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From leading drugs raids to rescuing hostages and preventing attempted homicides, Olivier Norek has experienced first-hand the dark underbelly of the criminal world. His latest suspenseful police procedural The Lost and the Damned without a doubt draws on the author’s own experience as a police officer.
To celebrate our upcoming event with Olivier on Saturday 12 September, we asked him which books have influenced the lieutenant-turned-crime-writer over the years and first inspired him to put pen to paper…
1135 and civil war, famine and religious strife abound. With his family on the verge of starvation, mason Tom Builder dreams of the day that he can use his talents to create and build a cathedral like no other. Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, is resourceful, but with money scarce he knows that for his town to survive it must find a way to thrive, and so he makes the decision to build within it the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.
A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth is Ken Follett’s classic historical masterpiece.
‘How long he fought with them in the darkness he could not tell, but at last the beating of the wings about him lessened and then withdrew…’
A classic of alienation and horror, The Birds was immortalised by Hitchcock in his celebrated film. The five other chilling stories in this collection echo a sense of dislocation and mock man’s sense of dominance over the natural world. The mountain paradise of ‘Monte Verità’ promises immortality, but at a terrible price; a neglected wife haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree; a professional photographer steps out from behind the camera and into his subject’s life; a date with a cinema usherette leads to a walk in the cemetery; and a jealous father finds a remedy when three’s a crowd…
‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’
The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caufield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days.
West of Rome’s two novellas, “My Dog Stupid” and “The Orgy,” fulfill the promise of their rousing titles. The latter novella opens with virtuoso description: “His name was Frank Gagliano, and he did not believe in God. He was that most singular and startling craftsman of the building trade-a left-handed bricklayer. Like my father, Frank came from Torcella Peligna, a cliff-hugging town in the Abruzzi. Lean as a spider, he wore a leather cap and puttees the year around, and he was so bowlegged a dog could lope between his knees without touching them.”
Lucas Corso is a book detective, a middle-aged mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found dead, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment. Across Madrid, Spain’s wealthiest book dealer has finally laid his hands on a 17th-century manual for summoning the devil.
But the further Corso follows the trail of devil worship, the more it leads him back to Dumas. He’s the unwitting protagonist in someone’s evil plot, but is he sleuth or hero, Sherlock Holmes or d’Artagnan?
U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them. But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. And neither is Teddy Daniels. Is he there to find a missing patient? Or has he been sent to look into rumors of Ashecliffe’s radical approach to psychiatry? An approach that may include drug experimentation, hideous surgical trials, and lethal countermoves in the shadow war against Soviet brainwashing…
12 September, 5.30pm, online (Youtube)
Join Olivier Norek and his translator Nick Caistor for a fascinating discussion about his new novel, the French justice system, the process of being translated and why France is producing some of the highest calibre crime writing in the world.
Free to sign up and watch – all are welcome. Sign up here
Denise Mina is an award-winning Scottish crime writer, playwright and comic book author, and this year joined us for a panel discussion joins us on the pod for a fascinating discussion exploring genre, the notion of high and low art and the power of crime fiction to explore progressive politics.
Steph McKenna is asking the questions. Hosted by Simon Jones, who is getting excited about NaNoWriMo.
Earlier this year, Denise was selected by National Centre for Writing patron Elif Shafak as one of ten brilliant women writers in the UK. Find out more about the International Literature Showcase here >>
Yrsa was the inaugural UNESCO City of Literature Writer in Residence at Dragon Hall in September, during Noirwich 2019.
‘Iceland’s crime queen’, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, joins Kate Griffin on the pod to discuss her writing, how she balances being a bestselling author with having a day job – and why she wants to keep the day job – and shifting between crime, horror and children’s literature.
Hosted by Simon Jones and Steph McKenna.
Sara Collins blew the audience away with her insight and readings at our First Offenders panel at Noirwich 2019. We caught up with her behind the scenes to delve deeper into her views and experiences of representation in literature.
Writer Sara Collins joins us on the pod to talk about representation in literature – both behind-the-scenes and within stories.
Sara was in town to discuss her debut novel The Confessions of Frannie Langton at the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival.
Hosted by Steph McKenna and Simon Jones.
The King of Helsinki Crime and the ‘funniest writer in Europe’ Antti Tuomainen joins us on the pod to talk about his books including The Man Who Died and Little Siberia, plus how the crime fiction genre is the perfect engine for telling stories.
Many thanks to the Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) for supporting Antti’s visit to the UK.
Meanwhile, Steph and Simon introduce the Early Career Awards, launched TODAY, including the news that we are now running the Desmond Elliott Prize.
We also share the writing prompt from our first drop-in writing session; “Out of the ashes rose…” Fill in the rest by sending us your microfiction responses on Twitter @writerscentre!
Hosted by Simon Jones and Steph McKenna.
James Henry is the pen name for James Gurbutt, who has written four Inspector Frost prequels based on the character created by the late R D Wingfield. James’ foray into the world of birdwatching in Suffolk provided the backdrop to his latest crime novel Yellowhammer.
Before I started to write my own crime series, I authored four Inspector Frost prequels, all set in the fictional town of Denton. Having spent several years as a writer inhabiting a landscape created by Frost’s creator, R D Wingfield, I wanted my own series to be rooted in a very clear idea of place. In fact, the main attraction of a different book was to write about an area I knew inside out – not, so to speak, from the outside in. So it was to be Colchester and West Mersea for Inspector Lowry in Blackwater. I would use real street names and real places and I did my research. In the early Eighties, Colchester police station was located on Queen Street and that is where you will find DI Lowry. You’ll also find him, often, in the pub – many of which are still serving; some of which have disappeared.
In the second Lowry novel, place was still important but the idea for the title, Yellowhammer, is the name of the bird I see and hear them as I run through the lanes near where I live in North Essex. The key to this novel is the countryside, and for me yellowhammers are symbolic of the farmlands surrounding Coggeshall and Kelvedon where the book is set. All summer they are there atop of the hedgerows with their distinctive call. Detective Nick Lowry is a birdwatcher, he would know a yellowhammer in a flash, but he would not necessarily understand the bird’s significance to some of the local people – and to know that you will have to read the book.
Join us for a fascinating evening of ‘eco crime’ as Noirwich continues with A Birder Murder! Steve Burrows and James Henry, two acclaimed crime writers with a passion for birdwatching and ornithology will delve into the local landscapes that inspired their novels.
Louise Doughty is an award winning author of nine novels. Her previous bestseller Apple Tree Yard has been adapted into a successful television series for the BBC starring Emily Watson. Doughty completed her MA in Creative Writing at UEA and was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from the university. Her latest novel Platform Seven is out now.
Every novel begins twice.
The most obvious beginning is when the author starts to write: a line or a paragraph – some dialogue, a thought, a visual image, perhaps.
The novelist commences writing, the novel begins: not necessarily where it begins, mind you. It might begin a third of the way through, or with a scene that floats around in the chronology of the book before settling, like an errant butterfly, in the place that pleases it best.
My last four books have all begun at the beginning, which does tend to keep things simple. Whatever You Love began with a scene in which the police come to a woman’s door to tell her that her child has been killed in a hit and run accident. Apple Tree Yard opens with a scientist on the witness stand at the Old Bailey, giving evidence in her own trial; Black Water with a man lying awake in a hut in a rural Indonesia, listening to the rain on the roof and convincing himself he is about to be killed.
Platform Seven began for me with a strong image of Peterborough Railway Station on a freezing cold winter’s night, a man entering the station and crossing the covered walkway, shoulders hunched, on his way to take his own life. I knew that the narrator of the novel was going to be the woman observing him do this and I knew that she was also dead but I had not the faintest idea how or why.
But each of these books had another beginning, one that occurred a long time ago, when the seed of an idea was planted, even though I had no idea at that point in my life that I would end up a professional novelist. Platform Seven actually began around thirty-five years before I started writing it.
I had spent the whole of my childhood in the same small town in the East Midlands and when I left to go to university in Leeds, my route home involved changing trains at Peterborough Railway Station. After five years in Leeds, I did the MA in Creative Writing at UEA and the journey back home from Norwich also involved changing trains at Peterborough Railway Station. Following my year at UEA, I moved to London for the rest of my adult life, and as a non-driver my journey back to visit my parents was always – yes, you’ve guessed it – changing trains at Peterborough Railway Station. I spent many a cold winter night there, inadequately dressed and shivery, and my standing joke was that if I had been bad and went to Purgatory when I died, I would find myself trapped on Peterborough Railway Station. Clearly the idea stuck – and I found myself writing a scene from the point of view of a ghost to whom that has happened some three and a half decades after I had first make the joke.
What this means is that we are all carrying multiple potential novels around inside us, sometimes for many years before we even know we can write. They are there, lying in wait, for what? For some impetus or desire to bring them out, accompanied with the technical ability and facility of language to give them expression? Sometimes, they seem to be waiting for a catalyst event, what one friend of mine calls ‘the lightbulb moment’. My joke about Peterborough Railway Station as a metaphor for Purgatory may have been a seed planted in my youth – but if there was a lightbulb moment, it was probably some time around the death of my mother, my last surviving parent, a loss that released me from having to pass through the Station, released me as my ghost, a young woman called Lisa, is released, when the mystery of her death is solved. The novel began then, even though it had begun thirty-five years before. Every novel begins twice.
I wonder what else is dormant, inside, waiting for the catalyst that will give it shape and form.
It’s a mysterious, albeit heartening thought.
Don’t miss Louise Doughty at Noirwich this year for the launch of her latest novel Platform Seven.
Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist, and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch. West Camel shares his thoughts on ‘the new noir’ ahead of Noirwich 2019.
Noir seems to have spread across Europe like wildfire in recent years. Wherever I look when attending book events, fairs and conferences, I see a new country pushing its noir titles. And when I’m editing reviews for the European Literature Network and working on The Riveter magazine of European Literature, ‘noir’, ‘noirish’ and even ‘noiresque’ are peppered throughout the copy. I could be forgiven for wondering how so many authors have written so many noir titles in such a short space of time?
The truth is, they didn’t. Spurred by the success of the Nordic countries, whose noir literature kicked off this trend, many publishers, agents and literary organisations in other European countries are now describing their long-established crime and thriller writers as noir. In the UK the proliferation of noir-style festivals – including Noirwich – has meant there are many more opportunities for crime writers to meet their readers. In fact, as I have experienced at Orenda Books, the publisher I work for, noir is one of the principal drivers of the recent and refreshing mass-market interest in translated fiction.
It is, however, too simplistic to see noir just as rebranded crime. Noir covers a wider range of sub-genres – psychological and domestic thrillers, detective stories, police procedurals and PI tales all have a place in the shade of its umbrella. What readers do want from any noir title, though, is a certain sinister quality – in both setting and character – and a pervading sombre tone, one that no catharsis is able to lighten; not completely anyway.
With Euro Noir well established, and easily recognised by readers, some noir writers are now experimenting with the genre – seeing how far they can push its boundaries and test their readers’ appetites. One such author is Antti Tuomainen. Crowned the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’, Antti published five extremely dark, extremely serious crime thrillers, including the prize-winning The Healer, and most recently The Mine. Then, in 2016 he published The Man Who Died (Orenda Books published David Hackston’s English translation in 2017), a comic, philosophical, thriller-cum-crime-caper that has strong noir credentials – not least the central premise: the protagonist believes he’s being slowly poisoned, probably by his wife. In its review, The Times presented Antti with another crown: ‘the funniest writer in Europe’.
So can noir really be funny? Antti has since seen great success with another piece of comic noir – Palm Beach, Finland, which offers a similar combination of hilarious criminal mishaps, dark moments, and philosophical introspection. His next novel, Little Siberia (published this autumn in the UK by Orenda Books), I can reliably inform you sees him repeating the same trick. Funny noir is definitely here to stay.
Another Orenda author, Simone Buccholz, is pushing the limits of noir in a different way. Like Antti, Simone had published five crime novels – hers all part of a series. But then, having changed her publisher, she had what she describes as a ‘reset … I stepped back and thought of a new way to write the characters and look at the series’. In Blue Night (published in German in 2016, in Rachel Ward’s English translation in 2018), Simone focused on one of her characters, Chastity Riley, and found a voice for her that took her writing in a new direction: a hard-boiled, poetic, almost avant-garde stream of consciousness that has the darkness of noir and still delivers all the essentials of the police procedural. Blue Night was followed by two more Chastity Riley novels – Beton Rouge (2017/19), and Mexico Street, whichwon this year’s German Crime Fiction Prize, and will be published in the UK next spring.
