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:

Amazon US

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









Apple Books:


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.

10 Questions With Gillian McAllister

Hi folks, today I’m delighted to welcome writer Gillian McAllister to my blog. Here, Gillian chats about her first two novels, Anything You Do Say and Everything But The Truth, and discloses whether she is a Rod Stewart fan.

Over to you Gillian.

1) When you were a child, did you have a favourite author? 
I read Sweet Valley High and The Babysitter’s Club voraciously – maybe five or six per week. Once I was in my late teens, I discovered Sophie Kinsella and there began a love affair with female fiction.
2) Did you enjoy English at school? 
I did – so much so I went on to do an English degree. I have to say, though, I much prefer a contemporary thriller over a classic! 

3) How did you find studying law at university – which area do you specialise in and did you enjoy your experience?

I did a law conversion course, which is a law degree in a year. Pretty intense. I enjoyed it hugely, though, and I met my boyfriend on that course, too.  
4) How did you find studying law helped you to write your debut novel, Everything But the Truth?
I suppose I have access to lawyers to chat to – I don’t practise criminal law, but I do know some criminal solicitors and barristers – and I get to discuss recent cases a lot (my boyfriend is a litigator). I suppose I also have the lawyers’ brain – my books are often organised by evidence (in the form of exhibits) or into trials. 
5) Did you find writing Anything You Do Say a different process to your debut?
It is always different once you’re an author under contract and writing to a deadline. I have to say, I much prefer that: it’s hard to write a full-length publishable novel, and having a deadline and an editor and agent to hold my hands along the way really helps me to do it. I’m at my happiest when writing and finishing novels, so I’m very lucky. Anything You Do Say was a sprawling novel: 20,000 words longer than my debut, and two books in one. I’m very glad I did it, but I’m not going to say it was easy to be under contract and working full time.  
6) Did you do much research for both books?
I tend to write about things I’m interested in – so for Joanna I was quite interested in the notion of self defence as applied to a feminist situation – and so I already know a fair amount by the time I write. I then flesh out that knowledge with research – and talking to experts/making friends with them – as I go.  
7) What was your inspiration for your novels and how did you find shaping your characters? 
For Everything But The Truth, I heard about a rare bit of Scottish criminal law which seemed so strange and ambiguous to me that I wanted to write about. Anything You Do Say was an idea that literally came to me in the middle of the night. I start with plot – so with Anything You Do Say I needed a heroine who would dither. Joanne came to me from there, in all her procrastinating, avoidant glory. That’s what’s happening to me now in my fourth novel: the bones of the plot are down, and the characters bring it to life. 
8) Did you have a favourite band growing up? How has your music taste changed? 
I was – and still am – an avid music listener. I always listen to music while I write, and I’m terrified of becoming old and irrelevant so I listen to the UK charts every Friday on Spotify’s New Music Friday while I write. I have always leaned towards American rock – REM, The Eagles, and then my father got me into rap, too. I’m currently listening to Drake as I type this.  
9) When writing, do you need music or silence? 
Music, definitely.  

10) Completely random – do you like Rod Stewart, and do you have a favourite song of his? 

That is rather random! I guess I’d have to say Handbags and Gladrags, covered by the Stereophonics 🙂 

Thanks for visiting my blog, Gillian, and for answering my questions. It’s been a pleasure!

First Drafts… with Noelle Holten

Hi folks, and the last post for tonight is crime writer Noelle Holten.

Before I kick start the questions, here is a little bit about the reviews for her debut novel, a bit about Noelle, how you can connect with her on social media and some purchasing links.

About Dead Inside 

‘Kept me hooked … excellent pace and a very satisfying ending’ Angela Marsons

‘An excellent read’ Martina Cole

‘A brilliant debut – gritty, dark and chilling. Noelle Holten knows her stuff’ Mel Sherratt

A dark and gripping debut crime novel – the first in a stunning new series – from a huge new talent.

The killer is just getting started…

When three wife beaters are themselves found beaten to death, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she is facing her toughest case yet.

The police suspect that Probation Officer Lucy Sherwood – who is connected to all three victims – is hiding a dark secret. Then a fourth domestic abuser is brutally murdered.

And he is Lucy’s husband.

Now the police are running out of time, but can Maggie really believe her friend Lucy is a cold-blooded killer?

About Me (Noelle Holten) 

Noelle Holten is an award-winning blogger at She is the PR & Social Media Manager for Bookouture, a leading digital publisher in the UK, and was a regular reviewer on the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast. Noelle worked as a Senior Probation Officer for eighteen years, covering a variety of cases including those involving serious domestic abuse. She has three Hons BA’s – Philosophy, Sociology (Crime & Deviance) and Community Justice – and a Masters in Criminology. Noelle’s hobbies include reading, author-stalking and sharing the booklove via her blog. 
Dead Inside is her debut novel with Killer Reads/Harper Collins UK and the start of a new series featuring DC Maggie Jamieson.

Connect with Noelle on Social Media here:

Twitter: (@nholten40)
Blog FB page:
Instagram: @crimebookjunkie



Apple Books: 




Without further ado, below you can find Noelle’s answers to my questions.

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

I usually have an idea already in mind and LOADS of random notes in a notebook. I tend to jot down things that will need further research and highlight them. Then I basically just start writing! Ideas often pop into my head at ridiculous times and in ridiculous places so I always have a notebook beside my bed as well as in any bag I have with me. 

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

As I have only written two books… so far, it has pretty much been the same process. Each new novel has its own new notebook – I may have a thing for stationary! Same with when it comes to editing. I have a notebook for edits where I make sure the timeline works, where I note when a chapter has to be moved, where I can see any gaping plot holes, etc. 

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

Having a background in criminal justice and having worked in the criminal justice system for 18 years with various agencies has really helped on the research front. I’ve always had shelves full of reference materials and if I come across a book that I think will be useful, I buy it. I am a bit of a book geek and love learning new things, so research is quite an enjoyable side of writing for me. I have a separate shelf down by my writing space where I keep reference materials and a whole bookcase in my bedroom for other reference materials. I also have a folder on my kindle for any reference ebooks I have purchased, so they are all to hand. Google is also a brilliant resource and I have recently discovered that youtube is fantastic for visually taking in some areas, or …erm… techniques that I may be incorporating in the story (though, if you’re squeamish – youtube might not be for you!) Because my stories are based in fictional places in Staffordshire (in the main) I don’t really need to travel much as I know the area and make the places fit my needs. The only ‘real’ place (so far) mentioned in my books is Stafford. 

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

I’m not sure I am much of a planner. I currently have four more ideas which a basic, two paragraph outline has been noted. Then I flesh that out with a few points and I MIGHT jot down some notes for a few chapters but as I don’t write chronologically (my brain doesn’t work that way!) I can’t really scope out the book in the order it should be.  Once an idea or chapter comes into my mind, I just write it and worry about how it fits at the edit stage. Once I make the decision to start, I write every evening for at least an hour and usually write 1-1.5k in that hour. 

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

It’s a hot mess. No joke! Usually I write the start and the finish on the novel (weird right?) – then everything else in between – in some order but not always chronologically. I had tried to use scrivener for the second book, but found I was always returning to Word, so stuck with that. Also, the story and characters can take on a mind of their own and some things I had planned to happen may drastically change – minor characters become major ones, a storyline I hadn’t considered comes to life – it really is a fascinating process and had I not written a book, I am not sure I would believe any author who says this happens…but it does and I love it! 

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

Either at my desk or from my couch on Word. I sometimes write out a few chapters in a notebook – rough outlines – and then transfer and flesh them out onto the document when I am next writing. 

First Drafts… with Andrew Barrett

Hi folks, and third up in the First Draft series I am delighted to welcome Andrew Barrett. Andrew is currently a CSI (crime scene investigator) and writes novels in his spare time. He took time away to chat to me about his first draft process. Over to you, Andy.

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

When I begin a book, I usually search for a scene. Scenes come to me without my having to consciously think of them. I suppose you might liken this to a What-if moment that most people experience several times throughout their day. I like to examine them quite closely, and travel down inside them a few levels, exploring where they might lead to. It is from this scene that the book begins. Stories don’t come to me easily. I have to wring them out of a scene.

For the next book, I pictured an old man sitting in a care home feeling embittered by a life that has passed him by too quickly, jealous of the youth that now tends him. He concludes that he feels this way – angry – because he’s been swindled out of his life by a greedy ex-wife. 

Though he’s in an ‘old person’s home’, he is far from immobile. And in order to cure his anger, he realises he has todo something about the ex-wife.

This is all great, but I’ve gone beyond seeing a single scene. For the first time ever, a whole story fell out of the sky and landed smack in the middle of my head, while I was awake, while I was sober, and while I was near a pen! I never get a whole story.

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

And so for the first time I will not be following my usual process. My usual process, mentioned above, is to pull a story from a single scene, or perhaps from a couple of seemingly disparate scenes. I then write them. When I’ve written them, I hope that a large percentage of the story has presented itself by then, and I can continue writing until the book is finished or the ideas have exhausted themselves. Then it’s time to begin planning: how do I get to a logical conclusion with the tools I have, and the story I have? Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s impossible and I have to re-write some of the story, and sometimes – rarely – I hit upon something so remarkable that I have been known to almost fall out of the shower or crash the car when they occur to me.

No, this time, because I was near a pen – actually it was Evernote on my tablet, but you get the idea – I already have a rough roadmap of the tale. Interestingly, as I was typing up these raw notes while standing at the kitchen table, hands still wet from doing the dishes, I came up with a couple of scenarios for the latter part of the book that would give me a good plot twist or two to follow. I won’t make up my mind about them until I get there – I want the most natural twist to win. Yet it has to be the least expected while retaining total plausibility.

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

For the majority of my books I do no research at all. I’m a Senior CSI and I’m lucky in that I know about the stories I create without having to search for details. I might need to import some facts about weapons or about the probation service, for example, but that’s about it. Since I write, usually, about a CSI working murder scenes, everything I need is already inside my head. For The Third Rule – a CSI thriller with a heavy political slant, I did a lot of research into capital punishment, into how laws are created. I went into great detail with the research – a lot more than I needed; but that was good because when I wrote those political bits I just dipped in and plucked out a fact or two to please those readers who know this stuff, and enough to project a sense of reality for those readers who nothing of it.

Generally, if you write with conviction about something, you could probably swerve any deep research, and still make most readers believe. The important thing about research, I think, is not to drown the reader in it. You shouldn’t be telling them how many hours you’ve slaved over a hot Google to get this fact for them, and shouldn’t be displaying your prowess at research to score points. You need research to propel the story – that’s all, leave the rest of what you’ve learned in a folder.Don’t hate me for saying that!

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

How quickly after thinking or planning do I sit down to write? This is an interesting question. I’m usually very impatient. It’s why I’m a pantster and not a plotter. I can’t wait to begin writing. I’m a big kid, and I have no patience at all. Forget unwrapping the Christmas present with decorum, when I’ve finished there are scraps of paper everywhere, and teeth marks in the box too!

Except for this time. This time, because I’m preparing The Death of Jessica Ripley for publication, I haven’t had the time to begin the story of the old guy in a care home. And it makes my teeth – and my fingers – itch. But it can also be a good thing. I have had the time to refine my main character and give him traits I might otherwise not have noticed had I not spent the better part of three weeks looking at him from afar. I can also modify the story: for instance, I think I shall have a violent kidnapping as my opening scene. There… doesn’t that feel good? Well, it does for me.

5. How does the draft form on the screen?

Usually fairly quickly. Writing first draft is my favourite part. Once I get into my rhythm, I don’t even look at the screen; I couldn’t care less how much red, blue, or green is on there; I couldn’t care less if I’ve forgotten a character name and have used an asterisk instead or I’ve used the word ‘slob’ six times in a paragraph. All I see, no – all I’m aware of – is my fingers hitting the keys. I’m probably not even present when most of the writing happens. And that’s a good thing; I’m away in the story smelling it, touching it, feeling the high emotion, and I have just enough of a connection with where I’m actually sitting in the real world to hit more or less the correct key more or less some of the time.

Of course there are times when words dry up and just getting a paragraph down was so painful I needed a tramadol afterwards. Mostly, that’s because I haven’t planned where I’m going and I’m just feeling my way in the dark, exploring. Sometimes this can go on for weeks – usually towards the end of a book when I’ve written myself into a corner than I can’t find a way out of. That’s my punishment for being hasty!

While I find writing first draft exhilarating – yes, I do! – I also find it scary – yes, I really do! I hate blank pages, they scare me, they have the power to stop me writing, to stop me thinking… and that is frightening.

Having said all that, I’m not a quick writer. I’ve never done Nano because I hate deadlines, but because I know I’d never get 50k down in a month. I just don’t have the time: I work full time and I have a family. Who knows what I could achieve if resigned. I’d love to find out one day.

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

I write in a bedroom in my house. I have a good desk, a comfy office chair, and a wireless mouse and keyboard that I can and do position anywhere on that desk or on my lap. I have two screens because ‘writing’ means promoting and taking care of official stuff too, and I find having two screens eases that feeling of claustrophobia that having a dozen tabs open all at once gives me.

I carry my phone with me, and that’s equipped with Evernote, so whatever notes I make in there follow me home and later appear on my desktop. I also have access to a tablet and Bluetooth keyboard some of the time, and if I’m on a roll, it goes with me. Mostly, I write inside my head and I just transfer those feelings via a jumble of words when I get the chance to.

Writing isn’t really about the words. It isn’t about characters. Actually, it isn’t even about stories. Writing is all about getting a reader to feel emotions. Emotions are everything. Art, music, film, food, drink, environment… these are all good mediums where people experience the most emotions, pure emotions. Novel-writing sits nicely inside ‘art’. Get people to feel emotions and you’ve done your job as a writer. Congratulations. How does it feel?

Thank you for taking the time Andy, and for visiting my blog. It’s been a pleasure.

First Drafts… with Maggie James

Hi folks, second up today on First Draft series is psychological thriller writer Maggie James. Maggie sets all her novels in hometown of Bristol, and joins me to chat about her first draft process. Over to you, Maggie.

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

I start with pen and paper, writing down a one-sentence idea for the plot. For example, ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes, my first novel, began with the following idea: how would it feel to discover as an adult you’d been kidnapped as a child? Pretty angryand confused, I’d say! And so the character of Daniel Bateman came into being. I then needed to answer the following questions: who kidnapped him and why? (Enter Laura Bateman…) What led Daniel to discover the truth? How does the story end? What is the central theme?


Once I have the initial idea I make notes, seeking to expand that first sentence into a paragraph, a page,two pages, and so on, until I have the basic outline for the story. I then set up a file in the writing software I use (Scrivener) and split my notes between chapters; I also type up some ideas about my characters – age, interests, temperament, etc. I keep working on all of that until I’m ready to start writing, or until I’m sick of plotting! Often it’s the latter. I do find that once I get going, I tweak the original storyline anyway, so planning in great detail would be a waste of time. I do, however, think I need to plot more tightly with future novels.


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

I find it evolves with each novel. ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes’ was written pre-Scrivener, and I used an Excel spreadsheet to guide me – a line for each chapter, and a tab for each character. Very rudimentary! I first used Scrivener for ‘The Second Captive’, and it proved a godsend; I’ve used it ever since. I can structure my files however I wish, and have my manuscript, notes and research files all in one place. I aim to get more streamlined and efficient with my writing process, because I don’t spend enough time plotting, which means way too many weeks editing the mess that results.


