Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Fringe elements

Quite naturally for me, I'm appearing on the fringe of things a couple of times over the next few weeks.

First up, I'm excited to be part of the special Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast recording at the Harrogate festival this Friday:

Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste play 'Two Truths and a Lie' with top crime writers A.K. Benedict, Elle Croft, Mason Cross, Julie Cohen and Isabel Ashdown for their popular podcast Two Crime Writers and a Microphone.

Watch live from The Incident Room studio!

Click here to book tickets [SOLD OUT]

...and in August I'll be appearing as part of Blackwells Bookshop's Writers at the Fringe event running alongside the Edinburgh festival:

Now in its tenth year, Blackwell's Writers at the Fringe brings you once again the best in Scottish writing.  Every Thursday during the Festival we invite a selection of Scottish performers to give us a taste of their work.

New and unpublished works of literary art stands alongside established novelists, from folk music to contemporary fiction and all that is found in between.

Thursday 24th August
Sara Sheridan
Peter Ross
Natalie Fergie
Daniel Shand
Mason Cross

The event is free, click here to book your ticket

For more information or if you would like a signed copy of any of the books because you can't make it to the event, please contact Ann Landmann on 0131 622 8222 or ann.landmann@blackwell.co.uk

Check out my events page to see where else I'm going to be, including Bute Noir, Oban and Bloody Scotland.

Hope to see you over the summer...

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Presumed Dead - cover

Book five has a title and a very sexy cover. I think this is my favourite UK cover yet - it's really different to the previous ones, but does a brilliant job of selling the story.

See below for a taster of what the new book is about. Presumed Dead will be published in the UK on 19 April 2018, and you can preorder the trade paperback here (I'll post links to ebook, audio when they become available):


Fifteen years ago, an unidentified killer terrorised northern Georgia, killing hikers with two shots from a pistol, before disposing of the bodies along the remote trails and in the rivers in the vicinity of Devil Mountain.

The killer was never brought to justice.


Carter Blake has returned home for the first time in many years. The visit stirs old memories, including a girl from school who vanished without a trace.

Blake runs into the mother of the girl, who mentions a case she's come across in Georgia, where someone is convinced their relative is still alive, fifteen years on.

Adeline Connor was the Devil Mountain Killer's last suspected victim. She vanished without a trace.

So why is her brother so convinced she's still alive?

Thursday, 6 July 2017

On Cussin'

Summer rerun time!

Here's a piece I wrote earlier this year for the excellent Shots blog on my take on the use of 'adult language' in fiction.

As you might expect, the following contains naughty words, so if that's not your thing, probably best to skip this one.


"I'd like to thank you for avoiding foul language in your books."

I've done a lot of library talks, but this was the first time I'd been lost for words. I was pleased the lady in the front row was happy, but I was a little bemused, too. I'm not the kind of writer who peppers every line of dialogue with cuss-words, but I don't shy away from them either. A moment of panic gripped me. Did my publishers sneakily purge my books of profanity before printing them?

When I got back home I leafed through The Samaritan, the book she was talking about. Nope, the four-letter words were all there, present and gloriously incorrect. Intrigued, I went back to the Word file containing the final copy edit of the book. I put the word "fuck" into the search box. 35 instances. How did the lady in the library somehow miss 35 fucks? The only explanation I could think of was that my use of F-bombs is so surgically effective that nice old ladies don't even notice them. That, or she read a completely different book and got me mixed up with another author.

The episode got me thinking about swearing. It's well known in the crime writing world that you can jot down grisly murders and torture scenes to your heart's content and no one bats an eyelid, but if you use a bad word, it's a major turnoff to certain readers. I once sat in the audience at a hilarious event with Chris Brookmyre and Mark Billingham where they read out some of their one-star Amazon reviews. Hands down, the thing that will get you a bad customer review quickest is too much swearing.

It seems to be a particularly big turnoff for the American market, along with blasphemy. I've often thought this is odd, since I learned to swear mostly from American movies. It's a genuine phenomenon though, to the point that some of the biggest names such as Lee Child and Harlan Coben avoid swearing almost completely. Jack Reacher has a bodycount that's easily into triple figures, but he has yet to use the F-word after 21 books.

Having established that there were 35 fucks in The Samaritan, I decided to check the rest of my back catalogue. It turned out that was the high-water mark. The Killing Season, my debut novel, has 29 fucks. The Time to Kill (Winterlong in the US) is down to just 24 fucks. My latest book Don't Look For Me has a minuscule 13 fucks, and for the first time none of them is a motherfucker.

