Welcome to the May 2021 edition of the newsletter! First, your regular reminder that, if you no longer wish to receive these emails (or didn’t intend to sign up in the first place), you can unsubscribe via the link at the bottom of this email.
Before we press ahead with the main orders of business, I wanted to clear up a possible misconception. In the previous newsletter, I mentioned that I was in the process of planning the early stages of my next novel in a section titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” For the avoidance of doubt, “Where Do We Go From Here?” is NOT the name of that novel. I do have a working title that I’m pretty pleased with, but I’m not ready to share it, or any details about the plot, just yet – especially not with two other books ahead of it in the release schedule. Speaking of which...
On the Writing Desk: The Shadow Men
I’m getting tantalisingly close to being in a position to announce a release date for The Shadow Men, the third novel in the Anna Scavolini series. I recently completed a fresh round of revisions based on the feedback of my trusty cadre of beta readers. As always, they made a number of astute observations, both confirming my own pre-existing suspicions about certain aspects of the novel and highlighting issues I hadn’t previously considered.
Chief among the latter, amusingly enough, was the personality of my central protagonist. When the first novel in the series, In the Silence, was released, several reviewers commented that Anna wasn’t a particularly likeable character – though I hasten to add that most of the people who made this observation also said it didn’t negatively affect their enjoyment of the novel. In retrospect, I do wonder if I might have taken these reviews more to heart than I previously realised, because one of the key recurring bits of feedback I received about The Shadow Men was just what an overwhelmingly negative force Anna turned out to be throughout the first half of the novel, with one reader going so far as to describe her headspace as exhausting to inhabit. That reader went on to provide a list of all the things about which Anna expressed a negative opinion in the first few chapters – which included everything from police brutality (a not unreasonable position to hold, admittedly) to men who are overly particular about their grooming habits. While I think it’s safe to say that Anna has always and always will be a “glass half empty” type of person, I realised in retrospect that I might have gone just slightly overboard with this aspect of her personality, and one of my key goals with this most recent set of revisions was to blunt her sharp edges just a little while still remaining true to the character. I think I’ve now achieved this, but the proof, as the saying goes, will be in the pudding.
Other, more easily surmountable changes included fixing logistical issues and clarifying certain character motivations. In terms of the latter, the big one was explaining why Anna – who clearly doesn’t have a maternal bone in her body and seems to actively resent the presence of the creature going inside her – nonetheless decides to go through with the pregnancy with which she finds herself “afflicted” at the start of the novel. That’s right – Anna is preggers, and it’s safe to say that, when the novel begins, we join her at a point where her life is about to change irreversibly… and that’s before we get into the central mystery in which she becomes embroiled.
There’s lots more to say about The Shadow Men, but I’ll leave that until a future edition of this newsletter. Before long, I hope to be in a position to reveal the blurb and cover art, along with that all-important release date. Until then, I ask that you continue to be patient for just a little while longer. Stay tuned…
On the Writing Desk: Without a Trace
Last time we spoke, I mentioned that I’d just submitted the first draft of my next novel (after The Shadow Men), psychological thriller Without a Trace, to my publisher to gauge their interest. It’s always a slightly disconcerting feeling, writing a novel to spec, because there’s no guarantee anyone will want to publish it. And the feedback I received on Without a Trace, while promising, was that it’s not ready for the big time in its current form. I agree, and anticipated such a response. It’s a first draft, after all – more a proof of concept than something that was submitted with an expectation of it receiving an immediate green light.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve dismantled Without a Trace and rebuilt it from the ground up. The basic premise remains the same – three friends head up north for a hen weekend and return on Monday morning having buried a body in the woods – but almost everything beyond that initial bombshell has now changed, in my view for the better. Since receiving my publisher’s feedback, I’ve taken the time to really get to grips with both what makes this overall form of psychological thriller work and what this one in particular is, at its core, about. And I realised that, fundamentally, it was about my main protagonist, Hazel, her sense of self and relationship with the truth. I originally conceived this as a multi-protagonist story at its heart, with the post-burial chapters split between Hazel and her two friends, Claire and Mickie, but for this reworking of the plot, I’ve doubled down on Hazel’s experience, paring the focus back to her and recounting the events largely from her point of view.
I now have a fresh outline which I’m pretty pleased with, and which I reckon makes for a more focused and also much more twisted novel than it was in its previous form. My plan is to get cracking on the second draft once I’ve wrapped up my current work on The Shadow Men. It will essentially be a complete rewrite, but that’s nothing new for me and indeed something I’ve come to regard as an essential part of my process – even if it does mean I invariably end up discarding as much material as I end up actually keeping (or indeed more).
Mum, I’m in an Art Gallery!
If you happen to be visiting the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (now that lockdown restrictions have started to ease), you might spot a familiar face adorning the walls.
That’s right – I’m pictured, along with several Scottish crime fiction luminaries, in David Eustace’s “Portrait of Crime Writers”. As one of the nominees for the 2019 McIlvanney Prize (my first novel, In the Silence, was both shortlisted for the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize and longlisted for the main McIlvanney Prize), I was photographed alongside Claire Askew, Neil Broadfoot, Christopher Brookmyre & Marisa Haetzman (a.k.a. Ambrose Parry), Doug Johnstone, Denise Mina, Manda Scott and Douglas Skelton – a true honour to be in the company of such giants of the genre.
I think you’ll agree we all look mighty serious – and impressively colour-coded too!
In the Line of Duty
I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I do make an exception for a small handful of shows, and one of them is most assuredly Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty, which reached the end of its sixth season on Sunday night. It’s a series that needs little introduction at this stage, such is the extent to which it’s become a household phenomenon – as the plethora of memes relating to it will attest. Monstrously convoluted and far-fetched in the extreme but never anything less than completely engaging, it’s that rare example of genuinely successful “event TV”, with people tuning in at a specific time each week for the latest episode, in a landscape now dominated by streaming platforms and entire seasons released in one go to be binge-viewed.
There’s been much speculation as to whether this season is to be the last, with (to the best of my knowledge) no explicit confirmation from the makers one way or the other (though given the viewing figures I’d be amazed if it didn’t return in some form), and I gather a lot of viewers felt somewhat let down by the anticlimactic nature of the final episode (compared to some of the action-packed season finales we’ve seen in the past), in particular the rather banal identity of the mysterious “H”, a.k.a. “The Fourth Man”, whom our intrepid heroes had spent most of the series trying to unmask. On reflection, though, I’m not sure it could have ended any other way – not without fundamentally betraying its own mission statement. Police corruption has always been Line of Duty’s bread and butter, and the thing about institutional corruption is that it’s both banal and all-powerful. There’s rarely a single, overarching criminal mastermind overseeing the proceedings whose unmasking and removal will make everything better, so the reveal of “H” was always going to be something of a damp squib, with the battle against corruption seeming more hopeless than ever once the final credits began to roll.
Whether or not there’s a seventh season, I’ve very much enjoyed this six-year-long rollercoaster, with all its ups and downs. In fact, I’m actually contemplating going back and rewatching the whole thing from Season 1, Episode 1 (the whole series is on iPlayer if you’re in the UK or have a VPN).
That’s All, Folks!
That’s it for another issue. I’ll be in touch in a couple of months’ time with the next newsletter, or sooner if there’s any particularly pressing news. Until then, happy reading!