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

It depends on the novel, but I’m lucky in that I don’t write historical fiction, or some other genre that requires masses of research, because it’s not my favourite way to spend time. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. I’d rather be writing or editing. If I know any experts in the field I’m researching, I’ll ask them; ex-police officers I know have proved very helpful when it comes to police procedure. Otherwise I turn to Google and see what comes up; I try to ensure that any information I use comes from a reputable source. There’s a lot of crap on the Internet, as we all know.


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

Straightaway. When I’m on a roll with a book, I want to get stuck in as soon as possible. I don’t see any point in waiting.


5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

As I’ve mentioned above, I use Scrivener to write my novels, and that won’t change anytime soon. By the time I start to write, I’ve split the plot over thirty chapters, or thereabouts, so I know what to include in each one. Helps prevent the dreaded writer’s block! I write in a linear fashion, starting at chapter one and working my way through until the end. I aim to write a chapter, or around 2-2,500 words – whichever comes first – per day.


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

I’ve always been lucky enough to have a spare room at home that I can use as an office. I’ve recently moved house, so that’s not a reality at present while I get sorted, although it soon will be. In the meantime, Iwork every day on my seventh novel by sitting at my living room table or propped up in bed, typing on my laptop.

Thank you for your time Maggie, and for visiting my blog, it’s been a pleasure.

First Drafts… with Tony Forder

Hi folks, first up in the First Draft series I am delighted to welcome Tony Forder. Tony is the writer of the Jimmy Bliss novels, and joins me to chat about his writing process. Over to you, Tony.

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

I’m mostly a panster rather than a plotter, so it tends to vary. The only time I had a reasonably detailed plan in my head for the entire book was for the first, which was Degrees of Darkness. But then I’d had plenty of time to think about it before daring to write the first word. I found out during the course of writing it that plans can often become secondary to where your characters want to take you, and also that better ideas can occur during the writing process itself. Sometimes I need only an idea of where I want to start and the general direction in which I would like to steer, and then put trust in the writing process to gather momentum and shape and lead me to right conclusion. Flying by the seat of your pants can cause anxiety at times, but it also allows the storyline to develop in some surprise ways. It also differs depending on whether it’s a series book or something fresh. Obviously, in respect of a series each new book already has a cast of characters for you to lean on, but when creating new main characters I may spend a bit of time getting a feel for them before I start writing. When it comes to writing something entirely new, one of the major decisions is which POV to use. For my book Scream Blue Murder I went back and forth during the writing, having initially chosen to write in first person. Eventually I went with that gut instinct, but only at the fifth time of asking did I settle on it.

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

Since I’ve had my own room in which to write, my process hasn’t changed. I have a board in front of me, one side white for markers, the other side cork for pinning things to. Generally the cork is for printouts relating to a book I’m editing, and it will have character names and misc items on there. The whiteboard is for my work in progress, and again it’s for names as they arrive, plus pertinent notes I might need immediate access to whilst typing. I also have two pads: the first is a large lined pad which I use to note chapter specifics, such as which characters feature and a few details which will remind me what took place in that chapter. The other, smaller pad, is for what I call chapter ‘pickups’, so things I have to follow up on relating to scenes within each chapter. I also mostly write in chronological order, unless a minor scene occurs to me during a part of the day when I’m not at my desk, so I have a file I keep for each book called ‘Snippets’, some of which might only be a scrap of dialogue that I want to use.

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

If there is something significant that I need to know then I will research it prior to starting the book. However, there’s plenty that springs up during the writing that creates the need for more research. I approach this in two different ways: if it’s integral to the story and would prevent me from writing until I know the answer, then I will do enough research to enable me to write, leaving the rest for when I want to flesh out in the edit. If it’s a minor thing, such as a road name or a company name or something similar, then I usually put a [?] marker in so that I can search for it later.

As for the research itself, I use a combination of text books, online searches, GoogleMaps, and experts. I’ve communicated with the Met and NCA, the RAF, a taxidermist, an embalmer, plus I have a criminal lawyer friend who advises me on protocol and, happily, the main police station I use for my series. With online research you have to make sure it’s as current as it can be – I once described a police station after using GoogleMaps only to discover in other research that the place was no longer there, and that the map was out of date.

I find I omit about 90% of what I discover during research, because you never know what you might want to include so I’d rather know too much than too little. It can catch you out though. In the third book in my DI Bliss series, If Fear Wins, I was pretty much committed to a plotline relating to the RAF and their logistics unit at our local airbase in Wittering. I was in contact with media relations there, but it could be a slow process. I took a gamble that I was right about something, knowing that if I was wrong I would have to change about two-thirds of the book in order to find another critical aspect of the story, or possibly even scrap it entirely if I wanted it to remain authentic (it’s fiction, and so you must be able to invent things or stretch credulity if necessary at times, but it also has to be plausible). Luckily for me my instincts were right and I was happy that what I described as happening could have.

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

I don’t plan one thing at a time. As ideas occur to me I write down notes  – yes, in yet another pad. Once a week I’ll open it up and read through them, adding something if it occurs or skipping past if not. In that way I can develop a page of ideas over time for a specific storyline, and at some point one of those pages will leap out at me and demand to be written. I have around 6-8 on-going ideas at one given moment. On the other hand, I was watching a news item on the TV one evening and a specific feature made me sit up as an idea came to me. I had my next book all planned out, but this fresh idea insisted I write it first. Which I did. So the answer to the question is, it varies, and wildly so.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

This is one aspect which tends not to vary. I write the first third pretty quickly, because I approach it chronologically and therefore as I’m writing I’m thinking ahead several chapters. I don’t do a word count, I just write from about 8.30am to 4.30pm, with a lunch break and small rests from the computer (I don’t like an overall word count to dictate to me when a novel is a novel). I then write up my notes. The following day I scan back through what I wrote during the previous session just to get the creative juices flowing again and then I’m straight back into it. My middle third is usually slow progress, because this is where you transition from the build-up to the climax, and it’s every bit as important as the beginning and the end, I think, because you have to ensure you continue taking your reader with you and that there is as little lag as possible. Once I’m into the final third and I know where I’m headed, my fingers fly on the keyboard and spelling and grammar are forgotten as I try to keep up with what’s coming out of my head.

To me, this is what the first draft is for: getting the story out of your head and onto the screen, saved in files – I save my chapters individually until I’m finished, and keep them that way for the first structural edit. Only then do I piece them together and discover my total word count (my books tend towards the 100,000 average). The first draft is a statement of intent, and I see it as the skeletal form of a story, to which I will later add the muscle and flesh in order to form the whole book. I can easily add 20-30,000 words during my first couple of edits, before pruning back and cutting out perhaps 10,000 words as I tighten with that final deep edit. In Cold Winter Sun I cut around 15,000 words in order to quicken the pace, but it hurt because I had to remove some really nice character scenes which I loved. But it was the right thing to do in order to improve the pace and the flow.

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

These days, now that I write full-time and have my own office, I’d say 95% of it gets done there. The other 5% comes from ‘lightbulb’ moments I might have when not writing, at which point I pick up a pad and pen or my laptop and get the scene or section of dialogue written in whatever way I can. Sitting down at my desk five days a week for roughly 7 hours a day gives me a sense of purpose, however. Writing is now my work, so when I’m at my desk I’m at my place of work, and I switch my mind over to the job in hand, whether that’s writing, editing, or attending to any number of associated items such as catching up with mail and social media, to creating promotional graphics.

Thank you for visiting my blog, Tony. It’s been a pleasure.

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