Tag Archives: crime fiction

Guest Post: Jane Jesmond

Today I am delighted to welcome fellow crime writer Jane Jesmond to my blog.

Jane Jesmond writes crime, thriller and mysteries. Her debut novel, On The Edge*, the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw was a Sunday Times Crime Fiction best book. The second in the series, Cut Adrift, will be published in Feb 2023, and A Quiet Contagion, a standalone thriller, in Nov 2023.  2023 will also see the publication, in May, of a very twisty psychological thriller – as yet untitled.

Although born and brought up in the UK, Jane has spent the last thirty years living and working in France – initially down on the Cote d’Azur around Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo where she and her husband ran an event management company and more recently at the opposite end of the country in Finistère (the end of the earth).

She loves writing (and reading) thrillers and mysteries, but her real life is very quiet and unexciting. Dead bodies and dangerous exploits are not a feature! She lives by the sea with a husband and a cat and enjoys coastal walks and village life. Unlike her daredevil protagonist, she is terrified of heights!

*For a limited time, On The Edge ebook is currently free to download to new subscribers to Jane's Newsletter here https://jane-jesmond.com/contact/

Jane, what are you currently working on?
2023 is a very busy year for me. I’ve just finished the structural edit for A Quiet Contagion, the standalone thriller, which will be published in November. It features a sixty-year-old tragedy that took place at a pharmaceutical factory on the outskirts of Coventry, kept secret by those involved but now refusing to stay buried.

Next I’m about to start the structural edit of the very twisty psychological thriller that will be published in May. I’m hoping to have an agreed title for it soon!

After that I will dive into the first draft of the third book in my Jen Shaw series. They’re always huge fun to write so I’m very much looking forward to it.

What inspired On The Edge?
The initial idea came to me when I was driving home one night past the iconic St Mathieu lighthouse. The coast where I live is very dangerous – the Amoco Cadiz went aground nearby causing untold damage to the local wildlife – so there are lighthouses and buoys everywhere but St Mathieu is a particularly majestic example and stunning at night because its beam rotates through 360 degrees. Anyway I got out of the car to take a closer look and it was at that point that the opening scene of On The Edge, with Jen Shaw’s unconscious and dreaming figure hanging from the top of lighthouse, sprang into my mind.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
What a great question! And I could probably write a thesis on the subject but my short answer is – not at all and a lot. A lot because the characters, the plot and the settings, and all the other wonderful elements which a book has to have to create authenticity and a sense of lived experience. In other words to come to life. Not at all because the particular series of events that make up a plot, the different traits that create a character and the aspects of the setting the writer chooses to use all combine in the writer’s brain to produce something that is completely invented. For me, as a reader, the books I most enjoy are the ones where the world and the characters of the book feel most real but that authenticity comes from the craft of the writer.

Jen, the protagonist in your debut novel, On the Edge, and your upcoming novel, Cut Adrift, is a climber. You say you are afraid of heights, what drew you to making your character a climber?
I’ve been asked this a lot and the framing of the question (not in your case) often suggests that writing about someone very different to myself is surprising. However I think that is the reason why I was drawn to Jen. I like to write about people with whom I have very little in common. Being so frightened myself, I am fascinated by people who appear to have no fear of heights and, as in Jen’s case, who seem to love danger and seek it out. I don’t think I’m alone either. Fearless people often have a certain charisma that is very attractive. However making her a climber was not a conscious decision on my part. I’ve described above my encounter with St Mathieu lighthouse that gave me the idea for the opening scene of On The Edge and Jen arrived as the daredevil but troubled climbing protagonist very quickly afterwards. At the time it felt as though she sprang to life fully formed although I suspect she had been lurking in my sub conscious for quite a while.

On the Edge, is written in the first person, why did you choose this pov? Did you experiment with any other pov?
I think first person pov is the right choice for On The Edge and for all the Jen Shaw series although, once again, it wasn’t a decision I took, it just happened that way. I was very sure about Jen’s voice from the moment she arrived in my head as the protagonist in On The Edge. I could hear it and I found writing her very liberating.

But writing first person pov comes very naturally to me. It’s my default. Although I write crime fiction, which is typically very plot driven, the characters are key and I enjoy immersing myself into one character’s psyche and seeing the world from their perspective. I think there can be an intensity about first person pov that engages the reader in a different way to third person pov.

That said, I can and do use third person narrative. In A Quiet Contagion the central narrative thread is first person from the pov of my protagonist, Phiney, but the story needed to be told from other characters’ perspectives as well and for these sections it felt more natural to use third person. It was decision based on instinct and one I would have changed if I hadn’t thought it worked well on rereading. For me, it’s all about what serves the story and the character best.

Cornwall is beautifully and evocatively described in On the Edge. What is your approach to creating landscape in your writing?
Thank you! My family come from Cornwall and I spent a great deal of time there as a child and love the place very much.

Landscape is as much part of narrative for me as plot and character. The three intertwine to create the story, so the choice of where to set my book is very important but I’m swayed as much by the feel of a place, its history and its culture as its appearance – although that is important! The sea, the little coves of the Cornish coast, the wild moors and the abandoned mines play a key part in On The Edge. It would have been a completely different book if it had been set in Paris or Dagenham. So I suppose you could say my approach is to let the landscape play its role in and influence the narrative rather than imposing the narrative on the landscape. That’s not to say that I didn’t play with the landscape. The geography isn’t accurate in On The Edge and Jen’s childhood home and village are woven from a mixture of different places but I tried to stay true to the essence of Cornwall and how it is in winter when the summer visitors have left. Weather is very important to me. It adds mood and emotion to the landscape (as well as a lot of inconvenience!) so the setting almost becomes a separate character whose relationship with the other characters can be very revealing.

How would you describe your writing process?
A little chaotic and very reliant on my sub conscious. When I started writing, I used to write without a plan and see where the story and the characters took me. It was often very interesting but equally often it took me down a rabbit hole. I had to write a huge number of drafts to iron out the problems created. These days I try my best to outline in advance and it definitely saves me writing a lot of drafts before I finally work out what I’m doing with an idea. I am fascinated, though, by the interplay between the conscious and subconscious (probably not the correct terms) in writing. I think both are necessary.

Do you have any crafting tips, eg to do with writing dialogue, for scene setting, plot or pacing?
I think my top tip is listen to or read other writers’ tips but remember not everything will work for everbody! There’s a host of advice out there and it can be a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless I will share one thing I’ve found very helpful.

If I’m writing a scene where the narrative is being carried by a conversation between two (or more) people, I will generally write only the words they speak first – as though it was a screen play – and rewrite until it rings clear and then add private thoughts, scene setting, reactions later. The end result is usually much sharper and cleaner – for me anyway.

Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience?
My publishing journey was long with a great number of ups and downs. There were moments when I came very close to getting one of my books published and then didn’t. It was very tough at times as it is for many writers. The point of success came when I was feeling very low. The indie press who I’d thought was going to publish one of my books had suddenly folded and I’d parted company with the agent who I’d been thrilled to sign with a couple of years previously. Although I’d picked myself up, rewritten On The Edge yet again and submitted it, I had very few expectations. I believed in my writing, and an agent and a publisher had too but the final prize still eluded me.

And then an email arrived from Verve (my publisher). It dropped into my inbox just as I was sitting down to lunch. A lovely mail saying they’d loved On The Edge and wanted to know if it was still available. A year later, it was published.

Looking back now, I am very happy that it took so long. I love working with Verve and I feel like we are a great fit. I am actually very grateful for the years I spent learning the craft. Writing a second and then a third book to contract is a very different experience to pre-publication when the only deadlines were of my own making. I drew on all the knowledge and skills I’d learnt during those years to help me.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
The question I wish everyone would ask me is Where can I buy your books? And the answer to that is they are and will be available in many bookshops, libraries and, of course, all the on-line retailers. If you prefer audiobooks, Emma Powell did a fantastic job narrating On The Edge and she’s also narrated Cut Adrift. At this moment, as part of the promotional activities for the launch of Cut Adrift in February, On The Edge is free as an ebook to any new subscribers to my newsletter – here. https://jane-jesmond.com/contact/

And please, if you like my books – in fact if you like any book by any author – leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or Waterstones or anywhere. You don’t have to have bought it from the retailer to do this and it makes a huge difference to those of us who don’t have an already huge profile like Richard Osman – nothing against him by the way!

Author Interview: Julia Stone

I am delighted to welcome author Julia Stone to my blog. Julia Stone ‘dabbled’ in writing for many years, studying poetry, short stories and script writing. In 2017 she decided to take writing more seriously and applied to Faber Academy where she wrote a draft novel. In 2018 she won the Blue Pencil First Novel award and was offered representation by Madeleine Milburn. After writing her third novel she won a two book deal with Orion Dash. Her debut, HER LITTLE SECRET was published in 2021, and her second psychological suspense novel, THE ACCIDENT, is published October 27th 2022. Available at: https://amzn.to/3Db7jPo

Author Julia Stone

What are you currently working on?
Editing the book I wrote at Faber five years ago. It’s a bit of a personal passion project and it’s now on its sixth major rewrite. It’s set in the 1970s/80s and is a story of intense female friendship – far removed from psychological suspense. That said, I have many other writing projects on the go and dip in and out of them as the mood takes me. Currently I’ve started work on four other projects: another psychological suspense novel about an academic who studies memory; early chapters of a fictional memoir; an outline for a dystopian script; and a non-fiction work on the psychology of small day-to-day pleasures (which may morph into an uplit novel…!)

What has inspired the novel you have most recently published?
‘The Accident’ is published October 27th 2022. In 2018 I was regularly driving down the A12 to visit my 100 year old great aunt. I find my creative brain comes into play when on a long car journey and I enjoy developing ideas to see where they end up. The initial prompt for ‘The Accident’ was sparked when I saw a couple kissing on a pedestrian bridge over the dual carriageway. It struck me as a strange place for a romantic cuddle and I pondered why they might be there. The story developed from there – a girl on a bridge; who is she and why is she there? From those simple questions a web of threads spun out and ended up as my novel, ‘The Accident’. But of course, we don’t find out the answers to who and why until the end…

Available at: https://amzn.to/3Db7jPo

You are psychologist and psychotherapist, how does this help or hinder your writing?
It has helped me in two ways:
Firstly, to really understand my characters, what makes them tick, how they became who they are, their wants and needs. When an editor suggests a rewrite or change to the plot it enables me to understand what is wrong and to take the essence of what they envisage but to write it in a way that fits with my style and the character’s personality. 

Secondly, to manage my own emotional wellbeing throughout the process. As a psychologist, I’m interested in the emotional journey we take as writers as there are huge ups and downs along the way. During the Covid lockdowns I was asked by Faber to be a guest speaker for their Academy students to talk about writers’ wellbeing and it was great to hear they are taking this seriously.

For example, many of us come to writing from other careers where we had far more agency – often we knew what we needed to do to achieve and had some control over how well we did. In the world of the writer there are so many elements outside our control that it can be quite a shock. Your novel may be fabulous, your cover letter perfect, yet you can’t get an agent’s attention. You get an agent and they ‘love’’ your book but they want you to rewrite the second half – oh, and can you change it from a romance to more of an adventure. You make the edits and the agent pitches it to publishers, but no one is interested as the market has moved towards uplit or there was a similar theme explored by a well-known author last year. And so it goes on…

An approach I use is to think of my goals at three levels: 1) my fantasy dream, 2) an ideal target and 3) the most likely scenario – an achievable positive base point. For example, at my first book signing I set my ‘likely scenario’ at selling one book, so I was thrilled when more people came to talk to me and bought copies.

Another important thing is to try not to take reviews and feedback personally – separate your identity from the novel – they are commenting on the book not on you. Look at reviews of your favourite best seller and you will find a range from 5 to 1 star.

I have heard you talk about the cross-over between therapy and writing/story telling. Can you elaborate on any connections you find?
When someone comes for therapy they share their experiences as a story. We tend to think and explain in a causal, sequential way: x caused y which led to z. We include dialogue to bring things to life. We talk about our wants and needs, our hopes and fears. There are highs and lows in emotion. All these are features of story writing.

We all have a personal narrative, a story we tell ourself about our life and who we are, to help us make sense of our experiences. And this informs how we react to events in the here-and-now. One therapeutic technique is to consider whether this version of the story is useful to us in its current form; is there another interpretation of events? Or different language? Maybe it was something we were told by someone else, or it was a reaction to specific experiences and hasn’t been revised as we have grown. Helping people to reframe the way they think of the story, to see the events through a different lense, or to assume another role (survivor rather than victim), can help cause a significant shift in mental wellbeing.

How would you describe your writing process?
Although I dip in and out of different writing projects, I am a strong planner and hate wasting time on something that isn’t going to work in the long run. So I plot an outline of the novel to help steer the story line, generally using a simplified version of Save the Cat. (Email me if you’d like a copy of the worksheet I use: Julia@juliastonewriter.com)   I was told the first draft is ‘telling yourself the story’ which I’ve found immensely helpful, so I relax into it and don’t worry if I stray from my plan.  I also create psychological profiles for my characters and create mood boards of their worlds. This helps as I have Aphantasia – an inability to see things in my mind’s eye – so if I need to describe something in the novel I have a stock of images I can refer to.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
It depends on the book. I will sometimes read related texts, particularly if I am exploring a psychological theme that is well researched, like memory. I also attend relevant talks and listen to podcasts. Most of my ideas for novels don’t require much more than a quick Google search and checking small facts, like how much it cost to make a call from a phone box in the 1970s!

Do you have any crafting tips?
When I write a first draft in third person I find it often reads in a stilted ‘Janet and John’ way. One way to avoid this is to write in first person and then change the perspective. This enables you to experience events through the character’s eyes and ears and understand what they are thinking and feeling. This helps make their actions/reactions true to their wants and needs.  

There’s a wealth of writing craft information out there. One of the best sites is Emma Darwin’s https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/ She gives practical advice on so many aspects from how to write a fight scene to pacing, it’s almost a one-stop shop.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
Ha – clever! Maybe something about social media for writers and readers. If an author is going to use it properly, it seems to be a daily job and I’m not sure I have that much I wish to say! I’ve mastered Twitter and interact semi-regularly with fellow writers and readers  @JulesTake3. Despite attending workshops run by The Society of Authors and being tutored by friends, I struggle with the others. Instagram is designed for visuals, so I largely post images of my ceramics and occasionally a book related photo. Facebook has so far defeated me – I’ve recently signed up but seem to see a lot of videos of guinea pigs and exceptionally well-decorated camper vans! Any advice gratefully received!

Luckily I do understand old-tech and my website can be found at www.JuliaStoneWriter.com where you can find information on both my novels, read past blog posts and sign up for my monthly musings on writing and psychology.


I have been rather overly excited these last few weeks as I have been involved in several literary events.

The first was Bloody Scotland, in Stirling, 15th-18th September. The biggest crime writing event in Scotland, and the biggest I have ever attended. I got to wear one of these for the first time!

It was a whirlwind. I tended to swing between feeling, ‘Yes, I have arrived, this is my tribe’ to feeling small and a fraud. The well known ‘imposter syndrome’. But I got to meet some genuinely lovely people who I hope I will stay in contact with. And my panel went well, ably chaired by Harriet Tyce, with Jane Corry and Trevor Wood either side of me. The audience of about 30 to 40 people were attentive and appreciative.

Then a surprise invitation from Philippa East, to be part of an online panel chewing over the Psychological Secrets of Writing. Along with Philippa chairing and me, there were authors Bev Thomas and Julia Stone who are both working psychologists and psychotherapists. The discussion was far ranging and interesting from my point of view, looking at how our psychology/therapy training and experience interweaves with our writing. It is perhaps not surprising that our novels feature therapists. Some of you will know from my self-published novels a counsellor called Hannah. She will make a triumphant return in my third in the Donna Morris series, No Justice (soon to be delivered to the publisher and out next year).

If you want a listen to the Psychological Secrets of Writing, then this is the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGmuYBbitKjO2yhfGSR4SgQ

In the same week, I was lucky enough to be invited to do an event at Scarborough library. It was fun to be on my home patch, with people in the audience who I knew. Not all of them were friends and family, though, there were some new readers and I am grateful for that, not to mention the book sales.

And in October, I am making the short journey to York to be part of their Big Read programme.

My event is on Thursday the 20th October, 7pm-8pm. Tickets can be reserved at Explore York or via this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/drowning-not-waving-with-kate-evans-tickets-403295185757?aff=odcleoeventsincollection&keep_tld=1

I do feel dizzy with it all and that means I have less headspace for the creative stuff. But this week I have to centre myself – walking and swimming will help – in order to complete No Justice and work on proposals for the next three Donna Morris mysteries.

The Psychological Secrets of Writing

Long time subscribers to my blog know that it is very unusual for me to post two weeks in a row, let alone one day after another. But I want to share this exciting news. My interviewee of yesterday, crime writer Philippa East, has invited me onto a virtual panel ‘The Psychological Secrets of Writing’.

Fellow panellists are writers Bev Thomas and Julia Stone, with Philippa hosting. We all have a background in psychology and/or therapy. We will be chatting about the links between psychology and writing, how our day jobs inform our creative work, and how a little expertise in psychology can help with character, plot and engaging with readers. We will also be delighted to answer live questions from the audience.

Details: Monday, 26th September 2022, 7pm-8.30pm. It’s free, but please register (and to find out more information about panellists) – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/psychological-secrets-of-writing-panel-1-tickets-347107928157?utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-medium=discovery&utm-term=listing&utm-source=cp&aff=escb

Hope you can come along!

Author Interview: Philippa East

Today I am delighted to welcome crime writer Philippa East to my blog.

