On NOT Winning the Joan Hessayon Award.

First and foremost, this is SO much NOT A MOAN! The delightful Hannah Begbie duly won for “Mother” and spoke very movingly on accepting the award. I’ve already pre-ordered “Mother” and will be reading it as soon as it comes out in August.


But, for me – we were ALL winners on the night. I would say to all those on the New Writers Scheme, YOUR turn will come. You will get published sooner or later, and when you do, you too will be up for the Joan Hessayon Award.


This is, of course, both this year’s winner, Hannah, and last years winner, Kate Field. Those who were there will long remember their speeches. Both moving and affecting; they touched a chord in all of us.

Speaking personally, being in Oxford for the Award Ceremony – as well as the Summer Party, crowned a super year for me. It “set the seal” on the year, and to get the public recognition from my peers (peeresses?) in the RNA. A key life moment, I think, at least as far as my career as an author goes.

Writing a book are such a personal thing, and writing one and getting it out to press, be it conventionally or independently published, is such a strain, with disaster and rejection waiting at every turn, that finally, to be able to deliver your first “baby” to a high level of approval, and to acknowledge the unbelievable support and help given by the RNA members, friends and the New Writers Scheme readers (and not forgetting Immi)P1110988

There were four of us who are published by Crooked Cat at the party, and three of us up for the Joan Hessayon. Me, Sarah Stevenson, Awen Thornber and Lynn Forth.

Oxford was memorable in so many ways. While not so accessible for some, to have it in the Ashmolean Museum atrium was yet another highlight. The museum caterers seemed to do us proud with canapes and glasses of bubbly, and it was a really good “collegiate” feeling to buddy-up with all the other contenders for the award. Again, the word “contenders” seems to imply we were competing against one another. I certainly didn’t feel like that. We really were ALL winners on the night.

We also had the comforting presence of Marte Lundby Rekaa and her expertly-wielded camera. Its great to get professional quality pictures that we can use without restrictions. As I’ve always said  – I take snaps, but Marte takes pictures!

Some members of the New Writers Scheme may be unaware of the Hessayon name. The late Joan Hessayon was a long-time member of the RNA and a great supporter of the New Writers Scheme. The award is given in her memory, and is sponsored by her husband, Dr David Hessayon. If you have ever been into a Garden Centre, you will have seen his books on display. For many years they have formed an outstanding series of “Expert Guides” and have achieved world-wide sales figures that most of us can only dream of.  Just Google Amazon and Hessayon, and you will get a host of results.

Those nominated for the Joan Hessayon Award receive a cheque. I have already cashed mine. That’s the Winter Party and almost all my train fare taken care of! RNA parties are ALWAYS worth going to and I can’t think of a better use for the money.

Next up? Conference!

Another author Interview – Jay Raven

Jay Raven 1

Today on the blog, another author interview – this time from Jay Raven.


Jay writes Gothic Horror. His latest book, Crimson Siege, is out on May 22nd. (that’s Tuesday next!)

It’s the first in the “Blood Riders” series and is published by Junction Publishing.

1              What makes a good story?

Tension and high stakes, plus a plot that twists and turns, constantly surprising the reader. To maintain suspense, I always aim to start every scene with an intriguing line and end on a hook.

2              How have YOU become a better writer?

I’ve learnt to make my chapters and scenes shorter to fit the needs of the Kindle age. These days people want to read in bite-sized chunks – at bedtime, on their daily commute or during a snatched coffee break.

3              What inspires you?

In real life, people who are gutsy and positive. Optimism and enthusiasm are infectious. In fiction, protagonists who seek and ultimately achieve redemption. I want someone to root for, who has to battle their inner demons as well as their enemies.

4              What does your family think of your writing?

My wife Liz has always been hugely supportive but she isn’t really a fiction fan. (She prefers a good biography). One great thing – if she hates something I’ve written, I know for sure it will sell.

5              What was the most surprising things you learned about yourself in creating your books?

I was a short story writer for many years and got it into my head that I couldn’t write anything longer than 4,000 words. Novels seemed an impossible dream, but I’m slowly learning to enjoy the loneliness of the long-distance scribbler.

6              If you could have written any book, what would it have been and why?

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse. It is witty, subversive, has marvellously comic characters and is packed with sly social and political comment. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer.

7              How much research do you do?

Next to none, I have to confess. I’ll check that a certain mode of transport, type of weapon or major event is correct for the period I’m writing about but I take a very Disney-esque approach to history. Everything I write about takes place is a generic “ye olde times”.

8              How do you relax?

Wine, watching movies (I used to be a film critic), eating out (I also used to be a restaurant critic) and watching snooker (I’m merely an armchair critic on that!).  I can’t relax by reading – it feels like still being at work.

9              Do you have any writing quirks? (and if so what?)

I have two habits – I always stop a writing session in mid sentence. It makes it easier to pick up the thread next day. And I always write with earphones on, listening to loudish music. The music plays a twin role, it creates a bubble around me that blocks out any disruptions or distractions, plus helps create an appropriate mood.

10           Why write in your genre?

It’s one area of storytelling where the writer has full rein to investigate the darker, hidden and often dangerous side of human nature.  I also love the freedom it offers. There are no rules. The only barriers are the limit of your imagination and daring.

11           How is your writing different now from when you started?

It might sound odd but my writing has become more visual over the years. I don’t ignore the other senses, but focus more on what characters see and hear. I like to describe their expressions and how their mood or reactions affect the way their eyes flash, darken or squint. It creates the same effect as a close-up shot in a movie.

12           What do people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that they don’t?

Many people wrongly think that Gothic horror is old hat and has nothing original to say. They couldn’t be more wrong. I’m excited about how many new angles and elements I’m finding. The genre is constantly evolving and it’s thrilling to put your own stamp on it.

13           Your 3 favourite authors?

Terry Pratchett – the master of mirth and human observation.

Ray Bradbury – his sci-fi writing is so lyrical it weaves an irresistible spell, magical but also disturbing.

Michael Crichton – the creator of Jurassic Park and Westworld – one of the tightest, most economic storytellers in the business.

14           In what ways do you ’service’ or ‘support’ your books?

I blog and am shortly launching a newsletter. I’ve just revamped my website at http://www.jayraven.com.

15           If you had to pitch your book in one line, what would it be?

Hammer Horror meets High Noon in the lawless badlands of 19th century Transylvania.

16           What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

Many writers examine the monsters lurking within ordinary people – I do the exact opposite. I look for the humanity inside my monsters.

17           Tell us something about your road to being published.

I was a journalist for 20 years before becoming a full-time fiction writer. It was an excellent training in writing tightly and quickly, and being able to structure a story to immediately grab a reader’s attention. I started by producing comedy twist-ender short stories for popular weekly magazines. I had an amazing stroke of luck in my first week when Chat bought two of my stories for their Summer Special.

18           Plotter or Pantser?

Plotter, definitely a plotter. My books feature a lot of characters, conflict points and subplots and it’s the only way to keep it all straight. Before I begin I’ll spend a fortnight working out every twist and turn of the narrative in great detail – every chapter and scene, every hook and dramatic opening. I even insert major dialogue exchanges. By the end I’ll have produced a 30-page “treatment” that is a mini version of the novel.

19           Your main character. What makes him or her so special?

Anton Yoska, the small town marshal caught up in the battle between vampires and  bounty hunters, has a mysterious past that makes people fear and distrust him. He has a strong social conscience and a sense of honour that often works against his own best interests.

20           What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?

Are the film rights still available, and will you take a cheque?

Jan, many thanks. Fascinating, and some GOOD answers.

Here’s wishing you every success.


Blood Riders is still on pre-order offer at 99p at the time of writing – so be quick!






Joan Livingstone – Author Interview

Every so often, I like to do an “Author’s Interview”, and today, it’s the turn of my fellow-Crooked-Cat-Author, Joan Livingstone. Her novel, Chasing the Case, is out next Friday (May 18th.)


1       What makes a good story?   When the reader forgets they are reading one.

2       How have YOU become a better writer?    When I was a journalist, I had to listen to the way people spoke and acted. That helps me create realistic dialogue and characters. Also I read a lot of what other authors write.

3       What inspires you?   Small towns and the people who live in them.

4       What does your family think of your writing?   My spouse, kids, and mother are big supporters.

5       What was the most surprising things you learned about yourself in creating your books?    That writing has become a permanent part of my daily life.

6       If you could have written any book, what would it have been and why?    Frankly, it’s too hard to choose just one.

7       How much research do you do?    Very little.

8       How do you relax?    Spending time with the people who are close to me, reading, taking hikes, gardening. Actually I find writing relaxing.

9       Do you have any writing quirks?    No life is pretty normal in that regard.

10     Why write in your genre?    I had never written a mystery, so I wanted to try writing one. I surprised myself how much I enjoyed it. But then again, I’ve watched and read a ton of mysteries.

11     How is your writing different now from when you started writing?    I don’t use the word ‘that’ as much. I learned to expand and write a bit longer. When I was a journalist, the tendency was to get to the point and write short.

12     What do people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that they don’t?    Not sure of an answer here. I have found people are very interested in mysteries.

13     Your 3 favourite authors?    Only three? Annie Proulx, Sherman Alexie, Russell Banks

14     In what ways do you ’service’ or ‘support’ your books?    I am learning as much as I can about social media promotion and how I can use it as a tool.

15     What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?    They are par for the business. You’ve got to have a thick skin. I have the hide of a rhino from being a reporter and an editor.

16     What makes your book(s) stand out from the crowd?    I believe my characters are interesting, well developed, and a lot of fun. Besides the main character, Isabel Long, there is her Watson — her 92-year-old mother — and such characters as the Old Farts (the men who gossip in the back of the town’s general store), plus the owner and customers who frequent the local watering hole where she works part-time.

17     Tell us something about your road to being published.    I’ve learned the hard truth there is writing and then there is the business of writing. I stopped counting rejections from agents and publishing houses a long time ago. I’ve had two agents and fired them both. I tried self-publishing and felt I needed more help. So I am very pleased to have hooked up with Crooked Cat Books.

18     Plotter or Pantser.    Without sounding too nutty, I would say for me writing is a bit telepathic. I sit and the words come to me. Sometimes it happens when I am ready to fall asleep. Then there is the rewriting. I liken that to taking up a good daydream and making it better.

19     Your main character. What makes him or her so special?    Isabel Long is a long-time journalist turned amateur P.I. after a bad year — she lost her husband and her job as a newspaper’s editor. She’s smart, sassy and relentless. Okay, I will admit there is a lot of me in her.

20     What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?   None yet, so fire away.

Thank you, Joan – and a reminder to you all – her latest Crime novel, Chasing the Case, is out next Friday!  Here is the book linker code:  http://mybook.to/chasingthecase  This will give you your local Amazon link WHEREVER you are.

Chasing the Case cover

There’s more info about Joan on her Crooked Cats page:


and on her own webpage:


She can also be found

at www.facebook.com/JoanLivingstonAuthor/

and on Twitter at: @JoanLivingston

Letters from Elsewhere: Hunter

An' de walls came tumblin' down

Letters from Elsewhere

Welcome readers and welcome to my guest today. He’s called DI Hunter Wilson and that sounds to me a fitting name for a detective. Hunter has come all the way from Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and he’s told me how much he loves his city and is devoted to solving its crimes. I’ll always remember visiting Edinburgh many years ago and being shown a group of shiny, new, stationary police cars by a tour guide who told us that showed there was no crime in Edinburgh!

Hunter has brought a letter to his daughter, Alison, who lives in Shetland. In it Hunter tells Alison about the death of his friend and his determination to get revenge for this evil act.

Dear Alison,

I hope you are well and that your job is going well. I hope you will manage to visit me in August so that we can go to…

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How I created a town in Italy

All Due’s books are great! Can’t wait for this.

Sue Moorcroft blog

image Arte Umbria

As it’s now only one week until One Summer in Italy is published I thought I’d write about the location.

I love to create settings for my novels, whether it’s a little English village or a town in another country. One Summer in Italy is set in Umbria, a verdant region of Italy, and there I built in my imagination a town called Montelibertà.

Photo 06-07-2013 14 24 14 (1) Orvieto; looking towards the amazing cathedral, ‘Il Duomo’.

Where did Montelibertà come from? For the last several years I’ve been lucky enough to run writing courses or retreats for Arte Umbria. The venue is an old stone hunting lodge and it looks out over the rolling Apennines. Their terrace is one of my favourite places and I used it as the basis for Montelibertà, beginning with the view, which my hero, Levi Gunn, is in town to capture in watercolours.

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A Blog and Page Update.

I’ve been having some admin problems with my laptop (due for replacement) an, separately, with Facebook.

In the meantime, my friend (and fellow Crooked Cat author), Nicola Slade, has had her latest book out!

I have started doing the odd Author Interview – and posting them around a bit. I have also tried to find a change from the eternal “interview questions” After all, a good interview will show us all something of the “inner writer”.


So here is Nicola’s interview. Her book, The House at Ladywell, a mystery romance, was out recently.

What makes a good story? A world you totally believe in and have to shake yourself when you finish it and remember it’s not real!

How have YOU become a better writer? Practice and not giving up

What inspires you? Something inside that’s burning to be heard

What does your family think of your writing? They’re completely supportive and my younger daughter is my first reader. She sees everything and is a great part of the whole production

What was the most surprising things you learned about yourself in creating your books? That you can mine depths inside yourself that you never imagined to be there. And that there would always be comedy in my books, even in the murders.

If you could have written any book, what would it have been and why? Persuasion – the perfect romantic novel

How much research do you do? My books are full of history, even the contemporary ones, so it’s online browsing, a lot of reading, and visits to castles, museums, stately homes, etc

How do you relax? Read in the bath or in bed. (Actually, reading anywhere!)

Do you have any writing quirks? (and if so what?) I write straight to screen on my desk top. I do have dozens of scrappy bits of paper with scribbled notes but I usually have a rough idea of what will happen, and bung it up on screen to see if it works.

Why write in your genre?  I write romantic comedy, historical/contemporary romantic novels, contemporary cosy mystery and historical cosy mystery: the common themes are the ones I love to read myself. History, romance, comedy and mystery.

How is your writing different now from when you started writing? Much more confident – and better, I hope, after paying attention to rejections, words of advice from editors, and reviews.

What do people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that they don’t? They think romantic novelists write Barbara Cartland romances and wear pink hats; they assume crime novelists have peculiar brains to concentrate on killing people (mind you, that might be true!) and they assume that for either genre, authors make millions every time they have a book published.

Your 3 favourite authors? Charlotte M. Yonge, Terry Pratchett, and Patricia Wentworth

In what ways do you ’service’ or ‘support’ your books? I do talks to libraries and social groups (call me!). I’m a member of a panel of crime writers based on the south coast; we’re the Deadly Dames(!) and we’ve appeared at festivals and conferences, as well as libraries and other groups. I have a slightly haphazard blog and I am on Facebook and Twitter. I follow other writers and support them too.

What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews? Delighted with good reviews, spit a few tacks at bad but don’t dwell on them.

What makes your book(s) stand out from the crowd? The House at Ladywell literally stands out because of its fabulous cover design! Otherwise, it’s an unusual blend of mystery, romance, a delicate hint of ghosts and magic and lots of historical echoes. And a hero who has made some reviewers wish he was real!

Tell us something about your road to being published. It’s a long one! I had some stories published on the children’s page of The People’s Friend when I was about 23; a book for children about ten years later was accepted by a publisher but scuppered when they changed direction and dropped children’s books; short stories in The Brownie Magazine (I was a Brown Owl at the time), followed by short stories for women’s magazines, notably My Weekly. Eventually Transita Ltd published Scuba Dancing, a rom.com – although it’s my first published book it was actually the seventh full-length novel I’d written. Sigh…

Plotter or Pantser. Bit of both but I don’t do a detailed plan. In my mysteries I generally know at the start: Whodunnit, What it was they dun, Why they dun it, Who they dun it too – and I write the last chapter early one. It’s just the yawning gap in the middle that needs to be filled in…

Your main character. What makes him or her so special? Freya has, as the cliché goes, ‘a journey’ and some of the discoveries she makes are pretty unusual. She’s getting over a shattering period in her life and is timidly but bravely taking a step into the unknown. Not so much waiting for the Prince to awaken Sleeping Beauty, more that Beauty is already hacking her way through the brambles when the Prince appears!

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?

Well, the obvious question is: Nicola, will you sign this contract to televise your delightful novel, The House at Ladywell. I’m waiting, but Julian Fellowes hasn’t called yet.

Thanks, Nicola! Some great responses. Charlotte M Yonge is an odd choice today – and, surprise, surprise, I have an odd family connection. A Chaplet of Pearls was dedicated to (if I remember correctly) my Gt Gt Grandmother. Funny old world!

Persuasion is also one of my absolutre favourites. Certainly my favourite Jane Austen.