10 Questions With… Kevin McManus

Hi everyone, and I’m delighted to welcome Crime writer Kevin McManus to the blog.

Kevin juggles being a writer with a full time teaching job, and is the author of the Detective Ray Logue novels, set in Northern Ireland. He is currently working on a new novel, and creating the character John Morrigan.

He was kind enough to join me for a quick chat and answer my curious questions.

Over to you, Kevin…

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

As a child I read tonnes of comic books and I was always inventing my own comic book stories. My head was always stuck in Marvel comics and British comics like 2000 AD. I was obsessed with science fiction. I loved Star Wars and started to read short science fiction and fantasy novels as a result when I was about 12. Roger Zelazny, Harry Harrison, Philip K. Dick. Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard etc.

My favourite novel always has been and always will be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. It has everything, incredible descriptions of the Yorkshire Moors, love, death and the supernatural. Heathcliff is probably the greatest literary character ever created. A close second is 1984 by George Orwell, it has so much to say about the world we live in today.

My books are crime novels but I read a lot of different genres. I like Charles Bukowski, Dermot Healy, Ken Bruen, Henning Mankell, Thomas Harris, James Ellroy, Franz Kafka, Dennis Lehane and Ian Rankin. I really admire Jo Nesbo. His stories, characters and settings are so well crafted.  I think he is a master of the crime genre.


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

I dabbled with poetry as a teenager and that turned into dabbling with writing song lyrics as a young adult when I got involved with bands. I always liked words and the sounds that they make. I had a brilliant English teacher at secondary school called Eamon Daly. He inspired a love for reading in me and for writing. He also inspired me to become a teacher.

I always loved the crime genre. Whether it was reading crime novels or watching crime movies. However, when I began writing my first novel. “The whole of the Moon” it was not a conscious decision to write a crime novel. It began as a story about growing up in rural Ireland and the study of the relationship between the three central characters, but as the plot developed I introduced a crime aspect into it and when it was published it was marketed by the book company as a crime novel. I then began thinking about writing a more straightforward crime novel and this led to the first in the Detective Ray Logue novels: “Death rains down.” Readers enjoyed it and I suppose I realised that perhaps I have a certain degree of talent in writing for that genre.

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

I have no agent, but I secured publishing deals with Sharpe Books and Bloodhound Books.


4) I read that you work full time as a secondary school teacher. I wondered how you find the differentiation between both occupations? 

There are extremely different activities, however we get good holidays so it gives me plenty of time to write. I enjoy teaching, it is a good respite from writing which can become too introspective and isolating at times. 


5) When not teaching or writing, what do you do to relax?

I read a lot and listen to music. I am fascinated by rural landscapes and so I read or rather look at a lot of photography books. A strong visual image can inspire so much writing.

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

I love music and I always have. Sometimes I enjoy listening to the soundtrack to a movie rather than the actual movie itself. I grew up listening to rock music. I was always buying records. I played bass guitar in rock bands for nearly 20 years. Some original material and some covers. As I said earlier I tried to write songs. Rory Gallagher read a lot of crime novels in his free time. It comes through in his lyrics. Listening to lyricists such as Mike Scott, Phil Lynott or Roger Waters helps to inspire the writing process

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

Just go for it. Have confidence in yourself, get it down on paper, you can always rewrite and edit your work afterwards. Read as much as you can, try to mirror great writers in your chosen genre but also bring in your own ideas. Don’t worry about all these so-called rules of writing. Just write in a style that you are comfortable in. Some of my critics say that my books read too much like a film script rather than a novel. Well maybe they do but that is the way I write. 

I think patience is very important, we all think that we are going to be the next big thing overnight. It takes years to build up a following. In reality most of us will never become literary super stars but if some people in Ireland and around the world enjoy reading my books that’s good enough for me.

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

My latest work is due to be published in October by Bloodhound books. It is book 1 in a series of books featuring a New York based Detective called John Morrigan, This is a change in setting for me because my previous five books were all set in rural Western Ireland.


Thank you for visiting my blog, Kevin. It has been great to read all about your route to publication and your current work.

First Drafts With… Amanda Brooke

Hi everyone, and I’m delighted to welcome to my First Draft series, another Liverpool writer, Amanda Brooke. Amanda is the author of nine psychological thrillers, one of them, The Bad Mother I have had the pleasure of reading. And I thoroughly enjoyed!

Although writing her tenth novel, Amanda was kind enough to join me for a quick chat about her process to cementing the all important first draft.

Over to you, Amanda…

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

The starting point for a new book is the synopsis which will have been agreed with my editor. It’s usually around two pages long and although it won’t necessarily cover sub-plots or minor characters, it will capture the essence of the storyand have a distinct beginning, middle and end. Before I start writing, I divide the synopsis into about twelve sections and this forms the chapter outline, or at least the beginnings of one. It lets me visualise the story as a full length manuscriptso I can check the pace as I begin to write. I don’t like to be too specific outlining the plot as part of the fun of writing is getting to know my characters and seeing where their stories lead.

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

I’m currently writing my tenth book and I’d say that my writing process has developed over time although I have always started with dividing the synopsis into manageable chunks. It’s since becoming a fulltime writer two years agothat I’ve been able to take a more organised and methodicalapproach to my writing simply because I have the time. One of the things I’ve found useful is to print out my chapter outline after the first draft in large type and pin it to the wall. I highlight changes with coloured marker pens and add post-it notes to keep track of new ideas or changes I want to make to particular scenes. It’s also useful when I need to take a step back and see the whole story, working out what scenes are working and which ones I need to cut.  

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

That very much depends on the story. All of my latest books have been psychological suspense so I’ve concentrated my research on the psychology of my protagonists and also the antagonists. While I was writing The Bad Mother and Don’t Turn Around, my daughter was studying psychology at university and she would send me all kinds of research papersto help me understand my characters. I also find the internetan extremely useful tool and I try to find blogs from people who may have experienced what I’m forcing my fictional characters to endure. It’s a good reminder that what I’m conjuring on the page has happened to real people and that I carry a certain responsibility to get the story right. The best complement I’ve had was when a victim of gaslighting who had read The Bad Mother told me she was convinced I’d gone through that form of mental abuse too because of the things I had described in my book.

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

I’m currently writing one book a year and although I gather ideas for future projects as I go along, I don’t tend to develop them fully until I’m at the later stages of my current work in progress. I’ll then chat through those ideas with my editor and my agent and that’s when we agree the synopsis for the next book. By that stage, I really need to start writing the first draft to meet the next deadline so I tend to have weeks rather than months to let the new story ferment in my head. I’ll write lots of ideas down in notebooks and on scraps of paper, some of which will form important pieces of the puzzle I’m trying to put together while others will be scrunched up and thrown in the bin. My best flashes of inspiration for adding twists and turns in my stories usually come as I start writing so I’m quite relaxed about not having too long to prepare.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

The first draft is always the hardest because you have to fill hundreds of empty pages but I don’t allow myself to get bogged down finding the perfect sentence or paragraph. Nor do I go back and make changes as I doubt I’d ever reach the end – I simply leave notes for myself to pick up the loose threads in the next draft. I tend to think of that first draft asmy way of getting to know my characters while I tell their story. The second draft is where I let the characters tell their own story because they’re fully formed by that stage. I’ve heard some writers say they don’t necessarily write their chapters in order and if there’s a scene they can’t wait to write, they write it. I couldn’t imagine doing that as I’m too methodical, and knowing there’s a scene I’m desperate to write pushes me on to write the earlier scenes so I can get to that point.

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

I’ve been writing novels for nine years now and I used to write a lot of my work sitting on my bed, despite having a writing room all set up. The problem was my so-called writing room used to be my son Nathan’s bedroom. I converted it into a study back in 2006 when Nathan died following a two year battle with cancer when he was three years old. I didn’t want to leave his room empty and turning it into a study gave me a reason to keep going in there. Eventually I did start to use it and now it’s where I do the vast majority of my writing. My desk is in front of a large window and there are lots of bookshelves which hold a mixture of reference books and files, not to mention Buzz Lightyear in the corner to watch over me. It feels right because I turned to writing as a way to deal with my grief, and I would never have become a writer if it wasn’t for Nathan. My books are his legacy, and I love that despite his short life, he has been such an inspiration.

Thank you for visiting my blog Amanda. It was great to find out all about your first draft process. Good luck with the next novel!

First Drafts With… Eileen Wharton

Afternoon folks, and I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Eileen Wharton to the First Draft series.

Read on for her answers to my questions on her writing process, her writing place (very important to me as well!) and the all important first draft.

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

My books invariably begin with a voice in my head. From the voice comes the character and the character tells me their story.

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

B) Unfortunately, I don’t really have a set process. I’m not a plotter, I’m a pantser. I try to spew and review: get the ides down on the page then go back and revise it. When I first started writing I would constantly be trying to edit and I failed to move forwards. The best piece of advice anyone gave me is to start with a blank page every time and just write. The first draft doesn’t have to be good. No one’s is. Just write and then you’ll at least have something to edit. Turds to polish, as it were.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?
C) I’m forever procrastinating by researching weird things on Google. If anyone could see my internet search history I’d probably be locked up! For my crime novels I have a friend who works for the police who advises me on procedure and protocol. I love taking research trips and I never end up in the pub drinking gin. Honest.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?
Writing comes first and then the thinking and planning for me. I’m not a good planner. I often end up with books which are far too complicated and have to split them into three different novels. 

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 
With blood, sweat, tears and profanity!

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?
I used to write in notebooks and transfer to laptop. I now write straight to laptop. My first novel was written in every spare moment in various places (at the park, the swimming pool, the beach, the garden, in the bath …) while bringing up four lively children. Now I have a writing room. I shut myself away from child number five and write in relative peace. I’m pretty slow and I usually get blocked at about 40to 50K words. I switch from WIPs as I write in various genres. I should probably concentrate on one thing at a time. I’d be much more productive. I’m looking forward to the day when I can give up the day job and write full time. I’ve been trying for twenty years to be an overnight success!

Thanks for your visit Eileen, finding out about your process has been fascinating.

First Drafts With… Joel Hames

Afternoon folks, and I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Joel Hames to the First Draft series.

