East of England festive update

Hi all

Here's where we are with East of England. The book's done, I've approved the final artwork for the back cover, and the project's being sent to print. It'll be rolling through the presses shortly after the Christmas break.

That means that subscriber copies will be posted out mid-January in advance of the official launch of the book on the 24th, for those of you that have gone for paperback options. If you've got an ebook coming your way, then you'll also get an email from Unbound with instructions on how to download your copy. 

I'd hoped to have included a pic of the full back cover, not least because there's a couple of lovely quotes on there from two writers who have read East of England and claimed to have liked it very much indeed! When I've got something to show you, I'll let you have a sneak preview. 

For everyone else, the book’s out on 24th January.

If you want to read East of England before its release, then you can do that by subscribing (it's free) to the bookclub app The Pigeonhole, and signing up to their serialisation of the book; East of England will be released in 10 daily episodes starting 4th January. There's more details on that here

On the assumption that I don't darken your inbox again this side of 2019, then have a fine Christmas and New Year, and I'll see you on the other side of the festivities. 



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10 Questions: Alison Belsham, author of The Tattoo Thief

Hi all!

Another in my sporadic series of 10 Questions interview / survey things with fellow writers! I know, it’s been a few weeks, hasn’t it? I’ve expanded the casting of my author net a bit, so not all the writers featured from this point onwards are with Unbound. Mind you, that won’t stop me plugging my own noir thriller East of England, which is out on 24th January 2019, and which can be pre-ordered from all the places that sell books, such as here.

Today, it’s the turn of Alison Belsham, whose The Tattoo Thief is out now from Orion:

Who are you and what’s your book about?

My name’s Alison Belsham and my debut novel, The Tattoo Thief was published in September by Orion/Trapeze Books. It’s a police procedural set in Brighton:

A policeman on his first murder case
A tattoo artist with a deadly secret
And a twisted serial killer sharpening his blades to kill again...

When Brighton tattoo artist Marni Mullins discovers a flayed body, newly-promoted DI Francis Sullivan needs her help. There's a serial killer at large, slicing tattoos from his victims' bodies while they're still alive. Marni knows the tattooing world like the back of her hand, but has her own reasons to distrust the police. So when she identifies the killer's next target, will she tell Sullivan or go after the Tattoo Thief alone?



Why should folk read your book?

 If you’re the type of reader that relishes a gory serial killer tale with as many twists and turns as there are pages, this might be right up your street. For anyone who knows Brighton or for anyone who has a tattoo there’s an added layer of interest. The pace doesn’t let up for an instant, so it’s great for a holiday read when you want to be swept away by the story.

What’s the appeal of your book?  

I think one of the main appeals of The Tattoo Thief is the dynamic between the two main characters. Francis Sullivan is a young, newly-promoted DI. He’s as far from the usual fictional DI as is possible – he doesn’t drink, he isn’t divorced, he’s fiercely ambitious and he goes to church every Sunday. He crosses paths with Marni Mullins, the tattoo artist who finds the first body. Marni is older and wiser, but she has a dark past and a strong distrust of the police. The pair are thrown together, trying to track down a serial killer who’s targeting the tattooing community – and the sparks start to fly the instant they meet. Add to that the chance to get right inside this serial killer’s head, and you’ll find yourself on something of a roller coaster.

Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?  

Amazon, Kobo, Waterstones, iBooks and hopefully all good bookshops. Not to mention your local library.

The Tattoo Thief_Approved Visual.jpg

Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

I get up at about 7.00 and usually try to go to the gym for a workout or a swim. Then back home for breakfast. My working day varies – sometimes I’m writing all day and at other times I split my time between writing fiction and copywriting, which is my day job. Being a freelance copywriter and working from home, it makes it easy for me to decide how to structure my time between the two sorts of writing. As well as working at home, I inject a bit of variety by also working at the library and in a number of favourite coffee shops. I sometimes wonder what the people on the adjacent tables would think if they knew I was writing a particularly gory murder scene while they’re enjoying their coffee and cake! I usually stop working at around five or six. Living in Edinburgh, there are a huge number of book-related events such as book launches and author talks, so I try to go to these regularly or just out for a drink with fellow crime writers, who despite what you might think, are an incredibly friendly bunch!


Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

One of the first books about writing I came across was Solutions for Novelists: Secrets of a Master Editor by Sol Stein. I think this is a brilliant book and though I’ve read many since, this is still a book I turn to when I want to remind myself about some of the basics of writing. I can thoroughly recommend it to novice writers and the more experienced alike.


Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

Bleak House – Charles Dickens

Although the latter two are not crime books, these books had a great impact on me when I read them and I think it’s down to the extraordinary characterisation these writers achieve.


Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

 I don’t think I could ever tire of Rebecca and Cold Comfort Farm always makes me laugh. The Art of Fielding is an extraordinary and moving coming-of-age novel.

Any words of writing wisdom?

I think the last thing any writer needs is words of wisdom from me! There’s a mountain of advice out there for novice writers, with plenty of contradiction – so all I would say is find your own way and your own voice. The more you write, the better you’ll become, but there’s no right way or wrong way – just do it the way that feels right to you. Perseverance is what you need most.


Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

The Tattoo Thief – the title says it all!


Social media contacts:

Twitter - @AlisonBelsham

Facebook – @AlisonBelshamWriter

Instagram -  alisonbelsham 

Book URL: mybook.to/TattooThiefpaperback 

Website: www.alisonbelsham.com


Thanks very much to Alison for playing along!


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East of England's publication date is ...

… 24th January 2019!

A few details here, plus another nudge to pre-order yourselves a copy or two, or even to get in on the pledging and be listed in the book as a patron while that’s still an option.

More information as it emerges, but book-wise, there’s now officially something to look forwards to in the doldrums of late January…


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10 questions: Miles M Hudson, author of 2089

Hi everyone

Today's guest author is Miles Hudson, who's kindly submitted himself for the 10 Qs treatment. Here's Miles to talk about his forthcoming futuristic thriller 2089, which is being published by Unbound, with a street date of 20th September 2018.

1. Who are you and what’s your book about?

I'm Miles M Hudson.

2089 is an action adventure, with socio-philosophical themes about surveillance in society, the over-reliance on technology, and how human communities should be structured, in order to make for a happy life?

Set in 2089, in the ultimate surveillance society. They’ve developed a system for remotely tapping into your optic and auditory nerves. Everything that you see and hear is detected and published publicly online; nothing you see or hear can be secret.

The action of the story has one of the surveillance policemen blow up the old GCHQ building in Cheltenham, to destroy the surveillance computers and release everyone from what he sees as an Orwellian nightmare. He goes on the run across post-apocalyptic, climate-changed Gloucestershire, until a ragtag posse eventually catches him and brings him back to trial, where the people, who’ve never known privacy, don’t understand his ideas at all.

Miles Hudson author pic.jpg

2. Why should folk read your book?

The page-turning action adventure will also stimulate them to think about a whole range of philosophical questions.

3. What’s the appeal of your book?  

It’s scarily topical - current world events could easily slip into the cataclysm that leads to my imagined 2089.

4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?

Published by Unbound on 20th September. So, all good bookshops or ebookshops. 


5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

I read the papers with a cup of tea in bed, and make it to my desk by about 930am. Work till about 2 pm, lunch, and then wander into Durham for a coffee and Private Eye. Either go swimming, or play hockey in the evening.

6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

Stephen King’s On Writing. His analogy of writing as palaeontology really resonates with me. The dinosaur skeleton is already there, and complete, and our work just brushes away the dirt to reveal that complete story. I regularly feel like I’m just channelling the characters, who go off and do things on their own and I just record it, rather than invent it.

7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Great Expectations.

The OED.

8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:

I rarely read books a second time. There aren’t any I ‘couldn’t live without’. There are so many books in the world and not enough lifetime to read them all, I feel like reading a book again is wasting that time when I could be discovering a new one. Ok, so that’s the opposite of living on a desert island, but, um, it is the reason why I can’t pick these.

