Tana Collins Interview: “When I decided to turn my hand to writing crime fiction myself I knew I wanted to create a series with a strong cast of characters and an interesting setting”

tana collins

As a massive Henning Mankell fan I was delighted to see his name appear as an inspiration for Tara Collins, the author of the bestselling Inspector Jim Carruthers series. She talks to me about her work and how she created such an engaging character that appeals to so many readers.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

The first crime fiction book I ever read was Peter Robinson’s In a Dry Season, about thirteen years ago. The blurb on the back hooked me and when I read the novel I was spellbound. The books are set in Yorkshire and I particularly loved Peter’s wonderful sense of place. When I decided to turn my hand to writing crime fiction myself I knew I wanted to create a series with a strong cast of characters and an interesting setting. I base my own novels in the East Neuk of Fife, which is a beautiful area of Scotland.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing?

I don’t write full time. I still have the day job and I fit the writing around that unless I’m on a final edit of a book and then I’ll take time off work. I’m a Massage Therapist by trade, which I love, but my original background is in philosophy.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe the Inspector Jim Carruthers series is so popular?

I’m delighted to say that my debut novel, Robbing the Dead, published February 2017, became an Amazon No 1 bestseller for Scottish Crime Fiction and the follow up, Care to Die, became a Top 10 bestseller. Both books were published by Bloodhound Books in 2017. They have been described as ‘fast paced with interesting storylines’ but it’s the characters and the setting that readers really seem to like.

My two main protagonists are Detective Inspector Jim Carruthers and DS Andrea Fletcher. When we meet Carruthers he’s a DCI, but he’s struggling both on a professional and personal level with the return of his old adversary, Alistair McGhee, whom he blames for his marriage break up. I won’t say any more than that. Fletcher seems to be settling in to her role as DS just fine until she receives some shocking news…

As I said the Inspector Carruthers mysteries are set in the East Neuk of Fife, which is an area close to my heart. My fictional setting is a place called Castletown, which is closely modelled on St Andrews. I did toy with the idea of keeping the town as St Andrews but realised early on that I needed to grow the town so it ended up becoming fictionalised. Anyone familiar with St Andrews will definitely recognise it in Castletown though. There’s something really powerful in crime fiction about having a strong sense of place, isn’t there and I think Fife makes a wonderful setting for my series.

robbing the dead

What defines your writing style? Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

That’s such an interesting question. I use fairly short sentences, which make for a faster read and shorter chapters as I near the end of the book. I use weather to enhance the mood. I’m on to Book 4 now and I’ve noticed that every book I write always starts with a suspicious death from the outset, which hooks the reader. That was originally unintentional but it seems to work so I’ve kept it and it’s become one of my writing devices.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I only read crime fiction at the moment so anything I can get my hands on really. One thing I don’t enjoy is gratuitous violence so I do tend to shy away from that. I’ve started reading the Icelandic crime writers and particularly enjoy the work of Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Ragnar Jonasson. I love the way the weather informs his writing in his Ari Thor series. I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on Snare by Lilja Sigurdardottir. I also love Peter May, Ann Cleeves and Henning Mankell.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Ooh, that’s a good question. I’ve met Peter Robinson several times at different writing workshops. In fact I spent a week at the University of Tallinn with him while he was researching his latest novel, Watching the Dark, a few years ago. He was the tutor of the creative writing course I was on. Do you know he’s as good a tutor as he is a writer? As I love the DCI Banks series so much and he was nice enough to give me a review for my second book, Care to Die, which he said he really enjoyed, I think he’d have to be my writing partner.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

Yes, I have my third book in the Inspector Carruthers series being published on 24th April 2018. It’s called Mark of the Devil. I had to do a lot of research on both international art crime and wildlife crime, which was fascinating. I’ve also started writing book 4. I had a strong idea in my head of the plot for book 4 but the storyline and characters are leading me in a completely different direction, so I’m just seeing where that takes me. I’m not a plotter at all so writing is always an adventure, albeit at times a rather nerve wracking one!

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the New Year?

I’m looking forward to reading Ian Skewis’ next book. I loved his debut novel, A Murder of Crows. I’ve just finished Jackie McLean’s second novel, Shadow. That was really good too. There are so many books I’m looking forward to reading including novels by Amanda Fleet; Gail Williams; LJ Ross; Marsali Taylor; Jackie Baldwin and Claire McLeary. In fact I’ve just started Claire’s debut novel, Cross Purpose. The list is never ending.

Anything you’d like to add?

I would just like to take the time to thank you, Hannah, for interviewing me for your blog. It’s been really lovely having the opportunity to talk about my books and other writers I admire. Can I also just say, as writers, how grateful we are to our bloggers?

Thanks for taking the time, it has been great hearing from you. 

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James McCrone Novels Review: Sleek Dystopias With A Modern Twist

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Following on from my interview with writer James McCrone, I look into the fascinating and awe-inspiring dystopian novels that he creates.

His first novel, Faithless Elector, portrays a scarily plausible scenario in which the public are unable to trust the system of power. In the novel, a young researcher uncovers a series of mysterious deaths among electors and must race against time and a secret, deadly efficient conspiracy. Set during an era characterized as cynical and paranoid, Faithless Elector showcases a creditable threat to the integrity of the electoral process and the selection of the president.

Following on from this, the next novel, Dark Network uses researcher Imogen Trager, the determined heroine of Faithless Elector again, as the reader sees her in a desperate race to stop a murderous dark network intent on stealing the presidency. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to stop the conspiracy to seize the presidency.

Although McCrone is keen to point out that neither novel is based on real events, they certainly resonate with the current political mess that is the US government, and Faithless Elector has a particularly Trump-esq ring to it in places.

Overall, these two novels hold all the classic hallmarks of hard-core dystopia thrillers, and the series looks set to continue with a bang.

Raymond Carroll Interview: “I like to write short, snappy chapters that move the story along quickly”

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Raymond Carroll, author of the four part series Only Raising Dust On The Road, talks to me about his writing style and the books that have inspired him. It’s always great to hear from a fan of James Kelman, a truly under-appreciated writer, and Raymond has some interesting things to say about him and the other writers that have helped him create the books he has.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style?

I began writing for myself and I suppose that’s what defined my writing style. I wasn’t reaching out to a specific audience when I started writing, and I didn’t set out to write a book in any particular genre. I started writing because I wanted to create something that I had always wanted to read. I use a lot of slang and colloquialisms in my writing and my style isn’t exactly mainstream, but over the years it has evolved into something that I am proud of.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I like to write short, snappy chapters that move the story along quickly. Short chapters for me are easy to read, and as long as the book is well written and the writer creates tension on almost every page, then I’ll keep turning those pages. I think it’s easier to keep a reader engaged with short chapters, and because the chapters are short the reader is more likely to read ‘just one more’, and then another, and another.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I enjoy being entertained. I like a good wordsmith and original prose. And I like a good story. A good book for me doesn’t need to be a literary masterpiece, but it does need to draw me in, and draw me in quickly. I like reading fiction and non-fiction. A few memorable books that have influenced my writing over the years are: Triad by Colin Falconer, Midnight Express by Billy Hayes and William Hoffer, Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, A Sense Of Freedom by Jimmy Boyle, The Beast Of Jersey by Joan Paisnel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, The Beach by Alex Garland, Acid House by Irvine Welsh, Private Dancer by Stephen Leather, and A Dissafection by James Kelman.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Collaborating with Irvine Welsh would be good; he’s a controversial author but a big inspiration.

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Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I am planning on publishing Parts 3 and 4 of my 4 part series: Only raising Dust On The Road.

Part 1: Buckfast, Lager & Fags was published at the end of 2016; Part 2: Same Same But Different was published in 2017.

The story takes place in Thailand and is written from a multiple character first person point of view. The book deals with common social problems, such as alcoholism and drug addiction, and follows the chaotic life of the protagonist – Micky, as he attempts to transcend his disposition and re-establish a connection with the world.

Only Raising Dust On The Road is a work of fiction – a black comedy, inspired by, and based loosely on, true events.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the New Year?

I quite like the look of Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club. I think it’s due for release around spring/summer 2018.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank you, Hannah, for asking me to do this interview. I enjoyed answering the questions and wish you all the best for 2018.

If any of your readers would like to know more about my writing, then my books can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Raymond-Carroll/e/B01N7IT88F/

My travel blog: http://thai-nomad.com

My writing website: http://raymondcarrollwriter.com

My facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/scottishauthor/

My twitter account: https://twitter.com/ramie1970

Many thanks to Raymond for taking the time to speak to me, it has been a pleasure to hear your thoughts.

The Beauty of The Locked Room Mystery

lock room mystery

Any UK readers will be aware that recently the comedy/ murder mystery series Death in Paradise returned to screens. The show is set on a fictional Caribbean island and depicts a range of disparate, bumbling British detectives, played by comic actors Ben Miller, then Kris Marshall followed by the current incumbent, Ardal O’Hanlon. Each week the detective is faced with an almost impossible murder, which he always solves within the final ten minutes of the show, having spent the entire rest of the hour long running time blundering about finding various silly clues.

However, the main issue here is that, despite the improbability of this happening every time, the island’s murders are all contrived so that they can only have been committed by a limited number of people. Often, there is no means by which the perpetrator could have left the room in the state it was without having been seen, which they invariably are not. This is a unique take on the classic locked room mystery, made famous during the Golden Age but used by many before and afterwards.

The return of this hit show reminded me of the on going debate about whether or not ITV should kill off Midsomer Murders, the show which seems to have been around forever, with a similar premise; the murderer must be one of a limited number of villagers connected to the victim in some, often obscure, way. Again, it is set in a small, supposedly isolated place, the fictional village of Midsomer, and the suspect list is always limited to allow for the writer to create a convoluted solution. Often, the plot runs along similar lines to that of the BBC’s Death in Paradise, with the perpetrator seemingly unable to leave either the crime scene or the village undetected.

The ultimate locked room mystery is of course Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which, as I am sure you are already aware, was recently made into a big budget Hollywood film. The end of this novel paved the way for many other plots, as it had more than one of the characters band together to create a truly improbable conclusion that kept the reader guessing right to the end.

That, in my opinion, is the entire point of the locked room mystery format. Popularised by Christie and Sayers and the like, it has been used for years across all forms of media to confuse the reader and throw them off the scent. When writing mysteries the key is to make the ending something that is bordering on the impossible, so that the reader is completely unable to guess it ahead of time but it would still, in theory, be doable. Locked room mysteries provide this as the reader knows that it can only be one of a limited number of suspects, which gives the narrative tension, whilst also they are then bamboozled by the end, which usually reveals the killer to be either the person that it had been previously proven could not possibly have committed the crime, or else a team of the suspects working together to divert suspicion and confuse the detective.

It is this combination of tense narrative and the incorporable conclusions that writers can create using the form that has led the locked room mystery to remain a success for so long, and it will undoubtedly continue on in TV shows, films and books for many years to come.

Sam Boush Interview: “Science fiction is the perfect genre to show the terrifying and realistic possibilities of any number of scenarios”

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I caught up with Sam Boush, author for Sci-Fi Thriller All Systems Down, to find out more about what drew him towards this fascinating genre.

Please tell me about All Systems Down.

All Systems Down is a sci-fi thriller, based in our present day. Through cyber warfare, the North Koreans are able to cause a complete collapse of American infrastructure—banks, the electrical grid, GPS, and more. The story is focused in around a few everyday people who have to survive in cities that are crashing down around them.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing novels?

I have had a number of past careers, as a journalist and in book publishing. Most recently, I founded a small-to-mid-size marketing firm, which I sold a couple years ago. Now I’m focused full-time on writing.

Please tell me about the style you write in. What drew you towards science fiction?

Science fiction is the perfect genre to show the terrifying and realistic possibilities of any number of scenarios. Michael Crichton used the genre to describe what genetic tinkering run-amok could cause in Jurassic Park. Ray Bradbury used it to paint a world where books were scorned in Fahrenheit 451. A lot of great writing comes from this genre.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

As a writer, I read a lot of non-fiction. I hear from my writing friends, who, similarly, read a disproportionate amount of non-fiction compared with fiction. But as far as fiction goes, in the last month I’ve read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, City of Thieves by David Benioff, and several books by Stephen King.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Tom Clancy. Besides the fact that I like his books, he’s a great researcher and so detail-oriented. I feel like writing with him would be easy because of all the knowledge at his fingertips.

Anything you’d like to add?

You can read the first chapter of All Systems Down for free on my website: http://cyberwarbooks.com/all-systems-down-ch-1/

Thank you for your responses Sam, it was great to hear your thoughts.

The Top Five Best Maigret Novels To Get You Into Simenon

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Although I have already expounded on the enduring importance of this popular French policeman, I felt inspired to create this, my first top 5 for 2018, following the Christmas Eve showing of Maigret in Montmartre. Starring Rowan Atkinson in his first non-comedic role on screen, the series is an excellent portrayal of this Gallic sleuth and his quest for truth in Georges Simenon’s murky Paris.

The novels share many characteristics with classic English Crime Fiction, which, at the time they were published, was experiencing its Golden Age. However, the key differentiator is the series’ setting; whilst many Golden Age works explored the private and personal nature of crime, and were often centred around private homes and intimate, family settings, Simenon instead chose to explore the wider issues France faced at that time, and as such his novels are often set in Paris or other cities, with a focus on community and shared suffering.

Much like Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell’s depressed detective who scoured the streets of Ystad in search of devilish criminal masterminds, Simenon’s Maigret is a man who uses every sense to uncover his villains and restore order, however briefly, to the streets he views as his own.

The one problem I find with many of the screen portrayals of the character is that they often give the character an eccentricity, or they allow him to be viewed as uniquely special, as if his powers of deduction alone are enough for him to solve every case, when in fact, Simenon wrote the character as an intensely ordinary man. For example, during the first of ITV’s Maigret films, starring Rowan Atkinson, Madam Maigret, whilst speaking about why a group of policewomen had volunteered to put themselves in extreme danger, tells her husband; ‘of course they would do it for you’. This implies that it was some special magnetism that he possessed, and not the thrill of working with more senior officers on such a high profile case, that drew these women to volunteer for such a perilous task. In fact, Simenon’s Maigret is constantly portrayed as intensely normal, with no special attributes aside from his bulk, his steadfast dedication to his job and his dogged approach to his role as a policeman.

A prolific writer, Simenon produced over 75 Maigret novels, many of which are yet to be translated into English (I once tried reading a Simenon novel in the original French but unfortunately my GCSE knowledge proved no match for their strange sentence configurations and multiple noun genders), and as such I am yet to read the entire collection. However, over the years I have encountered a number of the novels that have been translated, and here are five that I think will offer a great introduction to this stoic and practical Parisian policeman.

5. The Friend of Madame Maigret: I have always admired Simenon’s portrayal of Madame Maigret, as although it is not entirely fair on women it is certainly progressive for its time. In this novel she assists her husband as he tries to prove an improbable, corpse-less murder by recounting her strange encounter with a woman and her child.

4. Maigret Travels: A multi-millionaire is found dead in the same hotel as a struggling countess, who later flees, with Inspector Maigret in pursuit. Although this is one of the later novels to feature Maigret, it is a really thrilling tale that makes for a great introduction to this tough, hardened detective.

3. The Crime of Inspector Maigret: A true moral dilemma, this fascinating novel explores a complex case as our intrepid French detective embarks on an international chase that quickly turns deadly. One of the faster paced Maigret books, this is a real page turner that kept me hooked from the very beginning.

2. My Friend Maigret: Transported to the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles in search of the killer of a small time crook who had claimed to be a friend of his prior to his death, Maigret explores the island’s petty grievances and uncovers a number of startling revelations. With a Scotland Yard Inspector in tow desperate to find out the secrets behind his success, the dour French Inspector is on top form in this visceral, emotive and intensely human novel.

pietr the latvian1. Pietr the Latvian: As always, it is my firm belief that the first novel in a series is always the best place to start, and Pietr the Latvian is a really strong book, offering an enticing glimpse into Maigret’s Paris and the evil that lurks within. Beginning with a simple trip to the train station to intercept a criminal, Maigret happens upon a crime scene as soon as he arrives, and is plunged headfirst into a thrilling adventure that will take him deep into the international underworld as he searches for not only the murderer but also the true identity of his victim.

Patricia McDonald Interview: “My approach is to firstly visualise myself as each character”

Pat McDonald

In my first interview for 2018 I spoke to Patricia McDonald about her work and the influences behind it.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style.

After many years of writing formally and academically, I found the crossover into fiction required a loosening of my prose style into a more informal one. My approach is to firstly visualise myself as each character, how they would act, think, talk and relate to each other. Writing a book is similar to reading one; if you can’t see or hear the character then it is impossible to read the story they are involved in. It’s the author’s job to talk to the reader and a great compliment when a reader tells you they liked the ‘inner voice’. Writing style is as much about format and presentation and in this I like to experiment a little, otherwise one book is much the same as another. My humour series (The Penny Series) is written as the thoughts of Benjamin Matthews my anti-hero and to write the book from his view point came out of a need to keep a sense of humour whilst recovering from my first brain tumour operation. To have a male humour author write ‘Pat speaks fluent bloke’ was a superb compliment.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

My career as a Social Scientist took me into research in health care including medical (heart disease), mental illness (working in an old Asylum) and mental handicap and latterly many years with the police. I went back to writing fiction when I found myself one of the first casualties of the cuts in policing budgets after seventeen years of service as a project and programme manager. I began where I left off and approached my writing career like any other programme of work, and since crime, criminals and policing was then the biggest part of my world, I sat down and began my first book Getting Even!

Please tell me about your books. What defines your writing style?

My first books are: The Blue Woods trilogy: Getting Even; Revenge is best served cold; Rogue Seed and Boxed Off. These were meant to be my one crime book. The truth is I had a real difficulty in ending stories and the first book (662 pages!!) had to be carried on to the next as ideas flowed fast. I created all three as a book in its own right, centring on characters Luc Wariner and Addie Carter of a Major Crime Unit. I believe my main writing style is characterisation; it is certainly something I admire about other writers. I try to make them real believable people, who have real lives and this aspect of writing is important to me, the crime and investigation, and police procedures are secondary. I believe that is true for both police personnel and even for criminals, neither of them defining themselves by solving crimes or committing them, these are incidental to their lives. I have been described as gritty, but I prefer realistic with an edge.

Later and more recently I have moved on to explore paranormal themes (Breaking Free and Echoes of Doubt) and humour (A Penny for Them, The Penny Drops, and A Bad Penny – coming soon), whilst still maintaining the crime genre.

I have just begun The Ravages of Time which brings an asylum theme into a modern day detective story. I like to explore how peoples’ past lives influence their present day choices rather than write a story in a vacuum of their current lives.
Pat McDonald Books

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I describe myself as a ‘free flow’ writer; I sit in front of a blank page or screen and begin to write. I do not plan my stories; they evolve, as do my characters and what happens to them. In this respect I have to read and reread for continuity and unresolved issues. I like to intersperse ‘back story’ in italics to enhance the main story or develop the character.

I use the title of my books as a theme that runs throughout, usually relating to most or all the characters, whilst the main crime story plays out around them. For example, Breaking Free is about Livia’s attempt to break from her past, one which she has blocked off certain parts of. In so doing she finds an old chest in the attic of a house she as just bought, it contains the journals of a WW1 woman with a similar name and the telephone calls she is getting at 03.33 asking her to help the plaintive voice, sets her off on a quest to set someone else free; being stalked herself reminds the reader of her needs in Breaking Free.

I also try to leave certain things open for the reader’s own imagination to ponder on or may even want to reconnect if it’s a series.

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I read anything and everything (within reason). As a child I read the children’s section of my local library and was granted permission to move up to the adult section (supervised choice) before the appropriate age. I read a large number of classic authors, joined a book club and bought as many as I could, mostly thrillers, psychological thrillers, historical fiction etc. I think that makes me a bibliophile (together with the number of lode bearing book cases around my entire house!)

Since social networking/connecting with so many authors I read/review a variety that catches my eye and some that are particularly good i.e. Gary Dolman, Ian Hutson, Aaron David, J.P McLean and numerous others. I believe you have to read to be able to write as some have influenced me greatly. Without Aaron David and Ian Hutson’s brilliantly funny work I would never have attempted humour, I found it encouraged me in that direction. And being a ‘free flow’ writer I get triggers from other people I meet and writer’s work, that isn’t their plots, maybe just a word that reminds me of some experience that leads me on to write something new or something within the book I’m currently writing.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I have collaborated on writing books academically and know it’s the hardest thing to do (at least for me). I wouldn’t want to on fiction and I’m afraid I don’t understand how people can take other author’s well-established characters and continue the story. I suppose it could be seen as a compliment to Jane Austin or Emily Bronte and I may have wished I’d written something superb that other people have written, but I just don’t understand why anyone would want to write in another person’s style.

Collaboration to me is like taking a jigsaw puzzle and splitting the pieces in two, the picture created may never resemble anything like each of you imagined.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I have just published Echoes of Doubt (a month ago), which takes a character, Bart Bridges, who dropped out of Boxed Off where he entered the Witness Protection Programme. As Cyrus Bartholomew, ex PI, he has become the clock maker in his shop Time and Tide, in an unremarkable seaside town where he has been living for two years. Feeling safe from his adversaries he begins to doubt his own safety when the old gentleman next door in the art gallery is found violently murdered in his bed.

My book A Bad Penny (third in the Penny series) is about to go into the publishing process. I have come to like to have two books in progress at the same time, one serious and one amusing. So I have The Ravages of Time and also just begun Pennies from Heaven, both to keep me focussed as I am suffering from the side effects of the Gamma Knife surgery I had a few months ago for a returning brain tumour and writing and editing helps me to accommodate them.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?

I always have a few books ready and waiting to read now I have submitted to this Kindle thing which came free on my last telephone upgrade, that isn’t to say I don’t buy other people’s books, I always do even if I’m given an advanced copy.

I await with bated breath for Gary Dolman’s book about, Grace Darling, English lighthouse keeper (who I believe he is related to down the years), for J P McLean’s next book in The Gift series, for Aaron David’s sequel to The Tale of the Ancient Marina (‘All the loft insulation you can eat’), for Ian Hutson’s ‘dog with the Bakelite nose’ to join his ‘cat with electric goggles’, newcomer to my world Michael Spinelli to follow up on WAKE (a story that stopped me from eating until I had finished it! I can afford the weight loss) and so many more talented authors.

Anything you’d like to add?

A message to all writers, beginner writers and anyone who aspires to write – just do it, write all those ideas in your head down and forget about trying to conform to someone else’s idea of how you should do it. You may never be a Shakespeare, an Agatha Christie or a Stephen King; you may actually excite the reading world by just being YOU. Everyone has a story to tell.

Many thanks to Pat for taking the time to answer my questions; you can learn more about her work HERE.