Tuesday, 10 January 2017

How To... Write a Killer Blurb

By JJ Marsh

Authors swear the blurb, or back cover copy, is ten times harder than writing the novel it describes. Which is understandable. You know all the nuance and detail of 100K words and cannot possibly reduce its essence to 250.
Or can you?

Having written cover description for all kinds of material – from cookbooks to crime, from erotica to executive summaries – I have a few tips.

Here’s a ten-step plan to creating an effective blurb for fiction.

Ready, Steady...

 

 


Start with bare branches. In Techniques of a Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain offers the basic framework for a blurb. Write one sentence and one question, containing character, situation, objective, opponent, disaster. It works for every genre.
Eg: When humans begin to grow to twelve-feet tall (situation), John Storm (character) must find out why (objective). But can he defeat traitors in high places (opponent) who want to fake an extra terrestrial plot and will kill anyone in the way (disaster)?
Research I. Read the blurbs of similar books in your genre. (Yeah, I know, yours is unique, but bear with me.) If you had to describe it in the most reductive terms, would it be Anna Karenina meets Bridget Jones (as Adele Parks described her first novel to attract her agent)? Or Hotel Rwanda meets Million Dollar Baby? Choose your comparisons well. You may not use them in the blurb but they might still be useful for your elevator pitch.

Research II. Key words. Which words will help your target reader find your book? Which words do they search for? Look again at those blurbs. Make a mind map of all those vital clues. For Rise of the Golden Aura by Chanrithy Him, I had a hit list: vampire, Asia-America, romance/love, myth, supernatural, underworld, beauty pageant, queen, series. We got every single one into the final draft.

Mood, style and tone. Cover copy reflects the book within. If is wise-cracking, hard-boiled noir, so must be the blurb. I always ask clients for three chapters of their book so I can get a sense of the way they write. On reading, I make notes: ethereal and whimsical / sardonic and dry / cosy and humorous. When you begin to write the text, keep these words in front of you.

Patterns. Be aware that blurbs, just as much as covers, are part of your brand. Jane Davis is not writing a series, but readers keen to discover more of her work will appreciate the similar style across her entire canon. So I kept notes on length, format, style and phrasing to avoid repetition but enabling the maintenance of a 'Davis' tone.


... Go!



Add leaves and flowers. With all the ammunition above, take your Swain frame and start expanding. Use powerful nouns and verbs. Avoid the passive voice. Vary sentence lengths. Aim for the essence. Pack every sentence tightly and make every word earn its place. Remember the power of threes. Here's a sample extract from an upcoming novel by Luna Miller.
Gunvor may be in her sixties, her hands might be too shaky to continue performing operations and her body complains every time she works out. But her mind is as sharp as ever. She’s curious, intelligent and experienced – perfect qualities for a private detective.

As the agency’s rookie, she gets a surveillance job. A straightforward case, they said. A domestic. Suspicions of infidelity. Follow the husband.

Rewrite. Keep paragraphs short and remember how it looks online. You need some white space for ease of reading. Aim for five paragraphs and around 200 words. End each sentence and each paragraph on a high-impact word. Here's the opener to The Beauty Shop by Suzy Henderson.
England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. Circumstance brings three people together, changing their destinies.
Sell. Tell the reader how this book will make them feel. Don’t be afraid to use an element of drama. This is your punchline. David Baddiel makes this point in Time for Bed. His character Gabriel is choosing a video. The review on the back of Beaches says, ‘And at the end you cry, goddamit, you cry real tears’. Gabriel wells up right there in Blockbusters.

Tagline. Read the blurb again and sum it up in one line. Think film posters.  
‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’ 
‘The true story of a real fake.’ 
‘She fell in love with him the day he decided to marry someone else.
I find it helps to try them out in the voice of Morgan Freeman.
When you've got it, put it right at the top of the blurb, but check it doesn’t clash. My tagline for my own Book 2 was 'You Never Know Who's Watching'. Lovely! Until I noticed the word 'watching' in the first line. Not lovely.

