Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Update on "Who Gives a Crap"

Who Gives A Crap loo rolls
A few weeks ago, I said that I'd bought some recycled paper loo rolls from the company Who Gives A Crap, but that I hadn't yet tried them. Well, now we have tried them, and I've bought some tissues and kitchen roll from them too, so it's time for an update.

We went for the bog-standard (pun intended) loo rolls made of recycled paper. There is a luxury option made with bamboo which is probably softer. I had had reservations about the use of bamboo, knowing that processing it to make fibres for clothes isn't great, ecologically, but after a long discussion with them via email, it would seem that processing the plant to make 'paper' is far less environmentally damaging and that there is little waste or chemical use. We may go for the luxury version in the future, but to be honest, the standard paper version is fine.

Each roll comes wrapped in paper to protect it, which has lower waste impact than if the rolls were bundled together, as the paper used for wrapping can be thinner than if multiple rolls were wrapped together. The paper is quite pretty (and they currently have a version that you can colour in yourself if you want) and I will probably use it to decorate plain notebooks or do origami or something. Or just recycle it. They look fairly pretty stacked on the cistern, anyway!

The loo paper itself is made of three very thin layers, but the fact there are three of them makes it strong. There are 400 sheets per roll, so each roll does last longer than a normal roll. I did the maths on it all and the price per square metre was pretty much the same as the loo rolls we had been buying from the supermarket, but they were wrapped in plastic and those companies didn't donate half their profits to charities supporting water sanitation.

What's it like to use?

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Help! Please send chocolate!

[Or... "Why I wish I'd realised I was a plotter not a pantser, before I wrote draft zero of this book"!]

How my plot feels at the moment....
I should have known I was a plotter. I've been logical and methodical all my life! But, when I wrote the zero draft of The Trilogy (a few years ago now!) I wrote the story that was in my head. Which was okay as far as it went, but over the years it's changed, and the characters have evolved and some sub-plots have strengthened (and some vanished). And it now feels like I have this amazing picture in my head but just a pile of jigsaw pieces on the table.

Actually, I literally have my plot in pieces on the table, because my dining room table is currently covered in index cards. I have one for each scene and have been trying to get them in order. I have some that will go (that relate to sub-plots that have gone, or which are just not needed any more) and I have quite a lot missing (but I'll do the cards for them once I'm sure they're staying). And yes, of course they are colour-coded for the different sub-plots. 😄

I have a bit of a push-me-pull-me going on when I'm plotting. The major characters are worked on first, with the bare bones of the plot in my head. Once I'm fairly happy with my main characters, the bare bones of the plot get a little firmer. But once I start doing character notes for minor characters, things can get a bit more complicated - some sub-plots become more important, sometimes the main plot gets tweaked. But I usually get all that resolved before I start writing too much.

Not with The Trilogy. I just wrote. And wrote. And now I've sorted out minor character notes and re-drafted what the sub-plots are, it feels a lot like I've got a thousand-piece puzzle in front of me. I know what the overall picture is, I just need to convert the jumble into the neat version.

Right now, it feels overwhelming because I have just over 100,000 words written, but it's not in the right order, and they aren't the right words. Once I have my road-map sorted, the going should get easier. I know what all my key points are, and I (just about, at this point) know what happens in between, to get me from one plot point to the next. I'm also pretty happy with the balance between the different sub-plots and my characters. But, it does feel a little like I'm about to re-write 100,000 words, however much I know a lot of what's written will stay.

So, wish me luck? Oh, and send chocolate...?

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Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Guest post by Jack Dowd

picture of author Jack Dowd
Jack Dowd
This week on the blog, I have a guest post by Jack Dowd to share with you. Jack's debut novel Empty Nights will be released in September.

Empty Nights
Henry Andrews, enduring his final year in Norcrest Academy, discovers that his childhood crush and fellow sixth form student Yasmin Rivers is pregnant. Henry agrees to help Yasmin hide her secret while also dealing with his parent’s divorce, revising for his A Level exams, suffering his own mental health issues and preparing for the void in his life that comes after sixth form. When tragedy strikes, nothing will be the same again.

Jack Dowd
I started writing as a hobby in 2005 while bored in the back row of a classroom. This hobby grew over the years and in 2013 I enrolled as a student on the Creative Writing Degree course at London South Bank University. During this time, my play Captured was performed at the Chelsea Theatre to positive reviews and I was the assistant producer on a radio play called The Minister’s Secret. In 2015 I created jackdowd’swritingblog, my official writing website and I graduated with a 2:1. Since leaving university I have found publication with an Indie publishing company called Mommashark press and my debut novel Empty Nights is due for release in September.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Who Gives a Crap?

As loyal readers will know (bless you, both of you), I'm trying to reduce my "footprint" on the world. I will no longer buy any clothes with non-biodegradable fibres in them, I've recycled most of my clothes that contained non-biodegradable fibres and I'm trying as hard as I can to reduce how much plastic I buy (including the microplastic in tea-bags... glad to say, 8 months on, I'm still using loose tea and composting all the used leaves).

I'd heard about Who Gives A Crap toilet paper in a number of places and have decided to give it a go. Their toilet paper is made from 100% recycled paper. They also have a 'luxury' brand that's made from bamboo, but for me, there are still some issues with bamboo processing - the plant itself needs little water or fertiliser and is pretty sound, ecologically, but processing it to make fibres is less so.

Their toilet paper comes wrapped in paper and then boxed, with free delivery to your door. The boxes are hilarious. In huge letters on the side were: "You've got a lovely bum" and "Wiping Away Poverty". I'm not quite sure what the delivery woman thought of it all!

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Interview with Sandra Ireland #LoveBooksTour #BoneDeep

I'm delighted to welcome Sandra Ireland, author of  Beneath the Skin and Bone Deep to the blog today. I first interviewed Sandra last year (you can read my interview with her here) and am grateful to her for taking the time to answer more questions from me. I reviewed Bone Deep, her second novel here.

Your new book, Bone Deep has just been released. Tell me a little about it?
Bone Deep poses the question, what happens when you fall in love with the wrong person? The consequences threaten to be far-reaching and potentially deadly. Bone Deep is a contemporary novel of sibling rivalry, love, betrayal and murder. This is the story of two women: Mac, who is bent on keeping the secrets of the past from her only son, and the enigmatic Lucie, whose past is something of a closed book. Their story is underpinned by the creaking presence of an abandoned water mill, and haunted by the local legend of two long-dead sisters, themselves rivals in love, and ready to point an accusing finger from the pages of history.

What inspired you to write it?
I worked at Barry Mill, Angus, for several years. It’s a National Trust for Scotland property, one of the last working watermills in Scotland. I grew to love the whole process of milling, and the landscape around the mill. I always had some quirky folktales up my sleeve to entertain visitors. I found myself drawn to the mill as a setting for a novel, and the ancient Border Ballad of The Cruel Sister seemed to fit. In the ballad, the jealous older sister shoves the younger one into the mill pond. As I’m not a historical novelist, I wanted to make this a very modern story. It looks at contemporary relationships, but the past is never far away. I was very fortunate to receive support from Creative Scotland who saw the potential of the project.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Review of Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland #LoveBooksTour @22_Ireland @PolygonBooks

In today's post, I'm delighted to share my review of Bone Deep by Sandra Ireland with you.

My thanks to Polygon for giving me an advance copy of the book. My views are my own and in no way influenced by the gift of the copy.

Bone Deep

What happens when you fall in love with the wrong person? The consequences threaten to be far-reaching and potentially deadly. Bone Deep is a contemporary novel of sibling rivalry, love, betrayal and murder. This is the story of two women: Mac, who is bent on keeping the secrets of the past from her only son, and the enigmatic Lucie, whose past is something of a closed book. Their story is underpinned by the creaking presence of an abandoned water mill, and haunted by the local legend of two long-dead sisters, themselves rivals in love, and ready to point an accusing finger from the pages of history.


I put down my pen and sag against the back of the chair. I’ve been sitting here since 6 a.m., and now that the words are finally flowing I can’t let them go. Things have been a bit stuck of late, ideas bobbing around like fish, and me grown too slow to catch them. But this morning things feel different, as though Lucie’s arrival has brought a gust of fresh air, stirring up the leaves of my imagination.

I’d asked her about her family a couple of times, but her replies have been rather muted. I gather she has a sister, but there’d been no warmth to her description. I’d nodded knowingly at the time. Sibling rivalry. You get that with sisters. Best not to dwell on it. It had reminded me of something though, this sister thing. What was it now?

That evening I’d gone through all the dusty old volumes on my bookshelves, not quite sure what I was looking for. I stretch my arms out in front of me, flex my fingers and rotate my neck. Something cracks, and my insides shrink accordingly. I’m getting paranoid, waiting for the next little blip, holding my health up to the light like a badly stitched seam. I’m getting frayed.

Somewhere in the house, a key grates in a lock. The front door opens, and a ghastly echo carries along the passages. The hall always has that empty-house ring to it, regardless of how many bits and bobs I pad it out with. The sound of footsteps carries towards me. That will be Arthur. My heart sinks and immediately I go into guilty mode. I am a bad mother. A can’t-be-bothered mother. My eyes drop automatically, going to the photograph on the desk. My own mother, wartime drab but happy in a floral tea dress she’d knocked up from remnants. We have bad mother genes, I suspect. There is a coldness in us. I remember Mother feeding a poorly dog tinned salmon while we kids scoffed bread and dripping. The thing is, I fear I’m heading for the ultimate fail. The leaving-your-child fail.


It takes a good book to have me unable to do anything else for the entire day because I just can't stop reading, but that's exactly what happened with me with this book! I started it one Sunday morning, intending to read for an hour or so as it was a sunny day and I could sit out and relax with a book - a rare event for me. From the opening chapter, I was hooked and just wanting to know more about these characters and I finished the book the same afternoon!

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Guest post: book planning using PowerPoint

I'm delighted to share a guest post with you today by Angela Nurse. She said that she was planning her new book on PowerPoint and I was intrigued... Scrivener, index cards, pen and paper, Excel... all these I had heard of being used in planning, and most of them I'd tried, but PowerPoint?

Happily, Angela said she would share her thinking with me, and all of you. Over to you, Angela! (btw... I love the idea of a 'murder board' and can't see why it wouldn't be appropriate in a living room...)
[click on any picture to enlarge]

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Tightrope walking...

I both love it and hate it when A New Book starts prickling away in my brain. I love it because it feels fresh and exciting and I'm curious to know where it will go and how it will turn out. I hate it when it starts chiselling away at my brain at a time when I am already overloaded with other books that need finishing/editing/writing!

I'm always scared that if I don't make any notes or write at least a little bit about The New Book, that it will vanish, escaping my brain like a Will o' the Wisp. But, boy, it can be a fine balance between 'getting some of it captured so I don't lose it' and 'oh look, here I am at the end of a first draft'!

As I said in last week's post, The New Book is serious enough to have got its Own Notebook. I spent a while researching the location and the house in which it will be set, plus getting a few other ideas out of my head, and suddenly, the five or six pages that I scribbled on the train home a fortnight ago have morphed into almost 30 pages of a B5 notebook. I'm treading a very thin line between getting enough down that I don't forget it, and disappearing down the rabbit hole and only re-emerging when I've a first draft in my hand.

I've come to the conclusion that I might just have to write two books at once.

But... that way, madness lies, doesn't it?

I'm hoping not (though enough people suspect I'm a bit mad a lot of the time already). I've tried to make a bargain with myself that I have to have done x amount of work on the book I'm meant to be working on, before I get to play with The New Book. It's a carrot and stick approach! My aim is to parallel process, but not to get beyond chapter outlines in The New Book until I've cleared off The Trilogy! I suspect reality will be that I have both The Trilogy and The New Book on the go at the same time.

There was an author who always had at least two typewriters set up, so that if he reached a tricky bit with one book, he would switch desk and work on the other. I think I may end up doing something similar.

Now I just need to find a new desk...

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Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Too many ideas (again)

My brain at the moment...
I'm disappearing into my own thoughts more and more at the moment. I find that I do this when the world seems worse than usual. I don't want to get into politics here (domestic or world), but at the moment, things feel stressful and entirely beyond my control. Consequently, I'm retreating into my made-up worlds in my head, where I do  have some control (allegedly!) and my head is full of new ideas! Not that I need them... I have two books of the trilogy to edit, the third to write, plus full chapter outlines of another (stand alone) book, a prequel to the trilogy and a crime novel to sort out. And should I tire of all that, I have a thriller, and a women's literature novel that are both at final draft stage and I could get them edited. So really, I need to be thinking about another book, like I need a hole in my head. Actually, if I had a hole in my head, it might let some of these ideas out and give me some peace!

I went to visit a friend the other day and knew that I would probably get some quiet time on the train to work on "book 6" (first book of the fantasy trilogy). Right enough, on the way there I did a load of work on it.

On the way back...

I started to jot "just a few notes" about something else that's been flittering around in my brain for a few weeks, "just to get it down on paper... not to really start writing it."


It's now got its Own Notebook.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

What is "success" in writing?

If you do a Google search for "success quotes" you will find a whole heap of motivational quotes and slogans about how to achieve success. But what if you don't actually know what success will look like if or when it happens?

Is it getting published by a publisher? I don't think so - I've read many a book published by a big publisher (or a small publisher) and wondered how and why it got chosen out of the submissions pile. I've also read a lot of self-published books that have been brilliant. Who knows why the author hasn't been published by a big publisher - maybe they never sent it off to them; maybe they did and got rejected, they re-worked it and self-published; maybe the were rejected because the person who read it didn't like it but another person may have loved it. Of course, I've also read some brilliant books published by big publishers and terrible books that were self-published. Trying to predict whether a book will be good or not from how it got into print/ebook, is pointless.

Is success selling a gazillion books and having multiple best-sellers? Maybe. Maybe not. I can think of some best-sellers I would be beyond proud to have written and have read and re-read because I love them. I can also think of a whole heap of best-sellers that were absolutely diabolical - badly written, badly plotted, badly edited... just terrible.

Is it getting loads of great reviews? Perhaps. But look at any book that you think is incredible and look at the reviews on Amazon. I would guess that every one of them has someone hating the book. This, for example, has been left for Pride and Prejudice:
One of the very few books I can't read. Every time I say "NOW I'VE GOT IT!" and by page 20 I'm asleep or try to kill myself with a wooden spoon. Eventually I ran out of spoons, but still the outcome was the same. People seem to love it, but I really can't understand why. Probably it gets better later. I may even try the zombie version, just in case.
Reviews are very subjective - some will love a book and others will hate it. Getting good reviews isn't always a good indicator that something is good, any more than getting bad reviews indicates that it's bad, though maybe the spread of good to bad can be useful information.

So if it's not how it's been published, and it's not necessarily sales and it's not necessarily reviews, what does indicate success in writing? What would you say indicates that a writer has become a successful writer?

Drop me your ideas in the comments.

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Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Why running helps me to write

I can't remember when I started running long-distance. At school I was a sprinter (and a long-jumper) and not terribly good at either, and seemed to have an aversion to the annual cross-country run the whole school had to do. But somewhere in the last twenty years I turned into a runner and now I couldn't imagine not running.

There are many reports of running being good for mental health (though the jury is a little out on how effective it is in comparison to medication for depression - running seems to be about equivalent to medication for mild depression). Speaking personally, I know that my mental health is always better if I'm able to run. But how does running help me specifically as a writer?

I feel that running improves my life as a writer in a number of ways, not just on the mental health side.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Computer hell...

I got my royalties for Q1 a couple of weeks ago and decided to buy a new laptop. Now, before you think of me as a hugely extravagant person, can I point out that my old laptop was many years old and still on Windows 7!

The "instructions" on how to set up the laptop were (I kid you not):
1. Connect to power
2. Press the power key
3. Configure the operating system by following the on-screen instructions.

That was it.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Perfect Dead by Jackie Baldwin - #LoveBooksGroupTours

#LoveBooksGroupTours #PerfectDead

I'm absolutely delighted to be hosting Jackie Baldwin on the blog today, as part of the tour for her latest book, Perfect Dead which was released on June 15th

I first met Jackie through Bloody Scotland - we were both Crime in the Spotlight authors in 2016, and we've kept in touch and met up again for lunches over the years. Her first novel, Dead Man's Prayer was released to great acclaim and fans of her ex-priest detective, DI Frank Farrell will love the new novel.

Today, Jackie wants to share with you her thoughts about finding the perfect work-life balance.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Writing scrapbooks

For each novel I've written, I have a scrapbook. In fact, for several books I have more than one! In these scrapbooks, I keep initial thoughts, plot outlines, notes developing the plot, notes on each character, notes on each scene before it gets written, notes for when I'm editing... it's great fun looking back through them and if I ever feel unsure about what I'm writing, or uninspired, all I need to do is flip through them to get enthused or for the ideas to start flowing again.

sample page from a notebook
(absolutely no copyright infringement intended!)
They're mostly A4 in size, though recently I've had a bit of a shift towards B5 size (especially for using in my writing folder) and often lined, though a couple are plain. The best bit about them are the pictures and drawings. The notebooks genuinely are scrapbooks! As well as all the notes, there are pictures pasted in from magazines of interiors - how I imagine the characters' houses look. As you can see in the picture at the side, I have an image of what a bedroom looks like (and also an image of what a character might be wearing).

I've also added in property schedules sometimes - it can be very inspiring to do a search on the property websites, looking for the kind of house you imagine the characters to live in (or aspire to), even if the only thing that really makes it into a book is the layout of the place.

I also draw in the books. I (amazingly) have an 'O' level in art and used to enjoy sketching, so there are sketches of layouts/items/locations etc. in the notebooks. There are also drawings of costumes. I'm not great at drawing people (at least, not with faces - I'm quite good at drawing the rest!) and so there are also pictures of people pasted in - usually actors or people from clothing catalogues. Clothing catalogues can be a great resource not just for what the people look like but for outfits - what the characters might wear (even if they don't look like the models).

I'm trying to make a note of what music I've been listening to for each book too. Listening to the music again is one of the quickest ways to get me back into a book if I've been away from it for any time - but I'm not good at noting it down at the time.

These notebooks will make almost no sense to most people, but to me, they are an inherent part of the process of writing a book and something I cherish.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Decluttering... home and mind

Actually, for me, decluttering the home makes my brain feel a lot less cluttered too. Not that you would always know it to look at my desk, but I can get overwhelmed with objects. If there's too much stuff around, my brain gets agitated.

My desk can be a veritable sea of stuff sometimes, but I seem fairly blind to that! But too much stuff in the rest of the house unsettles me. It's why when people ask me what I want for Christmas or birthday, I usually say "nothing - please give a donation to charity instead". I have more things than I need and there are too many people in the world who don't have enough. In fact, Christmas in general makes me feel ill - so many people buying so much stuff that the recipients rarely want or need. The waste appals me. Please, just give the money to charity.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Back to work...

We had an amazing time away, but now it's time to get my backside back in the chair (metaphorically, as I tend to stand to write, rather than sit) and get back to doing some writing.

I'm trying to get some work done on the first book of the trilogy while "Liars" is away with Gillian for editing. I've been thinking about it quite a lot while I was on Lewis and Harris so hopefully, my head is in approximately the right place to get stuck in.

And the weather has finally broken! It was wall to wall sunshine here before we went away and then the same on Lewis and Harris, but it's cloudy now - much more conducive to writing than scorching sun and enticing shady corners in the garden. (Much as I adore being outside, I never get quite as much writing done while sitting outside as I think I will - I'm too distracted by all the wildlife!)

My batteries are recharged, I have a stack of new notebooks clamouring to be written in... time to get back to writing.

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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Giveaway closed...

... thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for Lesley Kelly's book Songs by Dead Girls. The winner has been chosen and contacted. If I don't hear back from them, I will draw another winner from the list and contact them.

Sorry that not everyone can be a winner, but if you missed out by not signing up for my newsletter, then there's an obvious way to increase your odds! The sign-up form is just over there in the sidebar. No spam. No selling on your details. Just an email once per month with my news and special offers.

I'm taking a short break and so there won't be any post next week. Hope you're all having fun!

Back soon!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Back to The Trilogy!

The book that follows on from The Call (currently called "Liars") is away to the editor (Gillian Holmes again - I'm really glad to be working with her again!) and so I'm able to work on something else. Hooray!!

