10 Questions With… Craig Robertson

Hi everyone, and on the blog today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Craig Robertson. Craig’s gritty Glasgow thrillers are not for the faint hearted – his latest one, Watch Him Die, sounds amazing!

I was really pleased when Craig agreed to answer a few questions on what he’s been up to in lockdown, and of course, that all important writing process.

Over to you, Craig…

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 was always reading when I was a child, devouring book after book. I started my crime fiction reading early with the likes of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. But my favourite author was probably Robert Louis Stevenson. It was Kidnapped that gave me that wow factor and let me fully realise what a novel could do. It remains in my top ten list of all books.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I did. And I’m happy to admit that was partly because it came quite easily to me. I was never one for doing too much studying so when a subject involved reading books, and writing or analysing stories, then I was happy that I could do well at it without having to put too much work in. But how could you not enjoy a subject that meant reading great books?

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I’ve been writing full-time for ten years now. Before that, I was a journalist for 20 years. I covered some of the biggest stories during that time and was lucky enough to travel the world and meet people from all walks of life. It was a terrific apprenticeship for becoming an author, particularly writing every day as there’s no better way of honing your craft.

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

It probably varies every time but as a rule, I’ll come up with a premise – something that interests me, and I think I can build a book around – then go from there. I’ll spend quite a bit of time playing around with the idea, adding bits on, working out where it might go and, most importantly, if it has enough legs to sustain an entire novel. If it has, I’ll add in themes that I want to tackle and then write it.

5) Can you briefly describe your writing process? How many drafts of your novel do you write before you send it to your agent?

Again it varies from book to book, but I’ll plot out the novel before I start. Not every detail of it but most of the plot points

I’ll only do one draft before I send it to my agent. I feel one is enough because I never do a dirty first draft, I edit as I go, don’t leave anything to be filled in and by the time I hit The End it’s ready to go. It’s a throwback to being a journalist that I need to have it right when it’s done.

6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intrigue you?

That’s a tough question as there’s so many authors I admire but if pushed to name just one, I’ll go for James Ellroy. He has a wonderful ability to create atmosphere, invoke sense of place and to give flesh to characters. His prose style is unique, sparse yet evocative, and his plots are complex but complete.

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

I rarely have a weekend as such and there’s never a point where I leave the desk and think that’s me finished till Monday. Writing full-time means just that, I never completely clock off. On the other side of that dynamic is that I’ll take a day or half-day off during the week if there’s something that I want to do. But among my favourite free time things are going hillwalking or just going to the pub for a pint.

8) What are you currently reading? Have you found that your reading habits have changed since lockdown started?

I’m not reading anything right now. I’m close to finishing a book and won’t be reading anything until it’s done. I never like reading while I’m writing but will go back to Doug Johnstone’s A Dark Matter between finishing my new book and the next project. I’m about halfway through it and it’s excellent.

9) What are you currently watching on television? Have you found that your telly habits have changed since lockdown? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

The current watch is The Plot Against America but unless it picks up very soon then I’ll be giving up on it. The first two episodes have been slow going and episode three will be its last chance. Lockdown hasn’t really changed my viewing habits as I don’t watch much TV anyway and no terrestrial telly. But we’ve binge watched some very good stuff this summer; The Great, Mrs America, and I May Destroy You.

10) When you write, do you prefer music or silence? Do you have a favourite genre that you listen to?

I don’t often have music on when I write, partly because I find myself typing in time to the music and that becomes distracting. I don’t need silence either though. I used to write in a busy newsroom with people shouting at each other so noise doesn’t bother me. My musical taste is all over the place and pretty eclectic, but I’m a words man so it’s usually something lyric-driven.

Thank you so much for your time this afternoon Craig. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: A former journalist, Craig Robertson interviewed three Prime Ministers, reported on major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. He was pilloried on breakfast television, beat Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India.

He is the author of eight novels set on the mean streets of contemporary Glasgow and one set on the not-so-mean streets of Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands.

He was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger for his debut Random, has twice been longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year, been longlisted three times and once shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. He’s a Sunday Times bestseller and an international bestseller.

Craig is a director of the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival and runs the Bute Noir festival in Rothesay. He splits his time between Scotland and California, where his wife – bestselling author Alexandra Sokoloff – is from.

His new book WATCH HIM DIE is similarly split between Glasgow and Los Angeles. When police forces 5000 miles apart uncover video feed of a young man dying, they realise there is no way to identify him, no way to find him, no way to save him. Not without the cooperation of a killer. And the only way he will cooperate is if he can watch him die.

10 Questions With… Gemma Rogers

Hi everyone, I’m delighted to welcome to the blog today, crime writer Gemma Rogers. Gemma has three psychological thrillers out, and is published by Boldwood Books. I am a huge fan of her writing and was delighted when Gemma kindly agreed to answer a few questions on her writing journey.

Over to you, Gemma…

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 I child I loved Judy Blume but then my head was turned by the Point Horror series, Christopher Pike and I fell in love with the genre. Richard Laymon blew me away in my teenage years and I lapped up his books. I’d have to say the book that made me go ‘wow’ was Birdman by Mo Hayder. I hadn’t read anything so dark before and I absolutely loved how chilling it was. I wished I’d written it.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Yes I loved it. It was a subject that made sense to me, where I felt at home. Some of the texts chosen for GCSE year, i.e. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I hated, it was analysed to the point you couldn’t enjoy it anymore. However, I loved Macbeth. I think I’ve always been pulled towards darker stories.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

I am currently writing full time. Up until recently, I worked in Human Resources, specialising in Visa & Compliance. A role that was as non-creative as you can get.

4) What is the best thing about your publishers, Boldwood Books? Why did you choose them?

I’d been trying to get an agent with my novel Stalker, it was the second time I’d sent a manuscript around. I’d had some interest but was unsigned, still am. I saw that Boldwood were a new publishers and had a powerhouse of experienced women behind the new company start-up. It was a no-brainer for me to send my work through and I was incredibly lucky they saw something that no one else had before and signed me to write four novels.

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

I normally start to grow a plot in my head, starting with either the ‘hook’ or the ending. Long dog walks and baths help me flesh out my ideas but I know if I can’t stop thinking about it, then I’m onto a winner. Very rarely will I get writers block, nothing a good walk can’t help me to fix.

6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intrigue you?

I admire lots of authors, the list would be endless but John Marrs for me, is such a fantastic storyteller, his novels grab you from the first page and don’t let go. They are so fast paced that you rush to devour them. I picked up The Good Samaritan whilst on holiday and it floored me. I told everyone I knew to read it, it was so deliciously dark but you couldn’t tear your eyes away.

7) What is your approach to planning your novel? Mine consisted of interviews, court visits and note taking.

I don’t plan too much if I’m honest. I do character pages where I can get to know them, always with pictures so I can visualise them which helps me write scenes. The latest book is set in an industrial laundry so I found someone who’d worked in one before and could describe what it was like. I contacted a probation officer to check some things with them, because my characters are both on probation. It varies for every book. With Reckless I took advice from another author who holds a masters in Psychology, she helped me with anxiety and OCD that my main character suffers. Another author who used to be a teacher, gave me details on aspects of teaching so I could ensure it was factually correct.

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

When I’m writing, I write every day regardless of the weekend. I’m pretty relaxed and not chained to my desk, I capitalise when I’m in the mood and spurred on to write a particular chapter or scene. Luckily I don’t have to force myself too often. I absolutely love it, it’s the best job in the world. However I’d be lying if I didn’t say I indulge in a few Captain Morgan’s on a Friday and Saturday night.

9) In the start of lockdown, what were you currently reading? Have you found that your reading habits have changed?

No not really, I normally find I read thrillers and then dip into something lighter, normally Jane Fallon, when I fancy a change. I read Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James, then The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, both were excellent. More recently I’ve read The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, which was very funny, and I’m now reading My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell which is at times a tough read. I’ve read some fantastic books this lockdown. Initially I couldn’t get into my audio books, which for me is unheard of, although I believe many people felt the same. Thankfully my appetite came back with gusto. 

10) In the start of lockdown, what were you currently watching on television? Have you found that your telly habits have changed? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

During lockdown we watched Tiger King along with half the world it seemed. What a bonkers life he had! We watched films like Contagion and Outbreak which of course, were close to home and made it all feel very real. I love any dramas, BBC, ITV and Netflix but I found we were leaning towards movies. Most recently I have been watching the Jeffrey Epstein documentary which is almost unbelievable it’s so shocking as to how he managed to get away with it for so long.

Thank you for visiting the blog today Gemma. It was a pleasure to interview you. All the best with your writing!


Gemma Rogers lives in West Sussex with her husband, two daughters and bulldog Buster. She writes gritty thrillers full time. Alongside writing her main passion is film, believing there is nothing better than a trip to the cinema and escaping into a story, hopefully one that doesn’t make her cry. Most of the Disney ones do! Favourite genres are horrors and thrillers, after all who doesn’t love a good scare?

When not writing or working, she loves exploring different country walks with Buster. The greener the better. Getting out in the fresh air helps her plot future storylines and characters. It’s excellent thinking time. She drinks lots of tea while she writes and is partial to all things sweet.

Second Drafts With… M. R. Mackenzie

Hi everyone, and kicking off the first of my new interviews into a writers second draft process is crime writer M. R. Mackenzie. Michael is based in Scotland, and is the author of one of my favourite novels Cruel Summer. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

Over to you, Michael…

1) What do you do once you have finished your first draft?

Celebrate… and then almost immediately feel at a lose end and start developing feelings of guilt. I find that, particularly with first drafts, I speed up more and more the closer I get to the finishing line. As a result, the last few chapters tend to get written in a blur of frenetic activity, so when I finally type “The End” I’m used to churning out vast quantities of words per day, and it takes me a while to recalibrate my brain.

2) How long do you tend to leave your draft before beginning your reading of it?

It varies, but in an ideal world I like to put it to one side and work on something else before coming back to it. That’s not always possible – my medium term goal is to be able to write two books a year, and I suspect leaving a draft “on the shelf” for that long isn’t going to be feasible if I want to achieve that – but I do think it’s a good idea to put the first draft aside for as long as possible in order to be able to back to it with fresh eyes. I know from past experience that, if I come back to it too soon, I haven’t achieved enough distance from it and either can’t clearly see which parts need to change or am too precious about what I’ve written and am reluctant to make even the changes that I know need to be made.

3) What is your revision process like for your first draft?

The first thing I do is re-read the entire draft. My goals at this stage are twofold. First, I need to refresh my memory of what I actually wrote. Second, I want to experience it as a reader, without my “editing hat” on, to get a feel for how it reads, what works and what doesn’t. At this stage, I try to avoid going in with my red pen and making changes to dialogue, description etc. That sort of noodling will come later. For now, I try to look at the big picture and figure out what needs to change (and how). Because of this, instead of annotating the actual draft at this stage, I write down my observations and ideas in a separate document, concentrating on the major stuff – “this character is redundant, cut them”, “this scene is boring in its current form, re-write it”, “this plot development isn’t believable, think of something else” – rather than things like “I’ve used the word ‘exclaimed’ too many times”.

4) When you have decided you need to do a second draft, what do you do?

Depending on how radical a reworking I’m going to end up doing, I may or may not write a fresh outline to reflect the revised plot. Also, whether I write a new outline or not, I create a to-do list containing all the major changes I need to make in as close to the order in which they occur as possible, which I can then tick off as I implement them.

5) What is your writing process like for your second draft?

I start with a blank document on one screen and my first draft on the other and begin to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. This probably isn’t the most efficient way to do things, but it forces me to really think about what I’ve written and what works in its current form versus what needs a rethink. My first drafts tend to be quite messy because I write fairly quickly and try not to be too precious about the wording (because chances are it’ll change anyway), so it helps to create a clean copy as opposed to trying to perform surgery on an existing document. It also forces me to cut unnecessary words and simplify overlong phrases. I tend to overwrite, and as a result my first drafts tend to be far too long. With each successive draft and re-read, I’ll end up finding more words that I can cut, sanding it down over multiple passes until it’s as tight as I can make it. Of course, if I end up with a sentence, a paragraph or a dialogue exchange that I think I got right the first time (and stranger things have happened!), I’ll copy and paste it from the first draft.

6) Do you write in a different place when you are writing your second draft?

I tend to write all over the place anyway – in my bedroom, in my office, on the sofa, and (pre-lockdown, at least) on trains and buses – and that pattern tends not to change between drafts. One thing I do like to do, however, is change the font. It’s partly a semi-superstitious thing, but I do think the font has an impact on how I approach my writing. For my first drafts, I use a utilitarian font like Arial or Helvetica, and I find that this encourages me to get the words down quickly without paying too much attention to how they look on the page. With subsequent drafts, though, when I’m starting to refine things, I’ll switch to a more visually appealing font (Sabon LT is my favourite at the moment, and is also what I use for the paperback versions of my books) and that will make me start to pay more attention to the individual words.

Thank you for your time and for stopping by the blog, Michael. It was a pleasure to interview you. Finding out all about your second draft process has been fascinating.


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.

First Drafts With… Sarah Linley

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Sarah Linley, to discuss how she tackles that all important first draft process.

Her debut novel, The Trip is a psychological thriller set in Thailand, Cambodia and the Yorkshire Dales. It was published by HarperCollins in February 2020.

Over to you, Sarah…

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

I usually have the idea ticking over in my head for months, sometimes even years, before I start writing. First, I test whether it has ‘legs’. Is there enough story to sustain a 300-page novel? Is this a subject I feel passionately enough about to devote my time to? Novels can take years to get to publication stage so you have to find a plot and a set of characters that you will still care about by the end of the process.

Once I have settled on my story, I then plot out scenes usingindex cards. Different characters and plot lines have different colours and I shuffle them about until they’re in some sort of order (which will change). Some of the index cards will be empty at this point. I try not to over-plan because then I lose some of my passion for the project. 

Then I start writing. 3,000 words per week for 30 weeks = a 90,000 first draft (I usually fall short of this and my first drafts often come in closer to 75,000 words). I break this down into four to six sessions a week and schedule them in at the start of the week. I’m pretty disciplined with my word count!

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

Yes, so far, but it is early days. My first book, THE TRIP, was very much led by the setting. My second novel, which is yet to be published, was an attempt at writing a book with a very tight time frame (it takes place over one weekend) and the one I am writing now is much more character-driven. However, the process of actually writing them has been the same.

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

I start off with very light research – asking the question is this possible? I start collecting news items of interest and following Twitter accounts etc. on the subject. I might do some online searches as I’m writing but that’s about it. 

When I have a first draft, I let it rest for four to six weeks and then I will do more indepth research. I will visit the places I am writing about, read books on various subjects and arrange some interviews with experts. This is always fun! I do this again after the second and third draft, the research becoming more focussed on each round. 

I usually find that after the third draft I am ready to let people look at it. I use beta readers and I might approach the experts I have already interviewed to read the whole thing. People are very generous with their time. I am usually doing research all the way through the process. I write contemporary fiction, but it is still surprising how much you need to research, particularly medical detail and police procedure. 

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

Sometimes the words just come to me and I get the itch to write so I have to sit down and get it down on paper. Other times it’s like squeezing blood from a stone. I don’t wait for inspiration; I have set times in my weekly calendar that I devote to writing and I switch the internet and my phone off so there are no distractions. And I don’t leave my desk until the words are written. I set quite low targets – maybe 500, 600 words so it doesn’t feel too daunting. 

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Slowly! I use word and I have an excel spreadsheet where I record my word count and the percentage of the book that has been written. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction to watch the word count creep up and know I am getting closer tocompletion. The percentage helps me to keep track of pace and check that I am not going too fast or too slow. I don’t always write scenes in order. If I’m struggling with a scene, I will skip it and come back to it, so my first drafts are really messy.

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

Before lockdown, I liked to go to libraries and cafes to write. A library with a café is perfect! I particularly like Leeds Library because there is a beautiful café and an art gallery as well. But I’m not fussy, I will pretty much write anywhere! I wrote part of The Trip perched on cardboard boxes because I was moving houses at the time and I have been known to write in my car before or after work.

Since lockdown, I have been pretty much confined to my home study. I have pictures all over the walls of things that inspire me. I am desperate to go to a library again though!

Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you Sarah. It has been a pleasure to have you on the blog today.

Bio: SARAH LINLEY lives in West Yorkshire and works as a Communications Manager for a housing charity in Bradford.

She spent two years backpacking around South-East Asia with her husband. Their travels inspired her debut novel, The Trip. When she is not writing, she enjoys walking in the Dales with her dad and his dog. You can follow Sarah on Twitter: @linleysarah1

10 Questions With… Sophie Bane

Hi everyone, this evening I’m delighted to welcome Sophie Bane to the blog. Sophie is a crime writer, and resides in Leeds with her family.

As a fellow subbing writer (where you are preparing your very much loved novel for agents, although mine is now back at the drawing board until I get it right), she was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me.

Over to you, Sophie…

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 was a big Roald Dahl fan when I was younger, and before I knew he wasn’t the most pleasant person! Matilda was my favourite, but having read it since I started working in children’s services, it’s really very dark.

The first book I remember really, really loving was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I lost count of how many times I borrowed it from West Heath Library (RIP)…

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I absolutely loved it, it was easily my favourite subject. Until I got to A Levels, and my teacher managed to make one of my all time favourite books, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, dull. I still don’t know how she managed it… That gave me a bit of an epiphany, and I decided I didn’t want to do English at university because I didn’t want to turn reading into work, I wanted to keep it as my stress relief and my escape.

3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing?

Absolutely. I write a lot of documents, and quite a few require synthesising information from different sources, and simplifying complex information, which is really helpful – at least, it is by about draft three, when I’m more willing to think ‘that’s over-written, lose those three sentences’. It can also help with the content of my writing. I work in children’s social care, and some of the things I read through my work give me a better understanding of things like the dynamics of exploitation, and how trauma can affect people, which is very useful for writing – I hope – compassionate and authentic crime fiction.

And the benefits are mutual – I can type really quickly when I’m in the writing ‘zone’, which means I can keep up in meetings and take nearly verbatim notes. Very useful during inspections, when you want to capture absolutely everything that’s said! 

4) Are you on the lookout for an agent? If so, how is your submission process going?

Yes, I’ve just started doing my research. I finished the final edits and read-throughs about a fortnight before COVID-19 lockdown, so that threw me quite off course; my daughter’s nursery closed and my wife is a keyworker, so I ended up trying to juggle childcare and my day job for a few months, and it just wasn’t possible to commit to anything else. Now I have a bit more time, I’m reading through the Writers and Artists Yearbook and working on a spreadsheet (I do love a spreadsheet!) of agents to approach. I came up with my one-line pitch/ tagline the other day as well, so feeling pretty good about that.

I’ve had a bit of practice with pitching, as I did Dragon’s Pen at Harrogate a few years ago with this novel, and got some really useful feedback and encouragement, particularly from fellow Pen victim Sarah Linley (I recommend her debut, The Beach – exactly what I wanted it to be from the pitch!). I’ve done a few more drafts since then, and got a manuscript assessment through the Crime Writers Association, so I hope that what I’m submitting now is much tighter. I also got rid of the prologue in italics – thank you to David Mark for that advice!

It’s such a shame that Harrogate can’t happen this year, I always get so much inspiration from it, and encouragement and support from writers I’ve met through the festival – Mark Billingham, Mari Hannah, David Mark and Elizabeth Haynes. Crime writers are generally awesome people, it would be great to join their gang at some point!

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

Not really. I think my best ideas come from little throwaway thoughts, rather than big concepts or themes. The novel I am about to submit was initially sparked by a tiny, two paragraph newspaper report I read while on my gap year – lots of ideas come from the ‘what if…’ thought. I think once this one is out for submission, I might read through all of my paperwork from my MSc – I studied Investigative and Forensic Psychology, and was constantly frustrated that the really interesting cases or research studies weren’t the ones I had to write essays about, so I might go back and see if anything makes me go ‘ooh, that’s a story!’ I do enjoy books which take real-life cases as inspiration – Alex Marwood does that brilliantly.

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?

This is really difficult, because I have so many favourites and so many that I like for different reasons, and it changes over time as well. I don’t want to offend anyone by leaving them out!

I had a big Erin Kelly phase last year, which I really enjoyed. I like her style of writing, and her books often fit into my favourite sub-genre of ‘secrets from the past coming back to bite you’. That’s the sub-genre of The First Cut, the novel that I’m about to start submitting. It’s set in Birmingham though, so the characters are a bit less posh… For a city that is so well represented in other forms of the arts, Birmingham seems to punch below its weight with crime novels set in the city. I’d like to see that change and, in a few years time, to be on a festival panel on Brummie Noir. It’s about time!

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

I’m definitely more of a pantser than a plotter, and it wasn’t until about draft three of my current novel that I had the realisation that I needed another villain, and had already half-written one in one of my minor characters. I find that really satisfying though, to let things percolate and then think ‘ah, but what if they did this…’ It probably means more drafts, but it keeps me more interested throughout each one.

I’m not really drawn to writing police procedurals, and I think they probably require the most research. I prefer to write whatever serves the plot and the characters the best, and then check out whether what happens is plausible afterwards. Sometimes I find out that it isn’t and then there’s a bit of swearing as I rewrite, but it generally works for me.

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

I just finished The Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin, which I enjoyed. I am a sucker for a death row story as I find the inhumanity of the whole system horrific, and the book also looked at the after-effects of trauma, which interests me a lot. I haven’t seen the latest instalment in the Halloween film series, but that covers the same kind of themes, and I listened to an interview with Jamie Lee Curtis who was talking about how her character left school on 31st October, a completely normal day, and by 1st November all of her friends had been killed. I like stories that explore the impact of these extreme situations, rather than the horror being the point.

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?

The very first thing is to pick my daughter up from nursery and walk her home, usually as she chatters all the way! Then when she’s in bed, have something comforting and easy for tea, and pick something similarly comforting and easy on TV. My wife and I both have fairly demanding jobs which, when combined with looking after a toddler, leaves us knackered by the end of the week, so Friday nights, boring though it sounds, are just for unwinding and switching off.

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

This one’s not even a question – Freddie, always Freddie. I’m a huge Queen fan, I have all of their albums, all of their solo albums (including Roger Taylor’s other band, The Cross – fairly obscure) books, DVDs, and I think I even have a few VHS tapes somewhere. I think Freddie was the greatest frontman there ever was, and I’m sorry we never got to see him grow old disgracefully and turn into a proper National Treasure, swapping outrageous anecdotes with Judi Dench on the Graham Norton Show.

My mum is a big Rod fan, and she once convinced me to go and see him at Elland Road. Worst gig I’ve ever been to! He was like the Kenny Everett parody version of himself, but for about two hours and without the humour… No thanks!

Thank you so much for your time Sophie, it was a pleasure to interview you! I wish you all the best with your submissions! Good luck!!

Bio: Birmingham born Sophie Bane lives in Leeds with her wife and daughter, and works in local government. She would like to turn Brummie Noir into A Thing, and is about to start submitting her Birmingham-set debut The First Cut to agents. She first started writing this on her gap year, but it has turned into a Trigger’s Broom of a book and bears no resemblance to those first terrible, incomplete drafts. She had the pretentious notion of beginning the very first attempt at the book in Stanley Park in Vancouver, and copying the inscription of the bench she was sat on into her notebook, so that it could be included on the dedication page when (not if – teenage arrogance) the book was published. However, in a fitting metaphor for the idealised version of writing versus reality, she forgot to bring a pen. She is now more realistic, and carries more pens.

First Drafts With… Joseph Knox

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Joseph Knox. Joseph is the author of Siren (one of my new favourite reads of this year) and I was delighted when he agreed to answer a few questions on that all important first draft process.

Over to you, Joseph…

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

Going into a book, I usually undertake as long a period as possible of just reading, watching films, and listening to as much music as I can get. I’ll read everything, from thrillers to pop science, watch everything, from melodramas to gross out comedies, and listen to everything from opera to ultra-aggressive rap.

I want to get as many new ideas into my head as possible, but also I want to try and spark things that might already be in my head. Scene ideas often come to me during emotional music, which is an embarrassing admission, but a true one. During this time, which might be weeks or months, I’ll make an insane amount of notes. These might be vague plot ideas ‘what if a guy was in the boot of the car?!’ or ideas for cool-sounding lines or dialogue. They might be descriptions or they might be scene or setting ideas. And although I’m reading, watching, listening, these ideas might come from anywhere. For example, when I was in Germany in 2017, I was told about an enormous new airport that was fully built but not yet operational. Apparently someone had to go around the entire complex every day flushing the toilets to stop them from going stagnant. I’d already made a note a few weeks before about wanting to use an old hotel as a setting, but now I connected that with the idea of a large abandoned building. The result? Smiling Man is set in a large abandoned hotel. 

Slowly but surely these notes reach a tipping point where they kind of just start spilling onto the page. From there I move really slowly, rewriting a first sentence or paragraph until I’m blue in the face, then I inch forwards bit by bit. Weirdly I don’t really look at the notes I made unless I paint myself into a corner and need an idea. It’s a great safety net to have because very often I’ll look at them and go ‘Oh yeah!’

One funny thing that’s been true about all my books: I always start with what I’m certain is the first scene, but it NEVER is. I always need to go back afterwards and add usually two or three scenes before it – but of course I find that out later…

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

It’s always different for me. My first book was written across eight years, in evenings, lunch hours and weekends, around a busy day job. The second was written mainly in a four-month sabbatical I took from work. That was thrilling because it was the first time I’d ever been able to write like a job, but I still had the security of my job in the back of my mind. For the third I quit my day job, and had a horrible time writing it.

The pressure that this was now my work really got to me in a weird way, and I ended it gutted and worn out. I then wrote a fourth book while travelling the world trying to recover. Ha, I was subsequently told that this book was so negative that it’s publication would end my writing career – so it remains in a drawer! It helped me recover, though. It got all my weird fear out onto the page harmlessly and cleared the decks for me to write my new book. That one started completely differently too, because I’d just had eye surgery to address a longstanding sight problem, so I began writing it as recorded voice notes until my eyes were strong enough for the screen.

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

Really, it’s just the note process I outlined above. Of course I have to look things up as I go – and I’ll often try to buy factual books dealing with the things I’m writing about (for example, in my first book the detective goes undercover, so I read books about that).

I can’t really effectively research before writing because I don’t have a plan. I usually have an idea for the opening, perhaps some scenes along the way and a sense of the ending, so I wouldn’t know what to look up ahead of time.

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

With my first book I was working on it for most of my twenties. With the second and third I had tight deadlines, so once I had my notes, I was straight into them. For my latest, I took a long break – hoping to refill the well so to speak. It worked because my latest book was surprisingly much more fun and easy to write. It’s a hard lesson for me to learn, but sometimes it’s helpful to walk away for a while.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

I never write a First Draft per se. I know (and envy!) a lot of writers who write a first draft as fast as possible and then begin fixing it afterwards. That’s a great way to work because it’s much easier to fix something crap than it is to come up with something brand new. I just can’t do it. So I write a first sentence and rewrite it until I think it’s the best I can do, then the next, etc etc. Once the chapter’s finished I’ll rewrite that as well, just making it as smooth as possible. I’m much more interested in tone and atmosphere than plot – so that’s the feeling I’m trying to create. That’s the feeling that inspires me to keep going. I find that when I just plough on with ‘then this happens, then this happens’ I lose interest. My slow drafting process is a way of convincing myselfthat there’s something true there. If I do that, I can work on it endlessly. It means I rarely deliver a first draft in the conventional sense – my first draft might take six months rather than one – but usually what I end up with is close to the finished article. My editor now trusts me to work this way, knowing that he might not see early pages, but that when he gets it there will hopefully be less work for him to do.

It’s all about where you want the inevitable stress. If you can deliver that first draft, some of the pressure’s off and you’ve got something to fix/work with alongside your editor. For me, I would much rather be delivering something as close to finished as possible because I want them to see the work with fresh eyes rather than my jaded ones that have read a hundred different versions of the same story. The problem is, that means it’s all on your head – and you live alone with the fear that it might be rotten until they finally read it.

As ever with writing, there’s no right or wrong way. It will be nightmarish and joyous all the same.

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

I really like to have somewhere to go and write. Sirens was written in a million different coffee shops and lunch hours etc, but Smiling Man was written in the offices where I worked, after hours. Sleepwalker was written in a library and my new book was started in a hotel room I rented (so I could just focus on it all day every day for a couple of weeks to get it off the ground), I did write the majority of it at home during lockdown though. In all cases, I’ll work on it at home in the evenings/weekends as well. It’s just sometimes good to have a routine of leaving your home for a place of work, of sitting with other people to kind of guilt you into not lying around doing nothing.

As this interview shows, though, I’m still pretty much just winging it and making everything up as I go along. My fundamental writing advice is to remember that that’s what everyone is doing!

Thanks Ellie, and keep going with your own stuff! No problem Joseph, it was a pleasure to have you on the blog today – thank you for your time.

Bio: Joseph Knox was born and raised in and around Stoke and Manchester, where he worked in bars and bookshops before moving to London. He runs, writes and reads compulsively. His debut novel SIRENS was a bestseller, published by Transworld in the UK in spring 2017. It is the first in a series featuring Detective Aiden Waits. THE SMILING MAN, published in March 2018 also by Transworld is the second in the DC Aidan Waits series and is a Sunday Times Bestseller.

The Resident… A Q&A with David Jackson

Hi everyone, continuing my new interview approach, I’m speaking today to David Jackson about his upcoming novel, The Resident. With one week to go until this book is out, I was delighted when David agreed to answer a few questions.

Over to you, David…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you first begin to flesh it out?

I read many years ago about a woman in Japan who sneaked into someone’s house and hid in his closet. The owner discovered his secret resident only when he set up security cameras to find out why his food kept disappearing. It was one of those things that stuck in my mind as a brilliant seed for a novel. My original idea for THE RESIDENT was to have someone hiding in an attic, who then witnessed a crime taking place in the house below, but I quickly decided that it would be much more interesting to turn that person into a serial killer, and to follow his exploits as he moved through an array of connected attics and played games with the occupants living beneath him.

2) How did you create your main character Thomas? Did you enjoy writing him?

THE RESIDENT is the only book I have written entirely from a single point of view. Usually, I like to ‘head-hop’. That presented its own challenges, but it also had the benefit of allowing me time to explore Thomas’s psyche in much greater depth than I would otherwise. What I hope the reader will find in Thomas is a fully-rounded character who, despite being a serial killer, has a vulnerable side and a tragic past that may even provoke some sympathy for him.

3) The book is different from your Nathan Cody series. What made you decide to tackle the subject you chose?

Each one of my previous books has been part of a series, which has pros and cons. Although a series book gives me a ready-assembled set of characters to play with, it can also be limiting in terms of what I can do with them. And while loyal fans will usually be eager to read the next instalment, there are many who are reluctant to pick up a series book if they haven’t read the ones that came before. THE RESIDENT gave me an opportunity to try something new in the form of a standalone, and to be honest, I found it incredibly liberating. I think I have built upon a strong premise in THE RESIDENT, and I hope that readers will enjoy it at least as much as my earlier books.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

For my research, I broke into an abandoned house and I spent a long time living in my attic. Believe it or not, both of those things are true. The trespass into a derelict property happened when I was very young, and perhaps the less said about that the better. And when I say I’ve spent many hours in my attic, that’s only because we have a loft conversion which is now my study. Aside from that, not much research was required. Oh, except for finding out about the decomposition of corpses. . .

5) How does your writing process for the Nathan Cody series differ from the writing process for The Resident?

It doesn’t, really. I plan it out, I write it from start to finish, one draft, and then I send it to my editor – who promptly rips it apart and sends it back.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

I’ve heard good things about Scrivener, but I’ve never tried it. I use Word for the actual writing, but at the planning stage I’ll use Notes for my initial musings and then PowerPoint to lay out a storyboard.

Thank you for your time David, and for stopping by the blog to discuss your upcoming novel. The Resident will be released on Thursday 16th July.

Bio: David Jackson’s debut novel, Pariah, was Highly Commended in the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Awards. He has written a string of internationally published crime thrillers since then, including the bestseller Cry Baby, nominated by Amazon as one of their Best Books of the Year. The Guardian newspaper said of his work: ‘Recalls Harlan Coben – though for my money Jackson is the better writer’. When not murdering fictional people, David spends his time as a university lecturer or giving writing workshops. He lives on the Wirral with his family and a cat called Mr Tumnus.

One Eye Open… A Q&A With Paul Finch

Hi everyone, continuing my new interview approach, I’m speaking today to Paul Finch about his upcoming novel, One Eye Open.

