Last night, I went to my local indie bookshop, Mostly Books in Abingdon, for their latest Crime Panel event. We had not just one or two, but five crime authors talking about their work! Olivia Kiernan, CJ ‘Caz’ Tudor, Andrew Wilson, Mick Herron and Dominick Donald. It was such a treat, and thank you to all of them (plus the MB team) for coming out en masse to a small, but packed, bookshop.
Led by Dominick, each author introduced themselves and their latest novel, with a little bit of back story where necessary. The discussion then ranged from what they did before they were published to the inspirations for their work and characters, whether they plan or not, and their distractions from writing. All five authors bonded really well, and they were witty as well as inspirational.
Mick Herron gave us his ‘Solitaire’ statistics from when he was meant to be writing his latest in the wonderful Jackson Lamb series of spy thrillers, Joe Country (which I’ve yet to read). His win-rate at spider solitaire wasn’t too shoddy – ha ha! He also told us how he’d literally finished the 7th in the series that very day and was in that happy place where no-one else had read it yet to offer an opinion and deflate his mood. Mick was so self-deprecating and funny, saying how his boring former career working on employment law couldn’t compare with the others. His dry sense of humour definitely spills over into the Slough House series though (my review of the first one, Slow Horses, here).
Herron couldn’t be sure where the name for the main character Jackson Lamb came from, but he was re-reading Le Carré at the time and there’s a rude character called ‘J Lamb’ in Smiley’s People (he wrote about this for the TLS here). Also he said he might have unconsciously borrowed Jackson from Kate Atkinson’s first Jackson Brodie novel which had just come out. When signing books for me, he said how Joe Country is dedicated to his daughter or niece? (sorry, I can’t remember which) who shares my name – with different spelling though.
CJ Tudor told us how it was drawing stick men in chalk with her child all over their drive that gave her the inspiration for her chiller debut The Chalk Man, that was a sensation when published, earning plaudits from Stephen King no less. Her novels have all derived from thinking about ‘What if’ situations and giving them a creepy twist.
Caz told us all about her former career as a radio advert copywriter which has made her a compulsive self-editor, and also how she worked on the film review programme Moviewatch with Johnny Vaughan and got sent to many press junkets and ask non-standard questions to the stars she had to interview – Robert Downey Jr being a favourite! Her third novel, The Other People, has just come out in hardback, but her second is entitled The Taking of Annie Thorne – and when signing a copy for me I said I hoped it didn’t creep me out too much for my maiden name is ‘Thorn’ and occasionally people will call me Annie (not for long though!). We laughed about that and tongue in cheek, she offered to sign the book to me as ‘Annie’ – I politely declined!
Olivia Kiernan told us how her former career as a chiropractor, and anatomical knowledge from that was really able to inform her Dublin-set novels. The first has Garda Chief Super Frankie Sheehan at an autopsy in its opening pages. Kiernan was struggling to find a name for her tough woman detective, but saw a skip in Oxford with the name Sheehan on. Later checking the name out, she was delighted to discover that Sheehan derives from Síochána – the Gaelic for peace as in An Garda Síochána – the full name of the Irish police, so it was a perfect choice. She’s writing the fourth in the series now, the third is pictured (right).
Dominick Donald has only published one novel so far, but its premise of 1950s London fog, with gangsters, Russians and goings on in Notting Hill was immediately attractive, so of course I purchased a copy which he signed for me. Dominick was full of stories! He broke in his literary chops writing documents for the United Nations, compiling reports from many member country sources. Incidentally, he told us that the UN has its own equivalent of Herron’s ‘Slough House’ where some out of favour employees are transferred to finish their careers; I wasn’t sure if this was just a story though…
Andrew Wilson has written several books before his latest series. These include a brilliant thriller called The Lying Tongue (2007)which is set in Venice, which I read and loved pre-blog, I mentioned I’d enjoyed it to him which he appreciated. He’s also written a highly regarded biography of Patricia Highsmith, Beautiful Shadow (2003), and I took along my TBR copy to get signed. The book features a photo of Highsmith on its spine with top half bared – he told me they had to take that off for the US edition. He also told me how he owns Highsmith’s dressing gown, and has been known to wear it at festivals. He was such fun to talk to!
In the discussions though, he told us the best story of what he did before he was published – the subject of his journalism degree dissertation was ‘a history of male prostitution’ and he did some research in disguise only to find himself splashed on the front cover of the local free rag with a ‘rent boy’ headline – we laughed, but there was a serious point in that he knows how it feels to be made a victim of such press now, and it was delivered to his grandmother to whom he hadn’t come out.
But I haven’t told you about his new series of books yet. Fans of Nicola Upson’s ‘Josephine Tey’ series will doubtless enjoy A Talent for Murder and its sequels. These novels build from the disappearance of Agatha Christie for ten days in 1926 and go on to use facts from Christie’s life in some classic Christie ‘but darker’ thrillers which take Agatha into the world of espionage. The fourth will be published this spring. I can’t wait to try this series, from the beginning, of course.
It was a fab event! I have (signed) books by all five authors now in my piles.
Whom or which should I read first?