Monday, 27 March 2017

Author Feature: J.D. Smith

Once in a while, we like to remind ourselves of why we're an author collective. Five individuals in three countries bound by a love of writing. People often ask how it works, but rarely why.

Here's the latest - in fact the last! - in our Author Feature series, on why we appreciate JD Smith.

Catriona Troth:
While historical fiction often comes in hefty tomes, Jane’s novels are pared right down, homing in on the stories of one or two individuals and creating their worlds with a few deft touches of the pen. She uses simple, unfussy language that feels timeless. While the story of Zenobia, Warrior Queen is epic in its scope, Jane delivers it in serial form, each element a small gem.

JD Smith is not only a novelist, but also a highly sought after cover designer. She has created the whole Triskele ‘look,’ from the logo on, as well as designing covers that establish distinctive brands for each of us as authors. She has an instinct for understanding what it is an author wants, and then delivering it with panache.

And as if that wasn’t enough, she is also the founder of and the power house behind both the literary e-zine Words with Jam and the review site, Book Muse UK.

What readers say about Tristan and Iseult:

“This is one of the most intelligently written and beautiful books I have ever read. The theme is well known, as are the characters, but JD Smith narrates the story from both perspectives with a haunting quality. The descriptive text is first-class and the reader can feel the cold winds, the biting rain together with the contrasting landscapes of Wales and Cornwall. The love shared and lost is a strong emotion brought tenderly to life in brutal times, accurately described.”

"The legendary sad tale of Tristan and Iseult told with spare, crisp prose, keeping the story taut and short. Very evocative of the time period with no sentimentality brought from the present day. A haunting melancholy of unfulfilled longing peppers every page and the brutality of that age is shown with unsparing detail. The imagery is immediate and vivid of each location, whether salt laden coast or the wet greenery of Wales. A recommended read if you want to understand why this famous legend has stood the test of time."

Gillian Hamer:

Jane has an outstanding talent for her organisational approach to life, and when you know exactly how much she handles on a daily basis, you can understand why!

Her design work is professional and polished, and her eye for detail is pure magic. I don't think Triskele Books would have had the same success, certainly in terms of branding and reputation, without Jane's creativity. I can't think of a time any of us have ever disagreed with her input on the design front. And we have all been blessed with praise for our individual covers. Professionally, she has years of success ahead of her, and her reputation will continue to grow.

From a writing perspective, I think it's totally brilliant that Jane has the opportunity to write what she loves, and that passion shines through in her writing. In Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Jane has brought to life a character lost in the mists of history, and she manages to make all of the trials and hardships that come with writing historical fiction look effortless. I admire her enormously for taking on such a challenge and creating such a brilliant series of books. She also has an editorial eye that is another huge attribute within the Triskele team.

And let's not forget she created the e-zine Words with Jam from scratch and continues to manage that in between her other work.

Add to that three adorable children any parent would be proud of - and I often ask how on earth she manages to juggle it all - a talent in itself!

What readers say about The Rise of Zenobia:

"From the beginning I was drawn into an ancient world, a world of hostile environments where only the daring survive. And into this harsh and often brutal land, comes Zenobia, a warrior queen who dares to take on the might of the Roman Empire. Based in Palmyra, (modern day Syria) in the 3rd century and mixing scanty factual evidence alongside pure fiction, the story of a brave and bold warrior is told in easy to read segments and with a lightness of touch this story of intrigue and political skulduggery comes gloriously to life."

"There are some twists in the story, moments of great poignancy, of violence, of triumph and of loss. Based on actual history and added to and blended beautifully by the author, this is a gripping read. It's scale is epic. It leaves the reader satisfied, but also wanting more - more of Zenobia who's shaping up to be quite a warrior queen and more of all these wonderful vivid characters and places."

JJ Marsh:
The remarkable thing about Jane's Overlord series is how she can transport you right into the middle of a battle or draw you to the heart of political manoeuvering, complete with smells, textures, tastes and tensions. You feel you are there. Her writing is both beautiful and sensory, but nothing is sanitised for modern sensibilities. She excels in atmosphere, whether that is a Cornish beach or the Syrian city of Palmyra in the 3rd century. Some scenes from Tristan and Iseult have stayed with me for years. I secretly believe she would make an extraordinary screenwriter but Hollywood can't have her because she's ours.

