Thursday, 16 November 2017

Cybercrime: it’s here to stay

I’ve spent years writing a crime novel in which the protagonists (the terrorist, and the good guys) are all GEEKS.  The crimes are committed not with bombs or bullets but using computers and the internet (with effects are as devastating as a mass bombing campaign, perhaps more so).  So, Trading Down is a cybercrime book.  I’m pleased to say that Amazon recognises this genre and you will find plenty on offer when you search “cybercrime.”

Is cybercrime a fad or is it here to stay?

Yup, it’s here to stay.  Why?  Because criminal activity in cyberspace is growing explosively, creating more and more interesting opportunities – and challenges - for crime writers.  Cybercrime is exploding because cyberspace itself is exploding, in three dimensions.

First, and most obviously, almost everything we know is now being stored on-line.  Books, images, music, tax records, bank statements, browsing history… we are beginning to be uncomfortably aware of just how much Facebook or Google knows about us.  Crime stories with blackmail, stolen blueprints, compromising photographs… these works will in future be cybercrime stories.

Second, criminals make money and they need to store it.  In the past, stored as cash (Saddam Hussein and his family had $780m stashed away in $100 bills!).  Or stored in Swiss bank accounts.  That’s got harder.  Today’s criminals want ransom paid in bitcoins or ethers.   Cryptocurrencies have become the Swiss bank accounts of the 21st century.  Where the bad guys go, the crime novelist will follow. 

And finally, cyberspace is expanding into the physical world through IoT, the Internet of Things.  It’s not just fridges and thermostats connected to the Net.  Tomorrow’s terrorists can shut down jet engines or turn off the power to New York.  Last summer, the New Scientist published an article “Ships fooled in GPS spoofing attack suggest Russian cyberweapon.” 

Cyberspace is exploding; criminals and nation states are diving into it and we crime novelists are hot on their heels.

Trading Down by Stephen Norman is out now, published by Endeavour Press

Monday, 13 November 2017

Climbing the Career Wall with Lee Weeks

Firstly, let me tell you what prompted me to write this article actually - it was actually Ali Karim. He told me recently at a literary party [and a little sheepishly] that as an author, I am what is termed ‘mid-list’. Before he told me that, I had no idea what the term ‘mid-list’ meant. 

Yeah, I could have worked it out – I earn a living from writing but I have joined the thousands who are stuck half-way up the wall: we sometimes get a foothold and climb up a bit; we sometimes slip a few feet, we swing sideways but we don’t get any higher. “Shit…”  I thought, I don’t want to be “mid-list”. I know I should be grateful, thankful for getting this far, but I don’t want to be stuck anywhere on the wall and run the risk of a hasty descent. This is now my chosen career, my “payer of rent”. Let’s talk about how to scale it. I’ve been doing some research. Let’s talk about the way from dreamer, at the foot of the wall, to the bestseller lists, and the scary view from the parapet.

So, what’s the best way up the wall? Doing it alone? Why Not? E.L. James did it to great affect with her Fifty Shades of Grey, but, she tapped into readers of the Twilight series and had a social media platform base that was solid: fan fiction.

Have you got something you can tuck in behind and use its updraft?  Going solo has the potential to bring big rewards but you have to be lucky and have a ruthless drive to sell your product.  Be prepared for a long, arduous journey: Fifty Shades of Grey took years to gather momentum.

Your agent, if you have one, (referred to as ‘he’ from now on) is your helping hand up the wall and he is there to give you a leg up and to smooth the way with a few well-placed footholds. He is going to be guiding you all the way to the top, after all he knows people in publishing; he knows the editors who hold enormous power over what work is commissioned and what is not. Plus, he wants to make money from you for the whole of your career, your career is his career - you get it – but you are not his only climber and you may not be his best hope of that new kitchen/car/ house he’s been after. If he has a lot of big names on his roster, you may be left to your own devices whilst he’s lending his weight to propel one of his giants those last few feet to the top.

If you end up in print, you will interact with a publisher. Your publisher is responsible for giving you everything you need to stay on the wall at all. Live in fear of the power of your editor. They can make or break you. They can force you, rounded peg, into their square hole. All editors are good at different things. I’ve said enough, the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up! Because it’s all about money and sales now and, whereas publishers used to have a ten year plan to bring authors on; but the time an author has to become established has been seriously truncated.  Agents and publishers like you to write full time and get books out fast – but before you give up the day job or burn any bridges, beware: when you hit bad times, and there will be some, you need to have a plan B. That way, you’re not forced into making bad decisions just to pay the rent. Never give up the day job until you are sure you have money to survive.

Back on the wall – it’s easier to rise step by step than pick yourself up numerous times from the bottom. But you have to get smart and play the game. Be nice to others on that wall because fellow climbers will often give you a lift, let you tag along on their tail wind and in their twitter feed.

Complacency is the fastest way downwards. Watch trends, study bestseller lists, know your market. This isn’t just about writing books anymore this is about selling and marketing. Be productive and try new things. Never stop learning and pushing yourself. If you have time, why not try writing a slightly different type of story – if you normally write police procedurals, then try writing a Psychological thriller instead. Bring out an Ebook novella.  You will probably keep your audience if you don’t stray too far out of the genre. If the trend is for debut authors (who aren’t really debut) then re-invent yourself and go in for a spot of re-birthing. Never expect that it is someone else’s job to feed the twitter fiend or organise talks and book launches or get you into festivals, the buck stops with you. Networking is key, as authors are generally a very friendly and supportive bunch so spending time with your colleagues is always energizing.

So, yes, I am a mid-lister and definitely proud to have reached this far but determined to reach the top by any means possible now. I know that focus is the key when you are finding your initial way but if you get stuck, somewhere in the middle, a spot of reinvention might be called for.

Look out for my next work as I shall shortly be releasing Cold Revenge, and it is for me, another debut novel…………

Everyone likes to hang out with someone older when they are a teenager; it’s a badge of honor. I remember going around visiting this couple who had an open door policy for all the young teens in the town. They also sold drugs. They were in their early twenties, I was fourteen.  Their open door always led through to a large garden room, a party place, where dope was smoked and strip poker was played and the very lucky one was chosen to have a few cuddles with Maggie and Jonno! Now, if you’re being kind, it might seem that M&J were searching for their own identities, finding their pathway from child to adulthood – in reality they got off on the power, hero worship, fresh blood excited them as a couple. It ended for me when I was caught on a surveillance camera going in there, by my father (Detective Sergeant staking the place) he managed to ground me long enough to bust them, and I don’t mind the fact I was probably instrumental in their downfall.

In Cold Revenge, Jimmy Douglas and his girlfriend were like my Maggie and Jonno, except they didn’t just like to watch teenagers getting stoned and have sex with the wrong people, they groomed them to kill or be killed.

More information about the world of Lee Weeks CLICK HERE

Crime fiction and mental illness

Mental illness often features in crime fiction but, to my mind, it’s not usually portrayed accurately. Some books have a madman at the heart of them but their thoughts and actions are rarely consistent with the realities of mental illness. Other books have mental illness tacked on, almost as a quirk, to make a character stand out. As often as not, these affectations come and go according to the requirements of the plot.

That’s not to say that some books, widening out into other genres, have not captured mental illness well over a sustained period of time. (Generally, someone does not ‘go mad’ overnight or, vice versa, suddenly become ‘normal’ - whatever ‘normal’ might be).  Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey come to mind as books that show the truth of mental illness and/or psychiatric disorders over time.

With my novel, Sweet William from Saraband Books, I wanted to put mental illness at the heart of the story. It’s often said that one in four people experience mental illness every year and that we all know someone who has mental health issues, even if those that pose a direct threat to others are relatively rare.  It’s all around us and in all of our lives.

It’s certainly true for me. My eldest son Michael suffered from anxiety and depression to the point where he was hospitalised and spent five months in the Priory. He’s managing his mental health well these days and we’ve written two memoirs about our experiences and we’re ambassadors for the teen mental health charity, Stem 4.

We talk regularly to people with mental health issues. These are complex and difficult matters and are widely misunderstood by the general public. Those with mental ill-health are often labelled in many derogatory ways by others – ‘self-obsessed’, ‘vain’, even as ‘con-artists’. These views reflect most on the ignorance of those holding them.

With Sweet William, the narrator, Raymond Orrey, is in a psychiatric unit, separated from his beloved, three-year old son, William. He sees himself as a decent human being and a wonderful father who loves his son more than anything else in the world. If only he can break out, find his son and run away to the South of France with him they can live together happily ever after.

The reality is that Orrey is a flawed and damaged human being with mental health issues. It is because of these issues – anger, the refusal to take medication and so on – that the story unfolds in the shocking way that it does.

Sweet William is a roller-coaster ride seen through the eyes of Raymond Orrey; his thoughts, his actions and their consequences are all viewed from inside his head. It’s a challenging and not always easy read – you’ll be rooting for little William and shouting at the narrator – but it is an accurate reflection of mental illness from the first page to the last when, finally, Orrey is confronted with the consequences of his actions.

Iain Maitland is the author of Sweet William published by Saraband Books on 16th November 2017
Life and death played out over 48 hours. A father desperate to be with his young son escapes from a secure psychiatric hospital, knowing he has just one chance for the two of them to start a new life together. His goal is to snatch the three-year-old - a diabetic who needs insulin to stay alive - and run away to France ... but first he must find the boy, evade his foster family and stay well clear of the police, already in pursuit. A real page-turner cut through with dark humour, Sweet William zeroes in on a potent mix: mental illness, a foster family under pressure, and an aggrieved father separated from his precious child.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

MA in Crime and Gothic Fictions

Crime and Gothic Fiction

If any students, are looking for an exciting opportunity to study for an MA in two distinct but complimentary subject areas, and as a bonus, at Captivating Criminality's beautiful conference venues, Corsham Court, please get in touch. Now recruiting for 2018/19 and led by the International Crime Fiction Association's director, Dr. Fiona Peters (Reader in Crime Fiction).

Study two distinctive genres in this unique and specialist postgraduate course.

The only UK MA programme to integrate the study of both Crime Fiction and Gothic.

Interdisciplinary and international in its approach to both genres.  Led by tutors with established international reputations in their respective fields.

The MA Crime and Gothic Fictions will introduce you to the advanced study of two popular genres that have entertained and informed culture  from the nineteenth century to the present day.

The programme is deliberately international and interdisciplinary. You’ll study an imaginative choice of texts from Britain, Europe and the Americas, as well as investigating cutting-edge research and relevant theory.

The MA is particularly suited to individuals who are interested in developing their critical and research skills in preparation for further study. It can also be pursued as an end in itself, if you’re interested in investigating crime writing and gothic at taught postgraduate level.

For more information -

Joanne Ella Parsons
Bath Spa University

The Wilkie Collins Journal

Assistant Editor

Twitter: @joparsons

Friday, 10 November 2017

Nour - a character examination

First of all, thank you for having me I’m delighted to be here!

I’d love to tell you more about one of the characters from my novel, The Dying Game.

Nour is the mother of our heroine, Anna. No longer  a dedicated member of the Party, she now spends her days in her  father’s old apartment as a dissident and outcast,  trying to make a living on the outskirts of the totalitarian world where you cannot think or speak freely without paying a price.

Nour is the kind of person that behaves as she wants to, thinks or feels for the moment, but is ever-changeable in her beliefs. When she believes in the system, that is the right thing to do, but once she stops, then THAT is the right thing to do. She always thinks she’s right, which of course can be a very frustrating trait for a child (or an adult, as Anna is now) to deal with. Anna describes Nour as ‘never been much of a mother hen. More like a mother dinosaur, the type who laid her egg and then walked away.’  Since childhood Anna has been vying  for her mother’s attention, and now as an adult, she has distanced herself from her. When  Anna  becomes a mother  herself, her own upbringing impacts how she faces motherhood, and is  incapable to care solely for her daughter and to love her unconditionally. Instead, it is Nour who  cares for Anna’s daughter, which makes Anna rely on her mother in a way she hadn’t before, but also raises conflict between them. But Nour isn’t entirely unlikeable, she does have  some redeeming qualities. For example, she’s incredibly loyal  when she needs to be and she’s able to suss  out the truth and nonsense when she sees it, regardless  it it’s the right  time or place .

I like to think of  Nour, Anna and Siri (Anna’s daughter), as the alternative  Gilmore
Girls.  Three generations of women tied to each other, but set in a totalitarian world without the cosy haven of the Stars Hollow community.  

So, if you’re up for a novel that isn’t all about the  feel- good factor , and explores what it is to be a mother, the sacrifices we make for love in all forms, as well as a study of human nature and how we react under extreme pressure,  The Dying Game might just be the book for you. Enjoy!

The Dying Game by Åsa Avdic is published by Windmill in paperback and eBook, £7.99

The Dying Game by Asa Avdic
Do you live to play? Or play to live? The year is 2037. The Soviet Union never fell, and much of Europe has been consolidated under the totalitarian Union of Friendship. On the tiny island of Isola, seven people have been selected to compete in a forty-eight-hour test for a top-secret intelligence position. One of them is Anna Francis, a workaholic bureaucrat with a nine-year-old daughter she rarely sees and a secret that haunts her. Her assignment: to stage her own death and then to observe, from her hiding place inside the walls of the house, how the six other candidates react to the news that a murderer is among them. Who will take control? Who will crack under pressure? But then a storm rolls in, the power goes out, and the real game begins. . . .