Wednesday, 25 January 2012


Mel Sherratt is a talented debut British writer, who's just published exactly the kind of highly commercial, first-in-a-series, gritty detective crime novel a lot of mainstream publishers and editors constantly claim they're crying out for. Only Mel has published it herself.

TAUNTING THE DEAD is currently riding high at Number 37 on the Amazon UK Kindle chart and is receiving plenty of positive reviews. I should know, I've just given it one myself (see below). Not because I know Mel, but because her novel is really good.

I've since found out that Mel is lucky enough to be represented by a very good agent at super-agency Curtis Brown, who's been knocking on all the right doors. The trouble is that in a risk-averse publishing climate such as we're suffering right now, it's often easier for editors to not buy (ie keep their heads down and stick with marketing the talent already on their books) than take a chance on someone new.

What I'm interested to see now is what effects Mel's continuing high sales rank will have. One imagines that any editor worth their salt will keep a keen eye on the charts (ebook as well as paper). In an ideal world, her agent will have already had a few calls from publishers interested in taking Mel and her series on.

I'm hoping there's a good editor out there for Mel. It would be good to know that writers such as her, who've got the talent and ambition to push their books solo, can also be given the full and proper commercial chance they deserve. It would certainly make for a more interesting and diverse crime writing community if this were so.

Anyway, here's my review:

"A really enjoyable debut, introducing DS Allie Shenton. The plot races along smartly, with the victims piling up, before culminating in a series of twists that hit you like body blows. DS Shenton feels real and ends up balancing all kinds of conflicting desires as the murder investigation progresses. A terrific cast of villains. The Stoke underworld depicted here, in all its viciousness, smacks of authenticity. Fans of Martina Cole will devour this is one sitting. I'm already looking forward to reading DS Shenton's continued exploits."

Emlyn Rees is the author of Hunted, out now in hardback and ebook.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The New Cold War

By Matt Lynn

I did a blog for the The Spectator last week, about the Arctic as a thriller setting. But for anyone who missed that, here it is....

The Cold War produced some of the great classics of British spy fiction. From the gadgets and babes with exotic Eastern European accents of the James Bond books, to the non-stop action of Alistair MacLean or the dark treachery of John Le Carre and the intricate office politics of Len Deighton, it served as the perfect vehicle for just about every type of story a writer could imagine. More scenes were set in the few yards around Checkpoint Charlie than anyone could keep track of.
            But now there is a new type of cold war – one that is more literal than metaphorical. The Arctic is perhaps the most compelling region in the world to set a thriller in 2012 – which is why I chose to set my new novel ‘Ice Force’ in the frozen wastelands around the North Pole.
            What makes a great location for a thriller? Well, there needs to be intrigue, of course. And conflict as well. The Arctic has plenty of both. The world’s last great untapped reserves of oil lie under the Arctic Ocean – about 25% of the world’s remaining fossil fuels, according to the latest estimates. But who owns it? For the last few hundred years, no one cared very much. There was nothing out there, apart from a few polar bears. Now everyone wants a share. The Russians claim that much of the Arctic is their territory, and have been provocatively planting flags wherever they can. The Americans – via Alaska – claim a chunk. So do the Canadians. And so do the Danes (via Greenland).
            And oil, of course, is power in today’s world. Russia is already the largest oil producer in the world, pumping 10.5 million barrels a day. Add together its existing domestic production with all the oil potentially in the Arctic, and the Kremlin would effectively control the world’s energy supply. Nor would it be afraid to use it. Vladimir Putin has already shown he regards oil as just another weapon in big power politics. It is no great surprise then that the race for the Arctic oil has been described as ‘the new great game’.
            Next, some hardship helps. The more rugged the terrain the greater the test you are setting for your characters – and the more peril you can put them in. Nowhere in the world is rougher than the Arctic. The temperatures drop to fifty or sixty below zero. Ice forms inside your sleeping bag as you sleep. Water freezes inside its bottles, and engines have to be re-heated bolt by bolt with blow torches before they will start. The ice breaks up, creating ravines where you can fall into the freezing water. It is the most brutal, inhospitable place on earth.            
            Finally, your setting needs to be different. What readers really want is to be transported somewhere different. To go somewhere they’ve never been before, and may indeed never get to. To be taken to a different world. Easyjet can fly us most places for a few pounds. Not to the North Pole. It really is a completely different place, and one of the pleasures of reading a thriller set there is that you get to learn about the terrain, and how to survive it.
            It ticked all the right boxes. The research was fascinating, and an education in itself. The weather is more likely to kill you than your enemy. Nothing works. You need a specially adapted gun, for example. Wearing thick gloves your finger won’t fit into the trigger, but if you touch metal with your bare fingers they will drop off. So you need the right sort of gun (the Swedish Army specialises in them, in case you were wondering). Or else you need to saw off the underside of the trigger. Even then, you need an array of special oils to keep your weapons working. You need to wear night-vision goggles through the long Arctic winter. For half the year, there is practically no light. And you need to watch out for the animals. Polar bears have a great sense of smell, and they are always hungry. They will creep up on you – and their hides are so well insulated, only a few traces of their breath will be visible on your night-vision equipment. If you do get into a scrap with one, though, thump them from the right – polar bears are left-handed, so that is their weaker side.
            There North Pole might never become as familiar to thriller readers as Checkpoint Charlie was. But in the next few years it might well become a small genre of its own – and rather like Robert Peary, it is nice to have got there first. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Shiver Me Kindles

By Richard Jay Parker

With today's new of the file sharing Megaupload site being shut down in the US it will probably be viewed as a major victory against piracy.  The fact is piracy - of movies and music - has been around for decades and will be in the future because it always finds a way.

Since books embarked on the high seas of digitisation they have also become part of the debate.

Which of us hasn't passed on a book to a friend without consent from the copyright owner?  Think of this on a global scale and how many royalties an author won't receive because of it.  But this is exactly how books get popular.   

Battling piracy is a costly process but what seems to be the key to reducing the number of readers, listeners and viewers tempted by downloading copyrighted works for free is for the copyright holders to be reasonable about the product price.

Over two decades ago a music cd could cost fifteen pounds and above.  Now a chart cd costs about seven pounds.  Since the price of cds came down so has the number of people downloading music.  It's still a massive problem (particularly during a recession) and this isn't going to close down the piracy sites overnight.  But consumers are responding to a reasonable pricing scale and recognise that they're not just paying for the physical medium or downloadable file but the amount of people who have to be employed to bring a polished product to fruition as well as the intellectual property.

It's still very much a suck and see process for publishers (literally) but I think readers are loyal and will continue investing in their favourite authors if they feel the they're paying an equitable price that still allows for sufficient profit so the industry can continue to thrive and be able to bring them great material in the future.

It won't stamp out piracy - nothing will - but even though times are hard it will mean readers will think twice about downloading often inferior material illegally when they could get it officially for a reasonable price.

Deciding what that price is exactly is going to be the challenge.

Visit Richard at:

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Home again, and a change of name

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)

The last couple weeks been busy, and somewhat confusing. We’ve been on the road again, which is hardly unusual, driving up to Andorra from France, which means coping with a significant change in altitude. The house in France is just a few hundred feet above sea level, but to reach our home in the Principality we have to climb up to almost ten thousand feet at Pas de la Casa, on the northern border of the country, and then drop down on the other side. We actually live at an altitude of around four thousand five hundred feet, and getting acclimatised does take a little while.
            We did the journey in our 4x4, as we always do in the winter because of the snow, only to find that there wasn’t any. The ski stations here are open, just, but the only snow that fell was towards the end of December, and we’ve literally been basking in the sun ever since we got back. It’s actually been warm enough to sit outside a cafĂ© as long as you could find a spot out of the wind. For a ski resort, this definitely isn’t good news, but the forecast is that the snow will arrive towards the end of next week, so everybody here has their fingers crossed. We won’t be here to see it, because we’re off to southern Spain for about a week to stay with friends.
            The reason for the confusion, I suppose, is because I’m working on three different books all at the same time. I’m editing the fifth ‘James Becker’ novel for Transworld, which has required a certain amount of rewriting to fill in some of the holes my editor identified in the plot. This, by the way, just confirms what I’ve always thought about authors: they are simply too close to their book to see errors which are glaringly obvious to a third party. This has meant focusing my mind again on events which took place in Europe at the end of the Second World War. I’ve nearly finished doing that, and I’ll be able to send the finished manuscript to Transworld next week.
            In the meantime, I’m still ploughing on with the second Simon & Schuster novel, which has meant carrying out a lot of research about nineteenth century London to get the atmosphere and descriptions as accurate as I can manage, which is rather different from Germany and Poland in 1945. I’m now in the interesting position of probably having too much historical fact in the book, and too little story, so there’ll have to be quite a lot of rewriting and pruning to do before I deliver the finished product.
            And I’m also in frequent contact with the American arm of Simon & Schuster, getting the last few details of the first ‘Jack Steel’ novel right for the US market, and answering queries raised by the copy editor. The ‘Americanization’ of the book was comparatively painless, the changes to the spelling and punctuation only throwing up a handful of errors, but I still had to read the entire manuscript again, just to make sure. All of which takes time, of course.
            The good news is that despite Christmas and New Year, I’m still pretty much on track and on time with regard to deadlines.
That’s the other thing about being an author: you never actually stop working. As soon as one manuscript has been finished and delivered, you’re already working on – or at least thinking about – the next one. And no sooner have you started working on book two, than you have start editing book one. It really is a continual process, constantly reading, constantly writing, and constantly correcting. Some people would hate it – I’m lucky, because I love it.
            And finally this week, eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that one of my aliases – ‘Philip Berenson’ – has disappeared from the list above, and a new name – ‘Tom Kasey’ – has appeared. This is just a slight rejigging of my noms de plume, because names on the spines of books matter. I came to the conclusion that ‘Philip Berenson’ sounds faintly literary – and the one thing my books aren’t is literary – while ‘Tom Kasey’ sounds like the guy who lives next door or works in the local garage. That seems like a better choice to me. And while we’re on the subject, my novel The Omega Protocols was originally entitled Trade-off, and that’s what I’ve decided to go back to. And so Trade-off  by ‘Tom Kasey’ will very soon be available as a Kindle download from The Endeavour Press.

You can contact me at:

Friday, 13 January 2012

A Reminder

Richard Jay Parker

Just thought I'd share this clip.  With all the discussion about Kindle and the death of paper books it's good to remind ourselves how passionate people still are about a format that, although changing, is still essentially giving us the same experience. 

Hope you enjoy this.  It was shot in a bookshop in Toronto and was clearly a labour of love.

Visit Richard at:

Friday, 6 January 2012

Bolted Horse

By Richard Jay Parker

There has been a very healthy discussion about Kindle on the blog recently.  It's a very poular topic with writers at the moment mainly because the technology's potential is opening up all sorts of exciting new opportunities.

Soon, however, it doesn't matter what writers, publishers or agents have got to say about it.  It's readers who are shaping its ultimate success.  In the UK this Christmas a million more Kindles were sold and Harper Collins alone experienced 100,000 downloads of books on Christmas Day.  I was certainly pleased to find out via Twitter messages that my own book had made it onto some brand new Kindles over the holiday period.

With rumours of high street bookshops stocking only chart books in the future it looks like online will be the best recourse for readers eager to disover something fresh and different.

I don't think physical books have been written off and believe there will always be outlets for people who love all the virtues paper has that digital can't offer.  It does seem, however, that many readers are now embracing a new way of enjoying books that will ultimately alter the way the entire industry operates.

Exciting times.

Happy New Year.


Christmas and a new toy

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Philip Berenson and Jack Steel)

A few weeks ago I had a bit of a pop at the Apple iPad, because I frankly couldn’t see what it did that was in any way useful, or why so many people had apparently decided that it was the ultimate ‘must have’ accessory. I’ve been looking at the device a bit more closely since then, but frankly I’m none the wiser, though arguably I am better informed.
            Various people have pointed out how light it is and easy to carry around, how it starts instantly, and what clever technology it is – none of which I can argue with. But the bottom line that I’ve gleaned from people who own one of these devices is that the cameras aren’t very good, it’s pretty useless at browsing the web because it can’t display Flash, printing from it is difficult, assuming of course that you can do any useful work on it, which is unlikely because of the virtual keyboard, and integrating it with home wireless networks can be difficult or in some cases impossible.
            Nevertheless, the tablet computer still has a kind of appeal, and so I have actually splashed out and bought one. Not an iPad, for reasons which I hope will be obvious, but a Dell Inspiron Duo, a kind of multipurpose machine which is really clever. You can use it as a perfectly conventional small laptop/netbook, with a proper keyboard and all the usual bits and pieces including USB slots and so on. But the screen flips over so that, when the unit is closed, it turns into a classic tablet computer.
            The specification is light years ahead of the iPad, with a 320 GB hard disk, 2 GB of RAM and a dual core processor running at 1.5 GHz, and the ability to flip between a regular keyboard and the tablet is really useful. And, of course, because it’s running Windows it will handle Office, display Flash websites and so on, and has a camera, microphone and speakers all built in. There’s also a nifty little stand available into which you can slot the machine when it’s not being used, and which will charge the battery as well as allowing the unit to function as an entertainment centre, playing music, showing videos or still photographs and so on. About the only area where it can be considered inferior to the iPad is battery life, because it will only run for about two to three hours due to the power demands of the hard disk and the other hardware. You can pick up one of these for around £400, but I was lucky enough to find an unbeatable special offer – on Amazon of all places – and paid only £220, which has to be a bargain: it would cost more than that to buy a netbook with a much lower specification.
            This now offers me a large choice of different computers on which to work, which is not necessarily a good thing. The temptation to play with the Inspiron has to be resisted because I have one deadline looming – that’s in the middle of February – and I have an entire book to edit as well, plus lots of other stuff to do relating to contracts, promotions and so on. And there are all the other day to day jobs and tasks which have to be attended to as well.
            Added to that, the festive season produced its own demands on our time, and especially the extended family lunch on Christmas Day.
This was fairly entertaining, not least because two family members, who labour under the entirely erroneous impression that they are excellent cooks, more or less took over. The result of this was that the meal began at about three in the afternoon with a smoked salmon platter but, thanks to the two master chefs, the turkey and fillet steak didn’t put in an appearance until about two hours later, and the meal then arrived in stages, a tray of unidentifiable burnt offerings first, and the bread sauce finally materialized when almost everybody had finished eating. The Christmas pudding – eight minutes in the microwave – was offered about an hour after that, but the heat and serve custard took another twenty minutes to arrive on the table, by which time the Christmas pudding was of course cold.
            But despite all that, it was a thoroughly good day.

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