CategorySasha Stace

QC says author too observant of lawyers

It was a fantastic time at the book launch of the printed copy of Presumed Guilty in Scorpio Bookshop , Christchurch, on a Winter’s Thursday night.

Nigel Hampton QC, an icon of the New Zealand bar, and the South Island’s most eminent and tenacious criminal lawyer for decades, was there to launch my 4th book. And while they weren’t able to be present, I went to the launch fortified with best wishes from Nigel’s colleagues ‘in silk’, local QCs, Pip Hall and Chris McVeigh.

The assembled  jury came from many walks of life: an employment lawyer, a journalist and editor with Fairfax media, a literary editor, a corporate manager, consultants, a nurse, several administrators, an ex prison inspector, a current court officer, a librarian, an HR manager, general managers, a doctor and others from the health system, a couple of accountants, a social worker, people in retail, an interior designer and at least one student, although all had been students of life. Such a jury was the ideal assembly to invest their time in a mystery, and invest, they did.

Nigel Hampton opened his remarks with, “I’ve known Mark over a goodly number of years – mostly when he was a court registrar. It is evident to me now, having read this legal thriller of his, that the registrar’s role was nowhere busy enough – he has obviously spent too much time, far too much time, listening to and observing lawyers, witnesses and judges, how they comport and conduct themselves, how they act and react. Because it is the fruits of those observations which are on display, so well, in his fourth novel, a murder mystery.”

Later, on this same theme, he said, “Mark has set down a convincing replication of the ‘bitchy’, if not malicious, gossip so loved by courtroom lawyers, when not in court – and in the second part of the book, Mark captures the poisonous sotto voce comments stilettoed from one opposing lawyer to another when in court.”

At one point, and I’ve no doubt it’s his common trial tactic to present as a fair and reasonable advocate, Nigel, presented the negative. He said, “It is only a small ‘but’ Mark, none of those conversations and exchanges are quite profane enough to portray accuracy. We lawyers are a foul mouthed lot.’

To which there can be only one answer – sometimes reality is the victim of editing.

Picking up exhibit A, Nigel read a number of passages from the book, one of which he deliberately chose as a ‘tease’ and invited those attending the launch to see “just how much of a teaser I’ve made it.” He went on to describe Presumed Guilty as a book set in and around the environs of courts and a story that plays out “with all its unexpected twists and its suspenseful turns, especially as the pace picks up in the second half of the book leading to its explosive denouement.”

He concluded his address to an attentive jury, an erudite assembly and one much larger than the accustomed dozen, with a truism of trial lawyers. “A trial lawyer’s own belief (of her client’s innocence or guilt) is irrelevant; it is, always will be, an impediment to the lawyer’s role.”

And then , great craftsman and orator that he is, Nigel Hampton QC moved from advocate to judicial officer (he was once Chief Justice of Tonga) and left his attentive jury with compelling questions for their deliberation.

“But then this is the tale. And, was it an impediment here? Is he guilty or not? Is he found guilty, or not? A very different question. And who, in this tale, is truely innocent?”

Many thanks to the good guys at Scorpio for helping me make this possible and to those who gave up the comfort of warm homes to come out and offer their support.

By the way, the Cab Sav with which Nigel is toasting the book, is called The Pugilist. Those who know of his career as an advocate,  will know how fitting that is!


Consultant tells RNZ it’s their CEO’s fault

Here’s an extract of my interview today with RNZ’s internal magazine’ Soundbytes‘.


“I’m the HR Consultant who turned to crime and it’s all the fault of RNZ CEO Paul Thompson. One winter’s night in his Karori home in 2008, we were talking crime books, who our favourite authors were at the time. I clearly remember him saying that Stephen King always started with a question that began with “what if…” which led to other questions. He asked me what my starting ‘what if’ question would be if I wrote a story. I came up with, “what if someone emerged decades after a man was hanged for murder and took revenge on the surviving jurors from that old case.” That was how my story Best Served Cold was developed. I came up with that because I’d worked in courts for many years, helping run criminal jury trials in Christchurch, long before I got into HR Management.

Working with RNZ and the leadership and HR teams has been terrific. Yes, it’s got in the way of writing, but sadly, writing doesn’t pay the bills, at least not yet! One of the things I enjoy most about working at RNZ, and it was the same when I consulted to Fairfax, was working with people who were passionate about their craft. It’s like a calling for them and it’s really important to me to be able to help leaders build and maintain the right environments for those folk.

And a wee plug if I may – it was great to see Presumed Guilty on the shelves of Whitcoulls in Lambton Quay.”

Standing Room Only at RNZ


On Sunday I talked with Lynn Freeman at RNZ about courtroom drama in a high-stakes trial, the pressures evident on counsel and the dark side of the world people don’t  typically encounter.

We also discuss how Presumed Guilty is a story that weaves together the powerful forces of the judiciary, the media and the nefarious input of government officials who try and influence Sasha Stace QC and the outcome of the trial.  Enjoy the a sample of the book read on the show and the chat that follows here.


Mark McGinn talks to Booklovers

Presumed Guilty – Winning gilt edged reviews

Not only long-listed for the 2017 NZ Ngaio Marsh Crime Awards, Presumed Guilty is seen as unique in New Zealand in that it’s a genuine legal thriller with powerful characters in and out of the courtroom.

Link to buy:

Author reveals character profile

Late last year, Sasha Stace took the opportunity of having me explain myself in terms of subjecting her to nasty circumstances in her life. Her cross examination of me can be found here –

What she didn’t reveal to you was that she does have some issues in her life and when these are known, help explain why she can give people a hard time.  Not many of you will be familiar with psychological reports so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a small part of the other part of the world I work in.   Here is the report written about Sasha as if it was sent to her employer, including the various legal disclaimers you might want to skip through.

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Candidate Assessment Report:  Sasha Stace QC

 The report examines Sasha’s working style preferences across a range of dimensions as assessed using the Cattell 16PF questionnaire.  These are as follows:

 Relationships with people (Interaction style).

  1. Extent of warmth, outgoing and attentive to others
  2. Extent of liveliness, animation and spontaneity
  3. Extent of socially venturesome and resilient
  4. Extent to which private and discreet

Capacity to respond to pressure

  1. Extent of emotional stability
  2. Extent to which trusting of others
  3. Extent to which self-assured
  4. Extent to which relaxed and patient

Capacity of initiative

  1. Extent to which preference for assertiveness
  2. Extent to which conscious of rules/policies
  3. Extent to which objective/ unsentimental
  4. Extent to which practical & solution oriented
  5. Extent to which open to change
  6. Extent to which organised.



The information contained in our report is based on details supplied to us by candidates and is correct to the best of our knowledge.  However, no warranty is given as to the correctness of this information or any statements made therein and PeopleFit Ltd expressly disclaims all liability for any loss or damage which may arise from any person acting on these details or statements.   Psychological tests are a useful guide, but do not have sufficient reliability to warrant use on their own as absolute predictors of future performance.  If this person is to be re-evaluated for a different purpose, it would be prudent to arrange reconsideration.  In respect of the working style information, we have only the candidate’s view of themselves in coming to any conclusions about how these views may predict future behaviours at work. It is useful to consider this information alongside that gleaned from a competency based interview and referee checks.

Sasha Stace

Relationships with people (Interaction style).

Sasha sits mid range in preference between being reserved and warm and outgoing so is likely to show average levels of attentiveness to others and more warmth towards those in whom she is confident she has the support from others. She cited Mac, her stepfather in all but name, and Clay Tempero as examples of people to whom she would be more supportive and empathic. She appears slightly more socially venturesome than shy and would be expected to have adequate levels of resilience when it comes to coping with the day to day knockbacks that may occur in interpersonal interactions.

In relating to others she is in the mid range between being lively and animated but acknowledges she will also come across as serious and more restrained when the situation requires it.  She reports she “pushes herself” to engage in spontaneity except with those she is used to. She describes recent efforts to play in a band extend the boundaries of her comfort zone.  Hitherto, music for her has been a solitary experience.

She sees herself as very forthright and this will include some occasional self deprecating comments of what she sees as her inadequacies.  She favours putting all her cards on the table as opposed to holding them close to her chest. While this helps others get to know her, she has encountered recent experiences of being ‘let down’ by others who have used information she has provided to further their own ends.  Consistent with her high rating of trust in others, she gives loyalty in relationships and expects trust and loyalty to be reciprocated.

Sasha prefers to be self reliant and somewhat individualistic, preferring not to ask for help, even when it would be forthcoming.  She enjoys time on her own and prefers to make decisions that way as well.


Overall Sasha rates as a person in the mid range between introverted/less outgoing and extraverted/socially participative but is able to ‘role play’ higher levels of extraversion (e.g. in court) when she sees this as necessary.


Response to pressure

Sasha is more often than not able to manage events and her emotions in a balanced, adaptive way but from time to time feels she has little control over life.  Consequently she is likely to feel (and does report) more ups and downs than most people. She acknowledges a long-standing tendency to perceive things going wrong more frequently than is justified. She rates as someone who tends to worry about things and feels insecure about meeting others expectations of her.  While having moderate levels of concern can be useful in anticipating the dangers of a situation, it can also lead to less effectiveness in terms of ‘social presence’ or avoidance of those situations when she would otherwise benefit from the company of others.   There is a danger that her level of apprehension and self-doubt may lead to unrealistic work goals; in Sasha’s case, to over-compensate and do more, rather than less.  When asked about feelings of worry and insecurity, she said that she has had times of feeling like an imposter, i.e. someone who does not truly perform at the level others say she does. She says she started to develop these feelings before she was a teenager, probably as a result of living with a hard working solo mother following the death of her father when she was two years old.

She rated above average with respect to tension and a tendency to be impatient, indicating she is likely to be the sort of person who likes to get on with things and be highly motivated.   She sees herself as a competitive person with a need to win but commented that she often competes against herself.


Overall, Sasha rated above average with respect to anxiety indicating she would generally feel under pressure to do more, or strive to be better than she believes she is in many situations. In this regard, she may benefit from counselling or therapy.


Capacity for initiative

Sasha rates at the 90th to 99th percentile for abstract reasoning which suggests she has significantly higher ability to solve problems and learn more quickly than most of the population. She tends to favour an assertive approach which underpins her sense of competiveness. This means she will attempt to have a positive impact on her work environment and those with whom she engages, but may sometimes look to dominate others. While not conflict avoidant she commented her sense of loyalty and empathy for the plight of others probably prevents her confronting issues in her relationships. She is likely to be moderately rule-conscious, meaning that she will be mindful of how others see her. However, she rates as having the capacity to think beyond a prescribed solution or way of working and not be rule-bound.

Sasha rates as very conscientious and commented that she tends to be more persevering than most people and she wonders where her stubbornness comes from.  In her decision making, she favours a mix of sensitivity toward people’s feelings and emotions and objectivity (using facts and data) with a slight bias toward the latter.

Sasha describes herself as not very creative (except for cooking) and prefers to take a practical solution-oriented approach to getting things done as opposed to an imaginative approach.  She rated in the mid range with regard to liking what is familiar and traditional but will try new things.  This means that although she will engage in a moderate amount of experimentation she is unlikely to drive significant change and if this occurs at the behest of others, her anxiety levels including self doubt will become higher.  Sasha rates as highly structured and perfectionistic and this indicates she is likely to be most comfortable in highly organised and predictable situations with routines.  Preparing for trial and court processes would be examples. She is unlikely to leave important things to chance or to ‘wing it’. While this trait has advantages, Sasha may appear significantly less flexible than others who have a higher tolerance for disorder.


Overall, Sasha’s levels of capacity for initiative appear to be in the average range.  While independent and persuasive, she is sometimes inhibited due to her levels of perfectionism and a preference for the more traditional approach.  Given her perfectionism and self-doubting, she will tend to ‘second guess’ herself, (am I good enough? Is it good enough?) then become concerned about what she hasn’t done, leading to a risk of working longer or harder. This internal state, if not corrected, may be injurious to her long-term well-being and I recommend a course of counselling.


Mark McGinn
PeopleFit Ltd.



Smashwords interviews Mark McGinn

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?

