Monthly Archives: September 2016

Author Interview: Helen Cadbury

helen-cadbury2016Today it is my great pleasure to welcome crime writer, Helen Cadbury to my blog.

Helen Cadbury is a crime fiction author, poet and playwright whose debut novel, To Catch a Rabbit, won the Northern Crime Competition and was subsequently chosen as one of the Yorkshire Post’s top novels, since the millennium, that best reflect Yorkshire. Her second novel is Bones in the Nest. Both books have been optioned for TV by Red Planet Pictures. Before writing fiction Helen was an actor and teacher, including spending five years teaching in prisons.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on the third book in the Sean Denton series.

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
Two unrelated things inspired the current book, one was a visit to the hairdresser and the other a visit to a greyhound track. The fun part of building the plot of this book has been working out how the two worlds intersect.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
My books are very much set in the real world. I’ve written about contemporary social issues such as migration and people trafficking (To Catch a Rabbit), the rise of far right groups in South Yorkshire communities and racism in the police (Bones in the Nest) but always in the context of stories about people: families, lovers, work-mates. The difference between fictional crime and real crime is that the latter is messy, sad, and doesn’t always end the way we want it to. The joy of fictional crime is that we can see justice done and we can have a happy ending, if we want it.

Five tips for writers?
Here are my 5 tips on character (because I think plot, dialogue and description all follow, if you can get character right).

  1. Let characters come to you. There will be someone hovering in your imagination; perhaps you see them in a certain place or doing a certain job. Do some free writing in their point of 2catch-a-rabbit-coverview to help you to get to know them at first.
  2. Make some decisions (bearing in mind that you can change your mind a hundred times before the final edit). Name them, give them an age, a profession, a family – or no family, because they all died in a motorway crash – hair colour, eye colour (although you may only ever need to mention those features once, or not at all.) List what they love, what they want, what they fear, what they believe in. List ten things that their colleagues would say about them, or their sister would say about them. This is your information, to keep in mind when writing. It’s the iceberg below the water, of which the reader may only see the tip.
  3. Repeat step 2 for all key characters, even minor ones. Keep this character information somewhere safe but accessible. It will be the bible against which you test whether any character is consistent, while you are creating your story and especially when you are editing and re-drafting.
  4. Minor characters can often be bigger, more described, than the major ones. With major characters we get to know them by what they DO (this is crucial) – so you don’t need loads of description, in fact it slows the reader down. However, if you want the reader to remember the girl in the stilettos and green hair who staggered out of the night club just after the murder, then,… You see what I mean?
  5. Again, what the characters do gives you plot. What they say gives you dialogue. Keep their actions and language true to the person you are creating. If you are a writer, the chances are you already do this, but remember to watch and listen. Notice how people speak, on the bus, on the train, in pubs. Notice how people interact with others.

How would you describe your writing process?
I would describe my writing process as slow! Although I can actually write quite quickly and it’s not unusual to manage 2000 words in a couple of hours, the problem is the rest of my life, and its habit of intervening and interrupting the process. Long gaps are a disaster because it’s hard to pick up the thread, not just of the story, but more crucially the tone and style of the book.

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
It helps to have plenty of time. Not just the writing time, but thinking time and planning time. I don’t work well if I’m trying to squeeze it into an hour before I rush off to do something else. My perfect day, and I sometimes manage this, would be to start work after breakfast, with wifi turned off, and write for 45 minutes. Then I break for a coffee and go back for another 45 minutes, which often stretches into an hour or more, because then I’m in the zone.  Then I have lunch, do all that bitty admin stuff that takes up a different part of the brain, or freelance work that needs doing. Perhaps go for a walk and then relax in the evening. I’ve had breast cancer treatment over the last year, so my energy levels are not great. Before that, I would have had a late afternoon writing slot too, on a clear day, but now I recognise that’s not feasible. Mornings are definitely the best time for me.

bones-in-the-nest-coverThings that get in the way: health issues; being surrounded by reminders that I should occasionally clean the house; my young adult children living at home, who are great company, so I get drawn out of my writing room and into the kitchen to chat with them; meeting friends for coffee; agreeing to do too much freelance work;  Facebook, Facebook, Facebook.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
I tend to do research when I need to, rather than in advance. For example I’ve just written a scene in a hospital from memory (nothing is wasted). I will check with a friend who is a nurse if I’ve got the language right. I research forensic science when I can, by going to talks, reading or Googling technology and terminology. I don’t want to overload my narrative with research, it can make it a very boring read, but a sprinkling of the right terminology and things happening in a believable order is reassuring to the reader. For my first book, To Catch a Rabbit, I found a PCSO, who was the mum of a friend-of-a-friend, who kindly read an early draft, which was very helpful. While I was writing Bones in the Nest, I met a response officer who gave me great tips, especially about the state of the squad cars, which went straight into the opening chapters. Before I was published, I didn’t know any police officers, now I seem to know several, so there is always someone to ask about procedure.

If you are traditionally published, could you say something of your journey and your experience?
My debut, To Catch a Rabbit, was originally published by Moth Publishing, as one of four winning novels in the inaugural Northern Crime Competition. It was later bought up by Allison and Busby, who re-issued it with a new cover in January 2015, and followed it with the second in the series, Bones in the Nest, in July 2015. I didn’t have an agent at first, having had about 12 rejections before the competition, but after it, I was helped by New Writing North, who took the competition winners to a ‘meet the agent’ event in London.  My agents, MBA Literary Agents, also represent playwrights and TV writers, which is very useful to me. They were able to sell my TV rights and also represent me when I got a Youth Theatre commission.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
Is it worth it? That might sound strange, but if the goal is to be published, it’s worth thinking about ‘what next?’ It doesn’t suddenly change your life. You still have to put the bins out, the money isn’t great, and the dilemma of how to pay the bills when you’d rather be writing doesn’t disappear overnight. I’ve got to know a lot of other crime writers, (and it is a wonderful community), but they all, regardless of their level of commercial success, have doubts and fears about whether the next book will be good enough, whether they wouldn’t have been happier sticking with the day job. But yes, I think it is worth it; the self-doubt just goes with the territory, but if you’re a writer, you write.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?

Come over to my website or my Facebook Author page

I can also be found on Twitter @helencadbury

To Catch a Rabbit:

Bones in The Nest:

And if you want to know more about some other UK crime writers, some of us hang out here:


Five Tips for Writing a Series by Kate M Colby

I am very happy to welcome the author Kate M Colby to my blog with her tips for writing a novel series. Her new novel, The Courtesan’s Avenger, is out now:  Over to you Kate Colby…

Kate C photo Oct15I’ve always had difficulty thinking “small.” In school, I was the kid with good grades, a dozen extra-curricular activities, a part-time job, and a dedication to an outside sport. At my day job, I’m the person who always accepts extra projects or offers to help someone who is overworked. Why? I want to do it all.

The same goes for my writing. When I set out to write The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I knew one novel wouldn’t be enough. I loved the world and characters I had created. I couldn’t spend 90,000 words with them then just leave, never to return. No. Even though I had never written a novel before, I couldn’t start with one. I decided to start with six. And the Desertera series was born.

This week, the second novel in the series, The Courtesan’s Avenger, hits the virtual shelves. With two books under my belt, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer – and about the unique challenges of writing a series. Whether you have an idea too big for one book, want to revisit the characters and world you created, or are trying to build a dedicated audience (Full disclosure: this is one of my main motives, too!), writing a series is an admirable task. As a writer, you’ll have to figure out your own process. In all honesty, I’m still learning mine. But here are a few tips I can offer now that I have finished my second book:

Plan Ahead
If you know at the beginning of a project that it will become a series, do yourself a favor and plan ahead. First and foremost, consider the series’ arc. What journey are your characters taking? What important milestones must they reach along the way? How much will they change as individuals? Try to plan how many novels you’ll need to accomplish these goals, as well as what big plot points will be covered in each novel. But of course, leave room for surprises and twists – you never know when your characters will take the wheel!

Now, some of you may not be interested in thinking about publishing (or in independent publishing specifically), so feel free to skip this paragraph. However, if you are intending to independently publish your series, remember to think ahead to future books as you publish. For example, you’ll likely want the cover designs to coordinate. When you design your first book’s cover, ask yourself whether its design elements can be tweaked for future covers. You’ll want to make the same considerations for formatting, book descriptions, graphic designs for advertising, etc.

Beware the pros and cons
Writing a series is “easier” than writing several stand-alone novels, because you do most of theThe Cogsmith's Daughter - Ebook Small “leg work” with the first book. It will establish the world, characters, rules, and themes. In the subsequent novels, you can focus on the story and adding more depth to the previously established elements. At the same time, writing a series contains a lot of pitfalls. You must keep details consistent – not only the color of the protagonist’s hair, but also her speech patterns, basic values, memories, etc. My advice?

Keep a record
After I finish each novel, I collect important details in my “Desertera bible.” This is a Scrivener document where I track the main events on a timeline, record when and where I introduce characters, create character profiles, and more. If I forget what furniture is in a room while I’m writing the next book, I can simply open the document and refer to the setting description. It’s a lot easier than rifling through my paperbacks or doing a CTRL+F in my ebook files.

Don’t be afraid to experiment
Writing a series doesn’t mean that all the books have to be the same. You can write them from different characters’ perspectives (I do!), jump forward or backward in time, incorporate a new subgenre in the plot. My first book has a romance subplot, while my second contains elements of a cozy mystery. Or anything else you can imagine. As long as you stay true to the heart of your series – main genre, authorial voice, key themes, and characters – you can dress it up however you like.

Make an escape hatch
Writing a series is fun … until it’s not. Maybe you’ll fall out of love with the characters. Maybe you’ll get sick of the genre or run out of ideas. Maybe your readers won’t like the books or sales won’t justify continuing the project. Whatever the reason, allow yourself an escape hatch. Brainstorm a way to give your series a satisfactory, premature ending ­in case you need to cut the arc short. No one likes to think about “failing” or “giving up,” but it’s practical to consider. And, on a psychological level, I’ve found it really helps me to know that I could end my series at any time. When I feel like I’m actively choosing to continue a series (rather than writing it purely out of obligation to finish it), I find I’m more positive and creative than when I feel trapped.

perf5.250x8.000.inddMost of all, remember to have fun with your series. You’re writing not one, not two, but several books. Just by attempting such a project, you’re already leaps and bounds ahead of so many writers out there. Take pride in each milestone and keep your eyes on the final prize. You’ve got this!

For more writing and publishing tips, follow my blog at:

If you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan, or simply want to see how I’m tacking my Desertera series, check out my books at:

The Cogsmith’s Daughter, Desertera #1:

The Courtesan’s Avenger, Desertera #2:


How to write a (crime) novel #9

In previous parts of this series of blogs I have looked at

  • Getting started.
  • Characterisation.
  • Plotting – setting clues in plain sight.
  • Structure.
  • Settings.
  • Finding the ‘shadow’ side as part of characterisation.
  • The crime genre as a vehicle for asking questions about our society.

Hopefully you have found something useful and of interest in each part. However, in the end, the only real way to write any type of novel is to write, read, write, read, write, get some decent feedback and write some more.

Unless we are lucky enough to have a literary agent or publisher interested in what we are writing, the hardest thing may be to stay motivated. For me, it’s about routine; being in love with the process and craft; and having supportive writing friends. Sometimes it hits me that, in all honesty, the only person who would care if I never wrote another word would be me – and that’s a difficult realisation to swallow. But I do care, because writing gives me such pleasure and at many levels keeps me sane.

If you have kept motivated and you have worked on your craft, it maybe that you now have 60,000 words you want to share with an audience through publication. There are currently two routes. The traditional, find a literary agent, or ‘indie’ publish. You will find much advice on ‘indie’ publishing on my blog. However, I have said little about the traditional route.

In the UK, for fiction, it is generally through a literary agent, as publishers won’t look at unsolicited manuscripts. On the other hand, some will have ‘open submissions’, so it’s worth looking out for them. In my opinion, as well as working hard, having some talent and shed-loads of luck, to go down the traditional route you also have to be very strategic.

When I started, thirty years ago, it was about researching the right lit agent for your genre. It’s art-of-breathing-covergone way beyond that. You have to be tuned into what’s going on in the literary word, building yourself an author platform, entering competitions, networking,… I have come to the recent conclusion that the only way to get a literary agent these days is to go on one of the very expensive courses they have begun to run.

I am indie publishing for the third time. The Art of Breathing, Scarborough Mysteries #3, has been written, copyedited, proofread and formatted for a local print run, for createspace and for Kindle. All the Scarborough Mysteries have swanky new covers. And I am now in the throes of organising a marketing campaign for the launch date of October 31st. Having paid a professional copyeditor, proofreader and designer for my covers, there is no way I will make any money back on sales. But I am happy to do this as I am very, very proud of my novel series.

Which would you choose: traditional or indie? And why? If traditional, do you have any tips to pass on?




Seven things you need to know about writing short stories

JF2016By writer Julie Fairweather
The approach to creating a short story is primarily governed by an individual’s writing process. Some writers begin with a single word or phrase and mind-map from that to gather ideas for development. Others start by plotting a structured outline or building a character. Or begin, as I do, with an idea and penning a rough draft straight off. Whichever way works for you.

The following seven points, therefore, can be used as a check-list at any stage of the writing process in order to achieve a completed and rounded story.

  1. Motivation: Determine what the story’s motivation is, ie, the reason for writing it. Your protagonists will need a strong moral component that motivates them throughout the story so that they end up in a different emotional space from where they began. This is what makes it a story.
  2. Theme: There is only room for one theme in a short story as it can become distracting for readers if it branches off in too many directions. Therefore, it needs to be focussed. Imagine your story has a golden thread running through it that, when held at each end, nothing can be detached from it. Be brave and delete all irrelevant loose ends.
  3. Structure:  Wherever you start your story (at the end and move backward to the beginning, or the beginning and move forward to the end, or in the middle and alternate between back/forward story) you need an emotional hook to entice readers into your world from the first sentence or paragraph. Continue by using a variety of writing techniques in the development of characters and plot and you will retain that engagement with readers to the end. The end should be feasible within the realms of the story – even a story with a twist needs to be believable within its own parameters.

WRITING TECHNIQUE TIP: Use a mix of short and long sentences to enhance the emotional pull of the story for your readers, and incorporate all the senses within your writing (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and emotion). This will result in an interactive engagement with readers throughout the whole story.

  1. Character: The motivation of each character, particularly the protagonist, needs to be in line with their aims within the story. Basically, the character needs to make choices which are shown by actions that have consequences.
  2. Plot: Determine the main events of the story and how the character(s), particularly the protagonist, are going to move through these in an interrelated sequence to achieve their ultimate individual aims, using the cause and effect theory (overcoming conflict/obstacles) within their own motivational drives.
  3. Point of View (Writer’s Voice): Decide who is going to tell the story, what type of narrator you would like. This should be chosen to fit the overall tone of the story and can be a narrator who sees all, or a narrator with limited view, or even a vulnerable narrator who cannot be trusted. Consider first person POV (intimate) or third person POV (distant). Sometimes, I try out a story-in-progress with both POVs and choose the one that enhances the emotion of the story, as this is my motivation as a writer.
  4. Dialogue: Never force dialogue for its own sake. Use it only when it is necessary to move the story forward or build character. Let your characters speak according to their natural traits but bear in mind that they can sometimes speak ‘out of character’ when responding to different situations. Sometimes, a story may not need dialogue at all if it is written from the viewpoint of the narrator’s internal thoughts.

This seven-point list is my personal take on short story writing and is by no means exhaustive. There are numerous magazines, articles, blogs available that give good advice on writing short stories.

Meanwhile, I invite you to visit my blog at where you can read something about my own writing process and inspiration in connection with my latest story in the post ‘Rain Dance’, dated 7 June 2016.