Philippa grew up in Scotland and originally studied Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Oxford. After graduating, she moved to London to train as a Clinical Psychologist and worked in NHS mental health services for over ten years. Philippa now lives in the Lincolnshire countryside with her spouse and cat, and alongside her writing she continues to work as a psychologist and therapist. Her debut novel Little White Lies was long-listed for the Guardian’s “Not-The-Booker” prize and shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. She has since published two further psychological suspense novels, Safe and Sound and I’ll Never Tell, and is currently working on her fourth. See more at: Amazon/Philippa East

What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my fourth psychological suspense novel, currently titled The Hoax… It features a remote Scottish boarding school, a group of troubled teens, the untimely death of a therapist, and two ex-spouses thrown together to investigate. I’m coming towards the end of the first draft right now, which means the hard work of “making it good” starts soon!

What has inspired the novel you have most recently published?
My most recent novel, I’ll Never Tell, had lots of iterations before it fell into its ultimate shape! I think ultimately, it was a combination of two idea kernels. The first was of a couple arriving in a foreign country and having to confront their own marital crises in the process of searching for their missing daughter. I also was fascinated by the question of how a family might function with a child “star” at its centre. And then I thought: what if the child star was the one who had gone missing?

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
As a crime/thriller writer, I definitely draw a lot of my story ideas from true crime TV shows and podcasts. I think I write to try and understand people and what makes them “tick”, so although I write fiction, I am definitely always trying to make sense of real life, and the people we encounter in it. Sadly, my novel Safe and Sound was inspired by the real-life story of Joyce Vincent, a charismatic, sociable woman in her thirties whose death went unnoticed for nearly three years. Since I wrote and published Safe and Sound, tragically there have been further similar stories in the news.

You are a working clinical psychologist, how does this help or hinder your writing?
I think mostly, it helps it. As therapists, we hear many, many narratives about people’s lives and struggles, and I think this has given me insight into some of the universal themes of the human condition: love, acceptance, belonging, self-esteem and truth. I think it also helps me understand how people generally “tick” – what affects us and how, what motivates or frightens us, and how we relate to other people.

For me, writing is a way to try and understand the world, other people, and myself. I think this drive originally led me into the field of psychology – and now story-telling has become my means to ask and explore those questions. Therapy is so much about empathising with other people – putting yourself in their shoes, with compassion. This is the way I try to relate to my characters too.

How would you describe your writing process?
Um… messy! (Despite being a very organised person generally in life.) I generally will spend a number of months exploring an idea and working it into a rough outline, before I start writing. These days, I steer clear of formal outlines (which tend to lead me down the wrong track) and I just make loose notes in a notebook to steer me along the right story track. I will then do a VERY messy first draft of about 80k words, writing about 2,000 words a day. I don’t edit as I go, and I write in a VERY undisciplined way. I will then usually spend another 2-3 months working through a number of further drafts to sort everything out before showing it to my editor. After which, I’m likely to go through at least another three drafts.

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
Since becoming a professional author (wow, that’s weird to say!), I’ve learnt to keep a clear separation between my creative processes as a writer, and the business of publishing, promotion, etc. Too much focus on sales, reviews, the market, etc can really create a lot of instability and self-doubt which is fatal to creativity! On a more practical level, I treat writing as a job (which, um, it now is!), meaning I prioritise it and carve out time for it every week. Having author friends to chat to and share ideas with is also essential. As you’ll see from the dedication and acknowledgements for I’ll Never Tell, my fellow authors have been an invaluable source of support along the way.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
Mainly using Google! With the sorts of books I write, there isn’t usually too much research required, and most things I need to know I can find on the Internet. Occasionally, I will put a shout-out on Twitter for someone who knows about something more niche that I need help with. I generally focus on telling my story first, in the way that works for me, and do my fact-checking later, otherwise I think I would get too restricted by the facts and feel unable to keep the plot going. I have to give a shout-out here to my friend Stuart Gibbon, a retired Police Detective who has helped me hugely to get any police-procedural parts right in my books.

Do you have any crafting tips, eg to do with writing dialogue, for scene setting, plot or pacing?

There are five key craft elements that I would say all writers should aim to grasp, practise and master. These are:
# show vs tell
# point of view (POV)
# psychic distance
# the “five commandments of story telling” (the art of structure)
# story genre (NB: this is different to marketing / publishing genres!)

For the first three (and much more!), I recommend the various blogs that writer and tutor Emma Darwin has on her website here: https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting

Regarding the last two, I highly recommend The Story Grid podcast series. Later episodes are highly technical, so I suggest you start here, and then work your way back and forward through all the early episodes: https://play.acast.com/s/thestorygridpodcast/shawn-rips-it-apart

For fun, I’ve also done some Twitter tutorial of genre and structure, all of which you can find here: https://twitter.com/philippa_east/status/1526255737508356101

You write crime novels which are stand alones. Have you ever thought about writing a series? What do you think are the pros/cons of writing stand alones rather than a series?
I tend to think of my books as standing “one step to the side of a crime”, rather than traditional crime novels. As a result, I’ve tended to write stand-alone books that often focus on interpersonal relationships and the emotional fall-out of extreme events as much as solving a mystery. For me, story-telling is about a character’s journey though challenge, conflict, “death” and “rebirth” (the classic “Hero’s Journey”). For me, the story naturally concludes once the protagonist has completed this cycle of growth. I can imagine that in some ways it is “easier” to write a series, in that you generally have your setting, characters, etc. ready and waiting for you at the start of each book. However, I think I’d feel too “hemmed in”, since I do like the flexibility of being able to explore brand-new characters, themes and set-ups each time – even if it means starting from scratch with each book!

Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience?
I began writing ‘seriously’ about 12 years ago, with a terrible novel that I never finished or showed anyone, but which made me fall in love with writing. I then wrote short stories for many years, which was a great way to practise my craft and learn what it takes to get published. In 2015, I left my full-time NHS job to work part time as a private psychologist, and began another novel. After slogging through 12 drafts (yes, 12), an agent at the York Festival of Writing showed some interest. She read the full MS and then suggested I re-write the whole thing. The thing is, she was totally right. So I re-wrote it – cue another 12+ drafts! – and (thankfully!) the agent took me. This ultimately became Little White Lies, which subsequently sold at auction to HQ/HarperCollins. Somehow, I have since completed two further novels, and have a fourth in the pipeline!

The question you wished I’d asked you.
Oo, I’m not sure! I’ll take this opportunity to say do come and say hi to me on Twitter (@philippa_east), which is where I’m regularly hanging out. I love chatting to readers, writers and all book-ish people, so I’ll be happy to hear from you. Obviously you can keep updated on my book news there, and I also post about upcoming author events I am doing (online and in person), in case you’d ever like to join in on that. You’ll also get to know my cat Mimi who regularly appears in my posts!

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2022

Attending events – especially those where a certain amount of networking and putting myself out there is required – is not without its anxieties. Then Covid added its own peculiar menace to being around people. I have to admit, therefore, it was with some trepidation that I set off for Harrogate and Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival on Saturday.

Luckily this year the sessions were in a large airy marquee and eating and drinking could be done outdoors, which allayed some of the fears. And I was able to meet with a couple of authors who I already knew, so that also helped.

I enjoyed the sessions I attended. ‘Experts Chortling’ brought together some of my favourites: (Baroness) Sue Black and Carla Valentine with psychologist Emma Kavanagh. They were joined by former police detective Graham Bartlett. As well as being a wellspring of interesting information, they were all very funny too.

By the time I got to the book shop Sue Black’s books had sold out. I am not surprised. She manages to make the business of death and the dead fascinating and entertaining without ever losing respect for those who have died. Plus, if you are a newbie crime writer, along with Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd, Black’s books, interviews and documentaries are gold dust.

During the panel, Emma Kavanagh said crime writers were too often drawn to featuring characters traumatised by their pasts. What is more remarkable in reality, Kavanagh suggests, are the number of people who fall apart after trauma, and then show resilience, recovery and growth. It got me wondering where this might fit into a crime story.

The other afternoon session I went to was a discussion of the ‘future of the police procedural’. The panel was: AA Dhand; Jane Casey; Parker Bilal and Adam Lebor. All were clear on the duty of the crime writer to tackle difficult issues in a responsible way. Casey suggested crime authors are the ‘Rapid reaction squad of the literary world’ developing stories around current debates quicker than other writers.

Lebor said (as I have done in the past) that there are far too many young women who end up dead in the crime fiction genre. His series is set in Hungary and has a detective from the gypsy community (apparently ‘gypsy’ is the term used by the peoples themselves in this country). It has plenty of scope for exploring the lives of refugees, as well as the prejudices against the Roma.

They all characterised their protagonists as ‘lone wolfs’, especially AA Dhand’s Harry Virdee who the author likened to a gothic comic book hero (not my taste at all and I realised why I had never taken to his books). With my Donna Morris mysteries, I have gone in the other direction. Donna is definitely not a maverick and she needs the team, just as they need her (though she struggles to properly comprehend this). The relationships between the police officers are something which has been praised by some readers. I hoping the future of the police procedural includes space for a team player.

After paying £4.35 for a cup of tea (yes!!) and spending more than I would care to mention on books, I wended my way home. A shout out to Northern and Transpennine Express whose staff were friendly and whose trains were on time, comfortable, clean and not too busy.

Have any of you some good memories of literary festivals you would like to share?

Do women protagonists have to be nice?

Breaking News….

Saturday 2nd July, 2022, 2pm-3pm, I will be doing a signing at Mrs Lofthouse’s Emporium, Queen Street, Scarborough. Come along for a chat, I would love to see you.

Saturday September 17th, 2022, crime festival Bloody Scotland
10:30am-11:30am, I will be appearing on a panel entitled ‘Secrets and Lies’
https://bloodyscotland.com/ to book tickets.

Thursday 20th October, 2022 part of the Big Read, York
7pm-9pm, I will be interviewed & giving a reading at York Explore

Does the reader have to like the protagonist?

I have recently been given some feedback on the first of my Donna Morris novels, A Wake of Crows: the reader enjoyed the novel but didn’t like the main character. Unfortunately, this was passed onto me second hand, so I couldn’t probe further, but it got me thinking – should I be creating a likeable protagonist?

In fact, this question has followed me around for some time. I self-published three crime novels 2013 to 2015 with a main character called Hannah. More than one person told me she was unlikeable. She was going through a hard time and we were inside her head which got pretty dark at times. Yet her experience mirrored mine in many ways. After a friend waxed lyrical about just how unpleasant Hannah was, I did wonder whether they knew me at all or whether I was just very good at dissembling.

In crafting Donna, I made a conscious effort to create her more agreeable. She is not as ‘abrasive’ as Hannah was, Donna is kinder, she is not as intense.

Of course, not every reader is going to like every character. However, I did start considering whether this idea of being likeable or not stems from my protagonist being female? Are male detectives in crime novels expected to be amenable? How about Ian Rankin’s Rebus, Colin Dexter’s Morse and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock. Or even Christie’s Poirot? Though in each case there is a more charming side-kick who is, perhaps, the one readers actually relate to.

There has been a long tradition in crime writing of the detective being flawed in some way. I think Donna is less flawed and generally more genial than some, but maybe she (like many women) just has to be ‘nice’?

Do you have to like the protagonist to enjoy the read?

Editing and Rewriting

I would never call writing a hard job. Not hard like working in a shop or a care home. But there are times when it gets tougher, and, for me, this is during the editing and rewriting stage. I am lucky to have useful feedback from my editor and her assistant. I like to get this as early as possible, in case there are any big changes to make and I always advise writers to find trusted readers to give a decent critique.

But writers also have to know where to start with editing their own work. Here are some words of wisdom from Booker winner Hilary Mantel, sent in an e-newsletter by Mslexia on the 17th June 2021. (For women who write, Mslexia is a national magazine of women’s writing.)

‘Don’t try to edit while you are writing. Your first draft is all about energy and unleashing your power. Respect the process of creation and give it space. It’s like planting a seed. You have to water it and watch it emerge and grow before you can prune it into shape.

‘There isn’t any failed writing. There is only writing that is on the way to being successful – because you’re learning all the time. It follows that that nothing you write is ever wasted, and that to become good, and better than good, you need to write a lot.

‘Suspect the judgment of others. What people coming from a different critical context might describe as slowness or failure you need to reframe as patience and a learning process.

‘Harness the power of intuition to free up your story. Many of us learn to write in an academic style, building a logical argument, picking over every line. This can inhibit a novelist. Aim at perfection – but in your final draft.

Photo by Jane Poulton

‘Rules that are valid in the rest of your life are not always valid for your writing. “Try, try and try again” does not always work for the creative process. Sheer bloody persistence won’t necessarily get you where you want to be.

‘Trust that your work will find its natural form – because it will. Our education system fosters habits of mind that knock out the habit of trust in what we create. You need to rediscover that trust.

‘If you are a great reader then you can become a great writer. If you read many novels, and many different kinds of novel, the principles of novel writing will be encoded deep inside you. That’s what I mean by trust. If you are a reader, then you know subconsciously how to tell a story.

‘Be protective of your work and resist the temptation to show it to anyone before you are satisfied with it yourself. When you do show it, make sure it’s to someone who is qualified to make a judgment. People who love you, or who feel threatened by you, will not provide you with the feedback you need.

‘Seek support from the right people. Try to get a professional opinion from someone who doesn’t know you. But always try to balance their feedback with what you know and trust to be true of your work.

‘Have the courage to try something new. If the world doesn’t seem to want your work, then be adaptable and flexible, but don’t compromise your vision or sell yourself short. Timing counts, and your time may come.’

All good advice as you would expect from such a renowned novelist. I do think searching out the right people to give feedback at the right time is crucial. Too early and it’s like stamping on a shoot just as it is coming above ground and too late the bush is already mature and thriving.

Another thing I have found fellow writers struggling with is when to stop editing and rewriting. Personally I like what novelist, Anne Tyler, said on BBC R4’s Desert Island Discs, (20th & 25th February 2022): ‘I revise until I think I will throw up if I read it again.’ Yep, that just about covers it.

The Year of the Tiger

January has slunk by without me acknowledging it on this blog. But, by chance, I have hit on the Chinese New Year (just a week late!). It is the beginning of the Year of the Tiger and crime writer, Ovidia Yu has helpfully summarised some predictions: Murder is Everywhere: Gong Xi Fa Cai from Singapore Ovidia is the author of an excellent crime series based in Singapore, next book out soon I believe: Ovidia Yu – The Official Ovidia Yu Site

According to the Chinese zodiac, Donna Morris, the protagonist in my crime series set in Scarborough, is a tiger, so it is her year. The first book in the series, A Wake of Crows, is out in paperback soon, and the second, Drowning Not Waving, is published in hardback in June. A Wake of Crows by Kate Evans | Hachette UK (littlebrown.co.uk)

In a lot of cultures, resolutions are a part of the turning of the year. If the number of swimmers in our pool is anything to go by, most of Scarborough appears to have decided to take more exercise in 2022.

For writers – would be and more experienced – the resolution must be to write. To listen more, to notice more, to read more, but always to write.

I enjoyed this from Cathy Retzenbrink:


In another interview, she suggested writing as if no one will read your words as a way of keeping going. This might be a method for circumventing the internal critic for some, however, for others I guess the question which might pop up is: ‘If there are no readers, then why write?’

For the pure joy. To tell us about ourselves. To explore the world as we and others experience it. To understand more. To distract us. To give us a safe place.

These are some of my answers. Let me know your own.

I do think that once we think of sharing our writing with a reader, then we have to consider them. We have to get feedback. We have to craft. But I also know that I would keep writing even if publication is not a possibility. Just as I would keep breathing – my rather fiery breath – since, in Chinese terms, I am a dragon.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The Art of Remembering

On Saturday the 16th of October, I will be appearing on a panel at the East Riding Festival of Words – East Coast Crime (festivalofwords.co.uk). My first public outing with my novel A Wake of Crows, published by Constable/Little Brown.

A Wake of Crows has a back story which dips into the history of the former GDR (East Germany). I have wanted to write about the GDR for some time because of a long term friendship I have with a woman from Dresden and because of visits to that city and Berlin in the 1980s and after. One thing I noticed soon after the Berlin Wall came down was that the years of communism were being glazed over. Especially in Dresden where it was like the history of the city jumped from Baroque glory to the present day. This is changing somewhat particularly in Berlin. When I was last there, a park was being built up around remnants of the wall and oral histories of the communist period.

However, I do think as humans we are good at forgetting.

Recently I have been reading various books exploring racism to help me examine my part in it. The one I am currently on with is Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch. She brings into sharp focus how racism is experienced by Black people in the UK and how white people in the UK have not even attempted to understand our history of slavery, prejudice and denigrating those who have been ‘othered’ and exploited because of the colour of their skin. We white people want to forget, because it is easier to do so. As Hirsch writes: ‘We want to be post-racial, without having ever admitted how racial a society we have been.’ (P125.)

Non-remembering is easier, but it means nothing changes.

There is a danger that the true visceral horror of the pandemic is being lost in the sprint to ‘get back to normal’. Plus, that the trauma and mistakes are not going to be springboards for a better way of doing things. We lurch, it seems to me, from one crises to another without any real vision. And we fall into the trap of silo-ing issues. An item on the news about climate change is quickly followed by another on ‘growth’ or holiday flights or problems with fuel deliveries. No link is made. No pause is taken to say, well maybe, because of climate change, we should be looking at things differently.

I certainly do not have any answers. But as a writer, I do think I have a role in keeping the collective memory alive. I have a role in pointing and saying, ‘There look’, even when it’s uncomfortable and upsetting. This is what I attempt to do, in a very small way, in my writing in general as well as in my novels.