Meet Sergeant Gray – my sexy small town Scottish cop

This a little introduction to my main character, Davie Gray, that I wrote for Mystery Readers International. For anyone who wants to know more about where he came from, read on! People often ask me who I’d like to see play Davie on a TV adaptation… well I decided that Dougray Scott fits the bill nicely. If you’re reading, Mr Scott, please get in touch 😉

You can read the full journal here: Mystery Readers: Small Town Cops II

* * *

When I started writing my first novel, Black Wood, I intended it to be a straight psychological thriller – a first person account with an unreliable narrator – a woman confronted with a face from her past, leading to events that sending her into a downward spiral with deadly consequences. But then I realised it was too intense – or the main character was, at least.

I absolutely didn’t want to have any police in the book – main reason being that I didn’t want to go into a lot of procedural detail – that would involve too much research, and for me, research leads to much procrastination… So of course it was a bit of a surprise when my cop walked onto the page. Sergeant Davie Gray (who is NOT a detective) first appears in a scene in the local police station, in my fictitious Scottish small town called Banktoun. This town is very closely based on the town I grew up in, about seventeen miles from Edinburgh, but I changed it a bit to suit my own nefarious purposes (plus, hardly anything happens there – let alone the series of grisly murders I was about to unleash.) The first scene in Banktoun station sees Davie playing wastepaper basketball with his colleague, the two of them spinning about on wheely office chairs. Clearly, they’re bored. Then a call comes in from their Inspector – who is busy on the golf course – telling them to go and investigate a disturbing event up at the old railway track.

This sets the ball rolling for what is to become a full on investigation into teenage girls being threatened by a creepy masked man, and Davie’s role as guardian to my main character, Jo, being pushed to the limits.

How did I go about researching, then – considering I didn’t want to do any police procedural research? Fact is, I didn’t – not really. I found that Davie was an easy character to write, his style of investigation was straightforward, yet thorough. He turned out to be a natural detective after all. He’s reluctant to involve CID, because he’s excited to finally have something to investigate, and he’s convinced that being local and knowing the parties involved, that he is the only man required for the job. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t the clichéd copper with a drink problem, so instead, I gave him a scooter and a Mod hair cut, put him in charge of a karate club and turned him into a bit of a heart-throb. I based his mannerisms on an amalgamation of all the local police I knew, growing up in that town – I’d been questioned by police myself, after a robbery at my dad’s shop where I worked as a teenager – and I got to know others, as I got older, while working as a barmaid in my dad’s pub. Having family businesses in a small town makes you a centre point in the community – especially the type where everyone knows everyone. As for the hair and the karate and the heart-throb parts – they came entirely from my inside my head… although I did do karate myself, so that part didn’t require any research at all. In some ways, it’s his martial arts training that makes Davie good at his job – he is able to calmly assess a situation and work out what he needs to do, rather than jumping in feet first.

So Davie Gray was ‘born’ – and that was that, I thought. He’s not the main character, it’s not his story – he’s just someone who lives there, who happens to be a policeman. Then people read the book – and they enjoyed it – they loved Davie and they wanted to know when he was coming back… Aargh! This wasn’t in the plan!

It was a natural progression after that – the three books that I had planned turned into a trilogy, linked by location and by Davie. In Willow Walk, I give him a girlfriend – he wasn’t particularly lucky in love in the first book, and the readers wanted to see him fixed up. I made his girlfriend the main character, and just as things are starting to hot up between them, I throw in a curveball – give her a dark, dark secret that threatens to ruin her life. Davie is in turmoil, and as well as that, he’s kind of become seconded to CID – he’s turning into a detective! So then I find that I have to do some research, after all. So I start with Google – which leads me to all the local police force websites, then I end up talking to ex-police officers (it’s handy that so many of them are writing crime fiction now, and that I have several of them as friends), and then I talk to a sergeant working at the Scottish Police College in Stirlingshire – and I get lots of great insights there.

So it’s only fair that I let Davie do his detective exams, so that in book three – The Damselfly (out now), he is Detective Sergeant Gray – and he’s dealing with the murder of a teenage girl… and there’s another love interest. This one looks like she’s here to stay.

Fingers crossed.

* * *

All three books in the Banktoun trilogy are available to purchase now – click on the book covers below, or ask your favourite book shop to order one in for you (also available in libraries!). If you’ve already read them, I would love it if you could write me a little review! You can contact me via my Facebook Page and on Twitter too 🙂

If you live in or near Glasgow, I will be appearing at Aye Write on Saturday night with my fellow Slice GirlSteph Broadribb, Angela Lansbury fan, Russel McLean and Gordon Brown (the crime writer, not the other one!) – it’s going to be a fun night! A few tickets are still available here: Aye Write Tickets for 3 Slices of Crime

Purchase Here!!

 

A belated start is not a bad start

Happy New Ears

Happy New Ears

Ah… a new year. New plans, new resolutions, new me… these are the things that I think we ALL want to kick off on the 1st January, and yet they are the very things that can hold you back. It’s the usual call to arms: go to the gym, stop eating chocolate for breakfast, give up alcohol for a month, BE MORE PRODUCTIVE!

The start of the new year for me is really that dreaded ‘first day back’ – this year, that was Monday 4th January. All over the Christmas break (which I expected to be difficult, for several reasons (like this), but which actually turned out to be lovely and relaxing), I thought about all the things I want to do in 2016 – they aren’t resolutions, they are just things… and many of them are things that I am always trying to do (with variable success), such as:

  • Write a book (last year saw the publication of Black Wood, and the writing/editing of Willow Walk)
  • Write another book (I have plans for three this year… the third one set in Banktoun, plus two others that I’ll just knock up in my spare time… HA HA)
  • Become re-motivated with the day job (it’s a necessary evil, it’s really not that bad, but a delay with a project has seen me adrift since November, aka, a bit skint…)
  • Do 20 minutes of exercise per day (easy, right? Yeah… some days it is. I need it to be EVERY day, or else with a sedentary job, plus writing, I am likely to have curled into a turtle-like shape before my next birthday)
  • Eat less crap (an ongoing mantra… often this is successful, often it isn’t, but to be honest, life is too short to worry about the odd blow out… as long as it’s not every day)
  • Reduce time spent on social media/internet (tricky, as I use this to communicate with writing friends, readers, bloggers, book clubs and anyone else who feels like a chat… working from home in both the day job and writing can be lonely without this – but I am becoming increasingly worried about repetitive strain injury… and my fingers are my job!!)
  • Also, THIS 🙂

Anyway – I thought I was geared up for all of this on the 4th, but as it turns out, I sunk into a panic of stress and anxiety, worried about not being able to do it all (apparently the ‘first week back’ is the most challenging week of the year for everyone – so really it’s best not to set too high expectations during this period.) It’s been a very up and down week, but I think I’ve finally come out the other side. I’ve got a daily planner to try and stop myself from doing too much and focus on one task at a time… the day job has recommenced… the brilliant Alex Sokoloff has helped me realise what I need to do regarding structuring my current work-in-progress… and as a nice little bit of icing on the cake – I’ve got a flash fiction published today in Litro magazine.

So, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Mine started today 🙂

* * *

Click HERE to join my ‘Book Love Club’ – there will be giveways of lovely bookish things, as well as news and competitions (the emails are very infrequent, so don’t worry about me clogging up your inbox) – in the last competition, one lucky winner won this…

You can find me on twitter and facebook too 🙂

October Update: Bouchercon and Book News

Me with Jennifer Hillier

Me with Jennifer Hillier

Earlier this month, I travelled to Raleigh, North Carolina for my second US based crime festival of the year – Bouchercon. This was a whirlwind of panels, parties and mingling in the bar (of course) and it was great to meet up with lots of readers and fellow authors, spending time with old friends and new.

This is the biggest crime festival I’ve been to so far in terms of reader attendance – I have never seen so many crime fiction fans in one place… and books – the books!!! I was very pleased to sell out of my stock of Black Wood at McIntyre’s Books (I just wish I’d had time to go and visit their gorgeous book store).

I was part of the ‘Stiff Upper Lip – British Investigations are Murder’ panel on Thursday afternoon, along with Aly Monroe, Deborah Griffiths, Anne Cleeland and Elly Griffiths.What am I saying?

We were in a large room and there was a huge (and very responsive) audience, so although daunting, it was great fun.

Stiff Upper Lip - British Investigations are Murder (Aly Monroe, Deborah Crombie, Anne Cleeland, Elly Griffiths and me)

Aly Monroe, Deborah Crombie, Anne Cleeland, Elly Griffiths and me

My second event was a very early start on Saturday morning – the 7am Debut Authors’ Breakfast (sponsored by Crooked Lane Books).

This is where approximately 60 debut authors (except for the ones who slept in…) were invited to give a one minute pitch to try and tempt a room full of avid book-reading breakfasters to buy their book. I kept mine short and sweet, and the main comments I received afterwards in the lobby were “We’re going to buy your book because we just LOVE your accent!” 🙂

After the festival was over, my mum and I took off on a road trip to celebrate our joint 100th birthdays… we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway, taking in the gorgeous fall scenery, and the towns of Blowing Rock and Asheville. You can see lots of photos here:

AND, as if that wasn’t enough for one month, one my return (while battling a horrible cold), the news of my second and third books was released via The Bookseller. You can see the announcement here… and you can look at my pinterest board to get a flavour of Willow Walk here – more info to follow in due course (I am currently working on the edits) 🙂

What else? Well I’ve read a few brilliant books recently – Mark Edwards and Louise Voss’s ‘The Blissfully Dead’, Steve Mosby’s ‘I Know Who Did It’, Jennifer Hillier’s ‘Wonderland’ and Alex Marwood’s ‘The Darkest Secret’… and one that you should be reading right now: Chris Ewan’s ‘Dark Tides’… here’s the creepy poem that children sing for Hop-tu-Naa (Manx Halloween):

Hop-tu-Naa,
My mother’s gone away,
And she wont be back until the morning.
Jinnie the Witch flew over the house,
To fetch the stick to lather the mouse.
Hop-tu-Naa
My mother’s gone away
And she wont be back until the morning
Hop-tu-Naa, Traa-la-laa.

…and now I’m off out to buy a pumpkin to carve to get prepped for this weekend.

Happy Halloween!

Playing with Word Clouds

It’s always nice to find a new tool to play with when the procrastination monkeys start swinging from the rafters. Not that I’ve been idle – I finished the first draft of book two recently (more about that soon!), so I’ve been taking some time out to read and to plot a short story, as well as some early planning for book three.

Anyway, I found this thing called Wordle. It creates word clouds that you can customise in all sorts of ways. Just paste in your text, and play away…

This is one I created for Black Wood (which, by the way, audio fans – is now available on audible, and I LOVE the narration!)

…and this is one for my second book. Comparing the two, the word ‘back’ seems quite important – which makes sense I think, as both novels deal with secrets and have characters who don’t want to look back – but unfortunately, they can’t avoid it. Also the words ‘one’ and ‘like’ feature heavily. I’ve no insights on that. However, I will have some news about book two soon, so stay tuned, Davie Gray fans!

P.S. I recently shared my five favourite fictional murder weapons for BritCrime – you can read it HERE

P.P.S. I also featured on Anne Cater’s blog as part of the Book Connectors/Trip Fiction ‘Around The World’ Blog Tour – you can read it HERE

P.P.P.S I have been recommending a book to everyone called Take Off Your Pants! by Libbie Hawker – I will be blogging about it in detail soon, but if you are struggling with the mid-draft slump, or thinking about #NaNoWriMo, you might want to take a look 🙂

P.P.P.P.S You can sign up for my newsletter HERE (you won’t get anything for a while as I am still setting it up, and you can unsubscribe any time – updates will be infrequent, but will include exclusive news and giveaways)

Midsummer Update

With Jeanette and Jane at Crime in the Court

The summer so far has been a bit of a whirlwind, what with moving house as well as trying to get on with writing book 2 (which after many frustrating false starts, is coming along nicely, at last!)

I kicked off my events schedule with an appearance at Newcastle Noir, followed by Crimefest (where I almost missed my first panel after accidentally ending up in Wales), then on to my first solo events at Hammersmith and Ealing Libraries. I was the Crime Readers Association (part of the Crime Writers’ Association) featured author of the month in May (you can find my posts here). I worked on two Flashflood Journals, and had a brand new flash fiction story included in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology, ‘Landmarks‘. I had a great time at Crime in the Court, then a crazy double header last Saturday with Beaconlit in the morning with Dave Sivers, Eve Ainsworth and Jules Wake, followed by a 3h drive across to Felixstowe to appear on a panel there with Jane Isaac, Jeanette Hewitt and Andrew Whittaker. I also ran the Felixstowe Book Festival adult short story competition, and recently attended launches for Anya Lipska’s ‘A Devil Under the Skin‘ and Sarah Ward’s debut ‘In Bitter Chill‘, and met up with loads of great crime writers, bloggers and readers.

Meanwhile, in the background, there has been much going on in the run up to the first BritCrime Festival, which is organised by author Helen Smith. I’m very pleased to be doing a panel there on Sunday with Colette McBeth, Jenny Blackhurst and Clare Mackintosh. Helen and several others have worked non-stop to get this festival up and running – it’s all online and there will be lots of author/reader interaction, not to mention giveaways and a virtual pub and cafe. I’ll actually be doing my panel from a hotel room, probably still in bed, as I will be New York…

…taking part in the Debut Authors’ Breakfast panel at Thrillerfest, the annual festival organised by ITW (International Thriller Writers), who are another volunteer led organisation for authors who have been very supportive of me via their Debut Authors’ Programme. This is particularly exciting as it’s my first US based festival and I imagine it’s going to be bigger than anything I’ve been to so far. I’ll report back, with photos, of course. I actually planned the NYC trip as a surprise for Mr H, and managed to do all the organising behind the scenes and keep it all a secret until… Friday, when he guessed where we were going… damn it! On the plus side, it means he can pack his own suitcase now 😉

In other news, Black Wood is doing really well, with 200+ 4 and 5 stars reviews on Amazon. Thank you so much to everyone who has read it and enjoyed it and kindly left a review. It will be popping up on the tube as part of Books on the Underground on 14-15th July, the audio book is due out in August, and I sold my first foreign rights, to the Czech Republic and it will be out there late next year, which is very exciting… and I’m delighted to be featured in this month’s Writing Magazine.

The rest of my summer will be taken up with finishing book 2 (news on that to follow soon) and of course, the annual trip to Harrogate to drink Pimms on the lawn at The Old Swan. Then there’s my event with Fergus McNeill at Marylebone Library, and the biggest launch of the year for James Law’s brilliant ‘Tenacity‘ at the submarine museum in Hampshire. It’s a hard life, being an author…

Hope you’re all having a great summer and reading lots of books in the sunshine!

* * *

You can see a full list of events HERE.

BLACK WOOD can be purchased HERE (free shipping worldwide).

My first author events

I’ve been pretty busy since my last post, despite being on ‘holiday’ from work (i.e. waiting for a new project). As well as working on book 2 (of which I have made some progress, and shifted to a more sensible deadline of the end of June), I’ve had my first two author events. Exciting!

The first one was online – where I took part in THE Book Club‘s first ever Book of the Month event. Black Wood was chosen by the readers, who first selected the genre (psychological), then the book – I was up against Mel Sherratt and Megan Abbott, and in the end it was a very close thing!

Where I won by a mere 6 votes!

Where I won by a mere 6 votes!

A Q&A was held on 30th April (after a month, where the members of the club had to download and read my book) and then the fun began. I say fun, it was 5h of hard work, as hundreds of readers left comments, feedback and questions and I had to keep up with it all, discussing the book not only with those who enjoyed it, but those who didn’t. I did three competitions – one to win a signed book, one for a tote bag and the third for a character name in my next novel. Overall, it was great fun but not for the faint hearted – but what it taught me (apart from the fact that most of these readers were used to reading far gorier books than mine) is that people who might not like my book might still like me, so I think I managed to convert some detractors who are now looking forward to the next book. From the feedback received, i think the readers really enjoyed it too.

* * *

Then came my first real life event – a panel at Newcastle Noir over the bank holiday weekend.

This was held at the historic Lit and Phil building in Newcastle, which has the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen. This is me outside 🙂 I didn’t take any photos inside, but there are some on their website here.

Me on the programme!

Me on the programme!

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and after meeting up with some of the other authors, attended an event that is always worth seeing – Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites in Conversation. I’ve seen these two before, and I love the way they use their skills as actors and comedians to talk about their lives and their books in the most hilarious of ways. That evening, it was a night out with the other authors (again!). Yes, it was a late one.

Music, beer and conversation in a classic venue

Music, beer and conversation in a classic venue

The next day, we had a quiet morning, before having Sunday lunch and on to the next event – Steve Cavanagh, Clare Donoghue and Peter Murphy. This was a fantastic panel about the legal profession and how these authors have used it in their books. Steve, in particular, was hilarious – especially as he told us he only became a lawyer as he joined the wrong queue at university!

It was great to see my books on display at the shop run by Helen from Forum Books

Then it was off to prepare for the last panel of the weekend… The Girls! Me, Eva Dolan, Susan Wilkins and Kati Hiekkapelto, chaired by Sarah Ward.

I wasn’t really nervous at all, until I sat down and looked at the audience while Jacky, the organiser, sorted out the microphones etc. Once I started though, it was easy to be led along by the excellent questions from Sarah and the responses from the other panelists. We all got on well and seemed to cover a variety of issues, keeping things entertaining by quips from Eva Dolan – who was asked at the end if she’d ever considered switching from crime to comedy! The weekend was topped off with a trip to another bar, and a late night sausage roll from Greggs… only in Newcastle!

I loved the whole event and it was great meeting up with authors, reviews and readers – only sorry I missed the other panels, I will definitely go back next year. My first two events were a great success – and I can’t wait for the next one – Crimefest in Bristol, next weekend!

Deadlines: Make ’em and Break ’em

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” ~ Douglas Adams

They’re a funny thing, deadlines. In my day job, they really can’t be broken unless there is a very plausible reason… an event outwith your control, preferably a disastrous mistake caused by someone else. There’s no room for whiny excuses of the ‘my dog ate my homework’ type when you’re dealing with pharmaceuticals and clinical trials.

Source: metro.co.uk

Source: metro.co.uk

In the writing world, however, it seems that they’re made to be broken. There’s some wiggle room. It’s not the end of the world if you deliver your manuscript a few days late. No one will die. Apparently. Although I suppose there could be knock-on effects that won’t earn you many brownie points with your publisher. I wouldn’t actually know, as I set my own deadline for my first novel, Black Wood and I don’t have one at the moment – hence why I am earning a first class degree in procrastination.

I like deadlines. They work for me. Having no deadline makes me lazy and restless. My mind flitters and flutters from one place to the next, hence why I haven’t actually written another book yet… I’ve got an endless number of ideas and I have written lots of words. They’re just not all in the same book.

On 28th June, 2013 – the day I met my agent in his office and signed up with him – I had written 40,000 words. He asked when I could deliver the full manuscript. Edited, of course (so a third draft, in practical terms). I said I’d have it to him on 31st July… a mere 4.5 weeks. I don’t know how, but I did it. I even had a long weekend in Harrogate in the middle of it. In fact, I sent it to him a day early. Then he told me he was off on holiday for two weeks and would read it when he got back! Aaargh!

So here I am with Book 2 (it does have a title, I’m just not quite ready to share it yet)… I haven’t got a deadline, so I am setting my own. Today is the 1st April, and, no – this is not an April Fool’s joke… I have 10,834 words. I’m setting myself a deadline of 6 weeks to finish some form of readable draft.That’s 13th May. An average of 12,000 words per week, with a week spare for a first-edit. I’m basing all this on me having a little bit of time off work… as yet, unconfirmed. Let’s see how I get on 🙂

In the words of Dr Pepper… “what’s the worst that could happen?”

* * *

P.S. Did I mention I’m also planning to sketch out some words of another book at the same time? No? I think I might have officially lost the plot 😉

Now the dust has settled…

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. I can’t even remember how many guest posts and Q&As I wrote to help promote Black Wood. I had telephone interviews with newspapers. I had almost daily discussions with my publisher about launches and publicity plans and all sorts of other things that have already become a blur. I had daily obsessive checking of my rankings on Amazon, and I had my first exposure to reviews that weren’t always favourable. On top of all this, I’ve been ridiculously busy in my day job and have had loads of other real life things to deal with too.

I haven’t stopped!

But I’ll tell you what – it’s been exciting 🙂 I had two (colour co-ordinated) book launches in Waterstones, both of which went brilliantly, despite my initial nerves. We had mini chocolates with book cover wrappers, and we had tote bags made by my brilliant husband. In Chiswick, I was interviewed by Martyn Waites in front of an audience of 72 people, and in Edinburgh I was interviewed by Craig Robertson in front of 47. I signed and sold loads of books (some were almost stolen… accidentally of course). There was a good mixture of friends, family and enthusiastic strangers, and from the audience feedback, it appears that I am a natural at public speaking… not sure about that, but a small alcoholic beverage beforehand certainly helped steady my nerves! I still can’t believe I had two bestselling authors there to support me and cheer me on. Not only that, the amazing Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books made me a cake!

Launching my book could not have gone better. Black Wood has been in the kindle top 100 for 35 days. It has been a #1 bestseller in Scottish Crime, Vigilante Justice and Psychological Thrillers and reached a peak position of #14 overall. People have been sending me photos of my book in bookshops. Fantastic reviews have been flooding in, and everyone has been so excited and supportive that I still feel like I have to pinch myself on a daily basis. Yep… I’m a published author now, and it feels wonderful.

I can’t wait to do it all again… 🙂

Click here to see all the photos from London

Click here to see all the photos from Edinburgh