November 17

Book Chains – SJI Holliday (Fifth Link)

the-damselflyHaving placed the future of my Book Chains feature entirely into the hands of my guests, I am very grateful to Daniel Pembrey for nominating Susi Holliday to join me and keep my chain of Q&A’s going.

Susi, writing as SJI Holliday, is the author of the Banktoun series which began with Black Wood and Willow Walk and will continue in the forthcoming The Damselfly – which releases on 2nd February 2017.  Each book can be ordered by clicking on the title.  I will have a LOT more to say about The Damselfly in the near future, however, trust me when I say you *need* to read this book!

By sheer chance (before I discovered that Daniel had nominated her) Susi and I had been discussing a Q&A around ghost stories so there is a bit of a supernatural theme to my questions.


G – Will I start with the easy one… what, for you, makes a good horror story?

SH – It’s not any one specific thing. It’s something that scares you, but not just on the surface. Not just someone jumping out of your wardrobe in the dark and shouting BOO! in your face (although that works, obviously – did I give you a fright?) It’s something that stays with you afterwards. Something you can’t get out of your mind. Something that slithers under your skin and stays there, hiding in your subconscious, ready to reappear whenever you let your guard down.

G – What do you enjoy? Is it a ghost story or perhaps a haunted house?  Monsters? Psychopaths?

SH – Enjoy is an interesting word, isn’t it? Can you really enjoy horror? I don’t really know how to describe it. I do enjoy being scared, but only when I know that ultimately, I am safe. If the horror is behind a screen, or in the pages of a book, then it’s ok to enjoy it, I think. The Ring, though … when she climbs out of the TV? That’s too much. That’s breaking the fourth wall. Or those people who get paid to jump out at you on horror attractions. Sickos. I love ghost stories. Haunted houses. Psychopaths too. Monsters, not so much. Many a good psychological horror has been ruined by the appearance of a less than convincing monster.

G – Which stories have stood out for you? My personal favourites are Phantoms (Dean Koontz), The Magic Cottage (James Herbert) and always Stephen King’s IT.

SH – Excellent choices there, for multiple reasons. IT is a perfect example of my monster-hate. I loved that book (and the film) until the big reveal. Keep it in the shadows! That clown was good though. Creepy as hell. I took a photo of a storm drain when I was in the US last year. I half expected to see Pennywise’s face poking out when I downloaded it from my camera… They all float… The Woman in Black is a standout horror for me. It’s quite a short book, but written with such an air of menace that you can’t help but feel tense throughout. The Exorcist, too. They made a bit of a cheese-fest out of the film, but the book was genuinely terrifying. Religion is a great influence in horror. All that symbolism. Myths and legends. I also love Misery. Isolation. A deranged captor. A modern classic.

G – Could you recommend any stories/authors which you think more people should be reading?

SH – I don’t read enough contemporary horror. I get scared more easily these days. Alison Littlewood is brilliant. As is Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box, in particular). And Josh Malerman’s Bird Box is a terrific dystopian horror. That book should’ve had a lot more fanfare. Everyone should read it. EVERYONE.

Willow WalkG – I can remember scenes in both Black Wood and Willow Walk which were chilling and hinted the potential of a supernatural element (particularly in Black Wood). Could we see a ghostly tale from you one day?

SH – Absolutely! I scared myself quite a bit when writing certain parts of Black Wood (more about that later!) I have several horror ideas up my sleeve. Ghost stories, creepy critters… and more! I’ll get to them eventually.

G – Can you remember any of the early stories you read that made you think that you wanted to read more creepy tales? My local library had a collection of short stories: The Armada Book of Ghost Stories which I tried (and freaked my young self out) but I ordered in more books in the series.

SH – I remember that book! I read a lot of scary stuff when I was young – my mum had loads of really trashy 70s/80s horror. The ones with the scary covers! I don’t think I could read one of those now though. I seem to scare far too easily these days!

G – What scares you?

SH – I was going to go deep here, and say things like ‘something bad happening to someone I love’ and ‘the state of the world’ but I’m going to go more surface-level and say rollercoasters. I have no idea why anyone would want to put themselves through that. For fun! Madness. Pure madness. I’m also scared of seeing someone standing at the end of my bed in the middle of the night, hence why I will NEVER watch Paranormal Activity.

black-wood-72G – Have you had any supernatural experiences?

SH – When we lived in our old house (a VERY old house, c1900), we were getting loads of work done and one day when I was in there alone, writing scary bits in Black Wood, one of the workmen came round to tell me about what he was planning to do next, and he asked after my daughter. I laughed, in a slightly confused way, as I don’t have any children. I asked if he had maybe heard the neighbour’s grandchildren. Nope. He went quite pale then. Pointed into the dining room. ‘She was playing down there on the floor.’ He literally backed out of the house. I was then, of course, terrified. Attempting to dispel the unease, I jokily mentioned it on Facebook, without mentioning that it was a girl or that it was in the dining room. A friend who had visited a few months before sent me a message: ‘Was she in the dining room? Don’t worry, she’s happy.’

Reader, we moved out.


G – And I am now too freaked out to continue with that…let’s do some quickfire questions.

Greatest Album Ever? Can I have two? Nirvana’s Nevermind & Pearl Jam’s Ten.

Which is best: sushi or chilli? Chilli. Sushi gives me the boak.

What advice do you give your 15 yo self? ‘They’ll all stop talking about it eventually.’

What was the last book you read? Watch Her Disappear by the incredible Eva Dolan (out in Jan 2017)

Is Trainspotting correct to say “It’s Shite Being Scottish”? Only when people ask you about politics.

SJI HollidayWhich one concert would you have liked to attend (any place and time). I need two again. Queen with Freddie & Nirvana with Kurt. Both legends. Actually I need another one. Wham! Before I found out that George Michael didn’t like girls (a sad day).

Are you a cat or a dog person? I think cat. Theoretically. But I like some of those little terriers too. I’m not really a pet person.

Which one reality TV show would you like to appear on? I really hate it, but I’d quite like to be on The X-Factor, with the rest of The Slice Girls. I think Simon would love us.


Now the Book Chain question. Daniel asked you:

Maverick, Ice or Goose? The definitive, character-led answer, please. (I have no idea but I always liked Meg Ryan’s character – I’ve seen it once)

SH – SIGH. It’s Maverick, obviously. Brooding, arrogant but damaged and in need of the love of a good woman. Ultimately he would have loved to be Goose, but Goose was too nice and that’s why he had to die. I still cry at that scene. Funny story, actually. Craig Robertson flatly refused to believe that Meg Ryan played Goose’s wife. Not even sure he believed photographic evidence. This isn’t why Daniel asked me this though. He asked, because, well… there was talk of a new Top Gun with crime writers cast in the lead roles. It was possibly going to be X-rated. Daniel is obviously Maverick, so clearly this is the answer he wanted. I feel the need… the need for speed!


I’d like to nominate Mark Hill to go next. His debut The Two O’Clock Boy is fantastic. I’d like to ask him…<<REDACTED>>   

Susi – thank you!  Though I suspect I am going to have weird dreams about dining rooms…


The Damselfly is published in February 2017 by Black & White Publishing and you can pre-order your copy here:



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November 9

Talking Books with Steve Worsley

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to chat with AK Benedict about audiobooks. She had just released her fantastic new novel Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts and had also written a Torchwood audio play for Big Finish productions – she was telling Captain Jack Harkness what to say!  Our chat covered what it was like for an author to pass their work to a team to turn it into an audiobook. You can read that interview here:

Now I am delighted to be able to bring you the other side of the story. Today’s guest, Steve Worsley, is a narrator of audiobooks and has spent hours in a studio to give a voice to the books we listen to. Down the years I have listened to many, many audiobooks so I was keen to learn a little more about how the audiobooks come together.

My first question is never actually a question, this is where I ask you to introduce yourself and give you the opportunity to get a few plugs in!

I am Steve Worsley. I’m a Scottish actor/singer. Originally from Aberdeen but now living in Falkirk with my wife and step children. I sing with a rat pack vocal trio called Ocean’s 3. I also perform improvised comedy with an Edinburgh improv  troupe called Men With Coconuts. We perform at the Edinburgh Fringe, Prague Fringe and currently have a residency at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.


shatter-the-bonesHow do you become the voice of an audiobook?

For me it kind of happened by accident. I was working with another actor who specialises in voice over work. He mentioned that he had been asked to narrate an audiobook. It was Shatter the Bones by Stuart MacBride. He said he didn’t really fancy it as he was from Glasgow and the Stuart MacBride books were set in Aberdeen (my home town). I jokingly said I’d do it if he didn’t fancy it. He took me up on the offer and helped me record a short demo to be approved by the publisher (HarperCollins). To my surprise they did and before I knew it I was off to a studio in Manchester to record my first unabridged audiobook. On the back of that I approached another publisher, who as luck would have it had just listened to Shatter the Bones. I was immediately offered another audiobook. The rather wonderful crime thriller The Blackhouse by Peter May. Due to reader popularity I have now become the voice of all the Logan MacRae series of books by Stuart MacBride. Since then I have gathered together all the equipment needed to make a wee home studio, and now produce my own audiobooks through an online company called ACX where writers submit their novels, and narrators can then audition for the roles.


I know all books will vary in length but if you have narrated a story with a 10-hour running time how long may you have spent in a studio to get that recorded?

I usually spend about 3-4 days in a studio, reading from 9-5 with regular breaks. My longest book so far is The Missing and the Dead by Stuart MacBride which came in at just over 17 hours. That took about 4 days in a studio in London. That was a real challenge to complete as the studio had booked me for 4 days but then found out that the book was about 150 pages longer than estimated! Luckily I’ve been told by several sound engineers that my sight reading rate is unusually high. I can comfortably read about 150 pages in a single day. Of course home recording is a different matter as I not only have to read but edit the whole book myself. And I can only record when the kids are at school! It can take me up to 2 months to produce a home recording.


the-blackhouseDo you need to be able to voice different accents?

 Oh yes! The Stuart MacBride books were great for me as they are all set in my home town. Until I took over on book 7 his books had never been narrated by a native Aberdonian (except the two he did himself). But even in his books there are loads of different accents. Some of them particularly specific. One character spoke with a mix of Aberdonian and Brummie!!. I’ve also had to do American, regional English accents and few others from around the world. In The Blackhouse by Peter May the whole book was set in Stornoway and was littered with Gaelic phrases and names. That was a real challenge! Not to mention reading different gendered characters as well.

Is a book recorded sequentially? 

Yes. You start at chapter 1 and keep going to the end.


(I think I know the answer to this but…) Can you just show up at a recording session and start reading or would you expect to have read the book beforehand?

I always read the book at least once (twice if possible) and allow time to makes notes. Unfortunately that it not always possible. Particularly with the big publishers. In the past I’ve received a manuscript on a Friday or Saturday and been in the studio on the Monday!


Dsteve-worsleyo you ever meet any of the authors or get feedback from them?

I’m good friends on Facebook with Peter May. He lives in France. My wife and his daughter are also now best friends as they are both artists. Most of the authors I home record for live in the States but again we stay in touch through Facebook. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some lovely things said about my work from the authors. Which is not only an honour but a huge relief!! It can be pretty nerve-wracking being entrusted with someone’s baby!!!


Are you a reader? If so then what types of books do you enjoy?

I love to read when I can find the time. I like a bit of everything but have been a lifelong Stephen King fan. He truly is one of the great writers of the last century. I also love Clive Barker (I do love a bit of horror). And of course The Lord of the Rings gets an outing every few years. And if I am in the mood then you can’t beat Matthew Reilly for just pure entertainment and non-stop action.


