Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Writer’s Life – spinning hats, again

writer at work june 15 001I have completed the re-writes for my third crime novel based in Scarborough, The Art of Breathing. It has gone through various drafts each time commented on by writing friends Lesley, Kate and Felix, then Felix did a final go through to make sure the plot held together as a whole. I am very grateful for this support, as an indie, I certainly could not keep moving forward without it. I also had comments back from a small press I submitted the manuscript to. Along with their rejection, they included a couple of pages of my work annotated by their ‘reader’, which is very decent of them. My confidence in the observations did wane somewhat, however, when a question was raised over whether a university would have a bar? Hello?!

So now I spin hats, the writer has to make way for the indie publisher.

The Art of Breathing is booked in with a copywriter in June and then a proofreader in July. Hopefully the final version should be ready by the end of August. I have decided to re-package my three books – The Art of the Imperfect (; The Art of Survival ( and The Art of Breathing – as a trilogy which I will launch in the Autumn. The three are stand-alone in the sense that there is a different discrete crime story in both, but they are tied into a trilogy because of the on-going narrative of one of the characters, Hannah.Art of Survival Coverfront onlyfinal There is a lot to think about and get right, for example: covers; formatting (different formats for the three methods of publication I will use); print runs; mobilising reviews/reviewers; perhaps a new website… I make lists, endless lists.

The Art of… trilogy is part of an on-going crime series and already novel four is beginning to ferment in my imagination. It will take the characters’ stories several years forward and will be based around the fishing community and themes of environmentalism. I am wondering about breaking away from The Art of… title. I’ve come up with The Photograph or The Girl in the Photograph – though maybe I am too late to jump on the Gone Girl bandwagon?

How do you come up with the titles of your novels, stories or poems?


Author Interview: Margret Geraghty

Five Minute booksFor me The Novelist’s Guide by Margret Geraghty remains one of the best guides for those embarking on any kind of story writing, but particularly novel writing. How excited was I, then, when I discovered Geraghty on Twitter and that she agreed to be interviewed for my blog! Read and enjoy… especially her writing tips.

Margret Geraghty had her first piece of fiction published in a newspaper when she was 16. It was a blatant piece of plagiarism involving a scene from a film she’d seen at her local cinema. However, that early success encouraged her and she later had many stories and articles published in magazines. On the strength of those, and her work as a tutor, the editor of Writers News/Writing Mag asked her to write a monthly column. That led to her first commission for a full-length book, The Novelist’s Guide. This was followed by two other books, The Five-Minute Writer and More Five-Minute Writing, both of them inspired by her passion for analysing fiction and her time spent studying for a degree in psychology. Margret also has a master’s degree in Film Studies from the University of Southampton.

What are you currently working on?
My garden and house decorating.

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
First, people – their quirks, their fears and attitudes to life. In my writing classes, my students’ thirst for fresh ideas led me to develop exercises to help them achieve their writing goals. Second, fiction itself. I’m fascinated by the psychological questions it raises. For example, why do we read fiction? Why do we find the same or similar patterns in fiction as in the days of Aristotle? Both psychology and fiction are dedicated to exploring the human mind and I like to look for links between the two.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
I think the two interact. One of my favourite cognitive psychologists, Keith Oatley, describes fiction as the mind’s ‘flight simulator’ and I’d agree with that.

Five writing tips?
You can find lots of tips in my books, but I’ll give you one for each:
Characterisation – Remember that people are your source material. Learn to watch and listen.
Plotting – A plot is not just a sequence of events. Rather, it is a sequence of cause and effect, like a row of dominoes.
Dialogue – Watch films. In real life, talk is free. In films, it costs money. Scriptwriters have to make sure that every word pays its way. We can learn from that.
Descriptive passages – Remember that description is not story. Weave description into your narrative and make it specific. Follow Chekhov: ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

How would you describe your writing process?
It depends. When I was writing a lot of academic stuff, I’d have a plan. But cold starts can work well for any imaginative work. I discovered this by chance when I had deadlines for articles. I’d have an idea and just start writing. Invariably, the first paragraph was rubbish but it worked to stimulate thought. That’s the premise behind my Five-Minute books.

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
I like peace and quiet. Music or background conversation distracts me.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
When writing anything to do with psychology, research is essential and I love doing it. If I read something interesting, I’ll always try and go back to primary sources. Academia taught me to do that and it’s good practice. When it comes to fiction, I once wrote to a motoring mag asking if a particular sports car had a roof that closed automatically when it rained (that was before the Internet and click-of-the-button information.) They didn’t reply so I winged it. The story sold and no one complained.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
I’m quite reclusive but I am on Twitter @margretgeraghty. Both my Five-Minute books are still in print and readily available from Waterstones, Foyles and Amazon.


How to write a (crime) novel #5: settings

The lighting is subdued, the weather is stormy, the landscape bleak, a lone car travels along a winding single track road. The scene is set, is it not? It feels as if since the introduction of Nordic Noir to our TV screens, the landscape has become an essential character to any crime novel. However, this is not a recent device. In his novel, The Moonstone, published in 1868 and considered by some to be one of the first of the crime genre, Wilkie Collins created the shivering sands. In his description he said it was as if it had ‘hundreds of suffocating people under it – all struggling to get to the surface, and all sinking lower and lower in the dreadful depths!’

ScarbbeachI’m very fond of the natural world and enjoy stories where it is poetically and originally described. I also believe it can add a metaphorical aspect, giving depth and nuance. I do think that for contemporary tastes having a clarity about the setting is a must.

So where does your crime novel take place? Urban or rural? Small town or big city? Concrete or moor? Sea or landlocked?

I knew my crime series would take place in a small seaside town in North Yorkshire. At first I was cautious about setting it too firmly in Scarborough, the model for this place, and I played around with using different names for it. I then went to the local theatre to see a play with ‘Scarborough’ in its title. The auditorium was packed out and I would bet on a fair percentage being there because it was specifically about their home town. This decided me, my setting would be very definitely Scarborough.

For the moment, I am happy with this decision. Readers have been fulsome in their praise of my descriptions of the sea and landscape. And I love the sea, every day it’s a different character, I Art of Survival Coverfront onlyfinallove its moods, I love its strength, I love its wily ways. Yes, I am indulging in some anthropomorphism, which is the key to bringing the background of a crime novel to the foreground and giving it a role.

Here’s an exercise
Go for a walk in your neighbourhood. Indulge in what I call mindful walking: be aware of the outside through all your senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch – and how the inside of you interacts with the outside. After about ten minutes, sit and write for five minutes, quickly without thinking too much, just get words on the paper. Repeat if you feel like it. Then choose something specific – perhaps a tree or a wall or a gate or a bench – if it could talk, what story would it tell?

The crime scene can be crucial in a crime novel and often our protagonist (police officer or someone drawn into the investigation) has to explore it for clues.

Here’s an exercise
Your protagonist has walked into the crime scene. Where is it? Inside? Outside? Describe it as if you were walking through it, with a forensic eye, and don’t forget you won’t only see clues, you might smell them. There might be a texture or a noise which is important.

What’s the setting for your novel? How did you come up with it?

The Art of the Imperfect:

The Art of Survival:


Author interviews – Jaq Hazell

Jaq HazellI am thrilled to host Jaq Hazell on my blog today. Her novel, I came to Find a Girl, is a disturbing and gripping psychologically-minded story which I can highly recommend. Jaq writes crime fiction and contemporary short stories, as well as children’s fiction and YA. She has been shortlisted for the Jane Austen Short Story Award and the Virginia Prize for Fiction, and she has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. Born near Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, her first full-time job was at Buckingham Palace. She has also worked as a humorous greetings cards designer and a journalist. She lives in London. 

What are you currently working on?
I’m at the thinking stage of a new project. I know what it’s about and that it’s a romantic thriller set in London and Mumbai, but I’m yet to work out where it starts.

What has inspired your most recent novel?
I Came to Find a Girl is a psychological thriller that was inspired by a desire to look at the dark side of what it’s like to be a young, single woman in an urban environment – the other side of Sex & the City/Bridget Jones’s Diary, if you like – and the reality that there is a downside to sexual freedom and that we have to look out for ourselves.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
There is always an element of real life in everything I write. Sometimes it will be a small observation, something I’ve noticed while out walking or something I’ve overheard, while at other times it may be more fundamental. Three out of twenty-one stories in my collection London Tsunami are autobiographical. As far as I Came to Find a Girl is concerned, I have used the rundown house I lived in whilst I was a student in Nottingham, my experience of club culture and combined that with a ‘what if scenario’ that had fictionalised everything.

Five Tips on Plotting

  • Remember that your protagonist must want something.
  • Treat your first-draft as if you are laying out all the crucial elements necessary to build your story. At this point, do not expect them to be in the right dramatic order.
  • There’s a good chance that your beginning will not claim its rightful place until you have completed your first-draft.
  • If you are stuck and you don’t know what happens next, take time out to think. Perhaps you haven’t made enough decisions about your characters and their circumstances. The answer is always within you, the writer.
  • Expect to undertake numerous rewrites. Leave the script alone for as long as you can so that when you read it afresh it is as if someone else wrote it. At this stage any holes in the plot should become apparent. Don’t worry, you can make it work.

How would you describe your writing process?
Routine is key, and during the crucial first-draft stage I work six days out of seven as a two-day weekend break is too long – you lose the momentum and it takes too long to regain the flow. I walk my dog, write (with a brief break for lunch) until my kids return, and then I take the dog out again. It sounds dull, but a quiet life is good for writing and productivity. 

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
When it comes to writing, the best thing you can do is sit at your desk (or wherever) on a regular basis and write for a few hours a day. Life gets in the way for everyone: ignore your other half, the kids, the housework, social media (for a few hours a day anyway), and the words will come. 

What kind of research do you do and how do you go about it?
I research as I go along but not in an in-depth way. I find it’s best to get the story down and check the facts later. Too much research is a dangerous thing as there is a temptation to put in more information than necessary and that can slow the narrative. Research for me is mainly via the internet and I also like to visit all the locations I write about. 

Why did you choose indie publishing? Top tips and pros and cons.
I Came to Find a Girl has been independently published. Murder sells, and there are murders in this novel, but the crime that is at its core is date rape. It is not described and there is no graphic or gratuitous detail, but this is a subject that publishers are wary of, while I think it is important to address difficult issues in fiction. 

Five Tips for Indie Authors

  • Make sure that your final edit is the best it can be. You will be judged against traditionally published books with no allowances made.
  • Hire an editor. You cannot edit yourself, you will miss errors however careful you are.
  • Get a professional book cover designed. Again, you are competing with all publishers.
  • Plan your promotional strategy. Contact book bloggers at least three months in advance so that they can include your novel in their busy schedules.
  • Don’t tell anyone you are self-published.

Pros and cons to indie publishing
Indie publishing is a challenge and it’s exciting. You have full control over your work and how it I came to find a girlis presented. However, you have to do everything yourself, there are costs involved, and it’s time consuming, leaving you with less time to write new novels.

The question you wished I’d asked you?
Do you think Amazon should give equal opportunities to indie authors, allowing them to choose numerous categories for their novels as traditional publishers are able to do?

How can readers find out more about your and your work?

I Came to Find a Girl on Amazon:

London Tsunami & Other Stories on Amazon:

JaqHazell on Facebook & @jaqhazell on Twitter