Monday, 3 February 2014

Blog Tour Day


Today is Blog Tour Day, where authors talk about their writing process. I have been invited to take part by fellow Norfolk author Keri Beevis. Keri won an award from Rethink Press for her first novel Dead Letter Day - a wonderfully pacey thriller about a serial killer. Her second novel Dead Write will be launched shortly.

 Keri’s achievement is even greater when you consider that in addition to producing award winning novels, she also holds down a full time job, and still manages to be a really ‘fun’ person. If you want to know more about Keri, you can visit her webpage at

 Thanks very much for the invitation Keri.

1)     What am I working on?

I am at the editing stages of my second novel Cut & Dried, a police based murder mystery set in the late 1980’s. This one been a challenge because it is a different genre for me - my first novel Barricades was historical adventure.

When Cut & Dried is completed I am planning to switch genres yet again, to complete a half written fantasy novel intended for children aged around 10 years to early teens. After that I will probably return to historical adventure.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Looking at Cut & Dried, this is a difficult question because there are so many sub-genres under the murder mystery umbrella. Having served as a police officer for 22 years I am lucky enough to be able to draw on my own knowledge and experiences and I have tried to make it more than just a crime solving novel. I have tried to be as accurate as I can (hopefully without being pedantic). I have also attempted to capture something of the police culture of that period, which was a time of change and challenge for the service.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

I write what I enjoy writing, and what I feel inspired to write. There are pros and cons to being an independent author; it is much harder to market effectively without a publishing company behind me, but it means that I am free to write what I wish. This is why I haven’t yet tied myself down to a particular genre. I am really enjoying experimenting with different kinds of writing, and hopefully developing my writing skills at the same time.

4)     How does my writing process work?

I am very much a planner. I usually start out with a basic plot and storyline, often in mind-map format. After that I work out a time line for the action and if necessary for the principle characters. Then I do a more detailed outline and decide what research I need to do before I can kick off the novel. Once I begin writing, I sometimes find myself deviating from the planned storyline; for example in Barricades a new character suddenly popped up out of nowhere and had tremendous influence on both the story and the development of Javert, the lead character. A similar thing happened in Cut & Dried, when the motivation and behaviour of some of my characters deviated from my original plan and led to unforeseen twists in the plot. That’s one of the things that makes writing so exciting. One of these days I will cut loose and just begin writing, with no pre-planning at all. Not quite yet though.

Next week.

I am pleased to introduce next week’s authors, who will be blogging on 10th February.

Timothy Hurley

 Timothy is a writer and retired physician. Coast hopping between Brooklyn, New York and the San Francisco, he writes short fiction, humor and is working on a novella, Johnny Don’t March. His literary heroes, M. Twain, E. A. Poe, E. Hemingway, O. Henry, and Joseph Mitchell are not returning his emails. Timothy lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York and Petaluma, California, where they have neither dogs nor cats. They celebrated their forty-fourth wedding anniversary the day of the Mayan Apocalypse and survived both. Timothy’s first book, Shortstack, is a collection of humorous short stories available at Amazon, where it enjoys an average 4.6 stars. His works-in-progress include: Johnny Don’t March, a novella due in 2014, a memoir of medical school years, and second short story collection. His work has appeared in The Satirist, Fiction and Verse, Scatterplot, Humor Press, The Story Shack, One Million Stories, Senior Correspondent, the Avalon Literary Review, and the print anthologies Open Doors Fractured Fairy Tales, Dark Muses, Spoken Silences, and Theme-Thology Invasion.

 Timothy returns all polite emails sent to

 Timothy Hurley blog:

Timothy Hurley Amazon author page:

My second author is - hopefully - Megan Denby. At this stage her participation is not confirmed, but I will update as soon as I have confirmation. Megan is the author of the atmospheric and exciting thriller Thistle in the Mist, which is partly set on the beautiful island of Skye. You can find out more about Megan on her website

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Building Barricades - how the book came to be written


Building the Barricade
A few weeks ago I gave a talk on Barricades to a local book club, where I was asked about the birth of the novel. What led me to write it? How did I go about the research?
Predictably, the initial inspiration came from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. Some years ago I had booked to see the musical production in London. Whilst waiting for the much anticipated date to arrive, I read Hugo’s book. At that time I was still in the police service; maybe that is why the character of Police Inspector Javert immediately caught my interest. What had gone into the making of this man? So upright, yet so flawed. So strong, yet so vulnerable.
 Seeing the musical production on stage increased this fascination, and with it my sympathy for the character. I loved the solo Stars, with its soaring power and lyrics that gave a wonderful insight into Javert’s character and motivations. I have read that Stars was almost cut from the original production because of the running length; thank goodness it was spared. Without Stars, Javert would have been something of a shadowy figure.
 Javert seems to be generally regarded as ‘the villain’ because he is the antagonist of the hero, Valjean. I have even been asked why I chose to write about the villain of the piece, rather than one of the good guys. Yet nothing Javert did was evil, he was simply doing his duty as a police officer by hunting down an escaped convict. In the end he failed in his duty by letting Valjean go, destroying himself in the process. For me, Javert is one of the most tragic characters in Les Misérables. Barricades was a book that I had to write, whether or not it ever saw the light of publication. It is not a re-telling of Les Miserables. The first two thirds are original plot, pre-dating Hugo’s novel. The final part parallels some of the later events in Les Miserables, where Javert’s path crosses that of Valjean.
 My initial source of research was of course Hugo’s novel. Hugo gives very little back-story to the character of Javert – just the fact he was born in prison, to a fortune teller and a convict. There is also nothing of his life outside of his encounters with Valjean. I set out to fill in the gaps, to put flesh on the bones.
Historical events are relatively easy to research, especially from a period as well known as the French Revolution. But of course it isn’t possible to actually experience those events or the time period in which they happened (hiring Dr Who’s TARDIS was a little beyond my budget). But if I couldn’t experience the events, I could still visit the prime locations. Most of the descriptive scenes from Barricades were written on location, to try to get a sense of time and place that can sometimes be lacking in historical novels.
The Tour Royale near Toulon is still there, now a museum. So of course is the Mediterranean. There is a sense of timelessness gazing out at the sea and knowing how little it has changed since the time of Barricades. In Paris, looking along the Rue St Antoine in the hush of dawn, I could imagine the mob surging down the street following the storming of the Bastille. Looking into the cells in the Conciergerie, it was not difficult to put myself in the place of the Aristocrats and sympathisers, awaiting execution during the years of terror that followed the French Revolution. Standing on the Notre Dame bridge at midnight and staring at the swirling depths below, I could almost hear the final notes of Javert’s soliloquy ringing in my ears.
It was easy to conjure up a sense of time and place, with Javert’s ghost at my elbow.
Barricades - The Journey of Javert

Saturday, 24 August 2013

As I intimated in my last blog, I was lucky enough to hitch a lift with a certain famous Doctor and time travel back to Guernsey in the year 1863. Once there I was able to track down and interview Victor Hugo. This week I present the second and final part of this interview.

Mr Hugo, may we now turn to one of your other major characters, Inspector Javert. What do you see as his role in your novel?

 Javert represents the system. He epitomises the rule of law. He not only works for the law, he is the law. He enforces it exactly as it is written, rigidly and without fear or favour.

 Thinking of him as a person, not just as a representative of the system, what do you see as his strengths?

 He is very dedicated; nothing will stop him from doing his duty as he sees it. He is also incorruptible. He would never take a bribe or anything of that kind. He is completely just.

 And his weaknesses?

 On the whole, his strengths are also his weaknesses because he takes them to excess. He will carry out his  duty without pity, regardless of the effect on other people or even on himself. He understands the legal concept of justice, but doesn’t understand the concept of mercy. For example, with Fantine. She has broken the law, so she will go to prison. He doesn’t allow himself to be effected by the fact that he may be condemning her child to death. He has no emotion, no kindness in him.

 His other big weakness is his lack of flexibility. For example, he does not believe it possible for a criminal to change for the better; to turn over a new leaf.

 You mean, in the way Jean Valjean was able to do?

 Yes indeed.

Mr Hugo, staying with Valjean for a moment. We have already established that he was not an innocent man who had been wrongly convicted. He was both a poacher and a thief. Neither was he a model prisoner; his sentence was increased several times because he kept attempting to escape.

 All true, but he underwent a total transformation after meeting the Bishop of Digne.

