Carlisle here we come…

One of the many downsides of the pandemic has been the impossibility of seeing friends. This week, after almost a year and a half, I finally got to meet up with a bunch of fellow Crime-and-Publishment-ers in Carlisle. It was absolutely lovely, but it very nearly didn’t happen at all.

With help from Irene Paterson I’d arranged it for Monday lunchtime at our favourite cafe, Cakes & Ale. I was all set to travel up by train, and really looking forward to it, if a little nervous about being crammed into a railway carriage full of strangers for over an hour. At the moment, everything is by advance booking only, so on Saturday evening I sat down to order my tickets – and found to my horror that every last seat on both the outward journey and the return had already been sold.

To say I was upset was an understatement, but Other Half sprang to the rescue, donning a cape and driving me to Carlisle on the day. He spent a couple of hours mooching round and discovering interesting bits of the city, while I plonked myself at a table in the cafe’s surprisingly pretty garden and caught up with everyone again.

Not all of the group were free at such short notice, but we managed to rustle up seven: myself, Irene, Linda Wright, soon-to-be-published Ann Bloxwich, AliceMae Jamieson, John Langley, and the superstar of the group Mike Craven, whose books are now so popular that he’s had a brand of coffee named after his main character Washington Poe.

No hugs yet, but it was super to see people face-to-face at last, and be able to talk for a couple of hours (while still leaving time for tea, coffee, soup, sandwiches or cake – though not all at once). Here’s hoping we can do it again – without having to wait another year and a half.

I took my camera to get a nice group shot of us all and forgot to take the snap! So here’s a picture of the garden instead. Hard to believe this is right in the centre of a bustling city.

A criminally good Christmas meal?

For once there was no snow, no ice, no flooding (just about), and no sign of any nasty flu bugs, so yesterday Other Half and I drove to Gretna Green for the annual Crime & Publishment Christmas bash. This is, believe it or not, the third year in succession that we’ve made it, having missed several before that for the above reasons, sometimes all at once!

This year there were slightly fewer attendees than sometimes thanks to work commitments and ill health, but those of us who turned up more than made up for their absence. The meal was its usual high standard, served like clockwork by the ever-efficient and friendly staff, and it was lovely to catch up with everyone again.

This year’s high point during the round-the-table news catch-up was hearing about Mike Craven, who has just won the CWS Gold Dagger award for his book ‘The Puppet Show’, but everyone had something new to share, be it short stories accepted, novels sent out to agents, or even finding the time to write something… anything. In my own case I was able to mention finishing the first draft of ‘Embers of Bridges’, and getting a short story accepted for an anthology which I’m not allowed to say anything about yet… More news on that in the new year!


Wot no Crime and Publishment?

Sadly, it’s true. It looks very much as though I won’t be attending the annual Crime and Publishment event in Gretna next year, for the first time since I started going five years ago. And it’s entirely my fault. I logged out of Facebook for a few days and missed organiser Graham Smith’s update that there were only three places left. By the time I logged back in again the inevitable had happened – those three places had been booked up.

I live too far from the venue to commute each day, so will have to content myself with reading about the whole thing from those lucky enough to go along. I’ll really miss it. It’s been a fixture for the last few years and one I can’t recommend strongly enough. Not just for the speakers and sessions, excellent though those are, but for the sense of belonging: the chance to mix with like-minded people, to network, to make friends and pick up tips and new ideas.

You could say, anyway, that I’ve had my “turn” and it’s time to let someone else have a go. So whoever got my slot, I really hope you enjoy it and make the most of it – and watch out, because I may well be back in 2021 to fight you for the privilege!

Crime and Publishment time again…

I’ve had a super time in Gretna Green this weekend, at the annual Crime & Publishment writing weekend. It’s hard to believe this one is my fifth in succession, but the event is such good value that it keeps many of us going back time after time. Partly that’s for the “crack”, of course – a chance to natter with like-minded authors, published or otherwise, about the whole business of writing books. Partly it’s the talks, on a wide range of crime-related subjects including choreographing fight scenes, making characters believable, getting information about police procedure, or sources of new ideas. And partly it’s the chance, every year, to meet a different but well-known publisher or agent, find out what they’re looking for, and then pitch a book (or even an idea) to them on the Sunday morning.

This year, owing to a sudden outbreak of workmen, I couldn’t make the full weekend, so I just dashed up for the Saturday and Sunday. It made it feel like more of a rush – I’d no sooner arrived than I seemed to be packing to come home again – and I didn’t get a chance to chat to everyone I wanted to. But it was still a rewarding event, with old friends to catch up with, new people to meet, and a load of useful information from the sessions run by organiser and author Graham Smith, author Doug Johnstone, and agent Mark Stanton.

As usual I’ve come away inspired, with ideas for at least two new short stories as well as vague thoughts on how to unblock my latest work-in-progress. And as usual, I’m thoroughly looking forward to next year and whatever gems of subject matter Graham decides to throw at us! (And hopefully next year it won’t chuck blizzards at us on both the journey up and the journey back home again…)

Wish You Weren’t Here…

wish_hereNo, this isn’t me talking to the relatives at Christmas, it’s the title of the second anthology of crime stories from attendees of the annual Crime & Publishment writing course, which launched a few weeks ago but which I’ve been too busy to mention.

Bad me, because it’s a great little collection with a crime/holiday theme (hence that title, obviously), and it’s stuffed with stories by a wide range of authors, some published (Graham Smith, Les Morris, Angela King) and some getting their first taste of publication.

My own contribution to the collection is a dark little tale called ‘Last Chance Saloon’, involving a dirty weekend, a dodgy car and a remote country road. What could possibly go wrong?! The story was first published in Betty Fedora, which specialises in kick-ass women’s fiction, so you can tell it’s going to be a wild ride for the men.

Better still, a percentage of the price of each book will be donated to the excellent charity Break the Silence, which works with victims of rape and sexual abuse. So if the rellies really are getting you down at Christmas, then don’t pick up the knife you carved the turkey with – just grab a copy of the book and escape into the pages instead.

A criminally good Christmas meal

Last night it was the Crime & Publishment annual Christmas meal, held at the Mill Forge hotel in Gretna Green (home of the crime writing course that spawned it). Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that most years, I’ve planned on going, and most years, I’ve missed it, thanks to various combinations of snow, road closures, floods and flu. Last year for the first time Other Half and I went along and thoroughly enjoyed it, and this year we were determined to repeat the experience.

And in spite of Storm Deirdre’s worst efforts, we made it again, much to the amazement of our friends who made various witty remarks about it not being Christmas if I actually turned up. Thanks for that, I’ll see you afterwards…!

Once again it was a lovely event. Around 40 writers, other halves and miscellaneous sundries turned up for drinks, chat, a super four-course meal (delicious braised gammon for me as a change from all the turkey), more chat, a round-up of our writing news, and yet more chat. I don’t think I stopped talking for more than 30 seconds at a time all evening, and that was only to chew. Great company, fascinating people, and a really lovely event.

I can only say thanks to Graham Smith and the team for organising it so flawlessly. And hope for good weather and no lurgies next time round so I can startle everyone and get there three years in a row!

Crime and Publishment 2018

This weekend was the sixth annual Crime and Publishment crime writing weekend, held as ever at the Mill Forge Hotel just north of Gretna Green.

As you might expect, the hotel is normally a wedding venue, but for one weekend a year they put aside the champagne and glitter and break out the pen and paper – and gore! – instead. The course lasts for two and a half days, with a wide range of speakers and subjects, this year covering everything from research to making your characters believable to how to succeed on social media. Not only do you learn heaps, but it’s also lots of fun.

This year was my fifth in succession (I didn’t find out about it until the second year) and I loved it just as much as ever. It’s always nice to meet up with so many old friends (some have been going even longer than I have) and this time there were lots of new faces as well, all of them friendly and all just as passionate about writing as the rest of us. And then on the Sunday we all get the opportunity to pitch to a well-respected figure in the industry, be it publisher or agent. This year was the turn of Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books, who spoke entertainingly but passionately about the business of publishing, and of supporting authors throughout their careers.

For me the highlight was probably Michael J Malone’s session on building character, which made me realise that the main character in my current work-in-progress needed some serious attention. Not quite to the point of re-writing the whole ruddy book, but better to realise at this stage than after it’s been submitted somewhere. I spent half an hour on Saturday morning scribbling ideas and nearly missed the start of the first session!

A new feature this year was an unofficial book-swap, where we took along crime novels we’d finished with, to swap around for free. I took a couple that had been cluttering up my shelves – and came home with four more, which wasn’t quite the point…

Next year’s programme looks equally interesting, so I’ll almost certainly be heading back to Gretna for another dose.

The weather wasn’t especially kind, but here’s a couple of photos of the hotel and grounds, showing the pretty landscaping and wonderful attention to detail for couples getting married (and perhaps for hiding the odd dead body or two…!)



2017: the good bits

Yes, yet another review of the year – but I will at least keep this short by just picking out a few of the year’s highlights! Here goes:

Best crime book: ‘Coffin Road‘ by Peter May – an ingenious mix of crime, amnesia and bee-keeping (yes, really!) set against the stunning backdrop of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

Best noir book: ‘Too Many Crooks‘ by Paul D Brazill – tongue-in-cheek Brit-Grit that hurtles between London and Warsaw, where neither the bad guys nor the good guys get what they deserve!

Best movie: Not sure if it quite counts as crime but I’ll say it anyway – Dr Strange, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. I loved the historical/fantasy elements and it was much more intelligent than the usual frantic Marvel fare.

Best TV series: Follow the Money 2: another great slice of Scandi-noir but with fraud and money-laundering as the central themes rather than murder. Every bit as gripping as the first series with some knock-out performances from the two lead actors, Thomas Bo Larsen and Thomas Hwan, plus a surprisingly moving ending.

Best writing event: a toss-up between Crime & Publishment (friends new and old, valuable insights into the world of writing and publishing); and Mike Craven’s book launch for ‘Body Breaker‘ in Carlisle (witty banter between Mike and fellow author Michael J Malone plus a great night out).

Best non-writing event: the Pink Floyd ‘Their Mortal Remains‘ exhibition at the V&A Museum. Huge set pieces combined with smaller, more intimate exhibits that really gave an insight into the band. A real once-in-a-lifetime event.


Best news story (national): Probably this one, about yet another bungling criminal stuck in a window in Birmingham for five hours. Puns about ‘being framed’ spring to mind…

Best news story (friends): My writer friend Lucy Cameron getting her debut crime novel ‘Night is Watching‘ published by Caffeine Nights earlier this year. I missed the launch (drat) but I know how excited she was!

Best news story (me): Well, I had to say it, didn’t I? For me the highlight of the whole year was the news that All Due Respect have accepted my first crime novel, ‘Gravy Train’, for publication in November next year. I can’t wait!

So, how was your year? Good, I hope – and here’s hoping 2018 will be every bit as exciting/successful/interesting as this one has been, for all of us.

Crime and Publishment 2017

I’m up with the larks this morning (or more accurately, next door’s yowling cats), after a brilliant weekend at this year’s Crime and Publishment writing course.

I’ve been three times before and have always loved it, but I think this one was the best yet.  All the old faces were there, plus lots of new people to meet and make friends with, and a set of truly inspirational speakers in Lin Anderson, Tom Harper, Michael J Malone, Paul Finch and agent Simon Trewin.  All five were fascinating on their own subjects (including forensics, adding tension and suspense, the art of positive thinking, and how to write a horror/crime novel).  Paul in particular was so passionate that he’s convinced me to try my hand at a horror novel – and I don’t even like horror!  And Simon gave us some valuable insights into the way literary agents work, and how to get on their good side.

As ever the sheer friendliness and opportunity to chat to fellow, like-minded authors was equally invaluable and I’ve come away fired with enthusiasm to finish ‘Gravy Train’ so I can start submitting it.

Many thanks to Graham Smith as ever for organising such an informative and above all enjoyable weekend.  If you can put up with me I’ll be back next year for sure!

It’s a… Set Up!

set upEvery now and again I stop bleating about my own books and mention one by someone else instead.

This time it’s the turn of friend and fellow Crime and Publishment attendee Steve Jenkins, who writes crime for both adults and children.  His latest book, ‘Set Up’, is aimed firmly at the latter, with an eleven-year old protagonist called Michael and a nice plot about trust, friendship and the real nature of families.

Here’s the blurb from Steve himself:

“Eleven-year-old Michael thinks life can’t get much worse at the moment. His parents are divorced and his dad has remarried. If that wasn’t bad enough, the girl who’s stolen his dad keeps trying to make friends with him!
Then he gets accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He is excluded from school, his mum ends up in hospital and he’s forced to go and stay with his dad and his new family. To cap it all, his best friend seems to be heading for self-destruction. Michael is determined to find out who set him up. On the way, he makes a few discoveries about friendship and the nature of families.”

You can find ‘Set Up’ as an e-book on Amazon UK here.  I hope you – or your kids – enjoy it.

Living up to its name

crime_punishI’m back from the weekend Crime and Publishment writing course, run by Graham Smith at the Mill Forge hotel at Gretna Green.  This was my third visit and as usual it was inspirational, informative, and fun.  Around 25 crime writers crammed themselves into workshops on a variety of crime and/or writing-themed subjects, stuffed themselves with pub-grub, and stayed up until all hours in the bar chatting about knotty writing problems, life, and the business of providing and disposing of dead bodies for the paying public.

As usual, the sessions were eye-opening and excellent.  Not all were 100% relevant to my particular genre, but there’s always something new and interesting to learn.  Like Alexandra Sokoloff describing the importance of an inciting incident at the beginning of a book (I realised I didn’t have one in my current work-in-progress; cue much scribbling to put one in).  Like Matt Hilton explaining the most frequently used blow in a fight (right hand punch to the face, for both men and women).  Like publisher Sara Hunt from Saraband Publishing shedding light on the best way to write a synopsis.  Or like Michael J Malone going back over the basics of writing, and helping me to solve a thorny issue on my latest novella in the process.

This event is really starting to live up to both parts of its name.  It’s always been about the crime, of course, but five regular participants have gone on to secure publishing deals as a direct or indirect result of the contacts made, or information learned, at Crime and Publishment.  I’m lucky enough to be one of them, and know full well that I could never have done it on my own.

Next year’s line-up looks like being even more incredible – so clear some space in your diaries, get your cheque book out, and get yourself to Gretna Green.  It’s more than worth the effort!


This weekend sees me trek north to Gretna Green for the annual Crime & Publishment weekend.  It’s two and a half days of writing course with sessions run by various tutors from the crime fiction world, plus a chance to chat and socialise with other crime writers, plus a chance to pitch work to a publisher and/or agent on the last day.  I’ve been for the last two years and it’s been brilliant – as much for the networking and friendships made as for the information gleaned.

This year, we have homework.  A brief questionnaire from one of the tutors, and a quick run-through of the novella I’m hoping to pitch.  I was expecting the latter to be really hard work.  I wrote ‘Gravy Train’ in a matter of weeks early last year, then tossed the file onto a shelf and have hardly had time to look at it since.  Usually when that happens I have to more-or-less rewrite the book because it’s such a mess, with loose ends, contradictions, and bits that just trail off.  This time, though, it hardly seems to need anything.  A few typos here and there, a few minor additions to clarify, explain or describe things better, and hey presto!  I’m actually happy enough with it that I could submit it to a publisher tomorrow.

If only all my books could be as accommodating as that!