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Thursday, 23 May 2019

RUSSIAN THRILLS - an interview with Tessa Robertson

My guest today is the fabulous Tessa Robertson, who is here to chat about writing in general and her two Russian thrillers in particular.  

Welcome, Tessa!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I first started writing novel-length stories at seventeen. I’ve always wanted to travel and in writing, I could go anywhere in the world. I think that’s what really prompted my writing in the first place. The stories back then were mostly historical romances.

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

Thrilling, unexpected and twisted.

What was the inspiration for this book?

My inspiration for Catalyst at Night is mostly the continuation of Mishka Vald’s story. With this character, I’m able to explore the dark sides of love, romance, and life.

Did you do any research for the book?

I did quite a bit of research for Catalyst at Night. From Pinterest to mafia roles, I had my work cut out for me with Mishka.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

For me, a typical writing day involves coffee, country music, and breaks where I surf the internet. Unfortunately, the latter seems to happen more than I’d like, but it’s a routine that seems to work for me. I try to write when the story flows and take breaks when it doesn’t.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Interestingly enough, I chose some of the character names in my Russian mob series from personal experience. During the day, I work at a law firm and we had a client who was accused of murder. I won’t say which character I borrowed his name for, but it is definitely one of the more dastard men. The other names were researched extensively because of the Russian theme. Only a few readers thus far have pointed out that my main character’s name, Mishka, is typically a male name. Of course, I had a reason for doing that and readers will find out in book three.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

I try to plot as much of my novel before I start writing. Typically, I make a plot line with the scenes and movements of the story then later translate them into short paragraphs so when I start writing, I know exactly where I’m going. Other times, I let the characters and story guide me as I write. I believe it’s a healthy combination of both.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

So many writers have influenced my writing. It’s difficult to pin it down to just one person when it’s a cluster of all the authors I’ve read at one point or another. I greatly admire Robert Ludlum and the way he intricately puts twists in his stories.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?

The best part of the writing process for me is holding my completed book in my hands. It’s surreal since I’ve dreamed of it since the very first time I wrote a story. The worst part of writing is the block that inevitably happens. Usually at the worst possible times too.

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

I feel very proud of my dedication and work with these characters. They’re as much of me as I am so I’m excited to have readers dive into Mishka’s world.

Is there a message for the reader?

The only message I have for readers is to remember that authors write fiction and the characters will do as they please. Some people try to say that the author controls the story, but I believe the characters drive the story instead with the help of the writer.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

My advice for new writers is to never give up. It’s easy to do and I’ve seen many aspiring writers put their passion aside because they were told to ‘grow up’. Breaking into the writing world isn’t easy, believe me, but in the end it’s worth it.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I have one historical murder story I’m editing right now that I believe readers would love. It’s a little different than my Russian mafia series and has more romance involved. As for afterwards, I have a few ideas brewing.

What would you do if the mystery to your mother’s death lay with your employer? 

After years of unanswered questions, Mishka Vald sets out to uncover the skhodka’s involvement in her past. What she doesn’t expect is to join forces with men who push her to become a double-agent and confirm her future. While hunting down leads, the ruthless assassin realizes a life in the shadows is the only way for her to protect those she loves. 

For Mishka, forbidden love is worth the pain when it comes to Eddie Harper, a military man turned cop. Her affection waivers when duty comes first and she joins forces with an elite Russian soldier, Alexei Petrovich. With a blackmailer threatening her school love, she seeks refuge with a fellow assassin, Nickolas Volkov. And when pushed too far, she’s ushered to a secure location…and straight into the arms of mysterious handyman, Dylan Kain. As the pieces fall into place, their mangled order reveals each man’s true intention. Whose deceit can she accept and whose will obliterate her?

All roads lead back to the woman she thought dead – her mother. Now, as weddings are crashed and alliances tested, Mishka uncovers a deadly game and the players involved. Her heart, once unable to budge, is thrust into action, but which man can keep her soul intact?

Catalyst at Night

The skhodka isn’t done with their best assassin yet.
Too bad for them, as a rivaling mob – the vory – holds Mishka Vald captive. The real kicker? She’s trapped in her mother’s clutches with the two men she loves, with no escape from the devious scheme Alena Vald cooked up to destroy the skhodka. 
After spiriting across the globe with one man in tow, Mishka comes face to face with her past. Piecing together the distorted memories would be easy if someone hadn’t tampered with them.
Can Mishka slip through the grips of warring Russian mobs for a chance at a normal life? Find out in Catalyst at Night, the sequel to Assassin by Day.