Puff quote. Ideally, end your blurb with an endorsement from a well-known writer or enthusiastic reader. Choose carefully and don’t be afraid to edit out cliché. A current client has this: “What an amazing capture of unadulterated raw humanity, in all its shades of light and darkness. I read it over a few days. Couldn’t put it down. Really, really enjoyed it.” My advice was to trim. The stuff in bold is where the power lies.

Read the whole thing aloud. If you stumble, there’s a reason. Polish, rewrite and hone till it sings, then share with respected opinions.

This may sound like a lot of work, but your blurb and the cover are what sell your book.
So take your time and get it right.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

In Conversation with B.A Paris

By Gillian Hamer

B.A Paris
B.A. Paris is from a Franco/Irish background. She was brought up in England and moved to France where she spent some years working as a trader in an international bank before re-training as a teacher and setting up a language school with her husband. They still live in France and have five daughters. Her debut novel, Behind Closed Doors, a psychological thriller, became one of the best selling releases of 2016. She is about to launch her follow-up novel, The Breakdown, and we are lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the 'blurb'!

The Breakdown : One night, during a storm, Cass sees a woman in a car. The next day the woman is found dead. Cass begins receiving silent calls, which lead her to believe that someone saw her in the woods that night. She is also experiencing problems with her memory. Is she losing her mind – or is it just the guilt she feels in relation to the woman in the car?
 

Hello and welcome! Can you tell us a little about you and your writing?

Thank you, I’m delighted to be answering your questions today. I always wanted to write – it was always there in the background - but I never had time until a few years ago, when my two elder daughters left home. I always thought I would write stories for children but I had an idea for a novel and decided to give it a go. I finished writing it in a couple of months and loved every minute of it. So I carried on writing and eventually wrote Behind Closed Doors.

You’ve taken the literary world by storm this year with the release of your debut novel ‘Behind Closed Doors.’ A huge bestseller, over 6000 reviews to date on Amazon, how has your life changed since the success?

Not that much. I live in France so I travel over to London quite a lot for meetings and events, which I really enjoy as I never went anywhere much before! The best thing is that in September, I was able to reduce the number of hours I work, which means I now have more time to write.

What was the inspiration behind the novel?

I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on behind closed doors and I once knew a couple who appeared to have a perfect marriage – but then I began to wonder if it wasn’t as perfect as it seemed. It gave me the idea for a story and Behind Closed Doors was born.

I’ve been unable to learn very much about you by researching online, is that a personal choice, are you a private person and hope to stay that way?

Yes. My friends here in France only found out a month ago that I’d written a book and it wasn’t me who told them! I didn’t really want anyone to know apart from my family and close friends but the secret is out now.

You’re based in France, is location and setting something you consider important in your writing?

For the moment, anything that I’ve written has been based in England. Most of the actual locations are imaginary, although they may be based on a house or a town that I know. It’s important that in a house I have the exact layout fixed in my mind, not just the rooms but right down to where the appliances stand in the kitchen.

What attracts you to your genre of psychological thrillers?

I enjoy trying to think of ways the characters can outwit each other; this was especially true in Behind Closed Doors with Jack and Grace. I also like the pace and tension involved in creating a psychological thriller.

Would you like to write in a different genre one day? If so, what and why?

I would like to write psychological dramas that don’t necessarily have the thriller element - I’m not sure I could keep coming up with suitable thriller plots.

What themes interest you as a writer?

The relationships between people, either couples or within families.

If you could give three top tips to newbie writers – what would they be?

Accept criticism as a positive thing. Be relentless in discarding something you know isn’t working. And finally, the most important - never give up.

Finally, your next book ‘The Breakdown’ is out early 2017- how difficult was it writing the ‘difficult second book’?

