Friday, 29 October 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

On the whole, the process of writing is pretty unspectacular. The results can be be sensational but, bar our own internal enthusiasm, creating isn't really a spectator sport.

When writers get together to chat they may briefly touch on their idiosyncratic writing routines - times of the day when they're at their most creative etc - but most of the talk will be about the material itself, agents, publishers, other writers that excite them etc.

It's probably because the actual activity of writing is so very personal. Everyone has their own approach. Some like to sit and let the words come while others don't turn on their computer until they've written copious notes and know exactly where they're headed.

Whichever is the case, its only exciting for us when we're in full flow.

This is something of a relief as it means there can't be any sort of 'X Factor,' 'Strictly Writing Idol' (Strictly Bone Idle in my case) show to audition and ritually humiliate up and coming literary talent. No panel of industry 'experts' to pitch material to in front of an arena audience.

It wouldn't make good TV but I wouldn't put it past them. Everything that ends in 'ing' (singing, cooking, acting, dancing, skating, backstabbing etc) can now be nationally validated by supercilious gurus or a phone vote. Writing could be next.

I wonder how rich a culture we would have if it had always been the case.

Sorry, Mr Hemingway you've been voted off.

Miss Austen - you're fired. Particularly as you're letter writing skills are so appalling (see Matt's blog below)

Thankfully writing is about imagination and then skillfully implanting that in someone else's. Something that can't be controlled by producers desperate to harness the next thing to strip and degrade.

But maybe one day I'll have to be in front of a 'celebrity' panel pitching a thriller. I'll be stopped mid sentence and told to choose something else. I'll change it to a celeb biog and everyone will cheer.

In the meantime, 'I'm A Writer Get Me Out Of Here!'

More about Richard's work at

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Don't Diss Jane Austen

by Matt Lynn

Jane Austen has been getting some flak in the press, although I guess she can survive it. An academic has been studying her letters, noted how confused they are, and how different they are from her books, and concluded that her editor must have done a lot of re-writes on her books.

That story got lots of play in newspapers, and on the web. For some reason, people like the notion that authors don’t really write their own stuff, and there is some team of the people in the publishing house who actually put the book together

But anyway, whoever came up with this piece of research obviously knows very little about how writers actually work. There is a big difference between the writing we do for a living, which on the whole we take very seriously, edit and polish and worry about, and the writing we do like everyone else, which is dashed off without much thought.

Now obviously I don’t have much in common with Austen. I’m better at tank battles, for starters. Plus I’m still alive. But my e-mails, letters, Xmas cards, and indeed blog entries might well lead you to conclude that I couldn’t possibly have written my books either.

But, of course I did. And so, of course, did Jane Austen.

Friday, 22 October 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

I'm in the twilight area between my new book being edited and completed. It's the fine edit and polishing stage and it evokes all sorts of feelings - from tentative excitement to nausea induced by repeatedly reading paragraphs until they don't make any sense.

When is a project ready? Like the small details I mentioned last week I think you rely on your gut. My own personal yardstick is if I'm still changing lines when I'm reading through, it isn't ready. If I'm changing lines, rethinking and then changing them back to how they were, it's ready.

But when it's at the point when I think it's ready to leave home there isn't usually a celebration. I always find completing a project a bit of an anticlimax. A brief relief before anticipating the opinions of the people who are going to read it.

Imagine a waiting room containing all the writers of the world who are waiting for feedback from agents and publishers. There would be plenty of reading material to share. The camaraderie would be good as would the quality of the coffee. Ok - perhaps we're talking an arena.

Maybe somebody should set up a cyber waiting room that could contain the writers of the world - a place to knock about and compare rejection bruises. Any takers?

Or maybe it should be run more like an AA meeting. Hi, my name is X, I'm a writer, my manuscript is called X and I haven't had a response for X days.

But now back to those polishes. I'll just read it through once more.

And maybe just once more.

And maybe just once more.

More about Richard's work at

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The End of Dead End

How do other writers manage to finish a book? How do you? The first in my series, CUT SHORT, wasn't planned in advance - I simply ran with an idea. Before writing the second in the series, ROAD CLOSED, I did a detailed plan and went further with DEAD END which is coming out in 2011, and wrote a ten page synopsis before writing the first draft. I have done the same for the fourth in my series. Now, with all 64 chapters written, the first draft of the fourth book is complete. It just needs a little polishing before it goes off to my agent. I know what to do and could easily finish it in a couple of evenings. So what's the problem? It can't be described as 'writer's block' (whatever that is) because I know exactly what to do. But once it's finished - that's it. So what is stopping me? Why is it so hard to let go? After months researching and and enjoying writing my current MS I just don't want this to stop. If I wasn't writing a series I would never reach the end of this book... it's a struggle as it is, at least until an idea for what is going to happen to Geraldine Steel in the fifth book starts buzzing about in my brain...
Leigh Russell

Friday, 15 October 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

I'm coming to the end of work on stand alone thriller 2 this week and as I start to hone the little details of the story it strikes me how much stories have to be convincing but not often based in absolute reality.

When choosing names for characters, for instance, it doesn't have much to do with what we'd encounter in real life. Our main character usually has a name that is the product of many different considerations - one that sits easily with the subject matter, that rolls easily round the tongue and brain and that doesn't scag the eye within the text.

If I was trying to create an evil, serial killing character I probably wouldn't call him Melvin. Although there was a necrophiliac serial killer with this name who was executed in 1961.

This isn't true of all protagonists, of course, but most books have to go against the grain of the odds in reality. For example, if you put a lot of people together there would be a very good chance that some of them would share the same first name. I've only ever read one book where this was the case and I found it absolutely exasperating.

As a writer I think we all choose interesting names and places that are not only good on the eye and echo agreeably in the mind but that all slot together in the reality we've created for our story.

It's a personal consideration and I think it's intriguing to anlayse why one name will fit within our work and another one won't. Only we can judge it.

At this point of editing I'm changing some places, fictional organisations, clothing descriptions and even colours. None of them contradict what I'd find outside my own front door and often I can't identify why I feel they don't work. I only know that they grate within the story.

There's no right or wrong - just a gut instinct that something isn't quite right.

So now I'm back to it. Will I finish today? No way, Jose. Or should that be 'No way, Pedro?'

More about Richard's work at:

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

We Die Alone

by Matt Lynn

One of the pleasures of writing for a living is that you come across all kinds of unexpected stuff. I’ve been getting stuck into the writing of ‘Ice Force’, the forth book in the Death Force series. As you might guess from the title, its set in the Arctic. To get my mind into the right place, I’ve been reading as much polar stuff as I get my hands on.
Most of it is exploration stories, and its useful for the atmosphere, and survival techniques. But not much has been written about Arctic warfare. Eventually, I stumbled across a book called ‘We Die Alone’, which was written in the early 1950s by David Howarth. It tells the story of Jan Baalstrud, a fairly ordinary Norwegian guy during the Second World War. He signs up with the British Army, and is sent on a commando mission into the far north of Norway. It goes terribly wrong from the start, the rest of his unit is killed, and he has to trek a massive distance chased by Nazis to escape.
The brilliance of the book is in its descriptions of Arctic warfare, and the endurance and fortitude of its hero. And it reminds you of what an extraordinary conflict WWII was, and how many ordinary people were caught up in extraordinary events.
The scene where Jan saws off his toes with a bread knife and a bottle of brandy to prevent them getting frostbite is memorable.
It’s now been reissued, with a forward by Andy McNab – and highly recommended.

New York Journal of Books

Check out the new look New York Journal of Books on

"Road Closed is the second crime novel by Leigh Russell, featuring Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel. We were first introduced to Steel in the gritty and totally addictive debut novel, Cut Short, and once again Russell is in top form with this new crime thriller...
Like all good crime and thriller writers, Russell gives us just enough morsels of information in each page-turning chapter to whet our appetites for the bigger banquet at the end of the book. Road Closed is a gripping, fast-paced read, pulling you in from the very first tense page and keeping you captivated right to the end with its refreshingly compelling and original narrative. The rapidly building fan base of Russell and Steel will be on the edge of their seats waiting for the next installment, tentatively titled Dead End..."

Leigh Russell

Friday, 8 October 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

The rabid beast has been loose again. You know the animal – the one who takes large bites out of mornings, afternoons and evenings when you’re at the keyboard.

It’s been my unwanted guest since I was a teenager. Every time I move home I can’t leave it behind.

It’s lying in the corner at the moment looking sated. It should – it’s just eaten most of my morning. I never see it feed. One moment I’m looking at the clock in daylight and anticipating how much work I’m going to get done. The next moment a huge chunk of the day has been gobbled up and the cursor hasn’t made it anywhere near the page number I wanted it to.

I’m looking at it now and it’s just scratching itself. When I look away to my screen though…

It seems to get extra hungry during rewriting. Polishing paragraphs is like ringing one of Pavlov’s bells. It ran off with a whole week once but its ribs were still rattling on Monday.

Currently its menu comprises of:



Main Course

My Manuscript


Catching Up With Emails

Funnily enough, when I want it to feed, the beast is nowhere to be seen. When I have a glut of time and I’m waiting for the phone to ring about the project I’ve been working on it immediately loses its appetite and scavenges elsewhere.

But it really chows down, really gets its snout in the trough when I’m writing.

Doesn’t matter how its furtive feeding disgusts me, however. I hope I never slay it.

More info about Richard and his work at:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Judging A Book By Its Cover...

by Matt Lynn

One of the questions writers get asked is how much they say they have over their covers. To which the simple answer is: About as much say as we do over the weather.

My experience is that publishers send you the cover, and then whilst theoretically you could throw a tantrum and say you didn’t like it, that probably wouldn’t be a very welcome response.

Fortunately, I’ve never been in a position where I haven’t like a cover. I’ve just received the jacket for ‘Shadow Force’ and I think it’s fantastic: exciting, direct, in keeping with the previous two books in the series, but different enough to mark out its own space. (Then again, when a book is about mercenaries and pirates, it’s quite hard not to come up with a decent jacket).

And, of course, authors shouldn’t assume they know what is the best cover for their book. The editor and the illustrator will have their own take on it, and how it fits into the market, who it is going to appeal to, and how it will stand out from the rest of the books on the market.

That said, it would be awful to see a cover you really didn’t like on your book. After all, it is the most obvious statement about your work.

Friday, 1 October 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

There are a couple of theories about the title of James M Cain’s crime novel THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. One is that it referred to the true case of Ruth Snyder who conspired to murder her husband and asked the postman to ring twice if he was delivering the insurance documents she’d altered.

The other story - and the one I prefer - is that Cain dreaded the arrival of the postman and knew that if he rang twice he would have a weighty parcel ie his manuscript returned from another publisher.

The novel, of course, has nothing to do with a postman so I like the idea that this non sequitur of a title came from the writer’s frustration at trying to get his work published.

It’s a harsh reality for writers – that something you spend months working on and losing sleep over can be dismissed with a standard letter or a phone call. In fact, nowadays, it can be dismissed even quicker. Emails are a great way of speeding up the communication process but can sometimes seem even more impersonal.

But the waiting and then the casual cold shoulder is something every writer has to come to terms with. Purgatory by the phone is something every writer, however successful, has to experience.

Is the phone still working? Has it been left off the hook?

But it’s good to get things into perspective by considering how many writers out there are going through the same torment. And some of that work is probably jostling for position on the same desk as yours.

I used to submit scripts to TV and got very frustrated with the rate of turnaround. Then I worked as a script editor and got a revealing perspective on just how much time there is in a day to read. The volume of submissions was staggering and although I always tried to give personal feedback to everyone who submitted, it was sometimes impossible.

Agents are very busy people and reading new manuscripts only accounts for a very small percentage of their time. Most of them need a 36 hour day to service the clients they already have and sometimes only have an hour or two in the week to catch up on reading. Here’s an interesting article from the Andrew Lownie Agency about the average week for an agent. I recommend reading some of the other articles on the site re submissions as well.

As promised, here’s the interesting link for writers seeking agents that explains how to compose a cogent query letter. Always remember to read the specific guidelines of each agency though. Best of luck and hope these provide an insight while you're waiting for the postman.

Happy weekend.

More info about Richard's work at: