The Damselfly Launch Day: Ask Me Anything

To celebrate the launch of my third novel, THE DAMSELFLY – which is released into the wild (and all good bookshops) TODAY – I thought it might be fun to ask my non-crimey friends and my family to ask me a question. Most of them knew me long before I started writing novels. Turns out, there was a lot they wanted to know… and some people really don’t get the concept of ONE question 😉 In fact, I think some of these questions say more about them than they do about me! Thanks to everyone who took the time to think something up. Hope you like the answers!

Jamie Holliday: What did you think of Trainspotting 2? Well there’s one line from the film that sums it up perfectly – Sickboy tells Renton, ‘You’re a tourist in your own youth.’ I think we’re all guilty of a bit of nostalgia, and wanting to relive our younger years. Watching this film was all about that. I definitely felt emotional, especially with all the Edinburgh scenes and references to twenty years ago (especially when my dad just reminded me that it is almost 18 years since we left The Plough, the place that shaped my teen/young adult years) The updated ‘Choose Life’ was brilliant, and there were some classic funny moments too. I loved Spud. I just wanted to hug him. I thought it was brilliantly done and I loved it 🙂

Paula DeVaux: Are any of your characters based on people you know? Not any one individual, but many amalgamations of people I have encountered in some way over the years. I’m always people watching and things definitely stick in my head. Mannerisms, that sort of thing. If you had to be trapped in a book, which book would you choose? I’d quite like to be trapped inside The Wind in The Willows. I loved that book as a child. I suppose I’d have to be an animal if I lived there though? I think I’d be a hare. A mad one.

Micheal Forrestal: How much inspiration do you take from real life people that you know and turn them into characters in your books? Not so much people that I know, but I do like to eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers and make up characters based on that. When will you write a story with a male investment banking hero? I wrote this one. How much older and wiser are the characters in Banktoun. How have they changed their outlook over the series? They aren’t much older, and I am not sure they are wiser. All three books take place over a six month period in time. They may be a bit confused about why so many people have been murdered in a town of 4,000 in such a short space of time, though. Why are you so mean to me? Because I love you?

You dirty bird! How could you?

You dirty bird! How could you?

Ashlie Inglis: Which book did you most enjoy writing, and why? The second one, Willow Walk. Once I’d worked out the twisted backstory of Marie, it all flowed very easily. I enjoyed writing the fairground scenes, especially. Who’s your number one fan? MICHEAL. If I find out what a ducha escocesa is, will you incorporate it into your next book? Absolutely. I hope it’s something to do with your face being wiped with a slavery hanky. I realise that no-one from outside Scotland, or possibly our own family, will understand that last sentence.

Abby Fleetham: Have you read your own books after they are published? Not in full, no. Sometimes I have flicked through them when I am trying to remember something that happened, or if someone asks me about something that happened. Usually I have to search for things like a character’s hair colour to make it consistent in the next book, but then I realise I never actually stated what it was in the first place. Even reading little bits, it’s hard to comprehend that I actually wrote any of these books!

Dad: If you could go on holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose? Well, as you know I’ve been to quite a few places already. I love travelling and there are still places I’ve never been to and would love to visit, like Hawaii. Are you offering to pay? 😉

Nicki Ridge: Are there more Banktoun stories you want to write or do you have a brand new idea you’re working on? I definitely want to write more Banktoun, but I am wary of turning it into Midsomer. I think a spin-off is a possibility, featuring some of the characters… but I am currently working on something else, as I need a little break from Banktoun for a while!

Russell Holliday: What’s your favourite condiment? I’m not a massive condiment fan, but I think I’d have to go with mayonnaise. Maybe mixed with a squirt of ketchup. Or garlic. Not together though.

Catherine Edser: If you could be someone else for a day who would it be? Victoria Beckham. So I could experience how it feels to be recognised by everyone… and so I could sleep with David, obviously. What’s the scariest situation you’ve ever found yourself in? I can still remember how scared I was when two boys followed me and my friend into the woods when we were children, and one of them told us he had a knife. If that sounds an awful lot like the premise for Black Wood, that’s because it is!

Me, in the film of me.

Me, in the film of me.

Mum: What’s your favourite word or saying, and why? I say FFS quite a lot, and not in the abbreviated form. Was that what you had in mind? 😉 I really like the word discombobulated. It applies most days, especially if I happen to watch the news. If there was a film about your life, who would you want to play you? Ruth Wilson. I’d like to be depicted with those lips. What inscription would you put on your own headstone? “She tried her best, FFS.”

Brian Hennessy: When did you first start thinking disturbed thoughts?  When I found that box of 70s/80s horror novels my mum kept hidden in a cupboard. Like this beauty by John Halkin… Thanks mum!!!

Rebecca Edwards: How do you go about choosing the names for the characters in your books? I am really glad you asked this. Clearly you haven’t read my book yet, or you would have spotted yourself in there… and your other half! When writing Black Wood, I spent far too long faffing about, trying to choose names – searching online using baby names, or automatic name generators. But then I decided to try and use some surnames of people from the town that Banktoun is based on. In Willow Walk, I ran competitions for people to have their names in the book (I killed all those people), and I started to use names of people I know, mixing up their first and surnames. In The Damselfly, almost every character has a name made up from combinations of my friends’ names. I also use their names for places, e.g. Forrestal’s Funfair and Fleetham’s Newsagents. I love it when people spot their own names or those of people they know 🙂 Eventually, everyone I have ever met will be featured in a book somewhere.

David McCarthy: Have you ever found your competing worlds of statistics and crime writing to collide? With deadlines, yes. It seems to be all or nothing – busy projects always seem to clash with book deadlines but I do seem to work better when I’m busy.

Vari Innes: Which book do you wish you could read for the first time again and why? American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, because it’s one of the most shocking but brilliant portrayals of a psychopath that I have ever read. The film is excellent too.

Lecter or Bateman?

Lecter or Bateman?

Emma Zuccaro: Out of the many horrors you have read who has been your favourite psychopath and if the book has been brought to the big screen has the actor/actress played that character as well as described in the book? Very difficult to choose between the two chaps on the right… From book to book did you create your characters’ progression or was that a completed concept right from the off? I have very little idea about my characters until I get about a third of the way into writing the book. I don’t tell them what to do, it just sort of happens. If the trilogy was to be made in to a television mini series which actor would you envision to play Davie? See below 🙂

Jennings and Gray?

Matt Glasby: Who would play Davie in the film adaptation? This finally came to me the other day. Not just Davie, but DC Louise Jennings too. I’d like Dougray Scott and Dawn Steele. They’d be perfect (although Dawn might need to dye her hair). I hope they’re reading this…

Hannah Evans: Have you read a book so scary you had to put it in the freezer? If only I’d seen that episode of Friends before I read the scary books… What was the first truly frightening book you can recall reading? I can’t remember the really scary ones that I read when I was too young to be reading them, but I do remember being very freaked out by Salem’s Lot and being petrified that someone might be hovering outside my bedroom window. Have you ever read a Mills & Boon? More than one. I used to quite like the ones with the cowboys, in my teens. We had a whole case of them in my dad’s shop and they got changed over ever few weeks. I reckon I read hundreds of them! How has your career in statistics aided in your second career as author? Hmm. Spreadsheets? Deadlines, planning? Pressure? Character names? Is there a sex scene in the next book? Two. A brief one, and an aborted one. When writing sex scene in second book, were you concerned that you’d win the “bad sex” fiction award? No, because I write great sex! Who do you picture you are writing for? You, so you can ask me ridiculous questions about it. Fancy a trip into writing YA fiction? Yes, and books for younger children too. Who is your favourite sister? They’re twins so I can say both 🙂 Based on hours accumulated writing and revenue received, how much per hour do you earn and does this mean you can afford to take me on tour? You can’t quantify creativity. And, no. How would you commit the perfect crime? Stab them with an icicle while wearing a balaclava? Favourite British landmark? Edinburgh Castle. Is Sergeant Davie (is that his name, I can’t remember for sure) based in anyway on a family member, or husband? No. Do you feel like a proper “grown up?” In every way? Absolutely not. Does anyone?

Bryan Bayfield: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find? Not secrets, as such, but I use people’s names and sometimes anecdotes that the people who know will know when they see it, and the people who don’t will be none the wiser.

Gillian Barr: Now that you’ve written three books in three quite different styles of writing, is there any one way that you feel will become your approach to writing a book and also is there any technique that you would avoid in the future? I wanted to test myself and teach myself by writing each book in a different style, and each one had its own pros and cons. I don’t think I consciously chose any of these, and I don’t think I could choose one for the next book – it’s down to the story, in many ways. Sometimes it takes a while to work out the right way to tell it.

Laura James: What 3 things can you not live without and why? Pick things from the following list – A food, a book, a piece of tech, a drink, a location to visit. Cheddar cheese, because what would be the point of life without it? My phone, because I can keep in touch with everyone and also write chapters of books into it and email them to myself. The town where I grew up, because it holds so many memories (many of which are now immortalised in Banktoun.) What book was your favourite as a child but when you’ve re read (if you have) did it still live up to your memories? I haven’t re-read any of my favourite childhood books. I am scared that they won’t be as good as I remember. I loved Roald Dahl though and would love to re-read all of those one day.

Fiona Forrestal: If you didn’t write contemporary crime what era would you write in? I would love to write something set fully in the 80s because I loved growing up then and I think it’s a cool era pre-technology. It’s historical now, apparently, which makes me feel ancient! Have you ever lied to someone about them being in your writing? Not yet… Do you have a good memory for music and style when writing in the past (your lifetime) or do you need to research it? I like to write it as I remember it, but sometimes I have to check specific years for certain music etc (or ask Mr H, who has an incredible memory for dates from the 80s and 90s!)

Jon Smith: Am I in your new book or at least my name (in part with Lynne or Karen!) If not, why not – you promised 😘 Yes, you are (with Lynne!) Jon Poole is the headmaster of Banktoun Primary. But if so, is the character (or any others) based on any characteristics of the stats dudes? Marie Bloomfield in your last book did not appear so… You’re right, I take the names only. No characteristics. Well, except for your sexy ‘Amazonian’ secretary, Catherine Leeming…

Catherine Leeming-Price: When you start thinking of a plot, how do you know how far to take it (i.e. so the audience get it, they stay gripped, aren’t horrified/disgusted in the wrong way e.g. to the point of slamming the book down never to pick it up again)? Believe it or not, I don’t really set out to write anything horrific. I have covered some controversial topics, but I try to be as sensitive about them as I can. A little of burst of horror to reel you in, but not too much that it would put you off.

Marie Watissee: How did you come up with the character of Sergeant Davie Gray? Was he based on anyone you know? I don’t actually know. I needed a policeman, and he appeared. I think he is kind of based on a mixture of all the policemen I met when I was young. How do you come up with the ideas for your books? Ideas come to me all the time. Things just pop into my head. I can take any innocent situation and turn it on its head into something dark and disastrous.

Ralph Bloomfield: I assume you are an avid reader but are there any types or styles that you just can’t stand or do feel you should read anything in case it gives you an idea for a plot or character? The latter. Although I do struggle with straightforward romance/chick-lit type stuff as I am usually wondering when someone is going to be murdered. I pretty much do read anything though. I often get great ideas from the tiny news snippets that are used as fillers in the sidebars of tabloid newspapers.

Andrew Whittaker: Desert island discs. Top three. Pearl Jam, TEN. Nirvana, NEVERMIND. The Killers, HOT FUSS. That was actually quite easy 🙂

Miranda Kate: Do you have any tricks or tips for juggling job and writing? Not really! It is very hard to switch from one to the other. I find that being busy is good for productivity, though. If I don’t have deadlines, I become complacent. Do you follow any particular time management things? No. But I am trying to get better by using a day planner. The whole planner or pantsers thing – have you started planning more under the pressure to produce 3 books to contract? I seem to have done exactly the same each time – written lots of notes, turned them into a rough synopsis, written 20k words, stopped, outlined the rest chapter by chapter, and blasted it out before going back to edit the whole thing. Having a line for each chapter telling me roughly what it is meant to be means it is easier for me to dive in and write quickly, knowing what I am going to be writing about, even though it does change and evolve as the whole story grows. What have you found the most challenging about the entire ‘getting your book published’ process? Having very little control over how well the book sells. There is publicity and marketing, and then there’s a lot of luck. You do feel a bit helpless, but all you can hope for is that people start to spread the word, because it is very hard to get noticed when there are so many brilliant books released every single week. And what is your favourite bit? Getting messages from readers who enjoyed my book is the best feeling ever.

Thanks, all – I love you and I love your questions! If anyone else would like to ask me something (the more random, the better) – please comment below. I will answer anything. Maybe 😉

The Damselfly is out now

Chatting to Diane Jeffrey

Today, I’m very excited to be sharing an interview with the lovely Diane Jeffrey, whose debut psychological thriller THOSE WHO LIE is out now! I met Diane online via one of my oldest friends, and I’m thrilled to see her published. Diane lives in Lyon, France and her book is set in Oxfordshire and Devon – and let me just say, it will keep you on your toes! Before you rush off to download it, read on for a bit more info about the book and the author.

Hi Diane! Firstly, congratulations on the release of your debut novel. How does it feel to be a published author?

It feels really good. Also a bit scary. There are little bits of my soul between those electronic pages! It took me so long to get the book into a presentable state (two years) and after that it all happened so quickly (just under five months) that I don’t think it has completely sunk in yet.

Enjoy the moment! It’s the most exciting time 🙂 Can you tell me what it’s about in a couple of sentences – an elevator pitch…

Emily only realises she is responsible for her husband’s death on the day of his funeral. But then she starts to receive disturbing messages from him on Facebook, messages that will force her to question her reality and face up to her past…

A very creepy premise! What made you want to write a psychological thriller?

I wrote a novel years ago when my son was a baby. It was RomCom / ChickLit and it didn’t get published, which I now find completely understandable! I have quite wide tastes in books, but my favourite genre is crime and mystery, so I tried my hand at that.

And who are your influences, favourite authors, books…

I think Elizabeth Haynes’s Into the Darkest Corner was the book that got me hooked on psychological thrillers.

In the genre of crime and thrillers, Dennis Lehane is hard to beat, IMHO.

My favourite book ever is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, but more recently I have been blown away by The Hundred Year Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Cloud Atlas, The Rosie Project, The Help and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Into The Darkest Corner is a masterclass in psychological terror. I would love to see it as a film. You set your book in Oxfordshire and the setting is very authentic – did you spend time there doing research?

Ah, now you’re making me spill my secrets! I spent a lot of time virtually exploring Oxford with Google Earth. Emily’s home is based on a description of a real house that I found on an online Oxford estate agency. When I started writing the novel, I hadn’t actually visited Oxford at all (shhhush), but I went there with my pupils on a school trip and recognised Emily’s road as we drove along it in the bus! That was a big moment for me! It had to be Oxford because of the influence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on my main character.

The past scenes are set in Devon, where I grew up, so that setting was easier!

Ha. It’s not that unusual though – Stef Penney wrote The Tenderness of Wolves without ever visiting Canada 🙂 Those past scenes are quite dark, covering elements of abuse and addiction – did you find these difficult to write?

No. Tbh, I find it harder to write romantic or raunchy sex scenes!!!

In the main abuse scene, which takes place near the beginning of the book, Emily concentrates on her favourite childhood memory, and she takes us there with her so the reader is spared the more disturbing details of the rape and I was spared from writing them! In fact, it is probably more shocking to have an ellipsis than the graphic description in that episode.

There was a scene in the middle of the book that I found difficult to write, simply because elements of it were close to my own experience, but it had nothing to do with abuse or addiction.

I know what you mean – if you can distance yourself from these things, then they can be easier to write. It’s funny how most crime writers are able to write darkness more easily than a bit of sex! Another thing that I’m intrigued about, as a fellow writer, is how you choose your character names – I always spend far too long faffing around on those. How do you pick yours?

My main character is called Emily Klein. She had to be either an ‘Emily’ or an ‘Emma’ because of the ambiguity of the diminutive ‘Em’ in the book, which spells ‘me’ backwards.

The novel was entitled Out Of The Blue to begin with, and Emily, who is an artist, is named after Yves Klein’s shade of blue. Emily is associated strongly with that colour as she struggles not to succumb to a bout of depression, and tries to come out of a dark blue time into something lighter and more hopeful.

For all the other first names, I’m letting you in on more secrets here!

I looked up popular baby names for the year of birth of that character on the Internet and tried to choose one beginning with a letter somewhere near the middle of the alphabet. At one point, I had a whole load of characters whose names began with the letter “J” until a friend of mine pointed out that it was confusing and I had to rechristen some of them! And my copy editor picked up that both Greg’s and Will’s sons were named “Luke”. That was a Star Wars thing and a huge mistake, obvs!!! One of them was renamed “Oliver” at the very last minute!!!

So, I don’t think my method is to be recommended really!

I’ve started using the names of people that I know, mixing up first names and surnames. I often name characters after people who are annoying me and then change them later. Haha! So, do you have a set writing routine, words per day etc or do you write in chunks?

I wrote Those Who Lie on a sabbatical. It took me the whole year. Then it took me another year to rewrite. There were days when I worked non-stop on it for 8-10 hours, and then weeks when I didn’t touch it, but scribbled down thoughts and ideas, usually in the middle of the night!

Well I know how hard you worked on it and it certainly paid off! There is a tendency, these days, for people to rush things, and I think that especially in the beginning, you really need to spend time honing your craft, getting feedback, and rewriting again and again! It’s hard, and I’m going to let you into a secret now – it doesn’t actually get any easier! Can you tell me what, for you, are the best and worst parts of the writing process?

The worst part is the self-doubt and feeling guilty because I always seemed to be inspired when my family needed me! The best bit, by far, was getting The Call after all the rejection emails. On the phone, my editor said so many lovely things about my novel that I was a blubbering mess.

Oh that is so lovely! Everyone remembers The Call. It’s exciting and it’s a relief that you’ve got there and it’s surreal, because then it hits you – you’re about to become a published author! So, did you have the story all planned out before you started writing, or did you wing it and fix it later?

I am a planner! I changed the plans frequently as I went along, but it was mapped out fairly thoroughly before I started typing. I even had a timeline on Excel! All very OCD!

I should probably try winging it more – when I teach and haven’t prepared my lessons, they often turn out better than the ones I have meticulously organised before going into the classroom!

I think there is a balance to be struck between the two – some people always plan, others always wing it (or plotting and ‘pantsing’ as it’s often referred to) – I tend to do a bit of both. Having a timeline mapped out is a great habit to get in to from the start – makes things a lot easier later on! Can you tell me what you’re working on now? Have you started the next one?

I have. I started it about three months ago, but then came Round One of edits for Those Who Lie, followed by Round Two, then Author Amends, then Christmas… I have written the prologue and about a third of Chapter One. BUT I have planned it in some detail…

Excellent! I look forward to hearing more about it 🙂 Assuming you find time to read, these days – what have you read recently that you would recommend to others?

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue and Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent. Definitely 5 stars for both books!

Both currently on my teetering TBR pile! And finally, tells us something about you that will make people go ‘Ooooh!’

Mmmm. Most people are impressed by the fact that I have a bronze medal from the Surf Life Saving World Championships from 1989. I was 16. I’m not sure why that surprises people! Perhaps because I’ve kept the medal all this time or maybe because they work out that I’m not quite as old as I look!!!

I love that! My swimming claim-to-fame is that I have a photo of me with Olympic swimmer David Wilkie, from around 1986. I read recently that he’d been told off at his local health club for swimming too fast… 

Thanks Diane! Good luck with THOSE WHO LIE!

* * *

Diane Jeffrey grew up in Devon. She lives in Lyon, France with her husband and their three children, mischievous Labrador and crazy kitten. THOSE WHO LIE is her debut psychological thriller. Diane is an English teacher. She hates marking and Mondays. When she’s not working or writing, she likes swimming, running and reading. She loves chocolate, beer and holidays.Above all, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. You can find Diane on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Willow Walk… The Cover is Here!

One of the most exciting things about being an author is getting that email from the publisher with the subject line ‘COVER!’

Luckily, my publisher allows me some input into how I imagine it might look. Then the design team works with sales and marketing to come up with something that fits the theme, as well as being aligned with designs that are currently popular in the market. The other consideration, of course, was to make sure it complemented Black Wood.

I always imagined a fairground scene on the cover, as this is one of the key settings in the book – but other than that, I was happy to wait and see what appeared – and I wasn’t disappointed! When I got the email back in early December last year (which seems like forever ago!) I had no real idea what to expect – and when I opened the file, it was the font colour that was the biggest shock of all – in a GOOD way!

In fact, I’m already thinking about how to coordinate my outfit for the launch nights…

I love it and can’t wait to see it on the shelves – what do you think?

Willow Walk will be out in May (eBook) / June (paperback) – pre-order information will be available soon – in the meantime, you can have a peek at what some of the early readers have said about it HERE

BUT…

If you can’t wait that long, there will be a free Davie Gray short story only for subscribers delivered to your inbox on 18th March which will include an exclusive preview of Willow Walk… so if you haven’t signed up already, you can do it HERE – what are you waiting for? 🙂

One week ’til launch!

This time next week, I’ll be nervously biting my nails in preparation for the paperback launch of Black Wood at Waterstones Chiswick with best-selling crime author, Martyn Waites

Just to whet your appetite a bit more – check out this fab video with a selection of the recent reviews from the eBook (which at the time of writing, was sitting at #22 in the overall kindle chart. Wow!) Thank you to everyone who’s bought it and passed on their lovely comments and reviews. It is STILL only 59p 🙂

If you want to know more and the book and about me, you can follow the blog tour – starting on Monday 16th March…

 

I’m so excited… Can you tell? 😉

7 days to go… and a sneak peek

(Click image to read sample)

This time next week, I will be a published author. I started to write Black Wood in January 2013 and was lucky enough to secure an agent in June 2013, which led to my book deal in May 2014. Back then, the release date seemed so far off, but now that it’s nearly here, I can’t quite believe it!

I’ve loved the journey… I’ve learnt so much about the process of writing, editing and the business of publishing, and I’m still learning. But for now, I will celebrate this huge milestone by letting you know that you can now read a sample! This is the first time that any of this work has been available publicly, so I really hope you enjoy it!

Please let me know in the comments 🙂

…and if you do, then stayed tuned for next week’s ebook blog tour… details below:

You can still pre-order the ebook for 59p – but the price will rise soon, so if you like the sample, get in quick!

* * *

And just to remind you that it’s not all about me… Coming up later this week:

The Venus Trap by Louise Voss #review

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 17.27.38With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, what better than to share my thoughts on a fantastic psychological thriller of obsession and unrequited love?

Here’s the blurb: 

Jo Atkins’ sixteenth year was disastrous: she lost her dad, was assaulted by a stranger, and then had her heart broken. For the last twenty-five years, she’s believed that nothing could ever be as bad again.

She was wrong.

Now, still smarting from her recent divorce, pretty, self-effacing Jo finally gathers the courage to enter the dating scene. She meets Claudio, whom she vaguely remembers from her youth, but after a few dates decides he’s creepy and politely tells him ‘thanks but no thanks’.

But Claudio has no intention of letting her go.

Instead of never seeing him again, Jo wakes up sick and terrified, handcuffed to her own bed. She is given a week to prove her love for Claudio—or he will kill her.

Claudio, it turns out, is a man with nothing left to lose…

And what did I think? Well, firstly, thank you to the author – the lovely Louise Voss – and the publisher for the review copy via Netgalley.

This is the first of Louise’s solo novels I’ve read, and I did wonder how it would differ from those written with her co-writer, Mark Edwards. I’m not sure what comparisons can be made, other than to say that both authors produce very well written, engaging stories that pull you in and keep you there. The main difference, I’d say, is that this is much more of a woman’s book, in many ways (not to say that men couldn’t learn a thing or two from it about what NOT to do!) In The Venus Trap, there is a lot of talk of past dating disasters and the main character, Jo, narrates these in the midst of her current biggest disaster – a date that has led to her being kidnapped and imprisoned in her own home by a man she vaguely remembers from school.

Her tormentor tries to torture her into loving him.

As things unravel, we start to work out what has made him act like this, and through the schoolgirl diaries of Jo, we get a beautiful, if tragic, story of her past loves, her difficult teenage years and what has shaped her into the woman she is. Voss has a knack for capturing the teenage angst with brilliant, often dark humour. There are many excellent turns of phrase and proper laugh out loud moments, in both teenage Jo and adult Jo’s accounts, and the dark side of her current situation is neatly and believably handled. This is one of those books that you’ll want to recommend to your friends, so much of it is relatable – especially for anyone who has suffered the perils of the dating scene.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

ALSO… as The Venus Trap is released on 24th February, which is the same date as the eBook release of Black Wood, Louise and I will be collaborating and chatting over at LizLovesBooks.

Don’t miss it!!

How to Survive as a Writer

AJ Waines

AJ Waines

This week, I’m delighted to share a guest post from author AJ Waines, where she talks about the three big things that all writers need…

RESOLVE
PATIENCE
& RESILIENCE

* * *

I’ve been reflecting recently on the essential personality traits needed  not only to be a writer, but one who is in it for the long haul. I don’t mean the obvious qualities, like creativity, invention, originality of style, thinking outside the box, observation skills, flair for language and probably also, in my case, a slightly twisted mind! I mean the qualities you need to survive as a writer.

I started writing fiction only five years ago, but my learning curve on so many levels has been steep and at times, almost emotionally crippling! Here are just a few of the qualities I’ve identified as crucial to my own writing journey. I know, on a personal level, they could do with a serious overhaul!

Resolve – the need to stay self-assured and determined.

In the beginning, allowing another soul to read my work was a big step. My brother-in-law, Mike, an avid and pull-no-punches reader, offered to read my manuscript and I couldn’t afford to turn him down. Dredging up the courage to make that next move to submit to agents was a further push beyond my comfort zone. I needed some serious nudging from Mike, before I decided it might not be a complete waste of everybody’s time. I’d done no creative writing training whatsoever, I’d even failed my English literature ‘O’ level  – so what on earth made me think anyone would regard my writing as publishable?

Patience

This isn’t one of my strong points in life, generally! I’m a ‘think about it’, then ‘get up and sort it out’ kind of person. I’ve found patience one of the hardest aspects of being a writer and it crops up time after time. Take getting an agent. You send an initial enquiry letter and have to wait. Days slide past and you hear nothing. Days become weeks and you’ve not heard a thing. If you’re lucky someone requests three chapters – you send them and wait. If you’re luckier, they might request the whole manuscript. You send it – and guess what? You’re really, really excited now, but there’s more waiting. Agents rarely respond sooner than four or five weeks, some not until after twelve weeks – others say if they’re not interested, they don’t reply at all. In those cases, you don’t even get a ‘no, thank you’. Even when you go to see an Agent and finally sign that contract – it’s still no guarantee of anything. My first agent was terribly enthusiastic about my book,  but it didn’t sell and they dropped me…

Resilience to Uncertainty

Agents are busy and don’t have time to give individual writers a blow by blow account of what they’re up to. I hate uncertainty; I like everything to be clear and organised with dates and deadlines, but there’s a lot of ‘not knowing what’s going on’ in publishing. It’s purgatory for me! There are long gaps as material goes back and forth for polishing and re-writes and there seems to be a great deal of mystery about the submission process itself. I have found it difficult (I’ve had two agents, to date) to get information about ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘why’ and ‘what’ in this area. Has it gone out yet? Who has it gone to? Why those publishers? Why only twelve? What replies have we had? I spent almost a whole year thinking one agent had sent out a new novel, only to find it was ‘on hold’.

Resilience to Powerlessness

There is a lot of powerlessness involved in the publishing business – perhaps this is why so many writers are turning to self-publishing. Many aspects of the process are out of sight and not under the writer’s control. Take the book cover and jacket blurb. The author chooses, right? No – the marketing department has the final say. Even the book title can be out of our hands. In my earlier career as a Psychotherapist, I wrote a self-help book entitled ‘The Self-Esteem Journal’, a book about building self-esteem through personal diary-writing. My second book was a direct follow-on from the first, but the chosen title ‘Making Relationships Work’, made it sound like a generic ‘relationship’ book and it subsequently got lost in piles of other relationship titles. My objections had no impact whatsoever and the book is now about to go out of print.

And finally, the Biggie – Resilience to Rejection

Being an author is one big Competition and with every round you get through, there’s another tougher challenge lurking ahead. My agent found a publisher for my first two books in Germany, got deals in France, but there have been plenty of rejections closer to home. So far we haven’t had enough interest from the UK. Top publishers have said wonderful things: ‘fantastic set-up… terrific concept… rare talent’, but then turned the books down, saying they had just taken on other writers who were too similar in style or subject matter. It’s not enough to be a cracking writer with a great story – you have to fit in with other titles and writers at the right time. The reason given for one of my rejections was that the publisher had just taken on a murder mystery set alongside The Thames, just like my novel.

Even after the books are published, there are stacks of worries about promotion, book sales and bad reviews. Writers have to develop thick skins and need to keep bouncing back at every turn – even when they’ve got over several hurdles.

Add to these qualities all the other ones you need just to complete a novel, such as focus, dedication, single-mindedness, diligence and attention to detail. Are you exhausted yet?! Thankfully, I have a 100% commitment to writing – I have to be pried away from my PC every day – and the writing process (which goes hand in hand with reading and learning the craft of writing) has mushroomed from a passion into a gripping obsession. I love it. I have never worked so hard in my life or found anything as challenging in the long-term – but it’s all worth it, because I feel ALIVE. Being a writer leaves me knowing that all the strife and heart-ache is ultimately enriching my life, giving me new adventures and fresh targets to aim for.

* * *

A J Waines writes Psychological Thrillers. Her debut novel, The Evil Beneath, is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon and is about a serial killer who attaches corpses to London bridges and leaves messages and personal mementos for psychotherapist, Juliet Grey.

Alison draws on over fifteen years of experience as a Psychotherapist, including work with clients from high security prisons. This exclusive and privileged role has given her a rare insight into abnormal psychology. She is interested in writing about the extraordinary dilemmas and traumas ordinary people often have to face – particularly ‘crimes of passion’, hidden motives, family secrets and moral dilemmas. She lives in Southampton with her husband.

A J Waines’ website is www.ajwaines.co.uk

The Magpies by Mark Edwards #review

Fear lives next door…

THE MAGPIES is a terrifying psychological thriller in which the monsters are not vampires or demons but the people we live next door to. It is a nightmare that could happen to anyone.

* * *

The Magpies is the first standalone novel from Mark Edwards, better known as ‘the male-half’ of crime writing duo Voss & Edwards (Killing Cupid, Catch Your Death, All Fall Down, Forward Slash).

It opens with the seemingly idyllic lives of Jamie, a software engineer and Kirsty, a paediatric nurse; a young couple who are very much in love and starting out in their first home together – the ‘perfect’ flat in North London, where they plan to start a family, get married and generally be blissfully happy… But this is a psychological thriller, so there’s not much chance of any of that!

We’re introduced to the neighbours – Lucy and Chris in the basement flat, a couple who seem keen to befriend Jamie and Kirsty, inviting them to dinner not long after they move in (might just be my cynical ‘living in London’ attitude, but this immediately screamed ‘BEWARE!’); then there’s Mary – resident pot-smoking herbalist/witch/cat-lady on the floor above, and finally Brian and Linda who seem normal enough until Jamie goes up to fix Brian’s computer and finds a room full of black walls and generally scary stuff – but then it turns out that Brian is a children’s horror author, so that’s all ok…

It doesn’t take long before the terror starts. It’s innocuous at first. Hoax pizza deliveries, targeted junk mail, unwanted parcels. Then it ramps up a gear: disgruntled firemen responding to a fake 999 call, a letter complaining about noise, a recording of them making love (which the do quite a lot!) , then it’s The War of The Worlds, weird dreams and a plague of spiders. Meanwhile, Jamie’s best friend Paul is seriously injured in a karting accident, and Kirsty finds out she is pregnant… but the tensions of the house are starting to get to the young couple, and it’s not long before it all gets too much.

I read this novel in two sittings. Would’ve been one, but unfortunately I had to go to work (so annoying, real life…) The pacing is excellent. It was clear from the outset that the happy couple’s lives were going to be thrown into turmoil, and the way it was done was subtle and creepy enough to keep the feeling of dread trickling throughout. I felt quite sick with fear through the last third (and that was after I’d blocked out the image of the spiders). Jamie and Kirsty, and in fact the entire cast of characters, were extremely well drawn. I really related to the couple’s frustrations and rising paranoia. I’ve had some weird neighbours before. They might not have gone to the extremes that these psychopaths did, but they drove us out of our flat. Luckily we remained ‘mentally intact’…

What The Magpies illustrates so effectively is just how easy it is for any of our lives to unravel.

* * *

I’d like to thanks Mark for providing the e-ARC and also for his upcoming guest post, which I know you’re going to love 🙂