Path to Success and HellCorp by guest author Jonathan Whitelaw

I am glad to have the author of the successful new novel, Hell Corp, Jonathan Whitelaw, visit my blog today to discuss the influences on his writing throughout his life.

Reading and writing fiction has always been a daily part of my life. My mother tells a story every Christmas how she was encouraged by my very first school teacher to get me to read.

“It doesn’t matter what – even if it’s a comic book, just get him to read.”

Twenty-something years later and I have a lot to be grateful for to Mrs Arthur and her sage advice. I just thought it was cool that a teacher would encourage me to read comics!

But it was a lesson that I’ve carried with me throughout my entire life. If I wasn’t playing with my toys I was writing and illustrating stories for them. I remember fondly on summer holidays longing to be back home to reenact with my Star Wars figures or Lego or something else what I’d written into little stories and mini-comics. And that was even on trips to DisneyWorld!

I began seriously writing in my late teens. I’ve always read a lot. Many other authors always say that reading is the best thing next to writing. It’s inspiration and opens your horizons to all the other worlds, styles, characters and settings that scribes are putting together out there. Education is a big part of writing and you can never learn too much. You also can’t learn everything, which means there’s always something out there that’s new. In the digital age, with the world at our fingertips, that’s quite an achievement.

When I moved to university I kept up my writing. Studying at Glasgow University, I was thrown into the deep end when it came to creative writing. Suddenly I wasn’t just on my own but surrounded by so many other talented aspiring and established authors from all different backgrounds, countries and approaches. And it was fantastic just to soak all of that up and give it a go myself.

I graduated in 2008 with a psychology degree but returned for creative writing and scriptwriting courses. All the while I was toiling away, working out ideas, getting them down and keeping writing. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started submitting work to agents and publishers with the hopes of getting published. My work had appeared in a number of almanacs and publications at university level but nothing in the wider publishing world.

As is often the case – life got in the way. Meeting my future wife, working full-time and being a productive member of society – instead of a lay-about student (I lay around couches an awful lot) my writing was pushed down and down the pecking order or priority. It didn’t help I’d recieved rejection letters for what I’d been sure were bestselling ideas. That said, I didn’t feel like a true writer, oddly enough, until I had my first rejection come back. In a strange sort of right of passage, it felt like I was actually doing something right!HellCorp Book

A move from Glasgow to Edinburgh brought a lot of change in my life. And with it inspiration. The idea for Morbid Relations came to me and I immediately set about working it up. With two hours commuting on a train every day I found myself with lots of time to actually write and not do anything else. The first draft was done in six weeks and the final version in two months. Then it was back on the trail of trying to get it published.

I received an offer from Glasgow publishers Ringwood for the novel in November 2014 with a view to publishing in 2015. I was delighted an immensely proud of my debut work – a dark comedy about family life. And it was enough for me to keep going.

The experience of being part of the publishing industry taught me many things. And when I came across my publisher Urbane, I knew we had to work together. Their fresh approach, style and commitment to their products really stood out for me. And I was elated when they signed up HellCorp.

While I’ve been successful in journalism, my heart has always lay with being a professional full-time author. I love my work and I love both jobs. And I’m so lucky to be able to do what I love every single day.

About HellCorp

“A writer to watch.”
– Gareth L. Powell, winner of the BSFA award for best novel

Sometimes even the Devil deserves a break!

Life is hard for The Devil and he desperately wants to take a holiday. Growing weary from playing the cosmic bad guy, he resolves to set up a company that will do his job for him so the sins of the world will tick over while he takes a vacation. God tells him he can have his vacation just as soon as he solves an ancient crime.

But nothing is ever easy and before long he is up to his pitchfork in solving murders, desperate to crack the case so he can finally take the holiday he so badly needs…

This is a perfectly-pitched darkly comic crime novel that is ideal for fans of Christopher Fowler and Ben Aaranovitch.


Jonathan WhitelawThe Author

Jonathan Whitelaw is an author, journalist and broadcaster. After working on the frontline of Scottish politics, he moved into journalism. Subjects he has covered have varied from breaking news, the arts, culture and sport to fashion, music and even radioactive waste – with everything in between. He’s also a regular reviewer and talking head on shows for the BBC and STV. ‘HellCorp’ is his second novel following his debut, ‘Morbid Relations’.

Social Media links:

FB Author Page:

Book info:

Publication Day: 5th July 2018
Publisher: Urbane Publications
ISBN: 978-1911583721
Pages: 320
Category: Fiction, Genre: Thriller | Supernatural | Humour

Buying links:

Amazon UK:
Amazon US:


Outsiders by Jeremy Mills

I rarely read science fiction before my friend and fellow author, Louis K Lowy gave me an opportunity to read his intriguing novel To Dream – Anatomy of a Humachine reviewed here: I very much enjoyed that novel so when Outsiders by Jeremy Mills was book of the month at my book group, I was interested to read it.

Outsiders Book

I found this book a really gripping read. It is set decades in the future after a virus infected the population of earth and a group moved to the moon to keep the species alive.

The hero, of Outsiders is David Carder, lived his whole life in the quarantine provided by the moon. However, he is a trusted member of that community and is sent to the Earth to assess whether it is safe enough for all of the group to move back to earth.

Carder soon finds trouble and he makes a promise to a dying old man to find his daughter and warn her that her peaceful existence is about to be shattered. Carder eventually finds the daughter but is unable to stop her father’s warning from coming true.

I enjoyed Outsiders very much, it is a gripping thriller.

Val Penny


From English Language to Zany Fiction by guest author Geoff Parkes

I am thrilled to have my fellow writer and friend from Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, Geoff Parkes, joining me on my blog today to share his writing journey. Thank you, Geoff.

My writing journey began by accident 30 years ago. I was lying in hospital after an operation on my vocal cords, unable to speak. It was scarier than the time I got cragbound at dusk in the Lake District. My career as a language teacher seemed over. How on earth could I earn a living? Only by writing. Paper, pens and books were brought to the hospital, and I began research into a specialised language topic that fascinated me.

My voice returned two months later, and my teaching career resumed, but by then I had done so much research that it would have been silly not to publish. Thus began a long-standing second career in writing and publishing EFL – English as a Foreign Language.


Soon after my first book was self-published, I had a phone call from National Textbook Company in Chicago. My co-author and I were commissioned to write a dictionary for Americans learning German. Hooray! We were now “real” authors, not just self-published. The only problem was that NTC paid us a measly 3.5% royalty each. They earned a tidy sum from that book whilst we made around £250 each – scarcely a fair reward for two years’ hard labour. I went back to self-publishing.

My niche publishing company, Englang Books, has enjoyed success I never dreamed of. Over the years, counting all titles, I’ve sold more than 60,000 books. I’ll list the keys to success in my talk on Niche Publishing at Swanwick Writers’ Conference this August. For now, it’s enough to note that I learned a lot about the trade from other publishers, including how to deal with unsolicited manuscripts.

Englang Books has published 14 titles, half of which I wrote or co-wrote. For the remaining half, representing work by 12 other people, I was editor. It is extraordinary how many authors lack the ability or self-discipline to self-edit. There is nothing worse for an editor than to have to spend days cutting material that should have been cut by the author. Verbosity is a sin: don’t use twelve words if four will do. Of all the unsolicited manuscripts I received, I published only one. Many contained good ideas, and I sent back encouraging remarks, but I could not face days on end of knocking sloppy work into shape. People unable to edit their work efficiently need to find someone who can. It’s a must.

I came to fiction late – 2013 – and I love it. From the outset, I made a point of learning the craft as best I could, as it’s a very different skill from writing EFL. Attending numerous courses and joining writing groups have helped enormously, and I’ve been lucky enough to win several prizes. Getting feedback from other competent writers is essential; without it you don’t improve.Val2.JPG

In short stories, I seek out the quirky, the amusing, the disturbing. At the end, I try to zonk you between the eyes. In my novels, Whale Soup and Nothing Ever Happens in Clacton, locations play as big a part as character and plot. I’ll whisk you from London to Hawaii via Cornwall, from Manchester to San Francisco via the Isle of Wight, and I’ll make sure you smell the sea air or feel the menace on city streets. I want to make people laugh and cry and think. I want my fiction to zing and fly and buzz, and I want my readers to do the same.

Geoff Parkes is an ex-University Lecturer in English Language. He divides his time between running a publishing business, writing fiction, public speaking, and travelling – especially to Cuba, New Zealand, and the Canary Islands.



Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham

I very much enjoy Mark Billingham novels. It is no surprise to me his series of novels featuring D.I. Tom Thorne has twice won him the Crime Novel Of The Year Award as well as the Sherlock Award for Best British Detective and been nominated for seven CWA Daggers. His debut novel, Sleepyhead was chosen by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 books that had shaped the decade. Each of his novels has been a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller. It is reviewed here:

mark billingham

A television series based on the Thorne novels was screened in Autumn 2010, starring David Morrissey as Tom Thorne and series based on the standalone thrillers In the Dark and Rush of Blood are currently in development with the BBC.Love Like Blood

In Love like Blood, his fourteenth novel with his character Tom Thorne, Billingham tackles the difficult subject of honour killings. Here Thorne pairs up with perfectionist detective inspector Nicola Tanner of Die of Shame on an investigation that ventures into politically sensitive territory. Die of Shame is reviewed here:

Die of Shame

Tanner needs Tom Thorne’s help because her partner, Susan, has been brutally murdered but Tanner is convinced that she, personally, was the real target. The murderer’s motive might have something to do with Tanner’s recent work on a string of cold-case honour killings she believes to be related.thorne-1

Although Tanner is now on compassionate leave, she insists on pursuing the case off the books and knows Thorne is just the man to jump into the fire with her. He agrees but quickly finds that working in such controversial territory is dangerous in more ways than one. Then a young couple goes missing and Thorne and Tanner a chance to investigate a case that is anything but cold.

This is an excellent and finely written book. Love Like Blood is tense, exciting and provocative. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy crime thrillers.

Val Penny

If You Love Me, I’m Yours… by Lizzie Chantree

I am thrilled to be able to share news about the new book by my friend and fellow author, Lizzie Chantree. If You Love, Me I’m Yours… is Lizzie’s second novel. Her first, Ninja School Mum, is excellent and is reviewed on this site here:

If You Love Me, I’m Yours… is equally exciting and must qualify as having one of the prettiest book covers of the year, too. The book is published by Crooked Cat Books and is available to purchase from Amazon now.

The story of If You Love Me, I’m Yours… tells of the interwoven lives of Maud, Dot and Nate.Lizzie's book

Maud didn’t mind being boring, not really. She had a sensible job, clothes, and love life… if you counted an overbearing ex who had thanked her, rolled over and was snoring before she even realised he’d begun! She could tolerate not fulfilling her dreams, if her parents would pay her one compliment about the only thing she was passionate about in life: her art.

Dot should have fit in with her flamboyant and slightly eccentric family of talented artists, but somehow, she was an anomaly who couldn’t paint. She tried hard to be part of their world by becoming an art agent extraordinaire, but she dreamed of finding her own voice. 

Dot’s brother Nate, a smoulderingly sexy and famous artist, was adored by everyone. His creative talent left them in awe of his ability to capture such passion on canvas. Women worshipped him, and even Dot’s friend Maud flushed and bumped into things when he walked into a room, but a tragic event in his past had left him emotionally and physically scarred, and reluctant to face the world again.

Someone was leaving exquisite little paintings on park benches, with a tag saying, ‘If you love me, I’m yours’. The art was so fresh and cutting-edge, that it generated a media frenzy and a scramble to discover where the mystery artist could be hiding. The revelation of who the prodigious artist was interlinked Maud, Dot and Nate’s lives forever, but their worlds came crashing down. 

Were bonds of friendship, love and loyalty strong enough to withstand fame, success and scandal?

Lizzie Chantree. Author photo small

Author Bio:

 Award-winning inventor and author, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 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. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @Lizzie_Chantree






Universal book buy link:

A Life in Fairy Tales by guest author Elizabeth Hopkinson

I am delighted to have a fellow Swanwicker visit my blog today. Elizabeth Hopkinson takes time today to tell us about her life long love of fairy tales. elizabeth Hopkinson 2

When I was a child, my grandparents bought me a 4-record album of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. I listened to it over and over again. I particularly remember listening to it during my frequent childhood illnesses, as I wasn’t allowed to watch TV when I was ill. Along with the ubiquitous Ladybird books common to many British children at the time, this laid the foundation for a lifelong love of fairy tales. It came to its blossoming at university, when I became aware that there was such a thing as the academic study of fairy tales, and I had my eyes opened to the immense range of tales though time and space, and to their cousins: myth, legend and medieval romance.

