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!


Out and about

you-are-here-graphicThis year more than ever I’ll be dashing from one bit of the country to another, popping up in a series of writing courses and events.  To help you (and me!) keep track of it all, I’ve added a new ‘out and about’ section to the Finding Tess page on my website.

Here I’ll be keeping a regularly-updated list of where I’m turning up next, including dates, venues and times.  So far the list includes the Crime & Publishment crime writing course at Gretna Green in February, as well as events in Carlisle and Newcastle.

Do keep an eye on the list and see if I’ll be appearing anywhere near you.  If so, I do hope you’ll call in, say ‘hi’ and have a chat.  It’s always lovely to put faces to the names that crop up online – and hopefully my ugly mug won’t scare you all away!

Here, there and everywhere

You know how you get weeks sometimes when everything is insanely busy, and you’re juggling diary dates like oranges and plates?  Well, this is one of those weeks.

Last Friday I set off on the complex and fiddly train journey to Gretna Green for a ‘Crime & Publishment’ get together.  Although it’s not all that far, it involves three separate trains, awkward connections, a 20-minute (uphill) walk, and a lift at the other end.  The logistics are… challenging, but I got there in one piece in spite of late-running Virgin trains and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  There’s a core group of us who live close enough to get back every couple of months or so, plus others who come when they can.  We chat about writing, publishing, our various achievements, and how best to bury all those dead bodies, with the result that we often spook the wedding guests sat next to us in the bar or restaurant!  Throw in a great ‘pub grub’ meal and a few drinks in the bar afterwards and you have all the makings of a fun night out.

Then yesterday I hurtled into Kendal to meet another friend, a journalist/photographer/designer who was in town for the annual Comic Art Festival.  We set the world to rights over a coffee at the Brewery Arts Centre café and swapped notes on publishing, literary festivals, book design, and goodness knows what else.

And this weekend I’m heading off in completely the opposite direction, to Southampton, for a one-day event entitled ‘CSI: Southampton’ which involves crime writers and forensic experts comparing their approach to the subject.  It sounds absolutely fascinating and I’ll post a report next week once I’ve got my breath back.

Anyone who ever thought being a writer involved sitting at a desk and typing all day every day might want to think again!

And another…

Back from a week’s holiday by the sea to find some great news – Out of the Gutter Online have accepted a flash ficlet called ‘The Drop’, based on a piece I wrote for an exercise at this year’s Crime and Publishment event.  The story revolves around a pervert and a dropped mobile phone… and as usual all is not as it first seems.

Watch out for further updates on when the story will be appearing in the Gutter.

Right, where did I pack that sun lotion…?  (I’m joking.  This was the English seaside.  But still a lovely week.)

Still alive!

Sorry I’ve been so quiet on here the last week or so – there are two main reasons for this.  One, as I mentioned I went off to Scotland for my second annual Crime & Publishment weekend writing course, which actually spilled over into four days by the time I’d travelled there and back.

As with last year, it was a blast.  Same great people, same friendly atmosphere, same really informative speakers (particular thanks this year to retired Detective Superintendent Bob Bridgestock, who has made me rewrite half my current work – but for all the right reasons!), same enthusiasm and sheer inspiration.  I’m already counting the pennies ready to go again next year.

The other reason I’ve been so quiet is that I’ve been writing.  The first draft of my current project, a novella called ‘Raise the Blade’, was nearing completion before I went away, and once I’d got my feet back under the desk I wanted to get it finished.  And… the good news is that I have – all 28,000 words of it.  It’s now sitting in a file on a corner of my desk, vegetating, while I get my brain back in gear before starting the long hard editing process.  As usual it’ll need a lot of polishing, but it’s still a nice warm fuzzy feeling to have finished such a (for me) large scale project.

More news on stories in various anthologies coming soon – do watch this space!

Fun with dialogue

As I mentioned yesterday, the Dicing with Dialogue session was probably my favourite of the whole weekend (although in the face of some strong opposition). One of the fun things we had to do was pick a topic from a list and write our own dialogue-based scene leading on from it. Tutor Michael Malone gave us the choice of four scenarios, or a whole sheet of hilarious examples from websites like, featuring various gaffes and foot-in-mouth moments from around the world. I chose one of the latter, which just seemed like a gift:

Overheard, Primark in Hammersmith this evening, young woman on mobile phone, in a serious and mildly irritated tone: “So who are you gonna pimp me to?”

And here’s my take on that, in pretty much the state it was when I read it out:

Chrissie tapped one magenta fingernail against the clothes rail. So much for her afternoon of retail therapy, even if it was just Primark. “So, who are you gonna pimp me to?”

Morgan sounded muffled, as though he had his phone crammed between shoulder and chin. Probably perming some old dear’s hair even as he spoke. “Look, it’s just for one night, babe. You just go in and…”

“Yeah, but he could be a fucking axe murderer for all I know. What did Steve say about him again?”

“Just that he’s okay. It’s a business thing, babe, that’s all. Just one night. It’ll be fine.”

“Do I at least get to know his fucking name?”

“Steve said something like Darren. Or do I mean Darius?”

“You mean you don’t even know?” She blew her gum out and popped it with her tongue. “Well, screw that. I am not fucking around with some complete stranger if I don’t even know his name.”

“Hang on.” Faint scrabbling noises echoed down the phone. “I had a Post-It note… Where’s that gone? Ah. Got it. It’s Dario. Dario Carrera. And he’s rich, babe. Owns a football club in San Marino, Steve said.”

She moved her gum to the other cheek. “Like I care about fucking football. I’ll do it, Morgan, but this is the last time. You can get someone besides your sister to do your dirty work next time.”

Brilliant weekend

This weekend was the Crime and Publishment writing course at The Mill Forge hotel in Gretna Green – and as previously mentioned, I went.

It was exhausting, nerve-wracking, occasionally terrifying, and, er, did I mention exhausting; but it was also tremendous fun and very rewarding. The hotel was comfortable (and spotlessly clean) and the owner, Graham Smith, had organised everything down to the last dot and cross so it all ran really smoothly. The other people on the course were amazingly friendly and very, very passionate about their craft – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met such an enthusiastic bunch of writers before. There were about twenty of us all told, with the majority attending the whole weekend and one or two slipping in and out each day, and many of us are already talking about meeting up again in the months ahead.

The talks were excellent. All four main sessions were run by people with tons of relevant experience – three published authors (Zoe Sharp, Chris Ewan and Michael Malone) and one publisher (Darren Laws from Caffeine Nights Publishing). All four really knew their stuff and were able to make their particular subjects both informative, and great fun. My own favourite was the Dicing With Dialogue session with Michael Malone, partly because I love writing dialogue anyway and partly because the examples used to illustrate it were hilarious. Check out sometime – I can guarantee you’ll spill your coffee.

On the Sunday morning we all had the opportunity to pitch our work to Darren, and in my case I’m delighted to report that he went off with my submission package tucked under one arm, and even promised to read it. He may not like it, of course, but it still had me dancing on about three feet of air.

Most of all the sheer fun, chat and togetherness was what made the weekend. Nobody was left sitting in a corner (not even me). We all seemed to have similar interests, at least in writing terms, and spent many a happy hour over breakfast or dinner discussing the voices in our heads, the best way to reach a man’s heart (past the third rib? or the fifth? I forget…) and the disposal of the odd body, without anyone thinking us strange.

The only fly in the ointment was the travel. Gretna is a little isolated and the only way for me to get there was by train. Although I’m relatively local (the far north of England, by definition, is quite close to Scotland) the journey was a nightmare with late trains, missed connections, and a wild taxi ride across the border which cost a whopping £30. Mercifully, on the way back Zoe Sharp offered me a lift, and the two of us buzzed happily back down the motorway, crammed with all our luggage, books, paperwork, coats, scarves, and a teddy in a bag (mine) into a very small sports car. It made for a lively (if squashed) end to a brilliant weekend.

There’s already talk of next year’s event and I’m seriously considering putting my name down for it. And eternally grateful to both Graham Smith, and the wonders of Facebook, for finding out about it in the first place.