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Is it really worth attending the London Book Fair?

The RetroReview

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This is a question that many professional writers will be asking themselves this week. The annual London Book Fair kicks off at Olympia tomorrow and today is the last opportunity to buy discounted entrance tickets online. I’ve been to the fair in the long distant past, when I worked in the book trade at the end of the nineties. Then, I was on the other side of the fence from where I am now. In fact, back when I worked at the Good Book Guide, I attended a few different trade fairs, particularly when I was selecting products for the gift supplement. Even then, I had doubts about their worth. Most of the decisions I made were based on the product catalogues I brought back to the office with me, which presumably I could have received through the post (or from the company website these days).
Of course, it’s not…

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Run along and play, darling. Mummy’s finishing her book.

The RetroReview

Run along and play, darling. Mummy's finishing her book.

Finishing a novel is a wonderful feeling. It is the final accomplishment of a creative urge that has driven you along for several months, or even years.
But after the initial sense of elation that flows through your entire being at the blissful realisation the thing is finally done and dusted, some uncomfortable thoughts begin to edge their way into your consciousness. Did the kids do their homework this week? Or the week before, for that matter? When was I last in touch with my wonderful and witty girlfriend who I like to meet at least once a fortnight for a coffee and a catch-up?
Or, worse than this. You may find yourself trying to recall your last walk in the park. Or suddenly observing the untidiness and grubbiness of your surroundings and wondering why the scene you are currently surveying seems so oddly unfamiliar to you.
I am beginning…

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Is it still bad manners to read at the table?

The RetroReview

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My daughter is at that age when she reads constantly. Her books are scattered around the house and she will peruse them anywhere, from halfway up the stairs to sitting on the toilet. And we would not dream of stopping her. It’s what we’ve been encouraging her to do since she first learnt her letters.

But a new dilemma has reared its head. The books now come with us when we go out. If the conversation veers into boring grown up territory, at a restaurant or at somebody’s house, the paperback pops up and the nose gets promptly buried within its pages. So, is this okay? I distinctly recall being told, in no uncertain terms, when I was a child, that reading at the table was bad manners. But these were the days before smartphones and ipads. Now, a book seems like the least offensive article that your offspring could…

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Are they playing?

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As we reach the end of another school holiday, I think I’ve had a revelation about my kids.

They’ve had a great week. A couple of play dates and a mini break by the seaside with Gran and Grandad. Neither had much homework to blight their enjoyment and there was still time to play with the puppy. But my perennial niggling concerns about their play habits still lingered on.

I suppose I’m not the only parent to feel their children spend too long on their devices. It’s become pretty much a cliche to yell at them every half hour to turn off the phone/Kindle Fire/X-box. I even spent some time surreptitiously observing what my daughter and her friend got up to during a recent play date at our house.

I found myself inwardly lamenting,’do they actually play??’. I saw them watch a film, show each other stuff on their phones and chat about school/pets. I didn’t expect them to get the soft toys out and re-create a teddy bear’s picnic, or even dip into the bag of barbies. But I couldn’t help recalling the imagination games I used to play at their age. Our dolls and teddies were puritans or royalists during the civil war. When the weather was good, the garden became a stage-set, where we could enjoy a world of endless imaginary possibilities.

Then the realisation struck me. They are playing. It’s just the platform upon which these imaginative endeavours are constructed has changed. I knew then that I had judged these young people too harshly. They had spent an hour on Minecraft, comparing the complex worlds and characters they’d both created.

I’m overjoyed when my son and daughter play Lego games together, because that’s what I did as a child. Therefore, I consider it proper ‘play’. There’s something very tunnel-visioned about this attitude. When my son is building his Sim City or winning his Forza races in order to buy new cars for his virtual garage, that is play for him. Much as previous generations’ idea of play was to be kicking a ball around outside, rather than building Lego or dressing Barbie dolls in a centrally heated bedroom. The concept of ‘normal’ child play is clearly partly a social construct and based upon the resources available to us.

Times change. Where I was forced to create an imaginary world from fairly limited props and materials, modern technologies mean those worlds can be formulated in a far more visual and stimulating way. No wonder our children want to play there. It’s pretty fantastic to be honest.

So I’ve decided to be less judgemental. My childhood experience wasn’t necessarily the perfect one. My daughter created a treasure hunt on Minecraft this morning for her brother. This concept amazes me. I couldn’t do it. And who is to say that because the game is virtual, it is inferior to a treasure hunt around the house and garden? Apart from the opportunity to get some fresh air, I not sure that it is. And as a parent, it’s our job to make sure the kids get out and about on trips anyway. That isn’t really their responsibility.

During the Easter break I’m going to chill. The kids have their own way of playing, occasionally it overlaps with my memories of what it means, but a lot of the time it doesn’t. As long as we keep an eye on the potential dangers and are ensuring balance, I think that’s absolutely fine.

 

Do we need to like the lead character to enjoy the book?

The RetroReview

Do we need to like the lead character to enjoy the book?

A review that I recently received for my first novel has got me thinking.
How important is the reader’s engagement with the key characters of a novel to their overall appreciation of the story? I suspect that the answer to this question is essentially a very personal one. Some of us place great emphasis upon plot, whilst others absorb ourselves and revel in the writing style of our favourite authors. For others, their enjoyment is based almost solely upon the exploits of the main protagonists.

Of course, for the majority of intelligent readers, it is a combination of these factors that we are looking for in a good book. However, it is difficult to feel fully engaged with a narrative, however gripping, if we dislike the hero or heroine.
My favourite literary characters are a fairly disparate bunch; from Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables to John Rebus and…

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A Writer’s Little Pleasures

The RetroReview

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Having been inspired by one of those ‘mind, body and spirit’ miniature books about life’s little pleasures, it made me consider those tiny boosts that keep us writers going.

1. Quiet Time.
The kids are at school/your mum and dads/on a play date. You’ve cleared the inbox and are ready to devote several uninterrupted hours to the word processor. Bliss.

2. A great idea.
It can come at any time of the day, when at the shops or making dinner. You’ve been vaguely chewing over a tricky element in a plot line when suddenly a great idea strikes you. It seems to tie together perfectly with what you were trying to achieve. You can’t imagine where the inspiration came from but it has resolved your problem perfectly.

3. Getting a good review.
This may not happen everyday of the week and doesn’t necessarily have to be a written review on…

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The power of adolescent fiction on the subconscious mind.

The RetroReview

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I started writing novels in my late thirties but have been an avid reader all of my life. When I began penning my eighth book, The Ghost of Marchmont Hall, I knew that I wished to recreate the magic that I’d experienced when reading adolescent fiction such as, A Pattern of Roses by K.M Peyton and The Autumn Ghosts by Ruth M Arthur.

Both titles are now long out of print and I must have read them getting on for thirty years ago. But the effect these stories had upon my subconscious mind was clearly profound. Both novels explore a mystery from the past and interweave these events with the present day. The author then skilfully  shows how the resolving of the puzzle has impacted upon the main characters.

To a certain extent, all of my twelve novels play with similar themes and style of plotting. There is always a…

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What should readers expect from a psychological thriller?

The RetroReview

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I’ve always been a fan of the psychological thriller genre. These are the titles I am drawn to when scanning through the shelves of bookshops or searching for books on Amazon. My favourite authors include Nicci French and Minette Walters, with current writers like Alex Marwood and Paula Hawkins providing my more recent reads.

So what makes a thriller ‘psychological’ in nature? I write mystery novels and police procedurals, but earlier this year, I added a psychological standalone thriller to my back catalogue. My sense of what placed ‘I Trust You’ apart from my other books was firstly, that the book had a predominantly domestic setting. Like Linwood Barclay’s early novels, the psychological thriller should explore events and scenarios that are immediately recognisable to the reader.

Many psychological thrillers begin with a missing person or a disintegrating relationship. The interplay between the characters is often slowly revealed, the body count and…

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News for the New Year

Aoife's_Chariot_Cover_for_Kindle  Ocasionally, moving forward can involve a nod to the past. As regular followers of my blog will know, with each new year I like to take on a new project. Last January, it was the completion of my first children’s book.

For 2017, I will be revisiting my first ever novel, Aoife’s Chariot, which started the Imogen and Hugh Croft Mysteries series, but was a standalone novel in itself. For a while now, I have been considering how Aoife’s Chariot could be transferred to the screen.

The very first of my books seems to lend itself perfectly to visual media as the landscape plays such a crucial role in the story. I can picture the scenes and the characters as if they were already made flesh.

Screenwriting is a complex skill. I don’t imagine that it will be the same as writing novels. I’ve already been looking into the techniques involved and noting the process. It will be a project of trial and error. Certainly a challenge, but one I’m looking forward to. We need to keep learning new skills and I’m relishing the thought of revisiting an old favourite; written when I had no idea if there would be an audience for it, but being committed to the strength of the story nonetheless.

I shall keep you updated with how the process is going. It may be that I need to bring in outside expertise, as I did with the audiobooks of Against a Dark Sky and On a Dark Sea. But finding out is all part of the fun, isn’t it?

The books I wrote in 2016

As a review of the year, this seemed the most obvious place to start. It’s nearly Christmas Day and time for reflection upon the year passed. It was a significant one for the world in general and in that context, not a great one.

But our own personal experiences tend to take precedence in our memories. For me, 2016 was a decent year. It was a challenge –  with our daughter sitting SATs exams and going up to secondary school, but these events bookended a gloriously hot summer; where our visits to the nearby east coast were reminiscent of the sweltering heat of the Mediterranean.

In terms of writing, it has also been a good one. I’ve not replicated the prolific production of 2014/15, but I feel that the four books I published this year have been amongst my best. I wrote a standalone psychological thriller in the Spring which I have wanted to do since the start of my writing career. I suppose to prove I could produce a novel outside of the serial format.

Yet, my DCI Dani Bevan series continued, with Hold Hands in the Dark and Dark Remedies being released at the start and end of the year respectively, which saw Dani dealt a series of tough blows in her personal life.

Imogen and Hugh Croft were not left out this year either. I produced an anthology of short stories in March which was inspired by the short stories of Agatha Christie. I wanted each tale to be an intricate puzzle in itself, where the reader could pit their wits against Imogen to solve the clues. As always, the Imogen and Hugh instalments have a hint of the golden age of crime to them, although solidly set in the modern age.

A completely new departure for me this year was the conversion of the first two Dani Bevan novels into Audiobook format. It was the first time I had worked with a third party and the experience was a revelation to me. David Monteath provided the voice over to the text of these books and captured the atmosphere perfectly, bringing the stories and characters to life. I hope this will be the start of a long new chapter for the Dani Bevan series.

I have the next book plotted and part of the research done. This will be the project that starts 2017, which I hope will be a creative and prosperous one for us all!!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

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