Friday, 16 September 2016

Served with a Twist: a guest post by J.A. Marley - STANDSTILL BLOG TOUR

am delighted to welcome J.A. Marley to my blog today for his Standstill Blog Tour. John is talking about twists in crime fictionStandstill is being published in paperback original by Avocado Books on 15 September 2016.  

Served with a Twist
By J.A. Marley

At the age of 18 I got my first job in television.  I didn’t know it would be the start of a thirty-year career in TV land.  Nor did I realise it was also the start of a convoluted apprenticeship for when I started to write my debut novel about a huge robbery in London, Standstill.

All TV programmes are basically a narrative.  It doesn’t matter if it is a quiz show, a musical performance, a news report or even a documentary. They all have defined beginnings, middles and ends, and they all peak and trough in the same way a good story does. 

Years sat in edit suites piecing footage together to create a larger whole for the likes of an episode of Through the Keyhole (yes, I produced that with Sir David Frost and Loyd Grossman) or fine cutting one of my RAF series (Britain’s Flying Past and Britain’s Ultimate Pilots) for BBC2 were great proving grounds.  They taught me how to pace a story, how to lead the audience where I wanted them to go and how to satisfy them with a denouement that would meet and then exceed their expectations.
One such vital lesson was taught to me by an amazing producer, Conor McAnally.  He was a fabulous character, and we collaborated on several series during my career.  Our most notable shows were kids programmes such as Disney Club and SMTV:Live and CD:UK.  He’s a charismatic man and he used to plaster our office walls with his latest thoughts on how our shows were doing or how they could be better. And one of those thoughts has always stuck with me.

“Surprise and delight your audience”

Now that doesn’t sound revelatory when you first read it, but when you are constructing a TV entertainment it becomes a big ask.  That audience will have expectations.  They will demand you fulfil them or with a flick of the remote they will be gone.  But then when you apply it to a novel, especially a crime thriller, it’s not a big ask…it’s a huge one.

Surprising and delighting a crime reader means you have to keep them on their toes.  Lead them down a blind alley, then get them out in the most unexpected of ways.  They love genre conventions.  They will always know them better than you.  So you better stick with them and then subvert them only in a manner that crime readers will approve of. 

Basically…you better have a load of twists for me in here buster, or your book goes to the charity shop!

At a recent author event the excellent writer Tim Weaver talked about how writing a crime thriller means the author has to second guess the reader second guessing the author.  I thought that was terrific insight and on reflection it is the same message as the one Conor used to drill into me. 
In Standstill I have tried to end each chapter with either a mini twist or at least a moment that will lead the reader to think “Oh, just one more chapter then…”.  The twist is all important as far I am concerned.  The smarter the twist, the more concealed, the better set up, the more satisfying it is, and usually makes the whole book shine out as well. 

That moment in LA Confidential when Capt Dudley Smith kills Det Jack Vincennes.  Or realising that Bruce Willis is dead in The Sixth Sense.  Any version you choose of Witness for the Prosecution, stories with moments that blindside you, take your breath away, confound your expectations…they are electric.   Is there a big twist in Standstill?  You’ll have to read it to find out!

So I suppose this blog post is a long winded thank you.  A thank you from me to television, and especially to Conor McAnally.  The lessons learnt trying to make a TV show zing have lead me down the path to realising my true ambition.  I have written a thriller, the first of many hopefully, and I couldn’t have done it without learning how to serve it up with a twist…

I hope Standstill manages to surprise and delight you…

About J.A. Marley

John A. Marley was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Following early success as a film journalist and radio broadcaster in his homeland, he embarked on an accomplished career in television production in England. An avid film fan, John is addicted to crime and mystery thrillers and is passionate about walking his two dogs, discovering new music and travel.

Find J. A. Marley on his website and on Twitter - @jamarleybooks

By J. A. Marley
Published by Avocado Books (Paperback - 15 September 2016)
ISBN: 978-1910633465

Publisher's description
One man’s chaos is another man’s comfort zone...
When young, ambitious thief, Danny Felix, is dragged out of bed by a psychotic cop in an early morning raid, he could hardly imagine he was about to be plunged into the robbery of a lifetime.
Corruption and coercion follow the very bent Detective Inspector Harkness everywhere he goes and now he has Danny by the proverbial balls.
But even the deadliest criminals leave a trail, one that dedicated Flying Squad officer Christine Chance is getting closer to, while trying her best to be mother to a seriously ill daughter.
Can Danny escape Harkness with his life intact? Can he avoid detection by Chance?
And most importantly does he have what it takes to use the teeming streets of modern day London to pull off the theft of the 21st Century?
Danny thinks he can...but there will be bloodshed.

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