Skip to content

Want to encourage the creative urge in your kids? Embrace your own.

painting-808011_1280

When I was about three years old and my sister five, our dad, a bank manager who commuted to his London office each day, decided to re-decorate our suburban, three bedroomed semi-detached house in Essex.
In the process of this fairly mundane and entirely unremarkable task, he decided, almost inexplicably, to create a colourful painted mural up the stairs.

At the time, I thought this creation was wonderful, and something that everyone’s dad did. It perhaps took me until I had my own children to realise that it really wasn’t.
I’ve been decorating the upstairs bathroom myself this past week and although I have created murals in my children’s bedrooms at various points, I’m just not brave enough to do it elsewhere in the house. But I wholeheartedly wish I was.

Nothing appeals to children more than the feeling that their world of imagination and fun can spill over into the serious, sterile universe of the grown-ups. I can still remember that picture snaking up the twisting staircase, with perfect clarity. There were green hills, blue skies and white fluffy clouds. I’ve no idea if it was any good in an artistic sense (sorry Dad) but to my younger self this really didn’t matter. It was magical.

My sister is now a rather wonderful artist herself and I write novels. We have both embraced the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to explore your imagination and follow it to wherever it wants to go.

Does this tendency have anything to do with that mural my father painted for us over 35 years ago? Well, I can’t prove it, but I definitely think it might have. In which case, maybe I should really consider making a similar gesture to my own children.
Because how can we expect our offspring to show their creative side if we are never prepared to reveal ours?

What should readers expect from a psychological thriller?

image

I’ve always been a fan of the psychological thriller genre. These are the titles I am drawn to when scanning through the shelves of bookshops or searching for books on Amazon. My favourite authors include Nicci French and Minette Walters, with current writers like Alex Marwood and Paula Hawkins providing my more recent reads.

So what makes a thriller ‘psychological’ in nature? I write mystery novels and police procedurals, but earlier this year, I added a psychological standalone thriller to my back catalogue. My sense of what placed ‘I Trust You’ apart from my other books was firstly, that the book had a predominantly domestic setting. Like Linwood Barclay’s early novels, the psychological thriller should explore events and scenarios that are immediately recognisable to the reader.

Many psychological thrillers begin with a missing person or a disintegrating relationship. The interplay between the characters is often slowly revealed, the body count and blood and guts left to a minimum. The tension is built instead through gradually unfolded secrets from the past – clues deeply woven into the development of character and situation.

Families are often the focal point of the psychological thriller. This is certainly the case in my latest novel. Dark secrets that span generations or suppressed domestic abuse are the archetypal fodder of the genre. But these seasoned topics are never hackneyed when explored by an author who can observe them from fresh angles and weave their domestic themes into original plot lines. Paradoxically for the crime/thriller genre, children tend to play a disproportionate role in the psychological thriller. Perhaps more than any other topic, as readers, we appear to have a fascination with the psychology of the child.

Psychological thrillers need to be character driven. The action may be sparing, so the lead players must be realistically drawn and their fate something we deeply care about. For me, the very best psychological mysteries reveal incisive observations of human nature. In many ways, Agatha Christie was one of the very best authors in this genre, particularly in her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot series. What the amateur sleuth lacks in specialist knowledge, they more than make up for through their razor sharp psychological insight into what makes people tick.

Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, was another master of the genre. Her characters seemed eerily like real people, leaping off the page and taking form in the imagination. I know that some readers avoid the genre of the psychological thriller because they feel these books are full of doom and gloom; the darker side of human nature always seems to prevail. I have some sympathy for this view. However, the best novels in this genre will certainly introduce the reader to the depths of the human condition, but will ultimately offer hope and resolution.

I believe that readers – and writers – of the mystery genre are first and foremost, interested in people. Psychological thrillers fulfill this remit perhaps most comprehensively, which I suspect is why they remain so popular.

Don’t keep them too busy, let their imagination flourish.

The RetroReview

imageThe long summer holidays are already upon us. It can be a magical time for kids, especially now that our hot and dry summers seem to have returned. But often it can be expensive too. I’ve been getting leaflets through the door about holiday clubs, activities and crash swimming courses for months. If I signed up to them all I could easily end up bankrupt. But I suspect my children would end up bankrupt too. For them, all this organised activity would lead to a sort of intellectual bankruptcy.

When talking to people about my books, one of the most common questions I am asked is ‘where do you get all your ideas from?’ Considering this enquiry carefully, I have put it down to two things. Firstly, I believe that storytelling is simply in my genes. My ancestors were the bards to the local lairds on the Isle of Arran…

View original post 301 more words

Middle class sport as an exalted gift to the masses is a sentimental myth.

image

Watching ex-governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King on the Daily Politics today made me sigh. I respect King highly as a financial expert and believe he steered the country very competently through the storm of the recession. However, this is where his expertise should have remained.