9. Any words of writing wisdom?

Everything is valid.

10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

The movie will have constant tension as the hero is constantly looking over his shoulder to evade the surveillance and the posse.

The cinematography will blow the viewer away: climate-changed and post-apocalyptic Gloucestershire, with repeating allusions to the strength of nature that Man could not destroy - the phases of the Moon and the surge of the River Severn’s tides. Whilst the book is along the lines of 1984 meets Station Eleven, the movie has a real chance to hit the qualities of both Blade Runner films.

Social media contacts:

FB: Miles Hudson author

Twitter: @milesmhudson


Unbound URL: https://unbound.com/books/2089/

Previous publications:

The Cricketer’s Corpse

About 20 physics textbooks. Most recently Edexcel A Level Physics Books 1 and 2 


Massive thanks to Miles for playing along. As he said, 2089 is out in September. so hopefully there's something here to intrigue you about the book!


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10 questions: Ivy Ngeow, author of Heart of Glass

As you are hopefully aware, I'm currently crowdfunding my new Lincolnshire-set thriller East of England through Unbound Publishing. And I'm not alone! So, I've asked a few fellow writers on Unbound's current roster to give a quick overview of their writing work, and the book they're crowdfunding themselves in a ten questions format. 

Today's guest is Ivy Ngeow, the author of Heart of Glass:

Ivy Ngeow.JPG

1.      Who are you and what’s your book about?

I am award-winning author Ivy Ngeow and my book Heart of Glass is a dark pacy tale about obsession, greed and music in 1980s Chicago and Macau.

2.      Why should folk read your book?

My book addresses the themes of the Reagan era which are greed and success. The protagonist is an American girl of Chinese origin. She is a young, uneducated, pretty, and naive musical genius who happens to be an immigrant to the USA. She is blinded by her desire for fame, success, love, everything. She is an antihero and this is a story of an underdog and underachiever with hopes, dreams and fantasies usually squashed by mainstream society and realities of life as an immigrant.

3.      What’s the appeal of your book?

Firstly, my book’s settings in the thrilling cities of Chicago and Macau in the 1980s, glittery towers of success held together by the economics at the time. Secondly, the hedonistic aspect of a lifestyle only driven by and for music and disco and thirdly, the characters who are all emigres eking out their living and their versions of success.

4.      Sounds great. Where/when can I get hold of a copy?

You can get pre-order a copy on Amazon for a discounted price now and it will be launched on 30 June 2018. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heart-Glass-Ivy-Ngeow/dp/1911586645/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1529315722&sr=1-1&keywords=HEart+of+Glass+Ivy+Ngeow

5.      A typical writing day

I write in the morning for 40 minutes until no more words drip out. If more come, I do another 40 minutes. I am a slow writer. I cannot bang out 20,000 words in 20 hours.

6.      Pick one book about writing. What is it and why have you chosen it?

I pick Creative Writing – A Practical Guide by Julia Casterton. (MacMillan, 1986). This is quite an old book but still very relevant. From time to time I have to refer to it. This book is written like a manual and for those who already suspect they cannot live without writing. It is so slim and yet it goes through all the tenets of writing – why we need to do it, what is a short story, what is an adjective or abstract noun. Everything is covered in its 96 pages. It has no beating about the bush fantasy or quotes to inspire you. There is nothing inspiring. You’re supposed to be inspired already because you fancy yourself as a writer. This is just about writing. The reason why it is so thin is because you should not really be reading it, you should be writing.

7.      Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer.

I pick Lolita by Nabokov, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter and Wild Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

8.      Pick three desert island books – works you couldn’t live without

I have to pick things I love rather than need or want, because on a desert island you could die any minute anyway.

All that Man is by David Szalay

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

Yes, they are all European. I do prefer misery lit, where everybody’s mad, bad, sad or all three).

9.      Any words of writing wisdom?

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Do all six. No shortcuts.

10.  Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch.

