Monthly Archives: June 2017

On Writing: Pace and Tension with Tom Bale

The latest instalment in the On Writing series, which features our authors who are no longer debuts, examines the art of pace and tension. Tom Bale is well on his way to becoming a classic thriller writer. In his signature style, he takes ordinary people, often families, and throws them into extraordinary and terrifying situations -the bestselling All Fall Down is a particularly scary but brilliant one!

On the publication day of his latest nail-biting thriller, Each Little Lie, we wanted to ask the seasoned author just how he keeps the reader on the edge of their seat…

Each little Lie FINAL.jpg

Are you consciously structuring the pace and tension in the first draft of the novel or is this something that you consider more in your editing?

My first drafts tend to be quite messy and unwieldy, but fortunately I love the process of getting stuck into a really intensive rewrite! For me, the twin priorities of the first draft are to get the story down in a coherent way and bring the characters to life. Having said that, I do pay attention to pace and tension from the start, because these components are so fundamental to the success of a thriller. One of the clearest indications that I’m falling short is if I find myself losing interest in a particular scene or a storyline – that means it’s time to back up and change something.

During the editing stage, a lot of work can be done to speed up the pace and increase tension, and this is where some of the famous screenwriting tips come in handy: start each scene as late as possible, cut away anything that doesn’t move the story forward, etc.

 

Are there particular techniques you use to heighten the tension, or pace? If so, what are they?

If you’re writing thrillers, the essential thing is to create both empathy and suspense. The reader has to fear that something bad is going to happen to someone they care about. To that end, there are various techniques that can be employed. The key is to withhold information, introducing a series of little mysteries or questions and then gradually revealing the answers. It’s a delicate balancing act: release too much information and the tension is lost, but not enough and the reader may become frustrated or bored.

Even if you’re aiming for a breakneck pace, it’s important to have some variety. The slower moments give the reader time to breathe, and these scenes are a great opportunity to build character. Interest can be maintained by introducing new questions, or perhaps a little foreshadowing of what is to come. One of my favourite ways of raising tension is to allow the reader to know something the protagonist doesn’t about the dangers that lie ahead.

 

What is your signature masterstroke in creating real tension that shocks and grips the reader?

I’m not sure if I have any masterstrokes as such, but I do always try to introduce a few twists or setbacks that come out of nowhere. Even if a novel has been plotted in detail, new ideas tend to pop up during the writing and I’ve learned to trust my instinct and go with them, even if I have no idea how they’ll tie in with the main storyline. It could be an entirely new character, or perhaps an element of someone’s backstory – and it’s a wonderful feeling when I approach the final quarter of the book and suddenly see how the random idea I introduced two hundred pages earlier can dovetail neatly with the climax of the novel. Of course, it doesn’t always happen that way, but any extraneous additions can be removed during the rewrites.

 

What storytellers do you consider to be the greatest at creating and controlling pace and tension?

There are many writers that I admire in this respect, but I’d say Lee Child is an absolute master. Even during the quieter sections there’s an absolute compulsion to turn the page, and I think a lot of that comes from his prose. The sentences are so perfectly formed, and build on each other with such a compelling rhythm, that it’s almost impossible not to get drawn in: “Just one more line, one more paragraph, one more chapter…” and then you realise you’ve stayed up half the night to finish it.

Each Little Lie is published by Bookouture today. Be sure to follow Tom Bale on Twitter: @t0mbale

7 Things You Need To Know About The Killing Grounds

Today marks the publication of The Killing Grounds by Jack Ford, the first novel in an exciting new international thriller series. So, what do you need to know?

The Killing Grounds final

  • The series introduces ex- US Navy-turned-investigator Thomas J Cooper – a complicated but brilliant hero who, after a terrifying encounter with Somali pirates, is left devastated, damaged and using painkillers to dull memories of the past.
  • Tiring of every thriller being set in a cosmopolitan and familiar city? The Killing Grounds follows Cooper’s high-risk investigatory work which takes him on a dangerous journey across the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and USA.
  • This is a true summer blockbuster. With its propulsive energy and compelling intrigue, The Killing Grounds has all the ingredients of the greatest popcorn thrillers.
  • For fans of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series, Clive Cussler and Bernard Cornwell. What sets it apart is the characters; their complexities and relationships are at the core but the rip-roaring plot never slows. Truly unique.
  • The author really knows their stuff. Having studied global political Islam and American politics, Jack went on to take a Master of Science degree in Counter-Terrorism and will further those studies next year by tackling a PhD focusing on radicalisation and extremism.
  • Don’t just take our word for it, here’s a snippet of a review from a notable blogger:

‘Where to even begin. The Killing Grounds is a thrilling read… has relationships, politics – both US and international – violence, grief, addiction, religion and superstition and so much more at its heart, all with an incredible amount of research and detail.’

  • Be sure to follow the author on Twitter to find out more: @JackFordAuthor and click here to pick up your copy – don’t miss it!

On Writing: Olivia Levez and The Second Book

For a debut author, the publication of your first novel feels like a dream come true. An exciting and very rewarding end to, possibly, years of blood, sweat and tears.

But now you must write your second novel which comes with a stricter deadline and the added pressure of living up to the hype and enthusiasm of your first. It’s known to some authors as Second Book Syndrome. So what are the some of the problems you come up against? And how do you deal with them without pulling all your hair out and eating every single thing in the fridge (including the mystery condiments)?

In the second part of our On Writing series, Olivia Levez talks about her experiences writing The Circus, the follow-up novel to the critically acclaimed The Island.

P.S. Olivia really had nothing to worry about as The Circus is an exceptional YA novel with a truly distinctive voice – check it out!
Olivia Levez The Circus launch

Olivia at the launch for The Circus

Writing a second book is hard. Really hard. The first one is written for yourself, with the freedom to explore, to be creative, to find your own style, to dip in and out of different writing methods, to lose yourself in words. That feeling of being in the zone, utterly at one with your writing and your passion. No one’s looking over your shoulder, not really.

Then comes the second, and the deadline looms just as you’re in mid publication frenzy for your first ever published book. This time it’s different: as well as writing the thing, you have your daily life to maintain, complete with job, (in my case lesson planning, teaching, exam marking), and family commitments and all of the tiny things that make up your daily existence. Eating. Food. That sort of thing. But this time, there’s another set of pressures, because now you have to learn how to be a self promotion guru, a whizz at keeping up with the white noise and nuances of social media; an organiser of events, school visits, trips to London, split train tickets, best Premier Inn offers; an arranger of school assemblies, book tours, book sales.

And somehow, in the midst of all of this, you have to try to find the time and head space to write another book. You have to keep your head clear as reviews come in, news of others’ successes, triumphs, fellow authors who all seem to be doing bigger and better things than you. You have to not cringe as you post yet another promo author post on Facebook, wondering whether your friends are truly sick of the sight of you and your damned book yet.

It’s hard. And scary.

I hit the wall three times at 30,000 words with The Circus and each time had to start from scratch. It got so that I started to sweat as my word-count crept up to the 27,000 mark, wondering when that truly awful blankness and book hatred would strike. And it did. Every time. By far my best circus act with this one was Hitting The Wall: a death defying feat of pure unperformance and inaction.

Slam. Three times.

What should I do? My deadline was scarily close, and all I really had to show for it was a girl named Willow and a few nicely described circus scenes. What did she want? I wasn’t sure. Why was she running away? I didn’t really know. Where was she actually running to? Nope. Didn’t know that one either.

I did have her voice though. I knew she had a story to tell, if I could only access it and stop panicking. In the end I took a deep breath and sent my agent, Clare Wallace, an email with the header: HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

She phoned me straight away and listened calmly as I hiccupped my way through all of my worries and frets. Within the hour she had got my deadline extended, offered practical help with my upcoming launch and reassured me that she got this a lot from debut authors and I wasn’t alone. Immediately the huge burden had lifted and I was able to focus on enjoying the publication of The Island.

Clare gave me permission not to write anything at all for a few weeks. And paradoxically, because I wasn’t supposed to be writing, the ideas came flooding in. I grabbed the dog, took myself off to my caravan and sat outside the pub with a pint of SA, staring over unspeakably beautiful Cardigan Bay, daydreaming.

And that’s when it came to me. Willow needed a friend. Of course she did. She needed someone to complement her spoilt selfishness and lighten up the darker moments of her experience of being on the streets. I thought about my favourite film, The Midnight Cowboy, the poignant tale of a naïve country boy seeking his fortune in New York City, starring Jon Voight as Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman as his trickster friend, Ratso. That was it:

Willow Stephens needed her Ratso.

So Suz was born, Willow’s companion through all of her adventures. She was already present in my story, although I hadn’t realised it. In an early scene I had a brief description of a homeless girl feeding ham to the pigeons in Charing Cross, and this girl grew to become Suz, Willow’s friend and circus manager.

Next, how to fix the setting? Originally, The Circus was set in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, an evocative town which manages to be seedy, magical, squalid and glamorous all at the same time. I’d visited Plovdiv the previous autumn as part of my research and watched children throwing each other up into the air on trampolines outside its Cirque Balkanski. Miniature ponies pulled at trampled grass in the circus grounds – a carpark outside Lidl. I sat in our hire car, scribbling notes and watching. I loved the juxtaposition between the tawdry and the surreal. Those descriptions made their way straight into my circus adventure, but I kept drawing to a halt every time I tried to get Willow there. How to get a runaway to Bulgaria? I didn’t have enough technical information, hadn’t had time to travel by train to follow her possible journey.

I tried setting it in Paris, made her a stowaway in a coach (that was the second draft that grinded to a half at 30,000 words). No good. Panic.

Then I visited my brother in Hastings. Immediately I stepped off the train I knew I had found my setting. Hastings has it all: edge, street performers, a creative vibe, down-at-heel bits, upmarket bits, tattiness, an ineffably lovely seafront and plenty of weird and wonderful places for Willow to stay as she attempted to find the circus and herself.

Suz. Hastings: the missing ingredients. The rest was a whizz to write, a breeze after all of the juggling acts, the tightrope walk, the knife edge.

Ultimately, there was the final performance: an amazing book launch at my school, complete with talented student and staff performers!

What have I learnt about writing book two? What I’ve always known, what all writers know in their hearts. You’ll get there. Just keep doing what you’re doing, one wobbling step at a time.

The show must go on.

The Circus was published by Oneworld on 4 May 2017. Follow Olivia on Twitter: @livilev

Agency Newsletter: May

NewsletterMay2017

You Don’t Know Me – a startling debut

A new and exciting voice in the crime and thriller world launched this month with a staggering debut novel.

Imran Mahmood’s You Don’t Know Me is a crime book with a difference: the story is told entirely in the form of a defence speech from a young black man, accused of murder. The reader becomes the jury as the unnamed defendant presents the eight pieces of evidence and only one thing matters – did he do it?

The audio book, narrated by Adam Deacon of Kidulthood, is the fastest selling audio book for Penguin Random House this year.

You Don’t Know Me has received stellar praise from many national newspapers including The Times and Imran was profiled in the Guardian. He also featured as a Simon Mayo book club selection on BBC Radio 2 and was on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

Lee Child’s outstanding contribution

Lee Child will be awarded the OutstandingContribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate this year.

Simon Theakston, who runs the award said ‘Lee is very deserving of this accolade, and will have his rightful place in a pantheon of legendary crime authors who have achieved this honour to date.’

No Middle Name, a collection of all the Reacher stories, published together for the first time, has soared into No.3 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller chart and is No.2 in the UK!

Nobody does it better.

TM Logan – Top 10 for debut

TM Logan’s gripping debut, Lies, has spent 8 weeks in the Kindle Top 10 having previously reached No.1 on iBooks and No.2 on Kindle.

This month, Charlie Spicer at St. Martin’s Press acquired North American rights, he said: ‘Like B.A. Paris’s mega bestseller Behind Closed Doors, TM Logan creates an unforgettable novel of suspense out of a chilling human dilemma: what if you learned your wife was having an affair and you believe you are being set up to take the fall for a murder?’

CWA Daggers

We are delighted to announce that three of our authors have been nominated for a CWA Dagger Award 2017.

Tana French has beennominated for the CWA Dagger in the Library, which acknowledges the author’s entire body of work. Tana’s No.2 New York Times bestseller, The Trespasser, has also been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club 2017.

Longlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award are Tim Weaver for his outstanding 7th novel, Broken Heart, and James Carol under his pseudonym JS Carol for the exciting thriller The Killing Game.

DA Children’s Authors Win

Two of our fantastic children’s authors have scooped prizes this month.

Deirdre Sullivan’s powerful and poetic novel Needlework has won the Honor Award for Fiction at the CBI Book of the Year Awards 2017.

Caroline Crowe’s heart-warming Pirates in Pyjamas was awarded Best Picture Book at the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Awards!

Cathy Cassidy in the US

Papercutz, the largest comic book publisher in the US, has published the first adaptation of the internationally bestselling Chocolate Book Girls series by our beloved author, Cathy Cassidy.

Sweeties, the first in a planned series, combines books 1 and 2, Cherry Crush and Marshmallow Skye.

Cathy is published in 26 languages worldwide and her sales top 3 million copies.