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August 2014

GUEST BLOG: Opening French cold cases
26th August 2014 - 12 Midnight Peter May Read more »

 

The CriticAfter being rejected by all the major British publishers, it was a French translation of the first book in crime writer Peter May's Lewis trilogy, The Blackhouse, that resulted in his first success. The series has now sold over a million copies in the UK alone, encouraging his publisher to reissue his earlier series, the Enzo Files, previously published by a small independent press.

 

Here Peter reveals a difference in legal systems between England and France, the country where he now lives and writes, that was to prove the inspiration for the newly published second in the series, The Critic.

 

'Is Enzo Macleod related to Fin Macleod? has got to be the question that I am being asked most at the moment. When I answer, 'No,' a look of puzzlement crosses the face of the questioner. But why would a writer give two characters the same surname...? Why not? There are a lot of people in Scotland with the surname Macleod, including about half of the population of the Isle of Lewis. Okay I know, I know, people accept coincidences in real life but they are absolutely forbidden in fiction.

 

The truth is, I never intended it to happen. The mystery of these leading characters' surnames is buried in the past. A bit of a cold case.

 

When I finished writing The Blackhouse my agent loved it and sent it to every publisher in the UK. I waited all winter while they deliberated. But when the Spring came, so did the rejection letters. It's hard to imagine how depressing that was. A year of research and writing wasted. Devastating to someone who makes their living as a writer. I had no option but to put the book in a drawer, try hard to forget about it, pull myself together and start a new project.

 

I searched close to home in France for inspiration, thinking it would make research easier, faster and less expensive. An article in my local paper caught my eye. An ex-gendarme had written a book and was doing a signing at our local bookshop. I decided to go along to buy a copy and hear his story. He had worked on a very controversial case which had never reached a conclusion, and at the behest of a victim support group he was still pursuing it after his retirement. It was an intriguing tale involving secrecy and possible cover-ups at the highest levels of French bureaucracy. Shortly after this encounter, I came across a book called Affaires Non Classées about unsolved murders in France, and an idea began to form.

 

France really does have some high-profile cold cases. It seemed to me astonishing that these murders remained unsolved, and I speculated that if only someone re-examined them, applying new scientific techniques that the solutions to some of those old puzzles might be found.

 

Investigations are presided over by judges in France and there is no 'cold case' department. It's not a simple task for a case to be re-examined within the system. So I realised that my investigator had to be outside of the establishment. He had to be someone who wasn't easily intimidated, someone who didn't care about rocking the boat because he was never on board in the first place. An outsider.

 

A character began to form in my mind. A top forensic scientist. Personal upheaval in his life had caused him to leave behind his career and family in Scotland. Twenty years down the line he is a biology lecturer in a university in Toulouse.

 

A displaced person with nothing to lose. An irascible Scot with a formidable intellect and zero tolerance for fools.
At a dinner party with the local Chief of Police - fuelled by a glass or two of wine - the Scot claims that by applying the latest technology he could solve France's most high-profile cold-case murders himself. When the Chief of Police suggests a wager to test this theory, he is forced to put his money where his mouth is and on his wages, he can't afford to lose.I had my investigator and I had inspirations for the cold cases. Now all I needed was a name for him. I liked the idea that his hot-headed impulsiveness was inherited from an Italian mother, so the first name of Enzo came to mind. For his surname, I liked Macleod. Enzo Macleod had a good ring to it. And, after all, Fin Macleod's story was languishing in a drawer, as far as I knew, never to be published.

 

I researched and wrote the first book, Extraordinary People. To my relief, it was published in America and I began to work on the other books that would follow it in the Enzo Files series.

 

Meanwhile, my French publisher had brought out the last of my China Thrillers, and was keen to follow up their success in France with another book from me. The trouble was that she wouldn't even consider my new Enzo Files series. A Scotsman writing about France! 'What about a Scotsman writing about Scotland?' I asked, and told her about the book I had written set in the Outer Hebrides. The Blackhouse intrigued her. She read it and loved it.

 

I went back to writing Enzo Files for the USA and The Blackhouse was translated into L'Ile des Chasseurs d'Oiseaux ('The Island of the Bird Hunters') and published in France.

 

Then something amazing happened. L'Ile des Chasseurs d'Oiseaux was declared a masterpiece by the French newspaper L'humanité. It won a major literature award in France and publishers around Europe began snapping it up at the Frankfurt Book Festival. Quercus - a young publishing house that hadn't been around when The Blackhouse was originally written - loved the book and finally brought it to UK readers. It was selected by the Richard & Judy Book Club and was their autumn 2011 Best Read winner.

 

I was persuaded to follow The Blackhouse with The Lewis Man and The Chessmen, creating the Lewis Trilogy which has now sold more than a million copies in the UK alone. And now Quercus are publishing all of my books in the UK and the Enzo Files are coming out for the first time in Britain. The thing I never believed would happen... I have two lead characters in print with the same surname... Macleod!

 

The final irony is that my French publisher changed her mind upon reading the Enzo Files and they are now being published in France, too. So now everywhere I go, I'm being asked "Pourqoui le même nom pour Enzo et Fin...?"

 

Readers should be prepared for a quite different tone and mood in the Enzo Files from the Lewis Trilogy. The Enzo Files are traditional mysteries with more opportunities for humour. The setting of France provides a much lighter and more colourful atmosphere for the backdrop than the stormy and brooding Hebrides. Enzo's personal life in complicated, but he is not as dark and troubled as Fin. In short, they may share the same surname, but that is all they have in common.

 

 

The thorny issue
17th August 2014 - 12 Midnight Gary Perry Read more »

 

The last few years have seen a heartening number of success for fiction published by small independent press and this is now being matched by the renewed interest in literary magazines. Gary Perry, Assistant Head of Fiction at our Charing Cross Road branch, picks out some of his essential reads and introduces his favourite new journal, Gorse.


 

Few things make me happier than a restful morning spent in the company of a selection of literary journals. A good spot in a local coffee shop, a table covered with copies of the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books and the Paris Review - a sight to make this bookseller swoon. And, just as we have witnessed a boom in indie presses, a mutual growth has been detectable in the world of literary and arts magazines. Those long mornings, dedicated to perusing the books press, have been enriched by the White Review and Belleville Pages, publications that have brought to my attention some incredible writers. The White Review provided my first encounter with Ivan Vladislavić, a South African writer who I now evangelise about with an inexhaustible passion. This is what these periodicals do best: confrontations with the new, or the newly unearthed or, to go further, the old interpreted in a novel way. It is why they are so essential.

 

GorseThe Dublin based journal, Gorse, is a welcome addition to these instigators of bookish discussion. Edited by Susan Tomaselli and David Gavan, the first issue was launched in January 2014 and is only just arriving on UK shores. As soon as I read it, I knew it was something that we needed to stock at Foyles. Our customers are a marvellous bunch - inquisitive, eager to talk about books and hungry for new writing. The popularity of our events with the the White Review are testament to this. Gorse looks set to become just as essential a read. The editorial alone is enough to excite the most sedate of bibliophiles - this is a journal dedicated to 'the potential in literature today', to championing 'the unconventional and the under-recognised, writers exiled in their own Countries'. Amen to that.

 

With such a strong editorial, I wondered if the contents would live up to the high expectations aroused. I was not disappointed. The editorial team have assembled a fine group of writers, all of whom deserve to be more widely know and, I have no doubt, will be. Darran Anderson, Joanna Walsh, Rob Doyle - all writers to keep a keen eye on. Matthew Jakubowski's short story 'Killing Off Ray Apada' is a highlight from an American writer whose stuff I admire greatly (Tip :check out his 'Sharpening the Sickle to Shame the Knife', published in Fiddleblack). I can say, without reservation, that David Winters' interview with Evan Lavender-Smith is the most wonderful interview I have read in a long time - so much so, a photocopy now adorns the wall above my writing desk.

 

As you can tell, I am enamoured. This is a journal that not only brings our attention to the under-read and the new but inspires us to take up the pen or to continue the conversations that it has started. All great periodicals are launchpads - for their writers and their readers. They encourage a collaborative approach to the world of books - an approach present in indie publishing, from And Other Stories' book groups to Peirene's Literary Salons. Being a reader or a writer is not as solitary a pursuit as some people think.

 

The editors also offer extra content on their website, including a remarkable piece by Walsh on London's Heygate. The importance of the online magazine can't be overstated. Alongside those copies of the LRB and the Paris Review, I set my laptop, ready to peruse 3:AM Magazine and Review 31, two of my favourite online journals. Print and the web overlap. I could not do my job without them both. They put me onto new writers and fuel my desire to provide our customers with the most exciting range of books possible. I always emerge from those long mornings in my local coffee shop reinvigorated and exhilarated. So this is a thank you - to the editors of all the magazines listed in this article - for making a bookseller very happy.

 

 

GUEST BLOG: Cambodia's deadly legacy
13th August 2014 - 12 Midnight KT Medina Read more »

 

White CrocodileWhite Crocodile is the thrilling crime debut from British/Australian writer, KT Medina, set in the land mine fields of northern Cambodia.

Tess Hardy thought that she had put Luke, her violent husband firmly in her past. Until he calls from Cambodia and there is something she hasn't heard in his voice before: fear. Two weeks later, he's dead and Tess finds herself travelling to Cambodia, against her better judgment, and becomes entangled in a web of secrets and lies that stretches all the way back to another murder in England and a violent secret from 20 years before. She arrives in a place where teenaged mothers are disappearing from villages around the minefields, while others are being found mutilated and murdered, their babies abandoned. And there are rumours of a deadly white crocodile...

Writing exclusively for Foyles, KT Medina explains why she chose the background of Cambodia, and the land mine fields in particular, as the setting for her novel.

 

 

White Crocodile is my first novel, but it is very personal to me and, as such, will always be my favourite.

 

I had the idea for the novel while working as Managing Editor, Land Based Weapon Systems, at Jane's Information Group, the world's leading publisher of defence intelligence information. As part of that role, I spent a month working alongside professional mine clearers from two clearance charities - the Cambodian Mine Action Centre and Mines Advisory Group - in the minefields of northern Cambodia, to learn more about the information they needed to help them clear mines more quickly and safely in the field. I was privileged to be able to get to know both Western and Khmer clearers and to spend time talking with Khmers who had lost limbs to land mines. I was also able to visit a lot of the locations that appear in White Crocodile, such as the Red Cross Hospital for the victims of land mines.

 

Land mines in CambodiaThe land mine problem is a huge global one, with an estimated 110 million land mines - mainly anti-personnel mines - buried in 68 countries. Two thousand people a month are either killed or maimed by these mines, many of the victims, women and children from poor families working to cultivate their crops, which is their only source of food and income. However, for me, perhaps the most shocking statistic is that for every land mine cleared by clearance charities, 20 more are laid.

 

What makes land mines uniquely horrible and arguably the most inhumane weapon of war is that they are totally indiscriminate and non-targetable. Once buried, a land mine will wait, often for tens of years - long after the war in which it was laid has finished - until it is stepped on. The land mine doesn't care who triggers it - soldier, civilian, man, woman, boy, girl or livestock - it will explode, causing grievous injury or death. And as anti-personnel mines cost as little as $3, they are an incredibly cheap weapon.

 

Cambodia still has an estimated six million land mines buried mainly in the north-west region around Battambang, where White Crocodile is set. Cambodia is a stunning country, but it is also a tragic one, and an unbeatable setting for a thriller.

 

White Crocodile is tense and exciting, with unforgettable characters, but it also exposes readers to a dark and dangerous world that they would not have the opportunity to experience otherwise.

 

 

GUEST BLOG: Anna starts again
7th August 2014 - 12 Midnight Anna Freeman Read more »

 

Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize winner The Fair Fight, set in the little-known world of female boxers in the late-18th century, where nobility and the working class meet, is published at the end of this month. But for its author, Anna Freeman, the two-book deal she signed with her publisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, means that she's now faced with starting from scratch on a completely new idea. She shares some of the lessons she's learning tackling that notoriously difficult second novel.

 

 

The Fair FightMy first novel - The Fair Fight - is finished. They've taken it away. I was enjoying the proof stage, moving commas about and checking facts I'd already checked. The manuscript had had many editing eyes on it and was polished as much as possible. The characters felt so much like people that sometimes when I couldn't sleep I imagined them talking to me. Oh, alright, sometimes I imagined they gave me a cuddle (but that was always weird because even though I know them really well, they've never actually met me). So, I finished that book. I'd have been happy sitting in my flat, rearranging the words indefinitely. But apparently they won't pay me for that. And I did spend years praying that someone, someday, would publish my work. But still. The Publishing Industry Stole My Baby. And now I have to make a new one.

