My Writing Journey by guest author, Maggie Cobbett

Please welcome my friend and fellow Swanicker, Maggie Cobbett to the blog today. Thank you for joining me today, Maggie. Over to you!Maggie Cobbett Venice pistachio

I’ve come quite a long way since my first published piece, an article in the Audio-Visual Language Journal about teaching German across the ability range. Winning a free place at The Writers’ Summer School (Swanwick) in 2006 was a huge boost to my confidence and I’ve been back every year since. During that time, I’ve had numerous acceptances for stories and articles, seen the occasional poem in print and also enjoyed reviewing shows for the local press. Much support has also been derived from my membership of Ripon Writers’ Group, York Writers and the more recently formed Promoting Yorkshire Authors.Maggie Cobbett novel

Having decided to leave the classroom behind me, I signed up to a casting agency and worked as a supporting artist (‘extra’) on a variety of productions filmed in Yorkshire. At the time of writing, I’m a ‘village regular’ on ‘Emmerdale’, which is not only great fun but also a frequent source of inspiration. My novel ‘Shadows of the Past’ is set over three time periods in a village close to Paris. Originally inspired by the disturbing events of a summer I spent there as a teenager, it delves into the scars left on the little community by the German occupation of WW2. There is a lighter side, though. Central to the story is the love story of the young people seen in the framed photograph on the front cover. Eagle eyed readers might recognise the girl!

I’ve also brought out three very different collections of short fiction. The theme of ‘Anyone for Murder?’ is, not surprisingly, murder. ‘Had We But World Enough’ focuses on people’s determination, for good or evil, to make a life for themselves in a new country. The stories in ‘Swings and Roundabouts’ all have a twist in the tail. Last year saw the publication of ‘Wheels on Fire’, a novel for children about a wheelchair bound teenager’s quest for revenge. My work in progress, also intended for children at the moment (although that could change), is the story of a London workhouse boy sent up to Yorkshire in 1900 to be apprenticed to a coal miner.Maggie Cobbett book 2

Much to my own surprise, my best seller to date has proved to be ‘Easy Money for Writers & Wannabes’. Having mentioned at Swanwick that money earned from writing ‘fillers’ generally financed my place, I was asked the following year to run a workshop on the subject. The little handbook came from that. One reviewer referred to it as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’.

All my books are available from Amazon as both paperbacks and downloads.

My website is

Maggie Cobbett


Ninja School Mum by Lizzie Chantree

Ninja School Mum book coverHave you ever picked up a book, not expecting too much from it, but finishing it delighted that you read it? This is how I felt about Ninja School Mum. I will put my cards on the table, I bouthg it because I consider the author, Lizzie Chantree to be a friend. However, as is well known, I always try to make my reviews as honest as possible, friend or no!

Ninja School Mum is not like any other book I have ever read. The main protagonist is Skye she is most protective of her son and comes across as rather OCD and it ecomes clear why. She is a lonely woman with an interesting past as an elite spy. She is trying to escape her past as well as protecting her son. Skye tries hard to fit in with the other parents at his new school,. However, although it is difficult to be accepted, one person accepts her way of life. This is a new mother, Thea.

Thea feels harassed by her sister and is bored with her life. Nevertheless, Thea suspects that there is something strange about, Skye, but she has secrets of her own and, although the two become friends, she does not immediately tell Skye about the father of her own child.

Then there is Zack. His new business is growing faster than he expected. However when  Zack finds himself the owner of a crumbling estate in a pretty village, and also a single parent to a very demanding child, he hopes he can give his daughter the life she deserves.

These three lives collide, it becomes apparent that you never know who the person next to you in the playground really is. Ninja School Mum really caught my imagination. It is a fine romance with fire in its belly and it kept me guessing right to the end. This is an excellent novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and it would be a good book club choice.Lizzie Chantree

The author, Lizzie Chantree is an award-winning inventor and author who started her own business at the age of eighteen and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now runs networking hours on social media, where creative businesses, writers, photographers and designers can offer advice and support to each other. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.

Val Penny

Character development throughout my crime fiction novels by guest author Emma Salisbury

Emma Salisbury-5.jpgI am delighted that one of my favourite crime writers, Emma Salisbury, has chosen to visit my blog on the publication day of her most recent novel, Absent. Emma draws such believable characters, particularly in DS Kevin Coupland and DC Alex Moreton, that they bring her stories to life readily. Thank you for sharing some insight on character development with us today. Over to you, Emma.

It’s been several years now since I wrote Fragile Cord, a crime fiction novel set in Salford, Greater Manchester. I hadn’t thought about it being ‘Book 1’, as far as I was concerned it would be a stand-alone novel, in fact that’s what I saw myself writing – unrelated novels on a variety of different subjects.

What I’ve learned since writing that first novel is pretty much what I’ve learned about life – you never know what is going to happen so try not to stress and just roll with it. At the point of writing Fragile Cord I knew that DS Kevin Coupland was the main character alongside DC Alex Moreton. What I knew about Coupland at that stage was that he was mad about his wife and daughter – that was important to me, I didn’t want a broken marriage with a heavy drinking cop drinking to forget his past. Alex, a head strong ambitious detective keen to make her mark, was living with her partner and their son. Ordinary people doing an extraordinary job. There was a strong bond between Coupland and Alex, she was his work wife in many ways – no hint of anything sexual between them, they just had each other’s backs. There is a banter between them – and indeed, between Coupland and his wife Lynn, that I think is really what the story is about, and why I think readers started to take notice. I won’t go into any plot spoilers in case anyone hasn’t tried my novels, but at the end of the book it is Coupland’s personal life that leaves the reader wanting more.Emma Salisbury-45

Following feedback from readers I embarked on a follow up novel, A Place of Safety, following the aftermath of a drive by shooting. I made a conscious decision there could only be one star of the show and so Alex – although she features in it – is preparing for maternity leave. I thought this was realistic, and it also gave an opportunity for me to introduce other detectives to the team, and big up the roles of the ones already present. This time we learn more about Coupland’s temperament, his absolute passion to restore harmony and bring the bad guys to justice. He is tempered by reality though, together with budget restrictions, the chain of command, and the public’s growing distrust of the police. And yet still he throws himself in at the deep end because he knows in most circumstances just one person can make a difference.

At the end of book two I knew this could be a series. I bought a notebook and pen and drew out a story arc – it was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time – the things Coupland was going to be put through! The third book in the series is One Bad Turn. By this stage I deliberately wrote with character development in mind – letting readers find out more about Coupland’s past, what shaped him into the man – and the detective – he is today. He is on the trail of a serial killer whilst at the same time dealing with the fact his daughter Amy is dating someone he put inside a couple of years before.

The latest in the series, Absent, was published 19 May. Emotionally this is Coupland’s toughest time and fans of his will understand the enormity of this statement. He is angry and hurting whilst trying to discover the identity of a child in a bag. Readers will get to see right into his soul – how will he deal with the situation he’s in?

In truth the plots are a side issue – readers tell me it’s Coupland they care about and want to know more about him. I think some also find him attractive which I hadn’t thought about at the start. I am deliberately vague about his appearance; his dress sense is a work in progress but it’s his personality that resonates with readers. To me, when I began writing about him I imagined someone I’d be happy to have a drink and a laugh with in the pub. No airs and graces, he tells it like it is, even if that means he puts his foot in it at times. He takes the mickey out of everyone in his team but woe betide if anyone else did. He’s loyal, and he worships those closest to him. I think I may be just a little bit in love with him myself. Absent

Absent: The new DS Coupland novel – The worst things happen in plain sight.

When he stopped a serial killer in his tracks earlier in the year he thought that would be the end of it, but for DS Kevin Coupland his nightmare has just begun.

A child’s body is discovered hidden in a bag, kicking off a major investigation for Salford Precinct’s murder squad. Soon the National Crime Agency roll into town and Coupland is under strict instructions to play nice.

He’s got enough on his plate to worry about politics. A shock discovery in his personal life is starting to take its toll, causing him to make decisions that bring him to the attention of the powers that be for all the wrong reasons.

DS Alex Moreton returns from maternity leave to find her partner deeply troubled, but with a cold case to review she’s in no position to prevent him hitting the self-destruct button.

As he hunts down the child’s killer Coupland is forced to reflect upon his own life and find an answer to the question he’s been avoiding. Is it possible to accept the things you cannot change? Emma Salisbury-15.jpg

Emma Salisbury writes gritty, crime fiction that focuses on the ‘why’ dunnit as well as the ‘who’. She previously worked for a housing association supporting socially excluded men and women with their return into society. This provided her with a lot of inspiration. If you like hard-boiled crime writers like Stuart MacBride and Ed James, then her Scottish crime series is for you. Fans of Mark Billingham-style police procedurals may prefer her Salford detective series. My advice: read both – you won’t be disappointed.

Absent is the fourth in her Salford crime series and is available to pre-order on Amazon.


Emma Salisbury

Absent by Emma Salisbury

Absent (1).jpg

How I Came to Write Deli Meat by guest author Tom Halford

I am delighted to host a visit from my friend and fellow crime writer, Tom Halford. His debut novel, Deli Meat is published by Crooked Cat Books on 17 September, 2018. Thank you for joining me here today, Tom.

I grew up on murder.

My parents love mysteries. My mom will read any crime novel she can get her hands on, and my dad enjoys true-crime stories. They both are big fans of shows like Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, and Rosemary & Thyme.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and I always wanted to write a novel that I could give to my parents. I wanted to say to them, “Here’s one just for you. Enjoy.”deli meat cover

So I guess you could say that my crime novel, Deli Meat, is their fault. There’s a twist, though. I’ve always been the type of son who can’t resist good-natured teasing with his parents. Deli Meat is a crime novel, but it also pokes fun at the genre.

Watching mysteries with my family was a big part of my teenage years. If it wasn’t Columbo, then Murder She Wrote would be on the TV in the family room. My brothers and I would sit around the screen guessing how Jessica Fletcher was going to catch the murderer. We loved how Columbo would befriend his suspect, walk away after a conversation, and then turn mid-stride to make a clever remark.

But something always stuck out to me while we watched. One of the characters had to die so we could have a bit of fun. As a teenager, that seemed odd, and if I’m being honest, it still seems a little strange.

In writing Deli Meat, I had no choice but to make fun of this and other peculiarities of the crime genre. It’s in my nature.

That’s really the story behind Deli Meat. It’s a novel written by someone who loves crime fiction but can’t stop himself from making a joke about it here and there.

My wife and I have two kids. They’re too young for the crime genre, but one day when they’re old enough, I hope that we can bond over stories in a similar way that I have with my parents.

Del i Meat is to be released on September 17th of 2018, and I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what my parents will think of my novel. I hold a PhD in English literature, but the truth is that my parents probably know the crime genre better than I do.

As I get closer to the publication date, I probably won’t say to my parents, “Here’s one just for you. Enjoy.”

I’m afraid that after they’ve read it, they might ask, “Why did you write that for me? That book was insane!”

I won’t lie. Deli Meat is a strange, cooky book, but I’ve worked hard to infuse as much suspense, mystery, and humour into the plot. I don’t know what my parents will l say, but I know that I wouldn’t have been able to write Deli Meat without them, and for that I’m grateful. Tom Halford

About Tom Halford:

The author is a writer, a teacher, a dad, and a husband. One of Tom’s favourite things in the world is a delicious sandwich. This might sound crazy, but the inspiration behind Deli Meat is Tom’s love of the sub, the hero, the hoagie, the grinder, the classic lunch time meal, the sandwich.

Tom Halford

Six Years by Harlan Coben

six yearsIt had been a while since I had read a book by Harlan Coben. I don’t know why, because I have always enjoyed his work. I obtained this novel when my local library were giving away some books that they had taken off their shelves. FREE BOOKS! Don’t they know I already have a huge pile of books to be read!

Six Years is a stand alone novel in which the protagonist, Jake attends his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. He is inconsolable that Natalie marries Todd but when she asks him to make her one promise he agrees that he will keep away from her.

Jake keeps his promise, but never forgets Natalie.

Six years later, Jake sees an obituary for Todd and decides to attend his funeral in order to see Natalie again, albeit as a widow burying her husband. He has decided that six years is long enough to keep his promise.

However, Natalie is not the widow. She is nowhere to be seen. Jake sets out to find his love, but that quest has deadly consequences.

With over 60 million books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben’s last seven consecutiveHarlan Coben novels, MISSING YOU, SIX YEARS, STAY CLOSE, LIVE WIRE, CAUGHT, LONG LOST and HOLD TIGHT all debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and lists around the world. His books are published in 43 languages around the globe.

The author is the winner of the Edgar Award, Shamus Award and Anthony Award – the first author to win all three – and he has received an eclectic variety of honors from all over the world. His novel TELL NO ONE has been turned into a hit French film of the same name. His essays and columns have appeared in many top publications.

Harlan was born in Newark, New Jersey. He still lives in New Jersey with his wife, Anne Armstrong-Coben MD, a pediatrician, and their four children.

This is a fabulous novel. Fast paced, interesting and clever. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy mysteries, crime novels and thrillers.

Val Penny


Music To Read By in Chasing the Case by guest author Joan Livingston

I am delighted to welcome my friend Joan Livingston to . Joan is an author and her new mystery novel, Chasing the Case, is published by Crooked Cat Books. Thank you for joining me today, Joan. Tell me what Chasing the Case is about!

It is about Isabel Long and the mystery she has to solve. That is how does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That’s a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve. Isabel has the time given she just lost her husband and her job as the managing editor of a newspaper. (Yes, it’s been a bad year.) And she’s got a Watson — her 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who lives with her.

To help her case, Isabel takes a job at the local watering hole, so she can get up close and personal with those connected to the mystery. As a journalist, Isabel never lost a story she chased. Now, as an amateur P.I., she’s not about to lose this case.Chasing the Case cover

My new mystery, Chasing the Case, has its own soundtrack. Nothing fancy. Basically, it’s whatever the bands are playing Friday night at the Rooster Bar and Grille. My protagonist, Isabel Long, a longtime journalist turned P.I., takes a part-time job tending bar at the Rooster.

It’s a real country bar attracting real country folk who like to drink, dance, and socialize. For Isabel, it’s also an opportunity to get up close and personal with people connected to the missing person’s case she’s trying to solve. The Rooster hosts local bands. Some are good. Some are not so good. But they play tunes that get people on the floor. I know I danced when I had the chance at a local watering hole. Here is an excerpt from Chasing the Case.

Isabel and Jack Smith, the bar’s owner, are remarking on a new band. By the way, Isabel is the one narrating this mystery. I carry a tray of beers to a table at the Rooster while trying to stay clear of the drunken dancers. I have a close call one time, but dodge out of the way before we have a catastrophe. This band is called the Potholes. What did I say about all the best names being taken? Even Jack makes a comment. “It’s gonna be a bumpy night,” he tells me with a grin. “Maybe they mean the other kind of pot,” I say. He takes a look at the musicians, strictly redneck, and chuckles. “Could be.” The band’s repertoire is a crowd favorite at the Rooster: Country and Western, a bit of rock, and less blues. Yes, they know the local anthems, “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” Yup, Lynyrd Skynyrd is big here at the Rooster.

The Potholes’ lead singer has a voice that carries decently across the crowded room. She’s hitting the high notes well. It’s not often the bands that play here have a woman singer. I’m a little concerned though about the drummer, who’s been tossing back shots. He might not make it through the night. One song has a particular significance in this book: Waylon Jenning’s “Good Hearted Woman.” Jack coaxes Isabel onto the dance floor with that one. And although Isabel is amused — the song is about a woman who will put up with anything her bad boy of a guy will do — it becomes a thing between the two of them. 


Chasing the Case officially launches May 18. Here’s the link to order Chasing the Case in paperback or the Kindle version:

Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Chasing the Case, published by Crooked Cat Books, is her first mystery and the first in a series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I.

An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and most recently the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure.

After eleven years in Northern New Mexico, she returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including Chasing the Case and its sequels.



Twitter: @joanlivingston






Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin

rather be te devilI was first introduced to Ian Rankin novels many years ago when my daughter mentioned that her form teacher’s name was used in his books. That was so many years ago that said daughter is a form teacher herself. Sorry Ian!

Most recently I read Rather be the Devil and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here. I think the author has blended the characters of Rebus, Siobhan and his newer character, Malcolm Fox with expert skill to create a really cracking read.

In Rather be the Devil, the unification of Police Scotland and the establishment of specialist units is also tackled. Fox has moved to the Serious Crime Unit in Gartcosh making the daily commute from Edinburgh. Siobhan is bitter because he received the posting over her and Rebus continues to act as if nothing has changed.

Rebus, although retired from the force, can’t stop wondering about the death of glamorous socialite Maria Turquand. Her brutal murder, forty years previously was never solved. Rebus won’t rest until her killer is found and both Fox and Siobhan become involved in his quest.

The arch villain, Big Ger Cafferty also makes a welcome return, but his position as Edinburgh premier crime baron is being challenged by young Darryl Christie. When Christie is attacked, Cafferty seems to be the likely assailant. But nothing is ever simple in the world of John Rebus. IanRankin

Rather be the Devil was an excellent read. Well crafted, exciting and I think it is Ian Rankin’s best work for a few years. It is a great read for holidays, books clubs or just because you enjoy reading the undisputed king of tartan noir.

Val Penny

The Brotherhood: A Psychological Thriller by J.L.Fenton

I recently had an opportunity to read The Brotherhood: A Psychological Thriller by J.L.Fenton. She is a new author to me and I do enjoy exploring the work of different authors. Also, readers of this blog will be aware that crime thrillers are my favourite genre.

This book had me hooked from the very beginning: the imagery of the lone magpie filled me with anticipation for what was to come. However, almost immediately The Brotherhood took a different route from that which I had expected. the brotherhood

The story revolves around Melissa who struggles greatly after her parents’ sudden death. As many people do, she renewed her devotion to her faith but it is not long before Melissa ends up leaving her old life behind. She finds herself in the countryside, living within the confines of The Brotherhood. The leader of the sect, Dominic, is carismatic and charming. Melissa does not take long to fall under his spell.

The novel is carried along by crackling dialogue, vivid descriptions and credible characters. The author treats her reader to the thrill of expectation throughout this psychological thriller. The reader knows this is all going to turn sour, but not how or when.

Then engineer Mark joins The Brotherhood and we hope for better things for Melissa as her feelings for her develop. But her affection for Mark conflicts with her hero-worship of Dominic, and it is clear that in The Brotherhood is not as safe as Melissa had thought it would be.

As the story develops, Melissa and Mark grow closer. But her haven soon begins to feel like a prison and Melissa’s newfound happiness with Mark is destroyed by Dominic’s jealousy. She must find a way to regain her freedom with Mark.

This is an excellent debut novel that would be a fine choice for a book club.

Jo FentonJo Fenton ia an exciting new voice in crime fiction. She grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers published by Crooked Cat Books. When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. Jo lives in Manchester with her husband, two teenage boys, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.

Val Penny

Death of a Policeman by M.C. Beaton

I very much enjoy the easy read of a Hamish Macbeth story by M.C.Beaton. Ms Beaton is an inspirational writer. She still produces two books a year: one in her Hamish Macbeth series and another in her Agatha Raisin series. Her books, The Death of a Kingfisher and The Death of a Travelling Man are reviewed on this site.MC Beaton

Death of a Policeman starts differently to any of the other Hamish Macbeth stories I have read in that there is a very bloody murder of a policeman early in the book. Thereafter the novel reverts to a familiar romp through the beautiful Scottish Highlands with Hamish, his friends and enemies until the crime is solved.

death of a policeman

The author adds extra tension to the story by introducing the threat that the little police staion in Loch Dubh may be closed and Hamish re-assigned to a bigger town, perhaps even to Inverness. Our hero wants to avoid this at all costs!


I also enjoyed the vignettes where the dog, and cat (a wild cat) are taken for walks or out to play in the countryside. That made me laugh.

All in all, I really did enjoy The Death of a Policeman by M.C.Beaton and I highly recommend it. It would be an excellent book club read.

Val Penny