It is the flexibility of Euro Noir – the variety of genres it can encompass – that makes it ideal for literary ground-breakers like Buccholz and Tuomainen. They can feel comfortable in its dimly lit corners, and come up with new ways to beckon their readers into the darkness.
Don’t miss Simone Buchholz and Antti Tuomainen in conversation at the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival on 14 September. They’ll be discussing the continuing popularity of Euro Noir and dissecting how humour and crime translates. Tickets available now.
Follow West on Twitter @west_camel.
Martin Walker is a prize-winning journalist and the author of the popular Bruno detective series set in the Périgord region of France.
Bruno was still glowing from his morning canter at Pamela’s riding school as he sipped his first coffee of the day at Fauquet’s café and scanned the headlines of Sud Ouest. Balzac, his basset hound, was waiting patiently at Bruno’s feet for his customary portion of croissant when the dog felt rather than heard the vibration of the phone at his master’s belt. Balzac slumped glumly onto his belly and lowered his head onto his paws, knowing that this meant his morning treat was likely to be delayed.
‘Bonjour, Florence,’ said Bruno after checking the caller’s number on the screen. ‘This is an early call. Everything okay with the children?’
‘We’re fine, Bruno, but I’m worried about Claudia. She was really sick last night at a lecture in the castle in Limeuil, but there was no answer when I called just now to see how she was. And her landlady says she never came home.’
Along with several of his friends, Bruno had instantly liked and befriended Claudia, an American student from Yale University working on her doctorate in art history and studying with an eminent local scholar. ‘Maybe she met a boyfriend,’ he suggested.
‘I don’t think there is one, at least not in France. Bruno, she really wasn’t in good shape last night, dizzy and white as a sheet. I wanted to walk her home, but she said she’d be fine, just needed to lie down and rest.’
‘Did you check with the urgences?’
‘No, I have to get the kids to the maternelle.’
‘Okay, I’ll take care of it.’
Bruno ended the call, knowing instantly that he wouldn’t be able to perform his usual morning role, managing the traffic at the town’s nursery school. He called the local fire station – the pompiers also served as the local emergency medical service – to learn that they had not been called out the previous evening. Then he phoned the town’s medical clinic. They also reported nothing unusual. He paid for his coffee and croissant and climbed the steps to the mairie to tell the mayor’s secretary he would be going to Limeuil. Back downstairs, he installed Balzac in the passenger seat of his van and set off past the fire station, past the town’s vineyard and up the long sloping hill that led to the top of one of the prettiest villages in France, and one of the oldest.
Bruno knew there had been an Iron Age hill fort on this site before Julius Caesar’s Roman legions stormed it. They then built their own fortification to command the strategic hilltop that overlooked the point at which the River Vézère flowed into the larger Dordogne. What Florence had called the castle was a modern addition, little more than a century old and erected by a former doctor of the sultan of Morocco who had retired to his native Périgord. He bought the hilltop, ruins of the old medieval fortress and all, and commissioned a new house designed, Bruno assumed, to look like one of the
French Foreign Legion forts in the Moroccan desert. The original white stucco of the walls and battlements was now grey, and the building held the gift shop, café and offices of the team of young gardeners who tended the sprawling hilltop for the town and had turned it into a popular tourist attraction. The castle’s large rooms with their view over the two river valleys were now the local cultural centre, hosting lectures, literary events and occasional art exhibitions.
The previous evening there had been a lecture by a local historian on the archaeology of Limeuil, which Bruno would normally have attended but for the weekly meeting of St Denis’s town council. It had been a routine session, and Bruno’s only role had been to report on the progress of the plans he’d drafted for the free concerts, night markets and fireworks displays that were mounted for the summer tourist season. This role as impresario for civic entertainments gave Bruno huge pleasure. The session had ended early, and after a brief vin d’honneur for a veteran council member who was retiring, Bruno and the mayor had taken him for a convivial dinner at Ivan’s bistro. Bruno had been home and in bed with the latest issue of Archéologie magazine soon after ten and asleep by ten thirty, and looking forward to riding his horse, Hector, at seven the next morning.