It was more difficult than I thought it would be – but apparently not as difficult as writing the third book will be!


Follow B.A Paris on Twitter @BAParisAuthor



Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Highlights from the Triskele Lit Fest

When the Triskele Books' one day Lit Fest came to a close in September, we knew that the conversations generated across the five panels were far too good not to share with a wider audience.

Thanks to sponsorship from Matador Books and sound engineering expertise from Live Box (who overcame some significant challenges in the form of noise intrusion from dance classes in the room above) we were able to record the panels and upload the videos to our YouTube channel.

Here are some of the highlights from the day, which we hope will tempt you to delve into the videos to watch the discussions in full.

Sci Fi and Fantasy

We kicked off the day with a lively discussion with Sci Fi and Fantasy authors Felicia Yap, CS Wilde, Jeff Norton, Eliza Green and Yen Ooi, chaired by Jack Wedgbury from Matador.

The panel showcased the vast range of modern Sci Fi and Fantasy. Felicia's upcoming Yesterday is a thriller about a murder being investigated in a world where most people only remember yesterday. CS Wilde's A Courtroom of Ashes is a fantasy about a lawyer in hell. Jeff Norton's MetaWars explores what happens when humans retreat from the real world into a digital one. Eliza Green's Becoming Human imagines humans competing for resources with another race on a distant planet, while Yen Ooi's Sun; Queens of Earth harnesses the powers of dreams to provide energy.

Between them, they reveal their inspiration and discuss how SFF liberates them to explore big themes from what it means to be human to the destruction of the Earth, but to view them through a personal perspective.

What do an oyster card, an iPod, a set of Bose headphones, a paintbrush and a passport reveal about their writing processes?


Romance

In the second panel of the day, Triskele's Liza Perrat talked to Romance writers Isabel Wolff, Charlie Maclean, Sareeta Domingo and Carol Cooper.

Isabel is an accidental novelist who began her fiction career when a newspaper column about the singles scene was turned into a novel. She has since written ten more novels.  Charlie Maclean's Unforgettable is a 'Sliding Doors' type story that explores the consequences of asking someone on a date ... or not. Sareeta Domingo's The Nearness of You, about a young woman falling in love with her best friend's boyfriend, also examines themes of bereavement and depression. Carol Cooper's multi-stranded narratives follow an array of couples at different stages in their lives.

They explore how far a Romance novel can play with the RWA's definition of "a narrative centred around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make their relationship work." They consider the role of sex in a romance novel - does it have a place in moving the plot forward and revealing character, or should the author keep the bedroom door closed? When men write Romance, does it get 'elevated' into a different category? What happens when you try writing in the dark?

And a pocket watch, a photograph, some music and a bottle of bathroom cleaner reveal surprising secrets about their writing process.

(With apologies for the poor quality of sound in the audience segments on this video)

Crime and Thrillers

Next, Ben Cameron of Cameron PR talked to Crime and Thriller authors Kate Hamer, Adam Croft and Chris Longmuir.

Kate Hamer's The Girl in the Red Coat is a dual narrative about a mother and her lost child. Adam Croft's Her Last Tomorrow is also centres round a missing child, but in this case the father receives a ransom note with an impossible demand. Chris Longmuir's Devil's Porridge is a historical crime novel based around the first policewomen in Scotland, guarding a munitions factory during WWI.

They contrast the challenges of the different types of stories they tell, reveal the horrible secret of what Devil's Porridge really was, explore the new concept of Grip Lit, and explain how a bottle of perfume, a literary award and the scan of one's unborn child continue to inspire their writing.


The empty seat at the end of the row belongs to Nigerian author Leye Adenle, who was prevented from getting to the Lit Fest on the day. Catriona Troth caught up with him a few weeks later and you can read her interview with him here

Historical Fiction

In the last genre based panel of the day, four very different authors discuss Historical fiction with fellow author Jane Davis.

