logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: thrilling-crime-fiction
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2017-05-14 14:28
Off the Peg; how Ottessa Moshfegh wrote Eileen



If you’ve been thinking of dashing off a thriller in the hope of great success in the book market, then I would have been the first person to stop you. “Never jump on a bandwagon”, I’d have said, along with, “ignore books like Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel. You can’t ‘dash off’ great writing.  But Ottessa Moshfegh ignored such sane suggestions and went right ahead and wrote Aileen, one of the best Mann-Booker short-listed novels I’ve read in a long time. 
 
After writing with a novella and beginning a debut collection of short stories, she decided not to “wait 30 years to be discovered” and came clean about her writing methods In a recent interview. “I’m smart and talented and motivated and disciplined… I thought: I’ll show you how easy this is.” 
 
Having worked through Watt’s advice, she wrote for 60 days to produce an ‘off the peg’ novel. But Moshfegh is too good an author to churn our rubbish. “It turned into a work of its own”, she explains.
 
Soon as I opened Eileen, I was hooked on the wonderful voice created in this disturbingly dark novel. The narrator is old, reminiscing the past. It’s 1964 and Aileen, at twenty-six, is already on the shelf. She works as a clerk in Moorhead, a penal institution for young men, where she's in lust with Randy, one of the guards; off duty she stalks him, knowing full well he’d never look at her and convinced she would never agree to have sex with him anyway…her first time “would be by force”.
 
 
http://themanbookerprize.com/books/eileen-by-ottessa-moshfegh
Aileen's self-loathing forbids her to wash regulaly. She dresses in her dead mother’s old clothes and eats frugally, believing herself to be fat and ugly inside and out, purging her system with laxatives. She joins her drunken father each night in drowning out the cruel world. But secretly, she’s saving her father’s pension and dreams of escape.

Moshfegh knows precisely what an unlikable character she’s created. In Vice Magazine she said; “My writing lets people scrape up against their own depravity, but at the same time it’s very refined … It’s like seeing Kate Moss take a shit.” To a degree she seems to be writing from experience; in the past she’s had both drink and eating problems.
 
The story is told through the device of the interior monologue, or if you prefer, the “retrospective first-person”. The sensation of reading is that of a half-whispered story over a cup of tea…the need to tell someone the secrets of your past, before you die. Reading the first half of the novel as my train pummelled over the Pennine way (and the second half as it roared back to West Wales), it was if Eileen reached one of her thin wrists out from the pages and dragged me into the last week of her life before she left her small town and escaped to New York. 
 
Eileen sees the world from a bleak perspective which has a constant edge of humour. In the packed carriage of my train, I experienced those embarrassing moments – laughing out aloud – time and again. Eileen is a very funny novel. The black irony kept me gripped as much as the promise that her drear life was leading to dreadful violence.
 
Right from the start, I knew Eileen was not going to come out of this journey as the innocent victim. “This is not a love story”, Aileen says. “I was not a lesbian”, and, “I didn’t eat good food until my second husband”  In a delicious nod to Chekhov’s foreshadowing device; “Before I go on describing the events of that Saturday, I should mention the gun.” She hints that there will be terror and bloodshed, and I believed her implicitly because these are her memories, and her urge to confess is palpable.
 
The festive season is steadily approaching; the contents page tells us that it will all over by Christmas Eve, but the sad festivities are subverted wonderfully by Eileen’s repressively dark mind. It’s her job to decorate the institution’s Christmas tree, while at home, there is not a bauble to be seen, just a dead mouse in her glove compartment.
 
At this point, Rebecca, a stunning, red-headed graduate, comes to work at Moorhead. Eileen is swept up into a kind of obsession when Rebecca shows an interest in her. Both girls are drawn to an inmate, Polk, who has killed his policeman father. Eileen watches Polk masterbate while in solitary confinement, but Rebecca has access to his notes and, in her role as the new psychologist, believes she can penetrate the young man’s mind to find the truth about him, a decision that is the catalyst to action.
 
So, if you’re about to start a novel using Watt’s 90 day, or any other formulaic method, do read this book first, checking it out against the standard tips, like Joanna Penn’s: Grab the reader by the throat, have a crime, don’t write likeable characters, have an ending that slaps you in the face. Huge ticks with these. Or my own tip: rock the boat half-way through, as Moshfegh does with her Rebecca character. 
 
