Sunday, 7 December 2014

And the title of book 3 is...



I'm delighted to report that Orion has signed me up for two more Carter Blake novels to follow on from The Killing Season and The Samaritan.

I thought it would be fun to take a leaf out of the James Bond book and announce the title of the third book in the series, so without further ado, the next Carter Blake book will be called...






I'm really excited about this book because it ties together a lot of the loose threads from The Killing Season and The Samaritan, as Blake's mysterious past finally comes back to bite him.

Incredibly, you can already pre-order it on Amazon. Winterlong is due out in 2016, now I just have to finish writing it...




Saturday, 6 December 2014

Some early American reviews

My US publisher Pegasus is gearing up for the American release of The Killing Season in February, and some of the early reviews are in. I'm pleased to see the reaction is really positive so far (well, apart from the one guy who wrote an Amazon review holding me personally responsible for setting the Kindle price of the book).

Sam Waas, who knows a thing or two about noir heroes, wrote a great piece on the Over My Dead Body blog:

"an exceptional, intelligent, and fascinating action mystery...unlike the omniscient superhero lone-wolf heroes of similar but less realistic pulp-oriented novels, Carter Blake is very human and fallible"

Booklist posted a very positive review, but unfortunately you need to be a subscriber to read it in full. Which means I could have made the following quote up out of whole cloth, but I didn't. Scout's honor:

"Keeps the pace breakneck, the suspense high, and the body-count higher."

And finally, I'm delighted to have been awarded a coveted starred review by Kirkus:

"Cross provides a gratifyingly high body count, ruthlessly efficient action sequences and all the other thrills you’d expect of the superior popcorn movie you can expect his first novel to spawn."

If any movie studio execs are reading, I'd be completely okay with Killing Season spawning a superior popcorn movie - get in touch here.



Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Killing Season - paperback cover

Hot on the heels of the excellent cover for the hardback of The Samaritan, I'm pleased to unveil the all-new paperback cover of The Killing Season!


Mass-market paperback is quite a different market to the hardback/trade release, which basically tends to be available primarily in Waterstones, Amazon and other dedicated bookshops. With the paperback release, we're going after a much bigger potential market, hence the slightly more commercial redesign.

I really like it - you can't mistake it for anything else but a thriller, but it balances commercial concerns with an attention-grabbing design and colour scheme that's sure to stick out on the shelves. I'm not sure how Lee Child will feel about being associated with me, but as a huge fan of Lee, it's a nice comparison from my side.

The paperback is out in the UK on April 9, 2015 (which, although less than six months away, sounds like a date in some far-flung dystopic future) and is available for pre-order now.

While I'm on the subject of Killing Season, in addition to the UK giveaway that's currently running on Goodreads to win a signed copy, I've just found out my US publisher Pegasus is also giving US readers a chance to win a copy as well. So if you want to win a copy in the UK you can go here, and if you're across the pond go here.

The UK promotion finishes 30 November, and the deadline is 15 December in the US. Happy reading...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Five tips on plotting

Welcome to another fun-filled effort-avoiding installment of my periodic reposting of articles I've done elsewhere on the web.

This one was from the Scottish Book Trust, who kindly asked me for my top five tips on plotting a thriller back in April.

With a mere two and a bit novels under my belt, I don't make any claim to be an expert. These are just some things that work for me, and that may or may not be of use to other writers starting out. Feel free to pick and choose which of these to pay attention to. Rules are made to be broken, after all...


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1. First person narration makes plotting a lot more difficult

I’m instinctively drawn to writing in the first person, as it’s the purest way for a reader to identify with your protagonist. You can really get inside a character’s head when he or she is the one directly relating the story. However, this approach has its drawbacks, particularly when it comes to plotting. If the story is told from the point of view of a single character, that means that every notable event in the book has to happen while the character is there, or else has to be told to them in exposition from another character. If something exciting is happening somewhere removed from your hero, you can only find out about it after the fact.

That’s why when I began writing The Killing Season, I decided to cheat a little. The chapters focusing on the hero, Carter Blake, are told in the first person. The chapters where I cut away to other characters are related from their point of view, but in the third person. That way, I get to have my cake and eat it: the reader can be a few steps ahead of Blake, but still see the world through his eyes for the most part. It’s much easier to plot and pace the story, because the action doesn’t all have to happen to the lead character.


2. Make sure there’s regular action beats

It’s important to have key scenes that advance the plot by introducing a new element or unexpected reversal

I don’t necessarily mean action in the obvious sense; there’s no need to force yourself to insert a car chase or gunfight every thirty pages. Rather, it’s important to have key scenes that advance the plot by introducing a new element or unexpected reversal. That can be the aforementioned car chase, or it could simply be the hero encountering an intriguing new character in a bar.

3. Lay the groundwork, then go back and make sure it’s solid

Anton Chekhov famously said that if there’s a rifle hanging on the wall in the first act, it has to be fired in the third act. Stephen King perceptively pointed out that the reverse is also true.

Authors are in the happy position of being able to snap their fingers and rewrite reality whenever they choose. So if you get to the end of the book and realise you need a key element in place earlier on, go back and add it in so it looks like you meant it all along. You can see this being done in movies all the time – it’s pretty obvious the power loaders are going to come in handy later on in Aliens, for example. The trick is to weave this in so that the reader doesn’t twig that there’s a Deus in that seemingly uninteresting Machina in the background…

4. Don’t neglect character beats

Action is fundamentally important in any thriller, but I’d argue that character beats are every bit as vital. Maybe I’m weird, but the parts of a thriller that stay with me are the quiet moments when the hero is alone and in a contemplative mood. One of my favourite scenes in the James Bond novels is a short sequence in Live and Let Die where we discover that Bond is quietly terrified of flying. People say they want an exciting plot, but I think what they really care about is interesting characters.

5. Keep track of the loose ends

Thriller plots tend to be complex, because there’s usually a central mystery and you have a bunch of characters running around keeping on top of various secrets and skulduggery. That means it’s important to make sure the plot hangs together and that the fine detail makes sense. It means that what most people think is an artistic endeavour can sometimes feel more like a massive construction project. I keep detailed timelines, spreadsheets and cheat sheets everywhere when I’m writing, because otherwise I wouldn’t have a hope in hell of keeping it all together in my head.

Having said that, you should never lose sight of the fact that you’re targeting the reader’s gut, not their brain. The plot should stand up to scrutiny, but the technical work should never overwhelm the desire to tell a good story.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Giveaway!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Killing Season by Mason Cross

The Killing Season

by Mason Cross

Giveaway ends November 30, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
I have some spare copies of The Killing Season and thought it would be fun to try a Goodreads giveaway.

So until midnight on November 30 (I'm assuming San Francisco time, since that's where Goodreads is based), you can register to win one of three signed copies of The Killing Season in trade paperback.

Winners are selected randomly by Goodreads, full t&cs on the entry form.

Good luck!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Booksellers, burgers and buses

Quick update about my recent trip to London, where it finally dawned on me that despite visiting The Big Smoke more often than I've been to almost any other city, I've barely scratched the surface of the tourist trail. I've never been to the Houses of Parliament, or Big Ben. I've never been on the London Eye. I certainly haven't done any of the shiny new stuff, like the Shard. I didn't tick off many of those touristy things this time either, but I did do some other cool stuff. Like get on a London bus for the first time.

Even more exciting than that, though, I visited my publishers at Orion House and chatted to the sales team about The Samaritan. It was lovely to meet some members of the team I hadn't spoken to before, and to see how enthusiastic everyone is about the book. I also got a very early preview of the paperback cover of The Killing Season, which already looks great even in a rough draft. I caught up with my editor Jemima and got to meet my paperback editor Jo for the first time. I even got to meet David Young, the CEO of Orion, who said really nice things about the first two Carter Blake books.
Orion has its own building
Fancy foyer too...
and some good-looking books in reception
 
I also got to meet some of the local booksellers, guided by expert sales rep Linda. We zipped around central London on foot, by bus, by tube and by cab  (I've definitely ticked off the full public transport package) to some independent bookshops like Goldsboro Books (who have signed hardback first editions if you're in the market) and various branches of Waterstones, including Picadilly which is the biggest bookshop in Europe, and Trafalgar Square. Little did we know we were there mere hours before the #waterstonestexan would walk in and begin his spell in captivity.
 
The idea was to meet some of the people who'll be selling the book, and to hand out advance copies of The Samaritan. These were hot (well, warm by the time I touched them) off the presses, and were what is called 'rough proofs'. Every day is a school day - I didn't know about this before. The rough proofs are printed up locally on much heavier paper than standard books (they weighed a ton), so we could have super-early advance copies. Even in this format, though, they looked great. The cover really pops, and I'm really glad we decided to stick with the title.
 
We met lots of nice booksellers, including Chris at Piccadilly and Rowan at Trafalgar Square, and gave them advance copies.

I can't wait to see what the team comes up with for the proper advance proof, after the excellent ARCs for The Killing Season. After all that, I had a short window before my train home, so I managed to squeeze in some very basic sight-seeing:  




 ...as well as a lightning-quick stop at Five Guys, naturally...
Five Guys narrowly beats Shake Shack for me
...before it was time to head homewards. After trying out the plane and the hell that is the overnight bus in my younger days, I always take the train now. Door to door, it takes the same time as flying and there's a lot less waiting around / being frisked. It also gives you time to work on new projects.

Of which I hope to tell you more very soon...

Back at Glasgow Central

Monday, 27 October 2014

Interview - There's Been a Murder

Lynsey Adams has very kindly made me Up and Coming Crime Author of the Month over at her excellent There's Been a Murder blog.

There's an interview with me and lots of other cool stuff for lovers of noir. The Saul Bass-influenced font is cool too. Go check it out!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Bloody Scotland again


Having attended Bloody Scotland as a member of the crime-reading public this time last year, I was delighted to be invited to be part of an author panel this time around.

The weekend got off to a well-lubricated start with a drinks reception hosted by Stirling Council at the old town hospital. After that, we headed down the hill (Stirling is big on hills) to see the opening event: Chris Brookmyre and Denise Mina, who had a lively and free-flowing conversation onstage about everything from their latest work to the referendum that had taken place the previous day. Ah yes, the referendum - after the frenzied debate of the past few weeks, it was nice to spend the weekend in a bubble where people were more interested in talking about books and where to go for the next drink.

Saturday dawned and I managed to finish the second of my co-panelist's books before my event at lunchtime. After being briefly delayed by a quartet of Elvises dressed as janitors...


...(did I really just type that sentence?) I found myself sharing a stage with two other debut authors: Eva Dolan (Long Way Home) and Hania Allen (Jack in the Box). Although I think we suffered a little from being scheduled opposite the Scottish vs English crime writers football match (Scotland won convincingly), we had a pretty good-sized crowd.

We discussed a wide range of topics, from why women read more crime fiction than men, to how we come up with the characters, to how we got published. It was really interesting that the three of us had followed quite similar routes: failing to find a publisher for our first novels, experimenting with self-pubbing through Amazon, and eventually getting a deal with a traditional publisher. It could be a giant coincidence, or perhaps this is the way it happens in the 21st century. Either way: a great advertisement for not giving up at the first hurdle.

With my panel out of the way, I headed down to The Murder Room - Orion Crime's popup presence alongside Waterstones in Stirling's Albert Halls. It was great to see POD paperbacks of some of the classic noir titles Orion has been bringing back as eBooks (everything from Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male to Robert Bloch's Psycho) and to be inveigled into being photographed in a really crap John D Macdonald related pun. On the other hand, they also had gorgeous samplers of The Samaritan, alongside the new Denise Mina and Anthony Horowitz books (it was awesome being mentioned in the same breath and on the same banner as these bestsellers). 



I stuck around for the big Saturday evening event: Ian Rankin interviewing Kathy Reichs, and as a big fan of both, it was great to hear them talk shop for an hour. I particularly liked hearing about the different approaches they had to TV adaptations of their work, with Reichs exec-producing and consulting on Bones and Rankin having taken a more hands-off (to date, at least) approach to Rebus.

After dinner at a pretty good Italian place, I headed to the bar in the Highland Hotel and had some interesting conversations, including one where a few of us came up for a pitch for a romantic cat detective mystery. Late night chats in the bar are one of my favourite things about book festivals, although I think I might leave it to others to execute that particular idea.

After signing some copies of Killing Season at the Stirling branch of Waterstones, Sunday at Bloody Scotland got going with some multi-hyphenates: journo-turned-author Craig Robertson interviewing actor-turned-author John Gordon Sinclair and footballer-turned-author Arild Stavrum. I was particularly inspired by JGS's example of building a writing shed at the bottom of the garden, complete with electricity, a burglar alarm and a beer fridge.


After that, I saw Alexandra Sokoloff, Gordon Brown and James Oswald discussing the supernatural in crime novels, and a rumination about the nature of evil. I rounded the weekend off with Ian Rankin, solo this time, speaking about his career to date, his year off, and his next book.

In a competitive field, I'd have to say Bloody Scotland was narrowly my favourite festival next year. Looking forward to hitting the circuit next year with a new book.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Samaritan

I'm pleased to be able to unveil the fantastic cover for Carter Blake book 2: The Samaritan!


The team at Orion have done another fantastic job on the design, and I think this one actually surpasses the cover for The Killing Season.

It's available to pre-order on Amazon right now, and if you were at Bloody Scotland, you might have picked up the exclusive free sampler.

The Samaritan is released in hardback, trade paperback and ebook on June 4, 2015 - I can't wait.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Edinburgh


Last Thursday saw my first (and hopefully not only) engagement at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where I was appearing with the Norwegian author Thomas Enger at an event titled Crime Fiction With a Twist.

Although I’m still very much a newbie author, I had a few events under my belt going in: a couple of appearances at Waterstones, CrimeFest in Bristol, and a few smaller talks to book clubs. Despite this, I was getting a little nervous as the date approached and I started to realise just how much of a big deal the Edinburgh Book Festival is.


By some estimates, it’s the world’s largest literary festival, with over 900 authors attending over two and a bit weeks. There’s certainly an impressive and truly international roster, from George RR Martin to JK Rowling. So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I entered the festival on the evening of my event and checked in at the author’s yurt.

A word about the yurt: it is the coolest VIP area I’ve ever seen (in my admittedly limited experience of such rarefied environments). It’s a network of interconnecting Bedouin-style tents lined with vivid carpets and soft furnishings on which to sprawl and read a book or tap away on your laptop. There’s a wood-burning stove. There’s free food, wine and whisky. There’s relatively famous people wandering about. Most mystifyingly of all, there’s no bouncer kicking me out for being an intruder.


I’d infiltrated the yurt a few days before in the company of fellow criminal masterminds Douglas Skelton and Mark Leggatt following the Crime Writers Association lunch, so I’d managed to get over the impostor syndrome a little bit by the time I visited again. I met up with the event moderator, the Scotsman’s Susan Mansfield, and we had a chat about the event format and in what order everything would happen. We were briefly interrupted while I was taken for a photocall. Which actually was a photocall. One word: bizarre. I had to stand looking moody and interesting while half a dozen shutterbugs snapped me from every conceivable angle, politely yelling for me to look at their lens. It felt like an elaborate joke.

Mildly shaken by the experience of momentarily becoming a Kardashian, I returned to the yurt to find Thomas Enger had arrived along with his editor at Faber. I’d read Thomas’s latest book, Scarred, earlier in the week and liked it a lot. I’m looking forward to checking out the earlier books in his Henning Juul series. We were introduced, had a quick chat, and flipped a coin to see who would have to read from their book first. I won, so Thomas was on first.

A couple of minutes before 7pm, one of the event people materialised to fit us up with mics, and we were led to the Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre promptly at the start time. Did I mention Edinburgh operates like a very polite, incredibly friendly totalitarian regime? It makes clockwork itself look slow and inefficient.

Susan introduced us and, as per the coin-toss, Thomas went first. About three seconds after he started speaking, I realised I’d made a big mistake by going last, because I was going to have to follow him. His opening gambit was to tell the audience about his lead character, conjuring up the nightmare scenario of flames and death that begins Juul’s journey in the books. Once the room was holding its collective breath waiting for what came next, he read an early passage from his latest book.

My turn. Gulp. I knew I couldn’t match the drama of Thomas’s opening address, so I picked one of the most notorious scenes from The Killing Season to read: a short sequence from Elaine Banner’s point of view that ends with a somewhat grisly punchline.

Susan introduced both of us with some very nice praise and then kicked off the questions by asking us about our respective protagonists and our experiences of writing the books. The two novels are of quite different styles, so she did a great job of coming up with interesting topics that were applicable to both of us. There was an interesting discussion about political subtexts. Neither of us set out to make political points in our books, but both of us agreed that the subject matter does a lot to dictate the underlying themes.

The audience questions were great too. So far I’ve been very lucky with every single event I’ve done in that there’s never been an awkward silence before the first question. This time proved no different, with people chipping in immediately with questions for Thomas, for me and for both of us.

One of the questions that seems to come up a lot (and did again here) is about plotting. People always seem to be interested in whether you plan everything in advance or make it up as you go along. The answer for me (and I’d guess the majority of writers, if they’re honest) is “a bit of both”. I need to have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen in a book before I start, but I know I’ll change a lot in the process of writing the book itself. In particular, my endings tend to develop a lot once I have the weight of a book behind me. Good material for a blog post sometime soon, now I think of it…

By the way, nobody in attendance seemed to know what the twist in 'Crime Fiction With a Twist' was, so perhaps that in itself was the twist - eat your heart out, M Night Shyamalan.

The event flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to wind up and head over to the festival bookshop for a signing. It was great to meet some members of the audience, some of whom had read the book already and kindly said they were going cast their vote for me in the festival First Book Award [yeah – that is a shameless enticement for you to do likewise, if you would be so good].

After that, it was yurt time again for some post-event unwinding. I caught up with some friends, chatted to Lin Anderson fresh from her Society of Authors event, and probably drank a little too much of the complimentary whisky.

All in all, a very cool first festival experience. Next up: Bloody Scotland.
 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The fine detail


In the last couple of weeks I've been going over the copy edits of the second Carter Blake book. As those of you who looked at the picture above will probably have worked out, the current title is The Samaritan. It may or may not retain this title.

The copy edit is one of the later milestones in a book's journey toward publication. In earlier drafts, both the ones I do all by myself and the ones I work through with my editor, it's mostly about the big picture: getting the structure right, making sure the characters behave reasonably consistently, giving key scenes more punch, stuff like that.

The copy edit is the opposite of that. This is the stage where a very diligent and detail-oriented person (i.e. the polar opposite of me) goes through the book line by line making sure the fine detail is right.

That means spotting the typos and grammar mistakes that no one else has noticed or cared enough about to point out. It means picking up on continuity mistakes (how come this character is bald on page 54 and has dark hair on page 226?). It means finding gaps in the research (Ford stopped making that model in 2003, so it ought to have a higher mileage). It also means picking up on sentences that repeat the same word too many times. These things happen more often than I would like to admit, and it's a little humbling having it pointed out to you via the marvel of Word's track changes feature, even though you know this is an absolutely standard experience for all writers.

So you take a deep breath and open the document, praying there aren't too many red lines and comment boxes. It's a little like getting an assignment back from a strict teacher. It's an incredibly useful but occasionally dispiriting experience.

I went along with about 99% of the changes made or suggested by the copy editor, and added a fair amount of new changes myself. The only real point of difference was whether to use 'website' or 'Web site'.


The worst thing about reading through your copy edit is when sloppy writing or really obvious mistakes are pointed out to you, and you wondered why the hell you didn't notice them until now. It forces you to read every sentence carefully and ask yourself if this is really the best way it could be written. One (mercifully short) paragraph in this book had me banging my head against the desk wondering what the hell I was on about when I was writing it. Thankfully, I have the opportunity to fix it before it gets any further. That's why this stage in the process exists.

The best explanation I can come up with is, when you're writing a first draft - when it's going well at least - you're not stopping to think about the small stuff. You're writing in the knowledge that this is but the first of many passes, and anything that doesn't quite work can be fixed later. That's the way it's gotta be, at least for me. If I got hung up on making every line perfect, I'd never finish anything. The problem is that some of those glitches you decided to come back to later (or didn't notice in the first place) inevitably slip through the cracks and make it into later drafts.

Even when I read a book over again for a new draft, I tend not to analyse every sentence individually, unless they're unavoidably clunky. That's because I'm trying to read it as, well, a reader. The number of amendments and perceptive questions asked by a good copy editor really makes you appreciate what a unique skillset they have - to keep the big picture of the novel in their head while simultaneously zeroing in on tiny imperfections that creep into the paragraphs and sentences and words and punctuation.

I know I couldn't do their job. Not just because it's painstaking and detail-oriented and it's impossible to go on autopilot. The other reason is because I wouldn't be able to prevent myself from changing things about the style: to write it the way I would have written it. A good copy editor leaves the style alone and makes sure the writer doesn't embarrass himself. It's a tough job, and one I'm grateful for.

