News from the front…

Hello all from a sunny but cold Devon this morning. Much has been happening on the book front. Here’s the summary:

‘Kiss and Tell’ had a free promo period in January, which sparked a lot of interest and a large number of downloads. As ever these free mini periods seem to lead to an increase in sales during the following period, as to exactly why that is I’ll leave to those more au fait with the nuances of marketing.

There was also some much appreciated coverage on various blogs including interviews with Lloyd Paige and Mel Sherratt, and review posts from ‘CrimeThrillerGirl’ and ‘Confessions of a Mystery Novelist’. I’d like to thank bloggers Steph and Margot, and others, for their respective comments on ‘Kiss and Tell.’

Margot [Confessions] went into considerable detail, as she tends to do, with an in-depth insight into the book. Her reviews are always fascinating. Read her posts and you’ll soon see that she has both a healthy interest and a detailed understanding of the genre. I always find her themed blogs, where she explores particular aspects of crime fiction, the most revealing. Here she draws on her wide reading and knowledge to compare and contrast authors across the board, past and present.

In the not too distant future ‘Kiss and Tell’ will also be available as a paperback. I wanted to find out how ebook sales would go first, and they’ve gone well. A fair few folk have expressed an interest in a paperback version and it will be out fairly soon, hopefully sometime next month.

It’s a very busy time writing wise, as I am now in the final stages of editing and proof reading my second novel ‘Defending Elton’. I am very excited about it because it’s been my ‘baby’ for some time now and I want to get it as ship-shape as possible before release. I’m not going to give any spoilers, but I will say it is a bit ‘different’ from the norm, and those who have read it for me, mostly professionals in the industry, have been enthusiastic in their support.

A very early draft was read by literary agent Kate Jones, a few years back now. Those of you who’ve read my previous blogs will know that I met Kate quite by accident. In fact it wasn’t until after I’d met her that I found out what a respected figure she was. She had taken me under her wing and promised to find me the right agent/publisher cocktail, as she put it. I was chuffed when she described the book as ‘a stunningly inventive crime fiction tale’.

Kate and I shared a few coffees, actually hot chocolate I seem to remember in her case, and chewed the fat over the legal world, which we both shared an interest in. She had an instinct for injustice, which led her to publish Gerry Conlon’s book ‘Proved Innocent’. She was bold in her support, and not many would have published such a no holds barred account of his wrongful imprisonment for IRA bombings.

To me Kate was just a friendly acquaintance who was effervescent in her support. To others, I later found out, she was a mighty figure in the literary world, working for high profile publishers including Penguin and Viking. At one time she also looked after Ian Fleming Publications and was responsible for the ‘Bond estate’. In fact some put Bond’s resurgence of the last decade as much down to her as anyone.

Much of this I had no idea about. She could have bragged about all sorts, but spent most of her time with me just chatting and making me smile. She had a sharp sense of humour. In fact she was sharp at everything, with an acute and often instant understanding.

She was just about to contact agents and publishers for me when tragically her cancer returned. I didn’t know that it had struck before, all I knew is that one minute she was a bright and bubbly soul and the next she was gone.

That’s why it has taken so long for ‘Defending Elton’ to re-surface. I was so rocked by Kate’s demise that it took me another year just to write in her suggestions for amendments, a job that should only have taken a week at the most. After a while an agent called Broo Doherty took it on for me, but found that the commissioning editors at the time were both restrained by the financial crisis and wary of new writers to take too many risks. Broo was very deflated about it and couldn’t understand why it was taken up. However, the more I’ve learned the more I realise what a lottery getting published can be.

That’s when I decided to go down the direct route. By that time Kiss and Tell was also nearly written so ‘Elton’ had to follow in the queue… and that’s where I am with it at present.

I just wanted to take the time to mention Kate Jones though. She was an inspiration to me, and when ‘Defending Elton’ is launched I will be thinking of her.

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Say What You See…

I’d like to share my guest blog courtesy of http://jilledmondson.blogspot.co.uk

Having written many tv drama scripts over the years, I was asked recently if the experience helped when it came to writing my two novels ‘Kiss and Tell’, and ‘Defending Elton’…

For those of a certain age ‘say what you see’ will be associated with the popular tv game show ‘Catchphrase’. I expect it’s a formula adopted all around the globe, but essentially it involves contestants trying to guess a popular saying from a visual ‘cartoon’, which is revealed square by square. ‘Say what you see’ is the presenter’s own catchphrase, whereby he encourages the contestants to think aloud, prompting them to guess the phrase being portrayed.

It’s a saying however which could be turned on its head when applied to the construction of character in a novel. For rarely do we actually ‘say what we see’.

Portrait of character can be painted as much through dialogue as descriptive prose. In ‘Kiss and Tell’ engagement with character is crucial to the unravelling of the narrative. Jill Shadow has to judge a number of people in a short space of time. Some of those people she has known for many years, some intermittently and some for only a matter of days. Her verbal exchanges with them hopefully tell us a fair deal, about both Jill and those she’s interacting with.

