Guest Post: Matt Neal – debut author of Bay of Martyrs (co-written with Tony Black)

In the wake of becoming a published author, people are asking me for advice on how to become a published author. It’s at this point I have to ‘fess up and reveal that I am actually a phoney, and the only advice I can give is “ride on the coattails of an already-published author”. 

Because that’s what I did. I cheated. I feel bad explaining that to people who have toiled away for decades, filling their sock drawers with unpublished manuscripts and rejection slips until their socks are left languishing on the floor beside the bed with nowhere to call home. I dodged all that. “What a charlatan!” they proclaim (probably). Everyone has been very nice to my face about it, but I swear they sit at home seething about it. “Impostor!” they mutter behind the sanctity of their front doors. Probably.

My co-author didn’t cheat. Tony Black spent years filling his sock drawer with future novels and polite “no thank-you” notes. Then one day, I messaged him and said “hey, let’s write that book we talked about writing” and boom, less than a year and a half later I’m a published author. I’m such a phoney.

I probably shouldn’t tell people all that. To be totally honest, I spent nearly 10 years not finishing a novel that sits abandoned in a metaphorical sock drawer. And over the past 20 years I have written a stupid amount of words in all manner of writing styles (more on that later). But my stroke of luck in becoming a published author does confirm my theory that a lot of it’s about luck. If you’re a good writer, you just need to be in the right place at the right time. It’s the same as being in a band – you just need the right person to hear your hit-in-waiting to make it an actual hit.

Unfortunately none of this helps anyone. So here are some actual helpful (hopefully) things I learnt while writing Bay Of Martyrs (available now in all good digital and analog bookstores).

Don’t tell anyone you’re writing a book

You know that person who’s always banging away about the great book they’re writing? Don’t be that person. Having spent nearly 10 years telling people about the great novel I never finished writing, I decided with the first draft of Bay Of Martyrs to not tell anyone I was writing it. The only other person in Australia that I told I was writing it was my wife (I have no idea who Tony told). I figured that once I got the first draft done, then I would tell people, as if that was some kind of reward. It worked. I did less talking and more writing. And every time I didn’t feel like writing, I could hear a voice in the back of my head say “well, I guess no one will ever know about it then….”.

Find a mentor

Instead of telling people I cheated and merely rode on the coattails of an established author, I should tell people I found a great mentor who helped me on the road to becoming published. Because I did. I owe so much to Tony Black. First he tested me – he made me write out lengthy character biographies and a couple of practice chapters to see if I was made of the right (write?) stuff. Then he taught me – he sent me a list of dos and don’ts that proved invaluable. It featured stuff like be sparing with adverbs, keep your point of view consistent in a chapter, use all five senses in setting up scenes etc. All really helpful stuff. Then he showed me how to do it – Tony followed in my first draft footsteps, improving what I had written as I ploughed on ahead. I would go back and see what he had changed (we used Google Docs in case you’re wondering, it’s brilliant for real-time editing), and I would then try to write each new chapter so he would have to change less and less. He said I almost had the hang of it by chapter 21.

Write everything

If you want to be a writer, I think you should be able to write anything, anywhere, any time. It’s something I’ve done for 15 years as a journalist – you never know what assignment you’ll get on any given day – but it was something I prided myself on before I got a real job. It means that I now get asked to work on cool things, as well as being able to funnel any idea I have into its appropriate medium. Whether it’s songs, reviews, film scripts, TV sitcom pilots, poetry, feature articles, colour articles, listicles, radio plays, ad copy, fantasy stories, letters, blogs, blurbs, band bios, and now crime fiction, I’ve had a crack at all of them. And I’ve learnt something from each different style that I’ve been able to transfer to another style. From screenwriting I learnt some golden rules such as “show don’t tell” and “enter late, leave early” that proved helpful in writing a crime novel. From radio plays I learnt how comedy works, which proved helpful in writing listicles and a sitcom pilot (as well as a crime novel).  From poetry I learnt the efficiency of language that proved helpful in journalism (as well as a crime novel).

So there you have it – these are just some of the things I’ve learnt as a writer that hopefully are of some use to you, dear reader.

Please don’t tell anyone I’m a fraud.


For more details on Bay of Martyrs go to





Turning Tables: Guest – Vicki Goldman from Off-the-Shelf Books


Turning Tables

A series where we ask the reviewers what does it for them, and why.

Writers – you do not want to miss this …

Today’s guest is Vicki Goldman, a freelance health journalist with over 20 years’ experience of writing about health for consumer magazines and pharmacy publications. She is also one of BUPA’s freelance health editors.


When did you first get into blog-reviewing? img_0376

I began reviewing books at the end of December 2014, so my blog is now around two years old. I already had two health blogs (to tie in with my day job as a health journalist) and thought it would be a great idea to review books as well. Not surprisingly, the book reviews took over and I closed down my two health blogs shortly afterwards, as I didn’t have the time to keep all three running.

Give a shout out to a blog-reviewer who deserves a bigger readership …

I follow several blogs and have made many reviewer friends over the last two years. One who really stands out for me at the moment is Joy Kluver. You can find her blog here  As well as reviewing books, Joy writes up great summaries of crime fiction events, such as First Monday Crime, so everyone should follow her!

 What books/writers were your gateway drug into reading in this genre? Have your tastes changed over the years?

As a child, I was obsessed with crime fiction and adventure stories – Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, Willard Price’s Adventure series and Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys. As a teenager, my love of crime continued (e.g. Agatha Christie) and I also read a lot of Stephen King and spy thrillers (my Dad’s books – Alistair Maclean and Desmond Begley) for while. I then began reading Kathy Reich, Janet Evanovitch, Lindsey Davis and other similar series.

Thinking about it, I guess my tastes haven’t changed THAT much over the years. But I now read a much wider range of authors and I’m discovering new ones all the time. Since I started blogging, I’ve also branched out into some fantasy, dystopian fiction and more general fiction. There aren’t many genres I don’t/won’t read, although I still mainly love crime and psychological thrillers.

Ebook or print? What are your views on the pricing of each?

Ebooks are convenient – my Kindle goes with me whenever I leave the house. But I still love the feel of print books and probably read these more often. Occasionally I read books more than once – these have always been print books, not ebooks.

When it comes to pricing, I get very angry when people say they’ll only pay under, say, £2 for an ebook. Having written a novel myself (see below), I know each page is filled with an author’s blood, sweat and tears – whether it’s an ebook or print book. I wrote a blog post about this earlier in the year. – 

I feel sad that so many brilliant books aren’t getting noticed or bought, as many people just look at the 99p books, which are often those at the top of the Amazon Kindle chart. Good books are priceless, can be read again and again and should be cherished. I tend to pay more for print books than ebooks, mainly because they are priced that way, but if I want to read a book, I’ll buy it whatever it costs. I’m now developing a love of limited edition hardbacks from Goldsboro Books.

How important is the cover? Give a shout out to the cover that has done it for you recently. six-stories-vis-1

I love a stunning book cover. But it doesn’t necessarily influence whether I’ll read the book or not. If I notice books on Twitter or a Facebook group, it’s often the blurb or a review that captures my attention.

A cover that did jump out at me recently is that of Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski, which is being published by Orenda Books in March 2017. The cover is VERY clever. The book is a murder mystery involving a series of podcasts and a crime in deep woodland – the eye-catching cover features a sound wave in the trees. I should add that I’m reading an early version of the book at the moment and it’s BRILLIANT!

What draws you to an author that was previously unknown to you? (The blurb, the cover, the first page, word of mouth, or something else?)

I’m usually drawn to authors by word of mouth – through publishers or other reviewers. But occasionally I’ll find a new author by browsing on Amazon, Twitter or Facebook and looking at the blurb.

The first page has drawn you in … what keeps you there till The End?

Great writing, intriguing plot and believable characters. I don’t necessarily have to like the characters but it does help.

I enjoy reading ‘literary fiction’ and immersing myself in the descriptive narrative, but only if this fits in with the pace of the book. I’ve read a few well-written books (including psychological thrillers) that get bogged down with detailed descriptions that detract from the plot.

Do you finish every book you start?

No, but if it’s a review book I do feel guilty. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. I have realised that life is too short to read books I’m not enjoying – there are just too many books out there that I want to read.

Any trends in publishing that put you off/ you are happy to see continue?

Like many others, I am a bit fed up with comparisons to ‘Girl’ books and also the strong focus on the twists at the end, or in the middle, or wherever I’m told they are. I expect most of the books I read to have at least one twist – I mainly read crime and psychological thrillers. But I don’t need to know exactly where it is, or even if there is one. I can work that out for myself. I am finding a lot of books a bit ‘same-y’ at the moment, so I’m always on the look out for something a little ‘different’.

Any plans to totally turn the tables and write a book of your own?

I have always wanted to write a novel – I dreamed about it as a child. I studied biomedical science at university, with plans to do a PhD in forensic science and then write crime fiction. But in my final year of my BSc., I developed an interest in health writing. I completed an MSc. in Science Communication and became a health journalist/editor instead. My love of fiction writing has never gone away though.

I have spent the last year writing a novel – it’s a psychological thriller, but hopefully something a little different. It’s now finished and in submission, so I’m waiting to see if I can generate interest from a publisher and/or agent. I’m not going to say any more at this stage (including what it’s about) as I don’t want to tempt fate, but I really hope I can find a home for it. I’ve had some good feedback from early readers who know the industry, so fingers crossed…

Fantastic! To keep up to date with Vicki here are her links …

Blog –

Twitter –


Turning Tables – Anne Cater

Turning Tables

A series where we ask reviewers what does it for them, and why. Writers/ readers – you do not want to miss this …

Today we welcome Anne Cater to Turning Tables. When did you first get into blog-reviewing, Anne? anne-cater

Random Things Through My Letterbox will be six years old in March 2017.  I’ve been writing reviews of the books that I read for years.  I started out as a reviewer for Waterstone’s Magazine (which no longer exists), I also reviewed for NewBooks Magazine and posted my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I noticed that more and more reviewers were starting blogs and I thought it would be a good place to keep all of my reviews together, and where I could shout about the books that I love.

Give a shout out to a blog-reviewer who deserves a bigger readership …

There are so many wonderful blogs out there. I’m not sure how many views they all get, I think most bloggers do it for the love of books, rather than to get ‘seen’. 

However, there are three bloggers who I particularly love, their reviews are always spot-on and I’ve ordered many a book after reading their reviews:

Jackie Laws from Never Imitate (@followthehens)

Leah Moyse from Reflections of a Reader  (@LeahJMoyse)

Janet Emson from  From First Page to Last  (@JanetEmson)

What books/ writer were your gateway drug into reading in this genre? Have your tastes changed over the years?

My tastes have changed considerably over the years, although I do have some old favourites who I doubt I’ll ever stop reading. 

I’ve become more diverse with my reading, picking up and enjoying books that I would probably never have looked at many years ago. I’ve always loved a good crime story, and thrillers, dating back to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys when I was a child, and moving on to police series such as Peter Robinson and Peter James. I loved Patricia Cornwell too, but sadly, her books started to go off the boil for me.

In terms of literary fiction, the one book that changed my whole outlook about reading was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  My boss urged me to read it when it was first published in the UK. It was a book that I would have NEVER picked up.  I loved it. I was totally absorbed by it, the story, the characters, the atmosphere.  It taught me that I should never be scared to try something new!


Ebook or print? What are your views on the pricing of each?

I really appreciate how the rise of ebooks have benefitted both readers and authors, but I don’t read them myself.

One day, when my eyes are too poor to read print, and my sore wrists really do give up the ghost, I know that I will convert to ebooks, but for now, I’m determined to continue with print editions.

I’ve tried reading ebooks. I just can’t seem to lose myself in them. It just doesn’t feel right at all.

I have a passion for cover art, and for hardbacks.  The physical book is my friend, full of memories. When I pass my bookshelves and glance over and spot the spine of a much loved book, I remember where I was when I read it, or who gave the book to me, and always, how it made me feel.

The debate regarding price is a difficult one.   I get very frustrated when I hear readers say things like ‘oh, I would never pay more than £3 for a book.’   This is dreadful, this is the author’s living, their craft, their magic. People regularly shell out £3 for a cup of coffee, three times that to go to the cinema to see a film once, yet they consider £3 too much for a story that they can ‘live’ for days or weeks, that they can return to many times.  It’s so sad, and an indicator of our throw-away, lets get everything for as little as possible society.

I realise that some people read lots of books, very quickly and that the cost adds up, but there are libraries, and most of them lend ebooks too.  People don’t HAVE to purchase everything that they read, and borrowing from the library supports authors too.

I’m happy to spend up to £12 on a hardback and usually spend around £6 on a paperback, and whilst I receive loads of books, free of charge from publishers, I buy lots and lots too.  Finished copies for myself, gifts for friends, treats for myself.

I’m not sure that ebooks should be that much cheaper than print books if I’m honest. There is still a whole lot of work behind them. The book still has to be written, and edited and formatted, there is still a cover design. The author has to be paid, the publisher has to make a profit.

How important is the cover? Give a shout out to the cover that has done it for you recently.muse-jesseburton

For me, a cover is very important.  There’s that old saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, well lets be honest, everyone judges initially by that first glance. It’s human nature and nothing will change that.

If I’m in a bookshop and I spot a beautiful cover, I will pick up that book, and I will probably buy it. Yes I will read the blurb and the first page or so, but it’s the cover that gets me first.

There have been some amazing book covers recently, but I have to give a shout out to The Muse by Jessie Burton, published by Picador – that cover is stunning, it’s a work of art.

 What draws you to an author that was previously unknown to you? (The blurb, the cover, the first page, word of mouth, or something else?)

I do love a debut!   Again, if I’m browsing in a shop, it will be the cover, or maybe where the book is placed. If it is alongside an author I already know, on a display, then I’ll take a look.

All of the things that you mention will help me be drawn to an author, but as a blogger, it is probably word of mouth – from other bloggers and book lovers that would make me actually go and order the book, without actually seeing it.

 The first page has drawn you in … what keeps you there till The End?

A story that keeps me engaged.  I love beautiful writing, but I also need a plot that is interesting, with characters that are well drawn.  If I start to skim read, or delay picking up the book, then something has gone wrong, for me, somewhere.

Do you finish every book you start?

No!  I’ve never been one of those people who feel as though I have to finish every book that I start. Why on earth would I waste my precious reading time on a book that I’m not enjoying?  I really don’t understand those people who struggle on until the very end.  People say “I won’t let it beat me”, well, it’s not a war, it is  supposed to be a pleasure.

There are no book police!  Authors don’t know that you’ve given up on their book (unless you are spiteful enough to tell them!), they don’t need to know and I expect that they don’t want to know.

Years ago, I read one of RJ Ellory’s crime novels.  A detective was at a murder scene and noticed that the victim’s book was laying on a table.  He wondered if the victim had been enjoying the book and hoped that he had been because wouldn’t it be awful if you didn’t enjoy the very last book that you read?

That has stuck in my mind for years.  If I’m struggling with a book, I ask myself; ‘what if this was the last book you will ever read?’ …..

Any trends in publishing that put you off/ you are happy to see continue?

Ahh, trends!   I know that people get very annoyed by ‘Title Trends’, you know all the books with ‘Girl’ in the title, or ‘Sister’, or ‘Wife’.   It really doesn’t bother me, if the book is good, then I don’t really care what it is called.

I’m not too keen on copy-cat publishing.  There was a time when you couldn’t walk through Waterstone’s without falling over tables full of ‘Fifty Shades’ copies.  EL James certainly did lots for erotic fiction, but they all looked the same.   The same with vampires, after Twilight – the whole store was full of black covers, with red lettering.


Any plans to totally turn the tables and write a book of your own?

No.  A big fat no.  I have absolutely no imagination.  I will leave that to those who already do it very well!


Thanks, Anne for your fascinating answers. To keep up to date with Anne’s work, here’s how …


Blog Facebook Page

Twitter @annecater

 Book Connectors on Facebook

Book Connectors on Twitter  @Book_Connectors




Turning Tables – Emma Welton of damppebbles book blog

Hi folks, meet Emma Welton, one of the most generous souls you’re likely to meet out there in the blogoverse … Tell us a little about yourself, please Emma? 12794623-1

I’m a thirty something stay at home mum to two little people (5 & 2).  I live with my husband, the kids and two black cats which don’t actually belong to us in Wantage, south of Oxford (the cats won’t leave us alone!).  I’m a complete book addict and have been since a young age.  It’s something I encourage in my children too (she likes football, he likes books so I’m halfway there!).  I started my blog, damppebbles, in January 2016 and now can’t imagine life without it.

When did you first get into blog-reviewing?

I still consider myself very much a newbie as I only started damppebbles at the start of 2016.  It’s funny how quickly something can become a part of your life as I can’t imagine life without the blog now!

Give a shout out to a blog-reviewer who deserves a bigger readership …

Ooohh, that’s mean!  Only one?  I’ll have to choose my blog bestie in that case – Joanne Robertson of My Chestnut Reading Tree (

What books/ writer were your gateway drug into reading in this genre? Have your tastes changed over the years?

I remember feeling quite rebellious and reading a couple of crime novels whilst my friends were obsessing over chick-lit, as a teenager.  I can picture the first crime novel that made sit up and think ‘wow’; it had a blue and black cover and gold lettering.  I can’t remember the name of the author (maybe Michael…) or the title of the book now though!

I’ve dipped my toe in other genres but for me, it’ll always be crime fiction and thrillers.

Ebook or print? What are your views on the pricing of each?

Over the years I’ve grown to prefer reading eBooks.  I like the instant gratification of pressing the ‘purchase’ button and the book being there, like magic!  I also find my Kindle easier to hold.  But there’s nothing like the smell of a new print book, and I like a pretty bookshelf to look at!

You mention pricing, for me it’s important that the author of the work is receiving recompense for the hours of blood, sweat and toil they’ve put in.  It annoys me when I hear that an author is earning 19p per copy sold!  What!! With that in mind, I wouldn’t want to spend more than £4 on an eBook but would gladly spend up to £10 on a print book.

How important is the cover? Give a shout out to the cover that has done it for you recently. the-bird-tribunal

Very important!  As important as the blurb.  The cover and the blurb are what sell the book to you.  It’s what makes your book stand out from the hundreds of others on the shelves of Waterstones.

I was quite mesmerised by the cover of The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn.  That was something special.  I also love the cover of Belinda Bauer’s The Beautiful Dead.  It makes me want to read it.

What draws you to an author that was previously unknown to you? (The blurb, the cover, the first page, word of mouth, or something else?)

Word of mouth mainly.  I trust my fellow book bloggers taste implicitly.  If they say it’s good, then it’s good!

The first page has drawn you in … what keeps you there till The End?

Twists and turns.  The Unexpected.  Something a little different.  A good number of people being murdered in imaginative ways.  A plot that is always moving and holds my interest.  Characters I can relate to and invest in.

Do you finish every book you start?

Yes, and I see it as a flaw.  Once I’ve started a book, even if I’m getting nothing out of it, I find it almost impossible to walk away from.

Any trends in publishing that put you off/ you are happy to see continue?

It really grates on me when books are compared to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train.  I disliked both books so it’s the sure fire way to make sure I never read your book.

Any plans to totally turn the tables and write a book of your own?

I would be a dream come true but I have neither the time nor the talent.  Maybe one day when my children are older.


Thanks to Emma for taking part in my Turning Tables series. Here’s how you can connect with her …


TWITTER: @damppebbles




Turning Tables – Liz Barnsley of LizLovesBooks

Turning Tables

A series where I ask the reviewers what does it for them, and why.

Writers – you do not want to miss this …

Liz is by any standards, a prodigious reader and I always enjoy what she has to say. Here she is with Steph Broadribb whose debut Deep Down Dead is out now in ebook and next year (Jan ’17) in print.  13221692_10208049328643514_2392383389449705487_n

When did you first get into blog-reviewing?

Liz – 2013 or something. The whole thing is a blur.

What’s the best thing about blog-reviewing?

Liz – Shouting about books. Talking about books. Crying over books. Making everyone read books. Books. Oh and the authors ain’t bad either. Nice bunch.

Give a shout out to a blog-reviewer who deserves a bigger readership …

Liz – Put me on the spot thanks for that Mr Malone. I don’t know. All of them. I know some brilliantly insightful bloggers. I’ll pick Kate at Bibliophile Book Club though mainly because we are kind of bookish twins and spend lots of time randomly shrieking at each other about THAT BOOK (Take your pick on which book. There is a lot of shrieking)

Ebook or print? What are your views on the pricing of each?

Liz – I prefer a print book but like the instant gratification of an e-book. Plus the story gets told both ways and I’m ALL about the story. E-books are often an easier and more cost effective way for publishers to provide review copies to us reviewers so I don’t fuss. I’d rather any money went back into the authors pocket. Pricing? I,  like many people,  will pay more for a real book than an e-book and I think sometimes e-books are priced out of the market. But equally I don’t like this 99p stuff (except as a perhaps occasional bookish promotion) A book is worth more than a cup of coffee and lasts longer. Yes, yes I guess I am kind of fence sitting. I don’t know. Ask a professional.

How important is the cover? Give a shout out to the cover that has done it for you recently.27219970

Liz – Covers can draw you into a novel you might not have considered. Very important. A good cover can be the difference between picking up that book in a bookshop and the one next to it. Recently? Oh Epiphany Jones. How could you NOT pick up that book?

What draws you to an author that was previously unknown to you? (The blurb, the cover, the first page, word of mouth, or something else?)

Liz – Usually Twitter. Or Sophie Goodfellow. Or a mixture of both.

The first page has drawn you in … what keeps you there till The End?

Liz – Character bonding and brilliant storytelling. Don’t bore me with endless nothing happening even if you are using beautiful language to describe said nothing. Some people like that sort of thing. Not me. Beautifully written I DO love; dull I do not.

Do you finish every book you start?

Liz – No. See above re “don’t bore me”

Any trends in publishing that put you off/ you are happy to see continue?

Liz – “A brilliant psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming” Do stop! I always see it coming.

Plus it is not a twist if I know it IS coming. It’s a plot point.

I’d like to see publishers take more risks like Karen at Orenda does. I’m pleased to see some of them are. Don’t just go for the twist. Look for the different. The other. That indefinable thing. Publish it.

Any plans to totally turn the tables and write a book of your own?

Liz – No. I’m not qualified. I could try. But it would be shit. So no.

THANK YOU for taking part, Liz.

Liz can be be seen hard at work in the following places …

Twitter – @Lizzy11268

Blog –

Goodreads –


Turning Tables – Gordon McGhie of Grab This Book

Turning Tables

A series where I ask the reviewers what does it for them, and why. profile-skull

Writers – you do not want to miss this …

When did you first get into blog-reviewing?

I set up Grab This Book in March 2014. I had just finished reading Natural Causes by James Oswald and I had really enjoyed it. I decided then that I would finally be more proactive in spreading the word about books that I felt people should read.

I set up a blog space and a Twitter account and rattled out a review (let’s just call it “raw”).

I immediately worried that James may see it so I did not do much more about it.  Over the next few days I did a couple of posts about why everyone should read Agatha Christie and also the upcoming World Book Night.  Very Low Key.

Eventually I plucked up courage to actually review a second book.  I picked James Herbert’s Ash.  It was terrible story which I had hated with a passion but the author was dead so the chance of negative feedback was low. I got a bit bolder by that point (and Ash remains the worst book I have ever reviewed).

It was not until June 2014 that I actually made a proper go of the blog and started to post regular reviews.

What’s the best thing about blog-reviewing?

Receiving a “thank you” message from an author if they liked my review of their book is hard to top.

Sometimes I will pluck up all my courage and contact authors to ask if they would like to take part in a feature on my blog. Every single time someone agrees and offers to help is both humbling and terrifying. I am in eternal gratitude to all my guests.

Give a shout out to a blog-reviewer who deserves a bigger readership …

Cor this was a tricky one. Most of the bloggers I regularly read seem to have a bigger readership than I do and I aspire to emulate THEM.

I do enjoy receiving random late night food related tweets from the lovely Emma at (@emmamitchellfpr) and her reviews are pretty darned good too.

Ebook or print? What are your views on the pricing of each?

I love the story and care not how it reaches me. I have shelves of books, two e-readers and the Kindle and Kobo apps on my phone.  I will read on any format just so long as it means I get to read. Oh did I mention audio books?  I use them too.

Pricing is tricky.  I have no hard and fast rule over what I will pay for a physical copy of a book.  I really grudge £7 or £8 for an Ed McBain  book or an Agatha Christie novel as I know I can read these in a single sitting. But I would be happy to pay that price for a Terry Pratchett book as I will always read it several times over.

Last month I was in the US and I spotted a copy of my favourite book (IT by Stephen King).  It is a monster of a novel and clocks in at over 1000 pages but the paperback was $20 – that was too much to even consider paying. My hardback copy cost less than that.

On a digital book I am a bit more “Scottish” about it. If the physical book and the Kindle copy are broadly similar in price I will go for the physical copy every time, the digital copy should never cost more than the physical release.

How important is the cover? Give a shout out to the cover that has done it for you recently.

willow-walk-1I am not too bothered about the cover as it is the words behind it that I am interested in.  Jumping back to the US paperback edition of IT – I found that striking and it immediately became a favourite.  Closer to home I think my favourite while I have been blogging is Willow Walk by SJI (Susi) Holliday.

What draws you to an author that was previously unknown to you? (The blurb, the cover, the first page, word of mouth, or something else?)

I think I am more influenced by word of mouth now that I am trying to write reviews. I get to hear about so many books that I have to be realistic in what I can actually find time to read.  There are three bloggers that I can be convinced by (I shall not embarrass them by naming them) but if one of that trio tells me to read a certain book I generally do. Eventually.

Many moons ago I worked in a bookshop in Inverness (my first Saturday job as a kid).  One of the tasks they gave us kids was to dust down the books and polish the shelves.  As a fast reader I could scan the blurb on the books while I cleared and polished a shelf. I read so many book blurbs I knew exactly what I wanted to read next. My staff discount came in handy too.

The first page has drawn you in … what keeps you there till The End?

Blog tour deadlines! Ok seriously, I need a story to flow and hold my attention.  I am a skim reader and I always have half a dozen or more books on the go at one time.  If the story is slow, overly descriptive or self indulgent then I will be tempted to put it down and not pick it up again (and this is why I have never read The Lord of The Rings to the end).

I tend not to stray far from crime fiction so generally I stay to The End to see who the killer was or if the hero manages to catch the culprits.

Do you finish every book you start?

Nope. And short story collections never get finished, I cherry pick the ones that sound interesting but ignore the rest.

Earlier this year I got the chance to read a book for review and I was totally loving it. It was a serial killer thriller from an author I had not read before.  I got right to the end of the story and something happened which made me put the book down right there and then.  I had about 5 pages to go and I won’t finish it. Nor will I ever review it.

That’s the furthest into a book I have gone without seeing it out and I made a conscious decision to stop reading. Generally I just drift away from a story and eventually return the book to the bookshelf knowing I didn’t enjoy it enough to see it to the end.

Any trends in publishing that put you off/ you are happy to see continue?

Don’t tell me a book is “The New Gone Girl” or “The Next The Girl on the Train”.  It seemed for a while that EVERYTHING was the next Gone Girl.  I actually didn’t enjoy Gone Girl (not even a teeny bit) so to pass me a new book and compare it to something I wish that I had never read is not the best way to pitch a story.  The Girl on the Train was great though.

Give a book its own voice!

On the positive side, I am quite liking the trend of releasing some hardbacks with a £5 price tag.  I saw Nomad (James Swallow) and The Girl in Cabin 10 (Ruth Ware) in my local supermarket at £5 each. As I browsed the books (I always look to see if any of my friends have been quoted in the new releases) I saw two people picking up the £5 books and reading the blurb – they did not pick up any other books from the shelf. If the lower price will encourage people to browse and maybe pop a book into their shopping basket then is that not a good thing?

Any plans to totally turn the tables and write a book of your own?

Dozens of ideas, no talent.

During the recent Bloody Scotland festival I had dinner with an author, an editor and another blogger. Over dinner I got to hear about the process that goes on between the first draft being written and a book eventually going to print.  I don’t think I could cope with the edits!

Fantastic! Thanks for taking part, Gordon.

You can keep up with this dedicated reader at the following …

T – @grabthisbook

Blog –

FB –


Turning Tables – Noelle Holten Blog-reviewer

Turning Tables

A series where we ask the reviewers what does it for them, and why.

Writers – you do not want to miss this …


So, Noelle, welcome to Turning Tables. Why don’t you tell us how you first get into blog-reviewing? Noelle and me at Bloody Scotland '16

I started reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads back in 2013/14.  I was not very confident and basically wrote a few lines about whether I liked a book or not.  I then started following Katherine Everett’s Best Crime Books and More ( and Vicki Wilkinson’s I Love reading ( blogs/ pages on Facebook.  Kat approached me to be a Guest Reviewer on her blog at the start of 2015.  She then suggested I take a leap and go solo.  May 2015 CrimeBookJunkie was created and with some guidance/support from the amazing blogging community out there, I have not looked back since!

What’s the best thing about blog-reviewing?

For me, it is having the opportunity to shout-out about the less known, but equally/more talented authors amongst us readers.  I love when someone reads my review and then goes and buys the book!  I have also made some wonderful, lifelong friends through fellow bloggers and of course, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing authors! #NotAStalker

The author/blogger/reading community is absolutely amazing.  It really has made a huge difference in my life and I hope that I can carry on doing this for years to come!

Give a shout out to a blogger who deserves a bigger readership …

Oh wow!  There are so many!  Of course my #Twinnie: Sharon Bairden of Chapter In My Life ( also my #BBFF Sarah Hardy of By The Letter Book Reviews (

I want to mention the whole #BlogSquad, but if people follow me on Twitter or Facebook they will learn soon enough who this fabulous gang of Bloggers are!

Ebook or print? What are your views on the pricing of each?

Interesting question.  I love print books.  Always have, always will.  Nothing beats the feel of a cover or the smell of the pages. (#NotAWeirdo) I have to be honest though, my kindle has been great for commutes or travel as I can store as many books as I want and still have luggage space!

I am always surprised when I see a kindle book costing more than a paperback.  I have paid up to £10 for a Kindle copy, but it would have to be a book I really wanted.  Of course, if the paperback copy was cheaper – I would buy it.  Even though I get a large numbers of books free as a blogger, I still purchase those books I love and want the final version of – it is an expensive habit – but one I am not willing to break!

How important is the cover? Give a shout out to the cover that has done it for you recently.

OMFG – I love covers!  Next to characters, covers are what draw me to a book.  I have two that I want to share.  One is my all-time favourite cover because of the emotions it evokes and the story it reveals – that is, Graham Smith’s Snatched From Home

The other cover is Craig Robertson’s Murderabilia   —now THAT is an awesome cover.  It carries the same imagery for me in terms of emotions evoked and the story we will find within the pages.  WOW!  Just WOW!

What draws you to an author that was previously unknown to you? (The blurb, the cover, the first page, word of mouth, or something else?)

I have come across a lot of author’s via other bloggers and reviewers. I then google/head over to amazon and check out the book’s they have written – the blurb and cover usually cinch the deal. However, I have broken my own #CoverSnobbery and read a few books I may have passed over in previous times – one being, Alan Jones’ Blue Wicked.  It turned out to be a brilliant book and I became a fan!

Various book clubs and Twitter is another place where I have found author’s I have never heard of.  I love coming across a #NewAuthorForMe.  It is exciting to be able to read a series that others rave about and still have loads to look forward to!

The first page has drawn you in … what keeps you there till The End?

Oooooh!  For me, the pace has to be good and even with the story – it does not always have to be fast, but it has to build up the suspense or I soon grow bored.  I bloody love twists as well!  If I am screaming OMFG more than once….I am on to a winner!

Do you finish every book you start?

So far, I have.  Though there have been only a few books I really struggled with.  I have been fortunate enough lately to have come across some pretty awesome reads.  I think because I am more selective now in what I accept (due to the sheer volume of requests) I have chosen those books which I think will capture my interest.

 Any trends in publishing that put you off/ you are happy to see continue?

I like amazon’s recommendations emails, BookBub, the use of social media with author’s being more interactive with their readers as well as Podcasts.  However, it does annoy me when an author spams my Blog Facebook page with books I would not even be interested in reading, let alone support — #Erotica I am looking at you!  Or when they friend request me and then bombard my personal page with links to their book–#Blocked. I appreciate that author’s want exposure, however if bloggers started posting their blog links on author’s pages, well I am sure they would get annoyed – unless their book was being reviewed of course! I also like a lot of the digital publisher’s out there: shout out to Bookouture and Orenda!  Quite a lot of my favourite crime authors have gone digital!

I am pretty flexible and open-minded on this front.  I like to see new things and those that don’t interest me- well I just ignore!

 Any plans to totally turn the tables and write a book of your own?

I scrapped the original piece of work I was doing when I spoke to another author who pointed out some gaps and inconsistencies.  I am pretty much back to the start – although there are parts which may be useable once I sit down and just get started.  Plan is to get back at in in October when real-life work and other things settle down a bit.  I have also signed up for Crime & Publishment 2017 (Woohoo) – so even if I don’t have a finished version by then – I had better have something more than my name on a piece of paper!

Guys, why don’t you connect with Noelle. Here’s how … (Blog) (Twitter) (Facebook) (Goodreads) (Amazon)








Turning Tables – Sharon Bairden blog/ reviewer

This is a series where I “turn the tables”, focus on the people who read our books (God bless them, one and all) and ask the reviewers what does it for them, and why.  Writers – you do not want to miss this …

Sharon, when did you first get into blog-reviewing?  Sharon Bairden

I had been reviewing on the quiet for a while on Amazon but was too shy to share my reviews! I then joined The Book Club on Facebook and started sharing reviews on Goodreads. I had set up my own blog in 2014 but didn’t dream of putting anything on it never mind sharing it with the outside world! As I began to connect with more authors and followed other bloggers I eventually plucked up the courage in early 2015 to put it out there for public viewing! This was quickly followed by my Facebook blog page and linking my blog to Twitter! Compared to others though, I’m still a baby blogger and learning more every day!

What’s the best thing about blog-reviewing?

Ohhh dahling the fame and fortune obviously! Hehe! (Just kidding!) The best thing(s) for me about blog reviewing are: the absolute buzz I get from sharing a review and hearing that someone else is going to read the book because they enjoyed my review; the hyperventilating, fangirling moments when an author contacts me to thank me for my review and shares it on social media; being able to give something back to authors for the hours (and I mean HOURS) of enjoyment they give me by writing their books and the fact that it has opened up a whole world of people just like me – I have made so many new friends through doing this, both online and in person and the support of other folk who have the same passion for books and reading is outstanding! It’s a whole new world….oh is that a song!

Give a shout out to a blog-reviewer who deserves a bigger readership …

Argghhh how can I possibly just pick one! That’s so unfair Michael – there are so many brilliant book bloggers out there – but if you are going to pin me down then I’ll go for my #Twinnie aka CrimeBookJunkie– she is awesome! She has really supported me in my blogging and we are so alike in so many ways #EEEEEEEEKKKK We have been described as #ThelmaAndLouiseOnAcid

EBook or print? What are your views on the pricing of each?

