December 19

Christmas With Susi Holliday

Earlier this month I shared my favourite reads of 2017 (which you can see by clicking…here.

When I first read The Damselfly I knew it was a strong contender for one of my favourite reads. Closing out the Banktoun Trilogy I loved returning to the fictional town which I felt I knew oh so well.  Add in a cracking murder mystery tale and some cameo appearances from characters I never expected to see again and I was a happy reader.

You can read my review of The Damselflyhere.

Spinning forward to the end of the year, Susi’s second book of the year The Deaths of December was a gripping serial killer thriller which ripped up the idea of a cozy Christmas tale. THAT review is…here.


As we are rushing towards Christmas Susi has been giving some thought to presents and has come up with this handy shopping guide:

Top 5 Best Christmas Presents for a Bookworm

5. A Reading Journal

Lots of people are keeping track of what they read now, whether it’s by writing reviews or creating virtual bookshelves online, but there’s something nice about keeping a handwritten record – and there are some lovely journals out there too. Or, if you can’t see what you like, you could buy a fancy notebook instead and write a nice inscription on the inside cover to tell them what it’s for (most bookworms are fans of stationery too, so you can’t lose with this). Thrown in a funky pen, and you’re sorted.


4. A fluffy blanket

So that they can curl up on the sofa, surrounded by books, of course!


3. Personalised accessories

Mugs, bookmarks, t-shirts, tea towels, eReader cases, posters, cushions, candles, tote bags – there is so much available now, in high street shops as well as online. Pick something with a book that you know your friend is a huge fan of (or maybe a quote from one of their favourite authors), and you’ll be on to a winner.


2. Tickets to an author event

Most readers love to hear authors speak about their work, so if you have a friend who has never been to an event like this, have a look at the events programme at your local bookshop or library – maybe go and see an author whose work you’ve never read . . . and if you buy a ticket for your friend, you have to buy one for yourself too, so you can go with them. Result!


1. Books

Honestly. You can’t really go wrong with a book. Well, except when you buy a romance novel for a hard-core sci-fi fan. You could play it safe with a voucher from your favourite book shop instead – preferably one with a café, then you can make a day of it with books, coffee and cake 🙂


Before she goes we also have a little time for some Christmas themed questions from Susi:

Favourite Christmas Song

Possibly a toss-up between Stop the Cavalry and Wombling Merry Christmas.

Favourite Christmas Drink

Mulled wine or Bailey’s Hot Chocolate.

Favourite Christmas Happy Movie

Home Alone.

Favourite Christmas Scary Movie


Favourite Christmas Movie-that-is-always-on-at-Christmas

Clash of The Titans.

Favourite Christmas Book

I really loved Tammy Cohen’s “Dying for Christmas”.

Favourite Christmas Memory

Having a quiet one in a tiny fishing village in Madeira, just me and my husband, waking up and looking out at the sea, having no one around and enjoying complete relaxation.

Favourite Christmas TV Moment

Anything that happens in Eastenders is bound to be hilarious and horrific. I don’t think anyone in Albert Square has ever had a Merry Christmas.

Favourite Christmas Tradition

Leaving out sherry for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph.

Favourite Christmas Cracker Joke

What lies at the bottom of the sea and shivers?

A nervous wreck.




So there you have it – Wombles, happily watching a child left alone by his family at Christmas and misery for the people of East London.  Throw in a flying horse being captured by one of the lawyers from LA Law and we are just one terrible cracker joke away from the perfect Christmas at Chez Holliday.  Thanks Susi x





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February 7

The Damselfly – SJI Holliday

the-damselflyAn unsolved murder. A community turned against each other. A killer close to home…

Katie Taylor is the perfect student. She s bright and funny, she has a boyfriend who adores her and there are only a few months left of school before she can swap Banktoun for the bright lights of London. Life gets even better when she has an unexpected win on a scratch card. But then Katie’s luck runs out.

Her tragic death instead becomes the latest in a series of dark mysteries blighting the small town. The new school counsellor Polly McAllister, who has recently returned to Banktoun to make amends in her own personal life, is thrown in at the deep end as the pupils and staff come to terms with Katie s death. And it s not long before she uncovers a multitude of murky secrets. Did Katie have enemies? Is her boyfriend really so squeaky clean? And who is her brothers mysterious friend?

With Banktouns insular community inflamed by gossip and a baying mob stirring itself into a frenzy on social media, DS Davie Gray and DC Louise Jennings must work out who really murdered Katie before someone takes matters into their own hands.


My thanks to Thomas at Black & White Publishing for my review copy

The Damselfly, the third book in the Banktoun series is officially my favourite of the three. Although all three books can easily be read as stand-alone novels there is a definite reward for returning readers, Characters from earlier novels will cameo and the town seems to be evolving with each new book too – like in a videogame where deeper exploration into the story will open up new areas of the map to enjoy.  In The Damselfly the local school becomes a key focus for events and the pupils will provide much of the drama. SJI Holliday has made Banktoun a great place for readers to visit – but I wouldn’t want to live there!

I cannot review one of Susi’s novels without commenting (again) on her skill at defining characters. Everyone in the story seems more vibrant and realistic than some authors can achieve with their main character. The realism is a problem in The Damselfly though as in this story we have the nasty problem of cyberbullies. The creeping menace of social media is being used to stir up tension and suspicion and it makes for very uncomfortable reading.

The story opens with Katie, she is a bright student and is seeking to improve her lot in life and hoping to get away from Banktoun and move to the bright lights. Sadly fate has a different idea for Katie and her life abruptly comes to an end leaving a mass of unanswered questions and plenty of candidates for the finger of suspicion to point at.  A murder mystery means we get the police involved and in Banktoun that can only mean a welcome return for fan-favourite Davie Gray.

I totally lost myself in The Damselfly. From the early shocking murder of Katie Taylor we see how her death will impact on different characters in the town. Her family torn apart by the tragedy, her classmates believing they know who must be involved and trying to take the law into their own hands, her teachers coping with the shock and trying to support Katie’s former classmates. And, of course, the police who need to unpick Katie’s secrets when nobody seems to want to help them.

The Damselfly is a murder mystery which leaves you wondering who you should trust…A five-star page-turner, I loved it.


The Damselfly is published by Black & White Publishing and is available now in paperback and digital format. Order a copy here:

Damselfly Blog Tour


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December 2

2016: My Top 5 Scottish Books

As a Scottish blogger I am always keen to read crime/thriller books set in my native land or tales written by fellow Scots. I love to read stories which are set in the towns and cities I know so well. I like when the characters talk like me and I enjoy knowing that I am being entertained by someone who knows what is meant by “getting the messages.”

Before I share my choices for my Top Ten Reads of 2016 I am taking this chance to highlight my Top 5 Scottish Books for 2016.


The Dead Don't Boogie5. The Dead Don’t Boogie – Douglas Skelton

A missing teenage girl should be an easy job for Dominic Queste – after all, finding lost souls is what he does best. But sometimes it’s better if those souls stay lost. Jenny Deavers is trouble, especially for an ex-cokehead like Queste. Some truly nasty characters are very keen indeed to get to Jenny, and will stop at nothing…including murder. As the bodies pile up, Queste has to use all his street smarts both to protect Jenny and to find out just who wants her dead. The trail leads him to a vicious world of brutal gangsters, merciless hitmen, dark family secrets and an insatiable lust for power in the highest echelons of politics.

There are not many authors that can inject massive doses of humour into a thriller and get the balance of laughs and thrills right. Douglas Skelton manages to hit that combination perfectly as he introduces us to Dominic Queste in The Dead Don’t Boogie.

Order a copy here.



Willow Walk4.  Willow Walk – SJI Holliday

When the past catches up, do you run and hide or stand and fight?

When a woman is brutally attacked on a lonely country road by an escaped inmate from a nearby psychiatric hospital, Sergeant Davie Gray must track him down before he strikes again. But Gray is already facing a series of deaths connected to legal highs and a local fairground, as well as dealing with his girlfriend Marie’s bizarre behaviour. As Gray investigates the crimes, he suspects a horrifying link between Marie and the man on the run but how can he confront her when she’s pushing him away?


SJI Holliday returns to Banktoun in the follow-up novel to 2015’s Black Wood.  I loved this story as it was deliciously dark and creepy with some nasty twists thrown in for good measure.  As an added bonus we get Susi Holliday’s fantastic characterisation – she creates the most believable people in her books, I swear that I have actually met half the people she writes about.

Order a copy here.



In Place of Death3. In Place of Death – Craig Robertson

A young man enters the culverted remains of an ancient Glasgow stream, looking for thrills. Deep below the city, it is decaying and claustrophobic and gets more so with every step. As the ceiling lowers to no more than a couple of feet above the ground, the man finds his path blocked by another person. Someone with his throat cut.

As DS Rachel Narey leads the official investigation, photographer Tony Winter follows a lead of his own, through the shadowy world of urbexers, people who pursue a dangerous and illegal hobby, a world that Winter knows more about than he lets on. And it soon becomes clear that the murderer has killed before, and has no qualms about doing so again.


A brilliant murder mystery which makes the most incredible use of Glasgow and its landscape.  Craig Robertson brings back Narey and Winter and introduces us to urbexing. In Place of Death was a fabulous read but it also got me looking at Glasgow in a whole new light too. When a book educates as well as entertains then I am never going to be unhappy.

Order a copy here.



Killer Instincts2. Killer Instincts – Linden Chase

There’s darkness in the heart of Tranquility. Society has developed reliable tests to detect psychopathy in individuals. Those with the disorder are re-classified as victims rather than monsters. The question remains though, how does a liberal society deal with the inherently violent impulses of human predators who live among us. In response a government think tank is launching an experiment, Tranquility; an island where psychopaths will be isolated and left to form their own community.

Zane King, an investigative journalist, has been given a tip-off by a high-level government source that something big is happening on a remote island. After a heart-stopping journey Zane manages to infiltrate Tranquility by persuading the citizens that he’s a psychopath just like them. It doesn’t take Zane long to realise that something has gone very wrong with the experiment but by the time he fully understands what the island is really all about the community is already imploding in a wave of monstrous violence. “Not for the faint hearted…


If Lord of the Flies were a slasher movie then you have Killer Instincts.  Loved the idea of a sinister, shadowy agency that controlled Tranquility. Loved the idea of the Hunt. Loved the unpredictable characters.  It is dark read. Very, very dark. But it’s really, really good.

Order a copy here.



a-suitable-lie1 A Suitable Lie – Michael J Malone

Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match… And she loves his son, too. When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. He ignores it; a dangerous mistake that could cost him everything.


A “wow” book. Michael J Malone tells a harrowing story of domestic violence in a book which is chilling, memorable and incredibly important. I don’t think I could claim to have “enjoyed” reading A Suitable Lie but I couldn’t put it down, I HAD to find out what was going to happen next.

This is a book which will stick with me for a long time to come. It was frequently too realistic for this reader and it tackled a significantly under-reported subject in a sensitive yet compelling voice.

One of the stand-out books of 2016.

Order a copy here.



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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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August 30

Book Chains – Steph Broadribb (Third Link)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Legendary crime blogger? *blushes* 

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


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

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


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

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


Now Some Quick Fire Questions: 

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


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

Who would you most like to use a taser on? 

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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August 3

In Conversation: Michael J Malone and SJI Holliday

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MjMM – Good call, Susi.

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

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

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

What about you?

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

The End.


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

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

You can follow Susi Holliday on Twitter: @SJIHolliday

Or visit her website at


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

Michael can be found on Twitter as: @michaelJmalone1


Category: Guests | Comments Off on In Conversation: Michael J Malone and SJI Holliday
June 16

Willow Walk – SJI Holliday

Willow WalkWhen the past catches up, do you run and hide or stand and fight? When a woman is brutally attacked on a lonely country road by an escaped inmate from a nearby psychiatric hospital, Sergeant Davie Gray must track him down before he strikes again. But Gray is already facing a series of deaths connected to legal highs and a local fairground, as well as dealing with his girlfriend Marie’s bizarre behaviour.

As Gray investigates the crimes, he suspects a horrifying link between Marie and the man on the run – but how can he confront her when she’s pushing him away?

As a terrified Marie is pulled back into a violent past she thought she’d escaped, she makes an irrevocable decision. And when events come to a head at a house party on Willow Walk, can Gray piece together the puzzle in time to stop the sleepy town of Banktoun being rocked by tragedy once more?


My thanks to SJI Holliday and Black & White Publishing for my treasured review copy.

I don’t normally mention book covers, however, before I start talking about Willow Walk I just need to say – I LOVE THE COVER. Your eyes will be drawn to Willow Walk when you see it in the wild – get closer to it and pick up the book. Once it is in  your hand treat yourself and buy a copy, it is a brilliantly dark story. A chilling read.

In Black Wood SJI Holliday introduced us to Banktoun, a sleepy Scottish town with its fair share of secrets. Willow Walk sees us returning to Banktoun and there is also a welcome return for the popular character Sergeant Davie Gray. Both Black Wood and Willow Walk can be read as stand alone novels, Davie features in both but is not the lead character in either. For returning readers there are some familiar faces but these are treats to reward you on your second visit to Banktoun, Willow Walk is a brand new adventure.

The story opens in the most disturbing of circumstances – the aftermath of a party and our main character, Marie, wakes to find herself surrounded by very still (too still) partygoers. Something has happened and she has to get away. But for Marie getting away in a small town like Banktoun is going to be a problem because someone is watching. Someone that knows her better than anyone else. Someone that isn’t meant to be here any longer so how can he possibly be back? She would know. Wouldn’t she?

Marie’s boyfriend, Davie Gray, is caught up in an investigation involving deaths from legal highs. He is consulting with police from Edinburgh and his time is stretched. He also has to contend with the problems that come from having the fairground in town.  Davie is struggling to keep on top of his job and it doesn’t help that Marie is acting strangely.

Marie is struggling to keep up the pretence that all is well.  She stumbles from home to work and is on constant alert. Someone is sending her letters – a voice from the past. Someone that should not be able to speak with her.  The problem is that the letters are arriving with alarming frequency, but how does the sender even know her address? Marie’s story is the darkest of love stories and the author spins the tale magnificently. It is creepy and it is tense. I got so caught up in it that I only looked up to check that there was no one lurking in the dark corners of the room.

I love the Banktoun books. Susi Holliday captures the essence of characters so well that everyone seems real to me.  Even the regulars sitting at the bar in the pub carry more authenticity than some of the key characters in other stories I have read. The realism of the people and the town make Willow Walk sing, it becomes a story you can immerse yourself in.

Willow Walk is a 5* read. It’s the middle book of the Banktoun Trilogy and I cannot wait for the final instalment.

Willow Walk blog tour



Willow Walk is published by Black & White Publishing and is available in paperback and digital formats. You can order copies here:




Category: 5* Reviews, Blog Tours, From The Bookshelf | Comments Off on Willow Walk – SJI Holliday
January 25

In Conversation: When SJI Holliday met JS Law

bw cover1 copyA few months ago I thought that it would be fun to try bring something different to my blog. I had enjoyed sharing guest posts and author Q&A’s as I felt they offered insights into an author’s creative process but I was looking for something a bit more reactive. The Q&A format I normally adopt did not allow for follow-up questions as all my questions are normally submitted in advance.

To get around this problem I decided to approach two authors and ask if they would be prepared to chat to each other (with me lurking in the background). I turned to Twitter looking with my guest ‘wishlist’ on standby.

I was thrilled, and more than a little humbled, that the first two authors I approached agreed to take part. First up was JS Law (author of the fantastic thriller Tenacity). I had loved Tenacity and at the time I asked James if he would like to be involved in my author chat his book had recently launched – not brilliant timing on my part as James was swamped with demands upon his time.

The other person I had wanted to ask was Black Wood author, SJI Holliday. Susi’s debut novel had really caught my attention in the early part of the year, I loved her characterisation and despite setting the story in a fictional town everything had seemed so very real as I read.

I had purposefully selected my guests from different publishers, I tried to make sure they came from different parts of the country and were unlikely to know each other outwith Twitter and Social Media…as it turns out 2 out of 3 was not bad!

After ‘introducing’ Susi and James I then got caught up in a bit of good natured name calling and cheeky put-downs. Seems my plan to bring together two strangers had not quite worked out that way. But it did make for an easy opening question for me:

Me: Perhaps I should open with bringing me up to speed? When I suggested this chat I had no idea that you two knew each other, I quickly find that I am wrong about this! So how did your paths first cross?

Susi: You can blame Harrogate for all this… I think we first met 3 years ago, and Jaegerbombs aside, we’ve become good mates – we both had lots of angsty chats before finding publishers, so it’s nice to be able to do stuff like this now when we both have books on the shelves. We’re a supportive bunch, us crime writers! You’ll find that a lot of us have got to know each other… helps with the days when we are banging our heads off walls wailing about how we can’t write 😉

James: Before getting my publishing deal, I spent a lot of time attending writing events, networking and trying to better understand the environment. I met Susi at Harrogate a few years ago and you might say we just hit it off. I recall at the time that Susi had an agent and no deal, and I was agentless, so we’ve both come a long way.Tenacity 2

The crime community is quite small, but very supportive, and long before I was published I really loved that I could go to an event and hang out for a beer with writers that I’ve been fans of for years. I think this warmth and new circle of friends also helped me confirm what I think I already knew, and

that was that Crime and Thrillers was where I wanted to be. I look forward every year to the key events of Crime in the Court at Goldboro Books, Crimefest, Theakston’s Old Peculiar at Harrogate and Bloody Scotland, among others as it’s a chance to mix with the other writers and loads of readers, sink a few beers and remind myself that there’s a life beyond my current manuscript.

The publishing journey is different for us all, but at the events I gain so much experience from the more established writers and so much support, such as being friends with Susi, that it’s just part of the job now, and I wouldn’t miss any unless I had to.

So, Susi – drinking stories aside, why do you go to these events? Same reasons as me? If so, what value do you think you get beyond the support and encouragement?

Susi: I completely agree with James here. The events are invaluable, and I can’t imagine being a crime writer and not taking part in them. I’ve been doing some library events recently, and although they don’t always run exactly to plan (I had one with 3 attendees. One very old, one didn’t really understand English, and the third was aggressive and succeeded in making the whole thing rather uncomfortable) – it’s a great way to find new readers, as well as hone your skills when it comes to talking about yourself for an hour (which is much harder than it sounds). I tend to add anecdotes and mention other writers too, basically doing anything to keep the audience engaged and entertained. I have a great story about a psychopathic orange peeler, but not sure if I should commit it to print… it will be one of those folkloric legends… ‘Have you heard Susi Holliday talking about the weirdo with the orange?’

As James says, when we met, I had an agent but no deal. I actually hadn’t even finished the book at the time. I finished it a week later, but it took a good few months to find a publisher. I remember James being very supportive at that time, and he was also just starting to send out Tenacity to agents, so it was good to be able to give each other a rallying call when required.

I’ve written 50k words since I came back from Harrogate this year. I always come back from an event feeling buoyed and inspired. Hearing other authors speak is always entertaining (and that’s both on the stage and in the bar). It’s always great to chat to your author friends and peers about ideas, research and all that stuff. A lot of us have become good friends from meeting at events, and we keep in touch on social media and email too. It is a lonely thing, sitting down in front of a computer all day, talking to the characters in your head. We’re lucky that crime writers are a great bunch!

Something that I always find interesting is how we all manage to fit it all in. Writing takes time and headspace, and there are pesky things like other halves and kids and jobs too… I’ve recently taken a bit of time off to finish this draft, and I’m lucky that I can usually work part-time. How do you cope with fitting the writing around your day job, James?

James: Time is always an issue – family and a job that can be upwards of 50 hours some weeks – so for me the writing has to be my relaxation, the way I decompress. If it ever became a chore I genuinely don’t know if I could do it (I bet there’s a load of experienced authors out there now laughing at that now – like when a new parent talks about loving getting up at night with their lovely new baby, it soon wears you down). I write mostly in the evenings and on weekends when the kids are off doing other things, but I’m more and more looking to do retreats to give me big blocks of writing so that I can knuckle down. I have my first proper solo retreat coming up soon – 5 days in a remote cottage – so I’ll let you know how that goes – fingers crossed it’ll be very productive.

This always makes me think about wordcounts – I’m an obsessive planner/plotter and so when I start writing I usually like to have a very good idea what it is I’m going to write – with chapter plans and a good story summary. If I have this, I have, in the past, hit as many as 12,000 words in a day, though I can’t sustain that. A good evening for me is 2,500 words and a good day at the weekend would be 5,000 plus. It’s worth noting that my first drafts are very dirty, and I mean awful – filled with lines like ‘This is shit, write something better in here’ and ‘research snipers and write this again so it isn’t crap’ so there is a cost associated with my hight(ish) word count outputs.

How does that compare to you, Susi??

SJI HollidaySusi: I’m not quite as much of a planner, but I did outline my second book and it meant I was able to get the words down a lot quicker. 5,500 is the max I’ve ever done in a day. 2,500 is more usual. I just wrote 50k in a month which was gruelling! I’m having a break now before starting edits – catching up on some reading before my to-be-read pile turns into an avalanche! I recently read The Blissfully Dead by Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, and Steve Mosby’s I Know Who Did It (both were brilliant).

Do you find that reading great books makes you doubt your own ability? Do you suffer from ‘everything I’m writing is shit’ syndrome? And I don’t mean during the first draft.

James: Oh god yes! I no longer read fiction during my first draft and William McIlvanney is to blame. I was reading his first Laidlaw book when I was working on one of my first drafts and his sense of place is so strong, his characterisation just spot on, his descriptive prose……. The list goes on and it just shales my confidence. But it’s more than that too – if I’m reading a really strong novel, I start to take on those traits, like during the Game of Thrones novels (no, I haven’t bothered to watch the tv series) I found I started to err towards longer more descriptive passages, you know, forty-two pages of what Dan was wearing and what she had for breakfast ;-), but seriously, I find that a strong writing style can really impact on me and I start to lose my own voice – so I try to be very careful.

James LawDuring first draft, it’s all non-fic for me.

And, to be honest, I’m very hard on what I write – occasionally I write something that I think might not be shit, but not often – that’s why I don’t work in sales!

Susi: Manic is the only way I can operate. When things slow down, I get lazy. I’m just about to embark on my 3rd book now, and I’m hoping to write it fast and furious…

Meanwhile – yes, Bloody Scotland this weekend! Back full circle on the festival question! I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and doing the fresh blood panel. Plus I have a special event on the Saturday night…

****The Special Event was a star turn at the Curly Coo pub where Susi was joined by Alexandra Sokoloff, Lucy Ribchester, Kati Hiekkapelto, Steph Broadrib (Crime Thriller Girl) for a show-stopping, bar stomping performance of Chicago showtunes. Other performers on during the evening included Val McDermid, Steve Cavanagh and Michael J Malone.****

Prior to starting book 3, I’m trying to write a short story. Not written one for a while and feeling that it’s become difficult all of a sudden… James, do you write short stories, or is it novels all the way?

James: I love short stories! Love them. I used to write loads and have entered dozens of short story comps. I’ve just never won one 🙁  honestly, I doubt there’s any literate person in the UK that hasn’t beaten me at a short story comp!

Interestingly, Dan Lewis, my lead in Tenacity, started off as a short story. I forget what comp it was, but it was one where they give you a title, or maybe a topic, and you have to write a story. I wrote about a woman in a man’s world and created Dan. It was several years later when I came back to her again and wrote Tenacity, where she really came into her own.

****At this point in the chat the mania went into overdrive and we all got distracted elsewhere. On returning in late in the year we picked up where we left off and I was keen to find out what had been happening during the chaos. I had met Susi at Bloody Scotland where she sneaked a little information about her next book during her panel. James, I believe, was happily distracted by the Rugby World Cup.  Christmas and New Year slipped by so I caught up with Susi to get some more information on her new book****

Me: Susi, in Stirling (Bloody Scotland) you indicated that you had a new book coming in 2016, can you share any more information yet?

Susi: Yes! It’s called Willow Walk. It’s set in Banktoun (same as Black Wood) but features new characters and a completely new story, so it’s a follow-up in some ways, but really it can be read standalone. It’s about a woman who is being stalked by the brother that nobody knew she had… It’s out in spring and I’m quite excited about it!


My most sincere thanks to James and Susi for giving so much of their time. I knew from the outset that I was asking for something which would be an ongoing distraction and they were magnificent in keeping this conversation going for a significant number of weeks, despite all their other commitments and constant demands upon their time.

SJI Holliday

SJI Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham competition. She is married and lives in London. Her debut novel Black Wood was out in 2015.

Black Wood is published by Black & White Publishing and can be ordered here


JS Law

James joined the Royal Navy in 1993 as an apprentice and went on to serve for twenty years, the latter half of this career spent in the Submarine Service. He rose through the ranks, taking a commission as an engineering officer in 2001, and serving as a Senior Engineer and Nuclear Reactor Plant Supervisor, where his responsibilities ranged from the safety and operation of the submarine’s nuclear power plant to hydraulic plants, fridges and toilets; it was the latter of these tasks that brought the majority of any pressure.

His final years in service were spent training submariners in the role of Senior Lecturer in Nuclear Reactor Engineering, where he lectured and mentored future submarine operators of all ranks and rates.

Having written short stories and novels throughout his naval career, James completed an MA in Creative Writing at Portsmouth University shortly before leaving the navy in 2013, completing his debut novel, Tenacity, shortly afterwards.

James lives in Hampshire with his wife, Elaine, and two children. He spends what spare time he has riding his bike around the South Downs and travelling to Edinburgh to watch Scotland play rugby at Murrayfield stadium.

Tenacity is published by Headline and can be ordered here

Category: Guests | Comments Off on In Conversation: When SJI Holliday met JS Law
April 18

Black Wood – SJI Holliday

black-wood-72Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo’s story.

Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But what is the connection between Jo’s visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?


My thanks to Black & White Publishing for my review copy


Black Wood is set in Banktoun, a small village on the outskirts of Edinburgh. If you have ever lived in a small village you will understand that there is a community spirit, that everyone knows everyone else and there CAN be a feeling of claustrophobia (especially if you aspire to escape to pastures new). A small village is also a perfect setting for a tense thriller. A predator in our midst causing fear for the residents, a snake in the garden, one rotten apple in the barrel. Except that everyone has secrets and all is never as it seems.

Cut straight to the chase: I loved Black Wood. I loved the characters, the setting, the mystery and Susi Holliday teased out the secrets brilliantly over the course of the novel.

The story follows Jo. Some 20 years before the events in the story she and her friend Claire had a life changing incident on the edge of Banktoun. The impact of events still resonate for Jo and Claire and we learn that Jo has had a somewhat troubled time in the intervening years.

Elsewhere local policeman, Sergeant Davie Gray, is hunting for a balaclava wearing man who has been seen lurking around a disused railway line that runs beside the village. Unfortunately the lurking is escalating to more threatening behaviour and it is not long before an attack occurs.

Sergeant Gray is another star in the making for me and I want to read more about him. He knows Jo of old and promised Jo’s mother that he would help watch out for her daughter – this protective side creates an interesting dynamic between the two characters and the scenes with Jo and Davie Gray were high points.

One memorable moment for me was when Jo returned to her Grandmother’s house (the titular Black Wood). An unexpected incident appeared to be taking the story in a direction I had not expected. As I am avoiding any Spoilers I cannot elaborate but the sequence suddenly heightened the tension, added a new dimension to the story and made Jo appear significantly more vulnerable than I had initially envisaged. I love when an author can catch me unawares in this way.

Black Wood is one of my favourite books so far this year. A brilliant story in which the characters shine and the mysteries kept me hooked as I poured through the book desperate to find out how events would be resolved.   More from Banktoun please, I feel we need to know it better.

All that remains is to reconfirm my love for Black Wood by scoring it 5/5 and urging you to read it.


Black Wood is published by Black and White Publishing and is available in both paperback and in digital format.

You can follow Susi Holliday on Twitter: @SJIHolliday

Or visit her website at



Category: 5* Reviews, From The Bookshelf | Comments Off on Black Wood – SJI Holliday
February 24

Guest: SJI Holliday – Why Did I write Black Wood?

Today I am pleased to welcome SJI Holliday who visits just 24 hours after the digital publication of her debut novel Black Wood.

I am delighted to be able to share this fascinating insight into why the novel was written:


Why did I write Black Wood?
By SJI Holliday

Back in 2006, the first thing I wrote – years after leaving school – was the start of a novel about a supernatural bridge where people went missing into some sort of time slip. It was based on a real bridge, with a strange plastic covering over the top of it to prevent suicides. It was wobbly and it echoed, and because of a weird hidden bend, you couldn’t see people walking towards you until they were quite close and they seemed to appear from nowhere. I started writing this (in a notebook I’d bought in a Japanese 99p store) on a long-distance train journey between China and Russia. I didn’t get very far. Reading it back, I realised it wasn’t going to work until I refreshed myself on the nuts and bolts of writing technique.

After that, I attended a night class in London, where I went back to basics and learned about story structure, character and point-of-view. I started writing very short stories – which I found out were known as flash fiction – and I gained a collective gasp from the class as I read out my neat little tale about a man who’d embalmed his wife.

My influences come from horror… Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sean Hutson, James Herbert. Then from crime: Jonathan Kellerman, James Patterson, Mark Billingham, Peter James and Mo Hayder. So I found myself at a bit of a crossroads. I didn’t want to write a police procedural, as I found that my interest lay more with the victims of crime, and the horrors they face – plus, I am not too keen on research as I am a world-class procrastinator! I had loads of ideas and I started several novels, but none of them made it past the 10k words mark.

I was desperate to finish something. I asked other authors for advice, and it was always the same. Just finish something, anything – it does not have to be “The One”. I knew I needed a bigger draw, something to hook me in to help me keep going. So I turned my thoughts to my own past, my own experiences, and a memory from a long time ago. Something that stuck with me, but something that I was sure no one else really remembered – to the point that I started to think I’d made it up.

But I didn’t… two little girls did go into the woods, many years ago. And something bad did happen. I just embellished it a bit, as is my artistic right. So if you read it, you can let me know what you think… and see if you can work out the nuggets of truth amidst the dark things that my imagination conjured up.

Oh, and one day, I’ll go back and finish that story about the bridge.


bw cover1 copy

Black Wood is available now through the Kindle store and will be published
in paperback by Black & White Publishing on 19th March 2015.



SJI Holliday grew up in Haddington, East Lothian. She works as a Pharmaceutical Statistician, and as a life-long bookworm has always dreamt of becoming a novelist. She has several crime and horror short stories published in anthologies and was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham Prize. After travelling the world, she has now settled in London with her husband. Her debut novel, Black Wood, was inspired by a disturbing incident from her childhood. You can find out more at



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