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Wednesday, 25 June 2014



A few spaces are still available for the 2014 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s hotly anticipated creative writing workshop, Creative Thursday.

Aspiring authors will have the rare chance to pitch their works to some of crime fiction’s most influential names in publishing. ‘Dragons’ Pen’ is the culmination of the day-long creative writing workshop as part of Europe’s biggest celebration of crime fiction, the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

The workshop offers the opportunity to pitch concepts to two powerhouse literary agents, Jane Gregory of Gregory and Company and Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group, and two highly esteemed publishing professionals, crime editor at Faber & Faber, Katherine Armstrong, and Publisher for Transworld Publishers, Bill Scott-Kerr.

The literary version of the popular TV show, the Dragons’ Den, is not for the faint-hearted. Attendees have two minutes to convince the panel their synopsis and first chapter are worth reading. Places to pitch to the Dragons are limited; participants need to register their interest when booking to be in with a chance to pitch.

Gemma Rowland, Literature Festivals Manager, said: “Everyone thinks they can write crime, it can be formulaic and it can be popular, but in fact to write crime well is a rare skill, which is why our Creative Thursday workshop is in such demand. It’s taught by authors and publishing professionals at the top of their game - so gives a valuable and rare insight into how to write successful crime fiction.”

Creative Thursday precedes the prestigious Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award hosted by broadcaster Mark Lawson and the official opening party for Europe’s biggest celebration of crime fiction.

Up to 80 authors gather from around the world at the annual celebration of the crime genre. This year’s Special Guests include JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith, Ann Cleeves, John Harvey, Sophie Hannah, Lynda La Plante, Laura Lippman, Belinda Bauer, Peter May, Val McDermid, Denise Mina, and S.J. Watson.

Attendees will be welcomed by the 2014 programming chair, Steve Mosby, before workshops begin with Guardian/ UEA Masterclass tutor and award-winning crime novelist, Laura Wilson. Her intensive writing workshop, ‘How to Create a Murder’ will outline how to create memorable, psychologically complex villains with plausible motives.

Bestselling novelist and Arvon creative writing tutor Melanie McGrath will focus on exercises to come up with original story scenarios, developing believable characters and classic story structure in ‘Getting Started’.  And leading detective trainer, Ian Sales, will give insight into police procedures to add edgy realism to your writing in his interactive session: Modern Day Detective.

Price – £109 per person.
For more information or to book your place contact the festival office on 01423 562 303 or email

‘About the Children’ by Carol Westron

Published by Pentangle Press,
April 2014.
ISBN:  978-1-4952-32107-7

The discovery of two boys shot dead, both under the age of twelve in a quiet suburban park is a gruelling find. Assigned to the case is Superintendent Tyler head of Saltern's Serious Crimes Team, and with his regular second-in-command on sick leave his new DI is Gill Martin.  There are however five victims, three dead; a woman and the two children, and two wounded, a man and a young woman. As the SOCO team proceed to sift the evidence it becomes a possibility that there were three children present at the time of the attack, and if so where is the third child?

Whilst his team try to establish the train of events, such as who was shot first, Tyler, Gill Martin and his Sergeant Kerry Buller visit the parents. Jasmin and Ian Quantrull confirm that their youngest child Charlie has gone to the park with his two brothers.

As Tyler and his team investigate the lives of the five victims, trying to establish a motive, the questions abound  Were these random killings?  Who were the intended victims?   But the overriding urgency is ‘Where is Charlie’

As complicated as is his job so to is Tyler. An avid reader Tyler has a habit of finding passages from books leaping into his mind as he goes about his job.  Something that helps him make sense of the ugliness he so regularly encounters, but which he keeps locked away from his colleagues.  It will be interesting to learn more of Tyler.

Complex and compelling this is a fascinating mystery  and even as the layers of the lives of both victims and family members are stripped away, as the investigation progresses you will still be eagerly turning the pages to see whodunit.  A marvelous second book, I look forward to the next. Most highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013

‘A Lovely Way to Burn’ by Louise Welsh

Published by John Murray,
20 March 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-84854-651-6 (Hardback) 978-1-84854-661-5 (Trade paperback)

Louise Welsh has been an established crime writer for a number of years, and according to one of her review quotes, she ‘straddles the shadowy borderline between crime and literary fiction’.  If that is intentional on her part, with A Lovely Way to Burn she has settled firmly on the dark side; if not exactly crime, it’s quite definitely a thriller. It’s action-packed from the very first page, and the pace and tension level never let up.

The body count is phenomenal, though that’s mainly down to the deadly virus rampaging through every city in the world. A pandemic of holocaust proportions ensures that the emergency services have their hands full: an ideal situation for a murder clearly meant to look like natural causes.

As Stevie Flint, former investigative journalist turned TV shopping channel presenter, ploughs determinedly through a devastated London in search of the truth about her surgeon boyfriend’s death, Welsh builds an all too vivid picture of a city –  a world, even – flung into nightmare chaos by something beyond human control. Hospitals are littered with bodies and overrun by rats. Quiet suburban streets have become ghettos guarded by residents made aggressive by fear. Once gridlocked major roads are deserted. And the army have been drafted in to transport lorryloads of corpses to goodness knows where.

And through it all the author threads a plot which plants doubt in the reader’s mind about exactly how safe it is to trust the medical profession.

Multiple characters pass through, mainly on their way to a harrowing death by incurable virus. It’s a pity they have to die, because Welsh knows how to make them live on the page, whether they engage the reader’s sympathy or make us want to punch them. By the end, of the people who start out, only Stevie is left, immune to the virus, alone in a world that will never be the same.
And A Lovely Way to Burn is the first in a trilogy.

It’s an unputdownable thriller by an author at the top of her game. ‘Literary’ fiction can so often mean wordy, even pretentious; on this showing, Louise Welsh’s work is a long way from either of those things. Her writing zips along; her imagination creates a world that fascinates as it appals; her protagonist is sparky, strong and makes you want to root for her. I can hardly wait for the next instalment.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Louise Welsh was born in London on 1 February 1965. She studied History at Glasgow University and traded in second-hand books for several years before publishing her first novel. She is based in Glasgow, Scotland.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘The Collector’ by Nora Roberts

Published by Piatkus,
15th April 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-7499-5930

Lila Emerson is a professional house-sitter. I added in the word ‘professional’ as Lily has no actual residence, she neither owns, or rents a property.  For the purposes of having a permanent residence she gives her friend Julie’s address. She greatly enjoys the wonderful sophisticated penthouses in which she house sits.   Her diary is full. She moves from one residence to another. This gives her tine to write – yes Lila is a writer of young adult novels with a heroine who is a werewolf.

Settling into yet another sumptuous residence in New York, Lila indulges in her other pastime, using her binoculars to spy on the people she can see from her vantage point in the block in which she is now residence.  And yes I know that you are thinking it – Rear Window. As in the film Lila becomes involved in the lives of the people that she watches. And then she too is witness to a murder, but had no sight of the murderer, just an arm.

Although Lila reports what she has seen immediately to the police,  it does not initially seem like a murder – maybe an accident and a suicide.  But despite being unable to give any identification of the killer, Lila knows what she has seen.

Giving a statement to the police she is accosted by Ashton Archer who says that he was related to the victim, can she tell him what she saw. Ashton is an artist, but can Lila trust him.

