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Tuesday, 25 June 2019

WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED - an interview with Alice Castle

My guest today is my friend and fellow-author Alice Castle, whose latest book The Body in Belair Park is released today.

Welcome, Alice!

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?
I had a very kind teacher when I was really small, who pointed out something I’d written for a school project. She said she really liked it, and asked me very seriously where I’d got the idea from. The fact that she gave my writing such attention made me realise it was something I could do and has really inspired everything I’ve written since. Teachers have such power to encourage. I’m very grateful to her.

I fully understand.  I've had some wonderful teachers and also some pretty useless ones!

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words? 
The Body in Belair Park is the sixty cozy crime novel in my series.  I'd sum it up like this: 'A dead Bridge player.  A determined mother.  A new case for single mum amateur sleuth Beth Haldane.'

OOH, sounds intriguing.  What was the inspiration for this book? 
There were two inspirations, really.  One is Belair House, the very beautiful real-life Georgian mansion at the centre of the story.  It stands on the edge of Belair Park and is the home of the fictional bridge club that causes so much trouble for Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.  It's a really stunning place and I felt it would be an excellent spot for a nice bit of skulduggery.  The other inspiration was my newfound interest in the card game, bridge.  Bridge has featured in two whodunits which I particularly love: Agatha Christie's Cards On The Table and Georgette Heyer's Duplicate Death.  I wanted to see if I could write my own that would stand against these two classics - I hope I've succeeded.

Did you do any research for the book?
I did tons of research, in that I have now taken up bridge in quite a big way! I had played it as a child but started going to a club once a week to polish my skills for the book. Now I’m hopelessly hooked and am going to keep going. I also visited Belair Park and Belair House quite a few times to try and get all the details right for various key bits of the book.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?
I write best in the morning and have a rule that I write at least 1,000 words on my work-in-progress a day. I chose this figure because Graham Greene used to write 500 a day, so I can tell myself I’m doing twice as much (though the words may not be quite the same!).

How do you decide on the names for your characters?
Naming characters is such a bizarre part of being a writer. I’ve heard of people plucking names from telephone directories. My chief problem at the moment, now I’m writing the seventh London Murder Mystery, is trying not to repeat the same, or very similar, names. I have a horrible habit of picking names beginning with the same letter, then have to change things around at the end.

AAAGH!  Two or more characters having similar-sounding names, or names beginning with the same letter, is one of my pet hates (as any author who has worked with me will confirm).  It can be horribly confusing for the reader.  I've often wondered how Emily Bronte got away with it...

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?
Every book seems to write itself differently, but I do find that I am gradually plotting more, partly because whodunits can be very complex and you need to be sure what people are up to all the time! I don’t like to tie the plot down too much, though, or the characters seem stifled. You should be free to make the great leaps of inspiration that appear from who-knows-where and make writing such fun.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?
I love so many crime writers that, if I had to list all my influences, we’d be here forever. But probably the most important to me are the women writers of the Golden Age: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, to name but a few. And then there are some key writers who grew up, or went to school in, Dulwich itself… Raymond Chandler, PG Wodehouse and Simon Brett.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?
The best part has been being lucky enough to find a wonderful publisher for my stories, so that something that was a tiny germ of a story, in my imagination alone, has been made real and has been brought out into the world. That really is a wonderful feeling. The worst part is editing my own work, it’s like pulling teeth.

I feel your pain...

What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m excited to say I have a new book coming out this autumn in the rather different genre of domestic suspense. I can’t say much more about it at the moment, except to promise you more news soon! And I am working on the seventh book in the London Murder Mystery series, The Slayings in Sydenham, which stars my single mum amateur sleuth Beth Haldane, and will be published in the New Year.  


Beth Haldane is on the verge of having everything she’s ever wanted. Her son is starting secondary school, her personal life seems to have settled down – even her pets are getting on. But then the phone rings.

It’s Beth’s high-maintenance mother, Wendy, with terrible news. Her bridge partner, Alfie Pole, has died suddenly. While Beth, and most of Dulwich, is convinced that Alfie has pegged out from exhaustion, thanks to partnering Wendy for years, Beth’s mother is certain that there is foul play afoot.

Before she knows it, Beth is plunged into her most complicated mystery yet, involving the Dulwich Bridge Club, allotment holders, the Dulwich Open Garden set and, of course, her long-suffering boyfriend, Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Harry York. The case stirs up old wounds which are much closer to home than Beth would like. Can she come up trumps in time to stop the culprit striking again – or does the murderer hold the winning hand this time?


Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.

Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, France, Spain and Germany. A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery, was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim and also hit the number one spot. Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, was published in August 2018, with Homicide in Herne Hill following in October 2018. Revenge on the Rye came out in December 2018. The Body in Belair Park is published on 25th June 2019.

Alice is currently working on the seventh London Murder Mystery adventure, The Slayings in Sydenham. Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.

Alice is also a mummy blogger and book reviewer via her website:

Death in Dulwich is now also out as an audiobook.

Alice lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

Friday, 7 June 2019

VIEWS ACROSS THE POND - an interview with Olga Swan

My guest today is the multi-talented author Olga Swan, whose latest book An Englishwoman in America will hit the shelves on Tuesday next week.

Many thanks Sue for welcoming me onto your esteemed blog. I do hope my answers to your questions prove of interest to your readers.                                                                                

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

I lost my parents and both siblings fifty years ago, and since then I’ve been desperate to continue our (unusual) family name by writing under the nom de plume of Olga Swan (an anagram of my late brother’s name.) My first book was Lamplight, which brother Alan originally typed out for me on a small typewriter.

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

A humorous look at how the British and the Americans view each other. The cover image below gives a snapshot of what lies within.

What was the inspiration for this book?

Growing up in the ‘50s, I couldn’t understand why four of us (my mother, 2 brothers and myself) were all shy and introverted, yet my father was loud, extrovert and so large as life in everything he did. Eventually I understood. He’d lived a considerable time in America. Should I then follow his lead and move to America? Would that make me more outgoing?

Did you do any research for the book?

Yes. Lots of it. From immigration tomes to other works in the genre to personal holiday diaries and precious travel memoirs from my father to internet sources.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I don’t really have one. I tend to do everything on the hoof. As soon as inspiration hits, I head out to our tiny conservatory, which has plenty of light – particularly from above which helps my SAD – wait an interminably long time for my laptop to get going and then start typing. My problem has always been that I write too quickly and too much, meaning there are lots of deletions to be made later!

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Well, it’s different for NF, where so many names and places have to be correct to be a true account. When I’ve finished, I then change just the names of family members so they aren’t cross with me!

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

For non-fiction, such as the one above, I find it helps enormously to include a Contents page, with chapter headings and chronological years listed. In this way, I’m forced to keep to the itemised structure. However, as far as the main ‘factional’ narrative is concerned, I just let it develop as I write. I do find, though, that having written both fiction and non-fiction, that I use different parts of my brain: the back of my head for the former, but the front for the more observational needs of non-fiction writing.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

Leon Uris and Simon Sebag Montefiore.

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

Being accepted by a publisher and seeing the first sales graph rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The worst? Not being accepted by leading literary agents – not because of the quality or otherwise of your submitted work, but because you don’t already fit today’s need for ‘celebrity’ status.

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

I hope that, at last, I have made my late family proud of me.

Is there a message for the reader?

I hope that, when reading this non-fiction work, I have introduced themes and ideas that perhaps they wouldn’t have thought of.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Always find a good editor: someone who has been trained in elementary English grammatical techniques… Can’t think of anyone better than you, Sue.

Aw, thank you!  What can we expect from you in the future?

My hope is that, following the success of this book, I can progress onto other similar tomes, each starting “An Englishwoman in……” The sky’s the limit really.  

For now, though, I do hope that your readers will come to the online launch party on Tuesday 11 June.  On the day click hereThen under Discussion, say Hi and enjoy guest author spots and entertainment, read exclusive excerpts from the book, and enter two free quizzes about American cars and music to win a prize.  Easy.  Looking forward to welcoming you on the 11th.  

Pre-order your ebook now or buy the paperback here.

Many thanks Sue for having me!

For links to my other 9 books:

Tuesday, 28 May 2019


It was with great sadness that I learned, a few days ago, of the death of a wonderful writer and a much-loved friend.  Susan Roebuck died on May 5th, but today would have been her birthday.

Although Sue and I never met in real life, I had the pleasure and privilege of working with her as editor of two of her Portugal series novels: Forest Dancer (set in the countryside around Lisbon) and Joseph Barnaby (set on the island of Madeira).  The books are beautifully written, with well-drawn and rounded characters and a real sense of place.  I really felt as though I was back in Portugal, and I feel very sad to think there will be no more from the same pen.

As we worked together we became very close friends, and she was wonderfully supportive of my own writing.  Rest in peace, dear Sue.  The world is a poorer place without you.

Monday, 27 May 2019

RESEARCHING THE REFUGE - a guest post by Jo Fenton

My guest today is my dear friend and fellow-author, the fabulous Jo Fenton, whose second novel The Refuge (the sequel to The Brotherhood) is officially released tomorrow.  I had the pleasure of working with Jo as editor of both her novels, and I can promise you that anyone who loves psychological thrillers is in for a real treat.

Welcome, Jo!

Thanks very much, Sue, for inviting me to talk about the research I did for The Refuge. I’m hugely excited today, as tomorrow is launch day!

Research falls into three categories:
·         The upfront research that I need to do before I get started on a novel.
·         The ad-hoc bits that I check up on Google as I go along
·         Those bits that I should have done up front, but didn’t realise I needed until I got started – these are the ones that require a bit more than a quick search on t’internet.



When Mel decides to turn the Abbey into a refuge for victims of domestic abuse, she needs to make several changes to the interior of the building, and to the rules of the residents to ensure the safety of her new guests.

I found the information on the internet to be quite limited (for reasons of safety and security), but I was able to adapt what I found to suit the purposes. There was sufficient detail available to inform the book, without getting into the nitty-gritty.

Effects of abduction:

Jess was abducted when she was ten, and has been kept in grim conditions. Her reactions would be influenced by her own character, but largely would be typical consequences of what she’d endured. It was important to me that Jess was believable, and in order to ensure that, I had to check out a few psychology websites, and a great book that I have – Forensic Psychology for Dummies (I love the For Dummies books – fantastic resources for authors!)


The ad-hoc research was varied! From the review of the results of paracetamol overdose (that had to be abandoned, as it didn’t work with the story) to the evaluation of suitable weapons, I turned to the internet repeatedly.

However, many things I needed to know were regarding information given to new mothers about thirteen years ago. This is not easily found. The books were necessarily set in that period, albeit a relatively short time ago, due to the clinical trials that were conducted in the infirmary in The Brotherhood. This forced at least The Brotherhood to be set in the time just before the Northwick Park first in man trials that went so appallingly wrong in March 2006.

So, to find the required information, I reached out to friends – firstly those who had their children in around 2005-2007, and then my friends who were midwives at that time. I had huge help, particularly from Jodie Baptie and Louise Doyle, who were able to keep me on the right track, and tell me what was feasible with the advice Mel received regarding her baby.

I also did a bit of digging around of legal information, but the results never made it into the book, as the plot rendered it irrelevant – however, I would like to send a quick shout out here to Val Penny and Alison O’Leary for the helpful advice.


The bits of research that I should have done up front were mostly geographical, and were largely incorporated into the second draft.

The Abbey is in the countryside around Macclesfield. I kept the exact details deliberately vague. There is no abbey where I wanted it to be, so I decided to create an abbey and an imaginary village about a mile away.  However, when Jess escapes from her abductor’s house, she finds herself on the road to Macclesfield, and eventually in a charity shop in the town centre. 

I did a reconnaissance trip, walking around the town centre (for about two hours) to find the charity shops, and to find the possible route that Jess would have taken. Several roads qualified, but as I don’t want to upset the real residents, I’m not going to publish too much about the area.

I do have the address in my notes, and when I had finished checking out the location on foot, I drove around the outskirts and identified a probable address – even going as far as to check out the orientation of the property, so that when Jess left, and headed to the main road, she would have been facing away from the sun!

I also needed to find a suitable place for Dawn and Alison to go missing, and again, although I was purposefully vague about the exact location, it was very clear in my own head. I was a bit shocked about just how big Macclesfield is. If I had done my research a bit sooner, I might have gone for a more compact area, but its location in being surrounded by countryside made it well suited as the nearest large town to the Abbey.

Research is a key requirement of any novel. 90% of my research never appears in the books, but it makes it possible to write lucidly and accurately.

Blurb for The Refuge:

Following the death of The Brotherhood’s charismatic but sinister leader, Dominic, Melissa and her husband Mark resolve to turn the Abbey into a refuge for victims of domestic abuse. But when Melissa’s long-lost sister, Jess, turns up at the Abbey, new complications arise.

The Abbey residents welcome the new arrival but find it hard to cope with the after-effects of her past. As Jess struggles to come to terms with what she’s been through, her sudden freedom brings unforeseen difficulties. The appearance of a stalker – who bears a striking resemblance to the man who kept her prisoner for nine years – leads to serious problems for Jess.

Meanwhile, Mark also finds that his past is coming back to haunt him. When a mother and daughter venture from the Abbey into the local town for a shopping trip, there are dreadful consequences.

A build-up of tension, a poorly baby and a well-planned trap lead Mel, Jess and their family into a terrifying situation.

Can Jess overcome the traumas of her past to rescue her sister?

The Refuge and The Brotherhood are available from Amazon. Together they make up The Abbey Series:
The Brotherhood (The Abbey Series Book 1):
The Refuge (The Abbey Series Book 2):

About the author:

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, and at eleven discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer. She now has an eclectic and much-loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her family and is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and three reading groups.


The Refuge Launch Party will be on Facebook on Tuesday 28th May – everyone welcome:

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.