Posts Tagged Nirvana

The Undercover Soundtrack – Guy Mankowski

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative life – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is returning for a second spin – Guy Mankowski @GMankow

Soundtrack by Aleka’s Attic, Nirvana, Babes In Toyland, Hole, Bratmobile, PJ Harvey, Placebo, Manic Street Preachers, Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, Pulp, Alice Deejay, Whigfield, Greenday, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Llama Farmers

The band that best sums up the mood of my fifth novel, Dead Rock Stars, is the late actor River Phoenix’s band, Aleka’s Attic (here’s their song Where I’d Gone). So much so that I named a character in tribute to him.

My novel is set over the course of a wild summer in which a teenage boy (Jeff) comes to terms with the mysterious death of his older sister, Emma, who was a rising star on the 90s Camden music scene. As his summer unspools and becomes wilder and wilder and he learns about first love it is his sister’s diary that guides him through his coming-of-age experiences. I think River Phoenix’s band perfectly captures the mood of the novel, with the warmth and experimentalism of 90s music in which earnest social messages were often filtered through well-meaning- and often very abstract – lyrics.

As well as River Phoenix, an artist who looms pretty large over the novel is Kurt Cobain. One of Emma’s pivotal pieces of advice to Jeff is to never trust people who don’t like Nirvana. When Emma meets the brooding, already-famous musician Adam it is in performing About A Girl to him that she asserts herself as a musician.

As a former singer and guitarist in various shortlived bands, I first learnt to play guitar using this song. The novel is a great deal about young, frustrated artists trying to find a way to express their voice and impress themselves upon the world and it reminded me of when, like Emma, I learnt to play Nirvana’s Unplugged In New York. It was a great album in terms of emotional range and you could really express yourself through playing those tracks but it also had that punk sensibility to it – it isn’t technically complex.

The novel is deeply steeped in the 90s, not purely for nostalgic reasons (though I recently found myself watching many Winona Ryder films and missing slightly simpler times). But more because it was an era in which there was a naïve sense of hopefulness. One thing that fascinates me about the 90s is all the rich music scenes that popped up, when in the UK music weeklies had a monopoly on who was deemed cool and successful. Emma is hugely influenced by the Kinderwhore scene, associated with acts like Babes in Toyland (here’s Bruise Violet), where ruined prom queens, tiaras and leopard print were all used in a twisted appropriation of the feminine and the innocent. It would be remiss of me not to mention the influence of Hole. Their song Doll Parts has lyrics that perfectly capture Emma’s tiredness about having to compete with men for attention.

The back cover of Hole’s Celebrity Skin has artwork of Ophelia drowning, which is a theme on the cover of my novel too, seeing that Emma was obsessed with Ophelia and tragic figures like Frances Farmer.

The Riot grrrl movement, in which the female body was used to display confrontational messages and the physicality of music prioritised, is also a big influence on Emma . (Here’s Bratmobile Cool Schmool.)

But her biggest influence in the novel is probably PJ Harvey, an artist living and creating on their own terms whilst possessing that alluring mix of force and glamour (PJ Harvey 50 Ft. Queenie).

I do miss being in era in which there was that sense of possibility and when an artist performing a song was an event, almost a window into their mysterious life. I remember when Placebo first performed Pure Morning on Top Of The Pops (watching that every Friday was an almost religious ritual for me). It was for me a lot like seeing David Bowie perform Starman was for the previous generation.

The characters in the novel hark back to a time when hearing a song for the first time, or seeing a glimpse of one of their videos on The Word or MTV was a pivotal moment.

Music – in the form of cassettes made for those you were intimate with, or CDs and inlay cards – was a lot more physical then. The gorgeous Smashing Pumpkins artwork is a good example (Daphne Descends).

Pre internet artists found it harder to get their voice out. I remember needing such a physical act of will to find a way to record your songs. I wanted to capture that sense of strain. That push to have your voice heard is, I think, essential to finding out who you are, as an artist.

Over the course of the summer portrayed in the novel, there are certain tracks that to me capture that era. The sheer optimism of Oasis’s Some Might Say captures the naivety and hope of that era, where every Friday after school I would tune in to TFI Friday, and be introduced to at least three new bands. On the Isle of Wight, where I lived, shows like that were a lifeline. Ocean Colour Scene’s theme tune (The Riverboat Song) would, to me, always signal the start of the weekend. I remember that just seeing a poster for a band would be like witnessing a portal to a whole new way of life. Pulp’s now famous poster for their album Different Class felt like a kind of a battle cry for all the outsiders (here’s Mishapes).

The novel also includes teenage discos, in which people have their first kisses. The courage required to ask someone to dance is the closest English equivalent to the prom. For me Alice Deejay’s Better off Alone or Whigfield’s Saturday Night best recall those times.

It’s also a novel set on the Isle of Wight during the summer, a time in which I recall a lot of parties and barbecues on beaches, where someone would eventually pull out a guitar and play either Greenday’s Good Riddance or Red Hot Chili Peppers Scar Tissue.

The latter is a song which captures for me the delicacy of your first hangover, perhaps as you wake up on the beach. This is a novel, for all its heartbreak, about summers and late night parties spent by the sea with music. And to capture that sense of teenage rebellion I’ll finish with The Llama Farmers and Get The Keys And Go.

And I look back to a lost era and ask- how did we get here, from the relative innocence of back then?

Guy Mankowski was raised on the Isle of Wight. He was the singer in Alba Nova, a band who were described by Gigwise as ‘mythical and evocative’. Dead Rockstars is his fifth novel and is published by Darkstroke on 14th September 2020, but can be pre-ordered from here now. Guy’s website is here, his Facebook page is here and you can tweet him on @Gmankow.

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Music, summer, 1990s Camden – Guy Mankowski

Guy Mankowski’s new novel Dead Rock Stars has been brewing a long time. He draws on his experiences growing up in the 1990s, teaching himself to play Nirvana songs on the guitar. (It worked. He went on to play in several bands, including Alba Nova.) Guy says the 1990s was a time when musicians seemed mysterious, and seeing a band poster was like a glimpse of another world. From those feelings and recollections he has created a punky period piece, centred around a teenage boy navigating love and life, helped by the diaries of his dead sister. It’s a coming of age story with first hangovers, first dances, first loves, a sense of hope and optimism. And also, the struggle to find your voice and get it heard. Drop by on Wednesday for his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Heidi James

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is by award-winning novelist, poet and novella-ist Heidi James @heidipearljames

Soundtrack by Nirvana, Ane Brun, Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue, David Bowie, Beastie Boys, Portishead

I’ll start with a confession – I don’t usually listen to music when I’m writing or reading, or cooking or clearing up, or anything really when I’m alone. I prefer silence and birdsong. Partly I think that’s because I’ve lived all my adult life with people who love and make music, and so have been saturated by other people’s sounds and musical choices; and partly because I have a noisy, busy mind, music has been too much of a distraction, especially if I’m in company, the noise making them less easy to access or decipher.

Yet, that changed when I started writing So the Doves. One strand of the narrative is set in the late 80s and early 90s, so listening to music from that era was essential to finding my way back to the texture, smells, fashion and visuals of that time.  Listening to random tunes that I’d never usually listen to, like Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue’s duet, Especially for You (time hasn’t improved it to my mind) helped me visualise that world of my childhood in ways that are not part of the novel, but that would be crucial to the writing of it. Hearing Terence Trent Darby’s Wishing Well, I could see our neighbour, Martin, in his socks and sandals, his knee-length grey shorts and neatly ironed t-shirt as he polished his blue Datsun and there was my mum, her sunbed on the patio, soaking up the rays, cigarette smoke turning and rising above her.

