Recently Read – The Broken by Tamar Cohen

The Broken by Tamar Cohen

Published May 22nd 2014 by Transworld Digital (first published 2011)
ISBN13: 9781448169030

BrokenBest friends tell you everything; about their kitchen renovation; about their little girl’s schooling. How one of them is leaving the other for a younger model.

Best friends don’t tell lies. They don’t take up residence on your couch for weeks. They don’t call lawyers. They don’t make you choose sides.

Best friends don’t keep secrets about their past. They don’t put you in danger.

Best friends don’t always stay best friends.


My Thoughts;

On the 14th July I posted on the blog that I had won two books courtesy of Doubleday and the #bookadayuk Twitter hashtag theme. The Broken was one of those two books.

I have to admit to it being the first Tamar Cohen book that I have read. I shall be reading more – and not just the other book that I won during the bookaday challenge.

It was really bizarre reading. I don’t normally go for the more psychological thrillers, I’m more of a, lets see the murder or crime and get on with it reader. But this book just seemed to drag me in little by little. It was sly, I didn’t notice it happening. I was reading this book about two couples who had become friends because they had a child of the same age each and one of the couples, their marriage started to break down. I was enjoying what I was reading. The writing was incredibly insightful, of relationships between friends, couples with young children, and parenting. I was intrigued as to how this would play out. The prose was wonderful to read and I was enjoying the book.

Then it happened, I looked at the book, looked at the clock and realised I couldn’t put the book down. There just wasn’t a chance it was going to leave my hands until I had got to the end.

The tension had been ramped up. The behaviours and relationships were becoming stretched thin and yet the people within them didn’t seem capable of doing anything to stop what was happening and the strange thing was, I could completely see how that would happen.

Yes I found the character of Sasha annoying but if you’re the kind of person who is kind and who believes this person is a friend and it makes you anxious to say no, then the situations were absolutely believable. You really don’t need to leave your disbelief at the door to read this book and that’s what makes it such a great book.

If like me, you don’t read psychological thrillers often, then I can very easily recommend this as a starting point. A great read that will have you hooked before you know it.

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What’s Your First Draft Like? – P. D. Viner

In today’s first Draft hot seat I’m pleased to welcome P. D. Viner.

Phil Viner 3 (2)P. D. Viner is an award winning film-maker and audio-book producer, now turned novelist. The Last Winter of Dani Lancing was his first murder but there have been others…

He has two novellas, The Sad Man and The Ugly Man, which are available as FREE downloads from all good ebook stockists and WattPad. His second novel Summer of Ghosts, continues the descent into hell for Dani Lancing’s parents – Patty  and Jim. and the man who loved her. He is Detective Superintendent Tom Bevans, The Sad Man.

Phi has studied film and theatre in England and Russia and produced documentaries for Japanese TV. He created the popular ranges of English Literature study guides – The SmartPass audio guides andShakespeare Appreciated. He was a terrible stand-up comedian for a while and now lives in Brighton with his wife and five year old daughter.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

I get a new notebook and write the title (if I know it) on the front page, if I have no title then a brief description of the project. Then I start layering into the notebook any images, scenes or lines of dialogue that immediately present themselves to me. There will always be moments, plot twists or character points that MUST be in the book, and they swirl around in the soup of my imagination and yell out for attention, they need to be captured straight away. I generally don’t know where they will go in the story – but I know they are important. I also might find news clippings or photos or even lines from other sources and I will write those into the notebooks.

Room of death tom and dani (2)

It is also true that I usually have two or three future projects simmering in my head. I may not be spending much time on them but the ideas are starting to develop, like tadpoles growing into frogs (and I have a notebook for each project). At the moment I am finishing a TV script that I have written on spec – and that project has two notebooks. I am about to start my third novel and the concluding chapter in my Life and Death of Dani Lancing trilogy (a trilogy of 3 novels, 4 novellas, 2 short stories and a graphic novel) and there are a few notebooks devoted to that (I try and colour code them but that doesn’t always work). I also have the idea for my fourth book in mind and am making notes about that too.

Then this morning I wrote a short story and all day have been thinking it could be the opening chapter of a new book. That might need a separate notebook too. I am hoping that if I mention Moleskine notebooks a lot in articles and in my books that they might send me some (a lifetime supply would be nice). I want to be the face of Moleskine, because I’m worth it.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

No. Except for the fact that I walk around and mull it over and make notes. Some ideas are just left in books for months. When I come to actually sit down and start to write I should already have a few weeks or even a few months of the ideas forming in my mind, in fact I have a short story I wrote 15 years ago and that will form a key scene in the next book. I have my best ideas just walking around, or cooking dinner for my wife and daughter.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Notes and ideas on paper but when the real writing starts it is directly onto my laptop. I tend to write and edit in word and after draft 3-4, print sections to read.

How do you go about researching?

This is one of the biggest changes from being a part-time writer to being published. With my first novel, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing, I did not have much confidence and felt like an amateur. I have no police background (not even been stopped and searched, damn my bad luck), but my sister lives next door to a couple who are both officers and she introduced us. I met my DI (very like DI Jane Thorsen in my novel) for a coffee and I fired off question after question. At one point we were talking about the length of time semen could be tested for DNA profiling and the coffee-shop waitress dropped her tray of drinks as she was listening to us. As I got closer to completing the first draft, I felt a little braver and emailed the coroner in Durham (where Dani goes to University) and he was amazingly helpful in answering my questions. I went to Durham for a three day visit and found all the spots I wanted. I had been there years ago but had a poor recollection. I took about 200 photographs and walked and walked. I also did research on-line and read two police textbooks on both protocols at crime scenes and how a modern investigation works.

After I sold my first novel, I called the Sussex police media relations department and they were fantastic. I was able to spend a night shift in a 999 call unit, listening to the calls that came in and then sitting with dispatchers. I also got to watch CCTV for East Sussex especially Brighton on a Saturday night, and see just what the police could do. During that time a cell search was sanctioned as they searched for a missing person and I got to question the command team on their choices of where to spend resources. We also talked a great deal about armed responses – it was an amazing night. A week later I spent a night in a police first-response car, cruising around and making arrests and responding to calls. I also spent a day in the police station sitting in on briefings and talking to officers and civilian staff. Lastly a half-day with the CID and drugs officers. It was a fantastic grounding in the actuality of police procedure. For my next novel I am going to prison… I am looking forward to that.

PD Viner first draft notebooks (2)How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

Again it is either in my notebooks or scraps of paper I slide into the books. I also take pictures – for example the 200 pictures I took in Durham and the hundred or so I took in Greenwich. I also film in certain places. I have a murder set in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton and I was lucky enough to be allowed inside the onion domes at the top of the palace, as well as what remains of the secret passageway that runs from the palace to the nearby stables (now a museum). I filmed in these areas so I could remember the way the light changes and the wall’s textures. The stairs to the dome were really interesting, so I recorded that. Then I download them all to my computer and keep them in files. While I am writing those scenes I have them on my phone too.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I am not sure I can, each of the 4 novels/novellas has been different. With The Last Winter of Dani Lancing I began with a 500 word short story I wrote. It was essentially the scene which is now chapter two of the book and had Patty, the mother, abducting the man she believes killed her daughter so she can test his blood for a DNA match. Essentially in that first 500 words I had the first third of the novel. Then I wrote 70,000 words as a first person book before I started again. The first person didn’t work as Patty was too sad and too volatile. But I had a lot of the plot to work with. When I got to the end of the first draft I then seeded back a lot of the backstory and the elements that were from the past. It is a complex book in terms of a fractured narrative and much of that came in draft two – or were notes scribbled on the margin and in books to add later.

With the novellas – I just wrote them from page 1 to the end. However my editor had me re-arrange both of them in terms of chronology.

On Summer of Ghosts, I only had 6 months to write (even though I did have a few months of notes) and I tried to work chronologically. Ironically the police scenes, based upon my real experiences, were overwritten (too much detail) and slowed me down and ended up in the bin (mostly). I discovered you can get carried away with research.

PD Viner book coverCROP (2)

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

No. Except I need strong coffee and I write almost exclusively in coffee shops in Brighton. I drop my daughter at school and then go to a café and sit for 4 hours and write on my laptop. The rest of the time I just make notes.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

With a 6 year old around that cannot happen – though I daydream a lot. My wife is an academic and most evenings she works and we often sit in the same room lost in our thoughts.

What does your work space look like?

It is a café in a deconsecrated church mostly. At home I have an office that looks like a bomb has hit it. I don’t do creative work in there, I just build towers of paper and books that fall from time to time.

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

Depends. I tend to splurge words if I can but may have whole days where I just craft one scene over and over. I don’t perceive the books as multiple drafts like many writers do. I have one document and organically smooth and hone as I feel. I do believe I have got slightly better at honing a sentence as I write it… but that may just be wishful thinking.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I do track words but try not to beat myself up if it is not a good day. On a novel I can have 5,000 word days but not that often. Writing the TV script was really hard as some days would just be 500 – because it is all plot and dialogue, no interior motivation or narrative and barely any description. I am good at seeing the scope of what I need to do and portioning it out, so I hit milestones – or miss them. But at least I know they are there.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

With Summer of Ghosts the first draft took 16 weeks of writing every day and the opening third was very bloated. The last third was pretty lean as I honed my thinking as I progressed with the story. I then spent nine weeks re-arranging sections and rewriting the first half (some tweaks to the end but not too much). The final polishing took 3 weeks.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

On computer screen until the end, then I print sections to read – but only late on. I do find that once it is all done and my editor is happy with the form of the story that reading it printed is really helpful.

What happens now that first draft is done?

I then sent to my editor for comments and with her feedback I took a hatchet to it. I rewrote the first half entirely and did a lot of work on the second half over about 10 weeks. I had concentrated on one character predominantly in the opening quarter (when the first novel was far more of an ensemble work) and I knew it was overbalanced and needed a re-think. My editor felt the same and so I moved scenes and re-ordered the narrative to allow the other two storylines to start earlier. It works really well now and the closing of the book has three dénouements that build on each other.

After we are happy with it the draft goes to a copy editor who may have questions and format issues. During this time other people get to read it in proof form and there is a final chance to make the odd tweak here and there. Then you have to step back and say – that is it, done. That is difficult for me, by nature I like to keep fiddling with things – but there comes a time when you have to move on to the next book.

So I have just started the next one. Wish me luck.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

You can find P. D. Viner on his website, Amazon and the Random House page.

Summer of Ghosts.

House in the countryside‘Beautiful skin.’

It begins with a father calling his daughter, but whoever answers is not Pia but his daughter’s killer. He must listen, horrified, to the sounds of his only child being murdered, powerless to intervene as the killer utters two chilling words.

Most men’s thoughts would turn to vengeance but Pia’s father is far more resourceful than most. And he is not the reserved businessman his daughter always believed him to be but Franco, a notorious London drug lord who will call in all his debts to find his daughter’s killer. Including the one owed to him by DI Tom Bevans.

Only Tom is a man haunted by his own grief and every unsolved case weighs heavily against his soul. And Tom has heard the killer’s words before.

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Recently Read – The House at Seas End by Elly Griffiths

The House at Seas End by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus (first published January 1st 2010) ISBN13: 9781849163675

HouseWhen bones are unearthed at the foot of a north Norfolk cliff, forensics expert Ruth Galloway and DCI Nelson are put on the case. The skeletons have lain there for decades, possibly since the war, and for all that time a hideous crime has been concealed.

When a body washes up on the beach, it becomes clear that someone wants the truth of the past to stay buried, and will go to any lengths to keep it that way. Can Ruth and Nelson uncover the truth in time to stop another murder?



My Thoughts;

Another great book in the Ruth Galloway series. This third one sees Ruth juggle the demands of her job at the university as an archaeologist as well as being seconded to the serious crimes unit of the police, with that of being a single mother. Griffiths explores this wonderfully as Ruth pitches between her desires to be a part of an exciting discovery and then the ensuing investigation and her guilt at her perceived failures as a mother. Griffiths doesn’t provide easy answers or magic up people we’ve not previously heard of. Neither does she change the behaviours of those we have already met, just to suit. This storyline is an area that many working mothers will be able to identify with deeply. I found it real and genuine and it brought an added depth to the story.

The setting along the harsh cold coastline is as always an enormous character of its own. It feels forbidding and dangerous without the considerations of a murderer at large. And the investigated murder crosses time periods with history, covering the second World War period and family secrets play out in a wonderful story that has you entrenched firmly in there, wondering at a time gone by, and how things may have actually occurred in small coastal towns.

The ending will leave you gasping to read the next one as soon as you can. A perfect way to end a book in a series!

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Can Diversity Really Exist in Publishing?

If you’re a book lover then you know that there has been another incident of mass racial abuse on Twitter. That or you’ve had your head in a box – or a book maybe!

Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman gave an interview to Sky where she said that children’s books needed more diversity. It was incorrectly headlined, resulting in a mass barrage of racism towards her on Twitter.

Stuart Miles @ FreedigitalPhotos

Stuart Miles @ FreedigitalPhotos

Earlier, she had used Twitter to call for “diversity and inclusion. More books featuring kids/YA with disabilities, LGBT, people of colour, travellers, different cultures, religions pls”

I completely agree with her. We are a world of diverse countries, how can we write about the world we live in and not represent it correctly?

But how does that transfer to the authors? Is the publishing world comfortable and ready for people from all of those groups Malorie Blackman has listed, to become authors in their publishing houses? For many of those groups I’d say yes.

But what about disability? There’s a slight difference with that one. With a disabled author the publishing house has to consider if you are a long-term investment – or so I’ve been told. On multiple occasions. As I’ve been told to tone down my accounting of my life as I live with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.

We are a diverse world, but I walk on eggshells as I keep writing, in an attempt to keep my slate clean and wonderful people like Malorie Blackman who are already writing wonderful stories get attacked for her views.

I’m not going to tone it down anymore. I can keep writing and be disabled. Yes my life is massively affected, more than I ever thought possible a couple of years ago. If raising awareness, or simply blogging and being honest stops someone taking me on, then that person or place wasn’t right for me anyway.

We need more diversity in our authors as well as in our characters.

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Recently Read – Get Started in Creative Writing by Stephen May

Get Started in Creative Writing by Stephen May

Published March 28th 2014 by JMP Learning
ISBN13: 9781471801785

WritingGet Started in Creative Writing will help writers at the very beginning of their creative journey to gain confidence and find inspiration, and then support you in the completion of your first pieces of creative writing – a short story, a poem, a draft of a novel or screenplay. Each chapter includes a central writing exercise and four shorter ones, while key quotes, key ideas and focus points will be clearly signposted and will summarise important concepts and advice. At the heart of each chapter is a ‘Workshop’. The Workshop is a key exercise, in which you will gain a deeper insight into the craft of writing.
In addition to coverage of all the key genres and their conventions, this new edition includes an expanded section on self- and digital publishing, to reflect recent advances in technology and the wide variety of digital platforms now available for the distribution of creative writing. There will be a section on the latest trend of creative journalling, and insight into how to tap the potential of the Internet to be the world’s largest creative writing workshop.

My Thoughts;

I obtained my copy of this book through Netgalley, so thanks to them, the author and the publisher.

I think this book is exactly what it says it is in the blurb. It is a great book for writers new to creative writing. Each chapter is filled with easy to understand information on the subject at hand (each area of creative writing being broken down into its own area) with tasks being set to get your creative juices flowing. And it does start from an extremely basic level. Set for someone who is just thinking about going into creative writing, because the initial tasks (workshops) are on obtaining notebooks, viewing the people around you, making notes, freewriting, talking to relatives and even looking at your own life timeline. There are some ideas in there that you might find quite handy though. Basic though they seem, those people who may have been writing for a while, may not have thought of some of the things in here.

The chapters, after getting your creative juices flowing, then goes on to cover the whole host of creative writing concepts from short stories, (even blogging), novels, stage plays, to television screenplays and films. Even if you are not at the beginning of your journey and are happily ploughing through a novel, this book may hold some great information about, for instance, writing television screenplays and how to break into that area of work. because it’s not just about the writing, the book does also tell you about how and where to submit these pieces of creative writings you have been doing.

An interesting and comprehensive book, that can easily be skipped through should you not want to read a chapter.

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What’s Your First Draft Like? – Elizabeth Haynes

copyright Ryan Cox

copyright Ryan Cox

Today I’m thrilled to welcome crime writer Elizabeth Haynes to the First Draft hot seat. You can find a Recently Read post on Elizabeth’s first novel, Into The Darkest Corner, Here.

Elizabeth’s books are now published in more than 30 countries around the world and in over 20 languages with more due for release.

Her first novel Into the Darkest Corner was published by Myriad Editions in February 2011 and was featured on Channel 4′s TV Book Club. It was selected as one of Amazon UK’s Rising Stars and went on to win Amazon UK Best Book of 2011.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?/Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I start a new notebook once I have an idea, and I’ll start by jotting down character names, ideas for scenes, any good bits of dialogue, titles, that kind of thing. I have two notebooks per book, one a small paperback Moleskine which goes everywhere with me, and one a hardbacked, ringbound A4 Whitelines notebook which will have everything in it from mind maps and to do lists through to acknowledgments in the back, so I don’t forget anyone who helped with the book.

But beyond a few brief notes, I don’t write much down. It’s more of a statement of intent. If it has a notebook, sooner or later I will write the novel.

EH plan (2)

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

I always write first drafts in November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so aside from the few brief notes, I will go straight to the keyboard to write and not stop until it’s done (by which I mean I don’t edit as I go along, I do sometimes stop for tea, or sleep).

How important is research to you?

It’s very important, especially writing about real life subjects. Even if I haven’t been through these experiences, someone out there has, and I think it’s insulting to them not to make an effort to find out what a situation is really like.

How do you go about researching?

When I start writing, I usually have an idea of the subject matter the book will cover, so I’ll have done some general research to enable me to write freely without getting too stuck. As I’m writing, I’ll note down specific questions as they crop up. Once the first draft’s done, I have a much clearer idea about the gaps in my knowledge, so then I’ll go and do much more detailed research to cover those areas. Often the research itself will throw up some new ideas which I’ll then incorporate into later drafts. It’s probably not the ideal way to do it.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

Bits of paper and ideas go in the notebooks (the Moleskin has a handy flap), images go into Scrivener, which I use to write. I also have a Spotify playlist for each book. The music isn’t necessarily relevant to the story (apart from Revenge of the Tide, for which I had Genevieve’s dancing music as a playlist), it’s just the music I’m listening to at the time.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

Very quickly! I never know what’s going on with the story until it happens, which is a result of writing at speed. On a good day I can do 10,000 words and my record is about 12,000. Most days I’ll write about 5-6,000 words and on some days I won’t write anything at all. I’ll carry on after NaNoWriMo finishes until the first draft is done. Then I’ll leave it for a month or so before re-reading it and doing some rough corrections, taking notes as I go. Usually it will be a mess, with big plot holes, subplots that don’t go anywhere, characters who change name halfway through, and a rubbish ending that doesn’t make sense. But there will be some intriguing ideas in there, too, and I’ll usually be quite keen to dive back in and start fixing things.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

I don’t think so. I drink far too much coffee and eat too much chocolate, which seems to help. I think NaNoWriMo itself is something of a ritual, because if I try to write first drafts without the momentum that November gives me, I struggle and usually give up.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

November is actually the social high point of my year. I’m the co-Municipal Liaison for Kent, which means that I spend much of the month driving around the county meeting other participants for write ins. But once I’m immersed in my story, I do find I switch off quite easily. I work well in coffee shops with lots of noise and chatter around me.

EH workspaces (2)What does your work space look like?

I have a writing shed which takes up a lot of the garden, with desk and bookcases courtesy of IKEA. I also have an IKEA Poäng armchair and footstool, which gets in the way a bit. I also have a filter coffee machine, a small grinder and lots of mugs, piles and piles of unread books, lots of books telling me how to write better books, magazines and a secret biscuit tin that I have to hide from myself.

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

Definitely editing as a separate process!

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

In November, word count is everything. It reminds me that I’m making progress. Scrivener is good at keeping track of your targets, but during November I regularly update my word count on the NaNoWriMo website. I also use a spreadsheet that my husband created for me, which shows other useful and encouraging statistics, like percentage achieved, how many words left until target reached.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

At least 50,000 words in November, but I won’t have reached the ending by that stage. I’ll carry on writing until it’s done, which will probably take me into January. By that time it will be about 90,000 words.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

I very rarely print it out. I email each draft to my kindle and I’ll read through on that, but only if I’m going on a long journey. Usually I’ll just read it on my laptop and fix things as I’m going along.

What happens now that first draft is done?

Firstly I will have a bit of a break and try and re-engage with the outside world. When I’ve finished a draft I sometimes feel a bit bereft, and it takes me a few days to catch up with myself. After that, I’ll do a single read-through which will involve correcting spellings, removing really awful bits, and changing anything that is easy to fix. Once that’s done I’ll send it off to my agent and my editor and then the process begins. I can’t edit on my own, I need other people to show me how what needs to be re-worked.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

Thank you for asking! This was a really interesting exercise, I’ve never really thought about the mechanics of my first draft before.


You can find Elizabeth on her website, Twitter and Amazon.

Under a Silent Moon.

Silent moonIn the crisp, early hours of an autumn morning, the police are called to investigate two deaths. The first is a suspected murder at a farm on the outskirts of a small village. A beautiful young woman has been found dead, her cottage drenched with blood. The second is a reported suicide at a nearby quarry. A car with a woman’s body inside was found at the bottom of the pit.

As DCI Louisa Smith and her team gather evidence, they discover a shocking link between the two cases and the two deaths-a bond that sealed their terrible fates one cold night, under a silent moon.

In this first entry in a compelling new detective series, Elizabeth Haynes interweaves fictional primary source materials-police reports, phone messages, interviews-and multiple character viewpoints to create a sexy, edgy, and compulsively readable tale of murder, mystery, and unsettling suspense.


As usual, if you want to take part in the First Draft series, just let me know! You can find a list of the previous Q&A’s Here.

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August’s Crime Book Club and September’s Read

Last night the Crime book club discussed Murder in Mykonos by Jeffrey Siger. As it was August we had wanted a summer themed crime book. We had a couple of apologies for members who were unable to make it so we were a small group, but did we think it met its mark?

It definitely stood its ground on setting in the beautiful Greek island of Mykonos. Siger beautifully rendered the island in sight and heat and feel for all members. It was mostly enjoyed and as the start of a series two of the three attending said they would read further books.

Last night saw us discuss it being the year anniversary of the book club and we discussed what our favourite books of the year had been and what we got out of being in the club. You can see the full conversation below.


Next month we will be reading Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller. 

Norwegian by nightHe will not admit it to Rhea and Lars – never, of course not – but Sheldon can’t help but wonder what it is he’s doing here..

Eighty-two years old, and recently widowed, Sheldon Horowitz has grudgingly moved to Oslo, with his grand-daughter and her Norwegian husband. An ex-Marine, he talks often to the ghosts of his past – the friends he lost in the Pacific and the son who followed him into the US Army, and to his death in Vietnam.

When Sheldon witnesses the murder of a woman in his apartment complex, he rescues her six-year-old son and decides to run. Pursued by both the Balkan gang responsible for the murder, and the Norwegian police, he has to rely on training from over half a century before to try and keep the boy safe. Against a strange and foreign landscape, this unlikely couple, who can’t speak the same language, start to form a bond that may just save them both.


The meeting is on Wednesday 17th September 2014 at 8 p.m. GMT on Google+ Hangouts. You can find the how-to Here. If you’ve not yet managed to join us we’d love to see you.

To keep informed of book choices straight to your in-box, you can sign up to the newsletter Here.

What has been your favourite book of the year? Full list of meetings on YouTube Here. :)

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Murder They Wrote?

The last panel I attended at Theakstons Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate in July was the ‘Keeping it Real’ panel on Sunday morning.  You can find my post about the panel itself Here.

21.7.14 007


What interested me and has kept nagging away at me since was a question put to the panel by a member of the audience at the end. The answer was laughter from all on stage. Basically, the panel was about whether crime fiction should mirror real life crimes or stay away from them and the question was about whether any of the writers had thought about writing anything other than murder. Onset lots of laughter and jokes about writing about bank robberies and stolen bicycles. (or some such other lesser crimes.) The mindset of the answering authors was that murder was the most serious of crimes and therefore the only crime that can really be written about to warrant a novel.

I wasn’t overly happy with the response, but couldn’t from the top of my head think of any crime novels where someone hadn’t been murdered.

Good girlFast forward a little over a week and I’m reading The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. One of the highlights of my reading year so far. You can read my review Here. Definitely a crime novel. And not a murder to be solved or occurring anywhere in the book. I’m not spoiling anything by saying the novel is about an abduction. I’ve just read the blurb on Goodreads!

So what about the laughing Harrogate panel?

I think you can have a crime novel without a murder. It needs to be a very cleverly written book, but yes, absolutely.

What about you? What books have you read that don’t have murder within the pages but fall firmly within the crime fiction genre? I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this one.

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Recently Read – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

EleanorEleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.
Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book – he thinks he’s made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor… never to Eleanor.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.

My Thoughts;

I read this book while I was on holiday and I couldn’t put it down. It is so beautifully told in alternating chapters between Park and Eleanor, starting the day Eleanor gets on the bus for her first day in her new school. It’s not a great experience for her and all Park wants to do is stay invisible but there’s a space next to him so in the end he tells her quite harshly to just sit down there. In their own very different ways they are different from the rest of the kids and slowly a connection starts between them. It’s slow and endearing.

It’s not all sweetness and light though. The differences for Eleanor are quite harsh. This book deals with the tough subject of domestic violence in the home and in contrast, Park’s home is warm and welcoming. His mother who is Korean is absolutely adorable and has his father under her thumb which is brilliant to see as he is a great hulking strong man, who happens to adore the woman he married.

It’s a book about relationships. relationships between teenagers, families, and the relationship you must have with yourself. It’s a wonderful book to read. It tore my heart out at the end and I’m now going to read more by Rainbow Rowell.

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What’s Your First Draft Like? – Mari Hannah

Today I’m thrilled to have award winning crime writer, Mari Hannah on the first draft hot seat.

MariWhen an assault on duty ended her career as a probation officer, Mari Hannah turned to scriptwriting. She created a number of projects, most notably the pilot episode of a crime series for the BBC, a piece of work she later adapted into her crime debut – The Murder Wall – which went on to win the Polari First Book Prize. Her second book – Settled Blood – won the Northern Writers’ Award.

The Times described her series character DCI Kate Daniels as a Northerner set to join the roster of top literary detectives.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

When an idea first occurs, it consumes me. This is particularly annoying if I’m in the process of writing another book. Like it or not, that often happens. There’s always part of me that believes the new idea is rubbish. Even so, I can’t stop thinking about it. If it remains with me, I know I’m on to a winner. When the uncertainty is out of the way, I begin by imagining the main characters in my head. Nothing is written down at this stage.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I plan everything out before taking to the computer and couldn’t do it any other way. It’s a method that worked for me in screenwriting – it’s worked for me in novel writing too.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

It depends on how I feel. Sometimes, it’s straight to the keyboard to write a lengthy synopsis which will takes me around a week. Other times I use a card system where I write out the main story beats as scenes or, in the case of a book, chapters. This is particularly useful as I can move them around at will, something I can’t do with a synopsis. I’ve written several of my ideas as screenplays first. There are obvious benefits to this. It forces me to think visually. I get a lot of the dialogue down and brief descriptions of the action. It also concentrates the mind. At the conclusion of each scene, I imagine those drums at the end of an episode of Eastenders. I’m thinking: what hook can I create to keep the reader engaged for what comes after? It has to be strong enough to keep them turning the pages.

Mari desk

How important is research to you?

In terms of police procedure, very. I’m not anal about it but I owe it to my readers to be as authentic as possible. Fortunately, I come from a criminal justice background and have a working knowledge of the police, the judiciary, courts, prison system etc. My partner is an ex-murder detective who advises me on all matters relating to criminal investigation. Outside of policing, I’ve found many professionals willing to talk me through a range of subjects. Kate Daniels #2 and #3, for example, required a knowledge of flying I simply did not have. I’m lucky to have friends who are pilots.

How do you go about researching?

I tend to research locations first. I take loads of photographs and decide upon time of year, that kind of thing. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along not to overdo the research. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it overcomplicates matters. The trick is to do a little and more if necessary in subsequent drafts. Much of it will hit the bin in the editing process and that is wasted effort. Anyway, too much research slows the pace. It should almost be invisible.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

I store a lot on my smartphone. I use the Voice Memos application to interview others or talk to myself – I get a lot of funny looks! It’s quick and easy. I take pictures on my phone too and store them in the cloud until I need them.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

After the planning stage, I write every day if I can possibly manage it. I loosely follow a three-act structure: set up, development, and resolution. When I reach the end of the set up, I read over my work before attempting what is often referred to as the ‘muddle in the middle’ and then reread again before I write the resolution and pump up the action in a race to the finale. I know it sounds like a faff but it gives me confidence to know that it all gels (in my head at least) and that I haven’t dropped the ball on the way through.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

Before I even write the title, I Google the sunrise/sunset times for the period I’m working in. It keeps me from writing stuff that is happening after dark when witnesses can’t possibly see! I also begin a timeline document on a second computer that keeps me right in terms of days of the week. You can’t interview a bank manager on a Sunday. My last book took place in the autumn when the clocks went back. If you are writing in real time, it’s important to know these things. If you make a mistake, readers will pull you up on it.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

Once I’m in the zone, I just go for it. I turn off notifications. Leave my phone in another room. I abandon Twitter mates – perhaps stopping by briefly at night to say hi. People are very forgiving. They understand what a drain on your time social media can be. Oh, and I ignore my partner apparently! I never listen to a word she says, rarely coming up for air. I’m expecting divorce papers any day now.

Mari wallWhat does your workspace look like?

It’s a box room with two desks, two chairs and a murder wall – a white board like in a real incident room – and woe betide anyone who might touch it! I have many reference books on the shelf above my head: law, policing (especially homicide cases), psychology and sociology books from when I was training to become a probation officer. I use them often. I write in silence, using music only to create the right atmosphere. For example: if I’m feeling particularly upbeat and need to write a really sad scene.

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I edit as I go, rereading and cutting the previous day’s work before I move on. No ‘dirty’ draft for me. I can’t write on unless I know that what is behind me makes perfect sense.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

Word counter? No. I try to write a chapter a day, whatever length it might be and no matter how long it takes. Sometimes I manage that. Sometimes not. When I began writing, I could agonise over a sentence for hours. These days I’m more relaxed. If I don’t want to write, I do something else. I write for pleasure. It should never be a chore.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

As I said above, I edit as I go. By the time I’ve reached the end, the draft is in good shape, pretty much ready to show my agent. I read it through, polishing – my partner calls it fiddling – until it is the very best I can make it and then I send it off and bite my nails. My agent gives me notes, I rewrite if necessary, and then it goes to my publisher. I reckon it takes about a month to plan, three months to write, a couple of weeks to edit once my agent has seen it – then we’re good to go. Except that I’m usually in various stages with other books. You can bet your life that as you hit the final straight, a copy edit or proofread for an earlier book will arrive, so I’m afraid that drags it out, sometimes for months.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

I used to use paper until I found a wonderful app called iAnnotate created by a company called Branchfire. It is such an amazing piece of kit, allowing me to annotate (but not change) a manuscript. It’s really useful for when I’m on the move. I have it on two iPads so that when I’m reading and making notes, so is my partner. Did I mention that she is my first editor and chief collaborator, an unlimited source of murderous thoughts and anecdotes?

What happens now that first draft is done?

I crack open a bottle. :)

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

You can find Mari on her website, Twitter and Amazon

Monument to Murder

monumentWhen skeletal remains are found beneath the fortified walls of an ancient castle on Northumberland’s rugged coastline, DCI Kate Daniels calls on a forensic anthropologist to help identify the corpse.

Meanwhile, newly widowed prison psychologist Emily McCann finds herself drawn into the fantasy of convicted sex offender, Walter Fearon. As his mind games become more and more intense, is it possible that Daniels’ case has something to do with his murderous past? With his release imminent, what exactly does he have in mind for Emily?

As Daniels encounters dead end after dead end and the body count rises, it soon becomes apparent that someone is hiding more than one deadly secret…


As usual, if you want to take part in the First Draft series, just let me know! You can find a list of the previous Q&A’s Here.

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