Saturday 28 January 2017

Events coming up

A few dates for the next couple of months. It's likely I'll be adding some more in the lead-up to the publication of Don't Look For Me, but in the meantime here's where I'll be (click on the dates for more detail):

  • Thursday 2 March - World Book Day talk at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock
  • Sunday 12 March - I'm delighted to be in conversation with Ian Rankin about 30 Years of Rebus at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
  • Wednesday 12 April - I'm reading and giving a talk at East Kilbride Central Library
Keep an eye on my events page for more soon.

Excitingly, I'm also going to be in New York City in a week or so for the American release of Winterlong.  I'll be doing an informal signing or two, so will let you know where you can get signed copies if you're in the market.

Aside from that, I'm just looking forward to a trip to my favourite city in the world, and meeting my American publishers Pegasus for the first time. Last time I visited, I wasn't a published author yet, so I can't wait to see Winterlong in a real NYC bookstore.

Finally, there's still (just) time to win one of 10 paperback copies of The Time to Kill if you're in the UK - enter the Goodreads giveaway by midnight on Monday for a chance to win a copy pre-publication. Look - the lovely Laura from Orion has taken a nice photo of one in the wild:

Friday 13 January 2017

The Time to Kill - UK giveaway

My publisher is giving away ten copies of the new paperback edition of The Time to Kill over at Goodreads. All you need to do is click on this link and register.

This one is open to UK only, but if you're in the USA you still have a couple of days to enter the American giveaway.

Good luck!

Thursday 12 January 2017

Writing a series - top tips

I've been pretty busy lately, but the good news is that means there are more books in the pipeline. The paperback of The Time to Kill comes out in the UK on February 9, which happens to be the same week that it's published in hardcover under its American title Winterlong.

It snowed today, so here's an appropriately wintry picture of the new edition:

Book 4: Don't Look For Me is out in the UK in April, and you can preorder it now. I'm currently writing the fifth book, which seems incredible since it doesn't seem all that long since I started writing Killing Season.

It makes me glad I put some thought into the series before I wrote the first book. With that in mind, here's a piece I wrote for the Scottish Book Trust website last year: my top 5 tips on writing a series of novels:

Writing a continuing series has a lot to recommend it. You don’t need to start everything from scratch with each new book, and you have the opportunity to develop your characters and themes across multiple novels. On the other hand, you don’t have the standalone author’s luxury of an entirely blank slate at the beginning of every new project.

Here are my tips for writing series fiction. Bear in mind these are from the point of view of a crime writer, but they’re adaptable to working on any kind of ongoing series.

Build your protagonist to last before you write the first book, rather than trying to turn a standalone character into a series lead

Ideally he or she will be intriguing and compelling (though not necessarily likeable), and will have room to grow as a character over the course of the series. That means you don’t necessarily want to give them too detailed a backstory. If you leave your protagonist’s history reasonably vague, there’s more to discover about them in future books. Just as importantly, you have less continuity to keep track of. 

Don't make your central character too old

Ian Rankin recently spoke about this problem, as Rebus hit retirement age a long time before his author. Even Jack Reacher is now pushing sixty as he hitchhikes toward his twenty-first adventure. If you want your character to age naturally but have a long fictional life, it’s best not to start out with an octogenarian detective. Alternatively, you can just make them immune from ageing. Like Batman, for instance, who started his caped crusading in 1939 but shows no signs of slowing down.

Naming convention - yay or nay?

Choosing titles that are immediately identifiable as part of a series can work really well. James Patterson’s early ‘nursery rhyme’ Alex Cross books and John D. MacDonald’s colour-coded Travis McGee thrillers are examples of this done right. What you don’t want to do is pick a title theme that has you scraping the bottom of the barrel by the fourth book. One Direction song titles will probably be of limited use.

Think carefully about your hero or heroine’s job

Is your protagonist a police officer? A private investigator? A lawyer? A random troublemaker?

A job in law-enforcement will provide all the rationale you need to get them embroiled in murder investigation after murder investigation, but it also means more research and pressure to keep up with the intricacies of modern policing procedure.

A lone wolf character has its own pros and cons, but the big advantage is you get to invent their rules.

A related concern: make sure they’re not so great at their job that they get promoted out of the action. This doesn’t just apply to the police: James T. Kirk hated being an admiral.

Easy on the formula

Series fiction is popular for a reason: people like knowing what they’re going to get, to an extent. Meeting your readers’ expectations while at the same time surprising them can be a difficult balance.

In an ideal world, you want to keep enough familiarity in the books to keep regular readers happy, but not so much that each book is indistinguishable from the last. Formulas are necessary and enjoyable, but each book has to stand on its own and offer something different to the reader.

Focus on the sweet spot: you want familiarity to build content, not contempt. If the reader can recite the plot of the next book before it’s published, you need to mix things up a little.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

The Time to Kill - paperback cover

Very minor changes for this cover compared to the Killing Season and Samaritan paperbacks, but I'm completely okay with that as I was very happy with this design. The only tweaks are the title font changing from pink to blue and a slightly modified tagline from the original 'He was one of them. Now they want him dead.'

The Time to Kill is out in UK paperback on February 9th and you ought to be able to find it in all good bookshops, or you can preorder right here: