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Want to encourage the creative urge in your kids? Embrace your own.


When I was about three years old and my sister five, our dad, a bank manager who commuted to his London office each day, decided to re-decorate our suburban, three bedroomed semi-detached house in Essex.
In the process of this fairly mundane and entirely unremarkable task, he decided, almost inexplicably, to create a colourful painted mural up the stairs.

At the time, I thought this creation was wonderful, and something that everyone’s dad did. It perhaps took me until I had my own children to realise that it really wasn’t.
I’ve been decorating the upstairs bathroom myself this past week and although I have created murals in my children’s bedrooms at various points, I’m just not brave enough to do it elsewhere in the house. But I wholeheartedly wish I was.

Nothing appeals to children more than the feeling that their world of imagination and fun can spill over into the serious, sterile universe of the grown-ups. I can still remember that picture snaking up the twisting staircase, with perfect clarity. There were green hills, blue skies and white fluffy clouds. I’ve no idea if it was any good in an artistic sense (sorry Dad) but to my younger self this really didn’t matter. It was magical.

My sister is now a rather wonderful artist herself and I write novels. We have both embraced the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to explore your imagination and follow it to wherever it wants to go.

Does this tendency have anything to do with that mural my father painted for us over 35 years ago? Well, I can’t prove it, but I definitely think it might have. In which case, maybe I should really consider making a similar gesture to my own children.
Because how can we expect our offspring to show their creative side if we are never prepared to reveal ours?

Is there still any need to re-read?

imageIt’s an issue which divides the reading community. Personally, I have always relished re-reading my favourite books. As a crime fan, this may seem odd. We already know the resolution to the story, and the twists and turns, so why bother? But as all re-readers know, a second or even third visit to a much loved novel can uncover hidden meanings and complexities that were previously missed. It can be one of reading’s greatest pleasures.

Having said this, it occurred to me today that I haven’t re-read a book in at least a couple of years, when I used to do so regularly. I wondered why. I think the answer is simple. There is now a better range of good books available to readers than there has ever been.

I believe that the habit of re-reading is instilled in the majority of us in childhood. Our first, magical experiences of the written word come from having books read to us by a parent. As all mums and dads quickly discover, babies and toddlers enjoy the same stories bring re-told, over and over again. I’m not sure what psychological or developmental reasons lie behind this phenomenon, but undoubtedly it must be in part that the repetition is comforting to a child. The familiarity of the characters and the cadence of the words themselves confer a sense of security.

My teenage daughter also enjoys re-reading certain books, especially series like Harry Potter. The imaginary worlds and myriad of characters compel a reader to return to it, time and again. This seems to appeal strongly to the burgeoning reader.

Perhaps, as we grow more mature as readers, we gain a sense that time is short and with so many books that we want to devour – from classic literature to the latest release from our favourite crime or Sci-Fi author – we don’t feel we have the luxury to re-visit a book we’ve already read?

But I still recognise the joy of re-reading a favourite title. Some of the early Barbara Vine novels I have read 5 or 6 times. I loved the style of the prose and the unfolding of the intricate stories. These days, I wouldn’t have the patience. Access to social media means that I am fed a rich diet of recommendations from a worldwide reading community. I have discovered some excellent new authors and I hope to find even more.

The growth of Indie authors and publishers on Kindle has meant that new writing talent has never been more affordable. It is easier to give a new writer or series a chance. The second hand book market is also thriving. It is an exciting time to be a reader

So, will I return to the habit of re-reading my favourites? I’m sure that I will. Right now, my TBR pile is dictating my reading habits, making it difficult not to seek out the new. But another by-product of maturing as a reader, is the fact that after a couple of years, I may not be able to remember the plots of the books I’ve read, meaning that a re-visit will become a necessity for me, rather than a rather niche pleasure!

My first experience of the KDP print service


I released the 12th instalment of the DCI Dani Bevan detective series this week. I am an indie author and publisher, company director of The Garansay Press, and this isn’t a process I am new to. I’ve published twenty books in total through the KDP Amazon programme.

On the whole, I have found the service excellent. But this is the first time I have used the KDP programme for my print books, having previously used Createspace, which has now been (pretty seamlessly) absorbed into KDP.

I thought I would share my experiences. As ever, the publishing of the Kindle version was efficient and straightforward. I use a royalty paid template for my books and am very used to the technical requirements for the cover and interior. However, I am still grappling with the requirements for the print edition.

I will put my hands up and admit this is my own fault. I tend to rely on my print ready template and struggle if I have to make adjustments. I am making changes, including creating a fresh cover in response to suggestions from the team. What has made this smoother for me, was updating our home wifi. My DTP package requires a strong signal!  Once I have a workable template, I imagine the process will be easier in future. I definitely appreciate having paperback and Kindle sales information all in one place. My accountant is certainly pleased!

I am confident the paperback version of The Eye in the Dark will be available very soon. Despite a few early hiccups, I think the benefits of the new KDP system outweigh any initial problems.


My verdict on last night’s adaptation of The ABC Murders

imageThe country is divided. I’m not referring to Brexit, or even to whether brussel sprouts have a place on the Christmas lunch plate. This current division within the nation relates to how us keen crime fans received Sarah Phelps’ new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, part of the Hercule Poirot series, which aired at 9pm last night on BBC1 (the second part follows this evening at the same time).

Phelps has taken on Agatha Christie’s classics before, and the results have also divided audiences. But I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed her previous adaptations, even when the original story has been changed, such as it was in 2017’s Ordeal by Innocence, as the essential feel of the novel has always been retained. But by taking on the complex and much loved Hercule Poirot, has Phelps pushed her interpretation one step too far?

Upon last night’s viewing, I’m going to say yes.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the episode and will certainly be watching part two, but for me, something essential was missing. The production (created by the marvellous, Mammoth Screen) was cinematic; the Art Deco backdrop was contrasted with the squalor and political division that pervaded 1930s Britain, including the flourishing of neo-nazi groups, mirroring the rise of fascism in Germany during the period.

John Malkovich was unsurprisingly understated and powerful in his performance. His Poirot was melancholy and tortured, exhibiting none of the ridiculous quirks that David Suchet and Kenneth Branagh instilled in their character. And in this stark absence of the ridiculous lay the flaw in this particular production for me.

Sarah Phelps had plumbed new depths of darkness for her take on Poirot. His discovery of the body of Mrs Ascher in the Victorian parlour of her tobacconist shop in Andover, throat slit and gore on show, had the feel of a recreation of one of Jack the Ripper’s grisly crimes. Add to that, the landlady pimping out her young daughter to her unsavoury male tenants and you have a very squalid story indeed.

Yet to me, the beauty of Christie’s crime novels lie in the fact that they hint at the very depths of human depravity whilst never playing it out for us in a tableau of gore. This is the reason why I was able to read the books at the age of eleven and I’m happy for my daughter to read them now. They are still murder mysteries and terrible deeds are done, but it is the motives of the human protagonists which Christie explores, rather than the grisly aftermath of crime.

There is a reason why Agatha Christie remains the best-selling author of all time. Her books are clever page-turners and classic mysteries, but they are also imbued with humour and an awareness of the eccentricities and absurdities of human nature. No character displays this Christie trademark more than Hercule Poirot. Like Miss Marple, people tend to overlook him because of his peculiar appearance. Christie explores the preconceptions we have of people given to us by their outward characteristics. The greatest genius of Christie was that she showed us how appearances could belie a sharp intellect. She warned us to beware dismissing a person simply because of our preconceptions of them. This is why her murderers are so often the ones we least expect!

Sadly, this subtle message was missing from Phelps’ adaptation. What remains is an excellent period crime drama, dark in the vein of a Luther or a Silent Witness; taking itself incredibly seriously and making us in awe of its stellar cast. But what is lost for me are the flashes of humour. I liked the fact that David Suchet was prepared to play out the ludicrous aspects of Poirot’s character to the full and cared little for how he was perceived. Hercule’s fastidiousness and pursuit of correctness mattered more to him than the opinions of others. That is his strength.

There are good reasons why Christie’s novels are classics. The subtlety of her characterisation is one of them. This subtlety is lost in this current production, which is dark and strangely masculine, when Poirot was anything but! The series will still be enjoyable to watch, but it lacks that element of Christie magic – the universality of her stories. She did not set out to divide readers but to unite them by highlighting that our deepest flaws and weaknesses are part of a shared human nature. There was far more in Christie’s world that united than divided us.


What publishing with KDP has done for me.

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It’s five years this month since I published my first novel, Aoife’s Chariot. We almost immediately went on holiday to France that August, and I recall spending that break on tenterhooks, waiting for those first crucial reviews to filter through.

The book did very well and I was spurred on to pen the sequel over the following months. Thinking back to that time, it never occurred to me not to choose the Amazon Direct Publishing option to bring my books to market, and the Createspace service for the paperbacks. I suppose because I had some knowledge of the value of online business models, this approach seemed like a no-brainer.

Since 2013, I have published twenty titles; encompassing two crime series and a couple of standalone novels. My books have sold in their hundreds of thousands all over the world. The KDP experience has allowed me to make a good living from being a novelist, something that I’m aware is by no means a given. And I haven’t needed to inflate my prices in order to achieve this success. In fact, quite the opposite.

But perhaps even more notable than the financial benefits, what publishing with KDP has allowed me to do, is to write at a pace that is natural to me. Without a doubt, if I had applied to a big publisher, I would not have written the number of books I have. Due to the time it takes for a traditional publisher to review and suggest edits, let alone produce the final printable product, it takes an average of 9-12 months to get a draft to market. By those timings, I would have only published a quarter of the books that I have.

This would be a case of quality over quantity, I suspect you may suggest. I strongly disagree. My editors do an exceptional job, but they work only for me. I’m not one manuscript amongst dozens waiting for scrutiny. The design process is now largely digital and takes hours rather than months to perfect. There is no need in this day and age for the production process to take so long. Only KDP (and perhaps the new breed of digital publishers) appear to have utilised new tech to bring books to the market more speedily.

I love the moment when a book is released to the world. This end-goal is what motivates me to push on with a novel, even when the writing process can feel like hard-work. If I felt that end point was so far protracted, there is no doubt I would lose my creative mojo to a certain extent.

For me, the ideas for a new book push themselves forward in my mind and the process of plot to page can be a fast, almost compulsive one. For this reason, the efficiency and autonomy that KDP provides has been perfect for my style of novel-writing. I think that readers appreciate the speed with which the next instalment of their favourite series are delivered too.

For this fifth anniversary of my writing and publishing journey, it’s worth remembering what lies at the heart of the process; the generous readers who have shown me so much support and taken a chance on a new author, and the KDP service that has given me the opportunity to do the job I love and make a success of it.

Has the back page blurb gone out of fashion?

As I make a start on the blurb for Dani Bevan 11, this question seems appropriate!

The RetroReview

BookCover5_25x8_BW_330_DARK_TITLE_miniThis statement is a lament rather than a question. I’ve looked at a great deal of fiction titles on Amazon today, either with  presents in mind or holiday reading. After examining the pages of a number of popular titles I was struck by how many authors had eschewed the book description section and added a stream of reviews instead. To be honest, I was perplexed. As a customer, what I wanted to see, most of all, was what the book was about. If I wish to read reviews, which I undoubtedly do, I will subsequently pan down to the customer review section.
I’m sure I can’t be unusual in this practice. When I am getting ready to publish a new book, the ‘blurb’ is the first thing I begin work on. It is the information that will encourage a reader to either take a look at a sample of the…

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My top tip for lifelong success: get plenty of rest

imageI enjoy reading a ‘self-help’or professional coaching book as much as the next person. Being self-employed for the last few years means that using such resources is pretty much obligatory.

But I always feel there is an important element missing from their advice. Of course, no one ever became a successful business person/entrepreneur, sports star or philanthropist by lounging about all day. However, those people who are motivated enough to read these guides and move up through the ranks in organisations, or set up their own businesses, I suspect, tend to be quite obsessive-compulsive about work to start with. As such, the advice given should take this into account.

I make this generalisation based purely on personal experience. I have published eighteen books in five years, alongside being a full-time mum. I also run numerous social media sites and write blogs to complement the book publishing. To achieve this level of output, there’s no doubt you have to be a tad obsessive about the work process. I don’t tend to observe weekends or holidays as any barrier to running my business.

Having said this, I have learnt the hard way, the importance of incorporating plenty of rest time into the working day. Five years ago, I suffered a bout of physical and nervous exhaustion that was debilitating and horrible. I still feel the effects of it now. So, I am careful about not allowing my compulsive nature to drag me down that road again.

I must stress that it isn’t often easy to put the brakes on. But I now ensure I take regular rest breaks and even naps, if necessary. For a relatively young woman who is used to being fit and active, this often makes me feel lazy, and like a bad role model to my children. In my youth, I used to loathe lying down during the day, I would certainly not have been able to actually sleep. But life has a way of wearing you down. Sleepless nights with babies and young children, jobs which put you under continual pressure and place you in situations that cause nervous anxiety. Additional events such as moving house or jobs, illnesses within the family, can heap on even greater burdens.

