‘Crook’s Hollow’, released 22nd March. Not long now folks…
‘Crook’s Hollow’, released 22nd March. Not long now folks…
One of my formative memories in my fledgling writing career was at Bloody Scotland in September 2014, when, bumbling and in awe, I asked Danielle Ramsay to sign a paperback for me. I proceeded to go beetroot red as I pulled out more and more dog-eared books for her to sign, while she was a pillar of patience. She asked me what I did, and when I replied sheepishly that I had just got a literary agent, she was so bubbly and encouraging that long after the book festival was over, I would seek her out for advice and direction whenever I needed some.
Proving once again the now-ironclad adage that people in crime literature are just lovely, she was so effusive, thoughtful and helpful, and westill drop each other a line readily. She is one of the nicest people in the book world I’ve met, and one of the most important voices in my career so far. Her words meant the world to me at the time, and the books she signed for me are treasured. She was one of the first people I told when I signed my own book deal at the end of 2016.
And… she’s got a new book out! The Last Cut is the start of a brand new series (segueing from the brilliant Jack Brady series – check them out pronto too), and is her best and bravest book to date. I urge anyone who even has a passing interest in crime novels to check it out without delay. She tackles and analyses all manner of issues surrounding abuse and its effects, drawn remarkably from her own experiences – which makes the book for me even more of a triumph. It’s a breaking of chains, a catharsis, a confrontation – and Danielle explains it far better here than I could ever paraphrase:
The book follows DS Harri Jacobs, recently transferred from the Met police to Newcastle. She is still piecing her life together after a terrible assault a year ago, the after effects of which threaten to bubble to the surface – as bodies start to appear around Newcastle, and it becomes clear that a new dangerous killer is stalking the young women of the city and is subjecting them to abysmal horrors. Harri’s past and present intertwine in a constantly surprising plot that will have your skin crawling and your fingers peeling the pages.
My gratitude to and admiration of Danielle is a constant given – it just so happens that she writes great books too! The Last Cut comes hugely recommended, and you can grab it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01LZUGJTW/
‘A fantastic read with brilliant characters… A perfect ending… did not see that coming. 5 stars’
‘one of the best books out the hundred I’ve read this year so far’
‘A great read from start to finish – highly recommended’
To grab your copy, head on over to Amazon – thanks always for your support!
It’s with great delight that I can share the news that A Wanted Man, my debut novel, has been published by Endeavour Press. You can grab it here!
A Wanted Man is, simply put, the story of a soldier who was discarded, but still has more to give. I kept asking myself what it would feel like to give everything for your country, only to come back to find everything was different – including yourself. What would happen if you only have training for things that are of no use at all in regular civilian life? What do you do when you’ve grown up while fighting wars abroad, only for the fighting to end and you’re not needed anymore? When I posed these questions to myself, the character of Ben Bracken began to form in my answers.
When I was 17, I wrote a screenplay that was about a criminal gang in Manchester, UK, near where I still live today. It was profoundly formulaic, and followed similar tropes seen in countless movies over the years. I loved a good crime yarn, and wanted to write one – that was my simple motivation. But as I got older, I mulled over this screenplay time and time again, realising that something was missing. It was only when my own friends and acquaintances started to come back from Afghanistan, and I spoke with them about their experiences, did the penny drop. Their collective states, each varied, inspired me hugely, both in terms of my admiration for them, and creatively as well.
And then I thought about dropping an ex-soldier into that old crime screenplay I’d written. The possibilities suddenly seemed endless, and I was away. The creative process organically seemed to turn the project into a novel, as I started from fresh. Before long I was flying and in 8 weeks, I’d written the first draft.
That was late 2013, and since then I have grown immeasurably, both personally and in terms of my writing, and it’s with immense pride that A Wanted Man finds readers today. I really hope you enjoy it. I had a blast writing it, and there’s plenty more to come from Ben Bracken, mark my words.
I’ve waxed lyrical on here before about my love of Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson books, and am working my way steadily through the stories. Each one seems better than the last, which is quite some feat, but there is no doubt this is crime writing of the highest order, with a cast of characters that I now find utterly indispensable. However, while reading The Broken Places, the third in the Quinn Colson series, Atkins managed to do something rare, unexpected and, I would imagine, damn difficult – and that is to create a villain who is so awful yet so pitiable, that you can’t help feeling sorry for him.
There be spoilers ahead, so fair warning….
The book opens with two convicts (Esau and Bones) escaping prison, and heading off for Jericho – the town where our hero, Quinn Colson, is the sheriff. They’ve got business with Dixon, a convict turned preacher, who just so happens to be seeing Quinn’s sister Caddy. In basic terms, Esau and Bones pulled off a bank heist, and told Dixon where the money is hidden while inside. They head off to get their money, but believe Dixon has screwed them and taken the money for himself. So far, so very good indeed.
Esau is a foul, fascinating creation: a stinking, nihilistic hulk who shoots people in cold blood for next to no reason. He’s a user, a man of extreme violence, a thief and a bully… BUT… his character is multi-layered in the darkest of ways. I can’t recall him doing a single ‘nice‘/redemptive thing in the entire book, but I still couldn’t help feeling sorry for him in a way at the end.
He has principles, that in his warped mind he thinks are enough to live by. He’ll kidnap a woman and child, hold them at gunpoint, but apologise for it. He still does the foul deed, but he doesn’t necessarily have to feel good about it.
He repeatedly accuses his ‘woman’ Becky of cheating on him and trying to screw him out of the money too, but soon apologises and shows genuine affection for her.
He looked after Dixon in jail, because he was being worked to death in the fields at the penitentiary, and Dixon got him a job in the cafeteria, thereby saving him. He worked with Dixon in prison while he started to preach, and began to feel close to God himself – all the while planning to bust out to get his money back.
He beats Dixon to a pulp when he thinks he’s holding out on him, even shoots him in the leg, but stops short of killing him, aware of how much Dixon helped him in jail.
He is a myriad of the nastiest contradictions, a man who exists solely on his own jet black terms. He navigates life according to a moral compass that only has the tiniest sliver of morality to it. As a villainous creation he is one of my utter favourites, in that he was wildly unpredictable, yet somehow relatable, on the most base levels possible.
This is no mean feat, and my favourite part about the book. A villain like this, who has conflict, is so much more interesting than a one dimensional ‘baddie‘, and it’s the little things like this that elevate books and crime writers to other levels entirely – not to mention inspiring other writers to try to bring something new to the table, and to challenge themselves and their readers. It has certainly done that to me.
Difficult one, this. I excitedly got hold of a book that the world has been raving about, and I’m ashamed to admit I really didn’t like it. Books and stories are so subjective that it’s impossible to please everyone, and I’m sure the wider reading world is completely justified in praising the work. Technically it was marvellous – it was just that I couldn’t stand the protagonist. I’ve been mulling over as to why since I finished it, and I think I’ve hit on it.
The main character of this book was just utterly subservient to men, their wants and desires. She was weak-willed, passive and fickle. It was maddening. I kept wanting to leap into the pages to shake some backbone into her, but it wasn’t just the main character who was portrayed in such weak terms – the other women in the story were all floundering, flawed and damaged with the same stereotypical traits.
I have two little girls and I’m trying to bring them up, empower them, to be strong, spirited, independent women who can go and do anything they want in life – the polar opposite of the women in this book, and in that sense, I couldn’t relate to or respect them at all. It frustrated me so much that it was quite a sad reading experience in the end, and I feel bad for not liking this book because the effort and achievement of the author is really something. But I can’t help feeling this way about it!
This is no essay on gender equality, or a comment on modern gender roles etc, because I’m not in any qualified position to comment. I’m just a father of girls who believes in equality, believes in strong female characters in creative projects and believes that there has to be something more to life for a woman than trying to satisfy the impossible demands of the man you happen to be saddled with.
After I finished, I grabbed the first of Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro series ‘A Drink Before The War’ and from the first page it was like a long cool glass of lemonade – refreshing in every way. Lehane is now another of my go-to’s if I need to redress the balance.
Top speed smashing through the second Quinn Colson book, The Lost Ones, which is part of another series that has quickly become a must-have, go-to, reliably excellent joy.
This one snags the parental heartstrings, as a child trafficking network is uncovered, but it’s really the strong protagonists that push this along at speed – and the settings once again find themselves pushed right to the top of places that must be seen before I die.
Hey all, I realised I have been giving a lot of updates on what I’ve been reading, and only the casual reference to what I have been writing. Well, let me explain…
Firstly, thanks to each and every one of you who has read a Ben Bracken book this past year, and has offered support and good wishes. You’ve been amazing, and I’m very grateful, and a bit blown away by it (and by a bit, I mean a lot).
Apex came out in July 2014, and with that saw interest in the property outside of the usual self-publishing channels. The rest of that summer was spent in plenty of back and forth negotiation, the result of which, as yet, I still can’t talk about, nor am I able to say yet who such negotiations were with. I don’t want to jeopardise current and future conversations, so I’ve had to keep my mouth firmly shut.
Needless to say, it has been a heck of a ride, extremely rewarding and exciting. I’m hoping in the future there will be some clarity as to what I’ve been up to, and what the future will hold, but for now… Watch this space.
The third Bracken adventure, The Penny Black, was finished just before Christmas, and I would just love to unleash it. I’m sure most people would say it about their latest work, but I’m convinced that it is easily my best so far. Writing it was just a massive joy, and I can’t wait for it to see the light of day. It has been sent to the parties I’ve been in conversation with, and… again that’s as much as I can say. But, the early reader feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’m thrilled.
It is a dark thriller set on the banks of the river Bure, deep in the Norfolk Broads. A small community is under siege from outside forces and sinister entities within its midst, and Ben Bracken finds himself in the thick of it.
I viewed The Penny Black as the possible ending to a trilogy of Bracken novels. The door is open to future adventures, but I can easily call it there. That let me add some real gravity to the story, a real all-or-nothing feel, which I think makes it the strongest so far.
So, while stuff is going on in the background regarding Bracken’s future, I am challenging myself to write something completely different in tone and scope, and that is Blackstoke. I had an idea a while back, which I left on the back burner for the right time, and now we’ve got there. Also, I think now I may have grown up just enough to have a decent stab at it. I want to look at family chemistry, communities in minute conflict, and I’m just not sure i could have done it justice before. The minutia that upset us, when it has no real right to. And then, as I’ve set up this world, I’m going to throw I big nasty spanner in there.
It’s taking me a lot longer to write this, as for me personally, this is a much bigger challenge, and I want to create a sensitive, nuanced portrait of different people in uncomfortable circumstances. I’m going to have to keep playing at this until I get it just right. I’m about an eighth of the way in, so it’ll probably take me another couple of months.
So that’s where we are. Sorry for any vagueness, but circumstances dictate. As soon as I can explain, I will. Rest assured, your support is mega and means the world. Thank you all!
Had a monster reading session last night, which felt just darn great for the soul. Finished James Oswald’s ’Natural Causes’, then stopped, dropped and rolled straight into ’The Guardians’ by Andrew Pyper, who I’m a huge fan of.
There is a lyricism to Pyper’s work, that bonds wonderfully with compelling characterisation, an eye for beautiful detail, and downright creepiness. I always know I’m in good hands when I’m in the company of Andrew Pyper – he is an all time favourite and I can’t wait for ’The Damned’ next year.
Just back on ’Natural Causes’ and James Oswald for a second, because I loved that book – really loved it. His protagonist McLean is a warm, funny, layered anchor point to a story that took me to places most unexpected. I will be giving zero away, but Oswald doesn’t just sneak a twist into the book, he actually sneaks a whole other genre in there, right under the readers’ noses. It is done with such a deftness that I found myself utterly gripped. I can’t wait to continue the series, and felt immediately how great the story, setting and characters would lend itself to a TV/film adaptation. I simply can’t wait to settle down with the next book.
With books like these, man… What a time to be alive!