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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

HOW IT ALL BEGAN - a guest post by Tom Halford

Today I have the great pleasure of welcoming a brand new guest, all the way from Canada.  Meet the fabulous Tom Halford, who will be one of my guests at the online launch of Heathcliff on 30 July.  Tom's debut novel, Deli Meat, will be released on 17 September 2018, but is already available for pre-order by clicking here.

Welcome, Tom!

There’s a man stranded on a desert island. He has a sheet of plastic, a ball of twine, and a hatchet.

How will he get off the island?

This scenario is probably the reason that I first took an interest in writing.

Way back when people were beginning to buy personal computers (back when we still needed to include “personal” before “computer”), my mom and dad bought one of those boxy, plastic contraptions, the ones where people were impressed to see words appear on a screen. I say words because I don’t think our first computer had enough memory for images. We didn’t care, though. It was amazing enough to be able to type and see the white, pixelated letters appear on the flickering blue screen.

One day, Pete, my oldest brother, was sitting in front of the personal computer, and I asked him what he was doing. He said he was writing a story about a man who was on a deserted island. The man had a sheet of plastic, a ball of twine, and a hatchet, and the story was going to be about how the man would use these items to get back to civilization.

I don’t know how old we were. We were pretty young, but I can still remember how I felt. I was fascinated. There was something about how Pete had created this imaginary world, how he had developed a problem, and most importantly, how he was working on a solution.

I was obsessed with the idea of writing my own story.

One of the first things I wrote on that computer was a crime story. It was about my Grandmother Fletcher and a serial killer in the small town of Harvey Station, New Brunswick. The twist was that the serial killer was actually a cereal killer. I mean this literally. The murderer was a giant cheerio.

I can’t remember fully what happened in the story, but my Grandmother defeated the cereal killer by some kind of karate chop or flying kick.

Writing was always a lot of fun, and I was consistently rewarded for being creative by my parents. I am still writing crime-fiction. My novel Deli Meat also features a serial killer and it does have a comedic bent, but it’s a little more serious than my first story that I wrote for my Grandmother. To tell the truth, I don’t know what my Grandmother would think if she read Deli Meat. It’s a violent dark comedy with all kinds of swearing.

The hero of Deli Meat, a woman named Effie Pitts, travels to Plattsburgh, New York in search of her husband who has gone missing on a bachelor party. She meets a cooky waiter, Conrad Arms, who tries to help people, but invariably ends up doing more harm than good. This is my first novel, and I’ve been working on it obsessively. I really hope the effort shines through.

My wife and I have two small children, and the only opportunities that I have to write are usually when everyone else is asleep. I get up at six every morning, and that usually gives me an hour before the kids wake up. Then when they go for their naps, I can usually write for another hour.

Sometimes at night, my wife and I sit around the kitchen table, and we both do a bit of work. The truth is that it’s very hard to find time to read and write. But, since those days sitting in front of that flickering blue screen, I’ve been a believer in the power of words. I keep my nose down and continue to work whenever I can.

Sometimes when I’m writing, I feel like that man on the island. I have a few tools, and I know how to use them, but there’s an ocean between where I am and where I want to be. That’s a problem, and no matter how hard it is to find time, there’s part of me that needs to figure out the solution.  

Friday, 8 June 2018

ON HALLOWED GROUND - a guest post by Jennifer C Wilson

A warm welcome back to the fabulous Jennifer C Wilson, whose latest novel Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey is released today.

In the Kindred Spirits series, we meet the ghosts of historical characters, in a range of contemporary settings. Have you ever wondered what Richard III and Anne Boleyn might have in common, what Mary, Queen of Scots is getting up to now, or what happens when the visitors leave some of the most popular attractions in the country? Well, here’s your chance! 

In the third of the Kindred Spirits series, we visit Westminster Abbey, and I hope you enjoy meeting a new community of ghosts. Mind, with modern travel so easy these days, a few faces we’ve already encountered might just show up too…

On hallowed ground…

With over three thousand burials and memorials, including seventeen monarchs, life for the ghostly community of Westminster Abbey was never going to be a quiet one. Add in some fiery Tudor tempers, and several centuries-old feuds, and things can only go one way: chaotic.

