Archive for the ‘Sara Paretsky’ Tag

Best Books of 2014

As always, I have been using Goodreads to keep track of the books I read throughout the year. I set myself a goal to read 65 books in 2014. I actually managed to read 71.

The number of books I have been reading since I started keeping track on Goodreads has been steadily increasing year on year. Just look at the stats:

2011 – 55 books read
2012 – 60 books read
2013 – 63 books read
2014 – 71 books read

I am not sure why this number is increasing. I have started reading books on the journey in to work, whereas I used to read the newspaper, so that’s a difference. I used to take the underground from London Bridge to Holborn every morning, which required changing trains and a great deal of walking to get from one platform to another, which would interrupt my reading time. This year I’ve started taking the bus instead, which is a straight 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading time before I have to get off. So I think that’s made a difference too.

Another noticeable change in reading habits in this past year is the increasing number of books I have read on the Kindle, as opposed to paper books. In fact the only paper books I read were those that I was sent by Shots e-zine to review for them, those that I picked up as freebies from conventions and those that had been given to me as gifts or were already on my shelves (for instance the Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky books). Every new book that I purchased myself, I bought as a Kindle version. The convenience of the Kindle is making a significant impact on my reading habits, and now that I have a plastic waterproof cover for it, I can even read it in the bath (which is another place I like to get some quiet reading time).

I started the year re-reading the Sara Paretsky books, who as I have mentioned many times is and always will be one of my all-time favourite authors. I enjoy all of her books, and many of the five-star rated books of 2014 are hers. I read many excellent books in 2014. However, since there were all of 16 books I gave five stars to, this already makes for a long list of ‘Best books read in 2014’. So although there are many deserving four-star books that should be on the list, the final cut contains only the ones I rated five stars. Some of them I have reviewed on Goodreads, and the link is included. Others I have included a few words about below the title.

Lamentation – CJ Sansom

This is the sixth book in the excellent crime series about Matthew Shardlake, hunchback lawyer in the time of Henry VIII, and it just as good as the previous in the series. The series is not only excellently researched, but each one has featured one of Henry’s six Queens, in chronological order. In this latest book, Henry is dying and his last Queen, Catherine Parr, has written a book called ‘Lamentation of a Sinner’ that has been stolen. Shardlake is hired to find out who stole the book and retrieve it, for if it gets out into the public domain it could prove the Queen guilty of treason.

The religious and political instability of this era is effectively portrayed. My only worry was that with the death of Henry VIII there would be no more Shardlake books. Without giving away too much, however, the end of this book sets the stage for a potential new era of Shardlake adventures.

Before I Go Sleep – SJ Watson

A film starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth was released of this book last year. It’s the sort of plot where you either read the book or see the film because once you know the ending, it’s a fairly major spoiler.

The premise of the plot is that Christine Lucas has suffered an accident that affects her long-term memory. Every day she wakes up with no memory of the last twenty years, and the man she wakes up next to, who tells her he is her husband, is a stranger to her. It’s a frightening concept, but as Christine tries to explore her surroundings she discovers she has secrets she has not been telling her husband. Who can she trust?

This book is a very exciting and gripping thriller, and I was hooked from the first chapter.

V is for Vengeance – Sue Grafton
W is for Wasted – Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton is another of my all-time favourite authors, and I love her feminist, kick-ass heroine Kinsey Millhone. The books are all set in the 1980s, when Grafton started the series, and she says she is going to stop at Z. So there will only be three more, which makes me sad. However, this is another series I shall enjoy re-reading, since it’s been some time since I read the early books and I can’t remember much about them.

The Secret Place – Tana French

This is book five of the Dublin Murder Squad series, and I haven’t read the other four, but found this book in my pile of free booty from the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. It involves the murder of a teenage boy on the grounds of an expensive boarding school for girls. The investigating officers whittle the list of suspects down to eight girls – two groups of four, close-knit clusters of friends. But who killed Chris Harper? I really wanted to find out. And this book about adults moving around in the world of adolescent girls made me feel really glad I am long past that stage of life – been there, done that, no wish to go back thank you very much.