King’s latest project is to introduce the sport of cricket to all state schools. Of course, many state schools already offer cricket as part of their sport curriculum, but in the case of this particular project, the focus seemed to be on inner city schools; institutions without perhaps the grounds and space available to offer a full range of sporting activities to pupils.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sport in schools. It is great for  pupils’ physical and mental health, team-building etc. But what I object to is the eulogising rhetoric surrounding certain public school favourites, like rugby and cricket. It was obvious that Mervyn King had lovely memories of playing cricket at his own private school and has gone on to be a lifelong fan of the professional game. However, the skills and qualities he claims the sport nurtures in its players could be happily attributed to just about every other team sport you’d care to mention. His love of the game is clearly deeply personal and heartfelt but hardly more than sentimental conjecture.

I did not play cricket at school. My large Essex comprehensive specialised in football and rugby, both of which the pupils still play fixtures in alongside local private and state institutions. I played hockey and netball. Both perfectly enjoyable, if you like that sort of thing, but I would never claim the experience furnished me with characteristics which aided me in my future relationships or career, and I consider myself reasonably successful in both. Quite the contrary, my skills set was learnt in the classroom and at home. The suggestion that those who spent their youth on the cricket pitch or rugby field have somehow greater resilience, care for others or leadership skills than I myself possess makes me cross and in my personal experience is also quite wrong.

The misunderstanding inherent in the view of Mervyn King and his ilk, is that the state model nowadays robs the majority of children of the undisputed benefits of these more traditional sports. In reality, the state system has already moved ahead. My first experience of cricket was seeing a young classmate in primary school being carried away on a stretcher after being hit full in the face by a hard cricket ball. I’ll always remember the profusion of blood that spurted out of his shattered nose.

My daughter plays soft ball cricket with my husband, who is a fanatical fan of the game. She has a great deal of aptitude for bowling. But it would never cross either of our minds for her to join a club that uses a hard cricket ball. In this day and age, as parents, we simply don’t expose our children to unnecessary risks. We haven’t really done so as a wider society since the early eighties.

What King appeared to have failed to realise, is that state schools have introduced a raft of new sports over the last decade; such as dodgeball, tag rugby and kick rounders in primary schools particularly, which children highly enjoy and minimises the scientifically documented risks from repeated head injury, which doctors are only just beginning to fully understand.

In short, we shouldn’t have any part of our schools’ curriculum dictated by the sentimental reminiscences of retired men, who are harking back to the imagined golden days of their privileged childhoods. This approach would be deeply unscientific, based on anecdote and poorly recalled nostalgia which would have the result of stifling the development of new, exciting and more risk free sports that achieve the same results without endangering our children unnecessarily.

State schools are there to promote the greater good. They need to put the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few whilst embracing their individualities and catering for all. They are quick to change with the times when medical and scientific evidence is overwhelming. This ethos is the legacy that my schooldays gave to me. In a few years from now, schools within the remit of the local authority will have universally adopted a sporting curriculum that has evolved away from the use of practices which routinely expose a child to injury. Because children don’t really have a choice about the clubs they attend as pre-teens or the prep schools their parents send them to. It is a culture introduced to them from birth. It’s all about what their siblings and peers are doing. How can an eight or nine year old defer? And what mummy and daddy did as a child isn’t always what’s best for our future generations, let alone gran or grandad.

Maybe I should try and instil the progressive spirit my comprehensive school gave to me into some of our more elite institutions, like Mervyn King has set out to do? Well, of course I wouldn’t, because that would be deeply patronising and superior of me. So why do our inner city comprehensives have to put up with it?

My advice would be to return to the area that is your expertise, Mervyn, and leave education to those who properly understand it and have a less sentimental perspective.

 

From page to performance: the creation of an audiobook

For a writer/publisher, used to working largely alone except for during the editing process, which compared to the novel writing itself, is a relatively small part of the job, handing over my book, Against a Dark Sky, to another producer who had the task of turning it into an audiobook, was daunting.

I had attempted to undertake the project myself, even going as far as to set up my own home studio. Because I produce my own promotional videos, I had assumed that audiobook production might be similarly achievable for a novice like myself. I was wrong. The technical aspect of the job was beyond me and the narration itself  requiring a real skill and talent.

I have been fortunate enough to have worked with the superb actor and voiceover artist, David Monteath. His voice was instantly recognisable to me and he had the expertise to bring the words of the first DCI Dani Bevan novel alive in a way I could never have done. David said himself that his job is purely to bring my story to a new genre, but I think it’s more than that. It is a strange thing to listen to your own words and characters given emotions and humour that the words alone cannot always convey.

