Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reflecting on 2010: my Herald feature articles

As I said last month when I took a look back at the rapid growth and pleasingly diverse, high quality line-up of 44 (thusfar) terrific author in the 9mm series I launched in 2010, I have been a little late on the traditional 'end of year' reflections. However, as well as looking ahead to all the opportunities, challenges, and excitement to come in 2011 and beyond, I have over the past little while also been reflecting on what has been going on, crime fiction-wise, down this way in the past year. Both for myself, and the wider New Zealand crime fiction community. I think it's a good thing to do, as we look ahead and try to build on what's gone before.

So for the second in a series of 'Reflecting on 2010' posts, I thought I would take a look back on the author and books feature articles I wrote for the Weekend Herald (the weekend edition of the largest-circulation newspaper in New Zealand). After writing three such features in late 2009, I took a bit of a hiatus, before contributing seven articles over a period of less than three months in the second half of last year. It was great to be involved with such a fantastic publication, that is so widely read, and to play a part in ensuring there was some great crime and thriller content in its books pages. Thanks to the Weekend Herald, I also had the opportunity to speak to (and meet, in some cases), some truly terrific authors, including some all-time greats of the genre. On a personal front, those interviews were some of my favourite moments of 2010.

I will be writing some more articles for the Weekend Herald in 2011, and I'm looking forward to some new great moments chatting to great authors. In the meantime, here are my seven Weekend Herald books features/reviews of 2010 (click on the images to read the full article).

"Philosopher of Crime"
Saturday 31 July 2010
James Lee Burke talks to Craig Sisterson about artistry in crime writing, speaking for those with no voice and the central issue of modern times.

Any true artist, whatever their creative medium, needs both humility and vanity, says legendary American novelist James Lee Burke. "Humility is not a virtue in a writer, it is an absolute necessity," he adds, his mild Southern accent reverberating down the phone line from his "property that tries to be a ranch" just outside Missoula, Montana. READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

It was a true pleasure, a complete joy, to interview Burke, who is such a gentleman, but at the same time so passionate and full of interesting opinions, burnished by experience and real-world education, about not only writing, but also many of the issues facing us today, in terms of people and our planet. Just a fantastic interviewee, as well as a fantastic writer.

Book Review: THE FALLEN
Saturday 31 July 2010

A man dazedly regains consciousness, only to find himself handcuffed, feeling like "he's been bathed in something corrosive", and with his head adhered to the carpet by his own clotted blood.

So starts this debut crime thriller from North Shore engineering student and nascent author, Ben Sanders, an adroit barely-20-something being touted as "a major new talent" with a "sophisticated and edgy" writing style. READ FULL REVIEW HERE.

I made my return to the Weekend Herald books pages with a double-billing; both a feature on James Lee Burke and a review of Kiwi debutant crime writer Ben Sanders' THE FALLEN in the 31 July 2010 issue. This was also my first review for the Weekend Herald books pages, and it was nice to have a little more room to play with, word count wise, than I do for some other very good magazines or newspapers for whom I've reviewed crime and thriller fiction.

THE FALLEN is a very good debut novel, and one of several very good crime novels published by New Zealanders in 2010. I was very pleased to be able to share it with a wider New Zealand audience, and also very pleased the Weekend Herald was keen to include some quality New Zealand crime fiction in its books pages. Later in the year THE FALLEN was also included in the prestigious Listener 100 Best Books list, which was great to see.

"Murder in the blood"
Saturday 21 August 2010
Diamond Dagger winner Val McDermid talks to Craig Sisterson about the contaminating effect of violence and the evolution of crime fiction since the so-called Golden Age.

Modern crime fiction has come a long way since the country-house murders, dislikeable victims and detached detectives of the Golden Age, says acclaimed Scottish novelist Val McDermid.

"We've almost completely abandoned the notion of the crossword-puzzle novel, the whodunnit, and we're writing books that are of necessity written in the world we live in." READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Like with Burke, it was a great pleasure to interview the indomnitable Val McDermid. As an added bonus, I also got to meet her (twice) when she visited New Zealand soon after our telephone interview. McDermid is just so much fun, mixing strong will and strong opinions with a real zest for life, and a passion for writing and stories. Just a very cool person, as well as being one of the best writers of contemporary crime fiction. You can read more about some of the highlights of McDermid's event at the Women's Bookstore here.

"A tale of two Peters"
Saturday 28 August 2010
Two big names in British thriller writing visit New Zealand next week. Craig Sisterson talks to Peter James and Peter Robinson.

When publisher Macmillan approached Peter James in 2001 and asked the already bestselling British author whether he had considered writing a crime novel, the answer was simple. "It was what I'd always wanted to do," says James, on the phone from Nevada, where he's doing research for his next book before heading here to promote his latest, Dead Like You. READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Not only did I really enjoy interviewing both Peter James and Peter Robinson - who are each polite, passionate, fascinating guys as well as being top notch crime writers - but I also enjoyed the challenge of writing an article about two different writers, mixing fun anecdotes and quotes from each while at the same time uncovering some interesting (to me, at least) contrasts and comparisons.

"A capital crime novel"
Saturday 25 September 2010

When a cop arrives at the door of missing persons specialist Diane Rowe to tell her a body found that morning was someone she knew, she is stunned - like anyone would be. But this death, not to mention the cop, make this notification a little different. Not only is the latter her ex-husband, but the news itself leaves her anything but sad. The body found in Cuba St belongs to "Snow", a recidivist low-life Diane suspects brutally murdered her troubled younger sister Niki a year before. READ FULL REVIEW HERE.

Rather than an author feature, this Weekend Herald piece was a longer review of acclaimed TV screenwriter and NZSA Pindar Publishing Prize-winning author Donna Malane's debut adult crime thriller, SURRENDER.

SURRENDER ended up (deservedly) receiving some other great reviews, and was included in the Listener 100 Best Books list for 2010. In a year that saw some very, very good New Zealand crime fiction being published, SURRENDER was a welcome addition to the pleasantly-growing local canon. I look forward to seeing what Donna Malane comes up with next - hopefully another Diane Rowe story.

"Ghostwriter haunted by his characters"
Saturday 2 October 2010
Australian thriller writer Michael Robotham talks to Craig Sisterson about the importance of making characters seem real.

There is a moment of truth in writing, when you hear the voice of the main character in your head, they become real, and then everything you do is in that voice, says Michael Robotham. The Sydney-based author, who has twice won the Ned Kelly Award for best Australian crime novel (his latest, Bleed For Me, was also a finalist for this year's award), hears that voice as he writes his psychological thrillers. READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Like Burke, McDermid, James, and Robinson, Robotham was a fascinating interviewee (don't I have a great hobby/job, getting to interview all these terrific authors who despite their success are so down-to-earth and fun?). I also appreciated the fact that he was very enthusiastic and complimentary about our local efforts in setting up a crime fiction award, and generously gave some great advice about crime fiction awards and organisations, rather than just wanting to talk about his own books and writing.

After talking to Robotham for more than an hour about crime fiction and all manner of things, I was very much looking forward to meeting him in person last year; however this was curtailed when the Canterbury earthquake led to the cancellation of the Christchurch Writers' Festival, where he was to appear. In some very good news, I understand that he may 'cross the Ditch' to do some New Zealand events in 2011, which would be fantastic.

"King of crime offers clues to success"
Saturday 9 October 2010
American author Michael Connelly talks to Craig Sisterson about chronicling contemporary LA

TWO UNPUBLISHED manuscripts that are gathering dust “in a box somewhere” in Michael Connelly’s Tampa home deserve a slice of credit for the creation of one of the most compelling characters in contemporary crime fiction, even if the acclaimed author says his earliest efforts “got the fate they deserved”. For it was in the process of those first attempts at writing full-length fiction that Connelly, then a newspaper reporter, had a revelation. “I learned that, at least for me, the books I write were going to live and die with character,” he says, his measured voice resonating down the line from Florida. “The protagonist was what they were going to be about, not a tricky plot.” READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

As if the lineup of authors I'd interviewed for the Weekend Herald wasn't already prestigious enough, I finished my little flurry of feature and review activity last year by getting to chat to Michael Connelly, the creator of the magnificent Harry Bosch series, as well as some stunning standalones and the Mickey Haller books. Wow. Due to a time-difference miscommunication, I actually ended up talking to Connelly for an hour and half, spread over two separate phone calls on two separate days. He, like the others above, was very generous with his time and answers, and gave me so much fantastic material, quotes, and anecdotes.


In the end, the only downside of getting to talk to great authors like those above, is that I often have these terrific conversations with them, but then only get to use about 10-20 per cent of what we talk about in the eventual features. So I kind of feel bad that I've had this terrific experience discussing and debating things, and can't always share all of that with more people.

Also, I don't know whether it's a crime writer thing, but they have all been a real pleasure to chat to; humble, passionate, and interesting. Some successful people in other arenas aren't always the same way. But for some reason, all the crime writers I've spoken to have been really genuine, and down-to-earth, regardless of the massive success some of them have achieved.

It's kind of bizarre when you have someone like James Lee Burke thanking you for calling and talking to him, or someone like Michael Connelly asking you to call him back the next day so you can chat more (after already talking for 45 mins). All these authors (and other crime writers I've been fortunate enough to meet or interview) just have a real passion for not only writing and storytelling, but life. Just good people.

I have a great job/hobby, and I'm grateful.

Which of the features did you enjoy? Which authors have you read? What do you think of the Weekend Herald including more crime fiction content in its book pages? Who would you like to see featured in 2011? Comments and suggestions appreciated.

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