The way someone speaks can reveal as much about their own background, education and status as any descriptive passage. Indeed, using the ‘show don’t tell’ principal, which is the core of many a writing class, dialogue is an essential ingredient.

Many writers will say that it’s often a character’s ‘voice’ which can be the most difficult aspect to pin down. Through writing a number of different scripts, for a variety of dramas, I had been forced to concentrate on the art. So yes, it certainly helped, especially of course when it came to writing scenes which were largely dialogue based.

However, the real key to writing dialogue is simply to listen. I’m not sure it’s possible to write with authenticity unless you are fascinated by all things human. Almost every other writer I’ve met has a deep engagement with the myriad marvels of life, and that includes the complexities of conversation.

Jill Shadow is an interesting example when it comes to the verbal. The vast majority of lawyers still come from privileged backgrounds. Jill however breaks the mould. She was brought up on a rough and tough London estate, and had to learn how to cultivate an ‘acceptable’ court voice.

There is a tendency for her to be quite thoughtful and deliberate in certain situations. On the other hand, when left to her own devices, say with her best mate Kate, or when otherwise totally comfortable with her company, she is likely to be more naturally fluid and expressive. What was really fascinating about Jill was that in times of stress and anxiety her old ‘street drawl’ would suddenly cut in to her more refined court manner. Though she’s often aware of this herself she sometimes struggles to stop it occurring.

‘Goodies’ and ‘baddies’ are essential ingredients in crime fiction, but aren’t they all the more intriguing when you have to work out who is who, and which is which?

One drama guru, whom I came to admire, would often underline the importance of character in developing story. ‘Never put in a cipher to fit the plot’ he would tell us. ‘They stick out like a sore thumb’. Each character, no matter how trivial, ought to present themselves, as they see fit, and not merely be planted as a device.

Dialogue is a crucial aspect of this ‘presentation of self’. True, there will be some who can’t help but give themselves away, with their dialogue flow and cadence being easy to read, but perhaps the most successful villains, and sleuths, are those who don’t readily ‘say what they see’. Indeed, those who are very aware of the presentation of self are often the most difficult to second guess, having an almost chameleon like quality.

Having an acute ear, and really listening to the way people talk, is vital. Many folks communicate by way of banter, often being light in an effort to show that they are ’happy’ or ‘doing well’. Their real mood may range from mildly apprehensive to deeply troubled, but rarely do we overtly communicate this to others in a social or formal setting.

These are a couple of examples of where it pays to be attentive to detail, and it can really help in exploring a character’s depth. Unless psychopathic, in the true sense of the word, a character will inevitably ‘feel what they see’, but might say something entirely different.

Sometimes the best dialogue emerges when there is a natural juxtaposition, often involving a menacing or dangerous setting with a nervous and seemingly irreverent discourse.

‘Kiss and Tell’ is currently available via the Amazon Kindle Store. ‘Defending Elton’ will be released shortly. See http://www.tjcooke.com for details.

Top 5 ‘crime based’ films…

With dear old Barry Norman reminiscing over his favourite films, I was prompted to think of a few of my own favourites. To narrow it down I thought about those with a strong crime element, in various guises.

I tend to be a very ‘visual’ writer, perhaps because of my background in tv scriptwriting, in any event I find that certain films have had as deep an impact as some of my favourite books. The ones listed below certainly did…

So here’s 5 I would thoroughly recommend. If you haven’t seen any particular one of these then go and get the DVD, you won’t regret it. All these were made by masters of the art of film-making….

1. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – unparalleled ensemble performances from the likes of Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif, Sidney Lassick  and many others… and, of course, Jack Nicholson at his finest, as the mad or bad Randle P McMurphy. Still the only film that has had me laughing out loud one minute and reduced to tears the next.

2. Blue Velvet – a brilliant portrayal of good and evil. Sometimes tense, sometimes surreal, from white picket fences and singing birds, to crazed and sordid villains just around the block. A crime fiction tale with so much added spice that you need a cooling raita to go with it. One of the most atmospheric films you’ll ever experience, but then David Lynch started off with Eraserhead, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

3. Fargo – Another take on the crime fiction tale, which just shows what you can do when you mix dark deeds with original and believable characters. In my humble opinion the Coen brothers at their peak. Top class performances all round, cracking script, and a special mention for Marge… surely one of the most creatively original detectives to ever appear on screen. A very clever film, tense one minute, amusing the next.

4. L.A. Confidential – adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel, a sophisticated thriller. Call it ‘noir’, call it what you will, but it’s the sparkling script and well drawn characters that really make it. Themes of  ‘truth’ resonate throughout and there’s a clever play with the Hollywood escort look-a-likes. There’s also one particularly memorable scene with the police chief, where you are totally taken aback by the story shift. Guy Pearce surprised many with his top class performance, along with Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe, who were all perfectly cast… yes even RC!

