September 23

Killer Women: Rachel Abbott & Louise Voss


In this article Rachel Abbott and Louise Voss talk about the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing.

Voss is whats known as a ‘hybrid author, with a publisher for some of her books whilst others are self-published. All of Abbotts novels are self-published in the UK. In 2015 she was named as the No.1 self-published author on Amazon Kindle UK and the fourteenth best-selling author overall.


LV:  Hi Rachel!  Many writers these days are asking themselves whether they should self-publish or try to get a traditional deal. So, lets kick off with why you chose to self-publish.

RA: Some people believe that writers only self-publish because they cant get a publishing deal. But thats not always true. I self-publish out of choice. I like being my own boss and making the decisions, and for now I am prepared to put in the extremely long hours I have to work.

the-venus-trapLV: Self-publishing is definitely work heavy! With a traditional deal, the publisher takes responsibility for the editing, the cover design, and all the tasks essential to make a book available online. They also organise the printed version for bookshops and, in theory, do the marketing – although lots of authors find they still need to devote energy to that. How do you manage your time?

RA: Its hard – I want to write more than anything, but I have to split my time between managing a business – because its not just the marketing, theres a mountain of admin too – and writing. I employ two part time assistants and I also have an agent and publicist.

LV:  I like the sense of control you get over everything when you self-publish. I can update books, change the pricing and covers, and if I want to I can pay for additional marketing. You dont get that with a traditional publisher. So what do you think are the positives about a traditional deal?

RA: You would normally expect to receive an advance on royalties, and for some people thats crucial. But the main advantage is that your publisher organises the whole process and takes the decisions, so you have less to worry about. They are experienced and knowledgeable and they give their authors support. But the big thing for me is that with a traditional deal, you get printed copies of your books in shops. Thats my one regret – I do get some in shops, but Im never going to be on Waterstones’ front table.

LV: And the negatives?

kill-me-againRA: You basically get a smaller share of the income from sales. If you self-publish successfully, the financial rewards can be higher than with a traditional deal in the longer term.

LV: Theres another publishing option that weve not discussed, and that is to sign with a small independent publisher.  There are several around at the moment having big successes for their authors.   

RA: They certainly seem to have their marketing nailed, and thats the key. For me, though, I also think a good agent is important too. Many people find it strange that I have an agent, but its the best decision I ever made.

LV:  Yes, and ideally one who will give editorial input so your novel is as good as it can be. 

RA: They dont all do that, apparently, so its really worth doing the research before signing up with an agency. A good agent will also sell translation rights, and my books are now in over twenty languages.

LV: In the end, the decision on the type of publishing for each writer comes down to their appetite for risk, their desire/ability to work their socks off to make their books a success, and their attitude to control, or lack thereof. Theres definitely no right or wrong answer that works for everybody.

RA: Were just scratching the surface here, though. Hopefully well be able to go into more detail and help the decision making process at our workshop at the Killer Woman Festival in October. 

 LV: Heres a link for anyone interested in coming along to meet us: Shoreditch Town Hall in London on October 15th . Its going to be a fantastic day!  Look forward to seeing you then.


All of Rachel’s books can be ordered by clicking through this link:

Louise’s books can be ordered via this link:


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September 2

GJ Minett (The Hidden Legacy) – My Writing Commandments

The Hidden Legacy has been gathering rave reviews since it first released as an e-book earlier this year.  The paperback edition released on 25th August and is now finding its way into the hands of many new readers.

I am delighted to welcome the author of The Hidden Legacy, GJ Minett, to the blog today to share his 5 writing commandments.


GrahamFive Writing Commandments I Live By

Here we go. In no particular order, and with no guarantees that I manage to live up to any of them:


This used not to be a problem. For years I resisted the siren call of Facebook and tweets were something I welcomed through the bedroom window. Nothing … NOTHING was going to tempt me to goo over pictures of puppies and kittens or start taking an interest in what someone had for breakfast. Then I got a book deal. First meeting with my editor, I told him confidently: I don’t do social media. His response: you do now.

Now I find it desperately difficult to ignore it. I can be approaching the most dramatic moment in the chapter and it will suddenly occur to me that I haven’t checked for 20 minutes to see whether so-and-so has responded to my last tweet or how many places my novel has risen or fallen in the Amazon rankings.

TURN IT OFF. Turn off the notifications, the beep alerts, the silly little pings that whisper insidiously in your ear that if you don’t check now, you’ll miss out on something momentous. If you don’t, you’ll never get anything done.


  1. Tell a story

People read novels for a variety of reasons. Not many though, I would hazard a guess, will have picked up your novel because they want to have a personalised agenda thrust down their throat. Very few will be expecting to dive into a dictionary to look up every fifth word because you’re so keen to demonstrate the extent and complexity of your vocabulary. Just tell the story and avoid trying to be too clever.

The Hidden Legacy

  1. Give them characters they can believe in

Not only that, make them characters they will care about. It’s only a personal preference but I tend to start with a character rather than a detailed plot. I carry them around with me in my head for a month or two, developing them while I exercise, asking myself how they would react to a news item on TV. I draw up checklists of what they eat, read, wear for different occasions and at different times of the year, what their guilty secrets and deepest fears might be. Then, once I have them clearly defined in my head, I start thinking about the situation I want to put them in and the dilemma or crisis I want them to confront because without conflict of some sort there is no real story.


  1. Appeal to the senses

Ellie, one of my fellow workshop students on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, was an invaluable help to me whenever I started to ‘plot-trot’. She would send work back to me complaining that she felt excluded from what I was writing. She felt like a detached observer, denied the opportunity to empathise as much as she would have liked, because I wasn’t giving her enough to get hold of. “Put me in the scene,” she would implore me. “What can I see? What can I smell, hear around me? Let me touch things.” I needed frequent reminders and was grateful for them. The scene in The Hidden Legacy when Ellen first visits the cottage has attracted a certain amount of favourable comment and a lot of that is down to the advice I received. Bring the senses into play and include your reader at every opportunity.


  1. Trust your instincts, but …

There must be thousands of novels I’ve considered and not written. Ideas keep popping into my head and out again. Sometimes though an idea comes back and that’s usually a sign for me that it has legs, as they say. We might be able to go somewhere with it.

By and large I trust my instincts about whether it’s the right story and also regarding the quality of what I’m producing. I’m far from infallible though and it’s at times like this that you need the right people around you.

A while ago I dashed off a second book to follow on the heels of The Hidden Legacy. I persuaded myself it was good enough. It wasn’t … and fortunately my agent, Peter Buckman, told me to put it in a drawer, chalk it up to experience and write a better one.

And when I completed Lie In Wait, even though it had sneaked past this redoubtable gatekeeper, I received several pages of notes from my editor, Joel Richardson, with suggestions as to things I ‘might like to consider’. It’s not exactly a different book now but it is a much better one.

So … 5 commandments that work for me. I hope they do the same for you.


The Hidden Legacy is available in paperback and digital formats and can be ordered here:

Lie in Wait released on Kindle on 25th August 2016 and can be ordered by clicking through on this link:

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August 30

Book Chains – Steph Broadribb (Third Link)

Book Chains – my author Q&A with a twist.

DSC_2888 mediumAs I love a good mystery I have brought an element of unknown into my blogging – by putting my Book Chains feature into the hands of my guests. The last question in my Book Chains Q&A is to invite my guest to nominate the next author that I should approach to interview. Oh and they also have to provide one question that I should ask on their behalf.

Last time out Rod Reynolds nominated Steph Broadribb and he set her a question which I think was intended to make her squirm a little. Before we see how Steph tackles Rod’s question I had a few of my own first:


First Question is never actually a question. This is where I ask you to introduce yourself and give you the opportunity to plug your book (and your blog) 

Okay, so here goes … I’m Steph Broadribb aka Crime Thriller Girl, and my debut novel – an action thriller titled Deep Down Dead – is coming out in October (eBook) and January 2017 in (paperback).

Deep Down Dead tells the story of Lori Anderson, a tough-as-they-come Florida bounty hunter, who is trying to keep her career separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But with medical bills racking up, Lori has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. That’s when things start to go wrong. The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to face justice is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows, and who knows the secrets of her murky past.

Lori quickly discovers her ‘fast buck’ job is a lot more complicated that she’d thought. Not only is JT fighting a child exploitation racket operating out of one of Florida’s biggest theme parks, Winter Wonderland, a place where ‘bad things never happen’, but he’s also mixed up with the powerful Miami Mob. With two fearsome foes on their tails, just three days to get JT back to Florida, and her daughter to protect, Lori has her work cut out for her. When they’re ambushed at a gas station, the stakes go from high to stratospheric, and things become personal …


We are in the countdown to your first publication day, some people (lucky, lucky people) have had the chance to read Deep Down Dead – how does it feel at this point? 

Gosh, you know it feels quite strange, surreal in a way. I’ve spent so long with these characters – Lori, JT and Dakota – in my mind, and just sharing the story with a few trusted friends, that to think of it ‘out there’ in the world is kind of crazy! I’m really lucky though, because Karen Sullivan and West Camel at Orenda Books are such fabulous people to have guide me – they make everything seem like fun! I’ve also been blown away by the kindness and generosity of the crime fiction world – the writers, bloggers and readers – who’ve picked up one of the samplers and had a read. People have been so lovely in their comments it’s made me blush!


DEEP DOWN DEAD VIS 3I have heard tell that you trained as a bounty hunter?  What does that involve and where on the spectrum from Boba Fett to Stephanie Plum do you think you sit?

I did train as a bounty hunter! I flew out to Sacramento, in California, and trained with a super experienced bounty hunter. It was an amazing experience. I learnt about everything from how to track a fugitive, how to safely catch the fugitive – it’s a dangerous business and bounty hunters get injured and killed in their line of work on an all too frequent basis – so knowing about restraint techniques and tools (guns, tasers and handcuff tricks) is important, to the tough legal stuff – what makes a bounty hunter pick-up lawful, and what makes it unlawful, and all the various legal aspects that it takes to get licensed for bailbond work. I also got to ride around in a massive truck and get the low down on what life is like being a bounty hunter with some very brave and skilled men and women. In terms of where I sit on the spectrum from Boba Fett to Stephanie Plum, I reckon I’m somewhere in the middle – not as hardcore as Boba for sure, but maybe a little more so than Ms Plum!


My chain thus far has been David Young, Rod Reynolds and now you. My Twitter feed goes crazy when the three of you start chatting so how do you all come to know each other?

Well, there was this one time, in this bourbon bar … no, seriously, we all did the City University MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) together. We did it the first year that City ran the (now very popular) programme. It’s a great MA, very practical – lots of writing and critique – so we got to know each other, and our work-in-progress, really well. In fact, even though we finished the MA two years ago, we still meet up as a group every month or so to share our WIPs and chat about books (and drink wine). The rest of the time we lark about on Twitter!


So – legendary crime blogger…how much of a help has the blog been while you wrote Deep Down Dead? Or did it possibly become a distraction for a while? 

Legendary crime blogger? *blushes* 

That’s a tricky one, because doing the CTG blog has been both a help and a hindrance! On the one side it’s been a great way to read more widely than I would otherwise have done (I’m a total action thriller addict!) and has helped me get to know a whole host of fabulous people within the crime fiction world – writers, bloggers, publishers, agents and readers. Some of the people I’ve met along the way are now my closest friends, and I feel really lucky to be part of the crime writing world. On the other side, blogging and tweeting can be a massive distraction when I’m writing, especially during the first draft stage. I have to switch the wireless off on my macbook for chunks of time so I can concentrate, and also leave my phone in another room – otherwise I’d never write a word!


As I am entrenched up here in Scotland I never get to meet many of my guests, however, last year we did meet – you were about to become a Slice Girl.  Do you want to explain what that was (and will you be back for the encore tour)?  

Haha! Indeed we did meet, and I was about to pop my Slice Girls cherry! The Slice Girls are a group of female crime writers who perform crime-related songs at open-mike style events. Our first appearance was at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival 2015 at the ‘Crime in the Coo’ event – where we sang the Cellblock Tango from the musical Chicago while sitting on the bar. It was both terrifying and super fun! The Slice Girls group is led by the fabulous Alexandra Sokoloff, and includes Susi Holliday, Alexandra Benedict, Kati Hiekkapelto, Louise Voss, Lucy Ribchester and me. In September we’ll be back (with a slightly revised line-up) singing at Crime in the Coo’ at Bloody Scotland (with some new songs) and also at the House of Jazz on Saturday night in Bouchercon, New Orleans!


Writing a novel. Maintaining a blog. Attending all the fun launch events. Do you have time to do anything non book related? 

Erm, not so much! That said, I love watching movies and going out to dinner with my mates for a good natter. I’ve also got two horses, and spending time with them out in the fields is a perfect way to relax.


Now Some Quick Fire Questions: 

  • What was the first book that contained one of your review quotes? I’m not sure it was used in the actual book – but it was very cool that Orion Books made a poster for The Killing Season by Mason Cross with my quote on it. 
  • You hit the pub after a book launch, who is most likely to beat you to the bar? Easy – Susi Holliday (closely followed by Mark Hill) every time
  • What is your Favourite film? It’s not crime, I hope that’s okay! It’s The Black Stallion (based on the book by Walter Farley) about a young boy and a wild horse shipwrecked on a remote island. It’s beautifully filmed and one hell of a story.
  • Pineapple should never be found on a pizza. True or False? False! I love Pineapple on pizza! 
  • Tell us one thing from your bucket list. You know what, I don’t actually have a bucket list! I tend to be a bit more let’s go with the flow and see where this takes me …
  • The last VHS video recorder will be manufactured this week but which one piece of tech that you have owned has been your favourite? Anything from Apple! My smartphone is the piece of tech I couldn’t live without (followed by my Macbook!)
  • Do you have a favourite book that you re-read over and over again? Just one?? Gosh. Okay, then it would have to be A State of Fear by the uber talented, late Michael Crichton – it gets a little crazy in places, but it’s awesome. If I can have a second one (please!!) I’d go with The House on The Strand by Daphne du Maurier – she could write tension and angst better than anyone! 


Finally, the Book Chain question – Mr Reynolds set me a question to ask you on his behalf: 

Who would you most like to use a taser on? 

Oh, that’s really tricky! I want to say Rod, but he probably doesn’t deserve the taser really. In fact, someone would have to be pretty badly behaved for me to resort to the taser. But, if it was for charity though … it’d be kinda fun to taser Rod!


And we are done!  Thank you.  But before you go can you suggest an author I should ask to join me next to keep my Q&A Chain going?  Once you have nominated someone I also need a question to ask them on your behalf.

I’m nominating Daniel Pembrey – my question for him is ***REDACTED***

Thanks Steph! Daniel can expect an email sometime very soon…


Steph’s blog should be an essential visit for any crime/thriller reader, you can find her here:

Also there’s a pre-order link for Deep Down Dead via

Steph and the all new Slice Girls line-up will be just one of the fabulous events you can see at Bloody Scotland 2016


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August 3

In Conversation: Michael J Malone and SJI Holliday

It is festival season again.  Harrogate has been and gone, Bute Noir beckons and Bloody Scotland looms large. Exciting times if you can make it along to see some of your favourite authors chatting about their craft. However, if you cannot make it to a festival it can be damned frustrating knowing you are missing the fun.

I decided I would try to recreate a festival type conversation by inviting some of my favourite authors to chat about their books (with me lurking in the background).  The first Conversation I hosted was between SJI Holliday and JS Law, It cannot have been too traumatic for Susi as today I am delighted be able to welcome her back – this time to chat with Ayrshire’s own Michael J Malone.