Against the backdrop of England’s most important church, though, it isn't all tempers and tantrums. Poets' Corner hosts poetry battles and writing workshops, and close friendships form across the ages.

With the arrival of Mary Queen of Scots, however, battle ensues. Will Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I ever find their common ground, and lasting peace?

The bestselling Kindred Spirits series continues within the ancient walls of Westminster Abbey. 

Praise for the Kindred Spirits series

“A light hearted, humorous, and at times tender read which you'll enjoy whether you like history or not.”

“This light-hearted, imaginative read is a new take on historical fiction but make no mistake, this is not only a fun read but an educational tool.”

“A brilliantly unique idea from a distinctive new voice in fiction.”

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.

Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her Kindred Spirits novels are published by Crooked Cat Books and available via Amazon, along with her self-published timeslip novella, The Last Plantagenet? She can be found online at her blog, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

NAH, IT DIDN'T HAPPEN - a guest post by Joan Livingston

Today my guest is the lovely Joan Livingston, whose mystery novel Chasing the Chase has just been published.  The book is the first in a series featuring the amateur sleuth Isabel Long.

Welcome, Joan!

It’s the question I invariably get about my fiction: How much of it is true? I believe it’s an honest question, and I will give an honest answer. Certainly, people, especially those who know me personally, might speculate about my new mystery, Chasing the Case.

But let me back up a bit and say that I have been inspired by people and places I have met. That includes the rural hill towns of Western Massachusetts, in particular Worthington, where my family and I lived for twenty-five years. I even set the mystery in a town called Conwell, a name that has a connection to Worthington. But is it really Worthington? Nah.

There are other nahs in Chasing the Case.

A woman did not disappear from a hill town of thousand people 28 years ago. I made that up.
I will admit there is a lot of me in the protagonist Isabel Long. The mystery is written in the first person, so I couldn’t help myself there. We’re both nosy, sassy women. But she’s a widow and I’m not. She has three kids and I have six. She got canned when her newspaper went corporate. I didn’t. And after leaving the newspaper biz, I haven’t become an amateur P.I. as she did. Frankly, I am not that brave.

As for the other characters, I do model Isabel’s 92-year-old mother, her Watson, after my own mystery-loving mom. (She was amused.) But my mother doesn’t live with me. Isabel’s three kids are inspired by a few of my own. Yeah, there’s a lot of my own spouse in Isabel’s late husband.
But the rest? The characters – from the missing woman’s family to the gossipy men in the general store’s back room to the clients at the bar where Isabel works part-time to the bar’s owner – are made up. I repeat: they are made up.

I once had a New York agent who wanted me to write a tell-all nonfiction book about my life in Worthington – something on the order of Peyton Place. He read the first couple of chapters and wanted a whole lot more dirt. But I couldn’t do it. I loved the people and the town too much.

So instead I write fiction. I use what I’ve experienced, as I’ve said before, and have my way with it.  I believe this is true of many or most fiction writers.

The previous novel I published – The Sweet Spot – centered on a scandal involving the young widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam eight years and her married brother-in-law. Did it happen? Nah.
But I’d like to think I wrote it with enough authenticity that one could believe it happened. The same goes for Chasing the Case.

Chasing the Case officially launched on 18 May 2018. Here’s the link to order a Kindle version or buy the paperback:

Social Media:
Twitter: @joanlivingston 
Litsy: JoanLivingston

Thursday, 17 May 2018

GAINING INSPIRATION FROM REAL LIFE - a guest post by Vanessa Couchman

Today I have a very special guest on my blog - the fabulous and multi-talented Vanessa Couchman.  I've had the pleasure and privilege of working with Vanessa as editor of both her novels (The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow) - both of which I can highly recommend.  Here, she shares some of the secrets of her inspiration.

Welcome, Vanessa!  Over to you...

Historical fiction is based on real life events, or at least they establish the backdrop to the story. Part of the appeal, both for readers and writers, is the weaving of fiction around fact. Some periods of history are especially popular hunting grounds for authors seeking inspiration. For example, there seems to be an inexhaustible interest in the romantic lives of the Tudors and in the turmoil of the two world wars.

For me, the choice of topic to write about is rarely the result of a conscious plan. Small snippets, stumbled upon unexpectedly, spark off inspiration. I didn’t set out to write either of my published novels, but they wouldn’t leave me alone until I had.

It’s purely by chance that I set my first two novels on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. While on holiday there a few years ago, we chose one of two guest houses in a village on the coast of Cap Corse. 

In our room we noticed some old letters that had been framed and hung on the walls. The Corsican owner told us that when he was restoring the house, a workman found the letters in a box walled up in a niche in the attic.

They turned out to be love letters, written in the 1890s by the village schoolmaster to the daughter of the house, a bourgeois family who would have disapproved of their relationship. They were star-crossed lovers. She had to marry someone else for family reasons (not uncommon on Corsica) and it was not a happy marriage by the sound of it.

Who walled up the letters? Why? What happened to the schoolmaster? What was it like to live in a Corsican village at the turn of the century? This story intrigued me, so my first novel, The House at Zaronza, fills in the gaps in the real-life story. It follows the life of the young woman, whom I named Maria, from 1899 up to the early 1920s, via World War I.

My second novel, The Corsican Widow, which has just been released, was inspired in a similar way. While carrying out some research on another topic, I happened upon an article about female criminality in 18th-century Corsica. You might think this is a somewhat abstruse topic, but the article contained a fascinating snippet from a contemporary chronicle. This related the story of a wealthy widow who is lonely after the death of her husband. She falls for her shepherd and scandalises her neighbours and the rigid, traditionalist Corsican society in which she lives.

I can’t say much more without giving away the plot, but suffice it to say that this story kept creeping into my mind. I had to put aside my other project and write The Corsican Widow first.

To write both novels I had to do considerable research about the history and culture of Corsica. When writing historical fiction, it’s not enough just to tell the story. You also have to get your facts right! 

Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in southwest France since 1997. She is fascinated by Corsican and French history and culture. Vanessa has published two novels, The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow, in the Tales of Corsica series, and plans further Corsica novels as well as historical novels based in France. Her short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies.

Writing website:   
Amazon author page:
Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

All of Vanessa’s books are available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.

The Corsican Widow:
The House at Zaronza (reissued in 2018):
French Collection: Twelve Short Stories:

Monday, 7 May 2018

THE RED DIE - an interview with Alex Macbeth

Today I have a very special guest - the fabulous Alex Macbeth, whose new novel THE RED DIE was published by Crooked Cat Books last month.  

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

I have to acknowledge the influence of my parents, both of whom were writers. When I was younger I hated books precisely because of that, but slowly reading, and then writing, grew on me.

Can you summarise the book in just a few words?

A dead journalist and a corporate scam threaten the integrity of an African nation. Can a disgraced policeman solve the case and survive?

That sounds fascinating, and it's at the top of my TBR pile. What was the inspiration for it?

The humility of some of the officers I met traveling in East Africa, especially in rural areas where the job is really tough. And Mozambique, where my family have lived for the last 15 years. While the book is completely fictional, many of the hurdles that the characters go through are based on everyday reality.

Did you do any research for the book?


What does a typical writing day involve for you?

Finding inspiration for a scene and an image and developing it as best I can within my narrative.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Most of my characters are based on real people but adapted.

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

Good question. I like to plan but a novel seems to be what happens while you are busy making plans as an author!

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

McCall Smith, Mankell, Sjowall & Wahloo, Wa Thiong’o, Saramago, Chekhov,  Marechera, Gogol, Okri… almost every book I read influences me in some way, for the better or for the worse.

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

The best part is finishing a late draft of your novel and feeling satisfied with it. The worst feeling is the opposite.

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

Under pressure to write a sequel/prequel.

Is there a message for the reader?

I hope so, I like to think the book challenges some of the stereotypes that people might have.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Samuel Beckett’s words: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Wise words indeed.  What can we expect from you in the future?

A sequel to The Red Die is in the works. I also own a publishing house in Mozambique, Ethale Publishing, and I have several titles lined up there. Hopefully you’ll hear more from me!  

I hope so too, Alex! Thank you for visiting my blog today. Please come again!  


Buy the book here
Alex's website 
Alex's Twitter 
THE RED DIE on Facebook

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

NAPALM HEARTS - an interview with Seamus Heffernan

Today I have a very special guest on my blog - fellow Crooked Cat author Seamus Heffernan, whose amazing novel NAPALM HEARTS was published yesterday.

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

I have a clear memory of being in second grade and writing a story about a young boy going on an airplane for the first time for a fun-filled family vacation - and the plane falling out of the sky and plummeting into the ocean. I thought it was great the way my family stared at it (and me) like there was something very wrong.

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

NAPALM HEARTS is a detective story about a P.I. trying to find a hard-partying young woman, the trophy wife of a member of high society, who is in big trouble somewhere in London's seedy underworld. He's trying to be a real detective and do the right thing - but he's also trying to find a bit of meaning in what is a lonely life. 

What was the inspiration for this book?

I was always going to write a crime book and I lived in London for a long time. That, and a few lonely months in my own life, plus a bit of time spent on a those seedy London streets gave me ample material to work with.

Did you do any research for the book?

Yes, a bit. Mostly little things, though: police officer rankings, what British naval intelligence was called, some stuff about the Russian mafia and their tattoos. If you mess up the small details that can sometimes derail it for the reader who will then find it harder to trust you.

That said, it's a novel, not a dissertation, so there is always going to be some suspension of disbelief required and a few liberties taken by the author. All mistakes are mine and mine alone.

Typical writing day?

It's like the gym: I carve out time and force myself to do it. I have a theory that a lot of writers actually hate the process. I'm lucky in that I like the writing part, especially when you get going and it all starts to click. But the whole getting started part… well, that's always a lot trickier.

When I'm working, I will often have music on or play movies in the background, if only for the company and occasional distraction. Silence has always been off-putting to me, which comes as exactly zero surprise to any of my friends.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write? Bit of both, I suppose. My original outline for NAPALM HEARTS was much different than the final version I wrote. Lesson learned: Sometimes you have to trust both your characters to guide you, as well as your own instincts when you're in the moment. 

Yes, I know - that's happened to me too! 

So for the second in the series I'm definitely taking a less structured approach. I read something wonderful George Saunders said recently, about not overthinking everything before you sit down to write. He said to do so was to cheat your subconscious from what it give you when you get going. I love that. 

Which writers have influenced your own writing? 

I think we're inevitably influenced by anyone we read, regardless of the medium. So I must acknowledge those whose work I appreciate, whether it's in books, TV, film or comics: Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, David Milch, David Mamet, Nic Pizzolatto, Warren Ellis, Mike Schur, Tibor Fischer, Ed Brubaker, Michel Faber.

Finally, any of us who dare put "crime fiction writer" anywhere near a résumé must willingly genuflect to Chandler and Hammet, of course. And they totally deserve it.

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

The best part is creating a story that resonates with people. It's probably the most human thing about us, to share stories. We all do it, all the time. Oh man, my boss reamed me out today. Hey, did I ever tell you I was in a band in college? Listen, I'm doing this cleanse and I'm literally gonna die if I don't get a burger. Watch anybody at a party, mingling. We swap tales to get to know each other.

Fiction is the natural extension of our need to share stories. That's why I write. This thing where we make up stories and throw them out into the world is just this wonderful, precious thing we get to do. I've personally decided to use that gift to write trashy detective novels, but what the hell. We don't all get to win a Nobel for Literature.

The worst part is writing a scene that's genuinely well-written, something you love - then realizing it adds nothing to your story, so you have to kill it. Every writer feels like Abraham standing above Isaac in that moment right before you hit 'delete.' 

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

Relieved. Tired. Slightly anxious. But cautiously optimistic.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Decide if you are willing to put a lot of time and work into something that you may never get any credit for, let alone make money from. If the answer is 'yes,' start. Hell, start small. Aim for a page a day. It adds up fast.

What can we expect from you in the future?

