Saturday, 27 December 2014

Marc Portman's coming back...!

I know this is early, but it's great news I want to share.

I got a lovely Christmas present by way of a BIG thumbs up from Severn House for 'CLOSE QUARTERS', the follow-up to 'The Watchman', which introduced protection specialist Marc Portman:

He's a professional shadow. A watcher who provides protection in potentially hostile situations. He works in the background, stays off the record. Often the people he's guarding have no idea he's there. Some people know him only as Portman.


First seen working under deep cover in Somalia ('The Watchman'), to safeguard two MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) officers lured into a deadly trap set by terrorists, Portman's new mission is just as lethal. He's hired by the CIA to venture into Ukraine's troubled and war-torn country to bring out US State Department official Edwin Travis, taken hostage by pro-Russian separatists while on a fact-finding mission.

But this isn’t Portman’s usual kind of job, watching from afar; this is a rescue mission. And as he quickly discovers, in order to help Travis, he’s going to have to get a whole lot closer to his subject. In doing so, he'll find himself up against local gangsters, Ukrainian Special Forces, professional snipers and pro-Russian separatists.

What he cannot know, however, is that his most dangerous enemy comes from his own side …

'CLOSE QUARTERS' - the second Marc Portman thriller - out in hardback - April 2015

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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Latest 'Beginners' article in Writing Magazine

I guess if there's a time of the year to capitalise on some of those creative ideas that have been sparking away in your brain over these many months, the Christmas break is one of them. That's if you can get away from the festivities, fun and frolics for a few minutes and think about what to do in the year ahead.

As I suggest in January's 'Beginners' page in Writing Magazine - out now in paper and digital formats - it's best not to over-think the various plots and thoughts pelting around in the grey matter.

(I'm assuming that you, like most writers, will have more than one going on at any one time, each vying for attention).

Instead, allow your inner selector to go to work. Because of all those plots and ideas, there's sure to be one that keeps popping up more than the others, like an itch demanding to be scratched.

This is your built-in creative process at work, so don't ignore it; it can save you hours and days of frustration and indecision. Eventually, you'll know you have to look at it seriously and do something about it, simply because it won't go away.

So, as my last writing suggestion for 2014, let the ideas mill about by all means. But don't over-think any one of them. I'm sure that THE ONE - the fragment of an idea that's probably been gestating quietly in one of the darker recesses of your mind - will emerge and kick the others into touch.

In the meantime, I wish everyone a very happy and peaceful festive break and the beginnings of a great writing year in 2015.

(It is, after all, a good numeric: 2+1+5 = 8)

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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

You can lead a boy to a book...

As usual at this time of year, the subject of reading and books-as-gifts pops up, along with comments about the reading habits (or lack thereof) of boys versus girls.

A report from the National Literacy Trust (commented on here by the Telegraph's Graeme Paton) seems to suggest that you have to use technology to get children - especially boys - to read, while a slightly biased sounding counter-comment 'You can bury your nose in a book but not an iPad' by Channel 4 broadcaster and mother of two girls Cathy Newman in the same paper here suggests that girls read paper books while - if you can get them to do so at all - boys will veer towards technology.

I don't know what the precise truth is, but it seems to me that the important point is that it really shouldn't matter what the delivery platform is as long as children are encouraged to enjoy reading... and at their own pace. As I know from my own childhood experience (way back when paper was the only medium), you can lead a boy to a book (me, reading adult thrillers from the age of 8), but you can't make him read (my brother, less than 12 months but light years away from reading anything at all).

A puzzling comment by Ms Newman was about the likelihood of her daughters becoming 'analogue refugees in a digital world... while boys... are getting jobs in IT or making a mint in whatever new technology is just round the corner'. I'm sure she didn't mean to sound bitter, but that's how it came across, which was a pity. After all, not every techie-leaning boy will get a well-paid IT job, nor every paper book-reading girl settle for something less - and why should they? As for suggesting that even boys - the monsters - can be captivated by seeing real paper books, as in 'even the most stubborn boy finds it difficult to resist the lure of reading when faced with all those exquisite new editions now adorning the shelves', that's surely lurching a little too far into feminism, isn't it?

I'm sure my parents worried about my predilection for comics (which was pretty intense, I admit). But wisely they saw it as a way of me using my imagination rather than going out and getting into trouble, and left books lying around until I started dipping into them. Once caught, and in my own sweet time (or so I probably thought), I was hooked for life.

Instead of constantly telling the world (children included) that boys read less than girls, and in what formats, we should be encouraging them all (gently) to read more, and in whatever way they can. In the process, trying to make ereaders a dirty word is not the best way to do that, in my view.

And if they don't want to read? Well, horses and water. My brother turned out fine, as it happens.

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Sunday, 30 November 2014

My review of 'Sins of the Father' by Graham Hurley

I seem to have been absent from the reviewing front lately. Not because I'd given up or couldn't find anything to read, but because I've been head-down and finishing two new books of my own.

One is 'Close Quarters', the follow-up to my first Marc Portman spy thriller ('The Watchman' - which is doing very well, thank you to all those who are reading it), and the other is called 'The Locker', the first in another series, which my agent has sold to an American publisher. More about that later. (It's another thriller, in case you're interested).

The fact is, I find it difficult in the hothouse atmosphere of finishing a book to do much reading with any objectivity. My head's so full of the current storyline and characters, that focussing on somebody's else's work is sometimes too much of a distraction.

Not that I'm exactly free of that now - both these books of mine being series novels, there are sequels to consider and write, so it's nose to the grindstone as usual.

BUT... I have to read something else occasionally, or I start biting the furniture. And by chance, the Shots Magazine editor, Mike Stotter, sent me Graham Hurley's latest police procedural, 'The Sins of the Father'. My review can be read right here.