Golly gosh, I thought. Or words to that effect.

The stats showed I was cursing less with every book. Was this an inexorable trend? Would there soon come a day when I would literally not give a fuck?

I wondered about the reasons for this. Perhaps I'm subconsciously toning myself down in hopes of appealing to a broader market. Or perhaps the fuck-count is related to the type of story I'm telling. The Killing Season and The Samaritan both feature law enforcement officers as major characters, which probably leads to an increase in salty language.

I asked some of the writers I know for their views. Steve Cavanagh, who swears like a sailor in real life, has a fuck count of precisely zero across three Eddie Flynn books. J.S. Law, who actually is a sailor, was asked to tone down some of the naval language in his submarine thriller The Dark Beneath. Some writers are okay with avoiding the swears, some take glee in turning the pages blue.

The bloggers and readers I asked were mostly sanguine - the majority were fine with swearing as long as it's not so frequent or gratuitous that it gets distracting. Even when asking seasoned crime fiction readers though, one or two admitted that they really don't like swearing. One even said that she stops reading if she sees bad language.

I thought more about how I use swearing. As I said, I don't go out of my way to include it in dialogue, but when a character wants to curse, I go ahead and let them. I think I could probably write a book with no swearing if I had a gun to my head, but I know there would be a line or three that just wouldn't ring true. No muscle-headed, tattooed thug in a dive bar ever told anyone to "screw off". One character gossiping to another about her "bang buddy" just sounds wrong, because "bang buddy" isn't a thing people say.

I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to this. Personally, I like a thriller to include so-called 'bad' language, but it doesn't offend me if a writer leaves it out, as long as it's done tastefully. I very rarely notice the absence of F-bombs in a Reacher novel, for example. On the other hand, I relish reading a literary outburst of profanities wielded by a master like James Ellroy.

In the end, it's up to the individual writer. If you like your characters to swear, go for it. If it's not your bag, feel free to leave those tools in the box. But personally, I'm sure as heckfire going to keep cussing when the situation calls for it.

I like to think the fact that my language didn’t bother the nice lady in the library means I’m getting the balance right.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Don't Look For Me - American cover and release date


My US publisher Pegasus has once again delivered the goods - I love this.

Don't Look For Me will be published in the States in hardcover and ebook on January 2nd, 2018.

If you'd like to preorder, it looks like you can only do so at Amazon for the moment, but I'll link to B&N and Indiebound as soon as it shows up there.

Preorder the hardcover edition

Preorder the Kindle edition

Watch this space for a UK cover reveal of the 5th book, very soon...

Monday, 12 June 2017

Bute Noir and Bloody Scotland

I'm going to be appearing at a couple of festivals later this summer; one old, one new and I can't wait.

First up, Bute Noir, now in its second year, and running 4th - 6th August. I'll be appearing on two panels: Americana with Steve Cavanagh and SJI Holliday, and State of Emergency with Steph Broadbribb. Apart from that, I'll be hanging around all weekend and checking out some of the other great events with Alex Gray, Denise Mina, Craig Robertson, Luca Veste, Caro Ramsay and many more.

The lineup is excellent and ticket prices are a steal - check out the Bute Noir website for more.

After a signing at Waterstones Oban on Saturday 19 August, I'm delighted to be appearing at Bloody Scotland for my fourth year running, this time with US bestseller Chris Carter. Our panel is called From Tinseltown to Sin City, it's on Saturday 9 September, and you can book tickets here.

As always, Bloody Scotland has a fantastic lineup including Ian Rankin, Simon Kernick, Lynda LaPlante, Val McDermid and Denise Mina, so if you're thinking about going, you definitely shouldn't hesitate - download the full brochure here.

I'll also be at Harrogate in July, details to follow of what should be a very fun event on Friday, and will add be adding new events to my website as they're confirmed/

See you on the road!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

After the storm...

So it all began when I attended parents night last week.

While you're waiting to speak to the teacher, the school encourages you to look through your kid's folder to see their work over the past year. While browsing through my older daughter Ava's portfolio, I found an amusing example of feedback about the school that was entirely typical of Ava. I took a picture, tweeted it the next morning, and then things went a little nuts.

I thought I would blog about it, because it's been one of the weirdest things I've been involved in, having something your daughter wrote becoming a brief internet sensation.

