Wednesday, 28 September 2016

My Publishing Journey .... with Chris Curran

By Gillian Hamer

Chris Curran has written two psychological crime novels for Harper Collins Killer Reads. She left school at sixteen to work in the local library, returning to full-time education after studying for ‘A’ levels at evening classes. She was born in London, but at university in Brighton she fell in love with the south coast. She eventually persuaded her husband and family to move to Hastings where she is a proud shareholder of the recently reopened pier. Amongst other things she has worked as a primary school teacher, an actress and an editor.

Her first book, Mindsight, a psychological thriller set in Hastings was published last year. And her second novel, Her Turn To Cry, came out as an e-book on July 8th and publishes in paperback on September 8th.
In the second in our series where we investigate author's personal publishing journey from first scribbles to published novels, Chris gives us an insight into the highs and lows of her career.

What was the first short story or novel you wrote?

When I was a teenager I was obsessed by tragic women from history, particularly those who died young. So my first attempt at a novel was about Joan of Arc. I never finished it, which is probably for the best. I must have become more cheerful after that because my next two attempts at novels were comedies. I only have fragments to show for the years I spent writing them, but again that’s probably a blessing. My first published fiction was a light-hearted short story about a cheating husband, which appeared in Bella magazine. With my crime novels, I seem to have gone back to the dark side.

Was writing just a hobby to begin with for you?

I’ve always taken my writing seriously so I never considered it a hobby and I had ambitions to be published right from the start. Of course at first that only meant having my work read out in class or put on a school noticeboard! But even then I dreamed of seeing my name on the cover of a real book one day and was determined to make that dream come true.

When did you know you were ‘good’?

I’m not a confident person, however a few short-listings in competitions and some of my stories beginning to be accepted for publication convinced me I must be doing something right. A negative review can still shake my confidence however and of course that’s the one that sticks in my mind. I shouldn’t read them, but the lure is irresistible!

In fact, painful though it is, I have the feeling that it’s good for a writer to be full of doubts. That way you are always striving to improve.

What were your first steps towards publication?

Because I was doing a demanding full-time job, as well as bringing up three children, I started by writing short stories, mainly for women’s magazines. I used the small amount of money I made to fund two Arvon courses. These were incredibly useful not only for the intense writing sessions with the successful writers and publishing professionals tutoring the courses, but for practical advice about getting your work out there. It was also great to meet other students who were in a similar position and to share experiences and ideas. Quite a number of us have now published novels.

Chris's latest release
What has been your proudest writing moment to date?

It was an enormous thrill to see my first story in a magazine. When I opened the letter telling me it had been accepted I ran around the house screaming with excitement and terrifying my husband! One thing that really makes me happy even now is that my mum, who died before my novel was published, was so excited to read that story.

But I was most proud when Mindsight (recently picked as a Sunday Express best summer read) was chosen by such a major publisher as Harper Collins. It was unexpected because I didn’t have an agent and had submitted the novel during an open submission slot imagining I would hear no more about it. When the email from my soon to be editor popped up in my inbox, saying she loved the book and wanted to take it on, I was so surprised that I kept telling myself not to get excited because it was probably all a mistake!

Any mistakes you wish, in hindsight, you had avoided?

Losing faith in my writing at various times and letting it hold me back, although being the person I am I’m not sure I could have avoided that.

What do you know now you wish you’d known at the start of your journey?

That all the ups and downs along the way would feed into my writing and help to make it better.

What top 3 tips would you offer new and up-coming authors hoping to publish? 
  • Try to find a group of trusted readers who will give an honest and perceptive opinion of your fledgling work.
  • Don’t rush to submit before you are certain the book is the best it can possibly be. Ideally when you think it’s finished you should put it away and try to forget it for a while so that you can reread it with fresh eyes.
  • Brace yourself for rejection, but persevere.
Connect with Chris and her books:



Twitter: @Christi_Curran

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Snapshots from... Stockholm

In our regular series, we go exploring, finding out about the writing life around the world. Today Luna Miller (aka Monica Christensen) shows us around the Swedish capital of Stockholm.
Images by Peter Luotsinen

By JJ Marsh

What´s so great about Stockholm?

When in Stockholm, within walking distance there is always a green spot, a park or a big stone on a hill with a magical view. Built on 14 islands and with few high buildings the capital of Sweden is a picturesque and green city. Although the city shows itself at its best during the summer, with the bright nights, it can also be enjoyable to have a walk along the streets when big snowflakes are doing their best to cover the city in its winter dress. The cold wind bites your skin and the colourful city lights up the dark days and it gives the feeling of Christmas.

Compared with other capitals Stockholm is a pretty small city. The city of Stockholm does not even have a million citizens. That makes it a nice city for walking and biking, because distances are not big.

And then there is all this water around. You can both swim and fish in several places around the city. Not to mention all the areas where you can take a break during your walk beside the water and sit by the quayside, dangle your legs and just enjoy the view.

There are many boats taking you out in different directions into the archipelago. It´s actually one of the world most island-rich archipelagos, 30 000 islands. Too many to imagine, but it is amazingly beautiful.

Tell us a bit about the cultural life of the place.

Stockholm has a long tradition of theatre. As well as the royal theatre and the city theatre there are several small theatres with financial support from the city. There are also free, outdoor programmes in the summer. Mostly theatre, but also dance and music.

As all big and proud cities, Stockholm of course has a Royal Opera. But there is also a public opera that is more about experimenting with the art form and always singing in Swedish. I still have a problem to hear what they are actually singing but I really appreciate the thought.

The Cullberg Ballet have been world famous since the sixties. And it seems like, during recent years, more and more Stockholm contemporary dance companies are becoming established on the international scene.

The music scene is of course one of the biggest and a big part of the city’s pulse. Compared to the number of citizens Sweden has great international success in music. And of course, Stockholm is the centre.

The most conspicuous development in recent cultural life must be the explosive growth of new film festivals. Niched by ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ or thematic. Everyone wants their own festival and that is really exciting.

What´s hot? What are people reading? 

I believe that crime stories are the most popular genre. There are a lot of famous crime writers in Stockholm. And I think there is something very special about reading a book from your own environment. It makes it easier to build up the “inner picture”.

But there is also a big interest in other culture or just other ways of doing things, like the books of Jan-Philipp Sendker. “The art of hearing heartbeats”, about a romance in Burma, have made more than one Swede cry over the relentless faith of a loving couple followed by decisions that are really hard to understand. A Swedish book that got a lot of attention a few years ago was the true story about Katarina Taikon, a Roma woman, and her struggle for both her artistry (she was a writer) and the human rights of her people.

There are big investments being made into getting children to read. Modern technology and communication are still the most attractive alternative for many young people, compared to the slower art of reading. But when they read they enter the world of fantasies; anything from Harry Potter, vampires, space wars, dark angels to tiny creatures that live underground. Being a child of the sixties when social realism dominated children´s books I totally love fantasy stories for kids (and adults) to explore.

Can you recommend any books set in the city?

The most famous book is of course “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. The City Museum even offers very popular hikes, with a guide who leads you in the footsteps of the characters. As if it had happened for real. A really interesting phenomenon.

Per Anders Fogelström has written a series of books, starting with City of my Dreams, about a family in Stockholm from 1860 to 1968. An important piece that helps you understand the city’s development during the last few centuries. Reading these books, you learn to know these families so well that you mourn the one who dies and eagerly welcome new-born family members.

Jens Lapidus takes the reader, with his books Easy Money and Never Fuck Up, into the violent and criminal world of Stockholm. Where a mistake is never forgiven and drugs mess up too many minds.

And of course I have to mention the most famous of them all, even if dead for many years. August Strindberg. One of his books, Röda Rummet (The Red Room), describes Stockholm more than a hundred years ago and the city’s hottest spot both then and in the early eighties. A place with red-velvet covered furniture and big mirrors, where me and my friends used to hang out as much as we could afford.

Who are the best-known local writers?

In crime the queens and kings are: Camilla Läckberg, Lisa Marklund, Jan Guillou, Jens Lapidus, Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö, Arne Dahl

Famous novel writers: David Lagercrantz, Lena Andersson, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Klas Östergren, Katarina Mazetti, Ernst Brunner

And the classical writers who are long gone: August Strindberg, Astrid Lindgren, Hjalmar Söderberg, Stieg Trenter, Lars Widding

Is the location an inspiration or distraction for you?

When I first moved to Stockholm, from my hometown in the far north, I was amazed by all the nice and beautiful inhabitants. That first summer I got to meet a lot of new people, just by walking the city. I was saving for a trip to Europe and had nearly no money to spend. But the summer was fantastic with the bright nights, new friends and never knowing if the evening would end in a party somewhere or just chatting hours away with some inspiring person.

I went off to southern Europe around late August and returned in November. I could not believe it was the same city. This was long before the iPhone entered the world. So I did not have any phone numbers of my new friends. We just used to meet outdoor in the city centre. In the cold November, filled with rain or snow, they were no longer there. At this time of year, you were no longer met by curious eyes and friendly smiles in the street. Everyone was more or less in their own bubble — pale, tired and avoiding eye contact when stressing towards work or home again. All the magic was gone. Until the next summer.

So summertime it is amazingly inspiring to live in Stockholm. I no longer hang around meeting new friends as I used to. But I love to walk the city, especially close to the water. During winter, when there is only daylight between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon, it´s harder. All these hours of darkness make me exhausted. It’s hard to get up in the morning, hard to get out into the cold, hard to muster energy for writing.

What are you writing?

I am writing my second book about Gunvor Ström, a woman who started to work as a private detective in her mid-sixties. She lives in the suburb of Fruängen, in the outskirts of Stockholm. She engages two young friends that have always seen themselves as losers until they start working together. They are not always good at what they do but they struggle to develop and sometimes they really succeed.

My best news today is that my first book “Three Days in September” will soon be published in English. It’s a story about friendship, love and adventure but also manipulation, infidelity, violence and death. As it says in the text on the back of the book: After three days in September there is no way back.

Sum up life in Stockholm in three words.

Beautiful, contrasting, challenging.

Luna Miller is a pretty new part of me that has been living my passion for writing over the last few years. I published my first Luna Miller novel, Tre dagar i September, in Swedish, towards the end of 2015. A few weeks later I followed it with Den som ger sig in i leken (Playing with Fire) – the first book in my crime series, which has been translated into German as Wer sich auf das Spiel einlässt and Spanish as Quien juega con fuego.

Right now, I am working on my second book in the crime series, but at the same time, I am really excited about the imminent release of my first book in English. You will soon be able to find
Three days in September on Amazon and other major e-book distributors.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

60 Seconds with Eliza Green

By Gillian Hamer

Eliza Green tried her hand at fashion designing, massage, painting, and even ghost hunting, before finding her love of writing. After earning her degree in marketing, she went on to work in everything but marketing, but swears she uses it in everyday life, or so she tells her bank manager.

Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Eliza lives there with her sci-fi loving, evil genius boyfriend. When not working on her next amazing science fiction adventure, you can find her reading, indulging in new food at an amazing restaurant or simply singing along to something with a half decent beat.

Tell us a little about you and your writing.

I’m from Dublin, Ireland. I was working as a public servant up until March 2016. I finally quit my job after threatening to do it every year, to write full time. I began writing seven years ago after I got an urge to rewrite a book I was reading. I write character-centric science fiction thrillers.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Living inside a world you created and watching your characters grow up, make mistakes and take shape.

And the worst? 

Killing your darlings.

Why did you choose Sci-Fi as your genre?

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been obsessed with Sci-Fi TV and movies. When I think of new ideas the futuristic ones always pop into my head first. They’re the most fun and the most challenging.

Do you have a special writing place?

At home, at my lovely new desk that’s at least double the size of my previous one. My last desk was no bigger than a postage stamp!

Which four writers would you invite to a dinner party?

Charlaine Harris, Tahereh Mafi, A.G. Riddle, Gillian Flynn. I like variety!

If you could choose a different genre to write in for just one book – what would it be?

Hmm, contemporary women’s fiction. I wrote a book years ago in that genre that I never published.

If you could have written just one book by another author – which would it be?

Any of the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsey. How he managed to make us fall in love with a serial killer is beyond genius!

What are your future writing plans?

Publish book 4 in my Exilon 5 series, available in early 2017. Becoming Human, Altered Reality and Crimson Dawn make up the first three books. Echoes of Earth and New Origin are two new prequels I published in May 2016.

I’m also writing a young adult sci-fi series, starting with Feeder. It’s The Hunger Games meets The Maze Runner. Book 1 will be out in late November 2016.

Thanks, Eliza, for more information please see below and if you'd like to try Becoming Human for FREE follow the relevant link!


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

TLF - The Triskele Lit Fest!

Saturday 17 September sees the very first Triskele Lit Fest!
This is a litfest with a difference. We set out with five aims:
  • trade and indie authors together on the same platform
  • literary fiction on an equal footing with other genres
  • BAME authors talking about their books, not about diversity
  • speakers paid an appearance fee
  • admission free and accessible to all booklovers 

After a tremendous amount of hard work by Catriona Troth, TLF Administrator, plus the generosity of our sponsors, it's actually happening.

From 1pm-6pm, we have panels of authors to talk about their genre. Sci-fi and Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction, Crime and Thrillers, and Preserving the Unicorn.

In parallel, we have our trademark pop-up bookshop, where forty different writers will be available to interact with readers, sign books, talk about their work and make new friends.

And we've ticked every box.
  • A near 50:50 mix of trade and indie authors, not talking about routes to publication.
  • BAME authors like Radhika Swarup, Leye Adenle, Sareeta Domingo, Yen Ooi and Sunny Singh, talking about their books, not diversity.
  • Our literary panel – Preserving the Unicorn – brings together literary authors and their editors to discuss working on a manuscript that defies the 'rules' of storytelling.
  • And yes, we are paying our speakers and admission for readers is free.

Triskele Books is all about building bridges.
Words with JAM is a source of ideas and information for writers.
Bookmuse provides reviews and recommendations for readers.
The first Triskele LitFest offers something for everyone.

We know it’s far more important to build bridges than to erect barriers.
Seems people agree - here's an extract from our Tuesday #twitchat #bridgesnotbarriers

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Donkeys and vodka: the mad science of proofreading

by Perry Iles, Chamber Proof (

Proof readers, proofreaders or proof-readers? We can’t even agree on how our job titles should be written down. What total bellends (bell-ends or bell ends) we are. But then no two proofreaders think alike anyway, because we’re all maverick geniuses, frustrated novelists and deeply flawed garret-dwelling paupers with nothing better to do than use our combination of OCD and Asperger’s Syndrome to pick apart the work of others. And we’ll never get it right because there is no right. Language is fluid—especially English, because the world’s greatest superpower speaks it all over the globe. There are those who think that America has dragged the English language kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, and there are those who think that America has dragged it into a dark alley and beaten the living crap out of it. Who in the hell ever thought to use the word “disrespect” as a verb? It wasn’t one of our chaps, I’ll bet. Either way, an assault has been mounted, and the proofreader’s job is to defend a book against the slings and arrows of error and change. Which of course means that while I’m fending off mediaeval English weaponry with a stout oaken shield, some American in a sharp suit and sunglasses will pop up in front of me and shoot me in the face. While dictionaries and manuals try to pin down the elusive butterfly of correct prose and grammar, off it goes in a different direction, raising either two fingers or a middle digit at you, depending upon which side of the Atlantic you’re on. Language flows elegant and smooth like a glacier, changing shape and form as it goes.

Which means that for some words there is no right or wrong. When you get into your car, do you put on a seat belt, a seat-belt or a seatbelt? When you can’t be arsed to cook, will you have a take-away a takeaway? There is only consistency, which is the First Rule of Proofreading. Be consistent. Check the preferences of your author. It’s their book after all. Maintain an open channel at all times, dash off query emails. They’ll love you when you find a spelling error or some missing punctuation, but they’ll hate you when you overrule their preferences with your own when rules don’t apply. It takes only a moment to ask an author if their main character eats hash browns, hash-browns or hashbrowns.  
And don’t even talk to me about punctuation. Go talk to Lynne Truss, she knows it all. She’ll tell you when to use the Oxford comma and when to eschew it. Read Strunk and White, they’ll tell you when to use colons and semi-colons instead of full stops. Then try to act on what they say in a real life writing situation. Often you’ll find they’re talking bollocks. Or they’re trying to be clever buggers by shoehorning correct grammar into a sentence that needs changing anyway because it hasn’t been written right in the first place. These books are to writing what the Highway Code is to driving. They’ll tell you the rules, but they won’t make you a good writer. They’ll just teach you to run over fewer people, rather than less people. So here’s the Second Rule of Proofreading: If you’re stuck on the punctuation, the chances are the wording is wrong, because if the wording was right, you wouldn’t be stuck on it, would you? There you are, happily proofreading away without a care in the world, and then you get to something that stops you in your tracks with one of those comedy skid-noises they use when Fred Flintstone brings his car to a standstill using his feet. Here:

“Honestly, darling, I went to Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Marks and Spencer’s but I couldn’t get those socks you like; perhaps you should try shopping on-line.”
The author (and the proofreader) is all in a lather about the use of semi-colons in dialogue, Oxford commas, possessive apostrophes, the double-use of “and” and that unnecessary hyphen in “on-line”, when they should be worrying about the ghastly dialogue instead. You could proofread that sentence until your brain started dribbling out of your ears. Go on, knock yourself out. But rather than just checking the grammar, the proofreader should offer a gentle nudge and tell the writer that people don’t really speak like that, and that it might be better to re-write the sentence along the following lines:

“Listen love, I went to every bloody supermarket in town and none of them had your socks. Try online, OK?”
There, that’s better, isn’t it? A good proofreader would underline that first sentence and suggest rewriting it a bit more like the second, because that sort of light copy-editing is part of a proofreader’s job. It’s part of mine, anyway. And when punctuation stops me in my tracks, re-wording the sentence will improve matters nine times out of ten. So before you start dicking about with the semi-colons and the fiddly shite, read that sentence out loud in front of a mirror or a loved one. Chances are you can say it better and more simply without, as Cormac McCarthy puts it, “peppering your writing with all those unnecessary marks”. Think about what punctuation actually is. It’s not writing, it’s not poetry, it’s not great literature. It’s instructions. Stop here, pause there. Add emphasis! Are you asking a question? Oh gosh, someone’s about to say something. Here come some speech-marks, look! In good writing, most of these things come naturally anyway. Punctuation should be light, unobtrusive and minimal. Punctuation tells the readers what your writing should be showing them. You don’t need exclamation marks. Get rid of them. All of them, unless you’re writing children’s fiction. Adults know when someone is shouting, and it’s your job as a writer to show people being angry, not tell us they’re yelling their heads off. Get rid of colons and semi colons in fiction. They’re horrid little nasty half-hearted things anyway. They’re not big and they’re not clever. They are to punctuation what adverbs are to prose. Write your way round them and your writing will be better for it. Declare war on commas, use “and” more often. Write shorter sentences. Write longer sentences. Free your prose. Let it dance about without being tied down by unnecessary punctuation. Be more colloquial. Be free. You’re a writer. It’s fun. You’re dancing with the wind in your hair, not tapping out two-fingered sludge.

Proofreaders are there to polish your little red wagon, to make sure your book doesn’t go out into the world with its skirt tucked into its underwear. We do that not only by finding errors, but by making suggestions—small, light and often. Editors will tell you to make structural changes, to write out unnecessary characters altogether, to revise entire chapters. Proofreaders won’t do that, they’ll just buff up the details and offer a light copy-edit. They aren’t there to check out the shape of your forest, they’re there to examine the bark on the trees. And even then, there will be errors. There WILL be errors. I bet there are errors in this article if you look hard enough, and if there aren’t errors, there are things you’d have written differently. I once wrote and self-published a book in which it got cold in my car so I turned the heather on. This was doubly embarrassing, as Heather is my wife’s name (she was not in the car at the time. We were not dogging. Honestly, officer. Look at the moon, my mother would have understood…) The point there is that you read what you want to be there. You read what makes sense. As an author, I not only wrote that error, but on the dozens of rewrites and re-reads I let it stay there until it became encysted in my head, part of the manuscript. A friend read it once, after I’d published it, and said “You’ll never guess what you’ve written here…” so I had to kill her. A simple proofread and that poor woman would still be alive today.

Which also applies to names, by the way. Rule whatever (I’ve lost count) of proofreading is to google every single one of the fictional characters’ names in the book you’re working on, just in case the author hasn’t done that first. That way you’ll be able to check that they aren’t the same as famous people in fields you’re unfamiliar with, or a name you perhaps heard on the news and has stuck in your mind to re-emerge seven years later as the name for your baddie. You may not be familiar with football, movie stars of the 1930s or death metal, but some of your readers will be. Remember that the bad guy in Double Jeopardy was called Nicholas Parsons and that a book by English romantic novelist EV Thompson had a leading character called Tom Hanks in it. So before you use a cool name like Harry Styles or Matt Bellamy or Frank Black, go and google it, or people will point at you and laugh.

Your book is the God to which its creators bow down. The author is the prime creator, but there is a host of others who help dress your book up and make it look nice. The proofreader is but one of many, he’s the final polisher, the one who buffs the lacquer on what Stephen King calls your little red wagon. But proofreading is an inexact science. Pinning the English language down into a static form is like a pin-the-tail-on-a-donkey game in which you’ve been rapidly spun ten times and then force-fed a pint of vodka. And the donkey is real and moving and wants to kick you very hard because some cruel bastard has cut its tail off. The best you can hope for is that your book is enjoyed, recommended, critically acclaimed and sells by the warehouse-load. But one day, when you’re relaxing on your yacht in Monte Carlo harbour surrounded by women made of silicone or men with abs you could bounce marbles off, you’ll come across an error in your latest manuscript and suddenly you’ll feel like Madonna falling downstairs at the Brits, and your screams will echo from the mountains that surround the bay, and the head you’ll call for will quite possibly be mine.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

NEW SERIES - My Publishing Journey ... with Jan Ruth

By Gillian Hamer.

Every author has their own unique route to publication, with highs and lows, success and failure along the way. And every author is always curious how other writers reached their goals - was it easier for them, what mistakes did they make, how many rejection slips have they accumulated?

In our new series, we will be asking the questions other writers would like to ask. How? Why? When? And what they'd do differently next time.

First up we challenge Welsh-based contemporary fiction author, Jan Ruth, to reveal all about her own unique writing journey.

How did your writing journey start, was it just a hobby to begin with for you?

I’d still prefer to call it a hobby. I’d rather be motivated by pleasurable creative exploration, than strive to be a commercial success by forcing my slightly misshapen ovals into a succession of unforgiving circles. Perhaps I should call it a serious hobby, as I am seriously committed to producing the material to the best of my ability; something which was lacking in me when I was eventually signed to a publisher.

When did you know you were ‘good’?

I wrote my second novel at work in about 70 company notebooks. I managed to acquire another typewriter (electric this time) and purchased my first copy of The Writer’s & Artists Yearbook. The novel was called Summer in October and Anne Dewe – of Andrew Mann Literary Agents – immediately took a shine to it, and I think this was the first defining moment for me; confirmation that I’d got something right.

In her words: ‘It’s got something.’

She suggested some minor rewrites, some slight structural changes and the cull of a secondary character. Dewe wore two hats at the time and as well as acting agent for Mann, she was setting up her own publishing company called Love Stories Ltd. It was a project aiming to champion those books of substance which contained a romantic element but were perhaps directed towards the more mature reader and consistently fell through the net in traditional publishing. This was 1986 and chick-lit took the biggest slice of the romance market. Sadly, the project failed to get the right financial backing, but from a personal point of view a seed had been sown…

I never did find an outlet for that book but perhaps this illustrates how random the traditional world of publishing was, and still is. I didn’t view it like this at the time though. I was still naive enough to believe that if I wrote something good, then it would be published.

There followed a long barren time for me until I started writing again in 2001 when I discovered the joy of writing on a word processor. The result was a novel called Under Offer. This was taken on by Jane Judd on the proviso I worked with an editorial company to ‘tighten it up’. The company she suggested was Cornerstones. I had no idea such a service existed but what an excellent investment. I learnt so much, my manuscript was polished to a professional standard and most importantly, I understand why and how they’d took my 90,000 words to another level. Jane Judd happily took it back on as Wild Water. Despite this book never finding a publisher either (because it was out of genre, it didn’t fall into a specific category and it was narrated from a male viewpoint blah blah…) I think this was perhaps the biggest turning point for me and one which confirmed that I knew how to write, I could create engaging characters and strong settings.

I just didn’t write commercial fiction.

More on those rejection letters here:

Jan's Wild Water series
When and why did you decide you wanted your writing published?

I think I wanted a readership more than the idea of being published, but then I still craved some sort of validation that I wasn’t writing drivel.

What were your first steps towards publication?

I’d had fantastic success with agents and positive encouragement from professional editors, but actual publishers remained elusive. But then the Amazon publishing platform happened, and it seemed I didn’t need them after all…

What has been your proudest writing moment to date?

Making my mum laugh at Jimmy Tarbuck’s biography which I wrote at six years of age!

Any mistakes you wish, in hindsight, you had avoided?

I’ve made so many mistakes I’ve lost count but then I’d never have learnt anything without making them in the first place. I guess my biggest mistake and one which has cost me dearly in terms of reputation, cash, and time, was signing to a small publisher in 2015. I can honestly say the experience almost destroyed me, both creatively and emotionally. Given that I’d self-published my work up until that point and discovered a quiet success with sales and small awards, I found the experience was much like going back in time. It was almost as if everything I’d been aware of as an individual author and publisher had been wiped away and I was back to being beholden to a group of people who knew next to nothing about my material, didn’t appear to know how best to market it and most concerning of all; seemed to know less than me about the nuts and bolts of the various publishing platforms out there. The books they produced for me not only contained a lot of errors, but failed to sell. I was angry and disappointed.

For a while.

More on my traditional publishing experience here:

What do you know now you wish you’d known at the start of your journey?

I guess it’s always easy to be wise in hindsight, but if I’ve learnt anything it’s to take virtually everything with a pinch of salt and avoid the lemons. I should have trusted my gut more and stayed true to the spirit of the books, rather than be sidetracked by what was going on in the commercial world.

What top 3 tips would you offer new and up-coming authors hoping to publish?

A) Don’t self-publish until your book is ready. It’s actually slightly less important when it comes to sending out to agents or publishers because your work will (hopefully!) go through rigorous editing and proofreading stages if it is accepted. They will be looking for saleability, not correct comma placement. On the other hand, if you choose to produce your own book it pays to take your time with each stage.

B) Always seek reliable professional bodies for advice. If you are unsure where your material sits in terms of marketing or whether it conforms to a good general standard of writing in the first instance, consider contacting companies such as Cornerstones, who have a long proven track-record and work alongside agents and publishers. They know what the industry is looking for. If you intend to self-publish, their editorial advice is solid and supportive. It costs, but so do early mistakes. Better to get the basics right at the start than accept incorrect, conflicting, or even manipulative advice from an on-line forum. It goes without saying that you must never take advice from friends and family.

C) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and sign everything away to a publisher. Times have changed, the snail-like speed of the traditional publishing world is struggling to keep up with the ebook explosion, and it has created huge areas ripe for exploitation. All authors should self-publish at least once, if only to understand the process from ground level, and to witness what can be achieved by an individual. The commercial bubble of traditional publishing may work for you, but it might not. It’s more likely to work if you can produce a lot of material in a strong commercial theme. Even so, there are no guarantees to success, however you quantify it. Writing a good book is not necessarily a pre-requisite to break in, either. What you must consider is that you may well want to break out before too long…

To learn more about Jan Ruth and her books, follow the links belows:

Thursday, 18 August 2016

First Page Competition 2016 - THE WINNERS!

We are delighted to announce the winners of our First Page Competition 2016, which has been judged by Piers Alexander.

The shortlist is as follows:

A Cruel Blow, by Annie Walmsley

Barik's Blades, by Henry Hyde

Bloodjacker, by T.D. Edge

Colours in Black and White, by Julia Thorley

Coming Home, by Vanessa Savage

For The Record, by Sara Green

Melody of the Two Lands, by Amanda Huskisson

Midsummer's Eve, by Tracy Fells

Paul Swan, by Andrew Stott

The Palimpsest, by Eivind Nerberg

The Quantum Eavesdropper, by Richard Gibney

Underneath, by Anne Goodwin

Warthog, by Andrew Broadfoot

The Devil’s Cataract, Sarah King

And the winning entries are:


A Cruel Blow, by Annie Walmsley

The day Dad nearly kills me, we’re out in the park. The rain’s like feathers on my skin. I scrape down the slide. I don’t mind getting wet, or dirty... in fact, I’m always covered in muck: oil, mud, leaves… There’s a special tub of Swarfega that’s kept just for me. It’s a secret. A big tin of green jelly that lives in the dark of the kitchen cupboard like one of those weird fish at the bottom of the ocean. Anyway, Dad’s dabbed that stuff just about everywhere on me: my legs, my arms and my forehead; all wiped clean before Mum can purse her lips and say, “What on earth is that? Call yourself a young lady?”

After the sticky slide, it’s the swing. Dad smiles and it’s like a door opening. He’s pushing me, and I can feel the excitement balled in my stomach. Dad’s six foot four and really fit even though these days he does a desk job. He whistles and I laugh, because it’s my song and I’m going really high now. Giggles float from us like bubbles.

I fling my feet out as the air fizzes past. I could reach up and do a full circle over the iron bars at the top. My head explodes at the thought. Dad catches the swing suddenly and then holds it. I dangle helplessly in midair - delirious, dribbling with anticipation. I’m level with the tops of the trees; I’m like a bird… then Dad lets go, giving it one last, massive shove. Trouble is, he doesn’t know his own strength and I’m projected off the swing, all curled up, into the trees. Dad’s screams follow me, “Liiizziiieee!!!” I do a forward roll as I land and come up, arms in the air.

“Ta da!” I bow, laughing, though my head is hurting where I’ve bashed it.

And Dad’s running towards me, his forehead folded with anxiety. He grabs me and I feel like I’m drowning. But it’s lovely because in that moment, it’s all about instinct and nothing to do with manners or what ‘young ladies’ should do. Now I know just how much he loves me. And it’s a lot. I bring out this moment, like a treasure, when they tell me those things later; when they say, “He isn’t really your father, you know.”

Judge's Report:

“The day Dad nearly kills me, we’re out in the park. The rain’s like feathers on my skin- ” now that’s how to grab a reader. A Cruel Blow pulls you straight into its off-kilter reality and doesn’t let you climb back out. It’s just a dad pushing a girl on a swing, but the story has all the intensity of childhood. Deceptively simple and with a sly rabbit-punch at the end.


Coming Home, by Vanessa Savage

The sold sign went up today. People crept out to watch; standing in silence as the big red Sold covered up the For Sale everyone assumed would be there forever because who the hell was going to buy that house, right? All the other ghouls cling to the shadows, but not me: I stand in the middle of the street, arms folded – I’m not scared of the Murder House.

“Who do you think bought it?”

I look at the man who slunk out of the shadows to ask and shrug. He offers me a cigarette and I lean in so he can light it. Close up, he smells fousty and his breath is meaty and sour. I want to use the burning cigarette to seal his mouth shut.

“Maybe someone who doesn’t know,” I say and he stares at me like I’m nuts.

I wasn’t here when it happened. I was here when the house was something else, not the Murder House, just a house. These people, all these people passing by, they were here. You can tell by the way they avert their eyes, they way they cross over the road, like something or someone will gobble them up if they get too close.

I lied to the man with the rotting breath. I do know who’s moving into the Murder House. You’re coming home, just like I have. It’s been so long and everything and nothing in this town has changed. The graffiti is dirtier, darker, the rot more deep-seated; a smell that lingers, a pus-stained bandage, a red streak of infection meandering away from the festering heart of it.

This house has always been the entry wound, sealing the infection in so it spreads under the surface, insidious, swelling and killing the healthy flesh around it. And You. You at the centre; the dirty needle, the rusty knife, the cause and the result.

In the dream I keep having about the Murder House, there are all these rooms off the landing and I don’t want to look in any of them because I know something terrible waits inside for me. But it’s okay because the doors are closed. They’re always closed.

Last night, though, there was another door at the end. I don’t want to fall asleep tonight, because there’s a door at the end that shouldn’t be there. There’s another door and this one is open.

Judge's Report

It’s risky for a narrator to tell you straightaway that they’re a nasty piece of work - but in Coming Home, it works. You want to know more about this person who considers themself a ghoul, who knows about the Murder House, who wants to seal someone’s mouth by burning it with a cigarette. “This house has always been the entry wound” - a metaphor that is nauseatingly extended, that makes you want to scrub your body after reading it - but I still wanted to get hold of page 2!


Warthog, by Andrew Broadfoot

Adamson Mushala stood at dawn on the sun-cracked earth and smelled the coming rains and hanging fish. Across the stream, gutted bream hung between dry-season saplings, their bellies pale with a dulled silvery gleam. Six bullet pocked shacks leaned into each other, sharing tin roofs and mud walls along the banks. Each bore one end of a vine hanging rope from which more fish fluttered erratically like his father’s medicine skulls, stagnant pond fish left to weather for the week, sweetening the meat, curing it from the bone.

Thunderheads replaced the horizon, beams of sunlight flaring and dying inside them, the valley guiding the hot wind in chafing gusts through the heart of the place. Mushala, fifteen with sun-blackened skin, watching in a soap-dried shirt open and fluttering to the wind, his eyes wide and white as if seeing his ancestors rise once more. He was barefoot and rail thin built from brittle sticks that ought to have snapped in the wind but never did, a body not built for work but destined for a lifetime of labour. He sniffed at the clouds and thought of his scant provisions and the many mouths of the family, the dilute mealie meal scraped from the cauldron. The few green twigs yet to dry will make a smoky and inadequate fire.

He turned back into the hut and his mother who sat rocking herself cross-legged in the dust, murmuring tunes without words or melody. Mostly she was quiet, occasionally tutting to herself and staring at the fire or the dead ashes of the fire, scratching at some vague itch. Other times, she wore a thin smile as if knowing a secret she’d never tell, or remembering when she was a young woman and not yet First Wife, dancing shoeless across the tangled bush of the Nsama Province. Tall, dark and enchanting she’d been, until the ritual, and her mind shattered. She’d let the pieces scatter to the wind, to the river, to the earth and never willed for their return.

Nabumino, Mushala’s father, the revered nganga who could speak with the spirits, conjured nothing useful before he bounced away along the rutted road in the chief’s pick-up truck. He said he’d be back with many good things, promising magic, avoiding questions. “When you see this face, that’s when I’m coming back.”

That was a dry season ago, just as the soldiers came.

Judge's Report

Warthog drops you into the smells and sounds of Africa, a domestic scene that’s tense with past violence. Adamson Mushala may be young, but he sees what’s around him clearly, and his parents are vividly drawn in their trauma and wilfulness. Nothing happens, but we know that Adamson will be pulled out of his normal world and into something much darker. A good use of “less is more”.

Congratulations to all the winners, we will be in contact soon.