Breakdown – Sara Paretsky
Hardball – Sara Paretsky
Blacklist – Sara Paretsky
Hard Time – Sara Paretsky
Tunnel Vision – Sara Paretsky
Guardian Angel – Sara Paretsky
Burn Marks – Sara Paretsky
Body Work – Sara Paretsky

I worship the ground Ms Paretsky walks on. I’ve re-read every VI Warshawski book, and in doing so came across a couple that were new to me (‘Hardball’, which somehow I missed the first time around, and the latest book ‘Breakdown’). I now eagerly await the next book, out later this year. VI Warshawski is now in her fifties, though, and I wonder how much longer she can run around scaling walls and getting shot at.

Stone Bruises – Simon Beckett

Merivel: A Man of His Time – Rose Tremain

The Accident – CL Taylor

Sometimes I browse the Kindle specials store, and end up finding something really good for 99p. This was one of those occasions. The premise involves a teenage girl who ends up in a coma after deliberating stepping in front of a bus. Her mother, desperate to find out why her daughter tried to kill herself, starts to investigate and discovers some murky secrets in her daughter’s life that she knew nothing about. It’s another suspenseful page-turner.

And so this is my review of the best books I read in 2014. I have set myself a goal to read 70 books in 2015. Could be a challenge, but the Kindle is charged and loaded with plenty of unread books, all ready for my return to the day job and the London commute tomorrow. I suppose that’s one good thing about the days the train service is appalling. The longer it takes me get home, the more reading time I have.

Books, Books and E-books

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Ever since I first learned how to read, I have spent much of my time with my nose in a book. I was starting to read by myself by age seven, I think. That’s a good 37 years ago. I have devoured a great many books in that time.

In recent years there has been much debate about the format of books – hardback; paperback; e-book. In my own personal library, there are more paperbacks than anything else. But this is largely because I have been a commuter for the last 25 years, and most of my reading has been done on the train to and from work. Paperbacks are much more transportable than hardbacks. In the last four years or so I’ve had an e-reader and have been collecting e-books, and it won’t be long before they overtake the number of paperbacks, even given their relatively recent appearance on the market.

I also possess a number of hardbacks in my library. Most of them have come my way as gifts, from someone who wants to buy me the absolute latest novel by one of my favourite authors, and who feels that a hardback is a more substantial gift than a paperback. I also have hardbacks that are personalised and signed by the author, because I went to their signing session and bought the book.

Ultimately the format is not as important as the words in the page. Books can transport you into another world. They are an escape from everyday life. They are the key to you becoming someone else, even if just for a few hours.  A dashing and brave hero. A magician with superior intellect. A hard-bitten cynical cop. The daring captain of a spaceship. Whatever you want to be, the words of a novel can take you there.

And yet the format of a book still matters, even though it shouldn’t. Many people insist they don’t like the idea of e-books because they prefer the feel of a ‘proper’ book. As if e-books are somehow not ‘proper’ books. I must admit I was a tad suspicious about them myself, until I got my first e-reader and realised how wonderful they were. No longer do I have to weigh down my suitcase with half a dozen books when I go on holiday for two weeks – all I need is my Kindle, and I have all the books I want. If I finish reading a book on the way into work, I don’t have to lug another around another for the journey home, I just open up another book on the Kindle. My handbag is much lighter with the Kindle in, instead of a paper book. I am someone who has a book with her at all times, no matter where she is going. And a Kindle is so much easier to transport. It will practically fit into a pocket.

My e-reader has also allowed me to buy more books.  I browse the 99p books in the Kindle e-book store almost daily.  Quite often if I am intrigued by a book’s cover and blurb I will decide to take a chance on it because it’s not a lot of money to part with, and it might lead me to discover a wonderful new author.  One click is all it takes to buy that book and transfer it to my Kindle.  It’s ready to begin reading mere seconds later.  And best of all, I don’t have to find shelf space for all these new books because they don’t take up physical space.

Yet in spite of this, I haven’t stopped buying paper books. I will go to signing sessions and buy hardbacks. I will browse second hand book shops and buy books that take my fancy. I still browse book shops, heaven forbid, and take a punt on a new author’s paperback simply because the cover and blurb on the back attract me. And I don’t think this will ever change.

As a lover of books in all formats, it worries me there’s still some resistance to e-books – occasionally even from publishers, though this is getting better. Only this morning I was reading an article in the news stating that e-book sales are predicted to overtake paper book sales in the UK by 2018.  And a spokesperson for a particular publisher was quoted about how e-books have revitalised the book market, with the technology to make e-books available on tablets and so forth making reading accessible to people who never used to be book buyers.

I’m not someone who gives books to charity shops when she’s re-read them.  Maybe this is a selfish attitude, but I like to have books available to re-read at a future date.  Going back to a favourite book is like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.  Hardbacks do make this a bit problematic, though, when most of my reading is done on the move.  I’m in the process of re-reading Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski books, and the next book on the list is BODY WORK. My copy of this is a hardback, signed to me personally by Sara because I met the great lady herself at the UK launch for this book. And as she is one of my favourite authors of all time, I will treasure it. Having paid £15 for this signed copy, I don’t particularly want to have it bashed about in my bag on the train, or dropped in the bath, or whatever. Ideally I’d like to keep the hardback on the shelf and have a electronic version to re-read, but this would mean having to pay for a second copy of a book I already legitimately own.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader out there who likes to have shelves surrounded by books, whilst enjoying the convenience that an e-reader brings to the reading experience.  I’d like to see publishers bundling a free e-book version of a novel with every hardback edition sold.  That would certainly encourage me to buy more hardbacks to fill up my bookshelves at home, and I’d still get to enjoy the convenience of my e-reader on my daily commute.

A few years ago there seemed to be much suspicion in the publishing world, and a widely held view that e-books would see the end of paper books.  I maintained then, and still maintain now, that there is room in the world for e-books and paper books to exist together, and there does seem to be more people acknowledging this now.  But there’s still a way to go before e-books and paperbacks are truly equal.

Cover Reveal for DEATH SCENE Re-release

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

At last I can reveal the cover for the MuseItUp re-release of DEATH SCENE.  And doesn’t it look fab?  With this book being a re-release, the question of what to do with the cover seemed to be more problematic than the first time around.   The first cover was much simpler – the comedy/tragedy masks on a black background, with a backdrop of red theatre curtains.  I was very pleased with that cover.

Death Scene 200x300But this time around, I wanted something a bit different.  I wanted an image of my main character on the cover.  I wanted something to suggest ‘action’ and ‘mystery’, and yet still wanted to suggest the theatrical nature of my amateur sleuth’s main profession.  This cover, by the fabulous Charlotte Volnek, does all of this and more.

And for the first time, Shara appears on the cover of a book.  I will say that this image is now how I initially pictured her.  But it seems somehow right, and I love it.  Here she looks mysterious and sort of ordinary, and that really fits the character.  She also has, here, a passing resemblance to the model on the original covers of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski series.  And since Shara was inspired by V.I. Warshawski, that fits too.

This may not have been how I imagined Shara when I wrote the first two books about her.  But it’s how I’m going to see her from now on, and it’s how I’ll picture her when I write the next book.

Release date for DEATH SCENE not confirmed, but it’s looking likely to be June some time.  And at present, I’m busy lining up blog tours.

In the meantime, I’m knee deep in edits for both Shara books.  So I’d best get to it.

Best Books of 2013

As usual, over the past year I have been using Goodreads to log the books I read, and rate them using a scale of one to five stars.  About this time every year I use this to review the books I have read and which ones I have rated highest.

A book has to be pretty exceptional for me to give it five stars, but as it happens there were five books I rated five stars in 2013, so these are the books as I am citing as my best reads of the year.  Three of them are written by the same author:

Killing Orders/Bitter Medicine/Toxic Shock – Sara Paretsky.

This demonstrates why I don’t have a favourite book, I only have favourite authors.  I can never choose just one.

In 2013 I decided to re-read Sara Paretsky’s series about Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski from the beginning.  Some of these early books I have not read in nearly 20 years, but I was reminded why Sara Paretsky remains one of my all-time favourite authors.  It takes her a little while to get into the series.  The three books listed above are numbers 3, 4 and 5 in the series respectively (the first two books I gave four stars to).  But once she does, I can find no fault.  The stories are tightly plotted, the clues are carefully and often subtly placed.  V.I. is a brash, outspoken heroine with left-wing politics and a keen social conscience.  She has no patience with arrogant mysogynistic men – who it must be said she meets a lot of – and she doesn’t care what people think.  And I love her for it.  I love her outspoken-ness, I love the way she refuses to be inimidated, I even love the way she puts people’s backs up.  I especially love that she’s a woman with no particular desire to get married or have kids (V.I.’s back story sets out that she was once a lawyer, briefly married to a man she met in law school, but that ended when he cheated on her and she has no desire to repeat the experience).

I re-read the first five books in 2013 and there are 16 – thus far – in the series.  It’s not going out on a limb too much to predict that Sara Paretsky will also feature in my ‘best books of 2014’ list.

I also realised in re-reading these books how much my own writing style is similar to Sara Paretsky’s.  The conversational style of the narrative, the brief descriptions of day to day activities that fill the character’s time between key plot points and most significantly the technique of leading characters to the bedroom and then closing the door before the sex scenes are all present in my Shara Summers series.

Anyway.  That’s enough of my fan-girl wibbling.  In brief, I am re-reading the series and finding it as wonderful now as I did the first time around.  On to the other two books I rank as best reads of 2013:

Dracula – Bram Stoker
Joyland – Stephen King

‘Dracula’ I re-read to refresh my memory ahead of the panel I was doing on Dracula vs Frankenstein at EasterCon.  What can be said about this book?  It’s a gothic horror classic, and even though it was written over a hundred years ago it still packs a punch.

‘Joyland’ is the only recently written book on my list, by another one of my all-time favourite authors.  And in my view it’s one of his best, though I would categorise it as supernatural crime rather than horror.  I did a review of this book on Goodreads which I won’t repeat – if you’re interested, you can find it here.

Goodreads also allows you to set yourself an annual challenge of the number of books you want to read in a year.  Last year I challenged myself to read 60, and managed 63.  I spend over two hours a day on public transport going to and from work, and that’s where I get most of my reading done.

I’ve decided to push the boat out a bit this year and aim to read 65 books.  That is a bit of a challenge, but I think it’s achievable.  I’m looking forward to reading more great books in 2014.

Sara Paretsky, Shara Summers and Feminism

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I read a great many books – on average, just over one a week.  I have read so many books that I find it impossible to pick out just one favourite.

I do, however, have several favourite authors.  Authors whose books I constantly go back to, and it feels like visiting an old friend.  Books which affect me in such a way I have to choose carefully what I read following them, because everything else will just seem inferior.

One such author is Sara Paretsky.  I discovered her V I Warshawski series in the early 1990s, back when I was first aware of enthusiastically embracing feminism.  It was a revelation.  Here for the first time I encountered a heroine who represented everything I wanted to be.  A fiercely independent woman who was brave, resourceful, unafraid to speak her mind and without need of a man to define her existence.  Single and childless, V I is sarcastic, blunt and able to hold her own in a fight.  I thought then, and still think now, that she is a fantastic role model for young women.

And even in the 21st century, there are few heroines like her.  Sue Grafton has a similar independent minded, single and childless heroine in Kinsey Milhone.   Kathy Reichs, another writer I admire, has a strong woman in Temperance Brennan, but unlike V I Tempe is a mother, and does occasionally need rescuing by men.

Not everyone shares my adoration of V I, as reviews on Goodreads and Amazon testify.  Some readers – among them women, I was surprised to note – find her too unlikeable.  They don’t like her sarcasm and confrontational manner.

I do not deny that my amateur sleuth Shara Summers was inspired by V I Warshawski.  When I set out to write a crime series, I wanted a heroine like V I – someone courageous and independent minded, who was not afraid to speak her mind.  But I wasn’t brave enough to write a police procedural, so I went for an amateur sleuth.  And in many ways Shara is very different from V I.  She’s not as brave.  She’s not the champion of the underdog the way that V I is.  And she does occasionally get rescued by men.  And because I’m just not as good a writer as Sara Paretsky, sometimes I don’t pull off what I’m trying to do.  Maybe Shara just comes across sometimes as being bitchy instead of courageous.

It’s also clear that Shara is not everyone’s cup of tea.  DEATH SCENE racked up 31 rejections before it was published by Lyrical Press.  One of the most common reasons for the book being rejected was the character not being likeable enough to take through a series.

The revelation that not everyone loves V I Warshawski – because I’ve been enthusiastically recommending these books to everyone for the last 20 years – was a bit of a surprise, and I’ve recently been ruminating on that.  V I is sarcastic, snarky, and blunt.  She can be downright rude – especially to arrogant and patronising men.  In the early books, which seem to be set in the early 1980s, V I is unusual in being a woman P I, and she encounters a hostile reaction to this by many people.  Especially men.

Women are not supposed to embody these qualities.  Even in these times, they are generally expected to be soft, caring and nurturing, and I think this is the main reason that women who don’t possess these qualities are regarded with suspicion.  They are considered to be not ‘normal’ women.

I like the fact that V I is snarky, blunt and rude.  But there are some people out there who might say I embody similar qualities.  And the same people who wouldn’t like V I for these qualities probably don’t like me much, either.

I must confess that now I’m the wrong side of 40 I’ve got to a point in life where I don’t really care if people don’t like me for being me.  As a woman gamer, role-player, and horror writer, I’ve encountered a number of men over the years who don’t know what to make of me.  The fact that I’m deliberately childless also causes resentment in certain people – it’s surprising (and depressing) how many people, even in this day and age, who assume that all women want children and any who don’t are instantly labelled as being abnormal and not to be trusted.

None of these things matter that much to me these days, but I’m pretty sure that the people that fall into the aforementioned categories are not my target readership.

For the length of time that human beings have existed on this planet, we’ve proved to be depressingly stagnant in moving on with our thinking.  I will go on recommending Sara Paretsky’s books to everyone I have a conversation about crime books with – particularly women.  I would like every young women to read at least one V I Warshawski book.  For every one who comes away thinking, “this is the sort of woman I want to be,” then a battle will be won.

There’s a long way to go before we win the war, though.

My Life in Books: Burn Marks

burn marksIn 1989, I had a job working in a book shop in Central London. I was there for two years. Although I loved being around books all day, I wasn’t so fond of dealing with customers. However, that job was where I really began to build up my own personal library. Before then, I’d largely acquired my books from the library. With this job, not only was I around books all day and therefore just about every day I’d come across at least I wanted to read, we also got a staff discount, so we were able to buy them at a reasonable price. And so this is when I started buying books instead of borrowing them – a habit I still continue. Like all book shops, ours used to have signing sessions with authors. Most of them were lovely. A few of them weren’t so lovely. I’m not naming any names. Suffice to say that since the shop was in Westminster, most of our most notorious “authors” were politicians… And then Sara Paretsky came to see us, for a signing session of her new release BURN MARKS. Up to then, I hadn’t heard of her, or her books. But she came, she was lovely, and I liked the sound of her kick-ass character V.I. Warshawski. So I bought the book, and had her sign it. Andthen I read it, and my life was changed. V.I. Warshawski remains my premier example of a tough female heroine. She’s smart, she’s outspoken, she knows her own mind and she’s not afraid to voice her opinion – even though doing so often makes enemies. Over the years she’s had many lovers, but none of them have made her happy enough to want to give up her independence for them, and she’s still single, preferring instead the company of her friends and her dogs. Daughter of an Italian singer and a Polish cop – both immigrants to the US – V.I. is an orphan, but her fierce love for her parents shapes her personality, and her desire to speak up for the underdog, especially oppressed women, colours her actions. This is not the first book in the series. If you’ve never read any of Sara Paretsky’s novels, start with the first one, INDEMNITY ONLY, which introduces us to V.I. After I read BURN MARKS I started the series from the beginning. I’ve read them all, and in my opinion Sara Paretsky has not written a bad V.I. Warshawski novel yet. Yes, I am a hardcore Sara Paretsky fangirl. And proud of it. There aren’t enough V.I. Warshawskis in the world, in my opinion. As long as Sara Paretsky keeps on writing books about her, I shall keep on flying the flag declaring her the best fictional heroine ever.

Best Books of 2012

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

At this time of year, I like to look back at all the books I’ve devoured over the last 12 months and decide which ones I rate highest.  As I’ve mentioned before, I read a lot of books. For 2012 I set myself a goal of 60 books, and I managed to achieve it. Most of my reading time is during my commute. I spend over 2 hours a day travelling to and from work on public transport, and this is mostly why I get through so many books.

My favourite crime writer Sara Paretsky recently put out a call on her blog asking for people’s favourite reads of 2012, to increase her own TBR pile. I was very flattered that she included my response in her post.

I’ve mentioned before my love of Goodreads. Not only does it allow me to keep track of exactly what I’ve read and when, and list things I want to read, but I also use their guidelines for my star ratings (with one star meaning ‘didn’t like it’ and five stars meaning ‘it was amazing’). I don’t throw five stars around lightly. Most books I will enjoy, but they have to be pretty special to warrant a five star rating.

However, it so happens that in 2012 I gave no less than six books five stars, which makes choosing my best picks a bit easier

Many of them I’ve also reviewed on Goodreads, and in each case there’s a link back to the review, to save me repeating myself here. They are in no particular order, apart from the order I read them in.