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Friday, 17 May 2019


Huge thanks to the lovely Katy Johnson for featuring me on her blog today.  To read the post, click here.

Thursday, 16 May 2019


Those lovely people at NFReads have just published an interview with me.  😄

To read it, just click here.

Friday, 10 May 2019

WHAT'S THIS THING WITH SOCIAL ANXIETY? - a guest post by Miriam Drori

Today my blog guest is the fabulous Miriam Drori.  Miriam and I have been friends and writing buddies for several years, and I'm delighted to welcome her back to talk about a cause which is very close to her heart: Social Anxiety.  Miriam has already written an excellent non-fiction book on this subject, and it has also inspired the plot of her brand-new novel Cultivating a Fuji, which is due out next week.  I've had a sneak peek, and I can promise you that it's an amazing story.

Welcome, Miriam!  Please, tell us more...

Thank you, Sue.

I’m not really obsessed with social anxiety. I have plenty of other things going on in my life, most of which make me happy, content and very thankful. And yet…

It was back in 2002 that I first heard the term ‘social anxiety’ and gradually realised it applied to me. It was when I joined an online forum for ‘sufferers’ that I realised that a lot of people who aren’t me have awful lives because of social anxiety. It was when I gradually came to the conclusion that a lot of people, in and out of the community of social anxiety sufferers, would benefit by knowing more about the condition, that I became passionate about raising awareness of it.

Writing was my clear preference of media, and I wrote a non-fiction book called Social Anxiety Revealed

I was lucky that other sufferers, who I met online, agreed to have their words quoted in the book, as long as they remained anonymous.  And so the book, which was finally published in an improved version in 2017, shows social anxiety in its many forms and from different viewpoints.

But back in 2004, when I finished the first version and tried unsuccessfully to find a publisher, I began to contemplate writing a novel in which the main character had social anxiety. In a novel, I reasoned, thoughts and feelings that real people would be ashamed to express could be freely observed in the fictional characters.

Several self-help books on novel writing later, I began my own novel about Martin, who was formed from a hybrid of some of the people I’d met online. I filled notebooks with my writing, most of which found its way to the computer, and eventually my story was complete. Then I joined a writing group, where my novel improved immensely and I learned a lot in the process. But not enough. It was only when I paid for a critique that I realised my plot was no good, because not much happened in it. I’m so glad I discarded it.

Then I attended an Arvon writing course. In one of the sessions, we had to describe a character. I described Martin, of course. Then the instructors said, “Put your character in a place you haven’t been to.” At the time, I hadn’t been to Japan, although we were due to visit the country soon afterwards. But I’d heard a little about it from my husband who’d been on work trips. On one of his trips, he’d been compelled to take part in a karaoke session.

That was the seed for my new and much more exciting story, which uses Martin and some of the other characters from the original story. It is this new story that will be published in just a few days, on Wednesday, 15th May. In Cultivating a Fuji, Martin’s work trip to Japan triggers a long and difficult process of change. However, the novel is not all sad and serious. It’s full of hope and humour.

To celebrate the publication of Cultivating a Fuji, Social Anxiety Revealed will be free to download this weekend, 11th – 12th May.

And everyone is welcome to take part in Wednesday’s online launch party for Cultivating a Fuji. It will take place over two time periods: 7:00 – 9:00 and 18:00 – 20:00, UK time. If you go there now and click Going, Facebook will (hopefully) remind you on the day.

Cultivating a Fuji

Convinced that his imperfect, solitary existence is the best it will ever be, Martin unexpectedly finds himself being sent to represent his company in Japan. His colleagues think it’s a joke; his bosses are certain he will fail. What does Martin think? He simply does what he’s told. That’s how he’s survived up to now – by hiding his feelings.

Amazingly, in the land of strange rituals, sweet and juicy apples, and too much saké, Martin flourishes and achieves the impossible. But that’s only the beginning. Keeping up the momentum for change proves futile. So, too, is a return to what he had before. Is there a way forward, or should he put an end to the search now?