Watch the book trailer here: https://youtu.be/nRDowKLhuW0

Everything is in the 58 seconds. It is the thrilling evil four Ds: dark, disturbing, drugs, dance music. It’s a heist gone wrong, it’s Chinatown, it’s immigrants, greed and guilt. It’s the 1980s.


Social media links:

Website/blog: writengeow.com

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heart-Glass-Ivy-Ngeow/dp/1911586645/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1529315722&sr=1-1&keywords=HEart+of+Glass+Ivy+Ngeow

YouTube: https://youtu.be/nRDowKLhuW0

Twitter: @ivyngeow

Instagram: @ivyngeow

Tags and keywords: #HeartofGlass #1980s #Chicago #Macau #Chinatown #heist #thriller #disco #music #culture #diversity

Email: ivy_ngeow at yahoo dot com

Thanks very much to Ivy for joining in. Hopefully you're intrigued by Heart of Glass and you'll pick up a copy soon!

In the meantime, check out my own East of England, which shares some similarities with Heart of Glass.  

10 questions: Eamonn Griffin, author of East of England

It only occurred some time after knocking up this questionnaire format for fellow Unbound authors to maybe apply it to myself. Trust me, this website isn't a brains type of operation. Anyway, for good or ill, here's the skinny on me and my forthcoming noir-ish thriller East of England.

The artwork shown here isn't official material for the book, but was done as a favour by my younger brother Maxim - information about his own crowdfunding project Field Notes may be found here

EoE cover concept 1.jpg

1. Who are you and what’s your book about?

Strangely enough, I’m Eamonn Griffin, and my novel East of England is a noir-ish thriller set over five consecutive days in Lincolnshire. Dan Matlock is released from prison after serving a couple of years inside. He’d like to go away and to start a new life somewhere else, but when his elderly father isn’t there to greet him on the outside as promised, he knows that there’s something wrong, so he’s compelled to return to his hometown to find out what’s gone awry.

2. Why should folk read your book?

Because it’s great! Because it’s fast and dark and violent in places, and about family and honour and revenge and inevitability. About immovable objects and irresistible forces, and about the weirdness that lurks under the surface of rural communities.

3. What’s the appeal of your book?

Well, East of England is very influenced by US pulp writers of noir crime fiction. I like writers such as Joe R Lansdale, Michael Connelly, and Lawrence Block, each of whom have been something of an influence. So there’s something of the American noir thriller but displaced into eastern England – the book’s set in a slightly-fictionalised version of Lincolnshire – and there’s also something of the kinds of books that people like Ted Lewis, who wrote Jack’s Return Home, the basis of the Michael Caine movie Get Carter (and the two other film versions that are out there) used to write. It’s very much a British take on an American model, and hopefully, there’s some appeal in that for readers.   

4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy? 

Well, as of the time of writing – late June 2018 – the project is coming to the end of its crowdfunding journey, so there’s still time to back the book and to become a patron of the project. Folk can do that here: unbound.com/books/east-of-england/ - the book should be funded by 4th July 2018, after which there’ll be the chance to pre-order through the same link. It’s up to the publishers quite when the book will hit the shelves and people’s e-readers of choice, but a best guess right now would be very early 2019.   

5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

When I’m first-drafting, I aim for 1000 words per writing day. I like to write fairly quickly, as I think the speed of getting ideas and action onto the page communicates to the reader. As I’m a freelance writer full-time, the creative work has to fold around the other paid work that I do. Ideally, I’ll do other work from 8am to 2pm, then work on the current novel from 2pm till 4pm.   

6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

I’m going to cheat slightly and opt for two. The first is Writing A Novel by Nigel Watts. This is something of a classic of the writing advice genre, and perhaps the best pound-for-pound how-to book there is. If you can, get an older copy as the book's been reissued several times with additions by others after Watts’ death, and for my money these editions aren't as effective as supports for beginning writers. It’s very much about the mechanics of story, rather than the inspirational kind of writing book, such as Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, so bear that in mind, but it’s a very useful book to have.

