Playing both Sides by guest author Jane Risdon

I am delighted to welcome my good friend and fellow author, Jane Risdon to the blog today to discuss the challenges of getting books published and the tasks required when self-publishing. I am thrilled to have Jane share her knowledge. Thank you for brining such an interesting article to my blog.

My first piece of published writing was back in the days when I was still working in the international music business and I ventured to write an article about song-writing, recording, and ‘pitching’ to record companies and music publishers: ’So you think you want a Record Deal,’ I think it was called.

I managed recording artists, song-writers, record producers, and even a few actors until I began writing some ten years ago and being married to a professional musician who’d never received any guidance or advice when he was first in the business as a musician, I felt the need to get these – mostly – young hopefuls thinking about the business they were so desperate to join.

The article appeared in an industry magazine and completely blew the whistle on what was (then) believed to be required to obtain a manager, recording contract, and a publishing contract, and it got a lot of musicians re-thinking their approach to the ‘business’ of music. The clue is the word business – over-looked in favour of the be-all and end-all to a musician: the music.

At that time musicians were working hard on their live shows and gathering a following but the actual ‘business’ of their chosen profession often passed them by; they were in it for the music and the business side – the men in grey suits mostly, back then – did whatever they did at some point to release records yet many musicians hadn’t a clue what, and anyway if they worked hard, got their following and made loads of demo’s (tapes and CD’s) and sent them out, someone would ‘discover’ them. And of course, musicians and artistes were sometimes ‘discovered’ because A&R (Artiste and Repertoire) guys still went to gigs to search for talent. But they were few and far between and other musicians often wondered why the hell so-and-so got a deal when they had a bigger following and better material. Good question.

I’ll not bore you with the details of what was in my article and what my advice to aspiring recording artists and song-writers was. The reason I mention it is two-fold: one, apart from school essays that was my first memorable foray into being a published writer – well, sort of. And two, ultimately the way the record business was run back in the late 1980s, early 1990s, led to the formation of hundreds of independent record companies and musicians recording and producing product at home – technology was suddenly changing everything.

You can see where I am going with this, I am sure, in relation to writing and being published.

When I began writing short stories, flash fiction, and my many novels – I still have loads of these awaiting the light of day – I never really considered being published. I was a bit like the musicians who did what they did for love and not for glory and if it happened (somehow) well, that would’ve been cool. I’d always wanted to write since childhood. I loved reading and imagined one day I’d have a book of my own. But that is all it was, something I imagined but never thought would ever happen, especially to me.

Long-time friend, Christina Jones, is an award-winning, best-selling, romance author, and has always encouraged me and my writing. We always wanted to write together but she was successful and I was a ‘nobody’ messing around with crime stories – so how it might happen, we couldn’t imagine. Besides, I was never in the same country let alone any town long enough for us to do that.

To cut a long story short I eventually found myself with time to write and I began writing more determinedly – mostly for my own entertainment. Christina got to read most of it and she kept telling me to ‘do something’ with them. I heard her, I just didn’t have any confidence or any clue how to go about it.

Meantime, I started a blog on WordPress mostly to put my own thoughts and scribblings in one place. After a while I dared push ‘publish’ on a story called ‘A Walk to Destiny,’ and then wondered if I’d lost my mind. Well, I had so many visits to my blog and such fab comments from complete strangers I was encouraged to write more, and after a while I was asked to be a guest author on other blogs. One thing led to another and I was asked to contribute to anthologies – mostly in aid of Charity – and I really felt I’d accomplished my dream. Those who encouraged me and gave me a chance know who they are and I’ve thanked them many times.

Meantime Christina kept telling me to ‘do something’ with my stories. I’d written several novels as I mentioned earlier, including a non-crime novel set in the late 1960s UK music scene, in addition to over a hundred short stories, and I began to look at what publishers were seeking and how to submit. Talk about panic attack. Publishing was another planet!

I sent one story off to a small publisher and never heard back. I felt my life was over. No-one wanted me! But after another panic attack and confidence melt-down I thought back to the days of producing records and pitching musicians and their music to record labels, and had a re-think. I’d approach my writing the same way as I’d approached record companies, movie studios etc., on behalf of my artistes. Easier said than done.

In 2014 I saw that a small traditional publishing company, Accent Press Ltd, was asking for submissions from authors. I decided to submit several short stories to begin and to cut a long story short I was accepted for two anthologies, Shiver and Wishing on a Star, and they also signed me for all my writing. Unreal. I thought it was supposed to be harder and it would take years. Both my stories were crime-related and not what I thought they’d want. But, I had a publisher.

In 2012 I’d completed a novel called Only One Woman set in the UK music scene of the late 1960s, and sent it to Christina to read as I wondered if it needed another POV (point of view) and another main character – I’d written Renza and most of the characters but felt it needed another voice. Christina loved it and wanted to write the other character, Stella, and her related characters. We agreed to do it.

I’d no idea just how much hard work promotion would be. Cripes, it took – and still takes – most of my time promoting it. I thought a publisher would do all that and all I’d have to do was write blog posts, do books signings, and talk about the book to everyone and anyone in the press, on the radio or whatever, and of course it was/isn’t like that.

Publishing has changed, just like music has, and it’s now up to the author to really push their book and boy, it stretches the imagination. It’s the music business all over again – just replace promoting artists and music for authors and books.

We authors are all in the same boat, traditionally or self-published, as far as I can tell.

I’ve many novels and short stories awaiting publication and I assumed that they’d be taken by my publisher, but that was somewhat naive I guess.

Accent have first refusal on my work but couldn’t take my short story collection, Undercover: Crime Shorts, because they only publish anthologies with several authors contributing – not solo authors.

I didn’t want to waste Undercover so I decided to self-publish it – I just couldn’t face hiking it around publishers for ages – hoping. My goodness me, I’d no idea what it would involve. I bulked at doing the whole thing myself, life is too short – I really would like to have time to do other things. Besides, I am writing the sequel to Only One Woman and Ms Birdsong’s two other novels are almost completed. So I decided to employ Plaisted Publishing House to format my collection and help me get it published.

Working on it has taken months and if I ever do it again I shall be better informed and prepared for what is involved. Claire Plaisted has been a star, poor woman, how she coped with my lack of knowledge and stupidity I’ll never know. Had I known I’d have to self-publish one day I’d have clued up much earlier and faster.

Remember, my only real experience of being published is with a company doing the editing, the formatting, and so forth, and it seemed a breeze. Why I thought it wouldn’t be different going it alone for this collection, I’ve no idea. The only similarity is promotion – that flipping word sounds so harmless, but it is immense. Promotion, promotion, promotion, is key, and it is so difficult without a company behind one with their supplies of books, covering some costs, and having their credibility – but even so it is still basically up to the author to push the book.

I did, at least, get to pick my own book cover for Undercover: Crime Shorts, and no-one prevented me from using it. Yay!

I decided to promote the way my publisher expected me to promote: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. I didn’t go for a blog tour, possibly a mistake but I felt (and still feel) embarrassed asking bloggers to host me. I haven’t done any book signings – but I never did any for Only One Woman because none was ever arranged. It’s expensive after-all and with a co-author to consider, schedules can be difficult. So for me nothing much has changed going it alone for this book.

I’ve a lovely following of friends and crime readers who’ve kindly been waiting for my crime stories. I’d never planned on having a Women’s Fiction novel published but my readers don’t seem to mind my deviation from the expected – so far.

Publication was set for May 5th and what happened? I got put in Facebook jail. My collection came out and all the platforms my publisher expected me to use to promote Only One Woman, which I’d planned to use to promote Undercover, vanished. A lesson there I feel….eggs and baskets!

Undercover: Crime Shorts amazingly went into the Amazon ratings at #18 – out of the box as we’d say in music – and #333 in the USA – but without means to promote it fully, having not thought about being prevented from using Facebook, it has gone down the ratings considerably, naturally.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in that many fellow authors have rallied around me and have gone out of their way to assist me with retweets, blogs, and sharing for me. Which brings me to another lesson learned from music days: always help others. Share your success, pay it back. It’s rewarded me – I’ve always tried to help fellow authors by sharing and Tweeting etc. Make friends, help them when you are able, and in your hour of need they may well surprise you by giving so much of their time and energies helping you. I’ve discovered I have some wonderful writer friends and readers and I am eternally grateful for their unexpected, continued generosity.

Going indie does not necessarily mean going it alone. I really should’ve called upon my music marketing experiences and applied them to self-publishing. I seem to have fallen into the same trap as my young musicians did back when – I just didn’t think beyond writing. I’ve played both sides now, and next time I shall be better prepared.

Undercover: Crime Shorts

Under one cover for the first time a collection of crime shorts from Jane Risdon with more twists and turns than Spaghetti Junction – a must for those who enjoy gripping yarns.

Undercover: Crime Shorts features new short stories written with strong female protagonists at its heart and includes Sweet Sable – a redheaded nightclub singer with sex appeal and a sting in her tail, and The Look – a hit woman with an agenda for revenge and a talent for hire.

There is an extract form the first novel in the series Ms Birdsong Investigates Murder in Ampney Parva: Operation Matryoshka – where former MI5 intelligence officer, Lavinia Birdsong, is asked to look for a missing woman and finds herself embroiled in murder, the Russian Mafia, and Ukrainian gun-runners.

My readers say:

Roger A Price: former detective and crime author says: Crime Shorts is a wonderfully satisfying anthology of seven short stories which transcend above the crime fiction genre providing a ripping yarn irrespective of the reader’s crime fiction preference. Jane Risdon has cleverly stitched together a mix of tales to suit all fans of the genre.

Gloria Clulow: reader says: As with all Jane’s stories I find them intriguing and unpredictable, leaving me wanting more; I don’t want them to end.

Professor Margot Kinberg: Associate professor and author of the Joel Williams crime novels says: Undercover, what a gripping story, so well written. You’ve packed so much ‘punch’ into it, loved it. I really felt the rising tension and suspicion! You’ve captured the suspense of it beautifully and it is such a great set-up with good characters.

Charlie Plunkett: reader says:
Fast-paced, well written, page-turner that had me so engrossed my train journey flew by. The author clearly has done a lot of research, these short stories all felt very authentic and each had me gripped and on the edge of my seat wondering how they would play out. It’s been a long time since I read anything quite so intriguing and twisty. It certainly got my heart beating faster and I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great murder, mystery.
Jane Risdon – my pleasure lovely, praise where it’s due, you have written a fabulous selection of short stories and I will definitely look out for Ms Birdsong.

Jane Risdon – Bio

Jane Risdon began her working life in the international music business where she managed recording artists, songwriters, record producers, and where she has been instrumental in placing music on to soundtracks of many TV series and Movies, working alongside her musician husband.

After years of promoting talented young artists Jane decided it was time to do what she’s always wanted to do: write. She began writing in earnest some ten years ago starting with flash fiction and short stories – mostly crime/thrillers – and her writing was soon included in various anthologies – to date 15 different publications, some award winning. She has written for numerous online newsletters and magazines and is a regular blogger.

She has also written a best-selling novel with author and lifelong friend, best-selling, award-winning author, Christina Jones, set in the UK music scene of the late 1960s. Only One Woman is published by Accent Press with whom Jane signed in 2014.

