Saturday, 30 April 2011

Why do we call hindsight a benefit?

I just logged onto my blog as it’s about time for another post, with no idea what I was going to write about, and stumbled across a list of recent posts on blogs I follow, with links. How did I never discover it before now?
That happens to me so often with technology, which I make no claims to have mastered, and – even more galling – with life. It’s always struck me as a devastating stroke of irony that we learn from experience, because there are situations in life where we need to acquire knowledge before the experience and, once the experience is over the knowledge becomes superfluous. If only I’d known something – anything – about parenting before my children arrived. Yes, I learned a lot about parenting through being a mother and, with the uncomfortable benefit of hindsight could do it all so much better now…
Writing encapsulates the sting of hindsight because once a book is published you can reread it – and it’s too late to change anything! As a rule I’m not one for looking back with regrets, but I wonder if other people’s stories turn out exactly how they want them to be.
Would you change anything about your writing if you could turn the clock back?

Posted by Leigh Russell
CUT SHORT (2009)
DEAD END (May 2011)

Thursday, 28 April 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

Is it possible to know a writer too well? We're all familiar with authors we love, the subject matter they're most adept with and their own particular style but does it dent our reading experience to learn too much about them? Or even to know them personally?

One of the advantages of an author being a mysterious figure is that we don't know the ratio of material they've concocted and what they've actually experienced.

I've met a lot of authors through their work but when I read material by friends I know exactly if they've visited the places they're writing about and when they're using the licence of their imagination.

We don't all write about what we know and, particularly in crime and horror fiction, we want it to stay that way.

It doesn't ruin the reading experience but for me it is different to picking up a book by someone I know only by a jacket photo. For me I can't see the joins between them and the story they're telling.

But I have been captivated by lots of the books on my shelves written by people I know well which is probably the best endorsement for their writing.

Probably worth bearing in mind when you're tentatively passing your new project around. Friends are usually brutally honest so if you can elicit compliments from them you're probably on to a winner.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


It's my day to post here but for once I'm struggling to think what to say. It's not often I'm lost for words but I'm experiencing an unusual sensation today. Sitting in the sun, drinking too much, eating too much (wonderful after being ill)... I've been relaxing!
If you know anything about me, you'll know that doesn't happen often. So I'm just going to share a photo someone posted on facebook just now. Looks like my first book was having a relaxing day too!
I hope to post something more challenging next week, but for now - I hope you're all enjoying your Easter break as much as I am. (And in case you're wondering - yes, I have been writing today. A writer can take a break from life but never from writing!)

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Reading Askance?

By Richard Jay Parker

If you're a writer, a reviewer, an editor, an agent or connected to the publishing industry is it really possible to blissfully enjoy any book as an unbiased reader again?

This came up in a conversation recently. What was the last book you really enjoyed without prejudice?

I recalled all the books that had turned me on to being a writer. Books that I read when I was a young shaver and only had an inkling it would be something I'd eventually attempt. I wondered how those books would stand up to scrutiny now.

As you grow older, of course, your reading tastes mature and naturally become more critical. Add to that the keen analysis that anyone involved in the industry has and the criteria for enjoyment changes.

As a writer I certainly run my finger along the top of the words to check for dust and beyond the text am probably considering the target readership etc

But, personally speaking, a good book can still override all that. Whenever I open a cover I'm a willing participant. I want to immerse myself in it and if it's not going to do that my instinct is as keen as any reader's. But when I do get dragged in - when I find myself reading just one more chapter, then another, then another - I still get the same thrill I experienced when I was a kid.


Monday, 18 April 2011

How Much Research Is Enough

by Matt Lynn

Over at the International Thriller Writers website I've been taking part in a round table discussion on how much reserach is enough. Here's what I had to say, but take a look at the rest of the discussion.

I think research is one of those things where it helps to have experience. It is easy for the research to show too much on the page. A writer needs to know their subject, and to have a real feel for it. They need to know their characters as well, and have a real feel for the kinds of things they would think and feel and say as well. But they don't have to have a text-book knowledge of everything they are writing about.

I suspect that attitudes to research have changed over the years as well. When I was writing 'Fire Force', which is a book set amongst mercenaries in Africa, I went back and re-read some of the classics of the genre. For example, I re-read 'The Dogs of War' by Frederick Forsyth. I can remember reading it when it came out, when I would have been about ten, and loving it. But today it seems like a really dull book, mainly because there is just too much research in it. The hero spends ages and ages setting up the mission. He regularly travels to Brussels to set up false bank accounts - by train and ferry, for Heaven's sake, which takes up many pages. He doesn't even get a plane. In the end, it just makes for what today seems a really dull read.

By contrast, 'The Da Vinci Code' is a poorly researched book. There are plenty or mistakes. Indeed, Westminster Abbey in London even had to issue a guidebook for tourists correcting some of the factual errors because so many tourists came in asking about them. But who cares? It's a really good book - and it certainly sold well.

Thirty years ago, I think people expected thrillers to be very research-driven. But not right now. Today the key is to create your characters, and your story, and then do the research that is necessary to get things right. But this is fiction - its the plot and the people that really count.

An Awkward Position...

I find myself in a slightly awkward position. I'm not referring to my complicated arrangement of balancing my netbook on a box perched on top of a writing slope on a cushion on my knees... (last year I had physio after a neck injury and my wonderful physiotherapist shuddered on hearing how much time I spend at the keyboard) - My netbook hasn't fallen off yet, but you've probably tumbled to the fact that I'm procrastinating. So, back to my topic...
Over the past couple of years I’ve blogged and talked a lot about my passionate support for bookshops and libraries, the ‘real world’ print book outlets. It’s well known that I spend many hours in bookshops and libraries, encouraging other authors to do the same. I’ve also blogged and talked about my concerns that online suppliers are ushering in the demise of the high street bookshop. In the short time since I started writing Borders vanished in the UK, and now Waterstones are closing stores. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also expressed my reservations about the wisdom of giving away books for free, not only depriving the publishing industry of potential revenue, but implying that books have no value.
Yet I can’t ignore an email from my publisher urging me to blog about an Amazon promotion of Road Closed…on kindle…for £1.20… or suppress a frisson of pleasure at seeing Road Closed in the Top 100 on amazon kindle.

Friday, 15 April 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

One of the inevitabilities of being a writer is being removed. I don't mean bodily -although that has certainly happened to me on occasion. But when the work's completed and the long process of submitting to an agent/agent submitting to publisher begins it's sometimes difficult to suddenly have work you've been intensely engaged in out of your hands.

It's a long, slow process and living with the fact that writers' time and industry time is like dog years and human years respectively (and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense) is frequently frustrating.

If you've seen Inception imagine the writer being in that dream within a dream within a dream which lasts a lifetime but, in reality, only lasts as long as it takes for a car to fall off a bridge - or a manuscript to land in a bin.

Currently a lot of people are asking me about book 2. My agent is excited about it and wants to get it right before he puts it out there. He's right, of course. Every draft has improved it. I just have to overcome my desire for it to be released into the world yesterday.

When I started writing books I had a bottle of champagne bought for me to celebrate my first publication. X years later it was dusted off and finally opened and tasted vile. And tasted good. And worth the wait.

Visit Richard at:

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Wearing my other hat ...

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington and James Becker)

A couple of years ago I found myself on a cruise ship heading up the Baltic in the general direction of St Petersburg. In fact, that’s a somewhat trite statement. I 'found myself' on the ship because I'd exchanged quite a lot of folding money the privilege of being on board. And I wasn't by myself: my wife and her mother were with me, as well as an elderly friend of my mother-in-law, and one of my two abiding memories of that cruise was the two old dears getting gently but distinctly pickled drinking exotic cocktails while the ship was still tied firmly to the wall in Dover harbour. From that moment on, it went steadily downhill, at least as far as the consumption of alcohol was concerned.

My second memory was of the destination lecturer, a simply charming man who'd had a fascinating career living and working in places that to me were just names on a map, and who was without the slightest shadow of a doubt one of the worst and most boring lecturers it's ever been my misfortune to listen to.

And that was a good thing, because I felt sorry for him and talked to him afterwards. And then I discovered that being a lecturer was really quite a good number, as long as you liked being at sea. In my previous life I served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, and I got a taste then for ships and oceans. Long story short time: I did a course that explained how the cruise ship industry worked, and what the cruise lines expected from their lecturers, and signed on with an agency. Since then, I've almost lost count of the number of cruises I've been on, but I do remember that in 2009 I did a total of nine, from Norway, to the Mediterranean, to the Far East.

This year’s been a little quieter so far, but there was a sudden flurry of activity a couple of months ago, and I'm now doing lectures on three cruises over the next two months, starting tomorrow on the Fred Olsen ship Black Watch, going down to the Canaries. On 2nd May I'm on the Queen Mary II for a short north European cruise, and then on the 24th May I'm on the same ship again for a longer cruise up to Norway. If any readers of the Curzon Group blog are on these trips, please come and talk to me.

That's the plug out of the way, but what I was really going to say was how useful I find being at sea, especially with deadlines looming. On a cruise ship, the phone simply doesn't ring, and you check your e-mail perhaps once a day, ever conscious of the minutes racking up expensively on the satellite link. There is no housework to do (not that I do it anyway), because your bed is made, your bathroom is cleaned, and food and drink is available 24 hours a day.

And if you’re at sea, there are actually remarkably few distractions if you ignore whatever entertainment the ship has provided. I find it very soothing to simply sit in a lounge with a laptop on my knee, working away and occasionally glancing at the ocean passing by. I remember on one trip that I averaged over 3,000 words a day without much apparent effort, and peaked at over 5,500.

As a speaker, I have to stand up and talk to an audience that in the past has varied from 8 passengers (I counted them – twice) to over 600, depending on the ship and the itinerary. Each lecture takes about 45 minutes, say an hour overall, and the rest of the day is my own. It really is an excellent environment in which to write and for me, at the moment, that also is a good thing.

Two months ago, I was effectively out of contract with both my publishers, but now I've signed a new two book deal with Transworld and, as usual with that publishing house, the deadline is already looming for delivery of the first book. My editor wants it by the end of September, so that she can have the final edited manuscript ready by Christmas, for publication in April next year. If it's quiet on the ships, with any luck I'll be able to get the first part of the book knocked into shape by the time the third cruise comes to an end in the first week of June.

I suppose that lifestyle wouldn't suit everybody, but it certainly suits me, and it’s quite surprising how many people I've met on cruise ships who have subsequently started lecturing on them as well.

The other thing about cruises is that you can meet some really interesting – and often unexpected – people. I've encountered Gerald Scarfe; a former engine driver for British rail; Lord Archer; a man who advised the Home Office on drugs; Terry Wogan; a man from Florida who’d done over 50 world cruises – he was 94, but that’s still a hell of a lot – and the rabbi who was involved in the American hostage crisis in Teheran. It's difficult to think of another circumstance where such a disparate collection of people could be found in the same small space.

As they say, it's a dirty job, but I suppose somebody has to do it.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Nothing stops the writing

Under doctor’s orders to take it easy I may be, having recently been laid up with pneumonia, but it can be hard putting your life on hold.

Tomorrow is my first book signing since pneumonia hit. Hopefully I won’t peg out too early, especially as a newspaper which is running a feature on my books is sending a photographer along in the morning. Can’t you just see the headline? ‘Author sent to sleep by her own books’.

It’s great receiving invitations from stores asking to host book signings (though sadly I’ve had to decline over a dozen branches of Waterstones so far for 2011 - there just aren’t enough weeks in the year). But author promotion isn’t restricted to book signings. Already invited to appear at a number of literary festivals this year, I’m hoping to join some Curzon Group Panels again this year as they are always lively affairs!

Promotion can taxing, it can be fun, but it’s all froth on top of waves powered by unseen currents of writing. Dead End comes out in May, the next book has been delivered to my agent, and I’m 20,000 words into the one after that.

Nothing stops the writing.

Now, what was I saying about doctor’s orders?

Leigh Russell

Rules Of Distraction

By Richard Jay Parker

There's an apocryphal story about Hollywood studios always giving their sitcom development staff writers two year contracts. The reason being because after a year of distraction and long lunches, in the second year they have nothing better to do than write a sitcom.

I like to think I could probably spend two years being distracted and having lunch but I know that my ITM (inner taskmaster) would be a buzzkill.

People are always interested in writers' work routines - particularly if they do it from home. 'I'd just get distracted' is what a lot of people say.

It's true, there are many drawbacks to working from home and resisting the temptation to get waylaid by chores pending is certainly a mindset you have to master.

Iain Banks has two computers in his office -one for emails and one for writing. You can see the sense of that. I'd need a third one for Twitter.

But it's that ITM that you have to cultivate the most. It's your voice, guilt and ambition all rolled into one.

I'm lucky to have an office to write in with a decent view out of the window. In my London address I had next door's brick wall to look at. Having a pleasant space that you can treat as your work environment helps enormously.

But whether you have a designated writing chamber/sensory deprivation tank or are snatching moments when you can using your lap as a desk it's only the ITM that can carry you through to the last page.

As your thought processes move through the planning stage into familiar procrastination territory you'll notice its voice gets louder.

Visit Richard at:

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Curzon Members at Literary Festivals

The Curzon Group is pleased that Leigh Russell has been invited to participate at HARROGATE FESTIVAL in July.
As a group, and individually, members of the Curzon Group are frequent contributors at literary festivals, and they always enjoy meeting readers.
Leigh Russell

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Goudhurst Prison Blues

by Matt Lynn

Goudhurst Prison Blues:

One of my favourite records of all time is the Johnny Cash ‘Live At San Quentin’ album: a set that captures the rugged, outlaw sound of the man to perfection. So I couldn’t help thinking about that as I did my first prison gig a couple of weeks ago.
I wasn’t actually in San Quentin. I was at Goudhurst Prison, which is my local jail down here in Kent. It’s actually set among idyllic English countryside, and is in a pleasant enough old building, but the fact it has barbed wire all around it, and you have to hand in your mobile and show your passport at the door to get in, reminds you that this is indeed a jail.
I resisted the temptation to bounce onto stage saying, “Hello, my name is Matt Lynn’ before kicking into the opening chords of ‘Wanted Man’.
Instead, I just gave a version of my standard library talk, where I chat for a while about where the ideas for the ‘Death Force’ series of books came about, how they get written, how publishing works, and all the usual things that people like authors to talk about.
It was a different audience, however. They were younger, and, of course, all men. Quite a few of them had read the books, and enjoyed them which was gratifying, and the library service had bought some books to give away as a competition prize, which made a nice end to the event. They were more interested in money and contracts than most audiences, and maybe that says something about the kind of people they are.
I was struck by how intelligent most of the men were, and how articulate. Obviously something had gone wrong with their lives to end up in prison, but they were men with a lot of potential.
I came away, as one does from these kind of experiences, thinking about how narrow the line is between the safe, comfortable, easy lives that most of us lead, and the far darker, more troubled routes that some people take.

Friday, 1 April 2011

I'm Not Paying That!

By Richard Jay Parker

Was having a discussion about ebooks this week and the person I was debating with raised the inevitable question of cost.

'I mean, how much does it (an ebook) cost to produce...'

It was a fair point. Overheads for ebooks are certainly lower for publishers - no print run implications etc

But you can apply the same argument to a paperback. They're also cheap to produce but a standard cover price has to be maintained. Why? Because you're not just paying for the paper and glossy cover. The writer's intellectual property aside there's an army of talented people involved in its production - editors, designers, sales and promo experts.

You wouldn't look at a priceless painting and say - 'How much? It's only canvas and oils.'

I'm certainly not claiming that every book is a masterpiece but creative product can't be judged on the basis of what its made of or the small amount of memory it requires.

But I don't get as passionate about the ebook vs paperback argument as others. I think there's room for both. Both formats have advantages and I think readers are grown up enough to make the choice between which one is most convenient for them.

Books age. Ebook formats will change and a book you buy for one reader may not be the reader you have in ten years time.

Your imagination won't discriminate. The most important thing is to carry on reading.