Her talents extend beyond writing superb historical fiction. She is the design mind behind all Triskele's covers and in fact our whole image. She combines an awareness of the market with an intelligent visual eye, working in harmony with her clients to achieve their dream covers. Small wonder she is so successful.

What readers say about The Fate of an Emperor

"Sometimes the best story about a figure that looms large in history is told through the eyes of another; this is something that the late Mary Renault did to perfection in The Persian Boy, and J D Smith does it here. It really felt like it worked as a narrative choice, to tell the story of an extraordinary historical woman from the perspective of a man who was close to her. I found myself appreciating that angle on it."

What readers say about The Better of Two Men

"Make no mistake, this is mature and assured writing. In the space of the opening paragraph, JD Smith will transport you to Roman East in the third century where you will follow in the footsteps of Zabdas, whose duty it is to stand by the side of his half-sister, Zenobia."

"What J.D. Smith does with historical fiction is to take it one step further. She makes you feel – feel what it was like to exist in that place and time, feel what the people who lived then went through emotionally, mentally, and physically. She picks you up and plunks you right in the middle of it so that you get the real experience of the characters’ lives with her vivid descriptions and her ability to make you feel the emotions of the characters."

Liza Perrat:
Jane’s professional skills as a talented designer are invaluable both for myself and for Triskele as a collective. Designing and setting up our website and blog, as well as the Bookmuse and Words with Jam sites, sending out regular newsletters and basically taking care of all our technical stuff is a real relief for someone like me who finds that side of things challenging. Jane is always there with a prompt answer or solution for my many silly “techy” questions too. I also appreciate her taking care of my own website design, as well knowing that, in her designs, I have the best book covers possible. One in particular comes to mind: Blood Rose Angel. For ages I tried to get that “B” right, searching for something medieval, striking and elegant. Eventually, the “B” that Jane painstakingly created was stunning, and exactly what I had in mind! I also value Jane’s critiquing skills. Succinct, and straight to the point in her own lyrical prose, she is quick to “red pen” any of my paragraphs that tend to lapse into purple prose.

Find Jane online:



TWITTER: @JDSmith_Design

Friday, 17 March 2017

How To... Write Dialogue

By JJ Marsh

Ten tips towards creating believable, interesting and functional dialogue in fiction. 

Image by Julie Lewis


... spend time listening to how people speak. Eavesdrop on conversations and identify speech markers you can steal and attribute to your characters. Think of five people you know well. What makes their manner of speaking distinctive?

... cut the fluff. Real speech is full of irrelevant filling, so trim to the good stuff. Dialogue should sound natural but far more interesting than reality.

Here’s an excerpt from False Lights, by Gillian E. Hamer.
“One body?”

“Apparently so.”

“Any identification yet?”

Kelly shook her head. “Barely identifiable as human they said.”

... make sure the dialogue serves a purpose. Pages of realistic sounding dialogue is laudable, but what is its function? Character development? Backstory? Plot point?

... tie characters’ speech to their culture, the genre of the book, the historical period and overall tone. As David Mitchell explained when writing The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet:
“I wrote a short grammatical constitution, for the Dutch, English, Japanese, educated, pleb and female Japanese. Each has three or four rules, for example, the Japanese don’t contract, or at least not in my book. The Dutch don’t use ‘will’, it’s always ‘shall’, which gives it an archaic patina. And all the time you’re writing under the confining umbrella of historical fiction, so neologisms are out.”

... read and/or act out the dialogue. Record yourself and listen again later. Is it rhythmic and flowing or does it sound like the school play? Are long sentences broken up with shorter exchanges? What are the characters doing at the same time?

... pay attention to how characters change tone when talking to each other. We all have different ways of speaking when in conversation with good friends, total strangers, a new boss, a small child.

Excerpt from Wolfsangel, by Liza Perrat
‘What’s so interesting down on the riverbed, Patrick?’ I asked. ‘Those creatures from Papa’s stories with a hundred eyes, horns and fins?’

