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A delve into your dusty DVD collection can unearth unexpected treats

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I had pretty much had enough. I’m not a sports fan. I realise that the weather is fantastic and it shouldn’t matter that there’s nothing for me to watch on television at the moment, but actually, it really does. After a long day of activity – entertaining the kids on their summer break – I like to relax with an absorbing and enjoyable piece of drama on T.V. So, as none of the channels can presently oblige my needs, I have begun to delve into my old DVD collection. There are some great boxed sets in there that I haven’t watched in years. This week I alighted upon the full six series of Prime Suspect which ran from the early 1990s. I’ve watched them all, of course, but I felt it was long enough ago that I might get some pleasure out of returning to them once more. I was right.
Starting with the second instalment, being still fairly familiar with the first iconic series which had introduced the fabulous Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison, I quickly remembered why this series of crime stories had become such a classic. The plot was ground-breaking in many respects, highlighting the endemic sexism and racism which existed within the Metropolitan Police during that time. The writing, acting and direction are superb and although slow-moving in places, it is the attention to detail and procedure in Prime Suspect which spawned a mass industry of copy-cat television programmes and crime novels.
But what really grabbed my attention in the re-watching of this second series was the use of the clay modelling technique to recreate the head of the victim, Joanna Fagunwa, from the remains of her skull. I found this fascinitating and haunting when I first watched the programme back in my teens as it was the first time this method had ever been used in a British crime drama. Of course, it has now become part and parcel of the forensic drama’s repertoire of techniques. In Prime Suspect 2, it had been unique and watching it again, it had the same mesmerising effect on me as it did all those years ago. Perhaps more so, because now, I recognised the face that had been sculpted out of the clay. The beautiful features were quite clearly those of the British actress Nina Sosanya, who has been seen most recently in the BBC2 comedy W1A, with Hugh Bonneville. I have enjoyed her work over the years, especially in the Channel Four series Teachers, but I never realised that her first television role had been to play the beautiful and elusive seventeen year old Joanne, whose fate had such terrible repurcussions for all those who had loved her, and for the investigative team setting out to discover who was responisble for her death.
I am waiting eagerly for the new season of dramas to begin on T.V, so that normal service can be resumed. But in the meantime, I will keep digging into that old DVD pile, hoping to root out yet another evocative, long-hidden gem.

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Time to recharge the batteries but also to gain inspiration.

It’s holiday time for most of us and like all folk who work for themselves, writers can often find it difficult to switch off.
I am no different. Since giving up the day job to write full time I have found it tricky to set aside designated periods specifically to relax. Of course, I also have two children under ten, so this may account in some part for this, however, I definitely find myself thinking that if I stop writing and reflecting on my next project for too long, perhaps I’ll run out of ideas. In fact, taking a proper break from the keyboard has the opposite effect. Your brain needs time to rest and, most significantly, being in a new location will spark even greater creativity.
Something I like to do on holiday is to seek out those boxes of well thumbed paperbacks that you find in resorts and guesthouses. I make sure I choose a book I wouldn’t usually read back at home. This helps me to broaden my literary horizons and stay in touch with what everyone else is reading. Sometimes we can get too caught up in our own writing!
It was an incident which occurred whilst on a hill walk on the glorious Isle of Arran which inspired me to write my first novel. So I do understand the importance of letting your mind absorb new experiences and places, as it will undoubtedly enrich your future writing. All of us novelists can be a tad obsessive about our work, largely because there is no definitive end point to a project. We always feel there is more we can do. So give yourself a break. Leave the laptop behind and simply kick back and relax for a week or so. I guarantee you’ll be a better writer for it.

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Does your book need to fit into a defined genre to succeed?

imageI’m throwing this out as a question, as I’m not sure of the answer yet myself. As all those who’ve published on Amazon or Smashwords or Apple ibooks will tell you, the category in which your book is placed is central to whether or not your target readership will be able to discover it. So, it’s very important to get it right. Having said that, it is possible to switch genres at any time, so it’s worth keeping a close eye on your sales to see if your book is shelved in the correct place.
My novels are mystery thrillers, but like all decent pieces of fiction, there is plenty other stuff going on in them too, like History, psychology, family drama and the odd dash of romance. My first novel, Aoife’s Chariot, does very well in the Scottish fiction section and is regularly in the top 100 kindle bestsellers for this category. My second and third books do very well in Cozy Mysteries, which I only discovered as a sub-category after I had been published for several months. By taking a look at the top-sellers within that genre and reading the blurbs, I definitely decided that my books should be there too.
It takes time to find out where your writing fits. As authors we are all unique, but to sell and market our work, it first needs to be slotted into its own corner of the metaphorical bookshop (or the real bookshop for that matter).
Fresh genres and Sub-genres are emerging all the time, so keep checking that there isn’t a new key word on the ebook scene that fits your novel which you’ve not yet cottoned on to. Which leads me back to the original question, does our book need to fit into a neat category in order to sell well. Actually, I think the answer is no. In a sense, online retail is in the process of re-writing the rule book on this, so as long as you can utilize the tags and keywords effectively, so that readers know what they’re getting, your book can be about whatever you want it to be.

Events that have you smiling through gritted teeth…

We’ve had an exciting few days in my neck of the woods. The Tour de France came through the region yesterday, and it was a great opportunity for local businesses. Thousands of people flooded to the very pretty nearby villages, including the place where my parents live. As I wandered through their picturesque little hamlet at the end of the day, when the crowds were thinning out and the spectacle was over, it got me thinking. The main street was strewn with litter. The stragglers who still remained had clearly enjoyed the excuse provided by the event for sustained daytime drinking. As I gazed about me, I immediately wondered where all these folk had come from and if they would ever feel compelled return to our quaint little corner of Essex again. I even dared to question if we would really want them to. It’s undeniably thrilling when a national event literally passes by your doorstep, but sometimes we might find ourselves smiling upon the occasion through gritted teeth – like one of the residents I know who woke up to find a line of portaloos directly outside her house. The residents of Glastonbury have long grumbled about the noise and mess that the music festival inevitably brings to their beautiful part of the world.
These spectacles bring press coverage and a feel-good factor which are all great for business. But can we be forgiven for letting out a huge collective sigh of relief as we watch these talented sportsmen and women ride off into the distance, taking the spotlight of nationwide interest along with them, hoping it will be a good few years before our region is chosen to host a similarly amazing and thrilling event once again…?

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