But I'm still going with 'website'.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Festivals and libraries

I've been really busy over the last couple of weeks going over the copy edit of book 2. I'll blog about that process soon (in case anyone's interested) but I just wanted to quickly flag up a couple of events I have coming up in the next few days.

I'll be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival at 7pm on Thursday 21 August, appearing alongside Norwegian noir maestro Thomas Enger to discuss 'Crime Fiction with a Twist'. No, even I don't know what the twist is: it's that mysterious. I was through in Scotland's second-coolest city yesterday and dropped by the festival to enjoy the buzz.

Oh and to be happy about the excellent position of Killing Season in the festival bookshop.



On Saturday 23, I've been asked to give a talk at Cambuslang Library from 2pm. Really pleased to be visiting, as it was the first place I held a library card, and I have fond memories of the old building which, as is the way of things, was razed to the ground to make way for shoebox flats a while back.

The Edinburgh gig is ticketed, but Cambuslang Library is completely free. Hope you can make it to either or both.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

We all go a little mad sometimes...

Apologies for being a bad blogger of late - I've been working on a new project and trying to enjoy the unusual amount of sunshine.

I'm currently reading Robert Bloch's Psycho for the first time, partly because I'm going to do a blog on it for The Murder Room to celebrate Orion bringing the novel out as an ebook, and partly because I've always wanted to read it.

In the meantime, here's another piece I wrote earlier this year on the classic film version.





Mother's Day 2014: Psycho - Mason Cross


When I was asked to recommend a crime film that would be appropriate viewing for Mother's Day, my thoughts naturally turned to Alfred Hitchcock's heart-warming tale of a boy and his mother.

That's probably because Psycho is so hard-wired into popular culture that associating murder and mayhem with mothers inevitably makes one think of the film that is, for my money, the greatest of Hitchcock's masterpieces.

It must have been something to come to this movie completely fresh, as almost everyone who hadn't read Robert Bloch's original novel when Psycho was released would have done. Norman Bates has become such an iconic screen murderer that it would be nigh-on impossible to watch the movie for the first time in 2014 without an awareness of the film's two stunning reversals. The shower scene and the climactic image of Anthony Perkins dressed in a wig and dress  have become so burned into the collective human psyche, that these audacious twists barely register as such any more.

But audacious they are. It's striking that this black-and-white classic from over half a century ago doesn't just hold up, it feels disconcertingly modern. Not just in its unflinching violence and (daringly frank for its time) depiction of sexuality, but because of those twin narrative reversals. The audience is suckered into thinking it's watching a noirish melodrama about a secretary stealing money from her boss and going on the run from the law… right up until she's dispatched at the halfway point to make way for the film's real protagonist. But once we've had time to adjust to the new picture we're watching - a psychodrama about an ineffectual motel manager cleaning up after and covering for his homicidal mother - we're hit with another doozy of a twist. Norman Bates is the homicidal mother.

The more conventional thriller elements of the film are so strong that we sometimes forget how groundbreaking that structure is. Hitch was subverting the expectations of a crime and horror audience decades before Scream and From Dusk til Dawn  were being hailed as cutting edge. Due credit to Bloch for coming up with the story, of course, but it's hard to imagine anyone but Hitchcock firing on all cylinders being able to make such a challenging and unconventional screen version, particularly in 1960.

So if you're looking for a nice old black-and-white movie on DVD to go with the chocolates and flowers this Sunday, look no further than this classic from the master of suspense. Your mother will love it, if she has any taste.

Unless, of course, she isn't quite herself today…

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The US edition


The cover of the US edition is now showing on Amazon.com, where readers in the US can now pre-order the hardcover edition from Pegasus Books, which has a publication date of February 15 2015.

Obviously it's not a radical departure from the Orion cover, but I'm pretty happy with that - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I can't wait to hold the physical copy in my hands. Orion has world rights so I'm not sure whether publishers in other English-speaking territories make their own edits, but I'm looking forward to finding out more about the process, and I can't wait to be officially published in the States.

You can check out my author page at Pegasus here.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Some stuff that's happening

One week from tomorrow, I'll be doing an event at Waterstones East Kilbride, talking about The Killing Season, writing, and whatever else anybody asks me about. It's a free event and there's no need to book - just turn up at 7pm on Thursday 26 June. If you like, you can register on my Facebook page, but that's completely optional - there will be no bouncers.

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Speaking of events, if you missed me announcing my dates at Edinburgh International Book Festival and Bloody Scotland, you can now see everything in one handy place on my events page.


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My interview with Crime Thriller Girl is now online - find out how I write, how much research I do and what my all-time favourite book is, along with many more great questions.


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I'm up for the Edinburgh Book Festival First Novel Award - if you liked The Killing Season enough to give me your vote, you can do so here, and it would be much appreciated. It's a strange feeling being in competition with Kirsty Wark...


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A great review all the way from New Zealand in the Booksellers New Zealand Blog:


What makes this a great book is Cross letting us see different characters’ points of view – it adds to one’s understanding of the character, and of his/her motivation and processing of the events. It’s a method well handled, and I will definitely be looking for the next novel.


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Last but by no means least, I'm delighted to say The Killing Season now has a US release date. It's going to be published in hardcover on February 15 2015 by Pegasus Books. I'm beyond excited about my debut novel being published in the world's largest crime and mystery fiction market - here's hoping I get to visit. No cover yet, but you can be sure I'll be posting it here as soon as it's available.



That's all for now, see you around...

Saturday, 14 June 2014

My #CarrieAt40 article

I'll be posting bits and pieces of writing I've done elsewhere on the net here from time to time. This one comes from Matt Craig's excellent Reader Dad blog. He recently hosted a series of blog posts celebrating the 40th anniversary of Stephen King's Carrie. I was honoured to be asked to write a short piece about one of my favourite authors.

I urge you to go to Matt's blog and check out some of the other fine pieces written by people like John Connolly, Steve Cavanagh, VM Giambanco and tons more. It's amazing how diverse the selection of articles is. Go check it out.

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Carrie Goes to the Movies


Carrie
, the first of Stephen King’s novels to find a publisher, hit the shelves in 1974. Forty years later, King has produced over fifty books and numerous short stories, and is probably the world’s bestselling author. It’s strange to think it all began with this slender tale of a put-upon teenage girl who’s a little out of the ordinary.

Amidst what’s sure to be a veritable bloodbath of anniversary tributes to this classic debut novel, I thought I’d approach the subject from a slightly different angle: Brian De Palma’s film adaptation, which appeared just two years after the book. De Palma’s Carrie is a fascinating movie in its own right, not least because it is the first offering in what would become practically a cottage industry.

There have been dozens of Stephen King adaptations of varying quality since 1976. In fact, Wikipedia lists well over a hundred theatrical and television productions adapted or derived from King’s works. Some stories have even been made more than once. Carrie, for example, has had a sequel and not just one but two remakes. It’s the 1976 version, though, which will stand the test of time.