The main characters in the novel, Marcus and Melanie, forge the first bonds of their teenage friendship from a love of music:

‘Marcus,’ she said, her voice low and soft, ‘do you honestly think that what you learn in class today will be of more value to you than what you’ll learn in Vinyl Exile? Come on.’ She stood up, raised her eyebrow and cocked her head in the direction of town. ‘Let’s go my rebellious friend.’

And so I started to listen to the music I imagined they loved and from there the characters became more complex, more rounded. I could see them and hear them when I listened to the razored bass that slices through Blew on Nirvana’s Bleach, I was there lying with them on Melanie’s bedroom floor, sympathising with their longing for the day when they would escape the misery of their/our small town. I remembered the dull rage of interminable Sundays, the relief of good friendships and the welts left from clumsy kisses and lazy punches.  About a Girl could’ve been written for Melanie.  She’s charismatic and bright and unlike Marcus, she can see straight to the heart of things:

 It’s weird; it’s like all romance and glitter and rags; as if it isn’t enough to just be a person who doesn’t fit, because that isn’t worthy of respect.’

Vibrant and fearless, she’s the girl everyone wants to know, everyone wants to be and then she vanishes; and Marcus is alone, and left looking for a truth he won’t find, despite searching throughout his award-winning career as a journalist.

This listening started as a point of reference and research, and yet, the more I listened to music, the more I had a sense of who I had been, the music I’d loved and so I started listening to more and more, rediscovering a self and tastes that I had forgotten. The sweep and drama of Bowie’s Life on Mars, the muscled bass and guitar on Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, the slinky sorrow in Portishead’s Sour Times – the music began to reorder and disrupt the strange taxonomy of my memories, easing the writing but so much more than that too.

Music became a space, a sonic zone of suspense from the physical world.  It has become a haven for me, where before it was an irritant, an oppressive force. I tuck myself inside Ane Brun’s Halo, and feel strangely held in the embrace she is singing about, her voice tender and fragile. It reminds me of fiddlehead ferns, the feathery leaves coiled tight; of nests woven from grass; of the tangled strings of cat’s cradle caught on my Nanna’s fingers.

Marcus buys Melanie a record, and it’s a precious gift, the music pressed flat into an object that exists even without the means to play it, and here I am, having sold most of my CDs and records, with a music collection that is ephemeral, spectral, comprised of airwaves and numerical codes, contained on my phone, stored in a cloud. Like the angels I believed in when I was a child.

So I’ve begun to listen to music again, for me.

Heidi James’s novel Wounding was published by Bluemoose Books in April, 2014. She was a finalist for the Cinnamon Poetry Collection Prize. Her novella The Mesmerist’s Daughter (published by Neon Press in April 2015) won the Saboteur Award. Her novella Carbon, was published in English by Blatt and in Spanish by El Tercer Nombre. So the Doves is her second novel. Find her on Twitter and Instagram as @heidipearljames and on her blog/website HeidiJames.me

 

 

 

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Wendy Storer

for logo‘Drumming is my heartbeat’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is Mslexia award-winning YA novelist Wendy Storer @WendyStorer

Soundtrack by Metallica, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Avenged Sevenfold, Rush, Green Day, Razorlight, The Killers, Blink 182, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Who, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Sugarcult, Rise Against, Arvo Part, Willie Nelson, Seafood

Bring Me Sunshine is the story of a young musician, Daisy, a wannabe rock drummer thwarted in her ambition by her dad’s resistance to noise. She’s 15 when she realises his bizarre behaviour and increasing number of memory lapses might be due to more than a quirky personality, and as the story unfolds the impact of Dad’s dementia on Daisy’s life is uncovered.

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Hope, direction and power

I couldn’t have written this story without immersing myself in the sort of music Daisy loved and aspired to play.

Drumming is my heartbeat…

she says; it gives her hope, direction and power. When she can no longer play, she is lost.