Read on for Joel’s answers to my questions on plotting, research and the all important first draft.

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

I begin by jotting down ideas – characters, plot, key developments and themes – onto my phone and then transferring them piecemeal onto a Microsoft OneNote file. I’ve messed with Scrivener and sadly, I didn’t get on with it at all, so it’s good old-fashioned MS Office for me.
Once I’ve got my key ingredients together, I’ll summarise the plot into a thousand words or so, barely intelligible to anyone but me. When this is in place, I’ll usually create an excruciatingly detailed, chapter by chapter outline, a good 10-15000 words long, so you can imagine how much is in there – snippets of conversations, phrases, absolutely everything I need to just sit down and write the thing.

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

For every book so far – eight and counting – yes, but for my WIP I’ve skipped the detailed outline and am working straight from the brief plot summary. No idea how that’s going to work out for me.

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

Key point: never rely on the internet. For locations, I supplement maps, streetview and satellite images with visits if convenient, or conversations with people who know the place like the back of their hands.

For police procedural stuff, I speak to the police – there’s no substitute for the real thing there, and I’m fortunate enough to know half a dozen serving or former officers who’ve always been happy to help. As a former lawyer, I’ll read through cases and things like PACE to make sure everything works properly. For medical stuff, I have doctor friends; for tech stuff I’ve got people who can speak to computers the way I speak to my dog. And for anything literary, I like to think my own knowledge and experience will serve me well enough.

So what it comes down to, in the end, is people. Speak to the experts. Don’t be afraid to push them, but don’t back them into a corner: if your brilliant idea just won’t work in reality, come up with another one rather than dismissing the views of the people who actually know. I’ve had to change plots before when I found that what I’d hoped made sense just didn’t in reality, and it’s always been for the best.

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

Well, that whole planning process I mentioned above can take a good three months, sometimes longer. Which is annoying, but is mitigated by the answer I’m about to give below.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

From start to finish, in the right order, and fast. If I’m on form and happy with the detailed chapter by chapter outline I’m using, I can write a 100k novel in seven weeks. It’ll need some finessing after that, but I’m usually pretty happy with my first drafts.

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

For the most part, on my laptop in the study I think I share with my wife but she thinks is her study which I’m allowed a small amount of space in. Over the years I’ve written on trains and planes, at the homes of friends and family, in soft play centres and bowling alleys, and sitting outside my kids various sporting and musical activities waiting for them to finish. But the study is my spiritual home.

Thanks for your visit Joel, finding out about your process has been fascinating.

First Drafts With… Mary Torjussen

Good evening everyone, and today in the First Draft series, I’m delighted to welcome fellow Liverpool writer Mary Torjussen.

Mary has an MA in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University, and has written two psychological thrillers to date!

She then joined me to have a quick chat about how her novel begins as that first draft.

Over to you, Mary.

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

For each of my novels the idea for the beginning and the end of the book have come at the same time. I always talk to one of my writer friends, Fiona Collins (her latest book is You, Me and the Movies) about the idea for a while and thrash out a possible plot. She and I met online a year before we got published, then we both received contracts within a couple of days of each other. We each swap outlines and drafts as we’re working.

Sometimes an idea can’t go any further, so I make a note of it in case something occurs to me later. So I always know the opening scenes and know the closing scenes (though the latter can change so that what I thought was the close is actually a couple of chapters before the end) and have to start to work out what would happen in the middle of the book. I like to throw every kind of obstacle at my heroine – psychological, financial, emotional and practical. If she’s isolated from friends, all the better! 

Once I have a broad idea of the story and the problems the heroine will face, then I started to map out the chapters. I went to a workshop with Sophie Hannah a few years ago and she said that she tends to write a page per chapter, outlining what will happen in that chapter. She said she showed this document to her sister and they’d talk it through to check there was enough tension and that the timeline worked. I thought that was great advice and I do this now. Anything can be written on that page as it’s just notes at that stage, so I write down what happens in the chapter, what we learn about the characters, whether there’s a cliff-hanger – if there is then I tend to play around with the wording at this point, the location, the date/time, the weather maybe. It means that when I come to write that chapter I’m less likely to freeze up at the thought of a blank page. I keep hold of that document and as I’m working on the book I tend to add notes to pages – in red ink if they are chapters I’ve already typed up.


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

Yes, I’ve followed this process for every book. Of course the plot can change, though, but usually it’s what happens in the middle of the book that changes.

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

When I was writing The Girl I Used to Be I spoke to Graham Bartlett, who was the Chief Superintendent of Brighton and Hove police, who advises Peter James and other authors on their novels; he was a great help. 

The heroine of that novel, Gemma, worked as an estate agent, so when I had queries about what she’d do in her daily work, I asked for help from estate agents on an online forum. 

At another point I needed to find out something about probation officers so asked again on a forum; the woman who answered is now a great friend of mine – her name is Caz Finlay and her first book is out in June 2019.

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

Once I have got the story planned out, I write very quickly, but I have to admit if I can’t get it planned, it can take ages to get going. I think I should just start writing anyway – I always plan to do that but it doesn’t happen!


5) How does the draft form on the screen? 


I have a page-per-chapter of plans handwritten beforehand, then I create that document on Word. I’ll type up the chapter heading and then type up the notes I’ve made for each chapter. This gives me confidence as it means I have about eighty pages before I’ve actually started. Every writer seems to need a way of avoiding that blank page and that’s mine!


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


I like to write the first draft in my local library. I like the quiet buzz of conversation and knowing people are around. It means there are no distractions and I can’t use my phone. Once I’m editing, I’m happy to work at home; it’s a different process as I’m trying to correct something, rather than create it, so I need to be able to concentrate in a different way. I also read the drafts out loud, so that has to be done when I’m on my own in the house. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to hear a sentence. I love audio books, so am always aware of how it will sound to the listener. When I’m proofreading I use my Kindle and find it much easier to see errors that way.

Thank you for visiting my blog, Mary. It has been a real pleasure to find out all about your first draft process.

First Drafts With… Katharine Johnson

Hi everyone, and next up in today’s First Drafts Process is Katharine Johnson.

Before we launch into the Q&A, below is a brief biog of how Katharine started writing…

Katharine Johnson is the author of four novels. She grew up in Bristol and now lives in Berkshire. After doing a History degree she trained as a journalist.  She’s worked on a variety of magazines, mostly about home and lifestyle, and has written a history book. When not writing you’ll find her with a book in one hand and a coffee in the other, exploring cities, restoring a house in Italy, walking her spaniel or playing netball (although not usually at the same time.)

Her latest novel, The Suspects, is out now…

About The Suspects 

Shallow Grave meets The Secret History in this quirky psychological thriller

Bristol, 1988. Five young graduates on the threshold of their careers buy a house together in order to get a foot on the property ladder before prices rocket out of their reach. But it soon becomes the house share from hell.

After their New Year’s Eve party, they discover a body – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. As each of them has a good reason from their past not to trust the police, they come up with a solution – one which forces them into a life of secrets and lies. But can they trust each other? 

Purchase links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07PRCJ785

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/Suspects-Katharine-Johnson/dp/1091512426

Below… you can find the chat between Katharine and myself! Enjoy!!

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

Funnily enough, I’m just starting a new novel now. I’m going to begin by going through my notebooks and box of newspaper cuttings and the Ideas files on my computer where I store  ideas that come to me when I’m working on something else. Then I’ll play about with some characters and storylines and see which one has the most potential.

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

I probably will although I’ve promised myself I won’t edit as I go this time so that I can get to the end of the first draft more quickly. Not sure I’ll be able to break my habit of re-reading everything from the previous writing session though!

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

Initially I research online or from books so that I have enough information to write the story but once the first draft is completed I’ll highlight areas that need verification/more detail, do more research and consult an expert in that area. For example, with The Silence I went through a scene with a police firearms expert. There are very few Italian phrases in that book but I had them checked by a native-speaking Italian to make sure they sounded natural, and I’m lucky that my sister’s a speech therapist so I could check the selective mutism aspects with her. My other sister’s a GP which was also very helpful as Abby the main character is a doctor.

For The Secret I did a lot of historical research in books and online which I enjoyed (I did History for my degree). I also visited some exhibitions and villages in Italy whose wartime histories are similar to some of the experiences described in my fictional village. 

With The Suspects I sent scenes and a list of  legal questions to an author friend who is also a lawyer and scenes involving police matters to a police fact-checking service.

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

The gap’s getting longer with each book! I don’t have an agent and having a small publisher means having to do a lot of marketing yourself (although I think that’s often also the case with larger publishers these days). I’ve been throwing my energy into getting the word out about The Suspects which has just been released, as well as trying to maintain some presence for my other three books.

But now I’m ready to face that blank page – in fact, I can’t wait to get started!

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

I write in scenes rather than in a linear way so I usually have several files open at once and do a fair bit of moving scenes around – but that means having to check the timeline quite carefully. I’m going to be using Scrivener this time so it will be interesting to see how I get on.

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

I have an ideas gathering stage when I’m very alert for ideas and then a notebook stage when I start writing. Then I write the novel on my laptop which I take with me everywhere and hate to be parted from until I’ve finished! I wrote most of Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings  in a sports centre café where my daughters had their ballet lessons. My Villa Leonida ones were written mostly in Italy and The Suspects was a project I never really expected to be published – it was just a bit of light relief while I was working on The Secret and fancied a change.

Thank you very much for visiting my blog, Katharine. Finding out about your first draft process has been fascinating!!

First Drafts… With C.J Finlay

Morning folks, and I’m delighted to say that continuing the First Draft series is a fellow Liverpool writer, whose debut, The Boss is due for release very very soon!

When not writing, C. J. Finlay works as a senior probation officer. She was kind enough to join me for a quick chat about her First Draft process.

Over to you Caz…

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

I’ve only written two books so far and have recently started my third, but none of them have followed a particular pattern. I’m not a big planner so I usually start with a character or an idea and then I run with it.  I tend to write in a jigsaw fashion as ideas come to me, rather than writing from start to finish. 

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

Kind of. When I wrote The Boss, I started with a single paragraph in the middle of the story and that was the very first thing I wrote. I always had an idea how I would like it to end though. For the sequel, I started from the beginning because it felt like the natural starting point, following on from the end of The Boss. I started my third book at the beginning and then skipped to the middle. I have an idea of the ending in mind but some kinks to work out before I get there. I tend to find that any plot issues tend to work themselves out in my head as I write the rest of the story.

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

I haven’t really had the need to do much research. I’m a massive daydreamer and always have been. I always have a cast of characters running around my head. I’m very much influenced by the gangster films I used to watch as a teenager, and the gangland thriller books I’ve always loved to read. However, I’m a Senior Probation Officer and have worked within the criminal justice sector for almost sixteen years, so while my characters and events are entirely fictional, my knowledge of the criminal justice system and how it works is very useful in my writing.  

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

I try to write as soon as I have an idea, or I’ll forget it. If I haven’t got my laptop handy, I’ll make a note on my phone or in a notebook as soon as I can. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the night with an idea and then I’ll lie there writing whole chapters in my head. By the morning I’ve usually remembered at least some of it and I’ll write some key phrases down when I wake up, then write the chapters up later that day, as soon as I get half an hour or so to myself.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

I have an open document for the novel itself. I use this to write most of the first draft, wherever that might start. I also have a second document open, which I call my ‘working doc’. I use this for chapters that pop into my head that I want to write, but I don’t necessarily know where, or if, they fit in the novel itself. If they do fit, I’ll then copy and paste them into the novel.

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

Most of my writing is done on my sofa in the evenings after my boys are in bed. I usually escape to a coffee shop for one evening a week though, just to make sure I get at least 2-3 hours uninterrupted writing time.

Thank you for visiting my blog, Caz. It has been a pleasure to interview you and find out your process when writing.

First Drafts… With Paul Finch

Good afternoon folks, and next up in today’s First Draft series is crime writer Paul Finch.

A retired police officer, Paul first started out as a scriptwriter for The Bill, but later drew on his experiences and began to write novels.

Over to you, Paul…

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

My usual process involves sending a bunch of different undeveloped ideas – just a paragraph in each case (outlining the basic concept really) – to my publishers to see if they have any preferences. If I have a preferred idea myself, I will highlight it. They then choose the one they’d like me to write. Only once has it happened that there was nothing there that grabbed them, but I have a directory-thick file of ideas, so I just dragged some more together – and we hit paydirt with that next batch. Once we’re settled on the idea, I go away and put together what I call a ‘chapter-by-chapter’, which is a detailed synopsis broken up into proposed chapters. None of this is set in stone yet – in other words, the finished book won’t follow this skeletal framework with 100% accuracy, but it will give my editor a reasonably close picture of the finished manuscript that I intend to drop on his/her desk. If they like the chapter-by-chapter, they give me the go-ahead to start writing.

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

Pretty much, though its horses for courses. My previous process worked perfectly when I was with Avon Books at HarperCollins. Both my editor and I were comfortable with it, and we did the same thing with all 10 books that I wrote for them. I’m now starting a new 3-book contract with Orion, with an editor who’s completely new to me, so things may be different. I’ve yet to see what path we settle on here.  

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

That’s a very good question, because that actually does vary from book to book. I guess it all depends on the subject-matter. As an ex-police officer, I possibly don’t have to do as much research on police procedures etc as other writers. When I was writing THE BILL, I was the only writer who wasn’t required to go for a police ride-along to pick up the atmosphere, lingo etc. However, I left the job at the end of the 1980s, so my police and legal knowledge has dated somewhat. Thankfully, we have the internet these days, so research isn’t too difficult, plus I have lots of ex- and current police colleagues who I can bounce ideas off.

Oddly, it’s geographic research that takes more time. I try to set my novels in areas of the country I’m familiar with. For example, my first book from Orion is set in Essex, which, even though I live in Lancashire, I know well thanks to having relatives living there. But even so, there are often facts that need to befirmly established. So, research trips are sometimes necessary. It’s not too bad with my Lucy Clayburn books, as I consciously invented a fictional Manchester borough in which to set them, while with my Mark Heckenburg books, though they take place all over the country because he is part of the National Crime Group, I often fictionalise some of the towns (though that’s usually to avoid upsetting people as a lot of the towns in Heck end up getting levelled).

Ultimately, I try not to let research interfere with my first draft. The most important thing to me is getting it down – and if necessary, leaving small gaps that can be filled with research detail later on.

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

The most testing thing about writing for me is handling the pressure of fast-approaching deadlines. So, the only answer to this question is ‘as soon as possible’. That’s not always easy, of course. I suspect most writers will tell you that plotting and storylining are the most complex parts of writing a novel. They can also be very time-consuming, and that’s usually time during which you feel you are achieving absolutely nothing because Page One remains resolutely blank. But I always want the sturdy framework of the story set before I commence the proper writing, as that speeds things along for me. As such, it’s essential to get this part of the procedure right, even if it takes a couple of weeks (though any longer than that would be a real worry).  

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

Messily. I’m not being flippant when I say that. Though I always write to a plan I’ve devised for myself, I often diverge from it depending on how tired I am, what my mood is and so forth. For example, a big action sequence is often a complex process that requires lots of re-reading and re-editing to get the pace right, avoid repetitive phrasing, etc. An armed robbery and resulting chase-sequence in HUNTED took me two whole weeks, even though it only came to two pages in the final book. You’ve got to be very fresh, alert and patient when working on scenes like that … so, sometimes I’ll leave it until another day, if you know what I mean. The same applies to passages that area largely descriptive. If you’re looking to produce something poetic, even if it’s only half apage long, quite often you won’t be in the right mindset for that. The result is that gaps appear all over the first draft when I’m initially working on it, which will need to be filled in on later days. 

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

When I’m walking my dogs out in the countryside. I’ve used a Dictaphone for years now and find it a comfortable, relaxing and time-saving way to write. First of all, it gets me away from the screen, secondly it enables me to exercise while I’m actually working (it’s no secret that I have the two fittest springer spaniels in Lancashire), and thirdly I find it gives me a succinct and yet more naturalistic style, particularly when it comes to dialogue. I should add that I don’t then use an app to type it all up. Much of my dictated draft would be incoherent to anyone other than myself – often it’s just a stream of consciousness, with lots of footnotes and other interludes inserted. So, I have to type it up myself, but that’s often a job for late in the day, when I’m maybe getting tired and don’t need to exercise the imagination quite as much. It’s a method that certainly works for me.  

Thank you so much for visiting my blog, Paul. Finding out how your first draft forms has been really fascinating!

First Drafts… With M. R. Mackenzie

This afternoon folks, I am delighted to welcome crime writer M. R. Mackenzie to my blog. Here, Mike chats about how he approaches first drafts and a bit more about his upcoming novel Cruel Summer.

At the bottom of the page, you can find some testimonials from other authors, a bit more about Cruel Summer and some purchasing links.

Over to you, Mike…

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

I’m an obsessive plotter, so the first step for me, beyond coming up with the initial idea, involves writing a whole lot of notes. In the beginning, it’s not exactly a structured process. I write down any ideas I might have – characters, individual scenes, lines of dialogue, plot twists – in no particular order. I try to live with the idea for several weeks, letting it percolate at the back of my mind and not treating it too much like “work”: I tend to find that ideas come to me more freely when I’m doing other things as opposed to actively trying to come up with solutions.

Eventually, I’ll have amassed several pages’ worth of notes, and it’s then that I pull them into a Word document and start to sort them into some semblance or order. That’s when the “work” phase begins in earnest for me. I break the notes down into different categories – character notes, dialogue snippets, plot points I want to hit etc., and put them into the rough order in which I want them to occur in the narrative. Then I write a very broad outline of the plot from beginning to end – ideally no more than a couple of pages. I use a five-act structure for plotting, and I aim for a couple of paragraphs for each act. Once I have the overarching structure figured out, I then start at the beginning and write a more thorough outline, detailing everything that happens from the first to the final scene. The outline tends to be seriously long – my last one was over 20,000 words – and in many respects constitutes my true first draft. In theory, once I finally sit down to write the actual prose, I should never be stuck because I should have figured everything out at the outlining stage. In practice, it doesn’t always work like that, but I find that following this method means leaving as little to chance as possible.

Of course, it rarely happens in as perfectly linear a fashion as that. I’ll jump back and forth as the need arises, and the description above doesn’t factor in things like research, figuring out locations and drawing up character biographies, but I tend to fly more by the seat of my pants with those elements and work on them as and when it’s required.

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

Each project differs slightly from the last, but I’ve found that the process I’ve described above works for me and I’ve seen little reason to deviate from it. I discovered long ago that I’m incapable of writing without a solid outline. If I try to pants it, I invariably get to about a third of the way through, then hit a brick wall with no idea how to proceed. I’m a dreadful procrastinator, and I find that not knowing what comes next serves as the perfect excuse to procrastinate, so having a blueprint in front of me helps keep me moving forward at all times. I’m in awe of people who’re able to write without an outline – and especially the ones who’re able to construct a convincing whodunit without knowing beforehand who done it!

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

I’m not sure I’ve got one beyond “figure out the bare minimum amount I need to do and hope no one notices any glaring errors”. Research is probably my least favourite part of the writing process, as it invariably leads to the realisation that a particular plot development I’m desperate to include wouldn’t happen in real life. It’s also why I prefer to write about amateur detectives than the professional kind – because they’re so mired in rules and bureaucracy that I’d have to research and then present accurately in order for my writing to have any pretence of authenticity. But that’s not to say I don’t do any research. Right now, for example, I’m completely immersed in Frank Hagan’s Introduction to Criminology as I work through the early stages of planning the third instalment in my Anna Scavolini series. Anna is a criminology lecturer, and, in this novel, her job comes to the forefront in a way that it didn’t in the first two, so I feel it’s incumbent on me to get a decent grounding in the topic before I put pen to paper and completely embarrass myself.

Of course, working in a genre with a higher than average body count, part of the research process also involves figuring out gruesome and inventive ways to kill people and making sure I’m describing the effects as scientifically accurately as possible. I don’t mind doing THAT kind of research!

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

If an idea comes to me, I always make a point of writing it down immediately, because my brain is like a sieve. I could have the most brilliant brainwave imaginable, but, if I don’t commit it to paper (or a Word document), chances are I’ll have forgotten it within five minutes.

But, in terms of completing the outline versus starting the first draft, I do like to leave a bit of a gap between the two phases, and to spend that time working on a different project if possible. I find it’s helpful to get a bit of distance between myself and what I’ve written, because often, when I return to the outline with fresh eyes after a break, I’ll notice certain plot holes, lapses in logic and other issues I didn’t pick up before, and therefore avoid being blindsided by them when I’m actually drafting.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

If I’ve done my job properly at the planning/outlining stage, itall comes together fairly quickly as, in theory, I should know exactly what needs to come next at all times. In practice, there are invariably moments where I realise I’ve missed something obvious and have to backtrack and figure out some plot development or other that I inadvertently glossed over in the outline. Or sometimes a new idea will suggest itself to me that causes me to abandon my original plans – which in turn has all sorts of knock-on effects on the events which follow, leading to yet more frantic backtracking and re-outlining. But, for the most part, my first draft comes together pretty speedily. With the standalone novel I recently completed(which hasn’t officially been announced yet), I managed to write the first draft in just under seven weeks, working to a target of 1,500 words on weekdays and 2,500 on Saturdays and Sundays. I write linearly, starting at chapter one and working my way through to the end rather than jumping back and forth, though I’ll occasionally scribble down a line of dialogue or a chunk of description from later in the novel if anidea comes to me – or, if I’m struggling with a particular line or choice of words, I’ll leave it blank and return to it later once I’ve written the rest of the scene.

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

Because I juggle two jobs alongside my writing (one part-time salaried, the other freelance and varying in terms of hours from one week to the next), my days can look very different depending on what currently requires my attention. As a result, I tend to do my writing where and when I can, which can mean while I’m sitting at my desk at home while I wait for some work pertaining to my freelance job to come through, or just as easily on the fifteen-minute train journey to my other job or on my half-hour lunch break. These short writing spurts are some of my most productive, probably because I know I’ve only got a finite amount of time in which to get something done, the result being that I feel compelled to make every second count.

In terms of the software I use, I’m changing it up constantly, partly because I’m a restless type and partly because I keep hoping I’ll find that mythical perfect program. I’ve dabbled with minimalist writing apps like iA Writer and fully-fledged document management suites like Ulysses, but I invariably find myself coming back to good old Microsoft Word. It’s bloated and suffers from feature creep on an industrial scale, but I’ve used it for decades in one form or another, so I’m intimately familiar with all its foibles. And, when it comes to submitting my draft to my editor and then working through their notes, I’m going to be doing that in Word anyway. And, of course, Dropbox is an absolute lifesaver when it comes to chopping and changing between different devices – not to mention the peace of mind that comes from having a comprehensive catalogue of online backups.


Zoe Callahan is having the summer from hell… and it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

She’s stuck in a dead-end job, her relationship is going nowhere, and the memory of the Kelvingrove Park Murders three years ago continues to cast a long shadow over every aspect of her life.

When a prostitute is brutally assaulted by Dominic Ryland, a rising political star with a suspiciously spotless personal reputation, Zoe leaps at the chance to distract herself with a noble cause, and sets out on a one-woman crusade to bring Ryland to justice.

But in doing so, she quickly finds herself on the wrong side of some very dangerous people – people who have reputations to protect and who would think nothing of silencing Zoe by any means necessary.

An explosive thriller set against the backdrop of a sweltering heatwave, Cruel Summer is the sequel to M.R. Mackenzie’s critically acclaimed In the Silence and the second instalment in the Kelvingrove Park Trilogy.



M.R. Mackenzie was born and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at Glasgow University and has an MA in English and a PhD in Film Studies.

In addition to writing, he works as an independent producer and has overseen Blu-ray and DVD releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Seijun Suzuki. In 2016, he contributed a chapter on the Italian giallo film to Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion, and regularly provides video essays and liner notes for new releases of cult films.

His debut novel, In the Silence, reached #2 in Amazon UK’s Scottish crime fiction bestsellers chart.



“With well observed characterisation, M.R. Mackenzie writes with precision and passion. He is a writer to watch.” — Caro Ramsay, author of the Anderson & Costello thrillers

“Mackenzie brings a fresh new voice to the field of Tartan Noir.” — James Oswald, author of the Inspector McLean novels

“M.R. Mackenzie is right up there with the best contemporary authors working today. His prose is of such high-quality that I am instantly addicted to the words on his pages.” — David B. Lyons, author of Whatever Happened to Betsy Blake?

“This is splendidly written stuff, triumphing in a variety of areas – not least that of its dialogue, which is idiomatic and vivid (overcoming the hurdle at which many contemporary crime novels fall).” — Barry Forshaw, Crime Time



Website: https://www.michaelmackenzie.scot

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/landofwhimsy

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MRMackenzieAuthor



Amazon: https://amzn.to/2GJrfvd

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/gb/book/cruel-summer/id1461662074

ePub/Mobi: https://gum.co/cruelsummer

An Interview With Lynda La Plante CBE

Morning folks, I am honoured (bit much for a Sunday morning) to introduce to the blog one of my writing heroes and someone who is in my Top 5 writing inspirations.

Lynda La Plante CBE answers my questions regarding her training experience at RADA, my favourite ever TV series Trial and Retribution and her advice for both the unpublished author and aspiring actor.

Lynda is the author of the DCI Jane Tennison novels, Widows (now turned into a film), most recently Widows’ Revenge, and wrote Prime Suspect featuring Helen Mirren as the eponymous DCI Tennison.

Over to you, Lynda…

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

As a child I loved Louisa May Alcott – Little Women.

My favourite author now is Michael Connelly.

 2) How did you find your training experience at RADA? 

As I was only 16 I was exceedingly naive and had never lived away from home.  The only prior acting experience I had was with my Speech & Drama teacher at school.  However, I had been training as a dancer from the age of 4.  I gained a scholarship to RADA, not really understanding what a prestigious establishment it was.  I found a lot of my training very frustrating, such as learning how to courtesy for a period costume drama.  It was incredibly tedious.  On leaving RADA it was imperative, in the finals, to be given a significant role at the Vanbrugh Theatre.  This was the opportunity for students to attract Agents, as well as Casting Directors.  When the list went up for the casting of the finals productions I was cast as an 80 year old Nun and a 70 year old bag lady.  Obviously disappointed I approached the Principal.  He told me that I was rather small, plain looking, and would probably only ever have success as an actress in my late 40s.

 Two years after leaving RADA I was cast as the leading actress at Liverpool Playhouse, playing the most beautiful woman in Venice, opposite Anthony Hopkins.  After the opening night performance the Stage Doorman told me there was someone waiting to see me and the Principal of RADA walked into my Dressing Room:

“Oh my dear, darling, girl….what a brilliant performance.”

I told him to “F*** off”.

3) What do you enjoy most when script writing? 

Script writing takes place on different levels.  The most enjoyable level for me is piecing together the jigsaw of the storyline, then layering in the characters.  

4) I am a huge Trial and Retribution fan – having watched it far too young – what did you enjoy about writing the character conflict between Walker and Connor? (David Hayman and Victoria Smurfit) 

The conflict between the characters of DCI Walker and DI Connor was wonderful.  David Hayman is one of the most exciting and professional actors I have ever worked with. Victoria Smurfit was not only very beautiful but was a very confident actress.  They sparked each other.  I find it so tiresome that in many crime dramas, when there is a male and female on an investigation, there has to be some kind of love interest.  I was keen to establish a professionalism and a realism between my two characters.

5) Do you have any advice for the unpublished author or undiscovered actor? 

My advice to any unpublished author is never sign an agreement unless it is overseen by an Agent or a Lawyer.  I would also discourage an author from sending a completed manuscript to anyone in the industry.  Focus on learning how to complete a two page Treatment of the story/script – if the Treatment is picked up then you have an opportunity to sell it vocally.  Don’t give anything away for free.

 The hardest thing for an undiscovered actor is that without work it is almost impossible to get an Agent to see you.  Every Agent’s mantra is “I’ve never seen your work.”  So you need to search high and low, apply to every fringe theatre, every TV soap series, the National Theatre, the RSC…The offers of work will not come to you – you have to go out and find them.  You need to adopt a very professional attitude.  If you get an audition and they give you two pages of a script to read, LEARN THEM.  The most important tool for any undiscovered actor is a good, professional, head shot.

4) What do you think of the crime and thriller market currently? 

I think the Swedish crime series have made an incredible impact.  If you consider that they are eleven hours, with sub-titles, they still became monster successes and have changed the views of the heads of commissioning in every TV network.  I was once told by a lead figure at the BBC that they were no longer commissioning crime drama – they soon changed their minds. 

5) How did you create and shape the character of DCI Jane Tennison for the series Prime Suspect? What did you think of the tv adaptation? 

I was very lucky to have been able to create the character of DCI Jane Tennison for the original series of Prime Suspect.  As a novelist and screen writer I always go to source for research, and I was very fortunate to make contact with DCI Jackie Malton, who guided me through every level of a high-ranking police woman’s life. I was then able to insist that the character of Jane Tennison be castwith an actor who was the right age, and I wanted Helen Mirren from the outset.  Dame Helen Mirren has proved that she is not only a consummate actress but the television series became iconic due to her performance.  The scripts were also incredibly strong and the productions were steered by an exceedingly good Director, Chris Menaul, at the helm.

The TV adaptation of my book ‘Tennison’ (retitled ‘Prime Suspect 1973’ by ITV) was sadly a very negative experience for me. I withdrew from the series as the casting went against my wishes, and the script-writing was very inexperienced and not true to the book.  The recent Agatha Christie (Ordeal by Innocence) received criticism, not only for the swearing, but also due to the fact that they decided to change the killer’s identity.  This is disrespectful to the author.  

6) When writing, do you need music or silence? Did you have a favourite band growing up? 

I write in silence.  Coming from Liverpool, my favourite band was the Beatles.

7) Do you like Rod Stewart, and if so, do you have a favourite song of his? 

Yes.  In the TV adaptation of ‘She’s Out’ (the third book in the Widows series), one of the characters sings ‘Reason to Believe’.

Thank you for visiting my blog, Lynda. It has been a real pleasure to interview you.

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