An Interview With… Tom Witcomb

Hi everyone, this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Tom Witcomb to my blog. Here, Tom answers my questions on his path to becoming an agent and what he looks for in submissions.

Over to you Tom…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?

Absolutely not! I was going to be in heavy metal bands. I read a lot as a kid – thanks to my mum’s love of crime & thrillers, and my granddad’s for Western novels he used to pick up for 20p in the charity shop at the hospital – and it was always a deep pleasure, but I wasn’t really your typical ‘bookworm’. I love film, music, video games, sports, design, whatever – a bit of everything. But I did love literature, and was ‘good’ at it, so went to Uni to study it (alongside film). It was there I got very ‘serious’ about ‘serious’ literature, and started reading all those books you should read etc. as well as my thrillers and comic books and sci-fi… 

In all honesty, whilst I vaguely understood the basics principle that there was a company somewhere who was printing these books, I’d not really considered the whole team of people dedicated to putting great books into readers’ hands. It wasn’t until I moved to London in my final year (and commuted back out to Uni!), whilst working at a takeaway company (a proto-Deliveroo called Deliverance that many Londoners will know!) that I met someone who asked me what I was doing with my English Lit degree. I had no idea, and so she put me in touch with a friend – Oli Munson (now director at AM Heath) And when I walked through the door it all sort of clicked into place. A three-week placement turned into a six-month internship (I carried on working at the takeaway company ‘til midnight every night!), and I’ve just celebrated my ten-year anniversary at BF.

2) I read that you represent authors of both fiction and non fiction. Does this have any challenges when it comes to both genres? 

Not really. I’m not sure how to elaborate on this answer. A big part of being an agent is knowing editors, and what they’re on the lookout for so looking after fiction and non-fiction clients just means a wider network of pretty awesome people.

3) First and foremost, what do you look for in query letters? 

Spell my name right, and I’m sort of only half-joking. Whilst the author/agent relationship is a particularly special one, there’s an underlying business relationship and an author taking the time to do their research, spell my name right, and absolutely nail why I need to take them on and help get their book into the world is a real bonus. Don’t get me wrong, I can look past spelling errors but come on – it’s right there, you can even just copy and paste! 

Beyond that, I’m just looking for a brief intro, a flutter of intrigue, an exciting short blurb about your book and then I’m getting stuck into the sample.

4) On the other hand, what is your pet peeve about query letters? 

See above! Actually, one of the most annoying things is when people act like they don’t care, the ‘hey, saw you online, thought you’d like this, don’t care if you don’t.’ They come in more often than you’d think. And it just leads me to think ‘then why are you even sending it to me? To anyone?’ It can’t be true, you’ve taken the time to find who I am, what I might like, and to write a fucking book. I see you. To be a success, you’ve got to care, now hang your leather jacket up and stop wearing your sunglasses inside.

5) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? Do you feel that there is a sub genre in need of more representation?

Crime and thriller’s always strong, but it feels as though the mass market is saturated and it’s sometimes hard to find an angle for new police procedural, or psych suspense. So I think we’re seeing the ascendance of those brilliant one-line pitch novels like The Chain or The Last and that will continue for a while. I’d love to see more translated crime fiction but we have a problem as a country that our education system hasn’t encouraged people to learn languages so the number of people within the industry who are able to read international crime fiction is low and it’s hard and expensive to translate on spec. I know, though, that we’re missing out on phenomenal writers around the world.

6) Do you have a guilty pleasure genre or novel that you go back to reading? 

I really hate the concept of guilty pleasures as by necessity it suggests there is such a thing as ‘the right stuff’ to enjoy. Listen to John Coltrane and Abba, they’re great, read Dostoevsky and Jilly Cooper, they’re great. It’s fine to not like things, but to feel guilty about liking something? That’s manure.

I don’t think I’ve read a book twice since I was a kid. Who has the time when there’s so much amazing stuff to read! (he says, having seen Jurassic Park 287 times) That said, I’m about to become a dad and am reading His Dark Materials out loud to the bump (yes, doing voices), and reconfirming that they’re the best books in the universe. The second Book of Dust will be published just in time for me to read to baby when it’s here. I’m massively looking forward to sharing books I have loved with my kid.

7) Is there a genre of book that you would never read?

There is stuff that I wouldn’t naturally be drawn to. In general I don’t really like Victoriana, I don’t like steampunk, I don’t like military thrillers, but I’ve also read examples of those that I have liked… so who knows, really. I’m game. If someone told me I should give e.g. Poldark a go, I’d give it a go. My wife got me reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife last year. It’s a book that I’d have passed over, I suppose, but I loved it.

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and did you enjoy it? 

I don’t finish books I don’t like – life’s too short to push through something you’re not enjoying. For what purpose – because someone else thinks you should? No thanks! Same goes for films, telly and wine. The last book I read that I really enjoyed (leaving aside my collection of Collins reference books for mushrooms, butterflies and birds…!) is Lanny by Max Porter which is just phenomenal.

9) Once you leave your desk for the day, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening, what do you do to relax?

I ride my bike. It is one of life’s great joys, and putting the hammer down as you break away uphill is one of life’s great pleasures, even if you’re only pretending you’re in line for the maglia rosa… so that helps blow the cobwebs out. When I get home, I muck around with my dog, Sid, cook some food – my wife and I are both pretty good cooks (if that’s not too self-congratulating) – and watch some TV, or play Playstation which is the king of unwinding but also games these days are just mindblowing in complexity of visuals, interaction and storytelling. I’m also renovating my flat, so far too often the real answer here is that I’m to be found stuck up a ladder or under some floorboards somewhere. On Fridays, I meet my wife and we go for a long walk in the wetlands near our flat, or in Epping Forest, have a pint, cook some food – you can see a pattern emerging. We’ll watch a film, play some music…I’ve recently rediscovered, and introduced Jaime to, painting Warhammer…!?

10) Apologies for the sidetrack – Do you like Rod Stewart, and if so, do you have a favourite song of his?

I like Faces; A Nod Is As Good As A Wink… in particular (Rod’s voice is on point in Love Lives Here), but Rod’s not done anything good since before If You Think I’m Sexy. Alan Parks will hate me for this answer.

Thank you for visiting my blog Tom, it has been a pleasure to interview you.

First Drafts With… S. E. Moorhead

Hi everyone, and continuing the First Drafts series I am delighted to introduce fellow Liverpool writer S. E. Moorhead. S. E. Moorhead’s novel, Witness X, is out next year.

She was kind enough to join me for a quick chat about her writing process, from idea generation to first draft.

Over to you Sarah…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it? 

Usually, I have an idea in my head for about two years before I get the chance to really think it through and write it down. I let it brew in the teapot of my mind and give my brain a chance to come up with its own ideas without forcing them  which can be very interesting! However, at some point, I need to sit down and organise and structure all the thoughts, which takes discipline and effort.

My ideas usually start with a ‘what if…?’

So Witness X started with the idea ‘What if it was possible to see the crime directly from a witness’s brain?’

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before? 

The first two books I wrote, I just splurged all the ideas down and let the story develop as I wrote. I thought this was a good idea because I let my creative side take over.However, this made editing really difficult because I hadn’t taken the time to really think through the plotting and the story arc. Now that I have more experience, I plot the story first so that I haven’t launched off into a storyline that is going to be chaotic and will need a lot of work to bring it back to its arc. Then, I let the creative process take over. I think it is a balancing act between creativity and organisation. 

3) What is your research process, if you have one? 

I tend to write about things that I am interested in and so I have already read books or watched documentaries in the past, so I have a stock of information.

But then when I need to fine tune my research, I love to speak to the experts; my brother, Justin, is a lecturer in Criminal Justice and an ex-probation officer, my other brother, Damian, worked as a forensic scientist for a while and knows a great deal about crime. One of my cousins, Julia, is a neurologist and my other cousin, Neti, is a psychologist, so I do tend to pick their brains. 

I also follow a lot of clever people on Twitter who are kind enough to answer my questions, and I read up and use the internet. 

I think the important thing is with research not to get lost down the rabbit hole of Google, but to write briefly in your ms what you want to say and then really focus in your research so that you can be as efficient as possible or else writing time is totally eaten up with research. 

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write? 

As I say, I usually have an idea in my head for two years before I start writing, and so the thinking process takes time. I am a writer not only when the words are flowing, but when I am walking in the woods and thinking, daydreaming over coffee, scribbling ideas down on a mind map and even fumbling through a million little scraps of paper on which I have collected ideas.

However, once I sit down and plan on screen, then I’m in business and it seems to be an ongoing process for the next year when I sculpt my ideas into something that hopefully makes sense as a novel. 

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

I tend to write parts here and there and then piece them together like a patchwork quilt, but I have just discovered Scrivener and this is making the whole process so much easier because all my notes and ideas are organised and easily accessible and I can build them up or use them as I go along. It’s like having all your notes, research and manuscript on the desk in front of you, but its all organised and in digital form.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

I have a wonderful old writing desk with an interesting history, which you may want to see and read about here!

It’s in the front bay window of my house and I sit looking out as the world goes by daydreaming when I should be writing!

Thanks for visiting the blog, Sarah. Finding out about your idea generation to first draft has been fascinating.


S.E. Moorhead was born in Liverpool of Anglo-Irish parents. She has told stories since childhood and uses writing as bubblegum for her over-active brain; to keep it out of trouble.

Driven by her fascination with meaning, motivation and mystery, she studied Theology at university.

Over the last twenty years, apart from teaching in secondary school, S.E.Moorhead has raised two sons, attained a black belt in kickboxing, worked as a chaplain and youthworker and written articles for newspapers and magazines about her work in education and religion. 

She is married to Séan and still lives in her beloved hometown.


An Interview With Anne Williams

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Anne Williams to my blog. Here, Anne answers my questions on how she became an agent and what she looks for in a submission letter.

Over to you, Anne…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans? 

I went to university after I left school (following a gap year working as a tour guide in Italy, which I loved) and, once I got my degree, it occurred to me I could try publishing.  Before that I didn’t have the confidence to have a go at an industry that I had felt was too daunting to get into.   I barely knew that there was such a thing as a literary agent then, though a university acquaintance’s mum was one, and very generously helped me with a list of publishers to write to.   One of them had a gap in their publicity department and so I got my first job, as a publicity assistant.  I’d had to learn to type though, first, which was a huge obstacle.   That was in the days of typewriters…

2) In your view, how has the publishing industry changed since you first started out as a commissioning editor? Firstly for Michael Joseph and then Headline?  

It’s changed enormously.  First of all, whilst Headline was in its infancy, the Net Book Agreement went, which meant that booksellers could discount books, opening up the way for the supermarkets to stock books, and leading to a boom in commercial fiction, but making life tougher for traditional booksellers.   Then, after my Headline days, came the ebook revolution, and the increased dominance of Amazon. So life became tougher once again on the high street, with so many bookselling fixtures falling by the wayside, making it much harder for authors to get a traditional print publishing deal than had previously been the case.  But ebooks also mean that more authors can be published in e only, either through self-publishing or e first publishers, which has meant more opportunities in many ways.  Ebooks have marked a seismic shift in the industry.

3) How did you find the jump from editor to literary agent and what do you enjoy most about your job?  

There is great freedom, in that I can pretty much take on any author I feel I would like to represent and can sell, and the sense of possibilities can be very exciting.  As an editor, I was lucky to have a lot of commissioning freedom (much more than would be the case now) but you were always part of a bigger organisation, and what you could and couldn’t take on depended on them.  Now it’s a much more individual decision, whether to sign up an author or not.   That can be fantastic when it works out, since their success vindicates your faith in them, but you feel it more keenly when it doesn’t, since you are more directly involved with the author and their ups and downs.  It’s all much more personal. 

What I enjoy most is seeing an author succeed!  My lovely author, Julie Houston, has recently had a huge success in ebook with her fifth novel, A VILLAGE AFFAIR, the first I’d managed to place with a publisher after lots of rejections. We soldiered on together, and she has been in the Kindle top 100 bestseller list now for almost five months and is currently at number 6.  She’s been in the top ten for a month.   Seeing an author, whom I knew would be hugely enjoyed by thousands of people, finally reaching her audience, and them getting so much pleasure from her writing, is immensely rewarding.

4) First and foremost, what do you look for in query letters?  

An author who is writing in an area in which I feel I might be able to place them, and them doing it a way that marks them out from the crowd – with an original idea, twist or type of character, for example.

5) On the other hand, what is your pet peeve about query letters?   

Ones that are clearly sent out to hundreds of agents worldwide and that tell you they are the best thing since sliced bread.

6) In your view, do you think there anything missing from the thriller market at the moment that you think ‘I could see that in a book’?    

I think the bases are pretty well covered, but I’d like to see more novels set in slightly different ethnic communities, either in the UK or beyond. Being from the North, I also have a soft spot for books set there.

7) Do you have a guilty pleasure genre or novel that you go back to reading?  

I never feel guilty about reading a book.  I don’t often re-read fiction – there are too many new writers to explore. 


8) What was the last book you read and did you enjoy it?  

I read THE BAY AT NOON by Shirley Hazzard, which I loved.  It sent me to read her book about Graham Greene, GREENE ON CAPRI, whose THE QUIET AMERICAN I’d actually re-read a few months before, on a trip to Vietnam, as well as to re-reading Norman Lewis’s wonderful NAPLES ’44.    I love it when one book leads you to another.



9) Once you leave your desk for the day, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening, what do you do to relax?

Go downstairs and start cooking dinner, though in the summer I often have a little wander around my garden first.  On a Friday, my husband and I very often go out for dinner at our local pub – they gave us a bottle of champagne a while ago since they’d worked out we were their best customers!


10) Apologies for the sidetrack – Do you like Rod Stewart, and if so, do you have a favourite song of his? 

I really don’t like Rod Stewart, apart from Maggie May, which I in fact think is a great song!   It also has the same title as a book by one of my longest-standing authors, Lyn Andrews.


Thank you Anne for taking the time out of your day to answer my questions.

Bio: Anne Williams worked for over fifteen years as a commissioning editor, first at Michael Joseph, then for thirteen years at Headline during which time she was Co-Publisher of the Review imprint and Publisher of the main Headline imprint. Anne commissioned and edited a number of Headline’s major commercial fiction authors, including the Sunday Times #1 bestsellers Sheila O’Flanagan and Lyn Andrews, and prize-winning crime writers Barbara Nadel, Manda Scott and Caroline Graham (on whose books the tv series Midsomer Murders was based). She joined the Kate Hordern Literary Agency in 2009 and is based in Central London.

First Drafts With… Jenny Blackhurst

Hi everyone, I’m delighted this morning to welcome crime writer Jenny Blackhurst to my blog. Jenny is the author of five psychological thrillers, all of which I have read in e-book and LOVED!! I was delighted when she agreed to feature in the First Drafts series.

Read on for how she constructs her ideas and her writing space, which I am now jealous of. Over to you, Jenny…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

When I decide an idea is big enough for a book, I grab a notebook (at the moment I have a thing for A4 Pukka Pads) and I start by writing everything I think I know about the idea. From there I’ll brainstorm for a while, for example if my initial idea is ‘what if the sky suddenly started turning green?’ I’d start thinking about people this might affect, feeling for who my POV character would be. So, through the eyes of a child this would be told very differently than through the eyes of a scientist, or a manager of a chemical plant who thinks they are responsible. If any character’s shine through I’ll write a sketch of their wants, needs etc. I’ll explore the idea until I’m sure it has legs and I’m sure it’s giving me ‘the feeling’, then I’ll start the official planning, outlines, character sketches, sometimes I’ll write whatever scenes are in my head – just get it all out really.

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before?

It generally happens to be the same, step one – write vague notes and brainstorming, step two – flesh out ideas and ask a lot of ‘what if’s?’ and ‘whys’, step three – think about character motivations, wants, needs, and what their journey should look like. I thought my process had evolved a bit but I found a folder from years ago full of notes for a book and they looked much the same, just instead of things like ‘what is her external motivation??’ I’ve written ‘what the bloody hell does she want??’

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

I don’t have an official one but the rule I try to follow is ‘before or after – not during’. Which is to say I can research during the planning stage, or the edit stage but I don’t break off mid-sentence to research something while I’m first drafting. Some subjects I write about are so interesting that I’m continually researching them during the first draft, just not during my actual writing time.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

Usually straight away, unless I’m in the middle of another project. After the planning I’m usually so keen to get on with it I can’t wait! 

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

I used to write all the best bits first then stitch them together, my last couple of books have been more linear.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

I write wherever I can but last year we had a lovely office put in the back garden, so I write the majority of my books in there, in peace!

Thank you for visiting my blog Jenny. Finding out about your first draft process has been brilliantgood luck with your next novel!! 🙂

Bio: Jenny lives in Shropshire where she grew up dreaming that one day she would get paid for making up stories. She is an avid reader and can mostly be found with her head in a book or hunting Pokemon with her son, otherwise you can get her on Twitter @JennyBlackhurst or Facebook. Her favourite film is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, but if her children ask it’s definitely Moana.

First Drafts With… Sam Carrington

Hi everyone, and continuing today’s First Draft process we have Sam Carrington. Having previously featured in my 10 Questions With series last year, I was delighted to have Sam feature again this time around. Read on for her answers regarding how that all important first draft is written.

Over to you Sam…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

I always begin with my trusty notebooks, corkboard, flip chart and index cards! I use these to come up with my characters – I give them each a bio and work out their backstories and what their goals are in this novel. I work out the structure the novel will take – and sometimes I’ll play around with it, as well as which POV I’ll write in. Once I feel I’ve come up with the basics of the plot, I’ll plan a few chapters using bullet points, then open a new document and begin!

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before?

Yes, I do seem to follow roughly the same process. I certainly use the same ‘tools’ but I may use them in a different order. For example, if I haven’t yet decided on the plot, I might brainstorm ideas on the flipchart first, before going on to write up index cards for the main characters.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

This very much depends on the novel. For some of the ones I’ve written very little research has been needed – more an odd Google search here and there. However, for certain aspects I have gone more into depth with research. For example, in my debut Saving Sophie, Karen was agoraphobic. I suffer from claustrophobia so can relate to some of the symptoms of anxiety, but I searched online forums for real-life experiences of those suffering from agoraphobia to inform my character’s actions. Sometimes I will research the odd fact as I write, other times I will leave it until the first draft has been completed, then go back and fill in bits.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

I tend to write a brief synopsis very quickly, then it might be weeks of ‘thinking’ before I begin to make notes, use the index cards and then actually write. I like to live with the characters in my head for a little while prior to getting stuck in. 

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Once I begin writing, I write in a linear way from chapter one right through to the end. I edit as I go, so by the time I write ‘The End’ I will have got about 85,000 words and a fairly neat, readable draft.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

For the last two books I have been lucky enough to have my own writing room! Before that, I alternated between the dining room table, breakfast bar and old desk in the corner of the lounge!

Thanks again for visiting the blog Sam! Finding out your first draft process has been brilliant! Good luck with the next novel!!

Below you can find links to Salam’s amazon page and her website – her novel The Missing Wife is out now!

Sam’s website –

Sam Carrington lives in Devon with her husband, two border terriers and a cat. She has three adult children and a new grandson! She worked for the NHS for fifteen years, during which time she qualified as a nurse. Following the completion of a psychology degree she went to work for the prison service as an Offending Behaviour Programme Facilitator. Her experiences within this field inspired her writing. She left the service to spend time with her family and to follow her dream of being a novelist. SAVING SOPHIE, her debut psychological thriller, published in September 2016. It became a Kindle eBook bestseller, with the paperback hitting The Bookseller Heatseeker chart at #8. Sam was named an Amazon Rising Star of 2016. Her second psychological thriller, BAD SISTER, published in 2017 followed by ONE LITTLE LIE in July 2018. THE MISSING WIFE published in June 2019 with her fifth due on 12th December 2019. 

First Drafts With… S. E. Lynes

Hi everyone, it gives me a great pleasure to welcome psychological thriller writer S. E. Lynes to the blog today.

She is the author of five novels, with the next due out in December this year. In between writing, she was kind enough to answer my questions regarding her first draft process.