5. Usual Suspects – One of the few films that you really do have to watch twice to fully appreciate its brilliance. It may seem hackneyed looking back now, but when Kevin Spacey acts out the final few scenes there are so many enjoyable pay-offs. If by any chance you haven’t seen it, it might even help to freeze-frame a few particular shots. Still can’t quite get my head around the fact that Kobayashi is also now the name of a Formula One racing driver. He and Keyser Soze will live forever in the memory…

‘Kiss and Tell’ by TJ Cooke – http://amzn.to/WZbNPp

Interview with Mel…

Earlier this week I was interviewed by the lovely Mel Sherratt, whose infectious spirit and never say die attitude have helped her to become an Amazon best seller.

Mel is the author of several novels including the popular ‘Estate’ series which includes ‘Somewhere To Hide’, ‘Behind a Closed Door’ and ‘Fighting For Survival’.

Her stand alone debut ‘Taunting The Dead’ stormed the charts last year and I happen to know that Mel is currently in the process of polishing up another potential chart buster.

I would say that down to earth characters with a big heart are central to Mel’s work, so I expect she’d quite like Jill Shadow in ‘Kiss and Tell’.

Mel’s books tend to feature gritty real life dilemmas, often those encountered by society’s more hapless souls.

This was her interview with me which she featured on her ‘Murder They Wrote’ blog:

For my next victim, I have Tim Cooke. Tim, can you describe your latest novel in one sentence.

Meet Jill Shadow, the accidental lawyer with a past she’d rather forget – which not only comes back to haunt her, but propels her into a dark world of drugs, money laundering and murder…

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Predictable, Unpredictable… Flippant

What is your main character called? What three words would you use to describe them?

Clodagh Gillian Shadow, who insists on being known as ‘Jill’…  Driven, Caring and Instinctive

Can you tell us one positive and one negative trait of your main character?

…brave, but occasionally headstrong.

What inspired you to write crime fiction?

I’ve always had a general interest in crime… from a number of angles. Experience working in a criminal law practice and being a legal advisor for tv dramas gave me a good grounding, and heightened my interest. Writing for television serial drama helped too as it gives you a good feel for story and structure. I needed to learn the formulas and moulds, even though I now spend most of my time breaking them!

Who is your favourite crime author? (and why)

I don’t really have a ‘favourite’ as such. I appreciate the skills of authors like Val McDermid, Sophie Hannah and John Grisham. Val visits some very dark places with her characters and I think she encapsulates the word ‘sinister’ as well as any writer has. Sophie’s books tend to have menace too, often creating a lingering and latent tension.  As for John Grisham, he builds so well. I guess you could say he tends to tell the same story over again, in different guises, but he is a master of it nonetheless. From a different point of view I also admire Kyril Bonfiglioli and Mark Haddon. They are intriguing writers but neither fit neatly into the crime fiction genre… perhaps that’s why I like them? I should also put in a word for Patricia Highsmith, of Strangers On a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley fame. I must like awkward and challenging characters!

What is your favourite book of theirs? (and why)

If pressed I’d have to choose Mark Haddon’s  – ‘The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night-time’. The title alone would be enough to make me pick the book up or browse further online. There are a number of personal reasons why I found this book so enthralling, and sometimes a book just resonates with you. I know it’s a stretch to call it ‘crime fiction’ but there are enough elements I think to force it into the box. The character of young Christopher Boone is so well portrayed, and the boy’s assimilation of facts about the death of the dog plays wonderfully against the family chaos that surrounds him. My second novel ‘Defending Elton’ also has a dysfunctional lead, and though it’s not directly inspired by this book, because I wrote the first draft as a screenplay many years ago, it probably explains why I like ‘Curious Incident’ so much.

What is the book you wished you’d written ?

I admire so many writers, but have never wished that I’d written any of their books. It somehow feels awkward, as writing is such a personal experience. I am a big of fan of the Chris Douglas radio 4 series ‘Ed Reardon’s Week’. I really don’t know if it’s available in print but get the CD series box sets! it’s very succinct, and funny, and tells the story of a struggling writer…  I can’t say ‘I wish I’d written it’ but I’d feel comfortable writing something like that, and would be proud to have written it.

Who is/was your favourite crime duo –  film, television or book? 

Easy one that. Batman and Robin, with Adam West and Burt Ward. There was something about the old tv series that had me mesmerised as a child. Even as a teenager I appreciated the blatantly daft scripts, the curious lack of pathos, the off-skew camera     angles and the tongue in cheek performances. I also used to like the original Randall and Hopkirk, again perhaps because there was something a little different about it. On a more        serious note, maybe Holmes and Watson. I’m not that big a fan of ‘duos’, generally I like more maverick types… like Maigret, Van der Valk and Jane Tennison.

Tell me one weird and wonderful fact about yourself…

That given such a chaotic and dysfunctional upbringing I ever managed to write a sentence, let alone a book…

You can find out more about Tim at his website here: www.tjcooke.com