You have to have a genre
There’s a question that every writer has to answer about every book. The question is: What genre is it? Readers want to know, because readers have firm opinions about the genres they like and those they don’t. If you ask me, for example, I’ll tell you I don’t like dystopian fiction although it isn’t really true because Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors. But it isn’t just readers – whoever is responsible for marketing your book also wants to know what genre it is because that’s the central plank in the marketing platform they build.
So I have been asked the question: What genre is my new book, Darkness Comes? In fact, I’ve been asked that question rather a lot. And I always try to give some sort of answer because that’s what you do. But the fact is: I haven’t a clue. I don’t know what genre you’d call it.
Usually, I do know
When I wrote Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper, I was pretty clear that I was writing a coming of age novel. And when I wrote Sharon Wright: Butterfly, I knew it was essentially a book about the criminal classes and two contract killers, so if anyone asked I’d say it was a crime novel. But this one? Darkness Comes? I can’t place it in a genre. Which wouldn’t bother me, except that it makes selling the book to readers difficult. Before they buy a book, readers want to know what kind of book it is. And I suppose that’s a reasonable wish. So let me try.
Horror it is not
When I first uploaded Darkness Comes to Amazon, I was shocked to see that they put it in the Horror genre. Shocked because, however much trouble I have saying what genre it IS in, I find it easy to list a whole bunch that it isn’t in. And it isn’t Horror. It isn’t Romance, either, or mystery, or crime (although there is a lot of crime in it).
So let’s take a look. The hero is Ted Bailey. Something bad happens to Ted Bailey when he’s still in his teens. Then something else bad happens to him when he’s just out of them. There’s no question that those bad things affect him in his later life, but really Ted’s problem is that he goes with the flow. He lets things happen. And the things that happen include fraud, and selling drugs, and living in Marseille with a woman who has sex with other men for money, and working for the French security services, and setting up a company to sell goods at an immoral profit margin to people who should not be allowed to buy them. Not infrequently, those goods are arms and, when he sells them, he’s breaking an embargo. Oh yes – and he kills one or two people. Well, more than one or two when you come down to it.
But while he’s doing those things, he also does other, more normal things. The sort of things that I do and you do. He falls in love – sometimes he doesn’t choose the woman he falls in love with very well, but there’s nothing unique in that. He helps people facing bad times and he tries not to let them know who it is that helps them. And when he has someone he thinks of as his daughter, he gives her all the love and all the care that the best human beings among us could come up with.
But that stuff – all of that stuff – is, in a way, beside the point. Because the story opens when Ted has an out of body experience after a heart attack. And what follows is a trial for his immortal soul. You might think, after what I’ve told you about his life, that he has no chance – but Saint Peter has enough doubt about that to send Alex, who was Ted’s fiancée and was murdered for it, back from heaven to conduct his defence. And we learn some things about heaven, and about God, that are nothing like the things humans have been taught for the last 2000 years.
There’s More! The Chat Show
Is that it? Not quite. For reasons best known to my imagination (an imagination that has landed me in trouble many times in the past), the trial takes the form of a chat show. And chat shows have guests. In this case, the guests include Peter Sellers, Barabbas, Henry Blofeld, John Betjeman, Ras Tafar, the one-time Emperor of Ethiopia, and a few other people. Some of the guests are still alive; most of them are dead. When you put all that together, and you say we HAVE to have a genre, you end up (and I did end up) saying that the book is about the supernatural.
So there you are: Darkness Comes is a novel about the supernatural. But this, for me, is the difficult bit. Because what seems supernatural to you is probably what seems quite normal to me. I’ve always been aware of another world on the edge of this one, shading into it and sometimes letting itself be seen. When Ted is in his suspended state on the edge of death, he sees things he’s never seen before – but they’ve always been there. They simply aren’t visible to most of the living most of the time.
Available for pre-order now
Right now, the book is available here to preorder before it’s released in paperback and for Kindle on February 1. If you read it, and if then you know what genre it is, tell me. I really would like to know.
When my daughter was nine, we moved house. For the previous year or so she had told us that her ambition was to be a doctor; she returned home on the first day at her new school and said she planned to be a nurse. I said, ‘What happened to being a doctor?’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘Boys become doctors. Girls become nurses.’ I took her out of that school and sent her to one that accepted only girls and they set about the business of reinstating her ambition and sense of self-worth. I mean nothing derogatory towards nurses (and in fact a senior practice nurse is what my daughter became, and I’m proud of her); my problem was with people who limit a person’s ambition for no other reason than that the person lacks testicles.
I wrote The Making of Billy McErlane before Sharon Wright: Butterfly but Shazza was published first for reasons that don’t matter here. Billy Mac is the story of a young man who overcomes the disadvantages of an appalling home background, achieves his ambition and shines in the world. I wanted to write a similar book about a young woman and that book became Sharon Wright: Butterfly.
Like so much else, it’s learned behaviour
It’s true that Sharon puts herself first but that wasn’t always so – it’s learned behaviour. If she had always put herself first she would have taken the opportunity to go to college and lead, far from the place where she grew up, a life of the kind her schoolmates could only dream of. Just like Billy does. She would not have made her sad marriage to Buggy, the Loser’s Loser, and might instead have found someone to love with whom she could share a rewarding life. Just like Billy does. Only when she sees what other people are getting out of life does she begin to plot a better future for herself – but when she does begin, no holds are barred. She plans her wooing of Jackie Gough the way a female mantis might stalk the male, with every intention of having him for lunch when he’s served his purpose.
Sharon: I’m a woman, and I’m blonde. Well, men think I’m blonde
She’s helped by the fact that she understands the men in her life much better than they understand her. She says, ‘Jackie. You know what I’ve learned? Started learning when I first went to school, and went on learning? Men need to think I’m dumb. Because I’m a woman, and I’m blonde, well, men think I’m blonde, and I like to spend a lot of time on my back with my legs in the air, and I like men for what they have that makes them men, I have to be dumb. Well, I’m not dumb.’
And Jackie has begun to realise that dumb is the last thing she is. Then she says, ‘I pretend to be, if that’s the game the man needs me to play. But what I really want is to play the game where we’re both smart and we both know we’re both smart. Think you can play that game with me, Jackie? Please?’
And Jackie says he can. Because Jackie thinks he understands Sharon and he thinks she’s going to play the game his way.
I’m on Sharon’s side. How about you?
Find Sharon Wright: Butterfly here.
How do you choose the next book to read?
If you’re anything like me, it’s a fairly random process – but you do have a small number of authors whose books you know you’re going to want to read as soon they come out. For example, I’ve just finished The Dark Angel, the latest in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. I pre-ordered it the day it was announced, because I’ve read all the earlier Ruth Galloway books and I knew I’d want to read this one. (I’ve finished it now, and it did not disappoint).
There aren’t many authors like that – names that are so reliable that you know the book is going to be a great read. Elly Griffiths is one. Jane Davis is another. I first came to her books when I read, I Stopped Time. On 12 April 2018, she’s releasing her new book, Smash all the Windows and you can pre-order it here at a special price. I’ve never met Jane (I’ve never met Elly Griffiths, either), but we have corresponded a couple of times (she put me onto the designer of the cover for The Making of Billy McErlane) and that gave me the courage to ask about the new book – where it came from, and how she went about writing it. Those are interesting questions in Jane’s case, because – unlike most authors – she doesn’t write the same book again and again. Since winning the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008 with her first book, Half-truths & White Lies, everything she has written has been a new attempt to tell her own truth in her own way. This is what she had to say.
Jane Davis talking about Smash all the Windows
My advice if you’re embarking on a novel? Stick to fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian fiction, anything. Just don’t meddle in current affairs.
My novel began with outrage. I remember that so vividly. I was appalled by the reaction of the press to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at the families of the victims as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put to them that, now it was ‘all over’, they could finally get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television. Were they talking about the lives that the families enjoyed before the tragedy? Because they clearly no longer existed. And neither did the lives that they might have expected.
For those who don’t know about the Hillsborough disaster, a crush occurred at Hillsborough football stadium during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. Particularly shocking at a time that pre-dated the internet was how the disaster played out in real-time in living rooms the length and breadth of the country. The moment the severity of the incident became apparent to senior police officers, there was a cover-up. With no reason to doubt incoming information, sports commentators simply repeated the lies they were fed. Liverpool fans were to blame. From that time onwards, everything done perpetuated a myth, making scapegoats out of victims and survivors alike. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set record straight.
Elizabeth Strout, an author I greatly admire, warns her writing students, ‘You can’t write fiction and be careful. You just can’t. I think actually the biggest challenge a writer has is to not be careful.’ And I agree. I really do. But none of us exists in a vacuum. The pain I saw on the faces of family members in the aftermath of the second inquest, twenty-seven years after the disaster, was raw. My favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’. Making things up is what I do. And so I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators – and created a fictional disaster from which to tell my story.
The previous year, I had suffered a fall on my way to a book-reading in Covent Garden. I was overloaded, having just finished a day’s work in the city. I was carrying my laptop bag, my briefcase, plus a suitcase full of books. The escalator I normally use was out of order. Instead we were diverted to one that was obviously much steeper but I wasn’t prepared for how much faster it would go. I pushed my suitcase in front of me and, holding onto the handle, was dragged off-balance. Fortunately, there was no one directly in front of me. A few bruises and a pair of laddered lights aside, I escaped unscathed. But I can still recall the moment I knew I was about to fall and the recognition that there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it.
Even while avoiding writing about Hillsborough, I intended that my fictional disaster would share many common elements. Because both incidents happened before the explosion of the internet, people’s voices weren’t heard as they would be today. Photographs weren’t taken on mobile phones and posted online. In both instances there was someone in a position of seniority who was new to the job. There were elements of institutionalised complacency. (It’s said that the most dangerous sentence in the English language is ‘But we’ve always done things that way.’) Facilities dated from decades when the relationship between pedestrian traffic-flow and human space requirements wasn’t as well understood as it is today. Risk assessments had failed to consider the possibility that more than thing might go wrong at any given time and how multiple-casualty emergencies would be dealt with. Both disasters blighted the lives of many hundreds – survivors, witnesses, families, friends and the police, doctors and nurses who had to deal with the aftermath. I wanted to reflect the extraordinary pressure endured by the Hillsborough families following their treatment when searching for loved ones. Similar insensitive treatment was seen in the aftermath of tragedies such as Lockerbie/PanAm and The Marchioness). This has led to a report calling for three crucial cultural changes: a charter for families bereaved by public tragedy; provision for proper participation of bereaved families at inquests and the creation of a ‘duty of candour’ for police officers.
But even when writing about a fictional incident, I soon found myself facing difficulties of a different kind. Broadcasts and broadsheets were dominated by large-scale disasters, many of them terrorist attacks. Paris was already on my mind, but Nice, Berlin, Manchester… Then in May 2017 came the London Bridge attack, an incident that took place within the setting for my novel. I witnessed first-hand the bouquets of red roses that spanned the full width of the bridge. Handwritten messages to loved ones gradually blurring in all that London’s weather could throw at them. And the photographs of the victims, all those devastating, beautiful obituaries.
Susan Sontag said, ‘Every fictional plot contains hints and traces of the stories it has excluded or resisted in order to assume its present shape.’ I couldn’t avoid that imagery overlaying my research. There is no doubt that some of will have made subtle inroads onto the pages of my novel, no matter how hard I resisted. But I had to make conscious decisions about if, and then how, I should let these disasters change the shape of the story I was writing. I had already realised that I didn’t want to write a book about blame. I felt this would do an injustice to the many individuals who behave heroically in the most terrible circumstances. Added to which, all of my research about accident investigation told me that any finding that an individual to blame is not only likely be biased, but the investigation will have failed to get to the root of how the disaster happened. Corporate Manslaughter remains an option, but I’m not sure there has been a single successful conviction since the concept was introduced, and there are dangers in blaming organisations. Unwittingly, in setting my disaster in an Underground station, I picked one of the best examples of an organisation that is subjected to crippling external pressures, London’s rapidly growing population being the most obvious. Add to this the inherent difficulties in expanding the Tube network. And nowhere are these problem more concentrated than in the City of London. I certainly didn’t hold London Underground to be responsible for my fictional disaster.
Then in June 2017 came the Grenfell Fire, the most heart-breaking tragedy of recent years, not only because of the enormous scale of the devastation, but because facts quickly emerged to suggest that the spread of the fire and its horrific consequences could have been prevented. Inadvertently, in avoiding writing about Hillsborough, I now risked creating the impression that I was commentating on two London disasters and, given that I live in London rather than Liverpool, wasn’t this more likely? Of course, having made a decision to write about unblame rather than blame, I was also seriously out of step with public opinion.
Fortunately, the focus of my novel isn’t the disaster, but human drama. My real challenge was to translate the emotional fallout onto the page with delicacy and honesty and in a way that gave the characters dignity. That meant capturing all of the guarded memories, the survivor guilt, the hidden sorrow of a man whose wife will no longer leave the house, the man who mourns not only the loss of a daughter but his unborn grandson and the end of his family line, a woman who beats herself up for having been a bad mother, the daughter who must assume position as head of the household, the sculptor who translates all their grief into art, the sheer heroism involved in the act of getting up day after day and going out into a world that has betrayed you. Then there’s the perseverance, all of that drive and fight for justice, getting it down on the blank page and delivering something that gives cause for hope. There always has to be a story. Mine is about human resilience and the healing power of art.
What’s Smash all the Windows about?
It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.
It will take courage to learn how to live again.
For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.
Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.
If only it were that simple.
Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of metafiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art.
Written with immediacy, style and an overwhelming sense of empathy, Smash all the Windows will be enjoyed by readers of How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall and How to be Both by Ali Smith.
So who is Jane Davis?
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight novels.
She spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.
Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.
Also by Jane Davis
I came to this book, the first in the Professor and Mrs Moriarty Mystery Series, because I so much enjoy the author’s Francis Bacon historical fiction series. The Moriarty books are different from the Francis Bacon books, as you would expect from such an accomplished writer, and it’s a mark of just how accomplished she is that – with just a couple of niggles, which I’ll come to – she manages so well the switch from Tudor times to the late Victorian age.
This book turns on its head the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty. In Anna Castle’s version, Moriarty is an upright citizen of impeccable moral standing and honesty, while Holmes is a conceited, self-regarding bungler. Holmes is out to get Moriarty and to pin on him a series of murders, the unravelling of which is at the heart of this book. As with her Francis Bacon books, Castle brings us an outstanding heroine who would inspire in any man the thought, “My dear woman, just say the word.” And she does say the word (to Moriarty) and he responds as any red-blooded man might be expected to.
The niggles? They are not enormous, but they do matter. Anna Castle is American and writing a book set in Britain among British people is no easier for American writers than the reverse is for British writers. All the big, important stuff she gets right, but I found myself unwilling to believe that a London club of the quality Moriarty belongs to would serve its members American whiskey – and, sure enough, a few lines later she confirms that he is, in fact, drinking Scotch so it’s whisky and not whiskey. There are a few similar examples and, while they don’t detract from the quality of the book, they are there. There’s also a tendency, when her characters get into a real mess and you are wondering how on earth they are going to get out of it, to resort to the “With one bound she was free” solution. Finally, as a long-time fan of AE Housman, I was delighted in the early stages to discover that – like Housman and the object of his unrequited love, Moses Jackson – Moriarty is employed in the London Patent Office. Sure enough, Jackson turns up quite quickly and Housman immediately afterwards and I had great hopes that they would feature prominently in the novel, but that doesn’t happen. Perhaps in later books? We shall see.
Those are the reasons why I give this book four stars and not five, but I repeat that they do not detract from the enjoyment. I recommend this book without reserve to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, the unravelling of a crime, characters who emerge alive from the page and have completely believable motivations, a good love story, and/or first-class writing.
This is a really good book. I like historical fiction, but – like many other historical fiction readers – I tend to stick with the periods I know, and I don’t know Elizabethan times. Anna Castle obviously does. The details she gives – food, clothing, social relations, office-holders, and much more – are convincing. What turns this from a good book to a really good book, though, is (as it has to be) the plot, the characters, and the motivations. I have to give Murder by Misrule five out of five on each of those heads. I’m not going to provide a spoiler, but I will say that the late scene involving Trumpet was not just an entertaining surprise. It was captivating. I’m delighted to have found a new author to add to my “must read” list.
What has place to do with the novelist?
There was a discussion at this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival about writers and a sense of place. I wasn’t able to listen to it, because I was engaged in something to do with historical fiction in another part of the festival and I’m sorry to have missed it because I understand the importance of place to the novelist.
What triggered this post today was that I read a review of Sharon Wright: Butterfly on Amazon USA by someone whose nom de plume is “Professor.” It isn’t a new review – he wrote it last year – and I’m commenting on it now because of the thinking I’ve been doing about place. What the professor says is:
“a significant element of the story is set in France. a country that I love and holiday in every year. Lynch clearly knows France well. His descriptions are accurate and appealing and I truly enjoyed the enviable canal trip from Auxerre experienced by three of the characters.”
I was pleased to read that, because I know that canal well; I’ve cycled along it and I’ve made the journey by boat in the same way as the characters do. I fell off my bike at one time on a particularly rough part of the route de halage (it was my fault – I was thinking about something else) and when someone asked how I was I remember being ridiculously proud that, despite the mess I was in, I remembered that the past tense of tomber takes être and not avoir.
Be that as it may – I know Accolay, where they pause for Carver to make his arrangements with Monsieur Arbot. In fact, here’s the very inn where that meeting takes place. I know the closed-in nature of the place, how it belongs to “La France profonde,” and the way it led me to say, “In the Nivernais, no-one watches you – but everyone sees what you do.” And after I’d thought about that it occurred to me that I also know the cafe where Carver sits as he watches Stacey, and where Stacey goes when it’s almost all over, and what it’s like on Eurostar, and…
The thing is that, when I write, I’m writing just as much about place as I am about people. When, in A Just and Upright Man, I wrote about “the wild whinscapes of County Durham,” I was writing from memory. (I don’t think whinscapes was even a word before I used it). I’ve had people who have read Zappa’s Mam’s a Slapper say to me, “I was surprised that you managed to get it right when you wrote about sink estates in Newcastle.” Well, you shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not. And when, in that same book, Billy finds himself in Coeur d’Alene and says this:
It’s a strange place, Coeur d’Alene. Americans will tell you it didn’t exist much more than a hundred years ago, which rather rudely ignores the Indians. Now it’s a resort and you get lots of normal people, or people who can pass for normal in the northwest USA, and they have malls and restaurants and stuff to amuse themselves in. There’s sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter and golf most of the time when it isn’t actually snowing. Good old friendly USA.
But it started as a frontier trading post and went into mining and logging and gambling, and the people who did those things weren’t clubbable. Coeur d’Alene was where you got off the steamboat to try your luck at prospecting for silver, and where you got back on the boat to go home, or more likely to drift on somewhere else, when you realised this was not the place you were going to make your strike. There was no welfare state and no safety net and if you didn’t look after yourself in whatever way you could, you starved. It takes a certain kind of person to thrive in that environment and beneath the tourist polish all that independence and egoism is still there.
I’m writing about what I saw. What I experienced. As I am when he describes an hotel bar in these terms:
Take Dan and Vern in Buffalo, Wyoming. We met in the Occidental Saloon. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane all stayed at the Occidental and when you stand in the bar you can see twenty-three bullet holes in the ceiling. It brings back every Western you ever watched.
I know it’s possible to do a great deal of research on the Internet, and the Internet will certainly tell you (with pictures, thanks – among others – to Google Earth) what a place looks like. But how it feels? There’s only one way if you want to write about that. You have to have been there.
For many writers, that means visiting a place to research the book they’re writing at the time. It doesn’t seem to work that way for me. Somehow, when I write about a place, it’s a place that I already know, and I put my characters into it. It’s like all those places have settled into a sort of mental sediment inside my head, to be drawn on when needed.
I said, for example, that I know that cafe from which Carver watches Stacey, but what I should have said is that I knew it, because the cafe was on the road out of Kingston on Thames and it must be nearly thirty years since I was last there. The cafe may well be gone by now.
All of these thoughts were originally triggered by “Professor’s” review of Sharon Wright: Butterfly. The mind, though, does not stand still and my present work in progress is about growing older. I put these two pictures side-by-side:
The one on the left was taken behind the stand at Haynes Oval in Nassau either in 1964 or 1965. The one on the right was taken in 2010 on the pitch at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. On the left, I’m dressed to play cricket. On the right, I’m dressed to watch rugby (I’m leaning against the goal post because the match – Lions v Western Province – was over. Lions won). The fact that in 1964 I played and in 2010 I only watched is not the only change wrought by 46 years of living. Look at the hair. Look at the face. Look at the waist line.
What’s this got to do with place? Haynes Oval. I’ve never written about the time I spent in Nassau, but I remember the place so well. It’s time I brought it back to life. Now… What characters am I going to set down there?
THE historical fiction debate
Should we write about kings or commoners? About nobs or nobodies? I know where I stand on that question — and you can hear my side of the argument here.
The book I talk about in that video is here.
How Sharon Wright: Butterfly came to be written
I just published a new video on YouTube. I’m posting the script here, just in case you’d rather not go to YouTube to watch it:
Hello. I’m John Lynch, and I’m here to talk about my book, Sharon Wright: Butterfly. Writers get lots of questions about their books. Maybe this will answer some of them.
The first and most obvious question is: Where do you get your ideas? I always say the same thing: I have no idea. And sometimes that’s true. And sometimes it isn’t. What is true is that I never know when I start writing a book how it’s going to finish. An idea comes into my head. Maybe it’s a conversation. Maybe it’s just a person. And I put the words down on paper and look at them. Which isn’t actually true – I put them on a screen – but readers like to think about it going on paper. Writers say a lot of things that aren’t true. You might want to remember that while I’m talking. Or while any other writer is talking.
Remember when you were young? And you said something that wasn’t true? And your mother told you “Don’t tell stories”? Well, that’s what writers do. We tell stories. Sometimes they’re true. And sometimes they’re not. If you can tell the difference when I do it, let me know. Because I usually can’t.
Anyway. Sharon Wright: Butterfly. I fell in love with Sharon while I was writing the book. Even though I knew that falling in love with Sharon would be a stupid thing to do. Because Sharon is an interesting sort of young woman. When she woos – as she woos Jackie Gough – She does it the way a female mantis might. Knowing that, when he’s served his purpose, he may have to die.
When the book was written, we talked about covers. And I was sent this picture.