We kicked off our chat just as Susi’s second book, Willow Walk, was released:


Willow WalkG – Susi, London launch for Willow Walk has been and gone, but as I write Edinburgh Launch is a few days away. Does Book 2 have a different feel to when you were promoting Black Wood?

S – Well, yes. It’s an odd one. In many ways, it’s just as exciting, especially when I really love this book and am getting so many fantastic reviews, but it IS different. I’m doing a lot more physical launch stuff this time – last week I had two library events as well as the London launch, this week I’m signing books all over the place, as well as having events in Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh. I feel like I am talking more about the book, rather than the many blog posts and Q&A type things I did with Black Wood. I hope it will always be exciting when a new book comes out – after all, it is the product of many months of hard work – but it definitely feels a bit different. I’m no longer a debut! Do readers expect more from me now? Do they have higher expectations? Possibly. What do you think, Michael – does each new book release feel different from the last?

M – Yeah, I’ve been impressed by how well organised you seem for this book, Susi. And you are spot on. Gone are the days when the writer could sit back in their garret – starving or otherwise – and wait for the reader to find them. There are SO many books and so many other diversions it really does help if you haul ass and get yourself in front of readers.

Bad SamaritanTo answer your question – does each book feel different? Kinda. I don’t think anything will match the excitement of that first book release. And family and friends rally round for the first one ‘cos this is new and exciting. For subsequent books? Not so much. Now I can sense the suppressed yawn – oh, you’ve got another book out? With the subtext, shit I have to fork out another £8.99. 

But like you, for subsequent books which have all gone through the hate it/ love it/ what the hell am I doing publishing this piece of crap, process – when it comes to the pub date I am mostly pleased with how it turned out and excited/ fearful to find out what readers will make of it.

Having gone the distance and completing your first novel, Susi did you feel more confident in the writing of Willow Walk?

S – Well, I don’t know if ‘more confident’ is how I felt. Certainly not initially! I think I started about six different books after Black Wood. All abandoned at about 20k. Some I may go back to, some not. I think I thought that writing the second book would be easier, and it was – eventually – once I’d worked out which book that was! I’m more confident with the final product though, more willing to take the praise (and more accepting of negative feedback, of which, thankfully, there has been very little!) The problem for me (if you can call it a problem) is too many ideas… is that the same for you Michael? Are you always writing the next book in your head?

M – Too many ideas? I wish that was a problem for me. I’ve now completed ten novels and after each one I’ve been left feeling certain that I will NEVER manage to do it again. The well is completely dry. I’m rung out and apart from the feeling I’m finished and about to be found out, I am completely devoid of ideas.

But my teeth are long (see what I did there?) and I now know that this feeling is temporary – writer’s block is for those who don’t have a mortgage after all – and a situation/ character/ idea will be thrown up from my sub-conscious eventually.

So, do you have a wee stash of ideas, Susi? I am SO envious. How does it start for you then? Situation/ character/ theme etc?

S – I’m thinking of selling some ideas. I’ll let you know once I’ve worked out a price. I’ll never be able to write them all. I always say I will write a book of prologues… I’m always really excited about the start of a book, the story all ready to come out. Then I realise it’s not ready at all, and it’s back to the drawing board!

SJI HollidayIt’s always a situation, I think. I very rarely think of a character first. I just seem to constantly absorb ideas. I love people watching and listening to people’s conversations. Sometimes a friend or a family member will say something completely random, and it sparks off a reaction in my head. I always seem to turn the most simple situations into something dark and mysterious. What’s that line in the Simon and Garfunkel song (America?) “She says the man in the gaberdine suit is a spy… he says be careful his bowtie is really a camera…” That’s me. Take the normal, and twist it! 

Problem with too many ideas though, is that they can stop you from focussing on your current project. I try to keep them in check by emailing myself “Idea: XXX” and then whenever I think of things for that idea, I reply to that email. I’ve got hundreds of these in my email folders now!

Do you find writing easy, Michael? Do you manage to stay focussed and on track?

M – The Book of Prologues – sounds like something from the Bible. I like how John Connolly describes it – the tyranny of new ideas. It could be easy to jump from one exciting new idea to another, like some excited jumpy thing. Thankfully, I managed to take my very first novel idea to completion. 

Do I find writing easy? To paraphrase (and distort) what King Kenny was reported to have said – sometimes aye, sometimes naw. There are LOTS of days when writing feels like wading through a mental treacle. And some days where hours pass in moments. 

But I do stay focused on an idea until I’ve carried it through to those two little words – The End. (Is there anything sweeter in the writers’ lexicon?) A benefit, perhaps, of not having very many new ideas.

G – What I am getting here is the feeling Michael sets out to tell a story and sticks with it until he works it into shape.

Susi, you seem to be the polar opposite. Loads of threads and possibilities but you need to find the one? Are the parked ideas ever salvaged to be merged into the story you are writing?

Am also keen to know if you can both keep your individual books ring-fenced in your head. I will need to explain that I think. As you both have recurring characters and locations can you promote and discuss one title and be confident you are not slipping into plot threads from a different book?

bw cover1 copyS – Well so far, I still have my ideas folder as it is. I haven’t revisited anything yet, but I think I will in time. 

With regards to the different characters and recurring characters and books – I find myself talking about Black Wood and Willow Walk simultaneously when I am doing appearances. Mainly because they are linked by certain things, the setting, the policeman. But they are very separate books and I want people to see them that way. You don’t have to read them in order – it’s not a ‘proper’ series like that, but writing the third is challenging as I am feeling the pressure to tie up a few things and make references to things that have happened in books 1 and 2. 

To be honest, I am very excited about book 4, which is a standalone, with a very different setting, new characters and a different style. I feel I need that big change after writing 3 set in a small town. I’m excited about Michael’s next one, which is a big departure from his (brilliant) series.

How does that feel, Michael? Was it difficult to move on from your series characters? (Not saying that there won’t be another in the series, as I have a sneaking suspicion that there is). What do you prefer? Same world, or something new?

M – A Suitable Lie (thanks for the chance to throw in a wee plug, Susi) comes out in September and as you say, that’s a departure from my usual crime stuff. There’s no cops and no robbers – but a dark situation within a family.

It wasn’t difficult to move away from the series, in fact it was quite liberating. (I also did this between books 2 and 3 when I went off and wrote The Guillotine Choice) I have plans to come back to it but I also need a break. I’m full of admiration for writers like Rankin who can stay with the same characters and keep it fresh after all these years. I’m not sure I could manage that. And it is great to examine new characters and new situations and feel your way into another, very different world.

Guilliotine 2Having said that, when I have a break and come back to McBain and O’Neill, there’s something pleasing, almost comforting about it. It’s like putting your favourite slippers on, having a drink of your favourite tipple and meeting up with a close friend you haven’t seen for ages – all at the same time. I KNOW these people. I know what makes them tick and the fresh challenge is to come up with a situation that has them hanging over the edge all over again. (Laughs like a maniac).

What for you is the challenge of writing connected books, Susi? (See how I resisted called it a series?)

S – The challenge is remembering all the things you’re supposed to remember… Lee Child has got this sussed – he puts Reacher’s vital statistics on the opening page of every single book. I struggle to remember what colour of eyes I’ve given people, or hair, or what they wear… I get round this by being deliberately vague, so that the reader can see the character how they want to see them, thus avoiding that tricky issue of using the vertically challenged Tom Cruise to play your 6ft 5″ hero for the on-screen adaptation! I’ve heard of people saying they keep notebooks on various things that have happened in previous books in their series. I’m not organised enough to do that (mainly because I don’t really see my series as a series!) but I’m just finishing off book 3, and I’ve got a big note next to my compute saying REMEMBER THE CAT!!!! I nearly forgot him, despite that. Poor old Cadbury has a very minor role in this one (but no, I’m not going to kill him!) I’ve got other random notes stuck around the place too, like QUINN SMELLS OF CHIPS and CHANGE ALL THE NAMES!! But that’s another story…

So here’s my next question for you, Michael… what do you do when you finish writing a book? Do you have any celebratory rituals? Do you take a break, or dive right into the next one?

MjMM – Good call, Susi.

Yeah – I’m not that organised either. In my very first book (as yet unpublished) my main character had a dog. Said dog had completely disappeared by the end of the book.

And back to your question – do I have a ritual? Not officially. Maybe I should start one, cos that would be better than the emotional mix I tend to inhabit. It’s one part relief, a dash of excitement, a large pinch of worry that what I’ve written is crap, and all of that is liberally sprinkled with the certainty that I will never ever ever manage to write another book again.

I then have a break, catch up on my reading and when doing so fall into that trap of comparison (don’t do it, writers) convince myself that EVERYONE is much better than me and I’m wasting my time. But then imperceptibly the itch starts up again. And I’m off.

What about you?

S – Well, mine is a simple ritual, really. Finish book, email to agent and publisher, check sent box to make sure it’s sent, go to pub (in pub, check email to see if agent and/or publisher has acknowledged receipt, check sent box again, just in case…), drink beer. Drink more beer. 

The End.


The End indeed. My most sincere thanks to Susi and Michael.

SJI Holliday is the author of Black Wood and Willow Walk (the Banktoun series).  You can order both titles by clicking through this link:

You can follow Susi Holliday on Twitter: @SJIHolliday

Or visit her website at


Michael J Malone, author and poet, has a considerable back catalogue of books which you should peruse and purchase by clicking through to this link:

Michael can be found on Twitter as: @michaelJmalone1


Category: Guests | Comments Off on In Conversation: Michael J Malone and SJI Holliday
July 29

Craig Robertson Q&A – Murderabilia and Festivals

I recently had the opportunity to meet Craig Robertson when he visited one of my local libraries. I had so many questions that evening (one being – why did they bring out the biscuits just as everyone was pulling on their jackets to go home?)

As I was being on best behaviour and not hogging the Q&A session I asked Craig if he would mind joining me for a Q&A here at Grab This Book.  This is how our chat went:


Hi Craig, thanks for agreeing to join me. I have done a few Q&A’s now and I have realised that I am not great at writing an introduction for my guests. What if I miss out the fact they are a legendary football hero or that they are incredibly proud of their bronze swimming certificate? 

To combat this dilemma my first question is never actually a question. This is where I ask you to introduce yourself and give you the opportunity to plug your books.

Craig RobertsonI’m Craig Robertson and I’m the author of six, soon to be seven, crime novels. All but one of them are set on the mean streets of Glasgow and the odd one out is set in the not-so-mean streets of Torshavn on the Faroe Islands.

My debut novel Random was shortlisted for the CWA Creasey Dagger and was a Sunday Times bestseller. It was followed by five novels featuring DS (now DI) Rachel Narey and scenes of crime photographer Tony Winter.

I was a journalist for 20 years before becoming a full-time author. My news reporting days took me to places as diverse as 10 Downing Street, Death Row and the world black pudding championships. All good practice for writing crime novels.

I live in Stirling with the American crime writer Alexandra Sokoloff and a cat named Clooney. I am the goalkeeper for the Scottish crime writers football team, following in a fine tradition of literary goalkeepers led by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Albert Camus and Vladmir Nabokov. I’m not as good as them though.

I like to think that my vocabulary is reasonably broad but reading your books has taught me new words. Not “those” words (I grew up in Lanarkshire, had those nailed from an early age).  First can you explain what Urbexing is?

Urbexing is a contraction of “urban exploration” and it’s a term coined for the pursuit of exploring abandoned buildings and man-made structures. It’s a shadowy world, often done under the cover of darkness, and well away from the prying – and protective – eyes of the authorities. So people go into ruined hospitals, climb cranes and towers, explore little-known tunnels and generally go to places they shouldn’t. No one knows they’re there and that inevitably puts them in a danger that’s pretty useful to a crime writer.

In Place of DeathGlasgow is full of prime urbexing sites and I immediately knew I wanted to use them in a book. The sites – I used places like the Molendinar Burn, the old Odeon cinema, the ruined Gartnavel hospital and the abandoned St Peter’s Seminary at Cardross – are spooky enough to be incredibly atmospheric. They form the backdrop of In Place of Death and the book looks at how they come to be abandoned and how we’re equally guilty of putting people aside when we’re done with them too. If that sounds a bit heavy, don’t worry there’s a good few murders in there too.

The other new word that I have learned from you is Murderabilia. What is Murderabilia?

It’s the title of my new book, thanks for asking! It’s also the hobby of collecting items connected to serial killers. It’s surprisingly big business and I’ve learned a lot more about it than is good for me.

Basically, people buy and sell anything to do with murderers. Yes, it’s pretty gross and morally questionable but there are specialist sites on the internet that are dedicated to this kind of thing. I find the psychology of it fascinating and couldn’t resist writing about it.

So if you had a mind to, you could buy letters by Dennis Nilsen, art by Charles Manson, clothes worn by John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy. You can buy courtroom confessions, shoes, guns, underwear. I had to wonder about the motives about some of the people who buy this stuff – and about how some of it is acquired from crime scenes. I knew it was the basis of a book, particularly the way that this is a hobby that can become obsessive and how it so often neglects the most important people in any murder, the victims.

MurderabiliaIs it easy to research what kind of “dark” items have been bought and sold down the years?

It’s easy enough to trace most of it if you know where to look. For example, I can tell you that an autograph by the American serial killer and cannibal Albert Fish once sold for £30,000. Or that the gun used to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald was bought for over $2million. A Christmas card sent by Ted Bundy went for $4000.

However, there are even darker items that have been sold that are much more difficult, maybe impossible, to trace. Things have been known to disappear from crime scenes and are then sold to the highest bidder, sometimes years later. For example a shawl said to be taken from the scene of Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim Catherine Eddowes, by a policeman, Sergeant Amos Simpson, turned up decades later and its owner demanded three million dollars for it. These murky transactions have always happened but these days they are taking place in the deepest recesses of the internet, the so-called dark web, where they cannot be overseen. What are they selling? Your guess is as good as mine but it’s not going to pretty.

When you were writing Murderabilia did you acquire any collectable items?

I did but I can’t talk about it. Seriously, I can’t. Not yet anyway.

I can say that I acquired a few select objects connected to three very high-profile killers. I know that seems weird but I felt I had to, both to understand the buying and selling procedures and to know what it actually felt like to receive and hold items belonging to murderers. It was an odd sensation opening the packaging, unwrapping the objects and holding them. It gave me an insight that I couldn’t have had otherwise and I was able to put that into the book.

I’m not sure that my partner is entirely happy having them in the house so they might have to go eventually. But they are just things, right? Or are they?

Murderabilia sees a return for Rachel Narey, was it always the plan to write an ongoing series or was there some publisher encouragement to keep Narey (and Tony Winter) coming back for more?

It was probably a bit of both. Rachel had appeared in Random, my first book, but that was a standalone and there was no intention of anyone to reappear. Then, when I came up with the idea for Snapshot which was to feature Tony Winter as a police photographer, I wanted a female police officer for him to be in a secret relationship with. Rachel was there, standing around with nothing to do and I’d liked her in Random, so she was it. Even then, I’m not sure I envisaged a series but Snapshot led to Cold Grave which led to Witness the Dead and sure enough I had a series on my hands.

There have been times that I’ve wanted to go in a different direction and kill either Rachel or Tony off to make that possible but each time there has been an outcry either from my editor or readers and I’ve let them live. Series are very attractive to publishers and to readers so yes there’s been some not so subtle encouragement to keep it going.

It’s not without its benefits for me either though. It helps to have characters I know well and to know how they will react in any given situation. I’ve watched them grow and change and seen their relationship twist in the wind. I like messing with them, basically, and making life difficult for them.

The Last RefugeIn Murderabila (did you notice how I’ve sneakily managed to mention the titles of all my books apart from The Last Refuge?) things change quite dramatically for Rachel and Tony again and this time there’s no going back.

I met you a few weeks ago and you were working on confirming guests for Bloody Scotland. I will get to that shortly but first I need to ask about something that arrived out of the blue. Bute Noir. For those not familiar with Bute can you explain where they can find the newest crime festival and why Bute was selected?

When I met you in May, Bute Noir didn’t exist at all, even in my head.

I did an event in Rothesay during Book Week Scotland last November. Everyone was very friendly and I had a great time. I hadn’t been to Bute since I was a kid but mentioned to Karen Latto, the owner of the local bookshop that it would be a great place for crime writers to go for a weekend. That quickly became “oh we should have a crime festival”. Nice idea but I thought no more about it. I went down to breakfast the next morning to be told by the hotel receptionist how excited she was about the festival I was going to organise! I still did my best not to think any more about it, trying to ignore Karen’s best efforts to talk me into doing something but in June she tried again and finally smashed my resistance by pretty much bullying me into it. I’m glad she did.

The pair of us put the festival together in a ridiculously short period of time but it’s going to be great. We’re holding it in three venues, all close together, in Rothesay. The isle of Bute is just a short, £6 return Caledonian Macbrayne ferry trip by down the Costa Clyde from Wemyss Bay so it’s very accessible from Glasgow and anywhere else in the central belt.

We’re using Bute Museum, Rothesay Library and the Print Point bookshop and it was because all three were so helpful and enthusiastic about the idea of a crime fiction festival that we were able to pull it all together so quickly. Argyll and Bute Council have also been very supportive. The idea is for this to become an annual event and we’re confident it will be.

Who will the attendees at Bute Noir be able to see over the two days?

I think it’s a terrific line-up given that we had such little time to put the programme together. Basically I asked my pals who didn’t live too far away! So there will be Chris Brookmyre, Alex Gray, Alanna Knight, Caro Ramsay, Michael J Malone, Myra Duffy, GJ Brown, Alexandra Sokoloff and Luca Veste.

Each of them will be on at least twice as one of the great thing about festivals is that you can mix things up and get a completely different response from the author depending whether he or she are on their own or with someone else. They can be quite serious on one panel and then a laugh-a-minute when you put them with another writer.

And after the delights of Bute comes Bloody Scotland.  How did you come to be involved in Scotland’s premier crime event?

I’ve been involved from the first year and it came about when I carelessly mentioned to Alex Gray, one of the festival’s co-founders along with Lin Anderson and Gordon Brown, that I lived in Stirling where Bloody Scotland was set to be held. The next thing I knew I was on the festival committee, became a director and was spending most of my waking moments thinking about panels and lanyards and trying to persuade authors to play football and sing. It’s been a lot of work in the past five years but great fun too and definitely all been worthwhile.

Do you find other authors become particularly nice to you when you are populating festival events?

Ha. There might be a bit of truth in that. And here was me thinking they just wanted to buy me a drink because of my sparkling wit and repartee. Seriously though, crime writers are genuinely nice people at any time. They really are a good bunch, very sociable and with very little backstabbing. I’m just back from the ever excellent Theakstons Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate and a nicer group of people – readers, authors and publishers – you’d struggle to meet.

 Bloody Scotland Brochure

Do you want to highlight some of the panels from both Festivals?

Where to start…
At Bute Noir, Chris Brookmyre is being interviewed by Alexandra Sokoloff (aka my better half) and that will be a cracker, Luca Veste and Douglas Skelton are fighting over the merits of Liverpool and Glasgow as crime locations (Glasgow is better obviously), Alex Gray is being grilled over a medium heat by Michael J Malone, and I will be question master at a closing quiz in which the rules have already gone out of the window. Messrs Brookmyre, Veste and Malone will engage in a battle of halfwits with Ramsay, Brown and Skelton.

At Bloody Scotland, we have Ian Rankin and Quintin Jardine together, we have Nicci French who are selling books by the million right now, Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre will be getting all sweary and funny, and then there’s MC Beaton, Martina Cole, Stuart MacBride, Peter Robinson and Val McDermid. There is the Scotland-England crime writers football match, a couple of cracking forensics events, Alanna Knight’s Inspector Faro play, Crime at the Coo, and much, much more.

I’m appearing alongside two excellent writers and really good guys in Malcolm Mackay and James Oswald and we will be talking about why we like to delve so much into the dark side of human nature. I’m also hosting a panel called Witness the Dead (coincidentally the title of one of my books, ahem) about the science of witness identification in which Professor Graham Pike will lead the audience and some unsuspecting crime writers as they are witnesses to a bank robbery and have to pick the guilty party out of a line-up. It’s bound to be fun.

And what have been some of your personal festival highlights down the years?

Being the goalie in the Scotland team that beat England 13-1 at Bloody Scotland 2014. How can you top that?

I suppose there were some that were a bit more book-related too – being on stage with authors like Willie McIlvanney, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Jeffrey Deaver, Denise Mina and Chris Brookmyre, all of whom I’d read and admired before I was published – but come on, beating England 13-1, that’s the big one really.

Well, there was the book festival in Colorado where I met Alex. Yes, that one too. Obviously. That’s the one I meant to say first. But 13-1, come on…

Bute Noir is on 5th and 6th August 2016 – Info can be found here:

Bloody Scotland is in Stirling from 9th to 11th September 2016 – tickets and the festival programme available here:

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July 28

Guest Post – Sarah Hilary: Serial Heroes

It is Thursday 28th July 2016 and Sarah Hilary’s third Marnie Rome novel, Tastes Like Fear is released in paperback today. It seems like the perfect day to share Sarah’s contribution to my Serial Heroes feature.

I will be honest and confess that Fred Vargas was a name I had not heard before. By the time I had read through Sarah’s email I was clicking through to the Kindle store and I have two new books for my holiday.

Here is why:

A Climate of FearI have in my hands the brand-new Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg book by French art historian turned crime writer, Fred Vargas. And I couldn’t be happier. It’s been over two years since her last Adamsberg book and so this, A Climate of Fear (her eighth in the series), is my post-edits treat to myself.

The series started with The Chalk Circle Man, which introduced us to Adamsberg, a true original, possibly the best since Sherlock Holmes. Jean-Baptiste is unlike any other fictional detective. An endearing and exasperatingly dreamy little detective from the Pyrenees who is never quite at home in Paris, where he works as a police commissionaire with a team of beguiling colleagues — you’ll fall for more than one of them — tackling crimes that touch on ancient legends, superstitions and vengeance.

Vargas (who chose her pen name from the character played by Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa) weaves history and legend into her stories. She has a genius for twisting a strand of the supernatural into her crime stories without breaking faith with the credibility of her plot. She’ll have you believing in vampires, werewolves and ghosts, before extracting a commonsensical explanation at the last moment.

Her most recently published story, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, saw a panic-stricken old woman journey to Paris to see Commissaire Adamsberg, the only policeman she trusts to help with the peculiar affliction that’s befallen her home village of Ordebec: ghostly horsemen targeting society’s rotten apples.

Ghost Riders of OrdebecAdamsberg, beset by problems of his own, is glad of the excuse to escape Paris and strikes up a friendship with a village elder, Léone, who knows Ordebec’s strange cast of characters intimately. When Léone falls victim to the evil afoot, Adamsberg becomes determined to solve the case, aided and abetted by his own strange cast of helpmates — from the statuesque Retancourt and Veyrenc with his terrible rhyming couplets, to Danglard the drunken genius and Zerk, Adamsberg’s recently discovered son, whose stumbling relationship with his father is a joy to read.

In case all of this is sounding too whimsical to be a satisfying crime series, rest assured that Vargas is an expert at plotting and the twists come often and gleefully. There is always a surfeit of suspects, with dreamy and distracted Jean-Baptiste pushed to shuffle the clues from the red herrings.

Best of all, though, at least for this reader—you care deeply for Adamsberg and Danglard and their team. I don’t say you empathise with these characters; some of them are simply too strange. But Vargas isn’t interested in manipulating your emotions in any conventional sense.

She doesn’t deal in unreliable narrators or any other convention, trope or trend in crime fiction. She simply writes astoundingly differently. She dares to write this way, jumping from character to character across the page, inviting you to keep pace with her unruliness, her drollness, her poetry. This is anarchy. Joyful, disturbing anarchy. Because who else is daring to break these rules, and doing it with such panache?



Photo by Linda Nylind.
Photo by Linda Nylind.

Sarah Hilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, won the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year 2015 and was a World Book Night selection for 2016. The Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”) and a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, it has been published worldwide. NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second in the series was published in 2015. The Marnie Rome series continued in 2016 with TASTES LIKE FEAR.

Sarah is on Twitter: @Sarah_Hilary


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July 27

Guest Post – A.K. Benedict: Serial Heroes

Earlier this year I was thrilled to have the chance to interview A.K. Benedict about her new novel Jonathan Dark Or The Evidence of Ghosts and also her Torchwood audio play The Victorian Age. A crime story (with ghosts) and also a play starring Captain Jack Harkness? A.K. Benedict seemed to have found my entertainment wish list and written everything I liked.

When I decided I would try to run this third series of my Serial Heroes features I thought it was a perfect opportunity to invite A.K. Benedict back to Grab This Book. If she writes stories I love then perhaps we also read the same authors too? It turns out that in this case we do…


AK BenedictI first found Agatha Christie while trying to murder my friends. It was a 10th birthday party and, being a macabre child, insisted on Murder in the Dark instead of the passé Pass the Parcel. Everyone took a piece of paper from a beige Tupperware bowl. Most were blank but on one was the word ‘Murderer’, on another ‘Detective’. I was the designated murderer.

Lights off, everyone scattered, stumbling about the house in the dark. I located my first victim easily using my keen olfactory sense. She was sitting on the stairs eating Opal Fruits. I whispered ‘You’re Dead’ in her ear then ruined it by saying, ‘Sorry.’  I then went upstairs, fake-slaughtering a few nine year olds along the way, and into my friend’s mum’s bedroom. I felt my way around the room and found a large bookshelf. Running my fingers across the books, I could feel many slim paperbacks with cracked spines and tears on the covers. These books had been read many times. I had to know what they were. I turned on the lights.

Wedged tight on the shelf was, it turns out, every one of Agatha Christie’s books. I pulled out The ABC Murders, sat on the bed and started to read. I was gripped immediately. I completely forgot that I was supposed to kill the rest of the party-goers and was found on the floor, reading, by several friends, furious at not being murdered.

My friend’s mum, however, knew a budding crime fan when she saw one and lent me the book. I read it overnight and took it back the next morning. She gave me another one. And another one the next day. I spent the summer holidays of 1988 reading one Christie a day, sitting under a tree and eating mint-flavoured Clubs. It was brilliant. I loved Miss Marple, Poirot and Harley Quin. I wanted to play Murder in the Dark with them at my party.

MarpleI went on to love all kinds of crime fiction but it all comes back to Christie. Every year, I read all of her books again. Each time I’m drawn in by the conversational tone that belies the darkness, the humour and the crisply written settings and characters. Christie twists me round her crooked finger: she hooks, hoodwinks and hustles better than any other writer I’ve read. I even named my dog after my favourite Marple – Dame Margaret Rutherford.

ABC murdersWhile I have favourites (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 4.50 from Paddington, And Then There Were None, The Crooked House), I am still most fond of The ABC Murders. I live near Bexhill where poor Betty Barnard is killed in the novel and always think of her as I walk on the beach. I love visiting places that resonate with Christie connections: I can’t go to Paddington without wondering if I’ll see something untoward from the train. There are two places where I feel most connected to her: Greenway, her holiday home now a National Trust property, and The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. Christie was found at the hotel following her infamous disappearance. It’s a thrill to get lost, as I did this morning, in The Old Swan’s corridors and pass the bedroom marked AGATHA.

I’m now sitting on The Old Swan’s lawn at the annual Theakston’s Crime Festival, about to read a new Hercule Poirot book by Sophie Hannah. The Monogram Murders is dedicated to Agatha Christie and, even a few pages in, is a brilliant way continuation of her characters long after her death.


A.K. Benedict’s books can be ordered by clicking through this link.

Alternatively visit her rather fabulous website at
A.K. Benedict is also on Twitter at: @ak_benedict


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July 25

Guest Post – Nick Quantrill: Serial Heroes

The third run of Serial Heroes continues.

As a reader I worry that I am missing out on some great books, there are so many talented authors and as any bookworm will remind you “so many books, so little time.” So I am asking some of my favourite authors if they will join me to talk about their favourite books. Or more specifically their favourite series of books.

I want to know about the characters they enjoy revisiting, the new release that they will most look forward to or the books on their bookcase that they return to over and over again.

Fresh from the happy chaos that is Harrogate I am delighted to welcome Nick Quantrill back to Grab This Book. I particularly enjoyed reading Nick’s selection as I will confess that this is a series I have yet to read so I can happily grow my TBR pile…


TurnstoneFor someone with an aversion to writing police characters, I’ve always loved reading about them. My love affair with the procedural novel started when I picked up a DI Rebus novel by Ian Rankin after spotting it on my father’s bookshelf. At the time I was studying Social Policy and Criminology with the Open University, and as much fun as Rebus proved to be, it was the way Rankin engaged with the issues I was learning about which really resonated. But I wanted more, a series which featured a location that chimed with my home city of Hull, the archetypal rundown northern city.

Step forward Graham Hurley and DI Faraday. Hurley had been made an offer he couldn’t refuse – a three book deal with Orion. The catch? They had to be crime novels. The problem? Hurley, a documentary maker by trade was no fan of the genre. But shadowing a team of local detectives for a period triggered an awareness of what he could achieve with the format.

Opening with “Turnstone”, the DI Faraday series quickly widened to include the role of DS Paul Winter. Faraday is a man who feels the world, even if he doesn’t necessarily understand it, but will play by the rules to get his man. DS Paul Winter, brash and loud, knows that those rules sometimes have to bend a little and isn’t afraid to be the man who does it. But Hurley’s trump card is the introduction of major league criminal, Bazza Mackenzie.

From “Cut to Black” onwards, Mackenzie is the police’s long term major target and they have one shot to bring him down before he’s beyond their reach, his money legitimised in various projects around the city. But Mackenzie remains one step ahead, leaving Faraday empty handed and red faced. With the stakes increasing, Winter goes undercover, but discovering a taste for the dark arts of the criminal world, leaves to work as Mackenzie’s right hand man, a decision destined to set him on a collision course with Faraday.

The final essential character in the series is Portsmouth itself. A claustrophobic island city on the south coast of England with a proud sea-faring history, Hurley’s pulls no punches in a frank assessment of a city that now has multiple social problems. Hurley’s allows the city’s belligerence and unique identity to bleed into the characters, making them products of their environment, and all the more terrifying for it.

Happy DaysThe series comes to a close with “Happy Days”. Mackenzie, with his business empire crumbling to dust in the recession, seeks real power by running for Parliament in a local election. As this become all-encompassing, the lack of focus on his business empire offers Winter the opportunity to leave his employment. But you don’t leave the employment of people like Mackenzie by politely handing in your notice. For all the protagonists, there’s only one certainty – things have to be brought to a conclusion.

The series stands an overview of recent times – feral children running amok, the war in Iraq, the economic meltdown, immigration, even the changing nature of Premier League football – it all features. With Portsmouth acting as England in microcosm, The DI Faraday series appeals to the heart as much as it does to the head. Maybe it’s Hurley’s background in documentaries that gives him the edge over his contemporaries and adds a further layer of authenticity, but it’s a series which looks the world in the eye and asks the questions which have no easy answers.


All of Graham Hurley’s books can be ordered with a simple click through this link.

NQ photoMr Nick Quantrill also has many fine books which I would urge you to enjoy too.  Nick’s books are found here.

When Nick’s new novel The Dead Can’t Talk launched he joined me to talk about Evil Bad Guys – you can catch that here.

You can also visit


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July 25

Guest Post – Derek Farrell: Serial Heroes

When I see an author photographed in front of their bookshelves I know that I am not the only person that scans the books in the background to see what they read. Rather than wait for authors to share their “shelvies” I decided it was much quicker to ask them directly which books they enjoy reading the most.

This is the third run of my Serial Heroes features but you can catch up on Season 1 here.  (Ed McBain, Jo Nesbo and Val McDermid all feature).

Season 2 is here and we had some love for James Bond, Stephen King and Batman (the ultimate serial hero)


Just after I finished the last run of Serial Heroes I fell into a Twitter chat with Derek Farrell about our mutual love of a series of stories we first read more than a couple of years ago. I asked Derek if he would join me to explain why this particular series appealed so much. Fortunately for the future of this feature he agreed – over to Mr Farrell…


Laughing ShadowI was a quiet kid, with an obsession for books of all kinds.

I didn’t make friends easily in the real world, but I made friends with the anthropomorphic cats and bears in Richard Scarry’s works, waded my way through the Famous Five books, was mates with The Hard Boys and Nancy Drew. And then something amazing happened:
My Dad bought me one of the Three Investigators books. It was The Mystery of The Laughing Shadow (Book 12 in the series), and there are a number of reasons why he might have thought the book would appeal to me:

HitchcockMy dad and I loved Alfred Hitchcock, and the books – in an early approach to celebrity endorsement / branding – were introduced by the Auteur, who often featured as a character in them. They were published by the same people who published the Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew books, and they had similar formats and cover designs.

Whatever the reason, he picked right, and a loyal and true friendship that began in 1977 has endured to today.

By the time I was introduced to Jupiter Pete and Bob, the series had already been running for 13 years, having commenced in 1964 when Robert Arthur – who had previously edited several short story collections attributed to Alfred Hitchcock – sold the idea of a series of teenage mysteries to Random House.

Over time, other writers had contributed to the series, principally William Arden (who wrote The Laughing Shadow amongst others), Nick West, and Mary Virginia (MV) Carey, who wrote many of my personal favourites.

The head investigator, Jupiter Jones, lived with his Aunt and Uncle in a vast salvage yard, and had built – amongst the scrap and salvage – an operations centre with hidden entrances; a true boy’s den. The boys, too young to drive, were driven around – thanks to a competition win – in a chauffeur driven limo, and in “The mystery of The Magic Circle,” Carey dealt with the sad isolation of faded Hollywood Fame in the same stark fashion as ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ while the animosity between the boys and their sworn enemy, the perma-cocky Skinny Norris, whose bullying attempts to spoil their plans felt, so often, like a replay of my daily life, resonated with me.

And, through all that, the boys got to hang out with Alfred Hitchcock; they seemed, permanently, to be on some extended school vacation; they lived in Southern California, and their ability to move around the entire county on only pushbikes was simply taken for granted).

Many of the normal mundanities of life – school, homework, the general depressions of a childhood in 1980s Dublin – could simply cease to exist for as long as my nose was buried in a Three Investigator book.

I stopped buying them in 1986 when I moved to London and began working. I guess I figured I was grown up now, and it was time, as they say “To put aside childish things.”
But some years later, on a visit back to Dublin, I packed my entire collection into a suitcase and brought them back to London with me, their presence in my flat symbolising the fact that I had settled, that where I was – now that The Three Investigators were there with me – was finally home.

3 InvestigatorsThe investigators are lead by Jupiter Jones, a chubby, smart mouthed intelligent kid, who is a former child actor named “Baby Fatso” (although he hates it when people mention this). Jupiter is a prolific reader, often rubs his peers up the wrong way and is driven by his own morality and belief in the power of logic and creative thinking (So: not much psychology required there to figure out why I fell for this series).

Jupiter was joined by Pete Crenshaw, the athletic leg of the trio, more likely to be the one who tackled the escaping criminal to the ground, though Pete was never drawn as being pure brawn without brains; he was as capable of challenging assumptions and of suggesting possible motives or viewpoints as the lead investigator.

Bob Andrews made up the trio. The researcher, who – in pre-Google days – would scour newspaper morgues, school libraries, and interview witnesses face to face, produced, often, the killer clue that Jupiter and Pete would then extrapolate into a solution to the mystery. Bob did all of this, in the early books, while wearing a leg brace to heal multiple leg fractures, thus – in late 60s / early 70s fiction – presenting a disabled person as a positive independent and equal contributor to the endeavour, and doing so in a way which never felt shoehorned in.

From Derek's own collection
From Derek’s own collection

In fact, the boys also faced off against menace, threats of racism, fatism, classism and all the other ‘ism’s which, whilst entirely present in much of today’s YA market, were definitely unique at the time.

I can barely imagine any of Enid Blyton’s detective gangs facing down someone trying to swindle a Mexican family out of their ranch purely because of their race, let alone the Secret Seven dealing with obsession or the supernatural (Whispering Mummy), and as a result, for me, these books became an escape. When life was too dull, or too stressful, or when I felt lost or unsure of how / if I would ever fit into the world, Jupe, Pete and Bob would be there, to welcome me home.

The books were written by the various authors in a style that could be described as Pulp-Lite. The story started almost on the first page (if not the first line), the writing was snappy and direct. There were outlandish titles (“The Secret of Skeleton Island,” “The Mystery of The Moaning Cave,” “The Mystery of The Headless Horse” to name a few) designed to pull the readers in, and explanations that – at the end of the book – made absolutely perfect sense in light of what had been planted through the plot up to that point.

Chapters ended, mostly, on cliffhangers, and the danger was real. In “The Magic Circle,” for example, Bob is bashed on the head, knocked unconscious, dumped in the trunk of a car in the middle of a scrap yard in Southern California, and left to die of heat stroke. Beat that, Famous Five.

And the victory – when the villains are finally unmasked and the case resolved – all the sweeter for being logical, just, and a fair response to the threat created earlier in the book.
And now I write books. Mystery books. Books peopled with characters who run the gamut from loveable to quirky to monstrous, and who are all (or mostly) comfortable in their own skins.

Death of a DivaIn Death of a Diva and Death of a Nobody, Danny Bird – my detective – is an average Joe, who just at the point when he thinks he’s lost everything, finds a new purpose in life. He’s accompanied by his best friend, a ridiculously glamorous yet heartwarmingly fallible gorgeous blonde, and surrounded by family – made as well as birth – who bicker, bitch, backbite and yet – when the chips are down – are there for each other.

All ideas that – now I think about it – were instilled in me by The Three Investigators, by a series of books that didn’t talk down to their audience, but which made the assumption that their audience were smart, generous, and along for the ride.

I owe Robert Arthur and MV Carey particularly a great debt, and one I hadn’t fully realised until recently.

The books have been somewhat bogged down in legal wrangles in recent years, but I still firmly believe they have a place in the pantheon next to other more recognised series’ and can’t imagine my life – as a kid, as an adult, or as a writer of crime fiction that entertains and celebrates life in all it’s difference – without The Three Investigators.


Death of a Diva ( Derek Farrell
Death of a Nobody (
Publisher: Fahrenheit Press (@fahrenheitpress on Twitter).
My website is
Twitter: @derekifarrell


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July 19

In Conversation: Douglas Skelton & Theresa Talbot

Every once in a while my job lands me in an office where I can actually get to attend some book events of an evening.  Lately I have found myself lurking on the fringes of Glasgow launch events and, if you go to a launch event in Glasgow, there is a pretty good chance of bumping into Douglas Skelton or Theresa Talbot (though God forbid you get them both at the same time).

I know that not everybody can make it along to book launches (and even fewer get to the Scottish ones) so it is entirely possible you may not have had the chance to meet Douglas or Theresa in person.  It is an experience like no other. In a good way obviously!

So with slight apprehension as to what I may unleash I invited them to join me for a chat – and there was only one place I could start…


DOUGLAS SKELTONG – Mr Skelton, I cannot help but notice you have been nominated onto the longlist for the McIlvanney prize at this year’s Bloody Scotland festival.  Congratulations!  How does it feel now that you have had a day or two to let the news sink in?  And I am also keen to know how you found out?

DS – Oh, you noticed that, did you? I haven’t really talked about it much (coughs and has the decency to look ashamed).

The simple truth about it is that I am hyper chuffed by the nod and I think that’s a feeling that will remain for quite some time. I mean – look at the names on that list. Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, James Oswald, Stuart McBride, Doug Johnstone, Lin Anderson, Lesley Kelly, ES Thomson, Chris Brookmyre! The words “bloody” and”hell” spring to mind. 

I found out a couple of days before through Luath Press. I was sworn to absolute secrecy, on pain of beng tied to a chair and force fed a diet of reality TV. Naturally, I kept my lips buttoned, zipped and sewn.

TT – Douglas – are you really on the longlist?? OMG, you never mentioned it! (Listen whilst that Skelton chap’s away polishing his halo, can I say he’s never stopped talking about it! )

Seriously….well done, you deserve to be up there with the best of them.

DS – (Blushes)

TT – Oh behave! Has anything changed since the longlist was announced? D’you feel any different…like a proper famous author now? 

DS – Well, no. As I’ve said, I was the only name I had to Google when I saw the list. It’s a great thing – and I am honoured and grateful – but I don’t want to run away with myself. I certainly do hope it will open up new avenues (new worlds, new civilisations…) and yes, I feel a positive change in certain perceptions but in reality, I’ve got another book to write and I’m stuck in the mid-story doldrums. As usual.

2015-10-11 00.55.32TT – You asked me to Google you once and I thought you were being smutty! I’m sure being nominated for this award will be such a positive thing for you.

How d’you get out of this mid-story doldrums you’re in…I’m at the end of my tether with my next one at the moment. I’m almost finished..BUT…It’s as though I have a big bag of Christmas lights which need untangled and the turkey’s already burning in the oven. Does that even make sense??

DS – I WAS being smutty. Was very disappointed when you didn’t. But then I should be used to such disappointment by now.

As for the Christmas lights/Turkey analogy – makes perfect sense. The only way out of it is to write through it. You know what you’re doing isn’t anywhere near right but getting to the end of that first draft is the primary aim. Rewrites can be done. New passages can be added. Bad ones can be cut. Everything can be fixed.

And if I ask another young lady to Google me, so might I.

G – Turkey and Christmas Lights in July! I knew I should have checked my emails more closely today….

Theresa – tell me about Bloody Scotland, I opened the brochure and you were the first familiar face I spotted.

DS – Me, too!

Helluva fright.

TT – Bloody Scotland…I’m thrilled – nae thrice thrilled to be part of the festival this year. When I was asked to take part I have to admit to looking behind me to see who the organiser was talking to! I’m part of a panel of new crime writers made up of Abir Mukherjee, Brooke Magnanti, Martin Cathcart Froden and Me…with the lovely Alex Gray chairing. We’ll be at the Golden Lion Wallace on Saturday 10th September at 2pm…tickets still available! (Which you can book by clicking HERE).

Bloody Scotland is still a relatively new literary festival yet is up there with the big boys. It’s such an exciting, vibrant event to be part of. I went last year as a punter – I also  attended a crime writing masterclass and now I’m back this year as a Baby-Crime-Writer in Training! Fantastic. 

Bloody ScotlandDS – It is a fabulous event and Scotland should be proud of it. I think this is my fourth year up there and it’s always immense fun. 

G – Bloody Scotland has been the highlight of all the bookish events I have made it to thus far, this year will be my third – I may even pluck up the courage to actually TALK to some authors.

So festivals aside, am I allowed to ask what you are both working on at present?  Theresa seems to be a full time wedding guest and Douglas is forever on tour!!!

DS – I’m working on another Dominic Queste book, Tag – You’re Dead. The first, The Dead Don’t Boogie, is due out in paperback in September, although currently available on Kindle.

The Dead Don't BoogieAnd yes, I have been on tour with the Crime Factor boy band of Neil Broadfoot, Gordon ‘G.J.’ Brown, Mark Leggatt and chair Peter Burnett.

TT – At the moment I’m working my way through a box of Terry’s All Gold. 

As soon as news got out that I had not one but TWO decent dresses I was in big demand for all sorts of social occasions, but I seem to have found my niche at weddings. I turn up on time, tell the bride how beautiful she is and basically I know how to work a room. I pass the dresses of as classic vintage, but the truth is they’re just really really old. Thankfully as a writer I don’t make much money so my meager diet ensures even my oldest clothes still fit me. 

Other than that I’m slogging away (between bouts of Facebook) on Resurrection, which is a sort of follow up to Penance. I often call Douglas for advice as I suffer from writer’s block…he’s very good that way and listens to my tales of woe as he settles back on his wing-backed leather arm-chair sipping his 20 year old malt that his butler has just poured. I know almost all of his staff by name now and they’re organising food parcels for me. I’m blessed to have Douglas as a mentor – however he drew the line at me joining his Boy Band! 

DS – I can vouch for the fact that Theresa can work the room. I have witnessed this first hand.

As for knowing my staff by name, pish tosh. There are so many of them here at Skelton Manor than even I don’t know them! 

Theresa was invited to join the boy band but she failed the medical. 

TT – I’ve taken something for that condition and would now like to re-apply for the boy-band! 

G – Okay, dangerous territory here so am nipping this in the bud.  However, just to prove you don’t always wind each other up how about I ask Theresa to say something nice about Douglas (or his books if that’s easier)? And Douglas you have to do the same for Theresa.

Neither of you have to be nice to me, I work for the Banks – my social standing is ruined.

PenanceTT – Say something nice about Douglas? Seriously…oh go on then…seriously…Douglas has helped me more than he’ll ever know in my quest to be a crime writer. He’s always there to offer sound advice and keep me calm. He’s been so encouraging and he’s just a thoroughly lovely all round nice guy. Honest to God! 

His books are bloody good too..but don’t take my word for it, check out the Davie McCall series and The Dead Don’t Boogie. BTW Douglas doesn’t boogie either, but I’m working on that! 

DS – So, Theresa. Or maybe Gordon, I don’t know now. No, Theresa. I’ve only known her for a relatively short period of time but already feel as if I’ve known her all my life. I loved her book, Penance, and am looking forward to her new one immensely. Her new one isn’t called Immensely, by the way. She is also a bundle of energy and has an enthusiasm that is infectious. 

And if anyone can make me boogie, it’s her. 

G – I know how hard that last bit was for you both so I would just like to offer my most sincere thanks – this is why I love attending events with you two, it is always such great fun.


Douglas Skelton has published 11 books on true crime and history. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, shelf stacker, meat porter, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), reporter, investigator and editor. His first thriller BLOOD CITY was published by Luath Press in 2013. The gritty thriller was the first in a quartet set on the tough streets of Glasgow from 1980 onwards. It was followed by CROW BAIT, DEVIL’S KNOCK and finally OPEN WOUNDS, which has been longlisted for the first McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year.

You can find Douglas’s books on the following link:


Theresa Talbot is a freelance writer, journalist and radio presenter, perhaps best known as the voice of Traffic and Travel on BBC Radio Scotland and as the host of The Beechgrove Potting Shed. Prior to working with the BBC she was with Radio Clyde and the AA Roadwatch team. Theresa worked in various roles before entering the media as an assistant in children’s homes, a Pepsi Challenge girl and a library assistant. She ended up at the BBC because of an eavesdropped conversation on a no.66 bus in Glasgow. Her passions include rescuing chickens, gardening, music and yoga.

Theresa’s books can be found here:


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