Orna Ross's Her Secret Rose is a fictional account of the real life lovers WB Yeats and Maud Gonne. Radhika Swarup's Where the River Parts looks at the largest displacement of people in human history, following the Partition of India, through the eyes of a young Hindu woman. JD Smith's Overlord series takes us all the way back to 3rd Century Syria and the life of Zenobia, the warrior queen who nearly toppled the Roman Empire. Alison Morton's Roma Nova series is an alternative history in which the Roman Empire survived into the 20th Century.

The four authors reveal why the chose their particular stories to tell, the different challenges and responsibilities of writing history from the recent and distant pasts, how to create a voice appropriate for a different time period , and the discovery that surprised them most in the course of writing their books

And an index card, a bracelet, 'the only book I have ever defaced' and a photograph of a Roman gladius reveal secrets about their writing process.




Preserving the Unicorn - conversations with literary authors and their editors.

The last panel of the day was a discussion with literary authors and their editors, chaired by Triskele's Catriona Troth. Sunny Singh discusses her novel, Hotel Arcadia, and the fascinating role her Dutch translator played in honing the manuscript. Alex Pheby and his editor from Galley Beggar Press, Sam Jordison, discuss his novel, Playthings, the fictionalised story of Daniel Schreber, of one of Freud's most celebrated case studies. And Rohan Quine and his editor Dan Holloway take the lid off the process of editing Rohan's latest novel, Beasts of Electra Drive.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Sunny reveals inspirations ranging from Dante's Inferno to Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. Alex  explains how his novel grew out of frustration with blinkered 20th C analysis of Scheber. Sam  describes how he absorbed the emotional impact of the book and imagined telling a reviewer, "I've got this book and it's going to destroy you," before deciding "of course we've got to publish it."  And Rohan describes his book  as a 'love bite to the world,'  while Dan calls it 'a beautiful spectacle compiled of horror.'



Part way through the conversation, Alex Pheby threw a provocation to the audience. "All forms of masculine activity are vile and pernicious and should be weeded out." Sadly, time ran out before the implications of this could be explored. After the event, though, Orna Ross came up with some great questions for Alex. We hope to get the chance to put those questions to him in the new year. If so, we will publish his responses in Words with Jam.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Writers

By Jane Dixon-Smith

You've bought gifts for your nan, the next door-but-one neighbour, and your ex-girlfriend's dog, but there's one missing: that crazy writer in your life. Here's my list of this year's hot Christmas gifts for your writery friends ...

1) The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression



I've bought this for myself. A book highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Paperback £9.51


2. Writers' Tears Whisky



Admittedly you have to like whisky, and I'm sure it's not real writers' tears, but a great name. 


3. Paper Plates



Well, not really, but they look like paper. 


4. Writing Retreat



Set in beautiful Wales, Ty Newydd hosts a variety of writing classes and retreats throughout the year. How about Storytelling from the Start? £220 - £295 per person.


5. An Umbrella




I know, it sounds a bit odd, but there's a whole bunch of these available and they'll keep you dry in the winter weather. £14.99



Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Writing Queer Fiction, by David C Dawson

Did you know that Bram Stoker’s Dracula has homoerotic aspects? Count Dracula, for example, warns off the female vampires and claims Jonathan Harker, saying, “This man belongs to me!” Stoker was influenced by Sheridan le Fanu, whose novella Carmilla invented lesbian vampires.

It was pretty tricky to write queer fiction in the 19th Century. In fact, right up to the 1950s, British authors could be prosecuted for writing openly about homosexuality. Queer references were written in a kind of code, using allusions and discreet subtext. Oscar Wilde was very daring when he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray. Reviewers at the time said he merited prosecution for offending public morality.

Fortunately in the 20th century, public prudery steadily dissipated, and writers became bolder. From Thomas Mann’s delicious Death in Venice, and Proust’s complex A la recherche du temps perdu, through to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series and Bret Easton Ellis’ amazing American Psycho, queer characters increasingly took centre stage.

Which brings us to this century. And my ventures into writing queer fiction.

As a commuter on the Metropolitan line into London for many years, I wrote short stories to amuse myself. I’m a life long fan of detective novels, and finally I plucked up the courage to write one for myself.

It was a form of therapy. I was late coming out, very late. Writing helped me come to terms with myself. I wanted to write a book where the central characters, plus the majority of supporting characters, just happened to be gay. The book would be the opposite of most detective fiction. I didn’t want the gay characters to be oddities. When I was immersing myself in queer fiction, I found too many novels had queer characters that were full of angst. Victims. I wanted my characters to be positive.

So that’s how Dominic Delingpole and his partner Jonathan McFadden were born, in the Dominic Delingpole Mystery series. Neither of them is modelled on a single individual. They are a rich mixture of gay men I have encountered over the years.

The writing process was long; a little over three years. After the first draft, I was lucky enough to go on a five-day Queer Fiction course run annually by the admirable writers’ education organisation called Arvon. There were nine of us, plus two tutors, in a beautiful old house in the wilds of Yorkshire. We had no internet connection and no mobile phone signal. But we had great company and spectacular views.

The tutors, very politely, ripped my book apart. So when I got home, I stuffed it in a drawer and got on with everyday life. It was my boyfriend who nudged me, cajoled me and nagged me into taking it out of the drawer, and having another go.

So I did.

I went through three redrafts, and I was still unhappy with it. But this time, it was my son who asked the question: “What’s the point if you never send it to a publisher?”

When I looked around for a publisher, I wanted one who actively promoted gay literature. I was very lucky to find an American house called DSP Publications, part of DreamSpinner Press. That’s when I found out just how rich the queer genre is.

There are thousands of books published each year with strong, queer characters at the heart of them. There are romances, thrillers, horror, science fiction, westerns. There are so many sub-genres to this wonderful genre.

DreamSpinner Press was set up ten years ago, just as eBooks and internet distribution was gaining in popularity. Its founder, Elizabeth North, saw a gap in the market for gay romances. A few years later, she set up DSP Publications to serve other queer genres.

The internet has revolutionised queer fiction. Historically, very few bookshops would stock queer books. It took a demonstration at Barnes & Noble in the 1980s to force them to devote a shelf to queer culture. In the UK, you would have to travel to London and the amazing Gay’s the Word bookshop near King’s Cross to buy a book on a gay or lesbian theme.

Today, there are thousands of queer fiction titles online. Not just on Amazon, but the Apple bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and so many more.

My novel, The Necessary Deaths, is a gay mystery thriller. This is a rich sub-genre. There is a thriving Facebook group devoted to it, and I am honoured to be a member of the International Thriller Writers’ Association, where I have met several other writers of gay thrillers.

Just before The Necessary Deaths was published, I was a guest speaker at a queer writing conference and book festival called UK Meet, held in Southampton. I was fortunate to meet other novelists from around the world, who were all very welcoming. I was also able to meet a number of enthusiastic readers of queer fiction. That was a great privilege. Suddenly, my writing was no longer my personal therapy. I met people who felt a great sense of belonging, as a result of queer fiction, when in the past they had felt isolated.

I’m now part of a worldwide community of queer fiction writers and readers, who are giving me wonderful support as I work to complete the next book in the series.

You can read Catriona Troth's review of The Necessary Deaths on Book Muse UK here.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

My Publishing Journey ... with Lorraine Mace

By Gillian Hamer

Lorraine Mace is an author, columnist and editor. In addition to a critique and author mentoring service, she also hosts creative writing workshops in Spain. A former tutor for the Writers Bureau, she is co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist. She is the founder of the international writing competitions at Flash 500 (Novel Opening and Synopsis, Flash Fiction and Humour Verse). Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of Crooked Cat Publishing’s D. I. Paolo Storey crime thriller series. Book 5 is due for publication next year.

