matter I can’t really say ‘happy reading’, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

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