This is a psychological thriller, and that’s given Moshfegh good sales, a popular following and some great reviews – Anthony Cummins in the Telegraph was left “dumbstruck by her sly, almost wicked storytelling genius”. But she also has her critics. Lydia Kiesling in her Guardian review thought that; “there is something about this novel that, like its heroine, is not quite right…The prose clunks; Eileen is a little too in love with her own awfulness.” Yes, I noted that failing too, early in the text. Things like, I was very unhappy and angry all the time. Moshfegh has fallen into the trap of ‘telling not showing’. But it’s a very little slip, the sort we all make at some point when writing hundreds of pages of story. Mostly, the book is all ‘show', a vivid picture of 60’s USA, of the edges of society, of mental health, and of how easy it is to lose one’s own integrity, or have it stolen away.
 
Eileen might be thought of as an unreliable narrator, but I found nothing but the truth in the heated depths of the text. I believed in her completely. She may be flawed, but she felt like an intensely real, if bleak, creation. In that, I seem to agree with Moshfegh; “Eileen is not perverse. I think she’s totally normal … I haven’t written a freak character; I’ve written an honest character.”

And honest character who has committed the most awful crime, that is...

 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2017-04-01 09:35
Murder, They Wrote – Three Novelists Writing about Murder

MURDER, THEY WROTE  –– THREE NOVELISTS WRITING ABOUT MURDER

 

When Graeme Macrea Burnet was interviewed on radio news, he was asked how he felt about being shortlisted for the 2016 Man-Booker with his crime novel.

“It’s not a crime novel,” he replied. “It’s a literary novel about crime.”

I have to confess, as a crime novelist, that did put my back up, a little bit. I don’t believe it’s for writers to announce they’ve created a literary novel…that’s for posterity to decide. In my view, ‘literature’ is something that lasts and grows as it ages…books like Homer’s Odyssey, Orwell's Animal Farm or Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bibles which I blogged about here. But it got me thinking. His Bloody Project (Contraband 2015) cannot yet, in my view, be literature. So is it crime fiction? 

 

The great P D James said that a good crime novel should also be a good novel. All human life is found in the killing of one human by another. So writing about murder surely is always crime fiction! I’m going to look at three recent books that I loved reading to find out if that’s true.

 

Belinda Bauer

http://www.belindabauer.co.uk

Belinda Bauer doesn’t seem to have any qualms about calling herself a writer of crime fiction. I’ve previously reviewed her work on my blog, and here she is again, with her 6th novel, The Beautiful Dead (Bantam Press 2016). I loved her first book, Badlands, but I did feel the end was a bit weak, a bit unbelievable. This time, no worries about that! I loved the way Bauer took a ‘smoking gun’ in the form of a pair of handcuffs, which the main protagonist, TV crime reporter Eve Singer, has become obsessed with as she’s tracked and taunted by a serial killer she’s featuring on her news items. I expected them to be used in some way to secure her life when it was eventually under intense threat, as I knew it would be! But when those handcuffs were put to use on pg 319 of the book, I stood from my seat and crowed in joy. What a twist! What a perfect ploy! A great, twisting surprise is essential in a crime novel. But Bauer also delivers elegant description, strong metaphor and deep investigation of the human condition. She examines what being a killer is – how close each of use could get to murder. A crime novel? Decidedly, but great, contemporary fiction, too. 

 

Helen Dunmore is known for her lyrical poetry and her award-winning fiction, including the best-selling The Siege,  which is set during the Nazis' 1941 winter siege on Leningrad  So I wasn’t surprised to find that in her most recent book she turned her hand to a cold war thriller, set in England in the early 1960’s. In Exposure Penguin, 2016)  Although she uses three points of view…the hardened old double agent, the fresh, young candidate pushing a pen in the office of MI6, and his wife, mother of two young children, a typical stay-at-home mum, but a woman with a sharp mind. The shock of the killing towards the end of the book demonstrated for me that  one of our most outstanding writers (Good Housekeeping review) can

‘do’ murder and do it well, focusing on the victims, both of the spying industry, and of the machinations of corrupt individuals.  Is this literary fiction? Or a spy thriller? I can’t honestly see why it can’t be both.

 

Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project didn’t win the Booker in the end. But Burnet’s book is the one that I enjoyed the most from the shortlist. I enjoyed it so much, that I now have a little more sympathy with his comment about literary fiction.

His novel is centred around a vicious triple murder – a man, his teenaged daughter and his baby son – by an angry young boy who lived in the same crofting community in 19th Century northwest Scotland. Burnet uses several point-of-views to create the novel, starting with the gripping account by Roderick Macrea as he languishes in jail, waiting for his trial to begin. This account is the gruelling and bitter story of his short life as a crofter. Although he shows promise at school, he leaves early to start working with his widowed father, who is perhaps a bit lacking in the smarts department, unlike his son. Life is backbreaking, crushing. And the powers who own the land turn a cold, heartless face away from the punishing routine that puts meagre food in the crofter’s mouths. Very soon, as the story is related, it becomes clear why Roddy kills. He is drawn to do so, from the moment he has to batter an injured sheep to a humane death. The second half of the book are accounts from the defence lawyer and the early 19th psychologist he has called in, and from newspaper articles about the trial.

 

I could not put this book down. Firstly, I needed to know why and how the murders happened. Lastly, I needed to know if his kindly lawyer managed to secure Roddy clemency from the gallows.

Is His Bloody Project a piece of crime fiction, Mr Burnet? I would say so. A piece beautifully written, and a deeply investigated book which looks into the nature of murder. It's also a book that may stay loved over generations and thence become ‘literature’, but at the moment, it’s crime fiction.

 

A romping good read, but also, like Bauer’s and Dunmore’s latest fictions, it’s about murder. They’ve all written about the deadliest of crimes, and I cannot see what is wrong with admitting that they’ve ended up with great stories that are crime fiction.

 

 
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
url 2017-03-21 15:14
The Soundtrack of a Novel

 

“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music” 


Walter Pater’s said that. It’s a famous quote of his, more famous than he is. When I first heard it, I checked him out, to find he was a nineteenth-century art critic and literary theorist who was born in the East End of London.

 

Some think that this quote is bunkum, and that art doesn’t move towards being music, but the idea resonates with me. Why else would Leonard Cohen have moved his writing sideways from prose and poetry to lyrics (oh! the money, maybe…).  Music often enhances reading; I played Bob Marley all the time when I was consumed by A Brief History of Seven Killings 

 

When I write, I’m always aware that certain scenes make a sort of music in my head. My characters, right from before I had anything published, always listened to music, often (this is possibly why these stories weren't published!) for long, closely-described scenes.

 

Then I read the critically acclaimed Teddy Wayne, and heard about how he created a ‘soundtrack’ to his most recent novel Loneran unsettling story of obsessive desire. In his article, Wayne says…A great deal of pop songs are also about romantic obsession and loneliness (often in the same breath), and many ostensible love songs, when you examine the lyrics, are really avowals of stalker-like pursuit or thoughts of the object of desire; the British seem to have a particular fondness for this kind of ballad

 

Wayne chose ten tracks that informed his portrayal of his protagonist. I’m writing book four of the Shaman Mysteries, Flood Gate, and I'm doing the same thing. My chosen tracks each represent a character, and I’m finding wonderful inspiration from listening to these songs. Follow the links to hear the music.

 

In order of appearance:

 

Larry Waish is a small-time poultry farmer who recently lost all his hens in one of the many floods that plague the Somerset Levels. What he’s discovered, is that his neighbour is to blame for his loss, and he’s hopping mad. Larry really loves Country and Western and plays The Eagles Heartache Tonight  a lot, while he’s trying to cope with what happened between him and Jack Spicer at Harper’s Coombe 

 

Jack Spicer, who’s real name is John, farms 200 acres of Somerset land, as his family has for generations. He's recently lost his daughter, and is helping bring up her daughter, baby Olivia. He knows he's been driven to do wrong, and t’s tormenting him. He's a bit of a classical buff, and listening to the slightly sinister tones of Shostakovich’s first piano concerto helped me build his character. By the end of chapter one, Jack is dead.

 

Sabbie Dare is a young shamanic practitioner and therapist who knows it is her destiny to be of service to people on the very edge of life. The victims of evil…the perpetrators of it.  Sabbie’s mad about Pet Shop Boys and pagan music which can vary from folksy to rocking, and includes groups like IncubuSucubus, Dahm the Bard and The Dolmen 

 

Kelly King was 28 when she threw herself off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. She’d never really recovered from her life in The Willows, a local authority children’s home where Kelly, Sabbie and Debs Hitchings all lived when they were children. Kelly was depressed, directionless, and addicted to chocolate cookies. In her last days, she plugged into the music of her childhood, such as Pink’s There you go.

 

Debs Hitchings is a beautician who wanders from boyfriend to boyfriend and job to job. Debs turned up at the very end of In the Moors, (Book One) where she cuts Sabbie’s tortured hair, and has a small part in Unraveled Visions. In this book Debs, and the story of her past, takes centre stage. She’s known for cracking out Beyoncés Crazy in Love 

at the top of her voice as her heels skittered across nighttime pavements.

 

https://www.milesdavis.com

 

Quentin Lachapelle is a thirty-five year old photographer with a nice studio, a pretty wife, and a flourishing career. He meets Sabbie and Debs at Kelly King's funeral, where he offers to take some glamour shots of Debs, although he finds Sabbie’s dark skin tones and angled face interesting. There is more to Quentin that meets the eye…or the lens of his cameras. Quentin is a Miles Davis fan, of course. 

 

DI Reynard Buckely. Fans of the Shaman Mysteries will be delighted to hear that and Rey and Sabbie are still an item. In fact, things hot up between them considerably! Rey made his musical preferences clear in In the Moors, so there’s only one group I could play, and that’s the Stones

 

Fenella Waish is Larry’s sister. Now in her forties, but still living in their childhood home, Fen seeks help from Sabbie for longterm Ornithophobia, her paralysing fear of birds which prevents her going anywhere near Larry’s poultry shed. Fenella loves her laptop, which is her window on the world. Scared to be Lonely might bring tears to her eyes, but she plays it again and again.

 

Tara Yorkman. Before she died, Kelly was fruitlessly searching for her friend Tara, who lived at The Willows from when she was little. Kelly, in need of someone to care for, always looked out for Tara, until she was a teenager. Then she disappeared. When Kelly’s spirit comes to Sabbie in a dream, she feels indebted to continue the quest for the missing girl. I listen to Taylor Swift and other noughties music to get in touch with Tara.

 

Victor Doyle is a successful Bristol business man, a builder of local housing. Now 55, he's loaded, charming and still handsome in a chiselled way, although he’s put on a bit of weight. In the community, he’s a well-loved philanthropist, but underneath, the man is pure, unadulterated evil. I think he’d be rivitted by Pretty Women from Sweeny Todd.

 

If you're writing a novel, or a series of short stories, try finding and playing the soundtrack that perfectly accompanies the story and the characters. It can make a tremendous difference to the outcome. 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2016-09-19 12:38
Seamlessly Blends the Mystical…A review of Beneath the Tor by Nina Milton

Seamlessly Blends the Mystical…

 
 
An extremely original and engrossing novel - highly recommended…seamlessly blends the mystical with the realities of every-day life

Thank you, Indie Shaman for you marvellous review of the third in the Shaman Mystery Series.

Beneath the Tor is a compelling and well-paced mystery which contains recognisable and authentic diverse characters…an absorbing and intriguing murder mystery.

 

I was so delighted when June Kent, editor of the Indie Shaman Magazine review my latest novel, because I love that magazine! Every issue is packed with articles on spirituality and shamanism, laid out in a colourful and well-balanced way, with regulars, such as Plant lore, a poem, Community News and always contributions from the elders of the shaman world. Book reviews are a regular in the mag, and I was proud – honoured – to be among them.

Almost as important, I can buy Indie Shaman as a hold-in-the-hand magazine. I spend enough time on that computer – I like to flop down in comfort to read…especially when the mag says lovely things about my writing…

Set in the West Country, Beneath the Tor is the 3rd of author Nina Milton's  Shaman Mystery series in which therapeutic shaman Sabbie Dare uses her shamanic skills to solve murder mysteries. 