I listened to hours, days, weeks’ worth of music in order to put myself in Daisy’s shoes. I found myself thinking ‘Daisy would LOVE this’, or ‘this isn’t Daisy at all’. I discovered bands like Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Avenged Sevenfold and Rush, and made myself a playlist of their music. Other bands on the list were Green Day, Razorlight, The Killers, Blink 182, as well as the rock gods of my own teen years: Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Who, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica…

Daisy’s playlist took me back in time to the memory of what it was like to be a teenager, (messing up at school, falling in love for the first time, wanting something so terribly badly that just didn’t seem possible) and helped me connect to her life now.

Bring Me Sunshine is a sad story, but it’s also a story of hope, of living in the moment and how that sets Daisy free, so the music I chose to listen to was often tinged with sadness, always powerful and at times liberating.

This song for example – Nothing Else Matters by Metallica – never failed to put me in touch with Daisy. I imagined her wrestling with her fears, afraid of the consequences of both truth and lies, then hearing Metallica’s power ballad about the need to trust in ourselves and be true to who we really are, before coming down on the side of truth.

Songs for resonance

Each chapter is a song title, and every single song was chosen deliberately for its emotional resonance. Daisy listens to: Numb by Linkin Park when she first starts to realise something is wrong with Dad; I Miss You by Blink 182 when she’s remembering her mum; Memory by Sugarcult when Dad remembers his brother Ziggy; No Prayer for the Dying by Iron Maiden when Daisy and little brother Sam go out into the stormy night to search for their lost dad. These are all powerful pieces of music with a touch of melancholy, and mean something in the context of Daisy’s experiences in the book. This is Letting Go by Rise Against has a more hopeful vibe and it’s what Daisy (and I) listen to when Daisy finally faces up to her problems and tells someone what’s going on at home.

And so my playlist, my undercover soundtrack, is also Daisy’s. Apart from this one piece of music – Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka by Arvo Pärt. I would often listen to this while out on Kendal Castle with my dogs. It’s a piano solo, which begins with a simple melody and builds into something more complete and rounded. There was something about the quiet minimalism of this tune which always helped me get back to the story. There’s still that hint of melancholy in the beginning, but as the tune builds, the deliberateness and focus somehow takes over. On reflection there is something about this tune which mirrors Daisy’s journey. I did not know until I wrote this post that the title means Variations for the Healing of Arinushka. I couldn’t find anything about the history if this piece but I completely ‘get’ how the healing quality of this piece has always led me back to Daisy’s story.

New Bring Me Sunshine-KindleThe referenced title track of Bring Me Sunshine is an acoustic version of the song by Willie Nelson.  Sunshine (both literally and metaphorically) is what Daisy needs in her life.

If I had to choose one song from Daisy’s playlist to represent the story, I would choose this one – This Is Not An Exit, by Seafood with Caroline Banks on drums. It comes near the end of the story, when Daisy has started to play the drums again and is able to listen to tracks with female drummers once more. This song captures the mood of the book for me. There’s something about the quality of the sound, the chord dynamics and the lyrics also, which resonates with the Daisy in me, in a way that the other songs don’t quite. When I hear this, I can feel Daisy fighting back, finding herself and knowing that whatever has happened in the past, and whatever else happens in the future, she will find a way to be happy.

Wendy Storer is the author of YA stories Bring Me Sunshine and Where Bluebirds Fly. Bring Me Sunshine was a finalist in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition 2012. She is interested in stories which tug at the heart strings and the amazing resilience of people who battle through desperate situations to come out the other side, happier. Originally from Essex, Wendy now lives in Cumbria where she teaches creative writing to adults and children, and offers editorial help to writers through Magic Beans literary service. When not writing, Wendy likes to walk her dogs, spend time with her family, and find new and exciting food combinations involving peanut butter. Find her on her website, blog, and on Twitter as @WendyStorer

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Andrew James

for logo‘Notions of past, present and future hold no sway here’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is Andrew James @4ndrewjames

Soundtrack by Guns N’ Roses, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Nirvana, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Faithless, Chris Thomas King, Jeff Buckley, Purcell, Malena Ernman, Philip Sheppard, Sonny Boy Williamson, Moby

So let’s get the pretentious statement out of the way first, huh?

Prose and music: to me, they’re the same thing. Perhaps more accurately, they’re part of the same thing. Because I could include art and film into that statement, too. I could expand on this at length, but in the interests of brevity and lucidity, let’s crack on with the soundtrack to Blow Your Kiss Hello, my novel of love, rock & roll, guns and quantum physics set in the 1990s. And just a little bit in the 1600s.

andrew jamesThe above statement does at least provide a reason (or excuse) for the way I write; staccato sentences interspersed with torrents of tumbling words, driven not so much by actually listening to music as I write but the music that worms itself into my head as subliminal material. The novel itself – at least in my head – is in three acts, with hidden references that occasionally bounce from one act to another. And the music that makes up its soundtrack works in the same way.

Radio rock

Act one sashays its way through straightforward radio rock, setting both the tone and the period with Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City kicking things off, although for the full effect you’ll need to listen to this with a scarf wound around your head, so it’s muffled and distant. From here, settle into the groove of the Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue and then ratchet expectation via David Bowie’s Queen Bitch, a first suggestion that notions of past, present and future hold no sway here.

By now we and Pistol Star, the fictitious band fronted by my main character and good friend Joe da Flo, are in full flow and are being assaulted by Nirvana, the teen spirit smelling like an adrenaline rush, hurtling forward into a place where the future and the past are all the same, just riding the wave, dodging the bullets, crowd surfing our way into oblivion until it –

Stops*.

The gap

Act two. Three initial tracks, bridging the gap between then and something different. The trance of Faithless and God Is A DJ (Yes He Is) tips into the depths of Chris Thomas King’s Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues and wallows in Jeff Buckley’s mercurial and partially autobiographical Forget Her. These songs aren’t just illustrative, they sound as if they were written with the mid-section of the novel in mind and here the notion of the novel as a movie really hits home to me. It’s also here that the story’s marriage to its soundtrack starts to convey the debt it owes to the late Jeff Buckley, who carried the novel from its concept into reality every bit as much as I or my editor Debi did.

As the past started to impact upon the narrative, I was taken over for several weeks by the work of Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and in particular his opera Dido and Aeneas. One piece from that work, Dido’s Lament, became pivotal to a vital scene. However, to understand the soul of the book, to really get under the skin of what the novel is trying to convey, go here. If you’ve not heard this before, it’s quite possible that this might just change your life, or at least, your relationship to art in its broadest sense.

Done that? Deep breath. Time to move on.

blow your kiss hello coverSonny Boy Williamson’s Cross My Heart creates the arc from act two into act three. Incidentally, I have an old vinyl album of Sonny’s music, on which he is backed by Jimmy Page on guitar, Brian Auger on keyboards and one Mickey Waller on drums. I mention this only because in my late teens I could usually be found on a Friday evening in the old Kings Head on the Fulham Palace Road watching Mickey play drums behind another guitarist who now sadly resides in a different universe, Sam Mitchell. As a brief aside, check out this link, simply as a reminder that sometimes we’re closer to greatness than we realise.

As the novel nears its final chapter, it flies on the work of Richard Melville Hall, otherwise known as Moby, and the breakneck Electricity before my wildest dreams hear a song playing as the final credits roll and the audience sits damp eyed and holding hands. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jeff Buckley, live at Sin-e, and Eternal Life. Now you know where that title came from.

*Gallows Pole, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page

Andrew James owned a marketing agency, which he sold in 2010 whereupon Blow Your Kiss Hello began to take shape. He spent his teenage years employed at the Whitehall Theatre, studying for school exams in the lighting box watching such formative productions as What, No Pyjamas?  He is a pretty good cook and an okay musician, has curated an art exhibition, climbed Snowdon, ridden motorcycles at ridiculous speeds, had poetry published in Magma Poetry magazine and spent three years living in a church in North Yorkshire. A lifelong Crystal Palace FC supporter, he is also a devotee of South Africa’s Western Cape. He still works in media and marketing and currently lives in south-west London. Blow Your Kiss Hello is his first novel and a second is under way. Find him on Twitter @4ndrewjames

GIVEAWAY Andrew is giving away 2 signed copies. To get a chance to win, he wants you to reply or tweet where the book title comes from. If you take the tweet option, include the link to the post and the hashtag #undersound. Good luck!

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Zoe Sharp

‘I wanted music that was angry and soulful, both at the same time.’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by multi-award-winning crime author Zoe Sharp @AuthorZoeSharp

Soundtrack by Beth Rudetsky, Linkin Park, Moby, Breaking Benjamin, A Fine Frenzy, Nirvana, Pink

Music has always played a big part in my creative process, usually at a low volume in the background so it goes in on an almost subliminal level while I write. My CD collection contains wildly varying music from Gregorian chants and opera to Cajun and Zydeco. And just about everything in between.

Anger and wounds

For Fifth Victim: Charlie Fox book nine, it was particularly relevant. The whole theme of the book is not knowing what you’ve got until it’s too late.  I wanted music that was angry and soulful, both at the same time.

By this stage in the series Charlie Fox is back at her close-protection job as a means to bury personal tragedy. She welcomes the dangers involved, despite the concerns of those closest to her. I listened to songs that stoked up those emotions while I worked, and the volume was cranked much higher than usual for most of the time. I was looking for an almost resentful tone, like that in Breaking Benjamin’s Breath.

Fifth Victim is a story told on a deadline — it has a ticking clock of kidnap and ransom where the outcome is not at all certain. The relentless beat of Nirvana’s Come As You Are really seemed to work with that. The MTV Unplugged live version is one that gets into your head and stays there all day. I revisited it while writing this piece, and it’s stuck there again now.

All through this story Charlie is working under pressure, constantly improvising and reacting. For those action scenes I needed a soundtrack with energy and raw power that also spoke of experience and loss. Linkin Park’s New Divide got a real hammering, as did Moby’s Extreme Ways.

But there are quieter, more reflective moments. Tasked to protect Dina Willner, the daughter of a wealthy Long Island doyenne, Charlie is asked if she’s prepared to sacrifice herself for her principal. At the time, Charlie says she hopes it won’t come to that. But later, at the hospital bedside of her lover — fellow bodyguard Sean Meyer — who has been in a coma for over three months after a near-fatal shooting, she thinks differently:

It didn’t give any comfort that Sean had gone down in the line of duty, as he would have seen it. Doing his job. Hesitation had never been a possibility with him and it seemed that to hesitate now would be to let down everything he’d stood for. So if it came to it, I thought fiercely, then yes, I would die to protect Dina Willner, as her mother had asked.

And maybe I’d do it just a fraction more willingly than I might have done, a hundred days ago.’

The longing and loss of such moments was beautifully summed up by A Fine Frenzy’s Last Of Days, and by Pink’s Glitter In The Air.

Song for Charlie

But the biggest musical moment of Fifth Victim came between the final edits and publication. I was contacted by the hugely talented US singer/songwriter, Beth Rudetsky. She wanted to write a song inspired by the book. I was stunned when she sent me The Victim Won’t Be Me, for which the students of Vision West Notts then produced a terrific video. The song is an interpretation of the book, and the video is an interpretation of the song.

The resulting combination is beautiful and haunting. And it is definitely part of my soundtrack for the next instalment in the Charlie Fox series.

Zoë Sharp wrote her first novel when she was fifteen, and created the no-nonsense Charlie Fox after receiving death-threat letters as a photojournalist. Her work has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger. The Charlie Fox series was optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV. Zoë blogs regularly on her own website, and on the acclaimed Murderati group blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter (@AuthorZoeSharp).

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