I've been doing a couple of courses with Writers' HQ (and I'm really sorry if you run any kind of online writing-coaching service, because these guys are simply the best!). One of the aspects they talked about was writing about what you love. Well, for some time now, I've been wanting to write fantasy. Not swords and dragons type fantasy. More parallel worlds type of fantasy. Though apparently, dragons always sell, so maybe I should add some in...

I started work on this fantasy trilogy, back in 2014, when "Liars" and I were 'on a break'. I'd already written Lies That Poison in that break, and what then started clamouring to come out of my head was something very different. There were soul-stealing wraiths that could kill you with a single touch; there was a woman in the wrong place - banished for a treason she hadn't committed; there was the threat of mass extinction of the population... I wrote the first two books of a trilogy and planned out the final book. And I loved writing them and planning them.

Then, I got pulled away from all of it, first because I was publishing Lies That Poison and republishing The Call, and then because I needed to finish "Liars".

But now... "Liars" is on someone else's desk and I can go back to writing what I really want to write at the moment, which is some "action and adventure fantasy" (according to the Kindle categories!).

But no dragons. Well, not yet.

Reminder... Give away

Remember, I have one paperback copy of Songs By Dead Girls by Lesley Kelly to give away. You can read my review of it here and my interview with Lesley Kelly here. All you need to do to be in the draw to win it is to sign up for my newsletter by midnight (BST) on May 20th, 2018. A winner will be drawn from the list of newsletter subscribers and emailed in the week following the end of the competition. If there is no reply within three days, the next name drawn will be contacted. If you are already signed up for my newsletter, you do not need to sign up again; you are already eligible for the draw.

The competition is open worldwide. My decision is final.

To be in with a chance to win a copy of Songs By Dead Girls, just subscribe to my newsletter. It comes out once a month and subscribers are not only in the draw for the book, but will get a free novella and all my special offers.
No spam, and no selling your details on to anyone else, I promise.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

'New' writing folder - an old Deskfax!

My 'new' writing folder
I know many people can write straight into their laptop, but I'm more analogue than that! I need to make notes (LOTS of notes!) on paper first.

I'm a big-notebook person, I can't lie. I may manage to use small notebooks for shopping lists and to-do lists, but when I'm writing, even A5 feels small. That said, A4 can feel a bit on the big side, especially if I'm writing while travelling. And what size lies between A5 and A4...? B5

B5 is 176 x 250mm (or approximately 7 x 10 inches; A4 for comparison, is 210 x 297mm or 8.3 x 11.7 inches). For me, it's big enough for taking a decent set of notes, but not so big it entirely fills my handbag with no space for anything else.

The B paper sizes aren't common in the UK. I think they are more commonly used in Japan, and certainly the majority of B5 or B6 notebooks that I have are Japanese. (B6 is, as you may have guessed, halfway between A6 and A5). Japanese stationery is almost invariably excellent - lovely to write on and fountain-pen proof (essential for me).

So, what is this 'new' writing folder?

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Too much sunshine...

... leading to no writing!

I know the south has had rubbish weather, but where I am, it has been wall to wall sunshine (or at worst, sunny spells) for what feels like WEEKS. In fact, the garden is crying out for rain. I want it to rain. I need it to rain. Not just because that will give me an enforced break from gardening (which my body will rejoice at) but because I'm spending all my time in the garden and no time writing.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Last few days to get "Lies That Poison" for 99p!

Lies That Poison
Last few days!!!

Lies That Poison has been an Amazon Monthly Deal and is still available for 99p (UK only), but as soon as April ends, the price will go back up, so don't miss out!

And don't miss out on my give away... I have one, signed copy of Songs by Dead Girls by Lesley Kelly to give away - just sign up for my newsletter to be in with a chance - see details below. I reviewed Lesley's book here, if you missed it.

Give away

I have one paperback copy of Songs By Dead Girls to give away. All you need to do to be in the draw to win it is to sign up for my newsletter by midnight (BST) on May 20th, 2018. A winner will be drawn from the list of newsletter subscribers and emailed in the week following the end of the competition. If there is no reply within three days, the next name drawn will be contacted. If you are already signed up for my newsletter, you do not need to sign up again. You are already eligible for the draw.

The competition is open worldwide. My decision is final.

To be in with a chance to win a copy of Songs By Dead Girls, just subscribe to my newsletter. It comes out once a month and subscribers are not only in the draw for the book, but will get a free novella and all my special offers.
No spam, and no selling your details on to anyone else, I promise.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Interview with Lesley Kelly

Songs by Dead Girls book cover
I first met Lesley Kelly when we were both "Spotlighters" in the Crime in the Spotlight slots in 2016's Bloody Scotland. Since then, we have both been involved in "Murder and Mayhem" book events across Scotland and have met up many times.

Last week, I reviewed Lesley Kelly's latest book Songs by Dead Girls. You can read the review here. This week, I'm delighted to share my interview with her.

Your third book, “Songs by Dead Girls” has just been released. This is the second book in the Health of Strangers series. Tell me a bit about it.
When Scotland's leading virologist goes missing, Mona and Paterson from the Health Enforcement Team are dispatched to London to find him. In a hot and unwelcoming city, Mona has to deal with a boss who isn't speaking to her, placate the Professor's over-bearing assistant, and outwit the people who will stop at nothing to make sure the academic stays lost. Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, Bernard is searching for a missing prostitute, while Maitland is trying to keep the Chair of the Parliamentary Virus Committee from finding out quite how untidy the HET office is.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A Body in The Library

L-R: Me, Wendy H Jones, Caroline Dunford, Lesley Kelly, Mac Logan
Last Tuesday evening, Wendy H Jones, Lesley Kelly, Caroline Dunford, Mac Logan and I were being accused of murder. Again!

We were all at Portobello Library doing a book event, during which, a "body" was found in the library. Naturally, we were all suspected of doing the dirty deed and were questioned by a passing "detective" (Caroline's husband!).

It was a fabulous evening and the audience seemed thoroughly entertained by us all larking about, making stuff up! Although we were all given briefing notes, none of the evening was scripted and there was a lot of off the cuff embellishing, along with a fair chunk of the authors heckling each other. The authors didn't know what questions they were going to be asked by the "detective", though we did know which one of us had "done the deed".

Brilliant evening and hopefully more to come.

Give away - reminder

I have one signed paperback copy of Lesley Kelly's Songs By Dead Girls to give away. I reviewed the book last week - see here if you missed it. All you need to do to be in the draw to win it is to sign up for my newsletter by midnight (BST) on May 20th, 2018. A winner will be drawn from the list of newsletter subscribers and emailed in the week following the end of the competition. If there is no reply within three days, the next name drawn will be contacted. If you are already signed up for my newsletter, you do not need to sign up again; you are already eligible for the draw.

The competition is open worldwide. My decision is final.

To be in with a chance to win a copy of Songs By Dead Girls, just subscribe to my newsletter. It comes out once a month and subscribers are not only in the draw for the book, but will get a free novella and all my special offers.
No spam, and no selling your details on to anyone else, I promise.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

"Songs by Dead Girls" by Lesley Kelly

I'm delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Songs by Dead Girls by Lesley Kelly. Lesley was a Crime in the Spotlight writer at Bloody Scotland in 2016, and is one of the Murder and Mayhem crew. She has won a number of writing competitions, including the Scotsman’s Short Story award in 2008.

Her first novel, A Fine House in Trinity, was long-listed for the McIlvanney Prize. Her second novel, The Health of Strangers was the first in a new series, based in an alternative modern-day Edinburgh, in the aftermath of a potentially deadly virus. Songs by Dead Girls is the second in the series. I first interviewed Lesley last Spring and will be interviewing her again next week.

I also have a copy of Songs By Dead Girls to give away - see the end of this post for details.

Songs By Dead Girls

cover of book: Songs by Dead Girls - Lesley Kelly

The Health of Strangers and Songs By Dead Girls are both set in an alternative Earth, in the aftermath of a potentially fatal virus. The Virus predominantly affects the young and healthy (much like the 1918 'flu pandemic did) and as a consequence, a number of restrictions have been placed on citizens, including compulsory attendance at a monthly health check to ensure that they are not carrying the Virus. The books are based around a team involved in ensuring that everyone goes to these health checks - the Health Enforcement Team.

The blurb for the book is as follows:

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

From Me To You

As many of you might know, I am a stationery fiend. I supply my habit in a number of ways, including getting an occasional subscription to Spotlight Stationery.

Part of the cost of each subscription is donated to charity and this year, the charity that has been chosen is "From Me To You". From Me To You encourages people to write letters to friends or family members who are suffering from cancer. It also has a "Donate a Letter" scheme where people can write to cancer patients who have requested a letter. I have joined the "Donate a Letter" scheme and last week, wrote several letters to be given to cancer patients, to show them that there are people (even strangers) who are thinking of them. You don't have to send long letters - even a card or a postcard will be welcomed.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The end (of editing) is nigh!

Well, it's been quite a battle, and after Nero died, I had to take a break from it all, but... (drum roll, please!)

I've finished editing the next book!

Well, I've finished my editing. The next stage is to send it to Joffe Books and hope they like it enough to publish it! If they do, it will then go to their editor who will undoubtedly have some more changes to suggest.

I can't lie to you; it's been a bit of a slog. This book follows on from The Call (originally The Wrong Kind of Clouds). It's a more standard police procedural than The Call was, but it features Detective Sergeant LB Stewart and Summer Morris again.

I originally started writing it, way back in 2013. 2013!! I then abandoned it, because I just wasn't sure about it all. At that stage it was about 45,000 words long. Having abandoned it, I then wrote three more books - the psychological thriller Lies That Poison, and the first two books in an urban fantasy trilogy.

Fast-forward on to 2017 and I got my publishing deal with Joffe Books, for The Call, Lies That Poison, and any book that featured the same characters from either of them. Lies That Poison is a stand-alone novel, but I did have 45,000 words of a book featuring LB Stewart and Summer Morris. Should I go back to it and see if I could finish it?

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Ignorance and learning...

I realise that's an odd title. It comes from my increasing realisation that there are far too many people in the world who DON'T know what they're talking about, but refuse to accept that someone who is an expert in the topic might know more than them...

BBC radio 4 recently (and deservedly) got flack from scientists (and others) who were understandably outraged that Lord Lamont was brought in 'to add balance to the climate change discussion'. Lord Lamont may know a lot of things but he patently knows nothing about climate change science. And patently told a heap of lies that went unchallenged by the presenters.

Donald Trump doesn't appear to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction (and won't accept being told that). If he doesn't like something or doesn't understand it, it's 'fake news'.

Most of the UK government are not scientists and yet make wide-sweeping (and incorrect) statements or policies about a whole heap of things - neonics and the effect on insects, whether badger culling reduces the incidence of TB in cattle to name but two.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018


As you may know, I lost my darling Sly (Sylvester) almost a year ago. At the time, I swore I wouldn't have any more cats while we lived here. We lost Sly's brother, Kiwi, many years ago, hit by a car on the road. What was more heartbreaking than his loss, was that we didn't find him for several days and he was still alive (though very, very injured).

Roll forward to last November, and we adopted two little boys from our local cat shelter. They were deeply traumatised when we got them but slowly developed into a couple of adorable hooligans.

Every day, I was terrified they wouldn't come home, that they would get hit by a car. Every single day. I was less worried about Max - he seemed to stay pretty close to home - but Nero... Nero had that same Wanderlust that Kiwi had.

Just over a week ago, Nero didn't come home. We hoped he had just got himself shut in a shed or a garage, but deep down, we knew he hadn't. We found his body the next day. The small mercy is that he would have been killed instantly.

I've been trying to console myself with the thoughts that we gave him everything he wanted - food, warmth, shelter, love and the opportunity to explore and roam to his heart's content. I just wish he'd had the sense to roam in the acres and acres of fields at the back of us and not on the main road.

He was a beautiful, beautiful boy and my heart is broken.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

More Murder and Mayhem!

They're back! This time at Blackwells in Edinburgh, on 17th March. Are you brave enough to join them? Not everyone will come out of it alive!*

See if you can spot which of the crime writers is the murderer, and win a freebie if you manage to catch them out. There's also plenty of time for chatting about the writing life, getting published and writing crime.

Each time we've done this, it's been a hoot, so if you're in the area, pop in and see for yourself. Entry is completely free. See here for more details.

The writers are: Tana Collins, Wendy H. Jones, Lesley Kelly, Chris Longmuir and Jackie McLean.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Unwelcome sign of age!


Actually, I've worn glasses for short-sightedness for about 40 years now and am so short-sighted that without glasses/contact lenses, I would struggle to see beyond about 5 inches from the end of my nose. I certainly can't read without them as the book would be stiflingly close. I actually can't put my contact lenses in using a mirror, as there isn't enough space between my face and the mirror to have my hand. I've always put my lenses in by touch.

No. The new glasses hell is that I'm now old enough to need reading glasses too. If I'd had perfect vision before, this might have been a smidgen easier, but as it is, I now have: my contact lenses, a pair of reading glasses for when I'm wearing my contact lenses, a pair of glasses for when I'm not wearing my contact lenses and not reading/writing either, and a pair of glasses for when I'm not wearing my contact lenses but am reading or writing.

Why not just get a pair of varifocals? They would cover all instances of not wearing my contact lenses.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Throw away your crutches!

Every writer has crutch words - words we rely on or are our go-to words. Words we over-use. Words we don't need at all.

Having finished the structural edit, the next stage for me is to tighten up all the writing. I know the foundations of the book are right. Now I need to make the building as good as possible. Once that's sorted, I can fine-tune and add the finishing touches that (hopefully) make it sparkle.

I keep a running list of the words I over-use. Some of them I know I over-use because I've seen them for myself. Some of them have been pointed out to me by my editors. Another way of finding them is doing a word-frequency count. I do this via Scrivener - it gives me a list of all the words used in the book and how often they appear. Obviously "the", "a", "and" and so on come up hundreds of times, but it's in the block after that, that I need to check - words that shouldn't be as common as they are in the book. Some of my worst offenders are "nodded" and "looked", but the list is long. 😐

In my first pass through, while I'm still concentrating on the structure, I do try and flag them up (and kill them off wherever possible). This time I went a step further...

Monday, 19 February 2018

Crime at the Castle

Do you read crime novels?
Do you fancy trying your hand at writing a crime novel?

If the answer to either of those questions is “YES” then Crime at the Castle is a must.

You have a chance to hear the very best Scottish crime writers as they tell you how it is done in a series of talks and writer’s workshops in what must be one of the most inspirational venues imaginable. Glamis castle is holding its very first crime writers festival on Saturday the 24th February 2018.

The cost for the day is £55 and for that, you get to hear four speakers, or hear three speakers and take part in a writers' workshop. Lunch is included in the ticket and there will be book signings between the events.

Speakers include:

Lin Anderson, Chris Brookmyre, Caroline Dunford, Alex Gray, Sandra Ireland, Wendy H. Jones Chris Longmuir, Michael J Malone, Denise Mina, Shona MacLean, Val McDermid, Jackie Mclean, Frank Muir, Caro Ramsay, Craig Robertson, Douglas Skelton

Have you booked your tickets yet? No? Well hurry up because it's selling out! Click on the link below for more details of the event, including how to book.


Tuesday, 13 February 2018


(I wouldn't have a disposable cup OR a straw...
but otherwise this is a fair representation!)
The first round of edits - the structural editing - is done (though history teaches me that my editor will still want to shift several scenes around when she gets her hands on it). This is my least favourite bit of editing. I prefer the next stage: tightening it up and trying to make it sparkle. I enjoy spending time on the words, once the foundations are sorted. Only once a house is built, can you start decorating it. So with writing.

Structural editing starts with The Giant Spreadsheet which helps me to see where things are too long and also where there are gaps. Colour-coding which characters are in each scene shows me that sometimes characters seem to have wandered off, mid-manuscript. Where did they go? They need bringing back into the fold. Or I see that a thread that I thought was well woven in is actually half frayed and sticking out. Or not tied off at the end. Seeing the big picture helps me to make sure that it holds together the way I imagined it would.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Are you gender-biased? Chances are, you are.

The past week has been full of stories about gender bias. There's been the on-going argument at the BBC about the gender pay-gap, and The Guardian had a piece about whether monsters must always be male (you can read it here) and how few female characters in children's books even speak, let alone are the main character. There was also an interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 about women being biased against women. If you didn't hear it, you can listen to it or download it here (and I genuinely recommend listening to it).

You are probably gender biased, even if you don't think you are.

Much of our bias is thought to stem from the brain taking 'short-cuts'. The example given in an analysis of the radio piece (the analysis can be found here) cites burning yourself on a hot pan leading to your brain making a quick association between 'oven', 'hot' and 'pain'.

Likewise, if a person sees disproportionately more men than women in positions of power and leadership, and disproportionately more women in more lowly-ranked jobs, their brains quickly associate men with power and responsibility and women with less powerful, lower value roles.

So, what can we do to try and avoid this bias?

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Giant Spreadsheet of Editing

They say there are two kinds of writers: planners and 'pantsers' (who write by the seats of their pants). I'm a planner. And a scientist. Double-whammy!

I've just finished the first (rough!) draft of the book that follows on from "The Call". Yes, the one I've been writing since 2013. The one I've abandoned a couple of times and written "Lies That Poison" and two books of an urban fantasy trilogy instead. Anyway, I finished the rough first draft last Monday and so have moved on to my next stage of editing, which is to produce The Giant Spreadsheet.

I write early drafts of books using Scrivener and one of the features of the program is that you can export the novel outline to Excel. The folder and document titles are exported, along with notes, word counts and a host of other things. I'm mostly interested in the titles, notes and word counts for each document (for me each document equates to a scene), and I add in information about which characters are in each scene (using colour coding).


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Tea and plastic

My husband and I are tea drinkers. I don't drink coffee. I can't actually ever remember liking coffee. But tea - I love a good cuppa.

Like many other people I've used tea-bags for most of my life, but I'm not buying them any more. Not while they are full of plastic.

Wait, you thought tea-bags were made of paper? Hm. Partly true. They do have paper, but they also have a thin layer of plastic mesh, which doesn't biodegrade. It's there mostly to heat-seal the two layers of the tea-bag together and is usually polypropylene.

We'd suspected this for a while as we have a compost bin and used to put the used tea-bags in there. When we came to use the compost, there would always be the ghosts of tea-bags in the compost. At first I thought these were just the bags taking time to rot down. They're not. They're plastic and they will release microplastics into the environment. If you still don't know why microplastics are bad, read this... And if you really want to learn more, read this report by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Supportive friends, I thank you!

It's not been a great week. I came down with a cold to end all colds, I started hating what I'm writing (yes, again...), my productivity sank like a stone and I seriously considered abandoning the book (again. I first abandoned this one in 2013).

I have to say, the writing community is a fabulous one! When I said that I was struggling with the book and ready to chuck it all in, I got so much support with people offering to have a natter and talk through the issues, others encouraging me and saying "Don't give up!"

Knowing they all had my back, I filled up a trusty fountain pen (well, I do have rather a lot!) and tried to brainstorm why I was stuck with the book and what I hated (most) about it.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Morning pages and Meditation

This is one of my favourite poems. It reminds me that I need to take time and slow down and that once I do, I'll see the world differently.

Some days, my head is whirling - too many things to fret about; too many ideas for books... When it's like that, I need to slow down. Actually, I need to stop, but I'm not good at stopping. Never have been. After a lot of trial and error (and a need to find something before I burned out completely) I've found that a combination of "Morning Pages" and a brief meditation does me the power of good.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

You Don't Always Need A Plan...

Ah yes. The New Year. The time when I've traditionally thought about what I might accomplish in the year, drawn up wildly optimistic plans and then, over the year seen my life head in a completely different direction from where I thought I would go.

Take 2017 for example. Although I hoped I would get a publishing deal, I wasn't banking on it, and my writing plans focussed on finishing books, and getting them edited and self-published. Having been signed by Joffe Books last year, I ended up doing none of the self-publishing stuff I had anticipated doing. I also didn't envisage doing so many author events (in fact, I didn't envisage any!). When I look back on last year's plans, they seem faintly ridiculous in places.