Sunday 1 March 2015

Heck hits short form as sales top half a mill

I got a really nice bit of news towards the end of last week, namely that my Heck novel sales have now hit half a million. This is a worldwide figure rather than purely British, and of course it incorporates four titles. However, I was still happy enough about it to break one of my usual rules - which is not to talk specifics when it comes to sales figures - and to pop a few corks over the weekend in response.

It's certainly the case that the Heck series appears to be going from strength to strength. The bulk of the positive reviews seem to imply that this is down to a combination of character (Heck and Gemma, primarily), suspense, and hard-boiled action. All of this makes me very proud, as these are areas where, if you can forgive a moment of self-preening, I consider that I have some strength (it's nice to a see a plan come together, as they say).

But something else that people seem to like about the books is the wide range of locations we cover in each one.

To all intents and purposes Heck is attached to the Serial Crimes Unit, which is part of the National Crime Group based in London. It's a kind of British FBI, with a remit to cover all the police force areas of England and Wales. Loosely, this means the action moves from one end of the country to the next at a rate of knots. For example, in STALKERS, we move from Salford in Manchester down to the Thames estuary in Kent, in SACRIFICE from the Midlands to Merseyside, in THE KILLING CLUB from the Cotswolds to Holy Island off the Northumbrian coast, and in DEAD MAN WALKING to a wintry, fogbound Lake District. I don't want to say too much about the next two Heck novels due out later this year, HUNTED and RIGHTEOUS FIRE (publishers tend not to be sympathetic to writers who sprinkle spoilers around like confetti), but much of the former takes place in the leafy lanes of Surrey in the midst of a glorious English summer (though we then veer off midway through into the badlands of South London), while in contrast, the latter is set in industrial Lancashire during a cold and frosty December (though it gets pretty hot at times, but ssshhh!, no spoilers).

So, if nothing else I can promise a continuing variation of settings and climates.

For those who are new to all this, the Heck novels follow the murder investigations of Detective Sergeant Mark 'Heck' Heckenburg. He's a young but intense copper, very dogged and obsessive, who walks a tightrope through the world of crime as he pursues one heinous villain after another, and as I've said, there's much more to come from him yet.

HUNTED is scheduled for May 7, and RIGHTEOUS FIRE for sometime in November. But for those who simply cannot wait that long, a brand new Heck short story will be available for download from March 19. A WANTED MAN will take us back to the early days of Heck's career, when he was a young uniformed bobby in Manchester. I call this one a short story, but in actual fact it's about 10,000 words so it's more of a novella. Anyway, it concerns a night-shift from Hell as Heck, only two years into the job and completely alone, is forced to play a cat and mouse game along a stretch of derelict railway with a vicious housebreaker/rapist called the 'Spider'.

It's an interesting thing actually but thanks to e-books, short reads seem to be coming back into vogue. If A WANTED MAN does reasonably well, I think Avon Books will be encouraged to put some more shorties out there, and it would certainly make sense from my point of view if the next few of these at least were new Heck stories.

But I think this is good news for writers in general.

For so many years I was an advocate of the short story as a literary form. I love short stories and have written hundreds of them during my career, but you needed to sell them to magazines and/or anthologies to get them any kind of exposure, and with the best will in the world, those opportunities were always limited. At one time, I would sternly advise those starting out as writers to avoid concentrating too much effort on short stories as the rewards for that would be thin on the ground. However, if things are, as I suspect, changing and the demand for stand-alone e-stories is genuinely growing, then that could be an opportunity that an awful lot of us need to take advantage of.


On a non-too-different note, a couple more of my titles will be available in the next month or so, both reprints of one sort or another.

My short horror novel CAPE WRATH, which will be reissued by Telos Books very soon (complete with a snazzy new cover, and a brand new short horror story to accompany it, THE HELLION) was first published in 2001, and tells the story of an ill-fated archaeological expedition to a remote Scottish Island, where something very nasty is uncovered among the ancient rocks and sediment. I don't yet have a publication date for this one, so I'll go a little bigger on it - extracts etc - nearer the time.

The second one is the audio version of another novella of mine from earlier in my career, HELL IN THE CATHEDRAL - which comes to us courtesy of WHOLE STORY AUDIO BOOKS and is read, as usual, by Jon Keeble. This one is available for download or purchase in CD form on March 5. It was first published in 2000 and yet is still one of my favourite and I think scariest novellas. But as above, I'll try to go a little bigger on this one a bit nearer to the time. Keep checking in for more info.