With over 100 short stories needing a home, Jane has recently published Undercover: Crime Shorts with Plaisted Publishing House, which went into the UK Amazon ratings at #18 and into the USA Amazon ratings at #333 upon publication.

She is writing the sequel to Only One Woman and is completing a series of novels about a former MI5 intelligence officer; ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates.’ These crime/thrillers are set in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire, and Jane digs into her early career with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the height of the Cold War for her inspiration and knowledge of Britain’s Security Services.

Jane’s interests include photography, history, and science, and she and her husband enjoy walking and visiting places of interest – something they never had time to enjoy when ‘baby-sitting’ singers and musicians whilst travelling all over the world.

For Jane’s Books: most digital platforms incl. Amazon worldwide, and in paperback

Undercover: Crime Shorts…/under…/paperback/product-24082039.html

ISBN: 9780359397839

Only One Woman:

53 5* reviews from guys and gals. Available in most countries too.
Paperback and eBook on most digital platforms
Paperback Waterstones and good indie stores.

ISBN: 9781783757312…/…/1783757310…/…/B075D88JB

Jane’s Social Media:


The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Although Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s best-known authors, I had not read any of her books before. She has published eight books of fiction and four books about the writing process. Her best-known works are the international best-seller The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, The Lieutenant and Lilian’s Story and The Secret River was the book our local book group read most recently.

The Secret River is a story set in the nineteenth century and tells the story of William Thornhill and his family. William is an illiterate English bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep compassion who steals a load of wood. His sentence is commuted from death to deportation to the colony that would become Australia. What I had never thought about was that, as William was married with a child, his wife, Sal, with family had two choices: she could have stayed in England, coping with the stigma of being a single parent or travel into the unknown with her husband, Will. She chooses the latter.

When they arrive in the colony, Sal has a second child. Will is immediately assigned to Sal, effectlively as her slave. She shows him kindness and respect, despite her misgivings about their new circumstances and her homesickness for London. 

As time progresses, Will gradually realises that if he wants to make a home for his family, he must forcibly take the land from the people who came before him. Thus commences a series of disturbing and violent scenes that are most difficult to read. I do not doubt the atrocities happened, I do doubt that I need to read about it in such graphic detail. Will also has two men assigned to him as he, in his turn had been assigned to Sal. But Will’s greed and determination prevent him from treating his’slaves’ as humanely as Sal treated him.

The Secret River is a masterpiece of historical setting and of the mental, physical and emotional demands that people must endure when they are abruptly required to move from their home country to a new land.  This is an excellent book group read and a fine historical novel.

Val Penny 

Mapping the Scenes of a Chapter by guest author Mason Bushell

I am delighted to have my friend and fellow author, Mason Bushell visit my blog today to share her experience of mapping the scenes of chapters in her writing. Thank you so much for visiting, Mason and for sharing your writing tips with me and my readers today.

To have a balanced well written story it’s essential to map it out. You can of course do this as you go. A better approach is to complete your map before you begin writing. My method is a story skeleton, as follows

  1. Begin with the synopsis. Usually no more than a page of work that outlines the main story from start to finish. This gives a firm base from which to build the full story.
  2. Next start the skeleton by writing out each chapter number and bulleting sections, 1-3 beneath each heading. Note; ‘Twenty to twenty five chapters tends to get you sixty to seventy thousand words. Thirty chapters plus will get you around the hundred thousand mark when completed.’ to roughly guide you.
  3. From there break the synopsis into its individual events. Insert them into the number one slots of your chapter skeleton. Note; ‘Do this working in pencil as you may feel the need to move or add some as you go along. Characters have a habit of changing the story on you!’ Remember here that some events may cross more than one chapter to add cliff-hanger points or to bring other events in line with them. Use arrows to link those is needs be.
  4. Don’t try to force events into every chapter for not all of them will focus on the main story. Just put in what you can, where it needs to go on the chapter timeline. Thinking about the structure and drama as you go to get the flow right.
  5. Next, a good story always has side story or stories entwined within it. Add the scenes for that into the number two section of the chapter skeleton. Again not every chapter will have these, just add in what you have where it fits in the skeleton and story timeline.
  6. Now on to the skeleton is the third section. This is for any events, scenes or occurrences you wish to include in the chapter. Little happenings that don’t pertain to the main or side story as such. Drop those into the number three sections again where you need them.
  7. That’s all three done you should now have a good vision for your whole story. Spend time checking this and moving events about as needed until you feel happy. Don’t worry for you can always split and add chapters or remove them as you go along the skeleton is merely your story guide to help you stay on course and get it written. Well done, that’s the first part done we can now plan our chapter.

Moving on to mapping and writing chapters. We’ll take a chapter from the skeleton and we’ll say we gave it three events for this example of the skeleton method.

The first phase is to align and entwine those chronologically or in a way that’ll make best sense to the reader. Do this in a way that drives our reader into and through the chapter. Remember these points.

  • Begin at a place that will show continuity from the previous chapter (Unless this is our first chapter). Or a point that creates a nice shift from the previous to a new time, place or perspective.
  • Let the first few lines or opening scene inform the readers as to what’s to come in the chapter.
  • Hook the reader into moving on into the story. Dialogue is a good way, it gets the reader straight into the action. It can give immediate questions and interest to a reader, where preamble or long description may bore our precious reader.

The second phase is to chain nicely into events two and three ensuring the pace and flow is satisfying. Here are a few good ways and tips to do this:

  • Use the surroundings or places to move event to event,
  • Use differing character or narrator points of view
  • Break suddenly into the next event at times.
  • Use many different and varying ways to keep the story moving, unexpected and interesting,

The third phase is to end your chapter well. It needs both climax and desire to read on. There are many ways to do that, like these:

  • Leave it with a big question,
  • A cliff hanger
  • A, what happens next moment.
  • An unexpected event like a risky kiss could potentially do all three as an example.
  • Try never to leave it at a low point or a place that feels like nothing is happening. This will kill momentum and possibly cause the reader to put the book down.

Remember our events that may cross two or more chapters here creating cliff hanger moments with ease. Just remember to follow your skeleton arrows so to save you needing to repair a scene that you ended and shouldn’t have later. (I’ve done this, it’s the ultimate writers momentum killer!)

Now if this is the last chapter it’s a little different. There you must bring your story to a close in a way that leaves the reader feeling pleased to have read it. Desirous to want more of your work in their lives.

  • End on a high note
  • End with reference to something that happened at the beginning. This gives a sense of coming full circle in a story and is often pleasing.
  • Don’t necessarily answer all the questions you raised. Give the reader something to ponder beyond the end of the book. It’ll leave them wanting more and enjoying the thought process, keeping you in their minds for longer.
  • Are you planning a sequel? If so leave a tantalising clue as to what’s coming soon.

Lastly, where only one or two events appear in a chapter. Break the events down into individual parts and timeline them. Then they too will be conformable to the above plan. Albeit with a slightly smaller chapter, which is no bad thing for the following reasons:

  • Short chapters tend to have less description and be more actioned filled and faster paced.
  • Longer chapters tend to be description and dialogue filled. Be careful not to be over heavy with either or the reader may grow tired of the story before the chapter ends.
  • Thus Varying chapter lengths will increase and decrease pace with the story flow.
  • Chapters of equal length tend to make the reader expect the end to come which can lead to boredom.

Let the chapter’s individual story dictate its length. Then just flesh it, or thin it to make it flow nicely.

It’s good practice to edit each chapter as an individual piece. This gives you a view and feeling of how it alone flows and reads. Then you can edit the story as a whole ensure it comes together as the masterpiece you hoped for when you first picked up your pen. Most importantly enjoy the process for if you do, your readers will enjoy what you wrote. Happy writing!

The Blood Road by Stuart MacBride

The Blood Road is the twelfth book in the Logan McRae detective series set in Aberdeenshire by Stuart MacBride, but it is the first book that have read by this author. I did see him make an appearance with Caro Ramsey at an event at Bloody Scotland in Stirling a few years ago. But he was very drunk and his language and actions made the whole thing embarrassing to watch. It must have been even worse for Caro Ramsey being on stage with Stuart MacBride on that occasion. I have not been back to Bloody Scotland since then and I probably would not have picked up MacBride’s book, had it not been on sale for £2.00.

The subject matter of The Blood Road , kidnapping and sale of children for purposes of abuse to paedophiles, is incredibly dark. However, for the most part, it is dealt with sensitively. The dialogue is fast, pacy, darkly humorous and extraordinarily engaging, you just get swept along with them all in a kind of hypnotic reading trance.

The Blood Road starts when the murdered body of a retired policeman, Bell, is discovered. McRae becomes involved because this policeman had, apparnetly died and been buried two years earlier. As if that were not odd enough, a connection is discovered between Bell and an ongoing investigation into the missing children. Wee ones are being snatched and Logan finds himself with no choice but to wade in, dragging newbie DS Simon Rennie along for the ride. 

The one thing I really did not understand was how McRae, who is allegedly in the Police Standards department, and therefore investigates corrupt police officers, ended up working to solve an serious criminal case promoted by an organised criminal gang with so little police support. I do not want to issue a spoiler, so suffice to say, I found that incredible.

I have been told The Blood Road is not the strongest of MacBride’s books and that I should have started with something else – a bit late to tell me that now! I did enjoy humour in the novel and the banter between the characters was believable. However, on the basis of this book, I would not seek out another book by Stuart MacBride any time soon.

Val Penny

The 5 Questions of Writing by guest author Raven McAllan, also writing as Katy Lilley

Today, I am thrilled to have my friend Raven McAllen discuss her writing habits on the blog today. Thank you for joining me, Raven. I am so happy to learn all about your writing life.

1) When do you write?

I’m an early riser and often get up to write before anyone else in the household is around. But I will write any chance I get. I’m lucky that once I start writing, I just block everythin else out. (Not so lucky when that means I forget I’ve got the dinner cooking)

2) Why do you write?

I have loved making up stories all my life.For my dolls, for my children and for myself. I was an only child, and I often say, my imagination was my best friend. Always there, and full of idas.

However it wasn’t until around 8 years ago I thought I could try and get a story published.

I can’t imagine not writing now. It’s my relaxation. If I go a few days without plotting, researching, or writing, I get twitchy.

3) Where do you write?

I can write anywhere and everywhere. I’m lucky enough to do quite a lot of travelling, and over the years I’ve written in some diffeent places. I swear I could write a book on ‘closed loo seats I’ve sat on to type. So often in a hotel room, I’ve woken up early and typed in the bathroom so as not to wake my husband

Long Haul flights are great, because I’m only interrupted for food and drink. I can get so much done in the air. It can be amusing, at times. On one flight, I went to the loo, to come back to find a guy reading my WIP. I showed him it was my seat, and he took himself off. Half an hour, one of the cabin crew said the guy in seat xx wanted to know what happened next. I asked her to give the guy my card and look out for the book. Around 6 months later I got an email. Bought it, read it, loved it, the guy on the plane.

I’ve written by pools, on patios as I watch the sun rise, and tucked under a blanket watching it rain. (A lot of the time where I live in Scotland)

However when I’m home I have a study, which overlooks my garden. From here, when I sit at my desk, I can watch the birds and the red squirrels fight over the nuts in the nut holder, and tell lost tourists that a, the village is ten minutes walk down the lane, and b,whatever their sat-nav says I am not the local bed and breakfast. (It’s amazing how many don’t believe me.)