Here she discusses why she writes, and what she has learned on her journey to publication.

Welcome, Lorraine, you've had a long and varied writing career. First question ... why do you write?
I write because I have no other way of getting the voices out of my head! I don’t mean the demonic kind (although readers of my Frances di Plino crime series might argue that point). I mean the multitude of characters who are alive in my mind.
They have conversations, arguments, fall in love, fall out of love, kill, maim, heal, nurture, work at jobs they love and at those they hate. They live and breathe and in my head and if I don’t write I have no peace.
Various plots and settings are also there, but it’s the characters who refuse to go away until I’ve told their stories that force me to write.

What’s your first writing memory?
I wrote a ghost story which was chosen as ‘story of the year’ in my school magazine. I can’t remember now if I wrote to a prompt or if the theme was open, but I can still remember the story – I would now rewrite the ending, but then I’ve come a long way since the age of thirteen!

What was the first novel you wrote?
The first novel I wrote was for children aged 8-12 and called Vlad the Inhaler. It’s the story of an eleven-year-old asthmatic hupyre (half human/half vampire). Vlad is scared of the dark, can’t turn into a bat and is a vegetarian who loves peaches. He has to battle bounty hunters, vampires, werewolves, witches and pitchfork wielding villagers. He starts the book hiding from everyone and everything but finds courage and self-belief along the way.

Was writing just a hobby to begin with for you?
Yes. I only took up writing short stories as a way of passing the time when we moved to France in 1999. I am ashamed to say, in my then ignorance, I thought all I needed to do was dash off a story and it was sure to be accepted.
It took several rejections before I was lucky enough to have one published in one of the women’s magazines – for which I earned the amazing sum of £350.
With ignorance reigning once more, I thought a door had opened through which my stories would flow in one direction and money would flow in the other. Anyone who has written fiction for the magazine market will understand how naïve I was back then!

When did you know you were ‘good’?
I don’t know that I have ever decided I was ‘good’. I knew I could write when I started getting more acceptances than rejections for short stories and articles, but even though I am now a published novelist I still don’t feel I have yet reached the point where I am totally happy with my work. As a writer, I feel I should never stop striving to improve and learn.

When and why did you decide you wanted your writing published?
From the moment I started writing my aim was publication. I feel, rightly or wrongly, that there is no point in writing unless you have readers to enjoy the worlds and characters you have created.

What were your first steps towards publication?
My first steps were disastrous! I finished writing my children’s book and immediately sent it off to several top agents. It was first draft and dreadful, but I was so proud of my achievement I thought it was brilliant. I have since learned the hard way that nothing should be sent out until it has been rewritten, revised and polished until it gleams!
My first published novel was Bad Moon Rising (written as Frances di Plino). It was accepted by an indie publishing house as an ebook only. However, I’m delighted to say it was later published in print and went on to be a finalist in the People’s Book Prize.

What has been your proudest writing moment to date?
When my ten-year-old grandson told me he loved my children’s novel. I have received many emails and letters from readers of my crime series, but nothing comes close to how I felt when Tegan said he couldn’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy.

Any mistakes you wish, in hindsight, you had avoided?
Yes, I wish I had used my own name for my crime series. As Lorraine Mace I have a fairly good author platform, but Frances di Plino was totally unknown. Instead of being able to build on an established reader base, I had to make people aware of this made up person.

What do you know now you wish you’d known at the start of your journey?
That getting an agent wasn’t the Holy Grail! When I was signed up by a top children’s agent I believed I had made it and that the next step (publishing deal, foreign right sales, film of the book and all the fabulous stuff authors dream of) would follow as a matter of course.
The reality was completely different. Acquiring an agent is just one tiny step on a very long treadmill that never seems to come to an end.

