Questions & Answers

What is your journey to publication?

I have a rather unique journey, in that I attended the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival as a reader back in 2009. While there I got chatting to a guy while sitting on a wall. The guy was connected to a review site called Because I’d had a glass or two of something refreshing by this point, I had the confidence to cheekily ask if there were any review jobs going. Turns out there was, it was an unpaid position, but I wasn’t doing it for money. I wanted to do something for the love of books.

I joined as a reviewer and got many fabulous books sent to me for review. As someone who’d always scoured newspapers and other media looking for recommendation for my next read, it was fantastic to be part of the reviewing community.

From there I found I was developing a hankering to write stories of my own. The problem was, I had no idea how to go about doing so. 

I’ve never been one to shirk away from learning a new skill so I set about looking at available writing courses while working on my debut novel. Unfortunately none of the ones I found were in my price bracket, or taught the points I felt I needed to know.

Because my day job is the General Manager of a hotel, and I had by this time built up a list of contacts within the crime fiction community, I decided that since I couldn’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, I’d have to move the mountain to Mohammed. 

From this decision, I founded Crime and Publishment, a weekend of crime writing masterclasses. One of the key things about the C&P programme was that it had to include being taught how to pitch to an agent or publisher by an agent or publisher. Then every attendee who wanted to make a private 1-2-1 pitch would get the opporchancity to do so.

I duly made my own pitches and was offered a publishing contract after Crime and Publishment’s second year. It is to my immense pride that Crime and Publishment, has to date, seen ten attendees offered publishing contracts and that one of our alumni, M. W. Craven, has gone on to scoop the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger for his novel The Puppet Show

I’m new to your writing, which of your books do you recommend I read first?

I’d always say start at the beginning of a series. For the record they are Lines of Enquiry for DI Harry Evans, Watching the Bodies for Jake Boulder and Death in the Lakes for DC Beth Young.

You have written three different series. Why is that?

It’s a mixture of opportunity and interest. The publisher for my first series had a busy publishing schedule so as I was well ahead of his timeline for the next DI Harry Evans novel and had time to write something else, I put my energies into a new character called Jake Boulder. More on that can be found on the Watching the Bodies page.

Jake went through a typical submission process until I found a home for him.

With DC Beth Young, her origins came about from another conversation I had at Harrogate Crime Festival. A representative of one of the publishers who’d liked Watching the Bodies – but not quite enough to publish it – discussed with me what they were looking for at the time.

Because I admired their publishing model and felt they were innovative, I paid close attention to what I was being told and set off to write a novel that would attract their attention. Thankfully, I managed to achieve that aim and I’m delighted to have them as my publishers for the DC Beth Young series. 

What’s your writing process?

This is a huge answer so I have created a page for it.  Visit My Writing Process for this answer.

Which of your characters do you most enjoy writing?

This is a tough one to answer because I have a special place in my heart for all of them. Harry Evans is incorrigible and great fun to write as he says and does things that most people wouldn’t dare. Jake Boulder is similar to Harry, yet his stories tend to be much more physical and as it’s a different style of writing, there are challenges and benefits to be overcome. I find Beth the most challenging of my leads to write about as she’s a good twenty years younger than me and, rather obviously, female. Having said that, I enjoy testing myself as a writer and while I might have to work a little harder to get in her head, I think that anything which helps me grow as a writer and person has to be a good thing.

In short, I love them all equally as they each bring something different to my writing table.

Who do you consider as influences on your writing?

This is a huge list as there are many authors whose writing has influenced my own. So huge in fact, I’ve picked out a number of my greatest influences and built a separate page listing them with details on how they’ve helped me.

What I would also say is that every book I’ve ever read, including the ones I didn’t like and subsequently didn’t finish, has taught me something about writing. Sometimes you have to understand what doesn’t work, before you can get to grips with what does.

What are your favourite books?

This is an ever evolving list that has changed over the years as I’ve matured and read new books. My top three was always kind of set in stone as The Accident Man by Tom Cain, HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean and Relentless by Simon Kernick, but I’d now have to have a top four and include The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell as I can’t bear to eject any of the others from the top three. 

Honourable mentions go to novels by Dennis Lehane, Matt Hilton, Zoe Sharp, Stuart MacBride, Desmond Bagley, Wilbur Smith, J.R.R. Tolkein, A.A. Dhand and M.W. Craven.

What advice do you have for an aspiring author?

As my own journey to publication came from a reviewing background I’d advise aspiring authors to read six popular books in the genre they plan to write in and then after reading each of these books, write a review of at least five hundred words commenting on such elements as character, pace, plot, themes, setting and emotions garnered while reading it.

The knowledge you have to write these reviews alters the way you’ll read the novels and you’ll start spotting little elements of tradecraft and gain an understanding of how the author has constructed their novel. This in turn will make you better equipped when you start writing even if the skills are buried in your subconscious. 

How can I get published?

These are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Write the best novel you can. Don’t chase trends, set them without totally reinventing the wheel.
  2. Follow the instructions given by publishers or agents and submit to them in the exact format they request. DON’T give them an easy reason to reject you before they’ve read your submission.
  3. Submit to a bullseye not a target. Namely don’t send a crime novel to a publisher or agent who only deals with romance or non-fiction, you’re wasting everyone’s time including your own.
  4. Be respectful. People have different tastes and good and bad days.
  5. Be patient. Your submission may well be one of dozens that lands on someone’s desk on any given day or week and they’re all busy people.
  6. If you have a dodgy memory like mine, keep notes, a spreadsheet or whatever works for you so you know who you’ve subbed to, when to expect their response if they like it, and what their response is.
  7. Be tough. You WILL face rejection. It hurts, sucks and demoralises you. It’s part of the process for all writers and you have to either get used to the pain of rejection, or not start the process if you can’t handle it.
  8. Burn no bridges. Just because Big Name Agent doesn’t love this submission, there’s nothing to say that they won’t love your next one and fall over themselves to represent you on Book 2.
  9. Be persistent. JK Rowling, Stephen King and John Grisham are among a host of famous writers who’ve received countless rejections before hitting the big time. The same is likely to happen to you as a very small percentage of authors get their first novel published.

You have written short stories, novels and novellas, why do you vary the length of your stories?

I write stories the length they need to be. Some ideas couldn’t be extended to become a full novel without being padded to death and therefore ruined, whereas others simply take too much telling to work as a short story or novella.

I’ll occasionally write a short story for a charity novella if my publishing schedule permits and I’ll also use a short story as a testing ground for an idea or character.

Do you get much say in the covers and titles of your novels?

I think this very much depends upon the publisher or editor you are working with. I chose the title for all the DI Harry Evans novels and three of the four Jake Boulder books. The titles for the Beth series were chosen for me and while I get to put my opinions forward with the covers, the final say always remains with the publisher. This is largely fine by me as I trust my publishers to create great coves that will hopefully attract readers to my stories.