We live on the edge of a Scottish Forest, It’s so beautiful, and I have set quite a few of my books around here.

I like using places I know, and as I say to my husband, whn we travel, it’s all good research.

4) How do I write?

It depends. Some stories I just sit down and see where my mind and the characters take me. Others I have the whole plot in my mind, or jotted down, often as bullet points. I keep notebooks all over te place, as I know fine well an idea thought of in the middle of the night will not always be remembered in the morning.

5) What do you write?

I’m a romance writer. I’m very lucky in that I can switch between sub genres. I call it changing hats. I write Regency and contepmorary stories as Raven McAllan, dark romance as Kera Faie, and rom com as Katy Lilley. (I also write YA as J. Lilley)

The rom com is my latest hat, and I’m loving it. My first one, New Beginnings for Bryony Bennett came out last year, and the follow up, Second Chances for Lottie Botte is due to be published in May. Both are published by Manatee Books (It’s up for preorder) They are both available from Amazon

I’ve notes for a couple more. I just need times to wite them. I have a list!

My next Raven, is a Regency, via Totally Bound and is also out in May. The Viscount meets his match. That’s up for preorder on April 16th

My most recent contemporary, from Evernight Publishing is a series set on a desert island, Isola dei Sogni, where dreams and fantasies come true—if you let them.

You can find me on Amazon. Raven, Katy, Kera and J Lilley all have an Amazon page.


Twitter as Katy

And Aas Raven and Kera

Or via my web

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog,

Happy reading, love Raven

Pieces Of Her by Karin Slaughter

Every now and again, I go on a book buying spree. Recently I did an Amazon Search and found books by favourite authors and authors I feel I should have read that were being offered for bargain prices. One of the books I bought was the stand-alone by Karin Slaughter, Pieces of Her.

It had been too long since I had read a novel by Karin Slaughter. She is one of the world’s most popular and acclaimed storytellers. Published in 120 countries with more than 35 million copies sold across the globe, her nineteen novels include the Grant County and Will Trent books, as well as the Edgar-nominated COP TOWN and the instant NEW YORK TIMES bestselling novels PRETTY GIRLS, THE GOOD DAUGHTER, and PIECES OF HER. Slaughter is the founder of the Save the Libraries project—a nonprofit organization established to support libraries and library programming. A native of Georgia, Karin Slaughter lives in Atlanta. Her standalone novels PIECES OF HER, THE GOOD DAUGHTER, and COP TOWN are in development for film and television.

Pieces of Her tells the story of Laura and her daughter, Andrea. They live in the quiet seaside town of Belle Isle where Andrea is struggling with her return from New York and Laura works as a speech therapist, business owner. Andrea sees her mother as a pillar of the community and a friend to all around her. However, when Andrea is caught in a random violent attack at a shopping mall, Laura intervenes and acts in a way that is unrecognisable to her daughter. It’s like Laura is a completely different person – and that’s because she was.

Laura is hailed as a hero because of what happened at the mall but only a few hours later she is in hospital, shot by an intruder. An intruder t her home who has spent decades trying to track her down, because Laurs has a past that pre-dates Andrea and her life in Belle Isle. Laura sends Andrea away to try to protect her and Andrea is left to piece together her mother’s former identity and discover the truth about Laura whom she has always thought of just as her gentle, loving Mother.

I do not generally like books that flip between the past and the present. However, this is a book by Karin Slaughter and Karin Slaughter at her best, at that. I did work out Laura’s real identity fairly quickly. But that did not detract from the excitement inherent in Pieces of Her.

The story weaves between the present and thirty years ago when a family story is told. The novel is, perhaps just a little too long with perhaps, just one or two too many twists. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed Pieces of Her and hope your would too.

Val Penny

5 Questions of Writing by Harry Hunter

I am pleased to be joined today by my friend, the British author, Harry Hunter. Harry Hunter is the pen name of a retired academic who lives with his wife (and cat) at West Kilbride on the Ayrshire coast. His ‘signature’ writing style is the rhyming acrostic, and you can read many of these on his website Holy Acrostics! . The action in his two novellas takes place in the fictional town of Kilfinan on the west coast of Scotland. All Harry’s writings have a broadly Christian theme. His new book, The Kilfinan Treasure is out now.

When do you write?

Often, just in short bursts. Before I retired, I was an academic. Writing scientific papers and books went with the territory. I learned to write in spare moments, even just for five minutes. Broadly, I divided my writing into ‘creative’ work for which I needed sustained peace and quiet, and mechanical work such as improving drafts and adding references. I could parachute into the latter whenever there was a lull. This was helpful because I always felt I was making progress, however small.

During retirement, I have begun to write fiction for pleasure, but the principles are surprisingly similar. Some of the work is creative and I need to be undisturbed for at least an hour. As an early riser, it’s relatively easy to earmark odd hours here and there, anywhere between 6a.m. and 10p.m. Equally, I often find myself with ten minutes to spare – I’m not very good at ‘doing nothing’ – and will use these impromptu gaps to hone and refine a current piece of writing.

More importantly for me, is to set aside time for reading. I don’t read nearly enough. I want to be around the house or garden doing something active and it rarely occurs to me that I could just sit on the sofa for half an hour and read a novel.

How do you write?

I have been writing academic stuff – and occasional creative pieces – since the 1970s, so long before the digital revolution. Of necessity, writing was longhand, with lots of scribbling, crossing out, insertion marks, etc. Finally, I would type the manuscript on a simple electric typewriter. I was quite slow to adapt to IT, mainly because I like to synthesise ideas and have bits of paper spread around the table in front of me.

I have never completely got away from this habit and will almost always write out a fairly thorough longhand draft to begin with. Creating a computer file will happen at a fairly late stage. I was never a technophobe – indeed I was a competent scientific user of mainframe computers – but I’m also a great believer in working through manuscripts and even datasets longhand. It guarantees a slower and more reflective pace allowing better engagement.

The more I adapted to writing at the computer, the more my literary style changed, even in scientific work. When you are looking at a few inches of computer screen it is difficult to make the same cross-connections as when you are looking at drafts scattered across a table. I started to write in shorter sentences with more focused structure and meaning, in more compact paragraphs. In general, I think this was an improvement, certainly for the reader. It was an example of technology influencing style, by limiting my gaze to the frame of a screen. Increasingly, I write in short simple sentences. It aids clarity and minimises extraneous detail, even if there’s a loss of literary elegance.

What do you write?

At the outset, I concentrated on short stories, on any topic. Often, short stories are written to a particular brief which constrains the subject matter and length.

This has evolved over the past few years. To cut to the chase, as a ‘person of faith’ I now concentrate almost exclusively on faith-based material. However, I prefer to write in a way that will be accessible to people of all faiths and none. I want the content to be enjoyable, credible and pertinent.

Writing has been a voyage of discovery, strongly influenced by feedback from readers – either direct (face to face or written comments) or indirect (inferred preferences through visitors to my website). It is a privilege when people take time to read what you have written and I don’t want to spend ages crafting the perfect short story, only for it to languish unvisited in my website. The surprise ‘hit’, which has effectively become my signature style, is the rhyming acrostic, and this receives a disproportionate amount of my time. My original intention was to focus on short stories but, even when I kept these very short, they generated little traffic, even though I felt they were genuinely good.

I have been fortunate to find publishers for two novellas. Both experiences have both proved steep learning curves. The feedback I received from editorial staff, reviewers and readers has been utterly invaluable in developing my style and themes. Even if you are intending to self-publish, I would strongly recommend paying for editorial advice from someone with expertise in fiction.

Why do you write?

I had always been interested in writing from an early age, but life got in the way and other interests crowded in. Fortuitously, as I approached my agreed date for early retirement, I got involved in a research project which involved setting up creative writing groups in a post-industrial area in South Yorkshire. To make up numbers I actively engaged in one of the groups and found it enjoyable. I moved up to West Kilbride on retirement and enrolled in Val’s creative writing class. Previously I had considered ‘teaching creative writing’ to be a contradiction in terms, but I quickly discovered how one’s creative skills can be nurtured through lessons and structured exercises.

To begin with, I had anticipated being able to supplement my pension by penning short stories but soon realised that the very few outlets were more than offset by the large numbers of talented writers. At that point I realised the importance of Val’s inaugural question to her class: “why do you want to write?” I had to reappraise this and, after much trial and error, came to the conclusion that perhaps I could help people on their faith journeys. I didn’t want to add to the vast stock of what might loosely be called ‘religious’ texts and novels. I wanted to write short, accessible pieces which gave insights into practical applications of faith in day-to-day settings.

So, it has been a journey of discovery. I have completely revised my original aims in writing. I intended to make money but now any royalties are a pleasant but unexpected bonus. I intended to write short stories and even a novel, and now focus on rhyming acrostics and novellas. I expected to reach people in conventional published format, and now connect with readers mainly through my website. I’m sure it would be different if I were a twenty-something setting out with the intention of becoming a successful novelist. Now, with a decent occupational pension, my objectives can be less materialistic.

Where do you write?

Anywhere, but usually writing an early draft at a table and refining the later draft at a computer. However, decades of trying to complete scholarly articles has cultivated the ability to scribble down useful jottings anywhere – trains, boats, planes, cafes, buses. Preferably not whilst I’m driving, but it’s a close call.

The 5 Questions of Writing by guest author Louis K Lowy

It is a great pleasure to have the noted American author, Louis K Lowy, share his writing habits with us on the blog today. Louis has three published novels, Die Laughing, Pedal and To Dream (Anatomy of a Humachine #1). All of these have received critical acclaim. I am grateful to Louis for taking time out of his busy schedule to stop by today.

Thank you, Val, for allowing me to appear on your blog. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

1) When do you write?

I used to write Monday thru Friday a minimum of three hours a day (15 hours a week). I did that for around eight or nine years, but I’ve recently cut back on that schedule, mainly because I feel like I need a breather, and because I’ve got two completed novels, and another scheduled for release in May, so I’m ahead of the game. Another factor is with all of that writing under my belt, I feel like I’m quicker and better at it than when I first began, meaning I can get more accomplished, now, in a shorter period then I used to.

My current schedule amounts to a minimum one hour on Monday, two hours on Tuesday, one hour on Wednesday, one hour on Thursday, and two hours on Friday (7 hours a week). The reason my writing schedule varies is due to my gym workouts. I exercise on Mondays (twice a day), Wednesdays (twice a day), and Thursdays. It eats up a lot of my time, but I feel like it’s important to keep in shape and hopefully avoid health problems, which would really stifle my ability to write.

On my one-hour writing days, I usually begin when I return from the gym – which is around 1:00 or 1:30. On my two-hour writing days, I start my first hour of writing shortly after I’m out of bed, which is around 7am. I may stop for breakfast, then finish off the second hour.

2) How do you write?

