Wednesday, 27 August 2014

What’s this fascination with the ‘distressed’?

For once, I don’t mean the jeopardy within a Psychological Thriller – I mean ----> d├ęcor…

According to eBay, ‘Shabby Chic’ items top the style charts. The term, coined in the 1980s by World Of Interiors magazine, is a catch-all for comfortable, cosy, worn, lived-in-but-loved, interior design. Domestic items are deliberately chosen to show signs of age and wear and tear or 'distressed' to achieve the appearance of an antique. At the same time - it's soft and opulent.
So - it’s not just about chipped mugs, peeling paintwork and faded curtains – (think Withnail and I – this is NOT the look.) 
Photo: WithNail and I - The Kitchen - Handmade Films UK

Items are often heavily painted, with the top coat rubbed or sanded away to show the wood or base coats. It can be summed up as 'characterful, colourful, used but not abused' and people seem to like it because it's safe, fashionable and has an ancestral feel. 

Personally, I’m hooked. In researching my latest book (which involves a cottage and therefore requires perusing lots of Pinterest images of English Country Cottages – honest!), I’ve fallen in love with this style. I realise, however, that it’s been on my radar for years without me being fully aware it if. I love it when strands come together like that and you can find a label for it! My subliminal penchant for shabby chic stems from the following:

The Pig in the Wall, Southampton
  • A long-term interest in National Trust properties. 
  • One of my favourite cafes, The Pig in the Wall in Southampton, is ‘shabby chic’. Enjoy these lovely photos. 
    The Pig in the Wall, Southampton
    Tiles on the floor in the loo at The Pig
  • I’ve turned our garden into a ‘cottage garden’. 
    Our 'cottage' garden
  • I love walking around country villages and visiting gifts shops such as Cornflowers in Winchester. I surmise that Cath Kidston (doing well on high streets, it would appear) is essentially shabby chic (with more emphasis on the 'chic').
 I’d love more of it around my home – here are my first few paltry items!

I would add that a fondness of this style does not extend to 'shabby' items of clothing - wearing pre-distressed jeans and ripped T-shirts with raw seams is not for me...
Going off at a complete tangent - my brave hubbie did the MND Ice Bucket challenge - you can see his video here!

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Suburban, Domestic and Chick-Noir - New Genres in Psychological Thrillers

Amazon have a category in their bookshelves labelled ‘Crime, Thrillers and Mystery’. It’s a huge area in commercial fiction with no less than 18 sub-categories, including Police Procedurals, Legal and Psychological. In the last few years even more 'sub genres' have been emerging under Psychological Thrillers. Until recently, for example, I’d never heard of the term ‘Suburban Noir’ – but there is also 'Domestic Noir’ and ‘Chick Noir’  – and I thought it might be worth taking a look at this 'new black'.

Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks - Lynch/Frost Productions
Suburban Noir – the dark side of suburban living - is close to home. It is on our doorstep, the neighbourhood - and breeds threat with themes of secrets, being trapped, being watched/stalked and things not being what they seem - all seen from behind those twitching net curtains. This sub-genre can be traced back as far as David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Remember that series on television? With the quirky FBI Special Agent, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)? This sub-genre also spawns a number of novels about so-called friendships - that best-friend who isn't as loyal as we'd hoped... There is an immediacy about the terror in this sub-genre - we can all relate to suburban noir. The setting isn’t some faraway international cold war spy-ring or trek through the jungles of Brazil. It’s just beyond your washing line. Up-close-and-personal. Scary...

Domestic Noir brings the threat even closer. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a good example, where a marriage is the breeding ground for deception and betrayal. A number of books where marriage is centre-stage have been released in the last few years. The Family, too, is a cauldron for crime, bringing with it abductions, incarcerations, issues with infertility, infidelity and missing children. The home is rife with buried family secrets that come back to haunt us. This sub-genre plays on the idea that the home is the safest place to be – OR IS IT..? Novels I've enjoyed in this genre are Until You’re Mine, by Samantha Hayes and Under your Skin (Sabine Durrant) - not forgetting one of my absolute favourites, Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes.

Chick Noir is defined by Lucie Whitehouse, author of Before We Met, as psychological thrillers which explore the fears and anxieties experienced largely by women. In my view, they often share the ‘chatty prose style’ of chick-lit, but with jeopardy and menace added to the mix. Whitehouse says, “They deal in the dark side of relationships, intimate danger, the idea that you can never really know your husband or partner or that your home and relationship is threatened. In these books, danger sleeps next to you. Marriage is catnip for writers of psychological suspense because it's such a private, intimate relationship.” Before we Met starts with what looks on the surface like the perfect marriage – until the husband fails to turn up at the airport… Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret also comes into this sub-genre. This concept isn’t necessarily new - there is a tradition of psychological suspense emerging from the domestic arena involving the secrets and fears concealed in marriages and relationships in novels by Patricia Highsmith, Daphne Du Maurier and even Charlotte Bronte.

My current writing is pulling me towards these 'Noir' genres - almost without realising it. My experience in psychotherapy is all about the unspoken horrors lurking behind the bathroom door and I find myself drawn to it... 

So – what’s next in this set of sub-genres? Do you enjoy them? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Openings lines that MAKE you turn the page!

Take a look at two striking openings, to start with:

'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.'
- The opening of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984.

'The beginning is simple to mark. We were in sunlight under a turkey oak, partly protected from a strong, gusty wind. I was kneeling on the grass with a corkscrew in my hand, and Clarissa was passing me the bottle - a 1987 Daumas Gassac. This was the moment, this was the pinprick on the time map: I was stretching out my hand, and as the cool neck and the black foil touched my palm, we heard a man's shout. We turned to look across the field and saw the danger. Next thing, I was running toward it.'

- The opening of Enduring Love, Ian McEwan

Neither of these novels would be described as ‘crime novels’, but they have the essence that a crime thriller (or mystery/suspense) needs – a hook to pull the reader in.  

Don’t all books need a punchy opening? 

Absolutely. Every book needs to dangle a carrot of intrigue, something that makes you want to read on. In crime fiction, however, I think the hook is more likely to contain an obvious mysterious element, jeopardy or a sense that ‘all is not right’. Suspense is created when questions are raised, sometimes right at the start, and answers delayed, usually having to do with causality (whodunnit) and temporality (what happens next?).
McEwan’s book is, in fact, a chilling page-turner written in beautiful prose, with themes of death, obsession, love and psychological disturbance – so although his publisher classifies him under ‘contemporary fiction’, this novel ticks other boxes too.

Anne Tyler, who writes deliciously descriptive novels is certainly not a crime writer, however. Her genre is also contemporary fiction, largely with themes of family relationships and dysfunction. She opens her book, Back when we were grownups opens with:

'Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.'

This draws us in for certain – we want to know what happened to this woman - but we know that the book is going to be about a 'life journey', the twists, turns and mistakes made by a woman in her later years – not (gauging from the title too), a suspense novel!

How are Mysteries/Suspense novels different?

The first novel by Nicci French, The Memory Game, published in 1997, opens with the lines:

'I close my eyes. It’s all there, inside my skull. Mist following the contours of the lawn. A shock of cold stinging in my nostrils. I have to make a conscious effort if I want to remember what else happened on the day we found the body; her body. The reek of wet, brown leaves.'

It's a 'classic' opening to a crime novel/psychological thriller, oozing fear, dread, an unpleasant atmosphere (mist, cold) and a bad memory, brought to life by the involvement of the senses – and that essential ingredient – a dead body! Delivered in short punchy sentences, the author conveys anxiety and the promise of revelations about what terrible event took place. Questions arise for the reader immediately. How did the woman die? Who is she? Does the narrator know who killed her? (the addition of ‘her body’ implies a hint at familiarity). All this within three lines. Powerful!

This opening, from Rubbernecker, by Belinda Bauer, sends shivers down my spine:

'Dying is not as easy as it looks in the movies.'

And this one, from Point of Rescue, by Sophie Hannah:

'Or Your family. The last three words are yelled, not spoken.'

What openings to mystery/suspense novels do you admire?

PS Point of Interest - My Blogger spell-check changes 'dystopian novel' to 'dustpan novel' - nice one! :)
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Found it! My Long-Lost Poem

I've found it! I've been looking for this for ages - a poem I wrote (and illustrated!) when I was 14! I won a school competition with it! I knew it was around somewhere. Just thought I'd share it with you for fun...but there's also something intriguing in it. Read on for a point of interest at the end...

 The Story of Winter’s Children
by Alison Waines (aged 14)

Open the doors to a flourish of cool and a flutter of surprise
The glistening gems of white and blue lie in a froth disguising the ground.
Seagulls sweep the sky with winter on their wings
As children below dance on the plateau, covered with naked trees and white.

Crumbs, flaky and pastel soft, float to settle upon the tree’s open arms
Bony and spindly, that cast a metallic glint sliding across the snow.
Apparitions lurk among the shadows and dart away at the sound of crisp footsteps,
The children hooded in duffels dream of Christmas and the taste of winter.

Tracks follow patterns across the snow
Not a word spoken as the withered glass fingers lay broken,
And others clutch the roof tops, so frail and brittle.
The trees so silent, meditating in cool calm.

As the thrills of winter beautify the country for a biting second
The willow, a glass fountain where the tears have iced as it weeps
Still doesn’t break the silence. Peace like a dove that never stays,
Such a pity it goes so swiftly.


I can see now, of course, it's just a series of image statements, but interestingly some of these have stayed with me over the years. I discovered the poem after I wrote the first draft for my latest novel, set in a remote cottage in the snow-bound Highlands, but I was surprised to find a couple of these same images cropping up - 40 years later. There's something oddly creepy about that - how the brain manages to follow similar imaginative pathways over a lifetime and makes a writer's style distinctly their own.

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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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