Welcome To My Blog

Book reviews ... Author interviews ... and anything else I think might be of interest to writers and readers.

Monday 26 December 2011

Leigh Russell's new book, 'Death Bed', is now available for download on Kindle and I'm very pleased to have Leigh as my Boxing Day guest! Leigh has very kindly given us some thoughts on beating writer's block for all those writers out there who need to get back into it after the Christmas lull!

Beating Writer’s Block

Where does the writing bug come from, and will it vanish as quickly as it appeared? Somewhere I wrote that I fell into writing like Alice down the rabbit hole. It’s an apt comparison because my writing career began very suddenly and unexpectedly when the idea for 'Cut Short' struck me, completely out of the blue.

Eight weeks after I started the first draft of my debut crime novel, I was fortunate enough to attract the attention of a publisher who offered me a three book deal. Three years on, and with three bestsellers to my name, I’ve been signed up for another three books in the series. An avid reader for years, I was catapulted into the Wonderland of being an author. Since then I’ve been on a writing roll, discovering the best cure for writer’s block: a publisher’s deadline.

But how do you stay motivated, month after month, year after year, without that compelling external deadline?

As fiction writers, we aim to persuade readers that the worlds we create in our books are real. The power to create illusions is what makes us writers. So you have to set your own deadlines and convince yourself they must be met. Work out your own schedule. Set a date by which your MS has to be ready, allow yourself time to research agents and publishers, and decide on a date when you are going to start submitting the MS. Stick to it as though it has been imposed by a publisher who is paying you to deliver. Following a schedule like that allows no room for writer’s block.

Leigh Russell writes the popular bestselling UK crime series featuring Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel. Leigh’s new book Death Bed is on kindle and available in print 2012.

Details of all Leigh’s books can be found on her website here.

Latest News - The new Geraldine Steel novel has been selected as 1 of 35 crime mysteries included in Amazon Kindle’s 12 Days of Christmas offer @ 99p. Follow the links above to find it on Amazon UK.

It is also $1.54 on amazon.com here.

Friday 23 December 2011

Tears and Laughter

One of the highlights of this year for me has been my involvement in 'Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After'. We've all been really excited about some of the great reviews we've had for the book.

You can read one here from the lovely and very talented Teresa Ashby. It means a lot to know that Teresa enjoyed reading it as she is such a fabulous short story writer herself.

Debs Carr has done a round up of some of our other reviews on her blog.

So, what can I say? If you're bored over Christmas and you fancy some short stories to read ... here it is.

Or you could browse our blog and read about how we were all inspired to write the stories.

But whatever you do, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Hop On, Hop Off Online Short Story Course

I’m very pleased to be able to announce my new online short story writing course which will start in 2012.

The Hop On, Hop Off Writing Course is in five modules which will run in a weekly cycle from 9 January onwards.

The modules are:

Character – how to build convincing characters that your readers will really care about. (running for the first time w/b 9 January 2012)

Dialogue – how to write authentic sounding dialogue that will move your plot forward and bring your story to life. (running for the first time w/b 16 January 2012)

Plot and Structure – making sure your plot works and your structure supports it. (running for the first time w/b 23 January 2012)

Theme – use of theme to make your story stand out from the rest. (running for the first time w/b 30 January 2012)

Bringing it all together – this module (which needs to be taken last) will help you bring together all you have learnt so far and will include a story critique. (running for the first time w/b 6 February 2012 and thereafter every week that the course runs)

Full details are on my website here. Please feel free to contact me via my website if you have any queries.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After

I'm very pleased to announce that the Kindle version of 'Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After' is now available.

You can find it on Amazon here.

You can see our Facebook page here.

You can see our website here.

And follow us on Twitter here.

"Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After" is a vibrant and varied collection of tales from writers who between them have had hundreds of short stories published in women’s magazines in the UK and around the world! Contributors have also won or been placed in dozens of competitions, published novels and written non-fiction for many UK magazines.

As the title suggests, the twenty-six stories encompass the dizzying heights of happiness, the heartbreaking depths of sadness, and every emotion in between. Within the pages of this book you’ll meet a housewife with a surprising secret, a beekeeper with a problem and an undertaker with something unusual on his mind. You’ll also encounter angels, ghosts, aliens and many other intriguing characters. And, in the end, you may just find the path to happy ever after.

On another note, I'm currently writing a feature on alternative mums eg grans, aunts, female friends who have had a big part in bringing up someone else's children. I am looking for female case studies who want to say a big thank you to their alternative Mum. Full details are on the Case Study Link above.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

National Short Story Week

It's National Short Story Week this week, a chance for all of us who love the form to support and praise it.

You can find out more by visiting the Short Story Week website here. You'll find all sorts of interesting stuff on there including a piece by me on giving radio interviews.

There's also more information on 'Women Aloud' the fantastic audio book of short stories released to celebrate Short Story Week. You can find my review of 'Women Aloud' on Bookersatz.

In further exciting news you can now see the wonderful 'Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After' website here.

And you can see my brand new website here.

Sadly, during short story week, Radio 4 is intending to cut down on the number of broadcast short stories. You can also read about this and how you might want to comment on it on the National Short Story Week website.

As ever, a mix of good news and bad news, but here's hoping that in the end the good news will outweigh the bad!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After

I'm very pleased to announce my involvement in this collection of short stories. I've been working on it for the last few weeks with some of the best short story writers I know.

‘Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After’ is a vibrant and varied collection of stories from writers who between them have had hundreds of short stories published in women’s magazines in the UK and around the world! Contributors have also won or been placed in dozens of competitions, published novels and written non-fiction for many UK magazines.

As the title suggests, the twenty-six stories encompass the dizzying heights of happiness, the heartbreaking depths of sadness and every emotion in between. Within the pages of this book you’ll meet a housewife with a surprising secret, a beekeeper with a problem and an undertaker with something unusual on his mind. You’ll also encounter angels, ghosts, aliens and many other intriguing characters. And, in the end, you may just find the path to happy ever after.

The idea for this book came from the successful ‘A Story A Fortnight’ writing group which brought the writers involved together in a project that has inspired and supported them in their short story writing.

Who’s been up to ‘Monkey Business'?

What's happening in 'The House At Summer's End’?

Who is 'The Girl In The Yellow Dress'?

If you want to know, you have to read ‘Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After’.

You can follow us on Twitter @tears_laughter
You can join our Facebook page

We are aiming to release the book in Kindle format next month and in paperback by the end of the year. We'll be launching a website soon, but meanwhile keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook for news.

While I'm on the subject of short story collections, you can find my review of the 'Women Aloud' audiobook on Bookersatz now.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Short Story Writing Workshop

Just a quick reminder that there's less than a fortnight to go now until my next short story workshop. If you're interested in coming along please get in touch via the email address in my profile.

Moving On Short Story Workshop – 29 October 2011, 10.30am to 4pm


This course will be practically based and will help participants work towards the first draft of a story for their chosen women’s magazine market. They will receive a critique of their story once they have had a chance to finish it after the course.

The course is partly aimed at people who have attended my ‘Insight’ workshop and want to build on what they have learned about writing for the women’s magazine market but it is also suitable for people who already have some experience of the market and want to polish their skills.

We will cover:

Coming up with a killer idea including mind-mapping and treasure-mapping techniques;
Thinking of a great title, but not being afraid to let go of it;
The difference between a twist and a surprise;
Creating great characters and writing convincing dialogue;
Using themes and motifs to lift your story out of the ordinary.

The cost will be £35 and will include lunch.


In other news, I've reviewed Cally Taylor's new novel 'Home For Christmas' on Bookersatz this week. Many of you will have read and loved Cally's first novel 'Heaven Can Wait', so if you've been waiting for the follow up - the wait is over, you can pre order it now!

Monday 10 October 2011

Women Aloud

A charity anthology audiobook for National Short Story Week 2011 NOW AVAILABLE ON CD!

Women Aloud is an audio anthology of short stories written by eleven of the UK's best loved women's fiction writers.

There's something for everyone in this unique audiobook - love, laughter, thrills and chills. It will make a great gift for a friend, mum, sister, grandmother, aunt, girlfriend, wife, partner or...yourself!

Listen to stories by Trisha Ashley, Judy Astley, Elizabeth Chadwick, Rowan Coleman, Katie Fforde, Milly Johnson, Catherine King, Sophie King, Carole Matthews, Sue Moorcroft and Allie Spencer.

I'm thrilled to have one of the contributors to Women Aloud, Rowan Coleman, visiting today to tell us a bit more about the project.

How did you get involved in the Women Aloud Charity Anthology?

I first met Ian, the driving force behind the collection, when he came to be a guest speaker at the creative writing course I teach, and we’ve kept in touch since then. I was delighted when he asked me to contribute a story to the project, I couldn’t think of a more worthwhile cause that I’d like to support.

Tell us about the story you’ve contributed to the project.

My story is called 'In Real Life', it's about a young bride on the morning of her wedding, weighing up the realities of how life has turned out against the way she always imagined it would be. Will she accept what fate as in store for her, or will she run away and keep looking for her dreams?

You’re in some very illustrious company with fellow writers Katie Fforde and Sophie King among others, has that made it an interesting and fun project to work on?

Most of the other writers involved are friends of mine, I’ve known Katie for ten years, and Sophie and I lived very close together until recently. What was really nice was that I was able to bring quite a few writers in on the anthology, including Trisha Ashley, Milly Johnson, Allie Spencer and Carole Mathews, who were all really willing to help.

What do you think makes a perfect mix of stories for an anthology?

We weren’t given a brief when it came to contributing a story and so I think Women Aloud has the perfect mix, there is something here for everyone. Some pure romance, some comedy, plenty of drama and one or two tales of the unexpected. Every story is unique and different from the last.

What particularly appealed to you about supporting the Helena Kennedy Foundation?

The Helena Kennedy Foundation offers financial support to disadvantaged young people, who are desperate to learn and change their lives, but who don’t have the financial or family support to do that. At the launch of the anthology we heard from a young woman who was abandoned by her mother and taken into care as a child, discovered she was pregnant at 13 and then had to give that baby up for adoption. For many young people that would have been the end of hope, but this young woman wasn’t ready to give up on herself, and crucially The Helen Kennedy Foundation was there to make sure that she got a second chance. She is now in her second year at university, a confident and articulate young woman. And if writing a short story helps in some small way, to give the same second chance to other young people then who wouldn’t want to be involved?

The anthology is unusual as it’s an audiobook. How did you feel about hearing your work being read aloud?

It’s a little strange, I’ve had many of my other books turned into audio books, and the way an actress reads them is never quite how you imagine it in your head! But the actress who reads my story, Elizabeth Bower, really nailed it, she was perfect!

And what added dimension to the stories do you think people who buy the anthology will find through listening to them being read out?

Well the added advantage is that you can listen to great fiction while you’re on the train or bus, or in the garden or walking the dog. But also its lovely to hear the stories being truly brought to life, like mini radio plays.

You’ve also got a novel out at the moment, ‘Lessons in Laughing Out Loud’, tell us a bit about that.

'Lessons in Laughing Out Loud' is the story of Willow, one of a pair of identical twins whose life has taken a vastly different direction from that of her sister's. Single, divorced, married to her job and living alone, a terrible secret from Willow’s childhood continues to prevent her from finding happiness or love. But when someone from her past turns up on her doorstep, Willow knows that now is the time she must face her past, or risk living with her demons forever.

As a novelist, what’s the biggest challenge about writing a short story?

Not having 100,000 words to play with! Short story writing is an art and a great discipline for a novelist, it reminds you the importance of structure, planning pacing and craft.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on completing my next full length novel 'Dearest Rose', which should be out next summer.

Thanks so much to Rowan for those fabulous answers. You can find out more about Rowan and her books on her website.

I'll be reviewing the Women Aloud anthology on Bookersatz soon, so please keep your eyes open for that.

In the meantime you can read my review of 'Lessons In Laughing Out Loud' by Rowan Coleman here.

I'm also thrilled to have a guest review on Bookersatz from the lovely Shirley Wells at the moment. Shirley has reviewed 'The Hanging Shed' by Gordon Ferris.

You can find out more about Shirley on her blog here and her website here, and you can read my review of her book fabulous current book 'Dead Silent' here.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Moving On!

My new workshop Moving On is launched this month. It was inspired by participants on my first workshop Insight Into The Women's Magazine Market who felt they wanted a course that would move them on with their writing.

However there's no need to have done the Insight course before doing this one, so please do feel free to get in touch if you think it might be for you. Here are the full details.

Moving On Short Story Workshop – 29 October 2011, 10.30am to 4pm


This course will be practically based and will help participants work towards the first draft of a story for their chosen women’s magazine market. They will receive a critique of their story once they have had a chance to finish it after the course.

The course is partly aimed at people who have attended my ‘Insight’ workshop and want to build on what they have learned about writing for the women’s magazine market but it is also suitable for people who already have some experience of the market and want to polish their skills.

We will cover:

Coming up with a killer idea including mind-mapping and treasure-mapping techniques;
Thinking of a great title, but not being afraid to let go of it;
The difference between a twist and a surprise;
Creating great characters and writing convincing dialogue;
Using themes and motifs to lift your story out of the ordinary.

The cost will be £35 and will include lunch.

I'm also excited to announce that I will be talking about writing short stories for women's magazines at The Festival Of Romance on Friday 21 October. You can find more details about that here. http://festivalofromance.co.uk/

Finally, I've posted a new review on Bookersatz today. It's of Spider's Revenge by Jennifer Estep so please pop over and have a look. http://bookersatz.blogspot.com

(Apologies for lack of proper links, Blogger doesn't want to play ball this morning.)

Saturday 24 September 2011

An Interview with Gillian Philip

I'm very excited to have the lovely and multi-talented YA author Gillian Philip here today. I asked her some questions about her varied writing career.

Tell us about your most recent books, ‘Bloodstone’ and ‘The Opposite Of Amber’.

BLOODSTONE is the sequel to FIREBRAND, which came out last year, and it’s the second in a series of four. The books are about the Scottish Sithe or faeries; I wanted to write about a hidden world that was close to ours, but perilously so – and in danger of vanishing. The heroes are forced to rebel against the faery queen, who wants to destroy the protecting Veil between the worlds for her own ends. I wondered who would be most threatened by that – the Sithe people, or us. The story was a long time in development. In fact Bloodstone was originally book 1, but I had to go back and write Firebrand before I really understood what was going on!

THE OPPOSITE OF AMBER is very different – it’s a contemporary story about two sisters who live in a bleak Scottish seaside town, and who begin to grow apart because of circumstances that spiral out of control. Jinn falls in love with the worst man possible, and Ruby, who has always depended on her older sister, has to learn to rely on herself even as she tries to save Jinn. And all the time, a serial killer is stalking the town, and coming closer to home.

What first attracted you to the idea of writing for the YA market?

Simply looking at the YA books that were available. My kids were born in 2001 and for the first time in a long time, I found myself in the children’s department of bookstores. And while I was looking for books in the younger sections, I couldn’t help being drawn by the YA shelves – they were so full of fantastic stories, fascinating characters and wonderful authors. I bought loads – on the pretext that I was building a library for my children when they were older. But as soon as I started to read them, I knew this was what I wanted to write myself.

Your writing is in more than one genre, was that down to a deliberate decision to explore different types of writing?

It was more of an accident! I’d always wanted to write a Scottish-based fantasy with a contemporary slant – and a very rough first draft did eventually turn into Bloodstone – but it took rather a lot of years to get it right. In the meantime I wrote a sequel to Bloodstone, but because those two were not in saleable condition, I had to branch out. I immediately turned to crime (fictional...) because I love reading it, and wrote Bad Faith and Crossing The Line, both of which were taken on by publishers.

I also took on work for Hothouse Fiction, writing teen horror, and for Evans Brothers, writing basically anything in any genre! So I just got used to switching genre, and I still enjoy a change from time to time. It’s one of the thing I love about writing YA – you’re not straitjacketed so much into a particular type of book.

You’ve also published books under the name Gabriella Poole. How did this come about, and are those books very different?

Very different from my own books, yes. The Gabriella Poole books were the ones I wrote for Hothouse Fiction – the Darke Academy series, which are about an elite boarding school that travels the world (essentially because students keep being killed in mysterious circumstances). They’ve been great fun to write – the editors at Hothouse came up with the concept and the characters, and I write the whole story from an outline, which is the only time I follow a plot plan. With my own stories I tend to fly by the seat of my pants – I don’t plot in advance – so it’s fun to write this way for a change, and it’s good exercise for the writing muscles. ‘Gabriella Poole’ belongs to Hothouse rather than to me, which gives both them and me some flexibility – another writer could ‘become’ Gabriella if necessary.

When you sit down to write a new book, do you find inspiration in particular ways or from particular sources?

Usually I’m not sitting down – I’m probably out for a walk. I find, like a lot of writers, that walking is a great way of shaking loose an idea in your head. So I walk for miles, listen to music (I like to have a soundtrack for each book), location-scout... and my other main source of inspiration is news or magazine articles. I don’t fictionalise real-life situations but I do imagine real and terrible things happening in different ways to my characters.

What are you working on now and what do you see yourself writing in the future?

I’m writing a short story for an anthology a friend is editing, and simultaneously I’m working on an e-novella, a prequel to Firebrand – it’s about Griogair and Lilith – which I hope to publish online at the same time as the Firebrand and Bloodstone ebooks come out.

After that, well... I have a draft that needs rewriting of a book called Sealskin, and I have another idea for a thriller simmering away in my head.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone who is writing a novel and hoping to get it published?

Just to persevere, and to take good advice. Keep writing and rewriting, but listen to readers (who aren’t related to you) – join a good writing group that provides honest critiques, or pay for editorial services if necessary. It’s never going to be right first time (or even the fifth time) but so long as you get something onto the page, you’ll have something to work with.

On your website you mention that you are ‘taking dictation from people who don’t exist’. It sounds as though your characters are very real to you despite not existing, how helpful is that when you’re writing?

It’s enormously helpful. When they turn real, they do all the work, which is nice. Of course, if they take a while to become real, it’s a lot more like hard work. And if they refuse altogether – well, I don’t have a book. I have to start again with someone more cooperative.

Thanks so much to Gillian for popping over today to share those thoughts with us.

You can read my review of 'The Opposite Of Amber' on Bookersatz now.

You can buy Gillian's books here.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Watching Willow Watts

When I heard that Talli was launching her new novel 'Watching Willow Watts' by asking people to answer the question ‘If I Could Be Anyone, I’d Be…’ , I didn't have to think for long about my answer.

In a way I didn't choose this person, fate kind of chose her for me ...

Back in 1996 when I got married and changed my name to Helen Hunt I didn’t realise that I was taking on a very significant life partner – my new namesake, the Hollywood actress Helen Hunt. Yes, that's right, 'the other Helen Hunt'.

By 1998 the other Helen Hunt was riding high with an academy award for her role alongside Jack Nicholson in ‘As Good As It Gets’ and every time I introduced myself to someone on the phone I was asked if I was ‘that’ Helen Hunt.

From a live radio interview for work when the presenter decided it would be funny to interview me as if I was really the other Helen Hunt and ask me what it was like to snog Mel Gibson, to my most recent experience of receiving a letter asking for a signed photo (from someone I fear was about to be VERY disappointed) ‘the other Helen Hunt’ has been a constant presence in my life.

So would I actually want to be her? Well, I wouldn't mind some of her success! But on balance I'd rather be a writer than an actress, so I think I'll stick with what I've got for the moment!

About Watching Willow Watts

For Willow Watts, life has settled into a predictably dull routine: days behind the counter at her father's antique shop and nights watching TV, as the pension-aged residents of Britain's Ugliest Village bed down for yet another early night. But everything changes when a YouTube video of Willow's epically embarrassing Marilyn Monroe impersonation gets millions of hits after a viewer spots Marilyn's ghostly image in a frame.

Instantly, Willow's town is overrun with fans flocking to see the 'new Marilyn'. Egged on by the villagers -- whose shops and businesses are cashing in -- Willow embraces her new identity, dying her hair platinum and ramming herself full of cakes to achieve Marilyn's legendary curves.

But when a former flame returns seeking the old Willow, Willow must decide: can she risk her stardom and her village's newfound fortune on love, or is being Marilyn her ticket to happiness?

If you’d like to buy a copy of 'Watching Willow Watts' (Kindle Editions) , follow these links:

Amazon UK


Also see more of Talli's books here and read her blog here.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Writing Magazine, and some courses for you!

I'm in Writing Magazine again this month talking about creating good characters for short stories. If you haven't already looked at their great website, you can do so here.

You can read my thoughts on the 'Sandwich Generation' at the newly-launched Savista Magazine here.

If you've ever thought about writing a Pocket Novel for My Weekly or People's Friend, you can now learn from the Queen of the Pocket Novels, Sally Quilford. Sally is offering a workshop on writing Pocket Novels and you can find more details here.

Finally, I still have a small number of places left on my short story workshop on 17th September. Full details are here. Please contact me if you'd like to come.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Interview With Shirley Wells

I'm really thrilled to have Shirley Wells visiting my blog this weekend as part of her blog tour to launch 'Dead Silent'. This is what Shirley had to say ...

Thank you, Helen, for inviting me to your lovely blog. It’s great to be here!

What first inspired you to write?

I was taught to read at the age of 3 and have rarely been seen without a book in my hand since, but it wasn’t until I was 28 and living in Cyprus that I considered writing. Books and magazines were in short supply on the island and after reading one short story in a women’s magazine, I thought “Hey, I could do better than that.” I typed (remember that?) my story, sent it to the editor with a letter that said something along the lines of “I’m not a proper writer but I wondered if you’d like to read this…” and received a lovely reply saying it would be published in the March issue of their magazine and that a cheque would follow. I’d caught the writing bug and haven’t lost it since.

And what particularly appeals about crime writing?

I’ve always been a fan of mysteries, both books and TV programmes. I think it’s the puzzle. I love pitting my wits against police detectives or amateur sleuths and figuring out whodunnit before they do. Also, the darker side of the human psyche fascinates me. I love to play with ‘normal’, respectable characters and see what it takes to push them over the edge.

Tell us about your latest book ‘Dead Silent’.

Dead Silent is the second book to feature reluctant private investigator Dylan Scott. I’m so pleased that my publisher wanted more about Dylan because I love him. My editor said of his first appearance: Dylan is a chauvinist and a terrible husband, but I’ve never rooted harder for a character. He is a chauvinist, and his wife despairs of him, but his heart’s in the right place.

For anyone curious, this is from the back cover:
Ten months ago, Samantha Hunt set off for work… and was never seen again.
Despite the statistics of cold cases, Dylan Scott wants to believe the young woman’s alive – and not just because her father, his client, is desperate to find his missing daughter before he dies of cancer. By all accounts Sam was a lovely girl, devoted to her younger stepsisters, well-liked at her work, in love with her boyfriend.
But as usual not everything is as it seems in sleepy Dawson’s Clough. Sam’s boyfriend has a violent past. She may have been having an affair with her boss. And Dylan can’t shake the feeling that her stepfather is hiding something. Meanwhile, someone is trying to scare Dylan off the case.
Who wanted to silence Sam, and why? The truth turns out to be worse than anyone expected…

What opportunities do you see for authors in the increasing popularity of the e-book format?

As I see it, one of the biggest advantages is that, because production and distribution costs are lower, publishers will take chance on new authors. With traditional publishing suffering the backlash from library cutbacks, debut authors are struggling to find an outlet for their work and published authors need a proven sales record. Also, an e-book is simply a file so it’s always available. One of my books has been out of print for over a year and, although there are plans to republish it soon as an e-book, there are no plans for a reprint unless the publisher receives “significant orders”. I can’t imagine who would order an out-of-print book in significant numbers!

Added to this is the ease with which authors can publish their own work. I know of several well-known authors who are publishing their backlists - long out-of-print books - themselves.

I suppose the downside is that, as it’s so easy - and free - to publish a book, many people are bypassing a good editor and publishing work that is substandard and which gives digital publishing a bad name. I’m lucky in that my e-books are published by Carina Press, the digital-first arm of Harlequin and there’s little Harlequin doesn’t know about the publishing industry. All books at Carina go through three lots of edits - developmental edits, line edits and then a final proof edit - before a marketing strategy is planned. Small e-book presses, however, are opening up with a view to earning a quick buck and putting out books that are poorly presented and need editing. That could be a problem.

What sort of characters do you like to create most – goodies or baddies?

I think the baddies can be more challenging. When a terrible crime is committed we often hear friends and neighbours declaring the perpetrator to be one of the nicest people one could wish to meet. How can such a person be driven to take a life? Is there a dark side to us all? Could we, if pushed, be driven to kill?

What’s the biggest challenge of producing consistently good books over a number of years?

I write books in a series and, while it’s wonderful to meet my characters again and take them on another adventure, my biggest worry is repetition. In the first book, it’s easy to create strong, well-drawn characters and show their relationships with family and friends. I find it difficult in subsequent books to give the reader glimpses of past relationships without repeating myself.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the fourth Dylan Scott mystery. The second, DEAD SILENT, has just released, and the third, SILENT WITNESS, is due for release in March.
What are your writing plans for the future?

I’ll keep writing crime and mystery so long as someone publishes me but, other than that, I don’t think past the next deadline.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone who is writing a novel and hoping to get it published?

Read it aloud, show it to people whose opinions you value, and pay to have it professionally edited if necessary. In short, make it as good as it can be. Never give up. Ever. Take no notice of prophets of doom who claim it’s impossible to get anything published unless you’re sleeping with the commissioning editor, are built along super-model lines or run your own PR company. I parted company with my agent a few years ago and went it alone. My first ‘Jill and Max’ crime novel was taken off the slush pile by Constable & Robinson and my first Dylan Scott mystery was taken from the slush pile by Carina Press. There will always be a market for good stories. (Wearing a rabbit’s foot and rubbing a four-leaf clover might not go amiss, either.)

Thank you for having me, Helen! It’s been fun.

Having had several hundred short stories, ten serials and ten novels published, Shirley Wells is finally getting the hang of this writing lark. She’s lived in Orkney, Cyprus and the Cotswolds, and now lives in Lancashire, UK, where the Pennines, with their abundance of great places to hide bodies, provide the inspiration for her popular mystery novels. She shares her home with her husband, two dogs, two cats and any other stray animals that fancy being pampered.

For more information, visit her website, follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

Her latest Dylan Scott mystery, DEAD SILENT, is available from Carina Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all good e-book retailers.

You can read a review of 'Dead Silent' on Bookersatz now.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Guest Review By Sophie Hannah

I'm delighted to announce that, to tie in with the paperback release of her latest book 'Lasting Damage', Sophie Hannah is my special guest on Bookersatz this weekend. She's reviewing 'Facing Codependence' by Pia Mellody and the review is fantastic. Well worth reading for all sorts of reasons.

You can also read my review of 'Lasting Damage' here. It's a fabulous book and I highly recommend it.

If you're looking for more weekend reading, don't miss my two interviews below:

Lisa Jackson, US crime writer, talks about the ins and outs of writing in different genres.

Nicola Morgan talks aboout the launch of her indispensable guide to Twitter, 'Tweet Right'.

Happy weekend everyone.

Friday 19 August 2011

An Interview With Lisa Jackson

I'm very pleased to have Lisa Jackson here during publication week for 'Without Mercy'.

Tell us about your most recent book ‘Without Mercy’. It sounds like a fascinating premise.

The idea for WITHOUT MERCY came to me at a traffic light. I was waiting for the light to turn from red to green and was listening to my favourite radio station when an advertisement for a school for troubled teens was broadcast. In the ad, the mother was worried sick about a child with declining grades, escalating bad attitude and friends who were running with the wrong crowd. She told the announcer that she’d found the answer to her daughter’s problems in a school for troubled kids. She’d shipped her daughter off to a school with little contact with the outside world and when the daughter returned, she’d once again become her “normal” loving self. “Huh,” I thought. I’d raised boys who were far from angels, but what would it have taken me to send the kid off for someone else to raise and turn around? The idea kept growing and I was so caught in it, that the driver behind me had to lay on his horn to snap me out of it as the light had, indeed, turned green.

After nearly jumping out of my skin, I did a quick U turn and called my editor, then mapped out the story. I quit the book I was writing and WITHOUT MERCY was started as my editor loved the idea.

What first attracted you to the idea of writing crime/thrillers?

I’ve always loved puzzles and the human psyche. I grew up reading mysteries—from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie and I loved moody books like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I started writing romance novels thirty years ago, but always had a bend toward mysteries and crime, so my writing kind of evolved, as did the popularity of the romantic suspense thriller. So here I am today. It all worked out.

Your writing is in more than one genre, was that down to a deliberate decision to explore different types of writing?

I write what I like. I don’t like following rules or prescribed plots. That was difficult for me as I started out in category romance and was told over and over again to tone down the suspense. But over the years, suspense became more popular and so I am lucky enough to write the kind of stories I love to read!

When you sit down to write a new book, do you find inspiration in particular ways or from particular sources?

Inspiration comes from all kinds of sources: an article I’ve read, or an overheard conversation, or a bit on the news, whatever. In the case of WITHOUT MERCY it was a radio ad. (That’s never happened before!) Though I can’t type very well and am a horrible speller, I’m lucky enough to be blessed with a pretty vivid imagination, so story ideas aren’t difficult. It’s the execution, the actual sitting and writing that’s a little more troublesome.

What are you working on now and what do you see yourself writing in the future?

I’m working on a book called YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW and it’s kind of a moody, I like to think Hitchcockian type of book, told primarily from the heroine’s point of view. It’s very psychological and I’m having a lot of fun writing it!

What’s the best advice you could give to someone who is writing a novel and hoping to get it published?

I encourage a first-time novelist to write the whole book. It’s easy to start a book and often times a writer has a great ending in mind, but it’s the pages in between that are the “proof in the pudding.” An idea is not a book. Write it from page one until “the end.”

Many thanks to Lisa for those inspiring answers.

'Without Mercy' by Lisa Jackson is out in paperback now. You can buy it here.

Please also pop over to Bookersatz for my review of 'Lasting Damage' by Sophie Hannah which is one of the best books I've read recently.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Nicola Morgan Is Here!

I am absolutely thrilled to have the multi-talented Nicola Morgan here today to talk about 'Tweet Right', her new book which is aimed at helping everyone get to grips with Twitter and use it properly.

I asked Nicola some questions ...

For those who don’t ‘get’ Twitter, how would you convince them of its worth in one sentence?

It combines all the benefits of a mahoosive party in which you can talk to many people at once and avoid anyone you dislike, an office without the office bore, an encyclopedia written by people you trust, an up-to-date news source for the things that interest you, a bank of people who can help with any task, a job agency, a fantastic marketing tool and a way of making friends from all around the world – free.

What moved you to write a whole book about Twitter?

I guess it’s a case of “once a teacher, always a teacher”. I kept hearing people say they didn’t understand Twitter – some being hostile and others really wanting to start but not feeling they knew how to, or else people who had tried but found it bewildering or difficult. So I wrote a series of blog posts to help people and those posts were very popular. (I even had a publisher asking to use them to train staff and authors.) But later there was more I wanted to say and it’s also not easy reading a whole series of blog posts hidden in the depths of my blog. So, I wrote Tweet Right, which is much more comprehensive and much clearer. It covers everything you need to get into Twitter, right from the very beginning. It assumes no knowledge other than the ability to switch on a computer and connect to the internet.

What was behind the decision to publish it yourself as Crabbit Publishing?

Because I can! I’ve got a load of ideas for non-fiction that I don’t need a publisher for. They are all books which will work as ebooks only and they are also shorter than suits a standard printed book. (They’ll be around 20-25 thousand words. The next one is probably going to be Dear Agent – the Worried Writer’s Guide to Submissions.) Later, I will be commissioning books from other writers and soon I will publish my early novels as ebooks – Mondays are Red is first up. You will be hearing a lot more about Crabbit Publishing when we launch properly in 2012 – at which point I will be able to tell you the interesting secret behind it!

You’ve already changed the face of twitter forever with your trending topic #lessinteresting books. How did that come about?

You exaggerate! But this is what happened: on Twitter one day, I saw that someone had tweeted that they were reading Lord of the Flies. I momentarily misread that as Lord of the Files, and thought how much less interesting that would have been as a book. So I tweeted “Lord of the Files #lessinterestingbooks” and followed with another one – I can’t remember but perhaps, “Love in the Time of the Common Cold #lessinterestingbooks”. It went viral and within a couple of hours was trending at No 1 worldwide. Totally mad! But fun and interesting. I think my favourite was Love in the Time of Man-Flu. My husband’s was Mein Campsite. (Mainly because he came up with that idea.) Mind you, I did laugh at the ones which missed the point: “textbooks”, “I can’t think of any”, “No books are less interesting – they are all wonderful and u should not diss them.”

So, Twitter … more or less important for a writer than stocks of wine and chocolate and good shoes?


You’ve subtitled the book ‘The Sensible Person’s Guide To Twitter’. What’s the least sensible thing people can do on Twitter?

Probably to tweet while drunk or angry. There should be an offence of being drunk in charge of a Twitter account.

What’s the main thing you hope people will get out of reading Tweet Right?

The knowledge they need in order to attain the lightbulb moment: “AH! So that’s what everyone’s going on about.” Also, to make new friends and learn more than they ever thought they didn’t know.

Exactly how crabbit are you?

You only dare ask that because you live hundreds of miles away…

Thanks very much to Nicola for sharing those thoughts with us.

You can find out more about Nicola on her blog, and for those who haven't met her, I can confirm that she is not crabbit at all, but is one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

You can buy 'Tweet Right' here.

(It is currently in Kindle format, but you don't need a Kindle to read it as you can download free Kindle software from Amazon to your computer.)

Saturday 6 August 2011

Kate Lord Brown Is My Weekend Guest

Please pop over to Bookersatz to find out what book my special weekend guest, Kate Lord Brown, would take to a desert island with her.

You can read my review of Kate's own book, 'The Beauty Chorus', which I found a fantastic read here.

If you're interested in my workshops or email critiques you can now find full details here. Please get in touch at helen-hunt1(at)sky(dot)com if you have any questions.

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend planned. I'll be writing today and tomorrow I'll be investgating why the buddleia bush in my back garden has collapsed. I suspect cat sabotage.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Insight Into The Women's Magazine Short Story Market

On Saturday I held my first short story workshop. This is a new venture for me, so it was a bit of a 'feel the fear and do it anyway moment'.

I'm pleased to say that it went really well. Five lovely writers attended and all participated with enthusiasm and commitment.

The same workshop will be running again on 17 September if anyone is interested in coming along. I'll also be running a follow up workshop called 'Moving On' (probably in October - date to be announced) and will be offering email critiques in the near future for those who are unable to come along to a course.

If you're interested in any of these things, please feel free to contact me via my profile for more information.

Edited to say, details are now here.

Saturday 23 July 2011

Rosy Thornton - This Weekend's Guest On Bookersatz

I'm very lucky to have another lovely weekend guest on Bookersatz. Novelist Rosy Thornton has written a very evocative review of 'A Month In The Country' by J L Carr. I now feel like I not only want to read the book, but also watch the film which stars the delicious Colin Firth. Sigh.

Regular readers of Bookersatz and this blog will know that I've really enjoyed reading Rosy's own books. You can find my reviews of 'The Tapestry Of Love' here and 'Crossed Wires' here.

My plans for the rest of the weekend involve reading, sleeping, watching television and gardening. I hope you all have a good one.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Update On My Short Story Workshops

I've been really pleased with the response to my short story workshops so far.

I still have a couple of places left for the workshop on 30 July. If anyone wants to come to this one please let me know so that I can get full details and a booking form out to you as soon as possible.

Bookings are now open for the same workshop on 17 September as well, so if you'd like to come to this one please let me know.

I also have an 'interested' list of people who can't make the July or September dates, so it looks likely there'll be a third date. If you'd like to be added to this list, I'll let you know as soon as there are firm details of a third date.

Thanks everyone, and particular thanks to those who've helped to spread the word.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Isabel Ashdown ...

... is my weekend guest on Bookersatz.

Isabel Ashdown lives in West Sussex with her carpenter husband and two children. Her first novel 'Glasshopper' (Observer 'Best Debut Novels of the Year', London Evening Standard 'Best Books of the Year') was published to critical acclaim in 2009 and an extract from the novel won the Mail on Sunday Novel Competition. Isabel Ashdown's second novel 'Hurry Up and Wait' was released in June 2011.

Official website: www.isabelashdown.com

You can follow Isabel Ashdown on Twitter @IsabelAshdown

I've loved reading Isabel's books and you can find my reviews of both of them on Bookersatz. Her review of 'Crow Lake' by Mary Lawson is on Bookersatz now, so please pop over and have a look.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Leigh Russell's Creative Writing Course

The phenomenally successful crime writer Leigh Russell has asked me to tell you about a creative writing course she is holding in October. Not only is it bound to be full of brilliant advice from a best-selling author but it is also being held in France! What more could you want?

You can find out more here.

I am still taking bookings for my short story writing workshop on 30 July (a few places left) and I'm also now taking bookings for 17 September if anyone is interested but can't make the July date.

If you haven't already seen it, don't miss my interview with the wonderful novelist Tana French below this post.

In other news, I sold two stories to Take A Break Fiction Feast yesterday and I'm about to start on a new article about short story writing for Writing Magazine. Do have a look around their fab website if you haven't already.

Hope you're all having busy and productive weeks.

Monday 11 July 2011

An Interview With Tana French

Tana French, author of the amazing 'Faithful Place' is my guest today.

Tell us about your most recent book ‘Faithful Place’.

Frank Mackey showed up in 'The Likeness' as Cassie’s old undercover boss, a detective who’ll cheerfully do anything – to himself or anyone else – to get his man. In 'Faithful Place', he’s the narrator. Twenty-two years ago, he and his first love, Rosie Daly, were teenagers in Dublin’s inner city, making plans to run off to London and get good jobs, get married, escape from all the poverty and problems of their tight-knit community. On the night when they were meant to leave, though, Rosie never showed. Frank assumed she’d dumped him, probably because of his deeply dysfunctional family. He never went home again. But then Rosie’s suitcase is found in an abandoned house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he wants to or not…

I loved ‘Faithful Place’ and in particular found its setting in Dublin very vivid. Is this a geographical area that means a lot to you?

I’m very glad you liked it! I was an international brat, grew up in three continents, so there’s nowhere I can really call ‘home’; but Dublin’s the nearest I’ve got. I’ve lived here since 1990; it’s the only city where I know all the details and quirks – the connotations of every accent and area, the slang and the sense of humour, where to go for a good pint and where not to go after dark. And I can list all the ways in which it’s crap, while being ready to leap to its defence if anyone from anywhere else suggests it might not be perfect. In a lot of ways, 'Faithful Place' is a love song to Dublin – its bad sides as well as its good ones.

What first attracted you to the idea of writing crime/mystery?

I love mysteries – real ones, fictional ones, historical ones, mythical ones, you name it. I always have, ever since I was a kid. It’s not just the process of watching them get solved that I love – although that’s hugely satisfying – it’s the mysteries themselves, for their own sake. I think it was inevitable that, when I started writing, it was going to be mystery.

When you sit down to write a new book, do you find inspiration in particular ways or from particular sources?

I’m always looking for the potential mystery in things. 'In the Woods' came out of a wood near an archaeological dig where I was working – one day I was looking at it and thinking it would be a great place for kids to play, and then I thought, What if three kids ran in there one day, and only one came back – and he had no memory of what had happened to the other two? And what if he grew up to be a detective, and a murder case drew him back to that wood? My second book, 'The Likeness', came out of a pub conversation about what it would be like to meet your double; I started wondering what it would be like to meet her when it was too late, when she was dead, and the only way you could get to know her was to go into her life – to become her, in a way. And 'Faithful Place' came out of a blue suitcase in a skip, outside an old house that was being gutted; I started wondering what was in it, who had left it in that house and when, whether they had meant to come back for it…

What are you working on now and what do you see yourself writing in the future?

I’ve just handed in my fourth book, 'Broken Harbour', in which Scorcher Kennedy (Frank’s old friend/rival from 'Faithful Place') deals with the murders of a young family on one of the ghost estates that have been festering all over Ireland since the Celtic Tiger. I’m hoping to stick with the same general group of characters – the Dublin Murder Squad, give or take – for a while. I hop from narrator to narrator, with a supporting character from one book becoming the narrator of the next, and I’d like to keep doing that, more or less: it means each book helps to springboard me onto the next one, and it means I get to explore the ways in which the previous narrator’s viewpoint may not have been the whole objective truth.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone who is writing a novel and hoping to get it published?

Don’t get discouraged if you’re hammering away at a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter, and it keeps coming out wrong. You’re allowed to get it wrong, as many times as you need to; you only need to get it right once.
That was a big revelation for me when I was writing 'In the Woods'. I was used to acting in theatre, where you need to get it right every time, because you’re playing to a different audience every night, and tonight’s lot don’t care if you were amazing yesterday. It took me a while to realise that, with writing, it all counts as rehearsal until you actually hand the manuscript over to someone else. There’s nothing wrong with making a mess on your way to getting it right.

Thanks to Tana for those great answers. I particularly like the idea of 'Faithful Place' being 'a love song to Dublin'.

You can read my review of 'Faithful Place' here. You can find out more about Tana here, and buy 'Faithful Place' here.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Sue Guiney - My Guest on Bookersatz

Just a quick post to let you know that I have another very special weekend guest on Bookersatz today.

Sue Guiney has reviewed 'Private Life' by Jane Smiley, so please pop over and have a look at what she has to say.

Sue's own book 'A Clash Of Innocents' is absolutely fantastic, so if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Writing Magazine

My article on 'writing short stories that stand out' is in this month's Writing Magazine. If you haven't already, you can find the magazine's very useful website here.

There are also articles from Simon Whaley, Adrian Magson and many more.

For those interested in writing for the women's magazine market, my first workshop is due to take place on 30 July, and full details can be found here. If you'd like to come along, please do get in touch.

I've posted a new review on Bookersatz today. LadyTechie has reviewed 'Grave Dance' by Kalayna Price.

I've been really pleased so far with the interest in my weekend guests on Bookersatz and I can tell you that in coming weeks we have Sue Guiney, Rosy Thornton, Tamsyn Murray, Isabel Ashdown, Kate Lord Brown and Leigh Russell contributing reviews.

As many of my blog readers will know, I've been a fan of Leigh Russell's work for a long time now. Her latest novel is called 'Dead End' and it has reached number 21 on the Amazon Kindle bestseller list. It's downloadable for 99p over the summer, so let's see if we can get it up into the top 20!

You can download 'Dead End' for Kindle here.

Saturday 25 June 2011

My Short Story Workshops

I am pleased to say that I have set a date for my first short story writing workshop. The workshop will look at writing for the increasingly tough and sadly shrinking women's magazine market. So if you've been writing for a while and want to find out more about this market, this workshop could be for you.

The workshop will take place on Saturday July 30 from 10.30am to 4pm. The venue is in Northamptonshire (full details, maps etc available on booking)and is in easy reach of public transport.

The cost will be £30 and this includes lunch/refreshments and the critique of one story (to be emailed to me prior to the course).

If you're interested in receiving full details and a booking form, please email me via my profile. If you can't manage this date but would be interested in future workshops, please also let me know.

In other news ...

The wonderful Kate Long is my guest on Bookersatz today.

Kate is the bestselling author of 'The Bad Mother's Handbook', 'Swallowing Grandma', 'Queen Mum', 'The Daughter Game' and 'Mothers And Daughters'. Her new novel 'All About My Mothers' is due to be released by Simon and Schuster in Spring 2012. You can find out more about Kate on her website and you can read my interview with Kate about her writing in this month's Writers' Forum magazine.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

My Weekend Guests

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm going to have some very special guest posts coming up on Bookersatz in the next few weeks. I've invited some of my favourite writers to contribute a review of one of the books they love.

First up this weekend will be Sherlockian expert and writer Alistair Duncan. He will be talking about 'The Sign Of Four' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so please look out for that on Saturday.

Other confirmed guests are novelists Kate Long, Sue Guiney, DJ Kirkby, Leigh Russell, Isabel Ashdown and Kate Lord Brown.

General Bookersatz posts from me and other contributors will continue mid-week. This week's review is of 'The Ghost Of Lily Painter' by Caitlin Davies and is up now.

Thanks to people who have contacted me to say they are interested in my short story workshop. I will be setting a date soon and will post full details then. If you want to be added to the 'interested' list, please email me via my profile.

Wednesday 8 June 2011


I've just posted a new review on Bookersatz. LadyTechie has reviewed 'Phoenix Rising' by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.

I'm also very pleased to announce that over the next few weeks I'm going to be featuring guest reviews on Bookersatz from some of my favourite writers. Some of them will be talking about old favourites and others about recent books that have caught their eye!

I'll be posting more details about the guest posts coming up on this blog as I get them - so watch this space!

Hope you're all having great weeks so far.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

The Beauty Chorus Blog Tour

I’m delighted to welcome Kate Lord Brown to my blog today as part of her tour for ‘The Beauty Chorus’.

‘The Beauty Chorus’ tells the story of three young women who sign up for the ATA during the Second World War. Regular readers of my blog will know that this is a historical period which I’m really interested in, so I wondered what had drawn Kate to this particular story.

Kate said:

'I think this particular story chose me - it wasn't so much the period as the idea that these young girls did this incredibly dangerous, brave work and no one knew about them. It's an era I know pretty well historically, because I specialised in Modern Art for my undergraduate degree, and I wrote my thesis on photography and fasion of the 30s and 40s. So in terms of popular culture - music, film, art, it's a historical period I feel comfortable with and love.

I like writing about relatively recent history because of the resources you have at your fingertips - the amazing sound archives and interviews of the Imperial War Museum, for example. One of the more poignant things about writing about WW2 is that each year there are less people who experienced it first hand - it was an amazing privilege to talk to veterans who had flown with the Air Transport Auxiliary, and their off-hand comments often told me more than whole piles of history books could.

I'm fascinated by the way ordinary men and women stepped up to the mark and showed extraordinary bravery and selflessness in the face of danger. Subsequent generations haven't had to confront global war - and I hope we never will again. But I think there are important lessons to learn from the past, and that's why I enjoy writing about this era - it's within living memory, but it is unimaginably far away in terms of experience. I love that contrast, and the chance to put yourself in other people's shoes and ask yourself 'what if'? What if you were a twenty year old girl with a private pilot's licence? Would you have the guts to 'do your bit', and fly unarmed across a war-torn country day after day when each one could have been your last? I think all stories start that way - just ask yourself 'what if'.'

Thanks very much to Kate for this fascinating insight to 'The Beauty Chorus'. You can find out more about Kate on her blog, and you can read my review of 'The Beauty Chorus' on Bookersatz now.

Friday 6 May 2011

The Literary Project

I'm a guest over at The Literary Project today. I'm talking about the women's magazine short story market, so if you're interested please pop over.

I've also posted a very interesting review on Bookersatz recently. It's the Urban Fantasy 'Tangled Threads' by Jennifer Estep and the review comes from Lady Techie.

There are some great books coming up for review on Bookersatz in the next few weeks as well. I have 'Dead End' by Leigh Russell, 'The Lovers of Pound Hill' by Mavis Cheek and 'The Ghost Of Lily Painter' by Caitlin Davies - so keep an eye open for those as well.

As ever, I'm always on the lookout for guest reviews on Bookersatz, so if you're interested please get in touch.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

A Clash Of Innocents

There's a new review up on Bookersatz at the moment. It's of 'A Clash Of Innocents' by Sue Guiney. This book is fabulous. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's an absolute 'must read'.

I had quite a good writing week last week, one fiction sale to Take A Break and two to Woman's Weekly. Also, my short story 'Trial By Fire And Water' is in this week's issue of The Weekly News.

I'm still horrendously busy, but that's good right?

Sunday 30 January 2011

Guest Blog Post

Just wanted to quickly let you know that on Wednesday (2 February) I will be doing a guest blog post over at L'Aussie Writing Blog.

This is part of a 'publication party' that Denise is holding over there. You can read posts here (Alex J Cavanaugh), here (Clarissa Draper), and here (Christine Bell) in which novelists talk about their road to publication. There's some really interesting and inspirational information there. I'll be talking about getting short stories published in magazines in my post.

I'm also still looking for posts for Bookersatz, so if anyone wants to contribute a book review please let me know.

What exciting things have you all got planned for next week? I'll mostly be writing!

Thursday 6 January 2011

Blog Interview - Gary Murning

Gary Murning, author of 'If I Never' and 'Children Of The Resolution' is my guest today, sharing some of his thoughts about writing.

What first inspired you to write?

Very early on, when I was still in primary school, I discovered the joy of exploring made up worlds. I'd always had a pretty vivid imagination, and once I learned the rudiments of writing, a little of my childhood play became connected to the act of putting words on paper. I started a few short stories – about headless horsemen, that kind of thing – but never really finished anything until, in my late teens, I decided to have a go at writing my first novel. I had quite a good deal of free time on my hands, having finished college due to illness, and I'd been reading a lot of really bad fiction in amongst the good. Can we say "radioactive killer crabs"? I think it was around that time that I uttered the immortal words, with which, I'm sure, many of us are familiar, "I can do better than this".

The jury is still out!

What would you say the main themes of your writing are?

I like characters who don't "fit" in the normal sense. I like to take someone who many of us might consider to be on the fringes in some way and turn it around so that they become the "normal" ones. I also like the play of power within relationships. The way it shifts and the way external influences impact on it. Also, secrets tend to feature quite heavily. The unknown and our constant need to push and push until we do know.

Tell us about your latest book ‘Children of the Resolution’.

Children of the Resolution is a very personal novel. It's by far my most autobiographical piece (I'm not, generally, an autobiographical novelist) and explores in fictional form my experiences of the integration of disabled children into mainstream education in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a pretty revolutionary period, and I was among the first to be on the receiving end of this new approach. A coming-of-age story, it explores childhood friendships under, I think, fairly unique circumstances.

Your previous novel ‘If I Never’ has been well received. What’s that about?

That's a tougher question to answer than the previous one! If I Never is a really difficult novel to pin down, even for me! As the reviews on Amazon.co.uk tend to support (flatteringly, thankfully!)

It has many elements to it, but at heart it's a love story about two characters who – in a very unique way – are meant for each other. It looks at how those around them (a very diverse, gritty and demanding a lot) threaten that. I tried to weave in certain genre elements – incorporating thriller motifs and Gothic influences – and… well, pretty much had a really good time with it. It has got serious themes, but I kept them just beneath the surface.

How long did it take you to research and write each book?

These days I tend to spend somewhere in the region of three months planning and researching – most of that taken up with outlining (I research as I outline, discovering what I need and then going off in search of it). Some books, If I Never, for example, I just write. I plunge in without much of an outline and see where I end up. Haven't done one like that for a while, though. Find it pretty scary.

The writing process is, for me, usually the easiest part. If I'm well-prepared, it feels pretty natural. Almost an organic process. I don't push myself too hard but like to get a minimum of 20,000 words down a month.

What response do you want the novel to invoke in your readers?

That's a really good question. I've encountered a few people (not very many, but some) who read If I Never and found certain sections somewhat uncomfortable to read – and when they tell me about this it's almost as if they think it's a bad thing. And, of course, depending on which particular section they're talking about, it can be! But it's always the sections that are intended to be uncomfortable to read. Still, most of them look a little surprised when I say "good".

The kind of novel I write is very much about creating (without seeming to) solid emotional and intellectual responses. I want people to laugh, cry, cringe, fall in love with one character, hate another – hell, maybe even get a little turned on, on occasion. As long as these responses occur at the right points in the novel, I'm happy.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of writing a novel but isn’t sure they have the necessary staying power?

Break it up. Don't think of it as writing a novel, think of it as writing small projects (chapters – but we won't call them that, right?) that may somewhere down the road come together as a big project (the finished novel). Set yourself reasonable targets and stick to them. Don't wait for inspiration to strike, just do it – even if it means writing nonsense (sometimes you have to write a couple of hundred bad/mediocre words just to get ten good ones!) The real biggie, for me, though, is try to enjoy it. Have fun with it and, you know, try not to let it become a chore. Oh, and accept that your first novel may not be all that good – whilst understanding that the process of writing that first one will allow you to make a much better attempt at the next one.

What’s the best advice you could give to someone who is writing a novel and hoping to get it published?

Don't write to be published. There's always this huge temptation to try to second-guess the market and it's just impossible. If you really want to write a novel that is publishable, forget about the publication aspect of it until you've written a novel you really want to write.

You are good at promoting your work online, how well is that paying off?

Bottom line? I think it's fairly safe to say it doesn't compare to a huge marketing budget – but given that the vast majority of us are probably never going to have a huge marketing budget (or any at all, for that matter!), it works much, much better than simply sitting around waiting for the books to sell themselves. My experience of it so far is that it tends to start off quite slowly. In the early days, you really are looking at pulling readers in one at a time. But as it gathers momentum and people start talking about what you're doing, you really do start to see the benefits. It does have to be an ongoing process, though. And, I expect, will have to be for a few years to come, yet.

What gives you most pleasure out of all the things you’ve achieved so far in your writing career?

Surprisingly – even with all the fantastic feedback I've had, all the enthusiasm and interest – the things that still gives me most pleasure is getting stuck into a new project. I just love writing novels. And I think it shows – by that I mean I actually think I'm a better person to be around when I have a project on the go.

What are you working on now?

I've just started writing a new novel (just over 3000 words in) called 'The Legacy of Lorna Lovelost'. It's a tragicomic piece about… well, let's just say sacrifices and the coming to an end of cycles and leave it at that, for now, shall we?

What are your writing plans for the future?

I haven't really looked much beyond Legacy, yet, but I have a few completed projects that I want to get out there – a couple that build on the tones and themes I played with in 'If I Never'. I think it's really important to, from a professional point of view, have a few decent pieces of work out there feeding off each other. So that's what I'd really like to achieve over the next year or two. Beyond that, just to keep writing, really. And to keep enjoying it.

You can buy 'Children Of The Resolution' here (UK) or here (US).

You can find out more about Gary here, or follow him on Twitter @garymurning

Thanks very much to Gary for his time.