Have you have to narrate books which you really didn’t enjoy (and I am not asking you to name them) but would that make the experience seem longer?

All I will say is yes and YES! However so far I have been very lucky to have read some wonderful books by extremely talented authors.


Steve – thank you! I have spent hours/weeks/days of my life listening to audiobooks have not given much consideration to all the work that goes into making that possible. As a skim reader (who doesn’t like to say much) I am in awe of how much work you have to do to bring us these audio delights.  


You can find Steve’s audiobooks on the Audible website here:

More information about Men With Coconuts on this link:

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October 30

Book Chains – Daniel Pembrey (Fourth Link)

Book chains is my author Q&A with a twist.

I am placing this feature entirely into the hands of my guests and asking them to nominate the author I should interview next (and they need to supply a question I ask on their behalf).  Last time around Steph Broadribb nominated Daniel Pembrey.  Before I get to Steph’s question for Daniel I had a few questions of my own…


the-harbour-masterFirst Question is never actually a question. This is where I ask you to introduce yourself and give you the opportunity to get a couple of plugs in early.

Hello, Gordon. I was born in England but have lived much of my life abroad. My character is a Dutch copper called Henk van der Pol, who works a harbour beat in Amsterdam. The debut novel launches in print on 10th November but is available at a special introductory price on Kindle right now, till 8th November, here: Also my publisher has created a snappy & atmospheric website for me,, where you can see some of the feedback and more about my background. I guess I’ve used up my two plugs!

I wanted to ask about The Harbour Master, a story which you set in Amsterdam. Is this a city you know well or did the plot necessitate the location?

I started visiting the Dutch capital when my sister and her husband moved there. My visits became more frequent after they had a daughter. My niece is growing up speaking Dutch! I actually moved there for a while too, but couldn’t find the kind of crime fiction I love reading. It struck my as odd given Holland’s proximity to Scandinavia (and the prodigious output of those less populous countries), plus how well Holland lends itself to the genre – those incredible port cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the rest.

In fact there was Nicolas Freeling’s Van der Valk series, written in the ‘60s, which is perhaps better known here for the mass audience TV show. Freeling was very interesting to me as a Brit living most of his life in the Benelux region, writing characters native to languages different from his mother tongue. Without getting too academic about it, he’s an example of a ‘born translated writer ’, and if that intrigues, I’m doing a couple of events on that subject at UCL with a professor of Dutch studies on 30th November and 11th January: Oh dear, that was another plug!

Can you introduce us to Henk van der Pol?

Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to explain that I’d specifically been looking for a John Rebus, Harry Bosch or a Kurt Wallander-type character set in Amsterdam – the maverick, flawed yet highly effective copper – and when I couldn’t find him, I strove to create him in Henk van der Pol. I’ve actually interviewed both Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly (Henning Mankell being dead of course), and pointed out the similarities in their characters, but they all evolved separately to one another apparently. My realisation is that this is an archetypal character that we keep wanting to return to, and which I certainly wanted to write.

daniel-pembreyI am not fishing for spoilers so I need to phrase this carefully.  The description of Harbour Master suggests that Henk is approaching retirement – is he a character you will revisit? And will his forthcoming retirement limit how many future titles he may feature in?

Yes, this point has been brought to my attention by my publisher! (series longevity). I can only write what fascinates me and what I myself want to read, and for me, the interest of the older police character (John Rebus, Harry Bosch or my own) is that they are carrying ever more history and operating within ever greater constraints. They are increasingly complicated and challenged. For example, John Rebus – an imposing man, once in the SAS – can no longer use his physical strength to overpower an adversary. He has to use his wits, his guile. But gangster “Big Ger” Cafferty will talk to him and not some upstart copper because of their shared history, and so the complications and intrigue build in Rankin’s books. That’s was what I was after, early on in my books, with Henk van der Pol.

It is something of a rarity for me to meet one of my guests, however, we did actually get to meet last month at Bloody Scotland. You were there in a rather special capacity, can you explain a bit about your weekend?

It was my first Bloody Scotland and I loved it. And it was great to meet you in person! I was also a spotlit author – one of a number of debut authors invited to speak for three minutes ahead of a main panel. One of last year’s spotlit authors was Graeme Macrae Burnet! We all formed a little gang this year. Let me just mention them briefly now if I may, because they’re all amazing creators and wonderful people: Eva Holland, Amanda Fleet, Shelley Day, Liz Mistry, Stephen Watt, Sandra Ireland, Lesley Kelly, Michael Grothaus, Les Wood, Jackie Baldwin and Tom O’Keenan.


Did you get to attend any of the panels at Bloody Scotland?  Can you share any highlights?

The highlight was Val McDermid’s panel, because I was interviewing her the following morning. (Also Eva Holland’s reading at the start was amazing!). It’s always risky to arrange such an interview after a Saturday night at one of these events! But Val McDermid was so generous with her time and advice. It’s so striking because, someone like her – she’s sold 11 million books now and won innumerable awards – she doesn’t have to do this. But she told me that she got help of this kind early on in her career, and she strongly believes in giving back, and this is the other reason why Bloody Scotland 2016 was so special for me. You can read the interview here by the way:

Can I ask what you are working on next?

The Harbour Master was conceived as a six part story saga; the first book (just out) comprises the first three parts, and the concluding parts will be out in e-book edition in January under the title Night Market, so I am furiously doing final edits for that!

Now Some Quick Fire Questions:

o   What is the greatest song ever written?

Happy Birthday. So simple yet effective

o   You hit the pub after a book launch, who is most likely to beat you to the bar?

I pride myself on being fast, but watch out for that Susi (SJI) Holliday, she’s quick on the draw when peach schnapps are in the offing

o   Can you play a musical instrument?

I can: piano. I played keyboard in a garage-psychedelic band in my late teens … the less said about that the better, in case there are photos/recordings floating about!

o   Do you have a favourite book that you re-read over and over again?

Actually I don’t. There are so many books I want to read, I’d rather turn to something new than go back to a book I’ve already read.

o   Halloween is coming, do you turn out the lights and pretend you are out or do you go overboard on pumpkins and candy?

In fact this year we’re doing a Halloween special event at Waterstones King’s Road on Tuesday (1st November at 6:30pm). Please come along if you’re in London and you read this in time! – It’s free if you know the authors, so if you come, please say Hello. And there’s free wine!

o   What book(s) are you currently reading?

30141176I just finished Steph Broadribb’s Deep Down Dead, which is a great read and highly recommended. I’m now turning to His Bloody Project.

o   Steph (who nominated you) puts pineapple onto pizza – are these the actions of a sane woman?

Ha, sweet and savoury works for me too. Bacon with maple syrup when hungover? No?

o   City Breaks, The Great Outdoors or Sunny Beaches?

Definitely city. I can’t help recommending Amsterdam, but Berlin, Luxembourg , Oslo, … these are the places I love  to visit. That said, I did recently write a novella about a yoga retreat gone bad, set at a Mexican beachside resort. It’s called Vanishing Point. Now where’s that gone? *looks around in vain*


Finally, the Book Chain question – As you know, Steph Broadribb nominated you to keep my chain going and I asked her which question I should ask on her behalf: Steph wants to know – Whose drink would you most like to hold?

Well of course Steph’s, first and foremost. But perhaps then Tom Cruise’s, because my guess is that he’d want a selfie with Steph on his phone as well. Here to help!


Finally – to keep my chain going I asked Daniel to nominate an author that I should approach next…Susi Holliday, I may need a little of your time – Daniel has a very important question for you to answer!


The Harbour Master is published by No Exit Press and is currently available in digital format with the paperback arriving on 10 November.

Daniel’s Amazon page is here:


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September 25

In Conversation – Alan Jones and Brian Stewart: Self-Publishing

I am delighted to be able to be able to welcome two new guests to Grab This Book.  Alan Jones and Brian Stewart are both self-published authors who have written books that I have loved. Brian’s debut Digital Circumstances was included in my top reads of 2014.  Alan Jones has guested here in the past, I reviewed his novels Blue Wicked and Bloq and each received a 5/5 score.


Brian, can I start by asking you for a quick introduction and give you the chance for a shameless plug for your books?

Brian – I’m Brian Stewart. I was brought up in Grangemouth, worked in Edinburgh as a teacher for a couple of years, and moved to Nairn and I’ve been here for over forty years now.

Digital Circumstances is a classic rags-to-riches story, though I didn’t know that when I wrote it. The book follows the life of Martin McGregor and also tracks technology development from the late 80s till the present day. I was really pleased with some great reviews! Digital Investigations is more of a straight crime thriller with a technological dimension and a cybercrime theme running alongside it. It involves credit-card skimming and sex trafficking, both very relevant issues.

digital-circumstancesThroughout my books I try to be very accurate about the technology: there’s no facile guessing of passwords, no simple ‘hacking into’ computers. As my main character keeps telling the detective, ‘it’s not like the movies’. Enough from me. Alan, I know you are a vet – what else?

Alan – Thanks for the intro. Our self-publishing routes have been sort of similar – I tried to get my first book traditionally published, and I think I got rejections from most of the agents and publishers in the Writers and Artists yearbook. An agent with quite a large agency said he gave my book serious consideration but declined it in the end. He advised me to put It on the kindle store, and I’ve stayed with the self publishing route since, not really wanting to put myself through that process again.

My first book, The Cabinetmaker, took me 10 years to write on and off, and was a gritty crime story. A Cabinetmaker’s only son is brutally murdered, and the gang of thugs who killed him walk free after a bungled prosecution.

Blue wicked 2I wrote and published my second book, Blue Wicked in just over a year, and it was even more gritty, and much shorter and punchier.  The tortured corpses of young alcoholics and drug addicts are turning up in Glasgow and only unlikely investigator Eddie Henderson seems to know why.

A combination of my first blog tour, and a Street Cabinetmaking stunt at Bloody Scotland to launch The Cabinetmaker paperback raised my profile as a writer and made it much easier to do a proper launch of my third book shortly after. I had a bigger blog tour and distribution of ARC’s to various Facebook book club members, so that Bloq got off to a flying start, collecting 70 reviews in the first three months.

 How have you found the self-publishing experience?

Brian: My first – Digital Circumstances – was a long and complex book, so much so that I found it very hard to summarise it to anyone! ‘Investigations’ is, like yours, shorter and more focused. The self-publication process is, of course, easy. I’ve stuck to Amazon, and set up print on demand through (who also manage to get those onto my Amazon page). As every self-published writer finds, the process is much, much faster than the traditional route. Like many others, I had a six month wait for an agent to go from summary to asking for the full text, then another six months for them to finally say no. If they’d said yes, it would have been at least another year to publication. After my first experience, I decided to stick with self-publication for the ‘Digital’ series.

The hard bit is letting people know about the book. Circumstances didn’t sell much, but it got good reviews: for a long time it was well up there in Scottish (and even British) Crime if you searched by average review, but I suspect people search by best-selling.

I think Digital Investigations is a better, more accessible book, but I’m having to work hard to try to get it out there. Recently Amazon has been emailing me, suggesting I might like them. I hope they’re emailing other people too! I’ve sent copies to newspapers who might be interested, and I’m trying to reach online reviewers and bloggers Now, what are your writing habits, Alan? Regular slots or snatched opportunities?

Alan – I write when I can. At the moment, that’s not at all, as work and life have taken over. When I’m writing hard, I can write anywhere, and often write in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep. I’ve never done any research on writing – I’ve learned as I’ve gone along, taking constructive criticism on board when and where it’s been offered. I don’t think good reviews are enough for a self-published book. I think you need a bit of luck and a whole lot of perseverance, both in writing and in promoting.

Brian – It was only when I did a short OU course on creative writing that I started to learn the craft properly. That included sharing my work, and giving and receiving criticism. But nothing beats writing – and writing and editing and writing more. I look back at short stories I wrote in the past, which I thought were really good at the time, and they’re not great at all! When you’re working on a novel, Alan, do you work out the plot beforehand or do you construct the characters and let them run?

Alan – I usually have a good outline of a plot in my head before I ever start writing, but often I’m not quite sure of the detail of how to get there. That usually comes while I’m writing and so far it has always come together. I come up with the characters when I do the plot outline, but many of them don’t fully develop until the book is well underway.

What about you – do you wing it or are you a planner?

digital-investigationsBrian – In everyday life I’m a planner but not when I’m writing, strangely enough. Maybe it’s therapy. When I started ‘Circumstances’, I began with my hero in Orkney, on the run, and I had a good idea that the book would be about his whole back story and the events that had led him to where he was now. But I had no idea how he was going to get out of the situation he was in. I edited and re-wrote, and then did more research into cybercrime and found that the FBI fight cybercrime worldwide. That gave me the idea for the resolution. Writing ‘Investigations’ was different. I had my two main characters from the first book, and I wanted a straight crime and a cybercrime, and I wanted them linked, somehow. Other than that, I had nothing, so I started writing. The book I’m working on now grew out of an idea I had a year or so ago, and again I’m letting the plot grow as I write, then back through it. I’m more experienced now, so I recognise pitfalls more easily – and hopefully avoid some of them. Who do you rely on, apart from yourself?

Alan – One of the reviews of my first book was by an author/ blogger who gave it 3 stars but it could have been much better if it had been professionally edited. I contacted him for advice and he was incredibly helpful, putting me in touch with a freelance editor. By that time I had more or less finished my second book, and with the income generated from sales of my first book, I had the second one professionally edited. It was an eye opener!

BloqI also have a number of beta readers who are very helpful, especially with Bloq. I had moved from the familiar locations in Glasgow of the first two books, and set this one in London. I managed to find two Londoners to proof read it to make certain I’d got it right, and they both made great suggestions to add ‘London’ flavour to the book.

Do you rely on help from friends when writing?

Brian – My wife is my first and best critic. I complete a draft, edit, and then leave it for a while before re-editing. When I have a good draft, I let her read it and make comments. I then re-edit. At that stage I send to two beta readers, one of whom was on a writing course with me. I take their comments and re-work, and then my wife has another read through. Finally, in Word, I pick up grammar errors, spelling mistakes, inconsistencies in people’s names. Gordon – I would like to thank Brian and Alan for giving up their time to share their experiences of getting their books to readers. It is clear that for self-published authors reviews are a vital element in their challenge to spread the word about their books. I cannot recommend Alan and Brian’s books highly enough and I would encourage other readers (and especially the bloggers) to seek out their books and leave them a review.

Alan Jones can be found on Twitter as @alanjonesbooks

Brian Stewart is @BRMStewart

Give them a follow, they post some fascinating stuff!


Brian’s Amazon page can be found here:


Alan’s Amazon page is on this link:

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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:


Category: Guests | Comments Off on Killer Women: Rachel Abbott & Louise Voss
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:

Category: Blog Tours, Guests | Comments Off on GJ Minett (The Hidden Legacy) – My Writing Commandments
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


Category: Guests | Comments Off on Book Chains – Steph Broadribb (Third Link)
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:

Category: Guests | Comments Off on Craig Robertson Q&A – Murderabilia and Festivals
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


Category: Guests | Comments Off on Guest Post – Sarah Hilary: Serial Heroes