Let’s talk about listening

There’s an adage that says you have two ears and one mouth – use them in those proportions.

WriterSound advice, you might say, but us writers have our pens and word processors. We often have an audience who like our words, which is why we write for them. We talk to them too on social media, through newsletters, and at events.

Writers have something to say, something they want to bring to the world, whether it’s to entertain, raise awareness or change opinions. Who knows where this urge comes from? Maybe we spent too much time alone as children, being ignored or afraid to raise our voices.

I spent my time reading, which is a solitary activity. Like writing, ironically. But both sides of the coin involve imagination, the excitement of exploring new worlds, learning something new – often about ourselves.

It’s difficult to learn without listening. When you read, the author’s words are talking to you, giving you information, laughter, insights. You take them in, listening in your mind. Sometimes these words strike a chord and move you.

“Don’t let your failures define you.”

That gave me a jolt. The words struck deep, tapping into some dark corner of my subconscious where I hid feelings that had the power to unsettle and undermine me.

Is that how I defined my life – by my failures?

Once I’d read those words, there was no going back. I’d listened. I was speechless, aware that I’d made a discovery that could change the way I viewed life and me.

That’s how powerful words can be, whether written or spoken.

I’d like to think the words were significant to the author who wrote them. She couldn’t have realised the effect they would have on me, but she spoke and I listened.

In case you’re wondering, it was Cheryl Bradshaw in Hush Now, Baby, and you can read my review of this terrific novel here.

As an author, you should also listen to the comments readers and reviewers leave about your books. You learn fast that not everyone likes your books. How could they? If you could please everyone on the planet, you’d be a wealthy genius, right?

But you should still listen to those who don’t like your style. They could be pointing up areas you need to improve, mistakes you could avoid in future.

Like my school reports used to say, ‘Could do better.’

That’s why I love editing and revising my novels. When you write, you’re telling a story. When you revise and edit, you’re listening to what you said. If you stumble over a sentence when you read, it needs improving. If something feels wrong, it is wrong.

Sometimes, those little niggles speak so quietly you can miss them.

Listen hard, listen closely.

That’s how I’ve spent the last few weeks in Crouch Corner, revising and polishing my Kent Fisher mystery #4, No More Lies. I cut around 20,000 words to make it sharper, fresher and as smooth as I could. I listened to every sentence, every word almost.

reading KindleThen I put the finished novel on my Kindle and read it as a reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but still found quite a few areas to improve. Sometimes the rhythm of a sentence or line of dialogue wasn’t right. One minor character underwent a name change.

Then a blogger read it and found more things I needed to put right.

That’s an awful lot of listening, which makes me wonder if the old adage is correct.

Writers may have plenty to say, but I suspect we listen more than we realise.

So, tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

And if you’d like to find out more about the Kent Fisher mysteries, click here to visit my website or here to visit my Amazon author page.

 

More Equal than Others by Robin Roughley

9th April 2019 – 5 stars.

You’re guaranteed an imaginative plot that will twist and turn and twist again when you join DS Lasser on another investigation. In this case, it’s a twisted vigilante, wreaking havoc on the Wigan’s sex offenders.

The pace and tension are relentless, the dark, dark humour that runs through the stories is delicious. The banter and double act with DCI Bannister are the highlight of yet another great story from Robin Roughley.

It’s intense, gritty and shocking, but filled with humanity, which shines through in Lasser’s determination to bring the killer to justice, no matter what. His romance and relationship with Medea adds another welcome dimension to his character and the story.

Highly recommended.

 

Description

Lasser is on cloud nine but murder soon brings him down to earth.

A sunny afternoon in the park. Children at play, families picnicking on the grass and a man pushing an old pram, a pram that contains horrors beyond reckoning.

DS Lasser is happy, engaged to the woman of his dreams, just back from a two-week vacation. Life is sweet.

But it only takes one phone call, telling him that a local sex offender has been mutilated and murdered and all thoughts of harmonious bliss are quickly annihilated.

Someone is stalking the streets of this down-at-heel northern town, someone with a burning hatred and a long list containing the names of the guilty.

As if things weren’t bad enough, a local reporter is leading a witch-hunt, determined to lay the blame for the killings at Lasser’s feet.

As the nights draw in and the body count rises, Lasser must hunt the maniac who is spiralling out of control. Though he soon comes to realises that the killer, even in his madness, is working to an agenda.

And he isn’t working alone.

More Equal than Others

Panic Room by Robert Goddard

22nd March 2019 – 4 stars.

This is my kind of book. Ordinary people, drawn into a dense, intriguing mystery that keeps you guessing till the final moments when all is revealed in a breathtaking climax. No gratuitous bad language or violence needed – just beautifully drawn characters and settings, wrapped around a small detail that mushroomed into a mystery that could not be ignored.

This was the first Robert Goddard book I’d read, and I doubt if it will be the last.

Ironically, Panic Room has a leisurely, but assured pace as estate agent, Don, makes what appears to be a routine visit to prepare a luxury house on the coast of Cornwall for sale. Once there, he encounters Blake, a free spirit, who may or may not have been running from something. Those elements of doubt and suspicion continued to drive the plot along as these two characters sense something is not quite right.

Central to this doubt and suspicion is the panic room, locked from within.

When a couple of malevolent characters arrive, demanding to know what is inside the room and how to gain access, Don and Blake are out of their depth. But they can’t walk away because they too want to know what’s going on and begin their own investigation.

The author cleverly weaves a number of disparate elements together into a satisfying thriller that picks up pace as the climax approaches. While Don and Blake are no detectives, they’re resolute, determined and resourceful, negotiating every obstacle to get to the shocking truth behind the panic room.

I loved the intrigue that drove the characters on, the unease that ran like a shiver through the whole story and the dramatic conclusion that still managed to throw in a few exciting surprises.

Panic Room’s a highly entertaining and original novel, cleverly plotted and executed with style. Definitely worth reading.

Description

WHAT REALLY LIES WITHIN?

High on a Cornish cliff sits a vast uninhabited mansion. Uninhabited except for Blake, a young woman of mysterious background, currently acting as housesitter.

The house has a panic room. Cunningly concealed, steel lined, impregnable – and apparently closed from within. Even Blake doesn’t know it’s there. She’s too busy being on the run from life, from a story she thinks she’s escaped.

But her remote existence is going to be threatened when people come looking for the house’s owner, rogue pharma entrepreneur, Jack Harkness. Soon people with questionable motives will be asking Blake the sort of questions she can’t – or won’t – want to answer.

WILL THE PANIC ROOM EVER GIVE UP ITS SECRETS?

Panic Room

Want You Dead by Peter James

18th March 2019 – 4 stars.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the previous Roy Grace novels, getting to know the characters, loving the inventive plots and twists and attention to detail.

I enjoyed Want You Dead, but it took me a while to get into the story, perhaps because I knew the identity of the bad guy and his goal from the start. It took away some of the mystery and suspense.

Bryce Laurent was certainly a cruel and dangerous character, obsessed with a former girlfriend, and prepared to go to any lengths to punish her. He certainly had a remarkable range of skills with which to pursue her and make life hell.

By its very nature, obsession is relentless and focused, leading to repetition and a restricted plot. However, the running stories concerning Grace’s former wife and some of the key characters in the Major Crime Team provided extra layers of interest, humour and a touch of sadness.

The story builds to an explosive and exciting climax, rounded off with a customary final twist when it looked like there were no surprises left.

A cracking read from a highly recommended series.

Description

If he can’t have her, then nobody can. . .

Virtual romance becomes a terrifying obsession in Want You Dead. . .

Single girl, 29, smouldering redhead, love life that’s crashed and burned. Seeks new flame to rekindle her fire. Fun, friendship and – who knows – maybe more?

When Red Westwood meets handsome, charming and rich Bryce Laurent through an online dating agency, there is an instant attraction. But as their love blossoms, the truth about his past, and his dark side, begins to emerge. Everything he has told Red about himself turns out to be a tissue of lies, and her infatuation with him gradually turns to terror.

Within a year, and under police protection, she evicts him from her flat and her life. But Red’s nightmare is only just beginning. For Bryce is obsessed with her, and he intends to destroy everything and everyone she has ever known and loved – and then her too . . .

From number one bestselling crime and thriller writer Peter James comes Want You Dead, the tenth book in his multi-million-copy selling crime series featuring the definitive Brighton detective, Roy Grace.

Want You Dead by Peter James

How I rewrote my future.

Did I really write that?

Well, no one else did. It’s your name and title on the front cover.

HarveyI could blame Harvey, my adorable West Highland white terrier, who sometimes wanders up, seeking attention or a treat. He may wonder what I do, sitting at my desk in Crouch Corner for most of the day, typing away.

I doubt if he realises I’m creating imaginary worlds, populated by exciting characters. Not that you’d believe it if you read some of the writing.

Ernest Hemingway said, ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

I can’t help feeling he was being a bit hard on himself. I’m sure he wrote some brilliant prose first time around. Occasionally, I disturb Harvey with a whoop of delight when I write a terrific cliff hanger at the end of a chapter. I’ve also been reduced to tears when something I write touches a deeper chord.

So, in deference to Hemingway, while I agree that first drafts need work, not all of the writing is bad.

And I’ve just realised that Hemingway would be a brilliant name for a dog. A determined terrier, methinks.

Michael Crichton said, books are not written they’re rewritten.

That’s not so self-critical and clearly accurate. The chances of turning out a perfect novel first time must be greater than winning the lottery. The National Lottery wasn’t around when I submitted my unedited first novel to a publisher, so I had no idea of the odds facing me.

I was 17. What did I know? I was high on Tippex fumes.

WritingYep, it was the era of manual typewriters, carbon copies and Tippex to mask typos and mistakes. I used liberal quantities of the stuff, hating how I had to interrupt the creative flow to correct a misspelling or add a better word.

Suffice to say, I was no fan of editing or revising. You had to check grammar and spelling because people got really uptight about that. I suspect many editors were in fact English teachers, who seemed to like nothing more than to spot the mistakes and highlight them with a red pen.

Looking back, I wonder if I might have improved my chances of publication had I spent time improving my first drafts. When my work was rejected, it didn’t occur to me to take a long hard look at what I’d written. I’d already moved on, excited by the next project.

Eventually, I ran out of steam and ideas. I began to question my cavalier approach to what I wrote. Maybe I’d missed a few opportunities along the way because I couldn’t be bothered to make the extra effort.

Could try harder.

Was that written in my school report?

Could do better. That was.

Was it the story of my life – almost but not quite?

The possibility knocked me off course for many years. It made me doubt myself, ripped chunks out of my self-confidence and left me wondering whether my dream was beyond my reach.

But the desire to write and be published ran deep. I did moderately well with articles, publishing a few in national magazines. But it wasn’t novel writing. Where were the characters, the conflict, the suspense and resolution in Making your own cold frame?

Okay, there was a journey of discovery – I discovered I could make cold frames – but it didn’t lift the soul.

Things improved when I created Kent Fisher. I’d found a niche in the crowded crime fiction market and the juices were flowing. This time, I would try harder, do better.

No BodiesI wrote the first novel, which went on to become No Bodies, the second in the series, and revised and edited it, using a word processor. No Tippex to cloud my thinking or dent my enthusiasm.

I left that to the publishers and agents who weren’t interested – with the exception of one. She read the whole story, but felt the characters didn’t leap of the page.

I considered a novel about an elite team of high jumpers, the Fosbury Fixers, but as you’ve already guessed, it flopped.

Humour was always my main defence against disappointment and pain. When we played football as children and a kid kicked me, I always smiled to annoy them. See, you can’t hurt me. If only that were true.

But, I thought about what the agent said and worked on improving the characters by writing a second Kent Fisher novel, No Accident. It became the first in the series, having to dovetail into No Bodies.

That’s right, I’d moved on to the next project again.

Let’s wind forward a few years to submitting the first three chapters of No Accident to a publisher. Within a day, I had an offer of publication. Okay, it was dependent on the rest of the story being up to standard, but it was an offer.

Overnight, things had become serious.

No AccidentSomeone wanted to read the rest of my novel – the one gathering dust on a hard drive. Maybe I should read it, see whether it’s any good, whether it needs a crack team of high jumpers to give it a lift.

I was appalled by the long, lumbering story I’d written. It was as if my eyes had been opened to my shortcomings – the writing kind, not my lack of patience.

It took six months of revising, rewriting and replotting to turn No Accident into a sharper, fresher novel. The publisher liked it, thankfully, and I signed up, oblivious to the real editing and revising that lay ahead.

Enter the professional editor.

Her first run through of my novel produced plenty for me to think about. At one point, I wondered why the publisher wanted my work if it needed so many changes. But that’s what you get when you look at something with an objective, dispassionate eye.

It never occurred to me that other people wouldn’t see my story the way I did.

So, I edited and revised, threw in a few improvements of my own and emailed it back. It wasn’t too painful, and begrudgingly I had to admit the story was better.

I wasn’t expecting more comments and changes. Hadn’t I done what I was asked to do?

Oh, I’d made a few changes, which affected the plot lines later and a few more typos came to light.

In truth, it didn’t involve a massive amount of revision and the editor had a great sense of humour. She enjoyed the humour in my story, which I was striving to retain at all costs.

There were two more revisions before the finished novel was published. When I saw it on Amazon that first morning, I knew all the revisions, edits and rewrites had been worth it.

Even better, I could now see the faults and weaknesses in my own writing. It allowed me to revise No Bodies and improve it.

My first drafts are now better written, though far from perfect. I know when something isn’t working – better still, why it’s not working. My self-confidence has grown too, refusing to let me accept something that isn’t working or up to standard.

That’s been the story of No More Lies, the fourth and latest Kent Fisher murder mystery. It’s been a difficult birth, with lots of early complications that took a lot of time and effort to correct. But having now completed two edits on the novel, I’m glad I made the effort.

I tried harder. I did better.

And the Fosbury Fixers, who were waiting anxiously in the wings, ready to step in, were sent home.

No More Lies is now with my editor. I await her guidance before the final round of revisions and proofing. If all goes well, the novel should be available for pre-order from Amazon in April with a release date of 9th May 2019.


If you’d like to find out more about Kent Fisher and the murder mystery novels, click here to visit my website. I’m offering a free copy of No Mystery, which is an introduction to the series and characters. All you need to do is sign up to my monthly email newsletter, which will give you more insights and updates. Click here to find out more.

Enjoy!

 

Wealden Writers, 5th April 2019, 2pm start

Wealden Writers have invited me to talk at their meeting on 5th April 2019.

The meeting will be held at the Gospel Mission,

If you’re in the area and interested in learning more about the Kent Fisher series, please come along. There’s no charge.

 

Running Commentary

I learnt to run as a child, mainly to escape from the kids who didn’t like my stories and jokes.

In time, this led to my selection for the school’s Junior Cross Country Team. Any initial euphoria at being selected soon paled when I finished a race sodden from the rain and covered in mud. My legs and hands were red with cold, my toes and fingers numb and unresponsive.

Not my favourite way to spend a Saturday morning.

But cross country running inspired me to come up with creative and imaginative excuses to escape the Saturday morning mud bath.

These intimate moments with the worst of the local weather persuaded me to keep my distance as I progressed through senior school. I found ways to avoid physical education, as it was called. I used these periods in the timetable to take the science subjects I’d studiously avoided before.

Science left me with the same feelings as running through mud and rain. Unfortunately, unlike cross country running, science enabled me to go onto further education.

I didn’t return to running until my 47th year.

With no slack left in my shirts and trousers as my weight increased, I decided exercise was cheaper than buying a new wardrobe of clothes.

After monthly gym fees, proper trainers, breathable vests and shirts, a variety of shorts, running socks and jackets, I discovered I was useless at mathematics too.

Robert Crouch runningOver the years, thanks to running groups and many enjoyable years as a member of Hailsham Harriers, I’ve become a much fitter, healthier person and kept my weight under control. I’ve got to know lots of great people, run in some terrific events and enjoyed the magical scenery of the South Downs.

Most of all, I suspect, is the boost in confidence that health, fitness and achievement bring. At one time, I was running personal best after personal best, going well beyond my expectations. But success takes its toll on the muscles and I retired from competitive running four years ago.

From time to time, I think about doing an event, but it’s more wishful thinking. The drive and commitment have gone. The legs lack the stamina and strength needed for competition. And I’m not going to match the times of old, am I?

I still look forward to every run, even when gale force winds are blowing as they often do at this time of year. It’s a chance to clear the mind, to consider challenges, think through ideas and plans.

Sometimes I think of nothing – a kind of mobile meditation, I guess.

Last Sunday, I needed to resolve the name of a character. Having gone through five or six first names already, I was starting to wonder if I would ever find the right name. Names are critical because they tell you so much about a person. Many evoke characteristics, attitudes and values.

It was such an important issue, I ran two miles more than planned – but I got the name I wanted, along with some additional character insights.

This morning, as I battled the swirling winds, I composed the blurb for No More Lies, the fourth Kent Fisher murder mystery, currently on its second edit. I should say that I’d already had a couple of stabs at a blurb with mixed results.

But as is often the case, you know when something has potential, when it’s got legs, if you’ll forgive the pun.

If you’re interested to see what I came up with, click here to find out.

I’d love to know what you think, so please let me know.

Must run along now as I’d like to read a little more of Want You Dead by Peter James, one of my favourite authors. The story’s developing nicely after a slow start with lots of tension, suspense and malice.

Want You Dead Peter James

Hard Fall by Phil Reade

28th February 2019 – 3 stars.

The author’s narrated style attracted me to try the book and kept me turning the pages as the story slowly unfolded among the dark, rain swept streets of London.

Blume’s another ex-cop, this time from New Yerk, with a recent tragedy, in this case the death of his wife and son in London. This has led to him drinking excessively and feeling sorry for himself, which doesn’t endear him to readers who like a strong lead character. Blume eventually gets his act together, but the damage is done by then.

He didn’t seem to do a great deal of detective work either, relying on someone’s computer skills to get the information he needed.

What started out full of promise became a rather pedestrian story that kept me interested, but didn’t lift the spirits.

Description

An ex-cop with a past. A case police couldn’t solve. One chance at redemption…

Ex-New York detective Thomas Blume hunts the streets of London for the killers that tore his family apart. For justice, for closure, for revenge.

But when Blume stumbles across a case that baffled local police, he unwittingly joins a world of criminals, corruption, and cops that will do anything to stop him.

Now, in a country he doesn’t understand and a city stacked against him, Blume must fight to expose the truth… before it’s too late.

Hard Fall

Dead Man’s Time by Peter James

25th February 2019 – 5 stars.

I love the Roy Grace series because you can rely on Peter James to deliver a classy crime thriller with an intriguing, well-researched plot, interesting characters and plenty of tension and thrills. Every novel is different, but with the familiar threads of the backstory developing and changing with each entry in the series.

This novel has revenge and greed at its heart as the theft of valuable of antiques leads to a brutal murder that kicks off a chase to recover the most valuable and personal possession of all. The resultant mayhem and murders of those involved in the theft leads to New York for the exciting climax.

Meanwhile, back home in Brighton, a far more sinister threat lurks as a hardened villain seeks revenge on Roy Grace, his girlfriend Cleo and their baby. The tension is relentless and kept me on edge throughout the story.

This is one of many fine threads in another complex, beautifully constructed crime thriller from an author who delivers on every level.

While you can read this as a standalone, to get the maximum benefit of the characters and relationships, you should start with Dead Simple, the first in the series.

Description

Some will wait a lifetime to take their revenge. . .

A vicious robbery at a secluded Brighton mansion leaves its elderly occupant dying. Millions of pounds’ worth of valuables have been stolen.

But as Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, heading the enquiry, rapidly learns, there is one priceless item of sentimental value that her powerful family cherish above all else. And they are fully prepared to take the law into their own hands, and will do anything – absolutely anything – to get it back.

Within days, Grace is racing against the clock, following a murderous trail that leads him from the shady antiques world of Brighton, across Europe, and all the way back to the New York waterfront gang struggles of 1922, chasing a killer driven by the force of one man’s greed and another man’s fury.

Dead Man’s Time is the ninth novel in the multi-million copy bestselling Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, from the number one chart topper, Peter James.

Dead Mans Time

An Accidental Death by Peter Grainger

18th February 2019 – 4 stars.

If you like your crime character driven with an absorbing plot, then you should enjoy the first in the DC Smith series, set in Norfolk. The DC are Smith’s initials, by the way, not his rank in the police.

It all starts with what looks like an accidental death in the river. Only it’s not that simple. Enter DC Smith, like a dog with a bone, nibbling away at the evidence, casting more and more doubt on the cause of death until his unorthodox approach lands him in sinister waters.

The gentle pace and attention to detail allow the characters of DC Smith and his new recruit, Waters, to develop and drive the story along with purpose and humour. With Smith almost at the end of his career, and Waters just beginning his, they make a great team, complementing each other and teaching the other new tricks.

I never felt the story lagging and didn’t need any fireworks or thrilling chase scenes. Each time I switched on my Kindle, I enjoyed reading the story and look forward to reading more of the series.

Description

The story opens with the apparently accidental drowning of a British sixth form student in the Norfolk countryside. As a matter of routine, or so it seems, the case passes across the desk of Detective Sergeant Smith, recently returned to work after an internal investigation into another case that has led to tensions between officers at Kings Lake police headquarters.

As an ex-Detective Chief Inspector, Smith could have retired by now, and it is clear that some of his superiors wish that he would do so. The latest trainee detective to work with him is the son of a member of his former team, and together they begin to unravel the truth about what happened to Wayne Fletcher.

As the investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that others are involved – some seem determined to prevent it, some seem to be taking too much interest. In the end Smith operates alone, having stepped too far outside standard procedures to ask for support. He knows that his own life might be at risk but he has not calculated on the life of his young assistant also being put in danger.

An Accidental Death