 But let’s look at this from the point of view of Javert. He knew Valjean’s history. He then discovered that upon his release Valjean immediately returned to his previous path by stealing first from the Bishop, then from a young child. Isn’t it understandable that Javert should think Valjean irredeemable?

 Yes. Yes, to a point I think you are correct. But Javert closed his mind to the very possibility of a habitual criminal being able to reform.

 And yet in the end, Javert did let Valjean go free. At what cost to himself?

 It destroyed him. The fact that Valjean, who he had hunted for many years, could spare his life was something he couldn’t come to terms with. But even worse was the fact that he, Javert, had been unable to bring himself to arrest Valjean.

 So you might say he was destroyed by his own humanity? By the fact he showed mercy?

 Yes. He couldn’t see past the fact that he had failed in his duty. For Javert, that was the worst possible thing he could do. He judged himself as harshly as he judged others.

 In many ways, I see Valjean and Javert as two sides of the same coin. Both born as outcasts from society – as ‘Les Misérables.’

 You’re correct. Valjean chose a life of crime, Javert chose to operate within the law. The big difference is that Valjean was able to change, to adapt to a new life. Javert was unable to do that because he was too inflexible.

 But Valjean was helped by the Bishop. Without that help, he would almost certainly have been doomed. I know Valjean helped Javert by sparing his life, but what Javert needed was spiritual help. That he didn’t get. Had he encountered a Bishop of Digne, could that have helped him to come to terms with his confusion?

 It wouldn’t have been easy for him to overcome a lifetime of unquestioning obedience to duty. But possibly. You appear very sympathetic to the character of Javert.

 Yes. You give very little about his background, but enough for us to know that from his birth – and because of his birth - he was doomed to be an outcast. More so than Valjean. He made the choice he had to make and he was never given any real help or guidance. You used him to represent the system, but I see him as the most tragic victim of that very system.

 You’re quite correct. People who operate within a system are often victims of that same system, but in a different way. I’m sure that is still true in the future from which you come.

 It is indeed. Mr Hugo, I can’t thank you enough for giving me so much of your time. In parting, I should like you to accept this gift. It’s a book called ‘Barricades’ and it is Javert’s journey, based upon the background you give and with quite a bit of what we call ‘poetic licence.’

 Oh. Well – thank you, my dear. ‘Poetic licence’ sounds a little worrying. Still, I’m sure I will enjoy reading it. Perhaps you will return in a few days time, and then I can tell you what I think.

 Thank you, Mr Hugo.

Sadly I only had the one trip in the TARDIS and was unable to return to the Guernsey of 1863, so I didn’t encounter Mr Hugo again and never learnt what he thought of ‘Barricades.’ On the whole, this may be a good thing.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

I met a bloke called ‘the Doctor’ yesterday and he offered me a ride in something called TARDIS. It looked like an old police box to me, but next thing I knew I found myself in Guernsey, 150 years ago in 1863. The first thing I saw was a newspaper headline extolling the virtues of a novel called ‘Les Misérables’ – the first part had been published the previous year, and now the whole novel was available.

 What a fantastic opportunity! I asked the good doctor to brew himself a cup of tea, while I sought an interview with Victor Hugo. Like most authors, he was more than happy to talk about his novel, and with the translating capabilities of the TARDIS, language wasn’t a problem.

First of all, Mr Hugo, may I say how much I enjoyed ‘Les Misérables’. It has been a real inspiration to me.

 Thank you, my dear.

 I understand that you are great campaigner for social justice?

 Indeed yes – that’s how I ended up living here in Guernsey. I was too outspoken for the French government in those days. Of course I could return to France now, but I still wouldn’t be permitted to speak my mind. So I remain here, and I use my pen to fight injustice.

 Is the novel ‘Les Misérables’ a part of that fight?

 Very much so. I have heard some of you English translate the title as ‘miserable’, but it means much more than that. It means the oppressed, the down-trodden, the outcasts from society. Individuals such as Fantine, forced into prostitution and eventual death because of a youthful mistake; Eponine, trapped into a life of crime and poverty. And of course Jean Valjean, condemned to prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, then to a life on the run for breaking parole.

 Can you explain about the parole system in France at that time?

 With pleasure. When a criminal had served his time, he was released – but only on parole. He was given a ‘ticket of leave’ which he had to carry with him, and show to everyone with whom he had dealings. For example, if he wanted to find work. He was also restricted as to where he was allowed to go. If he failed to show the ticket, or if he strayed from his designated route, he would be deemed in breach of parole, and locked up again. It was therefore very difficult for a former convict to find honest work.

 Mr Hugo, I’d like to discuss the two main characters in your novel, Jean Valjean and Javert. First of all, Let’s stay with Valjean. I believe his initial sentence for the theft of bread was five years, not nineteen years?

 You are quite correct, and I am certainly not claiming that he was an honest and upstanding citizen at that time. He was a woodsman who wasn’t beyond doing a spot of poaching. He stole the bread because his sister and her children were hungry, but they weren’t starving. You might say that he deserved some punishment, but five years hard labour was excessive. Albeit very typical.

 Had Valjean behaved well in prison he could have been out in five years, but he was a hot-headed young man, several escape attempts meant that his sentence was increased. So yes, he was in part responsible for having to serve nineteen years.

 Upon his release, I believe he continued to steal?

 Yes, he did. You must understand that he was very bitter and desperate. He stole from the Bishop out of desperation and the little child out of habit and bitterness. But then it really hit him, what he had done.

Would you say he had a ‘Road to Damascus’ experience?

Indeed yes. The forgiveness and goodness of the Bishop of Digne really went into his heart. He was a changed man from that day, determined to live a good life. But that was impossible whilst his parole ticket branded him as a thief – as one of Les Misérables. Hence his decision to destroy the parole ticket, and start a new life, under a new identity.

Would you say he succeeded?

 Yes. It wasn’t easy for him. He still had to struggle with aspects of his personality, with anger and sometimes bitterness. But he was further helped by his experience with Fantine. You might say there were three people who helped Valjean with his reformation. The Bishop was paramount, but being able to help Fantine, and having the responsibility of raising Cosette – and her love as a daughter – were also important for him.


Saturday, 6 July 2013

Marketing and Reviews

Marketing and reviews.

 Buy my book – buy my book – pleeeease buy my book!

 When my debut novel was published on Kindle, I immediately hit the writers’ forum, enthusiastic and naïve, eagerly asking questions that I now appreciate  had been asked a thousand times before. I also quickly realised how annoying it was when people constantly deluged the forum with promotions of their new book.

 I suspect most writers have been there, especially when trying to promote their very first book. I remember when the first paperback copies of my debut novel arrived, to be picked up, admired, stroked and generally cooed over. At such times, there is a danger of tunnel vision. Objectivity can very easily take wing and disappear into the blue – all that matters is THE BOOK.

 Very few new, unknown authors will achieve overnight success, although we can always dream. Marketing is hard work and it takes time. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” may sound like a cliché (probably because it is), but when it comes to book marketing it is extremely apt. Without a big organisation behind them, most independent authors have to do their own marketing. For many of us (including me) it is unfamiliar territory. Learning our way around takes time and patience.

 When it comes to reviews, opinions vary as to just how valuable they are to an author. Do would-be readers take notice of how many 5* reviews a book has? Do they actually read them?  I suppose that depends on the reader. I do read reviews – both good and bad – because sometimes it can give me a valuable insight into the book, beyond the blurb and the “look inside.”

 Most authors are understandably keen to get positive reviews. When the book is first published it is natural that friends will want to leave good reviews to help out their mate (a couple of my friends did that). As long as they have actually read the book, that seems fair enough.

 But how far is fair? Is it in order to ask friends to leave a review? I have given this one a lot of thought, and on balance I would say it depends. Putting out a general request on Facebook saying something like ‘hi guys, if you’ve read my book and enjoyed it, I’d be grateful for a review’ seems fine, inasmuch as no-one is put under personal pressure. It would, however, be different to approach an individual and say ‘Hey Bob, will you do me a review on Amazon?’ That can put Bob in a difficult position. He may well have said that he enjoyed the book – he’s your friend. But in reality, he may not have enjoyed it that much. He may not even have read the book.


Some authors have been known to go even further and use “sock puppets” to write their own reviews, under different names.

