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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

SHAKESPEARE SPECIAL - and an extra-special offer

This coming Saturday (23 April 2016) commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.  Many people believe that he was England's greatest ever poet and playwright.  Whether or not this is true is a matter of personal opinion, but in any case he's definitely up there with the front runners.

One thing which cannot be disputed is how much Shakespeare has contributed to the English language. A surprisingly large number of words and phrases in common use today were first penned by the Bard himself.  If you're on a wild goose chase and find yourself neither here nor there, feeling faint-hearted (having not slept one wink), waiting with bated breath for the naked truth, and all of a sudden find yourself saying "Good riddance" as those who have eaten you out of house and home whilst playing "Knock, knock, who's there?" vanish into thin air - you are quoting Shakespeare. The world is [your] oyster, but for goodness sake, don't wear your heart on your sleeve and end up looking a sorry sight in a fool's paradise.  Truth will out, and it's a foregone conclusion that you can still have too much of a good thing.

The Bard of Avon has certainly inspired much of my own writing.  One of my first successes as a poet was winning a limerick competition, in which I summed up the plot of Macbeth in five lines:

On the strength of a witches' conjection 
a regicide's planned to perfection, 
but revenge is prepared 
by a tree-moving laird 
who'd been born by Caesarean section.

One of my long-term projects is to produce a limerick for each of the plays.  That's still very much a work in progress, but in the meantime, two of Shakespeare's other plays - Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar - formed the basis of two of my novels.

The Ghostly Father takes a new look at Romeo & Juliet, and asks the question "What might have happened if the events of the story had taken a different turn?"  If, like me, you love the original story but hate the ending, here is your chance to read an alternative version - one with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.

The Unkindest Cut of All is a murder mystery set in a theatre, during an amateur dramatic society's performance of Julius Caesar.  What really happened to the actor playing the title role, during the final performance on the infamous Ides of March?

Shakespeare-themed celebrations will be taking place all through the anniversary weekend.  My humble contribution to these celebrations is to offer a special discount on the ebooks of these Shakespeare-inspired titles.  For a few days only, they will cost you just 99p each.  That's two books for less than the price of a regular cup of arty-farty coffee.  And if you usually prefer to spend a little more and go for a large coffee, then why not splash out another 99p and treat yourself to my other novel, Nice Girls Don't, which is also reduced?  This book isn't directly Shakespeare-themed, but the Bard does get a couple of mentions.

Click on the book covers on the right to be taken to your local Amazon links. And you'll still come away with change from £3.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

HOW MANY WRONGS MAKE A MR RIGHT? - a guest post by Stella Birrell

Today I'm delighted to welcome another Crooked Cat author to my blog.  Stella Hervey Birrell's debut novel, How Many Wrongs Make A Mr Right?, is released this week.

Welcome, Stella!  

Photo by Lynn Fraser

My name is Stella Hervey Birrell, and I am a writer.

It is still difficult to type these words and not immediately press and hold ‘delete.’ But ever since 2012, when I actually gave up paid work, I get up early every morning, and write while my children sleep.

The book that emerged, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? is a chick-lit-with-grit story about finding several Mr Wrongs before ‘the One’ arrives, on not-quite a white charger (OK, not at all on a white charger). My main character, Melissa, isn’t particularly likeable. More like a feminist-needy-religious-amoral-broken-anti-heroine in fact. I despaired; thought she’d never find the soul-mate she ‘didn’t even believe in,’ but she came through, just in time for my happy ending.

So, by 2014, I knew I could ‘just write,’ the best advice ever for budding and even blooming authors. ‘Of course your work is awful, the worst writing in the world is also known as your first draft.’ That gem from my beloved Radio 4. ‘Read every day. Write every day.’ This from my writers group, the backbone to my spinelessness, the metabolism to my lily-liveredness.

Several drafts later, I told myself firmly that it was ready, and approached thirty agents and publishers. Each agent expects you to tailor your submission to their company; after all they were doing me the favour by reading it. It was hard work but it was worth it.

Then the rejections started rolling in.

They were, for the most part, really kind. A lot of them encouraged me not to give up. But no one even wanted to read the full draft. Ah, me.

Summer came and I took a break. I thought I’d draw a line under the first novel, concentrate my efforts on the second. But when I looked at How Many Wrongs? it wasn’t half as terrible as I’d remembered. It deserved another chance. My cover email got better, good, excellent. I read up about each company I approached, rejecting them - me! Rejecting them! If they didn’t have my genre on their list, if their authors were 70/30 men/women: no submission. I got choosy.

