Friday, 24 April 2015

World Book Night

Last night I organised a special event in my local micro-pub to celebrate World Book Night. I was delighted that four local authors - David Donachie, Sarah Grazebrook, Stephen Bates and Anstey Spraggan - were able to join me to share their love of books and also to read from their work and to answer questions from a lively(!) audience.  

Since it began in 2011, World Book Night has given away books to over 2.25 million people, focusing on reaching the 35% of the population who, for whatever reason, don’t read for pleasure. I was one of many volunteers across the UK who gave away 250,000 copies of 20 specially printed World Book Night titles last night.

As well as being St George’s Day, yesterday was also the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and his death, and the anniversary of the birth of Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. It’s also the day, in 1374, when Edward III granted Geoffrey Chaucer a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life. So what better place to celebrate than in a pub!

Anstey Spraggan, David Donachie, Steve Bates, Sarah Grazebrook and yours truly.
It was something of a leap in the dark as I'd never arranged anything like it before, targeted at drinkers who wouldn't usually read. But as it turned out it was a great success. It could even be the start of a regular Beer and Books evening...

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Marketing and the Writer

I’ve always felt uncomfortable ‘pushing’ my work. Call me old fashioned (or just old) but I still feel that books should be read and judged on their own merit rather than as the result of a great marketing campaign. I’m not naive enough to think great marketing doesn’t help, it’s just that too often I’ve been hoodwinked into reading a book because the marketing was immeasurably better than the book itself.

I started blogging ten years ago because my publisher at the time said it would be good for my book sales to ‘reach out’ to potential readers. I was encouraged to go on Twitter for the same reason. I followed all the strategies I was told would result in readers flooding to my pages, but I was never really convinced. I felt like the pushy salesman who harasses you the moment you walk into his shop. When that happens, I’m the kind of guy who just walks straight back out the door. I couldn’t help feeling most people were that kind of guy, too.

So I’m grateful to Debi Alper for pointing me in the direction of this rather interesting post:

I suddenly feel I’m not alone. And more than a little reassured….

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Back to Basics

I’ve been a writer for a long time now, and I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be just starting out. I don’t mean writing snatches of dialogue in an old school exercise book, or embarking on the annual never-to-be completed novel on the first day of the long summer holidays. I mean starting out, as in going to an actual writing class with other ‘beginners’, most of whom, like me, had been secretly writing away for years and years. We all had dozens of abandoned poems and unfinished stories hidden away in lofts or garages or rusty old filing cabinets. Some of us even bore the scars of rejection, the letters from editors or agents that proved we simply weren’t good enough. Which was probably what had driven us to sign up to that ‘creative writing for beginners’ course in the first place.

I’m trying to recall that feeling now, of being at the same time a beginner and an old hand, as I prepare for my first day as the teacher of another class of ‘beginner’ writers. I remember, now, that feeling of trepidation before I shared my work with others for the first time. I also remember the realisation that, although there were lots of things about the craft or writing that I already ‘knew’ because I’d read all about them in ‘how-to’ books, I had somehow never really succeeded in applying them to my own writing. For me, then, the classes provided a bridge over that gap between theory and practice, and they did it through the setting of writing exercises. 

Whenever I read a book on creative writing I would read the text, nod to myself and skip the exercises at the end of each section. There was no point actually doing the exercises, I told myself. I already understood the concept perfectly. That may have been so, but what I had failed to understand was that the exercises are designed to reinforce that understanding by putting it into practice. Not doing them was like reading about Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking technique and thinking that alone would equip me to score the winning drop goal in a Rugby World Cup Final.

In other words, reading about how to be a better writer won’t make you a better writer. It’s only writing that does that.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Writing Bursary

I'm delighted to have won first prize and a cash sum of £500 in the Writers' Village International Novel Award for my novel The Belfast Boy. Here is what principal judge Michelle Spring - Royal Literary Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge - said about The Belfast Boy:
The set-up to this novel in the opening chapters is terrific, delicately setting out question after question to which readers will crave an answer, indicating inside knowledge (in this case of drugs gangs) without burying readers in a landslide of factual details, and vividly conveying the impression of complex relationships among equally complex characters. And what follows doesn’t disappoint. Deft writing and sure-footed prose completes the bundle of writerly qualities that makes this book a winner.
 Next step - find another publisher (hopefully one that doesn't go bust this time!).

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


The Crime Writers Association handed out a few Daggers at their Awards dinner yesterday (30th June). Here’s a summary of the results:

The CWA Historical Dagger went to Little, Brown editor-in-chief Antonia Hodgson for her debut novel The Devil in Marshalsea (Hodder), a crime thriller set in the infamous London debtor's prison in 1727.

The CWA International Dagger went to Arturo Perez-Reverte for The Siege (Weidenfeld), a novel set during the siege of Cadiz (1810-1812), translated by Frank Wynne.

The CWA Non-Fiction Dagger went to Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark for their account of the three days when terrorists held hostages in the Taj hotel in Mumbai, also called The Siege (Viking).

The CWA Short Story Dagger went to John Harvey for his story Fedora, published in Deadly Pleasures (Severn House).

The CWA Debut Dagger for an unpublished work went to Jody Sabral, a journalist, for her novel The Movement, set in Turkey.

The CWA Diamond Dagger award was awarded to Simon Brett for his contribution to crime fiction. 

Longlists for other awards were also announced:

The CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger prize for best crime book of the year: 
Stone Bruises by Simon Beckett (Bantam), 
The Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash (Doubleday), 
Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly (Bantam), 
First Rule of Survival by Paul Mendelson (Constable), 
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Sphere), 
What She Saw by Mark Roberts (Corvus), 
The Verdict by Nick Stone (Sphere) and 
The Corporal's Wife by Gerald Seymour (Hodder).