In no particular order:
·         The follow-up to NAPALM HEARTS.
·         A TV pilot script, a dramedy about the day-to-day grind of working in government from the point of view of the people who serve the public every day. A somewhat kinder, gentler The Thick of It, perhaps.
·         Meeting agents.
·         Getting by with a little more exercise and a little less sleep.

Other than that: NAPALM HEARTS may be ordered here.

And please get in touch with me through any of these:

Thanks for having me, Sue!

My pleasure, Seamus. Please come again!

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

SEEKING THE TRUTH - a guest post by Heidi Catherine

My blog guest today is my dear friend and fellow-author, the fabulous Heidi Catherine, whose latest book The Truthseeker was released last week.  The Truthseeker is the long-awaited sequel to Heidi's amazing debut novel The Soulweaver (about which more here).  

Welcome back, Heidi!  Please tell us more about The Truthseeker...

Do you believe in fortune tellers? Over the years I’ve seen many psychics and had numerous tarot card readings. I’ve even had my past lives read. And I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve had readings that have been completely off the mark and others that have been so spine-tingling accurate that they’ve left me stunned.

I’ve often wondered why I have such a fascination with wanting to know to unknowable. But at least I’m not alone. People have been trying to read fortunes since the beginning of time, in almost every culture. Gypsies have travelled the land with crystal balls, kings have consulted sorcerers, messages have been slipped into cookies, tealeaves have been carefully examined, stars have been gazed at and palms have been read. Humans have always been curious creatures and I’m guessing we always will be.

I had a lot of fun creating one particular character for my new book, The Truthseeker. In fact, I named the whole book after her! The Truthseeker isn’t your regular fortune teller though. She’s an old woman who lives on the bottom of the ocean. People visit her in the murky depths to ask her questions about their lives. She’s quite a frightening character and certainly not someone I’d be lining up to visit, no matter how accurate she is.

Here’s an excerpt where one of the main characters, Nax, accompanies his girlfriend, Maari, to the Truthseeker’s house. Maari has questions she desperately needs to ask, but Nax isn’t so sure that seeing the Truthseeker is the answer…

A bony hand grabbed him on the arm and he jumped, tightening his grip on Maari.
‘Do you seek the truth?’ croaked the voice of an old woman.
The room filled with soft light and the Truthseeker began to take shape. She was small, maybe only five feet in height. Her back was crooked and her grey hair was wild. She wore a black cloak that wrapped around her shoulders and fell to the floor.
‘No,’ he said, trying to pull away. He wanted to get as far away from here as possible. But the Truthseeker’s grip was firm.
‘I seek the truth,’ said Maari, fire burning in her eyes.The Truthseeker let go of Nax’s arm and turned away, sliding herself through the interior door.
‘Are you sure?’ Nax whispered. Maybe the others who’d come before them were right. Sometimes the truth is better left undisturbed. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
Maari looked at him, her eyes filled with tears. She turned and slid through the door behind the Truthseeker.He went to follow her, but the door was sealed. He pulled at the rubber flaps, but they were sealed tight. He couldn’t get through.
‘Maari,’ he cried.
What was going on in there?The room plunged into darkness and he sank to the floor, shaking with rage, fear and cold.He hugged his knees to his chest and waited. He wouldn’t leave without her. He’d die here if he had to. Was this why the woman in his dreams had warned him to stay away from her? Had she known Maari would lead him into danger? Still, he didn’t care. He couldn’t leave her. His spirit was bound to hers.
The seconds ticked by as minutes. The minutes passed as hours. He waited. Would he ever see Maari again?
He kept his eyes focused in the direction of the door, waiting for her to emerge. It didn’t matter. His eyes may as well have been closed for all they could see.
A noise startled him and he stood, feeling the seal of the door with his fingertips. The cold rubber became soft skin. It was Maari.
‘Are you okay?’ he said, pulling her into his arms.She didn’t wrap herself into his embrace as he expected. She felt stiff. Uncomfortable.
‘What happened?’ he asked, wishing for a sliver of light so he could see her face.

Have you ever visited a psychic? Why do you think we’re so fascinated with finding out our future before it has a chance to unfold?

Heidi Catherine can be found on Facebook, Twitter Instagram or on her website.

Book links: