Sunday 25 May 2014

CrimeFest - Part 2: 2 Fest 2 Furious

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


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

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

we make a very thoughtful-looking panel here I think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Courtesy of photographer / question-setter Ali Karim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 24 May 2014

Some more reviews

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

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

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

Adrian Magson writes a really great review in Shots:

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

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

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

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

Friday 23 May 2014

CrimeFest - Part 1

I had an awesome time at my first CrimeFest.

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

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


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

one for the Die Hard fans

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

The Bristol Marriot

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

the hardback version too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 14 May 2014

See you in Bristol...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 6 May 2014

The launch

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

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

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


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

Sunday 4 May 2014

Der Rushhour-Killer

I'm going to blog soon with a full account of the launch event at Waterstones and the amazing experience of having my first book published, I promise.

In the meantime, I'm going to round up some of the other developments, starting with some more really great, thoughtful reviews that have been posted on The Killing Season:

The guys at gave it 5 stars:

The Killing Season, together with a plot that speeds along, is a great mix of intrigue, strong characters and a thrilling plot which reels you in from the first page. This debut has the feel of an author who is destined to become well practiced in producing best-selling thrillers.

Mat Coward of The Morning Star liked it:

This is an impressively exciting debut, written with panache and a good ear for grim humour.

Matthew Craig at Reader Dad gave it a fantastic write-up:

The Killing Season marks the arrival of a new “must-read” author on the British thriller scene. In Carter Blake, Mason Cross has produced an engaging character whose wit, mysterious background and often dubious moral stance keep the reader coming back for more, and elevates The Killing Season from just another thriller to one of the finest you’re likely to have read since Jack Reacher stepped off the bus in Margrave, Georgia all the way back in 1997. Cross makes Chicago and the surrounding area his own and his characters, despite his own background, are as American as American can be. A seemingly effortless and assured debut, you’ll be jonesing for your next Mason Cross/Carter Blake fix before you’ve even finished this first helping.

I'd forgotten that the book was being published down under already. I was reminded by Richard Cotter of The Sydney Arts Guide, who delivered some prime no-bullshit Aussie praise:

With this slick, fast paced and assured serial killer cum conspiracy theory monolith, author Mason Cross has nailed the mechanics of blockbuster ball tearer to his mast and a series of Carter Blake adventures is in the pipeline. In a crowded market, The Killing Season holds its head above the crud.

'Blockbuster ball tearer' has to be my favourite pull-quote so far. Maybe Orion will use it for the mass-market paperback.

Sophie Hedley at Reviewed The Book also gave it 5 stars, and said:

The interaction and pacing in this book was spot on but what really stood out for me was that none of the writing felt like it was from a debut novel. It felt effortless and assured – something you’d read from the best-selling authors who’ve been releasing excellent thrillers for decades ... a riveting, edge-of-your-seat book, impressive throughout and I loved it. The whole story was executed brilliantly and whilst I think the author deserves to bask in the glory of a great debut novel, I’d much rather him hurry up with another one, respectfully.

Mark Hill, aka Crime Thriller Fella, gave it probably the funniest review so far, musing on the proliferation of tough guys in books who sit around hotel rooms waiting for The Call (you know, just like Carter Blake), but concludes that:

There’s lots to admire in Cross’s  thriller. The writing is assured and entertaining. Mr. Cross really knows his way around a set-piece, and they come thick and fast. The plotting is slick and pacey. As the FBI caravan zigzags from state to state in pursuit of Wardell, Cross manoeuvres his characters inexorably towards a satisfying fatal showdown ... in his debut novel, Mason Cross has really hit the ground running, there’s no doubt about that. The Killing Season delivers time and again with smart big-screen thrills."

Crime Thriller Girl liked it too, even saying it was her favourite read of the year so far:

I cannot sing this novel’s praises highly enough – it’s a joy to read, utterly engaging and kept me hooked right from the first page to the last. There’s high stakes and high tension, and the chemistry between Blake and Banner sizzles off the page. If you love action thrillers, if you love crime fiction, go and read this book. I’m sure you won’t regret it.

If any of that whets your appetite, Orion are currently giving away 10 copies of The Killing Season on - all you have to do is sign up!

Other stuff:

The Killing Season has a German title, and it's a good one - DER RUSHHOUR-KILLER. The German publisher is Goldmann, and it has a release date of March 2015.

Hive have very kindly named me as one of their Rising Writers for May alongside some great up-and-coming authors.

Orion made The Killing Season their book of the week, and posted a piece from me in The Murder Room all about Why I Wrote The Killing Season

I take part in Reader Dad's #CarrieAt40 celebrations, with an article on Brian De Palma's adaptation which I had a blast writing in tribute to The King.

The Killing Season is out in audio as well, available to download from Audible, where it was briefly in the top 10 bestsellers last week. Eric Meyers has really nailed the book and the character of Carter Blake in his performance, and you can listen to an audio excerpt here.

Scottish Book Trust asked me to give my top five tips for plotting a thriller. For what it's worth, my advice is here.

Lastly, in addition to the great review, Crime Thriller Fella kindly interviewed me for his regular feature The Intel. Some great questions on the book and writing in general, which I had fun answering.

That's it for now, back soon to tell you all about launch night and publication day...