BODY WORK – Sara Paretsky: I don’t mean to become a dribbling fan girl whenever the esteemed Ms Paretsky’s name is mentioned, but I can’t help it. This is the fourteenth book in her series about the tough woman detective VI Warshawski, and I have loved every single one of them. VI is older in this one, but still charging in without thought, in her desire to save the world from the bad guys. Ms Paretsky never disappoints, and neither does VI.

THE ASSASSIN’S PRAYER – Ariana Franklin: This fourth book in the series about 12th century doctor Adelia Aguilar, will sadly be the last because Ariana Franklin died in 2011. Adelia is a wonderful character. Not only is she a doctor specialising in forensics, at a time when the medical profession was viewed with suspicion, but she is a woman doctor to boot. A fact she tries to keep hidden, because in primitive England she would be burned as a witch. Instead, Adelia travels in the company of a Moor, who pretends to speak no English, so they can pretend that he is the doctor and she is his nurse and translator.

FLASH & BONES – Kathy Reichs: Another writer who, in my view, never fails to deliver. This fourteenth offering in the adventures of forensic pathologic Temperance Brennan is the best in some time, I think. Set in the exciting world of motor racing, it was tense and thrilling and had me turning the pages.

ODD APOCALYPSE – Dean Koontz: This is the fifth book in the series about a strangely named young man who can see ghosts, and I was introduced to it when I had to review this book for Shotsmag. I enjoyed it so much I immediately bought the first book in the series as soon as I finished this one.

ODD THOMAS – Dean Koontz: Hence why this, the first book in the series, I read after the fifth book in the series. Start with this one and get introduced to Odd properly.

11/22/63 – Stephen King: This time-travelling thriller from the Master of Horror seems to be the Marmite of the literary world – you either love it or hate it. I loved it.

And what of my reading target for 2013? I could have been ambitious and upped the stakes. But since my job hasn’t changed I don’t anticipate any more or fewer hours of reading time, so I’ve set myself the same goal again. I average a book a week. I aim to read 60 books in 2013, which is more than a book a week, but it does depend on the length of the book, and how much time I spend sitting on the beach (for every day I spend doing nothing but lazing around on holiday reading, I can get through one book). So, we shall see if I can reach the same target again.

What are your reading goals for this year?

Serial Killers

I am fond of a nice gruesome murder. A serial killer novel is right up my alley. However, I’ve read rather a lot of such books this year, and they are starting to become a tad formulaic.

A lot of these books have followed the same generic plot. The killer, generally male, is targetting a specific type of victim (generally female). As the body count piles up the police investigation gets ever more frantic. Meanwhile the reader gets to know the killer quite well, as parts of the story are told from his point of view. He relishes the thrill of the hunt, and gets turned on by the power he wields over his victims.

We know his motivations, what kind of vehicle he drives, how he catches his victims. What we don’t know is his name. This is generally revealed about three quarters in, when something rings warning bells with one of the main characters. Further investigation reveals this person fits the killer’s profile. The police set off in pursuit, and eventually the killer is caught.

The excitement in such novels is the thrill of the chase. Generally a character we’ve come to know and love becomes the target of the killer, and the suspense comes in whether he will be caught before he kills her.

I’ve probably read too many of such books in quick succession, but it’s all getting a bit predictable. Suddenly I’m hankering after different fare in my reading diet.

The number of print books in my TBR pile is vast, as I’ve been abandoning such books for electronic ones of late. Top of the list is “Changes” by Jim Butcher, and my signed personalised copy of Sara Paretsky’s “Body Work”. Both of these books I’ve been looking forward to reading for months. The problem is, they’re both hardbacks, which I find rather inconvenient to lug about with me on my daily commute.

There are other books in the pile, too, which I have acquired free of charge from attending various Cons this year. Sometimes these free giveaways are books not really worth reading, but there’s often some hidden gems in there too.

As I get further into the new horror WIP, I find myself craving more horror. Once upon a time the only horror writers to be found on the shelves in British book shops were Stephen King, James Herbert and Clive Barker. Nowadays, it’s a bit different. Horror seems to be back in vogue. Which means there must be a lot more horror writers out there for me to discover.

I’m looking to load up my e-reader with some good scary horror novels. All suggestions considered…

Introducing Shara Summers

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

With less than a week to go before my amateur sleuth Shara Summers is unleashed on the world, I thought it was a good time to talk about how she came into existence.

I’ve always been fond of strong female characters, and been a fan of kick-ass female sleuths since first introduced to Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski. When I decided I wanted to create a crime series, I looked to my fictional heroines for inspiration – as well as VI, these include Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Linda Fairstein’s Alex Cooper, and Kathy Reichs’s Tempe Brennan. But they are all American, and I wanted – being British – to base my sleuth in the UK.

British private eye stories are an entirely different kettle of fish to US ones, due to the differences in the law (not least of which is the UK’s much more stringent gun control laws). And I am not a big fan of research. Writing about a private investigator or a detective inspector involved far too much homework, to my mind.

I decided instead to create an amateur sleuth. Then you can perhaps get away with a bit of creative licence, as people are prepared to suspend belief when it comes to the fact an amateur sleuth trips over dead bodies far more often than a normal person could reasonably expect to. And I wouldn’t have to do quite so much homework into the workings of a police department, which I’ve only really picked up from cop shows on TV.

Then there was another snag. Most amateur sleuth series are set in the past. History is not my strong point. There’s no era I know enough about, or wanted to learn enough about to set a series there. So that’s why I decided to set my series in contemporary South London, specifically my own stomping ground.

That did prove to be a bit of a sticking point when I started shopping DEATH SCENE around to agents, as it got rejected by more than one on the basis that they didn’t feel they could sell a contemporary amateur sleuth novel to a publisher – fans of the genre apparently prefer historicals, or so I was told.

In deciding what day job to give to my amateur sleuth, I decided to make her an actress. The theatre is an area I’m interested in, and I spent many years involved in amateur dramatics, both onstage and behind it. I thought that a sleuth who could act would open up some interesting possibilities – she could disguise herself and play a role when she’s poking around where she shouldn’t be, in order to get information. And like being a writer, actresses can get away with being incurably nosy – an actress can claim to be doing research for a role, if she’s listening in to conversations she shouldn’t be.

Finally, I drew on my own history to give my sleuth a Canadian background. I spent eight years of my life in Canada, and I still have an affinity for the place, having family and friends there I visit frequently. So I gave my amateur sleuth one parent in Canada and one parent in the UK (which is my own situation). Although she eventually relocates to the UK, I felt making her a Canadian in London might make her a more interesting viewpoint character, as she adapts to British life and British way of thinking.

And so this is how Shara Summers came into existence. Known as Shari to her friends, she’ll step out into the world on Monday, in my forthcoming novel DEATH SCENE.

I can’t speak for Shari, but I’m certainly feeling a bit nervous about her debut. I have a lot of ideas for future books about her. I really hope I get the chance to write them!

When Sara T Met Sara P

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Many, many years, when I was still trying to find my place in the adult world of work, I was a book shop assistant in London. I enjoyed being surrounded by books all day. I wasn’t quite so fond of dealing with the customers, but that’s a different story.

One of the good things about this job, however, was that every once in a while a famous author would come to us to do a signing session and we’d be given the chance to meet them. One day Sara Paretsky came to see us, to promote her book BURN MARKS.

I hadn’t read any of her books at that time. But I was just getting into crime, and then, as now, strong-minded independent female characters attracted me. So I bought a copy of the book and got her to sign it for me.

Ever since I read that book, Sara Paretsky has inspired me. I love her tough-talking private eye V I Warshawski, who is forever the voice of the oppressed and the forgotten minority of America. And who remains, to me, such a positive female role model in a world where there’s a chronic shortage of strong female characters in the literary world.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I had the opportunity to meet Sara Paretsky again, more than twenty years later, when Mystery Women helped to organise events for her UK tour recently, to promote the latest VI Warshawski book BODY WORK.

Sara T, Kirstie, Sara P and Ayo enjoy a nice chat

Sara Paretsky was in conversation with Natasha Cooper at Waterstones Piccadilly, London, on 16 March. After the event, she and her publisher came to chat to us, and she signed my copy of BODY WORK. Sadly, I was reduced to a lot of fan girl wibbling. However, Ms Paretsky had flown in from Chicago only the day before and was still somewhat jet-lagged – so fortunately for me she may not have noticed the wibbling too much.

I hope to have the opportunity to meet the marvellous Sara Paretsky again at Bouchercon in St Louis this year, where she is receiving a lifetime achievement award. On that occasion, it will probably be me suffering from the jet-lag.

Until then, I have BODY WORK to read.