I write my crime thrillers for all readers, but as Sabbie Dare, my central character in the series, is a  shamanic practitioner by trade, the opinion of those who live a shamanic way of life is crucial to me. I aim to make my books, and my heroine, authentic, and so I was quite relieved when the review reinforced this, saying how the book…features many of the issues that affect contemporary shamanism including the serious as well as the amusing (one of my favourite phrases is from a potential workshop participant stating, "I'm already a shaman. I've done all the courses.")  The book also contains excellent descriptions of Sabbie's shamanic journeys and of her work with her guide, an otter called Trendle.

By the way, if you're reading this, and wondering what a shamanic journey is, and how a person's
guide can be an otter with a name, then dip over to my explanatory Page in this Blog; British Shamanism

Writing a review for good fiction…the editor's review continues…is difficult due to the tendency to get absorbed in the story, carrying the book with you everywhere, staying up late 'just finish this bit'…and totally forgetting about the review…And this was certainly the case with Beneath the Tor!

I'm full of gratitude for this endorsement from Indie Shaman, but also dead chuffed that June Kent couldn't put my book down!

If you'd like to read a bit of Beneath the Tor, you can do so. By clicking here, you will find yourself on my Amazon "Look Inside" Page where you can click on the cover of the book.

Meanwhile, have a look at Indie Shaman. It's not just for people with rattles and eye fringes, but for anyone interested in living ethically according to shamanic principles. The 48-page full-colour magazine can be ordered via snail mail or, for a mere £10 (UK) per year, downloaded as a PDF.

Thanks again, Indie Shaman!
Source: kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/the-seven-novels-that-entirely-changed.html?spref=fb
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2016-09-19 12:34
Motive for Murder–Change or Status Quo? The Shaman Mystery Series

Motive for Murder–Change or Status Quo?

 



 
 
 
In Unraveled Visions, the 2nd of my Shaman Mystery Series, a character says…“Ninety-nine percent of murders only have one of two true motives. Change, or status quo.” 
 
Is that so? Rey Buckley,  detective and love interest in the Shaman Mysteries Series believes so; I’m still unsure; I never pretend to hold the same views as my characters. 
 
Detective Reynard Buckley meets Sabbie Dare – the 30 year old heroine of the series – at the start of Book One, In the Moors. D.S Buckley is investigating a child abduction and murder when he knocks on her door. Rey is the archetypal humourless, maverick policeman who quickly brands shamanic therapist Sabbie as a crank. He considers her profession ‘mumbo jumbo’, finding its lack of objective evidence perplexing. Sabbie is equally hesitant…As a bloke, a copper and someone who wore their hair as if they were about to pull on flying goggles, I hadn’t put ‘listening to women’ anywhere on his priorities list.  Even so, she can’t help finding him…interesting – there’s a wriggle of lust in her belly. This makes for a relationship a bit like an upmarket cocktail – bitter, and full of ice, but with a sparkler fizzing at the edge that gets deeper as the books continue.

Sabbie walks in the spirit world to find answers to people’s problems and comes back with images and symbols which manifest each client’s underlying issues. Meanwhile, Rey Buckley clears up crime through old-fashioned police work and hard facts. But they understand they have something in common. They both solve things using what Sabbie would describe as her link to the spirit world – Rey would more likely call it ‘a hunch’.
 
When Rey tells Sabbie that he thinks all murders are due to one of two motives, ‘change’, or ‘status quo’, she challenges this immediately. What about money? Crimes of passion? Suicide bombers? What about madness? But Rey’s answer is unequivocal. He believes all killers crave one of two things. Either they want change – the big win, a new political situation. Or they are desperate that things should not change – they kill their lover’s spouse, or kill to stop a crime being discovered. Sane or mad, Rey concludes that the motivations which drive people to kill is not complicated at all.
 
Well, he would, wouldn’t he. Reynard Buckley worked his way up through the ranks and by book three he's having trouble fitting into the ethos of the modern UK police force. Sabbie survived an extreme childhood; she never knew her father, and after she lost her mother at six years old, she was brought up in children’s homes. She believes she’s the stronger for this background. She gained that strength with the love of two elderly couples; her foster parents Gloria and Philip, and Rhiannon and Bren, two cunning folk she lodged with while taking her degree. 
 
In the Moors focuses on a vile, debased couple, sadistic paedophiles who have murdered and buried their child victims in the vast and boggy Somerset Moors. As the book progresses, we learn that they are long dead, but their spirits are still wandering around the site of the killings; a ruined cottage out on the moors where Sabbie detects their presence…“You can call me Kissie, darling,” said the woman. She had to search in her memory for her name, as if she’d not thought of it for a long time. “We’re Kissie and Pinchie.” she looked at me in such an openly inviting way that I felt my spine contract. 

Kissie and Pinchie killed for ‘change’ – repeating the awful pleasure it afforded them. But at the heart of the novel is another killer, who is kidnapping young children. Is this a desire for change, or a need for status quo? Not until the very end of the book, when Sabbie is in the clutches of the killer, does she find out.
 
Book two – Unraveled Visions – is set in the underworld around migrant workers from other countries. Sabbe meets Kizzy and Mirela, Bulgarian Romas who are working in slave conditions. Kizzy is missing and her sister is worried… “Kizzy say we move on. Go find better thing to do. More money. She say, save and go back head high. She say, Mirela. take little risk. I don’t like. She say, ‘Mirela, you so uncool’.”
“Uncool?”
“Like I will never dip my toe.”
“In case the water’s too cold?”
“In case the water poison.”
What Sabbie uncovers is a sickening trade in which life is considered so cheap, bodies are simply discarded. This, too, is “change”…and these despicable people are making a lot of money. 
 
As the Trilogy of the Shaman Mysteries progress, Sabbie begins to realize that it is not entirely coincidence that she constantly encounters these shadow sides. By walking into the otherworld – the spirit realm that shaman enter in a trance state – she has encountered profound philosophies of life. It has made her understand how we carry two sides to our nature. There is always a shadow side to our psyches; inside us is the possibility of hate, greed, envy – the things that lead to wrong-doing, hurting others…murder. It’s her business, as someone who walks on both planes of existence, to help where she can, even when her own safety is threatened.

In Beneath the Tor – book three of the series – a sudden death becomes a catalyst…Alys was dancing as the stars reeled, dancing on Glastonbury Tor on Midsummer Eve. She danced as if the drumbeats were bursting out of her. As if her feet were charmed to never rest.
        I saw her dance.
I saw her drop.
She fell to the ground without a stumble or a cry.
What or who as killed Alys? As Sabbie begins to investigate, she discovers that someone is killing and maiming in Alys’s name. Is this revenge or sudden madness? Is it change or status quo? 
 
I love puzzling out the mystery aspect of my crime fiction, to baffle and amaze the reader, and love to spring surprises on them to keep them on the edge of their seat. My readers say they stay up all night, turning the pages of the Shaman Mysteries; I’m awake at night sorting out the permutations of each murder. How did they do it? Where did they do it? What happened after they did it? And most importantly why did they do it – what brought them to that moment they kill another human being? Was it change, I ask myself? Or status quo?

Right now, I'm writing book four, and this time we definitely have status quo causing the murder we witness see right at the start. At the same time Sabbie is helping her old friend Debs through a terrible time, which will involve finding a missing girl…and the men who are holding her prisoner…

Even I get terrified when I read my books
Nina Milton’s  Shaman Mystery novels, published by Midnight Ink, are available online from Waterstones   the Welsh Book Council and Amazon

“Sabbie Dare is the most compelling protagonist I’ve met this year . . . Milton’s tale is riveting.”…Library Journal starred review 
“Nina Milton has created a unique fictional world in her Shaman Mystery Series, featuring Sabbie Dare as a young shaman. With Beneath the Tor  she passed the ultimate test of a writer, that of causing me to put off useful jobs which I really should have been doing, in order to see what happens next. She has become a mistress of plot-weaving, and above all, she pulls off the trick of setting the totally fantastic amid the totally everyday and making the two fit together with pace and excitement”.…Ronald Hutton, author of Pagan Britain and The Triumph of the Moon.
 
More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?