Late Checkout – out now (and a competition or two)

Walters_LateCheckout_Banner1-1Well, it’s finally here. Publication day. And to celebrate the publication of Late Checkout we have, not one, but two book giveaways for you.

We’re giving you two chances to win signed paperbacks of my first two Alex Walters novels, Trust No One and Nowhere To Hide.

In my previous post here, I set out a few quirky facts about Stockport, the setting for Late Checkout. To enter the competition, I just want you to leave a comment telling me the most obscure or interesting fact about your home town (or the town where you currently live).

You’ve got until the end of Sunday and we will pick a winner on Monday morning

On Helen M. Walters’s (relation) blog there is a separate competition where we are looking for your oddest or most humorous experience of staying in a hotel. Anything from fire alarms going off in the middle of the night, to locking yourself out of your room in your pyjamas (or worse still, I suppose, not in your pyjamas). You can find the blog post here.

Oh, and you can buy Late Checkout here. Did I mention that it’s out today?

For more news about Late Checkout don’t forget you can follow my Alex Walters Facebook page here, or follow me on Twitter at @MikeWalters60.

We are also having a Thunderclap to publicise the book on 14 June. For anyone who doesn’t know what this is, it’s just a way of getting as many mentions of the book on social media as possible at the same time in order to give the book a boost. It only takes a couple of clicks and just means that you’re allowing your FB and/or Twitter to put up a one off promotional post. If you’re willing to help, you can sign up here.

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‘Thou hart more than ‘atmakers…’

Walters_LateCheckout_Banner1The cover of Late Checkout shows a gritty-looking urban landscape. Rather than just picking a cityscape at random, those excellent people at Books Covered remained true to the book and selected a shot of Stockport where much of the book’s action is set. Those who know the area will recognise the church as St Mary’s and the building to the left as Bank Chambers, both just off Stockport Market.

Although there are numerous examples of crime fiction set in Manchester, I’m not aware of much set specifically in Stockport. My first two Marie Donovan books had some scenes set in Stockport, but ranged more widely around north west England. Much of Late Checkout, though, is set in the town and wider borough of Stockport, and that will also be true of its forthcoming sequel, Dark Corners.

Stockport’s an oddly atmospheric place, although parts of it are just odd. The ‘heart’ of the town is an anonymous shopping precinct built literally over the top of the River Mersey (for years, a reliable pub quiz question was which Football League ground was closest to the Mersey, but Stockport County kiboshed that through repeated relegations). Beyond that, though, a network of streets wind up through different levels, so that your perspective on the place always feels slightly out of kilter. Joy Division recorded Unknown Pleasures here. We have a Unicorn Brewery which brews Unicorn Bitter. We have one of the largest brick-built edifices in the world in Stockport viaduct. We have a Hat Museum. And we have our own pyramid, just off the M60.

I was once the intended victim of a spectacularly inept attempted mugging in one of the alleyways connecting the lower and upper parts of the town. I was already walking away when the two teenage assailants were interrupted by an elderly lady with a shopping trolley. They both fled. I don’t know if that’s typical, but I don’t imagine there’s any more crime in Stockport than in other similar urban areas.  Even so, we’ve had our share of killings over the years, sometimes gangster-related. One or two of those I’ve appropriated, in suitably fictionalised form, in past books—including in one case transposing the murder to the Mongolian steppe. The killings in Late Checkout, though, are entirely fictional. So are the locations in which they occur, but I’ve tried throughout, as I did in the two Marie Donovan books, to set them in a real and recognisable landscape. And however fictional they may be, they’re still probably no less likely than a Unicorn Brewery or a motorway-side pyramid.

Oh, and the title of this piece? That comes from some glorious sleeve-notes written by the ever-entertaining former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor for an album recorded in Stockport by the Liverpool group Scaffold. The notes conclude: ‘Good old Stockport. Thy ‘eart beats strong and thou hart more than ‘atmakers.’ So now you know.

In the next room…

Walters_LateCheckout_Banner1My new book, LATE CHECKOUT (out this coming Thursday, 9 June, by the way) was inspired in part by all the nights I’ve spent in hotels during my working life. I spent much of my day-job career in roles that involved extensive business travel. Business travel sounds exciting—and occasionally it can be—but mostly it involves traipsing, in some combination, from airport to railway station to to office to anonymous hotel and back again. Over the years, I became more adept at finding hotels with a little more character and charm, generally cheaper and more friendly than their chain equivalents. But often you’ve little practical choice about how you travel or where you stay, and you just have to make the best of what the fates land you with.

Sometimes the outcome can be positive. I’ve discovered a few excellent places over the years through accidents of geography. But often the results are—well, mixed. I recall staying in a small hotel in Paris where the built-in wardrobe smelt so disgusting that I was convinced there must be a body, human or otherwise, bricked up behind it. There was a hotel in the south-west where the menu offered a ‘melody of fish’—all frozen and breaded, even though the hotel was minutes from the sea, and with no trace of any tune. And then there was the hotel on the edge of a safari park (no, me neither) where I was woken in the night first by the sounds first of some big cat roaring immediately outside my window and second of an, um, over-excited couple in the next room. I don’t think there was any link between the two disturbances.

Of course, as a writer, you mostly spend your time in hotels watching and speculating about the other guests. I spent several weeks staying in a bleak budget hotel in an industrial suburb of Paris where, for a number of days, my dinner was enlivened by two earnest Gauloise-smoking young men sitting nearby. They looked like characters from a Godard film and I began to envisage them as professional hit-men, whisperingly preparing their next job in that anonymous place. When they ceased appearing in the restaurant, I imagined that they had completed their work and moved on into the trans-European twilight. They no doubt worked in IT. But their fictional equivalents have made more than one appearance in my subsequent books.

Mostly, though, I’ve just been fascinated by the whole hotel experience. If you’re in the right (or wrong) frame of mind, there’s sometime uniquely eerie about hotels—particularly soulless business hotels. They have the same feel across the world. A pretence of luxury that’s often barely functional. The knowledge that, in many cases, the illusion is  being maintained by staff who are poorly paid and often badly treated. Above all, the mystery of quite who might be living, only a few feet away from you, in the identical room next door.

It was that last question that provided the genesis of LATE CHECKOUT. The hotels in the book are a varied bunch. They are all, I should stress, entirely fictional, though inspired by countless places I’ve stayed in over the years. In all of them, though, someone is waiting just along the corridor…

 

Touring the Blogs

Many thanks to the wonderful Helen Hunt for organising a blog tour for me in support of Nowhere to Hide.  I’ll update you as they appear (though the full list is up on Helen’s blog) but the first post has been hosted courtesy of the generosity of Leigh Russell, author of the excellent Geraldine Steel books.  Sincere thanks, Leigh. Strikes me we should engineer a fictional meeting between Geraldine and Marie sometime…

Next post on Friday 11 January.  Keep watching the skies…

(While I’m here, I’ll also just point out that not only can you currently buy the Kindle edition of Nowhere to Hide for the absurdly bargain price of 99p, you can also currently buy the first Marie Donovan book, Trust No-One, for the almost equally ridiculous price of £1.49.  Which means you can buy both books for the price of a cheap sandwich. And think how quickly you’d eat that).

Nowhere to Hide

Just to remind you that Nowhere to Hide is now available from, as they say, all good bookshops.  You should also be able to find it, for a bargain price, alongside your grocery shop in Asda.  The Kindle version is flying moderately high in the charts, and you can also listen to the audio version, beautifully read by Mike Rodgers.

I’m more than a little excited to say that the book’s already had a terrific review on the Crimetime website from none other than the great Mark Timlin.  I was genuinely gobsmacked.  And also a very nice review in the Daily Mail, who described it as a ‘police procedural for a new age’.  Oh, and there’s also an interview with me on the Morgen Bailey blog, which will tell you everything you ever wanted to know and probably a lot more.

And, if that’s not enough, I’ve also been slightly disconcerted (as you may well be) to see my face plastered all over the current edition of Writers’ Forum magazine.  That’s bound to shift a few units.  And it certainly made the checkout man in Smith’s do a double-take when I bought a copy.

Nowhere to Hide

Wow.  Just received advance copies of Nowhere to Hide from those good people at Avon.  Looks terrific!  Out on 22 November, and the Kindle edition is currently available for pre-order for the frankly ridiculous price of 99p.  To kick off the relentless publicity campaign for the book (I may exaggerate slightly) I’ll be appearing at Ellesmere Port library on Friday 9 November at 1.30pm.  Come and join us.  You can get more details from the library on 0151 337 4684.

Sequel Writes

Cough.  Dusty in here, isn’t it?  As if no-one’s been around for quite a while.  Well, I’ll stop apologising for the infrequency of the posts on here  – I’ve all kinds of excuses but you don’t want to hear those – and just get on with writing something.  And then try to do it more often.

I’m just in the middle of going through the line edits for Nowhere to Hide, the sequel to Trust No One (which by the way is still available in paperback and, at a remarkable bargain price, on Kindle), which is due out from those excellent people at Avon/HarperCollins in October.  Fortunately, the line edits look straightforward for the most part so I’m actually enjoying going back to a book that I’ve deliberately not looked at since I finished working on it a month or two back.  It’s been an interesting book to write because, unlike anything I’ve done before, it’s a genuine sequel rather than just the continuation of a series – and most of the current edits are concerned with getting that right.

When I started writing Nowhere to Hide, I wasn’t particularly conscious of doing anything different from the books I’d written before.  My three Mongolian books are a series with recurrent characters and, across the three books, a gradual narrative arc in which the protagonists and their situations develop.  Relationships are formed, roles slowly change, new characters appear and join the core team.  It’s the tried and trusted way of developing a crime series – exemplified at its best by series as diverse as Ed MacBain’s 87th Precinct series, Ian Rankin’s Rebus or the late great Reginald Hill’s Pascoe and Dalziel series.  The latter two writers have also written about the practical challenges of maintaining that kind of series – Rebus ages in real time, whereas Dalziel and Pascoe, as Hill acknowledged wittily in his introduction to the novella One Small Step, develop consistently but not always in step with the outside world.  For a writer (or, at least, for this writer), series writing is uniquely pleasurable, in that one can enjoy creating the pace of each standalone narrative while also taking a more leisurely perspective on character and situation development.  In the Mongolian books, for example, I very much enjoyed exploring the maturing relationship between Nergui and his former protege Doripalam, as the latter became more confident in his role and abilities and even began to take on a protege of his own…  I have a fourth Mongolian book plotted and part-written (and which I hope will see the light of day in due course) which takes this overarching story still further.

For the reader, this isn’t particularly problematic.  If you read the three Mongolian books in order, you’ll probably get slightly more out of the evolving back-story, but it’s unlikely to ruin your enjoyment (assuming you do enjoy them) if you read them out of order.  It’s relatively rare for crime authors to continue major plot threads across multiple books in a way that might be challenging for ‘disordered’ readers – though Jo Nesbo did it brilliantly across several Harry Hole books, leaving some readers mildly floundering when the books were translated out of order.

The relationship between Trust No One and Nowhere to Hide, though, is (for me) something a little different.  When I started to write Trust No One, I’d certainly envisaged it as part of a series, along broadly the same lines as the Mongolian books.  But as I gradually began to pull together the threads of the plot, it occurred to me that the core theme of the book – which, not entirely surprisingly, is the difficulty knowing who or what to trust – might lend itself to a more intriguing ending.  My aim was to tie up most of the major loose ends, but to leave one or two key ones still flapping in the air so that the reader was left with the some of the same uncertainties as the main character.  I hope (and think) that Trust No One  is satisfying as a standalone book, but it also prepares the ground for what happens in Nowhere to Hide.  The second book continues the story and, in due course, resolves most of those flapping loose ends, while inevitably also introducing some new ones which themselves may or may not be resolved…  Even more enjoyably, though, I was also able to use the second book to cast new light on the first – re-opening issues which had appeared resolved, giving a different perspective on some characters, revisiting issues which had been only casually referenced or left unexplained.

With this in mind, writing (and editing) the book has been an interesting challenge.  Clearly, the reader’s likely to get most from the books if they’re read in order.  But I also wanted to make sure that the second book would work, satisfyingly, as a standalone book.  I didn’t want a new reader to feel that he or she was simply coming in part-way through the story.  So I’ve tried to make sure that the back-story is provided unobtrusively, as it might be in any novel, providing the reader with the information he or she needs to follow the plot, but without labouring the detail.  But of course it’s difficult for me, because I know the overall story inside out, to judge quite what the new reader does or doesn’t need to know.  So I’ve been very grateful for my editors at Avon, led by the ever-wonderful Sammia Rafique, for providing a detached third-party perspective and helping me to identify where more (or less) information is needed.  I’m now in the process of filling in one or two of those remaining gaps.  It’s been fun to do, and I can only hope now that the book proves as enjoyable for others to read as it’s been for me to write.