Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Next Big Thing by Zoë Sharp

Screenwriter and novelist Stephen Gallagher collared me last week for this, The Next Big Thing blog hop. He breezily explained that all I had to do was answer ten questions on my next or latest project, then tag five other willing victims—erm, esteemed authors—to do the same. Stephen likened it to grains of rice on a chessboard, and that within a few weeks there would not be an untagged writer left on the planet. While there’s still time, here are my answers to the ten burning questions:

Q1) What is the title of your book?

A1) The latest new book out is DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten. It finds ex-army turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, working close protection at a celebrity fundraising event in New Orleans. But all the glitter attracts entirely the wrong kind of attention, and Charlie soon finds herself outnumbered, unarmed, and unable to rely on the one person she should be able to trust with her life.

Q2) Where did the idea come from?

A2) I’ve always loved the old Bruce Willis classic, ‘Die Hard’, and I wanted to do my own take on that movie, giving Charlie some kind of ‘bare feet’ handicap as she battles the bad guys. And after visiting New Orleans post-Katrina, I knew I wanted to set a book there. The two ideas came together and what else could I call Die Hard meets The Big Easy but DIE EASY?

Q3) What genre best defines your book?

A3) I usually say it’s a crime thriller. Charlie isn’t a detective, and she’s more likely to shoot the bad guy than drag him off to jail, but she’s fighting for what she believes is right, to protect those who can’t protect themselves, to see justice of a sort done, and to bring order to things.

Q4) What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?

A4) Long list. Somebody like Gina Carano, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel or Natalia Tena would be great as Charlie Fox herself. For Sean Meyer, Sam Worthington, or Max Beesley, or maybe even Alex O’Loughlin. After Charlie and Sean move to New York to work for Parker Armstrong, I saw him as Mark Harmon. For Charlie’s sometimes cold and clinical consultant surgeon father, Michael Kitchen or Ian Richardson would be perfect, and Dame Judi Dench for her fussy but ultimately strong mother. Why not aim high?

Q5) What is the one-sentence synopsis?

A5) ‘Die Hard’ in the Big Easy

Q6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

A6) In the States, DIE EASY is taking the conventional publication route, via Pegasus Books in New York. For other territories, however, I’m going the indie route.

Q7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

A7) Probably about four months, then edits after that. I plan it out beforehand and try to stick to that plan, summarizing as I go. It’s a nice theory, but it doesn’t always quite work out that way …

Q8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

A8) That’s a good question. Charlie has been likened to other people—Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield, even Ian Fleming’s James Bond. I just set out to write the kind of character I wanted to read about. If other people like her, that’s a terrific bonus.

Q9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

A9) I’m always looking for a new challenge for Charlie. I’m constantly pressure-testing her to see how she reacts. This was another test. I threw in old loyalties, old rivalries, a blood feud, and lost love and betrayal—both of the characters and of the city in which they find themselves. I threw RPGs, downed helicopters, pirates and gangbangers at her. I stripped her of weapons and backup, then told her to get in there and do her job. She did, with her usual nerve and skill, even if this time not everybody’s going to come out of it alive.

Q10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

A10) You mean that’s not enough? Sheesh, you guys are a tough crowd. OK, how about this praise from Harlan Coben—“Zoë Sharp is one of the sharpest, coolest, and most intriguing writers I know. She delivers dramatic, action-packed novels with characters we really care about. And once again, in DIE EASY, Zoë Sharp is at the top of her game."

One of the ideas of The Next Big Thing is that I put another five victims in my sights for next week. For this I’ve chosen some names you may not know, but really ought to:

CJ Ellisson is the author of four wicked and witty paranormal suspense novels in the VV Inn series about a 580-year-old vampire who attracts trouble as readily as she attracts men.

Danuta Reah, who also writes as Carla Banks, is the author of psychological mysteries set as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Eastern Europe, as well as in her native Sheffield.

Sheila Quigley is based in the northeast of England and is the bestselling author of seven books, with the eighth, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, due in December, which is the last in a trilogy featuring DI Mike Yorke and set around Holy Island.

Graham Smith has been a fan of fiction since being given Enid Blyton’s Famous Fiv e books when he was eight. Since then he’s been writing his Harry Charters chronicles and short stories, and reviewing for Crimesquad.com.

Andrew Peters was born in the swamps of Glamorgan but has since hastened to Spain, where he spends his time gloating about the weather and penning tales of Otis King, Memphis’ number one Welsh Blues Detective, and some cuttingly funny short stories.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Winter Blues by Zoë Sharp

Now the clocks have gone back, the first dusting of snow has fallen, and the rabid countdown to Christmas is in full swing, it feels like winter is officially well and truly Here.

I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me is extremely tempted to mutter, “Bah! Humbug!” under my breath a good deal of the time. But actually I find the winter months tend to be a really good time to write. There isn’t the temptation to venture out, and there’s something rather cosy about sitting creating stories in a little pool of light from a desk lamp, while the wind thrashes the sleet against the outside of the windows.

At least, I think, I’m not out working in that.

But people are supposed to be outside dwellers. A couple of hundred years ago, about three-quarters of us worked out in the open in one way or another. Today that’s fallen to roughly ten percent. During the summer this isn’t such a problem, but working odd hours in winter means we often leave home in the dark and arrive back in the same state, spending our working day under deathly artificial light in the meantime.

Which is why huge number of us suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder—the aptly named SAD—or the Winter Blues.

Writers, I think, tend to be more affected by mood than others. It’s no secret that levels of depression are higher among creative people, and Winter Blues can sometimes be the final straw, particularly if you’re not aware of what it is and the effects. I’d heard of it, but until I started reading up for this piece, I didn’t realise what it really meant.

Winter Blues usually affects those who live more than thirty degrees from the equator, where the daylight levels rise and fall more noticeably with the seasons. (I knew there was another good reason to move to warmer climes.)

Reduced daylight and sunshine affects our circadian rhythms—our bodyclock—which regulate appetite, digestion, energy, sleeping, waking and mood. Just about everything that allows us to function, then. Without the proper triggers to wake feeling energetic, and sleep at the right times, we become lethargic and grumpy.

Among the symptoms for Winter Blues:

  • Lack of energy making you unable to stick to your normal routine.
  • Sleep problems—restless at night and tired during the day.
  • Lack of interest in physical contact.
  • Anxiety and an inability to cope.
  • Depression with no apparent cause.
  • Social withdrawal and irritability.
  • Craving for sweets and carbohydrates, leading to weight gain.

So, you’ve looked down the list and thought, “Yup, ticked all those boxes.” Now, what do you do about it?

There’s medication, of course, but some of the organisations set up to help sufferers suggest that the best way forward may be to try light treatment. (Of course, I say this entirely as a lay-person. If you think you’ve got it, seek expert medical advice.)

But, it’s known that lack of light increases our production of Melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us sleepy, and decreases our Serotonin production, which is what keeps us happy.

So, sitting, for periods of time that vary according to each individual, with a lightbox which produces more lumens than a standard incandescent bulb may do wonders. As may having an alarm clock that simulates a gradual dawn breaking with increasing light rather than an abrupt buzzer, or spending as much time as possible outside, negative air ionisation, and Vitamin D supplements. Taking more exercise is always noted as helpful for those with depression, although if you’re depressed and sluggish the last thing you may feel like doing is exercise.

Whatever way you decide is best for you to treat the Winter Blues, the important thing is that you recognise you may be one of the many people affected, and to do something about it.

Personally, hibernating until the spring seems like a really good idea …

This week’s Word of the Week is mislippen, a Scots and Northern English dialect word meaning to distrust, suspect, disappoint, overlook, neglect or deceive.