I still didn’t get anywhere.

Then finally, finally, I received a request for my full manuscript. Cautiously, I sent it through, telling myself that it could mean everything, it could mean nothing.

I reminded myself: it could mean nothing.

On a normal Sunday morning, while I was yelling at everyone to get ready for church and I didn’t have time, I downloaded an email from Crooked Cat Publishing. There was a moment of ‘maybe I should read this later,’ but all the while my thumb was disobeying me. Luckily, the news was good.

I was offered a contract for my first novel.

Since that day, I have gone from feeling I’d been playing at something, something I wasn’t very good at, to feeling that I had been doing it.

I was a writer. I had been one all along.

Stella's special pencils - very cleverly designed!

How Many Wrongs Make A Mr Right? is published on Friday 15 April 2016, and is available from Amazon UKAmazon USKoboNook and Apple iBooks

To find out more about Stella, take a look at her blog or her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, or email her at

She can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.

Monday, 11 April 2016

PICA-BOO - an interview with Jeff Gardiner

Today I have the great pleasure of welcoming back my multi-talented friend and fellow-author Jeff Gardiner, who is here to talk about life, the universe, and his new novel Pica.

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

I’ve always loved expressing ideas in words, and I still have a head full of images, stories and ideas. Writing was (is) something I have to do – I think I’d go mad if I didn’t. I wrote very bad poetry as a teenager/student: overwrought and introspective stuff that must remain private (or would make good fuel for a warming fire).

I completed an MPhil thesis, which I developed into my non-fiction book The Law of Chaos: the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock (originally The Age of Chaos before being expanded and revised). Then I began to write short stories which eventually got accepted by various magazines, anthologies and websites.

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

Pica (the first in my Gaia trilogy) is set in the modern world, exploring our relationship with nature. Luke is a bored and cynical teenager who – through the mysterious Guy – is unwillingly introduced to the wonders and ancient magic of our natural world.  His life is irrevocably changed.

What was the inspiration for this book?

When I was a secondary school teacher I was shocked by how indifferent some teenagers were by nature and our miraculous world. There were pupils who never went for walks in the countryside; who never felt that inspiration of being surrounded by hills, rivers, wildlife and forests. It seemed to mean nothing to them. I felt they were missing out on something incredible. Pica is my response to that indifference. As well as introducing environmental issues, I want the reader to find the sense of wonder I feel when I’m out in the countryside.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I don’t have the luxury of being a full-time writer, so I mix it up with editing, supply teaching and extras work for film and TV. On a writing day I’ll get the kids to school and then be back around 9am, knowing I have until about 2.45pm to myself. Of course there are also usually a few chores to get done – not least clean out the guinea pig hutch. Once done I can settle down to work. Writing involves reading through what I did last time and then checking my notes and giving myself a realistic aim for the day: say, 1000 words. If I achieve my aim then that’s a great day, but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t get there. Once the kids are home I give them my attention, and sometimes I might also do another hour or so more writing in the evening, depending on how I feel… unless there’s football or some good comedy on, or a film… or…

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

I plan them – but with lots of holes and breathing space. I know that as I write, things will change, so there has to be some flexibility. I find my best ideas come in the middle of writing the novel.

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

Writing is a wonderful creative act, so I know I’m lucky to have the chance to write. Having work accepted and finally published is fantastic. The rejections and hard slog are the tough side. Writing isn’t as glamorous as some might imagine. It’s actually a bit lonely and can lead to cabin fever. It’s important to get out and meet people before you enter that spiral of insanity. ‘The Shining’ isn’t just a horror novel and movie. It’s a piece of non-fiction and a documentary accurately depicting the effects of being a writer.

Is there a message in your book? 

Pica (and the rest of the trilogy) contains an environmental message. We are destroying our world because we are greedy and selfish. Something needs to change: mostly our attitudes – especially in the West. We need to understand our place within nature, rather than continue to fool ourselves into thinking we are the planet’s masters.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Never give up. Have faith in yourself and your writing. Be VERY patient and set long term goals. But don’t give up. (Did I mention that?)

Thanks, Sue, for hosting me on your blog. 

My pleasure, Jeff.  Please come again!

PICA by Jeff Gardiner

Pica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.
Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.


About Jeff

Jeff Gardiner is the author of four novels (Pica, Igboland, Myopia and Treading On Dreams), a collection of short stories, and a work of non-fiction. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and websites.

Pica is the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy of transformation and ancient magic, which Michael Moorcock described as “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”

“Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)

For more information, please see his website at and his blog: