Wednesday 31 December 2014

Party Time?

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m contemplating my evening. Not new year resolutions or anything like that (gave up on them a long time ago), but how I’m going to spend the next few hours. I live on a small unadopted lane and we’re quite a social lot - there’s a party later on. I will know a lot of the people there and it’s a short stagger home, but I’m undecided.

Why? I hear you ask. Or not. Andy is unlikely to be drinking as he’s working tomorrow and he’s not very sociable at the best of times – he’d rather sit in the pub with the pint and a newspaper than make polite small-talk. Me – it’s not that I’m not sociable; I’m just really not very good at it.

I’ve said before on this blog that I’m actually quite shy. Half a bottle of wine helps, but I’m not very good at small talk. How do people do it at parties? Stand there and chat effortlessly about anything and everything? I can never think of anything interesting to say. It’s why, when I used to do the convention circuit, I was always on committees and doing stuff – sitting on a reception desk or running an event gives me a focus and a raison d’ĂȘtre. Without that, standing at the bar with nothing to hide behind and I’m just me. Even in the local pub, I’m far happier on quiz night or meeting to talk about the radio plays project I’m involved with.

And I wonder if other writers are like this. Is this perhaps why we invent our own worlds, peopled by characters we understand, who don’t judge us? Writing is like acting in many ways, walking in somebody else’s shoes, getting under somebody else’s skin. Being somebody else. It isn’t that I’m dissatisfied with my own life in any way – I just can’t imagine it being that interesting to anybody else!

If there was a poll of writers, how many would declare themselves as introverts and how many as extroverts? Sometimes I wish some of my closest friends were closer in distance so we could spend evenings with a bottle of wine and putting the world to rights. And I value my online friends too. You guys know who you are!

So I expect I’ll go out tonight. Put on a bit of slap and some heels and have a couple of drinks. Pretend to be somebody I’m not. And I know if I make the effort, I’ll enjoy it too. I will.

Here’s wishing everybody all the best for 2015.

Thursday 18 December 2014

New Book!

And Ratline is finally live on Amazon UK and US (and other Amazon stores worldwide) in kindle ebook format. The paperback proof copy is on order - delivery date 22nd December allegedly, but I suspect the computers don't realise it's Christmas, so I'm not expecting it any time soon.

I'll be processing the other ebook formats in the next day or so. It'll be available at Smashwords in all formats before Christmas, but realistically I doubt it will make it into Kobo, WH Smith, Apple etc until after the holidays as at least one of the sites does manual reviewing.

So many other projects but I somehow managed to write the opening scene to the next (last) Lenny story. No plot as yet ...

Friday 5 December 2014

On Editing

I was at a meeting of my local Writers' Group the other day and the talk got around to editing. I mentioned I was in the midst of shuffling files from my new book Ratline back and forth with my editor, and other people wanted to know what he did and why I felt I needed an editor anyway. I don't for a moment think that anybody was suggesting I didn't need an independent set of eyes on my writing (because we all need that), but more that people were wondering what you get for your money when you engage the services of a fiction editor.

My first published novel, Hamelin's Child, was agency-edited. The two follow-on books, I was reasonably confident about - although I do have a supremely-talented beta reader who can spot a typo at a thousand paces and is not shy about telling me the bits that don't work. I am eternally grateful for his support.

But when I got to my spin-off book, Rat's Tale, I was no longer so sure about what I was doing. Rat's Tale was shorter than my other books - more of a novella at under 50,000 words. And I wanted to do something different with the structure that I hadn't done before. I wanted a fresh pair of eyes and I was happy to pay for it - it's no different to buying-in design services for a book cover, or formatting (although I do my own ebook and print formatting). By this time, I was socialising widely on facebook and John Hudspith's name kept cropping up, so I thought I'd try him out....

So how does engaging the services of an editor work? With John, you get a free sample edit, so you know exactly what you will get for your money, should you choose to accept his quote. Your quote will be based on the sample you submitted, and you will be able to see for yourself how much/little support you need. He'll fix typos, suggest alternative words and correct punctuation and spelling. He'll also point out style issues, where perhaps sentences aren't flowing as well as they could, or where scenes need expanding or rewriting. He's also exceptionally good at cutting out fluff - those extraneous words that creep in without you noticing and threaten to smother your story. And he'll suggest rewrites where necessary (editing of rewritten scenes is included in the price - as are blurbs and synopses).

Most fiction editors offer similar services. Some are fixed-fee, some charge according to the sample. Many editors will ask for all/part payment up-front. John works in chunks of approx 10,000 words - so you can budget as you go along.

Whoever you choose - if you choose to employ an editor - it's important to have a rapport with him/her. You need to feel comfortable and able to discuss and query/argue with suggestions. Always make sure you know what you are getting for your money. Ask for references if necessary and make sure you are happy with the quality of the sample edit.

So what happens to my books? I have lots of fluff. I could stuff pillows with my fluff. Chapters coming back from Johnny have been positively shaved. I have typos - everybody has typos - and sometimes I overuse the same words or I get lazy with my research. I also have a habit of building up the tension and then losing it because I've not gone quite far enough to reach the point of no-return. I can't usually see it myself, but Johnny can. Oh, and he puts even more swear words in than I started with (and I'm not exactly mean with them), and sex too - so I'm blaming him entirely for corrupting the moral fabric of society ...

Lists of other editing services can be found here. Caveat emptor! Always ask for references or testimonials from satisfied customers before parting with your money.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Book Review

I don't post reviews of my books often, but this is just so awesome that I'm making an exception. This top 500 Amazon reviewer just totally "got" what I was trying to do.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Bookshops? What bookshops?

My local town doesn’t have an independent bookshop. My local town doesn’t have any kind of bookshop. Outside of the supermarkets (and we have lots of them), the only shop you can buy books in is a very small branch of WH Smith. Anything bigger and I’d have to drive to Crewe or Chester, or venture further afield to Liverpool or Manchester.

So I’m shopping today on the High Street. We have Rymans and Boots and Costa – even Marks & Spencer. But no book shop. I decide to have a wander around WH Smith just to have a look at what’s on the shelves these days.

Best-sellers – Sylvia Day and EL James. Fifty shades of erotica and more. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (I hated that book) in several different incarnations. Scandinavian crime and lots of romance and women’s fiction. I move towards the back of the shop, falling into old habits of hunting out the science fiction and fantasy. There used to be lots of it – now we’re down to a couple of shelves and if you don’t like Stephen King or Robert Jordan’s 300 books of the Wheel of Time or Terry Pratchett, then you might as well move along. Where are all the mid-list authors? The up-and-coming authors I used to meet at conventions? How are they ever going to sell if nobody buys their books? How is anybody going to buy their books if they don’t know they even exist?

I don’t have a dog in the Amazon v Hachette fight. I don’t want to see Amazon take over the world either. I’m happy reading paperbacks or ebooks, from both traditional and self-published authors – I don’t care; if the story is good, I’ll read it. But who dictates what books are on the shelves of WH Smith? The big publishers can offer the best discounts, pay for front-of-store promotions for their star authors, while the rest languish in obscurity. I don’t want to be offered a selection of what the people with the most money think I should be reading or buying. Why isn’t it about art anymore?

At least Amazon offers me a (relatively) unbiased selection of books by all authors. Yes, I have to sift through rubbish. Yes, I have to filter through whatever Amazon decides to show me first. I’m sure the big publishers pay for virtual shelf-space here too. But at least I can get beyond that and find books I want to read and not what the big boys tell me I should read.

I don’t think I’ll bother with WH Smith again.

Friday 19 September 2014


New cover! Book should be out by the end of the year, hopefully. What do you think?

Friday 12 September 2014

Audiobooking - Part 2

I blogged about starting out on my audiobook journey in June 2014. On ACX – Amazon’s audiobook programme which hosts the entire process – I agreed with my narrator that he would deliver the first 15 minutes of my thriller Hamelin’s Child by the end of July 2014 and the rest of the book by the end of the year. 

Read more ...

Monday 1 September 2014

Those punch-the-air moments....

Does anybody else get them? Those moments when you're slogging on writing your WIP, making your characters do awful things and have even more awful things happen to them ...

... when suddenly your conscious brain disconnects from your fingers, you type furiously for a few minutes, them sit back and read what you've written for the first time ...

... and punch the air, yelling YES At the top of your voice. At which point your spouse/family/colleagues fall off their chair in surprise, or run into the room wondering what's happened. Are you ill? Do you need help? You shake your head, smiling ...

... because you've written what may be the best few lines of prose ever committed to a computer. Your subconscious has kicked in and boy, has it delivered on its promise.

Or else your subconscious has made good on a bargain it made with you way back - maybe in the previous novel (it's a series). You had a deal. You agreed to let it keep a throwaway and apparently meaningless line. You argued with your editor that it had to stay there. And in return your subconscious promised you that the payoff would be good.

And it is. That throwaway line makes sense now and adds a whole new dimension to your character or plot.

And you kiss your subconscious and promise faithfully never to ignore it again.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Leaving Reviews for Indie Authors

Reblogged from

This has always been a topic close to my heart and this post says it all so succintly. For independent authors, the internet - the book sites (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, even GoodReads) are our store front, our bookshelves. And reviews are what give us space on a virtual shelf somewhere in the vicinity of the shop itself, and not deep in the bowels of the basement:

You know that friend who’s always pleading harassing  asking you to leave them a book review on Amazon? The one whose book you read? Possibly you even got the book for free? Okay, so ME for some of you.

This is just a little tutorial/explanation of why it is so important and how to do it. One more encouragement to get you over there, leave the review, and drop the guilt. :)

First of all, is one more review really important? YES! Unless the book has over 100 reviews, it’s important. And the author checks every day on occasion to see if there is a new review. And it really makes the author’s day to see a new review (unless it is 2 stars or less and then they feel kind of bummed).


Wednesday 11 June 2014


It was like some corny made-for-television movie: Bad guy gets released from prison with just a small bag of personal stuff. Close up of the gate banging shut, as he lights up a cigarette and turns his face up to the sun, smelling freedom at last. And there’s a car waiting for him… 

But the gate did bang. He did light up – the novelty of having a cigarette lighter again was enough for that. It was sunny, if barely a couple of degrees above freezing, and fuck did he appreciate being outside after three very long and boring months.

And there was a car waiting for him.

Friday 6 June 2014

On Audiobooking

Audiobooks have been around for a long time. I remember listening to them myself on cassette as a child. My own daughter adored (and still has) many books on CD and she used to lie in bed at night and let them talk her to sleep. She always complained that she’d heard the start of one book so many times, she knew it by heart – but she still had no idea how the story ended!


Sunday 25 May 2014

On hand...

Right now I am:

  • heavily involved in a community writing project. We're putting together a series of short radio plays based on village life. There are several of us on-board - writers, editors, actors, organisers - and we have episode 1 written up and a storyboard for episode 2. It's a completely new direction for me. I've never done radio plays before, or any kind of collaboration.
  • embarking on an audiobook production of Hamelin's Child via Amazon's ACX programme. I have a narrator now and once we sort out contracts, I expect to be involved in a lot of work listening to and editing chapters.
  • trying to finish a short story for an anthology deadline. It's not a commission so it's not really a deadline, is it?
  • mulling over ideas for Ratline, which will be the next book in Lenny's story after Rat's Tale. Maybe 4k down so far, but no plot to speak of as yet...

And then of course there's the usual June/July madness of birthdays, anniversaries and the awesome weird and wonderful event that is the Moulton Crow Dance at Crow Fair on July 12th. Once again my house looks like a terrorist training camp with stacks of black costumes and black hoods with slits for eyes....

Friday 9 May 2014

Bad Boys Rock!

How many times have you watched a film or television show, or read a book and been just a little bit in love with one of the bad guys? Think Sean Bean in Patriot Games, Richard Armitage’s unbelievably sexy Guy of Gisborne in the BBC’s Robin Hood, or even Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, who wasn’t exactly the type of boy you’d taken home to meet your mother.


Sunday 27 April 2014

Be good for good, not for gender

I confess the title isn't mine. I nicked it off my good friend Jan Edwards. But it just seemed to sum up how I feel about the current trend in anything to do with writing, genre fiction, the convention circuit: the circles I move in - or used to move in. I'm a bit more square these days, I think...

Gender Parity.

With capital letters.

Read any write-up of a genre convention and there'll be somebody banging on about it. How there were more men than women on this panel, more male guests than female guests and don't the organisers know that there are women writers too? Whole pages devoted to listing all the awesomely good ladies.

