John Cox Interview: “I was a prolific reader at an early age”

As part of his blog tour to celebrate the publication of his debut novel, Ashes Of The Living, I interview up-and-coming crime fiction author John Cox.

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

When I first started writing, I focused on paying attention to how many of my favorite thriller writers wrote. Not so much the storyline but rather the style. Did they like first person or third person? How they describe a character’s actions or what a piece of steak tasted like? I tried writing short stories first to see how I would describe an action scene or provide an atmosphere for a tense situation. Most importantly, I have always been drawn to thrillers because the best ones keep you reading until 3 in the morning, and even then, wanting to keep going!

What is your background in writing and how did you get in to publishing your work?

I grew up in a family of teachers who focused on English classes and writing. I was a prolific reader at an early age and wanted to create stories like the ones I was reading. My main passion is telling a good story that other people want to hear. When I got into college, I received some constructive advice and earned awards and accolades that told me that what I was doing was working. I was inspired to start focusing on longer and longer stories until I had my full novel that eventually became my first published work.

Tell me all about your upcoming novel Ashes of the Living. What was your inspiration?

Ashes of the Living is about what grief and anger can do to someone’s morality. My protagonist Detective Tyler Morgan loses everything and must continually ask himself what lines he is willing or not willing to cross to get to his version of justice. I was inspired by my interest in noir and thriller novels and wanted to blend the styles in a book that was fast-paced but still took enough time to examine what people are willing to do in times of duress. It has always been a fascinating subject for me! This is a story about revenge and what a single-minded goal can do to you.

What was your experience getting your work published? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with budding authors looking to get published?

To get my work published, I had to learn to accept that not everyone will respond to your inquiries for review. The book industry is so large that you may have a fantastic story to tell, and publishers and agents will not be able to have time to read it, or perhaps it is not in a genre they can currently accept new writers. Sometimes, being a new writer can be disheartening trying to get others to see your work the way you do. Don’t ever give up on this because the day you are successful is the best feeling in your life.

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

Donald Westlake who also wrote under the pen name of Richard Stark. He turned the crime and thriller genre on its head in the 1960s by writing about topics or characters that were controversial by having morally gray themes or elements. Unfortunately, he has passed away, but if anyone wants to see the groundwork of modern thrillers, I highly recommend his body of work.

What does the future have in store for you? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I am focused on my next novel and cannot wait to share further details as it progresses. I do not want to give too much away because it is tied to the ending of Ashes of the Living, but I am focused on writing about what inspires me, humanity, and how our perception of it can change continually.

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

I have enjoyed Chris McDonald’s work recently and recommend anyone check out his DI Erika Piper series. This is a new author to keep an eye on! He has great talent and is very interactive with his fan base.

Is there anything you want to add?

I am proud to be a part of the writing community and all the phenomenal people I have met in the last several years. Always keep reading, writing, and sharing with others those stories that inspire or move you!

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been awesome to be a part of your blog tour!

Rebecca Wait Interview: “I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships”

Teacher and writer Rebecca Wait, author of the amazing thriller Our Fathers, The Followers and other incredible contemporary novels talks to me about her writing and how she uses her experiences to inform her work.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards thriller and mystery writing?

Despite the subject of Our Fathers, I’ve never really thought of myself as a mystery or thriller writer until recently. My previous novel The Followers also occupies quite clear crime/ thriller territory, though it was never marketed that way (and when asked, I always describe my books in unhelpfully vague terms as ‘contemporary fiction’). But I read a lot of thriller and mystery novels, which I think often distil some of the most important elements of novel writing, with their emphasis on clear story-telling, narrative momentum and pace. The very best also display depth of characterisation, psychological acuity and emotional heft – which essentially makes for the perfect novel.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I’ve always written stories, and decided when I was still quite a young child that I would be a writer one day (whilst having no idea, obviously, what it involved). I finished my first novel not long after graduating from university and was taken on by my agent off the back of that (she’s fantastic, and is still my agent now). Then I secured a book deal for that first novel, and everything followed from there.

This all makes it sound like it was very easy for me, but in terms of publicity and book sales I would describe my success as pretty modest – it’s often felt like two steps forward and one step back, which I think a lot of writers would echo. Our Fathers has been my most high profile book to date. I’d never have been able to make a living from writing alone. I qualified as a secondary school English teacher after university, and have been balancing teaching and writing ever since. I’m lucky that I enjoy both jobs, so it’s worked out well for me, though occasionally I feel a bit frazzled and short of headspace.

Please tell me about your books. Why do you think readers are drawn to them?

Well, I hope they offer the things I look for myself in the books I read: a gripping story, well-drawn characters and emotional impact. I’ve always been especially interested in the nuances of relationships, and those micro-interactions between people that carry so much more weight than might appear. So I suppose one of my main focuses has always been the gap between what’s on the surface and what’s below the surface. It also occurs to me that all three of my published novels have some kind of trauma at their heart: my most recent two deal with the lead up to and aftermath of a violent crime, whilst my first, The View on the Way Down, focuses on a catastrophic tragedy that befalls a family. So there’s a lot of darkness there, but I also try to inject some warmth and humour.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I definitely find inspiration from teaching – not specific events, but just being out there in the world, interacting with people; and my students can be very funny. Similarly, an evening in the pub with my friends (though that feels a long time ago now) can get my ideas going. I also read a lot of non-fiction, especially medical and psychology books, which sometimes spark ideas. The novel I’m currently working on is about a particularly dysfunctional family, and so I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books about distancing yourself from a toxic mother (I should add here that my own mother is lovely; unfortunately too lovely for the purposes of my research).

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

I’m not sure I’d be a very good collaborator when it comes to novels; it all feels so internal that I can’t imagine I’d play well with others. But if I could force another writer to collaborate with me, I’d ‘collaborate’ with Hilary Mantel on a novel.  (I put collaborate in inverted commas because I wouldn’t really plan on helping much. I’d just watch her beadily to see how she works, make some mental notes, and then claim 50% of the credit when the book came out.)

What books do you enjoy reading yourself and how do they influence your own work?

It definitely varies depending on my mood. At the moment, I only seem to be reading thrillers. I’m in a lockdown slump, and really need a strong storyline to carry me through a book. Usually I read more widely: lots of contemporary fiction, lots of non-fiction, plus as an English teacher I obviously read a lot for my job and at the moment that’s taking up most of my mental capacity. I’m doing Middlemarch with my A-Level class at the moment, over Zoom, which is fantastic, but also quite high-effort for us all.

In terms of influence, I think it’s quite indirect for me: I notice when I read what other writers are doing well (and sometimes, what they are doing less well), and that can give my own work a steer. For example, if a plot development has been really carefully seeded throughout a book, I might go back and look again at how those clues have been planted, and how the reader might have been misdirected.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited about the novel I’m working on at the moment, which I’ve almost finished now. I really am pleased with it. But it’s hard to sustain giddy levels of excitement during lockdown. At the moment, I get more excited about my next meal than about my work. For instance, I’m making pancakes later. It’s all I can think about.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

I really enjoyed Romy Hausmann’s novel Dear Child, so I’m looking forward to her next book, which is out later this year. And Elizabeth Strout has a new novel out in October – I can’t wait for that.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for the interview!

Many thanks to you Rebecca; it’s been an absolute pleasure learning about your writing and background!

Ericka Waller Interview: “I love character driven books”

Dog-lover and author of Dog Days Ericka Waller talks me through her writing process and all the work that goes into turning her ideas into amazing novels. She also tells me about her dogs, so she’s automatically awesome!    

Tell me about your career background. How did you become a published author?

That’s a long story. I always loved reading and writing. I did well in English but didn’t go on to university. I fell into marketing, which I didn’t really enjoy. Office life was not for me. Chats round the water cooler and drinkies after work. It felt like being the weirdo at school again.

The sudden loss of a close friend (aneurysm while at work) made me realise life was too short. She left three children under nine without a mum. I’d just had my first child. Suddenly my life felt like a bomb. I left my job to get my NCTJ in journalism. I already wrote a blog about my life as a mother. I ended up becoming a columnist for the Brighton paper. I had two stabs at getting a book published during that time, and then finally got accepted onto the Faber course for Novel Writing. 

The rest is history. That is a very short version, which does not include my anxiety, or the many almost misses and luck along the way. Nor does it do credit to my husband who demanded I not give up and forced me on the train to London for the course each week.

Tell me all about Dog Days. What inspired you to write it?

Grief, suicide, sadness and awkward women! I lost a very close friend (yes, another one) very suddenly. He was involved in the Shoreham Air Disaster. I think I needed to exorcise my grief, hence George. George has more than a dash of the friend I lost, Maurice, in him.

My husband also lost a friend, to suicide. I saw the black hole it left in people’s lives and realised how you never really know how people are feeling.

I wanted to write a character who turned out to be a lot more vulnerable than he appeared. Debunk the myth it’s a selfish thing to do. It’s tragic yes but I don’t believe it’s selfish.

I suffered from post-natal depression after all three of my children and found it fascinating to wake up with a completely different head to the one I was wearing the day before.  I thought about books like The Yellow Wallpaper and the idea that women think themselves in and out of things. It’s so damaging!

There is still a lot (too much) pressure on women to have a baby, start an organic candle making business, lose weight, breastfeed forever and enjoy every second of sleepless nights, nipple hairs, a lack of pelvic floor and never being able to anything for yourself without guilt weighing you down. Real life is had. I wanted to write a complicated woman, neither mad nor bad, just struggling.

Why do you think readers will enjoy reading your book?

Hopefully because, all of the above aside, it’s funny and honest and real and encourages the reader to live in the moment and enjoy what and who is important in life. It may change opinions on suicide, post-natal depression and even really grumpy old men! Obviously, it’s a hard sell on getting a dog…

What books do you like to read and how do they impact on your own writing?

I love character driven books. Anne Tyler is my favourite author. Her characters are so real, so happy and sad and honest. I still think about them. I also love Katherine Heiny, Mary Beth Keane, and Dianne Setterfield. I love irrelevant character traits damaged people. I am not plot driven. I care more about the people than the story. I love Fredrik Backman, Hanya Yanagihara for the worlds they create, and oh god I could go on and on and on.

Is there anything else that influences your writing (places, people, films etc)?

Music and poetry yes. I think my brain absorbs a bit of everything, people, places, experiences, sounds, memories, and trauma, chews it up and then spits it back out a while later as a book. It’s not a conscious decision I make. I didn’t choose to write Dog Days. George, Dan and Lizzie moved into my head and refused to leave till I exorcised them. I do like to explore films and books I’ve not read or seen before in between writing, to see what comes out afterwards. I watched a lot of Poirot and listened to a lot of Dean Martin while working on book two…

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

Anne Tyler I think, probably. Yes her, or Fredrik Backman because I love them so very much. Can I have two? Can we live together while we write?

I’ve got to know- how many dogs do you have and why do you love dogs so much?

I have three dogs. A Labrador called Buddy, a miniature dachshund called Wiener and a Griffon called Enzo. I love that they love me unconditionally. I need that. I am impossibly hard on myself and finickity to live with. A real Virgo-pain-in-the-arse. My dogs love me when I win, when I lose, when I cry, when I fail, when I fall. They offer me a constant I’ve not always had in my life. You won’t be surprised to hear I lost my aunt a few years ago. I lived with her growing up. She was my second mother. She was more than that to be honest. Anyway, she used to say to me: ‘It doesn’t matter what has happened. It doesn’t matter how you feel. Get up, get up every day, wash your face with a clean hot flannel, make a pot of tea, then take your dogs for a walk.’ I do that, every day, regardless of how bad I feel and I always end up feeling better.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

Helen Paris who was on the Faber course with me and has her book Lost Property coming out in April. Everything about her is exceptional and her book is so good I can’t talk about it without feeling emotional.

I’m also loving some of the translated literature coming out. Look out for Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas, and Lonely Castle In the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura!

Anything you’d like to add?

To anyone writing, don’t give up. To readers, give something new a go.

Thanks for taking the time Ericka, it’s been ace to hear about you and your writing (and your dogs)!

Ann Bloxwich Interview: “It was after reading a Dick Francis story that I discovered I loved crime thrillers”

Here’s my interview Ann Bloxwich, an up-and-coming author who’s in the process of bringing her new crime fiction novel to readers.

Tell me about how your debut book. Why do you think readers will enjoy it?

My debut novel is called Death on Two Legs. It’s a contemporary police procedural set in the West Midlands; and features Detective Inspector Alex Peachey. I think readers will enjoy the fact that Alex is a normal everyday guy, dealing with normal everyday problems. He has a happy marriage; he likes playing computer games when he’s not working and he’s a decent boss. He has a disabled son at home, which presents its own challenges. I thought it would be interesting to show some of the problems that you face as a parent of a disabled child can impact on all of your life, not just at home.

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

I’ve been a full-time parent since my son was born. A difficult birth and a negligent nurse led to him having cerebral palsy, so my ex-husband and I didn’t know what sort of care he would need as he grew up. I’ve always been an avid reader, so when my ex was sent to the Falkland Islands for five months, I decided to set myself the challenge of reading the entire collection of Reader’s Digest condensed books that we had sitting on the bookshelf, no matter what the subject matter. It was after reading a Dick Francis story that I discovered I loved crime thrillers. I didn’t know where to start with writing, so forgot about it until years later. I’d become friends with a male stripper (his son was classmates with my youngest son) and he asked me to help him with some promoting. This involved finding venues and putting on shows for him and his colleagues, not just strippers but drag queens too. I spent lots of time backstage, helping guys sort out costumes, etc. – the novelty of being surrounded by naked men soon wears off when you have to pick up discarded clothes, run backwards and forwards getting drinks and so on. I once had to separate two 6ft men who were arguing about who had stolen the other’s hair band. Given that I’m only 4ft 10ins, it could have got nasty, but I had four children by then, so it was like dealing with overgrown toddlers. I put my best mum voice on and told them both off. They stopped immediately, mumbled their apologies, and they never misbehaved again.