What top 3 tips would you offer new and up-coming authors hoping to publish?
Don’t ever lose belief in yourself or your work.
Rewrite until your fingers bleed – and then rewrite again.
Don’t believe your friends and family when they tell you how brilliant you are. You might well be brilliant, but until people who really don’t care if they hurt your feelings say you are, the compliments don’t count.

 Find out more about Lorraine and her books:

www.francesdiplino.com

www.lorrainemace.com

Writing Critique Service

www.flash500.com









Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Lagos Lady - exploring the fictional world of Nigerian Author, Leye Adenle

Leye Adenle, author of the crime thriller Easy Motion Tourist, should have been with us at the Triskele Lit Fest in September.

Unfortunately, his journey across London became entangled with a major demonstration and he never made it. We were determined not to miss out on the chance to interview the author of this fascinating and moving novel, set in Lagos amongst sex workers and slum dwellers.

The book has done particularly well in France where, published as
Lagos Lady, it won this year’s prestigious Prix Marianne.

Here Catriona Troth talks to him about his path to becoming a novelist, his inspiration for
Easy Motion Tourist, and where he is taking his characters next.

Hi Leye. Can we start by talking about your route to becoming an author?

Like most writers, I’ve always written. Starting on the back of school exercise books. I have so many stories I didn’t complete. In fact, I tried to write my first novel when I was still in primary school.

My grandfather [Oba Adeleye Adenle] was a writer. I have uncles and aunts who are writers. And my father, though he was a medical doctor, also had a publishing press. He had an extensive library – half medical books and the other half, everything! Maybe it’s because there were very few TV stations, growing up in Africa, books were our entertainment. From a very early age, when I asked my parents something – you knew they knew the answer, but they wouldn’t tell you. The answer was always “look it up in a book.”

So I have always been interested in books and stories, and in telling stories. But even though I kept starting novels, I never managed to finish one.

One day, I was talking with my mother and two my brothers. When we get together, we talk about everything. My mum is particularly interested women’s issues. She was director general for women’s affairs in Oyo state. So the subject came up of women’s mutilated bodies left naked by the side of the road. Left there, untouched, for god knows how long, until they were bloated. No one claimed the bodies. No one investigated. Because the bodies were naked, everyone assumed they were prostitutes. And because they were mutilated, people thought black magic was involved.

So from that discussion, and from thinking about how these women could be protected, suddenly, I had the idea for a story.

I went home that evening, wrote the first chapter and posted it up on Facebook. I went to sleep and forgot about it. And the next day it had loads of comments from people wanted to know what happened next. So I continued writing a chapter every day, and posting it on Facebook, until the entire story was done. Never missed a day. People were sending me Friend requests just so they could read the story.

I remember going to a friend’s house, when I was still posting chapters of the book up on Facebook, and he was talking to me about the character Amaka as if she was someone we knew. “How can you do this to Amaka? Amaka would never...” Then I knew I was really on to something. That was what made me think I should turn this into a book.  

Ben Cameron (chair of the Crime Fiction panel at TLF16) and I both loved character of Amaka, the organiser of Street Samaritans, who tries and protect the vulnerable girls who are dragged into prostitution.

I’ve had a fantastic response to Amaka. She’s based on a friend of mine. Someone I lost touched with many years ago. But not someone protecting the sex workers. There is no one doing that, as as far as I know. I wish there was.
Amaka is a reflection of many other women I have known, too. People ask me why I make my female characters so strong. It’s a bizarre question. I always answer, truthfully, “I don’t know any other kind of women.” 

At the heart of Easy Motion Tourist is a profound compassion for the sex workers trapped in a life where selling their bodies is the only alternative to destitution. Ben Cameron said, “What I really liked was that it seemed to be about humanising and dehumanising the sex-workers – if the are dehumanised, turned into mere objects then anyone could abuse them at will, while if people are reminded that they are human that obviously becomes harder.” You have a story about an encounter you had with sex worker in Lagos, when she was humanised for you.