Over the years, these pressures build up, especially when holidays with young children are harder work than being at home and there are fewer opportunities to properly re-charge the batteries. The fatigue creeps up on you. Most of us don’t notice the warning signs.

Please take the advice of someone who has temporarily slipped over that edge. You cannot maintain lifelong success without plenty of rest. Reading, watching TV and surfing the web are enjoyable leisure activities, but they aren’t necessarily restful. Sleep is crucial, as is time spent alone, without interruption. These things are harder to enshrine within the working day than you might imagine, but they are essential.

Don’t feel guilty about taking the rest needed to maintain good health. It’s a non-negotiable. Your creativity and productivity will benefit, but most importantly, you will be able to manage the long haul. We are bombarded with images of people being extremely active on social media. I’m going to counter this today by attaching an image of someone doing absolutely nothing, which is just as necessary for our professional and personal wellbeing.


The RetroReview


There has long been a tradition in literature of combining the real with the imagined. In fact, as anyone who dabbles in creative writing will tell you, it is quite impossible not to do so. Only if you are creating an entirely new universe where you wish to challenge perceived ideas about everyday life might you avoid having to blend truth and fiction.

There is a definite precedence for this within the Sci Fi genre. Even then, authors will find that they still have to use some elements of the familiar, otherwise their readers will not be able to empathise with these newly imagined worlds.
When writing my first novel, ‘Aoife’s Chariot’, I decided to create a fictional Scottish Island called Garansay which would exist alongside real places. The island is based on the Isle of Arran, where my father grew up. There are certain mountain ranges and features that…

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The conservative streak of the psychological thriller

imageI’m not having a pop at psychological thrillers. I’ve written one myself and it remains one of my favourite genres. But as such, I’ve noticed a certain moral streak that runs through many of their narratives.

Last night I re-watched the 1990 film based on Scott Turow’s legal thriller, Presumed Innocent. It’s years since I first watched it, or read the book, which can arguably be described as a classic of the genre. So revisiting the story, I was struck by its parallel with modern psychological and crime novels in it’s central theme.

All great fiction has a moral message, the better stuff is just more subtle about it’s preoccupations. It occurred to me last night, that the moral message of many psychological thrillers is essentially a conservative one. We live in a modern society, where divorce is no longer shunned by polite society. Many children now grow up in  extended family units, with parents and step parents playing equal roles.

But in the psychological thriller genre, deciding to leave your family, or worse, setting out on an extra-marital affaIr, will inevitably result in cataclysmic consequences for both the perpetrator and their family. Call to mind the eighties film, Fatal Attraction, and you will get the general idea.

I suppose the subject matter is inevitable, given that psychological thrillers are often grounded in the domestic setting. Yet, it surprises me that in the last thirty years, when our society has evolved in so many ways, the suspense novel remains resolutely unchanged in its message. The family unit must be preserved, and preferably the first marriage, or chaos and violence will ensue.

Despite the shifts in modern lifestyles, I believe this essentially conservative warning still appeals. It must do, because the genre is more popular than ever. I can understand the allure of the message, we feel a sense of schadenfreude if we ourselves are safe in our own family unit, and are warned of the terrible danger which would befall us in succumbing to temptation. The readership are often women, perhaps reassured by the tales of disaster which exist outside of the ‘safe’, domestic sphere. If their husband were to stray, punishment would be harsh and complete, to him and his lover.

In saying this, a new strand of the psychological thriller has taken the morality of the domestic novel in a different direction. Recent releases, such as BA Paris’s Behind Closed Doors, have taken the issue of domestic abuse as their central theme. In these circumstances, a family unit can be broken, without the usual dire consequences.

Yet, the moral message remains a stark one. You can leave your spouse – but only if physical or emotional abuse is involved. If you’ve simply grown apart, or become attracted to someone else,  if you leave, you must pay a terrible price.

I’m sure that not every book in the genre follows this pattern, mine does not. But I’ve read enough in the last couple of years to indicate this moral message is as strong as it was thirty, or even a hundred years ago. Modern detective novels, particularly those that focus on police procedure, tend to reflect social change more effectively.

The psychological thriller seems slower to change its central message. Whether, as readers, we still require these moral tales to help maintain the family unit is the subject of a whole other debate.

In a culture that exalts achievements, we need to recognise the hidden power of not-doing.

imageReading an article by comedian Lee Mack this afternoon, about his writing methods, proved to be a revelation to me. It wasn’t his habit of retreating to his shed each day, in order to pen his BBC sitcom that surprised me, it was his attitude to alcohol.

The child of publican parents, Lee Mack gave up alcohol himself a couple of years ago. His reason was not directly health related, he simply claimed to be tired of how our culture ‘shoves alcohol down people’s throats’. He feels so strongly about the issue that he fought against the sale of his show, Not Going Out, to the freeview channel, Dave, because of their alleged links to funding from beer companies.

This deadly serious stand made by Mack seemed unusual for a comic. If anyone has ever been to a comedy club, they will know they are drink-fuelled environments. One must assumes it takes a confident stand-up to perform to a stone-cold sober audience.

This makes Mack’s stance all the more impressive. He is an established name these days, no doubt having amassed a significant wealth from his tv appearances. However, to propound a view that could result in him being labelled a kill-joy or a preachy, Puritan type, is risky for someone in his profession.

His words struck a chord with me. I’ve not drunk alcohol myself since Christmas, and often give up for long periods. Like Mack, I don’t do this because I believe I drink too much, but because I’m uncomfortable with the relationship we have with alcohol in this country.

Since turning forty three years ago, I’ve become more aware of my mortality, I suppose. I drank socially in my twenties (when I was extremely sociable!) and my philosophy is that one shouldn’t push their luck. It can’t be a lifestyle that can be carried on indefinitely. It has also become all too apparent that my metabolism is on a downward  trajectory as I approach middle-age. The truth is that I’d rather give up the empty calories of a glass of wine of a night than have to diet!

But there are other considerations too. My parents were never big drinkers when I was young and I’d rather my children didn’t see me with a drink in my hand every evening. Despite what we know to be the damaging effects of  heavy drinking, it is still glamorised as an activity by popular culture. In novels and tv dramas, our most popular heroes and heroines often enjoy a drink, especially the female cops.

i am a crime writer myself and I have tried to buck the trend slightly with my lead detective, DCI Dani Bevan. She is uncomfortable with alcohol-culture in the police because of what happened to her mother (you’ll have to read the series to find out what!) I know that my fellow writers will claim that they are simply reflecting reality with their character’s actions. This is understandable in many respects, but perhaps as writers of popular fiction, music and television, we should see ourselves as part of creating the prevailing culture, not just reflecting it.

The older I get, the less I feel I’m missing out on a ‘big’ drinking night. To be honest, I find a night out with drunk people boring. Twenty years ago, a London bar or pub with my friends would have been the place I most wanted to be, but times change. I can’t handle hangovers, for a start.

So I found Mack’s view refreshing. In our social-media centred-culture, much of what we gain kudos for is related to what we do – holidays, theatre-trips, sporting achievements, and also what we consume – the food and drink. Perhaps we’ve lost touch with the value of not-doing. Of how our UK based holidays reduce our carbon footprint, and our avoidance of alcohol or caffeine might be of benefit to the perceptions of our children, in addition to reducing our impact on NHS services.

Like Mack, I run the risk of being boring and preachy with this view. I’m not a fitness fanatic and I think people should eat what they like, but I don’t think tobacco, drugs or alcohol should be glorified in our culture. Mack remains a very witty man and his writing is excellent. I’m sure he doesn’t mind how he is viewed personally, as long as his work speaks for itself.

And I believe there is a role for taking an ethical position in the creative arts, as there is in any other profession.


A day devoted entirely to pampering Mum. But which one are we referring to?

The RetroReview

In the UK we will are celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend. The cards and gift suggestions have been on display in the shops for several weeks already. I have always believed Mother’s Day to be the only genuine article, viewing other related festivals such as Father’s Day and even Sibling’s Day to be simply constructs of the greetings card industry. So I was surprised to discover that Mother’s Day itself is actually a fairly recent construct.
I always assumed that in Britain we celebrated ‘Mothering Sunday’, which is a Christian festival dating back to the 1600s and involves saying prayers in church to honour the Virgin Mary. But according to my research, this festival died out in the 19th Century. The custom of adhering to Mother’s Day was only taken up again when American servicemen re-introduced the concept during World War Two. So, although in the UK we tend to…

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