Over to you, Susie…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?
When I begin a book it is usually the decision to finally sit and commit to an idea that’s been germinating for weeks or months. The germination is important, a period of not writing, letting it brew. I start by drawing an arc on a sheet of A4 and putting some key plot points, for example, the inciting incident, the thing that is going to happen to my character in order for them to go on a journey, perhaps the crisis that it is all leading to. The next thing is the main character, which I usually have sketched out. If it is a first person narrative, I need to hear their voice, which can take a while but once I have it, I have it. In Valentina, the voice was working-class, Universityeducated Glaswegian; in the Proposal, the voice is very sassy and cynical whereas is my current WIP, the character is older, more down to earth, but laced with dour humour. The books evolve from there.
2) Do you follow the same process for the book you did before?
The process always starts as above. What happens then can depend on how difficult the idea is to realise. The Pact came very quickly because I had the whole thing in my head as a kind of pyramid made up of three main voices whereas my current WIP has been like trying to wrestle a squid into a bag. It isnt even in final shape yet but it is months since I started it and only now is any kind of form becoming possible despite my knowing what the plot is.
3) What is your research process, if you have one?
My research is usually done online and mostly as I go along sometimes before, sometimes after. I write standalone contemporary psychological suspense so I try and keep research to a minimum. Even when I have done a lot od research, as for Mother, which is set in the late 70s in Leeds against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper, I tried to use that research sparingly for authenticity because I dont enjoy reading things in other books that have nothing to do with the story but that I feel have been included because the writer really wanted to show their knowledge. But it is surprising how much you think you know about a certain thing and then, when you commit it to the page, you realise you have to go and check.
4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?
This depends. Usually a few weeks. I need a break between novels as there is some burnout associated with completing such a large piece of work.
5) How does the draft form on the screen?
I have faith in the first draft. My first experience of writing anovel was to do a Write a Novel in a Month course with author and creative writing tutor, Sara Bailey. This has informed my process ever since. I dont write a first draft in a month but I do write as much as I can each day in order to get the words down. I try not to worry about how bad it is at that stage, although, with experience, my first drafts are not as bad as they used to be. To anyone trying to write a novel I would say, just push on and dont worry about the quality. It might be crap but that doesnt mean you are, its just where you are in the process  you might just need more hours spent at the desk, more workshops, more classes more commitment to the craft. 
6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?
I write most of my work in my office between the hours of 11am and 4pm. It is quite a dark room and is has a large desk. The window faces the wall of the next house, so there is nothing to see other than a brick wall. It focusses my mind. After fifteen minutes, Im almost oblivious to my surroundings anyway. When I cant face staying indoorsalone, I go and write in a café  the noise is soothing but doesnt concern me: no one is asking me whats for dinner or have I washed their trousers. I have written on holiday in Spain  I got up and wrote for one and half hours each morning while my family were pottering about and forgot about it for the rest of the day and that worked really well. You have to stick at it.
Thank you for visiting my blog Susie. Finding out about your first draft process has been fascinating. Good luck with the next novel!!
Bio: After graduating from Leeds University, S E Lynes lived in London, where she managed a large café at Oxford Circus, before moving to Aberdeen to be with her husband. In Aberdeen, sheworked as a Radio Features Reporter, then Producer at the BBCbefore moving with her husband and two young children to Rome, where she lived for five years. There, she began to write while her children attended nursery. After the birth of her third child and upon her return to the UK, she gained an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University. She combined writing with teaching creative writing at Richmond Adult Community College and bringing up her three children. She is the author of critically acclaimed psychological thrillers, VALENTINA, published originally by Blackbird books, now by Bookouture alongside MOTHER, THE PACT, THE PROPOSALand THE WOMEN. A new novel is due out in December 2019.

First Drafts With… Graham Smith

Hi everyone, I’m delighted to welcome back to the blog, crime writer Graham Smith.

Having previously featured in my 10 Questions With series last year, I was very happy when he agreed to feature in the First Draft series too!

Over to you, Graham…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

I generally start with an idea. I know the crime, the major characters and what the resolution should be. I also know where it is set, but other than that, I just sit down and start typing, letting the characters tell me the story as I go. I may also know one or two key points I have to hit along the way, but this isn’t always the case.

2) Do you follow the same process for the book as you did before?

I tend to repeat my process as it’s one I have honed over 11 novels, 3 novellas and numerous short stories. It works for me and that’s all I can ask of it.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

I tend to do research sporadically as I go along with the story. I usually know where the next few chapters are going so I can pick up the information I need in advance of the scene where it features. If possible I’ll visit real locations that I use in my stories and when there, I’ll sit in a cafe and listen to how the locals speak and interact with each other.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

I have a bank of ideas and when I’m looking to start a new project, I’ll discuss them with my editor and once we have agreed on which to write, I’ll get to work. Because my process doesn’t involve major planning or full outlines, I take notes of ideas to include during the time I’m writing the first draft.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

The first draft pours out of me. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of being the first to hear a new story. At this stage the story is full of typos, bad grammar and repeated points along with plot holes and timeline errors. They all get fixed in subsequent drafts where I may also feed in more of the research I’ve done.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

I write everything in my living room with the TV or radio on in the background.

Thank you for visiting my blog Graham – finding out about your first draft process has been great!!


Graham Smith is a time served joiner who has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. Since Christmas 2000 he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland. 

 An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer and interviewer for the well-respected website since 2009

 He is the internationally best-selling author of four books featuring DI Harry Evans and the Cumbrian Major Crimes Team and two novels, featuring Utah doorman, Jake Boulder.


Graham can be found at:





In Conversation With… Sharon Bairden

Hi everyone, and I’m delighted to welcome fellow blogger Sharon Bairden to my blog. Sharon is a huge lover, like yours truly, of the crime and thriller genre.

Here, Sharon kindly answers my questions on her favourite authors, life away from blogging and which authors she admires the most.

Over to you, Sharon…

1) Can you tell me a bit about your background into blogging and who are your favourite bloggers? 

I started off blogging very quietly as somewhere to keep my thoughts on books that I’d read. I didn’t ever want to share my thoughts with anyone as I thought they might laugh at my ramblings! As I became more involved in the blogging community I plucked up the courage to share my reviews and the rest is history! It’s honestly the best thing I’ve ever done! I’ve found my tribe!

It is impossible to pick favourite bloggers as they all do a wonderful job of sharing the book love. Four bloggers who have inspired and helped me on my journey have to be Noelle over at Crimebookjunkie; Mary at LiveandDeadly; Anne at Randomthingsthroughmyletterbox and Sarah over at Bytheletterbookreviews.  Emma Mitchell at CreatingPerfectionThese five women have given me the confidence and courage to pursue my dreams. But as I said the blogging community is full of the most supportive individuals you will ever meet and I could literally spend hours making a list of them all! (

2) Who are your top five authors in the genre and why?

Ha! I cannot choose favourite authors! That’s like choosing my favorurite children! I shall give you some names but please, authors, do not think you are not in my heart if you aren’t on this list! I have WAY more than five favourites!

In no particular order:

SE Lynes – the woman is genius, her psychological thrillers get me every single time and I am consumed by them!

Matt Wesolowski – writes gripping psychological thrillers with a touch of horror in a unique style! This man is a genius!

Michael J Malone – he writes crime fiction and psychological thrillers with a strong social commentary running through each of them; he delves right inside my head and his books stay with me for a long long time! Genius

Douglas Skelton – does not get the recognition he deserves; his writing is a work of art; it is intelligent; visual and thought-provoking. Genius!

Lin Anderson – my all time favourite female Scottish crime writer – her Rhona MacLeod series just gets better and better – she is absolute genius and is my queen of crime fiction

Alexandra Sokoloff – totally kick ass, powerful writer who takes no prisoners in her writing; the Huntress series is phenomenal and it is right up there in my top reads of all times! Genius!

I could literally go on and on and on and on!

3) What do you think makes the crime/thriller market so popular? On the other hand, do you think it is currently saturated? 

I think we all have a secret dark side; we all want to explore what it is like to do something we are not meant to do; we can do this safely via crime fiction; it allows us to address social issues, moral issues; it allows us to see justice, even if that justice is sometimes served out with the boundaries of the law! Definitely not saturated – I cannot get enough!

4) What did you grow up reading? Did you have a favourite childhood author? 

The staple diet for me was Enid Blyton and the Famous Five, I think most crime readers grew up on a diet of lashings and lashings of ginger beer and heaps of tomatoes! (will make sense to those of the same age as me!) I moved onto Agatha Christie about age 11 and that was me hooked on darkness!

5) Why particularly do you read crime and thriller? What attracts you to the genre? 

As Q3 above – I definitely have a very dark side! If I tell you any more then I may need to kill you!

6) Whats your view on how Scottish characters are written in predominantly set English novels?

 I think we have, thankfully, gone beyond the stereotype grumpy/tight-fisted/alcoholic Scot in fiction and Scottish Crime Fiction is in a league of its own, with some outstanding talent coming from here.

7) When you’re not blogging, do you have a day job? On the other side, what do you do to relax? 

By day I manage an Independent Advocacy Service which is about ensuring that people who are vulnerable due to their circumstances have their voices heard; I like to describe the role as a human rights activist and I spend my time looking for creative ways in which to make this happen. To relax I read but I have also been doing some of my own writing and hoping that #dreamsdocometrue

8) What’s your music taste like? Do you listen to bands or various artists? 

I’m not a huge music fan, I like a mix of artists but contemporary favourites have got to be Pink and Amy Winehouse

10 Questions With… Debbie McGowan

Hi everyone, and today’s post is me chatting to independent publisher and writer Debbie McGowan.

Debbie McGowan is an award-winning author of contemporary fiction that celebrates life, love and relationships in all their diversity. Since the publication in 2004 of her debut novel, Champagne – based on a stage show co-written and co-produced with her husband – she has published a further thirty-five works (twenty novels, fifteen short stories and novellas). She is the author of two ongoing series: Hiding Behind The Couch (a literary ‘soap opera’ centring on the lives of nine long-term friends) and Checking Him Out (LGBTQ romance). Debbie has been a finalist in both the Rainbow Awards and the Bisexual Book Awards, and in 2016, she won the Lambda Literary Award (Lammy) for her novel, When Skies Have Fallen: a British historical romance spanning twenty-three years, from the end of WWII to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Through her independent publishing company, Debbie gives voice to other authors whose work would be deemed unprofitable by mainstream publishing houses.

Debbie joined me for a quick chat about juggling her full time job with running her own independent publishing company. Over to you, Debbie.

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author and do you have a favourite author now?

I loved Enid Blyton. I probably read all of the Famous Five books, most of the Secret Seven books, The Folk of the Faraway Tree and the other series, which is apparently called ‘The Five Find-Outers and Dog’ (thanks, Wikipedia). Looking back, I’d say what I loved about Blyton’s stories was the mix of mystery/problem-solving and friendship/relationships, and I’m a huge fan of book series. Once I get to know a group of characters, I want to keep going back to visit them, but I also appreciate each instalment having a definitive ending so there’s the option to pause/stop reading.

My favourite author now? That’s a trickier question to answer because I work with most of my favourite authors, assisting them in publishing their work. I read a lot of Josh Lanyon, which again is that mix of mystery and relationships (in this case gay romance), but I also enjoy the break it gives me from editing/proofreading as Lanyon’s books are always in excellent shape.

2) When did you start writing? Did you enjoy English at school?

Interesting you should ask! I realised the answer to this only last week.

In fourth year of high school (Year Ten/9th Grade), I recall looking at essay questions set by our English teacher and thinking ‘How can I twist this into something else?’ That was really my first proper ‘creative’ writing, and it didn’t much impress my English teacher at the time, with whom I had a very antagonistic relationship that culminated in my dad coming into school and demanding I be allowed to sit the English Literature O’ Level. It was one of the two O’ Levels I passed!

I can’t say I enjoyed English at school. Most of the time, I didn’t really register I was studying it at all, but I remember in primary school always wanting to be ahead of where I was in reading as it used to take me forever to read a book. That was the only real challenge I faced with studying English; I understood the nuts and bolts without effort (I passed English Language O’ Level the year after I left school with virtually no teaching), but reading? I didn’t want to race through books just to reach the end; I wanted to savour every eyeful.

When I went to university (later, as a mature student), I started off studying for a BA (Hons) English Literature, but by the end of the first year I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to read a book again. I switched to Applied Social Sciences and have never looked back.

These days, I read much, much faster. 🙂

3) How would you describe your route to publication? Do you have an agent or are you self published?

I don’t have an agent, partly because I very quickly got tired of trying to find one (back in 2000-2001). More importantly, I value my self-sufficiency and I hate paying someone else to do something I can do as well or better myself. True, I don’t have the contacts in big publishing, but I also don’t have any ambition to be a bestseller or make a living from my writing. The changes in the world of publishing over the past ten years make it virtually impossible for anyone to make a living from their writing alone.

So my first novel, I touted directly to publishers myself and I had a few bites. In the end, I went with a small, new independent publisher (highblue, no longer in operation) whose ethos matched my values. However, I quickly discovered I don’t like having my work taken out of my hands.

From there, it’s a bit of a long, winding story, but in short: in 2009, I decided to publish my second novel independently, and over the next couple of years developed a skill set I could offer to other authors. However, most indie authors can’t afford to pay for editing, proofreading, cover design, ebook formatting, typesetting etc., so I offered my skills on a profit-share basis, which led to the launch of Beaten Track Publishing in 2011.

Now, in 2019, Beaten Track still runs on the same model, I don’t think I’d consider signing up with a big publisher. But I wouldn’t say no to a TV/movie option. My historical novel When Skies Have Fallen (Lambda Literary Award winner) really needs a BBC period-drama treatment, and my Hiding Behind The Couch series is perfect for Netflix. Just saying…

4) I read that you juggle being a writer with managing your own publishing house. I wondered how you find the differentiation between both occupations?

If you mean as regards finding time to both write and publish, it’s really hard. I work full-time-plus, and I also have a part-time salaried job with The Open University, which pays the mortgage. I don’t make enough from writing/publishing to do only that. The only way I can make time for writing is to take it in blocks when my publishing/teaching workload is a bit lighter, which doesn’t happen often.

In terms of differentiating the work itself, publishing for me combines both writing and reading, and these are what I love doing most. I wake up every morning looking forward to what the day has in store. I’m up front with the authors I work with about my role as their publisher (or publishing partner, really). I don’t want to do admin stuff, marketing or manage staff. I do what I do for the love of books and the buzz of helping other authors get their books out there. I’ll never be financially rich, and that is absolutely fine by me. Yes, cliché that it is, I’m rich in all the ways that matter.

5) When not writing or running your company, what do you do to relax?

I’m not great at relaxing, although I do it more now than I did even a year ago. I read, of course, and I watch TV with Nige. We semi-binge-watch series, grieve when they’re over, find more series, semi-binge-watch, and on it goes. Currently, we’re recovering from finishing Humans, waiting for the final season of Supernatural, and we’re up to season nine of The Big Bang Theory. Eek!

I have two dogs – no relaxation there – and a cat – enforced relaxation.

I’m also in a community choir, which is not relaxing, but it’s fun, and I go to the gym so I can listen to music because I can’t work and listen to music at the same time.

6) What’s your music taste like? Do you listen to bands or various artists?

I have a particular penchant for big music, by which I mean rich, full compositions with bone-rattling bass, ear-whistling treble and everything in between. I especially love symphonic arrangements of rock/pop (for instance, Metallica’s S&M album with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra, or the 2016 remaster of A-Ha’s ‘Hunting High and Low’) as well as rock covers of pop songs.

If I had to pin my music preferences to a single genre, it would be classic heavy rock, and I’ve been a huge fan of the band Queen since the age of nine. That’s my go-to safe place and default listening choice. Other favourite artists: Aerosmith, early Bon Jovi, Muse, Panic! at the Disco, Linkin Park, Metallica, Rainbow, the Scorpions. But I also like some pop and dance music – just a track here and there – and I’m quite partial to a cappella groups such as Pentatonix.

In 2013-14, I wrote a few chapters and then a novel inspired by A-Ha songs, and it’s left a permanent earworm that has afforded me a chance to appreciate their music anew. In fact, I’m taking my middle sister (always a big A-Ha fan) to see them play in Leeds this November. 🙂

7) Do you have any advice for the unpublished writer?