The second book is On Writing by Stephen King. It’s part autobiography, and part writing advice non-fiction; the former is absolutely necessary to understand the latter half. I’m recommending this because of the audio-book, narrated by King; the personal connection that this gives is very effective. It’s well worth your time.    

If I had to pick a third (I'm a bit nerdy about this sort of thing) I'd go for Into The Woods by John Yorke, which is a great book about story structure, and which contains pretty much everything you need to know on the subject. Then again, you could pay due respect to the classics and pick up a copy of Poetics by Aristotle, which covers the same territory. And so on. I've read an awful lot of these kinds of books, and while there are loads that say good things, there's no one perfect book out there. You have to synthesise your own from your reading and your writing experiences.  

7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

Blimey. It’s times like this that I wish I’d thought in more detail about the questions that I’d set for other people to answer! There’s a hundred or more, I’m sure, but here’s three to be going on with:

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall is great, but the sequel is better. A storming thriller, a fine slice of whatever “literary fiction” is, and a marvellous dramatization of well-known history. An object lesson in the old saying that it's not the story, but the storyteller...

The Emperor’s Spy by MC (Manda) Scott – the first of Scott’s Rome series is a wonderful historical thriller as well as a sly commentary on contemporary politics and the follies of organised religion and fundamentalism. 

Freezer Burn by Joe R Lansdale – Lansdale is the real deal, a great writer of Texas-set westerns, horror, SF, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novels, and thrillers, with a fine ear for dialogue and a knack for the absurd. This is one of his weirder creations, the story of a criminal on the run who hides out in a travelling fair because of bee-stings so bad he can pass for a sideshow attraction, and who gets into way more trouble than he could have ever done if he’d just surrendered himself to the law.  

8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – my favourite book of all time, and one I re-read every couple of years.

Fletch by Gregory McDonald – perhaps the funniest thriller ever written.

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris – forget the movie versions, this is the real thing. Perhaps the most influential thriller of the last 40 years. Absolutely indispensable.

9. Any words of writing wisdom?

In a previous life I taught creative writing in a college context, so in some ways I’ve already covered this to my heart’s content. However, there’s three things I will say:

a) Learn how your word-processing software works. Your laptop is your primary tool, so be comfortable with it. Writers’ needs here are few, so learn how to use the tool you’re using. It doesn’t take long, but it’ll save so much time in the long run. It's bewildering how many people who profess to want to write don't consider the tool they use.

b) Recognise your mistakes, and learn from them. Many’s the student who made themselves willfully blind to easily-rectifiable errors, through a combination of arrogance and ignorance. Try not to be that person.

c) Don’t have any expectations. If you’re going to write, do so because you like the activity for its own pleasures. No-one owes you anything.    

10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

A man missing. A debt due. Dan Matlock has had two years to plan revenge, but so have the forces being levelled against him. This won’t end well.

Social media contacts:

Twitter: twitter.com/eamonngriffin (@eamonngriffin)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eamonngriffinwriting/

Unbound URL: unbound.com/books/east-of-england/

Previous publications:

Juggernaut: A Sequel to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde


The Prospect of This City

So, big thanks to me for contributing these answers to my own questionnaire! Hopefully East of England sounds of interest to you, and you'll consider backing the book if you haven't already done so.   

East of England: crowdfunding and me

Hi all. First up, here's the call to action: my new novel East of England is crowdfunding now via the fine folks at Unbound, who are experts in this kind of thing, and I'd love for you to help make East of England a reality. You can do so by following the link to Unbound's site, where you can find out more about the book (there's a video, a synopsis, and a sample from the beginning of the novel) and about how you can support it. 

If you don't know much about crowdfunding, here's how it works.

First, the book's written. Don't worry about that bit. I've taken care of that for you. 

Second, fine people taste and distinction  - very much like you, dear reader - decide if they want to support the project. As the Unbound site shows, there are different levels of what they call 'pledges' - essentially, pre-orders - (ebook, paperback, special editions with mentions in the book, even the chance to have a character renamed after you, and so on) - at different price points.