 Sadly, some of these doubtful tactics probably pay off. Readers who are not also writers may simply take reviews at their face value. Most authors will not. I have heard various estimates as to the relationship between the number of books sold and the number of reviews, one oft quoted figure is around one review per hundred books. In reality, I think that is a meaningless figure, because it will be different for each book. Since publication four months ago, my own book has picked up an average of one review (from strangers) per 40 books sold.

There is nothing more suspicious than a book that is published on the first of July, and has picked up a dozen glowing five star reviews by the second of July (unless, of course, the writer is a J. K. Rowling).





Saturday, 22 June 2013



 On the modern writer’s blog, there is a great deal of discussion about traditional publishing versus independent or self publishing - lots of rhetoric, plenty of polarised viewpoints. But it is a fascinating subject, and very relevant to modern writers, be they traditionally or self published.
Many supporters of traditional publishing deride all ‘indies’ as writing inferior rubbish. This wholesale condemnation is both unfortunate and inaccurate, but it is also understandable.  I read a great deal, and – in my opinion of course - there are some excellent self-published books. But I have ‘looked inside’ many self-published books on Amazon, and have had no desire to go further. Sad to say, too many of them are indeed badly written, full of typos and atrocious grammar; they are seriously in need of a spell check, a proof reader and an editor.
 At this point – whilst the more belligerent indies sharpen their quills – I must state that I am also a self published writer. It is partly because I am a self-published writer that the current situation dismays me. The flood of sub-standard books is doing us a great disservice; I believe the reputation of all self-published writers is suffering as a result.

When discussing traditional publishing, I think there is a danger of self-published authors becoming defensive and even vengeful. Some authors who now self publish  have been traditionally published in the past and may have had bad experiences. The majority of us have never been traditionally published. I freely admit that I tried to get an agent or publisher for my novel, without success. A couple of them made encouraging noises; one hand-wrote a few words on the standard rejection letter saying that she liked the book but they weren’t publishing much historical fiction at that time. A considerate and encouraging rejection, but nonetheless a rejection, which is never a pleasant experience.
 Personally I don’t like to see this war of rhetoric, there is something to be said for and against both sides of the argument. An agent who takes on a book won’t earn anything unless they can find a publisher, so they may end up investing a great deal of time (which means money) for no reward. I can therefore understand their need to connect strongly with a book before taking it on. Rejection doesn’t mean that a book is no good, though it is hard for the author to be objective when they see the big self addressed envelope lying forlornly on the mat beneath the letterbox.
 Publishers are in the business of selling books and thus making money. They take what sells - or what they think will sell. Hence their tendency to stay with their current best or regularly selling authors, who can be relied on to bring in the dollars or pounds. During the days of large litho print runs, taking on a new writer was a risk, a mistake could be very expensive for the publisher. Of course, turning down a new writer could also be a mistake – there are about a dozen agents or publishers having nightmares every time they read the words “Harry Potter.”
 I’m sure most agents and publishers are reasonable people. I do think some could treat potential authors better. When I was researching agents for my book, almost all said they would respond within five to six weeks, with either an acceptance or a rejection. One, however, said that she would only respond if willing to represent me, otherwise I should just wait six weeks, then assume rejection. To me, that smacked of arrogance. How long does it take to send out a polite, pre-worded rejection by email? If I do seek an agent for my next novel, that is one person I will definitely be avoiding.
 That brings me to a key question. Do I try for an agent or publisher with my next novel, or go it alone again? To some extent, the answer will depend on the sales of my current novel; if I can achieve a reasonable level of success, I will be more likely to self publish the next book too.
 There are advantages - assuming that a traditional publisher can be found - in being traditionally published. The advance on royalties, the assistance with proof reading and editing, the marketing channels and assistance in marketing the book, the kudos of being accepted for publication.  On the other hand, self published writers have full control of their book, and thus ownership of all aspects (cover, blurb etc). They maintain full rights, and are also able to keep a higher percentage of royalties.
What is the way ahead for writers and publishers? Already the well trodden track of traditional publishing has divided clearly into two paths, traditional and independent. There are increasing signs that more paths are emerging from the undergrowth, made viable by the enormous improvements made in print on demand technology. An increasing number of authors are taking the route of publishing partnerships, where publishers take on the task of publishing and marketing, but do not pay any advance to the author. Some of these verge on vanity publishing, whereas others appear to offer a viable partnership. There will undoubtedly be other avenues opening.
 It’s a fascinating time to be a writer.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

It's a Marathon, not a Sprint!

Promotion and marketing -
Moving from a frantic doggy-paddle to a stamina-preserving crawl.
I have only been actively involved in the ‘Indie’ market for a short time, but long enough to realise that the most frequently asked question has to be
Most frequently asked, and most difficult to answer. Imagine about two million tiny fish, swimming frantically around the harbour. On the shore is a wonderful lake, filled with everything a tiny fish could possibly need – but how to get there? A few fishermen are trawling, to be sure, but they are catching the bigger fish. In the meantime, a gigantic shark is circling, and gobbling up the tiny fish in their thousands. Things look pretty desperate for those tiny fish!
 So, am I saying that we ‘newbie’ indies are like those little fish. Well, there are similarities. There are probably around two million books on Amazon, many of them by new and/or unknown authors. All of us would like the fishermen – or in our case readers – to find us. The question is, how? But we do have one great advantage over the poor little fish – there is no gigantic shark circling to cut short our sparkling careers with one snap of its jaws. We have time on our side, and according to my research into this subject, allowing time is very necessary. It is, of course, not the sole answer. If we just sit back and do nothing, we can expect to be swimming around for a long, long time!
 There is a tremendous amount of advice available on this subject, some of it extremely helpful, much of it conflicting. But there are a few things on which pretty well everyone agrees –
 Before publishing the book, ensure it is as good as it can be.
That means proof-reading and editing. Not everyone can afford a professional proof reader, but most writers have hawk-eyed friends who can help them out. I can proof-read my own work to a limited extent, generally by reading it out loud. This ensures that I don’t miss mistakes by reading too fast, and also picks up a lot of duplication. But personally, I still need my hawk-eyed friend to pick up inconsistencies in capitalisation and the like.
 The same is true for editing the book. With Barricades, I splashed out on a  professional editor – not too expensive, and worth every penny. When we started, my book draft was 110,000 words. When we finished, it was 96,000 words. Of course I kicked, screamed and wriggled as it was suggested I cull some of my favourite (and often verbose) passages, but there is no doubt that the changes improved the book by cutting out unnecessary padding and generally sharpening up the prose.
 There is no ‘magic bullet.’
It is not unknown for a new, self-published author to ‘go viral,’ quickly, but it is very, very rare. For most of us, it will mean a lot of hard work. It will also need patience – not something that comes easily to me.
 The best way to promote and sell a book is to write another one -
Followed by yet another, and another after that. Very few new and unknown authors achieve high sales for their first stand-alone book.
Other than those points, advice is conflicting, depending upon the personal experiences of those offering the advice. Genre also has an effect. Sex, of course, sells well, so authors writing erotica are off to a good start. Vampires, horror, science fiction/fantasy and thrillers appear popular. My own genre is historical fiction (non-romance), which doesn’t appear to be one of the best selling genres.
 KDP Free Promotions (e-books only)
Opinions differ on this one. Some authors will not give away their work on principle. Others find the promotions beneficial. I suppose that if an author is selling well, he or she doesn’t need the free promotion anyway. But for new authors whose work is not selling, or selling very slowly, it can help. I put Barricades on free promotion for three days, and there was a slight sales spike afterwards. I also picked up a 5* review, possibly as a result of the promotion. At worst, it meant that my book was read by several hundred people who would not otherwise have read it.
Writing a blog.
Most authors seem to think it desirable to have an on-line presence, particularly for writers who are just starting out. There is, of course, still the problem of being noticed, but hopefully the followers will come, given time. I don’t yet have a large following, but my circle is slowly growing. I also find the blog helps to consolidate my thoughts, and I enjoy writing it.
 Twitter and Facebook.
Some authors find them useful, others a waste of time. I don’t yet know what my experience will be, but as a new author I feel that any on-line presence has to be of some use. I’m very new to the social media scene, so I am feeling my way and gradually building a network, whilst getting to grips with Twitter and the use of the # key.
 I have just published Barricades in paperback format, so I am planning a launch party next month. I shall be having a big push on facebook, including a modest £10 of paid advertising. I shall let you know the results in a later blog.

Next time - off-line promotions – the personal touch.