I am aware of the prodigious writing of Nora Roberts, writing also as JD Roberts, and I will be honest and say that I usually pass them on to other reviewers feeling that they will be formulaic. But I started reading this one and I could not put it down.  I was drawn in by the characters and the complexity of the plot.  I should have realised that someone turning out so many best sellers could be no slouch. This is a great read. Marvelous characters, and a great plot, and some romance.  Definitely not to be missed.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Nora Roberts was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, the youngest of five children. After a school career that included some time in Catholic school and the discipline of nuns, she married young and settled in Keedysville, Maryland. She worked briefly as a legal secretary. "I could type fast but couldn’t spell, I was the worst legal secretary ever," she says now. After her sons were born she stayed home and tried every craft that came along. A blizzard in February 1979 forced her hand to try another creative outlet. She was snowed in with a three and six year old with no kindergarten respite in sight and a dwindling supply of chocolate.  Born into a family of readers, Nora had never known a time that she wasn’t reading or making up stories. During the now-famous blizzard, she pulled out a pencil and notebook and began to write down one of those stories. It was there that a career was born. Several manuscripts and rejections later, her first book, Irish Thoroughbred, was published by Silhouette in 1981. Nora met her second husband, Bruce Wilder, when she hired him to build bookshelves. They were married in July 1985. Since that time, they’ve expanded their home, travelled the world and opened a bookstore together. She is author of more than 209 romance novels. She writes as J.D. Robb for the "In Death" series, and has also written under the pseudonym Jill March.

Friday, 20 June 2014

‘Classic in the Pits’ by Amy Myers

Published by Severn House,
December 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8355-1

Jack Colby runs a repair business for classic cars from his home in Kent and he is also employed by the police when they need an expert regarding classic car crime. Jack is helping to investigate the theft of the Porsche belonging to Mike Nelson, once a motor racing icon and now manager of Old Herne's aviation and car club, situated at a disused Second World War Air Base. Jack always attends Swoosh, the annual celebration of veteran aircraft and cars, but this year he is determined to use the event to probe the mystery of the missing car. He is dismayed to hear that Old Herne's is due to close and this will be the last Swoosh. Under Mike's management Old Herne's has sunk deeply into debt and its owner, Arthur Howell, an American billionaire and former fighter pilot, is no longer willing to finance Old Herne's, despite his affection for the base where he crash-landed in the Second World War and his enduring love for Mike's late mother, Miranda Pryde, a popular wartime singer.

At Swoosh, the rivalry and mutual dislike between the Nelson and Howell families hampers Jack's attempts to discover any clues about the stolen Porsche. During a tribute act to Miranda by her grandson, Jason Pryde, a brutal murder takes place. Despite his protests that he is not a Private Investigator, Jack is employed to discover the truth behind this death and soon finds himself treading on very dangerous ground and in danger of falling foul of a vicious, local crime boss.

Classic in the Pits is, at its heart, the story of two very dysfunctional families and their complex, torturous relationship. The relationships are so complex that I wished Jack Colby had written himself a list or family tree, which would have helped to establish the different generations and their relationship to each other. However, certain characters did stand out above the crowd from the moment they appeared and these characters engaged the reader's interest; most notably the enigmatic singer, Jason Pryde. The details of the cars are beautifully interwoven into the narrative and described with such loving detail it seems as though they are active players in the investigation, each with their individual character.

Classic in the Pits is the fifth in the series featuring Jack Colby, Car Detective, and the series characters are well established and have warm and lively interactions. It is an engaging story, with an interesting plot and dramatic conclusion.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Amy Myers worked as a director in a London publishing firm, before realising her dream to become a writer. Her first series featured detective, August Didier, a half French, half English master chef in late Victorian and Edwardian times. She is currently writing a series with her American husband James Myers, featuring Jack Colby, car detective.  Classic in the Pits, is the fifth in the series, its successor, Classic Cashes In, will follow later this year.  Amy also writes historical novels and suspense under the name Harriet Hudson.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013

Thursday, 19 June 2014

‘Every Second Lost’ by Dylan Lawson

Published by Headline,
5 December 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7573-7883-8

Days after summoning up the courage to ask the girl of his teenage dreams to the school dance, Elias Hawks' life as he knows it is over. After picking up his date, they are involved in a serious car accident and Elias suffers a brain injury that may become fatal at any moment, without warning. He throws himself into his career as - ironically - an accident investigator.

Eighteen years later, the girl in the car with him on that fateful day gets in touch: she needs his help.

Her teenage daughter is missing and Tracey hopes that Elias can help her find Charlotte. Against his better judgment he agrees. As his investigation uncovers a background of drugs, spousal abuse, violent pornography and murder, Elias is threatened and attacked. When his home is broken into, but nothing is taken, he begins to wonder what he has got involved with, and whether someone is setting him up to take the blame for crimes he didn't commit.

This is a gripping mystery with many twists and turns - some that bring joy to the characters and the reader alike, while others fill us both with dread. In either case, they are well thought out and cleverly crafted into the overall narrative, which is both tragic and victorious, gloomy and optimistic. While some of the generalisations about teenagers were quite cringe-y, the protagonists were rounded characters with vulnerabilities and sensitivities. I found this book un-put-down-able and really wanted a happy ending. What I actually found at the conclusion of the book was even more beautiful than I imagined.
Reviewer: Joanna Leigh

Dylan Lawson is the pseudonym of an Edgar award nominated author. He lives and writes in the Blackfoot Valley of Montana.

Joanna Leigh studied French and German at university. She works in the aerospace industry and is a chartered marketer in the UK. She describes herself as a voracious reader, enjoying genres as varied as crime thrillers, historical fiction and autobiographies. Joanna lives in London. She is the daughter of crime thriller writer Leigh Russell.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

‘The Judas Scar’ by Amanda Jennings

Published by Cutting Edge press,
1 May 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-9081-2271-1

Still reeling from the miscarriage of the baby she and her husband Will agreed they'd never have, Harmony is feeling vulnerable and confused. Her maternal instincts awoken, she is distraught when her husband reaffirms his lack of desire for a child. When she meets a handsome stranger at a party, she is flattered by his attentions.

He is later recognised by her husband as Luke, his best friend from school. Despite Harmony's questions, Will is, typically, reluctant to share any stories from his and Luke's childhood together. When Harmony wants to know more about Will's secrets, she gets more than she bargained for and inadvertently sets Will and Luke on a devastating path for vengeance.

Unusually for most of the books I review, no murders are committed for a significant portion of the book; this is not a pacy, action-packed thriller. Yet, in its own low-key, considered way, I still found it un-put-down-able. Rather than a standard murder mystery, this was an in-depth character analysis of the protagonists, exploring their lives, influences, motivations and choices. While the reader may not agree with all of their decisions - arguably no one comes out of this without blame - the time the author spent garnering the reader's sympathy upfront pays off as the denouement is reminiscent, ultimately, more of a Greek tragedy than of a modern day police procedural. As far removed from the carefree, all American heroic tales of Lee Child as it is possible to throw a book, this is a thoughtful, tragic and magical novel that, dare I say, has created a genre all of its own.
Reviewer: Joanna Leigh

Amanda Jennings was born in London in 1973, and her family moved to a village in rural Berkshire when she was young. Unsure what career she wanted to pursue, she decided to follow in her architect mother’s footsteps and accepted a place to read architecture at Cambridge University, but it soon became clear it wasn’t for her and she changed course to History of Art – more writing, less physics! After university, she and a friend set up a company writing copy for small businesses, which paid just enough for rent and wine, but not quite enough for food. As fun as it was, a rethink was required when she fell pregnant. A few years later Amanda went to work at the BBC, but she missed looking after her daughter, and could no longer ignore her yearning to write. When she became pregnant with her second child, and encouraged by the success of a shortlisted sitcom script in a BBC writing competition, she took the opportunity to be at home with the children, grabbing every spare moment she could find to write. Sworn Secret, her first novel was published in the UK in August 2012 and in the US in February 2014. Her second book, The Judas Scar, will be published in May 2014. Amanda lives just outside Henley-on-Thames with her husband, three daughters and a varied menagerie. She is writing her third book and is a regular guest on BBC Berkshire’s Culture Club. In a parallel fantasy life she is an ex-downhill skier, turned Blue Peter presenter, turned battery chicken liberator.

Joanna Leigh studied French and German at university. She works in the aerospace industry and is a chartered marketer in the UK. She describes herself as a voracious reader, enjoying genres as varied as crime thrillers, historical fiction and autobiographies. Joanna lives in London. She is the daughter of crime thriller writer Leigh Russell.

‘The Darkening Hour’ by Penny Hancock

Published by Simon & Schuster,
July 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-47111-124-2

What is harder for a writer than producing a debut novel which dances and sparkles its way into a publisher’s consciousness, and thence on to readers’ bookshelves via a string of enthusiastic reviews? The debut is hard enough – but a lot of authors would say writing a second novel which achieves the same level of success is even more difficult. Penny Hancock’s creepy debut Tideline won a lot of plaudits. The question was, could she do it again? She not only could; she has. In The Darkening Hour she tackles totally different themes, explores a whole new set of issues via completely disparate characters, makes an important political point without seeming to preach – and if possible, held me even more firmly gripped than the first time, by the tension and creeping menace with which she imbues a middle-class household which on the surface appears quite normal.  

The narrative alternates between radio presenter Theodora, juggling a demanding and insecure job, an indolent son and a geriatric father, and Mona, the woman from a desperately poor north African background whom she employs to care for her father and help in the house.

Secrets and agendas abound, and the relationship between the two women becomes increasingly fraught as Theodora’s demands multiply and Mona begins to learn her secrets and exact small, subtle forms of revenge.

First-person narration from both protagonists helps Hancock to get under their skins and inside their heads, and despite the frequent switches from one to the other there’s never a moment’s confusion about who is telling the story. Supporting and minor characters, too, have a clarity and roundedness which many novelists with a far longer track record struggle to achieve.

Hancock’s sense of place and talent for creating a living, breathing backcloth to the story plays a key role, and as in Tideline, the river Thames contributes to the rich, evocative atmosphere and has its own part to play.

As Theodora’s past is revealed and her true colours emerge, the tension level rises until an explosive climax about eighty pages from the end comes almost as a relief. But even then it’s not over. The ending of her story (though not entirely the end of this highly accomplished novel) is about as chilling as it gets. If Penny Hancock continues to produce novels of this quality, she will soon corner the market in disturbed middle-class women. On this showing, she’s already halfway there.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Penny Hancock. Afterr several years in London, Penny Hancock now lives in Cambridge with her husband and three children. She is a part-time primary school teacher at a speech and language school and has traveled extensively as a language teacher. Tideline is her first novel.

 Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘The Bird That Did Not Sing’ by Alex Gray

Published by Sphere,
13 March 2014. 
ISBN: 978-1-84744-567-4

An explosion in the countryside near Glasgow draws Detective Superintendent William Lorimer into contact with MI6 over a threat to the Commonwealth Games, due to take place in 2014.  But he has other worries: the behaviour of his beautiful, red-haired teenage-sweetheart whose husband has died on his watch, and the death of a young black woman marked with a strange Celtic tattoo ...

This novel opens with a lyrical description of the Scottish countryside in spring, and, in keeping with the book’s title, Gray plays with the idea of birds throughout.  DS Lorimer and his wife Maggie have worked their way through difficulties to being people you enjoy spending time with: a restful older couple, each dedicated to work – I enjoyed the glimpes of Maggie’s classroom world.  Because his involvement with the case of the dead husband means Lorimer can’t be in charge, you see more of his emotional side, as well as the reactions of Maggie, to the cuckoo in their nest.  The fear and bewilderment of Asa, the African girl kidnapped from her village, draws you into her story too, and you’re kept wondering how she’s going to mesh into the plot overall.  Among the police, we follow both DI Wilson and his new recruit daughter Kirsty investigating the murders, while Lorimer himself focuses on the terrorist threat.  The plot moves quickly between strands, the Glasgow setting is a real presence in the book, and the euphoria and pride in the crucial Commonwealth Games plausibly evoked – it must have felt strange writing a book set just in the future in this way!  However the expected influx of visitors links the city to the wider world in an unexpected and sinister way ... Although this is well through the Lorimer series, it reads as a stand-alone, and wouldn’t spoil earlier books, so the reader can enjoy it, then go back.

A keep-you-reading police procedural with strong emotional involvement in the characters.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Alex Gray born 27 May 1950, Glasgow, is a Scottish crime writer. She was brought up in the Craigbank area of Glasgow and attended Hutchesons' Grammar School. She studied English and Philosophy at Strathclyde University and worked for a period in the  Department of Heaklth & Social Security before training as an English teacher. In 1976 she lived in Rhodesia for three months, during which time she got married, and she and her husband returned to Scotland. She continued teaching until the 1990s, when she gave the profession up and began to write full-time. Alex is a member of the Femmes Fatales crime writing trio, together with Alanna Knight and Lin Anderson .She has published six novels, all set around Glasgow and featuring the character of Detective Chief Inspector Lorimer and his psychological profiler Solomon Brightman, the earlier novels being published by Canongate and later books by Little Brown. She has also written several magazine articles.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

‘The Green Remains’ by M K Graff

 Published by Bridle Path Press, 2012.
ISBN: 978-0-9852331-0-5

I’m sure British authors who set their work in the USA make minor boo-boos which make their American readers smile; the same is certainly the case the other way round. I found myself smiling more than once as I read The Green Remains, and encountered slang and regional speech which was very nearly but not quite right, and slightly out of date aspects of life this side of the pond, like pound notes and British Rail.

But it’s a measure of a good crime writer that the smiles are not all about the bloopers. Little details like this fade into the background very quickly when there are well-drawn characters, a warm-hearted and well-observed picture of an area, and a plot that keeps you guessing but still comes to a logical conclusion.

M K Graff knows the Lake District; of that there is no doubt. I felt I knew my way around the small town of Bowness even though I’ve never been there. Her engaging cast of characters, too, left me feeling I’d made new friends – though as is the way of crime fiction, there were one or two I’d rather avoid on a dark night!

The plot proved to be nicely complex, with enough forensic detail but not too much gore; the denouement was dramatic without resorting to guns and car chases; and between hotel-keeping, furniture restoration, art, cookery, even a broken engagement, there’s plenty else going on as well, to maintain a reader’s interest.

Briefly: Nora Tierney, eight months pregnant and about to see her first children’s book in print, is staying with her friend and illustrator Simon Ramsey and his sister Kate in their pretty country house hotel on the shore of Lake Windermere. She discovers the murdered body of the son and heir of a notable local family by the lakeside, and when suspicion falls on Simon, sets about proving his innocence by finding the killer herself.

Local bad boys, incomers with an agenda, secrets from the past and conflict in the present all have a part to play, and eventually it’s Nora who is first to work out the truth, putting herself and her unborn baby in danger.

There are plenty of tense moments and a lot of sparky dialogue, and it all adds up to a fine example of the ‘cosy’ sub-genre. 
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

M K Graff is the award-winning author of the Nora Tierney series. Her first novel, The blue Virgin, won First Place for British Cozy in the Mystery and Mayhem Awards from Chanticleer Media.  Set in the UK, Graff's series follows an American children's book writer as she manages to involve herself in police investigations. The blue Virgin, is set in Oxford, that hallowed mix of town and gown; The Green Remains takes Nora to England's glorious Lake District. Readers will be pleased to know Graff is working on Book 3 in the series, The Scarlet Wench. A native New Yorker now living in rural North Carolina, Graff is the author of essays, interviews, poetry, screenplays, as well as a second mystery series set in Manhattan.  Graff also writes a weekly crime book review blog at

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Nicola Soloman

Leigh Russell talks to Nicola Soloman

Nicola Solomon is General Secretary of the Society of Authors.
Her role includes protecting authors' interests in negotiations/disputes with publishers and agents, advising on tax, privacy etc.
Campaigning for authors’ rights, including copyright, e-book rights, Public Lending Right, defamation reforms and freedom of speech.
Liaison with the Management Committee and Council on setting and implementing
policy and managing finance.

Leigh: You work tirelessly to support authors. What drew you to this career path?
Nicola: I am an avid reader and feel passionately about the importance of reading for information and pleasure. I had been an intellectual property solicitor for 26 years and was excited at the chance to use my skills and legal knowledge to support individuals and to further such an important cause. It is also exciting to get to meet all my heroes!

