Review: Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

9781784296537At the stage of his career when many other thriller writers struggle for new ideas or settle on conventional, repetitive plots, Philip Kerr continues to crank out electrifying, utterly addictive novels of suspense. 

The thirteenth book in Kerr’s long-running series, Greeks Bearing Gifts opens in Munich, 1957, with Bernie Gunther, the one-time Commissar of the Murder Commission, now working under the pseudonym “Christof Ganz” as a morgue attendant, desperately trying to leave his past behind, and live whatever remains of his future in relative peace. But the past is something that won’t let go, and it reappears in the form of a dirty cop, and a lethal trap, which Bernie escapes, though barely. Thrust into a new career as a claims adjuster for a prominent insurance company thanks to the influence of powerful attorney Max Merten, Bernie is dispatched to Athens to assess the sinking of a ship. But his simple mission turns into something far more dangerous when he discover’s the ship’s owner, former Wehrmacht Navy man Siegfried Witzel, shot dead through both eyes. Compelled by the Greek cops to investigate, Bernie’s once again drawn back into the dark history of WWII.

Inspired by real people and events, Greeks Bearing Gifts is emblematic of why Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books are far more than a guilty pleasure. There’s the central mystery to unravel, of course, and plenty of nerve-shredding tension along the way; but there’s always another layer to Kerr’s work, in this case an exploration and analysis of Adenauer’s amnesty for Nazi war criminals, and Bernie’s struggle to fit into this new Germany and its willingness to move on from its checkered past.

Brilliantly composed and elegantly constructed, Greeks Bearing Gifts is a masterful historical crime novel, and leaves Bernie Gunther in a tantalising place for the future that will assure readers this is not the end of our journey with one of the finest anti-heroes in literature.

ISBN: 9781784296537
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 464
Imprint: Quercus Publishing
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann

Letters to a Young WriterIn my early twenties I churned through writer’s manuals and magazines, using their words of wisdom to fuel my creative fire. Immediately noticeable was the disparity of the advice offered, particularly when it came to process: some said it was mandatory to know your ending; others said that limited the scope of your story. Some said avoid prologues; others said they could be quite useful. I heeded some advice, ignored others. As I write this, I haven’t published a novel, which suggests I took a wrong turn somewhere down the track. Doesn’t matter: a writer can always re-route, find a new direction, start again. Resilience is key. If imagination and determination is the only limit, there’s no need to fear failure. I’ve got both in spades.

Colum McCann points out in his introduction to Letters to a Young Writer, borrowing words from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: “Nobody can advise and help you… there is only one way. Go into yourself.” Ultimately, McCann says, it boils down to “the strike of the word upon the page, not to mention the strike thereafter, and the strike after that.” We should listen to successful writers, absolutely; accept their advice, value their input. But our writing is our own; there’s not one path to success, and failure is only assured if we don’t spend time in front of the keyboard, or with pen in hand, creating; actually doing the writing.

The most powerful paragraph in McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer — for me, at least — is when he says:

“The most destructive force in your life is liable to be the unwritten story. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer. You’re avoiding the competition of yourself. Simple logic, but it’s a kick in the chest when the page is empty. Too much white space is not a good thing. Empty is empty. And empty haunts.”

It’s these gems that make the book such a powerful resource. Not necessarily the practical advice — which is also included — but rather the philosophical enlightenment. Letters to a Young Writer is a book I’ll keep nestled in my shelf forever; there to spark me into life, ignite my creative fire whenever it’s waning. I rushed through it during my first read, and took my time with the second, savouring McCann’s intimacy with his reader, highlighting the segments that resonated most. It’s a must-have for any writer in your life.

ISBN: 9781408885031
Format: Hardback (216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 192
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reacher Said Nothing – Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin

Reacher Said Nothing.jpgAs a writer – an aspirant rather than a full-fledged one – I churn through books about writing every year.  I know, I know – a writer must write. There is only so much time a person can invest in books about the craft before you must put pen to paper, or put your fingers on the keyboard – whatever your preference. But I love reading about process. I’m so fascinated by various authors’ methods and beliefs. I read Stephen King’s On Writing not for advice, specifically, but to learn about how the grandmaster writes. Of course, I picked up some tips along the way, but I never jumped in thinking this will define how I write. Stephen King is about to unlock my muse! The same goes for Andy Martin’s book. I was tantalised by its description.  The blurb sold me. ‘Reacher Said Nothing is a book about a guy writing a book.’ That ‘the guy’ in question is Lee Child, one of my all-time favourite authors, was merely icing on an already irresistible cake.

When I finished Reacher Said Nothing – less than 48 hours after starting it, I should say – I felt like I’d really gotten to know Andy Martin and Lee Child. Not personally – not in such a way that’d earn a fist-bump or a high-five were we ever to meet (to be fair, they strike me more as fans of the traditional handshake, which’d be fine by me) – but regarding their perspectives on fiction, on the creative process, on writing in general, I felt like they’d pretty much responded to every question I’d ever have for them (which’d leave me dry on topics for conversation, since my interests are very singular). This isn’t a book about How To Write Like Lee Child, or, in fact, Lee Child’s Guide To Writing a Bestseller: it’s quite literally a book about the writing of a specific book. But along the way it offers some extraordinary insight, and indeed plenty of advice, for aspiring writers, and readers wishing to better comprehend the art crafting of a novel – or at least one author’s methodology.