I do my plotting and initial research in longhand. I usually have a couple of books to read before I can begin, and will reference in longhand particular pages or info that I need. Longhand is more convenient because I’m not restricted to being in front of the computer. I can also jot down things quickly and arrange them in a format that is conducive to my train of thought. When I’m done with that process, I usually transfer my notes to a word doc and print them out. I keep a notebook for every novel. It’s filled with those notes, and who knows what else—anything pertaining to the story. Once I actually begin writing the novel proper, I’m strictly on a word processor. It’s easier to bounce around, change names, correct spelling, etc. etc., though I will keep some handwritten notes as I go along. For instance, here’s a good tip; write down all of the names of your characters as they enter your tale. For some reason, nearly every one of us accumulates character’s names in our novel that begin with the same letter: Ray, Riana, Raquel, Rory. This will very easily point that out. Also, with a lot of characters being introduced or passing through, I tend to forget who’s who, and this helps me sort things out. Basically, I’m organizing, which is a huge help in constructing the book.

3) What do you write?

I’m pretty eclectic. I wrote a humor poem, “Poetry Workshop (Mary had a little lamb)” that finished second place in Winning Writers’ Wergle Flomp Humor poetry contest, which had over seven hundred entries. My first published piece was a non-fiction story. But mainly I started out writing fictional short stories and was fortunate to have a good portion of them published. They ranged in subject from a man dealing with Alzheimer’s, to a priest questioning his faith, to the story of a boy, a serial killer and a ghost dog. From my short stories I gradually drifted to novels. My first published book, Die Laughing, is a humorously dark sci-fi adventure that takes place in the 1950s. My second novel, Pedal, is a contemporary women’s novel about a 49 year old music teacher who is laid off and fights to reclaim her life back through bicycle racing, my next novel To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine I, centers around an A.I. struggling to find his humanity. My latest novel—The Second Life of Eddie Coyne, due out in May, is about a dying gambler who takes on one final bet for the ultimate prize — to save his soul. Currently I’m working on a crime novel, and book II of Anatomy of a Humachine.

4) Why do you write?

I write because I love it. I played bass for many years in original music bands and it was always a compromise, a give and take, an amalgamation of ideas. That’s not to say it was a bad thing. Many times the sum of the whole was greater than the individual parts. Still, what writing allows me to do is realize my vision unfiltered. It also allows me to express parts of me through my characters that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) normally do. I get to explore issues that I’m interested in. It’s a lot of work, but what’s not to love about that?

5) Where do you write?

I have the most wonderful room in my house. One wall is nothing but a bookshelf packed with books that I love, reference material, and my favorite DVDs. Hanging on the other three walls are classic 1950s and 1960s horror and sci-fi movie posters that I also love. Everything from Forbidden Planet to Night of the Living Dead. I also have my bass and an acoustic guitar in the room in the event I get the urge to noodle around with them. I have vintage collectible super-hero action figures, and horror/sci-fi models displayed in a couple of cases. Of course, my desk is there (a bit cluttered I have to admit) along with my laptop, printer, etc. This room allows me to envision and create—it really is lovely.

Thanks again, Val, for this wonderful opportunity to appear on your blog. I had a great time.

The Author

TO DREAM, book one of his science fiction epic, ANATOMY OF A HUMACHINE (IFWG Publishing), was released in 2017.

Louis K. Lowy’s first published novel, DIE LAUGHING (IFWG Publishing 2011), is a humorously dark science fiction adventure set in the 1950s.

His 2015 novel, PEDAL (Rereleased in 2017 by IFWG Publishing), tells the story of a 49-yr-old music teacher who loses her job and struggles to reclaim her life through bicycle racing.

Louis’ short stories have appeared in, among others, New Plains Review, The MacGuffin Magazine, the anthology Everything is Broken, and the Chaffey Review.

The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay

The Twenty-Three is the last book in Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls Trilogy and I really wanted to like it. I wanted to like it because the author is a great guy and I have enjoyed his books previously. Also I wanted to like it, because it always makes the review easier – and I enjoyed most of this novel.

The Twenty-Three starts with a normal morning in Promise Falls: predictably things start to go wrong rapidly. Vast numbers of people fall ill with no explanation, people are found dead or dying in or near their homes and the hospital and emergency services are stretched to their limits.

Detective Barry Duckworth is already investigating two murders when another young woman is found dead on the campus of Thackery College too. A strange car is noticed near the student halls at a critical time and a local jogger may be able to help identify the driver. Barry starts to wonder if the cause of the sickness and deaths of the townsfolk and the new attack on the campus are connected to the mysterious incidents in Promise Falls involving the number twenty-three.

This book cleverly weaves the various strands of the stories started in Broken Promise and Far from True. The twists that lead to the conclusion are marvellous. however, what I did not like was the rather clumsy way the reader is reminded of some of the back stories. I found that disappointing.

As with any trilogy, I strongly recommend you start at the beginning! Is it Linwood Barclay’s best book? Not by a country mile.

The Author

Linwood Barclay is the #1 internationally bestselling author of seventeen novels for adults, including No Time for Goodbye, Trust Your Eyes and, most recently, A Noise Downstairs. He has also written two novels for children and screenplays.

Three of those seventeen novels comprise the epic Promise Falls trilogy: Broken Promise, Far From True, and The Twenty-Three. His two novels for children – Chase and Escape – star a computer-enhanced dog named Chipper who’s on the run from the evil organization that turned him into a super-pup.
Barclay’s 2011 thriller, The Accident, has been turned into the six-part television series L’Accident in France, and he adapted his novel Never Saw it Coming for the movie, directed by Gail Harvey and starring Eric Roberts and Emily Hampshire. Several of his other books either have been, or still are, in development for TV and film.

Val Penny

Assassin by Day and Catalyst by Night by guest author, Tessa Robertson

We are really in luck today! Best-selling author Tessa Robertson has agreed to share excerpts from two of her novels, the best-selling book, Assassin by Day and also her new novel, Catalyst by Night. Thank you so much for this great treat, Tessa.


Assassin By Day 
What would you do if the mystery to your mother’s death lay with your employer? 

After years of unanswered questions, Mishka Vald sets out to uncover the skhodka’s involvement in her past. What she doesn’t expect is to join forces with men who push her to become a double-agent and confirm her future. While hunting down leads, the ruthless assassin realizes a life in the shadows is the only way for her to protect those she loves. 

For Mishka, forbidden love is worth the pain when it comes to Eddie Harper, a military man turned cop. Her affection waivers when duty comes first and she joins forces with an elite Russian soldier, Alexei Petrovich. With a blackmailer threatening her school love, she seeks refuge with a fellow assassin, Nickolas Volkov. And when pushed too far, she’s ushered to a secure location…and straight into the arms of mysterious handyman, Dylan Kain. As the pieces fall into place, their mangled order reveals each man’s true intention. Whose deceit can she accept and whose will obliterate her?

All roads lead back to the woman she thought dead—her mother. Now, as weddings are crashed and alliances tested, Mishka uncovers a deadly game and the players involved. Her heart, once unable to budge, is thrust into action, but which man can keep her soul intact?


Assassin by Day

I hop off the elevator and wave off the shadows. I don’t need them when I see Nickolas in the living room. “To think I’d have alone time,” I complain, gaining on him. “What are you doing here? Alexei will be back any moment.”

  Nickolas eyes my bloodied apparel. “I take it your mission went as planned.”

    Shoving off my boots, I shrug. “We had a nice chat, yes.” I gaze at the dried liquid. “I don’t believe she’ll share any more secrets except to demons.”

“Good, I’ll let your superiors know. Do you need anything further?”

His question catches me off guard until I hear the soft footsteps nearby. Without looking, I sense Alexei’s presence. It’s a fog. A deviously wicked fog. “No, I believe you’ve been useful enough, thank you.”

I stand and meet the waiting forestry eyes. “Alexei, I didn’t know you were back.”

My beloved tosses his jacket to the couch, holding my eyes hostage. “I’m sure you didn’t.” His gaze transfers to Nickolas then to me. “I see you’ve been busy.”

Unsheathing my knives, I study the stains. “I had an assignment pop up.”

“I’m sure that wasn’t the only thing to pop up in my absence.”

I smirk at his spiteful reply. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’s jealous.

Twisting my torso, I watch the exchange in the room. Alexei prides himself for being level headed, but his actions speak another tone. His obvious hatred for Nickolas is his own fault. He invited him, so I feel no regret in the Olympics I share with his minion.

“Leave him alone, Alexei,” I urge, tearing off my skin-tight leather shirt. I rather like the James Bond villainess look. I think I’ll keep it. My brown hair catches on the zipper and I silently curse. Damn this long hair!

I turn and notice both men gaping. It could be because I’m not wearing anything underneath or because blood’s streaked across my chest. I’m not sure which one enraptures them and I don’t care. Their attention is all I crave. I murdered a comrade. Punishment is warranted.


Catalyst at Night

The skhodka isn’t done with their best assassin yet.

Too bad for them, as a rivaling mob – the vory – holds Mishka Vald captive. The real kicker? She’s trapped in her mother’s clutches with the two men she loves, with no escape from the devious scheme Alena Vald cooked up to destroy the skhodka. 

After spiriting across the globe with one man in tow, Mishka comes face to face with her past. Piecing together the distorted memories would be easy if someone hadn’t tampered with them.

Can Mishka slip through the grips of warring Russian mobs for a chance at a normal life? Find out in Catalyst at Night, the sequel to Assassin by Day.


Catalyst at Night

“Mishka?” His voice is closer. Glancing up from the stain on the floor, I notice he’s sitting on the side of the bed inches from me.

“Time, Nick. I don’t get much of it these days. It’s why I didn’t come back right away. I craved time. It’s so much to digest. I can’t accept my memory loss.” I study the bedspread. “I need it back.”

“You might not remember it, but you agreed to the loss of time and memories, my love.”

I punch the pillow, the conversation annoying me like a zit. “Da. I wish you were mistaken, but I know you’re not.” I meet his cool blue eyes. God, you can’t fake that hue in a colored contact. It’s spellbinding.

Nickolas strokes my cheek lightly, his thin calluses comforting. He isn’t an assassin like me. He’s much more dangerous as the man behind the curtain. “I’m sorry. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”

He scoots down the bed and wraps me against his chest. I close my eyes at the rhythmic tempo of his heart. It soothes me no matter the situation.

“What if there’s a way I can get them back?”

Nickolas brushes my hair away from my face. “There is but it’s not safe.”

“I don’t care. I need them.”

He sighs and tilts my chin, so he can look into my face. His eyes dance between my eyes and lips. “What if they’re horrible, Mishka? What if they destroy you and the world you know?”

“I can’t think like that.” I shake my head. “My father knows the doctor who can do it.”

His heavy sigh envelopes us both. Slowly, he nuzzles his nose into the nape of my neck. “I wish you could see that you have everything you need right here, love,” he whispers.


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The Author

Tessa Robertson has been landlocked in the heart of Iowa, USA for the better portion of her life. She grew up on sci-fi and action movies, but isn’t nearly a ninja…yet. Since childhood, writing stories and reading have been a constant. Moonlighting in a law firm, she takes on her favorite cases: criminal. Her stories push the limits of standard characters and explore the thriller facets of romance and action. In her spare time, Tessa attempts to teach her Australian Shepherd and Golden Retriever new tricks; spends copious time with family; catches up on her favorite shows; and listens to country music.