Leigh: Should authors build an online presence, or is merely it a distraction from writing? 
Nicola: Developing an online presence can be a useful marketing tool, but isn’t the work itself, so authors need to get the balance right and resist the tendency to play with the website at the expense of actual writing.

Mere self-promotion is never very appealing, but writing material that you suspect your readers will want to find out about can be satisfying and even whet appetites for the next book... A good website should offer something to interested readers than they cannot find elsewhere, so consider including thoughts on previous books, or ideas about the craft of writing in your genre, and a list of forthcoming speaking engagements. 

A good website can be an excellent shop-window for your work and – if you get it noticed – can lead to contracts as well as commissions for magazines or journals.

Leigh: What advice would you offer to authors, both new and established? 
Nicola: There’s no getting away from the oldest lesson of all: know your market. Authors should be aware of trends within their genre, what’s selling, what’s popular, what’s being talked about. I’m certainly not advocating that one should slavishly follow the fashions of the moment, but being aware of them and reacting as one’s inclinations and abilities prompt can only be an advantage.

As to practical matters, I’m still amazed how many authors accept contracts that are less favourable to them than need be, or do not know who turn to when they have questions or problems. Often just some simple and unbiased advice, such as the Society provides, can result in a revised contract that is much more favourable to the author, or the solution to a disagreement,  

Leigh: How do you see the future for self-published authors, and for the traditionally published?
Nicola: No-one knows what the future will bring but the world of publishing will continue to take advantage of advances in new technology, and authors will be able to target specialist audiences as never before. Self – published, traditionally published and all variants in between look set to continue side by side for the foreseeable future. .Authors need to consider all options and see what is best for them. Self-publication is clearly a growing trend which will continue, though possibly at a slower rate. However, self-publishing is time-consuming and can be expensive.  Marketing and distribution are generally held to be by far the most difficult areas of publishing, and this is particularly true of self-publishing. Fortunately the Society has a ‘Quick Guide to Marketing Your Book’ available to members from our website and we are running a seminar on this subject in June. With one or two rare exceptions self-published works will never sell anything like the number that a traditionally published book will; so if you think you can make a million by cutting out the middleman, you may wish to think again. A traditional publishing deal will still be better for most authors but do ensure you know exactly what is being offered and what rights you are giving. Traditional publishers are cutting their lists and offering lower advances but are demanding greater rights from authors. Many contracts which look traditional are only offering print on demand or ebooksand we are seeing increasing numbers of deals which look bona fide but amount to little more than the old vanity contracts. The trick is to be informed, to take impartial advice and not to be discouraged.

Leigh: I have seen serious discussions online about whether all writers are insane. What do you think?
Nicola:  It’s not just online discussions “The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact” as Shakespeare had it. I wouldn’t myself say all writers are insane, particularly not Society of Authors members, but some do exhibit the same dogged obsession and never-ending love of a topic that a mad person also might. Fortunately they can often harness it to wonderful effect.

Leigh: Finally, in one sentence, what does the Society of Authors offer its members?
Nicola: Our aim is to protect the rights and further the interests of authors, and within that short phrase nestles a host of services - contract vetting, advice on copyright, agents, publishers, free copies of the Quick Guide series, our own information-packed magazine The Author, invitations to talks, free ALCS membership, discounts on books from major retailers – and that’s just a start.

Leigh Russell is the author of seven books Cut Short, Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed and Stop Dead, published May 2013. Cold Sacrifice the first in a new series featuring Ian Peterson was published September 2013. Her latest book is Fatal Act. Cut Short (2009) was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award for Best First Novel. Leigh studied at the University of Kent gaining a Masters degree in English and American literature. A secondary school teacher, specializing in supporting pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties as well as teaching English. The Geraldine Steel series and Ian Peterson spin off series have been optioned by Avalon Television Ltd to be made into a TV series., Leigh Russell is married with two daughters and lives in Middlesex.