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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May 4

Guest Post – Alan Jones: Serial Heroes

Day Three of Serial Heroes and after Steven Dunne and Caroline Mitchell both discussed authors that have had success in print and on the silver screen I find that my latest guest is keeping that trend running.

When I first asked Alan Jones if he would like to contribute to my Serial Heroes feature his first response was that he didn’t really follow any series of books or characters . However, I don’t think 60 seconds had passed before he suggested a name – possibly one of the most famous names from literature – and from that point I don’t think I gave him the option to back out. Thanks Alan, it’s over to you to explain:


The series of books I love most may be a surprise to many. If I tell you that they are action stories based loosely around crime and the cold war, and involve a lot of  shooting, car chases and beautiful  women with  a cool and sophisticated protagonist, you’ve probably narrowed the list down a bit.

But if I told you that at one point in the series, the main character suffers the death of a loved one in violent circumstances and has mental health issues because of it, culminating in a breakdown and a period in his life when he goes completely off the rails and works for the other side of the ‘law’, would that make you think again. Maybe something Scandinavian or old school American Noir?You Only Live Twice

The books have all been made into films; tremendously successful but each one in the series getting further and further away from the books, which would make those unlikely.

To confuse you further, the author of this series also wrote a very successful children’s book, published after his death, that also led to a major blockbuster when it hit the big screen.

The lead character is an English gentleman and manners play a big part in all the books of the series.

The series?

Casino RoyaleWhen Ian Fleming penned ‘Casino Royale.’, the first of the series of sixteen books that introduced James Bond to the world, he could have no idea that he would spawn on of the longest running and most successful screen franchises ever, with each film outdoing the one before in terms of gadgets, stunts and humour.

And yet, the books themselves are a great read, giving an insight into how the establishment in the post war period saw themselves. Bond, an Englishman in the books, is ever so well mannered, even when he is killing his villains. The books are partly a throwback to the days of the British Empire but underneath it all, they are short detective stories set in exotic locations, usually with world peace and prosperity at stake.

They’re deeper than you would think, and Bond even gets married in one of them. And he has that nervous breakdown, starts working for the Russians and even goes back to nature, living as a fisherman for a year on a Japanese Island.

There is an element of gadgetry, fast cars and gorgeous ladies, but the storylines are grounded enough to make you believe they could almost have happened, and read incredibly well. Bond on paper, in contrast to his screen persona, is darker. He still has that cruel, ruthless streak, he’s decadent, with a  lack of ethics, he’s sadistic and he’s a snob. But Ian Fleming injects a little bit of glamour and a hint of humanity into him, and the reader ends up rooting for this flawed but fascinating and exciting character. OHMSS

My personal favourites are On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,  where Bond is at his most human, and the next one after that, ‘You Only Live Twice, which tells of Bond’s descent to probably his lowest point in the whole series.

But they’re all good. Short, succinct, exciting and clever. And if you can find copies with covers from the fifties and sixties, they look bloody great in your bookcase!



And that children’s book?

It surprised me to find out, years after I’d read both it and The James Bond series, that Ian Fleming had also written ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’!




BloqAlan Jones’s Amazon page is here: where you can order copies of all his books.


Alan’s latest book BLOQ scored a 5/5 when I reviewed it recently, you can order a copy here:


You can find Alan on Twitter @alanjonesbooks or at his own website:

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March 31

London Locations. Researching ’Bloq’ – Alan Jones

BloqOn my blog tour for Blue Wicked, Gordon asked me to do a post about the locations I’d used in the book, so for my second visit to GrabThisBook, I suggested a follow up post on how I found the London locations for Bloq.

Bloq is the story of a Glasgow man, Bill Ingram, a very ordinary husband and father who lives in a pleasant suburb of the city. He’s a civil engineer; a man who does his job well and lives a quiet life.

On Christmas Eve, he’s waiting in Glasgow’s Central Station for his daughter, Carol, a journalist working in London, who’s returning home to spend Christmas with him. When she doesn’t get off the last train, he knows something is badly wrong. He returns home, but sitting by the telephone, waiting for her to call, he makes the decision to drive to London to find out what has happened to her.

Up until that point, I was great with the locations. I’ve been in Central station thousands of times; I know the suburb in Glasgow where Bill lives. I can see him driving home up the switchback, sick with worry.

But I’ve been to London maybe half a dozen times in my life and I really didn’t know it well at all.  I pretty much had the plot in my head, and I knew that I needed five or six key locations at least. I’d used google earth to find those I needed for my last book, Blue Wicked, but I was looking for very specific spots in an area that I was much more familiar with, so I knew where to look. This was different.

The first one wasn’t too difficult. I’d stayed in London thirty years ago with friends in Camden, and I remembered it as an ideal location for Carol’s flat. Google maps proved to be much better than google earth in a city environment, and street view has improved to the point where I could almost feel that I was walking about the streets of London, but with the ability to teleport myself to anywhere in on the map at the touch of a mouse. Within a short while, I’d found a street that matched the one in my mind’s eye.

The next bit blew me away; I was looking for a bar where Bill would have gone to grab something to eat and have a couple of pints after a long day treading the streets looking for his daughter, so in Streetview, I made my way from carol’s flat down to Camden High Street, and walked along it looking for a traditional bar. I had in my mind that it would be the sort of place that Bill would choose. I found one, The Elephants Head, situated only 10 minutes’ walk from the flat, as calculated by the Google maps, and had a closer look at it. To my amazement, when I clicked on the doorway, I was inside the bar, looking at the interior. It was like something out of Alice in wonderland! Not only was I in the bar, but I could move around inside, checking out the layout as if I was there. I even tried going up to the bar to see if I could order a pint, but it wasn’t that good!


Bloq image 1I hadn’t realised that this was available in Streetview, so I wasted the next hour finding places to go into, just for the fun of it. Check it out yourself; it’s phenomenal. Just enter ‘The Elephants Head, Camden’ into google maps and drop the little Streetview man outside it.

For the nightclub that gives the book its title, I had a converted warehouse in my mind, and I wanted it to be in one of the less fashionable areas of London. I’d already written some of the scenes that happen at the nightclub, so I had a much longer list of specific requirements that needed to be just right. Why didn’t I just make the place a complete figment of my imagination, I hear you ask, and it’s a fair question.Bloq image 2

I find it easier to write if I can totally immerse myself in the story, and having real locations definitely helps. If I believe the narrative one hundred percent, I hope the reader will too, but I do tinker sometimes with the detail a bit, to make it fit in with the plot.

After looking at seven or eight places in Bethnal Green, and finding nothing suitable, I moved my search south of the river. It was time consuming, but worth it, because I eventually found the perfect place in Walworth. It had all the right attributes, and I could see the changes that the builders would make to transform it into the nightclub of my imagination. A tarted up exterior with a new ostentatious doorway that had a certain look about it would make it perfect for the job, and it had a car park wedged between it and the church next door that ran the whole length of the building, just as I wanted.

I always imagined Alexander Gjebrea, one of the main characters, living in an uber-modern Grand Designs style house in one of the more affluent boroughs of London, so I checked on Google to see which areas were the most desirable. Islington seemed to fit the bill, and I did a Google search for modern houses in the area and came up with a development that was just perfect. It even had an online brochure from the developer with detailed plans and pictures of the interior.

Bloq Image 3For the story, I altered these a little and added some bling, to fit in with the story and the character.

I emailed Martin Stanley, a London author who I’d been introduced to, mentioning two or three of the key locations and asking him if they made sense. According to him they did.

I meant to get to London myself to check out all the locations, and physically travel between them to get the feel of what the characters would have to put up with, getting from one to another, but work and life got in the way, and it just didn’t happen, so I decided that I needed a couple of proof readers who knew London well to check out the first draft for authenticity in its setting.

I had a friend in London, Nick Short, who’d read my first two books, and he generously agreed to read Bloq for me and check out its London credentials. For the other proofreader, I asked the members of The Crime Book Club on Facebook (I’m a member there) if anyone fancied helping out, and I got a quick reply from an extremely nice lady, Rowena Hoseasons, who said she was a book blogger at and she was willing to read it through for me.

Both my London beta-readers were a godsend. They said that, on the whole, I’d got it almost right, but they came back with a list of tweaks about living in London that they thought would enhance the realism of the book, all of which I incorporated into my first edit.

It was mainly issues like traffic congestion, bus lanes, Oyster cards, parking nightmares, cyclists and ways in which I could beef up the manic and multicultural nature of London life.

I’m extremely grateful for her and Nick’s help in improving Bloq’s depictions of London.

All of the locations in the book exist, although I’ve altered some details in a few of them, and one day I’ll jump on a train to London and go round and visit than all. I’ll be almost disappointed when I turn into Browning street and there’s no bright neon sign, ’BLOQ’ above a nightclub doorway half way along, next to the church.


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March 31

Bloq – Alan Jones

BloqA gritty crime thriller.

Glasgow man Bill Ingram waits in the city’s Central Station to meet his daughter, returning home from London for Christmas. When the last train pulls in, and she doesn’t get off it, he makes a desperate overnight dash to find out why.

His search for her takes over his life, costing him his job and, as he withdraws from home, family and friends, he finds himself alone, despairing of ever seeing her again.


I received my review copy from the author in return for an honest review.

Bloq is going to be a tricky review to write.  I like to provide the official book description (as above) and in my review I generally include a personal overview of the story and explain why I liked the book I am discussing. However, I cannot tell you WHY I enjoyed Bloq as it would just mean dropping massive spoilers. I CAN tell you that I loved it and didn’t want to put it down.

For no reason I can really explain (other than that I love an ongoing crime series) I had expected Alan Jones to set his new book in Glasgow and bring back Eddie Henderson, the lead character from his fantastic thriller Blue Wicked. I met Alan at the end of 2015 and although he wouldn’t tell me anything about Bloq he was quite happy to assure me Eddie was not returning!

So I picked up Bloq with no idea of what to expect and I tried to avoid other reviews before I read the story so that I could approach the book with a totally open mind. What I found was a gripping tale of a father’s obsession over his missing daughter, a deeply disturbing ‘bad guy’ to loathe and the dark shocking twists which turn a good thriller into a great thriller.

Bloq is the name of a London nightclub. Lead character, Bill Ingram, has travelled from Glasgow to London to try and find his daughter – the only real clue he has to her whereabouts is that she was a regular visitor to the Bloq nightclub. Bill visits the club but there is no sign of his daughter, the club manager gives Bill the owner’s address but that trail leads nowhere either and Bill is stumped where to turn next. What Bill does not realise is that his enquiries have caught someone’s attention and that he is now being followed.

As I alluded to previously, everything that is good about Bloq needs to be discovered by the reader as they follow Bill around London. You cannot know too much about this book in advance – avoiding spoilers is the key to maximum enjoyment. It is not the easiest of reads at times as Alan Jones seems to enjoy being really nasty to his characters. There are tough times ahead for Bill and as he leans more about his daughter’s potential fate you begin to wonder if you actually want Bill to find her!

Bloq scores a ‘must read’ 5/5 review from me.

Bloq Blog Tour



Bloq is published on 1st April through Ailsa Publishing – you can order your copy here:

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