I looked at it and I thought, “I don’t believe it! That’s HER! That’s my Shazzer!” Now, I am to graphics what Wayne Rooney is to the violin. So I left the cover design to someone who designs covers. I’m the writer; she’s the designer. It’s a good idea always to remember what you’re good at. And what you’re not.
And what Sharon Wright is good at is getting her own way. The tagline of the book is: “Nobody gives Sharon a chance. Except Sharon.” Shazzer comes from a very unfortunate background. Men think… Well. Let Shazzer tell you in her own words. This is an extract from the book:
She moved forward and smoothed the collar of his shirt. She kissed him gently on the lips. ‘Jackie. You know what I’ve learned? Started learning when I first went to school, and went on learning? Men need to think I’m dumb. Because I’m a woman, and I’m blonde, well, men think I’m blonde, and I like to spend a lot of time on my back with my legs in the air, and I like men for what they have that makes them men, I have to be dumb. Well, I’m not dumb.’
Gough shook his head. ‘You’re not, are you?’
As I said, while I was writing the book, I fell in love with Sharon. I hope you will, too. You can find out more about her here. And you can buy the book at any newsagent (ISBN: 978-1-910194-10-2). Or, of course, from Amazon.
Why Elly Griffiths, Ann Cleeves, and JJ Marsh are the best British contemporary crime novelists writing today
There’s a huge number of British novelists writing today about contemporary crime. A search of Amazon throws up a lot of them. Some are not much cop, as you’ll find if you open the Look Inside that Amazon so helpfully provides, but some are good. Quite a few British writers of contemporary crime are well worth spending a few evenings with – you’ll get a lot more pleasure and satisfaction from them than you will out of the average evening’s television schedules.
But the best three?
Elly Griffiths, Ann Cleeves, and JJ Marsh
I’d put these three ahead of Peter James, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and a number of others with a good following. What they all have in common is:
- They write about real people, and however bizarre the plots may sometimes be (and Elly Griffiths has some dillies), you believe in the story as it unfolds because you believe in the people. More than that – you recognise the people. They have characteristics, strengths and weaknesses just like those of the people you know. Just like your own, in fact;
- While the authors may have – in fact, they do have – political leanings, there is no virtue signalling in their books. They know what they think; they don’t attempt to tell you to think the same thing. That is a lot rarer than I would wish;
- The plots are well worked out and none of the three ever leaves you thinking, “You cheat! You hid that from me! If you’d told me that earlier, I’d have known who done it”;
- They are in control of the back story; they realise when they need to reprise something from an earlier book but, unlike, say, Rankin, they ease it skilfully into the telling of the story. And I guess that’s it; they’re on this list because, good as some others are, these three are the best technically as well as in all the other attributes a crime writer needs.
This is not a blanket endorsement. Ann Cleeves has four series in print; Shetland and Vera are both very good indeed, and well deserving of their TV success, but I’m less enamoured by her George & Molly and Inspector Ramsay offerings.
As for the other two:
I can recommend both series by Elly Griffiths (that’s not her real name): she has the Dr Ruth Galloway books about a forensic archaeologist in
Norfolk and the Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto books; both series are excellent, but Stephens and Mephisto isn’t actually contemporary, because it’s set in the years immediately following the Second World War. Max Mephisto is a magician, which can lead to some plot points that challenge the reader’s willingness to believe; come to think of it, one of the central characters in the Ruth Galloway books is a druid called Cathbad, so both series have a strong magical element, but that does not detract from the sheer joy of reading these books.
Jill Marsh is a Welsh woman living in Switzerland who writes in a room on the top floor of her home there so that she can gain inspiration from looking into the cemetery next door. Yes, well…we are talking about crime fiction, after all. She is about to publish the final book in the Beatrice Stubbs series and promises that a new series with a new protagonist will follow. Given the quality of the Beatrice Stubbs books, I have every confidence that the new series will be excellent. For anyone who has not yet come across Beatrice, there’s a review of the first book in the series here.