Monday, 16 September 2019

Catch-up time!

For some reason known only to the gods of the internet, I appear to have lost a couple of recent posts. As I've been away recently and otherwise tied up, I didn't notice. Mea culpa.

So, in a shotgun blast of catching up, here are the two missing posts:

Writing Magazine 'Beginners' article for August'

Titled 'The Thought That Counts', this piece dealt with the kind of thoughts I have in mind when writing a new book. While not always of the deep and meaningful kind, they do have to centre on the characters involved, whether returning (as in a series, which I write) or newcomers, walk-ons, call them what you will. Cardboard cut-outs are not permitted, even if their appearance is brief.

And if I'm popping across from one series set in, say, the current time, to my other series set in 1960s France, then I also have to make a definite change of hat because that's what occupies me until the book is done. (I've tried writing two books at once in the different time-frames and it wasn't a pretty sight. And my head exploding wouldn't help the family finances).

New Author Profile - Luan Goldie

Luan got a publishing deal with her book 'Nightingale Point' (Harper Collins imprint HQ), about the survivors of a disaster on a London council estate, and how they pulled through the aftermath even though it changes their lives forever.


'Beginners' article for September - 'Like Riding a Bike'

Using a giant cliché (I know, not cool in some circles), I tend to liken the art of writing with riding a bike.

Although vastly different, the same things do crop up, whether it be getting the riding/writing bug, starting off (with trepidation, mostly, about the journey ahead); falling off/making mistakes - and getting back on again; choosing your direction; achieving your first decent distance; reviewing your progress, stretching yourself... and finally joining others in this magnificent undertaking. (I'm thinking writing here, not so much riding a bike).


And, just out, 'Beginners' article for October - 'Every Chapter Tells a Story' 

Words count, as any writer knows. Whether 1,000, 2,000 or 90,000 (and in some genres, even more), you need words on the page to attract, engage and enthral a reading audience. You also need some order, usually achieved in a sequence of chapters. And it's chapters that shouldn't be overlooked. They help you achieve a sequence to your storyline, like stepping stones, they provide tension and pace, and each is like a small but unfinished story, each one easier to focus on rather than a whole book.

New Author Profile - Anita Frank

Set in an English country house during WW1, 'The Lost Ones' (HQ) is a ghost story, reflecting Anita's fascination with that medium (sorry!) and was written while a full-time carer, which says something about her determination.

It also has one of the most eye-catching covers I've seen in a long time.


Sunday, 21 July 2019

Why I wrote this.

After writing a series of five crime novels set in London the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer series), and nearing completion of a spy thriller (‘Red Station’), I thought about trying a French-based cop thriller. Having gone to school in France and with family there, I thought, why not? So much of writing is doing something to see if you can.

The first book in 2010 was called 'Death on the Marais’ (now re-issued by The Dome Press on the 2nd August with a striking new cover design).

The lead character is Inspector Lucas Rocco, formerly of the Paris police. But I didn’t want to write about Paris; I wanted to take him out of his comfort zone into one I know reasonably well. This meant transferring him, as part of a nationwide ‘policing initiative’ – writers can do stuff like this without passing lengthy legislation - to Poissons-les-Marais, a tiny village in Picardie, northern France.

Rocco's not particularly happy about this, and even less happy when he finds himself reporting to a uniformed Commissaire in the town of Amiens, and that his new boss is Francois Massin, his C.O. during the war in Indochina (France’s own Vietnam). Having witnessed Massin having a breakdown in battle and been forced to rescue him, Rocco knows his presence is not going to sit well with either of them.

Quite apart from this awkwardness, Rocco quickly finds this apparently serene backwater is brimming with danger, such as locals who like to recycle old wartime ammunition with hammers for the brass and lead, the sinister local marais - marshland - and the discovery on his first day of a woman’s body in the local British Military cemetery.

When the body disappears from the police morgue within hours, Rocco follows the trail to a former SOE officer, now a wealthy and connected industrialist, Philippe Bayer-Berbier, who has links to the wartime Resistance. At this point Rocco finds obstacles in his way from the highest authority, and it soon becomes clear that there are people who don't want part of their recent history turned over and will do anything to stop his investigation.

Thus begins a fight against official obstruction, corruption and murder, in an environment where city rules don’t apply. He’s also under constant scrutiny from Massin, who appears intent on finding ways to undermine him.

The research for the series was one of using what I knew from all those years ago (early 60s), and checking that my sketchy memory wasn't letting me down (it did occasionally). For example, which precise models of cars were used in 1963, along with social flavours of the time such as singers and songs. Names like Aznavour, Brel (I know, Belgian but ubiquitous) and Francoise Hardy were easy (had a monster crush on her, aged 10), but all had to be date-checked carefully to ensure I got it right.

On the technology front, I could forget all about PCs, email, smart phones and the like – which was quite refreshing – but public phones in rural areas were few and far between - and I almost had Rocco reaching for his cellphone on more than one occasion. In addition, the use of forensics was nowhere near what it is today, so I drafted in a local doctor to provide that facility (something else authors can do on demand).

Historically, the 1960s in France was an interesting time for a backdrop on which to hang the series. Still in shock after Indochina; having just gone through a long period of tension with Algeria gaining Independence; assassination attempts on President de Galle; facing increased immigration from North Africa, and increased trading opportunities from the then Common Market. This, all on top of having to deal with the spread of American and British music polluting young minds - and worse - the French language, was ripe for all manner of ideas to be explored.

Thus was the series born - and today stands at 6 books and a novella. It's been great fun writing them. The first four books are being re-published with new covers by the Dome Press as follows:

'Death on the Marais' - out now.
'Death on the Rive Nord') - out 6/9/19
'Death on the Pont Noir') - out 4/10/19
'Death at the Clos du Lac') - out 1/11/19

New cover details for the other three books will be issued when available. For now the publishers have deemed it necessary to have a pic of yours truly as a stand-in on Amazon. I know - the indignity.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Latest Article in Writing Magazine

July's edition of Writing Magazine is out now, and features my latest 'Beginners' piece, called 'Make it Happen'.

Readers need to know that something is going to happen next... otherwise they might lose the will to keep on turning the page. This means introducing a constant movement of characters, scenes, pace, tension, action and, finally, resolution.

It's easy during the white-hot blur of writing to find oneself wrapped up with one or more of these aspects to the detriment of others. So we need to keep an eye on the various elements that go to make an exciting, moving and engaging storyline.

As the saying goes, get 'em hooked and keep 'em reading.


Monday, 13 May 2019

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

The June edition of Writing Magazine - - includes my usual monthly Beginners page - titled 'Blind Faith'.

This deals with the fact that having enormous reservoirs of self-belief in one's writing is fine; but it helps to have some of the necessary skills, too. After all, believing that you could go down a black run for the first time ever on skis and not come a cropper might work... but some technical skills are not a bad idea. 

In writing, forging ahead with a project without adhering to any of the accepted norms expected by editors, publishers or readers will not, on the whole, guarantee success.


Eleanor Anstruther is the New Author profiled in this month's edition, and her novel 'A Perfect Explanation' saw publication by Salt Books in March.

Based on a true story, it deals with the sale of a son by his mother (Eleanor's grandmother, granddaughter of the 9th Duke of Argyll) to her sister, with themes ranging across class, money, loss, favouritism and the breakdown of family.

'I wrote and ripped up four complete versions of the novel,' Eleanor says, 'but nothing was wasted. I got to know my characters and the story inside out.'

Not a bad way to go to ensure publication. And intriguingly, without any collusion whatsoever, Eleanor also adds, 'I needed a heavy dose of blind faith top keep going, which I had.'

As a rider to keeping the faith, the book has also been nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2019.

'A Perfect Explanation' - available here:


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Latest article in Writing Magazine

May's edition of Writing Magazine carries my latest Beginners article, 'Upstage, downpage'.

It concerns who is taking centre-stage in your story, whether singular or shared, and whether someone else begins to feature more strongly simply because they're more fun to write about. (They might be more fun to read about, too, which should maybe have come up during the planning process).

Equally, particular scenes might begin to take up more space than they need to, to the detriment of the flow of the story.

These are both easily controlled by use of the Navigation pane, and a brief chapter heading showing what each chapter contains. If one character or scene begins to show up a little more than you like, this is where you can at least get a handle on it and make corrections

Nobody likes cutting back scenes or a character's place in them, but finding the balance and flow of the storyline suffering due to someone - or a scene - hogging the limelight is something to be addressed.


Monday, 25 March 2019

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

April's edition of Writing Magazine carries my latest 'Beginners' piece, 'Goldfish Moments'. This delves into what I call creative day-dreaming... something my teachers found irritating and my parents saw as endearing (at least, that's what they said).

For writers - and I speak from regular experience - goldfish moments can be very productive. In fact some of my best 'rescued writing' projects come from suddenly getting inspiration while drifting off into nothing in particular, out of which came an idea or two.

The idea is, don't dismiss what many see as an idle moment or two staring at nothing.

It can be gold.


In my New Author slot this month is Fiona Erskine. whose debut thriller is 'The Chemical Detective', an exciting and kick-'em-where-they-hurt thriller centred on the theme of the illegal trade in explosives and chemicals, featuring Jacqueline 'Jaq' Silver, an expert on avalanche control. .

And Fiona knows of what she writes; she is a chemicals engineer and regularly travels to hot zones such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, where she works with engineers, construction workers and scientists.

'The Chemical Detective (Point Blank) is available right here.


Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Book review - THE HUNTER - Andrew Reid

A debut thriller is always of interest, and this one - 'The Hunter' by Andrew Reid - (Headline), is a cracker.

Featuring 'Cam' Cameron - an ex-cage fighter who is searching for her brother, Nate (yes, I wrote 'her' - not a typo), it's high on action and tension, with corruption in high places, kill teams and gunplay enough to satisfy lovers of the genre.

Oh, and two very genial main characters who form, dare I say it (?) a great team.

You can read my full review here in SHOTS Magazine right now.

And buy the book here.