The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for thriller of the year:
Never Go Back by Lee Child (Transworld), 
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (Faber), 
419 by Will Ferguson (Head of Zeus), 
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (Random House), 
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (Bantam), 
The Abduction by Jonathan Hold (Head of Zeus), 
Natchez Burning by Greg Isles (HarperCollins) and 
The Corporal's Wife by Gerald Seymour (Hodder).

The CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger for the best novel by a first time author of any nationality, published in English: 
Night Heron by Adam Brookes (Sphere), 
The Strangler Vine by M J Carter (Fig Tree), 
The Axeman Jazz by Ray Celestin (Mantle), 
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hates (Bantam), 
The Silent Wife by A S A Harrison (Headline), 
The Devil in Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder), 
Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh (Headline) and 
Black Chalk by Christopher J Yates (Harvill Secker).

There’s a couple there that made me raise my eyebrows, I have to say (and one in particular that I thought was a terrible novel). But there are also a few to add to my ‘to read’ list.

How many of them have you read? 

Monday, 30 June 2014

Story Box

Some good reviews of "Story Box" on Amazon:

“An eclectic mix of fascinating stories from a skilful writer.”

“…the whole collection is a consistently very good read.”

“The writing is assured and concise with clever plotting and realistic dialogue.”

“The characters are so real they jump off the pages …”

“There really is something for everyone in here.”

Find out what they’re talking about. The Kindle edition of “Story Box” currently available for just £2.00!

Friday, 2 May 2014

Special Offer!

To celebrate being shortlisted for the CWA Margery Allingham Short Story Competition, the Kindle edition of my collection of 19 short stories, Story Box, is currently available for the ridiculously cheap price of just 99p! That's a saving of 65% on the usual Kindle price - but it's only available for a limited time. So to download your 99p copy go to within the next five days. This offer expires on Wednesday 7th May 2014.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

I’m delighted to announce that one of my stories has been shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writers Association Margery Allingham Short Story Competition. The winner will be announced in two and a half weeks’ time at CrimeFest, the international crime fiction festival held in Bristol from 15th to 18th May 2014. 

Margery Allingham (1904–1966) was one of the Golden Age “Queens of Crime” along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. She is probably best known for her detective stories featuring the gentleman sleuth Albert Campion. 

The competition bearing her name had a particular requirement: that the winning entry should fit Margery Allingham’s definition of a mystery:

“The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.”

The winning author will receive a prize, sponsored by the Margery Allingham Society, of £1,000. Regardless of whether I win the prize or not, it’s an honour to have been shortlisted, and to have my work recognised in this way.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

New Crime Writing Prize

Literary Agents A M Heath have launched a new crime writing prize, called Criminal Lines, in association with writers' consultancy The Writers’ Workshop. The prize is open to debut authors born or resident in the UK and Ireland who do not yet have agents. Self-published authors can also enter. Any kind of crime, suspense or thriller novel is eligible, unless it has already been submitted to AM Heath.

The winner of the prize will receive £1,000 and the runner-up will receive entry into the Festival of Writing 2014, three-day event to help writers get published being held at York University in September. The prize will be judged by AM Heath agents Euan Thorneycroft and Oli Munson, and crime authors Harry Bingham, Mari Hannah and Samantha Hayes. All shortlisted writers will have the chance to meet Thorneycroft and Munson to discuss their work and may be offered representation.

Writers can enter the competition by sending the first 15,000 words of their novel and a synopsis of a maximum 800 words to by midnight on 5th May.

A shortlist of five novels will be announced on 2nd June, and the winner will be revealed on 1st July.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Anton Chekhov on Writing

I’m playing Dorn in a production of Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ that goes up next week in Margate. Every actor wants to play Chekhov, but every writer can learn from him, too. In this passage from the play (translated by Elisaveta Fen), Constantine Trepliov, the young novice writer, compares his work to that of his mother’s lover, the famous author Trigorin:

TREPLIOV (preparing to write, reads through what he has already written)... This won't do at all! (Crosses out.) I'll start with the passage where the hero is woken by the noise of the rain. The rest will have to come out. The description of the moonlit evening is too long and rather precious. Trigorin has worked out his own methods - it comes easily to him. ... He will just mention the neck of a broken bottle glistening on the dam and the black shadow of a mill-wheel - and there you'd have a moonlit night. But I have to put in the tremulous light, the soft twinkling of the stars, and the distant sounds of a piano dying away in the still, fragrant air. ... And then it's excruciating!

Chekhov obviously thought this was important advice, for he had previously included it in a letter of 1886 to Alexander P. Chekhov (Translated by Constance Garnett):
In my opinion a true description of Nature should be very brief and have a character of relevance. Commonplaces such as, ‘the setting sun bathing in the waves of the darkening sea, poured its purple gold, etc.’ – ‘the swallows flying over the surface of the water twittered merrily’ – such commonplaces one ought to abandon. In descriptions of Nature one ought to seize upon the little particulars, grouping them in such a way that, in reading, when you shut your eyes, you get a picture.

For instance, you will get the full effect of a moonlight night if you write that on the mill-dam a little glowing star-point flashed from the neck of a broken bottle, and the round, black shadow of a dog, or a wolf, emerged and ran, etc. Nature becomes animated if you are not squeamish about employing comparisons of her phenomena with ordinary human activities, etc.           

Is this nineteenth century advice still relevant in the twenty-first century? I think it is...