‘All those stories, just to scare you into not swimming,’ Ghislaine said with a laugh.

‘I think it’s his stories I miss the most,’ I said. ‘Now he’s gone.’

‘Not that his scary tales ever stopped you two,’ said Miette.

Patrick flung an arc of hair from his face. ‘Not us, our sister perhaps.’

‘It wasn’t fear that stopped Félicité,’ I said, the rush of water massaging my harvest-weary shoulders. ‘She just found our games pointless. That’s what she always said, “a frivolous waste of time”.’


... fall into the ‘As you know, Bob...’ trap, otherwise known as stating the obvious for readers’ benefit. Characters telling characters what they already know is an awkward device lumped in with excessive use of names. Listen to real-life conversations. How often do people need to say the name of who they’re talking to? Hardly ever.

... overdo accents and verbal tics. A whole book in which a character speaks in an extreme accent is irritating and unnecessary. Readers are bright enough not to need every word in dialect, so a gentle smattering here and there is sufficient to evoke the sense of speech.

Excerpt from Ghost Town, by Catriona Troth
“Very domestic, yaar. Fancy ironing me a few shirts while you’re at it?”

“Why? Your mata-ji finally got tired of wiping your arse for you?”

It was a routine he could have done in his sleep. The two of them had been sparring since, as lone desis, they’d gravitated together at art school.

“Not that you’re a real desi,” Vik regularly reminded him. “You don’t even speak Punjabi.”

“Doesn’t make any difference to the sodding racists, does it?”

“Too Paki to be White. Too gora to be desi. The true artist is always an outsider, yaar.”

... annoy readers with ‘I have a secret’ type of dialogue and or bore them with information dumps. Your audience doesn’t want to feel excluded from what the characters are talking about, but intrigued. Neither do we need a whole life story in one monologue. Drip enough info to keep people curious but not enough to bore.

... forget about tags. Dialogue attribution is essential, especially in scenes with several speakers. Stick to said, asked, told and steer clear of qualifying adverbs. None of this nonsense: ‘Really? I don’t believe it!” ejaculated Gloria breathlessly. But feel free to add action so that the attribution is unnecessary.

Excerpt from Tristan and Iseult, by JD Smith.
Iseult of the White Hands comes into the kitchen. She carries a pail of water.

‘You are home?’

‘I am.’

She ladles a little water into a bowl, sits down beside me, bathes the scratches on my body. There is little tenderness. Just a methodical need to clean the wounds.

‘I worried you would not return to us.’

I reach forward for bread and cheese, a cup of ale. ‘We outnumbered them.’

She purses her lips, disapproving. It has been a long time since her lips curved and her scowl relaxed.

‘You should take more care.’ She wrings the cloth in the bowl, leaves the table.

‘Next time, I will. I am too old for this.’

One more point. Read plays or film scripts. See how much weight dialogue can carry. Human beings are experts at decoding what words, intonation and expressions mean and forming opinions as a result. When it works, good dialogue can act as both laser surgery and dynamite.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Author Feature: Gillian E Hamer

Over the past few months Triskele Books has been home to a series of author features. Now, it is our great pleasure to focus the spotlight on one of Triskele's founder members, Gillian E. Hamer.

Born in the industrial Midlands, Gillian's heart has always yearned for the wilds of North Wales and the pull of the ocean.

A Company Director for twenty years, she has written obsessively for over a decade, predominantly in the crime genre. She has completed six full length novels and numerous short stories.

After completing a creative writing course, she decided to take her writing to the next level and sought representation. She is a columnist for Words with Jam literary magazine, a regular theater goer and avid reader across genres.

She splits her time between Birmingham and a remote cottage on Anglesey where she finds her inspiration and takes long walks on deserted beaches with her Jack Russell, Maysie.

Here's a little snippet from a recent interview when Gillian was asked about writing crime:

Why did you decide to write in your chosen genre(s)?

In fairness I think the genre probably chose me! I’ve read crime fiction all my life, from the Enid Blyton books I loved as a child, through every Agatha Christie novel in the village library, and onto modern day writers like Ian Rankin. It was written that I would crime! And I’m very proud of my current Gold Detective series. However, location has a big part to play especially in my first three books (The Charter, Closure and Complicit) which I call my spooky thriller trilogy. It was Anglesey and its fantastic history that gave me the content for these novels, different in each, but also in each I wanted to mix a modern thriller with the historical aspects. It sounds odd, I know! But I think it works

So, what makes Gilliam such a valued member of Triskele Books?

Liza Perrat: Suspense is Gilly’s forte, in her page-turning crime thriller novels. She also has an incredible knack for creating baddies so scarily well that sometimes I wonder what’s going on in her mind! She has also brought to life the island of Anglesey (off the north-west coast of Wales), for me. So much so that it’s now at the top of my to-visit list.

I appreciate that Gillian takes care of the financial aspects of Triskele Books. It’s great to have someone you can totally trust with the finances, providing summaries and reports of all our financial dealings.

Gilly is also our SM girl. That’s social media in case you were wondering! She shares all our blog posts, images and comments across a wide range of social media. And not forgetting her excellent, multi-tasking skills during our fortnightly #triskeletuesday Twitter chats!

Finally, I highly value Gilly’s critiquing skills. If something isn’t working in my story, she’s not shy about letting me know. No false compliments, just the cold hard truth, which is what every author needs to produce their best work.

JD Smith: Gilly is a hugely valuable member of our team. She's committed, forward-thinking, determined and passionate about our collective.

She's also a talented writer of not only crime but historical fiction, and I admire her enthusiasm for periods in history such as the Roman era which are close to my own heart. I love the weave of these time periods in her books. It gives them an edge that I find so often lacking in popular crime stories.

Catriona Troth: Gillian’s books are set on the island of Anglesey in northwest Wales, which also happens to be where my mother’s family are from. Her books are interwoven with the history, geography and myths and legends of Ynys Mon (the island’s Welsh name), and every time I open the pages, I am swept back to the lanes around my grandmother’s house, to the rocky coasts, the treacherous straits that separate the island from the mainland.

But don’t be fooled by the picturesque rural location into thinking these are ‘cosy crime’ stories. These novels are as gritty as the island’s often bloody history, and she doesn’t shy away from portraying Anglesey’s present day problems with poverty and drugs.

In Gold Detectives, eschewing the crime fiction stereotype of the ‘lone wolf’ detective, Gillian has created an ensemble of characters, with their own strengths, weaknesses and quirks. This is a team of believable people we get to know and like, and each book in turn brings another of the team to the fore.

Gillian is the director of a small business, and within Triskele, she acts is our finance manager, holding the purse strings and bringing her business head to ensure that what we do brings a commensurate return. She is also our Social Media guru, managing our Twitter and Facebook pages and juggling (with surely more than just the usual ten fingers!) several accounts simultaneously as we hold our fortnightly #TriskeleTuesday twitter chats.

JJ Marsh: When first planning Triskele Books, the author collective, we knew we needed a lot more than good writing.

Triskele works just like a small business - you need vision, commitment, strategy, vision and financial nous. Gilly brings all this to the table in addition to a creative imagination.

She works hard at everything she does and insists we all reach as high as we ought. Her books are beautifully crafted, her critical analyses are spot on and she ensures we all pull our weight.

She's a rare individual - a sharp business mind with a deep well of imagination. We'd be lost without her.

What readers are saying about Gillian Hamer's crime books:

"Once again, Gillian Hamer brings ancient history to life with beautiful, lyrical imagery."

"When you love a book as much as I loved The Charter by Gillian Hamer, you always approach the next book with trepidation. I needn't have worried - her latest, Closure, is even better. It begins as two separate story threads - a serial killer targeting students at Bangor University, and the work of North Wales CID to track him down, and the seemingly disconnected story of Jake, a child experiencing horrifying dreams triggered by a past life. The stories converge as the pursuit of the killer heats up, and the story - a superb mix of police procedure and the mysteries of reincarnation - builds wonderfully set against the beautiful Anglesey setting. The author very deftly weaves the different elements together, with well-rounded characters and a masterful building of tension, with some tremendous nail-biting moments. I really couldn't put it down, a fantastic read. We get to know the police team even better in this book, and this has the makings of an excellent series of which I eagerly await the next episode."

"This is the second book I've read by this talented author. Like her first novel, The Charter, Gillian returns to the familiar territory of the rugged Anglesea coast.

This is a darker tale than Charter and, in many ways, a more complex one as well. We have two separate but intertwining stories. The first features Helen West and her six year-old son, Jake, who is suffering from terrible nightmares. But are they more than that? And how can the be linked to the series of killings in and around Bangor University.

With great skill, Gillian draws these two very different threads together and gives us an extremely satisfying crime story with a spooky twist in the tale.
Rich in atmosphere, dripping with suspense and full of memorable characters, this is one you won't forget in a hurry."

"Hamer brings Anglesey alive, doing to the island what Rankin does to Edinburgh, what Dexter did to Oxford. She also gives us three-dimensional characters, with their necessary human failings and weaknesses. The tension never slackens, the suspense never falters. Here is a new crime writer with a new set of detectives. If you thought the world of crime-writing was already overcrowded, think again. Gillian Hamer is one to watch, and her novel is one to read."

"What a great debut to a new series. As with all the author's previous books, I could not put this one down. I stayed up late finishing it and was not disappointed ... I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a well written mystery and also highly recommend her other three books. They won't disappoint."

Connect with Gillian online:  

Friday, 3 March 2017

Triskele Tuesday - #futureclassics

On Tuesday 28 February, our regular fortnightly #twitchat took the subject of #futureclassics. It was a lively affair, with so many intelligent contributions that several people asked for a summary.
So here you go:

Which books or authors of the last ten years will you re-read? And why?

Passions rose to the surface quickly and here are some of the Tweeters' tips:

Crimson Petal & the White by Michel Faber

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Augustown by Kei Miller

A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

As for future classic authors: Iain Banks, David Foster Wallace, Roberto Bolano, Arundhati Roy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sarah Waters, Terry Pratchett, Eimear McBride, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman received general approval.

Are today’s bestsellers future classics or flavour of the month? 

Will YA and children’s fiction provide many of our #future classics? Emphatic agreement here, citing Philip Pullman, Mallory Blackman's Noughts and Crosses, Matt Haig, JK Rowling and Mailbox by Nancy Freund

Is genre fiction as likely as literary fiction to become a classic?

Strong feelings on this one as participants felt strongly about Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and various works by Ian Rankin, China Mieville, Emily St John Mandel, Becky Chambers, Mary Renault's Alexander books or Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy.

Future classics from poetry?

Suggestions included Sharon Olds, Steve Roggenbuck, Claudia Rankine, Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage, Geoffrey Hill and Linton Kwesi Johnson, even if not all were in agreement as to classic status.

Classics often help us see the world differently. Which contemporary works have done that?

Mentions of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman and Murakami's Wind-up Bird Chronicle while Dan Holloway made the point that non-fiction books might be future classics: Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point and Freakonomics; Naomi Klein's canon and poetry of Claudia Rankine's Citizen.

Will #futureclassics encompass a more diverse range of experience?

Recent examples, not only of authors but initiatives, cropped up, including Javier Marias' The Infatuations, Marlon James, Sapphire, Citizen, the Jhalak Prize, VIDA Lit and the Bare Lit Festival.

Discussions continued for long after our allotted hour, so big thanks to all our contributors:

Looking forward to next #triskeletuesday, when we’re discussing #dialogue 

19.30 GMT on Tuesday 14 March
Use either hashtag to find us, join in and let's talk!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Free Reads for Smart Women

A weekend treat! 

Twelve smart women have teamed up to give intelligent readers the choice of a dozen terrific books.  Absolutely FREE! Free Reads for Smart Women.

How do you like your fiction?

Dramatic, thought-provoking, beautiful, award-winning, believable, imaginative, poignant, heart-racing, romantic, page-turning and courageous? 


We’ve got you covered.

Take your pick of any or all of these exceptional reads – from 24-28 February – and discover your next favourite author.

One weekend. Twelve worlds to discover. Check out the video and go exploring.

Free Reads for Smart Women. From 24-28 February only.

Friday, 17 February 2017

The Big 5 Diary #1

In November last year, we announced the winner of our Big 5 Competition, chosen from a shortlist by judge Sheila Bugler.

Sophie Wellstood’s entry, The Sky is a Blue Bowl, took the first prize - a year-long mentorship by Triskele Books.

That was three months ago. What’s happened since?

Stage One: Sophie made the final edits to her book and sent it to us for editorial feedback.

Stage Two: Catriona Troth, a professional editor, went through the manuscript with both a critical and appreciative eye, in order to give detailed feedback. As a second pair of eyes, JJ Marsh also read the book and offered overall notes.

Stage Three: We compared our reactions and responded to Sophie.

Here’s what Catriona had to say:

Like everyone who read Sophie's opening chapter, I fell in love with Edith and wanted to curl up on a grassy hillside with her and share a glass of cider.
I loved the evocation of the New Zealand landscape, and gentle rhythms of the honey shed.

I did however have a few issues to do with the big cast of characters, and also with the book's structure, especially towards the end. There were some characters I felt were insufficiently grounded before we moved on to meet the next, which allowed them to become jumbled up and hard to tell apart. Others slipped at times into stereotype. And Wyn herself (the book's narrator) could come across as immature and sometimes hard to sympathise with.

The pacing of the novel was a little off - moving almost sleepily at times and then suddenly cramming events together in a way that was exhausting to read. When what had felt to me like the book's main thread came to an end - in a deeply satisfying and genuinely moving conclusion - the book carried on, leaving me with a slightly confused sense of what it was really about.

None of these felt to me like insurmountable obstacles to what could be a really excellent book. I provided Sophie with a four page report explaining my thoughts, plus a set of line edits on the manuscript - lit blue touch paper and stood well back.

Stage Four: Sophie got to work as a result of our opinions.

Here’s her take on the process so far:

It’s been a fairly intense few weeks. Whilst the MS was sitting with Catriona and Jill, I worked on the second novel and various short stories, but kept fiddling with this one. I’d subbed it to a number of agents who were mostly very complimentary but they weren’t in love with it enough to take it on. I knew there were aspects of the plot, the structure and some of the characters that needed overhauling – a couple of plot developments in particular really nagged at me - but I just didn’t have the necessary insight or confidence – or motivation - to know what to change, or how. At times I felt very deflated and tired with the whole thing.

Receiving Catriona and Jill’s feedback and editorial suggestions was exactly the kick up the backside I needed. Two pairs of fresh, professional, experienced authorial eyes and insight; two unbiased brains, two experienced readers. For free.

It’s reassuring to know what works; that scenes and voice are strong and affecting and believable - but by far the most valuable editorial notes have been of the sleeves-rolled-up-don’t-spare-my-feelings nature. I asked for tough, critical notes, and got them. Catriona has nailed the exact weaknesses in character and plot that were nagging at me, and it’s genuinely exciting to go back and re-work these people, what they get up to and the consequences of their actions.

There has been one major, major change (I won’t say what here) which has impacted every aspect of the story – it was something my instincts were telling me to do long before this competition, and it feels right. The knock-on effect of course is that threads become unravelled, some actions are inappropriate or irrelevant, something someone does at 10k needs resolving at 60k, etc etc, but having Catriona’s all-seeing editorial eye – I’ve started thinking of her as my virtual sat nav – means that I can trust her to see where I’ve (literally) lost the plot.

There are some recommendations that I need more time to digest – suggestions around the structure towards the end of the story, how it reaches its climax / conclusion; how it all comes together. We’ve discussed how the beginning and ending of the story are really quite different in terms of pace, and how I might change the order of events – this is something I’m still thinking about. I don’t necessarily disagree – I’m just processing the amount of work it will involve!

I couldn’t be more grateful for this support, though. The story is growing a tougher spine, and (Catriona has picked me up on my liberal sprinklings of mixed metaphors) a new pair of wings. And so have I. Thank you!

Friday, 10 February 2017

BOOK CLUB: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This month on Book Club, we discuss Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.

About the author

Anthony Horowitz is the author of the number one bestselling Alex Rider books and The Power of Five series. He has enjoyed huge success as a writer for both children and adults, most recently with the latest adventure in the Alex Rider series, Russian Roulette and the highly acclaimed Sherlock Holmes novels, The House of Silk and Moriarty. Anthony was also chosen by the Ian Fleming estate to write the new James Bond novel which will be published next year. In 2014 he was awarded an OBE for Services to Literature. He has also created and written many major television series, including Injustice, Collision and the award-winning Foyle’s War.

About the Book

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She's worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It's just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway...
But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.
From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the cosy crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.


For crime fictions fans, this book is probably the ultimate red herring. Did you come to this book with any pre-conceptions?

(GH)  None at all. I actually listened to the audible version of the book, attracted both by my appreciation of the author (especially his Sherlock Holmes books) and the narrator, Samantha Bond. I had no idea that the main context of the plot was a story inside a story. But I totally appreciated the originality of the storyline.

(JJ) Apart from admiring everything Horowitz does, none. The book took me by surprise and carried me along in both its guises. I too listened to it first but then read it in paperback form. I needed to flip back and forth to remind myself of key clues. The central device is quite a literary sleight of hand, but it's done beautifully here, so most readers will go with the flow.

There was a feeling when reading the novel that the reader themselves was being placed right in the thick of things and used as a character in their own right. Did that feeling come across to you too?

(GH) I did think as I was reading the book that the reader would have far more appreciation of the work if they were crime fiction fans, schooled in the likes of Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie. And as most of us avid crime fans started life in that era of crime fiction, it felt as if we were being included in an in-crowd with lots of nods and winks and Masonic type gestures to make us feel included. However, when it turned out that Alan Conway was actually putting two fingers up to the world that had made him a bestseller, I did feel rather defensive. So, was I included in the story, yes, clearly I had been sucked in!

(JJ) Yes, the reader is very much a character but not necessarily one I identified with. I felt a little as if this was the publishing world term, 'The Reader', which actually means very little. However, as Gilly says, there are all the allusions to classic crime fiction which make readers of crime feel part of the story. The feeling alternates between being included as someone in-the-know and manipulated as the author(s) lead you up the garden path. All these are elements of classic crime.

What do you think are the messages Horowitz may be giving here about authors and publishers?

(GH) I think there's a cross-section of lives on display here, and some of them may be modelled on people the author has met through his career. We see an editor who is committed to her work and her authors, yet feels somewhat trapped by her position. We have an author who feels his real genius is hidden by the restrictions of a publishing world who don't recognise the writer he truly wants to be, and he also feels trapped by the character and books he created. Does he forego fame and millions to write the book he truly wants to write? Although he chose the fame, he hates himself for it and his decision to turn his life around leads to his death. And we have the jealousy and greed inherent in many professions. I'm not sure there are any hidden messages from he author, Horowitz is clearly one talent who is not restricted in his writing, but I am betting one or more of the characters are based on real life.

(JJ) As in the classic central section, Horowitz plays with tropes. In our frame section of the story, those tropes are still there, but updated. He touches on the litfic versus genre fiction debate, takes on populism and snobbery, covers the publishing world with a layer of dust and at the same time, highlights its fragility as artistic endeavour in a commercial world. My favourite mirror trick was looking at the triggers of Conway's imagination. The author's own village, family, neighbours are easily traceable sources of factors in his book. Or are they? This is another favourite reader hobby, to assess how much the writer's real life informs her/his fiction. Another sly smile at the relationship between fact, fiction and interpretation.

So, Atticus Pund and his country house murder. It takes us back to leafy post-war times of Agatha Christie ... looking at the author's interpretation of Alan Conway as a writer - do you think it worked?

(GH) Well, I was just as frustrated as Susan Ryeland to discover the end of the novel was missing so I must have been suitably entertained! I thought the story and characters fitted the period and genre. I suppose nowadays we would tag it as cosy crime. However, even before the denouement of the novel, I did find myself inwardly criticising the writing of Alan Conway. Now, I look back and realise that's exactly what Horowitz intended. He wanted the faux pas in there, the info dumps, the clichés, the pace issues. Conway wanted to come across as all of those things, because he resented being forced to write that way in the first place. And for Horowitz, I can only imagine the level of skill required to deliberately write badly!

(JJ) The striking thing about how the author takes on these two authorial voices is the ability to blend the mechanics of plot with character and setting. The period piece delighted me in so many ways: trains, conversations, details, and slowed-down communication. There is also the innate prejudice of the British towards this odd little foreigner, who suffered his own private battle during the war. The contrasts and similarities with characters such as Poirot are handled with a deft touch.
Yet the painting-by-numbers feel of classic crime is slow in the extreme, yet the reader (The Reader) keeps turning pages because of the characters.

I mentioned the feeling of being part of an in-crowd of crime fiction fans, did you pick up any of the clues dotted throughout the Atticus Punt novel on first read through?

(GH)  Yes, I did. There were lots of mentions of Agatha Christie titles. The 3:50 from Paddington was casually tossed in as a real train journey taken by Atticus's bumbling assistant. There were many nods to Christie's use of nursery rhymes, even the very title is a link. But when Ryeland went through and listed them, I admit I did wonder how anyone could take Conway's writing seriously, but he was very clever in his approach. However, I admit I've never been great with anagrams ...

(JJ) To an extent while listening, but far more so when reading on paper. It's almost as if there's a third detective in this story - the reader, spotting clues and feeling smug at recognising an allusion to those that went before. This is actively encouraged by regular summaries and reminders by Susan's character in particular. It also echoes Alan's own obsession with acrostics and anagrams and clues in plain sight, something I delight in, being a bit of a word-nerd.

What were your feelings about the real-life murder of Alan Conway and the denouement of the novel?

(GH) I enjoyed it immensely. I though Susan Ryeland held her own as lead character and amateur investigator. It almost felt like two stories within one book, but the styles were so different that even though there were echoes in the plot, there was no confusion. The ending was cleverly plotted and believable, and I am glad that after Susan went through to discover the truth, she came through to tell the tale.

(JJ) While I relished the framing device of the contemporary story, I actually preferred the classic village murder story overall. The publishing world and authorial dealing with agents and editors feels a bit too much like a busman's holiday. Yet I can see this is deliberate. Horowitz reminds us all along that we are readers, and getting carried away in a story is to lose one's critical faculties. Getting swept up in the adventure requires resistance and analysis and thought. It's got some of the old Brechtian insistence on distance - a story is a story. Never forget you are reading a crime novel.

Horowitz has a talent for creating characters who although are real enough to step out of the page, are also often incredibly unlikable. It's a difficult task to get a reader to connect with that type of character, how do you think he achieves this?

(GH) I think believability is key. I am a writer and I've known writers like Alan Conway in real life. Frustrated by their own brilliance. And the in-joke is that Horowitz has doubtless known them too. So, although you don't 'care' about him, you care what happens and need to know how his story ends whether good or bad. Also, I think having secondary characters who have flaws but can create empathy in the reader is another reason we stick with the story and have to turn the page.

(JJ) His skill here is by breaking all kinds of writing 'rules'. He switches point-of-view with abandon in the classic story, turning the reader into viewer. We're in everyone's heads, privy to all their thoughts and interpretations, watching a theatre script, not reading a novel. Yet in the framing story, he allows us the smallest letterbox of perception through Susan's own interpretation. Susan dislikes Alan, thus so do we. She likes other characters (no spoilers) and therefore some revelations come as a shock to both of us.

Finally, how did you feel when you turned the final page?

(GH) I think I was tempted to raise a glass and congratulate the author on what was a stunning piece of writing. The talent needed to make something so layered feel to the reader amateurish at times, and yet complex at the same time, is the sign of a master craftsman. The distinct tones, voices and styles he achieves within one novel is amazing. Hats off to Mr Horowitz. And I'm also quite sad to see the end of Atticus Pund when I'd only just got to know him. Highly recommended.

(JJ) Entertained. Impressed. Amused. Sorry, as Gilly says, to say goodbye to certain characters. It's a very clever, sly, witty homage to those who went before. Not only that, but something every crime writer should read and understand. Magpie Murders is a work of craft, to be held up for every apprentice. I will read it again.

You can read our Bookmuse review by JJ Marsh here