Gradually, as you’ll see when Martin looks back from near the end of his journey, life improves. There’s even a woman, Fiona, who brings her own baggage to the relationship, but brightens Martin’s days. And just when you think there can be no more surprises, another one pops up.

Throughout his life, people have laughed at ‘weirdo’ Martin; and you, as you read, will have plenty of opportunity to laugh, too. Go ahead, laugh away, but you’ll find that there’s also a serious side to all this…

Miriam Drori has decided she’s in the fifth and best stage of her life, and she’s hoping it’ll last for ever. It’s the one in which she’s happiest and most settled and finally free to do what she wants. 

Miriam lives in a delightful house and garden in Jerusalem with her lovely husband and one of three children. She enjoys frequent trips around the world. She dances, hikes, reads and listens to music. And she’s realised that social anxiety is here to stay, so she might as well make friends with it. On top of that, she has moved away from computer programming and technical writing (although both of those provided interest in previous stages) and now spends her time editing and writing fiction.

Neither Here Nor There, a romance with a difference set in Jerusalem, was published in 2014. The Women Friends: Selina, co-written with Emma Rose Millar, is the first of a series of novellas based on the famous painting by Gustav Klimt. Social Anxiety Revealed (non-fiction) provides a comprehensive description of social anxiety from multiple viewpoints. Cultivating a Fuji is an uplifting tale of combating difference. 

Future books will include a sequel to Neither Here Nor There.

Miriam Drori can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram, Wattpad and on her website/blog and social anxiety blog.

Cultivating a Fuji is available as a paperback or can be pre-ordered as an ebook from Amazon.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

THE SUSPECTS - a guest post by Katharine Johnson

Tomorrow (May 10th) is publication day for The Suspects by Katharine Johnson.  She's here to talk about why she wrote the book.

Welcome, Katharine!  Please tell us more...

Thanks Sue.  Here's the blurb:

Shallow Grave meets The Secret History in this quirky psychological thriller.

Bristol, 1988. Five young graduates on the threshold of their careers buy a house together in order to get a foot on the property ladder before prices rocket out of their reach. But it soon becomes the house-share from hell.

After their New Year’s Eve party, they discover a body – and it's clear they’ll be the first suspects. As each of them has a good reason from their past not to trust the police, they come up with a solution – one which forces them into a life of secrets and lies. But can they trust each other? 

Why I chose to write about the house-share from hell

Like my other books, The Suspects is about a life-changing decision. My characters aren’t evil, but are responsible for what happens because they make decisions which determine their fate. As Emily says: “We aren’t bad people, we just made a bad choice.”

Although The Suspects is about a crime and is quite angst-ridden, it’s not a blood-and-guts thriller or police procedural and is far more about the psychology of the characters.

I chose a shared house for the setting because I wanted the story to take place in a small, claustrophobic environment with a limited number of characters, to maximise the tensions between them.  

Buying a house with four strangers obviously isn’t ideal, but Emily, Stuart, Xanthe, Zak and Imogen are all new to the town and have just started work in the same company on a journalism training scheme and have been unhappy with their current accommodation. They’ve shared houses before as students and they don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to buy somewhere before it’s too late.

The shared house is in Clifton, a very desirable part of town, and they’d never be able to afford a house like this on their own. The plan is to own it for a short time and then sell and go their separate ways.

To begin with they’re on their best behaviour, but the cracks in their relationship soon start to show. But as co-owners rather than tenants of the property, the five are trapped by the house and are jointly responsible for the increasing mortgage payments, which piles on the pressure. Because of the economic climate they have no chance of selling up.

And then of course they find the body…

It’s the 1980s, so they spend a lot of their time playing Scruples, but they’re now forced into making a huge moral decision. They don’t choose to find a body after their party but they do make a series of decisions as a result.

Just at the point where they find how incompatible they are they’re suddenly forced together, and depend on each other to stay ahead of the police, but at the same time they’re starting to question whether one of them knows how the body got there and whether they’re safe in the house. One lie leads to another, secrets are uncovered, and the climate of mutual suspicion escalates.

Will they stick together as agreed or save themselves?

Find out more

There will be extracts, info and fun facts at The Suspects Online Launch Party on Facebook tomorrow – just click this link and select Going.

You can read the opening using the Look Inside feature or buy the book here

Book details
Publisher: Crooked Cat Books @crookedcatbooks
Publication date: 10 May 2019
Number of pages: 316
ISBN 9781091512429

Katharine Johnson writes psychological and historical suspense set in England and Italy. She grew up in Bristol and now lives in Berkshire. She’s worked as a journalist on lots of magazines and has written a history book which will be published later this year. When not writing you’ll find her with a book in one hand and a coffee in the other, restoring a house in Italy, walking her spaniel, or playing netball (although not usually at the same time.)

Thursday, 2 May 2019

DEFEATING WRITER'S BLOCK - a guest post by Martin Cavannagh

Journaling As a Way to Defeat Writer's Block

Along with llama-shape coin jars and unicorn piñatas, journals seem to be one of the most common items you’ll find in a gift store these days. They’re certainly not a new development: people have been keeping journals for centuries. Just ask Samuel Pepys.

However, in this age of smartphones and short-hand texting, journals can be a great way to express yourself through a semi-physical action. To some, it can even be downright therapeutic! The practice of keeping a journal also helps people organize their thoughts: mixing their reflection on the day with to-do lists and random ideas. And If you’re a writer, journaling can also help you fight off that most dastardly gremlin of all: writer’s block.

There are countless ways to fight off writer’s block, as you know. From free-form writing and using creative writing prompts to taking long walks through the woods, there’s no fool-proof strategy for combating an inspirational dry spell. But here are a few extra benefits you can expect from starting a journal:

1. You’ll never run out of things to write about

The beauty of journaling is that you’re not under any pressure to make it interesting or to imbue it with meaning. You can simply recount the past 24 hours or describe a specific incident that happened during the day. What if your New Year’s Resolution is to read 100 of the greatest sci-fi novels and you’d like to record your progress to motivate yourself? Turn to your journal. If a memory springs to mind or you want to get a rant off your chest, then you’re free to do that, too!

There’s no wrong way to journal: if you ever draw a blank, you can simply revert to writing down what you ate for breakfast.

2. It will help you refine your voice

There’s a reason why plenty of authors choose to write in the first person for their debut novel: it’s a great way to show off a writer’s unique voice. When you first start journaling, you might yourself writing a bit self-consciously – using florid prose that you hope will elevate your journal to the level of art. This habit will pass. After a few weeks, you’ll likely settle into a groove and start using a more natural voice.

A big part of developing your craft as a writer is to burrow down to what makes your work unique. A daily blast of journaling will help you find your voice quicker than staring at a blank screen – that I can promise you.

3. It will give you perspective in the long run

One of the greatest tools a writer can have is human empathy. If you understand why people behave a certain way and how they can change, then you’re one step closer to creating characters who do the same. And perhaps the best way to get this kind of empathy is being able to see the change in yourself.

This particular benefit of journaling won’t come until you’ve been journaling for at least a year, maybe two. But at some point, you’ll sit down and look through your early entries. Be prepared to cringe – as there’s bound to be a lot of things you wrote early on that you no longer believe. Given enough time, you won’t remember writing most of what is in your journal. You’ll start reading it as an outsider and getting some perspective on this character you’ve written; the person who happens to share your name.

You will also see how far you’ve come as a writer. You’ll see writing tics drop off over time; long passages of waffle transform into tight prose. You’ll be able to track your evolution as a writer, in chronological order — something that will inspire you as you defeat the next wave of those wretched writer's block gremlins.

Martin Cavannagh is a writer at Reedsy, a network connecting authors and publishers with top editorial, design and marketing talent. When he’s not writing fiction, he works to educate authors by curating a series of free online courses and live webinars.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

MEET MY NEXT VICTIM - a guest post by Joan Livingston

Today I have the great pleasure to welcome back my dear friend and fellow-author Joan Livingston, who is here to tell us more about the latest adventure of her intrepid detective, Isabel Long.  Checking the Traps, the third book in this amazing series, is due for release this coming Friday (22 March 2019).

Welcome, Joan!  Please tell us more!

My mysteries always have a victim. And it’s Isabel Long’s mission to find out what really happened to that person.

Isabel, a longtime journalist turned P.I., focuses on solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. In the first, Chasing the Case, a woman had disappeared 28 years earlier. In the second, Redneck’s Revenge, a junkyard owner supposedly died in a fire because he was too drunk to get out.

And in Checking the Traps, the victim is a highway worker by day and a poet by night. The official ruling was that Cary Moore jumped from a bridge known for suicides. His half-brother, Gary Beaumont, doesn’t believe it. For years, Gary has been trying to get someone to look into it, and now that Isabel has solved two cases, he turns to her for help.

It’s not as if Isabel and Gary have had a friendly relationship. After all, he and his brother, Larry, are drug-dealing bad boys who terrorized Isabel a bit in her last case.

But Isabel has a fondness for those men who take care of the roads, especially in snowy winters.

Plus, she is intrigued by the story of a poetry-writing truck driver. Cary hand-wrote his poems in composition books, and as Isabel goes through them, she sees a vast improvement. Perhaps that is the influence of the famous poet who was his neighbor. And as the case goes on, she finds the poems he wrote as gifts to people.

His poetry certainly reflects the person Cary was. Here’s an excerpt:

As I read Cary’s poems, I get an image of the self-taught poet. Or perhaps he was a natural and only needed practice to get it down. He wrote about the world around him. I smile when I read in one he calls “Close to Home” that he’s never traveled more than a hundred miles from where he lives and doesn’t feel he needs to go any farther.

Cary wrote about cutting wood, apologizing to these grand beasts, as he calls the trees on his land, but his family needs to keep warm this winter. In one poem, he finds a pair of old skates in his barn and remembers as a child, gliding on ice, if only life was still that easy.

Cary was married to a woman, Cherie, who runs a hair salon in their home. They were expecting a child when he died. He was a handy guy and a hard worker. But he’s also a bit of a boozer and drug user, so he’s got problems. And as it turns out, he was a bit naïve, especially concerning his famous neighbor.

In this scene, Isabel and her ‘Watson’ – her 93-year-old mother, Maria – visit Cherie. Isabel wants to know more about her late husband’s poetry. Cherie works on Maria’s hair while they talk.

"I think he got ideas for poems when he was drivin’ truck for the town, especially when he was plowin’ in the winter. He’d keep his eyes on the road, but his mind would wander. He started keepin’ a notebook in the cab of his truck, and on his breaks, he scribbled stuff down.” She laughs. “The other guys on the crew kidded him about it, but he didn’t care.”

"When did he write?”

"At night usually, on the weekends some. He did it at the kitchen table. He wrote on paper. He didn’t use a typewriter or computer. When he was finished with a poem, he’d write it down in one of his notebooks.”

"Did he show you his poems?”

"All the time. He read them out loud, too. They changed over the years. You’ll see. They get more serious.”

"One of the notebooks looks like it caught on fire.”

"I came home one day and saw Cary throwing it into the woodstove. I grabbed the book and put out the fire. I think he was going to burn ’em all. He wouldn’t tell me why, but he was upset about somethin’.”

"How long was that before he died?”

She holds the scissors above a strand of hair as she thinks. She turns, blinking toward me.

"It was a few weeks before. I hadn’t thought of that.”

More about Checking the Traps:

Isabel Long is a bit banged up from her last case with a broken collarbone and her arm in a sling. But that doesn’t stop her from pouring beer at the Rooster Bar or taking her third case with Gary Beaumont, a local drug dealer who once terrorized her. Gary is convinced his brother didn’t jump off a bridge known for suicides. Somebody pushed him.

Gary’s brother was a boozer who drove for a highway crew. But what interests Isabel and her ‘Watson’ – her 93-year-old mother who lives with her – is that the man wrote poetry.

The chief suspects are one of Gary’s business associates and a famous poet who plagiarized his brother’s poetry for an award-winning book. Yes, he was that good.

As a journalist, Isabel did regular meetups with her sources for stories. She called it checking the traps. She does the same as a private investigator, and this time, she’ll make sure she doesn’t get caught in one.

More about Joan:

Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Checking the Traps, published by Crooked Cat Books, is the third in the mystery series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I. The first two are Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge.
An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure. Recently, she was named editor of the Greenfield Recorder.
After living eleven years in New Mexico, she has returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including the Isabel Long Mystery Series.


Redneck’s Revenge:

Twitter: @JoanLivingston