10 Questions With… Sarah Pinborough

Hi everyone, this morning I’m delighted to welcome Sarah Pinborough to the blog. She was kind enough to answer my questions on her writing process. She is the author of the bestselling psychological thriller, Behind Her Eyes.

Over to you, Sarah…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I read so much as a child but I think as a young child it was Peter Pan, a copy of which I got for my 6th birthday and I can still see the pages even now, and also The Magician’s Nephew. As I got older I read pretty widely because I was at boarding school so there wasn’t that much else to do and there were always books, and then fell in love with all sorts of writers like Wilbur Smith, James Herbert and Stephen King. I read quite a lot of fantasy when I was young but that faded as I got older. No idea why.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I enjoyed the creative parts of it, and it was probably my best subject, so I guess yes. It was a long time ago!

3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing? If so, how?

I haven’t had a day job for about twelve years, so no;-). Although when I was teaching it probably helped a bit with teenage psyches when I later came to write some YA novels such as The Death House and 13 Minutes.But I think unless you were a police person and writing crime or whatever I don’t think day jobs tend to help in writing. Not for me anyway.

4) What was your route to publication? How did you find your current agent?

My first book was published at the end of 2004 and it was a straight horror novel for a mass market paperback company in America. They published my first 6 books. I was, I guess lucky, because I’d picked up a couple of their books in a US airport when I was writing my first book, and when I checked their website I saw that they accepted unsolicited manuscripts. So when I’d finished The Hidden, I sent the first 3 chapters and an outline and they bought it. I got my first agent after that. Then I just kind of worked my way up the publishing ladder from there!

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

I don’t really know! I don’t analyse where ideas come from really, but obviously you have to tailor them to what you’re contracted to write. So, if I’m contracted to write three adult psychological thrillers and I hand in a YA fantasy, that’s not going to end well. The more you write though, the more you look for ideas in every day life. If you read an interesting article and bookmark it, sometimes that will create an idea.. or at least the germ of one. When I get a sense of who my main character is then it starts to come to life. After that I spider diagram plot ideas etc. I’m a planner, so I do a lot of thinking and notes before I start, and I HAVE to have the end in place before I start. The rest can change as I go, but the ending is fixed and I’m working towards it.

6) How many times, roughly, would you say, that you polish a draft before you send it off to your agent?

Oh god, I’m normally late so I don’t! I finish it and then send to my UK editor and agent at the same time, and prob my US agent. I don’t see the point in polishing it at that point because there will be an edit anyway so the polishing can come later. I don’t write on spec so I’ve already sold the books before I write them so it’s different. And my agent doesn’t see them before my editor. Although I sometimes send her first 20,000 words so she’s got a feel for it for the foreign rights team.

7) Do you have any advice for writers looking to send their work to agents?

Obviously first check that the agency represents what the kind of fiction you’re writing. Make sure your book is finished and the first page – the first paragraph and first line – is really engaging, because to be honest, if your first page is dull they won’t read anymore. Make sure your accompanying book outline is clear, and your cover letter is professional. Don’t compare yourself or your book to other writers. Don’t sing your own praises. This is a business letter really. If there’s an interesting back story to your book, maybe a paragraph on it, but the work is what will sell itself or not. And whatever you do, don’t take rejection personally. I still have the notebook with my list of crossed out agencies that I sent my book to! One of the companies is now my agency, many years on;-) The Writer’s Handbook normally has a comprehensive list. Or if there is an author whose work is similar, check the acknowledgements, where they will no doubt thank their agent, and so you can find someone who may be a match that way.

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

I just read Lisa Hall’s upcoming book, ‘The Perfect Couple’ and I really loved it. A great psych thriller with echoes of Hitchcock and Rebecca.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I don’t work a Monday to Friday schedule so I tend to work seven days a week when I’m in the mood, or I may take a Monday of or whatever and my timings are fluid. It’s not a set ‘at my desk’ routine. But I’m quite boring really, I like watching movies. Sometimes I’ll just get a lot of crap food and watch 3 films back to back or whatever if I really want to switch off for a while. I walk the dog, work, watch movies and read.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?

Oh Freddie Mercury all the way! So much drama and magic. Love him!

Thank you so much for visiting my blog today, Sarah. It has been a pleasure to interview you.


Sarah Pinborough is a Sunday Times Number one, New York Times and Internationally bestselling author who is published in over 25 territories worldwide. Her recent books include Behind Her Eyes which will be a global Netflix series in summer 2020, and Cross Her Heart which is in development with World Productions. Her next thriller, Dead To Her (August 2020) has already been optioned by a major studio for development as a US TV series.

Sarah has been shortlisted for the Crime and Thriller Book of the Year at the British Book Awards and was the 2010 and 2014 winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Novella. She has four times been short-listed for Best Novel. She is also a screenwriter who has written for the BBC and has several original television projects in development.’

An Interview With… David Headley

Hi everyone, and today, I’m delighted to welcome literary agent David Headley to the blog. Alongside the what he looks for in submission questions, David also answered my questions on what is he up to during lockdown.

Over to you, David…

1) Did you always want to be a literary agent when you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?

A short answer is no. I had no idea that a literary agent was even a job until I started working in my bookshop. I didn’t even want to be a bookseller but I have always loved reading. From as far back as I can remember, I was always reading. I was also a librarian in school. I had thoughts of being in the police and joining the RAF and was a cadet for a short time. It wasn’t until I had left school that I finally decided that I wanted to be a Catholic priest, though it took some time to come to that decision. It was the best thing that I ever did because it gave me an education that has massively helped me. I decided to become a literary agent 12 years ago and it has been the most rewarding career.

2) How are you drawn into a submission – is it the covering letter, synopsis or sample writing? What can an author do to leave you wanting more?

A covering letter can be intriguing. I find that the submissions that I am drawn to are the ones where the author is confident and they are clear about what they are writing. They have a skill to pull me in. The synopsis isn’t ever the thing that I judge the submission on. I always judge the submission on the writing. If I have reached the end of the three chapters and I desperately want to read more then I know I have something special.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript?

Usually it is in the first few pages. Sense of place and strong narrative voice will grab me and keep me.

4) What, currently, are you not looking for? Do you mind if an author blends genres in their writing?

I’m never really prescriptive because the books that I represent are often books that took me by surprise and ones that I would not normally have called for. If an author blends a genre that is fine if it done well. Genres have rules and as long as those rules are kept it will work. Often, those books that don’t meet the rules and are successful are because the writers know the rules well and know how to break them.

5) What would make you reject a manuscript, if you have asked to see the completed work?

If I can’t see how to fix the issues then I will reject a manuscript that I have called in. Sometimes, writers spend so much time perfecting their first three chapters for submission they forget that the rest of the book needs the same work. I will also reject a manuscript if the writing needs too much work and I feel the writer has been impatient in sending their submission too early. Publishing is a marathon not a sprint.

6) What are your views on the crime and thriller market? In your opinion, is there a sub-genre in need of more representation?

The crime and thriller genre is my favourite and I read a lot of crime and thriller books. I am a judge for a crime prize and so I read widely. I can’t think there is a sub-genre that is under represented, though there should be more diverse voices. That is without question.

7) Is there one book from your childhood that you still read now? If so, why are you still drawn to it? Mine is any of the Harry Potter series and the Horrid Henry books. I was a huge fan of the novels and my six year old self had nightmares about Voldermort.

I really wish I had time to revisit books from my childhood. I do, though, have a brilliant memory and I can recall a lot about the books that I have read. I read so many new books for the bookshop and as an agent that I just don’t have time to re-read books.

Life is too short and there are so many books. Also, I think reading a book at a certain time makes a difference to how you read it and what impact it will have on you.

8) What are your views on book to film or television adaptations? Do you prefer the book or the film versions?

As an agent, they are great, and can be very lucrative for authors. I think that you have to accept that both mediums are very different and there will always be differences that you will not like. I always explain to my clients that if they sell options to their work they might have to accept that there will be changes that they may not like.

9) During lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to favourite books or finding new ones? I’m a mix of both.

I am reading submissions and books coming out in the next six months. There are some really brilliant books coming soon, I have just finished reading Laura Shepherd Robinsons’s second novel, The Daughters of the Night which is fantastic. This is a follow-up to her brilliant debut, Blood and Sugar. I am also reading new manuscripts and editing books by my clients. It is business as normal in that respect for me.

10) During lockdown, what are you currently watching? Are your TV habits changing? I’m binging on Netflix in the daytime.

I have just finished watching Gangs of London and I am currently watching Hollywood. My TV habits haven’t changed because the weather has been so fantastic that I have spent a lot of time working in the garden.

Thank you so much for your time today, David. It has been a pleasure to interview you.


David Headley studied theology in London and Durham before co-founding and becoming the Managing Director of Goldsboro Books, a much admired, leading independent bookseller, based in central London.

David has spent the last 21 years establishing Goldsboro Books and building good relationships with editors within the UK’s major publishing houses. He has a good eye for what readers want to read and he has gained a reputation for championing debut authors. He created the UK’s largest collectors’ book club and is influential in selling large quantities of hardback fiction in the UK. David has won awards for bookselling and in 2015 he was included in the Top 100 most influential people in publishing by The Bookseller.

David is the managing director of the D H H Literary Agency which he founded in 2008 and represents an eclectic range of best-selling and award-winning authors.

Currently looking for:

David is actively seeking well written stories with strong characters and an original narrative voice across both general and genre fiction, and is specifically on the lookout for crime / thrillers with a twist and a beautifully told, scene-setting romance. David is not looking for non-fiction, books for children, young adult [YA], history, poetry, plays, screenplays & short stories / novellas.

10 Questions With… Margaret Murphy

Hi everyone, I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Margaret Murphy to the blog. She was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me, relating to her writing process.

Over to you, Margaret…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

My reading was eclectic and constantly evolving. The first adult fiction I remember reading was Jane Eyre at the age of nine or ten, but I’m fairly sure it was a Readers’ Digest abridged version—I was an avid reader from a young age, but not that precocious! It had a profound effect on me: in the young Jane I saw someone of my own age articulating the feelings and thoughts and confusion I constantly experienced trying to make sense of the world. I was impressed by her innate morality, and her ability to remain true to herself, even when it was an unpopular – and even dangerous – thing to do.

There’s definitely a ‘wow’ moment in Jane Eyre, yup, there most certainly is! Turn to the chapter about the wedding.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Yes, and no. I enjoyed reading, and taking parts in plays when we read round the class, and school plays at end of term, but I hated being given set writing exercises, and one English report said I ‘lacked imagination’. The problem was, even then, I wanted to write about what interested me – and that didn’t encompass ‘what I did in the school holidays’. Our big family treat in the summer was a day trip to Ainsdale beach in my dad’s cab, or squelching across a wet field in north Wales, so the essay would amount to a short, dull, ‘not much’. But I did adventure in foreign lands, navigating the hazards of New York’s streets or driving the California coastline, righting (writing?) wrongs along the way – in other words, living life as many baby authors do: in the mind, though imagination and the power of ‘what if’.

3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing? If so, how?

I’ve had many day jobs over the years, from shop assistant, through Park Ranger and onto various roles in teaching, from biology to running a dyslexia unit, lecturing in creative writing, and finally working as an RLF Writing Fellow with universities across the north west. All have helped in the way that every experience, if reflected on, helps a writer. And of course, you meet so many interesting characters… I did have to unlearn some bad habits from my science training, though. In science, it’s a Good Thing to be objective and emotionally distanced from the topic – in fictional writing, it’s often a very Bad Thing. I write full time, now, but I’m still watching and listening, absorbing quirks and gestures, personality traits and psychologies which may someday find their way into the characters that populate my books.

4) What was your route to publication? How did you find your current agent?

My route was Difficult – capital intended. It took me five years and, oh, I can’t remember now – possibly three books? – to find a publisher. I found my current agent the same way I found the previous two – by doing my research. So I found out who represented my favourite authors, which agents specialised in crime fiction, and – crucially – which agents were willing to accept unsolicited MS submissions. Back in the 1990s, that knowledge was gleaned from two publications: The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, and The Writer’s Handbook. Today, you can google your way through that stuff in the click of a mouse – so there’s no excuse to be ill-informed.

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

I don’t think of it as ‘generation’ – that feels too contrived and mechanistic. When an idea comes to me, it’s oftenfrom left field, and frequently as a startling image: the body of a woman falling from a wheelie bin into the maw of a lorry; a body, posed on a table tomb in a Victorian cemetery, tattooed from neck to foot; a barrister chained in the dark in a cold cellar. When I have the idea, I start by asking questions: who is the victim? Who investigates? What do they need to look for? Who do they need to interview? What are they hiding? Could forensics help (or hinder) the investigation? Then comes in-depth research and a couple of months of outlining before I begin writing the chapters.

6) How many times, roughly, would you say, that you polish a draft before you send it off to your agent?

No idea. I’ll polish the scene I wrote the night before, using that as a springboard into the day’s work, and if something is niggling, or doesn’t feel right, or I feelstuck, I might go back several chapters and redraft, finding a way forward by that route. Then I read each completed chapter aloud to my husband and edit and polish before moving on. When the novel is finished, I’llto a complete read-through, checking for structural and plot glitches as well as narrative flow, rewriting (often several times) before ever letting my agent see it. The point is your agent needs to see the very best book you can write. Not something which has promise, or couldbe good with a bit of work – it’s your job to do that work before you show it to anyone in the industry.

7) Do you have any advice for writers looking to send their work to agents?

See Q. 6 Also, do your research, follow the agency submission requirements, write a really good synopsis – and part of that requires advance prep of a different kind. Submit short stories to competitions and mention any shortlistings, commendations etc. in your CV/introductory letter. You have to stand out from a crowd of maybe 2000-4000 submissions they could receive in a year!

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

Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell. A brilliant suspense novel, in the mould of The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, Then She Was Gone is a terrific mystery, centred around a bright, but sheltered teenaged girl who disappears without trace. It made me care deeply about the central character and ask questions all through the narrative – despite the fact that a major plot point is revealed very early in the novel.

If anyone is interested, I review books on my Shelf Indulgence blog on my website – both fiction and non-fiction, new and old.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Like most writers I know, I work every day of the week, so I don’t really experience that Friday night feeling. Weekends for most freelancers, including writers, are just times when you know nobody will get back to you if you email. That can be a good thing, because, knowing that nobody will be asking me for stuff means I can get some serious writing done without interruption! To relax, I garden, do a bit of yoga, walk, read (obv), watch films – and before the lockdown, I enjoyed the theatre.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?

Freddie Mercury no hesitation. Don’t get me wrong, Rod Stewart is a hell of an artist – his ‘A Night on the Town’album sold like hotcakes when I worked as a Saturday girl on the record counter at John Menzies, and I knew every word of every track. But no one can touch Queen for scale, depth of understanding of human passion and need, or for wit, and musicality. Mercury’s fabulously entertaining and bravura performances were the cornerstone of their success; his vocal range was epic (four octaves – damnit!), the power and control he had was just breath-taking, and his singing and sheer personality electrified audiences across the world.


Margaret Murphy writes internationally acclaimed psychological thrillers. She is a past Chair of the Crime Writers Association (CWA), founder of Murder Squad, and a former RLF Writing Fellow and Reading Round Lector. She’sbeen a country park ranger, biology teacher, dyslexia specialist and Visiting Professor in creative writing. A Short Story Dagger and CWA Red Herring award winner, she has also been shortlisted for the ‘First Blood’ critics award and CWA Dagger in the Library.

Website: https://www.margaretmurphy.co.uk

Twitter: @murphy_dyer

Book info:

Margaret Murphy’s Darkness Falls is now available (at 99p for a short time!) from Joffe Books on AmazonKindle.

Here’s a taster: ‘Clara Pascal is a successful lawyer, beautiful and a devoted mother. People want to be her. Then Clara is abducted in broad daylight. The only witness is her daughter, Pippa, and all she can describe is a man bundling her mummy into a white van. Now, robbed of everything that gives her life meaning, Clara lies chained to the stone wall of a dark cellar – without food, warmth, or sleep, without even the most basic communication. Why has he taken her?’

Val McDermid wrote: ‘Darkness Falls is a model of what the modern suspense thriller should be — tense, scary, page-turning and stomach-churning… Set aside a day — you won’t be able to put it down once it has you in its grip.’

Thanks for visiting the blog, Margaret. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

‘Set aside a day—you won’t be able to put it down once it has you in its grip.’ —Val McDermid

‘A first-rate chiller.’  —Booklist (starred review)

The Cutting Room

“Disturbing and wickedly entertaining.” —People Magazine

“Addictive sequel to 2018’s Splinter in the Blood.”  —Publishers Weekly

“There’s enough of Edgar Allen Poe, Peter James, and Michael Connelly in “The Cutting Room” to make every mystery reader’s heart beat faster.” —Suspense Magazine

10 Questions With… Jacky Collins

Hi everyone, and today I’m delighted to welcome Jacky Collins to the blog. Jacky founded Newcastle Noir Festival, and also discusses her favourite books in lockdown that she is currently reading.

Over to you, Jacky…

1) As a child, did you always have a love of reading? Was there any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

Yes, I did, from an extremely early age. I was also very protective of my books. I recall a vivid memory from when I was 3 years old. A friend made the grave error of scribbling in one of my precious story books. Needless to say she went home quite bruised and with a newfound respect for books!The ‘Wow’ book for me was The Hobbit (JRR Tolkein). I was totally enthralled by Bilbo’s journey & the book spoke to me of little people being able to achieve much (at 1’53m, that encouragement still holds true!)

2) Why did you choose to set up the Newcastle Noir festival?

Newcastle Noir was established with a view promoting top-class crime writing in the region and as a celebration of this intriguing and increasingly diverse genre. Being aware of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Bristol CrimeFest & Bloody Scotland, we wanted to host a similar event in the North East to which we could invite local, national and international authors. We are especially keen to welcome writers from further afield, in order to give avid crime readers from the region the opportunity to hear and meet these authors without having to travel great distances. Not only are we mad for crime fiction, but we’re also extremely passionate about making this event accessible to as many people as possible, so our aim is to keep prices as affordable as we can.

3) Is there a difference between NN and Noir at The Bar?

Yes, Newcastle Noir is a literary festival celebrating the best in contemporary crime writing. Based at Newcastle’s City Library, this annual gathering of crime fiction authors and readers offers events geared to a wide audience including panel discussions, readings, talks, guided tours and crime writing workshops.

Since it’s inception in Philadelphia, Noir at The Bar, is usually a relaxed evening in a local pub or similar venue where crime writers (established, emerging & would-be) read from their work. It’s a free event, members of the audience have the opportunity to win books, as well as enter the wildcard round so if they have a noirish story to tell, they can put their name in the hat.

4) You taught Film and TV at Northumbria University. What was your experience like of being a lecturer?

Over 25 years ago, I began my academic career in Modern Foreign Languages, lecturing in Spanish (Language & Cultural Studies). At my core, I am a linguist who delights is seeing others get to grips with another language and gain an understanding of how other societies function and their history. I am proud to say that many of the students I taught in this subject area have gone on to pursue a career in teaching languages at all levels in the education system – there’s nothing to beat the MFL spirit! More recently, I was offered the opportunity to move into Film & TV Studies and welcomed the chance to develop a different side of my knowledge which had been part of the focus of my PhD studies. It was a total delight to work with a different body of students, who opened my eyes to so many contemporary films. In return, I helped them develop their analytical and presentation skills. I have been so fortunate to spend time teaching subjects that continue to fill my life with joy & to work with young people who are so full of enthusiasm, creativity and dedication.

5) What do you look for in a good crime novel? Pace, character, story structure?

I look for a protagonist who grips me, a complex mystery/crime that needs solving and a complimentary story line that provides insight into issues troubling society. I should also say, I usually look first to see where the book is set, as I’m a massive fan of crime fiction in translation. If the book is taking me elsewhere, I’m already hooked!

6) Can you name one favourite author, and why you like their style of writing?

How difficult is this?! There are a number I could easily name for different reasons, but in the end I am going to choose the Icelandic writer Lilja Sigurdardottir, because to me she writes crime fiction like ABBA wrote (write – still longing for the promised new tracks) songs. Let me explain, behind an initial accessibility, there is a delicious complexity sprinkled with just the right amount of gold-dust magic. Also, the structure of the trilogy is reminiscent of a Mexican soap opera, but again don’t be fooled, there is a depth here examining the evils of our time, shedding light both locally (Iceland) and globally. If you haven’t had a chance to read this author, buckle up & treat yourself to a perfect lockdown escape!

7) During lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to favourite books or finding new ones? I’m a mix of both.

I have been so lucky to have my reading cut out for me, as I have been preparing for the online mini-NN2020 festival, Crime Fiction Addiction Radio Show, Noir at the Bar Edinburgh digital sessions and the Newcastle Library Eurocrime bookclub. I am definitely finding new ones, and please can I give a shout-out to Trevor Wood & Judith O’Reilly, two North East authors who have recently released two cracking crime novels – The Man on the Street & Curse the Day.

8) During lockdown, what are you currently watching? Are your TV habits changing? I’m binging on Netflix in the daytime.

Mostly, I am going between Netflix and Walter Presents for my crime drama fix – so I have just started watching Ozarks & The Other Mother. But where the greatest visual please is to be had for me at the moment is with Season 3 of Killing Eve! It ticks all the boxes & it’s providing the material for my latest research project.

9) Do you enjoy non fiction books?

I do, my choice would be for a good science/natural world publication or a book about the Spanish or Nordic cinema industry.

10) During lockdown, what music do you listen to? Have they changed at all? Mine have stayed the same.

I have been focusing on Icelandic music because I’m trying to learn the language & music is always a great way to do this. I’ve discovered an artist call GDRN (Gudrun) and I’m getting lost in her music, as well as a group with the unfortunate name of Lockerbie, but their music is fab.

Thank you for featuring on my blog, Jacky. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Dr Jacky Collins, formerly Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University in Literature, Film & TV and Spanish Language & Culture, is also know as Dr Noir. In 2014 Jacky established the International Crime Fiction Festival that is Newcastle Noir, hosted annually at Newcastle’s City Library. With a keen passion for crime in translation, the festival regularly welcomes authors from the Nordic countries, Germany, France and more recently from Romania. In addition, Dr Noir runs the monthly Eurocrime Book Club, also held at this venue. Jacky is regularly invited to moderate at other national and international crime writing festivals. More recently, she has been venturing into local radio, co-hosting a fortnightly crime fiction programme on SpiceFM, hosting literary events in Edinburgh with the Honey & Stag events team, and has joined Corylus Books, a brand new indie publisher of fine crime fiction in translation: from Romania, Iceland and beyond.

10 Questions With… Phoebe Morgan

Hi everyone, I’m delighted to welcome Phoebe Morgan to the blog today. She kindly took the time out to answer my questions on her writing process. I loved her advice particular on researching agents.

Over to you, Phoebe.

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

As a child I read a huge amount of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl – I think their amazing imaginations are the thing that stuck with me, and made me realise that reading really is escaping into another world. I’m finding that so useful now, as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe and nobody can travel – being able to lose myself in a novel is a wonderful privilege. I’m so glad that I was encouraged to read a lot as a child, as it instilled a love for books in me from a very young age. We didn’t have a television, so practically all I did was read!

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I did, yes. It was my favourite subject, and probably the only one I was any good at, though I did enjoy history and art as well. I did an English degree at university, but I think I enjoyed English the most in high school; I had a particularly great teacher in Year 7 and Year 8 who made a big impact on me and showed me how important creativity is in writing. She was the first teacher to tell me that I had a good imagination, and it really stayed with me and encouraged me as I grew older.

3) How did you find your day job as a journalist and your one currently as an Editorial Director for HarperCollins? Do you find that your experience helps you when you are writing?

I was only a journalist for just under a year before I moved into publishing, and I definitely prefer my job now – I love working with authors on their manuscripts and being involved in all the parts of the process, from briefing the jacket design to looking at the sales figures and thinking about how to build an author’s profile. I do think my editorial experience helps when writing as I learn so much from other writers, primarily about how to structure a novel and I also find it very inspiring working around others who care so much about books – it makes me want to be a better author and spurs me on when writing feels hard.

4) What was your route to publication? How did you find your current agent?

I signed with my agent in 2015, or 2014 I think, so we’ve worked together for a while now. I just sent out my first three chapters, covering letter and synopsis to a range of agents and was very lucky when Camilla (Bolton, at the Darley AndesonAgency) agreed to represent me. She originally asked me to meet up and we discussed the book that would become my debut (The Doll House), and then I did a bit of editorial work on it before she actually signed me up. I was so thrilled when she emailed to say she was offering representation – I can remember I was sat in Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, so very fitting really! After some more edits, Camilla sent the book out to publishers, and eventually HQ took it on. I did also face a fair amount of rejection, which is definitely worth saying – it wasn’t a super-easy path and I would say to anyone in a similar position that the most important thing is to take feedback on board and to keep going. You only need one yes!

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

I am not a huge planner – I often start with a setting or a character and then come up with the plot afterwards. For example, with my third book The Babysitter (out with HQ on 28th May) I wanted to set it in Suffolk where I grew up, but I also wanted it to have a holiday element so part of it is set in France and inspired by a gorgeous villa I stayed in a couple of years ago. I also often write about siblings and women, so I sometimes have characters form in my mind before the actual idea develops more slowly over time.

6) How many times, roughly, would you say, that you polish a draft before you send it off to your agent?

I now send my books to my editor and agent at the same time, so I will usually have gone through the manuscript a fair few times before pressing send. It depends on how much time I have, but I would hate to turn something in that was full of mistakes so I do try to be quite careful. That said my books do always need work and I know that there will be edits down the line – which I don’t mind too much, as writing the first draft is the hardest bit! So I would say I go through the manuscript somewhere between three and seven times before sending it – not always fully, but maybe I might go over certain bits like the opening more than others.

7) Do you have any advice for writers looking to send their work to agents?

Make sure you do your research! Think about what kind of genre you are writing in and find out who are the best agents in that genre. Follow their guidelines closely, and read interviews with them online if you can about what they might be looking for. Make sure your work is finished (if it is fiction) and that you’re happy with it before you send. Do send to multiple agents at once as it can take a while to hear back, so doing it one agent at a time isn’t the best approach.

8) What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it? What did you enjoy about it specifically? Plot, character, structure, pace?

I loved LITTLE DISASTERS by Sarah Vaughan, a suspense novel about a woman who suspects her friend of hurting her baby. I loved the characters and pacing most of all – she’s a brilliant writer and I loved how the story developed, and the nuanced ways the characters interacted. It was a fascinating look at motherhood and female friendship – two subjects I find very interesting.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Hmm well I am writing this in lockdown, so not a lot! I’m working from home, so I do try to differentiate between the days and the evenings as much as I can – on a Friday at 6 I will get up from my desk (kitchen table!) and go for a run around the park. I am lucky to live close to a lovely park in London, and getting out once a day makes a big difference to how I feel. So I will usually do that, then come back and light a candle, have some dinner and maybe watch a crime drama or a film. I love crime dramas so I’m always after a new one to absorb myself in! I also try to read for pleasure at the weekends, but it is hard as I always have lots of submissions to read for work too.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?

I have to confess I know very little about either of them, sorry… I am awful at celebrity culture unless it involves 90s girlbands or Taylor Swift…

Bio: Phoebe Morgan is an author and editorial director at HarperCollins. Her novels The Doll House and The Girl Next Door are out now, and The Babysitter, her third book, publishes with HQ on 28th May 2020. She is always on the look out for exciting new voices, and you can read her blog about writing and publishing here:www.phoebemorganauthor.com or find her on Twitter @Phoebe_A_Morgan.

Thank you for allowing me to interview you, Phoebe. It’s been a pleasure to have you on the blog today.

First Drafts With… Tim Weaver

Hi everyone, I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Tim Weaver to the blog today. Read on as he answers my questions on that all important first draft process.

“Here’s Tim on a research trip to Torcross, Devon, which provided the inspiration for the village that his character David Raker grew up in.”

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

I’m just editing my first ever standalone at the moment, so the process for that has been slightly different, but with the David Raker series, I generally start with the idea for a mysterious and unexplained disappearance. I try to challenge myself (and Raker, as the missing persons investigator) by making the disappearance easy to pitch but difficult to solve: so, in Vanished, a man disappears on a Tube train; in Never Coming Back, a family vanish in the middle of making their dinner; in Fall from Grace, a man goes to the back of his house to fetch firewood and never returns; in No One Home, a whole village disappears overnight. At the beginning, I have no idea how or why that person or people have vanished, or how – I tend to just figure it out as I go.

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

Yes, generally I’ll stick to the same process for each book, as described above. There soon become big differences between books, though, not just in terms of the actual storylines themselves, but in how easily (or not!) the plot comes together. That’s the downside with not planning: there’s a lot of experimenting, and sometimes you have no idea how well, or how badly, an idea is going to work until you get there.

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

I usually spend a month researching and 10 months writing. Research is a big part of the process for me – talking to experts, reading books, making notes, travelling to different places, taking photographs – but I also make sure not to let it define the experience too much. What I mean is, research is important because, without it, your reader will have a hard time believing the world you’re presenting them – it needs to feel realistic, believable, like it exists (even if it doesn’t) and characters need to behave in ways that makes sense within the context of who they are and what they do. But, in a work of fiction, and especially in a thriller, your number one job is to entertain, so you have to strike the right balance. If you pour too much research into your novel – and it can be tempting, believe me – it starts to feel more like an instruction manual.

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

As I said before, I don’t plan, so once my research is done, I start writing. After the research phase, I’ll have a little more insight into the vague direction I’m heading – perhaps even where I might eventually end up – but not much other than that. Not planning, as discussed, can be stressful, but I think the positives far outweigh the negatives: in my opinion, characters don’t come alive until you’ve got them on the page, thinking and interacting, and that organic process of just letting them go and flourish, not only improves them but improves the plot. It’s easier to surprise the reader – especially important in a thriller – when you’re busy surprising yourself.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

There’s no magic bullet for me. I write, chapter by chapter, in a linear fashion. I take longer than some writers to get to a first draft, because I can’t move on from one chapter until I’ve got the previous one as good as possible, but it means my first draft tends to be a little more up together. But not perfect. Never, ever perfect. Completing a first draft of your book is only the first baby step on the road to a finished version. But I love working with my editor after that. It’s hard work but very rewarding.

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

At my desk, in my office at home. I can’t write on trains or in cafes. I can only work at home. I like quiet, so don’t listen to music, and I try to write from 9am to 5pm every week day. That picks up a bit when you’re closing in on deadline, but generally I try to do a fairly ordinary working week, and try to achieve 1500 words per day. Until Book 4, Never Coming Back, I worked as a journalist during the day (and sometimes night!) and that was very hard: during those years, I just grabbed hours where I could.

Thank you for taking part in my First Drafts interview today, Tim. It’s been a pleasure.

Bio: Tim Weaver is the Sunday Times bestselling author of the David Raker missing persons series. His novels have twice been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and he’s been nominated for a National Book Award and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. He also wrote, presented and produced the chart-topping podcast, Missing, about why people disappear and how they are found. He lives in Bath and is currently putting the finishing touches to his eleventh book, which will be his first ever standalone novel.

10 Questions With… Paul Finch

Hi everyone, this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Paul Finch to the blog. Here, Paul discusses his writing experience and his current writing process.

Over to you, Paul…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

I’ve always had a love of books. I don’t think there is any particular title. My earliest memories of reading as a child were the Armada Ghost Books, which I found wonderfully scary, and then, when I was slightly older, the Narnia books, the Tarzan books, the Conan books. If there’s any book that really blew me away, I think it was the first adult book I read, which was Lord of the Rings. I was in my first year at middle-school at the time, and I remember my English teacher being very impressed when she heard I’d read it. The Wow moment probably came at the battle of Helm’s Deep. After a lot of scene-setting and character development, which, at that tender age I’d struggled with a little, Tolkien suddenly hit us with this tremendous action sequence, which went on for page after page. I remember my hair standing on end, I found it so exciting. But probably the real Wow moment in my literary life came when I was very young. My father, who was the one who’d later encourage me to read all these books, used to tell me stories when I was too young to read them myself, and one of the earliest I can remember was Beowulf and Grendel. The image of the snowbound Viking hall, which this terrible monster visited every night to kill everyone he found there purely for the pleasure it gave him, and then one night, this lone warrior was waiting for him in the darkness, burned itself into my mind. Even as a real youngster the dramatic power of storytelling was unleashed on me in that moment.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I wasn’t the most attentive pupil when I was at school. I wasn’t one of the bad boys, but all I wanted to do was play rugby league and listen to rock music. However, if there were two subjects I did enjoy it was English and History. History was a more scholarly exercise, involving lots of learning by rota, but I still found it interesting. But English just seemed to come naturally to me. I never really understood at the time that I had a creative bent, but my English teachers seemed to recognise this and encouraged it. So, I owe a lot to Miss Durkin and Sister Bridget (wherever they are now), who were very receptive to whatever undeveloped ability I had in those early days.

3) You first started out as a scriptwriter for The Bill. How did you find your experience?

Writing for television in my experience, and bear in mind that I haven’t done it for quite a while now, is a very different discipline from novel writing. Okay, in both worlds you’reselling your personal expression, so you’ve got to be interesting, relevant and entertaining. There is no room in either for slack work. But when writing for TV, and certainly this was the case with The Bill, a twice and sometimes thrice-a-week drama, which never took a break, speed and deadline were really important. This created intensive pressure, which wasn’t enjoyable and wasn’t always conducive to doing great work. That said, The Bill was the best cop show in British history, in my view, and while I don’t have fond memories of some aspects of working on it, what I would say is that, when I first arrived there at the end of the 1980s, I was very raw indeed – I’d only got through the door because I was a serving police officer – and yet I then found myself being coached in what was one of the best script departments in British television. My first few script editors were remarkable in what they managed to draw out of me. Everything I was able to do in later years, when writing television or film drama, short stories or novels, I pretty much owe to that hectic period in my life.

4) What was your route to publication? How did you find your current agent?

Getting an agent is very important if you are serious about writing, but I’m not the best example of how to do it. Because I’d approached The Bill off my own bat, and they’d found a policeman wanting to write for the show intriguing enough to give me a whirl, I got through the door without an agent. And of course, once I was inside, I had no trouble getting one. That would not have happened in normal circumstances and probably wouldn’t happen at all nowadays as British network TV produces less original drama generally.

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

The main plan is to ensure that the idea is noted down somewhere. I always, even when on holiday, have a pad with me or a Dictaphone, in case an idea springs to mind. I get it down ASAP, and then, when I’m home, add it to one of my ideas files. I have three of these now, and they’re all as thick as telephone directories. Some entries are nothing more than a page with a single line of text on it, but at least the idea has been recorded. That way I don’t have to clutter my memory up with them, and yet, if my agent calls at some future time and says everyone’s now looking for such and such a thing, or an anthology editor asks me if I’ve got anything involving this or that, I can go back to my files and flick through. 

If I say so myself, some ideas are so good that I feel they need to be written in full there and then, but that doesn’t happen much these days. I’m glad to say that I’m so thoroughly commissioned now that there is rarely time to write on spec. However, I do raid my ideas files before I sit down with my editors at Orion to discuss the next book. It’s always nice to be able to lay out 20 different thoughts. Almost invariably, at least one of them strikes gold.

How to generate ideas is a question often asked and yet very hard to answer honestly. I don’t think I’m speaking purely for myself if I say that I genuinely don’t know where the ideas come from. They can hit me at any time in any place, tripped off by who knows what. I think I’m just fortunate in that I’m receptive to this stuff. It helps of course, that since I turned full-time pro, I’m doing my dream job. I don’t really have working hours because I enjoy it so much. Hence, I’mpondering projects all the time. I even find it fun to have an ideas bash. I often do this with my wife, Cathy. Strangely, we’re particularly productive in this regard when we go out for dinner (at least that’s my excuse; it gets me a lot of dinners). Anyway, we bounce ideas around while we scoff, discussing what will work and what won’t. But the ideas themselves tend to germinate on their own. They literally just fly at me out of the blue. 

6) How many times, roughly, would you say, that you polish a draft before you send it off to your agent?

I’m very finickity. My wife, Cathy, would say that I’m too much of a perfectionist. I go over stuff repeatedly, trying to get everything right and even then, I never like it the moment it’s been published. But that’s my personal problem and something I have to overcome each time.

I suppose a straightforward answer would be that the process is as follows:

During the first draft, my priority is getting it down. Just getting a novel down in full, even if it’s not in refined format, is half the overall job. That means you’ve broken the back of the physical work. The second draft is the real writing: the refinement, the improvement, the cutting and tweaking. But you’ve done the heavy lifting by then, so it’s more pleasurable. I even find this part relaxing, so I often play mood music in the background. The third draft is the final read-through, and that’s where the ‘are you being too picky?’ thing comes in. You can waste hours tinkering. You can end up with paralysis by analysis. My advice on the third draft is dot every i and cross every t that needs it, and then get it out to whoever’s expecting it. Because there’ll be more drafts to come when they have their say.

7) Do you have any advice for writers looking to send their work to agents?

Well, there are lots of literary agencies out there. They all have an online presence now, and some of them – not all, but some – will take on unsolicited submissions. That makes it easier to approach them than it used to be. But it’s still difficult because there are lots of people jockeying for their attention, so you have to hit them with your very best stuff.

It might also help catch their attention if you’ve got some kind of track record in terms of publication. In that – and I’m sorry if this is something that some folk don’t want to hear – I’m not really talking about self-published material unless it’s done very well. Being published by someone else, i.e. having already persuaded another editor or publisher that your work is of sufficient interest for him/her to invest in, will be a good sign to an agent. Even if you’ve earned next to nothing from it, even if your sale was ‘4theluv’, it also shows that you have finished material, which means that you’re prepared to put the work in. No agent, in my experience, is going to be interested if you’ve got great ideas but no written work to show them. On the other hand, if you’ve produced work that someone has already liked enough to give a showcase to, that’s prettyimpressive. It also helps if you’re still bursting with ideas andcontinuing to write hard, as they won’t be especially interested in a one-hit wonder. They’re not just looking for people who are good, but people who are good and willing to work.

They’re also looking for people who are prepared to take criticism and to refine their product accordingly. As a writing professional, I’d be completely turned off by anyone who thinks they are the finished article. None of us is. Unless you strive constantly for improvement and are prepared to take professional advice on board, or at least to consider it, your career will inevitably regress – and that’s not someone anyone wants to work with.

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

I read widely, my taste ranging across the spectrum from crime and thriller fiction (perhaps obviously), to horror, sci-fi, fantasy, historical and literary fiction. I usually read about a book a week, though on holiday it can be a book a day. I’m an avid reader, and I devour the writers I like, usually then reviewing the work in detail on my blog (https://paulfinch-writer.blogspot.com/). The last book that made a big impact on me was probably The Reddening by Adam Nevill. It’s a violent folk-horror set in Devon, and it’s terrifying. It’s a normal-sized novel but was a two-day read for me because I couldn’t put it down. Adam’s work is terrific in that regard. He’s a real page-turner.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Weekends are a mixed bag for me. I often work them, at least during the daytime, especially at present because there’s not much else to do. I still like to have a weekend, though, if I can. I tend to finish on Friday late afternoon – say half-four or five – and walk my dogs up to the local, where I meet Cathy,and we have a few jars together and then bring a takeaway home. That to me is a perfect Friday evening, especially if there is something good to watch later on. Sometimes, if there are a few friends in the pub, it can go on all night, though hooking up with friends – everyone bringing a dish, everyone bringing a case of beer – is usually more a Saturday thing. That’s normally our summertime arrangement, though Heaven knows what’s going to happen this year. We also like going to the flicks and to the theatre. Cathy and I love to see other parts of the country as well. Britain’s full of dog-friendly hotels these days, so now that our kids are grown up, we get on the road a lot. We’ve got some favourite places, some real hideaways. You can’t beat that kind of weekend. At some point soon, I’m sure (hoping) it will all start again.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?

It’s an interesting question. Both rocked hard in their early days and were supported back then by bands in the form of The Faces and Queen who weren’t just mesmerizingly talented but served as progenitor heavy rock bands, much the way Led Zeppelin, The Who and Deep Purple did, so how could I not like them both? It might be tempting to say that Freddie was so energised that he burned out and died young without fulfilling all his enormous potential, but that obviously isn’t true. He was still at the peak of his power when we lost him, and terribly, terribly unfortunate. Rod, of course, has shown arch professionalism and staying power all his career, maintaining his profile, continuing to diversify and always putting on a show. I think, looking back on it, Freddie did the sort of stuff I love in music – giving high-octane performances, producing proper, gritty hard rock – more often than Rod did, though both were capable of it and neither did it all the time. So, I’d probably opt for Freddie, I guess. Tough choice, though.

Thanks for letting me interview you, Paul. Finding out about your writing process has been fascinating.

An Interview With… Jordan Lees

Hi everyone, this evening I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Jordan Lees to the blog. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions as to what he looks for in submissions.

What he looks for is also detailed after the interview.

Over to you, Jordan…

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

I knew I wanted to work with books but I didn’t really know what a literary agent was until I started looking into publishing jobs. The more I researched, the more I found agenting the most appealing, so I focused on applying for internships at agencies. One summer I interned at Jonathan Clowes, which was a brilliant experience, and from then on knew I wanted to be an agent. The only other thing I considered was doing a literature PhD after my Masters but in the end felt more excited by publishing.

2) How are you drawn into a submission – is it the covering letter, synopsis or sample writing? What can an author do to leave you wanting more?

I think the cover letter is important. It’s the first example of your writing we’re going to see so it’s worth putting time into it. It should quicklyaddress the most important questions. What genre is your book? What are some comparison authors or books? What it’s about? Why might I be the right agent for it? It’s best not to overload the cover letter, just hit the key points. You aren’t going to get an agent based on the cover letter but if it’s confused or badly-written it will raise some red flags. After that, I’d probably read the sample writing before the synopsis. Hopefully the cover letter will give me a flavour of the book without having to know the entire plot. Fromthe sample writing I want a strong voice and a grabbing opening, and I want to feel as though the writing is well-suited to its particular market. If I’m excited by the writing I’ll check the synopsis to get a better sense of the story, how original it is and how it might be pitched to a publisher.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript?

The most important thing is that I really want to keep reading it. When I’m not reading it, am I excited to go back and read on? Do I care about the characters and need to find out what happens next? Do I want to tell my colleagues all about it? These are the questions I’d think about when considering a manuscript, and help guide me when considering whether to take things further. The truth is I get sent a lot of technically good writing but if I don’t absolutely love it that’s a sign that I’m not the best agent for it – I really enjoy editorial work so I’d need to want to read it over and over, and if I don’t love it that’s going to impair my ability to sell it.

4) What, currently, are you not looking for? Do you mind if an author blends genres in their writing?

I’m open to a broad range of genres but I’m not really looking for women’s fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, YA or children’s, and that’s purely because I don’t typically read in those areas and so wouldn’t be the best agent for them. I’m interested in anything which blends genres but it’s tricky to do well – you’re trying to appeal to two different strands of readers who might have very different expectations about a book, so it needs a lot of care and thought to hit the sweet spot.

5) What would make you reject a manuscript, if you have asked to see the completed work?

There’s a lot of different reasons but the most common is simply that its hold on me fades as the book goes on. It might be that it becomes too slow and loses tension or intrigue after a strong opening. It could be that it becomes too confused and you lose sight of where the book is going or what the author wants to achieve. Perhaps the author hasn’t put as much care into the entire book as they have into the opening – that’s why it’s so important to have edited and honed the entire manuscript before sending out to agents.

6) What are your views on the crime and thriller market? In your opinion, is there a sub-genre in need of more representation?

Not so much a sub-genre but crime and thrillers from different backgrounds are still shamefully under-represented, whether that’s different ethnicities, classes or members of LGBTQ+ communities. But that’s likely true of all areas of writing, not just crime/thrillers. Generally, it’s still a dominant genre and there’s a huge appetite from publishers. I think police procedurals are tougher now because there’s so much out there and that space is dominated by some very big authors. Anything speculative or really fresh like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle or the upcoming Eight Detectives is particularly exciting, I think, but there is still a lot of room for great crime and thrillers of all kinds.

7) Is there one book from your childhood that you still read now? If so, why are you still drawn to it? Mine is any of the Harry Potter series and the Horrid Henry books. I was a huge fan of the novels and my six year old self had nightmares about Voldermort.

I still read Alice in Wonderland every so often. I find the complete nonsense quite calming.

8) What are your views on book to film or television adaptations? Do you prefer the book or the film versions?

I guess it’s a mix. It’s hard when you absolutely love a book to enjoy the screen adaptation as much, I think. There will always be elements changed or removed that affect your enjoyment. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy and I didn’t like the movie for The Road, but so much of what made that book beautiful to me was the writing itself. On the other hand, I didn’t love the book for No Country For Old Men but I thought the film was incredible.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

When there isn’t a pandemic the first thing I’d do is my lengthy commute from Central London to Essex. Usually I read on the way home and then just relax with the family.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would you choose and why?

I’m not a huge fan of either but I’d probably choose Freddie because Rod Stewart is a Celtic fan and I come from a family of Rangers fanatics.

What I’m looking for:

He represents crime/thrillers of all stripes (whether commercial or literary) and detective fiction, dystopian/speculative fiction, literary fiction, true crime and smart non-fiction.

He is particularly drawn to writing with a real sense of atmosphere and has a soft spot for anything dark and strange. Some of his favourite writers are Patricia Highsmith, John Fowles, Cormac McCarthy and Gillian Flynn. Some recent books he has enjoyed are:

  • The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
  • Lanny by Max Porter
  • Lullaby by Leïla Slimani
  • His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
  • Snap by Belinda Bauer

He is not currently looking for sci-fi and fantasy, women’s fiction, children’s and YA.

Thank you for letting me interview you Jordan. It has been a real pleasure to have you!

An Interview With… Nelle Andrew

Hi everyone, and today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Nelle Andrew to the blog. Nelle is a literary agent at the Rachel Mills Literary Agency, and previously worked at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions on what she looks for in submissions.

Over to you, Nelle…

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

I didn’t know what a literary agent was until I was 23! I decided I was going to be an author and I only got a job in publishing to supplement my income until this great moment was going to arrive. I started off working as a trade publisher and then and only then, did I find out about agents. It was Andrew Kidd, who I worked with, who first told me about them and when he changed careers to become one, I accosted him in his office to find out all I could.  I decided an agency would be a better fit and I worked there while writing my book and after I got published. But then in one of life’s little ironies, I discovered I liked agenting more than I liked writing. It was in pursuit of another goal that I ended up finding my true calling. 

2) How are you drawn into a submission – is it the covering letter, synopsis or sample writing? What can an author do to leave you wanting more?

The first thing I notice is the pitch in the covering letter…if I don’t respond to it then I don’t read further. That may sound harsh but in a bookshop – when we used to be able to browse there – people pick up books and read the back and if that doesn’t suit them, they put it down. As an agent my first approach with submissions is to think like a consumer and if I can see myself putting it down, I move on very quickly. Then if that works I know from the quality of writing in the sample chapters. If by the first 3 chapters I don’t know what the purpose of the book is, who it is for or what it is trying to connect to, then I know it is not for me.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript?

I imagine someone else selling it in The bookseller and if I feel sick at the thought, I know it should be mine. At that point I get very very zealous. It’s a weird twisting feeling in my gut like a pull. I can’t begin to describe it but it’s always there without fail.

4) What, currently, are you not looking for? Do you mind if an author blends genres in their writing?

Honestly I am really looking for something fresh and engaging…I don’t really mind what it is, although my taste always leans to that sweet spot of commercial literary fiction – that is quality writing with a strong plot. I really need narrative but I also want to be transported. I want stories about people and life that teaches me something about the world while also making me reevaluate how I think about it. But mostly I am interested in people – their truths, however dark, however uncomfortable, however good. 

5) What would make you reject a manuscript, if you have asked to see the completed work?

If it veers off the rails spectacularly, or doesn’t fulfil the promise of its opening chapters. An opening to a manuscript gives one a sense of what the author is going to deliver and if the author doesn’t fulfil that, well then it’s done…I know that sounds vague but actually it’s very simple. Either you are writing for yourself or writing for a reader. The latter fulfils and the former, does not.

6) What are your views on the crime and thriller market? In your opinion, is there any other sub-genre in need of more representation?

Crime and thriller will always abound…I tend not to look at trends. I just want a damn good book. In terms of more representation – write the book you would want to read. If it doesnt exist, then make it exist

7) Is there one book from your childhood that you still read now? If so, why are you still drawn to it? Mine is Goodnight Mister Tom. I first read the novel in Year Six at the age of ten, and the film scared the living daylights out of me. But for me, that was my book that made me want to become a writer – that book was my turning point!

Omg. – I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD…they are so insightful and transportive and they tug at the heart in a way that I can never resist. They make me incredibly sad and yet incredibly hopeful and that’s genius right there – to straddle these two paradoxes in the soul.

8) What are your views on book to film or television adaptations? Do you prefer the book or the film versions?

It depends on the book – I much prefer the LOTR movies to the books which – to my mind – are as dry as toast. I feel strongly that differing mediums are meant to do different things and shouldnt be slaves to one another. ROOM is a great book and a great film and while the essence and spirit is the same, it is clever in terms of how much its audience can take depending on the medium because it’s a different experience and it respects the story but also respects the audience. 

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Ha – I work from home on Fridays anyway but I don’t relax. This is what my husband would tell you. I read and eat and hang out with my kid and friends (back in the day when you could do that) but I never switch off…half my mind is always on work. I don’t know why – I just cannot stop. I dont think I am built to stop and much as it grieves my loved ones, I’ve accepted that about myself. I just love what I do.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would you choose and why?

Haha! Random but OBVIOUSLY Freddie…that story is full of pathos and tragedy and I have always always loved an underdog/outsider. The person who does not fit but that difference becomes their strength as well as their downfall. And his pain is everywhere in his music, but told in a paletable way, with a wink and a nod because he knows you cannot take it but he hopes, just for a second, you might really see him and not shy away.


Nelle Andrew joined RML in 2020. She previously worked as an agent at Peters Fraser and Dunlop for eleven years, and prior to that at Macmillan publishers. Nelle represents an array of internationally bestselling and award-winning authors across both fiction and non-fiction. Among those on her list are Sara Collins (winner of the Costa Debut fiction award), Jing-Jing Lee (a longlistee for the Women’s Fiction Prize and Walter Scott prize), Beth Underdown and Cecilia Ekback (HWA Goldsboro Award winners) and six Richard and Judy book club picks such as the bestselling Heidi Perks, Bryony Gordon and Elizabeth Day.

Nelle was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016 and was shortlisted for Agent of the Year in 2018. Nelle also became a published author in her own right under the name Nelle Davy. She helped to build the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize for Unpublished Authors into one of the most eminent prizes for unpublished voices, and sat on the original board for The Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer’s Award.

Thank you for letting me interview you, Nelle. It has been a pleasure to hear about what you look for.

10 Questions With… Gina Kirkham

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Gina Kirkham to the blog. Gina is a retired police officer, from Merseyside Police and is now the writer of the successful Constable Mavis Upton novels. She was kind enough to answer a quick question or three about her journey to publication.

Over to you, Gina…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

Enid Blyton was my favourite author as a child. I loved the Famous Five series, they conjured up such exciting adventures and even now when I read them to my grandchildren, it brings back the cosy glow of my own happy childhood. The one book that was a complete turning point for me was To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. I read this as part of my school curriculum for English Literature. I was truly moved by the subject and devoured every word.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Absolutely! I loved it, closely followed by Art and History. English Language was fun, I had a great teacher who actively encouraged my imagination and the understanding and use of words.

3) I know that you are retired from Merseyside Police. How did you find that the job helped you in your writing?

I think only from the point of view that I was pretty good at paperwork and in particular statement taking. During my initial training my Tutor Constable was guiding me through the details of how to take a good statement for court purposes. She told me I had to paint a picture, so the court and a jury could see, feel and almost smell the incident I was evidencing. It made perfect sense because frequently I would be trying to put into writing the most horrific details that can sometimes be sanitised by the telling. Many years later they rolled out a new scheme called Victim Impact Statements. These were in addition to the initial evidential statements, where you could describe the emotional aspect and the psychological impact of a crime.
It was all excellent grounding for my writing. When you write, the story and characters are only in your head and you have to turn them into living creatures with a tale to tell. Your readers have to be able to see, hear, feel and smell your characters, to believe that they are actually there with them as the story unfolds. You give them all the senses through your words.

4) What is the best thing about Urbane Publications? Why did you choose them?

I loved their creative, proactive and personal approach to publishing. They are very author focused and encourage us to have a say in the process of getting our work out there. When I initially queried publishing houses with my first manuscript, Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong, I had two acceptances, Urbane being one of them. After speaking to their Publishing Director, Matthew Smith on the telephone, I had no hesitation at all, I loved his enthusiasm and just from reading the manuscript he was excitedly discussing how he could see the book cover. I’ve been with Urbane Publications for almost four years now and they have published all three of the Mavis Upton series.

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

Oooh, now that’s a bit of an awkward one. I’d love to say that I meticulously plan out a plot, draft chapter ideas, pin notes on boards etc., but I don’t. I’m really spontaneous and quite random in how I write. I’m lucky because I already had an established character in Mavis, and as she was based on me, I knew how she was going to develop and as some of the stories are true, that helped to keep the flow. I tend to sit at my laptop with a beginning a middle and and end scribbled on a jotter and then just write from the heart. I can hear the ‘conversations’ my characters have in my head, as though they are real and I just furiously type until I’m finished.
That’s the first draft……then follows weeks of moving chapters around, editing, rewrites, killing superfluous characters off and identifying spelling bloopers until I’m happy with it. You have to get it down on paper first in order to create it!

6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? What is it about their stories that you find so intriguing?
Peter James. I find his books extremely well researched and his writing flows. As they’re a series, it’s enjoyable to remain with the main protagonist throughout, to see how they and the storyline develops.

7) What is your approach to planning your novel? Mine consisted of research and note taking (lots of each!)

I’m a terrible people watcher so wherever I am, I study people, their mannerisms, dialect, accents, body language and character. In my latest book, Blues, Twos and Baby Shoes, Cora May Spunge and Agatha Hortensia Winterbourne are both based on two elderly ladies I met at a Women’s Institute talk. I just loved their interaction and innocent wit whilst they sat drinking tea.

8) What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?
Highgate by Shani Struthers. Although I write humour, I’m a huge crime and supernatural fan. Shani is one of my favourite authors for tales of ghosts, the supernatural and psychic investigations. I always enjoy her books, so much so I’ve just started her latest, Mandy.

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Being retired, I don’t have a particular structure to my days (or weeks), working shifts for so long meant I had already adapted to having ‘weekends’ in the middle of the week, so days and weekends just seem to roll along into one. I can just as easily be found in the Butterfly House at Chester Zoo with my grandchildren as I can be behind my desk, I love gardening, reading and I’m a huge Harry Potter addict, so if the weather is bad, I have duvet days watching every film back to back.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?

I do like them both but I think I’d have to plump for Freddie Mercury. He was such a talented man, his showmanship was exhilarating and that voice!

Gina Kirkham began her career in front-line policing as a single parent in her early thirties. During her time with Merseyside Police she received several commendations and in 2000 she was awarded Police Officer of the Year.

Her debut novel, the humorous HANDCUFFS, TRUNCHEON AND A POLYESTER THONG, was published in May 2017 by Urbane Publications. July 2018 saw the launch of the second book in the series, WHISKEY, TANGO, FOXTROT, and the third, BLUES, TWOS and BABY SHOES was published in October 2019. The series tells the story of single mum Mavis Upton, as she tackles everything life can throw at her in the funny but poignant account of an everyday woman who one day followed a dream to become a later-life police officer and provide for her child.
Gina is now retired from Policing and lives on the Wirral with her long suffering husband, two wayward, unruly dogs and the welcome distraction of three wonderful grandchildren and a weekly bottle of gin.

HANDCUFFS, TRUNCHEON AND A POLYESTER THONG (Constable Mavis Upton Book 1) Meet Mavis Upton.
As mummy to 7-year old Ella, surrogate to far too many pets and with a failed marriage under her belt, Mavis knows she needs to make some life- changing decisions. It’s time to strike out into the world, to stand on her own two feet … to pursue a lifelong ambition to become a Police Officer. I mean, what could go wrong?
Supported by her quirky, malapropism-suffering mum, Mavis throws herself headlong into a world of uncertainty, self-discovery, fearless escapades, laughter and extra-large knickers. And using her newly discovered investigative skills, she reluctantly embarks on a search to find
her errant dad who was last seen years before, making off with her mum’s much needed coupon for a fabulous foam cup bra all the way from America.
Follow Mavis as she tackles everything life can throw at her, and revel in Gina Kirkham’s humorous, poignant and moving story of an everyday girl who one day followed a dream.

WHISKEY, TANGO, FOXTROT (Constable Mavis Upton Book 2)
The laughter continues to flow in Gina Kirkham’s brilliant sequel to the
wonderful Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong.
Our hapless heroine Constable Mavis Upton is preparing to step down the aisle with her fiancé Joe, but has to deal with her temperamental teen daughter, as well as investigate a serial flasher on a push bike.
Throw a diva drag queen into the mix and readers can expect the usual hilarious Mavis mishaps that made the first book such a hit. Revel in Gina Kirkham’s humorous, poignant and moving stories of an everyday girl who one day followed a dream.

BLUES, TWOS AND BABY SHOES (Constable Mavis Upton Book 3)
Constable Mavis Upton is back, and this time she’s taking no prisoners –
which is never good for a police officer.
Mavis is pregnant, as is her daughter Ella. Facing the prospect of motherhood and being a grandmother simultaneously the last thing Mavis needs is problems at work. But a new sexist dinosaur of a Sergeant is more bully than mentor, and a mysterious case involving a blackmailer sending poison pen letters is baffling the police and tearing apart the local community.
Can Mavis juggle impending motherhood and her career, maintain a loving relationship with her other half Joe and deal with being a grandmother, all
whilst solving the case?
Well, this is Constable Mavis Upton…literally anything is possible

Thanks for featuring on my blog, Gina. It has been a pleasure to have you!

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