It's a many-layered work, and right up there with all of Graham's work, so if you like a great plot, with some off-the-page characters, give it a try. It's a subtle work, is what it is.

And if you read the review, you'll find out what I mean.

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Saturday, 8 November 2014

My latest articles in December's Writing Magazine

It's early days, I know, but the December issue of Writing Magazine is already on the street. And if you buy nothing else, you should at least get yourself a copy to read over the festive period and gee up your writing buds.


My 'Beginners' page is called 'Layer it On', and is all about building your story gradually with layers of detail. Rather like a form of editing, it means going back and reading over what you've written, but instead of merely correcting typos, look for where you can improve what you've got.

This not only helps with adding depth and colour to your writing, be it characters, dialogue or scenes and so forth, but it's a belter for quietly building the word count (and I don't mean with padding).

As an aside, I think I started doing this a long time ago, mainly to improve what I'd done (naturally), but because I found attaining the word count to be the most depressing part of the whole business of writing; thinking I'd written XYZ thousands of words, I'd discover I'd done half that.

But when I came to the editing bit, I found putting stuff right, while losing some words, actually increased the total because I was focussing more on improving the quality rather than the quantity.

Sum total: a big increase in both.
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The other (and much more important) part of December's issue is my profile of author Marion Grace Woolley, whose gothic novel 'Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran' comes out in February.

Marion has a fascinating background working in Kigali, Rwanda, and proves that it's possible to write anywhere and far from home if you have the real writing urge.





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Saturday, 1 November 2014

How to lose an argument

It seems that famous literary agent Andrew Wylie, (aka 'The Jackal' after his supposed hard-nosed approach to book deals), has jumped on the anti-Amazon bandwagon by equating them with ISIS, that well-known but hardly commercial terrorist organisation currently murdering hundreds of people they don't like in the middle east. (I quote from the Guardian although there are other sources out there covering this issue).

In an industry known for hyperbole and making stuff up, this pronouncement takes the biscuit for sheer crassness. The last I heard, Amazon hadn't killed anyone who didn't match their own world views, nor threatened to build a caliphate or done any of the other truly awful things in the name of religion.

Perhaps Mr Wylie was trying to make a dramatic point and simply got carried away by his own outrage.

Unfortunately, he's hardly helping the argument that's taking up a lot of column inches at the moment by sinking to such extreme insults... nor by the apparent irony of his stance.

If, as he claims, Amazon is 'buried... in the sand... publishers will be able to raise the author's digital royalty to 40% or 50%.... and writers will begin to make enough money to live.'

Huh- what??

Why will doing away with Amazon make publishers pay higher royalties? Is that all it will take?

And why would they? They haven't shown much inclination so far.

Also, does he really think killing off the world's biggest bookstore/window/publishers' marketing machine (and that's paper books as well as ebooks, don't forget, not forgetting everything else they sell) will help publishers in any way to become more beneficent to authors?

Again, why? All it will do is make their sales figures even tougher to reach. But it will also harm the vast army of self-publishing authors (which includes quite a few legacy-published authors like me who also self-publish some of our work because we see writing as running a business and we're trying to make a living, Mr Wylie). But of course, he doesn't care about self-publishers, because we add nothing to his agency bottom line. We give him neither a slice on advances nor a chunk on royalties earned.

But he should at least spare a passing thought for the paper business that has helped him become so successful.

Or maybe in his outrage he'd forgotten that point...

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Latest article in Writing Magazine

November's issue of Writing Magazine contains my latest 'Beginners' piece, called 'DE-FOCUS'.

Most of us know that focussing too hard on writing when we're not in the mood is often counter-productive. But we still tend to panic if we're not actively burning the midnight oil and getting some meaningful words on the page.

I never thought I'd ever manage to slip a mention of Mr Miyagi (the wise old owl of 'Karate Kid' fame), into an article about writing, nor did I ever plan to do so. But it seemed appropriate at the time, and if you read the piece, you'll see why.

In short, DE-FOCUS is about... well, not focussing. Instead, using the subconscious brain while performing Miyagi-like tasks can provide the inspiration we need - a bit like having a computer programme running in the background.

I should know - I do it all the time. There was this wedding I was forced to go to just last week...

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Thursday, 9 October 2014

My review of 'Watch Me' by James Carol

My latest review on the Shots Magazine review website is of 'Watch Me', by James Carol. An against-the-clock search for a serial killer featuring former FBI profiler, Jefferson Winter, this presses all the buttons in the genre for those who like to think they can get there before the end of the book.

Read my review right here.



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Sunday, 5 October 2014

Books Are My Bag

Bookshops around the UK are being celebrated from the 9th to the 11th this month by the Books are my bag campaign, which sees an author in every bookshop on Saturday the 11th.

That means you, the readers, will be able to see an author, approach them, prod them or even talk to them if you wish. (Go on - ask a question; they'll love it).

The thing is, this campaign is all about bookshops and what they do: selling books, providing choice and information, and most of all, allowing you to browse and see inside the books before you buy, all in an atmosphere confined to... well, books.

I've had the pleasure of being invited to appear in Rossiter Books in Ross-on-Wye (lovely town with a beautiful river flowing past it and LOADS of places to eat, should you be tempted), on Saturday 11th at 11am, and will be pleased to speak to anyone about books - most especially my own, of course. But if you want to chat about others, I'll be happy to do that, too.

Bookshops are an endangered species. Don't let them go the way of the dodo for want of calling in and taking a look. You never know - you might see something you like.

And remember - it's not long before you'll be on the hunt for something to give your nearest and dearest at Christmas. So why not stay off the keyboard for a bit and call into a bookshop instead?

I'll be there. Will you?

Rossiter Books in Ross-on-Wye. 11am. (the time, ack-emma, not my initials - although I suppose... )

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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

It's just business...

So books "aren't consumer goods," (like toasters, televisions and razors), according to Authors United, in their protest letter to Amazon's board at the online giant's stand-off with huge and commercial publisher, Hachette - see links below.

Really?

"Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense and often expensive struggle on the part of an individual," they claim. Cue gravelly voice-over and sombre music.

Well, thanks for that, AU. That makes me and fellow authors sound like someone you wouldn't want your daughter bringing home. Intense at times, I grant you. But quirky? Not so sure about the expensive, either, because I've always found writing to be near-unquantifiable when it comes to cost. You do it because you have to and love to, regardless of time and money spent on paper, equipment and ink, in the hope that one day you will move up from part-time to full-time author and some kind of income.

What puzzles me about the piece, however, coming as it does from a group which includes some of the most successful and commercially-minded writers around, is denying the place of books in the consumer field. I might have held such a lofty view once, but lost it a long time ago, back when the only way of making money from writing was working at it like any other job (actually, harder than any other job I'd done), writing and submitting, researching and feeding the market and never letting up.

Sure, I love books; love writing them and reading them. But that aside, I know they're bought and sold (and re-sold) just like toasters, televisions and razors, because that's the world we live in.

And I have no argument with that. It is what we've made it.

Go ask any publisher and you'll find that they think of it in terms of sales figures, marketing and the bottom line. It's a hard-nosed business and if you have a rosy-eyed view of it, see what happens once you as an author don't match their idea of meeting a target.

(Actually, for an author, finding what the target is would be something new; it's not a concept we're supposed to worry our little heads over... until we miss it).

And maybe that's what's wrong here: authors on the whole don't think commercially enough. Many of them tend to harbour the rosy-eyed view still, and feel shocked when the glass is scratched or shattered. But that's changing fast, which is evident with so many choosing smaller indie publishers or the self-publishing route; they are taking a strictly commercial view of their work (yes, work as in job), and looking to maximise their output and returns. Shock, horror.

Unfortunately, there still seems to be a gap between publishers and writers on that score, as if we're not supposed to think commercially at all, (perhaps because we're so quirky, lonely and intense).

It's been a long time since I looked on writing as anything but a job (still the best one I've ever had by far, incidentally), and that was about the time I discovered a magazine publisher had used an article and photos by me without telling me, without credit or payment, as if it were a staff piece. When the editor tried to deny it, I paid him a visit - and came away with a cheque but no apology.

Since then it's been business all the way.

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Authors United letter here
Further commentary courtesy of Mathew Ingram at Gigaom

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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

My latest 'Beginners' piece in Writing Magazine focusses on the danger of stopping writing once the submission has gone off, and resting on one's laurels. It's a common danger, and one with which I can sympathise; after hacking away for months, writing, editing, researching, cleaning the keyboard, missing the basket with every scrunched-up piece of A4, it's very tempting to kick back and do nothing for a while, even though you haven't anything in the bag, ready to go.

Don't. It's a bad habit. And one of the main reasons is given at the end of my piece. You'll have to read-

Okay, I'll tell you now: what if an agent comes back with 'I want to see what else you've got!'

There are other reasons, of course, but it's all to do with momentum.

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The New Author profile this month is Mason Cross, whose debut thriller 'The Killing Season', was published by Orion in April and features people finder Carter Blake.

It's a very good read indeed (you can check out my review of it here in Shots Magazine), and all I can say is, Mason's background proves that next time you see a pizza delivery person, don't write them off; you might be looking at the latest new novelist whizzing by, only with a four seasons, not a Killing Season.

Damn. I said I wouldn't do that...


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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Story Behind 'Deception'

As an author, if there's one thing you like talking about, it's your books. After months in gestation, and the hot sweat of creativity, it's rather nice to focus for a change on what brought the book about, how you came up with the characters and the various scraps that help form the storyline.

It's another way of answering the 'Where do you get your ideas?' question put by readers... but perhaps allows for more considered thought on the subject. Because if the truth be known, we don't always know at the time where the ideas originate; they simply do. And we grab them with both hands because they're like some buses - you never know when the next one will be along).


I was therefore surprised and delighted to be approached out of the blue by Kristijan Meic, editor of Upcoming4.me website, and asked if I would like to contribute a piece about 'Deception' - the third title in the Harry Tate spy series.

Would I? Wouldn't I just.

You can now read the full piece right here, as well as finding other authors talking about the story behind their stories on this interesting and intriguing website. There will be some parallels, of course, but everybody has their own reasons, motivations and kick-starts to a book. It sometimes needs teasing out.

Give them a read; it's worth it.

Thank you, Kristijan, for giving me the opportunity to talk about Harry Tate and this story. Much appreciated.

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

Latest article in Writing Magazine

SEPTEMBER ISSUE

OK, I admit my latest 'Beginners' piece in the August issue of Writing Magazine might have been inspired by long, hot summer days sprawled in our garden room and a neighbour suggesting to me that I wasn't looking very busy.

As I replied, 'Maybe not. But you don't know what I'm thinking about, do you?'

It's a fact that we all tend to give insufficient effort to thinking time, to build ideas, plot points and scenes. Sure we can sit down and think furiously enough to give ourselves a nosebleed; but it rarely leads anywhere productive or profitable.

Instead, there's a much better way of allowing our brains to come up with the goods, and requires just a little bit of letting go.

It's called daydreaming.

It's a rarely-discussed piece of built-in software in our heads that allows the creative side of the brain to push the envelope and stretch the imagination, yet at the same time retain the information for later use. Dreams, on the other hand (the middle-of the-night variety) rarely last until morning and aren't in any way focussed.