I was chatting to one of the guys one night and mentioned I’d always fancied writing a book. He said if anyone ever wrote about the stripping life it would be quite an eye-opener. It sparked an idea in my head, but again I pushed it aside. It wasn’t until my daughter got us tickets for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, that I decided to go for it. My author hero, Jeffery Deaver, was on the stage, and he was so encouraging to new writers that my daughter turned to me and ‘Go for it, mum. You can do this.’ She then paid for me to go to a new crime writing workshop in Gretna Green, run by author and hotel owner, Graham Smith. We lived near Wolverhampton at the time, so I had a long drive up the M6 to get there. I was shaking the whole way! Graham was very warm and friendly, he made myself and my fellow students feel completely at ease. I’ve been back every year since then, and have made some wonderful friends and learned so much. The course has been very successful; with thirteen attendees going on to become published authors. I got so much support from the people I’d met that we upped sticks and moved to Dumfries four years ago, so I could concentrate on my writing.

As a new author who’s trying to get published, what are your thoughts on the industry currently? How can it become more accepting to new authors such as yourself?

The industry has taken a battering this year, with the Covid-19 outbreak affecting every part of it. Writing courses and festivals have all been cancelled or run online, and I think agents and publishers have been hard-pressed to keep established authors afloat, without taking on new ones. One thing that does bother me is the issue of which genre books belong to. I’ve had some rejections that say they don’t know where my book will fit in the current market, which is so frustrating. Why reject a book because it doesn’t fit into a box? Surely, it’s better to publish a book because it’s well written and has a good story than worry about how it should be labelled? I’ve had rejections that said ‘We like the story, characters etc., but we don’t know where it would fit in the current market’. I’m always clear that my book is a police procedural, so it should fit in the crime/police procedural market. I’m not a publisher or an agent though, so maybe I just don’t understand how it works.

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

I love crime fiction, psychological thrillers and so on. My all-time favourite is Jeffery Deaver, but there are many authors whose books I buy regardless of the story, because I know it will be brilliant. I tried plotting, like Jeffery does (he does fifty rewrites when he’s writing!) but could not get my head around working from start to finish. I wrote the prologue for my book first, the wrote the scene with the drag queen being interviewed, then wrote the last chapter. Don’t forget I still had a disabled son to look after, so had to work around his needs. With book two I’m trying to at least get a rough draft down so I can see where everything is going to go. I’ve doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, to help me with this. My son has moved into a supported living facility now, so my time is my own. I usually get an idea for a story, and then write a first chapter. Then, depending on whether I think it will carry a story, I’ll set out the characters in a similar format to IMDB. I have a cast list of people who I’d want to play my characters if they ever make it to the big screen – this helps me to ‘see’ them as people

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

Ideally, it would be Jeffery Deaver, His attention to detail is incredible, and he’s a nice guy. Alternatively, I’d love to write with Lee Child, but he’s just filled that vacancy.

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

I’m currently working on book two of the Alex Peachey series, which is called Goodnight, God Bless.  Someone is torturing and murdering paedophiles in specific ways that only mean something to their past victims. Alex has to figure out who the killer is, while dealing with the fallout from book one. I’ve also got a standalone drafted out, but that may become book four, as I already have an idea for book three. I’m a typical Gemini; I never have just one thing on the go.

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

I’ve just finished reading Hold Your Tongue by Deborah Masson. It won the Bloody Scotland Crime Debut of the Year 2020, and I can see why. I’m looking forward to reading more of her books. Robert Scragg’s books are fantastic, one of the best police procedurals I’ve ever read. I also should mention Rob Parker, his Ben Bracken series is beautifully written, with a real sense of place. There are lots more I could mention, but we’d be here all night.

Anything you’d like to add?

Only to say thank you to everyone who has encouraged, helped, and supported me so far. I hope I won’t let you down.

Thanks for answering my questions; it’s great to hear from up-and-coming authors and I’m looking forward to reading your debut when it’s out.

John Dean Interview: “As a writer, I am usually inspired by a sense of place”

Following the recent publication of his 20th printed crime novel, I interview revered mystery writer John Dean.

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

I had always written and children’s fiction and humour were my first loves but without much success, so I followed the old adage of ‘write about what you know’. Since my career as a journalist saw me specialise in crime, the synergy was an obvious one.

Please tell me more about your background. How did you become a professional writer?

I worked on newspapers all over the UK for 19 years then spent 21 years as a freelancer, all the time learning from skilled colleagues about the way that words work. At the same time, I was writing novels without being accepted by a publisher. Then I saw that a journalist had secured a crime fiction deal with Robert Hale. Like all writers, I had a novel lying around but one on which I had given up (a DCI John Blizzard story). I sent it off and it did not come back.  I kept having crime novels published then, when Hale ceased publishing a number of years ago, I was picked up by The Book Folks, who have published me ever since. In March 2020, I took retirement from journalism and now focus on my novels.

Talk me through your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

I think that what success I have enjoyed is down to a mixture of strong plots, realistic characters, well-drawn landscapes and a pace which keeps the story moving. For me, they are the key pillars of successful writing and I also think it is crucial to keep learning and seek to continually improve. I try to learn from everyone, ranging from my editors to readers’ reviews if they make valid points in a constructive manner.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

Fortunately, I do not experience writer’s block. As a writer, I am usually inspired by a sense of place. Let me take you back a few years to a hillside in the North Pennines in an attempt to show you what I mean.

I was on a family holiday and we were staying in a village on the Durham/Cumbrian border.  There was a play area in the middle of the village and every evening my two children would go for a swing and I would wander out to keep an eye on them – they had gone past the ‘Dad, give me a push’ stage but had not quite reached the stage where they could be left alone. In such circumstances, a person has a lot of time to think and, as they swung, I found myself staring at the hillside opposite.

Something about the hill’s slopes and its late evening shadows, the way the buzzards hunted across the ridge, the sound of the sheep bleating and the distant barking of a farm dog, worked their magic on me. By the end of the week, an idea was born, blending landscape and its effect on the people who live within it with the theme of wildlife crime, something on which I had reported extensively as a journalist. Then came the character; I had been toying with the idea of a disillusioned detective finding his senses re-awakened by the northern hills. Eventually, it turned into Dead Hill, the first in my DCI Jack Harris series, which is published by The Book Folks.

Oh, and the children are both grown-up now!

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

The two writing groups of which I am a member – the Inkerman Writers in Darlington, County Durham, and the Gallery Writers in Kirkcudbright in South West Scotland. Previous collaborations have been very happy ones and both groups are packed with talent.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I have been developing my online crime fiction writing courses. I have already taught several aspiring writers from the UK and abroad and it has been a joy to be exposed to their enthusiasm and talent. I also run weekend courses from my 19th Century hillside home in South West Scotland – Covid wiped out the entire 2020 programme but I hope we can run them again in 2021. Oh, and I’ve had this idea for a novel…!

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

I am looking forward to the careers of the excellent Ian Patrick and Jackie Baldwin continuing to develop (both have strong connections with the area in southern Scotland where I live) Also looking forward to the next steps in the career of new names who have been signed up by the Book Folks – people like Bud Craig with his private detective stories and David Pearson and his popular series of novels set in Ireland.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

The latest DCI Jack Harris book Kill Shot (The Book Folks, published October 25, 2020) is my twentieth crime novel to make it into print.

Thanks John for answering my questions, I’m excited to check out your 20th printed crime fiction novel!

John Ryder Interview: “I think that having a variety of experiences through life has given me lots of material to draw upon”

Today I talk to former joiner and farmer John Ryder about how he draws on his experience to write intriguing crime fiction stories.

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

I’ve always been a fan of crime fiction and thrillers, so it was natural that when I started writing my own stories, they would be in the genres I love the most. I couldn’t write a sci-fi or romance novel for all the money in the world as having not read them, I wouldn’t have a clue how to write them.

How does your background as a farmer and joiner influence your work?

I think that having a variety of experiences through life has given me lots of material to draw upon. Final Second happens in a rural setting so it was easy for me to put myself into the mindset of certain characters. As a joiner, I used many different power tools that were extremely dangerous, so it won’t be a big leap for me to imagine someone using them for nefarious purposes.

Often farmers and construction workers can be looked down upon because their jobs aren’t seen as technical, or requiring much intelligence, but that’s far from the case as anyone who has tried to work out how to get an exact spread of fertiliser onto a field. Joiners make intricate shapes on a regular basis and when it comes to casting concrete, they have to design and build moulds that are the exact opposite of the finished shape.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are there any rituals you do to get yourself in the mood for writing?

My only real ritual is to make sure I have coffee and at least a half hour to write without interruption. I take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. A half-overheard conversation can spark an idea, as can a news story, or a “what if” proposition that nags at my mind.

What style of writing do you enjoy yourself? Are there any particular writers you admire?

I love authors who can make their words seem like honey for the eyes and yet write a gripping story that entertains and educates me. There are far too many authors I admire to list them all but books by the following authors always jump to the top of Mount To Be Read. Craig Russell, Zoe Sharp, A.A. Dhand, M.W. Craven, Stuart MacBride and many many others.

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

I’d choose Alistair MacLean as I believe he’s possibly the greatest thriller writer who ever lived. Admittedly his later books weren’t as strong as his early ones, but following stories like HMS Ulysses, Fear is the Key and Ice Station Zebra would find almost any author wanting.

Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Grant Fletcher 2, Final Second comes out on Monday 5th October, which is always a thrill and I have just completed the first draft of Grant Fletcher 3, and I feel it’s got the bones of a great story hidden beneath all the typos. I’ve also got a book out on submission, which I have high hopes for.

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

Hyde by Craig Russell is one book I’m hugely looking forward to and I read an early draft of Sins of the Father by Sharon Bairden, which is a book, and author I’m tipping for stardom.

Anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to say thank you for hosting me, and to also thank those who’ve stuck with this interview to the bitter end. As a reward to you all, I’d suggest signing up to my newsletter on as that will gain you automatic entry into every competition I run.

Thanks to John for answering my questions; it’s been great to find out more about your work.

Anna Campbell Interview: “I love to play with the tropes of historical romance”

Anna Campbell 43970009
Anna Campbell 

Today I’m pleased to share my interview with historical author Anna Campbell, who creates delightful novels and brings the past back to life. 

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

Hi Hannah! Thanks so much for having me as your guest today. What an interesting question. I think I write intelligent historical romance that’s heavy on dialogue, usually incorporates an element of steam, and often includes a wry sense of humour. I like to think I go deeply into my characters emotions, too. I started writing the sort of historical romance I enjoyed reading – something that reflected the period and place of the setting while still telling a full-blooded love story. I’ve always loved history, right from when I was a little girl oohing and aahing at the illustrations in my books of fairy tales and watching Errol Flynn movies on black and white TV. The Adventures of Robin Hood has much to answer for!

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past experiences when writing fiction?

I always wanted to be a writer. I started my first novel in grade 3 although I didn’t actually slog through to finish a book until I was 17. In my working life, I had a variety of jobs, all of which were a great way to learn about human nature, and I travelled to many places, which have since appeared, in my stories. I sold my manuscript, No Ordinary Duchess, to Avon in New York at auction in 2006 and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since. Including Claiming the Courtesan, which is what NOD became, I’ve published 11 books with traditional publishers, but I reached a point where I found that I wanted a little more flexibility in schedules and pricing and tone. I’ve been an indie writer since 2015.

Talk to me about your books. What do you think it is that makes readers enjoy them?

I mainly write books set in the first 30 years of the 19th century, although over the last 12 months I’ve stretched my range to cover 18th century Scotland. I love to play with the tropes of historical romance like marriage of convenience or feuding families, but I use a richly imagined period background to give the stories a feeling of being grounded in real life, however larger-than-life the plots and characters might be. I love writing sparky dialogue – my women are always strong and smart. In fact, I’d say my heroes are too! I love giving exceptional people a happily ever after. There’s always quite a lot of passion in my books and I think readers enjoy watching simmering sexual attraction ripen into lasting love.

What books do you like reading yourself and how do they influence your writing?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. My mother gave me my first Mills and Boon when I was eight and I’ve read romance pretty much ever since. These days, though, my choices would probably lean more towards crime or nonfiction. Nonfiction in particular is a wonderful source of ideas for stories. I ask myself how a particular scenario might play out if it was set in the Regency (for example, with Captive of Sin, I’d been reading a lot of books about Russian/British rivalry in the mid-19th century in Central Asia and that sparked my hero’s background in the 1820s). In terms of fiction, I really like Elly Griffiths and Nicola Cornick and Mick Herron right now.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I’m not sure I believe in writer’s block. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block after all! I’ve certainly had days when I can’t write and there are things that have happened in my life that have stopped me writing for a while (a death in the family, for instance). But I think that’s just normal. Sometimes if the pages aren’t happening, I just need a break (reading a good book or a swim in the summer always help!). Or I need to take some time to think a bit more about the scene I’m about to do. If I’m really stuck, I have a couple of trusted writer friends who are always ready to have a natter about plot issues.

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

A writer I admire tremendously is the late, great Dorothy Dunnett who wrote two wonderful series set in the late middle ages and the renaissance. If you’ve never read her Lymond Chronicles, rush to your nearest library or bookshop and buy them. They’re unlike anything else. I’d love to be her assistant – I doubt I’d rise to being a genuine collaborator but it would be a privilege to be there to watch how her mind works.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

I’m currently in the throes of finishing a long series of 10 books set in the Highlands of Scotland called The Lairds Most Likely (The Highlander’s Forbidden Mistress came out at the end of June). I’ve had plans to write a series set around the season in Regency London for a long time, but other projects have got in the way. Now I’m finally ready to start these new stories which are going to be sparkling and glamorous and sexy. The first books should be out first half of next year so watch this space.

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

I recently read The Dutch House by Anne Patchett and very much enjoyed it. I’d read her nonfiction before (it’s great!) but now I’m looking forward to exploring her fiction. I’m also gradually making my way through a re-read of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling historical romances. Most recently, I enjoyed The Corinthian. Next stop might be The Toll-Gate, I think.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Keep on reading!

I’d like to say thanks to Anna for answering my questions- it’s been amazing.

Heather Barnett Interview: “People from my past pop up in my writing”

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Today I have the pleasure of interviewing thriller writer and fellow copywriter Heather Barnett about her debut novel and upcoming projects.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What led you to start writing thrillers?

I love the thought that there’s more to life than meets the eye, and I’m naturally drawn to the humour in a situation: both those things always inform my writing style. Which might sound odd for a thriller writer, but my debut is more of a light-hearted mystery than a gritty thriller.

I didn’t set out to write a thriller: I had an idea about a top-secret organisation and when I started exploring it, the story lent itself naturally to the pace and twists of a thriller.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

My background’s in marketing and my day job sometimes involves copywriting, but it’s a very different kettle of fish to my fiction. I’ve always loved writing and have written short stories, poems and novels throughout my life, but this is the first time I’ve been published. (Unless you count a poem in a children’s anthology when I was ten. Which I do.)

People from my past pop up in my writing – never as whole characters but I’ll amalgamate different personality traits and mannerisms to create the people in my stories. I love larger-than-life characters so whenever I meet someone like that in real life I’m mentally tucking them away for future inspiration.

Talk me through your debut novel and why you think readers will love it.

At its heart, Acts of Kindness is about the power of human kindness – so I hope from that point of view people will find it up-lifting. It’s also a bit of escapism to transport readers into a world that’s softer round the edges than ours, peopled with characters you can root for, characters you can laugh at, and a few you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

I think for me inspiration is a cumulative process. It’s more like mixing together different ingredients that combine to create a new whole, than one single light bulb moment. The inspiration for Acts of Kindness was witnessing commuters helping a woman who’d fallen down the stairs at Paddington station, intermingled with wondering what was behind some grand stone gateposts that I used to drive past in Wiltshire. Those disparate things swirled around in the back of my mind and came out as the secret OAK Institute, which is at the core of the book.

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

Jane Austen. Without a doubt. There wouldn’t be any collaboration though, just me watching on in awe and supplying her with pens, paper and cups of tea.

Do you have any projects coming up in the future that you are particularly excited about?

Yes, I’ve written a romantic comedy called Lord Seeks Wife that will be published by Serpentine Books in summer 2021. It’s like a modern-day PG Wodehouse set in a quintessential English village with plenty of eccentric characters and some unexpected twists.

Are there any new books that you are looking forward to reading over the next few months?

It was my birthday recently so I’ve got a whole stack of new books to read including The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel and Humankind by Rutger Bregman.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thanks for asking me to do the interview Hannah!

Thanks Heather for answering my questions, it’s been lovely to learn more about your amazing work.

Paul Gitsham Interview: “My earliest scribblings were science fiction based, but often with elements of crime mixed in”

Paul Gitsham Headshot - Hi-Res

Paul Gitsham is the author of the DCI Warren Jones series, as well as a teacher, Trekkie and fan of true crime documentaries- the perfect person for an interview with the Dorset Book Detective! He shares insights into his work and how he’s created such an iconic police procedural series.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing crime fiction?

I was always a book lover, filling my library card each week. I also loved writing stories and always wanted to be an author, but for most of my life it was little more than a hobby. My other passion is science, and after gaining a PhD in molecular biology, I spent some years doing research as a biologist, before finally retraining as a science teacher. But in all that time, I kept on reading and always had something I was tinkering with.

The first DCI Warren Jones novel, The Last Straw, is about the murder of a reviled university professor, and so my background in academia became really useful.

How does your experience as a teacher influence your writing?

The most obvious example is the novella, A Deadly Lesson. The story centres on the murder of a deputy head teacher in her office late one night. Being so familiar with the way modern schools work not only allowed me to write an accurate story, it also suggested ideas and plot twists that I could incorporate into the story.

Like anyone who works in a profession, I cringe sometimes when I see teaching portrayed either in books or on TV. Schools are dynamic, changing places and education evolves constantly. It’s really obvious when a writer is a non-teacher and hasn’t set foot in a school since they were pupils!

The other way in which being a teacher influences my writing is that Warren’s wife, Susan, is a biology teacher and I do bring that into their home life.

What drew you towards writing crime fiction novels?

My earliest scribblings were science fiction based, but often with elements of crime mixed in. When I finally realised that the murder subplot of a Sci Fi novel I was working on was becoming the dominant thread of that story, I finally realised that somebody was trying to tell me something!

By this time, my taste in books had largely gone full-circle; the first books I read as a child were Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew etc. I then read a lot of science fiction before drifting back to the crime genre. By the time I sat down to write The Last Straw, I was almost exclusively reading crime and thriller.

Please tell me about the DCI Warren Jones series and why you believe that they’re so popular?

The DCI Warren Jones series are modern police procedurals, set in a fictional Hertfordshire town. Starting with The Last Straw, they now number six novels and 4 novellas, with this year’s A Price to Pay, the most recent.

I really love a good, twisty plot with some red herrings. Something that many of my readers comment on is how normal Warren is. I realised very early on, that I didn’t want to write a broken, alcoholic divorcee – not because I don’t like those characters – but because I didn’t feel I could necessarily add something substantial to the host of brilliantly written characters that already exist. So instead, Warren is happily married without any substance-abuse problems or dark, depressive tendencies.

Many readers have found it a refreshing change! That’s not to say I don’t put him through the wringer, and he has experienced more than his fair share of tragedy, but he still passes the ‘Friday night pint test’ – i.e. would I like to go for a pint with him on a Friday evening? And yes, I think I would!

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

My partner and I are big true-crime fans; we watch a lot of dodgy documentaries on Freeview! Interestingly, it’s not the story that inspires me -after all, that tale has been told. It’s the tiny little detail that sends my imagination flying off at a strange tangent. I keep a file of ideas on my phone, usually little more than a single sentence, and I am forever adding to them. But nine times out of ten, anyone reading what I jotted down during the programme would probably struggle to make the connection between the idea and what was on screen!

In terms of writer’s block, because I write out of sequence and fit it all together at the end, it’s rarely a big problem. If a section isn’t behaving itself, I put it one side and write something different.

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

This is where I have to leave the crime genre and proudly display my geek credentials: I am a HUGE fan of Star Trek and the novels based on the series. I own hundreds and have read even more. Back in the late nineties, two Trek authors – Judith and Garth Reeves-Stevens – teamed up with William Shatner and wrote a series of fantastic novels continuing the story of Captain Kirk after he supposedly died in Star Trek: Generations. They finished after three trilogies and I doubt there will be anymore. I have read them all at least half-a-dozen times. It would be a dream to continue that series, but collaborating with the Reeves-Stevens (ideally with Bill Shatner involved, obviously). If you are reading this Pocket Books, please don’t be shy about emailing …

What do you like to read and how does this influence your own writing?

Aside from the aforementioned Star Trek novels that I still love to pick up now and again, I have been reading a lot during lockdown. Will Dean’s Tuva series are an inspiration when it comes to describing environment – I read Red Snow during a mini-heat wave but had to stop myself from turning the radiators on as I was transported to Sweden.

Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series is a masterclass in character growth. Harry is an unmovable constant – yet he never stops changing. It’s a wonderful paradox and I love being immersed in that series. If I could make a returning reader of my Warren Jones series feel just a taste of the warm, comfortable feeling I get when I pick up the latest Bosch, then I will have succeeded beyond my dreams.

Do you have any projects or new books coming up that you are particularly excited about?

The eBook of A Price to Pay came out in June and I’ve been exchanging notes with my audiobook narrator ready for the audio and paperback release on August 6th. By far the bulk of my sales are Kindle, but there is still something special about having the paperback sitting on my shelf, and hearing Malk reading out my words.

I am also into the final stages of next summer’s book, snappily titled DCI Warren Jones Book 7, Title TBC.

I have a ton of editing and rewriting to do, but two days ago, I wrote the scene where Warren finally charges the killer with the murder. It is a wonderful feeling.

Are you planning on using the current crisis in any of your future works, and how do you think it will affect the world in which your characters live?

In terms of the DCI Warren Jones series, I am in the fortunate position that the series’ chronology runs a few years behind the real world. I have another couple of books to go before I have to start thinking about what the hell I’m going to do about 2020 – a year that if you had pitched it to an editor as dystopian fiction 12 months ago would have been rejected as too dark and unrealistic.

The big changes will be to the standalone that I have been writing in my ‘spare’ time. I wrote a large chunk of it over summer 2019, before putting it to one side to start the next Warren Jones. I had been planning on finishing the first draft this summer before starting Warren Jones 8. However, half the book is set in July 2020. Changing the date it is set in will need significant work but won’t be impossible, however things are so uncertain at the moment that it feels risky to assume that everything will be back to normal next summer and just change all the dates to 2021 – I really don’t want to have to do it again!

So, I have decided to push on and write the next couple of Warren Jones before coming back to the standalone when I have the benefit of hindsight. I have written enough that it will definitely be finished one day, but I’m not sure exactly when!

What new books or debut authors are you looking forward to reading and finding out more about in the future?

Last weekend was the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone Locked Up online festival in aid of the Trussell Trust. My partner and I spent a LOT of money at Waterstones the day after it concluded. I’ve bought/pre-ordered a couple of old favourites: Steve Cavanagh’s next Eddie Flynn – Fifty-Fifty will be devoured at an indecent pace. As will Alex North’s latest, The Shadow Friend. Last year’s The Whisper Man was brilliant.

We have all of Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra’s signed and face-out on the bookshelf, so we are intrigued to read Midnight at Malabar House, the first in his new series. And finally, from the New Blood debuts panel, Nadine Matheson’s The Jigsaw Man sounds like it’s just up my street. It’s not due out until next spring, so I will see if I can persuade someone to send me an arc!

Huge thanks to Paul for answering my questions- it’s been a blast!