Over to you, Paul…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you first begin to flesh it out?

The idea first came from a discussion I had with my new editors at Orion, and while they were very keen that I stick with the crime thriller format, for my first book at least, they wanted something that differed from the work I’d been doing for Avon at HarperCollins.

So, while I was writing the Heck and Lucy Clayburn books, I produced linear narratives with the emphasis on action and suspense, with this first one for Orion I wanted something that leaned a little bit more towards mystery. And also something that bounced back and forth in time, in other words something that was less linear. Inevitably, it also meant that, for this first Orion title, I wasn’t going to be writing a book involving Mark Heckenburg or Lucy Clayburn.

The discussion ranged far and wide, but I increasingly began to like the idea of putting a Traffic cop at the centre of the story. Road policing services get a terrible press generally because so many non-criminals (i.e. everyday drivers) fall foul of them, and subsequently, they almost never figure as key characters in cop fiction. I reckoned this would be very different from anything I’d seen before, and my editors agreed. I then started to think about the sort of situations that Traffic officers encounter during their work – they deal with more than their fair share of tragedy of course, and though not many realise this, they encounter quite a bit of crime. But the more I pondered it, the more I liked the idea that a Serious Collision Investigator (i.e. from Traffic’s investigative non-uniform branch) could be sent to deal with a car that shouldn’t exist lying utterly smashed alongside the road, after an accident no one saw, containing the half-dead bodies of two people who have no identities, while loaded with illicit cargo for which there is no explanation. The idea really grew on me that first night. I remember lying in bed, wondering how I could expand it. And before morning, a full tapestry had been woven in front of me, involving killers, crime syndicates, the lot.

I should add a footnote to this, by the way. My regular readers shouldn’t worry. Though I penned ONE EYE OPEN consciously trying to avoid the same kind of narrative that you’d find in Heck or Lucy Clayburn, there is still plenty of bone-crunching action. How could there not be? That is my meat and drink.

2) How did you create your main character Lynda? Did you enjoy writing her?

Other police characters of mine, Heck and Lucy Clayburn, are conveniently single, and having nothing and no one to go home to, are free to continue to investigate crime for long hours after they are supposed to have knocked off. With Lynda Hagen, I wanted things to be very, very different.

Lynda, I decided, would not just be a married woman, she’d be a mum as well. That meant she’d have to go home in the evenings and do Mum-type things. Initially when this struck me, I was hesitant. Was there a danger it might lessen the pace or reduce the jeopardy? Well … no, of course not. Because I’d be in charge and I’d make sure that it didn’t. On top of that, it seemed like an increasingly sexy idea to me that Lynda might once have been a top class criminal investigator, a divisional detective who dealt with serious crimes like robbery, rape and murder, but who had made the conscious decision to step back from that unique world in order to raise her family and be certain that she’d be there to make tea for her kids each evening and breakfast each morning. Would she miss that former life? Perhaps not at first, as she settled into her new one and found that raising a family can be as big a challenge as anything, but in due course, because of the kind of person she is, some yearning for what she’d lost might reassert itself. I also like the idea of marrying Lynda to Don, another former top cop, but who is no longer in the job at all – for different reasons, but who deeply misses it and is desperately struggling to make it as a writer. I’m not going to say too much more about that, except that it touches a little on my own experience of so many years ago, so I hope there’s quite a bit of authenticity there.

As all these characters fell into place, I realised that I had a very interesting and very different dynamic, something a world away from Heck and Clayburn, and something I could go at a hundred miles an hour.

3 How is One Eye Open different to your other novels?

Think I may already have answered this one.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

For years I didn’t worry about research. I didn’t even need to research police protocols. As a former officer myself, I felt I knew what was what. However, time has passed since then, protocols have changed, the law itself has changed, and so I now have to do as much research as the next writer, particularly where road traffic offences are concerned.

All of a sudden, I’d moved away from the world of CID and into the Traffic division, which even when I was a serving copper, I only had limited experience of. But thankfully the law and police procedures are all laid out online, so I could look up what I needed to and, if necessary, make a few phone-calls to old buddies of mine who were still in the job or who had only recently left, without actually having to vacate my desk. More of a challenge was the geographical research required for ONE EYE OPEN.

In my Heck books, you may recall, my hero is part of the National Crime Group, which have a remit to cover all the police force areas of England and Wales, a kind of British FBI if you like. This meant that I could pick and choose where he went, and so was always careful to select districts I already knew. Lucy Clayburn, on the other hand, was part of the Greater Manchester Police, which was my old force, and on top of that she worked the fictional November Division, Crowley, so once again I was on home turf and had free rein. To get right away from both of those concepts, I had to shop around for a new part of the country in which to set ONE EYE OPEN. Again though, I didn’t want to venture too far away from familiar ground.

In the end, I put Lynda in the Essex Police and placed her on the Suffolk/Essex border. Those who know this area – Dedham Vale and the like – will recognise it as a very different region from anywhere I’ve covered before. This is Constable Country, a rolling pastoral landscape crisscrossed by bridleways and sleepy lanes, dotted here and there with ancient churches and picturesque villages. But the urban darkness is never far away anywhere in England these days, and even this scenic realm is now becoming known as the weekend getaway or even retirement land for older gangsters looking to lie low or go straight (and who, inevitably, find this latter very difficult).

Fortunately for me, I have in-laws in this area, and so made several delightful trips, weekend breaks mainly, to look around the country pubs and village greens, to check out the wooded paths and overgrown graveyards, to stand at high points and gaze down on Tudor manor houses that don’t look as if they’ve changed since Henry VIII’s day, and absorb the deep rural stillness. Each time, I came back to Lancashire with pages and pages of notes referencing the geography and culture of this most tranquil corner of Britain, but it was great fun gathering them. I can hardly complain about these research trips, can I?

5) How did your writing process for the Lucy Clayburn and Mark Heckenburg novels differ from the writing process for One Eye Open?

Because there are different timelines in this one, I think it required a lot of careful assessment at each new stage. Though separate, these timelines are parallel and need to marry up closely. So, particularly when I was editing and proofing, I had to be very careful indeed. Aside from that, I’m not sure there was a great deal of difference. My first draft is always dictated into a Dictaphone when I’m either walking my dogs or simply pacing around the exterior of my house. Back in the old days, I’m sure my neighbours thought I’d gone mad, but now they just assume I’m on the phone.

There’ve been all kinds of positive offshoots from this. It’s helped me keep my weight down while I work, and I have two of the fittest springer spaniels in the north of England. But on a more serious note, I find it much easier to concentrate once I’m out and about. I hate being cooped up in a stuffy office, particularly in summer. In contrast, when I’m out in the fresh air, even if I’m walking the roads of our town rather than country trails, even if it’s raining, I find the thought processes flow a lot better. I don’t use an app to type it up afterwards, I should add. That would be a disaster because my dictated draft is often a stream of consciousness, composed of broken sentences, most of them not even organised in the correct order. The actual first draft comes when I type them up myself and knock them into shape.

After that, the second draft is the one I enjoy the most, because by then I’ve already got a book on the written page and consider that I’ve broken the back of the physical work. I can then edit my way through it, nipping, tucking, tightening, changing, adjusting, prettifying everything. I usually play mood music in the background for this draft, to boost my creativity. The third draft, the last one before I send the book off to my editors is always the toughest. That’s when you go in line-for-line, word-for-word, doing everything in your power to iron out every last little error.

With ONE EYE OPEN, this was a particularly demanding exercise because, as I say, I had to ensure that everything matched, that every shared nuance between the timelines balanced neatly. Aside from that, though, as I say, I don’t think the time-honoured process varied very much.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

I’ve always used MS Word and have no complaints about it.

Thank you for your time Paul, and for stopping by the blog to discuss your latest novel.


A former cop and journalist, Paul was a writer for British TV crime drama, The Bill.

His next stand-alone thriller, ONE EYE OPEN will be published by Orion in 2020.

Paul wrote two series for Avon (HarperCollins). The ‘Heck’ series has so far reached combined sales of nearly half a million, and the Lucy Clayburn series shot him into the Sunday Times bestseller list.

Winner of the British Fantasy Award 2002 & 2007, and the International Horror Guild Award 2007, he has also written four Doctor Who audio dramas and his Doctor Who novel, HUNTER’S MOON, was published by Woodland Books in 2011.

An Interview With… Sarah Benton

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview Sarah Benton. Sarah is the Deputy Managing Director for Orion Publishing Group, and she was kind enough to answer my questions on what exactly her job role entails, and what she is up to in lockdown.

Over to you, Sarah…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Was it something you always wanted to do?

Publishing was definitely not something I planned on doing, knew anything about or thought was an option for me. I always loved books, and writing, but by the time I did my A-Levels, I’d settled on something much more normal: I planned to be a teacher.

I studied English at The University of Southampton with that goal in mind, until my final year when I did my dissertation on children’s books. It sparked something in me that I might be able to combine the two things I loved: working with children and books. A stroke of luck set the path to my future(as is so often the case). My dad worked in education for local government and had met a librarian who knew lots of people in children’s publishing. She offered to take me to a Children’s Book Circle event in London and I left university a week early to go. I met a publicist from Macmillan Children’s Books and managed to get some (unpaid, then) work experience that summer. I loved it from day one and knew I’d found what I wanted to do.

2) How did you work your way up to being a Deputy MD? Did it make a difference that you didn’t come from an editorial background?

I worked. I worked, really hard essentially. I always looked for opportunities to expand my remit, to learn more, to get involved in things around the companies I’ve work in. I’ve been in the industry 17 years, and it was 11 years before I became a Marketing Director. I think some of my best experience came from the years I was a Marketing Exec, or Manager (6 out of the 11). Getting to understand a huge variety of readers, authors, genres, campaigns, people – seeing what succeeds and what doesn’t. Experience really does count when you get to the top and people are suddenly asking YOU what they should do. I always say that life, and your career, isn’t a race. People move at different speeds: don’t look at them, just look at yourself. You are in control of what choices you make, and it shouldn’t ever matter what someone else has. It’s also no-one else’s responsibility to manage your career but your own. I’ve never been afraid of having difficult conversations with people if it meant I got to understand what I needed to do to progress.

When I started in publishing, I thought I knew two things: that I ought to be an editor and that I would never want to run a company. I knew quickly that editorial wasn’t for me. I liked the buzz of marketing and publicity: the reader contact, the working out what is the thing about this book that would make it appeal to the audience. I have always been driven by the reader, not by my own taste and I think that has served me well in such a senior role now. I can be very objective, and that’s what needed. I view being in a senior position now the way I did training for a 10k. I started off never thinking I could go that far, but each day you train, you get a bit closer and then one day, you’re doing it. I hope the fact that I didn’t come from an editorial background shows other people that it’s possible, and that there is no one route to the job you love.

3) What does your job role entail on a day to day basis? Has it been any different in lockdown?

The thing I love about my job, but also what makes it challenging is that literally no two days are ever the same. There are basics – key meetings like acquisitions or our cover art meeting, catch ups with my team and my boss – but other than that so much of my day is driven by what is happening. Someone needs your advice, there’s an author or agent that wants to speak to you or a sudden urgent, high-profile acquisition. You start your week with a plan, but so rarely does it turn out the way you think, so you have to adapt and be kind to yourself. I used to be driven by my to-do list but in a senior role I have realised that it’s impossible to work like that – I have a rolling list of things I need to do, and a daily list of urgent things. You have to accept you rarely get to the bottom of either list.

In a way, while it’s been more intense in lockdown, the fact that I am so used to adapting has put me in good stead. I thrive on things changing, so in a way I’ve found the last few months hugely fulfilling. On the other hand, particularly at the beginning, we have had to make decisions based on almost no certainties, and that was hard – you have to rely on some data, but a lot of gut instinct. In the end you can never know you’re making the right decision all the time, but you have to make the one you feel is right based on the information you have.When faced with tough decisions, I often think: what’s the worst thing that could happen? What am I afraid of? In fact, and ironically, the worse thing you could do is to make no decision at all.

4) Are there any limitations of your job role in lockdown?

I really miss my colleagues! Of course, we are making things work well with video meetings and phone calls but running a company often relies on lots of very quick decisions, which can sometimes be done by chasing someone around the office and having a very quick 5-minute chat. Life in lockdown is definitely a little slower – asking when people are free for a call, playing phone tag. In the office, Katie Espiner (our MD) and I thrive normally by bumping into each other, chatting through the issues of the day and making a quick decision on next steps (and we have a lot of fun while doing it!). I really miss that.

5) How have you found balancing your work with being a parent?

I returned to work from maternity leave during the peak of Covid-19, so it definitely wasn’t how I planned it! We were waiting on a nursery place but due to everything being closed we needed to think again. My husband is a writer, so we can be more flexible than most, but it’s certainly a challenge. I work in blocks of time, while my husband has the baby, and then we swap over. I fantasize about a full day just to work but that’s not where we are right now. We are making it work,but it’s a lot and there isn’t much downtime. Nursery is on the horizon though, so hopefully things will get easier soon. I am enormously lucky in that Hachette are hugely supportive of working parents. Even when my daughter is at nursery, I will work flexibly and set my own hours. Now we’ve all proved we don’t need to be in the office 9-5 we won’t go back to that way of working and nor should any of us.

6) What books are you most attracted to? Do you have a favourite genre? What would you look for, ideally, in a debut novel?

I would say there is no one thing, no secret ingredient – sorry! I read widely, across all genres mostly (I think it’s so important to do this in publishing). What I guess I look for most is a strong voice and – a feeling. The kind of book that you read a few pages of and can’t stop thinking about. I remember reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams in the first draft and knowing, extremely quickly, that this book needed to be published and would be very big – it doesn’t happen every time but it’s nice to occasionally be right! 

I also try to read as much outside my comfort zone as much as I can. What are the books people are talking about? What is in the bestseller list? I think it’s important to understand what books sell, what readers love. I have so little time for reading outside of my job at the moment with a baby, but I do love a pacey thriller – the last one I read is one we are publishing, Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall, coming this August. I got “the feeling” about that one, and I’m very excited about it.

7) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Like reading, I watch quite a varied mix of TV! I love a hard-hitting documentary as much as a trashy drama. I am currently watching and loving Little Fires Everywhere (after adoring the book), but also David Olusoga’s A House through Time – it’s absolutely fascinating to think about all the lives lived under one roof. My guilty pleasure is Grey’s Anatomy – it’s my total switch off TV and much needed!

8) On a Friday evening when you leave your desk, what’s the first thing you do? On the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I currently only work 4 days a week, so Thursday is my Friday! My day comes to a hard finish at 5.30 every day when I give the baby a bath and put her to bed so it’s after that I get to relax. Normally, I come downstairs, have a quick check of emails and sit down for a moment of peace. My husband has developed into an excellent cocktail maker, so we will sit down with a drink and some food and go over what’s happened that week.

Relaxing with an 8-month-old isn’t super easy! Running is what I do to relax. It’s just me, my music and the park – it really clears my head. I do try to switch off from work at the weekend – it’s really important. I don’t send emails and rarely check them. Spending time with my family normally resets me for the week ahead. Being a good leader is as much about hard work as it is about self-care: if you don’t look after yourself, you simply can’t do your job.

Thank you so much for your time, Sarah. It has been a pleasure to have you on the blog today for an interview.

Bio: Sarah Benton is Deputy MD for The Orion Publishing Group. In her seventeen years in the industry she has worked at Harpercollins, Bonnier’s Hot Key Books and Pan Macmillan, in marketing and publicity across children’s and adult publishing.

The Lies I Tell… A Q&A with Joel Hames

Hi everyone! A different approach to interviewing this time, I hope you enjoy it? Instead of a First Drafts With interview, or an agent/author interview, I’m quizzing Joel Hames with questions that directly relate to his newest release, The Lies I Tell.

Over to you, Joel…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you first begin to flesh it out?

I’ve always liked the notion of the hunter becoming the hunted. And then there’s the idea that certain people can’t seek help from the usual places. If someone’s coming for you or me, we might contact the authorities. If someone’s coming for a thief and a cybercriminal, they won’t be able to. They’re forced to fall back on their own resources and intelligence. This is what happens to Lisa, and everything stems from that. It also heightens the paranoia and tension when you think you’ve get everything sewn up, when Lisa thinks she’s completely safe, and yet somehow, her enemy is still getting to her. It means she has to question absolutely everything and everyone around her.
I’ll add the fact that we fell victim to identity fraud of the change-of-address variety around a decade ago and I’ve seen plenty of attempts at the invoice scam; when you add the “veracity” element of social media, the subject becomes irresistible.

2) How did you create your main character Lisa? Did you enjoy writing her?

I loved writing Lisa. I wanted someone you knew you should hate but couldn’t help loving, and I made sure I threw everything I could at the relationship she has with her son, and her own childhood, to put the scenes of her present-day activities into some kind of context. In particular, Lisa’s life in Leeds and her memories of her sister almost took over, and at times I felt I could write another book just centred around them!

3) The book is different from your Sam Williams series. What made you decide to tackle the subject you chose?

I felt like a change. I haven’t finished with Sam Williams – he will be back – but I wanted to write a psychological thriller, and I wanted a “villain” as the central character, and these things alone ruled out Sam. I’ve mentioned the interest in identity theft above – but at the same time I needed someone relatable, which meant a proper, developed back story and a person who felt real, likeable and hateable at the same time. Everything came together in Lisa.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

I always research my locations pretty thoroughly, and I spent a lot of time discovering the landscape of Orford Ness so that I could describe it for Lisa’s final showdown. I had to do quite a lot of research for the technical element of the book, because getting things like the dark web and the deep web mixed up will really annoy people who actually know the difference, and cybercrime in general is such a big thing that getting it right was absolutely essential. I also spent a lot of time looking into blockchain for some elements that didn’t make it into the final edit of the book, but may well appear as a short companion piece at some point.

5) How does your writing process for the Sam Williams series differ from the writing process for The Lies I Tell?

The plotting and note-making was pretty similar, in that I am hugely thorough with my planning and always and up with 30 pages or so of plot skeleton to work with. There were, however, at least two significant differences: with The Lies I Tell I was dealing with dual timelines, which meant I had to ensure that the right revelations occurred at the right moments even more so than usual; and with Sam, I’ve got a fully developed central character and a host of others with existing back stories through the series, going right back to The Art of Staying Dead, the three-novel Dead North trilogy, plus two novellas. Lisa and her friends and family – and enemies – all had to be created from nothing.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

MS Word. I tried Scrivener for a few months back in 2016 and did write Victims (a Sam Williams novella) using it, but I have my own set-in-stone ways of planning and plotting and making notes, and adapting my process from the combination of OneNote and MS Word to Scrivener seemed to be time-consuming with little reward. If I was starting my writing career now from scratch I’d probably give Scrivener another look, but for now, it’s Word all the way.

Thank you for your time Joel, and for stopping by the blog to discuss your latest novel.

Bio: A Londoner in exile, Joel Hames lives in rural Lancashire, England, with his wife and two daughters.
His works of fiction include the bestselling Sam Williams trilogy and the psychological thriller The Lies I Tell.
When not spending time with his family, Joel likes to eat, cook, play the piano, and make up excuses to avoid walking the dog. There’s the MMA thing, too, but he doesn’t like to show off.

Joel’s website can be found at http://www.joelhamesauthor.com where you can find out more about the writer and the books, and sign up to his email newsletter.

If you want to know what Joel has planned for the future, what he thinks right now, or just stalk him a little, you can find him on Facebook at facebook.com/joelhamesauthor or Twitter at @joel_hames. Joel has never seen the word “Joel” appear as frequently as it does right here, and wholeheartedly approves.

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