Revising A Novel And Making It Fresh For A Current Market

Today I have another guest post for you. The subject is revisiting a past novel after a period of time to see if it can be revised and made fresh for a current market.

I’m pleased to welcome Christopher West to the blog.

Christopher WestChristopher writes in a range of genres, starting with travel (Journey to the Middle Kingdom), then crime (the China Quartet), then business (the Beermat books) and history.  he likes to look at history through unusual lenses: he’s done two books telling the stories of the UK and America through their postage stamps, and now its ‘Hello Europe!‘, which uses the Eurovision Song Contest as a way of telling the story of Europe since 1956.

He also ghost-writes and co-authors, most recently with NLP / TA  trainer and entrepreneur Robbie Steinhouse on a series of books (his favourite of these is Brilliant Decision Making). He enjoys helping people develop book projects.

Christopher lives in North Herts with his wife and daughter, in a house that was once the country cottage of a remarkable Victorian / Edwardian doctor, James Cantlie, and which was visited several times by his close friend Sun Yat Sen, who is regarded as the Father of Modern China in both mainland China and Taiwan.

Over to you Christopher…

With the rise of the ebook, I decided to revisit a crime series I wrote back in the 1990s. The China Quartet had been liked by critics and sold fairly well – but I’d let it run out of steam for various reasons. As I reread the books, I wondered if I would find them dated and best left on the shelf.

I’m glad to say I didn’t. The series, set in 1990s China, actually seemed to have improved with age. No longer ‘contemporary’, it provided a fascinating view into that country as it began to turn from Maoist backwater to the industrial superpower it is today. In its world, Beijing’s streets were still thronged with ‘Flying Pigeon’ bicycles, but the wrecking balls were beginning to move into the city’s old hutong alleyways. So a tick there.

I had to ensure I still had rights to the texts: luckily three of the four contracts had been signed in the days before ebooks, so there was just a bit of work to do there.

I thought of doing the e-publishing myself. Various gurus say this is a doddle, but actually it isn’t: most of the people who do this best seem to have IT backgrounds. I was lucky to find an author-friendly independent e-publisher. Another tick.

Then there’s the business of reworking the text. This was great fun. I found I could take out chunks of information that I’d thought were essential, and that somehow that information was still in the text anyway, at a subtler level. Less is still more, after thirty years as a professional wordsmith. My new editor was keen on upping the pace by taking colons and semis out of the text (not totally, but quite ruthlessly). Swallowing my love of subtly balanced sentences I did this, and found the narrative did gain pace as a result. I also felt that shorter paragraphs would suit the Kindle format – no doubt for a literary novel this is not necessary, but for popular fiction, albeit intelligent popular fiction, this worked.

There were one or two ‘but how would he know that?’ moments – none of them fatal to the narrative (a sentence somewhere sorted all them). I also changed the name of the detective – since starting the series, I’d read more Chinese mythology, and wanted to feed that back into the text. Bao Zheng is a name that all Chinese will associate with a passion for justice.

The joy of seeing the book on sale again in its new format, with a new cover, was immense. And so is the pleasure of telling people all about it, all over again. Death of a Blue Lantern, the first Inspector Bao Zheng book, is now available as an ebook. Gosh, that feels good!

Death of a Blue Lantern by Christopher West

Death of a Blue Lantern cover artwork “Everything one can ask for in a crime novel ‒ pace, excitement, and a skilfully contrasted set of characters.” Simon Brett

“The ambivalent morality of modern China is intelligently exposed, but not at the expense of a first-class crime story.” Marcel Berlins, The Times

Beijing, 1991. Detective Inspector Bao Zheng just wants a pleasant evening away from his nation’s booming capital and goes to enjoy some traditional opera. Instead of a rest, he finds himself with a murder on his hands. Who is the anonymous young man stabbed to death in the back row? How close are the victim’s links to the renascent Triads? What is the connection with the glamorous Jasmine Ren, who seems obsessed with life in the west? Is there a connection to the theft of priceless artefacts from an archaeological dig north of the city? The further Bao looks into the mystery, the more he finds himself unable to trust anyone around him. He must act alone and venture unprotected into the capital’s underworld. At the same time, the once-loyal Party member must wrestle with the agonizing politics of post-Tiananmen China. Dare he voice his true feelings about the events of June 4, 1989? Or does it not matter? Has someone already decided he is expendable?
Amazon UK, and Amazon AU


Researching Policing For Crime Novels

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote a policing post on the blog. I’ve been busy trying to get Hannah 2 completed and these posts take a bit of time to pull together and it’s time I have been directing on the manuscript. But, this topic was something that came up as I was filling in some gaps I’d left blank to go back and check and I thought it would make a readable blog post. (There will be exciting news on both Hannah 2 and Shallow Waters next Tuesday, so do come back then!)

cop-1016240_1920Anyway, one of the things I was going back to fill in was when a uniform officer was using their call sign to shout the control room. I knew the call sign, but I didn’t know if it was public knowledge, so I researched it on the internet. I found a Freedom of Information request from someone asking for these call signs and the response was that in the interest of security they couldn’t release them. So I had my answer. The call signs used in Hannah 2 are completely made up.

It’s what I do when using policing techniques in my writing, because it’s all so natural to me, having worked it, I have to check the internet, ask the question as though I don’t know, to see if the information is in the public domain. A lot of it I know is already out there because I’ve read it in crime novels or I’ve seen it in TV programmes, but there are things I check – like the call signs.

So, if you’re simply interested in policing and what and how and why, or you’re writing crime, here are some great sites that may be of interest or useful to you.

HOLMES 2 – the computer system you have read about or seen on TV that police use to hold all the information, cross-check it all and allocate ‘actions’. This website, though it looks very basic, if you go into it, there are some fantastic PDF’s that you can print out and keep that tell you a lot you need to know about the running of a Major Incident Room. A brilliant website.

College of Policing – Now, the college isn’t just about teaching police, they are about helping and supporting police, in what they do. It is mainly a police focused site as it has a library on it only accessible to officers and staff, but there is a page Here with some research papers available that may be of interest.

NCA (National Crime Agency) – The UK law enforcement’s agency to cut serious and organised crime. They have national and international reach and the website has a great deal of information relating to many topics covering human trafficking, drugs, firearms and cyber crime, to name but a few.

CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) – For all your legal, court charging questions.

This last one is simply the best. Ask The Police. Really. That’s what the site is called and it’s brilliant. It covers everything and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can submit your question. In fact, you won’t need these blog posts anymore!

I hope you enjoy these and don’t get too lost down the rabbit hole of the internet! Which one are you heading to first?

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Tony Schumacher

Today I’m excited to welcome crime writer Anthony Schumacher to the blog to talk about his first draft process.

Tony Schumacher author picTony lives in Liverpool England, his first two novels The Darkest Hour, and The British Lion have been published worldwide by Harper Collins and he is currently working on his third. Before writing he was a miserable failure at school, travelled the world, was a builder, a bar man, a bin man, and a British Bobby (he’s also had lots of jobs that didn’t begin with the letter “B” but they are far too many to list here).
He’s written for The Guardian, the Huffington Post, and both Liverpool and Manchester Confidential magazines. He’s been a stand-up comedian, acted in a movie you won’t have seen, and made some films for the BBC Politics Show. He can often be heard on BBC Radio, LBC radio and singing in the bath.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

Buy coffee. A lot of coffee! Once the kettle is on (if it is a book I’m working on, the poor thing never gets a minute rest) I normally dive into a first few chapters without giving it too much thought. I like to have something physical, something that actually looks like a book, and once I have that I can relax a little.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I’m a little bit like a boxer in the first round of a fight. I like to skirt around the ropes and size up my opponent before I start swinging. Once that first round is out the way… look out!

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Like I say, I’m almost blind when it comes to deep plotting at the beginning. I like to have at least two chapters on the hard drive, and a sense of feeling and location. Once that is done I often take a few days off from actual writing, and maybe then I’ll start jotting down ideas that will flesh the book out. Invariably these pretty much get jettisoned as I go along though, as I work new ideas tend to come and go to take their place. My poor editor seldom gets the book I told him he was getting!

How important is research to you?

Very, if only to fend off the pedants of the world! I once made a mistake about the brake lights of an obscure British car, about two weeks after the book came out a guy on a farm in Iowa USA, sent me a photo of his own car (the only one in the USA apparently) with the correct location of the brake light circled!
My first three books are set in the 1940’s England, so I owe it to the reader to put some time in about the landscape of the world they take place in. I’m also a tragic history buff, so the political and social aspects I find fascinating anyway. I’m guessing even if I didn’t write for that era, I’d still be reading about it.

How do you go about researching?

I read and read and read. My desk is invariably laden with history books, and obscure personal memoirs (which I often find best for obscure details.) I also watch a lot of old British film (I like to pretend this is research, but I do love them!) I can often spot details in the background of movies, or Pathe news footage, that is contemporary to my work.

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

I have a ridiculous complicated system that seldom works! It includes lots of clip-binders full of handwritten notes, printed documents and pictures held together with wooden clothes pegs (a trick I learned when I was a copper, they are much better that paperclips!) My agent (even though he is in New York) is also pretty good at finding me stuff and mailing it over. I also have a pretty good memory for detail. I can recall bits of research I originally didn’t think was important months after I spotted it.
I’ve no idea where I just put my glasses though!

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I beat and stomp on it. Seriously, I kick the living hell out of it until it is finished. At the beginning I may have an idea where it is going, but more often than not I don’t know how I am getting there. It can be quite scary at times (especially for my editor) but I think for me it keeps the story whipping along. I don’t feel like I am filling in gaps between plot events, I feel like I am charging into the unknown, which can be very exciting.

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

I don’t like to speak in the morning until I’ve started working (this may explain why I live alone!) My day normally starts with a hot shower, coffee (there is a theme here!) which I drink in the garden while staring at some weeds. Once that is out the way, I make a fresh coffee, then hit the book. I try to write at least an hour before I open the emails/facebook/twitter etc. Once I’ve done all that I’ll spend an hour looking through the papers online, and then start writing again! This second bout tends to be the longer and more productive of the day.

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

The outside world is dead to me! Honestly, it just doesn’t exist at all. When I am writing I am in my fictional universe I actually see it in the front of my brain just above my eyes, I live in it.

What does your workspace look like?

A mess! I’ve just looked around my office and realised that I may need a cleaner!

Tony Schumacher embarrassing desk

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I like to charge through chunks, maybe say sixty or seventy pages, then I’ll have a quick tidy up, nothing too deep though, a bit like the office clean I’ve just guiltily done!

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

I know when I’m done, it may be five hundred words, or it may be five thousand, but I don’t care. I sometimes wonder if that chasing of a set figure leads to problems with block?

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

My first book took about eight months, and my second about five. I often put the difference down to having an editor on the second, and me wanting to show off!

Tony Schumacher first draft The British LionIn what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

I kind of switch about between pc and paper. I’ll print off chunks of it and sit and read it in the garden or in a café. My second book I did the second draft read through entirely on the pc, and the third draft entirely on paper, which I really enjoyed, so I’ll probably do the same when I finish my work in progress.

I just can’t get into e-readers, it isn’t a crazy traditional hatred or anything, I just don’t warm to them.

What happens now that first draft is done?

I send a copy to my agent, who invariably says it is terrible (I think it is a cod-psychology thing) and a copy to my editor, who invariably says it is amazing (see above!)

Then I go the pub and try to rekindle old friendships with people who haven’t seen me for months.

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

The pleasure was all mine!

You can find Tony on his website, Facebook and Twitter. 

The British Lion

Brit Lion covIn this crackling alternate history thriller set in the years after World War II—the riveting sequel to The Darkest Hour—London detective John Rossett joins forces with his Nazi boss to save the commander’s kidnapped daughter as the Germans race to make the first atomic bomb.

With the end of the war, the victorious Germans now occupy a defeated Great Britain. In London, decorated detective John Henry Rossett, now reporting to the Nazi victors, lies in a hospital bed recovering from gunshot wounds. Desperate to avoid blame over the events that led to the shooting, his boss, Ernst Koehler, covers up the incident. But when Koehler’s wife and daughter are kidnapped by American spies, the terrified German turns to the only man he trusts to help him—a shrewd cop who will do whatever is necessary to get the job done: John Rossett.

Surviving his brush with death, Rossett agrees to save his friend’s daughter. But in a chaotic new world ruled by treachery and betrayal, doing the right thing can get a man killed. Caught between the Nazi SS, the violent British resistance, and Americans with very uncertain loyalties, Rossett must secretly make his way out of London and find Ruth Hartz, a Jewish scientist working in Cambridge. Spared from death because of her intellect and expertise, she is forced to work on developing the atom bomb for Germany. Though she knows it could end any hope of freedom in Europe and maybe even the world, Ruth must finish the project—if she, too, wants to survive.


Recently Read – Follow Me by Angela Clarke

Follow Me by Angela Clarke 

Genre; Crime


The ‘Hashtag Murderer’ posts chilling cryptic clues online, pointing to their next target. Taunting the police. Enthralling the press. Capturing the public’s imagination.

But this is no virtual threat.

As the number of his followers rises, so does the body count.

Eight years ago two young girls did something unforgivable. Now ambitious police officer Nasreen and investigative journalist Freddie are thrown together again in a desperate struggle to catch this cunning, fame-crazed killer. But can they stay one step ahead of him? And can they escape their own past?

Time’s running out. Everyone is following the #Murderer. But what if he is following you?


My Thoughts:

If you’re here reading this blog then this book is going to interest you because you’re aware of the online community, the worlds that thrive in it, how we all interact and how, when circumstances are right, things can go horribly, horribly wrong. The online world is a melting pot of personalities and yet, for the most part, we thrive side by side. It’s when there is something to see, like car crash TV, that social media gets a life all of its own and this is explored here.

Clarke turns social media into a terrifyingly dark place. You won’t look at your accounts the same way again. Or, you will at least wonder who is on the other side of that screen you are talking to.

I was hooked and couldn’t stop turning the pages. It was compulsive.

With a memorable and unique protagonist, Follow Me comes at the crime novel from a slightly different angle with down on her luck, living on a sofa in London, journalist Freddie. She’s brilliant to read. She’s real. You know she’s out there. Mouldy plates and a pillow on a sofa, trying to make her way, trying to make it big. Well, not much comes bigger than this.

Clarke explores the phenomenon of social media celebrity while tapped into your fears of the unknown.

There’s a murderer out there and he’s hiding in plain sight. He’s telling the world all about it. You can follow him and watch. But you really don’t want him to follow you back…


Follow Me is out in ebook format on 3rd December and out in paperback on 31st December. With thanks to the author and publisher for my copy.

Translating Your Own Novel by Gwen Parrott

Today I welcome to the blog crime author, Gwen Parrott who is going to talk to us about the process of translating her own novel.

Gwen ParrottAlthough now resident in the city of Bristol, Gwen Parrott was born and raised in rural Pembrokeshire, at the far south-west tip of Wales. Working as a translator and having  written for Welsh–language radio, television and theatre, her first love is detective novels. It pains her that Della Arthur, the protagonist ofDead White, is a lot thinner and braver than she is, but such is life.

Over to you Gwen…

It isn’t normal, is it, to translate your own novel? In my innocence, I thought it was. I supposed that all my Welsh speaking compatriot authors would naturally be translating their work at the first opportunity so that friends and family who couldn’t read Welsh would be able to appreciate (or, more likely, criticise) their magnum opus. But the authors who do so are surprisingly few in number, even when they are translators by trade, like me.

Perhaps I should explain how it happens that someone can translate their own novel. Writing a novel is a labour-intensive enterprise, which suggests that you would only wish to do it in the language that comes most naturally to you, that is, your native tongue. But what if you have two native tongues? What if, from your earliest childhood, you have lived in two languages, which have been reinforced by education and circumstances? This is the position for over half a million Welsh speakers. I’m not claiming that their abilities in both languages are equal, but they are all bilingual. Having said that, being bilingual does not necessarily mean that you are a linguist. It appears that if you learn more than one language during that precious window in early life when you are receptive to it and continue to speak both, you can function to a very high level in both languages without displaying the least talent for learning a third. Other people claim that the habit of bilingualism helps in the mental gymnastics required to assimilate more languages.

It never occurred to me, as I said, not to translate my Welsh language novels into English. I started translating them many years ago as a member of a writing group here in Bristol. Too lazy to type out a translation of a chapter every couple of weeks to read to the group, I would translate verbally from Welsh on the spot. It was painful at first but I got better at it as time went on, there were fewer occasions where I blanked out completely and, gradually, I began spot places where I needed to edit or enlarge. I realised that one huge benefit of translating your own novel is that it acts as another layer of editing. It is as if conveying it in another language clears your mind. It divorces you from your emotional attachment to the original, and your only concern is to transmit the sense and style of it. If the original doesn’t allow you to do that, because of lack of clarity or any other reason, you need to go back and review it, and strangely, I find that I’m less reluctant to tackle this than when I’m just doing a read-through. For me, it is more effective than the most careful reading in the original language. I don’t get swept up in the story and ignore vital mistakes.

As for the particular languages concerned, they couldn’t be more different. Welsh is phonetic, ancient, inflected, grammatically complex and historically rural, while English is comparatively modern, has very little grammar in comparison but a vast range of synonyms borrowed from every language under the sun and a difficult spelling system as a result. Welsh is irritatingly precise where English is annoyingly vague. Welsh sentences very often start with the verb in which a personal pronoun is included – the danger then is that every corresponding English sentence starts with ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’. You are forever juggling word order to overcome this.

But the real difficulties are ones which I imagine all translators face. It has often struck me as I read yet another Scandinavian blockbuster that those countries are small, sparsely populated and mountainous, just like Wales, so that when I read a phrase like ‘ he said in his thick Skäne accent’ I do wonder what the Swedish person actually said or, more precisely, whether what the Swedish person said was instantly recognisable to Swedish speakers as being Skäne dialect, but that it can’t be rendered into English, so that the translator has had to add a phrase to make the point. Dead White is set in North Pembrokeshire where we speak a dialect all of our own. Readers would only have to see one sentence of dialogue to realise this – but it only works in Welsh. In English, there are really only two recognisable Welsh accents, North and South. In Welsh itself there are half a dozen or more, as distinct as, say, Geordie or Scouse in English. I have long pondered whether I should point out where characters from other areas come from in the English version, or whether that is making heavy weather of it. Something that is so easy to convey in Welsh becomes a real sticking point in English.

The other puzzle, which was one I didn’t really recognise until I was on top of it, as it were, is how to convey cultural differences. You wouldn’t think that there would be a lot of them, but with a novel set in 1947 in a small village in Wales, you are faced with the dilemma of how to explain the busy religious life of dedicated chapel-goers. What could I call all the different meetings that took place during the year? Their names are largely untranslatable again, and so much part of Welsh culture that even modern readers would recognise them, even if they’d never set foot in a chapel. But in English, you are reduced to ‘Singing Festival’ or ‘Whitsun Meetings’. It feels very flat somehow, perhaps because it has no resonance out of its cultural context. It made me realise that you always do lose something in translation, and it’s inevitable, unless you’re going to spend ages explaining everything. You can’t help wondering what we’re all missing by not being able to read Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic.

At least I’ve never had to agonise over the author’s meaning and purpose. Well, I wouldn’t, would I?   It’s my meaning and my purpose – if I don’t know, who does? To be fair, it also means that they are my gaffes and my clumsy phrases. I sometimes feel, when I read other people’s novels in English translations that it’s a pity that the authors aren’t in a position to comment on what’s been done. As translators, we all knock ourselves out trying to render the original convincingly. I feel lucky that the only person I have to consult with is myself.

Dead White

dead whiteDuring the harsh winter of 1947, Della Arthur arrives at a remote Pembrokeshire village in the middle of a snowstorm to take up her new job as headteacher of the local primary school. Losing her way from the train station, she comes across a farmhouse and takes shelter there. After finding two dead bodies inside, Della struggles to discover the truth behind their deaths. She soon realises that in this close-knit community, secrets and lies lurk beneath the surface of respectability.

Della must choose who to trust among the inhabitants of this remote village – should she reveal what she knows to the sardonic minister of the local chapel, Huw Richards, or the Italian prisoner of war, Enzo Mazzati? Della finds herself under siege on all sides, and encumbered by an unwelcome lodger, a missing colleague and a disturbed pupil. It is only when her own life is threatened that she understands how dangerous her discoveries in the farmhouse really were.

You can find Gwen on Amazon.

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Helen Cadbury

Today I’m really pleased to welcome crime writer, Helen Cadbury to the blog to talk about her first draft process.

Helen-8-3Helen is a British crime writer whose new novel, Bones in the Nest, second in the Sean Denton series, is out now.

Her debut, To Catch a Rabbit, was joint winner of the Northern Crime Award 2012. First published by Moth Publishing, it was re-released in a new edition by  Allison and Busby. Helen Cadbury was chosen as an Amazon Rising Star, best debuts of January 2015. WHSmith readers have voted To Catch a Rabbit  no.12 in top crime books which they’d like to see on screen!

When you decide to write something new, what’s the first thing that you do?

I will try to write a brief synopsis, but this may be as little as a paragraph. It will probably be followed by several bullet points that pose ‘what if’ questions. I often use spider diagrams to get all the early elements and key characters down on the page. Then I can stand back and see how they interrelate.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I am constantly in search of a routine that will, one day, become second nature, but it’s still eluding me. In the early stages of a new piece of work I do some pre-thinking, it’s not as fixed as actual planning, but I also do a lot of free writing. For my third book, I wrote quite a few early scenes, which might not make it to the final edit, because I want to experiment with as many voices as possible. When those voices peter out, I’ll go back and work out which parts of their narrative can be delivered by someone else, or don’t need to be spoken at all. I originally trained and worked as an actor, and used improvisation in much of the work I created. I’m experimenting with the writer’s equivalent of improvising scenes without the pressure of knowing where they fit. They might just be there to create backstory or to allow me to understand what’s happened to the characters between the scenes.

Helen draftPen and paper or straight to keyboard?

Usually straight to keyboard but, if I’m stuck, I sometimes take a notebook and do some free writing with a pen. I then find that I can pick up the thread from the handwritten version when I type it up.

How important is research to you?

It’s important to remember that we’re writing fiction and that too much research can weigh too heavily on the narrative. What interests me is finding creative reasons why a character might behave in the way they do, especially if that means they’re acting outside of the rules.

How do you go about researching?

I think research covers a huge range of listening, reading, asking questions and overhearing, in addition to more specific library-based research skills, internet trawling or physically visiting locations. If I’m writing about a setting for which I don’t know the correct terminology, then I do library or Internet research to familiarise myself with the language. Mostly though, I rely on prior knowledge, which I’m aware might need some deeper exploration. With my first book I researched after the fact. By which I mean, I wrote what I wanted to and then I checked both police and legal sources to make sure I hadn’t written anything completely implausible.

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

I’ve recently started to use Scrivener. I also have a box file and a ringbinder and numerous pieces of paper, magazine cuttings and files on the computer called things like ‘research ideas.’ I’m hoping that using Scrivener will help me keep everything in one place and make it easier to search.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape.

I would like to be able to say that I write from the first word to the last word without looking back and end up with 100,000 words ready to be edited. Sadly it’s not like that. I start to write each scene more or less in the order in which they occur in the story. If my mind jumps ahead, I might sketch out a brief scene description on an index card, then go back to where I was. I struggle towards the halfway point but once I make a decision about how the story is going to end, working towards the last chapter becomes easier. The first draft will have a combination of very rough, unedited work and some more polished scenes. I have a tendency to have a brilliant new idea about half way through only to find in the editing process that I need go back to my original premise.

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

If there are no interruptions I can certainly lose track of time and it’s a lovely feeling to be immersed in the world of my characters. But unless I go away on a writing retreat, I find it hard to create uninterrupted space and time. Mostly I distract myself though, with social media, talking to the cat, going to the fridge. I need to work on getting lost more often.

What does your workspace look like?

My day job used to be home-based, so I have a reasonably well-equipped office in a room at the back of my house. However, I’ve had to banish all the trappings of my freelance life from the desk area, to keep it clear for writing. It is a room with three outside walls and not very well constructed, so it can get very cold. If the sun is on the other side of the house, I take my laptop and sit on the sofa to work. I can be very nomadic and often find the change of location helps unstick something in the writing.

Edit as you go or just keep getting the words out?

Edit as I go. Although I have to resist the urge to overdo this, because I can throw the baby out with the bathwater if I’m not careful.

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

This is a double-edged sword. It can very motivating to achieve a massive word count in one sitting, but it can also be the wrong thing to do, if what’s needed is some slowing down and thinking. Churning out 5000 words if they’re the wrong ones and you have to cut them is dispiriting. I’ve learned that the important thing is to keep in contact with the work every day (of possible) – so little and often may be more useful than a spectacular word count.

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

My first book took at least three years to write a first version I was happy with and then another two years to get published. I was learning to write; I was writing plays and poetry and a YA novel: I was working and raising my kids. So in those last two years, it rested at first and then still needed a good set of edits to be publishable. My second book probably took eighteen months, still with plenty of other things going on. I think the first draft for me, now you’re making me think about it, is not a defined moment, partly as I edit a lot going along. I have no idea how long (or how short) a time it would take me if I wrote full-time, without a part-time job and family commitments, but I would like to get into the routine of a book a year.

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

It’s very useful to have a version you can’t tinker with, so PDF or printed on paper is useful. I have used up hundreds of pounds worth of ink by printing, so I now try to keep it to PDF until I’m sure this is the version I need on paper. Then it’s great to be able to scribble on it, stick post-its in it, lay it out on the floor. It’s a relief to the eyes to turn the screen off too!

The Cat and the Edits

What happens now that first draft is done?

This is where the fun starts. When you’ve got the whole thing to stand back and look at, you can see the gaps, or where something needs clarifying. Hopefully you’re not looking at a terrible plot hole that can’t be sewn up. I have shown fairly early drafts to other people who might spot something obvious or give feedback about a particular character or have a research specialism. For example, an early draft of To Catch a Rabbit went to a PCSO, who gave me a plot-changing piece of feedback, and Bones in the Nest went to a serving response officer, who me gave a great deal of encouragement and some wonderfully useful day-to-day research ideas. The hardest part of writing a novel is trusting yourself to get to the end of the first draft and not worry too soon about it all being perfect. It’s about constructing something rough and ready that you can go back and beautify.

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

Thank you for asking me to write this piece, it’s been very helpful to reflect on my own process.

You can find Helen on her Website.

To Catch a Rabbit and Bones in the Nest.

Bones in the Nest

bonesThe second book in the Sean Denton series. A young woman is trying to rebuild her life after prison, but someone is out there who won’t let her forget what she’s done. Racial tension is bubbling up on the Chasebridge Estate and Sean is drawn back into a web of family and neighbours he’d rather avoid. When a body is found in the stairwell of a block of flats, Sean is right at the heart of the case.

Recently Read – Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Genre; Crime

LizOliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

My Thoughts:

This is another great book. I’m not sure I can do it justice. It’s only 231 pages long, which goes to show you don’t need a story to be long and drawn out to be absolutely brilliant.

It’s the thought that goes into every sentence. The very first one of the book will hook you in.

I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.

And from there you will just keep reading. Keep turning the pages.

The chapters are from the points of view of Oliver and from people who knew Oliver in his distant past and recent past/current day. It really is a story of unravelling and not just of the person that Oliver is but how that day, where Alice was beaten into a coma, came to be.

We learn of Oliver’s childhood, his youth and past loves. We learn of Alice’s family and her loves. We learn how they all cross over and we learn it all in only 231 pages.

It’s wonderful. Clever. Uncomfortable at times. Sparse and neat. It’s everything all wrapped up neatly. This is writing at its best when you don’t need to drag it out any longer.

I could easily see this being made on the screen somewhere.

Another must read from me.

Have you read it? What did you think?



In Conversation – Helen Giltrow Asks Stav Sherez About His Redrafting Process

In April of this year Stav Sherez wrote about his first draft process for this blog – you can find the post Here. But that post only took us up to the end of his ‘zero’ draft. When crime writer Helen Giltrow – already a fan of Stav’s Carrigan and Miller series – read it, she immediately wanted to know how he approached the task of redrafting, once that first draft was finished. So she tracked him down at a launch party in London. Helen writes, ‘I’d never met Stav before, but I couldn’t ignore the chance to find out how Eleven Days came to be written – it’s a twisty, clever, disturbing and ambitious book which operates on so many different levels and pushes so many boundaries. Stav had talked about how he wrote a first draft; I wanted to know what happened next.’

Stav’s kindly agreed to come back to the blog, to answer Helen’s questions.

When you’ve finished that first draft (your ‘zero’ draft), how much do you know about the book you’re going to write? Is the story fixed at that point? The theme? The characters?

All I know when I finish the zero draft is that this is the wrong way to write the book. It’s a series of failures that, hopefully, will lead to later understanding of what needs to be done. It normally takes me about 5 drafts and nearly a year to really get an idea of what the book is going to be. The theme and setting are the things that come first and probably do assert themselves in the zero draft but the story I’m still working on and changing radically in the 10th draft. Writing, for me, is a process of exploration – what works, what’s interesting, what style to use – and the luxury of drafts is that books can grow organically and unexpectedly.

Do you redraft the whole manuscript from beginning to end with each pass? Or do you find you’re focusing mainly on one aspect or element per draft – for instance a specific viewpoint, or the way a theme develops through the book?

Yes, beginning to end, takes about a month. Ten of those. Going from beginning to end is the only way I can keep it all in my head and it means every sentence gets about 30 or 40 run-throughs. Each draft does add another layer however, whether it’s personal life, themes, character, plot or language. Every time you see more holes to plug, a better way to say something, a more interesting plot twist.

How systematic is your redrafting process? Do you take a set approach each time, or is the process shaped by the demands of the particular book you’re working on?

stav redPretty systematic in that I always have exactly the same process: Morning: Type up the previous day’s revisions.

Afternoon: Print out 40 pages, 5 hours of close editing with red pen.

Evening: Sofa. Darkness. Think about the chapters I’ve just edited, making notes and snatches of dialogue and new ideas etc.

Repeat. For two years.

Have you ever found yourself contemplating radical changes to the book you’re working on at a very late stage? And if so, what did you do?

Almost every time! And it’s incredibly depressing and frustrating but you always know deep down that the book needs it and so that’s what I do. In the end, the book, once it’s out there, has to be as good as it can be and I always think you’re only cheating yourself by shirking the hard work of restructuring a novel that isn’t working.

I find when I’ve been through multiple passes, one of my biggest battles is to maintain a sense of how a reader might feel when they read that text for the first time. Is that ever an issue for you, and if so how do you deal with it?

No. I’m way too close to it like you to have any idea what a reader may feel. Plus, every reader feels differently, so it’s impossible to second guess. I can only judge by my own reaction – if the book is boring me, then something’s wrong.

Have you always worked this way? Or has your drafting process changed over time? And is it still changing?

More or less. But I’ve got much better at being more systemized and working harder. I used to be lazier but as you get older you have to start speeding up because life does.

If you get stuck during a draft – for whatever reason – what do you do?

Cry. Wail. Eat chocolate.

At what point in the drafting process (if any) do you call in other readers?

About 18 months to 2 years in, I’m normally happy to show it to my agent. She always makes important comments that then make the book much better. Then, my editor gets it. Other than that, there are no other readers.

Do you know instinctively when a book is finished?

Yes, I think so. In the first few drafts, the page is literally covered in red ink, 50-70 corrections per page – when I’m only correcting commas and hyphens then the book is done (for now – after a few weeks, I always want to change it, and even edit old books before readings.) No novel is perfect. You can always make it better.

What do you think is the most common problem new writers face with the drafting process? What advice would you give them?

The problem I faced when I was starting out was I didn’t realise how hard it would be! You have to put in the hours, and to do it every day and to draft and redraft and redraft until something decent comes out. You have to be rigorous with yourself, never be content with something you’ve written, always strive to work harder and produce better books.


stavStav is published by Faber & Faber. His debut, The Devil’s Playground (2004), was described by James Sallis as ‘altogether extraordinary, it introduces a major new talent’, and was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasy Dagger Award. His second novel The Black Monastery (2009) was described as ‘dynamite fiction’ in the Independent and ‘spectacular’ by Laura Wilson in the Guardian.

Eleven Days by Stav Sherez

11A fire rages through a sleepy West London square, engulfing a small convent hidden away among the residential houses. When DI Jack Carrigan and DS Geneva Miller arrive at the scene they discover eleven bodies, yet there were only supposed to be ten nuns in residence.

It’s eleven days before Christmas, and despite their superiors wanting the case solved before the holidays, Carrigan and Miller start to suspect that the nuns were not who they were made out to be. Why did they make no move to escape the fire? Who is the eleventh victim, whose body was found separate to the others? And where is the convent’s priest, the one man who can answer their questions?

Fighting both internal politics and the church hierarchy, Carrigan and Miller unravel the threads of a case which reaches back to the early 1970s, and the upsurge of radical Liberation Theology in South America – with echoes of the Shining Path, and contemporary battles over oil, land and welfare. Meanwhile, closer to home, there’s a new threat in the air, one the police are entirely unprepared for…

You can find Stav on Faber, Twitter and his Amazon Author page.

Orion Authors
Orion Authors

Helen Giltrow is a former bookseller and editor whose writing has been shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award and the Daily Telegraph’s Novel in a Year competition. Her debut novel The Distance – a dark suspense thriller set in the world of criminal espionage, with a strong female lead – sold on the eve of the 2012 London Book Fair after a five-way UK auction; US and Canadian auctions followed. Translation rights have since been sold in nine territories including Germany, the Netherlands and Japan. She lives in Oxford.

The Distance by Helen Giltrow

the-distanceCharlotte Alton has put her old life behind her. The life where she bought and sold information, unearthing secrets buried too deep for anyone else to find, or fabricating new identities for people who need their histories erased.

But now she has been offered one more job. To get a hit-man in to an experimental new prison and take out someone who according to the records isn’t there at all.

It’s impossible. A suicide mission. And quite possibly a set-up.

So why can’t she say no?

You can find Helen on Twitter, Orion and Amazon.

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Katherine Hayton

Today I am pleased to welcome Katherine Hayton to the blog to talk about her first draft process.

SelfieKatherine is 42-years-old and works in insurance, doesn’t have children or pets, can’t drive, has lived in Christchurch her entire life, and currently resides two minutes’ walk from where she was born.

Her passion is writing and reading.

Instead of skimming widely across any and all genres she has narrowed down and done a deep-dive into crime fiction which has been her favourite for over a decade.

She still finds new and interesting things with every book that she picks up and is trying to bring something new and unique to me to the genre.

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

I ponder on it a little while. When I’m trying to fall asleep at night I’ll poke at the original idea from a few different angles and try to see what else it might lead to. If I’m still interested after a week or so, I’ll either jot it down for later if I’m already working on something, or start getting it down.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I have a short process of procrastination where I’ll sometimes design tag lines and covers for the unwritten story but usually I get excited enough about the idea to put those aside after a short tinker and start writing.

ManuscriptPen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Straight to the keyboard. If I write things down as notes I’ve worked out I never look at them again so I don’t bother, unless it’s something I just need to remember and I don’t have my keyboard handy, like when I’m travelling on the bus or at night when I’ve already put the laptop away. My hand aches just at the thought of writing out whole scenes on paper.

How important is research to you?

Very important and very interesting. Usually when I’m not sure what the scene should look like or what the expected course of action would be for someone in a certain role I’ll just stop there and go hunting for information so I don’t accidentally muck it all up. I’ll also read up on things that are important to the main characters of my manuscripts before I head in and start typing. That forms part of my thinking about the original idea, people, and places.

How do you go about researching?

The Internet. I try not to do anything IRL if I can get it done online. It’s amazing what people upload onto YouTube if you want a close-up of a particular place or setting. I’m currently working on a new novel where the main character is a Police Detective in Christchurch so I’ve had a fine time getting video clips taken inside the new central Christchurch station including closeups of the cells as well as a number of reception areas for a lot of different stations. The Police have a monthly magazine which is full of helpful information as well. I can waste a lot of time researching things far more thoroughly than I need to just because it’s so interesting finding out what other people do in their lines of work.

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

In my brain. If I ever need to refer to anything again I can just search again and probably find something even more interesting. I used to write down all my ideas because I was terrified they’d disappear and I’d never be able to recall them again but time has shown that they stick.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I just write from start to finish finding out what the plot is going to be as I get there. For the most part I start a new novel with an idea of the protagonist, the antagonist, the beginning and a few roads the story could lead down from there. I’ve tried plotting books out prior to embarking on the journey, but until I start writing the characters down I don’t know them intimately enough to know how they’ll react so any plot outlines end up in the rubbish anyway, so I don’t waste the time anymore or try to force it.

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

My laptop is the only thing I need although I appreciate a bit of peace and quiet. When I’m working full-time I try to get an hour of writing done before I start work and then tinker a bit in the evening if I feel like it. I’ve taken a break from work for six months at the moment, so as long as I write 5,000 words in a day I don’t have any particular ritual or habits. Except, if I’m writing I pause the TV.

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

Most of the time writing feels like effort and I’m acutely aware that I’m doing it, but there are periods of time every day where I get lost in the characters or the action or get entranced with a backstory that I never guessed existed except it was quite clear that it also had to because it explains everything; at those times it feels like pure joy. When I’m thinking about writing afterward that’s the feeling that stays and it’s always a bit of shock when I sit down an hour later or a day later and it’s back to being a chore.

What does your workspace look like?

I work sitting on my couch which is brown leather with a yellow double lambskin covering it and my laptop plopped in the seat next to me. I sit cross-legged until I can’t feel my feet anymore and then I get to take a break to have a stretch. I do have a desk and chair in another room with a window looking out over my cherry trees which seems like it should be perfect, but I never wrote much sitting there and the desk now can’t be sat in because all my gadget boxes are stored under there along with a tangle of old cords and plugs. I have my laptop open all day to browse the internet and look up things as they occur to me so it just makes sense to write in the same place.


Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

Apart from the odd word or two that obviously come out wrong I just get all the words out. I have a different mindset when I’m making things up than when I’m looking for errors or structural integrity so it makes sense for me to keep them entirely separate. Often I throw out large paragraphs, scenes or even chapters when I’m editing to keep the writing and plot as tight as they can be so it doesn’t make sense to polish them beautifully.

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

I have a daily word count when I’m writing a first draft of 1,000 words when I’m working full-time, up to 5,000 on the weekends, or 5,000 words per day now I’m on a career break. I use the magic of Microsoft word to keep track of that for me. Also, if there are other priorities during that time I’ll take a day out here and there to do something completely different. For example I recently recorded my first audiobook and took a day out to record and produce the files for that to meet specifications. As long as I’m working it’s okay.

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

It took somewhere around two months. The shape is a bit rough because I haven’t been working to a set path so there’s usually some characters who have spent a great time waffling on about things that don’t matter at all and a few events laying groundwork for scenes that never happened. They’re not recommended reading for the most part.

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

I put it on my ereader so that it looks the same as any other book I’m reading. If I try to read it through on my computer screen I fiddle with individual bits of it while I’m going through so there’s never that ability to get a sense of how everything is.

What happens now that first draft is done?

The first thing I do is go back and rewrite the beginning now that I know all the characters so much better. I’ll then work through to fill in the scenes that were never written but are now essential. Next step is to send it off to a beta reader to see if the story works for someone other than myself.

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

You can find Katherine on her Website, Twitter and Amazon Author Page.

Breathe and Release

breatheElisabet wakes with amnesia. The care offered to her by a husband she doesn’t remember descends within weeks into aggression and violence.

Lillian lies hogtied in an underground cell. Forget about escape; unless she can manage the necessities of life she’ll be dead within days.

Kristen lost her house, her friends, and her confidence when her parents separated. Now her injured stepmother has moved back in. Has she lost her memory, or lost her mind?

Will the secrets hidden in Elisabet’s locked memory be enough to set them all free?


Recently Read – Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

Genre; Crime

liesIn such a small community as the Falkland Islands, a missing child is unheard of. In such a dangerous landscape it can only be a terrible tragedy, surely…

When another child goes missing, and then a third, it’s no longer possible to believe that their deaths were accidental, and the villagers must admit that there is a murderer among them. Even Catrin Quinn, a damaged woman living a reclusive life after the accidental deaths of her own two sons a few years ago, gets involved in the searches and the speculation.

And suddenly, in this wild and beautiful place that generations have called home, no one feels safe and the hysteria begins to rise.

But three islanders—Catrin, her childhood best friend, Rachel, and her ex-lover Callum—are hiding terrible secrets. And they have two things in common: all three of them are grieving, and none of them trust anyone, not even themselves.

My thoughts:

Prepare yourself for unadulterated gushing of the highest order. Yes, I was in a reading slump, in fact, I still am. I’ve just read two great books back to back (this being the first one) and now I’m lost for what to read next!

But boy, let’s just cover this one shall we?

It’s stunning. Absolutely beautiful. Beautifully written and beautiful in location, emotion and characterisation. the depth of human emotion shown in the book, the way Bolton has explored grief and relationships and how she has intertwined the lives – look gushing – it was, I was in awe.

The novel is set on the Falkland Islands after the conflict but not in the current day as we know it. Not only does Bolton do a wonderful job placing you there, but she makes the conflict a part of the novel, the history of the place is important and it’s important to the people as you’d expect. It sounds barren and cold but beautiful and peaceful at the same time.

If peaceful didn’t include continually missing children that no one wants to acknowledge are anything more than a coincidence.

The story is told from three perspectives in three different parts and it flows smoothly. All three people are connected and all are hurting in a deep dark way. The story is told sympathetically and with a clear precise prose.

It wasn’t page turning because it was all hectic and thrillerish, it was page turning because I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to stay with these people and hear their stories and find out what happened next and what happened to them.

Yes, there were missing children and crimes, but this book is a lot more than that. This book is one of the highlights of my reading year and I’m so glad I read it.

I can’t suggest this book strongly enough to you if you haven’t read it. You have to pick it up!

Did you get that I enjoyed this one?

Edited to add – (I forgot in my excitement of the book) With thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for my copy. (Yes, it’s going to take me until next year to get through all my review books!)