Considering the liberties that would later be taken with King’s work – to the extent that the author actually took legal action to remove his name from the Lawnmower Man movie – De Palma’s film is a pretty faithful adaptation, and the changes it makes are broadly in keeping with the spirit of the source, at least until we get to the end. The big story beats are the same: Carrie is bullied by her classmates, discovers she has strange telekinetic powers on the onset of her first period… you know the rest: crazy fundamentalist mother, more bullying, pig’s blood, prom carnage. What’s interesting is that while retaining most of the original story, De Palma chooses to shift the focus subtly, so that the movie focuses much more on the female characters.

This works very well, probably because the subtext of the book focuses on women and different kinds of female power. De Palma takes this to its logical conclusion: the strongest performances and characters in the movie are the women, including Amy Irving’s good girl, Nancy Allen’s tormentor-in-chief, and Oscar-nominated turns from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie as Carrie White and her batshit-insane mom. Male characters are very much sidelined, even when they played a much bigger part in the book (and even though one of them is played by a young John Travolta).

This is one of the main ways that the film has influenced an entire genre. Before Carrie, there had been a few low-budget teen horror movies, such as Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs, but Carrie really opened the floodgates. In the years that followed we got Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and dozens of lesser teen slasher movies, many of which featured strong-willed female leads eventually escaping the horror.

The other influential feature of Carrie is the ending, which is also the biggest deviation from the source. While King delivers a low-key coda musing on sorrow and forgiveness in the book, De Palma opts for a typically lurid climax: a hazy dream sequence where Irving’s Sue Snell serenely approaches Carrie’s grave carrying flowers… only for a bloodstained hand to thrust out of the earth and grab her. It set a precedent for jump-scare endings that quickly became de rigueur for the horror flicks that followed.

It undermines the redemptive message of King’s book, of course, but it’s the perfect ending to a slightly different take on the story. It certainly helped the notoriety of Carrie, which made it possible for those hundred-and-some films to be made out of King’s extensive bibliography. And while some of those might have been less than great, the list has also included brilliant films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me and (less well-regarded, but one of my favourites), John Carpenter’s Christine. And for those classics we have to thank not just Stephen King’s Carrie, but to a large extent Brian De Palma’s Carrie as well.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Edinburgh

I'm delighted to say I'll be appearing as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival this August. Details as follows:


***

Thursday 21 August | 7pm
Mason Cross & Thomas Enger

Crime Fiction with a Twist
Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre,
£7.00 [£5.00]

The latest super-talented Scandinavian to make an international mark, Thomas Enger has chosen the perfect moment to write about murder and political scandal in Oslo in his third Henning Juul novel, Scarred. Glasgow’s Mason Cross builds his debut, The Killing Season, around a tale of the FBI, the ‘Chicago Sniper’ and a new kind of investigator who goes by the name of Carter Blake.


Full programme available from www.edbookfest.co.uk, tickets on sale 24 June

***


I'm really excited to be part of the world's biggest book and writing festival - it's a fantastic boost for a new author like me, and I can't wait to meet some of the other guests in the legendary writers' yurt.

Another cool thing is that all debut novelists are eligible for the festival's First Book Award. The book which receives the most votes from readers wins, and better still - anyone who casts a vote will be entered into a draw to win all 43 books on the list!

So if you've read and enjoyed The Killing Season, I'd really appreciate it if you'd vote for me! You can vote online via this form on the festival website, or by filling out a card at the festival.



Sunday, 8 June 2014

My second solo gig!



I'm pleased to announce that the good people at Waterstones East Kilbride are hosting an event for me at 7pm on Thursday 26 June.

It will be a free event, and although we've yet to firm up the details, it's likely I'll be talking about The Killing Season, writing in general, and possibly my own top secret East Kilbride history. And if you'd like to pick up a signed copy of the book, I (and Waterstones) will be only too happy to oblige.

It feels like I have a number of home towns, and East Kilbride is certainly on the list, since I went to high school and worked there for a while, as both a petrol station attendant and a Revenue Officer at Centre 1.

If anyone remembers me from my days at the Inland Revenue circa 2003 - this is the kind of stuff I was really thinking about when pretending to work.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Signed hardback goodness



Just a quick, nakedly commercial entry today to let you know that Goldsboro Books, the UK's largest specialist in first edition books has a limited stock of 100 signed hardback first editions of The Killing Season for sale.

Most retailers are carrying the trade paperback version. Although that's also very nice (not to mention cheaper), I have a soft spot for the hardback. The folks at Orion did an absolutely beautiful job on it.

It goes without saying I'm more than happy to sign pretty much anything you bring me at a reading or event, but if you're not able to make it to such an event and would like a signed copy, this is probably the easiest way.

Should you want to purchase a copy, you can click here to do so.

Bloody hell...

I'm very pleased to announce I'll be doing a panel at Bloody Scotland this year.

I'll be appearing with Eva Dolan and Hania Allen at 1:30pm on Saturday September 20 in the McClaren Suite of the Stirling Highland Hotel. We're all relative newbies, so I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about.

You can browse the full programme online now - there's a fantastic lineup including Ian Rankin, Kathy Reichs, Tony Parsons, John Gordon Sinclair, Louise Welsh and Sophie Hannah, plus the usual welcome suspects like Mark Billingham, Denise Mina, Chris Brookmyre, Craig Robertson and Alex Gray.

I had a great time as a paying customer last year, and am looking forward to being a part of what is a fantastic festival for the first time this year.








Monday, 2 June 2014

Why I Wrote The Killing Season

This piece originally appeared on The Murder Room on publication day, but I thought it would be good to repost here as well.

***

When I started work on the book that would become The Killing Season, I knew I wanted to write a pacy thriller of the kind I like to read: the kind of book that makes me want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

I wanted to incorporate all of the elements that readers of modern thrillers expect, but I didn't want to compromise on telling the story the way I wanted to tell it. I made a conscious decision to include a lot of conventions of the genre - the driven serial killer, the mysterious outsider brought in to break the case, the professional law enforcement agent caught between playing by the rules and doing what's right - because I wanted to prove you could draw on all of that and still write a story that felt fresh and modern.

The seed of the plot came from wanting to show a very personal one-on-one contest between two lethal professionals against the backdrop of a much larger multi-agency manhunt spreading across multiple states. Serial killers are commonly-used antagonists in this sort of fiction, of course, and there's a very good reason for that: they keep killing at regular intervals, providing an effective way to build tension and a sense of danger. A lot of times, the killer in this type of book is alien and unknowable. I wanted to turn that on its head and make my killer almost a co-protagonist. I wanted the reader to get into Caleb Wardell's head, perhaps even to root for him, until it's revealed what he's capable of. I wanted to make sure he was a cut above your average random murderer - professional and effective, but also very intelligent. I hoped his intelligence would make him more interesting and, as the book progresses, scarier.

I was drawn to the idea of the lone sniper because it's a great example of asymmetric warfare: you can spend millions of dollars and deploy thousands of people to track a lone killer down, but if he's smart, it's possible for one man to stay one step ahead. Reading up on the history of snipers, I became fascinated by the psychological dimension of that kind of warfare: it's a very personal kind of war, and snipers tend to be feared and disliked by other soldiers. It's almost a state-sanctioned type of serial killing - stalking impersonal targets and killing them in cold blood. I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if precisely the wrong type of person was given that training and experience.

Every thriller needs a hero, and from the outset I knew I wanted mine to have some hidden depths; a secret history that would be gradually revealed over time. The thing I found most interesting about Carter Blake was that I didn't know all that much about him when I began writing. That may sound strange, but I actually didn't have to know much about him - just what his job was, and that he was very skilled at it. His character and background started to reveal itself to me as I wrote, and continues to do so as I work on the second and third books in the series. Blake actually surprised me by having a strong moral code. I had originally envisioned him as being an intelligent and deadly killer, perhaps not that far removed from his foe. There's still an element of that in his character, but one of the defining things about Blake is that there are some lines he will not cross.

Finally, I knew I wanted to have a strong female character to balance out the testosterone. Having grown up with Clarice Starling and Dana Scully, it seemed natural that my lead character within the FBI would be a woman. Again, this isn't uncommon in the genre, and again it's for a good reason: contrasting cool-headed femininity against a historically male-dominated profession creates some interesting conflicts. Just to mix things a little, I made her the most ambitious character in the book. Anyone who's had to juggle a young family and a demanding job knows that you're often forced to make difficult compromises, and I thought it would be interesting to make Elaine Banner a single mother, on top of everything else she has to deal with. The one thing I wanted to avoid was making Banner a damsel in distress, and her decisions at the end of the book bear that out.

Lastly, I wanted to throw some surprises into the mix. There's a conspiracy element in The Killing Season, but it's not obvious to begin with. It's intended to begin as a very soft background hum, hopefully below the reader's awareness, before building to a crescendo at the end of the book. I think it provides a satisfying addition to the A-story of Blake versus Wardell, and it provides a commentary on the themes of the book: fear and war and the abuse of power.

If I've done my job right, The Killing Season ticks the boxes for a good thriller: action, adventure, intriguing characters, and a little bit of mystery. But most of all, I want you to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

CrimeFest - Part 2: 2 Fest 2 Furious

This is part 2 of my hazy recollections of CrimeFest 2014. If you haven't read it yet, you may want to check out part 1 first. If, on the other hand, you enjoy elliptical non-linear narratives, you should be fine starting here.

Saturday

Another early morning panel, but another great lineup of co-panellists to compensate.

Meg Gardiner did a great job moderating the panel on Name Your Price: The Hired Gun, featuring yours truly along with Hanna Jameson (Girl Seven), Mark Allen Smith (The Confessor) and John Gordon Sinclair (Blood Whispers), whose name may be familiar to some outside of crime writing.

we make a very thoughtful-looking panel here I think

We'd been gathered together, as the name suggests, because we specialise in protagonists who work on their own and have moral codes ranging from grey to pitch black. Lots of stimulating discussion about the ethics of vigilantism and the perks of writing a character who operates outside of the system. Everyone else on the panel was at least on their second book, but they were all gentle with the newbie, which was much appreciated.

John Gordon Sinclair probed me about Blake's 'black, white or grey' classification system for prospective jobs, and even tweeted the following later on:


...which was very nice of him, and I'm pleased he was intrigued enough to pick it up. Or maybe it was just the fact that as a fellow Glaswegian I was the only one whose accent he understood. I'd planned to read his anyway, and hopefully I'll make it along to his event in Glasgow in a couple of weeks, so maybe now we can compare notes.

After the panel, I caught up with Crime Thriller Girl for an interview following on from her fantastic review of The Killing Season earlier in the month. I can't remember every question we covered (hey - it was the morning), but there were some good ones I hadn't heard before. Discussion ranged from my favourite book to how and when I write, to who should play Carter Blake if there's ever a movie. I wouldn't dream of spoiling the interview by revealing the answers to any of these questions here. I did, however, reveal my nerdy attachment to Excel and PowerPoint as novel planning tools.

I walked back to the hotel for a quick rest and to do a bit of studying for my specialist subject on Criminal Mastermind the following day, then headed back to the convention hotel to hang out in the bar before seeing Mark Billingham in his guest of honour slot. Billingham was great value as always, and his new book sounds great. I've heard the anecdote of him stalking David Morrissey to play Thorne before, but it's a great story. And probably, as Craig Robertson said when I suggested following his example, the only time in history that approach has ever worked.

Having said that, if Hugh Jackman is reading this, drop me an email.

I caught up with Angela from Orion and Helen Giltrow again at our table at the gala dinner, and was also introduced to AK Benedict, whose supernatural thriller The Beauty of Murder has been on my to-read list for a while. The food was just okay this time, but the company was brilliant again, and we conversed about everything from the recent James Bond audiobooks to Eminem. Also the surprising number of great Keanu Reeves movies. There's more than you probably think...

Sunday 

I took advantage of my only day without an early panel to stay in bed a little later. If I'd known the full horror of what was to come, I might never have left the bed...

Okay that's putting it a bit strongly, but only a bit. A lot of regular CrimeFest-goers had been warning me that Criminal Mastermind was brutal, but until I was sitting in that black swivel chair being interrogated by Maxim Jakubowski, I didn't know what brutal was.

Courtesy of photographer / question-setter Ali Karim

I was on with three other writers: previous Mastermind champ Paul Johnston, who chose Dashiell Hammett as his specialist subject; Kate Ellis, who chose Josephine Tey; and Susan Moody who picked one of my favourite authors: Raymond Chandler. Needless to say, all three were lovely. I've yet to meet a crime writer I dislike, actually, at this or any other event I've been to.

Round one (specialists subjects) actually went pretty well for me. Fellow Reacher Creature Ali Karim had been in charge of setting the questions, so I knew I had to bring my A-game. I scored 9 points with 2 passes on Lee Child and the Jack Reacher novels, putting me into second place behind Paul. But that's when the trouble started. Because there was a round two. A general crime round.

Now, I'm reasonably well-read and retain useless information pretty easily, but these questions were tough. As I sat there racking up pass after pass after pass and shedding flop-sweat like a garden sprinkler, I actually started to worry that the powers that be were going to kick me out of being a crime writer for my base ignorance. It wasn't so much that I didn't know any of the answers, it was that I couldn't even make an educated guess at any of the answers.

The buzzer went, and Maxim had started so he'd finish, and thank God, it was a question I knew the answer to: the full names of the husband and wife team that make up Nicci French. Round over: 1 point and about a hundred million passes.

The only consolation is that everybody else found the general round fiendishly tough as well (with the exception of Paul, who managed to extend his lead handily). When the scores were totalled, the three non-winners were very close together. I tied for second-place with Kate, but was knocked down to third as she had accumulated less passes than me. Paul Johnston has my respect and awe for triumphing in his second Criminal Mastermind. As for me? Once is definitely enough.

