Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Murder Ink

In April I met the crime writers Sheila Quigley and Ken McCoy at the local library. Their talk session was entitled ‘Murder Ink.'


They both come from the North of England, Sheila from Houghton-le-Spring and Ken from Leeds.


I have only read one of Sheila's four published books based in Houghton-le-Spring and featuring Detective Inspector Lorraine Hunt.


Ken McCoy has written c17 books including a number of sagas and a series featuring Sam Carew. I have to admit I haven't read any of his work.


You can find information and details about their work on:


Sheila Quigley - www.theseahills.co.uk


Ken McCoy - www.kenmccoy.co.uk and www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/ken-mccoy


There were a lot of interesting comments in their question and answer session. Initially they asked one another a set of pre-planned questions before taking questions from the audience of over 60.


Ken McCoy had no ambition to write a book. For a long time he was involved in copy writing for the greeting card industry. Other than that he had been doodling with odd stories in exercise books. Then he started writing ‘Once with Scraps' [in Leeds this is an order for fish and chips]. He had written 40,000 words before he admitted he had a book on the go. He finished the book in 3 months; intended as a humorous story he sent it off and was told, "Yes you can write." After several rewrites over about 18 months his agent suggested that there was an opening in the market for saga writers. His first published work was the saga ‘Cobblestone Heroes' which resulted in a contract for more. He has now written 8.


‘Once with Scraps' was eventually published as ‘The Fabulous Fox Twins.'


Ken said he does not plan a book in detail but lets the story carry on. He may write one or two chapters in detail and develop his characters. At this stage he may only have a vague idea for the ending. He claimed that he only planned his 17th book in detail together with a 12,000 - 13,000 word synopsis.


13 of Ken's books are available in audio form. The first was read by actors but Ken thought that although well produced they did not capture the Yorkshire dialect and idiom. Now he narrates them himself completing a 40 minute recording in about 50 minutes. The difference in made up by ‘drop in editing' to correct any mistakes.


He takes part in regular ‘meet the author' sessions like Murder Ink at libraries. He also gets engagements as an after-dinner speaker - the one that provides the humour after all the serious bits. At one library session with a largely intellectual audience, in which he had injected some humour about being in a skiffle group, he received a comment that he ‘was not very intelligent'. He's sure they meant intellectual.


His favourite authors tend to be crime writers such as Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen. When he was young he favoured Damon Runyon and P G Wodehouse. He considers Leslie Thomas of Virgin Soldiers fame as one of the best writers there has been.


At school Sheila Quigley tried to avoid reading out loud; when she could avoid it no longer she was unable to read a word. She eventually taught herself to read by learning five words a day from the local newspaper. At 11 she had written a play, performed with a friend in her wash house. By 21 she was writing in her head nearly all the time.


She wrote a screen play based on cigarette smuggling. She was told it was okay but that she would be better writing a book. The screen play was never published; her first book was completed in about 4 months. The titles of her four books are based on song titles. A fifth, The Road to Hell has been accepted for publication but will come out after her sixth. Thorn in My Side is based on Holy Island with the main character being an ex-policeman. A collection of short stories called Criminal Tendencies is to appear in April or May with proceeds donated to breast cancer.


One critic has commented on her crime novels that there are more murders in Houghton-le-Spring than in Midsomer Murders. There is a murder trail event based on her books held in Houghton-le-Spring in October.


She tells of an old lady in Houghton who waited on the corner to ask her whether she had been asked to reduce the amount of swearing in her books. When Sheila said no, the lady asked, "Please can we have the swearing back?"


Sheila has also been asked, now that Lorraine Hunt and Luke Daniels have got together in her books, will she be writing passionate sex scenes. Sheila's reply, on the basis you should write about what you know, was that it will never happen.


Her favourite authors are Stephen King and James Rollins. She tends not to read crime books but prefers horror and fantasy.


Interestingly she says there is too much comedy in real life to write about it. She told the story of a policewoman who was not very tall. The WPC and a policeman were called to a disturbance at a pizza take away. Just as they arrived they were met by a very large man hurrying out. When he saw the police he turned and rushed back into the pizza place. There was pizza all over the floor, and he slipped over flat on his back. The policeman followed him in and slipped over as well. The WPC also slipped and landed spread eagled on top of the large man. "You're under arrest," she announced. The large man looked up and replied, "I'll have you for sexual harassment."


Ken McCoy commented that approximately 90% of the audience were women. Apparently this is normal for events like Murder Ink. He added that publishers want writers to aim for women readers - there are more of them. One of his books (Stryker) awaiting publication has been criticised as being too ‘boysy'.


Ken has never had writer's block. He writes every day, but has no set writing hours. He believes that with the advent of the Internet you are able to do all your research on-line.


Both writers recommended the Harrogate festival in June and the Crimefest at Bristol.


All in all the two hours of their talk was well worth the time. Now I shall have to read more of their books.

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