Harrogate Happenings 2014

The setting... tents at The Old Swan
The setting… tents at The Old Swan

In 2009, I went to Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival (aka ‘Harrogate’), for the first time. I didn’t have a blog, hence no record exists of what I got up to there (probably for the best…) What I do remember is that I was quite shy about approaching people, but I did meet my future agent, Phil Patterson, and future best-selling superstar author, James Oswald…

I returned in 2012, when I was writing a lot of short stories and attempting to finish a novel. I wrote about it here. Last year, I had just signed a contract with my agent and was buzzing about that – by then I had met loads of readers and writers on twitter and I wrote about it here.

This year, I went having just signed a deal for my debut novel, BLACK WOOD, and it was such a fantastic experience for me being congratulated by so many of the readers, writers and bloggers that I now consider friends… One of the big things that happened this year was when several people came up and introduced themselves to ME (rather than the other way around)… it made me feel very loved 🙂

As usual, the whole thing passed in a blur of words and drinks and laughter – just to reconfirm that crime writers and readers are some of the friendliest and most supportive people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I can’t do a shout-out this year, because there were just SO many people, and I don’t want to miss anyone out. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time with some of the people that I only saw for fleeting moments, and that I completely missed seeing some people all together… but that’s what it’s like at the crime community’s biggest love-fest, and I wouldn’t expect it any other way 🙂

Memories of the festival include: the opening awards party where one of my favourite authors, Belinda Bauer, won the best novel award… lots of interesting panels… BEER… Val McDermid interviewing JK Rowling… meeting lots of new people and catching up with old friends… RAIN… a new fancy beer tent and some giant chairs… THUNDERBOLTS AND LIGHTNING… loads of great book recommendations – including The Girl on The Train (which I was lucky enough to get a SIGNED proof copy of and can’t wait to read)… us not winning the quiz again… some late night acoustic guitar… BEER… lots of random chat and lots of laughter…a marriage proposal during audience question time (yes – she said yes!)… and just for a change, nothing controversial happened and everyone was cheery, even when it RAINED (did I mention that it rained?)…

As promised, I got more than one photo this year, so here’s a little slideshow that sums up just a fraction of what went on in what has been unanimously described as ‘the best one yet’. Well done to Steve Mosby and the whole team for organising a memorable event 🙂

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As always, I came back exhausted, but inspired to write – and next year, I’ll return to The Old Swan as a published author… I don’t think that’s really sunk in yet, but as you can imagine – I can’t wait 🙂

My Writing Process

Big thanks to my writing friend and FlashFlood editing buddy, Shirley Golden, for inviting me to join this blog tour. It made me think a lot about my writing habits! So if you’re interested in what I’m up to and how I do what I do, here are my responses to the questions… 🙂

You can read Shirley’s responses from last week HERE.


What am I working on?

I am working on my debut – a psychological suspense novel called BLACK WOOD. I recently received comments (all good – whew!) from my agent after a bit of a rewrite and we are now brainstorming the final part of the puzzle before it gets submitted to publishers (again). Fingers crossed!

I have plans for another two books set in the same town – not quite a series, but sharing a setting and with some overlapping characters – a bit like Belinda Bauer‘s Shipcott novels (Blacklands, Dark Side and Finders Keepers), which are not really a series as such, but all set in the same place.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is an interesting question, as I have recently been trying to formulate a short pitch for my novel that describes it in one sentence. After some discussion on facebook and twitter, it currently reads like this:

“Amidst the claustrophobia of a small Scottish town, Black Wood spins a tale of dark secrets and fractured friendships, where past meets present with devastating consequences…”

How does this differ from other novels in my genre? Well, I’m not really sure… the book focuses on the lives of the characters and how they interconnect in a place where gossip is rife, everyone knows your business, and secrets never remain buried forever. The ‘crime’ element is almost secondary to the main thread of the story. Black Wood does contain various elements that could place it in different genres according to taste…

Also, as I have written outlines for several standalones, which are all completely different and possibly more in the realm of horror/weird fiction – think: ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ – I don’t think I’m in danger of being labelled predictable 😉

Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always read a lot of crime and horror fiction, and am particularly interested in the psychological aspects of bad things happening to ordinary people and how they react. I particularly like dark secrets and the exploration of relationships – the idea that people are rarely what they seem. I’m writing the kind of things that I like to read. I think I would struggle to write for any other reason. Like many writers, I am fascinated by the concept of ‘what if..?’ and this is a scenario that seems to work well in most good genre fiction.

How does my writing process work?

  • Ideas come to me all the time. Something on the news, something I overhear. Sometimes it’s a tiny snippet, other times I can picture a whole scenario. I email notes to myself and add to them with each new thought until I have enough to work with.
  • It will probably change later, but I always know I’m ready to go when I have an opening scene to start me off. It can take a while to get to this place, with a lot of note-taking and brainstorming ideas, but I can’t get anywhere without this – if it doesn’t feel right at the start, I stall after the first page, and if I try to push on regardless it never feels right.
  • I work quicker when I start with a title. Sometimes these change later, but usually I spend a lot of time getting them right in my head before I start the story. A good title is essential for me as it frames the whole story.
  • I always worry about not having my characters fully formed. I tend to be led by plot and their personalities then come together from the actions that surround them. Once they exist, and the story is in full flow, I tweak them and their backstories and eventually their secrets start to come to me. I don’t plan them in that way where you ask them questions like what they eat for breakfast and where they’d like to go on holiday. I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work for me.
  • As far as planning goes, there’s a whole big debate about ‘plotters vs pantsers’ and having tried both, I’d have to say that I am a plotter by nature. I would love to just have a rough idea and wing it – in fact, I have tried that many times, with little success. After several failed attempts at writing a full-length novel, I finally completed one when I outlined in as much detail as I could. Things changed along the way, of course, as characters developed and caused the original ideas to shift, but without a plan I know I would never had made it to the end.
  • I struggle to write without editing as I go. I like to read over the day’s work and fix it where I can. Saying that though, there have been times when a scene or a chapter has come to me at an inappropriate time, such as while just about asleep (the usual) or while on a train, or more regularly, while driving. In those cases, I write as fast as I can and email the mess to myself, fixing it when next back at the computer. Because of this, my first draft of Black Wood was in quite good shape, and I only went through making a few tweaks before I sent to my agent. I then made further tweaks based on his feedback – then I made some more significant changes and that is where it currently stands. I’ll definitely be using what I’ve learned from writing this book to help me write the next.
  • I’m not in the ‘write X number of words every day’ camp, preferring to write in splurges as and when I can. When I was in the thick of the novel, I was writing in several chunks every day, early mornings and late nights – but before that, when I was working on shorts and flash, I definitely didn’t write every day. I always think I’ll write more on my days off work, or at weekends, but that rarely happens. Snatching time before or after work tends to be far more productive, and in those short bursts I can usually write about 1000 words an hour, if I’m focused and know what I’m writing. That’s probably the most important thing for me – knowing what it is I plan to write before I sit down to write it – otherwise I just end up staring at a blank page, or more likely, refreshing my facebook and twitter feeds to find something to do other than write.

I don’t believe in a strict set of rules for writing. Everyone is different and works in different ways. I’ve bought loads of books on the craft of writing, and most have a few good tips and tricks, but the only way I can see it working is to find your own way. Anyone who tells you it’s easy is lying. Writing is hard work, but the feeling you get when someone tells you they’ve enjoyed something you’ve written makes it all worthwhile.

Comments welcome, as always 🙂



Jane Isaac‘s first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, was nominated as best mystery in the ‘eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.’ The sequel, The Truth Will Out will be released on 1st April 2014. Jane lives with her husband, daughter and dog, Bollo, in rural Northamptonshire.

Miranda Kate is a British expat living in Holland, who by day is a freelance editor, and by night a writer of dark, disturbing ‘real-life’ fiction. Primarily a novel writer, Miranda enjoys exploring her writing through flash fiction, finding a certain satisfaction in the end result.

Laura Jamez, a mother of two from Dunfermline, has been obsessed with horror stories from a very young age. She is currently working on a new collection exploring the worlds of a Vampires and Werewolves, due for release late Spring 2014.


Books I’ve Enjoyed in 2013

There are a lot of ‘best books of 2013’ posts circulating at the moment, so I thought I’d share with you the books I have enjoyed this year, not those necessarily published this year… although I am not selecting those that come out early next year (even though I have read them…) Confused? Ok, in no particular order – I really liked these:

Merry Christmas!

How to Write a Synopsis (Properly)

Last night I submitted an entry to the CWA Debut Dagger Competition. It’s for unpublished crime writers, and requires you to submit 3,000 words of a novel (doesn’t have to be completed – whew!) and a 500-1000 word synopsis of the rest of the story. The entry fee is pretty steep at £25, but with the possibility of Peter James reading your scribblings, it’s well worth it in my opinion. Many writers have progressed from Debut Dagger to fully-fledged crime writers: Belinda BauerDavid Jackson and Ruth Dugdall to name just three.

So, this brings me to my entry… first chapter, not a problem. I wrote it a few weeks ago and spent a good few hours this week editing and polishing until I was happy. Then there’s the synopsis. For some reason, writing a synopsis instils fear and dread into many a writer (maybe even all writers?) and I had convinced myself  it was the synopsis that had let me down in my previous unplaced entries, it couldn’t be anything to do with the first chapter, could it? Hmm…

Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide (#WAGS)

This is where Nicola Morgan comes in, and more specifically, her book ‘Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide‘ , which was released on Friday (which would’ve been far too late to be of any use to me, so I am very grateful to Nicola for sending me a coveted ‘review copy’ a few weeks ago). So what does Nicola know about synopses? A lot actually. She’s published around 90 books (including some Thomas the Tank Engine books, which she cites as some of the most difficult writing she ever did) but you may know her best for her YA novel Mondays are Red or maybe because of her excellent blog: Help! I need a publisher or maybe even because of her writing consultancy: Pen2Publication. I know her from Twitter. How could I not follow someone with this as their avatar?

Note: Use ‘crabbit’ in a sentence: ‘Hod yer wheesht ye crabbit auld bag’ = Please be quiet you grumpy old lady

Anyway, I digress… my review is actually quite short, because there were a few key things to be learned that put me at ease straight away.

The function of the synopsis ‘is to show the decision-makers that you do actually have a book that hangs together… and to show what sort of book it is.’

‘The perfect synopsis does not exist.’

and, most importantly:

‘Your book will not be rejected on the basis of your synopsis.’


After these nuggets, Nicola then goes on to explain in her typically forthright and amusing fashion how to write a synopsis (she suggests two ways to do it) and gives several examples of what to include and why, including case studies from ‘real’ fledglings just like me. I used Method Two, by the way, and I have a feeling that my synopsis wasn’t too bad at all. But to be honest, I’m not that scared about it anymore after reading this book, and the quote from Carole Blake, where she explains that if the writing (of the sample chapter) is so good, she ‘might never get around to reading the synopsis… I might just ring the author and ask for the whole manuscript.’ OH…

You can buy ‘Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide’ here for the ridiculous price of £1 until end of Jan. Make sure you do.

P.S. There is also a competition to win a review of your synopsis by Nicola, here.