The good thing is, the day-time variety can be done whenever the spirit takes you!

You can usually tell when somebody is daydreaming (ask any teacher): they tend to be smiling - even if looking just a little bit dippy.

Which is surely a good sign, isn't it?

It's the weekend. Do some daydreaming of your own. It's free!

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Friday, 1 August 2014

New book reviews - 'Acts of Omission' and 'Hard Kill'

After a dry-ish period on the book reviewing front (busy writing, not through lack of interest), here are two more reviews of other authors' books well worth reading, both very different:

'Acts of Omission' - by Terry Stiastny. A story of political intrigue and hidden secrets going back to the time of the Cold War.

http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/book_reviews_view.aspx?book_review_id=1036

I also interviewed Terry about her writing, and you can read that via the link below:

http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/interview_view.aspx?interview_id=278

'Hard Kill' - by JB Turner. The second in his Jon Reznick thriller series, with kidnappings, disappearances and threats of terrorist plots.

http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/book_reviews_view.aspx?book_review_id=1038

They're very different books, and I enjoyed switching from one to the other. It's nice to vary the pace a little in reading (just as it is in writing), and to have a different sense of time and setting.

I liked them both and recommend them to you.


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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A nice review of 'Death at the Clos du Lac'

A nice review of one's own books is always a lovely surprise. And 'Death at the Clos du Lac' has received one such in the hallowed pages of Euro Crime Reviews, a website which posts news and reviews of all that is good in European crime fiction writing.

You can read what their reviewer, Lynn Harvey, thinks of book 4 in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series right here.

Thank you, Lynn, for the kind words. Much appreciated.

'Death at the Clos du Lac' - Signed hardbacks available here

P/bs, ebooks and audio downloads available here and all good bookshops.

If you can't get to France this summer, the least you can do is read about it.

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Book review - 'Season of Fear'

I don't seem to have had much time to do any thriller reviews just lately. Call it busy, call it trying to not pick up the 'voice' of other authors. It happens occasionally, especially when starting a new book and I haven't yet got into the swing of the latest project.

It's the same as picking up local accents, which I have a tendency to do, much to the annoyance of certain folk who think I'm taking the rise after I've been in their company for no more than about three minutes. I'm really not, I promise. But I know I'm not alone in that.

However, one book I've just read is 'Season of Fear' by Brian Freeman. You can read my review on the ShotsMag review site.

The front cover blurb says, 'as brilliant as Harlan Coben'.  I can see what they mean.

Worth a read.

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Monday, 14 July 2014

Paperback release in US

'Death at the Clos du Lac'

In what might well be Inspector Lucas Rocco's final adventure, 'Death at the Clos du Lac' is available in paperback format for US readers from tomorrow, 15th July.


I don't mean that Rocco meets his maker - nothing quite that final. I just mean that in spite of some lovely reviews the publishers have decided not to renew the contract as the sales haven't reached expectations... whatever they were.

Why would I advertise the final in a series? Isn't that admitting failure?

Well, because lovely readers have been asking about the next title, I can't keep pretending there will definitely be one.

As for failure, I don't believe it is. Rocco wasn't my only creation (see the current Harry Tate series and the new Marc Portman series), both of which are doing extremely well. But this one simply didn't make the grade. It happens.

So, if you fancy the idea of a cop series set in France in the 1960s, there are 4 books to choose from, whether hardback, paperback or ebook. Take your pick

I thoroughly enjoyed writing about Rocco. I hope you enjoy reading about him.

Rocco in paperback - right here.

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"Deserves to be ranked with the best." - Daily Mail

"France's answer to Jack Reacher!" - CrimeSquad.com

"Clever and complex, this taut and chilling new novel from Adrian Magson is a spine-tingling treat." ('Death on the Rive Nord') - The Good Book Guide.

"Rocco is every bit as strong as Martin Walker's Bruno Courreges... with an authentic sense of place. I'm extremely glad this is a series and will certainly be back for the next."
Linda Wilson - http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com

“…a darker and subtler novel than Death on the Marais… The novel is ingeniously plotted and works up to an unexpected climax… A thoroughly enjoyable read from an accomplished crime writer… “
Historical Novel Society - http://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/death-on-the-rive-nord/

"... a tense, clever 1960 police whodunnit. Insp Rocco is a thoughtfully produced creation... and I hope to see more from this very gifted author." Terry Halligan - EUROCRIME Reviews

"...this book captures perfectly the rural atmosphere of France... Littered with characters and oodles of charm, this is a brilliant debut, a great read and terrific fun. Excellent!" Books Monthly - http://www.booksmonthly.co.uk/

"Rocco is a likeable character... a law unto himself. The reader is kept hanging till the very last moment... the ending is excellent. If you enjoy all things French, this book will appeal." The Book Bag - http://www.bookbag.co.uk/

"Death on the Marais is a slick and memorable thriller… Terse writing, a very credible plot and fascinating characterisation make for a most entertaining reading experience." Conor Tannam - http://www.thecrimeofitall.com/

"The climax, when it comes, is explosive... and Magson skillfully draws the various threads of his story together in a very satisfactory manner." Reviewing the Evidence - http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Latest articles in Writing Magazine

August issue.

The months are getting shorter, I swear. My mother warned me about this, but I didn't believe her.

Anyway, my latest 'Beginners' piece in Writing Magazine is called 'Give Yourself a Break', and focusses on NOT trying to think about or write an entire book in one go. This might seem like
common sense, but many writers get too involved in thinking about the project in its entirety, which is like climbing Everest and the Matterhorn in one day or, as I liken it in the article, to eating a chocolate bar in one sitting.

