Interview: Jake Needham

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I am pleased to present an interview with the exceedingly cool and knowledgeable Jake Needham, described by The Straits Times as “Asia’s most stylish and atmospheric writer of crime fiction”!

Describe yourself in 5 words:

JN: No. Good. At. Such. Questions.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your latest book:

umbrella_man

Excerpt: Tay had no idea what time it was when he eventually slipped off to sleep, but he woke in the night to the sound of rain splashing against his windows and bouncing off the brick pavers in his garden.

He had just had that dream again.

There had been lights. There were always lights. They swirled in the air likes pieces of a shattered mirror propelled by a whirlwind. And his mother had spoken to him from somewhere outside in the rain.

It was a dream he had had several times since his mother died, but when he woke he could never remember what she had said to him. Nothing good, he imagined. His mother had never been happy with his career choice and after he became a policeman she gradually seemed to lose interest in him altogether. After she moved to New York and remarried, he seldom heard from her at all, but to be fair she seldom heard from him either. Over the last fifteen or twenty years they had just gradually slipped out of each other’s lives. It seemed impossible that a man could lose track of his mother, or a mother could lose track of her son, but that was exactly what had happened.

Tay figured he and his mother had communicated more in his dreams over the last year than they had in life during all of the twenty years that had come before. The only problem was, when he woke from his dreams, he could not for the life of him remember what it was they had communicated about.

Tay hoped, at the very least, he had finally said some of the things he should have said to his mother before she died, some of the things he knew now he had wanted to say to her all along. It was a phenomenon he found himself experiencing more and more often recently. People kept dying before Tay could tell them the things he wanted to tell them. The older he got, the more distant his connections to the world became, and the more people there were whom he knew he had failed to communicate with as well as he should.

A progression like that, Tay knew, did not bode particularly well for his future.

— THE UMBRELLA MAN (An Inspector Samuel Tay novel)

Blurb: “In his raw power to bring the street-level flavor of contemporary Asian cities to life, Jake Needham is Michael Connelly with steamed rice.” – The Bangkok Post

What do you enjoy about the genre in which you write?:

JN: I don’t have a favorite author. Honestly, I don’t. I read contemporary fiction constantly and have what most would probably call rather middlebrow taste. Yes, there are authors whose new books I look forward to — such as James Lee Burke, David Ignatius, Stephen Hunter, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, John Sandford, Charles McCarry, Nelson DeMille, and Martin Cruz Smith — but there’s no particular author I could come even close to labeling as my favorite.

What do you enjoy about the genre in which you write?:

JN: It’s unexplored territory, as least as far as mainstream fiction goes. I’m not at all sure I could bring a fresh enough eye to a novel set in Los Angeles, or New York, or London, or Paris to make you see and smell the place. You already know all about them, or think you do. But when I take you to Hong Kong or Dubai or Singapore, you are less certain of your ground. Then you’re all mine…

Once upon a time, Jake Needham got incredible press coverage in Singapore — two huge features in The Straits Times and pieces in darn near every other local publication as well. Then THE AMBASSADOR’S WIFE came out and there was no more press coverage overnight. For all the details, check out this interview HERE, which makes for rather interesting reading…so I asked Mr. Needham the following question: How have your experiences with the media in Singapore influenced you, as an individual and/or as a writer?

JN: Not at all, really. I write what interests me, and people read what interests them. I can’t see that whether I am a popular figure with the authorities and the mass media in Singapore is relevant to much of anything. Anyway, not being able to go back to Singapore again is about as disturbing as being barred from having a prostate examination.

What is your definition of “good writing”?

JN: Anything I enjoy reading.

Please share your #1 tip for writers in the crime fiction genre:

JN: Don’t take yourself or your work too seriously. We’re entertainers. We’re not responsible for the survival of the species.

* * *

JAKE NEEDHAM is an American screen and television writer who began writing crime novels and legal thrillers when he realized he really didn’t like movies and television very much. He is a lawyer by education and has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand for over twenty-five years. He, his wife, and their two sons now divide their time between homes in Thailand and the United States.

THE DEAD AMERICAN (Inspector Tay Novels, Book 3) is out now!!

Jake Needham Online: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads

Interview: Mel Sherratt

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I am pleased to present an interview with Mel Sherratt: a writer of murder and mayhem…and a hoarder of killer heels!

Describe yourself in 5 words:

MS: Emotional, loyal, obsessive, creative, determined.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your latest book:

Excerpt: At eight thirty that evening, Ella grabbed her handbag and almost bounced down the front steps to the pavement and into a waiting taxi. She slid into the back seat and closed the door.

‘Rendezvous, Marsh Street,’ she told him.

They set off for the city centre, and she gazed idly out of the car window as they drove down Trentham Road. She ran a finger up and down her leg from her knee to the hem of her short skirt. In anticipation, her hand moved to the neckline of her sheer blouse, fingertips running over the naked area of her chest. She couldn’t wait to get into Hanley now. It had taken her a few hours to control her anger today but, God, she needed to be screwed.

She turned slightly to see the driver studying her through his rear-view mirror. Not taking her heavily made-up eyes from his, she ran her tongue suggestively over red-coated lips, fingers trailing across her skin. While he adjusted the mirror to get a better view, she moved her hand down inside her blouse, splaying her fingers and rubbing the palm of her hand back and forth across her nipple.

Already she could feel it erect, sense the heat building up between her legs. The driver crunched his gears and she laughed silently before looking away. Who was she to give a free show? And besides, she was saving herself. It was her night tonight.

Blurb: Following the death of her husband and unborn child, Charley Belington sells the family home and bravely starts life over again. On moving into a new flat, she is befriended by her landlady, Ella, who seems like the perfect friend and confidante.

But, unbeknown to Charley, Ella is fighting her own dark and dirty demons as the fallout from a horrific childhood sends her spiralling down into madness—and unspeakable obsessions.

As Ella’s mind splinters, her increasingly bizarre attentions make Charley uneasy. But with every step Charley tries to take to distance herself, Ella moves in a tightening lockstep with her, closer and closer and closer…

What do you enjoy about the genre in which you write?:

MS: I can murder people – it’s a license to kill… Seriously, people are complex, good and bad – there is literally nothing as queer as folk. So I like to write ‘whydunnits’ as well as ‘whodunnits.’ I love creating dark, dangerous characters – with lots of sexual tension, fear and violence. Yet, you’ll always find emotion in my books too – I like to root for the underdog. It all makes for interesting plots. It’s what I’m known for, which is why I aim for a particular market of readers who like that type of thing.

Seriously, apart from staying within the realms of reality as well as, with some of my books, police procedures, it’s fiction so anything can happen.

What is your definition of “good writing”?

MS: As long as the grammar and structure are good, it’s all about story for me. What I mean by that is, I want a good book that I can lose myself in, immerse myself into its characters and enjoy timeout in a world that someone else has created. I read a lot of books in different genres – literary and easy read, but it’s the story that I think defines good writing.

Please share your #1 tip for writers in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre:

MS: Write the book you always wanted to read.

* * *

MEL SHERRATT is a writer of murder and mayhem…and a hoarder of killer heels. Taunting the Dead, her standalone crime thriller, was an Amazon Kindle Top 100 Bestseller of 2012.

Mel Sherratt Online: Website (new URL) | Website (current URL) | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads

Interview: Brian McGilloway

I am pleased to present Author Interview #4 with Brian McGilloway! Part of the Partners in Crime blog tour.

Describe yourself in 5 words:

BM: Husband, father, former teacher, writer.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your latest book:

someone_you_know_brian_mcgilloway_

Synopsis: Just before Christmas, the body of a sixteen-year-old girl is found along the train tracks on the outskirts of a small town. As Detective Lucy Black investigates the teenager’s tragic last hours in search of clues to her death, she realizes that some of the victim’s friends may have been her most dangerous enemies—and that whoever killed her is ready to kill again. Haunted by the memory of a case gone wrong, and taunted by a killer on the loose, Lucy finds herself pitted against a lethal opponent hiding in plain sight.
Someone You Know, Brian McGilloway

Share an excerpt of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
— The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

What do you enjoy about the genre in which you write?:

BM: I was a crime reader before a crime writer so I love the genre. There’s something immensely satisfying in a good thriller and, for me, the thrill lies not in the violence, but in the solving of the crime and the assertion of some form of order at the end. Mind you, from Greek Tragedy onwards, we’ve been concerned with stories that move from order to disorder to new order – especially where that disorder is caused by the killing of an individual. Thriller writing is the modern iteration of that concept.

What is your definition of “good writing”?

BM: That’s an interesting question. It all comes down to ‘value’, which is, of course, completely subjective. Everyone values different things. Good writing for me is writing which somehow expresses an emotion or feeling which I recognize but would never have been able to put into words so succinctly. I think we all have those moments of recognition when reading – those moments that connect us through our shared thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Please share your #1 tip for writers in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre:

BM: I’m in no position to be giving advice to others! My number one rule for me is to write everyday when I am working on a book. Stopping for a while makes me begin to doubt what I’ve written. If I just keep the momentum going, I’ll always come back at the end and redraft anyway.

Your websites/blogs/etc:

BM: I’m online at www.brianmcgilloway.com, on Twitter @BrianMcGilloway and on Facebook. And I’m always delighted to hear from fellow crime fiction readers.

* * *

BRIAN McGILLOWAY is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of DS Lucy Black thrillers and Inspector Devlin mysteries. He won the BBC Tony Doyle Award 2014 and is a father of four.

Brian McGilloway Online: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Interview: Benjamin King

benjamin_king

I am pleased to present Author Interview #3 with Benjamin King: a writer, world traveler, sculptor, and professional musician!

Describe yourself in 5 words:

BK: A thousand lives in one.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your latest book:

lady_lies

Excerpt: With the window sash scraping the skin off my back I finally wiggled my upper body through the small window and lay half­in and half­out of the house and sucked oxygen into my burning lungs.  And then, in the ghostly, musky quiet of the attic, I heard the heavy crunch of tires on gravel from the driveway in front of the house.  That’s when the stupidity that had brought me here to die like a criminal loomed like a billboard in my mind.  If they caught me, I had no doubt they would kill me.  How I wished I could go back to that night when I should have quit my job and left town.
When a Lady Lies, by Benjamin King

Share an excerpt of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):

“Every man has a religion or totems of some kind.  Even the atheist displays an enormous act of faith in his belief that the universe created itself, and the subsequent creation of intelligent life was merely a biological accident.”
— James Lee Burke

What do you enjoy about the genre in which you write?:

BK: Mystery/murder thrillers give an author the best chance to utilize the only two real plots for the genre: chase and capture and delayed revelation.  A good one is about a hundred chases and captures capped off with a surprise, delayed revelation.  It’s also a very inventive genre – you can get away with unusual characters – in fact they make for a better story.  My hero in my series is a young country singer who overcomes defeat and depression in each volume by losing himself in the soulful process of writing a new hit song.  I record the song in my studio and put a link at the end of the book to the MP3 file on a website.  When the mystery is solved and the heroine is rescued, the reader gets to hear the hit song inspired by the adventure.  I think I’m onto something unique.

What is your definition of “good writing”?

BK: The highest quality of any art form is its believability.  The best writers make the reader forget he is looking at a page filled with words and convince him he is part of the action.

Please share your #1 tip for writers in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre:

BK: Don’t give away your secrets too easily.  Don’t make your characters blabbermouths.  Make the reader follow your hero through hell to find the real answer to the puzzle.

* * *

BENJAMIN KING is a writer, world traveler, sculptor, and professional musician. He had his first country song published in 1971 and followed that with numerous magazine articles, a volume of short stories, and a future-fantasy novel. His colorful characters are drawn from the eventful life he has pursued.

Benjamin King Online: Website | SW | FacebookAmazon | Goodreads | Guest Post

Science Fiction Noir

* Note from Jess: ‘Noir’ can be defined as a “genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity.” In this post, writer Richard Levesque shares his thoughts on the connection between science fiction and noir — which I certainly appreciate as a fan of cross-genre work!

INTO THE DARK: The Science Fiction/Noir Connection
Guest Post by Richard Levesque

noir_alley

Image by Pspynett

The running man darts past a streetlight, casting a long shadow across the wet pavement. He glances back and then ducks into an alley, pressing himself into the darkness as he catches his breath and listens. He thinks he’s safe, but from the other end of the alley a new shadow moves. There’s a moment’s recognition when he sees her, but his relief fades instantly when he realizes there’s only one reason she’d be here in this alley at the same time as him. He hears someone running up the street toward the alley, and he knows he’s cornered. There’s no choice but to shoot his way out, but who to shoot first? The woman is only a few steps away. He can smell her, can practically taste her. But he knows why she’s here, so he pulls out his laser cannon and blasts her into eternity.

Wait.

What?

Laser cannon? Wasn’t that supposed to be a snub-nosed .38?

Well, yes. If this were a 1940s detective novel or a 1950s film noir, that is. But it’s not. This is science fiction, and yet the story and characters have a lot in common with the kinds of hard-boiled crime fiction found in literature and film over the last 70 years or so. We still have the tough protagonist who lives on the edge of society and sometimes does bad things but always in the name of getting to the truth and shining a light on the darkness that’s just below the surface of seemingly respectable society. Along the way, he encounters a femme fatale, crooked cops, deadly mobsters, lots of dark interiors and shadowy exteriors, and even more disillusionment.

Face it: there are murders and crimes in science fiction; there are mysteries that need to be solved and shady characters who will stop at nothing to keep their secrets hidden. When these characters and situations emerge, science fiction blends with hard boiled noir.

The blending of SF and noir goes back a long way, maybe even to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Most SF fans probably think more readily of Blade Runner, though, or at least the original theatrical release of that film with the Sam Spade-style voiceover. There are a lot of other examples, among them William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” and Jonathan Letham’s Gun, with Occasional Music. More recently, the development of deco-punk and diesel-punk have added to the SF/noir canon.

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“Neon City” artwork by Vladimir Manyuhin

But why blend SF and hard-boiled mystery? For me, the connection just seems natural as they’re my two favorite genres to read, and because I’ve spent a lot of time reading and writing about LA and Hollywood history and culture. When I started writing, I put my two loves together to end up with Take Back Tomorrow (a time travel novel set in 1940 Los Angeles) and Strictly Analog (about a down-and-out private detective in a near future, dystopian LA).

If you think about it, though, there’s also a logical connection. Look at science fiction from the early twentieth century—the pulpy, genre stuff in Amazing Stories, Astounding, and so on rather than more highbrow SF from Orwell and Huxley and Olaf Stapledon. In those pulp stories, the science fiction hero was a slightly disguised version of the cowboy or frontiersman, the hero of much of the popular fiction from the century before. That Western hero—the trailblazing loner who came into town, kissed a few shady ladies, blasted holes into the bullies trying to boss around the hard-working homesteaders, and then rode out again to explore the edges of the known world—managed to get bifurcated in the twentieth century. In one form, he became the private eye—still righting wrongs, messing with the wrong women, and always ending up alone after risking life and limb to make better the society that had somehow rejected him, or which he’d turned his back on voluntarily. And in his other form, he became the science fiction hero—exploring the galaxy and making future worlds safe for space colonists, taking on aliens and androids alike.

Great examples of these transplanted cowboys would include Northwest Smith in C.L. Moore’s stories, or John Carter in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series. There was a lot less disillusionment in those heroes; they were a lot more like their cowboy granddaddies than their jaded detective cousins. And yet the two are not much different; it’s the settings that change, and the weapons—snub-nosed .38s for one, laser canons for the other.

By the 1950s, the science fiction hero became a little darker, a little less pulpy. You can find the noir-themed beginnings of cyberpunk back there in the writings of Alfred Bester, in particular his novels The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man, both crime novels set in the future with anti-hero characters and a tough, gritty tone. By the time we get to the 1980s and William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, the blending of science fiction and noir had reached a peak with characters occupying as risky a landscape as anything Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade had to navigate.

It only makes sense that the bifurcated cowboy would rejoin himself in the form of the futuristic detective or private eye. Like all good literature, science fiction tends to reflect the culture that creates it. Maybe we’ve reached a point where we’re less optimistic about our future than SF writers in the 1930s were, less hopeful that technology will get us out of our binds or that the monsters (real or imagined) will be defeated with a good right cross and some superior intellect. But if our heroes are growing darker, their situations bleaker, their outlooks more pessimistic, we’re still entertained, caught up in the fantasy that there’s still someone out there with enough guts to do what’s right even at great personal cost.

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Image by DualProdigy

…The femme fatale drops to the concrete, smoke rising from the big hole in her chest. The hero pauses over her corpse just long enough to say goodbye to the girl he thought she’d been. Then he runs off into the night, knowing his safety is only temporary…like ours.

* * *

RICHARD LEVESQUE has spent most of his life in Southern California. For the last several years he has taught composition and literature, including science fiction, as part of the English Department at Fullerton College. His first book, Take Back Tomorrow, was published in 2012, and he has followed it with other science fiction and urban fantasy novels, novellas, and short stories.

* Check out his short story, Walk A Mile — available for free on Amazon!

Richard Levesque Online: Website | Blog | Amazon | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Interview: Sylvia Massara

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I am pleased to present Author Interview #1 with Sylvia Massara: a multi-genre novelist based in Sydney, Australia, who dabbles in wacky love affairs, drama and murder!

Describe yourself in 5 words:

SM: Creative, passionate, generous, loyal, fiery.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your latest book:

south_murders

I tried very hard to control my temper as I fixed my work colleague and friend, Guy Dobbs, with a look that could vapourise a planet in a millisecond.

“Who the hell invited Smythe along?”

Dobbs winced at my enraged tone and did his best to give me a placating smile. “Now, Mia, you know you agreed to be good where Smythe’s concerned. Don’t forget he saved your life.”

I banged down my cup and the items on his desk rattled. We were having coffee in the security office of Rourke International Hotel Sydney, where Dobbs was the security manager.

“Honestly, I can’t believe you’re standing up for the guy. It was his friggin’ job to save my life,” I exclaimed indignantly. “Besides, I was the one who once again had to solve the case for the cops because they were too stupid to listen to me in the first place!”

Dobbs did not respond immediately but regarded me for a while until I had time to settle down. He knew me too well to try to push a point when it concerned my archenemy, Detective Sergeant Phil Smythe of the Kings Cross police.

I took a deep breath in order to calm myself. There was no point in losing my temper with Dobbs since the whole thing was now a fait accompli. I therefore remarked after a few moments of silence, “I just don’t understand it, Dobbs. What made you invite him on the cruise?”

Dobbs’s large, dark eyes gazed back at me from a chocolate brown, crinkled face topped by grey, frizzy hair. He spoke carefully lest he should provoke another outburst from me. “Mr Rourke told me I should invite someone in his place seeing as he couldn’t make it,” he explained in his deep voice with a marked American accent.

— Excerpt from The South Pacific Murders: A Mia Ferrari Mystery, by Sylvia Massara

Share an excerpt of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

— Excerpt from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

SM: I know, it’s not a mystery, but it makes good reading :)

Good reading, yes! What do you enjoy about the genre in which you write?:

SM: Although I am a multi­-genre author, I do enjoy murder and mayhem more than anything else. I love the suspense, “who dunnit” type of novels that keep readers turning the pages.

I love murder and mayhem as well ;) What is your definition of “good writing”?

SM: Aside from having a manuscript without typos and grammatical errors, my definition of good writing is when a story moves along to its conclusion with characters and situations driving the storyline and not being used for “filler.” Everything that happens in the story must have a reason for it—such as “showing” not “telling” something about the characters—and it must drive the story to its conclusion.

Please share your #1 tip for writers in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre:

SM: Keep the main storyline moving without introducing “fluff” or “filler” material. A mystery/suspense/thriller needs to keep the reader from putting it down.

* * *

SYLVIA MASSARA is a multi-genre novelist based in Sydney, Australia, who dabbles in wacky love affairs, drama and murder (or all three) over coffee. She has a soft spot for older female protagonists with an attitude who are on the cusp of 40 years and beyond. This is seen in her wacky, romantic comedies, and most recently, in her mystery novels.

Sylvia Massara Online: Website | Blog | Twitter | Amazon | Goodreads

Female Serial Killers

FEMALE SERIAL KILLERS
Guest Post by Tim Ellis

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Image of Asami Yamazaki from Gores Truly

Gender equality means that men and women should receive equal treatment, and should not be discriminated against based on gender, unless there is a sound biological reason for different treatment. Women are, however, under-represented in any list of serial killers. Why is that?

I’ve included a female serial killer in the novel I’m currently writing, but they’re as rare as rocking horse droppings. When we think of serial killers – we think of males such as Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, Andrei Chikatilo, John Wayne Gacy and Henry Lee Lucas – not a female to be seen among them. Why is that?

Yes, there have been female serial killers throughout history – Beverly Allitt, Andrea Yates, Karla Homolka, Aileen Wuornos – to name a few of the more recent ones, but they represent a tiny percentage of the total, and to be honest, they’re not scary, and they don’t fire the imagination like a really evil male serial killer. Why is that?

Female serial killers are usually classified as black widows (Blanche Taylor Moore); angels of death (Beverly Allitt); sexual predators (Aileen Wuornos); or kill for revenge (Martha Wise), profit or in the commission of another crime (Dorothea Puente). A lot of the time, they act in partnership with a man (Fred & Rosemary West, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley).

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but women are different to men! No, I don’t mean on the outside, I mean on the inside.

Books have been written about these differences (Gray, 1992, Tannen, 1992), which is reinforced by societal stereotypes:

* Feminine Traits

Submissive
Dependent
Unintelligent and Incapable
Emotional
Receptive
Intuitive
Weak
Timid
Content
Passive
Cooperative
Sensitive
Sex object
Attractive because of physical appearance

* Masculine Traits

Dominant
Independent
Intelligent and capable
Rational
Assertive
Analytical
Strong
Brave
Ambitious
Active
Competitive
Insensitive
Sexually aggressive
Attractive because of achievement

And there’s the problem! Do you really see a scary female serial killer with those feminine traits? I don’t think you need to jump up and down to answer that question – the answer is obviously no.

If we look at the behaviours on Robert Hare’s (2003) psychopathy checklist (2nd Edition), we’re looking at masculine behaviours. As far as I recall, he didn’t interview any females as part of his research:

Glib and superficial charm
Grandiosity
Need for stimulation
Pathological lying
Cunning and manipulating
Lack of remorse
Callousness
Poor behavioral controls
Impulsiveness
Irresponsibility
Denial
Parasitic lifestyle
Sexual promiscuity
Early behavior problems
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Many short-term marital relationships
Juvenile delinquency
Revocation of conditional release
Criminal versatility

So, my advice – if you want to include a female serial killer (or murderer) in your novel – is to give the character masculine traits. They can look like Marilyn Monroe, but they need to kill like men.

* * *

TIM ELLIS lives in Essex with his wife and five Shitzus and writes fiction full time. To date, he has written 25 novels (crime, historical, science fiction and fantasy), and sold over 400,000 copies of his books (as of March 2014). He was a participant in the London Book Fair 2014.

Tim Ellis Online: Website | Amazon | Facebook | Goodreads | LBF