blog tours, guest author, writing

#BlogTour The Savage Shore by David Hewson talks about How To Research A Book. @blackthornbks @david_hewson #TheSavageShore #BookResearch

It’s always exciting when a new imprint bursts onto the scenes, especially when it is an imprint that focuses on crime fiction, which is my favourite genre. So I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for the first two books by Black Thorn books. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to squeeze in reading either of the books, although I really did like the sound of them both. Thankfully David Hewson, author of The Savage Shore was kind enough to write a guest post for us, about how to research a book. I’m sure that it will be interesting to those who are writers and those that aren’t. Thanks David for stopping by!

Here is a bit more about Black Thorn before the post itself. Enjoy!

Independent publishing powerhouse Canongate has announced the launch of its new crime fiction imprint, Black Thorn. From psychological thrillers to police procedurals, and from historical detective dramas to heart-thumping suspense stories: Black Thorn intends to seek out and publish compulsive, high quality crime thriller fiction.

Officially launching in May 2019 with 4 titles, Black Thorn will focus on a variety of crime thriller audiences, providing them with compulsive titles from both new and old authors. On 2nd May, crime master David Hewson will launch The Savage Shore, the latest instalment in his tremendously popular Nic Costa series alongside debut American author Catherine O’Connell’sThe Last Night Out. Then on 6th June master of the modern who-dunnit Simon Brett will launch The Liar in The Library and Caro Ramsay, author of the critically acclaimed DI Anderson and DS Costello series, will present The Suffering of Strangers.

How To Research A Book by David Hewson.

Before I became a novelist I was a journalist. Research – hunting down facts, sometimes ones that don’t want to be found – is second nature. I’ve written more than 30 novels over the last quarter of a century and every one of them has involved extensive research. This isn’t because I want them to be ‘true’. They’re not. They’re fiction. Even on the rare occasion I’ve included real-life characters from history I’ve never pretended they’re accurate portrayals. Writers of fiction rarely do that. Even Shakespeare mangled the truth to a huge degree in depicting Macbeth, Richard III and other historical figures in his drama.

No, research is there to provide the bedrock of a story. To kid the reader into thinking your lie is really a version of the truth. That becomes so much easier if you can talk them into becoming a part of a world they may already know just a little, then convince them they’re meeting a bigger, more colourful version of it through the cleverness of an author who knows his or her stuff.

Research, then, is a fundamental part of building the world behind a story. After all these years I have a very practical and well-established way of going about.

First… read.

Yes, writing depends on reading, something a few budding authors tend to forget. If you don’t consume the work of authors you won’t begin to understand structure, style and craft, all the things you need to write yourself. The Savage Shore is set in Calabria, the toe of Italy, a part of the country few people know, even many Italians from other regions. That made the research for this story even more interesting. I perused history books, an old academic tome about the strange society of the communities dotted away in the mountain region of Aspromonte. Then a publication from the EU which investigated the background of the local shadowy crime organisation, the ’Ndrangheta. Some tourist guides, naturally, and a century-old travelogue of the area, Old Calabria, written by a dodgy English writer, Norman Douglas, who was to die in a religious hospital Capri in 1952 after a rather scandalous life,  uttering the timeless last words, ‘Get those fucking nuns away from me.’

Head filled with facts I then start visiting my target area. You can’t fly directly to this part of Italy from the UK. The closest you can get is Lamezia Terme from Stansted with Ryanair (who lost my luggage the first time out and couldn’t give a damn). Several trips later though I had a notebook filled with ideas about locations I could pillage and a copious file of photos. Pictures are important to me because I tend to think visually. Calabria is a natural place for this. Much of the action in The Savage Shore takes place in the part which overlooks the Strait of Messina, with Etna looming in Sicily across the water. At night, in the hills, you can see the glow of the volcano. During the day eagles soar effortlessly in the breeze down to the coast. The fields are full of a fruit you’ll scarcely see anywhere else in Italy – the bergamot, a citrus used for perfume and the scent of Earl Grey tea. The Calabrians live in one of the poorest parts of the country, but they are immensely proud of what is theirs. Another local delicacy too is the swordfish which gather in the strait during summer and are hunted by harpoon using techniques centuries old, a practice which Nic Costa will face himself during the course of the book. 

Lastly, I will always take a run through local cemeteries snapping headstones. A book needs names, and there’s no better to find ones for your local characters than on a grave.

Pictures, thoughts, notes, facts, names. Those are the building blocks of a book’s world for me. Until I have them I can’t write a word because the characters I work with and the story that follows must emerge from that world, and be unique in the sense that the tale I tell could happen nowhere else.

That is definitely true of The Savage Shore. From the bergamot plantations in the hills to the harpoonists looking for swordfish in the glittering blue sea, from the hidden mountain chapels to the grimy criminal corners of the city of Reggio, this is the Calabria I wanted to portray.

Is it ‘true’?

Some of it. Not that external truth matters in fiction, only the inner: does this world feel real to the reader? Am I transporting them to a place they’ve never known, but one they can see and smell and feel and hear?

That’s the test of my kind of book. I put a lot of work in to try to make it happen. If you find your way to The Savage Shore I hope you get the scent of bergamot and the salt tang of that wonderful stretch of the Mediterranean as it runs along the ragged coastline of Calabria. It’s a magical place to be… and to write.

Detective Nic Costa finds himself a stranger in a strange land when he’s sent to infiltrate the mob in a remote part of southern Italy. 

Roman police detective Nic Costa has been sent undercover to Italy’s beautiful, remote Calabrian coast to bring in the head of the feared mob, the ‘Ndrangheta, who has offered to turn state witness for reasons of his own.

Hoping to reel in the biggest prize the state police have seen in years, the infamous Butcher of Palermo, Costa and his team are aware the stakes are high. But the constant deception is taking its toll. Out of their depth in a lawless part of Italy where they are the outcasts, not the men in the hills, with their shotguns and rough justice, the detectives find themselves pitched as much against one another as the mob. As the tension rises, it’s clear the operation is not going to plan. Is Nic Costa getting too close to the enemy for comfort – and is there a traitor among them …?

About the Author:

David Hewson is a former journalist with The TimesThe Sunday Times and the Independent. He is the author of more than twenty-five novels including his Rome-based Nic Costa series which has been published in fifteen languages, The Savage Shore is the latest instalment in this critically celebrated series. He has also written three acclaimed adaptations of the Danish TV series, The Killing.

The Savage Shore by David Hewson is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

blog tours

#BlogTour The Man Who Lived Twice by David Taylor. @matadorbooks #ManWhoLivedTwice

Ok. So here’s the thing. I’m currently on holiday on Cornwall, staying on a farm and enjoying the typical British weather. There’s almost zero phone reception and no WiFi. The guest post for this post didn’t arrive before I left so I’m standing with my arms on the air trying to get reception enough to do this post. Now to me the guest post looks like a bunch of emojis, I’ve tried and failed to get letters but it isn’t happening. So I hope that when it posts you get words instead of yellow people but if not I’ll have to fix it next week when I’m home.

Guest post


Sexism and gender inequality were so rampant in the nineteenth century that poor put-upon female writers adopted masculine pseudonyms. The Bronte sisters were Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell while Mary Ann Evans called herself George Eliot. Now the literary wheel has turned half circle and I am seriously thinking of writing my next novel under an empowering pen name like Meghan Middleton. Short of conjuring up Harry Potter-like magical realism in children’s literature or whipping through Fifty Shades of erotica, a novelist is most likely to achieve best-selling success by being a young female graduate churning out psychological thrillers with the word ‘Girl’ in the title.

Putting gender to one side, I think fluctuating literary taste is a fascinating subject. Why have novels with a domestic setting suddenly become so popular? Is domestic noir a way of escaping from our safe and mundane lives into a fictional world of dysfunctional family relationships where those we love, betray us? Do we really want a dead body in our garage and the police inspector knocking at the door?

The person best qualified to answer these questions is Minette Walters who made herself the queen of the psychological crime by composing a series of chilling thrillers in the nineties about murderous villages in which unholy passions lurked behind drawn curtains. But Walters is no longer writing this kind of book, preferring to swim against the tide she helped to create by pursuing the less fashionable literary genre of historical fiction. Her latest novel The Last Hours is a sweeping saga about a small Dorset community’s struggle to survive the Black Death and I must say I am really enjoying it.

I always seem to learn something from reading this kind of novel, particularly when its set in a far-off age about which I know very little. The other thing historical fiction always seems to do is to stimulate the imagination. It is, after all, a kind of mental time travelling. In Walters’s novel, the reader is taken back to 1348 when the ‘great pestilence’ decimated Dorset before killing off more than half the population of England. At that time, we were a rural and agrarian society bound by the iron-clad hierarchies of the feudal system and the equally rigid certainties of the Catholic faith. People led simple lives. They had little idea of personal hygiene and no understanding of how a disease like the bubonic plague might be transmitted. All they saw was the result: the swollen lymph nodes, the large suppurating boils, the gangrene and the black blood leading to death within a matter of days. Since nothing happened that was not God’s will, it was obvious that He had sent this plague to punish sinful men. But if that was true why hadn’t the church warned everyone it was coming?

In writing about this utter catastrophe Minette Walters imagines a Dorset demesne in which, to avoid the disease, everyone withdraws inside the boundary walls of the moated manor house. This self-imposed isolation works for a while until supplies run short whereupon the class system breaks down and Jack is seen to be as good as his master. Walters has been criticised for giving her serfs an oddly modern awareness but I would dispute this. Who knows what fourteenth century peasants thought or how they behaved when their social structure collapsed around them. Their views are not recorded in history. That’s why we need fiction.

I had exactly the same feeling when I wrote my most recent novel The Man Who Lived Twice. The record revealed that Colonel George St Leger Grenfell was an amazing fellow; a military hero who was also a complete rogue. But evidence is always partial. Facts are not truth, though they are part of it. History told me what Grenfell did but it didn’t tell me what he thought or felt, and that’s what really mattered. My chief concern as a novelist has to be with the interior drama of my characters’ lives.

I had been wondering whether to change my literary genre but perhaps, after all, I will stick with what I know. If your heart isn’t in what you are writing, you will only make yourself miserable. It’s better to write what you care about which, in my case, is the kind of biographical history that offers the reader a bit of adventure and romance. But I am still thinking of softening my rough edges by writing as a woman.

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The Man Who Lived TwiceThe Man Who Lived Twice is a panoramic novel that follows the exploits of Colonel George St Leger Grenfell, a courageous but deeply flawed Cornish cavalryman who was the highest ranked British officer in the Confederate army in the American Civil War.
A hero to General Robert E Lee and a legend to the gullible hillbillies under his command, Ole St Lege charged with the Light Brigade in the Crimea, hacked his way through the Opium War and defended the bullet-strewn barricades in the Indian Mutiny. Yet the mercenary that performed these feats of derring-do was a wanted criminal, a fraudster who bankrupted his own father.
In his search for redemption, Grenfell faces the raw realities of late nineteenth century America. He is frequently shot at and brutally tortured by prison guards, soars precariously over enemy lines in a balloon and rides the rails to the Old West, meeting the characters who made, marred and mythologised the American century: the beautiful spies and back-shooting gunslingers as well as the business tycoons and Lincoln conspirators. And somehow he survives to lead a better life.

About the Author:

David TaylorDavid Taylor was educated at the Royal Grammar School Newcastle and at University College London where he read history and was president of the students’ union. He has won national and international awards for print, radio and television journalism. His book Web of Corruption was published by Granada. He wrote for the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, reported for Panorama and World in Action, presented BBC2 series on defence and civil nuclear power, edited Radio 4’s current affairs programme File on 4 and BBC2’s Brass Tacks and On The Line, produced several series of Great Railway Journeys and of the Wainwright and Fred Dibnah programmes and was head of BBC Features before forming an independent production company called Triple Echo which has won scores of awards, mainly for adventure broadcasting. His book Web of Corruption was published by Granada.

The Man Who Lived Twice by David Taylor is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.