Anthologies are the same. Oh no - there are twenty stories and only two written by women! Surely that depends on the ratio of publishable stories that were actually submitted by women? Even committees are getting in the act. Must have an equal balance etc etc. It's bad enough in real life when the public sector talks about how many women there are in higher-management roles and are we under-represented because we took time out to have a family?

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all for women's rights and equality of opportunity. But the key is that word - opportunity. Take for example a hypothetical fiction anthology calling for submissions. It should be open to men, women, people who identify as either gender. After that it's surely down to the quality of the work submitted? Gender of author becomes irrelevant - in the same way that race, religion and any other identifying characteristic is irrelevant to the ability to write a good story. It's the same with panels at conventions and conferences; I want to listen to what somebody has to say because they have a valid and/or interesting contribution to make - not because they are a man or a woman and are there to make up numbers.

Frankly I find it all rather insulting. I don't want to be given preferential treatment because I'm female. I don't want to think people might be muttering she only got there because of her sex. I want to be on a panel or in an anthology or selected for anything in my life because somebody thinks I'm actually rather good at it. Because I am.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Rat's Tale is live!

So Rat's Tale is now live in ebook format at and The paperback and other sites should be there in the next few days hopefully.

Lenny’s turned his back on the past. In return for police protection and a lighter sentence, he’s grassed up his old gangland boss and he’s hoping that eventually he’ll be free to start a new life with Amanda.

But the past isn’t giving up on him yet. New man on the block Mick Carlotti fancies himself as a crime lord – he doesn’t have the contacts or the business acumen, but he knows a man who does. He also knows exactly how to get Lenny to play ball.

Caught between Carlotti’s rock and the hard place of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit, Lenny’s running out of choices. Turning his life around is going to be a lot harder than he thinks.

Set just after events in Calling the Tune, this shorter novel is Lenny's story and contains adult material. 

This one's been fun. Getting inside the head of a bad-boy and working out what makes him tick has been fascinating and not something I've done before. I think it works ...

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Spring Senses

Use all five senses and write about spring. 10 minutes - go!

It's so close, I could touch it. At least I could if the window opened more than the inch or so required for "ventilation" - although really it's just to drop fag ends outside. But I like to stick my fingers out and touch the rain, or get my nose so close to the gap that I can smell and taste the weather. It's a better smell than body odour and boiled cabbage.

Freedom is something I can see through the glass, but always just out of reach. I can hear traffic sometimes, on a still night when the morons on the wing finally quit carping and curl up in something approaching sleep, tucked up under their dirty grey blankets with their dirty grey dreams. Cars in the distance, people travelling, arriving, living; without freedom, I simply exist.

But spring is somehow different. Always full of hope with the promise of summer just around the corner. I always stick my fingers out of my cell window when it rains in the spring.

So I don't do light and fluffy...

Monday 31 March 2014

From a dalek to a jedi ....

Where will you see every incarnation of Dr Who occupying the same space-time co-ordinates as a jedi knight, Chewbacca and Mike Myers?

Answer: At this year's Sci-Fi Weekender in North Wales.

I was lucky enough to get invited to this event as a guest author with an access-all-areas "artist" pass and the chance to witter on at great length on stage about genre writing - and my genre writing. You can read more of this side of the event on 6th April in my monthly blog over at AuthorsElectric, but here I thought I'd talk more about cosplay and role-playing in general.

Up until recently, I'd never even heard the term cosplay. While I've been to (and organised) many conventions over the years, they've been more aimed at the literary and art side of the science fiction, fantasy and horror genre - more concerned with discussion, readings and art shows. This is the first event I've attended that celebrates the shows themselves, where 6000+ attendees turn up to meet stars and dress up as their favourite characters. I used to do a lot of live role-play (of the Treasure Trap variety), but other than a brief and uncostumed appearance at a Star Trek convention in the early 1990s, I've never experienced such a large group of people having so much fun with costumes before.

Witness  Peter Capaldi's new incarnation of Dr Who arguing at great length with a dalek over which of them is the bigger star and has the biggest BBC contract; Pennywise the clown wandering through the arena menacingly, with his clutch of balloons; a blue-skinned woman browsing books in the dealer room, Willy Wonka watching a panel or Obi-Wan Kenobi doing battle with Darth Vader by the outdoor bar.

And that's not doing homage to the steampunk crowd in their beautifully-detailed Victorian outfits. Men and women - whole families having a weekend away from television, playstations and the internet, and mixing with like-minded people. I could have stood outside all weekend just watching the interplay, the impromptu re-enactments of scenes from film and television.

In the trading area, I was helping to man the Telos table. The stand across the way had a whole wall of artwork - mostly by the wonderful fantasy artist Rodney Matthews, whose posters papered my walls in my student days (who remembers Athena posters in the early 1980s?). And I had a complete fangirl moment when I realised that the man himself was there, helping to run the stall! So I had a chat with him and bought a signed print. Totally made my weekend!

Would I go again? Definitely. Not sure I'd dress up myself. I did feel sorry for the cosplayers on occasion - everywhere they went, they'd stop to pose and have their photograph taken. But I guess that's what it's about for some of them - the appreciation of the onlookers into the sheer amount of effort it's taken to put some of these outfits together and the character-playing throughout the entire weekend. Hiding behind a persona can be fun in that you can do all sorts of things the real you would never dare to do! Which is kind of what we do when we write isn't it? Put on another identity and experience life as somebody else.

Edited to add this.... 

Thursday 27 February 2014

Cause And Effect

A bit of googling and I find that the classic line to illustrate plot is attributed to EM Forster:

The king died and then the queen died is a narrative.

The king died and then the queen died of grief is a plot.

It's about cause and effect. Actions leading to events which lead to further actions - at the end of which the people involved are changed in some way - be it physically or mentally. They fall in love, they solve the mystery, they realise that their values have changed, they reach some kind of understanding or enlightenment. All good stories - genre and literary fiction - follow this path in some way, whether the characters reach a literal or spiritual destiny.

Taking it a stage further - events need to be a direct result of a character's actions. How many times have you read stories where a character sits passively while things happen to him? Not very often, I expect. Character generates plot which in turn changes the character. It's why deus ex machina endings are so frustrating - God in the machine - where in classical literature, the Gods would walk onto the page and determine the ending. In modern fiction it's where the characters wake up and it's all been a dream. Or where the murderer is revealed to be somebody's twin brother that's never been mentioned in the story. As a reader you feel cheated and justifiably so. Events have to be connected - cause and effect.

In a short story, it's the difference - for me, anyway - between a story and a piece of prose. A piece of prose is words on a page or screen, in the right order. It may be beautifully written with wonderful imagery - but if it doesn't end, figuratively speaking, in a different place from where it started, it's not a story. There's no change, no growth, no enlightenment in the character or even reader. That's not to say there is anything wrong with pure prose - I just don't like seeing the two confused.

I find this really hard sometimes. I'll be writing a scene and I'll suddenly realise that everything is happening around my character and he has no direct influence on any of it. With the nature of the stuff that I write, it's quite common, and yet the good guys have to escape/outwit the bad guys by virtue of something they themselves initiate. Otherwise what was the point? Calling in the cavalry is the easy option.

And while I don't always have happy endings, I do try to make them satisfying within the context of the story. But never walking off hand in hand into the sunset!

Sunday 23 February 2014

Rat's Tale

Lenny’s turned his back on the past. In return for police protection and a lighter sentence, he’s grassed up his old gangland boss and he’s hoping that eventually he’ll be free to start a new life with Amanda.  

But the past isn’t giving up on him yet. New man on the block Mick Carlotti fancies himself as a crime lord – he doesn’t have the contacts or the business knowledge yet, but he knows a man who does. And he also knows exactly how to get Lenny to play his games.   

Caught between Carlotti's rock and the hard place of a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit, Lenny’s running out of choices. Turning his life around may be harder than he thinks.  

Set just after events in Calling the Tune, this shorter novella is Lenny's story and contains adult material.  

A novella still in progress. Drop me an email if you want me to let you know when it's available to read.....

Tuesday 4 February 2014

On Zombies and Electric Fences

My local writing group meets up once a month. At the start, we all do a writing exercise, usually suggested by one of the group members. Yesterday, we were inspired by a selection of small ads from the local papers: write for 10 minutes on one of them. Here's my effort - pretty much unedited, so I've no idea what it actually is...

Electric Fencing. Approx 1200m nearly new green tape, 3 used connectors and 5 unused connectors. £48

Electric fencing. Approx 1200m nearly new.

What does nearly new mean? It's either new or it isn't. For that matter, if it's not new it'd be used wouldn't it? And how do you use a fence? Climb it? Keep something in? Or keep something out?

You can't climb an electric fence anyway. Not one made of green tape. And when I think of an electric fence, I think of a prison - probably one on a post-apocalyptic planet somewhere. It'd be designed to keep the zombies out, wouldn't it? Green tape ain't gonna do that. You can't fry a zombie anyway - they're already dead and they don't care if they lose a toe or finger here or there.

The vamps though - they'd care. Stick a current up their arse and they'd light up like a nuclear reactor. That'd be fun to see on a dark night.

Listen up. This ain't fucking Twilight. You wanna survive here, you got to get to grips with electricity. And you ain't gonna do that buying fencing from the small ads.

Ho hum. I need to get out more, don't I?

Sunday 2 February 2014


When my daughter was little, I'd amuse her on car journeys by discussing other drivers. I suspect I was probably giving her a mountain of prejudice to overcome in later life, as I happily stereotyped every car and driver we saw. There goes Humphrey and his wife Fenella in their huge 4x4 towing a horsebox, with little Penelope in the back, on their way to a gymkhana, where Penelope will probably win all the pony club races, and her best friend Araminta will cry and it will be weeks before they make friends again. Can you tell I grew up reading Enid Blyton? Or there'd be uncle Arthur and aunty Elsie driving at 20 miles per hour in their little Ford on their annual Sunday trip to the garden centre to buy some roses for the garden, only aunty Elsie doesn't have her reading glasses and uncle Arthur doesn't know all the different Latin names of the roses ... As she got older, my daughter would be joining in and we'd imagine the extended lives of all these complete strangers.

It clearly had an effect. I recall driving home from the day nursery (a half-hour trip on a good day) when my amazing daughter, aged three, managed to tell me about a dream she'd had - for the entire journey without stopping or repeating herself. I'm not even sure she paused for breath. I was impressed.

But I still do it all the time. I amuse myself in cars, in queues, wherever, by looking at people, eavesdropping on their conversations and creating lives for them. From two carrots, a lemon and a bedsheet, to today in the supermarket where a middle-aged man - probably called Chris or John - dressed in smart jeans and a sensible shirt, is buying mountains of fruit and vegetables. Pears, cherries and raspberries. Gourds - Gourds? What on earth do you do with a gourd? - and carrots and leeks. At first I think he's making a special meal to impress a lady friend. Maybe a second or third date? Then I spot the wedding ring and I'm thinking, no - he's a chef, isn't he? Normal men don't shop like that. And off I go again, stereotyping the poor bloke until I've got him neatly pigeonholed where I want him. And I store it away and maybe he'll emerge some day as a part of a character in a story.

[...Talking of characters, does anybody else think that the BBC's new D'Artagnan is the hottest thing on tv this year? And yes, I'm old enough to be his mother. And no, I don't care....]

But does anybody else imagine other peoples' lives in this way? I have a habit of listening to conversations and find it so hard to resist the temptation to add my own opinion to the mix. Sometimes it gets the better of me - when I see a woman standing in front of a mirror and holding a dress up to herself, sometimes I just have to tell her the colour really suits her. I've not been told to mind my own business yet, but I'm sure it will happen some day. My husband and daughter despair of me when I can't help chatting to the checkout girl or the store assistants. I like to think I'm brightening up their day, but I'm probably not, am I? 

That's where my characters probably come from, I think. People I've met throughout my life, stored in character soup in my subconscious - stirred and blended with other people, real and imaginary - seasoned with a healthy dose of irony, until they emerge near-fully-formed at the other end of the machine.

Or am I just weird?

Tuesday 28 January 2014

By Hook or By Book

It seems a long time since I've written a post about reading, as opposed to writing. So since I'm currently mid-way through book 3 of a 4 book series that I only started last Friday ... and I've managed to go to work and have a life, you may conclude that I've been up late at night and am totally smitten by a new author!

Don't you just love it when a book sucks you in completely? When you're not so much reading as living the story, when the real world dissolves and you find yourself obsessed by the characters, the story - everything, really? Or am I just weird that way?

It doesn't happen often to me. And I don't even know what it is that speaks to me from a book, but I do know that it's something to do with the way a particular author writes that resonates with me somehow. Take Matthew Reilly as an example. He writes what can only be described as lad-lit adventure: guns, chases, bigger guns and even bigger guns. As this review says, it's overwritten and utterly implausible with paper-thin characters and action scenes that can out-Bond James himself. The writing itself is not brilliant either - if you check out other reviews, they're completely polarised between love and hate. And yet there's something about his books that has you on the edge of your seat, turning pages (or flipping ereader buttons) desperate to find out how our hero survives. Because we know he will - the good guys always win. But what is it about Reilly as a writer? If I knew what it was, I'd bottle it and make a million....

So what am I obsessing about right now. Faeries. Yep. You got it. Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series, which I found in our local bargain book shop and about as far away from lad-lit action as you can get! It's labelled as the next Twilight, but that is just so wrong. Twilight made no sense at all to me - the internal logic was wrong and Bella herself was a needy drip of a girl who should have been strangled at birth. This series is so, so much more.

Any book that deals with fantasy (or science fiction, albeit with different rules) has to be consistent within its own environment. There has to be a logic - a structure - and a purpose. You can't invent spells and then conveniently find ways around them a few pages later. You can't solve every problem with magic. As I read somewhere (and if somebody tells me where, I'll edit this and credit the author), magic has to come with a price. Without sacrifice, there is no choice and without choice there is no conflict. That's where so many fantasy novels fall over - when things simply happen to the character, rather than events being driven by the choices the character makes.

In Kagawa's series, the world-building and internal logic is exquisite - everything is true to itself. Parallel worlds make sense, the laws of faerie work, nothing contradicts what has gone before and the characters are resourceful and courageous. And of course our bad-boy faery is drop-dead gorgeous as all heroes have to be. Kagawa stays true to most of the faery mythos but adds her own unique and clever spin on it that is just so awesome, I wish I'd thought of it! It's light-years ahead of Twilight's twaddle.

So I'm hooked. Again it's something in the writing that sings to me, although the genre helps. I admit I'm an easy target when it comes to faeries. I've always longed to believe in alternate realities and parallel worlds. And I so wish I could write like this.

Monday 20 January 2014

My Writing Process

Today I'm taking part in the #MyWritingProcess blog tour. This is where you follow a thread across the blogs of lots of different writers, who all answer the same questions about their writing ....

My host is author Kathleen Jones, who writes both fiction and biographies. I can particularly recommend her novel The Sun's Companion, which I read and reviewed over at Eclectic Electric.

So, on with the questions...

1) What am I working on? 

Currently, I'm writing what I think will be a novella, called Rat's Tale. This is a spin-off from my dark crime thriller series - there are 3 books and while each is its own separate story, they do follow on from each other chronologically and the main character's story comes to an end in the third book, with everything resolved and all the loose ends neatly tied up. Except there was one minor character who was still talking to me, whose story hadn't quite finished, and over the past few weeks he's started telling me what happened next. And I listened and had to start writing it down. So Rat's Tale is his story. I don't think it will be a novel - I don't think there's enough material - but I'm hoping to put a bit of meat on the bones and get a novella out of it.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

That's a tough one. I guess I maybe fall between crime and thriller territory - though hopefully not into the cracks! Crime is often police procedural, or at least told from the perspective of somebody whose work is connected with law enforcement in some way (coroners, forensics, private detective, law etc). Thrillers are often bigger scale - with the fate of the entire world resting on the actions of one person. Eco-thrillers, medical thrillers, techno-thrillers.

I write on a smaller scale. I don't write who-dunnits or even why-dunnits, but more will-they-survive-its. Although I have police characters, they're not major characters and I'm not interested in how they solve crimes (I get enough of that in the day job, thanks). I'm far more interested in the psychology - how crime affects the victim, how they move on with their life. And of course, for those who know my work, the pervading thread through all my books explores the differences between good and evil and how the bad guys can sometimes be better than the good guys when you look at things in a different way...

3) Why do I write what I do? 

Because the voices tell me to. 

Seriously, it's true. There are people living in my head and the only way I can get them out is to tell their story. I suspect the reason they chose my head in the first place is because I have a background in law enforcement. There are things I can't tell, experiences I can't repeat, but I can capture their essence in fiction. And having done drugs from a law enforcement angle, I wanted to have a look at the other side.

4) How does my writing process work?

Badly. I so admire those writers who plan their novels, who write out chapter headings and list scenes and plot points - who know where they are going and how to get there safely. 

I'm a pantser, completely, utterly and probably irretrievably. I get an idea - a snatch of conversation, a character or sometimes a real person I've seen on the street and I pick at it and see where it takes me. Suddenly, the smooth shiny nugget of idea will crack and I'll dig a fingernail in, split it open and run with it. I write when I'm passionate, when my fingers can't keep up with my brain, when I'm living and breathing it during my entire waking life. I have no clue where it takes me - I find out the plot as I go along. I experience the same highs and lows as and when my characters do. It's hell to write but the ride is amazing! 

And now I pass the baton on to Jan Edwards who will be answering the same 4 questions on 27th January. I've known Jan for over 20 years, since we met at a writers' conference in the early 1990s and discovered we'd both got lumped in with all the other people who wrote "weird stuff". Clearly it was true, because we hit it off and have been close friends ever since. Jan's a writer of fantasy and horror with lots of credits to her name. She also edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press.

Sunday 19 January 2014


So it's all about wearing purple, isn't it? With a red hat.

But fifty isn't old these days. It's scary to think when my mother was fifty, I was twenty-nine and married with a house and mortgage of my own. My own daughter is almost eighteen and I don't feel old at all. I have jeans. I wear leggings. OK, I've taken to dying my hair every few months now, but then early grey hair runs in the family and I was pulling rogue ones out in my mid-twenties. At least the Chinese genes mean that hopefully I won't go bald...

So here I am, aged fifty. Do I feel any different? Not really. Older and wiser? Well that'd just be boring...

And I can still sing karaoke down the pub. Whether or not it's dangerous to the eardrums is a matter of opinion, but we had a good time!

Things that are bad about being fifty: insurance gets more expensive, I have to dye my hair more often than I used to, my near vision is on the edge (just about avoiding reading glasses so far), and sometimes I feel like life is speeding up so fast - that the years are blazing by - and now I'll never be an astronaut/dancer on Top of The Pops/whatever other dream I had as a child.

Things that are good about being fifty. None of the above matters as much as it did at forty. At fifty, I know where I've been and where I'm going. I'm comfortable with who I am - my weight (yes, we'd all like to lose a bit, but I don't obsess any more), my family, my life. I've stopped trying to please other people and I've stopped worrying about what they might think. I have a far better social life now than I did ten years ago and I'm finally achieving what I've wanted to my whole life and starting to gain recognition as a writer.

I got a red hat for my birthday (thanks, Jan x). Roll on the next ten years!

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Rat's Tale

The sound of footsteps woke him. Not the noise they made on the linoleum of the hospital corridor outside his room, but the rhythm – the way they stopped, there was a dull thud and then they started again, closer to his door now.

He was a light sleeper. He always had been; the instinct for self-preservation was far stronger than the need to rest, but since the shooting, it had been worse and despite the armed guard outside his door, he still didn’t feel safe in the private hospital room. Too many people wanted him silenced for him to feel safe anywhere in this country now.

That dull thud. Exactly the noise a body might make as it fell off a chair onto the floor. An armed guard’s body perhaps?


He was wide awake now – as wide awake as he could be, with the cocktail of antibiotics, painkillers and whatever else they kept giving him at regular intervals. Eyes still closed, he heard an almost imperceptible squeak as the door to his room opened.

Lenny turned over in bed, yawning, letting his eyelids flicker open briefly to see a dark silhouette against the light from the corridor. The door swung shut silently. He listened for the sounds of movement, breathing, anything to give him a clue about who was in the room and where they were.

There was no way he could run, no chance of being a match for anybody physically. It was less than four weeks since he’d been shot and he’d only recently lost the Frankenstein line of staples snaking down his side. There was still a long and messy scar. With his right arm in plaster from palm to bicep, more bruises than he could count only just fading from his face and body and he was in no position to fight off an attacker.

And I don’t think he’s come for a chat.