Limeuil’s hilltop car park was already full, the cars bearing number plates from the Netherlands, Britain and Germany, although it was April, still early in the season for tourists. Bruno left his van outside the nearby restaurant and followed Balzac up the twisting path into the gardens, not yet open to the public, and asked for David, the bearded young man who ran the place. Bruno found him weeding in an area called the apothecary’s garden, full of medicinal plants and herbs. As always, whatever the weather, David was wearing ancient leather shorts and several layers of T-shirts, and he and Balzac greeted each other like old friends.
‘I haven’t seen anything unusual this morning, but I’ll ask the others,’ David said when Bruno explained the reason for his visit. ‘Do you want us to organize a search for her?’
Bruno nodded. ‘I’m told she was feeling dizzy, so she may have fainted. Were any of the staff at the lecture, someone who saw her leave?’
‘I’ll call a staff meeting, organize a search,’ David said, pulling out the kind of whistle used by sports referees. ‘We’ve got a school group coming in forty minutes, but we should have enough time.’
He blew three quick blasts, and from various spreads of foliage, past the giant sequoia tree and water garden and around the heap of stones that were all that remained of the medieval tower, two young men and two young women emerged with secateurs or spades in their hands. Each put out a forearm for Bruno to shake rather than offer a muddied hand and then bent down to greet Balzac as David explained the reason for his visit.
‘I was at the lecture,’ said Félicité, whom Bruno remembered from his tennis class when she’d been a schoolgirl. ‘I know Claudia and I remember she got up, said something to Florence and left very discreetly not long after the speaker dimmed the lights to start showing slides. Florence said later that Claudia wasn’t feeling well.’
‘What time would that have been?’ Bruno asked.
‘We were all there by seven, and I think the lecture started by seven fifteen. The part with the slides came a few minutes later,’ Félicité said. ‘There was fruit punch before the talk began. Maybe it disagreed with her.’
The search began while Bruno, Balzac at his heels, went down the hill to Madame Darrail’s house, where Claudia had rented a room. Built on a slope so that the entrance from the street seemed to lead into a small, single-storey building, the house once entered revealed a much-larger home. Stairs led to a second, lower floor down the slope of the hill, with the rooftop of another house below. The widow of a man who had run the local canoe-rental centre, Madame Darrail was a dour woman of about sixty with a trim build, dark brown eyes, a sallow skin and iron-grey hair. She spent her summers in the kiosk by the river, taking bookings and money and handing out life jackets while her son, Dominic, ran the canoe business. A native of Limeuil, she was accustomed to walking up and down the steep slopes three or four times a day at a pace that left Bruno breathless. This morning, he felt himself lucky to find her at home.
‘Ah, Bruno, you must have got my message,’ she began, a worried expression on her face that eased into a faint smile as she noticed Balzac and bent down to pet him. ‘About the American girl.’
‘There was no message on my mobile,’ he replied. ‘If you called the landline, I’ll get it later when I get back to the office. But that’s why I’m here. Florence from the collège was worried about Claudia and called my mobile. She said she’d spoken to you.’
‘I last saw Claudia around six yesterday when she got back from work. She’d said she was going out to a lecture, so I’d made some soup and put out some cheese for her, but she said she couldn’t eat a thing. She had cramps, you know, so I made her some thyme tea and she took a pill and felt well enough to go to the lecture. I had an early night and didn’t realize until this morning when Florence called that Claudia hadn’t been back. Her bed wasn’t slept in.’
‘Can I see her room?’ Bruno asked. ‘Is it unusual for her not to come back? Does she have a boyfriend?’
‘First time I’ve known her not to have slept here, not that she’s been with me long. She never spoke of any boyfriend here. But I think there was somebody in America. She used to have his photo sitting next to her bed, but I don’t see it now.’
‘And do you know what pills she was taking?’
Madame Darrail shrugged. ‘There are some medications in her room.’
Madame Darrail lived on the top floor of the house, with a kitchen and dining room to one side of the entrance hall and a living room and her bedroom on the other. Along the hall was a series of framed photographs, one that seemed to be of her wedding, another of an attractive city of white buildings climbing a hillside from a port, which Bruno thought might be Algiers. The next two were of military men, both in parachutists’ uniforms and wearing red berets. One was a stranger, but the other was the unmistakable General Jacques Massu, his tough features slashed by a brisk moustache. He had been a loyal Gaullist from 1940 until his death.
‘Massu,’ Bruno said, pausing and looking at the photo.
‘A great soldier,’ she said. Bruno nodded, although he thought
Massu’s temporary victory in suppressing the Algerian independence fighters had been a classic example of a military victory that was also a strategic defeat. Massu’s use of torture had hardened Algerian resistance while at the same time eroding support in France for the war.
‘And the other soldier?’ he asked.
‘My late father. I left Algeria as a baby with our whole family.’
Bruno nodded again. Something like a million French settlers had left around the time that de Gaulle had negotiated Algerian independence. Madame Darrail moved on to a staircase at the far end of the hall. It led to a lower floor that contained two bedrooms and a separate bathroom. Each bedroom had its own sink.
Claudia’s room had a magnificent view over the Dordogne Valley, and a narrow balcony with just enough room for two folding chairs. The room held a double bed that was neatly made, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, a mirror and a small table and chair. A rucksack was under the table, which was piled high with books on art. A smaller pile of paperbacks stood on a bedside table. Postcards of what looked like paintings by Old Masters were sellotaped to every wall.
Tucked into the gap between the mirror and its wooden frame were family photos. Two of them featured a young girl of about nine or ten years old standing between two people, probably her parents. The man was tall, bald and had his hands on the little girl’s shoulders. The woman was plump with fine eyes and a cheerful expression, as if she smiled a lot. Behind them was a large garden with steps leading to an imposing terrace and mansion. Despite its old-fashioned style, the building looked new. Another photo, which seemed to have been taken five or six years later, showed the same girl with the same tall man with a third person clearly cut out of the photo.
On a glass shelf above the sink a cosmetics case was open, and Bruno saw two pharmacist’s containers of yellow plastic and an opened packet of an extra-strength painkiller, an ibuprofen. One container came from a pharmacy in New York City, another from a store in New Haven, Connecticut. Bruno did not recognize the names of the drugs but scribbled down the details. In the wastepaper basket beneath the sink were some used paper tissues and a photo that had been torn in half. Bruno donned a pair of evidence gloves and put the two halves of the photo together. It showed the head and shoulders of a handsome young man holding a tennis racket, with a handwritten note in English that said, ‘All my love to darling Claudia. Ever yours, Jack.’
‘All her clothes are here as you can see. Lovely dresses, Armani and Chanel, but most of the time she seemed to wear jeans and sweatshirts,’ said Madame Darrail, opening the wardrobe. ‘And her lovely silk nightie is under the pillow. It’s a Lanvin. When she’s not out at work she’s working in here on that little computer of hers.’ She looked around quickly and then said in a tone of surprise, ‘Funny, she must have taken it with her.’
Bruno was leafing through the papers on the desk, mostly printouts or photocopies of what seemed like articles in various learned journals in French, English and Italian about the French Renaissance and the art and sculpture of the period. There were piles of handwritten notes on similar topics, each headed by the name of a specific museum or château. A sketch pad contained a series of pencil drawings of Limeuil and its two bridges over the rivers, of the castle and its gardens and several quick sketches of the market in St Denis. They were so good that Bruno recognized two of the people. Claudia was a talented artist. Alongside all the papers was an iPhone, still plugged into its charger, lying on top of a blue American passport.
Bruno picked up the passport and read that Claudia Ursula Muller had been born in Philadelphia and had a French student visa that was valid for two more years. She was twenty-five years old. Her passport showed she had visited Thailand, Singapore and Britain during the past year. In the phone’s case was a small flap that opened to reveal two credit cards. One was a platinum Visa card and the other a black card issued by Muller Investment Trust, of which Bruno had never heard. As Bruno touched the phone screen it came alive with the photo of a white cat staring impassively at the camera. Below it a keyboard of numbers seemed to require him to enter an access code to open the phone, so he put it back down.
‘Did she have a handbag or a purse?’ he asked.
‘I never saw a handbag; she always had that computer case. When she paid the rent, it came from a man’s wallet that she kept in her back pocket. She paid me with a cheque on a French bank account, but I forget which one. Claudia kept some other papers in the wallet, like her driving licence and student card, that sort of thing, but there’s no sign of it here.’
‘Who’s staying in the second bedroom?’ Bruno asked, wondering if the landlady had made a point of prying into her lodgers’ affairs.
‘One of the girls who works in the gardens up the hill, Félicité. She and Claudia are friendly. What do you think has happened to the girl?’
‘She may have been more ill than you thought and collapsed somewhere. The gardeners are looking. But if you’ll let Balzac sniff her nightie, he might be able to track her down.’
Martin Walker will be in conversation with M.J.Carter at the ‘A Taste of Murder: Gourmet Crime’ event at Norwich Crime Writing Festival 2019. Grab a Bloody Mary and take a seat at the chef’s table as we embark on a palatable journey through their gourmet crime books; encountering French café rituals and heinous celebrity chefs along the way. Book tickets here.
Melanie Cook, PR & Marketing Manager, VisitNorwich
It’s curious that even in the 18th century, coffee houses were as popular as ever. Though in those days, they were packed out with men whilst the women did the service.
Today, if you visit the Museum of Norwich at The Bridewell, there is a recreated coffee house exhibit, particularly memorable for the historically-accurate wig you can try on while you’re here.
While the hairpiece may have gone out of fashion, the places we hold dear for our oat milk favourite flat white are as important to us as ever. Whether you want a bit of peace and quiet, a chat, a chinwag or a break with a book, these are my top five favourite places to grab a coffee and drink in the history of this wonderful city.
This beautiful 14th century thatched building is a hidden gem in Norwich, even though it sits proudly on Norwich’s most complete medieval street. Close your eyes and picture a cobbled street with ancient, leaning buildings and you’ll summon a picture pretty close to how Elm Hill looks today. And The Britons Arms is truly inviting. It’s cosy and quaint with a quintessentially English offering of savouries and cakes, all homemade daily. Don’t miss the lush private courtyard garden in good weather.
This is the largest open-air market in the country, and has been in its current space for over 900 years. Recently it has seen an influx of artisan food makers and producers, meaning the hungry (or thirsty!) visitor is never stuck for choice. It’s the place for breakfast or lunch from around the world and a quick stop coffee, especially if you love people watching.
Scandi style chic plus a bakery equals Bread Source. On the cusp of opening its third cafe in Norwich – surely that says it all. And you can’t have a coffee here without trying their signature Cinnamon Bun! Like making the most of your breakfast or brunch experience? You won’t be able to resist the coffee and unlimited toast offer, with at least 6 types of bread which you toast yourself.
The Strangers were a group of Protestant refugee weavers who fled the low countries in the 16th century as a result of religious persecution. They were welcomed in Norwich where they helped create a prosperous textile industry, and where their influence is still felt today. Right in the heart of the Norwich Lanes, sit at the window in Strangers Coffee House – named after neighbouring Strangers Court – and take it easy with an espresso and pecan pie.
Situated in a beautiful building designed by architect George Skipper – a leading Norwich architect of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. This is French style coffee, served in a beautiful brasserie styled by Martin Brudnizki design studio. Order breakfast al fresco and enjoy your hot drink served in a silver coffee pot with complimentary refills. Wear your best Insta outfit here.
Nicola Rayner is one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires and her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was runner-up in the Cheltenham First Novel Competition in 2018. At First Offenders, Nicola will be joined by a panel of debut writers to discuss finding inspiration, writing an attention-grabbing debut, and their personal stories of getting their big break. Here, Nicola shares her top tips for emerging crime writers.
My mother recently unearthed a drawing from my childhood. It’s a self-portrait. In it, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, aged four, a pen in my hand and a happy smile on my face as I stare at the pages in front of me. I’ve captioned it, “Me doing my book.” It’s taken the intervening 35 years to get “my book” published.
In my day job, I write about dance. I remember watching the ballerina Daria Klimentová receive a National Dance Award in 2012. Jumping for joy, she said: “It’s only taken me 30 years of doing ballet every day to get here.” It reminded me that writing shares a lot in common with dance: it’s about practice and incremental progress. The bulk of the labour is done on one’s own, at the ballet barre, so to speak.