Thinking about putting down 90,000+ words is not for the faint-hearted, and will invariably swamp your thoughts and put you off - so much so, that you might consider giving up before you've begun.

Better, therefore, to approach it in chunks; be it paragraphs, sections or chapters. Believe me, the words soon add up. That way you'll get to enjoy it more. A bit like tackling a chocolate bar. Geddit?

This month's New Author is BK Duncan, whose debut novel, 'Foul Trade', all about 1920s London and a female coroner's investigation into a murder, has just hit the shelves and the e-waves.

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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

If they can't see it, they can't buy it...

The ALCS (Authors' Licensing & Collection Society) has just released its latest findings reported here on author earnings, and it comes as no surprise that the figure has dropped to £11,000, described as: 'more than £5,000 below the income level considered to be a socially acceptable standard of living'.

Ouch. It also says that 'it is not surprising that the number of full-time writers... is declining sharply.'

The Society of Authors comments that while earnings are going down, publishers' profits are going up (their concern being that authors are getting a smaller share than they used to), and that the 25% royalty commonly paid for ebooks 'doesn't adequately reward authors and gives publishers a disproportionate share.'

That's probably true. But the share on paper books is even less.

They also mention the Amazon effect, and suggest they are pushing the producers out of business by offering high discounts. (The producers being authors, I presume).

Well, what about another, much more blindingly obvious reason - to me, anyway - why authors can't always earn to their full potential?

That is, if the books don't appear on the shelves, the readers can't buy them.

(Which is why most authors, including self-published ones, will argue that any shop window is better than none at all).

Of course, the publishers have a simple response: 'Your sales aren't up to the required level.' As if they themselves somehow weren't part of the equation.

End result: your contract doesn't get renewed.

It's a simple enough marketing philosophy and comes down to supply. If you don't have your products on the barrow, customers will go elsewhere. And these days, customers have lots to choose from.

And a percentage of nothing is still nothing.

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Friday, 4 July 2014

I foreworded The Saint!

Is that even a verb? Ah, heck, I've just made it one.

I've been a fan of Leslie Charteris's 'The Saint' books ever since the age of eight. So I've always been able to blame him for my life of crime (writing). And my parents, who encouraged me to read. Thank you, Mr C, Mum and Dad, in equal measure.


I was therefore absolutely stoked when I was asked to contribute a foreword to a re-edition of 'Follow The Saint', which was first published in 1939.

(I would like to point out that I do NOT recall this first publication; I wasn't even the hint of a glimmer at the time).

This is just one of many titles being re-published (49 in the US by Thomas & Mercer, and 35 in the UK by Mulholland Books), all retaining the grammar, style, punctuation, etc, of the original texts.

As a fan at that very young age, when I tore through all the books at a heady pace, I think I already knew what I wanted to do with my life, which was to follow Leslie Charteris even in a small way and become a writer of crime and thriller novels.

Something I never imagined in my wildest dreams (and they were pretty wild), was that one day my name would feature alongside one of his titles and that iconic stick man.

But, 16 books of my own later, here it is.

This (and all the re-prints), is due to Ian Dickerson, producer, writer, director and Honorary Secretary of The Saint club, and about whom you can read more here and here.

The books are lovely and atmospheric in colour and detail, and both publishers have done a wonderful job.

Oh, and they're also available as ebooks, so nobody need go without.

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Saturday, 28 June 2014

Try before you buy...

Going to a bookstore isn't possible for everyone. But we all like to take a sneak peek at a book before we buy - especially if it's by an author with whom we're not familiar. I know I do.

Severn House, publishers of the Harry Tate series, and the new Marc Portman series opener, 'The Watchman' have come up with a solution. Through an arrangement with Aerbooks, samples of the books are now available as a web-based extract which readers can check out, to get a sense of what the writing is all about.

All you need to do is click on these links:

'Red Station' - http://aerbook.com/books/Red_Station-8648.html
'Tracers' - http://aerbook.com/books/Tracers-8722.html
'Deception' - http://aerbook.com/books/Deception-8723.html
'Retribution'http://aerbook.com/books/Retribution-8724.html
and - the first Marc Portman,
 
I hope you'll feel free this fine weekend (or any other, come to that), to take a look at these titles and see if they take your fancy.
 
The next step is to decide where to buy, and that depends on your preference, be it your local book store or online or, if you happen to like signed hardbacks, through Goldsboro Books - that fine bijou bookstore in London's West End (who mail out all over the world and, for all I know, even beyond).
 
Happy reading and have a good weekend!
 
 
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Friday, 27 June 2014

Don't Forget the Author

In the growing and long-running row between publishers and Amazon, the internet giant is seeking rights to publish their own edition of a paper book if stocks run out. They would do this using POD (Print On Demand) technology.

On the face of it, this proposal seems a no-brainer; after all, you can't sell a damn thing if the market stall is empty. Duh.

But hang on. What about the author?

As one of those lunatics with a foot in both camps (I'm published by traditional legacy publishers and I do my own thing on Kindle, because I like to make my business - and living - where I can), I'm very fortunate on both scores. I get to decide on my own covers and layout for my self-published books, but I'm also fortunate to work with a publisher (Severn House) who, six books down the line (the Harry Tate and Marc Portman spy series), still asks me my opinion on the proposed cover and blurb. Which is very nice of them.

But this isn't the norm, I gather, so I count myself lucky. Because it's not just marketing gurus who know the importance of cover design. Having conceived and written a book, the last thing any author wants is a cover that comes across like a damp handshake from a man in a grubby raincoat.

But whether you get a say in this process or not, what Amazon is proposing puts a greater distance between author and book. We sign away the rights to a publisher in the full knowledge of what we are doing. Fair enough. But having another party then jumping in to decide on printing, layout and design of the same product (even if, as has been suggested, they would want the electronic files - and therefore presumably the same design structure - from publishers), it would inevitably become open to change on quality, layout, colour, paper, structure - in fact all the things which make a book look good.

I've seen some POD books, and while some are good, some aren't. They look cheap.

This latest proposal has, predictably, prompted further charges of 'bullying' from industry sources. Although as I write this, and if BBC reports are true, it's the independents who have voiced concerns, while some of the Big 5 have refused to comment.

Why is that?

There are two ways traditional publishers can go on this issue. One is to cave in and agree to this, thereby in the process potentially handing over complete production responsibility to Amazon. Worryingly, this might appeal to some of the bean counters in the industry, who would see this is a way of cost-cutting. Authors? Who the hell are they? They signed on the dotted line, didn't they?

The other way (which I favour) is for publishers to grow some and say no.

There's an even simpler way of stopping this proposal in its tracks - one which they already control: they could make sure a book doesn't go out of stock in the first place.

After all, Amazon isn't the only company to have POD facilities.

As anyone who has worked in any sales industry will know, every product has its own momentum - especially when new. If that momentum slows or stops for any reason, it's very hard to get it back. Sometimes impossible.

And if there's anything more frustrating than the damp handshake I refer to above, it's the knowledge that readers cannot get your book even if they want it. Because they'll simply go somewhere else.

And there's not a thing we can do about it.

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Sunday, 22 June 2014

Why I wrote 'The Lost Patrol' - a ghost story that begins in WW1

Living next to a cemetery can have a fairly profound effect on a boy of 11 with a vivid imagination. Living next to a WW1 war cemetery in France even more so.

When I was 9 years old I moved to France with my parents when my father got a job as a gardener with the War Graves Commission, looking after allied cemeteries from two world wars. We ended up living next to a large Australian military cemetery on a hill, miles from anywhere, which meant spending lots of time mooching around trying to find trouble in which to get. Not that easy when all you can see is empty rolling fields… and endless lines of headstones in neat rows, with strict orders to leave alone.

It was actually a lovely place; quiet and serene, the only sound that of skylarks - if you could appreciate it for what it was. Unfortunately, prompted by boredom, I think my 11-year old brain eventually slipped into early fiction mode, seeing ghosts where there were none, supported by vague images of battlefields and trenches and feats of great courage.

I retained a memory for years after of shadows moving among the headstones in the evening, of men in WW1 uniform standing chatting, exchanging cigarettes and whiling away their time – of which they had a lot, of course.

This stayed with me, teasing at the edges of my imagination, until I decided to do something about it. That something became ‘The Lost Patrol’, a novel for young adults (and even old adults), about a group of soldiers lost in limbo after being caught in an artillery barrage and vaporised, presumed wrongly by their regiment to have deserted.


It occurred to me, what might happen to these men if they couldn’t move on, trapped by rumour and dishonour? Could they make their own transition to a final resting place? And would it work so long after the event?

 
Well, anything’s possible, so I placed a teenage boy, Robbie Greene, on a reluctant holiday in the area and bored as only young boys can be (I knew what that was like). As it turns out, he's not alone. But he's the only person who can see these spirits wandering among the headstones and looking for somebody to help them get away. Because if they don't, a fresh horror awaits them: beings known as the ‘Dark Ones’ are coming to drag them down into a place where there is nothing; no Heaven and no hell, no future and no past.
 
Robbie has trouble dealing with this at first. Because ghosts don't exist, do they? But they do exist and their leader, the enigmatic Sergeant Stone, is very persuasive. And frankly, as far as Robbie's concerned, anything's better than boredom.

‘The Lost Patrol’ (which has a fair bit of dark humour) is all about coming of age, of finding something deep inside, of courage and hope and facing up to things you never imagined, to fears you didn't even know you had.
 
Just as thousands of ordinary young men did a hundred years ago in 1914.
 
But mostly it’s about that thing we all think about from time to time: what if… ?
 
'The Lost Patrol' - available on Kindle:
 
 
 

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Update to 'Beginners' page in Writing Magazine

 
 
'Play the Part' - or getting inside your character's heads, might have been another way of putting the focus of July's 'Beginners' page in Writing Magazine. It's a useful trick if you can pull it off, if only because it allows you to step aside from your own persona while writing about a character, and absorb yourself in how he or she might talk, think or behave. Do it well and it will project itself onto the page and avoid all your characters sounding similar.


It's also much more enjoyable for a writer to inhabit these parts - especially the villains - because it allows us to get down and get dirtier than we might otherwise be. I've found from experience that it makes the writing easier, too, because once inside their head, the dialogue, mannerisms and actions pretty much write themselves.

The idea for the article came to me after seeing a mediaeval re-enactment group staging battle scenes over a weekend, during which time they dressed, ate, drank and lived their parts, including scripted running battle scenes in the nearby forest with much clashing of battler-axes, swords and other weaponry. (There was also a fair bit of abuse in the air, but since much of our modern-day foul language seems to originate from the middle ages, you can't say they weren't staying in character).

Mind you, one member (a large and intimidating man with an awesome battle-axe, did fall out of character at one point when he pulled out a phone and was heard to say, 'OK, mum - I'll be leaving shortly. See you later.')

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Sunday, 15 June 2014

It's hardly all Amazon's fault...

‘A Living Wage for All Amazon Workers’ (£7.65 is the figure quoted in the Living Wage campaign) sounds an admirable title. And the book itself was placed on the Amazon website to draw attention to the wages paid by the internet giant to their staff.

But the book was a spoof and has now been withdrawn.

No surprise there.

The people responsible are no doubt chuffed with themselves that they managed this.

But while I sympathise with the workers involved, have the campaigners stopped to think that most authors would love to earn a living wage from their writing, but that most have to have second jobs?

This all comes amid a large volley of criticism of Amazon/Kindle, accused variously of being evil, bullying and a whole lot more, responsible for closing down bookshops and vilified across much of the publishing industry.

Hang on. On that last point, didn’t Waterstones do the same? Remember Ottakers (their rival bookshop chain?) The best bookshops anywhere. Bought them, rebranded them, changed them beyond recognition (including stopping authors being involved with readers). Killed them dead. And in the process piled books high and sold them cheap, with 3-4-2s if the publishers were willing to buy the space.
 
Indies couldn’t compete. RIP many indie bookshops.

I find the whole anti-Amazon campaign surprising, frankly. Especially when millionaire authors are stacking up against them, too. The Pattersons of this world may spit against Amazon, but he’s hardly your average struggling author. The irony is, Amazon has contributed to his massive sales figures.

The fact is, we all have a collective responsibility for the Amazon/Kindle dominant position (and I'm happy to admit that I rely on them like most other authors):
Publishers because they didn’t see it coming.
Agents ditto.
Authors because we (most of us) are listed by and also buy books from them.

But there’s a level of hypocrisy in much of the ranting from the industry and others.

Publishers are happy to use Amazon as a marketing/distribution tool – something which would cost a fortune if they had to do it all themselves. Some have also benefitted from what is as a visible and searchable source for new authors – ie: a slush pile – as the creation of the Kindle self-publishing tool has given them easy access to promising authors, along with a ready-made audience.

So they are both critic and beneficiary.

Agents are in a similar position. They might not like Amazon, but they have to acknowledge that sales via Amazon creates income for them and their authors.
 
Authors (see above).

Book buyers can spot a book in a bookshop, then check Amazon to see how much it costs, and have it within days or minutes, depending on the platform.

Quite simply, Amazon is a behemoth created by astute businessmen, a lazy industry and modern market demand. The fact that they use clever tax schemes to avoid paying too much money to the exchequer is down to clever lawyers and accountants and not so clever tax authorities and law makers.
 
But they're hardly alone in that among big businesses.

What will happen if the anti-Amazon crusaders get their way, which is to see the giant cut down to size – or worse, closed?
 
Will the critics hand back any income derived via Amazon?

Will it help those workers laid off – you know the ones currently 'not earning a living wage'?

Would bookshops be willing or able to fill the gap?

Would publishers spend more on marketing and distribution?

Would authors earn a living wage?

No, is the answer. The horse would have bolted. Close the door and turn off the light.

The only thing that would change is that authors would eventually find another way of getting their work out there. Like the music world, they would change the way business is done.

Because that’s what happens when the existing business model cries 'unfair' but refuses to help.

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Monday, 2 June 2014

Update to 'Writing Stuff' tab - see above.

June's issue of Writing magazine features a new 'Beginners' article - 'Make Yourself Visible' - and a new debut author - Sarah Sky.

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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Review - 'Death at the Clos du Lac'

Another very pleasing review of the 4th Insp Lucas Rocco crime thriller -  'Death at the Clos du Lac' - this time in Living France - the must-read magazine for visitors and foreign residents of that lovely country.

Inspector Lucas Rocco is back in action in Adrian Magson’s latest
novel, Death at the Clos du Lac. Called to a suspicious death at the
exclusive Clos du Lac sanatorium, Rocco discovers a man chained to
the floor of a therapy pool and left to drown. But, as with all of
Rocco’s cases, there is much more to the death than meets the eye,
and he soon comes up against secretive staff and patients, obstructive ministry officials, a rogue government assassin and determined kidnappers.

Set in France’s northern Picardy region in the 1960s, the Lucas Rocco series is gaining a loyal following and has been described by some as France’s Jack Reacher.
 
Be warned, once you open the book you will be hooked!
 
 
'Death at the Clos du Lac'. Now available in h/b, p/b and ebook. In other words, bedtime, travel time and anytime formats!

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Sunday, 25 May 2014

Blog Tag (2)

The tour continues, this time with a hand-over to Henriette Gyland, who I was pleased to profile in Writing Magazine last year, after her debut novel 'Up Close' came out via Choc Lit. (And what a great cover image; chilling or what?)

I'm delighted to see that Henriette hasn't allowed the grass to grow beneath her feet, and has produced two more novels since then - 'Elephant Girl' and 'The Highwayman's Daughter' - which intriguing titles should at least compel you to go and buy them - now! (Anyway, anyone this productive deserves supporting, in my view. Others can rest on their laurels if they wish).

Here's her bio, so do go and give her a read:

Henriette Gyland grew up in Northern Denmark but moved to England after she graduated from the University of Copenhagen. Before she started writing, she worked in the Danish civil service, for a travel agent, a consultancy company, in banking, hospital administration, and for a county court before setting herself up as a freelance translator and linguist. Henriette recently began to pursue her writing in earnest winning the New Talent Award in 2011 from the Festival of Romance and a Commended from the Yeovil Literary Prize.

http://henriettegyland.wordpress.com/
http://henriettegyland.wordpress.com/blog/

Kør, Henriette! (That means 'go, Henriette', in Danish. I think. I hope. If not, you know what I mean).

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Sunday, 18 May 2014

Tag blogging

It's like tag wrestling, only without all the grunt 'n sweat. We each take over from a previous author/blogger, and answer some set questions about how and why we do what we do.

I was asked to join in this author blog tour by Howard Linskey - 'The Drop', 'The Damage' and 'The Dead', which make up the hard-nosed David Blake trilogy. I was pleased to profile Howard in Writing Magazine's New Author column when he first came out (with his debut novel, that is, not...) and am truly delighted that he has continued at such a pace with his excellent brand of tough prose.
If you want to know how Howard's going from strength to strength, take a peek at his blog right here, and you'll see how he's jumped on board the author's rocket with a new series of books.