It makes my blood boil when I hear people complain about the price of books – whether EBooks or Print – seriously authors put their heart and souls and months of work into their books and that should be rewarded appropriately! How would they feel if they were rewarded pennies for months of hard work; folk happily pay over £5 for a cup of crap coffee and stale cake yet will balk at paying over 99p for an eBook or over £3 for a print copy! Grrr!

How important is the cover? Give a shout out to the cover that has done it for you recently.

Yes the cover is important – it is often the first thing that a reader and may be the hook that pulls them in! I love a cover that hints at what is inside, one which makes me think and one that gives me a hint of what lies beneath. In saying that though, I have read books whose covers I have really disliked and loved the book so as the old saying goes it’s important not to judge every book by its cover! One that done it for me recently (well obviously apart from all of yours Michael and that goes without saying!!) I loved the cover of Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton – for me it just screamed the underworld of Glasgow streets and portrayed the menace that lay in wait for me when I opened the book.openwounds

What draws you to an author that was previously unknown to you? (The blurb, the cover, the first page, word of mouth, or something else?)

I don’t think there is any one thing that draws me, it’s definitely a mix of things – reviews from like-minded bloggers and reviewers is important, you get to know the folk that have the same taste as you and take heed of their recommendations; I like to check out the authors profile (no I’m not a stalker, honestly!!!!) on social media and their websites – if I am drawn to them and what they have to say then that acts as a hook for me; the blurb of a book along with the cover also attracts my eye – but there needs to be substance behind it all for me to draw me in!

The first page has drawn you in … what keeps you there till The End?

The pace, the characters and the place; if the author can connect with me on a personal level through the characters and place then I’m hooked – if I can hear the characters, feel myself in the midst of the plot and care about what is going to happen then you have me right there! I love being able to visualise the plot, the characters and the location and this is even better when it’s somewhere real, somewhere I know….which I guess is why crime fiction set in Glasgow holds such a massive appeal to me – I was born in the East End of Glasgow and know most of the areas of the city so I can easily see the book play out in my mind as I read – do that with characters I care about and want to invest my time in then you have got me there until the very end!

Do you finish every book you start?

Mostly yes, as I tend to choose books I get a sense I am going to enjoy; I hate giving up on a book but if I get a 3rd of the way through and it is doing nothing for me and it begins to feel like a chore to read it then I give up – but that fills me with the fear because I always have a massive guilt complex for doing this – I hate the book to feel as though I’m abandoning it – hehe am I beginning to sound a little too obsessed ;-))

Any trends in publishing that put you off/ you are happy to see continue?

I LOVE the continued growth of Scottish crime fiction – we have so much material and talent up here I am so behind this continuing to grow and grow! I HATED all the “50 Shades” books that are taking up precious space on the shelves of bookshops – take them away and fill the shelves with Scottish Crime fiction instead please! Hopefully the fad is passing – although to be fair anything that encourages others to read is a good thing and our choice of genre is always personal to the individual so I’m not judging!

Any plans to totally turn the tables and write a book of your own?

Oh that is my dream but doubt I’d ever be able to do so – my next best thing would be to have my own independent bookshop – I even have the name for it, know what it looks like inside…just need my lottery win!

You can connect with Sharon and read about her work here …

Chapterinmylife blog:



Guest post: Rebecca Bradley

rebecca b image


I need to thank Michael for having me on his blog today. I asked at short notice if any of my friends had space on their blogs for this week and Michael offered straight away. The crime writing community is one of the kindest communities I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. So, thank you, Michael.

Michael gave me a range of topics he was interested in hearing about and The best piece of writing advice I’d received, was mixed in there among the others listed. It stuck out for me because I did receive some advice very early on in my career and it’s advice that has stayed with me, advice that I have held on to and advice that I continue to follow, even in ways that it wasn’t necessarily intended for. I used the advice to suit me and it has served me well.

Very early on, before I had even finished my first novel, Shallow Waters I was lucky enough to have someone in the publishing industry request a read of what I currently had. And after reading that partial piece of work, said publishing person phoned me, wanting to talk about my writing and to talk about me as a person. This conversation shaped where I then went from there. It pushed me and gave me the impetus to keep going and to never stop. To believe in myself. To know that this was the path I wanted to go down. I was, as I’ve said, very lucky.

What was that advice? It was simple really.

Be yourself.

Yes, that’s it. Be yourself.

The context was in relation to my comments to the person about reading up on the art of writing, about how I was reading books and blogs on how to write (I was really new to writing at this stage) and I was told to not overdo this, in fact, I may have been told not to do this at all, but to be myself. To be myself on the page because if I continued to be myself on the page then one day, Rebecca Bradley would be published. You can see how this would drive a writer forward can’t you?

But this post isn’t about how that conversation personally pushed me, it’s about how the advice itself applies to any writer. And how I applied it to the rest of my writing life.

We all need to know the rules of writing. You need to know the rules even if you intend to break them, you need to know them in order to break them. But, as for the voice on the page, that has to be you. You have to write as you. Tell your story naturally, but use the rules that you know exist and a voice that belongs to you will appear. I couldn’t tell you how my voice sounds on the page. Not everyone will like it, but it works for me and for my set of readers. It’s easy to mimic other writers you read regularly, but finding your own voice takes time sat with your bum in the seat, but it does come.

So, how does this work outside of the page? I decided to take the advice literally and be myself and I can actually be quite stubborn about it as well. Maybe to the detriment of my career? I don’t know. But what I do know, is, that I am happier and more settled because of it and you need to decide whether you can live with a fake front just to get ahead or if you want to be true to yourself. Now that’s not an easy question to answer, so don’t be too quick off the mark with your answer.

I’ll give you an example. I had an agent who said to me that hiding my illness, or at least talking about it less, might be better for my career. At first I agreed with them, and stopped all talk of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and invisible illnesses and disabilities and overcoming them and striving for what you want, no matter what you contend with, but then I became discontented with it and I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. It wasn’t me, it didn’t feel natural.

I have a saying in my life, that if people can’t accept me the way that I am, then they aren’t worth getting upset about. This goes, for me anyway, with the publishing industry as well. (This might not be the post Michael wanted!) And it’s not a stance I’d tell everyone to take. But for me, I can prove that I can still work regardless of how ill I am and that was the concern of the agent, that publishers wouldn’t want to take a chance on me if they thought I was too ill to produce the work.

So, my advice is, be true to your art – as long as you know the rules. And, be true to yourself – as long as you know the potential outcome.

That way, you will enjoy the journey a hell of a lot more!

As an aside, how I got to talk to said publishing person before I had even finished my manuscript? Twitter! Yes, seriously. One day said person stated they were on the lookout for this specific kind of thing. I tweeted back and it went from there. Don’t hound people, but the publishing world exist on social media and if you’re in the right place at the right time, you never know what might happen.


Rebecca Bradley is a retired police detective who lives in Nottinghamshire with her family and her two cockapoo’s Alfie and Lola, who keep her company while she writes. Rebecca needs to drink copious amounts of tea to function throughout the day and if she could, she would survive on a diet of tea and cake while committing murder on a regular basis. Sign up to the newsletter on the blog at, for exclusive content and giveaways.

Her latest novel is available HERE rebecca cover


Guest blog: Maggie Craig – “Writers Must Write”

Maggie Craig bookWriters Must Write – Maggie Craig

Now and again, when I emerge blinking like a mole from my writer’s garret, I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a while. “Are you still writing?’ they ask brightly. That’s like asking me if I’m still breathing. I believe that’s the only reason we should write: because we can’t not write, because we need to write as we need to eat, drink, sleep and dream, because we have stories we need to tell.

There are good reasons to write just for yourself: a diary, a journal, morning pages that help clear the mind for the day ahead. Writing a book you hope to publish requires a leap of faith. You have to believe in yourself and your talent. You have to believe someone will want to read what you have written. For most of us, self-confidence doesn’t come easily.

Feedback and encouragement helps. Oh, how it helps. I took my first tentative steps towards admitting I was a writer back in the late 1980s. Feeling in need of some guidance, I was lucky. I found a class at Kilmardinny House in Bearsden in Glasgow led by the inspirational Two Sheilas: Sheila Lewis and Sheila Aird.

Talented and well-published writers, they spoke about both art and craft. They set tasks. Write a page featuring two people having a quarrel. Write a scene remembering that we have five senses, not only hearing and sight. Write a scene set during a thunderstorm. Terrifyingly, the request was to do some writing at home and bring it in to read out the following week.

I can still remember how nervous I felt as my turn to read approached, dry mouth, pounding heart and all. Daring to dream and stick my head above the parapet, I earned the reward of being told: “You can write.” The joy of that moment has stayed with me ever since.

Pointed in the right direction, I joined a writers’ group and began attending writers’ conferences. At the annual weekend school run by the Scottish Association of Writers, I entered almost all the competitions. Critiques from working writers were invaluable, even if they were sometimes brutally honest.

The late Hugh C Rae, who wrote as Jessica Stirling, was especially rigorous, and demanded you be rigorous too. Like many Scottish writers, I learned so much from Hugh, who was always willing to share his wide knowledge of writing and publishing.

Dundee publishers DC Thomson were very encouraging to beginning writers, as they still are. My first published story, boy meets girl, appeared in My Weekly magazine. I was working then as a Scottish Tourist Guide and our tour had brought us to Dumfries. I propped the magazine open on the dressing table of the hotel room so I could see my story and its lovely illustration as I dropped off to sleep that night and as soon as I opened my eyes the next morning.

I was a published writer and I was so proud of myself, excited that people were reading my story and paying good money for it, too. When I published a different story in her favourite People’s Friend magazine, my elderly aunt was fair bursting with pride. As far as she was concerned, I had made it.

I put that first My Weekly story into a clip frame. It’s still there, on the wall by my computer. Even twenty years on, I get a wee thrill every time I look at it.

My first full-length work was the non-fiction Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45. When I was handed a copy, hot off the presses, at the publisher’s offices in Edinburgh, I was faintly surprised to realize that I had written a book. Up to then I had just been typing pages. First published 19 years ago, DRB has never been out of print since. Going into a bookshop and seeing it and my other books on the shelves gives me a feeling of immense satisfaction. I’ve done what I was put on this earth to do.

I took away an important maxim from the class run by the Two Sheilas. “Writers must write.” You have to get it out of your head and onto the page. Then you need to put it away and go back to it later. We all have to learn how to edit our own work. I firmly believe we all need an editor too. The best editors draw the best out of you, pointing out what you still can’t see because you’re too close to it, not able to see the wood for the trees.

For me, a story isn’t a story and a book isn’t a book until the reader reads it. That completes the circle, from the imagination of the writer to the imagination of the reader. So we have to make sure we feed our imaginations and hone our craft. We need to be out in the world, paying attention and keeping our antennae up. We need to balance that with thinking time. We need to drift off now and again into the creative dwam, a good Scottish word which equates to daydream. We need to read a lot and we need to write a lot.

At the Linlithgow Book Festival a few years ago, a young woman told me that in showcasing just how many women had played their part in the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Damn’ Rebel Bitches had changed her life. I cherish that moment, and others like it.

What a privilege it is that readers allow writers inside their heads, hearts and imaginations. We owe them the best possible book that we can write.


Maggie picMaggie Craig writes historical novels and historical non-fiction. She is the author of the ground-breaking and acclaimed Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45, Bare-arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45 and When the Clyde Ran Red. She has just published a biography, Henrietta Tayler: Scottish Jacobite Historian and First World War Nurse. Her next historical novel is Dance to the Storm, which will be published in November 2016.

Maggie is a Glaswegian who now lives in North East Scotland with her husband and a one-eared cat, aka Last Cat Standing.

twitter @CraigMaggie

FB: Maggie Craig Scottish Writer

Maggie’s Amazon Page –