Sunday, 24 November 2013

Pushing Water Uphill...

Why is it that when you've got an extremely long list of tasks to do, you suddenly feel the rain pattering on your head....?  Yes, there's no escaping from the fact that you've caught the dreaded winter bugs.
  Things tend to get thrown in your path when you least expect them. That's life, apparently....   Take it from me, there's no point thinking you're doomed. The world will still be spinning around you and you'll still be needed to get on with the chores at hand, so, when it all feels impossible, break the rules and snap the word in two.  I'm Possible.
Go on, don't take it lying down (as the cold and flue remedy adverts say!)

Pick yourself up and try again... It'll get better, it always does!

Friday, 8 November 2013

I hereby declare 'The Dancer's Ghost' launched...

I was simply staggered by the generosity of everyone who came to Hitchin Library last night to celebrate the release of 'The Dancer's Ghost'.

Hitchin Library did me proud, I have to say, and the turn out was amazing.  Many thanks to all of you who came along.  The free feature cake was delicious and the chocolates and drinks seemed to go down a treat.
When I was a little girl, my parents took my sisters and I to the library. Surprise, surprise, I was hooked. At one time I even said I wanted to work in the library when I grew up. Of course, as so often, life takes us down an unexpected path and I ended elsewhere, but that doesn't prevent me from enjoying the library.
My little niece celebrated her fourth birthday recently.  When my sister picked her up from pre-school, she said "now little miss, we can go anywhere you like, the pirate adventure land, the giant soft play arena, the beach even, where do you want to go?"  Little birthday girl didn't hesitate, and assertively insisted that she wanted to go to the library.
Hurray - success, a new reader has been born!  Of course it may help that Aunty Jayne's books are on the shelves and she knows she has a copy of her own (waiting safely until she's old enough to read it, naturally).
My niece and nephew have been to the library every week without fail for the duration of their young lives, and the pattern looks set to continue.  This is the future, the way to secure a new generation of literature lovers, and it highlights the benefits of the library; a community place.
If you see anything to help 'save the library' anywhere in the UK (or even the world) please add your name to the cause. It really is a magical place where words come alive, which brings me back to last night's launch party.  Without the library, the party wouldn't have had a venue. It's quite simply a great place to be, whatever the occasion.

I've had to work very hard to get this far into my writing career but every tiny bit was worth it when I looked out at the crowd waiting to hear me speak about my third novel. I still can't quite believe that people actually took themselves out of their nice warm homes on a dark November evening, just for me.  It just goes to prove that if you really want to achieve something, and work hard enough, you can do it.  Nothing worth having ever lands in your lap!
If you take anything from my blog site, let it be this: whatever it is you want to achieve in your own lives, make it happen. You'll be pleased you put in that extra effort, when it all starts to pay off!
Keep watching for the photographs of last night's party.
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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Through the looking glass...


Promoting your work is a bit like looking through the looking glass... the future.  You're not quite sure how things will turn out. Everything can look very distorted.

It's a strange thing to do when you're not used to it. If anyone knows the secret to it, I'd be grateful to learn!

When I was a small child we had a succession of family pets, as most families do. We had fish, rabbits, birds, a cat, but no, we didn't have a dog. On several occasions we came home from school to find mother had moved the fish or birds away from the cat's line of vision. When my first novel was published, I felt much like the cat peering through the fish bowl. What you see isn't quite the reality that you face.

After a while of stumbling about in the dark, it becomes easier. I promise! If you're new to promoting a product, whether it's a book, a new business, a friend's career, then believe me, it'll get better in time.

Talking in Public

Have you ever been asked to make a speech... Best Man at wedding springs to mind, not that I'll ever have to do this - thankfully!!

If the occasion arises, here are some basic hints and tips to help you.

1. Plan your talk with the occasion in mind.  Think about the event and the audience you'll going to address.  Use a tone of voice that is appropriate e.g. sombre for a funeral or memorial service, serious for a political address, informal for a family party, humorous for a wedding speech, and so on). 

2. Remember how long you've got to fill, and time yourself speaking out loud.  We often speak much faster than we write... remember this invaluable tip!

3.Think about your first line. It needs to grab the attention of those listening. Most people employ a joke to open their talk, or something to raise a chuckle.  If it's a serious talk maybe a thought-provoking question or statement would be best.  After about 40 seconds the introduction needs to be wrapped up and the real talk beginning...

4. List your items to cover simply so you can refer to this during the talk, if you need to.

5. Organise your list of items so they support and build on each other, and add or take out those points that don't fit into your theme.

6. Go out on a high!  As well as starting well, you need to finish with style. Make sure you summarise everything you've said and clarify anything that could have been unclear.  It is normal to conclude and then open the floor to questions, if the occasion demands.

7. When it's ready, read it out loud several times and time yourself. I've mentioned this already but it can't be emphasised enough. Imagine your own horror if you go up there and find you've got twenty minutes left to free fall... some people can fill this time with ease but it's not for everyone!

8. The free Cs': Crisp, Clear, Compelling.

9. If you can, ask someone to read your talk before you deliver it.  Check for any errors, spellings etc. Check that it's appropriate for the event you're speaking at.  Remember to thank those who invited you to speak, the host, and the audience for turning up and listening to you!

And that's about it... one last thing. Don't forget to practise!

Friday, 20 September 2013

It's been a roller coaster ride so far...

The last three years have been a roller coaster ride in the writing world. I've learnt more than I realised there was to learn, achieved a fair amount, made the odd mistake along the way... however, that's how most of find our feet in life so I'm not complaining. Here's a glimpse of the story so far....

Sometimes love can be a shortcut to heaven - literally!
A gift from the dead? Sophie Harris thinks so until her appointed handyman - the delectable Andy - unearths skeletons in the garden of her inherited new home.
Could a secret murderer lurk in her family tree?

Simultaneously the buried victims live on in their own time - 1930's - as their story breaths through Elise's diary. The touching love story twists through intrigue and heartfelt sympathy; but can happiness ever be theirs?
Delving into family secrets, Sophie finds herself at the mercy of a poisonous pen, her life threatened - just how far will they go to keep the truth hidden...?
Police efforts do nothing to dent the poison pen's composure and a plot to murder Sophie begins to take shape. With the truth inches from revelation, Sophie is left clutching at the jaws of death; but will the police arrive in time?
HS ISBN 9871 84963 0733

Published May 2011, I was quite literally leaping around the house with delight when this came out; my first published novel.  It was a day I'll never forget.

 One shot in the dark, and everything changes...  When Richard Burkett shoots his victim in 1935, and gets away with it, he doesn't expect to be
caught over seventy years later. The death of one man can affect so many lives...
Zoe Peterson is shocked to find two police detectives one being the captivating DC James Clark interviewing her grandparents about an unsolved murder.
Simultaneously Cathy and Stephen endure emotional turmoil in 1957. The revelation of her father's identity frightens Cathy.
Zoe is concerned about her father's health and her ex won't accept her ditching him; until James plants his size twelve's firmly into her life. Will finding the dying gunman and earning her grandparents' gratitude be enough for James to win Zoe's heart?
In 1957 someone is stalking Cathy, the shadows following her, the darkness choking her, until breaking point finds her in Stephen's arms and the awful secret is revealed. Wedded bliss could so easily be snatched away by terminal heartbreak.
A chance comment reminds James that the identity of the victim is more important than that of the murderer...
HS ISBN 9781849631761

October 2012 saw the release of 'Distant Shadows'. I was even more thrilled, if that's possible, when this second novel was published. This tale had resided in my writing files and my heart for almost ten years by the time it came to see the light of day.  The characters and the story long pre-dated those in 'Beneath The Daisies', but happened to emerge second.

Where we come from can change everything...  When a baby is snatched the famous parents keep the tragedy secret, but this doesn't prevent Joyce Capelli from searching, attracting trouble at every turn. An anonymous writer claims to know everything, but it will cost Joyce more than she realises. When a shot is fired all she finds is an open window, and a room of photographs.
In the modern day Rebecca Houseman finds herself widowed, suffering persistent dreams, and threatened. What she doesn't know is why. When the unconventional DCI Allen says her husband's apparent natural causes was in fact murder, she wonders what he was trying to tell her in his final breath.
A stranger is watching the Houseman family, an unsettling familiarity that could change everything. As the attempts grow increasingly deadly, the inspector strives to solve the case, but can he crack the mystery before the assassin finds Rebecca?
Meanwhile, in the 1960s, Joyce's delight at finding her baby is tragically short lived. What could ink Rebecca Houseman and the young dancer's missing baby all those years ago?
HS ISBN 9781849633291
In approximately six weeks time my third novel will be released from the publishers presses. This third novel represents a whole wealth of personal subject knowledge and passion, so I'm ever keen that readers enjoy it.  The mystery is more complex in some ways, and simpler in others, but you'll have to read it to find out what I mean! There is plenty of edge of your seat action, which I hope you'll enjoy!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Fitting it all in....

Do you ever feel as if you're running against the clock?

 I often find myself dashing from one task to the next and trying to cram the day with as much as possible... it's quite a challenge. Many of you are nodding along to this... yes, I know, it's a common feeling.
When I was a very young student I had four jobs and two separate study timetables, spread over a 30-mile radius. At the time I used my driving lessons as a means of getting myself from one point to another, as well as the train, the good old-fashioned bicycle and of course the daily sprint; dodging other people in the mad dash through the city centre.
I must have been mad... fit certainly, but when I look back at this crazy period in my life, I realise it is probably to thank for having taught me the skill of time management.  To this day, I think about the order I do things in. For example, switch on the washing machine first, then clean the house, and by the time the cleaning is done, the washing is probably ready to hang out.  A very simple example of course, and one which most people have probably adopted without having dashed across the lands to have learnt! However, if you take this principle and expand on it, you'll find you can fit a whole lot more into your day.
Having filled the days now to maximum capacity, I often find the only solution left is to get up ever earlier... but I must confess that I think I have now reached my limit, and increasingly find myself struggling to rise when the alarm clocks jolts me into wakefulness.  Perhaps it is time for another review of the situation... So long as you can keep going then do just that, and fill your life with as much as you can. It's my only method of keeping up with the demands of every day life whilst managing to 'have a life' at the same time. Does anyone else feel the same?
The only problem then left to fix is how to deal with being completely shattered at the end of it!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

'The Dancer's Ghost' FREE Launch Party!

'The Dancer's Ghost' due for release end of October 2013.

Pop along for the FREE launch party on 7th November from 7.30pm at Hitchin Library, Paynes Park, Hitchin SG5 1EW

FREE entry, free refreshments including feature cake, talk, Q&A and book signing opportunity. Email me with any queries:

Full details

Thursday, 22 August 2013

JM Barker - the brand new newsletter!!

I've just discovered the online newsletter... it's free and fabulous!

Take a look and let me know what you think!

>JM Barker - Newsletter

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Creative Twist!

As people, we seem intent on categorising everything; the emails in our inbox, the type of film or TV channel we watch, the food we like to eat, and the books we like to read. We can't seem to help ourselves. Even the clothes in the high street shops fall under categories e.g. tall, petite, casual, smart, evening, occasion, work wear. The list is endless. Why do we feel the need to do this? Is it simply to be organised?  Whatever the reason, the same applies to the creative writing industry.
Do you know what genre you like to read, or write?  Few people could name it without hesitation. Ask a friend or two what types of books they like to read and they'll quote titles and probably authors by name. Some may say 'I like crime fiction' or 'I live for romance books or sagas'.
When you start to write a book for the first time, it is often the last thing you think about, the shelf it would fit onto in the shop. The industry will want to know which shelf your novel slides onto. I learnt this valuable lesson very early on. My publisher told me that I had written a romantic thriller, which meant a cross over between romance and crime. I thought I had written a mystery.
If we didn't have categories in the bookshop, would you read something you'd never normally find? I wonder how many books we would enjoy if we didn't stride with purpose to our usual badged shelf. There are plenty of cross over genre books, and most would be enjoyed by many, so next time you're in the bookshop take a stroll around and open your eyes. You may just find a hidden gem.
Amazon and Kindle in particular have debated this point already. It is said that ebooks offer readers a wider choice less restricted by categories. Do you agree?
It's worth thinking about early on if you're writing a book, believe me, and crafting your masterpiece with this knowledge in mind. However, it's not the end of the world. All that really matters is that you write the story that you want to tell.

Catching up...

The third Inspector Allen Mystery will be released very soon - 'The Dancer's Ghost'. Catch up with the first two quickly - 'Beneath The Daisies' and 'Distant Shadows'.


Details of 'The Dancer's Ghost' and the first two novels available on my website:

Monday, 22 July 2013


'I didn't know you were a bestselling author in the making,' someone said to me today, sheer surprise wrinkling their face. Initially it would be easy to be mildly irrated by the shock, as if it were beyond your abilities to string together two words. As the suprise of those in your 'ordinary world' begins to break, you become accustomed to the reactions of others and perhaps acknowledge that it was a tad unfair to be so emotional when they voiced their surprise. People are consistently amazed to realise that someone they know has done something 'as difficult' (their words, not mine) as to have their book published. If you're a new author you'll probably be pleased to learn that the reaction of others, and your own, does mellow over time. The more we get used to something, anything in life, the easier we tend to manage and the smoother our self control at this point becomes. When you think about it, people are normally trying to be nice so it's only fair to give them the benefit of the doubt.  However, then the really tricky bit kicks in...

It would be very easy to allow your head to swim up to the clouds and announce boldly that you are the best selling author of all time, even if this isn't quite true - yet! Perhaps the initial shyness has dilluted now that you're more used to the conversation with the newly discovered reader, but modesty should remain for all good British folk! It's part of our culture and whilst we tend to build in confidence we are a modest nation by default.

The tricky part of 'realization cycle' is to know when to advertise and talk freely and when to deploy the natural look of 'well of course, but hey, it's nothing. Thanks for noticing,'  with a confident smile.  There's a time and a place for advertisement and PR and for boasting one's own career with friendly chit chat. Book events and conventions are the places for these. You can go a little way along the path of 'here's the address of my website' conversation but if it's a casual enquiry born out of surprise , it pays not to overdo it.  I did warn you, it's tricky, but the only golden rule I can work by myself is; 'just be yourself, always smile and be pleasant. Never be pushy.'  We hate pushy people in the UK. Think about the car salesman who 'was lovely, never tried to push me into it,' and how often that person won the sale.  The one who 'was all over me the minute I walked in the door,' will earn far less commission in life.
So - give it your best sweet smile and pray the enquiry is converted into a sale at some point down the line - but never push your luck! In short, keep your feet firmed on the ground, your head out of the clouds, and your eyes open to the world around you. We have two ears and one mouth... not a bad rule to remember. Good luck!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Technology 1, Me 0... oh dear, not again!

I came across this picture online today and it made me laugh. This is exactly how I sometimes feel!

Wrestling with the methods, the internet sources and after three hours suddenly finding you're no further forward... Am I alone in this?

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for advancement. I happen to like the possibilties we have today and I've tried in vain to get my feeble technical skills around them!

As an operator of Microsoft progammes and fully fledged diploma holding professional personal assistant, I have no trouble working the computer. I can manipulate the programes to suit, fomulate spreadsheets with complex data, handle databases, mail merges, format word processed documents with charts and graphs, write essays (and the occassiona novel!) type up important meeting minutes and answer a phone connected to the PC without a hint of trouble.

But... when it come to websites, blogs even, importing data into posts and linking various things to each other online, I find myself a long way behind the technical trail blazers. There are apps to link Goodreads to Facebook, Facebook to Twitter, Twitter to your website and now there are blogs too.... help me please. I just about fathom something but by the time I've managed that the world has announced a fabulous new invention... If anyone fancies setting up business instructing people how to operate an effective online profile, they'll be raking the pounds in, I'm sure.

Oh dear, let me struggle on. If there's anyone out there who knows how to magic these things up then I'd be grateful to hear from them, before I crumple yet another computer with frustration!!

Monday, 3 June 2013

CrimeFest 2013

Last weekend saw CrimeFest 2013 at Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel. The above panel was an interesting discussion on violence in crime fiction, and questioned whether it ever went too far.
The panel consisted of:
  • Ruth Dudley Edwards
  • MR Hall
  • Simon Kernick
  • Kevin Wignall
  • Moderator: Steve Mosby
Ruth Dudley Edwards led the argument that violence isn't necessary to evoke powerful imagines for the reader. Matthew Hall told an interesting tale relating to a book by Stephen King entitled 'Rage' that he withdrew from publication following a savage attack on school children by gunmen. The book came out before the shooting but mirrored 'Rage' sufficently to upset the author, understandably so.  The discussion was perhaps the liviest of those I saw, but was chaired expertly by Steve Mosby and left the group with many thoughts to ponder over!

I also attended the panel called, 'Crime & Crossover: Different Genres, Different Audience?' with the following:
  • Colin Cotterill
  • Yrsa Siguroardottir
  • Dana Stabenow
  • Evonne Wareham
  • Moderator: Kevin Wignall
 The discussion questioned the need for marketers and book shops to put a book in a specific catergory and theorised that the new electronic format gave readers a wider range to see by ignoring such categories.  It's an interesting view - what is your take on this? Any comments appreciated.
My personal favourite panel was the Fresh Blood, Debut Authors 1, consisting of:
  • Alex Blackmore
  • JC Martin
  • Tom Vowler
  • Fergus McNeill
Alex Blackmore's 'Legal Profit' sounded like an excellent read and has since been added to my shelf. From a corporate city background, Alex has forged a unique tale that will probably prove quite illuminating!  JC Martin told us about her new detective novel, in the run-up to the London Olympics. Fergus McNeill told us about his road to publication and his dedication to his new career launched by his debut novel 'Eye Contact'. Tom Vowler made up the panel with his debut novel 'What Lies Within', which again sounded like a must-read psychological suspense.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Two Methods...

Notes to help aspiring authors…

There are two recognized methods of writing a novel:
  1. Plan thoroughly, complete all research and planning tasks, then write first draft.  Always leave flexibility in the plotline/yourself so that you can adapt if ideas and twists strike you whilst writing.  This method should leave you with an almost perfect draft first go.  Once completed re-draft and edit throughout, change as desired and submit.
  2. The blank page approach; start writing with a less structured plan but ensure you know where you want your story to end up.  This will probably result in a rather messy first draft but you’ll have the basic story on the page.  The second draft is when you apply the planning and overall tidy up to fit the manuscript to novel formation.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Magical Addiction of Publishing

 When I opened the letter from my publisher notifying me that they wanted to publish my first novel, I literally leapt up and bounced around the living room in ectasy. It was the moment I had been waiting for as long as I could remember. That one second when your life long dream comes true. Naturally, ambition and hard work had got me that far, but even so, it felt like the world was smiling at me.
Publishing is an interesting business, and one you cannot possibly comprehend until you join it fully. I knew nothing about the world of publishing when the contract for 'Beneath The Daisies' was signed. I learnt, quickly. I learnt the various stages a book goes through when production commences. I learnt that the proof reader could be wrong, and that the editor was not necessarily going to say, "yes, I love your book, I don't want to change a single thing!" Life is never that straight forward.
Proof readers and editors, agents and graphics teams are all on your side, even if you don't realise it at the time! Everyone is looking for the best result, the final product, the finished book. By the time I started the round again with 'Distant Shadows', I was wiser and the whole thing felt smoother. Knowledge is a wonderful thing!

I tend to think of the production of the printed book like a conveyor belt. First, it is added to the publishers computer system. Let's gloss over the editor stage as this can vary considerably from book to book. Secondly, the proof reader reads through and marks the margins with comments, spellings, suggestions, and generally any thoughts they have whilst reading it. Thirdly, the marked manuscript is sent to the author for agreement/disagreement. This processs is repeated, the first round of changes being implemented, and then the proof reader has another go... When the revised manuscript arrives back for the second time, the author must ensure they are happy with it. This may be the last opportunity to make adjustments to the text within the covers.
The final stage of the production is the book jacket or cover as some people prefer to call it.  Once the cover illustration and text is agreed between author and publisher, it goes to print... This is the final and most exciting stage, partly because as the author the job is finally completed, and partly because the release is drawing close.

Life as an author is sometimes a surreal thing. When you receive your personal complimentary copies, it's as if someone has handed you a bar of gold. It really is beyond words, which is never a good thing for an author to admit to!
The publishing industry, like most businesses these days, runs on a cut throat scale. Every book must turn its profit and make its mark on the world, but here, the world of publishing ends and that of promotion, marketing and PR commences. This is an entirely new venture for most authors. By nature, most authors are quiet thinking types. By nature, advertisers and people belonging to the world of promotion, are not. This means that authors have to learn how to market their work, how to promote and advertise it. Let's skip back to the safer domain of publishing for a moment and you'll see what I mean...
A publisher is an animal of the modern business sphere. Every publisher must compete with every other. Every book must compete with others in its genre. Every author must write another book better than the first. It's a tough world but one people can't help but fall in love with. Now there's an unusual ending for a crime writer!

Jayne-Marie Barker

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Mystery of Plotting

Earlier this week a friend of mine admitted to a secret desire to write a novel, and sought my advice on plotting. My friend had written the story into a corner, the direct result of poor planning. It's an easy mistake to make, one I've made myself in the past. The fingers are keen to put the words on the page - or screen I should say - but first the foundation work must be carried out. I explained to my friend that it was like building a house. You can't start building the part that everybody sees until you've laid the foundations...

Plotting a novel has been a mystery to many but the lucky few for as long as I can remember, and will probably remain that way for years to come. Let me let you into a little secret... there isn't a magic spell, the writers on the shelves of your favourite book shop or library do not have special powers. There isn't an invisible night school where you slip away into the ether and wizards in long robes reveal the deep dark secrets of how to plot a novel... in truth there is no right way to construct a novel, you have to find a path that suits your own writing methods.

From a personal viewpoint I plan my novels quite thoroughly. I break down the story and compile a list of events. Once I have this for the main plot I repeat the exercise for the sub-plot(s) and then weave all lines into one neat line. Now for the fun part... What I have actually constructed is the story in strict date order, but that isn't necessarily the order I want to reveal the story to the reader. If you prefer you could write the events on post-it notes or cards and move them around on a tabletop... it's the same thing really.

But now... to the mystery of plotting a mystery novel.  The art of plotting is the same for all books irrespective of their genre, but in a mystery there is need to tell the story in a certain way. All good mysteries reveal the information like a drip, slowly and steadily. As the reader it's my humble opinion that you want the information but it's more interesting if not everything is taken at face value, or rather you do take it at face value and then realise (hopefully close to the climax) that there was a subtle clue behind the details given.  One point is vital - the reader must have a fair chance at solving the mystery - just as your main sleuth does. It would be highly unfair to produce an identical twin or new character nobody had heard of right before the end, and for that character to turn out to be the killer. Fairs fair, you must play by the rules if you want to retain your reader.

So, the art of plotting a mystery novel then. Take the usual plotting guidelines but spend extra time on the order of revealtion. Think about the pace of the novel and apply the order that best fits the uncovering mystery and furthers the story whilst keeping the plotline moving and the reader on the edge of their seat!

The above is only my opinion based on experience and personal belief. If you're a writer hoping to pen your novel this year then I wish you the very best of luck finding a path that works for you. If you're a reader then sit back and enjoy!