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I’ve moved…

2013 April 5
Posted by SJI Holliday

After ongoing problems with my blog host, I have decided that enough is enough and I have moved!!

My url will now point to - and that’s where all my posts will be from now on… hopefully, I won’t have any more issues with the blog crashing and disappearing for hours (and even days) on end!

If you’ve signed up via this blog and you want to keep receiving my posts, please come over to and sign up again via wordpress.

NOTE: comments are now closed on this blog, so please go to the new site and add comments there :)

Thank you!

Susi xx

Do YOU have scary neighbours? Tell us about it and win a copy of #themagpies

2013 April 2

Mark Edwards

‘Few of us actually live next to door to Dennis Nilsen, the Muswell Hill murder who chopped up fifteen visitors to his flat and flushed them down the toilet…’ says Mark Edwards, this week’s guest. Well, I dunno. I suspect my neighbour of similar offences, but as I have no proof… *sigh* Read on for the story behind The Magpies  - and a competition to win a copy of the book (which is brilliant, by the way – review is here)

* * *

In The Magpies, a young couple move into their first home together and start planning the future – imagining all of those things that form plot points in the story of most people’s lives: nesting, marriage, kids. But, unfortunately for Jamie and Kirsty, they have moved into a building where the neighbours are not as friendly as they first seem. And soon, the young couple’s nest is under threat of being torn apart…

In my twenties, I lived in a flat in a converted Victorian building in St Leonards-on-Sea, a small town stuck onto the side of Hastings, where I grew up. My then-girlfriend moved into the flat first and lived alone for a few months while I was finishing university. During this time on her own, she met our new neighbours – a couple in their early thirties who spent the next two years doing everything possible to make our lives miserable: constant complaints, insulting letters and notes, hoax parcels, cigarette butts pushed under the door… It was all quite low-key stuff, although some of the letters, in which they complained about such things as the sound of ‘the toilet brush thrashing about the pan’ and my ‘boring guffaw’ (guffaw? I don’t guffaw!) were flabbergasting.

It made me think about how much worse it could get. What if our neighbours had not just been a bit nuts, and pesky, but actually….evil? What if they had set out to ruin our lives? Could they have done it? How would we have reacted? Thus the seed of The Magpies was born. I wanted to write a horror story that had no supernatural elements – more an everyday horror that could happen to anyone.

In Britain, we are obsessed with our homes. Apart from other people’s sex lives, cats, fuel prices and the rubbishness of the country’s public transport system, it’s one of the golden topics that everyone is interested in. Property prices, what the people next door have done to their living room… It’s a middle-class conversational topic that we never get bored of.

And while we are obsessed with our – and other people’s homes – we are thrown together, crammed onto this little island, forced to live in close proximity to other people and all the annoying things they do. Most of the stuff that irritates us about our neighbours is pretty mundane: excessive noise, where they park their car, the cat that craps in our flower beds, the mental Christmas lights that make their house look like Las Vegas every December.

Few of us actually live next to door to Dennis Nilsen, the Muswell Hill murder who chopped up fifteen visitors to his flat and flushed them down the toilet in his flat. Not many of us have neighbours like Fred and Rose West, or even the 83-year-old gran Ethel Watkins who was recently convicted of waging psychological warfare against her neighbours after a football landed in her garden. Ethel banged on the walls all night, made up rude songs about the family and taunted them over the death of their baby.

But what if we did live next door to a psycho who is intent on ruining your nest? What would you do? In The Magpies, Jamie is forced to make a decision – should he stay and fight, or run? What do you do when all of your dreams, and the things you took for granted, are dismantled or smashed to pieces? Especially when you have no real idea what you’re up against.

The Magpies was released last week and the reaction from readers has, so far, been incredible, which is a relief as I was nervous about putting out a solo book. But people seem to connect with the story and find it exciting and scary. Now that it’s in the Amazon top 40 I’m bracing myself for all the reviews complaining about how there aren’t any real magpies in it, when they thought it was an ornithological guide, but hopefully the book will connect with people and make a few readers have sleepless nights – and not because there’s an 83-year-old woman banging on their wall and making up rude songs about them.

* * *

About Mark

Mark was born in Tunbridge Wells and grew up in Hastings on the south coast of England.  He started writing after he left university, where he studied Sociology, and wrote half-a-dozen novels during the 1990s while doing two of the worst jobs in the world: working for the Child Support Agency and Connex Rail, where he spent his days being shouted at by angry absent parents and even angrier commuters. He secured an agent but was unable to get a publisher.

In 1999 he featured on a BBC documentary about aspiring writers, which led to his partnership with Louise Voss.  As well as writing, he is a freelance marketer, copywriter and operates IndieIQ, a website for self-published writers.

You can find out more about Mark and Louise at their website Louise Voss and Mark Edwards and on their facebook page where they interact with readers and hold loads of competitions :)

* * *


Mark has kindly donated a signed paperback copy of The Magpies for the winner of the best scary/crazy/weird neighbour story. Tell us about your experiences in the comments below, and Mark will pick a winner.

Comp will close on 7th April.

Note – some people have issues with my commenty thing – sorry about that! You don’t need to sign in or enter your email to comment and you don’t need to connect to twitter etc, but please put a way of contacting you in the comment thread so we can send you your book if you win!

The Magpies by Mark Edwards #review

2013 March 25
Posted by SJI Holliday

Fear lives next door…

THE MAGPIES is a terrifying psychological thriller in which the monsters are not vampires or demons but the people we live next door to. It is a nightmare that could happen to anyone.

* * *

The Magpies is the first standalone novel from Mark Edwards, better known as ‘the male-half’ of crime writing duo Voss & Edwards (Killing Cupid, Catch Your Death, All Fall Down, Forward Slash).

It opens with the seemingly idyllic lives of Jamie, a software engineer and Kirsty, a paediatric nurse; a young couple who are very much in love and starting out in their first home together – the ‘perfect’ flat in North London, where they plan to start a family, get married and generally be blissfully happy… But this is a psychological thriller, so there’s not much chance of any of that!

We’re introduced to the neighbours – Lucy and Chris in the basement flat, a couple who seem keen to befriend Jamie and Kirsty, inviting them to dinner not long after they move in (might just be my cynical ‘living in London’ attitude, but this immediately screamed ‘BEWARE!’); then there’s Mary – resident pot-smoking herbalist/witch/cat-lady on the floor above, and finally Brian and Linda who seem normal enough until Jamie goes up to fix Brian’s computer and finds a room full of black walls and generally scary stuff – but then it turns out that Brian is a children’s horror author, so that’s all ok…

It doesn’t take long before the terror starts. It’s innocuous at first. Hoax pizza deliveries, targeted junk mail, unwanted parcels. Then it ramps up a gear: disgruntled firemen responding to a fake 999 call, a letter complaining about noise, a recording of them making love (which the do quite a lot!) , then it’s The War of The Worlds, weird dreams and a plague of spiders. Meanwhile, Jamie’s best friend Paul is seriously injured in a karting accident, and Kirsty finds out she is pregnant… but the tensions of the house are starting to get to the young couple, and it’s not long before it all gets too much.

I read this novel in two sittings. Would’ve been one, but unfortunately I had to go to work (so annoying, real life…) The pacing is excellent. It was clear from the outset that the happy couple’s lives were going to be thrown into turmoil, and the way it was done was subtle and creepy enough to keep the feeling of dread trickling throughout. I felt quite sick with fear through the last third (and that was after I’d blocked out the image of the spiders). Jamie and Kirsty, and in fact the entire cast of characters, were extremely well drawn. I really related to the couple’s frustrations and rising paranoia. I’ve had some weird neighbours before. They might not have gone to the extremes that these psychopaths did, but they drove us out of our flat. Luckily we remained ‘mentally intact’…

What The Magpies illustrates so effectively is just how easy it is for any of our lives to unravel.

* * *

I’d like to thanks Mark for providing the e-ARC and also for his upcoming guest post, which I know you’re going to love :)

Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes #review

2013 March 19
Posted by SJI Holliday

First off, although this is Elizabeth Haynes’ third published novel, it’s the is the first of her books that I have read (despite having all three in my teetering to-be-read pile…) Something about the title and the premise sold it to me… I’ve often ‘joked’ that one of my neighbours could be dead because I don’t see them for weeks, even months on end; and despite that fact that we don’t really get on, I wouldn’t particularly like to be faced with her putrefying corpse. Her noisy husband though, well, that’s another story… Anyway – here’s the blurb:

How well do you know your neighbours? Would you notice if they lived or died?

Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work keeps her busy and the needs of her ageing mother and her cat are more than enough to fill her time when she’s on her own. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbour’s decomposing body in the house next door, and appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed her absence.

Back at work she sets out to investigate, despite her police officer colleagues lack of interest, and finds data showing that such cases are frighteningly common in her own home town.

A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people, whose individual voices haunt the pages, Elizabeth Haynes new novel is a deeply disturbing and powerful thriller that preys on our darkest fears, showing how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching.

* * *

What did I think of it? Three words… terrifying, intriguing, realistic.

The story is told through the eyes of Annabel, a police analyst who feels shunned by her colleagues and with no one but a demanding elderly mother to look out for her. The thing about Annabel is that a lot of what she experiences is really down to herself, and it becomes clearer later on that she is an attractive, engaging person who others want to interact with – but by not believing in herself, she’s fulfilled that horrible cliche of ‘if you don’t love yourself, then you can’t expect anyone to love you’. One thing she is confident about though, is her job – and the realism of her investigative skills without turning her into a Jessica Fletcher parody is what really impressed me about this character.

The story is also told through the eyes of an altogether unsavoury chap called Colin… who can’t be called anything other than a complete wanker (sorry, you’ll need to read the book to get the full enormity of this reference). I was fascinated by Colin. His motivations, his emotional stuntedness, and more than anything his ‘technique’. It’s certainly made me far more interested than I was in Neuro-Linguistic Programming!

There are other characters’ POVs too, but I don’t want to say any more as I think it will spoil it. All I’ll say is this: if you look up ‘Psychological Thriller Author’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of Elizabeth Haynes right at the top.


Scary Book Covers, Scott & Bailey & Killer Cupcakes

2013 March 13

Tonight I met someone with possibly the best job in the whole world. This person was a lovely lady called Claire Ward, who is in fact the Creative Director at Transworld books, and is responsible for the likes of these little beauties:

Claire designed the creepiest cover of the year so far  - Mo Hayder’s Poppet. I really want to take the day off work tomorrow and read this book from start to finish! I’m a massive fan of Mo and with this being the latest in the Jack Caffrey series, I am just itching to read it… but NO, I can’t… as I have far too many other things to do first :(

I’ve just got back from the Transworld/Dead Good ‘Crime Scene’ event, where I met the brilliant Cath Staincliffe and heard her talk about how she ended up writing the Scott & Bailey novels, a spin-off from the TV series. It was interesting to hear about her experiences about writing with someone else’s characters, and the differences between writing for TV versus novels. It was also interesting to hear that her earliest works were in the genre of ‘feminist sci-fi… whodunnits in space’. Oh to read one of those old manuscripts! Cath very kindly signed my copy of Bleed Like Me… and that’s another one I can’t wait to get started on!

As well as books, the fab folks at Transworld also supplied us with these gorgeous cupcakes… there was a third one with sugar ‘glass’ on top…

…leading to a discussion about ‘what would happen if someone put real glass inside them?’ You know you’re with like-minded types when this is what you discuss over houmous, falafels and a couple of glasses of wine ;)

It was great to catch up with Mike and Ayo from Shots Mag and I got to meet loads of very nice people from the Transworld crew as well as lots of other bloggers and readers, and also the rather charming journalist Jake Kerridge.

And so, complete with advice on finishing my novel from both Cath Staincliffe and Rachel Rayner, I’ll leave you now with one final photo… The Transworld Clock (with Dan Brown at midnight!)

Huge thanks to all at Transworld for organsing the event and for being kind enough to invite me! Thanks a million for the bag of books, the killer cupcakes, fantastic lebanese food and the AMAZING syringe pen!

Have you *really* got what it takes to impress an agent?

2013 February 27

Keshini Naidoo

This week’s guest post comes from Keshini Naidoo, a reader for Darley Anderson Literary Agency (who represent crime and thriller heavyweights such as Lee Child, John Connolly and Martina Cole). If you want to stand a chance of getting your baby read, you need to follow this invaluable advice from a lovely lady who really knows what she’s talking about…

Over to you, Keshini!


In my role as Crime/Thriller reader for the Darley Anderson Literary Agency I get to read a lot of submissions. Which is the best part of my job! There’s nothing like discovering new talent in my in-box every morning. But, like most agencies, we receive hundreds of enquiries from debut writers every single week. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of tips, from covering letter to sample chapters, that will help your submission stand out from the crowd.

  • Do your research on the Agency/Agent – there’s no point sending us hard sci-fi or meta literary fiction that pays homage to Gravity’s Rainbow when our biggest sellers come from crime and commercial fiction. If you tell me that you’re proposing your commercial thriller novel because our agency represents Lee Child, then I know you have a good awareness of the market niche we fit into.

The majority of agencies have a website with detailed breakdowns of the staff, the writers they represent and what they are looking for. If you can address it directly to the person at the agency who will more than likely be looking at your submission, so much the better. I’ll definitely take notice if you address the covering letter to me – and if you use the generic Dear Sirs, I’m going to guess you haven’t looked at our Agency staff list, which is 99% female …

  • Keep your covering letter succinct, but do try and show some personality. I don’t need a full CV, but a little about why you write and what your influences are can really aid my reading of your chapters, particularly if you have a career that you utilise in your writing, such as working in the police force or social services. And please don’t say that you write fiction because you’re not impressed by the books you see in the bestseller charts!
  • While it can be helpful if you include any feedback about your novel from a writing tutor, or a professional editorial critique service, please do refrain from mentioning that your friends/second cousins twice removed/neighbour’s dog thinks that yours is the best book they’ve ever read and that it should be published.  My friends are very complimentary about my karaoke skills, but there’s no chance that Simon Cowell is going to give me a recording contract… If you belong to a writers’ group, have done a creative writing course/degree or have won/placed in a writing competition, do include that information as it demonstrates the seriousness of your writing ambitions.
  • It sounds obvious, but please read the guidelines of the Agency to see how large a sample of your novel you should send – we deliberately don’t ask for the entire novel but I still receive a large number of full manuscripts. And please don’t send me chapters 8, 22 and 67 as ‘these are the best representation of your writing style’ (read, the chapters you think are the best). It seems obvious, but I, like other agents and editors, start at the first chapter

While a good covering letter is crucial, once that’s perfected, how do you ensure that your chapters and synopsis sustain the readers’ engagement?

  • While there can often be a temptation to immediately include everything that makes your characters and setting unique, don’t introduce your main protagonist and then spend the next three pages on a potted history of their life up until that moment. I think of it like being introduced to someone at a party. If your character said ‘hello’, shook your hand then reeled off their life story – including how their parents met, how they got into their profession, the population and socio/economic breakdown of the town in which they live, a full physical description, marital status, and any vices – rather than trying to get to know them better, you’d be inclined to back away slowly, wearing a fixed grin. Think of your characters as being real. Not every main protagonist has to be a benign hero, but they do have to be engaging enough for the reader to want to invest time in their company. Tease out the information slowly whilst still engaging the reader – we have the whole book to get to know and invest ourselves in the world you have created.
  • Having said that, what I do want is for you to punch me in the face with your opening chapter (metaphorically speaking). A high concept, an innovative crime scene, a well-defined sense of place that transports me into the scene, a character that arrests the reader’s attention from the very first line – these are the things that will cause me to take notice. What I love is an opener that makes me gasp, immediately engages my attention and compels me to read further. I want to be forced to drop everything so that I can read your novel.

One aspect which many people find to be the hardest part of the submission is the one-page synopsis. How do you get all those delicious plot twists and original characterisation into a few hundred words? Please do adhere to agency guidelines on this, however. Your concept should be clean and punchy enough to get across successfully in one page, particularly in the crime/thriller genre. One page outlining the key plot points in clear language is helpful; a seventeen-page chapter-by-chapter breakdown is not.

  • A synopsis isn’t cover copy. You may think you’ll pique our interest by enigmatically describing what happens in your book with rhetorical questions and ellipses, but we need to know what happens and to whom, in clear English. If the landscape of your seemingly ‘normal’ police procedural suddenly happens to be attacked by an alien invasion, it would be advantageous to know that before I start to read…

And my last word on the subject of submissions has to be – don’t give up hope, and keep working on your writing skills. What doesn’t work for one agent may be exactly the right fit for another.


About Keshini

Keshini Naidoo is a former commissioning editor at Avon/HarperCollins, now working as a freelance editor/proof reader as well as Crime/Thriller reader at the Darley Anderson Literary Agency.

She can be reached on or @KeshiniNaidoo on Twitter and welcomes crime/thriller fiction submissions at

The Seven Stages of Novel-Writing

2013 February 20

Jane Casey

This week I am very, VERY chuffed to share a spot-on post from one of my favourite crime authors, Jane Casey, where she imparts her solemn wisdom about the process of writing a novel. I haven’t made it to #7 yet. I mostly hover between#3 and #5 then go backwards… 


The Seven Stages of Novel-Writing

The highs and lows of writing are pretty legendary. There doesn’t seem to be a way to avoid passing through these emotions on the way to The End. For your entertainment – and fair warning – here are the seven stages of writing a novel.

 1. Exhilaration

You have an idea and you think it could actually become a book. Spoiler: this is the best bit, because nothing has yet gone wrong. Exhilaration is what gets you through writing the synopsis. Writing a synopsis is almost as painful as writing a book, except you can skip large chunks of plot development without actually having to think about how they might be developed, or even if it’s possible to develop them without being a different writer in a different genre. This will cause you problems later, but for the moment, pat yourself on the back for being a genius. It’s downhill from here.

 2. Confusion

You sit down to start writing the book but oh dear, you’ve forgotten how you planned to do this. The synopsis makes no sense. The story makes no sense. The basic idea might make a novella, or a short story. Or 140-character flash fiction. It is not going to stretch to 120,000 words, which is what is in your contract. You do a chapter plan. Many of the chapters have blank spaces where their plot is supposed to go. Never mind, something will occur to you.

 3. Panic

  • You have forgotten how to write.
  • You write.
  • You cry.
  • You write some more.

 4. Wavering confidence

It’s all coming back to you. And you’ve managed to get your characters off the first page and into the story. Nothing can hold you back now.

It’s a shame it’s TERRIBLE.

 5. Despair

So much left to write. So little time to the deadline. So little point in even switching on the computer when it’s STILL TERRIBLE.

 6. Determination

You’re not a quitter. Besides, there’ll be editing. It will get better. You just have to finish it.

 7. Euphoria/Exhaustion

You type THE END.  For all its flaws, the book exists – not as you imagined it first, to be sure, but it lives! And you think it might be your best yet. Or possibly it’s your worst. You can’t be sure. All you know is that you’re very, very tired.


About Jane

Jane Casey was born in Dublin and worked as a children’s books editor before her first novel, THE MISSING, was picked from an agent’s slush pile and published by Ebury Press. She writes crime novels for adults (the Maeve Kerrigan series published by Ebury) and teenagers (the Jess Tennant series, published by Random House Children’s Books). The first Jess Tennant book, HOW TO FALL, has just been published. Married to a criminal barrister, she lives in London. She is currently working on her seventh novel.

You can find Jane on twitter @JaneCaseyAuthor

You can read more about HOW TO FALL via the links below:

It’s an excellent read that works for both the intended audience, i.e. Young Adults, and the slightly-older ones *ahem* like me who just wish they were sixteen again ;) It’s a great twisty-turny mystery with well drawn characters that left me very nostalgic for my youth! I’m really looking forward to Jess Tennant’s next outing.

It’s all about the chemistry…

2013 February 13

Mel Sherratt

‘Tis the Eve of St Valentine… and some of you will be anxiously anticipating the delivery of a sackload of heart-spattered cards. The rest of you… well, the rest of you will already be on the gin, preparing for another morning of sobbing into your cornflakes, wailing “Why does no one love me?” 

So what better reason for a post about some easy-on-the-eye, smouldering hot couples from the small screen? Mel Sherratt, author of ‘sexy crime’ and lover of killer heels gives us a peek at the partners-in-crime who get her hot under the collar…

♥ ♥ 

One of the emails I received about my crime thriller, Taunting the Dead, talked about ‘that kiss’ and the sexual tension that came off the pages. Now, as much as I’d like to take the credit for that, I can’t – because maybe that was read between the lines and each reader takes away something different. Some readers have embraced it, some have said ‘well, did she or didn’t she?’ Others have said it was too unrealistic. Me, I’m a romantic at heart but I’m not going to tell you what I think…

With Valentine’s Day approaching, I thought I’d chat about some crime duos that either had me shouting at the television just kiss! – or going gooey eyed when they were together.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson (Mulder & Scully)


Okay, technically not crime but there was lots of mystery… Through their love of the weird and wonderful and Mulder’s belief in aliens and the paranormal, and Scully there to scientifically prove him wrong, they developed a friendship that became a romance by the end of the final series. The program started in September 1993 and ran until May 2002, spanning nine seasons and 202 episodes. Don’t know about you but I think that’s a mighty long time to fall in love!

John Simm and Liz White (Tyler & Cartwright)


Now I had a love-hate relationship with this series at first because I couldn’t stand Gene Hunt and his put downs – sexist? Not at all! And then as everyone started to rave about it, I decided to give it a go, realised it for what it was, the 1970’s, and well, now it’s true love for me. Isn’t that what great writing is all about? Me and Gene – who would have thought!

But Sam Tyler, played by the gorgeous John Simm, stole my heart just that little bit more than DCI Hunt (humour me, this is a post about love and John Simm is gorgeous.) Sadly, he only had eyes for PC Annie Cartwright (played by Liz White). I ‘heart’ those two, just knew they were destined to get together. I mean how could anyone not love the flowery dresses that Annie wore… I know, I know – I must have worn something similar in my day!

Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd (David & Maddie)


Ah, David and Maddie; it brings back such fond memories just typing out their names. The series revolved around a bankrupt model and a failing detective agency – Maddie is coerced by David to go into partnership with him and the agency is renamed Blue Moon Investigations. The show oozed sexual tension with a mystery to solve amongst the double entrendre, and kept viewers entertained for years with the ‘will they, won’t they’ debate. I can feel my heart melting already – anyone for a BRING BACK DAVID AND MADDIE! Campaign?

Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz (Brennan & Booth)


Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan – witty one, she is, and brings a bit of humour to the show. As a forensic anthropologist, she helps alongside FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (A.K.A The Yum Factor.)  He gave her the nickname (Argh, I was going to write The Lovely Bones, but that’s a whole new book and film entirely) Bones, which she hates at first but comes to accept. You see, love-hate? Bless. And low and behold, finally they start getting it on near to the end of season six, and in season seven, they live together with their daughter. True love – a happy ending.

Now, being a crime writer, I ‘love’ an added twist. Wikipedia informs me ‘Created by Hart Hanson, the series is very loosely based on the life and writings of novelist and forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, who also produces the show. Its title character, Temperance Brennan, is named after the protagonist of Reichs’ crime novel series. Conversely, Dr. Brennan writes successful mystery novels based around a fictional (in the Bones universe) forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.’

I’m sure there are lots more, but that’s enough love from me :)

What do you think?

♥ ♥ 

Thanks Mel – a great post and a perfect excuse for me to add some hot pics!

I’ve got one more of my own to add. One that I’m sure Mel will agree with…

Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson (Luther & Alice)


The delicious DCI John Luther and the enigmatic psychopath, Alice Morgan… these two are smokin’ hot. Can’t wait for the next series!

Who are your favourite sexy crime couples? Feel free to let us know in the comments below…

♥ ♥ 

About Mel

Born and raised in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, Mel used her beloved city as a backdrop for her first novel, Taunting the Dead, and it went on to be a Kindle #1 best seller in three different categories and #3 in the overall charts. It is also in the top 100 kindle best selling books of 2012. Mel’s new series of psychological suspense, The Estate, is set in the fictional place of Stockleigh because she believes that the Mitchell Estate can be found a few miles from anywhere in any town or city…

Mel is represented by Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. You can find out more at on twitter as @writermels and on Facebook.


The ‘Write’ Place

2013 February 6

Having the right place to write is the only way you’re ever going to get anything written, right? Wrong…

So where do you write? At a desk? On the train? In the airing cupboard? This week’s guest post comes from the luxury writing environment of Keith B Walters, where we find out that it’s really not that simple…

My daughter just came into the room before I finished typing that title – which in many ways illustrates just how difficult I find it with a young family to find the right place (not mention the right time) to write. Okay, so it’s nearly 10pm on a Sunday night and she should be in bed ready for school tomorrow – but the downfall of snow has put paid to that theory this particular evening. She did, however, have to open a door to find me. After many years of moving my working and writing space around my home, I have settled in half of our dining room to give me room, and that much welcomed door I mentioned.

For me, setting up places to work in and around my home has got to have been the biggest form of procrastination I have ever entered into, and I don’t even want to think about the hours lost making working spaces that could have been spent writing.

I’ve always made spaces to write, to draw, or to paint – whatever the current project is and at all stages of my life. When I lived with my parents I had a large semi-circular desk top made to fill the bay window of my room – at that time I was into movie special effects and horror fiction writing, so the large desk top was often filled with all manner of horrible projects at various stages – making many wonder just how I slept in that room.

When the current Mrs W and I moved into our first flat, I earmarked the spare bedroom, with a flat-pack Ikea desk set-up which served for my day job (as a Sales Manager I have been home-based for many years) and my then horror fanzine writing in the evenings and weekends.

I soon discovered that the small room wasn’t really big enough though, and so installed a loft ladder and made a makeshift den in the loft space above our kitchen table where I could type stories and reviews on an old Amstrad 9512 computer (Lord Sugar would have been impressed).

And then it was the move to our house where (in the thirteen years we have been living here) I would guess I have had about seven areas of working. I set up a small Argos desk in one of the alcoves of the living room – too noisy when the children came along and then a desk in the dining room (where it was often too cold to work). A few years back we had the loft converted to give us extra space and I adjusted the plans to give a small office space on the landing between the staircases just enough for a desk and chair (oh, and my bookcases) and I was happy there for quite some time – but then I outgrew that too. And, always at the back of my mind was that I needed somewhere to hide away, to lock out all distractions, all noise (if possible) – then, and only then (I foolishly thought) the magic would happen and I would finally write THAT novel.

My dear Nan left me some money when she passed away and that, I decided, was the time to do what I had always wanted, which was to build a special place, a shed at the end of the garden, a place just for me, for my books and for my writing. The shed was ordered and, over the course of a weekend and with help from my Dad, was built and decorated – noticeboards, electricity, a small desk and chair, a rug (because it really ties the room together – Lebowski fans) and then I was good to go!

Keith's Writing Shed

Well, that was the plan….but then it rained, it rained a lot. And then the kids wanted help with homework after school and started to go to bed later and, before I knew it, it was always after 9pm before I could even contemplate skulking up the garden path in the dark and the wet and the with a laptop under my arm to start anything and, did I mention, I was tired?

And so, although my lovely little writing shed is there, and I do intend to get a lot of use out of it someday, for now I have remained inside – returned to the dining room, another new desk (a nice one from Staples this time with one tower of drawers for work related stuff and the other for writing stuff), and I close the door when I want to get things done.

All that said, and despite the fact that I write mainly here, in this one place, I have come to terms that, in order to get things done, I am having to be much more flexible with my writing space. I now carry a notebook at all times at work, I write whilst on trains, I tap on an ipad if I get ideas in bed, tape them or record them on my phone if out and without paper for any reason. I use coffee breaks when out at work to split between half working on work emails and then some time to write some notes on whatever my current project is.

I kick myself often when I see professional writers’ working spaces on television shows or in magazines – they are rarely the huge and expensive looking book-lined offices you might expect and that has helped me realise that the ‘write’ place is just the place that’s right for you and it’s the words and the work that matter, wherever you can get them down.


About Keith

Keith B Walters has been dabbling with horror and crime fiction for some years, mainly writing about other people’s writing until recently; although he’s always tried to get some of his own work done when time permits.  He initially interviewed horror authors and actors, before branching into ‘a life more crime’ – inspired in a big way by a Crime Writing Masterclass run by Minette Walters (no relation) and Mark Billingham several years ago at the London Book Fair.  A keen blogger, he has attended recordings of the TV Book Club, the launch of World Book Night and, for the last two years, has been ‘Blogger in Residence’ at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He has stories in two collections: Once Upon A Time: A Collection of Unexpected Fairytales and Off the Record 2: At the Movies.

You can find him online at his two blogs:

Keith has recently released two short story collections:

  • DEADLINE: Seven stories featuring his character Detective Inspector George Haven
  • GOOD FOR ONE FARE:  a collection of crime, supernatural and horror tales

And also a children’s book called Neverville

You can also find him on twitter @keithbwalters 

Sunday Special: The Old Curiosity Shop

2013 February 3
Posted by SJI Holliday

The Old Curiosity Shop

She’s back! It’s that Sandy again, with lots of info about her What the Dickens? baby:


(click here to read Part 1)

#TOCS is a little creative gaff full creative treats baked by these fair hands, a plethora of practicalities and delicious delights, and a triumphant team of gifted and very different writers and brilliantly talented interviewees who provide insights on the creative process, tips for writing and creating, views on art, and, above all, inspire and share stories in every form. Stories that people need to read, see, hear, discover, and know. Stories that will help you learn and your creativity grow. Stories galore. For they are, and I say this with complete sincerity, the absolute heart, nerves, brains and bones of what we do. If I was only allowed to offer up one word – so, help me – as to what we’re about, it would be STORIES every time.

The Curiosity Super Stars

Let me tell you about The Curiosity Super Stars. Michael Rowland, Donna Staveley, Rachel Quinn, Paul Hirons, Jen Hammell and Sally-Shakti Willow all provide a review on a book, piece of art, music, space or anything creative that they love and tell us why. An aim of mine with #TOCS was to make sure that we were providing opportunities for our readers to rediscover a work that’s gone before or that’s been well hidden. For our readers to be led to a creative treasure they might not have found otherwise. I selected the team and asked them to write about what they love, and that’s what they do. Perfect!

Paul (@PaulHi) makes me cry with laughter and who writes in a deft, concise and clever way (I’m saving his emails to sell on eBay in the future). I knew that he’d be able to offer up an ‘unusual’ style of reviewing, and in a kind of wonderful synchronicity he opted to review what one might consider to be ‘unusual’ books, and it works fabulously.

Jen (@idesigngal) has a very special, graceful and generous way of seeing the world and it’s all there in her writing because that is exactly who Jen is. She has this glorious vision and the most incredible eye for design and this wonderful capacity to share and I always look forward to her reviews because I know – and I’m being completely selfish here – that she’s going to make my view of the world a little bit bigger and most definitely brighter.

Mike shares his favourite stories from his childhood and teenage years, and, again, I’m in my element because I’ve taught alongside Mike and he is the most brilliant teacher who connects so well with young people. He values and loves Young Adult fiction and you can absolutely see that in his writing.

Donna (@doonakebab) is the Theatre Queen and I’m pretty sure she’s broken a record for the number of plays she saw in 2012. She is my idol for this (she’s also my PA and proof reading hero), and for the fact that in one issue she’ll review a global smash like Wicked! and in the next, she’s offering up her thoughts on a small delicate one-man play like An Instinct For Kindness, and covering that range is EXACTLY what I wanted.

Rachel (@ginquinn). Films are her fuel and fire. It was just logical to get her writing about the magic of the movies. What I like – and I mean this in the best way – about Rachel is her child-like expression of her love. It’s honest, clear, and simple, and I think that’s because she often reviews the films that were turning points for her when she was a child or that make her feel young again, and that’s lovely.

Sally (@innernatureSW) is a goddess: a woman of the earth, the sky, the sea, and the stars. She is so deeply connected to nature and aware of her environment, other people and herself. When she listens, she does so with all of her body. When she sees, she breathes everything in. I’m thrilled that Sally’s on the team because I know I can never predict what she’s going to review, but what I do know is that her sharing of that experience will be a bit magical…

Curious About…

The #Curious About… Screen, Radio and Theatre section offers a range of tools and advice through articles and interviews. Michelle Goode (@sofluid) is the #CuriousAbout… Screen Queen who stepped into our spotlight one day with a fine delivery of: “I’d quite like to write some articles about screenwriting…” I’m not sure if I’ve told her this, but it was at the same time as I was forming a plan of offering specific writing guidance for screen, radio and theatre, and I was unnerved at first, until it finally clicked that I’d got exactly what I’d asked for, and what our readers need. Michelle is a great addition to the team and writes with focus, clarity and clear structure, and her articles are motivational, practical and useful for so many.

Next we’ve #Curious About… Radio and what a response we’ve had to that, and in particular the interview I did with Radio Guru, Mr Jeremy Mortimer (@jeremort). Anyone who knows Jeremy or indeed of him, will know that he is deeply intelligent and insightful on all matters of radio drama. So many people have contacted me to say how “surprising”, “illuminating” and “inspiring” they found Jeremy’s advice AND how it’s made them more interested in radio and writing for radio. Does it get any better than that?

#Curious About… Theatre: I interviewed Literary Manager and Director, Rob Drummer (@robert_ad) for the latest issue and his interview is an overflowing pot of gold in terms of advice in that it is structural, creative and emotional. That kind of guidance, like Jeremy’s, and like that of the many creatives I’ve interviewed (the next issue is full of gems!) for the #Curious About… section, is a gift for anyone making stories in any way. It’s very exciting to know that we can enable people to create well thanks to the generosity of great ‘behind-the-scenes’ talents who don’t get read or heard enough for my liking. Hopefully, we’re garnering a bit more well-deserved attention for them and the excellent work they do too.

The Curious Creative Life

We’ve had Goldberg, Cameron, Dillard, but in #TOCS we have, after much pestering from me, the poetically-blessed Freddie Stevenson (@nightingalefred) and the sharp-and-savvy SJI Holliday (@SJIHolliday) who offer their thoughts on the creative process. What I love about Freddie (who is also a great musician and gave me a gorgeous #CuriousInterview a few months ago) and his Reflections is the heart, rhythm and exposure in his writing; with Susi (who’s a super duper crime-thriller writer) and her Reactions, I love her direct approach, wit and ballsiness. Although Freddie and Susi write in different tones and from different stances, they’re on the same page in terms of sharing how frustrating and blissful, tiring and empowering writing can be, and they complement each other beautifully.

The Curious Interviews

I love interviewing people that I respect and whose work I enjoy but I fear that one day they will destroy my ability to control my bladder entirely due to how ridiculously excited I get about what they share, their advice, and if they’re particularly gorgeous and charming (they always bloody are, y’know. It’s AWFUL). I have only a few rules when it comes to the #CuriousInterviews and they are as follows:

1)   IT’S GOTTA BE QUALITY: I interview people that I admire, or who intrigue me, and who I think/believe/know to be talented grafters and good souls. Sharing this immediately makes me want to tell you MORE about the brilliance of all our interviewees, and how Jamie Parker (@DickLeFenwick) left my head hurting in the best way with the intelligence and the intensity of his answers, and forgave me for making him late to get ready to go on stage… Then I want you all to know about the fab work the award-winning authors, Kate Cann, Bali Rai (@BaliRai) and Jeremy de Quidt do in schools to get young people writing… And I could harp on all day about the theatrical talent, kindness and continuous support of Sam Barnett (@MrSamuelBarnett) aka Bapsy, and the loveliness and brilliant witty story-telling of author, Jane Elmor, and I guess that the fact that what ALL our interviewees have given has resonated so strongly tells me these are people worth reading and knowing more about.

2)   HONESTY, FOCUS and TRUST: The interviews are always geared specifically at each individual so that they can talk about the WORK they’ve done, they’re doing, and some of the work they’re doing that isn’t spoken about as much. It is incredibly important that all our interviewees know that they can discuss their craft and that they can have complete faith that their words won’t be altered for any kind of sensationalistic effect. Morven Christie (@MissMorven), a fine actress, a great friend and a brilliant human being and who has very little interest in publicity or bullshit, agreed to an interview last summer and said afterwards very openly: “It’s the first interview where I read it and it still sounded like ME…” That matters hugely to me, and I think it should matter hugely to anyone taking the time to read an interview with anyone, otherwise what’s the point?

3)   HAVE FUN: There must be an element of fun, and fortunately for me, our interviewees are all funny and willing to answer some of my, quite frankly absurd yet terribly artistic questions and go with the flow. No beigeness is allowed in the #CuriousInterviews.

The #CuriousInterviews have proved to be a popular section of the magazine and I hope, I think, that they serve all involved in them well. I know for a fact that discovering that I’d interviewed “her off Early Doors”, Ms Christine Bottomley (@ChrissyBotto) made my Dad’s day: “She’s a lovely actress!” So that’s one happy customer. The request list he’s given me for future interviews isn’t quite as good. Mainly due to the fact that some of them are dead…And so, you won’t be surprised to know that the aceness of the interviewees for the next #WTDzine has actually made me cry into my pants with joy. It happens to the best of us. This is what love does. And I love doing the #CuriousInterviews.

Thanks for the Memories

We’ve had some beautiful #Memories shared in #TOCS that have made our readers giggle with delight and cry at their tenderness. Sadly but rightly so, the #Journey issue of What the Dickens? is the last issue that will contain any Memories as due to changes, it’s been decided that they belong on the writing platform of the website now.


About Sandy

Teacher, writer, story-teller, artist, mural-maker, crafter, do-er.


Thank you to everyone who has supported us in various ways – we are hugely appreciative – and thanks for taking the time to find out a little bit more about What the Dickens? Magazine #WTDzine and The Old Curiosity Shop #TOCS. Please visit our website: to find out how you can get involved and share the work that you’re doing. Take a look at our shop too: and order your copy of the magazine. Tell your friends. Tell your fellow writers and artists. Enjoy!

P.S. Copies of Issue 8 may be limited so if you want one (which you do), it might be a good idea to pre-order your copy now

…and why not throw in a copy of Issue 7, while you’re at it? :)

Who’s on first, what’s on third?

2013 January 30

Abbott and Costello

Today’s guest is Tokyo-based Exiled Aussie Andrez Bergen, who talks about writing in first versus third person point of view…

Let’s talk about first-person narrative (basically someone speaking to you about their experiences or travails, representing the point of view) versus third-person (being from someone outside the story, referring to he, she, it) when it comes to writing your fiction, regardless if it’s a novel or a short story.

I’m not going to implode here by getting into the idea of first-person-plural, or the second-person narrative used, for example, in the opening and closing of the movie Zentropa (“You are on a train in Germany,” etc, etc).

Look them up on Wikipedia.


In journalism, particularly interviews – which I did at least a thousand of between 1994 and 2009, I kid you not – the ‘I’s rarely have it unless it’s the interviewee speaking (obviously) and the journo tries to hold a torch to objectivism without burning themselves. The subjectivism, however, is between the lines and rooted in the initial questions and the final write-up.

But from about 2005 I started to focus on articles without another mouth to bounce off, pieces that identified my experiences as a foreigner in Japan, and thus placed myself in the role of narrator. So, when I finally returned my sights on fiction, first-person came more naturally.

Some of my favourite novels are first-person excursions: The Last King of Scotland, The Big Sleep, Shooting Elvis, Veronica, the first two-thirds of Year of Wonders (sadly, I actually can’t stand the final third of that book). It feels more personal, direct, and I tend to find myself involved in the story – if I get past the roadblock of potentially annoying mouthpieces.

So I used the technique without thinking in my first two novels Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and One Hundred Years of Vicissitude.

With my latest tome, I felt tired of this approach and I don’t think I particularly closely identify with a 15-year-old anymore (the fact I did identify with a 72-year-old narrator for One Hundred Years is, however, a worry).

I’d heard that third-person narrative offers more flexibility and was more commonly used, Dashiell Hammett employed it in one of my most-read faves (The Maltese Falcon), and I decided it was well nigh time to try the critter out.

So although the initial version of Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? was written in first-person, I dumped that and rewrote the lot in third-person – which, while liberating (I could look at the feelings and individual stance of multiple characters) offered the editing problem that I kept missing personal pronouns (I, me, my, etc) from the original version.

I’m still finding strays in the final manuscript.

The lesson to learn here? Yes, Virginia, there is a lesson. Decide the narrative style before you start writing. It’s easier, safer, and less likely to do in your precious noggin.


About Andrez

Andrez Bergen

Andrez Bergen is an expat Australian writer, journalist, DJ, and ad hoc saké connoisseur who’s been entrenched in Tokyo, Japan, for the past decade. He makes music as Little Nobody and ran Melbourne record label IF? for 15 years. He published noir/sci-fi novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat in 2011 through Another Sky Press and the surreal fantasy One Hundred Years of Vicissitude via Perfect Edge Books in 2012.

He’s recently finished a third novel, titled Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, and is plowing into #4 (The Mercury Drinkers). Bergen has published short stories through Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, Solarcide, Weird Noir, Big Pulp and All Due Respect, and worked on translating and adapting the scripts for feature films by Mamoru Oshii, Kazuchika Kise and Naoyoshi Shiotani with Production I.G.

Andrez and I share writing space in two anthologies:

You can find him on twitter @andreziffy

Sunday Special: What the Dickens? It’s Sandy!

2013 January 27

You’ve heard me mention What the Dickens? Magazine a couple of times, yes? Well if you want to know more, you’ve come to the right place! Today I’ve got Part 1 of a series of posts about the mag, this one (and the next one) coming from Superstar Sandy East who gives us a brief run-down on what it’s all about. Take it away, Sandy…

A little bit about who we are and what we do…

Victoria (@WTDickensMag) is the editorial queen, so her line on what the magazine is about is law, as are the words of Ben (@SelfSelfSelfBen), our techy-wizard-magazine-maker who physically puts What the Dickens? magazine (#WTDzine) together. However, as Little Miss I Can Do That, occasional arts and craft article writer, and keeper of The Old Curiosity Shop I can confidently say that we are a Literary and Arts magazine which celebrates and champions creativity in any way that we can, which we feel is purposeful, positive and, hopefully, fun!

With the skills of brilliant #TeamWTD, we offer a high quality, diverse range of articles, reviews, writing, art, creative opportunities, insights, and a bit of adventure now and then, for all creatives… We’re very proud of the work we do but we are always looking to up our game, and to expand so that we can offer a creative space that will support and inspire our readers and artists across the globe geographically and artistically. That may sound a bit grandiose or “Far out, man…” but it’s true. We’re chuffed to bits that our little magazine is winging its way across the pond and yet being read by the fella my dad sold a copy to in the pub down the road – it is for everyone. We’ve published and interviewed people all over the world, and, in turn, connected a few people that might not have connected before. Helping to build a creative community like that makes us very happy indeed. It’s a driving force. As I said, it’s not for me to tell you about What the Dickens? in its entirety, or to hint at the brilliantly exciting creative plans we have for the future. Someone else who is far more clued up than me might discuss such matters with you one day soon…

What I can tell you is that we’re completely and utterly heart-soaringly, nerve-tinglingly, stomach-wooshingly in LOVE with this magazine, and what we’re doing now, and what we’ll be doing in the future. We’ve laughed, we’ve wept, we’ve sworn, we’ve lost sleep, we’ve asked ridiculous things of people, we’ve done stuff that’s made other people question our sanity, and got a bit too screamy and boundy for our own good. It’s been exhausting; it’s been exhilarating. Now, after a huge campaign and tremendous support from many wonderfully talented people we’ve got our magazine in glorious hold-in-your-hand print. Which is exactly as it should be. I am absolutely correct when I tell you that it’s “a terrific arts magazine” and “beautiful and classy” because Hugh Bonneville (@hughbon) said the first bit and Tom Mison (@TomMison) said the latter. And they know their stuff so I think that makes their opinions scientific fact, right? What the Dickens? magazine IS everything Hugh and Tom so kindly said, and more (I’ve compiled a list of gorgeous compliments that readers, contributors and interviewees have sent me which makes me a bit teary). We’re thrilled with the printed edition and the #Journey What the Dickens? is on and we’re looking forward to finding more venues to sell it in and building our readership even more.

Make sure you come back next Sunday for Part 2!


About Sandy

Teacher, writer, story-teller, artist, mural-maker, crafter, do-er.


Thank you to everyone who has supported us in various ways – we are hugely appreciative – and thanks for taking the time to find out a little bit more about What the Dickens? magazine #WTDzine and The Old Curiosity Shop #TOCS. Please visit our website: to find out how you can get involved and share the work that you’re doing. Take a look at our shop too: and order your copy of the magazine. Tell your friends. Tell your fellow writers and artists. Enjoy!