I sent the tweet before heading into a meeting, thinking fellow parents would find it amusing. During the meeting, my phone was buzzing regularly, so I put it on silent. I'd forgotten that I had turned off all notifications except new followers, so that wasn't even the retweets.

When I got out, it had been retweeted over 3,000 times. Considering my previous most popular tweet probably got 60 RTs, this was a little surprising. My wife had texted saying journalists wanted to get in touch. I tried to find some of them in the replies and got lost. The Glasgow Evening Times did a story on it, then the Huffington Post and the Independent. I decided to cap it off by buying Ava some ice cream and tweeting a pic, thinking it would die down now the story had a beginning, middle and end. It didn't stop. By the evening, she had made Teen Vogue.

The next day it got even wilder. The Daily Mail and the BBC wanted to talk to me. The Sun and the Mirror and TES ran stories on it. Ava's note got a mention in Time. I was interviewed by the New York Daily News. Patricia Arquette and George Takei weighed in. We were offered a slot on Australian breakfast TV (unfortunately it clashed with going to see KISS, sorry). For a while it was the number one most read story on the BBC website.

By midnight Friday, it had been retweeted over a hundred thousand times, and liked by over half a million people. Most of the reaction was great, but as you'd expect from something seen by millions of people, there was a little negative stuff too.

A surprising number of people were utterly outraged that I would even consider grounding a bright young girl for speaking her mind. I had thought that the words 'ice cream' appearing in a musing about punishment would signal that I wasn't entirely displeased, but I would probably have given it more thought if I'd known hundreds of thousands of people were going to be reading it. Then there were the Truthers, who posited that I had invented the whole thing to get RTs. One hilarious pundit went so far as to carry out amateur graphology to highlight small inconsistencies in Ava's handwriting, which proved... I don't know... that there was a second eleven-year-old on the grassy knoll? Or maybe just that she sharpened her pencil.

As someone else pointed out, it was interesting that almost everyone doubting the note's veracity was a male of a certain age. I think that's telling. It's the same unlovely part of the male psyche that spawns Birthers and 9/11 Truthers and Moon Landing Deniers: the need to be the one to see through the big illusion, to be more clued-in than the sheeple. Some of them seemed really angry at the suggestion an eleven-year-old girl could be smart, articulate and funny all by herself.

But the overwhelming majority of the replies were very positive. Most people ordered me to buy her ice cream, and maybe a car, and definitely enroll her for law school. Depending on their location, people suggested she run for UK prime minister, or president of the United States, or secretary general of the UN.

It was hard to keep up, since the notifications, to put it mildly, were a little more frequent than I'm used to.

So why did it blow up so big?

I think a big reason is that it struck a universal chord. Whoever you are, wherever you live, it's likely that at some point in your educational career, you were punished as part of a group for something you didn't do. It's also funny that a young girl was so outraged she went and looked up human rights law and applied it to her complaint.

It helps that anyone who has, or knows, or can remember being, a smart eleven-year-old can identify with this. I was like this at that age, bashing out polemics on the injustice of having to wear school uniform, or not being allowed to see Terminator 2 in the cinema, and I didn't have access to Google.

But mainly, Ava had a solid point, albeit expressed in an amusingly over-the-top way. The Twitter storm prompted a really good academic piece on collective punishment in school by international childrens' rights expert Professor Laura Lundy, which is worth a read.

Ava's teacher, to his immense credit, was very amused by her feedback, and the way it's gone viral. Ava herself was kind of bemused by the reaction. Excited at first, mildly disappointed when I broke it to her that internet fame doesn't bring riches, and now she's pretty much over it. But she says it was worth it for the ice cream.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Killing Season - 99p UK Kindle deal

Just a quick update to say that the first Carter Blake novel, The Killing Season has been selected for the Start a Great Series 99p promotion on Amazon in the UK, so if you don't have it yet, now's the time to remedy that situation!

Lee Child said it was "My kind of book", Lisa Gardner warns "Prepare to read all night", and even a certain former President of the United States said it "looks terrific". Still don't know if he got around to reading it.

Get it on Kindle here for 99p

As usual, the deal is being price matched at the other ebook retailers, so you can also get The Killing Season is 99p on your preferred platform:


If you want me to let you know when there's a deal like this, or just get occasional updates when something happens, sign up for my Readers Club and you'll get a heads up. 

Happy reading!