This is the difference between a book and a performance. Both methods of storytelling are equally rich and enjoyable but have their own unique characteristics. My first audiobook will be available to download from Audible in due course, time will tell if we decide to repeat the process with the other six books in the series.

It has been an odd experience to hand the work over to someone else for a change. And it is an enormous amount of work to record a book onto audio. But in the meantime, I was able to complete my new book – a standalone psychological thriller called I Trust You. Collaboration has allowed me to get on with the stuff I’m good at and leave the technical tasks to the professionals. It seems like a perfect set up to me.

image

It’s the school sports day season, but have #parents really got the stamina for it?

It’s that season again!

The RetroReview

boy-491961_1280

I feel compelled to write this blog after attending my children’s sports day today. It was a great event; well organised and thoroughly good-natured fun. This being said, I’m still utterly exhausted.
Why? Because firstly, there is the constant and ever changing conundrum of the British weather. We were drenched in a heavy downpour at 9am and remained slightly damp for the rest of the day (the children were sheltered under marquees I hasten to add). There was a brisk, chilly breeze that one wouldn’t usually choose to sit outside in for six continuous hours. For most of the time we were bloody freezing.
Yes, it was wonderful to see our little ones in their races, but I would estimate that this accounted for about 5% of the time taken for the total event.
We have a family picnic at lunchtime, which is undoubtedly the best bit of the whole…

View original post 312 more words

How many great thrillers are set during summer?

Getting prepared for the holiday season with this article from last year 🌞🍹🍍

The RetroReview

seaside-384586_1280

The heatwave that we are enjoying in the UK right now has got me thinking. The weather is perfect for plonking yourself down in a sun lounger with a great book. As it happens, my latest DCI Dani Bevan novel, Dark As Night, is set during a rare Glasgow heatwave. But just how many other crime books take the summer months as their backdrop?
I must admit that the majority of my ten novels are set during autumn and winter. These ‘darker’ months just seem to lend themselves better to the creation of atmospheric tension and foreboding which goes hand-in-hand with the mystery genre.
In Dark As Night, the dramatic tension is built instead, by the close humidity and the climax of the story is precipitated by a sudden, violent storm. To make the atmosphere right, there have to be some dark clouds lurking on the horizon, ready to ruin…

View original post 163 more words

There’s no limit to what you can learn from a book.

image

I was really interested to hear that veteran snooker player and multi world championship winner Steve Davis learnt to play the game by practicing with his father and closely following the book, ‘How I Play Snooker’ by Joe Davis (no relation). Steve commented that they referred to it like a bible. It taught him how to approach every different type of shot.

This story struck a chord with me. I firmly believe that it’s very possible to learn pretty much everything from a book (except possibly brain surgery!). Like most teachers, I don’t much enjoy being taught by others. I’ve attended several evening classes over the years but they just aren’t for me. I’d rather be at home, teaching myself from a self-help paperback. Nowadays you can also watch a YouTube video or two. The possibilities are endless.

Three years ago I read Adele Ramet’s book on creative writing. It helped me to complete my first novel, Aoife’s Chariot. Now I’ve got fifteen in my back catalogue, including a book for children. The advice was clear and straightforward. I was able to refer back to Ramet’s words at moments of uncertainty. It didn’t write the books for me, but it trained me in the fundamentals of the craft.

Steve Davis’ story also reminded me of my sister, who taught herself to draw from our mum’s guides to painting. She later learnt how to branch out into oil painting by using books. Technically speaking she is ‘untrained’ as an artist, having not attended an art school. But to me, her works are every bit as good. She has been a consultant artist on a feature film for heaven’s sake!

So why is it so important that books can teach us these skills? Crucially for me, it means that simply owning a library card can give a person access to the type of education and training that usually only those with wealth or privilege have access to. Snooker has always been a sport for all classes, not requiring expensive equipment or memberships to exclusive clubs. It’s not a sport played in public schools or by members of the royal family.

I remember very well the ‘teach yourself’ series of books which were popular in the 70s and 80s, offering comprehensive courses on everything from speed reading to playing golf.

My Dad didn’t have the opportunity to go to university, yet he is the most knowledgable person I know. Why? Because of books. At one point in the nineties, he had read just about every book available on the American Civil War and was often found correcting so-called ‘experts’ being interviewed on TV.

I wont be the only person who has a relative like this. Books have always been a great leveller. Those who have taught themselves that way are also more often than not self-starters, not spoon fed like overly educated types (like me!). They love knowledge for its own sake.

I stand  by my claim that you can learn pretty much anything you want from a book. And just like the cover of Ramet’s book, it can open doors to an entirely new world of opportunity.

Are we correct to set so much store by dressing ‘smartly’?

As the weather starts to improve, this blog from last year seems to hold some relevance.

The RetroReview

silk-798087_1280

So, despite being a world championship winner, Lewis Hamilton was refused entry to the royal box at Wimbledon for being too casually dressed. Gary Lineker described the action as ”England at its pompous worst”.
I’m inclined to agree, although the debacle did make me smile a little. My son and daughter will be required to wear ties as part of their primary school uniform come September. I’ll be buying them this week.
I suppose we’ve been lucky to avoid it for so long. But it’s going to be a wrench, especially after a lengthy summer break spent in nothing but t-shirts and swimsuits. My two children object even to the feel of the soft collar of a rugby top beneath their jumpers, let alone a stiff shirt with clip-on tie.
My offspring do not attend a private school, where such formality is more or less obligatory. But there is a…

View original post 726 more words

Scott and Bailey series 5. Required viewing for all modern parents.

image

I’ve been catching up on the latest series of Sally Wainwright’s police drama, Scott and Bailey, this week. I’ve always enjoyed the programme, with its perfect blend of sharp writing and great acting. But what has really gripped me about this latest (and last) outing for the Manchester detectives is the intriguing modernity of the subject matter.

Bailey has recently returned from the Met to a temporary promotion within her former department at the Greater Manchester Police. Never one to waste time on diplomacy, Rachel manages to rub her colleagues and friends up the wrong way pretty much immediately, in one case with heart-wrenchingly tragic consequences.

The personal dramas are always beautifully played in this series but for me, what is particularly striking, is the subject matter tackled in this three-parter. The central theme is how the Internet and smart phones have changed the nature of crime. This topic is explored through the murder case being investigated by Bailey’s team alongside a storyline involving Janet’s sixteen year old daughter and her fifteen year old boyfriend.

From the minute this sub-plot began to unfold, I realised that I was watching something that was utterly required viewing for any parent with a child approaching their teenage years in the digital age. In the era of snapchat and Instagram, it was immediately obvious to me that Wainwright had captured a snapshot of the minefields that lie ahead for our children, and that I’d be a fool not to take very serious notice of what she had to say.

It takes an accomplished writer to tackle issues before they have entered the public zeitgeist. It also takes courage to make an extremely popular prime time crime show evolve in the fundamental way in which this one has. Gone is the fabulous Amelia Bullimore’s Jill, the fast-talking, no-nonsense DCI who delivered investigative procedure like a verbal Gatling gun. But she’s been replaced by a subtler, more melancholic humour which matches a series that is clearly set to be a dark one, with a nihilistic conclusion which will undoubtedly negate any hope of a future return for the pair.

Despite the change of tone and pace, this instalment is looking like it might be my favourite. There’s no necessity for a romantic interest to be added to the story of either lead character. Scott and Bailey are simply our protagonists, not required to be defined by their relationship with a man.

Scott and Bailey has always been my preferred of Wainwright’s dramas, with Happy Valley being too self-conscious in its quest for northern authenticity and in being ‘hard-hitting’, whilst Scott and Bailey achieves this aim apparently without effort.

This superior drama will be greatly missed, but at the same time it feels like the right moment to end the story. I just hope that Wainwright provides us with another series of the same quality in the years to come.

 

Photograph from The Radio Times.

Has Sunday night TV become quietly subversive?

Young_love_burns_alongside_the_Home_FiresTo glance at the schedules you may not think so. Period drama still dominates ITV’s prime time slots and the BBC gives us The Antiques Roadshow and a crime thriller at 9pm. So far so predictable.

But look closer and you will observe two prime time dramas that break the mould in their own way. The brilliant Undercover, airing its second episode last night, boasts two black lead characters and a successful black family at the heart of its narrative. For a BBC drama, this is groundbreaking stuff. Not to mention the excellent, original plot line that exposes in the most unapologetic and blistering manner the endemic racism of the Metropolitan Police of the 1990s.

Over on ITV at the same time is the second series of Home Fires, another favourite of mine. It seems like pretty harmless period fare to the idle observer, but Home Fires has a predominantly female cast. There’s no male lead in sight. It is the Second World War from the female perspective. Although not as hard-hitting as Undercover, in its own quiet way, it is equally as subversive.

What is also unusual, are two prime schedule dramas; one a thriller and the other about war, which do not include a parade of violence, torture or shocking stunts to keep viewers coming back for more. Both shows rely on strong writing and powerful performances by their cast instead. This is also subversive in its own way, violent drama for thrills having become the mainstream in recent years.

However this revolution has occurred in Sunday night telly, long may it continue. As viewers we want original, human stories, we like to be made to think and reasses our ideas about the world. We don’t object to lead characters being black, Asian or female. It’s the programme makers and commissioning editors who are frightened of that. Make this type of drama part of the mainstream, then no one will say it is subversive to produce top quality, representative and honest drama in the future.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,295 other followers

%d bloggers like this: