Monday, 25 August 2014

The Writing Process

When that magic moment happens, and you've signed your first contract of publication, you feel on top of the world. But then.... the work really begins. Somehow your manuscript is converted into a commercially published book, but there are various stages along the way.

Every book has a few amendments to make before it finds its way onto the press. A in-house editor from the publishers will work with you to ensure the book is in its best shape before it lands into the hands of the reader. If you find your editor's comments upsetting, give yourself time to relax and think carefully. Everyone wants the same thing, the best book. They're all on your side, even if it may not feel like that. So, count to ten, calm down and think objectively. After all, that's what the editor is doing, thinking objectively. Your reaction is only so wild because it's your own sweat and toil that has gone into it so far. Now it's time to be professional. Of course, you should discuss things with your editor, but don't forget that they're the experts in the industry. They know what sells, and why.
Polish your dialogue. It can help build pace, sustain suspense and bring your characters to life. Double check your structure. Ensure everything plot point hangs together and check for inaccuracies. Is your book readable? Strange question but a valid one.

The Final Check
When all the re-writes are complete, it's time to proof read and check. Whilst a professional proof reader will read your manuscript, more than once, you should also take time to carry out this task. After all, you're the writer, you know what should appear on the page. Remember to check every spelling, even those you think you can write with your eyes closed. Punctuation is important. There will always be a reader who knows it back to front, and punctuation mistakes can annoy the reader. If you're too close to your project, step away for a bit (as long as you can, given the deadlines!) and return with a fresh pair of eyes.

Marketing - your brand
If you remember nothing else from this blog, let it be this. NEVER tell your marketers anything you wouldn't happily share with the world. They want to know about you, the author. In this day and age we tend to share everything via social media networks. That brings with it joys, advantages and pleasures, but it also brings danger and a lack of privacy. Remember, share only what you're happy to. Marketers know how to market books, and they will want to use any snippet of information you're happy to give them. They are people like you and I, and they will respect your privacy, but ultimately they're doing a job so be wise from the start. It pays to think about your "public image" or "brand" in advance. Know what you want to tell the world, and be consistent.

The Cover
It's an exciting time when you first see images of the proposed cover for your book, and in particular your first published novel. Your publishers graphics team will devise the book cover based on the back cover blurb and your combined ideas. The artists may not have read the book so the authors input is essential here. Look at it objectively and think about what it says to a fresh pair of eyes. Ask someone for their first impression. It's surprising how often people see different things.

Public Relations
It's generally thought best not to confess to the following:
  • I'm hopeless with technology
  • I can only write when, it's quiet/I'm in the mood/I have two cups of tea and stand on one leg
  • I'm a terrible public speaker, very shy, an introvert
  • I don't want to do book signings, events, interviews
  • I hate social media
These are sure turn off signs. Even if the above are true for you, don't admit it! You need to remember that you're a professional now. Keep your public image separate from your private life and manage it, just like any other business. Consistency is the key. Even the most introverted of us can manage to speak or conduct an interview, if we put our minds to it.

Good luck!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Synopsis

It's a tough call but we all have to write the synopsis. It's not as difficult as you think. Having said that, you need to write it with dedication and thought. Redraft as often as necessary until you're happy with it. The point of a synopsis is to tell your proposed publisher or agent what the book is about. Only they, and you, will read it. It's not for the general public.
If you're polished your manuscript to an inch of its life and you've written your synopsis, you're probably ready to submit to your chosen agent/publisher. What then....? You wait. Then you wait some more.
Agents and publishers are busy people. They receive thousands of submissions every year and can only take on a small percentage of those. If you receive one, two, three, forty, four hundred rejections then you may have to consider the possibility that something's not quite right with your work. There are various reasons why this might be. Here are just a few:
  • Your work isn't good enough - harsh but possibly true.  Have another go and study the marketplace. See what's selling well in your chosen genre, study that and see if you can learn anything from the authors already making a success of writing.
  • There isn't a market for your work. Is your novel a cross-genre? Think about where it would fit on the book shop shelves. If you're struggling to answer that question, chances are, the agent/publisher is also struggling, and therefore can't sell your work on easily.
  • The agent you've chosen doesn't have an immediate place to sell your work to.
  • The publisher you've chosen is already committed to too many other authors at present and has no space to take you on.
Read interviews by other authors. They've all had a long journey, even those who appear to have arrived overnight. It's not an easy job, but it's very rewarding so don't give up. Keep going and trying hard, and one day you'll get there.

The Moving Writer

Writing is a sedentary job, but we need to move. Take exercise every couple of hours or so. Move your limbs. Ideas to keep yourself moving include, wrist rotations, shoulder rolls, spinal twists and bends both forwards and sideways. Twist from the waist and bring your legs up one at a time onto your knee, raise your legs, rotate your ankles and feet.

Anything is better than nothing, but be careful. Don't suddenly leap up if you've been still for a while. Get up gently and build up your movement to avoid shocking your muscles.

With any luck, most of us take regular exercise as part of our daily lives. Housework even counts as being active. If you play a sport, belong to a running club, dance school, attend a gym or even just like hoping along to an exercise DVD at home, all the better. Exercising the body also keeps our minds alive and fresh.

If you're in any doubt, ask for medical advice and/or consult your GP. This blog takes no responsibility for any injury caused. Always seek medical advice from a qualified professional before commencing a new exercise routine.

Top tip: If you're not a fan of exercise, try dancing.

Genre Types

There are various crime fiction types within the genre. It's a wide platform and the best selling genre of the day. Which ones do you like best?
  • The police procedure is as realistic to policing as the author can make it, whilst applying poetic licence to suit the plot. Authors writing in this genre will most probably have spent time with the police, will certainly have asked for guidance from the authorities, and the central characters are often in the police force. It's quite complex in places and takes a specialist skill to do it well. The central character will often deal with more than once case at a time - just as the real police have to.
  • The medical thriller is a hospital based suspense story, with a crime linked to the characters there.
  • The forensic thriller is an ever popular option these days, following pathologists and other medical experts working with victims of unexplained deaths.
  • Modern Private Investigators are usually former police men or security experts, and often alone, hired by individuals to find someone, or solve a mystery/crime that the authorities have either forgotten about or can't handle.
  • The legal thriller is often a court-based novel, where the action is largely inside the court room, but could possibly incorporate flashbacks to scenes of crime etc. Authors of this type of novel will, hopefully, have studied the legal world carefully.
  • Cosy mysteries often have amateur detectives, ordinary people thrown into an extraordinary situation. A good example of this is Agatha Christie's 'Miss Marple'.  The modern day author of these kinds of novels must have a character who is well placed to come across crimes, and will have access to lots of people. Usually they are small towns or villages, where people tend to know each other better than urban dwellers of the city.
  • The military thriller is usually based around MI5, Mi6, American CIA or FBI etc. Professional spies and action packed tales. James Bond is the best example of these, or Tom Clancy's 'Jack Ryan'.
If you're starting a career in writing, read widely and decide early on what type of book you want to write. Remember, this could make all the difference when you submit your work to publishers/agents.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Secret Of The Plot Twist

The Twist

A twist is essential in a crime fiction novel. Well, that's my opinion, anyway!

Crime writers need to throw a twist, or two, into their tales. It's what the reader enjoys about the genre. Defying common sense and convention is always popular and readers like to read a bit of wit, intelligently applied to the page. Put your trust in your narrator. They can be unnamed or they can be your main character. If the twist involves the narrator, it will surprise your reader beyond their wildest dreams.

The other key ingredient for the crime novel is the red herring, and misdirection. Magicians use misdirection to distract the eye away from what's really going on. It's your classic trick but we've loved it for centuries and there's no reason why we won't continue to do so.

When the final solution, the truth, is revealed at the end, it should be satisfying for the reader. We've all been there, that feeling of yes of course, why didn't I see that coming?

Finally, a quick word on integrity. Whilst the reader often wants to be pleasantly surprised by the ending, they want to believe in it too. The villain needs to be in the novel, they can't be someone who waltzed in three pages before the end. Clues for the reader to solve the puzzle themselves should be there. It's the author's job to disguise the clues well enough, but it's unfair not to put them in at all.

The Mystery of the Series

The Mystery of the Series

Are you writing a series of novels, stand alone books or something in-between?
A series of novels is a set of novels featuring the same cast of characters. The central character often has a personal story running through the series. Stand alone books are exactly what they say. One cast of characters for one novel only. You could pitch your skills in the middle e.g. Ian Flemming managed this with James Bond. Each book was a stand alone story but the central character re-appeared for each new assignment.

Series novels are like chapters of one very large book. Harry Potter, A Game of Thrones, Family Sagas etc. If you're going to write these you need to have a longer term vision. Often, the main characters re-appear, and their individuals stories are spread over several books. You'll need to map out what you're doing over several book plots without leaving the individual books lacking in any way. This is where strong characters will help you out. Each should have a great back story, even if you don't use all or any of this straight away. Throw in the little details as you go so that when you come to use part of this back story, say in book no. 4, the following reader will think, ah yes, of course, that makes sense.

You'll need to keep track of where you're up to. Here are some ideas to help you:
  • Flash cards. You can shuffle them around the table top and they won't crash and burn like technology!
  • Notebooks - keep notes for each character and the main plot lines, so you can refresh your memory at any stage.
  • If you're fond of looking at a large visual map, get a whiteboard or a corkboard and pin your post it notes into position.
  • Build your character profiles as you go. Each time your character tells you something new about themselves, add the detail to their growing file.
  • Keep a "where I'm up to" file so you can see what you've discovered so far, what each character is thinking, what they've found out and where they're heading next.
  • Plan your plotlines, at least the key turning points and always think ahead, not just the current novel but three or four ahead of that.
One last point, you'll need to be disciplined. Keep writing, keep yourself emerged in the book and the characters. Read back what you wrote last time before you start writing again. Oh, and smile, you'll get there in the end!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Who moved the goal posts?

Who moved the goal posts?
Starting a novel is great fun. It's all there, energy, drive, ambition.... then there's a snag and the engine starts to struggle. This is the moment when many people will quit. The warning signs are easy to spot.....
  • do you find other things to do instead of writing?
  • does the rest of the world seem to be having more fun than you?
  • do you believe your work is rubbish?
  • does writing feel more like a chore than fun?
  • do you have lots of ideas and half written projects but haven't finished any of them?
I've got good news for you. You can overcome these hurdles and reach the end. You can finish your novel, and here's how.
  • Know your characters, intimately. Talk to a friend about them, as if they were really real people. Tell your friend everything about them, what they do for a living, what they look like, how they reacted when something good/bad happened. It'll make them come alive in your mind, again, and freshen your ideas.
  • What does your main character do? If they go mountain climbing in your novel, hadn't you better try it? (You can always start off on the safety ropes at the local leisure centre and climb the rock wall) Writing the experiences through the eyes of your characters can only be a good thing. This is partly where the saying, "write what you know", comes from.
  • Remind yourself of your dream. Try writing the back cover blurb for your novel. It'll concentrate your story into a compact paragraph or two, and it'll refresh your mind of the theme and thread of your novel.
  • Have a holiday. You can always hop on a plane and jet off to the sun, but just a break from your writing will help. Have a couple of weeks off and don't think about it at all. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • Re-read a favourite book. It'll restore your desire to write.
  • Be confident. If you're feeling great, your writing will be great. We are human beings at the end of the day. We can only do our best if we're feeling up to our best.
  • Find a quote from a favourite author and put it where you can see it every day. It'll remind you to keep going.
  • Don't let yourself be distracted with new ideas. Jot them down and put them aside until you've finished your existing work. Only then, go back to them. Just keep going. You'll get there, eventually. We all do.
If you've got more ideas about how to keep writing or how to finish that first novel, please feel free to comment. Having completed four novels and several other unpublished volumes, I can testify that the above is true!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

#Writing_Process #Blog_Tour

Next stop in the #Writing_Process #Blog_Tour

Next stop in the Writing Process Blog Tour 

Crime fiction author, Judith Cranswick ( invited me to participate in a unique blog tour on writing. Judith spreads her wrings to tutor and speaker as well as being a well-known and hugely successful crime writer. In an interview Judith said she wrote because it was like an obsession. I must confess, I feel exactly the same. Judith's books are well worth a read; 'All In The Mind, 'Watcher In The Shadows', 'Blood On The Bulb Fields', 'Blood In The Wine', and 'A Death Too Far'.
To carry on this great tour, please find my four question responses below.

What are you working on?

My first crime thriller series featured the unique Inspector Allen, but I'm working on a new series now, featuring DI Rachel Bennett. Newly promoted to the rank of DI, Rachel has her work cut out leading a new team, dealing with a husband whose profession puts him in a dangerous place, not to mention the cases she must handle, and the mysterious deaths she must solve.
The first novel is completed but it hasn't hit the bookshelves yet. Books two and three in the series are already under construction. At the moment I'm working on the outline for book two in more detail. As always, I have a bursting ideas file with lots of snippets, phrases, words and titles. It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle, yet to be slotted together. Amongst this stash is a desire to blend two specific crime genres together, but I can't tell you much about that just yet!!

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

My novels tend to favour cold cases. I've always been fascinated by those cases that seem unfathomable and remain so for years and years, before something triggers a review. My first series ran double timelines with alternating chapters between the time of the crime and modern day where the inspector was trying to piece things together. I'm keen to keep the cold case element in my work for two reasons, one being that people seem to like it and comment favourably, and two because I like it. It's always good to write something you enjoy yourself. I think this keeps your writing fresh and alive.

Why do you write what you do?

As a child, I loved reading. I was never not reading something. Back then I used to read two or three books at the same time, but now I tend to stick to one at a time. Aged about 13, if memory serves correctly, I was introduced to Agatha Christie. That was it. I was totally hooked on mystery and its sister field of crime fiction. Several years later, I'm not about to tell you exactly how many, I'm still transfixed by this genre. It has such a vast range of writers, styles, sub-genres, and plotlines. My characters are always normal people. Life's rich tapestry tells us that the most ordinary of people can be driven or pushed to do the most extraordinary things. That's what really interests me, and that's why I write crime fiction.