“It not 100 per cent,” says Lee Child, writing Make Me, on the subject of achieving ‘perfection.’ “It never quite lives up to the hope,” he continues, before Martin adds: “Success was always tinted with the colour of failure.” Which demonstrates just how vital Martin’s additions are. It would’ve been simple, of course, to transcribe Child’s thoughts on that day’s writing; but by bearing witness, physically being in the room with Child as he put words on the page – on the first, and only(!) draft, Martin is able to dig deeper than any genteel interview possibly could’ve. We’re there for the days when his progress stalls and the days when he hits the keyboard hard; the highs and lows, the peaks and valleys. Martin’s text reminds us that, ultimately, like all of us, Lee Child has his good days and bad, but he persists, and somehow, always (twenty occasions to date!) pulls through with the goods. And although his novels are deemed ‘thrillers,’ and ‘not serious literature,’ real effort goes into crafting each and every sentence. They are page-turners for a reason; it’s not by accident. Child’s books are intentionally-crafted. They are constructed, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. There is a rhythm, perhaps not perceptible to every reader, but it is vital to Child’s success.

So, Reacher Said Nothing does not reveal Child’s ‘formula.’ In fact, his off-the-cuff style – Child does not work off a plot, does not have a story in mind when he starts typing – is terrifying for someone like me, who need that blueprint. But the spotlight Martin shines is undeniably fascinating, and darn near unputdownable. More books like this, please!

ISBN: 9780593076620
Format: Paperback
(234mm x 153mm x 23mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 19-Nov-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Words For Pictures – The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis

Words for PicsIn October 2000, at the age of twelve, I sweet-talked my father into buying me a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man #1. The issue’s writer, Brian Michael Bendis, meant nothing to me. He was an unknown.

That changed thirty pages later.

From my earliest days I understood the compartmentalized process involved in creating comics, and could identify respected artists and writers, and even inkers on occasion – but my purchasing decision was never based on who was responsible for the product. I bought everything Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, and that was that, no questions asked.

But something changed with Ultimate Spider-Man #1. Bendis’s storytelling choices, his back-and-forth dialogue, resonated with me, as it did with the vast majority of fandom. From that day on, I made it my mission to read everything Bendis published, and continues to publish. Much like Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, Brian Michael Bendis played an essential role in my formative years as a storyteller, and as a storytelling connoisseur.

And now he has written a book on writing comics.

With WORDS FOR PICTURES, Bendis has created the ultimate writers’ resource. A one-stop-shop for aspiring creators, and those already heavily vested in the craft. And even those without the slightest creative inclination will find Bendis’s exploration of the process captivating. WORDS FOR PICTURES isn’t just a ‘How-To’ guide; it’s littered with interviews with industry professionals; writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction; Marvel Comics editor Steve Wacker; artists Mark Bagley, Michael Allred and Chris Bachalo; and that barely scratches the surface. It might be Bendis’s name emblazoned on the books cover, but this book isn’t an insular breakdown of the process; it encompasses a grand selection of industry professionals, and the book is a greater resource because of this.

What is the Marvel Style scripting method? What’s the best way to foster a relationship with an artist? Bendis answers these specific questions, and more, but also offers his thoughts on grander subjects; why do we write? How can you identify an idea as good or bad? It’s in these moments, when Bendis extrapolates his own opinions, that WORDS FOR PICTURES transitions from writers’ toolbox to writers’ inspiration. This is a guy who has been writing comics professionally for almost two decades now – how does such a prolific creator retain his passion and determination? And what can we, as writers aspiring to match his exploits, from him?

There are several comic book writing resources available for ambitious creators, but few can match the star-power and comprehensive content offered in WORDS FOR PICTURES. This is the kind of resource that’ll sit on my desk for months; something I’ll return to, frequently, for intermittent moments of motivation and encouragement. In WORDS FOR PICTURES, Bendis tells it like it is; there are no guarantees in any creative industry, and he acknowledges working within its confines is rife with failure – but after reading it, I’ve never been more determined to succeed.

2013 and Beyond

tumblr_mg1lsgCFxj1rcrw09o1_5002013 began in the company of two of my greatest friends in a small, chock-full bar in Santa Monica.

And it was awesome.

We drank, laughed and danced.

The latter is, worryingly, becoming a tad too recurrent for my liking in recent months.

What can I say; I’ve got no rhythm.

When initially planned, the trip was a solitary affair. I am quite content with my own company; possibly to the extent that, if left unchecked, I’d collapse into full reclusive status.

And I’m sure, had things progressed as planned, I’ve had enjoyed my time away.

But I’ve no doubt it wouldn’t have been half the fun.

Not even a quarter.

And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have got my photo with a Stormtrooper.

When I reflect on 2012, I think of it was a foundation year; setting me up for 2013 and beyond.

I quit my job and moved into the field I’d always intended, working in an editorial department, learning the ropes with some amazing professionals, who inspire me every day to work harder and, simply, be better than I currently am.

I wrote a lot – oodles of drafts – polished several projects – but didn’t submit as many as I wanted.

I froze up when it came time to pull the trigger.

In 2013 that will not happen.

I’m blessed to be friends with several writers and artists, all of whom are at various rungs of their professional careers. Their successes motivate me to continue on this path and put in the hard yard that are necessary to get anywhere. These guys are incredibly talented, but they haven’t rested on their laurels. They have worked damned hard – and I need to do the same.

I must do the same.

In 2013 my mindset must be: No Fear.

In all walks of life.

I am too comfortable in the shadows. Too content to wallow in my own self-doubt. Everybody has lulls. But perhaps up until now I’ve been too comfortable with simply latching onto it and using it as an excuse.

No more.

I want 2013 to end as it began.

With the drinks, laughter and dancing, sure. That’s a given.

I want to end it happy. In the company of those dearest to me.

And with several thousand words out there, circulating.

It’s all down to me.