Just go for it. Writers are champions of finding reasons not to write, not to submit their manuscripts, not to publish or self-publish. It’s important to decide how you want to proceed: whether you want an agent and to pursue a big publishing deal…or not. But that decision isn’t entirely set in stone (though switching from self-publishing to traditional publishing might require a pen name).

If you’re going to self-publish, make sure your work is ready for the world. Edited, proofread, spell-checked, formatted. Even if you can’t afford to pay for these services, you can still run it through Grammarly (or similar).

Exchange beta-reading with other authors – this is a great way to give and receive free feedback, which can really enhance the quality of your work.

Ultimately, be confident that you know your own mind and its creations better than anyone else. There are many experts and industry ‘professionals’ out there, whose advice is sometimes what they want your book to be, not what you want it to be. If they’re promising you big returns (and I don’t mean vague promises of what ‘could’ be if you do as they say/give them money, I mean actual, signed-on-the-dotted-line guarantees), then maybe it’s worth compromising. Otherwise, stay true to yourself.

8) Can you tell me a bit about your latest work? What ideas are currently kicking around in your head?

My latest work is titled Meredith’s Dagger, and I wrote it back in 2011 (during my fourth year of taking part in National Novel Writing Month). I tried a few times to return to it and do the rewriting/self-editing that NaNoWriMo novels need, but honestly? I hated one of the characters, and he’s kind of the first one to appear on-page, so I kept shelving it to deal with later. Anyway, this year, I finally made it past the first few chapters and reworked the entire novel, tightened up the prose, removed passive voice (the wonders of being both an academic and creative writer) and generally developed the characters and plot.

Thank you for visiting my blog, Debbie. Good luck with the release of your novel.

Author links

Debbie McGowan Online:
Hiding Behind The Couch:
Twitter/LinkedIn/Tumblr/Instagram: writerdebmcg

Beaten Track Website:

First Drafts With… Phil Price

Hi everyone, continuing the First Drafts series I am delighted to welcome my good friend and fellow author Phil Price.

Read on as Phil answers my questions on how he creates the all important first draft!

Over to you, Phil…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

I start with a thread of an idea and gradually build it in my head. Once I know it’s a goer, I begin bringing characters into the mix and locations too. It’s always good to have locations in your head that can easily be transferred to the page.

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before?

I kind of change around the formula between books. The first three books, I kinda knew how they were going to play out, so I could just write. On the next book and my current WIP, I have plotted the storyline from start to finish, to give it more structure. The reason behind this, is because the first three books were horror / fantasy, where I had free reign. The other books have more Earth interaction, needing a proper timeline.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

I do more research now than ever before. The current WIP is loosely based on a real crime, so I’ve had to read up about police procedures and the prison system. For my sci-fi book, I had a good idea of how things work and just went with it, with the occasional dip into the information super highway for guidance 😉

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

Depends. I have three more books in my head, that are currently being formulated. I know, there is a lot in there! I have started making rough notes, just in case my old brain forgets what the story should be about. And with one of my books, I had an idea and started writing pretty much straight away.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Hopefully, very quickly. I know the beginning and the end (kinda), so I just start to build the chapters, throwing in twists and turns for good measure. There may be a few deviations, but I tend to stick to the plot, unless a character decides otherwise. This has happened a few times, with a character altering the course of their journey without prior consent from me. How Rude!

6) Where do you write the Majority of the draft?

At my dining table, looking out over my back garden. I occasionally write whilst I’m travelling, but only to do a few fillers and to change something I’m not happy about as it can be very distracting when you’re in an airport lounge…

Thank you for visiting my blog Phil. Finding out about your first draft process has been fascinating. All the best with the next novel.


Phil Price was born in Sutton Coldfield in 1974. He lived in various places in the UK until his family settled in Rednal, a suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham in 1979. Growing up with an older brother and sister, he always flirted with reading, his home always littered with books. Then in 1997, Phil embarked on a travel expedition that took him from Greece to Thailand, via East and Southern Africa. Sitting in dusty bus stations in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi with Wilbur Smith and James Herbert accompanying him, his imagination was sparked into life. Since those far-off days, he has never been without a book to read.

Phil started toying with the idea of writing a book in 2009. After writing a few short stories, he caught a whiff of an idea in his head. It started to evolve in 2010 until he had enough to begin his writing journey. Marriage and two children came along, with the story being moved to the back burner for periods of time. However, during those periods of writing inactivity, the story continued to manifest until it just needed one thing. To be written down.

The story was littered with places that had influenced Phil’s life. From the Lickey Hills in Birmingham to the Amatola Mountains in South Africa, with other many other locations, in-between and far beyond.

The book was finished sometime in 2014, left on his computer until a chance conversation with an author friend made Phil take the bold step to publish his story, Unknown.

From there, Phil’s love for the first book spurred him on, creating The Forsaken Series. A vampire/paranormal/horror trilogy, set in our world, and others too. His love of horror and all things supernatural, inspired by authors such as King, Herbert and others, helped create the epic series.

Next on the horizon, is a science fiction novel, titled Zoo, which will boldly go where Phil has never been before…

Aside from his writing, Phil lives on the edge of a small town in Worcestershire, UK. A wife and two sons keep Phil happily occupied as he steers his way through life, playing the husband, dad, and world creator in equal measure.

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