Like all novelists, I’ve always loved reading and there are certain authors I’m completely devoted to. Among contemporary writers these include Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Alice Munro, Julie Myerson and Sarah Waters. As for all-time greats, I’ll always have a huge soft spot for Arthur Conan Doyle, Daphne du Maurier and Dorothy Parker.
My favourite books are both pacy and lyrical. They’re suspense novels, but their writers have a wonderful way with language too. Those were the sorts of books I always aspired to writing. Du Maurier was a particularly big influence in my formative years – not many things come close to the twist in Rebecca (or the cruelty in it too; du Maurier is excellent at cruelty) or the way My Cousin Rachel keeps you guessing right until the last page.
I read that book around 25 years ago and I still think of it almost every day. You’ll find its central question in almost every thriller and certainly every work of domestic noir: can I trust you? Are you who you say you are? It’s a question that hounds my protagonist, Alice, all the way through The Girl Before You. Is her husband telling the truth?
When I was looking for tips on how to start as a writer, my mum used to push me forward, at Christmas drinks parties, to talk to the author Molly Lefebure, the mother of a family friend. Lefebure, a forthright sort of person, used to tell me quite stridently: “If you want to be a writer, WRITE. Writers write.” As a shy teenager, I was daunted by such advice, but I can appreciate the truth of it now. You don’t know what sort of writer you are until you begin.
Similarly, Stephen King in his classic On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft advises just getting on with it – recommending a daily word count that you stick to. It’s a good idea, and can certainly help you progress quickly, but if your life looks anything like mine – i.e. normal, busy – there will be times when you will fall short. All I can add to his and Lefebure’s words of wisdom are: stick at it, keep going back to the barre.
And sooner or later, a story will emerge. Because we all work differently, it might be something you want to plot out carefully or it might be an idea that develops more organically. For me, it was the latter. I wrote The Girl Before You in a laborious, inefficient way over many years, writing in fragments in lunch hours, weekends or on my mobile phone during my commute. It took a long time to come together.
Then, of course, I had to rewrite it. When the initial structure, initially told from five points of view, was too unwieldy, I had to retell the story from the perspective of three women – Alice, who spots on a train the face of a girl, Ruth, who went missing when they were at university together; Ruth’s sister, Naomi; and Kat, Ruth’s best friend at university. Rethinking the story a second time round was possibly even more painful than the first, but I persevered and I was fortunate in that process to have the support of a local writing group – something I would definitely recommend new writers seek out.
I also have my parents to thank for my rather dogged approach. When I was a child, my father, an entrepreneur, kept the famous Calvin Coolidge quotation taped to the inside of his suitcase: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not… Genius will not… Education will not… Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” After he died, my mother adopted his motto for herself.
It took me almost ten years to complete The Girl Before You – more if you count my early attempts at the kitchen table. Considering how long it took me, I feel I should have something more groundbreaking to share with writers who are beginning their journeys, but essentially all I have is: discover what you’re interested in, make a start, find the right support group for you. And then persist.
Nicola Rayner is on the guest panel for First Offenders at Noirwich Crime Writing Festival 2019. Discover your next favourite book from our selection of the best debut novels in crime writing and hear from the emerging superstars that write them. Book tickets here>>
Summertime and the living is… easier when you know how to mix up a delicious cocktail! Luckily for you, Big Tom have done the hard work and crafted their own powerful blend of spices and tomato juice so that you can make the ultimate Bloody Mary. Every. Single. Time. As the region’s notorious crime writing festival returns this September 2019, we grilled the expert mixer providers of The Bloody Brunch for their favourite recipe so that you can taste-test to your heart’s content over the summer…
At Big Tom, we like to think vodka should be added according to personal preference. This is why we suggest mixing it according to what tickles your fancy!
But here’s a rough guide for you:
Purchase a combo ticket to The Bloody Brunch and gain access to both Sunday morning events at the National Centre for Writing, Dragon Hall as well as your own complimentary Bloody Mary.
We were honoured to welcome the award-winning Soviet-Ukrainian American and French novelist and artist Yelena Moskovich for the annual Noirwich lecture 2022. Read a transcript of their lecture here.Read more ⟶
The Crime Vault
National Centre for Writing