I had a much-needed drink in the bar, caught up with Craig Robertson and Ali Karim, waved at Chris Carter and met Neil Broadfoot and James Oswald for the first time. I also chatted to Katherine Armstrong from Faber and discovered that we'd both been to the same university and that Faber publish Thomas Enger, who I'm going to be doing an event with later this year. She kindly sent me a copy of one of Thomas's books and also the debut novel of one of her authors... who happens to be one John Gordon Sinclair. Synchronicity is nice.

Thinking about it in the sun, holding a frosty pint, I realised that the greatest thing about CrimeFest is that for a whole weekend, it had been impossible not to get into interesting conversations with interesting people: writers, readers, bloggers, editors, publicists, agents. About books and publishing, of course, but also about movies, music, politics, sport, Keanu Reeves, the UK witness protection program, and all kinds of common interests besides. I learned tons and met some new friends, and I even got a few people to read my book. A worthwhile if occasionally humbling experience.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Some more reviews

Part 2 of my CrimeFest update soon, but in the meantime, here's some links to more reviews that have popped up in the last couple of weeks.

The Daily Mail have printed my first review in a national newspaper, penned by Geoffrey Wansell and sharing a page with Jeffrey Deaver:

Cross brings his native city’s sharp-edged ferocity to this debut thriller and in the process creates one of the most interesting ‘loner’ heroes to have arrived in recent years...Told with pace and vigour by a writer who seems to have a natural aptitude for thrillers, it is not to be missed.

Adrian Magson writes a really great review in Shots:

A very fine debut penned with the smooth style and skill of a much more experienced writer, this adds a new name to the gamut of special operatives and high-tension characters and plots so loved by thriller readers...I know it’s been said already, but I’ll say it again: this is one to watch out for.

And over on Fantasy Book Critic, Mihir Wanchoo thinks The Killing Season makes it easy to suspend disbelief:

The Killing Season by Mason Cross is one of those terrific debuts that you almost often never hear about. I loved it for all the aforementioned qualities and if you happen to be a fan of thriller stories by Robert Crais, Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver, then the first Carter Blake volume is a book you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

Three more lovely reviews, I'm really glad people are liking the book. Still nervously awaiting that first one-star job.

Friday, 23 May 2014

CrimeFest - Part 1

I had an awesome time at my first CrimeFest.

Wait... is it CrimeFest or just Crimefest? Let's go with CrimeFest, because I like camel case.

Anyway, I met lots of cool people, consumed more beer than I've managed in the rest of the year put together, and even flogged a copy of The Killing Season to a star of stage and screen. This is going to be a mammoth post for me, so I'm going to split it into two parts. The first one will cover Thursday and Friday, the second Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday


I flew down from Glasgow on Thursday afternoon, having to brave the airport bus link (seriously, how is it 2014 and we don't have a rail link to Scotland's major airport, or buses that take debit cards for that matter?). After a short delay, the flight down to Bristol was uneventful and smooth, which is just as well because I'm the world's worst flyer. After checking into my hotel (the Radisson Blu, very nice) and making fists with my toes on the carpet...


one for the Die Hard fans

 ...I made my way across the canal to the Bristol Marriot, venue for CrimeFest, and quickly located familiar faces Craig Robertson, Michael J Malone, Douglas Skelton and Ali Karim. It was great to relax with a beer, chat to familiar faces and meet some new ones.

The Bristol Marriot

I said hi to Mark Billingham, who'd given me some great advice when I was struggling with writing the second Carter Blake book, and then someone introduced me to Barry Forshaw, who was kind enough to say my book had something of a critical buzz around it. I also met Jake Kerridge of the Telegraph, the man in charge of my panel the following day. I took it easy on the bar, and headed back to my hotel around 12:30 for an earlyish night, because I was on at 9am the following day.

Friday


I hauled myself out of bed and got ready for the panel with several cups of coffee. I was amused later to see Lucy Santos of the CWA had tweeted that I was looking bright and breezy.

Jake Kerridge was moderating my panel (the second of three over the weekend) on Debut Authors: An Infusion of Fresh Blood, and I was on with four other newbies: M.J. Arlidge (Eenie Meenie), Kate Griffin (Kitty Beck and the Music Hall Murders), Colette McBeth (Precious Thing) and Jake Woodhouse (After the Silence). I quickly remembered that the best and worst thing about these book festivals is you end up with tons of new novels you want to read. I genuinely wanted to read all of these books after hearing their authors talk about them, but probably Kate's most of all, because I'm a sucker for Victorian-era mystery.

Of all of us, Jake Woodhouse and I were probably the freshest of the fresh blood, with our debuts coming out within a day of each other at the end of last month. It was great to chat to the others and hear about their backgrounds, their journeys to publication and their experiences of being published for the first time. I think I managed to be reasonably lucid for a non-morning person, and I talked a bit about getting an agent and thinking about the commercial appeal of my book. Jake (moderator Jake that is) got a big laugh from the audience when he read the current FAQ section from my website out in full:

Q: Do you have a lot of material for the FAQ section?
      
A: Not as yet, no.

Which reminded me I really need to update that now I'm getting actual questions.
 
After the panel there was a signing, during which I managed to write the wrong date while signing a copy of The Killing Season. The gentleman concerned was incredibly understanding, and magnanimously suggested the mistake just made his copy unique. I've been known to use this excuse myself: the Japanese call it a wabi: a tiny flaw that emphasises the individuality of the piece. Note to self: keep a calendar nearby at all times.

I visited the Foyles festival bookshop and was pleased to see a familiar cover on display...

the hardback version too!

Sorry, I'll get over taking pics of my book in bookshops someday. Perhaps. Okay, probably not gonna happen.

I settled back to be in the audience for another couple of panels after that: one on Death in High Heels: Women as Victims and another on The Modern Thriller. The first one was a heated but very well-behaved debate about the prevalence of young pretty women as victims in crime fiction and what it says about society (and readers of thrillers, I suppose). I was particularly interested to discover that the typical reader for books that feature young female victims is, perhaps surprisingly, young females. The panel on modern thrillers was also lively, with an eye-opening anecdote from Simon Kernick about being briefly kidnapped as a teen.

After that I caught up with an old friend for lunch and then headed back to the bar at the Marriott. On the way, my editor tweeted that I had been reviewed in the Daily Mail - my first review in a national newspaper, and thankfully they liked it.

The usual suspects were at the bar of course, and the supernaturally-organised Angela McMahon from Orion had arrived and introduced me to fellow debut Orion author Helen Giltrow - whose book The Distance has just been published - and Harry Bingham, who is more established than either of us, with a whole series of DC Fiona Griffiths novels. We went to dinner at the nearby Hotel du Vin where we spent a few hours over great food and wine and conversation. Again, it's always fascinating to note the similarities and the differences between how other authors approach writing a book. Also brilliant to talk to Angela about the exciting life of a publicist and just how many Ian Rankin enquiries she has to field on your average day even when he's taking a year off.

I would have loved to head back to the bar after dinner, but I had another 9am panel the next day.

Come back tomorrow to find out all about the Hired Guns panel and my bruising encounter with a certain black leather swivel chair in part 2...

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

See you in Bristol...



This weekend, I'm looking forward to my first trip to a book festival where I'm actually on the bill.

CrimeFest is the one of the biggest events in the UK crime calendar, and is listed by the Guardian and Independent as one of the world's best crime-writing festivals

This year there's a great lineup featuring Mark Billingham as guest of honour, and I can't wait to see some of the friends I've made already on the scene as well as some new faces.

If you're going to be in Bristol, you have not one but three chances to see yours truly on a panel:


Debut Authors: An Infusion of Fresh Blood Friday 16 May | 9:00am - 9:50am
Moderated by Jake Kerridge, featuring M.J. Arlidge, Mason Cross, Kate Griffin, Colette McBeth, Jake Woodhouse


Name Your Price: The Hired Gun
Saturday 17 May | 9:00am - 9:50am
Moderated by Meg Gardiner, featuring Mason Cross, Hanna Jameson, John Gordon Sinclair and Mark Allen Smith


Criminal Mastermind
Sunday 18 May | 1:00pm- 1:50pm
Quiz Master Maxim Jakubowski, featuring authors and specialist subjects: Mason Cross (Lee Child), Kate Ellis (Josephine Tey), Paul Johnston (Dashiell Hammett), Susan Moody (Raymond Chandler)

If you're going to be there, please come up and say hello. Outside of the above times, I'm likely to be in the bar.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The launch

 
The 23rd and 24th April was a very cool couple of days, featuring a lot of firsts. If I wasn't a writer, and therefore theoretically supposed to be avoiding the most well-worn of clichés, I'd be forced to describe the day of the launch using the adjective 'whirlwind'. Let's all just agree that I thought up a more original and inspired metaphor than that and move on.
 
I kicked off the day with my first-ever interview with the media, for a story in my local newspaper that would be repurposed for a lot of the local Glasgow newspapers. That was followed up with my first interview on live radio, on East Coast FM. I think I did okay on both, for a newbie, but I knew this was just the warmup. The 23rd was launch night, which meant I would have to do a Q&A in front of a live audience. It was a steep learning curve: from talking to someone on the phone, to talking to someone on the phone with his radio audience listening in, to talking to someone in person with a hundred people staring at me.
 
My editor at Orion, Jemima Forrester, had travelled all the way up from London to Glasgow to be there for the launch event, and I was so pleased she was able to make it. Jemima has been one of the most important people in getting the book to this point, not just in the obvious way (signing me up for Orion), but in her dead-on suggestions and contributions to the book itself. My wife and I had a brief but very enjoyable dinner with Jemima before it was time to head down to Waterstones.
 
Caron Macpherson, manager of Waterstones Argyle Street, was doubling as talk show host for the evening, and being the hyper-organised person that she is, naturally had everything well in-hand. A big part of my ability to conquer pre-game nerves was the knowledge that all I had to do was show up and attempt to talk in coherent sentences. I knew everything else would be taken care of, and so it was.
 
We held off starting until a little after seven because people kept on arriving, until the point that there was standing room only. I never got around to doing a precise headcount, but I'm told there were over a hundred people, which was amazing. Just as amazing as the great turnout from family, friends and workmates was the fact that there were a few people there who didn't actually know me.
 
 
We began with the part I was most nervous about: the reading.

Now, you would think that a normal person would find this the least scary part of an event, as you're simply reading words that are in front of you (words that were written by you, even), but hey, I never said I was normal. I have a decent amount of experience in delivering presentations and even taking audience questions in a work context, but I was surprised at how different an experience it is to give a reading. I suppose that's because when you're giving a presentation, it's the information that's important, and you're trying to come across like this is all off the top of your head.

A reading is much more like a performance: you have to give a lot more thought to everything than I'm used to: how loud you speak, how quickly you read, how you differentiate dialogue from narration. Taking some advice, I picked a nice short excerpt from The Killing Season that would take me about five minutes to read. I practiced a lot, terrified of fumbling the words, and I seemed to pull it off okay on the night. Even so, it was almost a relief to sit down and begin the interview segment.
 
 
Caron had politely declined to share her planned questions with me, and I'm glad she did. I'd only have prepared detailed answers and proceeded to sound like a robot while reciting them. I was able to answer most questions okay, I think (I ought to be, being the guy who wrote the book and all), and the only ones that stumped me were Who should play Carter Blake in a movie? and, surprisingly, What's the best book you've read in the last year?
 
I read so much that this was a tough one - I can think of lots of standout books I've read over the past twelve months, but picking 'the best' is a tall order. With the luxury of hindsight... I still can't pick one outright winner. Sorry. I'd probably say the top three last year was Stephen King's Joyland, Michael Connelly's Gods of Guilt and Ian Fleming's From Russia, With Love. The last of which doesn't really count as I'd read it before, but this time I really liked it.   
 
But I digress. After Caron's expert questioning, we took some questions from the audience. I think these went all right too, and as I'd expected there were questions about my writing process and my influences. There was one tough question from my fellow author Alexandra Sokoloff about whether I'd wanted to say something about America in the book. I didn't have a pat answer for this one, other than that I didn't set out to write a 'message' book, just to tell a good story. That said, I think the story does end up saying something about America, and the modern world in general, in the way the politics of fear drive the plot and some of the characters.
 
And after some great questions, we were onto the really fun part: the signing.
 

 

 
This was one of those moments that makes you question whether you've won a competition to pretend to be a writer for a day. People lining up to talk to me and wanting me to sign their copy of my book - I'm not sure it gets better than that. Because so many people I knew had come along, I had quite a queue, but again I was really gratified to see some unfamiliar faces as well. I spoke to people I hadn't seen in ages, met some new people, signed a lot of copies of The Killing Season and before I knew it, it was time to head along to the post-launch soirée at Sloans.
 
 
Sloans is one of Glasgow's oldest pubs, apparently established in 1797, and it's a cool place: spreading over several floors of a big old townhouse that adjoins the Argyle Arcade, Glasgow's jewellery hub. We had the first floor booked out, and it was set up more like a living room than a bar, with couches and candles. It was an evocative venue to get together with friends after the show, and it was great to relax with a few drinks and contemplate the next day: the day my first novel would be published.
 
On Thursday 24th April, I woke up without too much of a hangover and contemplated existence in a world where The Killing Season was suddenly a real book you could walk into a shop and buy, rather than some scribbles on a page or a computer file.
 
Just to check it wasn't a dream, I headed into Glasgow and checked the book was still there. It was. Caron asked me to sign some of the store copies and suggested I hit some of the other Waterstones branches to sign stock there too. I conducted a mini-tour of Waterstones branches in the West of Scotland over the next few days, notching up Glasgow Sauchiehall Street, Braehead, East Kilbride, Newton Mearns and Ayr. I even made a trip east to Scotland's runner-up city to sign stock in a couple of the Edinburgh branches.
 
One final nice surprise when I dropped into Argyle Street the following week, and it's down to the fact that Waterstones branches compile their own local sales charts.
 
Even though I know the results had been skewed somewhat by the number of copies I sold on my launch night, it was pretty cool to see The Killing Season on the shelves in this position, if only for one week:
 
 
Let's hope it gets to be number one again, some other week.