How does your writing process work?

There are two methods generally referred to, when one speaks about how to write a novel. There are the 'start with a blank page and see where the story takes you' type of writers, and the planners.  I'm a planner. I always plan my story outline, at least the key points of the main plot and the links to sub-plots. Historically I've worked things into chapters but I don't do that anymore. I'll start a new chapter when I think it's a good time, quite simply.  My planning does involve a list of scenes, with notes for each reminding myself of the purpose of that scene. Does it reveal something about the central character, a hidden clue to the mystery, or both?
Characters are different. I like to see them in my mind so I tend to note down how I see them before I start penning the novel; their hair colour, eyes, general build and demeanour. Whilst I'll know what type of person they are, I let them take the stage and reveal their own personalities as the words flow.
Once I've completed the first draft I take out my red pen and scribble all over the manuscript. Like most people I find it easier to spot a mistake on a printed page, than I do a screen. My planning often means that a ruthless edit is sufficient and saves me from actually re-writing a second draft. Other writers do almost re-write their novels on the second draft but I can't help wondering if these are the ones who started with the blank page. It's a personal choice, there's no right or wrong here. The destination is what you're striving for, doesn't matter which roads you travel along to get there. When it's done, I cross my fingers and pray the industry will love it!
Please also like my author page on Facebook -

On with the tour

I'm delighted to invite Leigh Russell to join the tour for the next post. People's book prize finalist and CWA Dagger Award Shortlisted, Leigh writes two crime series, both of which deserve a place on your shelves.  Leigh is published by No Exit Press (UK) and Harper Collins (USA).
My second follower on this tour is Geraldine Evans. In her own words, Geraldine is the trad-turned-indie author of the 15-strong Rafferty & Llewellyn procedural series. In order of publication (but can be read as standalones), the series consists of the following: Dead Before Morning, Down Among the Dead Men, Death Line, The Hanging Tree, Absolute Poison, Dying For You, Bad Blood, Love Lies Bleeding, Blood on the Bones, A Thrust to the Vitals, Death Dues, All the Lonely People, Death Dance, Deadly Reunion and Kith and Kill. Her other procedural series is. Casey & Catt: Up in Flames and A Killing Karma
She is also the author of the biographical historical novel: Reluctant Queen, about Mary Rose Tudor, the little sister of infamous English king, Henry VIII, a suspense-thriller: The Egg Factory, and several non-fiction books, some under pen-names.
Her interests include getting ‘volunteers’ to sit for her amateur portraiture, trying to learn to play keyboards and getting God-like in the greenhouse.
Originally a Londoner, she moved to a Norfolk (UK) market town in 2000. LINKS: Author Website:

Friday, 20 June 2014


The Double Story
Do you fancy writing a double take story; one with two time threads running through it? Parallel lines are a really fun way to tell a story. It's a personal favourite of mine so I'm always keen to share the joys of the double tale. It's a popular method, provides the author with double narrative voices and offers fantastic scope for plot twists. So, what are your options? You can alternate the chapters, or you can spin multiple storylines. The trick is to link your storylines with a robust connection, preferably one that keeps the reading guessing until the very last page.

I have placed double time lines in all three of my Inspector Allen novels, and I have to say, it's the single most popular comment from readers. They love the back and forth between the time zones. It's interesting to write too. Readers can be confused so always make sure you place your time lines clearly in the readers minds. I tend to use the first person for one storyline and the third person for the other. It's immediately clear to the reader where they are.

Both time lines must be equal, have suitably strong plotlines and pull for the reader. An example of this would be Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing", which sees two couples courting, one then the other, then back to the first etc. One way to gage this is to use your own reaction. Do you prefer writing one more than the other? Is one more fun, more engaging, housing a more attractive cast? If so, you need to address the balance. By the end of course, you can link the two.

Personally, I tend to bring the two together at the climatic point and tidy up the loose ends just in time to conclude with the more modern day setting of the two.

The double story often works well for family saga novels, although I have managed to apply it to crime fiction, which means you can apply it to any genre. One thing the parallel narrative has in its favour is suspense, which is why I choose it for crime fiction. The reader is not only trying to fathom the mystery that you've carefully plotted across the pages, but also how the two time lines connect with each other. A great idea, and one I haven't tried myself but is already popular, is to switch between the police detective and the criminal. You don't even need a time zone difference for this, the entire thing would be set in the one time period.

In 1962 Alfred Hitchcock is said to have quoted the following, when asked about suspense during an interview with Francois Truffaut:  "Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, boom! There is an explosion. The public is surprised but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there..."  How would you set this up? In one chapter the bomb is positioned. In the next an innocent couple sit at the table. In the next chapter.... well, you decide. You get the idea. Take a tip from me. You do need to keep track of who knows what when though, to remember where you are at every point of the narrative.

The less obvious method of parallel narrative is the hidden back story. This would underpin the entire novel. A good example of this is Agatha Christie's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles". By this I mean that one storyline has already concluded by the time the second one starts e.g. Captain Hastings and his friend have already met, Hastings is already recovering from his injury at his friends house and the murder has occurred. Cue Poirot and the second storyline begins. The first part underpins why the second part is necessary and therefore both have equal depth in the novel.

It's not an easy writing method, I grant you, but very rewarding and great fun. Give it a try!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Have you ever heard of grey literature?

Grey Literature

Have you ever heard of grey literature? I must confess that I hadn't, until recently.  Let me enlighten you...

Grey literature is the information or research created by people e.g. academics or companies e.g. government, businesses, charities, that remains unpublished or not published in commercial form. 

Good examples of grey literature include the following:
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Research reports and studies (unpublished)
  • Government reports and policy statements
  • Conference proceedings, meeting minutes, memorandums
  • Market research
  • Maps
  • Factsheets, bulletins and newsletters
  • Technical reports and specifications
  • Blogs (this article!) emails and tweets, facebook posts
  • Clinical trails and datasets
  • Grey literature implies written items, but it can also refer to video footage, presentations, items on YouTube etc.
One of the good things about Grey Literature is that it can appear in this form first, then progress onto commercially published formats. It's handy if you're researching or studying. You'll find lots of it at your local library.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Legal Eagle

The Legal Eagle

Do you know the laws associated with writing? All writers have to work within the laws, but what are those laws and how do we stay within them?

The Oxfordshire English dictionary defines Libel as: 'a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation.'

Libel can happen even if you don't intend it to upset anyone. Libel is always written, whereas slander is spoken defamation. It will take three people for Libel to occur; a writer, a person whose reputation is damaged and a reader. It applies to anything written, on page or screen. If you're writing fiction and you describe a real person but give them a fake name, and that person is identifiable, you could be in danger of libel. Be careful. It's wise to observe traits and characteristics but to mix them up so that you're not putting a 'real person' in your work of fiction, even if you claim otherwise. The dead are safe because they can't put in a claim against you, but if your writing affects a living relative, you're still at risk.

Copyright exists to protect writers and includes designs, patents acts and the written word.  Whenever you put pen to paper or words to a screen, copyright is established. It's your own intellectual property. When the written word is soled to a publisher or publication, the author is granting the publisher the right to produce that text in book format, or newspaper article. Only the copyright holder can decide how the text can be used.  As most works are produced on a screen now, it is easy to establish the owner and date of creation.

Plagiarism is when one writer uses the words of another and passes them off as theirs. Always write your own research and be careful to use your own words. It is easy to accidentally be guilty of plagiarism these days, with PC work and copy and paste facilities.

If, after careful consideration, you find yourself in hot water, seek advice from writers unions and citizen advice. On that note, get writing. Don't let the above stop your creative flow. Whilst it's private between you and your page/screen, you can be as free as you like!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Creating Believable Characters

   How do you create a believable character?

Fiction is about making things up. Simple.
The trick is to hook your reader early on, the first word ideally. Stories that have stood the test of time always have memorable characters in them. So, how do you make your characters stand up off the page and leap about in your reader's imagination?

Lots of people create versions of themselves. This isn't terribly wise although most writers do throw the odd aspect of themselves into one or some of their cast. In a perfect world you'll love your main character. Remember that whilst you're writing your novel, you'll be living with this character in your head, day in and day out. You've got to like them or you'll send yourself crazy.

Your reader needs to feel empathy and affection towards your character. The reader needs to want the character to get out whatever tricky situation you've engineered for them. They need to be routing for them all the way. Make your characters human. That sounds so simple, doesn't it? Give them realistic dreams, back stories, thoughts and mannerisms. Make them real. Can you imagine them? What do they look like? How would they react if someone crashed into their car in the supermarket car park? You need to know the answer to that, even if it has no relevance to the story. You need to know them inside out. It's the only way to make them jump off the page.

There is no such thing as a perfect person. We all have faults, weaknesses, strengths and quirks. No-one is totally good or totally bad. Lay your clues throughout the storyline and let your reader work out who they like and who they don't, and why. Your job as the writer is to lead your reader along the path you want them to take but it shouldn't feel forced. Characters can help with this. If a situation in your storylines calls for an upheaval, use your characters reactions to make this happen. It's easier than you think. Go on, give it a try!

Monday, 5 May 2014

When it all gets too much...

Sometimes it can feel as if the world is resting on your shoulders. Modern life is difficult enough without adding to the strain. When it's getting you down, take a deep breath, and write.  Write anything at all, scribble away until you feel calm again. Trust me, it really does work.  According to Stephen Kind, On Writing; "The situation comes first. The characters - always flat and unfeatured, to begin with - come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate.  I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualised. In most, however, it's something I never expected."
So, do you have a master plan?
Personally, I life to plan my novels, but lots of writers just let the words flow onto the page and only scramble control of them once the first draft is completed. I like planning, I like the safety of knowing where I'm going with my story. Essentially though, I always leave myself a little "wiggle room" so that when that extra twist sparks into life, I can find a way to include it into the novel. Often, that extra special twist is something I don't think I would ever have thought of in a million years. It's always as if the characters have told me. It comes to life whilst writing, not whilst planning.
So, to plan or not to plan?
Well, it's a personal choice. Try it both way and see what works best for you. After all, we can't all be the same!

Trade Secrets....

  Elephants never forget, apparently. Sometimes I wish I were as lucky. There are endless streams of tips and snippets of advice out there just waiting to swamp the aspiring writer. If only we could remember it all when we really need it.
Well here's the good news, wait for it, you don't need to!  Your aim as a writer is simple. Just write. Just write a book you'd like to read yourself. Sounds so easy when you say it like that, doesn't it, but how do you begin?
Virgina Woolf once said, "So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say."
The first hurdle to overcome is fitting writing into your life. It can be tricky to find five minutes in today's hectic schedules, let alone longer. If you're serious about writing but struggle to find a moment or two, start by reviewing your week. Take an average week and look carefully at where you could shuffle things to save yourself time. Ultimately, if you want to write and you're serious about it, you'll find a window of time somewhere.  In an ideal world, you'll find yourself a slice of time each week when you're at your best. Some people are at their best in the mornings, others in the evenings, some even in the twilight hours. Find your best time and do everything you can to clear your diary.
Writing becomes a habit. Find the time and keep going. Don't quit. Before too long you'll have written far more than you ever thought possible.
"The art of writing is all about the inspiration of the moment and the excitement of riding the wave of an idea."  According to Elizabeth George (Write Away).
The trick is to keep going, even when inspiration seems to be reluctant to join you. It's a discipline, one to be adhered to if you want to succeed.
It's tempting to wait until inspiration finds you, as if by some magical spell, but instead, remember that real writers write. If you want to be a writer you need to make the ideals come to life, make them happen, create them, and make them yours.
So where will you get your ideas from? It has to be the most popular question asked. Well, look around yourself. Watch people, politely of course. Don't stare.  If you watch people for a little while, you'll find yourself wondering what they're doing, where they're going next, why one of them is hobbling or the other has a torn sleeve.  Don't look for too long, just enough to spark off your thoughts, then let them go, swiftly pick up your pen or laptop and start to fill in the gaps for yourself.
Family and friends will be happy to offer ideas. Keep them, all of them. You never know when you may use them. The news and the media can also spark off ideas for great plotlines. Keep up to date with the world. The next newspaper article you read could send you into a creative dream world.
So there you are, keep going and keep your eyes and ears open to suggestions. Most importantly, keep writing and don't give up.  Oh yes, and one more thing, make sure you read a lot. It can only help!
Good luck!

Saturday, 19 April 2014


The other day I was approached by someone, their opening line, "I've just seen you in Hertfordshire Life."  My reply, "excuse me?"  Even now, I've no idea how the article came about but I'm only too grateful.
The feature refers to my first novel, "Beneath The Daisies", published May 2011 and coloured page 87 of the April edition of the magazine.

Life really is a mystery sometimes, which is quite a statement to make for a mystery writer!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Just how far away is your paradise?

How far away is your paradise?
We never quite know how close we are to our dreams, do we? The key is to keep going because it could be just round the next corner.
Setting goals:
  • One trick is to set yourself a realistic goal. Make sure it's 'do-able'. We all love to dream of a world where things happen according to plan without obstacle or delay, but sadly this path tends to be a bit elusive.
  • Create a plan that fits around your existing timescale and keep to it.
  • Tell your friends and family that you're busy working when you're working towards your dreams. If you've worked out your timetable well, you should be able to carry on without interruption. If you find this doesn't work, re-think your timetable and be firm about when you're busy.
  • When things don't go accordingly to plan, don't despair. Keep going and put a smile on your face.  Sooner or later, you will make progress.
  • Don't forget - the best things take time!
March has been a hectic month for me and we're already three quarters through.... Here's hoping the last few days go as well as the first have.
Keep going with your aspirations. It's the only way forward. Best of luck.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Question Time!

It's question time.... put the kettle on and settle down for a quick tea break.
1) What genre do you like to write?
Crime fiction. I like seemingly impossible mysteries.

2) How long have you been writing? What prompted you to start writing?
I first started to enjoy creative writing as a child, aged about eight years old. Imagination prompted me to write. There were too many ideas and tales spinning around in my mind.  I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen. I call it a novel but in reality it would be called a novella. At the time though, I didn't know this!  I studied English Literature for A-Level and read Margaret Atwood. This was the turning point in my writing life; when I thought, I want to write, to create the imagines for other people just as she had for me. When I reached my early twenties I began to dedicate time to writing every week.  Now, a decade later, I find myself with three published crime thrillers on the shelves.

3) What inspires you to write?
Other people, things I see, hear, random thoughts, almost everything. Most of all, I'd have to say other writers. In particular Jane Austen, Agatha Christie and Margaret Atwood. I am also inspired by tales told from an unusual angle or viewpoint. I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Time Traveller's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger and Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth'; both very well written and unique.  The English language inspires me. Every day there are words or phrases that fit together in harmony, and make me smile.

4) When a story idea pops into your head, how long does it typically take to write it (from start to finish)?
About ten months, give or take a week or two.

5) What did you find to be the most difficult part of the writing process? Easiest?
The research is the easiest part. People tend to be very happy to assist with literary research. Plotting and planning I find very enjoyable. The middle section of the first draft is the most difficult. It is like finding your way through fog. By this time, I may have deviated from my plan very slightly (often for the better), and need to find my way back to the path!  Things always come right by the end.

6) Of all your characters whom do you most relate to?
That's a tricky question but I have to say Cathy in 'Distant Shadows'.

7) Is there one of your characters that you did not like when you started writing about them, but found yourself liking by the end of the story?
Yes - Inspector Allen. I planned to have my main character solve the mystery, and didn't initially want to feature the police very much. This all changed once I added Inspector Allen. I knew I would have to have a police character to tie up the loose ends and bring justice forward, but I hadn't planned on him entering the books quite so much as he did. During book 1, 'Beneath The Daisies', he developed in my mind and by book 2, 'Distant Shadows', he was fully formed, persistently entering scenes I hadn't planned for him to be in!  Strangely, I am not sure I would like some of his habits or characteristics in real life, but in my fictional world I can't help smiling about him.

8) What is your least favorite part about writing? The Most?
Promotion is the most tricky for me, simply because I don't have the experties or natural abilities of others in this area. Technically, promotion isn't writing, and maybe that's why. The most exciting bit is writing the final chapter. There is a mixture of relief and excitement when the story is almost told.

9) When you are not writing or editing what do you do for relaxation?
Aside from writing, my other grand passion in life is dance. I have various amateur examination achivements in Ballroom, Latin, Argentine Tango, and Salsa. In former years I learnt Carnival Samba and performed in carnivals across the UK. As we speak, I am in training to take my first dance teachers qualification exam. Dance brings a lovely social side to life, by contrast to writing, which tends to be solitary.

10) What genre of books do you like to read?
Surprise, surprise - I like reading crime fiction. Anything with a mystery to solve wins my attention quickly. Tales with unsolved mysteries dating back in time are a particular favourite of mine. I also enjoy romantic fiction from time to time, and the classics. Shuffling the order of genres to read works well, and retains variety.

11) What author(s) do you enjoy reading? Why?
I like to read a wide variety of authors because variety is the spice of life. I can't really pick an absolute favourite, but the top few would include Elly Griffiths, Adele Parks, RD Wingfield, Linwood Barclay, Lynn Shepherd, Jane Austen, Alison Bruce, Agatha Christie, Margaret Atwood, Audrey Niffenegger... there are lots!!
Every year I read 'Pride and Prejudice' and enjoy it as much as the first time.

12)Tell us about your books. Where can people find them?
My website has lots of information:
Facebook page
Twitter @JayneMarieBarke
I'm also listed on and
UK author page
US author page

'The Dancer's Ghost' - back cover
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

I wrote 'The Dancer's Ghost' very quickly. It flowed naturally onto the page. The dance element was a delight for me to write, and something I had wanted to add into a novel for some years. It is a little sad but ends with new promise and hope. The story is about a lost child and the consequences that has on other people.
'Distant Shadows' - back cover
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
When I was much younger I wrote a novel entitled 'The Letter', a purely romantic tale that featured Cathy and Stephen. This came to nothing with publishers at the time but in later years I had the idea of turning it into a thriller by incorporating a stalker. As time went by this idea developed and the title of 'Distant Shadows' sprang to mind. Finally, I sat down to re-work my original text and 'Distant Shadows' as we know it today is the result. It's a special story for me because in some ways, it was my first, although published second.
'Beneath The Daisies' - back cover
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
The digging up of skeletons in the garden has been written by many people many times over but I was keen to have a go at it myself. Having always been fond of the inheritance link to the past, I opted to merge these two fields into one novel. I'm very keen on 'cold cases' and 'ancient unsolved mysteries', so 'Beneath The Daisies' ticked both boxes for me. It's the shortest of my three published novels, and the first to have made it past the slush pile, so I'm understandably pleased with it!

Friday, 7 February 2014


Fantastic review for #TheDancersGhost

"This is a beautifully crafted novel, with the threads that link Joyce Capelli and Rebecca Houseman subtly interwoven. Both women are appealing characters and the story was compelling, especially strong in the description of the very different relationships the two women had with their families and the wonderfully vibrant descriptions of dance. This is a page-turner and I would definitely recommend it."

With special thanks to reviewer:
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Get set, ready, steady... GO!

Well, the quiet that January usually brings to most of us is almost at an end. I'm not sure I'm ready for the race to begin, but here we go...  The moment February dawns, the diary fills up so let's get ready, during this last peaceful week of January, and prepare to get busy.


There are no directions to success. Generally, people stumble around in the darkness searching, looking in the strangest corners, hoping and trying their best, until one day - wow, this must be it, a glimmer of a road sign lighting the way.
No-one ever won their dreams by watching television, or surfing the internet! Ironically, that's what you (and I) are doing now.

What are your goals for 2014?
Last week I received my public lending rights statement, which surprised and delighted me. More people than I ever dreamt are borrowing my books from the libraries across the UK. It's working... finally things are beginning to take a turn in the right direction, proof that effort does pay off, in the end. The trick is to keep going. Never give up on yours dreams because if you do, you'll never know how close you were to achieving them...

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Welcome to 2014

Welcome to 2014!
It's a funny thing, isn't it, this need to create a fresh page every time December 31st strikes...? For centuries now, the world over has believed that a new start can be had simply because the calendar tells us it's 1st January. Now don't misunderstand me, I am amongst those who see the new year as an opportunity for a clean slate... but in reality we can have a glossy new beginning any day we choose.

If we only put our minds to it, we can achieve anything we choose. January 1st is almost like a bookmark in time for us, which is possibly why many of us see it as the ideal time to turn over a new leaf. How many resolutions have you made?  I've made lots, naturally, perhaps too many but then, I always did like a challenge.

Resolutions and the need for a fresh start are closely linked to plotting and planning a novel. If you are planning to pen a novel this year, you'll need to learn how to plot your tale and how to plan your writing. These are two different things.

To plot a tale, you should first have some idea of what the tale is about. Even if you don't know the ending yet, or perhaps how it begins, you need to have a basic idea of what the story will say. Write down the key moments of your tale and put them into an order. This doesn't need to be the order the events happen in, but the order you wish the reader to come across them.
Once you have a brief outline of key moments, you can begin to thread them together using sub-plots and fringe characters. This is the fun part, making it all fit together.
My advice would be to have a thinly threaded plot line before you start writing. There is a school of thought that says you can simply write away and let the words flow.  If this works for you then by all means get writing... but it didn't work for me, so I tend to favour the plotting route.  I tried the free flow approach once and it did work beautifully, for a while, then I found I had written myself into a corner and couldn't escape.

You need to plan your writing time, your approach to the project and the details. For example, if like most of us you have another job to do too, you'll need to schedule your writing time into your routine, somehow.  It is wise to choose a time that suits you creatively, if you can.  If you find your creative thoughts flow best in the evening, pick a day that fits around your existing commitments and label this evening as your writing time. Tell friends and family that's what you're doing, and treat it as a job. You'll need to be disciplined if you want to succeed.
To plan your approach, you need to think about what you need to know before you can write your tale. This is research. For example, your main character may be a doctor. Do you know much about the working day of a doctor? You won't need to swallow a medical book, but you should do a little research into the average day for a doctor, the type of environment they work in, the kinds of people they deal with. Does your doctor specialise, work in a hospital, surgery, are they a local GP in a small town?  You need to know this before you can write about it effectively.
To turn to the practical element of writing. I tend to plan how I'm going to write the novel. I work out the scenes, chapters and what will happen in each. I then plan the order I'm going to write these in. Now of course you don't need to keep to this plan, it can be flexible, but there will be days when you're not at your best, and on these days in particular it can be comforting to simply follow a path rather than have to think too much about where to start.

So, to resolutions, if you're going to tackle a literary project this year, whether it be a degree essay, a novel, book of poems, whatever takes you fancy; the best of luck to you and most importantly - don't give up!  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy!

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2014.