When the funding target is reached - the amount of cash needed to edit, proofread, and copyedit the book by salty professionals, plus marketing and promotion to get it into bookshops and so on, as well as printing, cover artwork and all the behind-the-scenes stuff - then the book becomes live, gets finished off and sent out to you. 

Johnny-Come-Lately can, of course, then buy East of England from Amazon / Waterstones / HIve / your friendly neighbourhood independent bookshop / the supermarket / WH Smiths, but what he and his similarly tardy chums won't get is a) to be the first and to have an active hand in bringing the project to life, and b) the chance to brag that you are now a patron of the arts.

Remember, if the book doesn't reach its funding total - progress can be checked on Unbound's website - then the book doesn't get published, and everyone who's pledged to support it gets their pledge money back. So there's no risk to you from that point of view.  

How long all of this takes is up to the public. Some projects get funded in days, some take a few months. Some, it has to be said, never reach that point. And I don't want to be in that category. And you don't want that either. Do you? 

Here's how the book came to life. 

I've had the idea for the opening - it's the scene used as the sample which you can find on the Unbound site - for years. I tried writing it as the beginning of a screenplay, but never quite had a story to go with it.

Early last summer (2017), I was struggling with a different piece of writing - my long-gestating novel about Francis Walsingham which will get finished one day, oh yes - and I went back to this scene. Sat down. Wrote. Got to about 15,000 words, and took a break. It didn't read too badly, and it was quick in comparison because I was working with elements that I had in my head - a more-or-less contemporary setting, locations familiar to me - rather than cross-checking everything in history books. I took a break, because of moving house. 

At about this time I saw a tweet. A call for submissions from a chap called Simon Spanton at Unbound. Send us a sample of your work etc. So I tidied up the first 10K words and sent it through. Nothing ventured, and so on. I carried on boxing up stuff. I heard back a few weeks later. Simon said he liked the sample. Is there more? 

Nothing engages the sweet spot between creative endeavour and harnessing a bum to a chair than someone saying they'd like to see a full manuscript that you haven't got yet. So, that was October and November taken care of.

And here we are. The book's written, though in its raw state pending the full quantity of pledges being received. I really like it, and I really enjoyed writing it. The folks at Unbound have been both incredibly supportive and professional in ways that makes you realise there's more to this publishing lark than tall afternoon drinks in swish hotel bars over industry gossip about so-and-so at such-and-such.

The next bit is over to you. Have a look at the details about East of England. Hopefully, you'll see - like Simon and his colleagues - that there's something worth supporting, and a book that's worth reading, and you'll make a pledge. 

Thanks for reading. And for reading. 


The loyal reader

It’s late. Friday night. I’m in a hotel room. One of those chain places they advertise on the television. It’s okay. Clean and predictable, though there’s no remote for the TV. That’s not a problem though. If I want the box, then there’s buttons on the top of the device. And anyway, I’m reading a book.

More than that. I’m reading the last of a series. Seventeen novels and a book of short stories. I’ve got the short stories to go, but I’ll finish the last novel tonight.

Like the Nick Lowe song says, I read a lot these days. And in the days before. And I’ve always been a loyal reader. Some writers I’ve stuck with since my childhood: Stephen King (everything except Salem’s Lot, which for some reason I could never get on with, and the Dark Tower sequence), Ian Fleming, Alan Garner, Kim Newman, Shirley Jackson, Peter Ackroyd, James Herbert. For years, Stephen Donaldson, Charles Dickens, Umberto Eco, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke, Saki, Gregory McDonald. Rowling and Blyton and Clive Barker. Ramsey Campbell. I tend to skitter about much more and more, what with one thing and another, but from time to time I’ll lock into a writer and do whatever the novelistic equivalent of binge-watching is.

A year or so ago, it was Joe R Lansdale. Reading his stuff was like being fourteen again, to the extent of passing round paperbacks like they were contraband, except with work colleagues instead of schoolmates. He’s got a new novel in his Hap and Leonard sequence – it’s called Honky Tonk Samurai – out in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait.

For the last few months though, I’ve been on a Lawrence Block run. And I’ve only got Brian Koppelman to blame.

I started following Brian Koppelman on Twitter after coming across some of his six-second screenwriting soundbites; Vine video-clips with a zen nugget of writing-related wisdom. Now, nothing curdles the internet faster than writing advice, but Koppelman’s got interesting things to say, and says them in interesting ways. Check out his podcast The Moment for more in-depth stuff. 

Anyway, the point is this. One of Koppelman’s clips said words to the effect that if you want to understand character development, read Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series of private detective novels in sequence. And that hit home, not least because it’s not a pat thing to say. Seventeen novels and a volume of short stories, remember.

The notion stuck.

A few weeks later, and I’m running out of Joe Lansdale material. When I’m bingeing I tend to alternate. One of the sequence in question, something else to refresh the palate. That kind of thing. I’m browsing the crime section of an out-of-town bookshop and I pick up two books. One’s Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. The other’s a Lawrence Block novel. Not one of his Scudder books, but a mid-series entry in another cycle; this one features bookshop proprietor and cat-burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. What the heck; I buy both. Gun Machine is great, by the way. A psycho-geographic New York thriller. Read it if you haven’t. The Block is pacy, light and amusing, plus it presents a few neat twists and turns, and it’s dialogue-driven as heck. I’m sold.

I live in a small town that hasn’t supported a bookshop since I was a child. Block’s Scudder novels were published between the early 1970s and 2011. Normally, they’d be variable in difficulty to track down, and to get a run in sequence would be a protracted and perhaps expensive thing to be doing. However, they’re all available in ebook format. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what the format is for. The inexpensive and permanent availability of back-catalogue works.

So I start buying. Two or three at a time. I keep them for train journeys and nights away. And when I’m down to my last volume, I go online and re-up.

We first meet Scudder as an alcoholic ex-cop; he quits the force after accidentally shooting dead a young girl in the line of duty while drunk. He’s left a wife and two boys in the suburbs, lives in a hotel room, and supports himself by doing off-the-books private investigations. He punishes himself for his sins and his weaknesses with the drink, with tithing his earnings to churches, and with the drink again.

The novels are procedurals. The set-ups are similar. Someone hires Scudder, usually through a mutual acquaintance or recommendation, and he investigates. He uses his New York cop contacts and a developing network of informants and drinking buddies to navigate the city. He doesn’t carry a gun, but can handle himself. Sometimes he needs to be able to.

Relationships come and go. Friends remain. Eventually, Scudder bottoms out; the drink (bourbon and coffee, likely as not) catches up and takes over. So Scudder enters Alcoholics Anonymous. And, dammit, five novels in, we want him to get better. A redemption of sorts is hard-earned. And, slowly, slowly, Scudder climbs out of the gutter.

There’s more, of course. If you want the Cliff Notes version, try the recent movie adaptation of A Walk Through The Tombstones, with Liam Neeson as Scudder. It’s a very solid movie with a pleasing 70s thriller vibe to it, as well as being a decent attempt at telescoping Scudder’s backstory into the source novel’s narrative.

So, I’ve got the short stories left to go and that’s it. And the reading journey’s been more than worthwhile. These are fine books, with engaging characters and intriguing dilemmas. And across the books, something bigger. Each book’s got a plot, but there’s a layer of story over the top of the series that you only really begin to appreciate once you’re deep into the sequence.  

That’s not to say that Block’s writing - or Scudder as a character - will work for you in the same way. But it did for Brian Koppelman (who passed it on – there’s a foreword by him to the short stories as well) and it has done for me. But it might do.

And even if it doesn’t, or even if you never go near the books, then maybe you still have an obligation. If you come across a series that you like, or that you’ve had recommended in some way, and it’s worked for you, and if you think that maybe this is stuff that someone else might not come across without the heads-up, then say so.

Boost the signal. Make some appreciative waves.

It's a way of saying thanks.