People think this is why I started to write this book, which isn’t true. But this woman did become one of the characters in the book.

I was on a trip to Lagos with another guy, to set a business there. One night my friend told me he wanted to go out for some cigarettes, by which I knew he meant ‘I want to go clubbing.’ We ended up on a road which is really the red light district of Lagos. As we got out of the car, I was very conscious that there were prostitutes all around us. It wasn’t a world I was familiar with, or comfortable in. I don’t think I had any prejudice against these women. I didn’t think of them as ‘dirty.’ It was more like ‘You do your thing. I am not going to judge you. But there is a wall separating us and I want it to stay there.’

But this one woman was really persistent. She followed me and touched my arm, and I was really shocked. I shook her off and said “Don’t touch me.” But then I looked into her face and I could see she was really pained by the way I treated her. She said, “But you did not have to say it like that.” That really stuck with me. That moment of connection when she became a real human being just trying to survive.

I wanted to give my readers the same experience, the same sense of empathy with another human being.

That’s also why I try not to have any ‘walk-on’ characters. Everyone in the book should be a real person. Even the bad characters have a reason for being bad. Life has dealt them a bad hand. Everyone their own story.

The Easy Motion Tourist of the title is Guy Collins, a British journalist who goes to Nigeria to cover elections for an obscure cable channel. One his first night in Lagos, he stumbles on the murder and mutilation of a young woman. Why did you choose an outsider rather than a Nigerian as your narrator?

Guy is not the main character in the book. Amaka is. But having Guy as a narrator meant that I could legitimately look at Lagos as an outsider does, notice things that a Lagosian would never notice. Guy, as a foreigner, is perfect for bringing Lagos alive. His experience of Lagos changes in the course of the book. Guy is afraid of Lagos, he recoils from it, then he starts to love it. So it’s a way into the city for the reader.

This is maybe a tricky question, but Easy Motion Tourist paints a pretty bleak picture of Nigeria – do you worry about the danger of feeding into Western narrative of a dysfunctional Africa?

I didn’t think I was painting a bleak picture of Nigeria. I was painting an honest one! Not one Lagosian has said to me, “How dare you show Lagos like this?”

And you have to remember this is a crime novel. If you judged New York by the movies, you’d be afraid to walk down the street.

Or if you judge Edinburgh by reading Ian Rankin?

Exactly!

So where next with your writing?

If you’ve read Easy Motion Tourist, you know that it ends on a cliffhanger. Actually, I wrote a third book before the first one came out, but that one picks up again a year later. My publisher told me, "You can’t do that! You have to resolve the cliffhanger."

So the second book starts pretty much where the first one leaves off. It’s a political thriller this time, about corruption, and it’s set in a world of power and affluence, rather than in the Lagosian slums. Amaka is in it, but not Guy. Guy is back in London. But in book 3, Guy will be coming back to Lagos.

Some people thought I would keep writing about the street girls. That I would become the ‘voice of the sex workers’ – but is that fair on these people? That’s exploitation! That’s me exploiting them for gain.

And does the second book have a title yet?

Easy Motion Tourist is taken from the title of a song by King Sunny Adé. So I’ve taken the title of the second book, When Trouble Sleeps, from a lyric by another Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti.

I can’t wait to read it! Thank you, Leye.


You can read my review of Easy Motion Tourist on Book Muse UK here.Easy Motion Tourist is published in the UK by Cassava Republic, and in France by Métailié Noir ( (as Lagos Lady, translated by David Fauquemberg) It will be published in Spanish in 2017. When Trouble Sleeps will be published by Cassava Republic in 2017.

Leye Adenle is also the author of Chronicles of a Runs Girl, a fictional blog in the voice of a Lagos prostitute, written after
Easy Motion Tourist was finished but before it came out as a book, and originally published online anonymously.


The Crime and Thrillers panel from the 2016 Triskele Lit Fest is on YouTube here.