 

I might have begun it already - I've written some words about stuff - but whether they'll end up being part of the book is anyone's guess. I have a computer folder with a working title (I can't say what it is or I'll instantly hate it), and docs inside labelled 'Draft Chap. 1' and 'New Chap. 1' and 'NEW, new Chap. 1'. Here's the problem with the drafts I've written so far: they're rubbish. They really are. I'm not being self-depreciating or falsely modest. I'll warn you if I'm going to start doing that. They just aren't very good, because, and here's a thing I've learnt, first drafts are almost never good.

 

Thank god I still have the first drafts of The Fair Fight. They were awful, too. Stilted, forced, unrealistic, long-winded. There were early characters who ended up in the bin. The voices were inconsistent, because I didn't know the characters well enough to hear them clearly.

 

So, I do know that this new novel isn't going to look promising until suddenly... it does. Or, and this is the bit that knots my stomach, what if it doesn't work and I have to throw it away and start again? And then what if that one doesn't and it turns out that The Fair Fight was the only novel I had in me? I signed a thing, promising to write another one! I will have officially failed. People will notice.

 

I expect, just like every 'epiphany' I ever had as a stoned adolescent, I am having a bog-standard angst-experience for new authors. Probably people will read this and yawn, or chuckle ruefully. I tell myself that. Sometimes it helps. Maybe all big projects are a mess until they aren't anymore. Maybe Rembrandt was always saying, 'This isn't art! These are just splotches. Oh. Wait. If I look at it from over here, maybe it looks like a lily pad.' I'm not comparing myself to Rembrandt. I'm not Dutch. Or dead.

 

DeleteI am trying to give myself permission to be rubbish. I tell my students this: just decide to write something without judging whether it's okay. You will definitely have to throw away half of what you write or be one of those writers with no self-awareness, who thinks every word they write should be carved in stone. I'm pretty sure those are the only two choices. Well - the third choice is never to write anything in case it fails. Lucky I already signed that contract. No third choice for me.

 

Really, though, I think a secret thing. It's a secret because I try not to think about it in case I'm wrong, but I'll tell you, because I can't see you, so it's like you're not there. The secret is this: I think it'll be okay. I think this bit is really hard, and I'm groping about, trying to build a Lego castle in the dark, but there'll come a point where it almost starts building itself. When it will feel like I'm watching, rather than creating it. Last time the story suddenly started unfolding so fast my fingers couldn't keep up and I had to get all the essentials down and go back and put the details in later. That moment is so special it makes my chest cramp up to think about it. Maybe, in six months or a year, I'll be talking to my new characters when I can't sleep. Eliza or Judith or whatever her name is eventually. I know how lucky I am to be allowed to try to do this for a living. I used to work in a call centre.

 

I don't really do preaching. I'm never sure that I'm qualified to speak about things outside my own experience. But I kind of hope that any new writers reading this might feel heartened. It's rubbish because it's supposed to be. That's what early drafts look like. Foetuses aren't pretty, either. We only pretend they are because it's hard to see properly on the scans and it's a kind of miracle that they'll turn into babies eventually.

 

Anna's previous blogs for Foyles

  • Anna and the idea: on trying to come up with an idea for her seond novel
  • Anna learns to edit: on learning how to accept her editor's suggestions and when to stop stop making changes

Follow Anna on Twitter

 

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Latest Blog
GUEST BLOG: Opening French cold cases
26/08/2014

Crime writer Peter May reveals a difference in legal systems between England and France, the country where he now lives and writes, that was to prove the inspiration for his newly published book, The Critic.

The thorny issue
17/08/2014

Gary, from our Charing Cross Road branch, introduces an exciting new addition to our range, Gorse, a wonderful literary journal from Dublin.

GUEST BLOG: Cambodia's deadly legacy
13/08/2014

Author KT Medina talks about how her work with mine clearers in Cambodia and explains how it inspired her dramtic debut thriller, White Crocodile.

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