I grew up in Christchurch, NZ and that influenced my writing – not so much because childhood had an influence, happy though that was, but because my first full time job was as a clerk working in the courts. It was a great career path but little did I know it would result in writing about stuff I’d stored away in the dark recesses of my mind.

When did you first start writing?

I think this was in the summer of 2009 but the decision to write occurred the previous year as a result of a dinner conversation with a good friend about crime writers we enjoyed.

What’s the story behind your latest book?

My latest book is entitled Presumed Guilty. It’s just been through the final edit and is set in Christchurch although the first murder occurs in Akaroa. It begins with the main character Sasha Stace, securing the acquittal of a sleezy MP on a rape charge. Readers will remember Sasha was herself raped in Best Served Cold. But she’s disillusioned with criminal law and vows to retire. Then Ben Tyler, her former life partner who betrayed her in Trust No one, is arrested for the murder of his wife. This was the woman Sasha discovered in bed with Ben when Sasha and Ben were going through a rocky time but still ‘together’. She’s not interested in taking the case until she finds out that Quilter Fyne, a grudge holding, ambitious and deceitful lawyer is prosecuting. Sasha already has law society misconduct proceedings against Fyne who wants to win at any cost, so we can expect fireworks in and out of court. The book doesn’t stop with the end of the trial – there’s high drama and a high octane finish.

When will that be available?

It might be a little while. I’ll have another go at the traditional publishing route.

What motivated you to become an indie author?

Impatience. I did what many of us do and sought publishers and agents. Seeing ‘my book’ on book shelves certainly appealed to the ego. I soon found I’d entered the publishing world at an incredibly difficult time for publishers and agents. Their world of books was, and still is, changing around them. Many have become very risk averse in taking on new writers, almost to the point where deep down, they want assurances they’ve got a ‘best seller’ on their hands. I simply decided I wanted to spend more time writing than chasing and was prepared to take on the cost of contracting a good editor and cover designer.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

Plotting and dialogue. I find its ‘playtime’. It’s a bit self indulgent to entertain myself but when its going well that’s an outcome for me. I believe if I can enjoy writing in that way, I will be able to entertain others.

What are you working on next?

Number 5. I’m looking at a new police character in a police story set in Christchurch. This guy is in trouble with his own organisation having launched a major broadside at the judiciary after the courts allowed a recidivist criminal bail. The defendant subsequently killed a cop in a police chase. From there things are going to get a whole lot tougher.

Who are your favourite authors?

In the crime genre: Peter Temple, Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver, P D James. There are so many great authors. I’m now reading more NZ crime authors and recognise they are as good as anyone else, particularly Neil Cross and Paul Cleave,

Who have you read recently?

Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling – The Cuckoo’s Calling. Took me a while to get into but there’s some great description and dialogue in there. I’d recommend it as a good crime read. But in 2014 I also read a few Stuart Macbride, a crime writer from Scotland who’s sense of humour I enjoy.  Speaking of crime writers who make me laugh, I also read and enjoyed NZ Crime award winners (The Ngaio Marsh Award) Paul Cleave  – Joe Victim (Paul never fails to make me laugh) and this years winner   – Where The Dead Men Go by Liam McIlvanney.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

There is a bit of creative opportunity in my professional work as a human resource consultant. Just recently, I wrote some role-play briefs for a management selection process and performed as the difficult person to deal with. Some people say that the difficult person role comes too easy to me. Can’t think why! But there’s lots of business writing in my role and lots of working with people when I’m a facilitator of groups dealing with tough work issues.

How do you discover the ebooks you read?

New authors tend to be word-of-mouth referrals from friends.

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?

I don’t know whether it was first but it was the first memorable one and that was ‘The wind in the willows’. I loved the characterisation with the animals that the author produced. Close on the heels of that would have been the famous five series.

How do you approach cover design?

Cautious optimism balanced with the sort of realism that says I wouldn’t hire a plumber to wire my house. Cover design is every bit as skilful as writing the stuff behind it. I like to guide the designer with an idea or two.

Describe your desk

Where chaos and disorder are corralled into an L shape.

Sasha Stace takes on Mark McGinn.

Hello everyone

I’m Sasha Stace and with me is Mark McGinn the person who’s delighted in creating so much trouble for me over the years. He’s kindly given me the opportunity to ask him to explain himself.

SS      Mark, before we get into specific cases why did you think it was remotely fair to kill off my father before I had a chance to know him and then have no sibling support in my life.

MM  This is so typical of you – straight into the tough stuff. Well to be frank, fairness didn’t come into it, Sasha. Giving you an easy family life would turn people off. Too boring, I’m afraid. And I can tell you that if I’d created siblings they wouldn’t necessarily have been what you wanted. As I remember it, I was more interested in the relationship you might have with your mother, especially after your father died. It was more interesting to have you isolated in your own home, a bit scarred in your teenage years by your mother then seeing how you’d cope with that in later years.

SS      And then you got me pregnant the first time I had sex – making me look like an idiot for taking no precautions.

MM  It’s not like you to be inaccurate with facts, Sasha. I didn’t get you pregnant.

SS     Don’t pinprick. You know what I mean. And if that wasn’t bad enough I was forced to give my baby away.  And to top that, you had me raped. There’s a very cruel streak in you, isn’t there?

MM  Firstly, you might never have got into law if you’d kept that baby. You know that, don’t you? Natalie was not going to stay at home and look after your baby, whose father was somewhere on the other side of the world. She’d never have done that and frankly, knowing what you know now, you wouldn’t have wanted that.  As for the rape, that Judge slipped a drug into your drink. Yes it was rape but you wouldn’t claim it was as bad as some cases you went on to defend.

SS      Something else you’ve been cruel about – making my mother so vile.

MM  Oh, come on Sasha. You’re doing what Mac accuses you of – being melodramatic. When your dad died suddenly after that murder trial, Natalie was completely bereft. Memories of John and his reputation were all she had left of him. You’re being a bit unkind about your late mother. Besides which, I gave you Mac. You wouldn’t be the person you are today without Mac and his influence.

SS     Okay, I’ll concede that. Mac’s been the best thing in my life. I suspect the way he is, he’s based on someone you know. Right?

MM  He’s actually a combination of two men, both of whom are sadly no longer with us.

SS     And what about me? Am I based on someone you know?

MM  Only in the courtroom and ironically, a brilliant male lawyer in your style.  I saw a lot of him when I worked there. He later became a High Court judge.

SS      And will I get to be a judge?

MM   Well, that’s up to you isn’t it? Do you think you’re up to it now?

SS      What do you mean?  I don’t have problems with booze or drugs.

MM   No, although you’re partial to a stiff gin. But I didn’t want you to have the same problems many others do. Or be some lumbering obese person with a disability. But tell us about your psychological battles?

SS      I’m supposed to be the one asking the questions. You’re dragging up that time when I had impostor syndrome.  Where did that come from?

MM   It seemed a logical consequence of the relationship you had with your mother – that feeling of never being good enough, but as you now know, it went beyond that. In Best Served Cold you told psychologist Margie North that your successes were flukes, down to luck. If you remember, you never confided that to Mac. It was why he persisted in pushing you to become a QC, to take silk – a good thing as it happened.

SS      You made that whole syndrome thing up, didn’t you?

MM   Not at all. Impostor syndrome is quite real,not especially common, but more common in professional women than in their male counterparts.

SS      And nothing to do with that obsessive counting thing you foisted on me. Why did you do that?

MM   We’ve all got our little quirks haven’t we. Why not you?

SS      So tell us one of yours.

MM   I have voices in my head  – other than my own.

SS      There are pills for that although I’d be happier if you had electric shock therapy.

MM   Do you have a proper question?

SS      I’m a bit curious about why you paired me up with Ben Tyler. Why a newspaper man and not another lawyer or cop.

MM   A lawyer or a cop would have been the obvious thing. But after leaving the court, I’d worked a bit in the media industry so drew on that. You already had Mac as a senior legal mentor. Also by not making your partner a cop, you had to work a bit harder in your thinking. And because Ben was covering one of your court cases it worked. But it nearly didn’t if you recall. You were acerbic enough to strip the enamel of the poor lad’s front teeth. Mac helped you out there if I recall.

SS      Listening to all this, you make me sound like a fool.

MM  We know you’re not a fool, Sasha. But you’ve made some mistakes along the way. I’m afraid crime readers aren’t interested in reading about model citizens who never put a foot wrong.

SS      I was worried you  were ambivalent about our relationship.

MM   Not at all. You’re slipping into that self-doubt thing again, aren’t you? You need to remember you do solve cases.

SS      Yes but always with help. It’s as if you think I can’t cope on my own.

MM   I admit, some crime heroes seem to piece together all the clues on their own, even if they do take one step forward and two back. Speaking of one step forward and two back, how are you getting on with Clay Tempero these days?

SS    I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for today.

MM  Why are you flushing, Sasha?

SS      I’m not. If you carry on like that, we won’t do this again.

MM   Like what?


True crime less ‘believable’ than fiction


We’ve had a remarkable story in New Zealand in recent days involving the Corrections department (prisons) and a convicted murderer and pedophile, Phillip Smith.  Despite his ghastly crimes and being recalled to prison after offending on parole and still being widely known as manipulative and devious, Corrections thought he was worth a try at living in the community. They set him up with a family ‘sponsor’ and without any electronic bracelet. This is after spending the best part of 13 years behind bars and reports describing him as a significant risk. Surprise, surprise, he had no intention of seizing the opportunity to reform and rehabilitate. He fled to South America and many say he should stay there.

But what’s even more bizarre is that in the lead up to being driven from behind bars to the airport, then  departing for Chile, Smith managed to acquire whilst in his cell, a passport under a former legal name. This name was also well-known to the authorities. Not only that, he put together $10K in cash from a business he ran in prison.

In my novel, Best Served Cold, (pictured above) there’s a scene when a final act of revenge is played out against an inmate. It involves the killer obtaining the cooperation of a prison manager who’d earlier been duped into believing he might regain financial losses, sustained at the hands of his prisoner. Realistic? Well that’s the nature of fiction – a series of events crafted so they lead to a plausible action. But in the case of Phillip Smith, if I’d had his series of events as a plot line  in one of my books, I’d have been criticised for a complete lack of realism and an over demanding requirement of readers for suspension of disbelief.   Who’d have thought that Corrections would not only be a source of derision but a source of the bizarre plot line.

Researching stories

One of the best parts of writing is the opportunity to visit places I write about and Sydney provides no shortage of scene ideas. In the writing process, it’s my job to render those scenes for you, to help put you there. In this post, I’ve included some photos of relevance to particular scenes and I’ll describe what’s happening in the book Trust No onethe first book I wrote that is set  in Sydney.

The photo below shows part of Watson’s Bay, the Eastern Bays district of Sydney. It’s pivotal to the story  – whether lawyer, Sir Lance Donnelly, jumped from a cliff as later claimed in legal documents by Sasha Stace QC, or whether he fell as a result of an accidental slip, as claimed by his widow. Later in the story, Sasha is forced to consider whether he was  pushed, which ironically would require a payout to the widow, so long as she wasn’t involved. “The Gap” at Watson’s Bay is notorious in Sydney for being littered with places where many people have actually committed suicide. A local man, famous for his personal patrols and suicide prevention is characterised in the book. Sadly, the man known as ‘The angel of The Gap’ died when I was writing this story.

Sydney research 027

The building below is Government House, the residence of the New South Wales Governor General. In the first part of the book there are a couple of important scenes which foreshadow all Sasha’s professional conflict (she has plenty of personal and inner conflict as well).

Sydney research 002

After Donnelly died, the trust board Sasha was part of, celebrated winning a new land development tender for rest homes . But despite its grand setting, Sasha nearly ‘baled’ from the party when she encountered a vile politician with a penchant for inappropriate jokes and someone else who evidently mistook her for a whore when he said, ‘Nice legs darling, what time are they open?’

Later in the book, Sasha’s adversary, Detective Inspector Neville Inskip, and her ally, unorthodox private investigator, Clay Tempero, meet inside St Mary’s Cathedral shown below.

Sydney research 042 There is no love lost between these two men and despite the serenity of the surroundings this scene shows the palpable dislike each has for the other. The scene proves to be the springboard for more drama and tension between the two and ultimately a final showdown.


Please feel free to post comments or questions which I’ll do my best to answer.

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