I can’t claim to be anything but an amateur fairy tale scholar, but in my professional life as a writer I have written and published many fairy tales, both retellings/re-imaginings and original fairy tales. This year I was lucky enough to win the Fairytalez Best Gender Swap Fairy Tale contest, with my story “Ash, or the Gowns from a Tree”.elizabeth hopkinson 3

For those who don’t know, Fairytalez is a wonderful, free resource of traditional and literary fairy tales from around the world, which also publishes original tales by its reading community.

I have also been blessed to have had stories in the last three years’ editions of The Forgotten & the Fantastical, an annual anthology of grown-up fairy tales, edited by Teika Bellamy of Mother’s Milk Books. This May saw the launch of volume 4, with a delightful launch party at Nottingham Writers’ Studio. It was great to meet my fellow contributors and hear them read extracts from their work – and of course to sign and sell books!

And this year’s fairy tale journey continues at Swanwick Writer’s Summer School, when I will be giving a talk on the current fairy tale “scene”. So much is happening now, from YouTube channels and podcasts dedicated to fairy tale, to the success of Twitter’s Folklore Thursday, to the ongoing debate about girls and women in fairy tales. I have a lot to pack into one hour!

If you’d like to know more about me and my tales, please visit my website:, where there are links to all my social media. You may be particularly interested in my novel Silver Hands, inspired by fairy tale “The Handless Maiden” and set in the Golden Age of Sail, and in my short story collection “Tales from the Hidden Grove”. Both can be accessed from this page:

Death Wish by Linda Huber

I have enjoyed each book I have read by Linda Huber and when I treated myself to Death Wish, I was looking forward to it. I was not disappointed! It is an excellent pyschological thriller. Death Wish

The story revolves around two neighbouring households, each has their own issues. Their problems become increasingly interwoven througout the book until the shocking conclusion is revealed.

I make a point of not revealing spoilers in my reviews. Death Wish revolve ab=round two families. The first household comprises of Stu, Martine and their daughter Joda. Their family life is thrown into turmoil when Martine’s mother, Vee, who is suffering from Huntington’s Disease, comes to live with them. Vee wants to die with dignity. Huntington’s is a hereditary disease and Martine struggles with the thought that she may have the disease and could have passed it on the Joda.

The young couple who move in next door, Ashley and Leo find their relationship strained when Leo agrees to Ashley’s mother can move into the annex of their house, without fully understanding the depth of the issues between mother and daughter.

Death Wish is a gripping novel, published by Bloodhound Books. it would make an excellent book group read and, for those who enjoy books by Sophie Hannah, Betsy Reavley and Erin Kelly, I highly recommend it.

Linda HuberLinda Huber grew  up in Glasgow, Scotland, but went to work in Switzerland for a year aged twenty-two, and has lived there ever since. Her day jobs have included working as a physiotherapist in hospitals and schools for handicapped children, and teaching English in a medieval castle. Not to mention several years spent as a full-time mum to two boys, a rescue dog, and a large collection of goldfish and guinea pigs. Linda now lives in Switzerland, in a little town on the banks of beautiful Lake Constance.

Val Penny

My Writing and Me by guest author Tim Chant

Today, I am delighted that my friend and fellow author, Tim Chant, has made time to visit the blog and discuss his writing. It is an interesting journey. Thank you for taking time to stop by today, Tim. Now, over to you.

Starting a blog entry, it turns out, can be harder than starting a new novel! Normally, getting started isn’t a problem for me – the problem comes with having so many ideas rattling around and started but not having time to finish them.

I’ve got a few finished pieces under my belt, under the name T Q Chant. Science fiction is my usual genre, both for reading and writing, and I’ve self-published four novellas (the Sam Cane Trilogy and the first book of the ‘Cane’s Laws’ series that follows on). I went straight to self-publishing with these. I’ve been writing for a while, and really wanted to get something out there to see what would happen. Self-publishing has been an interesting experience – it’s a lot harder work than I first thought, between getting the formatting right and sorting out the cover, not to mention the marketing. I’ve found it rewarding, though – particularly when I get the occasional review.

Tim Chant

The next step has been getting a contract with Unbound, a sort of hybrid between crowdfunding and traditional publishing – I’m working on achieving the funding target for the book to be published. I’m very excited about this project. ‘The Frost Fair’ is a sort-of-steampunk novel set in an alternate timeline ( in which technology has evolved to the point where skyships are plying the skies over a world dominated by the Habsburg Empire in the 18th century. I’ve always liked steampunk (I have a think for airships) but feel that it can sometimes focus too much on the upper echelons of a society. I’ve gone the other way with this – it’s dark and gritty, filled with complex characters, and focuses on the clash of superstition and science.

One of my favourite things about reading, writing and roleplaying is the world building that goes into any setting – not just to make the story work, but as an exercise in its own right. I quite often find it slightly disappointing when I come across some little nugget in the backstory of something I’m reading or a game I’m playing in, but it’s set dressing and doesn’t get expanded on or used further. Similarly, I’ve always been interested in how events in a story will affect the world that comes after. Possibly because of my interest in history, I want to know how a fictional world came to be and what happens after the ‘happily ever after’. That’s why all of my science fiction is set in the same universe, quite often just at different points in the timeline. ‘The Frost Fair’ is also part of this timeline, and I’m looking forward to developing the events from my alternate 18th Century further and seeing how they’ll influence the societies and worlds of the future I’ve imagined.


I’m also working on some straight historical fiction (as T J Chant – it’s good to have spare initials!) – that’s a whole other ballgame and a discussion for another time…

About T Q Chant

Tim Chant grew up (mostly), went to school in East Anglia and university in Scotland. He took his History degree and did the only thing he could with it – joined the civil service. When not shackled to his desk he writes science fiction, alternative historical fiction, historical fiction and any other fiction that takes his fancy. When not doing that, he’s an inveterate roleplayer and wargamer (and getting back into historical fencing). He lives in Edinburgh with his partner and their two rabbits.


Follow me on Twitter for the occasional update, ramblings about my other interests and publication news:

I also have a Patreon page, where I share samples of works in progress and am publishing The Contact War, set a couple of centuries before Sam Cane’s adventures, in serial form:

When the Music’s Over by Peter Robinson

When the Music's OverIt had been far too long since I had read a Peter Robinson novel so I treated myself to the 23rd DCI Banks novel, When the Music’s Over. It is marvellous.

In When the Music’s Over Alan Banks has been promoted to Superintendent and is senior investigating officer in two important cases. The first is a historical sex crimes case that comes to light after the victim finds courage after the Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris cases amongst others. I found it interesting that there was reference to the real historic cases throughout the book.

The victim, Laura, a celebrated poet, was raped whenshe was fourteen years old by a famous entertainer, Danny Caxton and another man. Banks and Winsome Jackson work tirelessly to unravel what happened and who was involved over fifty years ago during that attack.

Meanwhile, Cabbot and Masterton investigate a day of present day grooming when the corpse of a fourteen year old girl is found. The girl was naked and has been raped, beaten and stamped on and left dead on a country road.

There are the usual twists and turns the reader has come to expect from Peter Robinson and the reflection of the historic case in the modern one is beautifully crafted. Needless to say, the end is not predictable.

When the Music’s Over is a fine crime thriller: an excellent police procedural. It would be a great read for a book group as well as for anybody who enjoys the crime thriller genre. I highly recommend it.Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson was born in Yorkshire. After getting his BA Honours Degree in English Literature at the University of Leeds, he came to Canada and took his MA in English and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor, with Joyce Carol Oates as his tutor, then a PhD in English at York University. He has taught at a number of Toronto community colleges and universities and served as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Windsor, 1992-93.

Val Penny

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

Ian RankinIt is many years since I was first introduced to John Rebus, the detective created by Ian Rankin in his novels set in Edinburgh. It was just as long since I had first read Knots and Crosses the first of the series. It recently came up my back to read it again and, like all good fiction, it has stood the test of time.


In Knots and Crosses, Rebus is confronted by the brutal abduction and murder of two Knots and Crossesyoung girls. He then hits John Rebus particularly hard as his own young daughter has been spirited away south by his estranged wife.

Rebus, heavy smoking and drinking too much, is one of many policemen hunting the killer. However, when messages begin to arrive: knotted string and matchstick crosses these taunt Rebus and he becomes aware that this is a puzzle only he can solve.

It is a tautly written thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you enjoy this genre, I recommend Knots and Crosses.

Val Penny