As for me...

What am I working on?

I’m currently working on the second book in the Marc Portman series (the first was ‘The Watchman’). Portman is a slight departure for me, because although it’s still in the spy thriller genre (like the Harry Tate series). It has a darker edge to it, is faster paced and the body count is a little more deliberate! It's also mostly in the first-person, so we're right inside Portman's head.

Portman’s a sort of long-distance bodyguard for spies in hostile areas. Instead of being with his charge, however, he stays in the background so that not even the spy knows he’s there. It gives Portman the advantage of being able to scope out the terrain and quietly deal with any threat that arises (and gives me the excuse for plenty of action).

 ‘The Watchman’ saw Portman in Somalia covering two MI6 officers who’d been set up by terrorist group al-Shabaab, to meet a sticky end for propaganda purposes. This next one (working title ‘Portman 2’), sees him somewhere colder, darker and just as lethal, guarding an American State Department official on a secret mission. What neither of them knows until the mission is well under way is that danger comes not merely from the known enemy, but from all sides, and Portman has to figure out a way of getting the man out of danger… and getting back himself to settle a score.

 How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Good question – and a hard one for me to answer. I’m hoping my writing style is different enough to make it enjoyable and readable in its own right, but that’s for others to judge. I’ve worked hard on trying to gain my own ‘voice’, whether in my crime or spy thrillers.

As with the Harry Tate books, I’ve tried to make Portman realistic in his approach to his work; he’s a very different individual, much harder in outlook and more of a loner. He doesn’t kill indiscriminately, but he has a job to do and recognises no half measures when it comes to protecting his charges. In the international field of Close Protection (only not so close in his case), he’s only as good as his last job, and he is already haunted by the spectre of losing a colleague in a former life. But more will come out about that in the future.

Put simply, he hates to lose and wants to continue working.

With the Lucas Rocco books, set in rural France in the 1960s, I try to make the background and characters as realistic as possible without being caricatures. I was educated in France for a while and still have family there, so for research purposes I have that to draw on, which helps.

Yes, there’s a black Citroen – but mainly because it ‘fits’ Lucas Rocco’s personality and stature. However, I don’t overdose the reader on French language, Gitanes or smoke-filled dives in Montmartre. Actually, the setting is predominantly Picardie in northern France, so that would be difficult!
 

Why do I write what I do?
Well, apart from the fact that I'm possibly ill-suited for anything else, (1) I’ve always wanted to write for a living – which I’m lucky enough to do, and (2), I’ve always loved crime and spy fiction. For many years I wrote and sold short stories and articles for women’s magazines (there was a market and it paid), while in between I wrote several novels, which was my main aim. Sadly, they all fell at the fence labelled ‘Not this one’ , so I consoled myself by writing more shorts.
 
But it kept me going.

Then I sold a crime novel set in London… which turned into 5 books in the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer series. The main protagonist was a woman, something I probably picked up naturally from the magazine work and knowing that most crime readers were women, and this inspired me to try harder to get the character right.

In 2010, my agent, David Headley, sold my first spy novel (‘Red Station’ – the Harry Tate series), and happened to ask ‘What else have you got on the go?’ As it happened, I’d just finished what turned into the first of the Inspector Lucas Rocco crime series (‘Death on the Marais’, and he sold that, too, within the same 48-hour period.

However, the short answer to the 'why?' question is, I wanted to write and was ready – or desperate enough - to try everything. That included poetry, articles, gags for radio, short plays, and slogans on t-shirts and beer mats. (I was useless at poetry, the plays took too long and were rubbish… and the radio gags, although I sold a few, were in an even more crowded market than books. The t-shirts were fun, but took too long to turn into anything).

All this writerly thrashing about was partly to see if I could write; to see if I was any good at it; to see if I enjoyed it, and whether I had the stamina for it. Hopefully, think I might be getting there!

How does your writing process work?

I wish there was a definite process to give you. I’ve tried writing a synopsis or a plan or whatever you want to call, it, but I’ve always ended up going off-piste, mostly because I suddenly think of something more interesting to write, and want to get on with it. I put it down to having a short attention span.

In creative process terms, I usually get the grain of a nugget of an idea or three (most often from the news), and chew them over. It’s usually the one which bugs me most that turns into something I begin to work on. I don’t write in an A-Z fashion, but jump around writing scenes as they occur to me, chucking in ideas, questions, bits of research and so on. Some will end up on the equivalent to the cutting-room floor, others will survive and find their way into the story – a bit like laying a series of stepping stones which I can shuffle around until they fit. It sounds chaotic and probably is, but it works for me.

I tend to kid myself that I work 9 to 5, just like an office job. But increasingly this is rubbish and I do what most writers do and follow my nose and inclination, working best in the afternoons and in my head in the middle of the night. Some days will get 200 words, another will get 2,000 or more.

Once a project is finished and I’ve edited myself to a standstill (ie – I’ve got to the fiddling stage and am in danger of ruining it , I let Ann, my wife have the first read. She’s great at spotting time-line errors, typos and stuff, so if it doesn’t make sense to her, I know I need to re-work it some more until I feel able to send the ms to David for the first ‘industry’ read.

Then I wait.

There’s a fair bit of that in this game. Fortunately, it’s also thinking time for the next book.

I’ll pass on the baton now to Lisa Cutts ('Never Forget'), who writes excellent novels in between investigating murders as a DS with Kent Police. Lisa is another author who doesn't believe in letting the grass grow or resting on her laurels or any of those other analogies (and whom I also profiled in Writing Magazine).

Go Lisa.

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