An Interview With… Natasha Bardon

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Natasha Bardon to the blog.

Natasha is a Publishing Director for the Fantasy imprint at HarperCollins. Although I’m a crime writer, I started out reading fantasy novels so I was delighted when Natasha agreed to an interview. Read on for how she started out in the industry, how HarperVoyage stands out as an imprint and what she has been up to during lockdown.

Over to you, Natasha…

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

It wasn’t really something I’d considered before leaving university. I had a few ideas about what I wanted to do, but nothing concrete and I’d always loved reading much more than anything else. So when an opportunity came up to do some work experience at Fourth Estate (another HarperCollins imprint), I took it. From there I held various positions in sales and marketing, but I jumped at an editorial assistant job that came up at HarperVoyager as Fantasy was by far my favourite genre at the time. Luckily I got it and the rest is history!

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

I manage a brilliant editorial team at HarperVoyager and I commission onto the General Fiction and Borough Press lists, so it really is quite busy! Apart from attending various meetings – acquisitions and cover art meetings are easily my favourite – I’ll have the usual mix of admin as well as reading and editing. I block out days for editing, keep my admin and inbox organising to Monday and try to make myself available for anything else that might come up the rest of the time.

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

I think there’s a certain type of creative energy that’s fed by interaction and so, inevitably, lack of interaction changes that energy. I wouldn’t say there are limitations, but it’s definitely been about overcoming the challenges lockdown has thrown at us. Luckily for me a lot of my work can be done at home, so I feel very fortunate and privileged in that regard. I definitely miss my team and the office environment though. It’s amazing what you learn and get inspired by just being around your colleagues in the office. I also miss books! I miss seeing the books coming in from the printer, discussing books with colleagues and cooing over books other imprints are working on.

4) What makes the HarperVoyager Imprint stand out in the fiction market?

That’s such an interesting question! The obvious answer is its authors! They are all amazingly talented, incredible individuals. Lockdown for me (and I know I’m incredibly lucky!) has been a treat, because I have been working on some absolutely wonderful books that are coming out next year, books such as The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett, Threadneedle by Cari Thomas, Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey and Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff. To have been able to work on these wonderful books at such a weird, draining, upsetting and emotional time for everyone has made me appreciate my job so much.

It’s not just next year though, HarperVoyager has been publishing books such as The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, The Black Hawks by David Wragg, The Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron and The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant that have shaken up the fantasy market over the last few years.

There are also many more hugely talented authors on the list, but I don’t want to just list our books! So if we do stand out in the market it’s due to a combination of our authors, our commissioning team (who are utterly brilliant), the wider marketing, sales, publicity, design and production teams who are so fantastic at what they do, our readers who don’t necessarily buy our books because it’s a Voyager title, but I hope they will always inadvertently find a book of high quality, creativity and imagination in a beautiful package because it is one, and of course none of that hard work would go anywhere without the booksellers who love and champion our books. Fantasy and Science Fiction inspires such dedication and love from its fans. It’s always so wonderful to see.

5) Do you have a favourite genre of novel? Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I don’t regard any genre as a guilty pleasure! I think if you’re reading a book then there’s nothing to feel guilty about. I love all genres and often flit between them. I love my role as Publishing Director of HarperVoyager, but I equally love commissioning onto the General Fiction and Borough Press lists. I have two books I’m hugely excited about next year coming out on the crime thriller list for example. The Murder of Graham Catton by Katie Lowe (author of The Furies) and Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams.

6) In lockdown, what books are the first you reach for? Do you have any that you have reread?

I think it’s the second time in my life where I’ve just not been able to read. I’ve read for work and I bought a remarkable fantasy called The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi that managed to break me out of my inability to focus, but before that I was really struggling. I often turn to books for comfort and escape – something I feel everyone has needed this year – so to find I just wasn’t able to settle into a book was hugely difficult.

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

I re-watched The Girlmore Girls because, despite its faults, it’s still a comfort blanket for me and one I reach to often when I just need some low-stakes TV. We also made our way through the Marvel movies again – a lot of fun. I also started replaying Dragon Age 3 and inhaled The Last of Us 2 when it came out.

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?

Well at the moment I’m attempting to launch a calligraphy shop as I find it so relaxing and just love to do it. Other than that I’ll draw or cook which I’ve been doing a lot during lockdown! On weekends it’s normally submission reading, any editing or mentoring prep I need to do and of course seeing friends and long walks with my incredibly cute miniature schnauzer Edie. I’ve been going to the lido a lot since it reopened and have been enjoying it immensely.

Thank you for visiting the blog today Natasha. Finding out more about your job role was fascinating so thank you so much for your time to take part.

Bio: Natasha Bardon is publishing director of HarperVoyager, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins. She works on brand authors such as George RR Martin, Robin Hobb, Peter V. Brett, Sabaa Tahir and Jay Kristoff as well as emerging stars of the genre RF Kuang, S.A. Chakraborty, Kester Grant and Saara El-Arifi. She also commissions onto the General Fiction, Borough Press and Historical Fiction lists.

Second Drafts With… Ramsey Campbell

Taken by Tony Knox

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Liverpool based horror writer Ramsey Campbell – I have to admit that horror isn’t a genre I’m familiar with, maybe because it scares the s*t out of me – I take my hat off to Ramsey for being able to write horror and I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him.

Over to you, Ramsey…

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

I’ll experience a sense of real achievement, usuallyshort-lived. Minutes later I’ll pretty certainly be pondering what I’m going to write next and developing it in my head – quite possibly making notes in a notebook. Decades ago I would take the next day off and go out for a celebratory countryside walk, but these days the pressure of untold tales is too great. I’m still trying to set aside a day to watch Bêla Tarr’s Sátántangó as a reward after completing a first draft – the film is over seven hours long.

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

Months. I’ll write short stories or perhaps even a novella in between. These days I try to arrange my schedule so that I read through it when we’re away on holiday abroad (not an option just now, alas). For the record, The Wise Friend – since that’s the book most recently out – was typical in taking about a year from the opening of the first draft (which took from 3 April 2018 to 4 August 2018 to write) to submitting the final version to my agent.

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

Very different from how it once was. I don’t quite know when it changed, but certainly in my early decades I tried to retain as much as I could justify of the first draft, whereas now my approach is to change and improve and condense or indeed delete everything I can. I’ll attach a couple of photographs of the first draft of the opening chapter of The Wise Friend to show you what I mean. The second page of dialogue was almost entirely dropped from the rewrite, since I felt it wasn’t doping enough or indeed very much.

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

Well, let me talk us through the process as a whole – this will cover question 5 too. The first drafts of my fiction are always written longhand with a fountain pen in exercise books (seven days a week, Christmas and birthdays included, I’m here at my desk by six in the morning). The rewrite is doneonto the computer. It’s by no means uncommon to lose maybe 20% of the length of the first draft, I print the rewrite out and read through it, at which point I’ll always make further revisions, generally minor ones. Once I’ve made those changes on the computer, off the novel goes to my agent, and I suffer my usual doubts of whether it’s any good.

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

See above!

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

No indeed – always here at my desk on the third floor, where the view across the Mersey and the sky above is a gentle inspiration.

Thank you for your time visiting the blog today Ramsey – it was a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes Ramsey Campbell as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for outstanding services to literature. Among his novels are The Face That Must Die, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, The Count of Eleven, Silent Children, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Overnight, Secret Story, The Grin of the Dark, Thieving Fear, Creatures of the Pool, The Seven Days of Cain, Ghosts Know, The Kind Folk, Think Yourself Lucky, Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach and The Wise Friend. He recently brought out his Brichester Mythos trilogy, consisting of The Searching Dead, Born to the Dark and The Way of the Worm. Needing Ghosts, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, The Pretence, The Booking and The Enigma of the Flat Policeman are novellas. His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead, Just Behind You, Holes for Faces, By the Light of My Skull and a two-volume retrospective roundup (Phantasmagorical Stories). His non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably and Ramsey’s Rambles (video reviews). Limericks of the Alarming and Phantasmal is a history of horror fiction in the form of fifty limericks. His novels The Nameless, Pact of the Fathers and The Influence have been filmed in Spain, where a television series based on The Nameless is in development. He is the President of the Society of Fantastic Films.

Ramsey Campbell lives in Merseyside with his wife Jenny. His pleasures include classical music, good food and wine, and whatever’s in that pipe. His web site is at

Manuscript samples: Photos by Ramsey Campbell

An Interview With… Hannah Sheppard

Hi everyone, and on the blog today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Hannah Sheppard. Hannah works at D H H Literary Agency and she was kind enough to answer my questions on what she is looking out for in submissions, along with what she has been up to in lockdown.

Over to you, Hannah…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always want to be a literary agent when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I think it was pretty obvious from very early on that I was going to do something related to the written word. Initially I thought I wanted to be a journalist but mostly because that was a more obvious career option. I didn’t know anyone in publishing and so had no idea what the potential jobs might be so it just didn’t occur to me. But, once I got to know a bit more about what journalism might involve (particularly early on in a career when you weren’t getting to write about what you wanted to write about) I realised it probably wasn’t for me. I think it was while I was at university that it clicked for me that publishing could be an option and I emailed all the publishing companies I could find email addresses for (this was the early days of the internet!) and managed to get work experience at Macmillan Children’s Books. Initially I was applying for marketing experience because I thought editorial would be too competitive and I was interested in how you motivate someone to buy a particular book over all the other options, but while I was doing my work experience, I did a day in editorial and realised that was really where I should be.

It was during a second work experience placement that I found out literary agents existed, but I didn’t really have a grasp on what they might do until I started working as an editorial assistant and it was only after I’d spent ten years in house working my way up to senior commissioning editor that I thought it might be the career for me. I’d realised that the bits of my job I enjoyed most were when I was working directly with authors to bounce ideas and develop projects and that if I went much higher than I was in house then I’d move further away from that…becoming an agent has allowed me to focus on that much more and I love it.

2) You studied at university in Liverpool. What was your degree and your experience of the city like? Are you on the lookout for writers from the North?

I did a degree in English Language and Literature at Liverpool University and I completely fell in love with the arty vibe of the city. We used to go to a monthly open mic night at the Egg Café (best spicy veggie burgers in town) which I loved and I volunteered at News From Nowhere bookshop on Bold Street. I also set up a small press while I was there and our first book was an anthology of work from both students and local creatives…we called it THE LIVER BARDS.

I am definitely on the lookout for writers from the North. I’m really proud of the DHH Literary Agency and our proactive approach to diversifying publishing. In 2018 we travelled to York for a pitching session where each of the five agents at DHH met with hopeful authors to talk about their work and demystify publishing. We saw 110 people between us! And in Dec 2019 the DHH team went up to Liverpool to chat to authors there and I got to show my colleagues a little of the city I love so much.

We’re absolutely planning to do more northern pitching sessions and have a few locations in mind…unfortunately plans are a little on hold at the moment because of Covid19, but do follow the @dhhlitagency twitter account to be first to hear when that is announced.

3) What attracts you to a submission? Is it the cover letter, the synopsis or the sample writing?

I think it’s a combination of a clear pitch and the sample writing. I have to fall in love with the sample but it helps a lot if the author can pitch their novel succinctly, in a way that intrigues me, and with an awareness of the market. The rest of the cover letter is less important than the pitch – but I’m amazed how many cover letters don’t pitch the book at all.

4) Are there any differences between representing authors of both adult and children’s fiction?

Not really. There’s maybe a slightly different career trajectory and sales pattern that it’s worth being aware of, but every author/agent relationship is unique (based on what that author needs) so it’s that which makes the difference rather than that being based on the type of book.

5) Can you describe the feeling of ‘I really want to represent this author’? How do you feel when you offer representation?

It’s definitely a nervous excitement. It’s rare that all the elements align – a book I love, that I can see a clear route to market for and know exactly how I’d pitch it and to which editors along with an author I think I’d work well with…often it’s as much about the book and author as it is about believing I’m the right agent for the project (rejections from agents aren’t always a sign that your book isn’t good…there are so many factors in the decision…there’s a lot of luck when it comes to right book at the right time).

Alongside the thrill of the potential you can see, there’s also a fear that the author might choose to go with someone else (rejection is part of life as an agent too!).

6) What are your views on the fiction market currently across the genres you represent? What would like to see more of, or what do you think hasn’t been done before?

The current Covid situation has definitely made everyone quite cautious. I don’t necessarily know what impact that will have long term…but maybe it wouldn’t be so awful if fewer books were published overall with more attention on making sure each one reached its potential readership.

I’d like to see more daring publishing…less dictated by what has sold before which makes diversifying really difficult and we really need to diversify.

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

Hmmmm…I don’t really have a desk in the traditional sense…and my hours aren’t that regular either. There is always reading to do, wherever I am. But making time for family and friends is always important – particularly on a Friday night…drinks and dinner with my partner is probably the ultimate switch off from work to mark the beginning of the weekend.

I also love being near the water so wandering down to the beach is a great way to relax (although, often it’s when I step away and stare at the sea for a while that I’ll get a breakthrough idea for an edit).

8) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to old favourites or reading new books?

I’ve really embraced audio books during lockdown in a way I hadn’t before. I struggled to focus on reading early on in lockdown (which is a bit of a disaster work wise) but an audio book on my headphones while out for a walk or a run was a great way to keep on top of books from my TBR that I hadn’t got to yet. I’ve really enjoyed Gillian McAllister’s THE EVIDENCE AGAINST YOU, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER and Talia Hibbert’s TAKE A HINT DANI BROWN this way.

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

I love a wide range of television…some real guilty pleasures through to more highbrow stuff. The new series of QUEER EYE dropping during lockdown was a joy – I love the human stories alongside the fabulous styling. I also worked my way through the whole of LINE OF DUTY and HOMELAND which are both shows I’d failed to watch previously. I’m anxiously awaiting the new season of UNFORGOTTEN which I think finished filming just before lockdown…The first season of that was especially good and I’d love to find a crime novel that explored the same cold case psychology of a criminal who thinks they’ve got away with something for decades only for a chance discovery to unravel their entire lives.

GREY’S ANATOMY is probably the drama I watch religiously…although I’m newly obsessed with THIS IS US but I’m struggling to get hold of the new seasons in the UK.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

This is almost impossible to answer because I have Rod Stewart associations with my mum and Freddie Mercury associations with my dad so although I like both, choosing one would feel disloyal.

So, although I’m unfamiliar with Brian Johnson and AC/DC I might have to go with that…discovering something new (to me) is always good, right?

Thank you so much for your time today Hannah. It was a real pleasure to interview you.


Hannah Sheppard studied English Literature at the University of Liverpool where she set up a small poetry press in her spare time. She has since spent over a decade working in trade publishing: first at Macmillan Children’s Books and more recently running Headline Publishing Group’s YA and crossover list where she published Tanya Byrne’s critically acclaimed Heart-Shaped Bruise.

She joined the D H H Literary Agency in 2013 because she realised that being an agent gave her more time to do what she loves most – using her editorial experience to help writers develop their ideas for commercial success.

What I’m Looking For:

Hannah represents authors across children’s fiction (from 9+ including teen and YA) and a small number of adult fiction authors (her main interests are thrillers and romance). Hannah does not represent picture books.

She likes stories that push the boundaries, have a strong voice and, often, a dark edge – although she’d love to find a great contemporary romance too.

Follow Hannah on Twitter: @YA_Books

How to submit: Please send your cover letter, first three chapters (or about 10,000 words) and a synopsis all pasted into the body of your email in that order (rather than sent as attachments) to and put ‘Query’ and your title in the subject field.

First Drafts With… Holly Seddon

Hi everyone, today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Holly Seddon. Holly is one half of my favourite podcasts for authors (link below), and I was delighted when she agreed to come and chat about how she writes that all important first draft.

Over to you, Holly…

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

It always starts with a fairly simple idea. ‘What if… x’. In the case of my latest novel, The Hit List, the initial spark was ‘what if you found your name listed as a target on a murder for hire website?’

When I think an idea has potential, I immediately share it with one of my best friends – and Honest Authors co-host – Gillian McAllister. We always talk through our ideas and help each other check our workings out! If we were at school, it’s fair to say we’d have been separated by now because we chat constantly. But all that chatting about our ideas genuinely improves them. 

Then I start to flesh the idea out, thinking about characters and setting. In the case of The Hit List, I went through a wide range of possible protagonists but realised that the real drama would come from it happening to a very normal person. So rather than a hacker (one of my first ideas), it was eventually Marianne, a secondary school teacher.  

I always go through quite a few outlines, often there’ll be *something* missing, but it’ll take a while and a lot of iterations to find what it is. Then I start to draft… always hoping that I’ll get it right first time. 

I never get it right first time.

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

No, it’s an evolving thing. Partly because I learn the tricks of the trade, partly as I am governed by deadlines and partly because every book is different, with different challenges and possibilities.

Writing during a pandemic with home schooling and a house constantly full has been a whole new thing… I’m hardly alone in this, but it’s definitely impacted everything including how and when I write, and how much headspace I can get. 

Currently, for the first time since writing my debut before I had an agent, I’m getting to the end of draft two and I’ve still not shown a soul. Not one chapter, nothing. Ordinarily I’d have shown my agent chunks along the way but for this version, I’ve just really wanted to get my head down and get it done. So I feel quite vulnerable and scared but if I pull it off, I think I’ll feel all the more proud. And if I don’t, I’ll ask you to take this blog post down and never mention it again. 

(I’m joking.)

(I’m mostly joking.)

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

Well. I am a frustrated historian and a former journalist, so I can very easily lose myself in research. To prevent this, I basically don’t research during the first draft except the absolutely necessary bare bones. There’s also little point learning intricate information about e.g. a particular character’s job when it could so easily change between drafts. Research is a treat saved up for editing! (God, I sound like such a dork.)

In terms of research techniques, it really varies, but as I live in the Netherlands and write about the UK, it’s mainly done online. I have subscriptions to various library services, The British Newspaper Archives, things like that but if I’m stuck, I appeal for expert help on Twitter as sometimes there’s no substitute for asking a human some specific questions.

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

I’m always bloody writing. It’s how I understand the world and how I develop my ideas (for books and just in general!). I try not to go off half-cocked and start on a draft before nailing the outline (even though the outline will always change) but I’m always writing something. My outlines often take the form of prose too, and sometimes so do my notes to self.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Slowly, slowly, with lots of false starts and then fast. I generally get some way into a first draft and then realise something is not working and start again. I have to just accept this because it happens every time. Sometimes it happens more than once, and it’s unfortunately a crucial part of the process for me. I can’t fully understand an idea until I’m inside it, but only then can I see its faults. 

Once those false starts are out of the way – and the realisation they’re wrong is always accompanied by some light crying and heavy drinking – the draft tends to come together quickly. I write every day, generally around 1,000 words but sometimes more. I write chronologically, I can’t skip around. And it’s fairly polished but everything will always need editing.

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

In bed! We have a lovely office that my husband is mostly using at the moment as he has a lot of calls and online meetings, but even when it’s free I still prefer to write in my bed. Like Barbara Cartland.

Thank you for your time visiting the blog today Holly. I can really relate to your writing process of false starts – I’m exactly the same!

Bio: Holly Seddon is the international bestselling author of TRY NOT TO BREATHE, DON’T CLOSE YOUR EYES and LOVE WILL TEAR US APART. THE HIT LIST will be published in August 2020 in ebook, and April 2021 in paperback.

After growing up in the English countryside obsessed with music and books, Holly worked in London as a journalist and editor. She now lives in Amsterdam with her family and writes full time. 

Alongside fellow author Gillian McAllister, Holly co-hosts the popular Honest Authors Podcast. You can find her on Twitter @hollyseddon, Instagram and Facebook @hollyseddonauthor.

10 Questions With… Drew Davies

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Drew Davies. Drew writes women’s fiction and book club reads. His new novel With or Without You is out on 31st July. I was really pleased when he kindly said yes to answering a few questions on his writing journey.

Over to you, Drew…

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 loved animals growing up, so Gerald Durrell was a big favourite. New Zealand has incredible forests and countryside, but – it has to be said – the animals are pretty boring. The more exotic birds, like the kiwi, are so rare you never see them, and so mostly it’s a lot of sheep and cows. I dreamed of Corfu and a Mediterranean menagerie.

Speaking of menagerie’s, the books that still stick with my from my childhood are actually detailed picture books  – one’s like Anamalia and The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base. The one that stands out most is The Ultimate Alphabet by Mike Wilks – I spent days pouring over those pages. Each image depicts as many words as possible corresponding to each letter. I actually just bought the book again now, it’s so incredible…

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I did – I had an English accent in a small New Zealand town, so being good at English was expected! I loved writing stories. When I was 13, we had to create a fictitious short story and illustrate it. I wrote mine about a pear tree that grew in my grandfather’s garden. After I handed it in, I was called in by the teacher who said he had to mark me down because the story was obviously based on fact. I replied it was all made up, but he didn’t believe me, and my mother had to get involved. After this incident I thought, ‘hey I might actually be good at this writing malarkey…’

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

I spend more time writing each day, than anything else. I also run a consultancy – search engine optimisation – which I’ve been doing for over ten years, and still love. Whereas before, writing was my side hustle, now I need to make sure I have the support to makemy business run smoothly. Fortunately, I have a great team, and everything (mostly) runs like clockwork.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Finish. That’s the toughest thing. Just get a complete first draft down. Everything can be edited and workshopped and worked on, but only if you have the raw materials. We can hold ourselves back wanting to attain perfection, but writing is re-writing, as they say – it’s always going to need more work. So get it down, look at it with fresh eyes, get someone good to help you mould it, and don’t give up!

5) Did you dream about being an author as a child? Did you often wander round bookshops thinking ‘That will be me one day’?

Yes, I was definitely one of those kids. I loved books, I wanted to eat them.

6) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed?

Not hugely. I still read as soon as I wake up (after making a coffee and getting back into bed). Reading first thing grounds me. I like a combination of memoir, spiritual books and diaries. Diaries are great at the start of the day, because you realise everyone gets up, just like you, with varying levels of trepidation, and then stuff happens. Whether its Anne Frank or Michael Palin, everyone is wondering what they’ll have for lunch. 

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

I’m watching I May Destroy You, which is incredible and challenging, and feels like a very particular anxiety device for me, because Bella is a writer and has deadlines looming, as well as everything else. I tried to get into Normal People, but I think I was the only person in the planet who couldn’t. I enjoyed the novel though.

We’ve been watching more films – especially re-watching Studio Ghibli movies on Netflix. They have the right level of logic to magic ratio for lockdown. 

My favourite drama, recently, has been the HBO series Watchmen. If you haven’t seen it, you must. It’s on par with The Sopranos. 

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

I love Elizabeth Strout (author of Olive Kitteridge and My Name Is Lucy Barton amongst many others). There’s an ease to her writing, a flow, the way character and story merge – it’s sublime. I also love how “unlikeable” a lot of her protagonists are. It’s a very fine line to tread – you don’t want to put off and alienate your audience, but you also want to create complex, interesting characters. Reading Elizabeth Strout is always a masterclass. 

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

I usually go for a run around Leyton Flats. Having worked from home for a decade, I understand I have to change my energy from work mode to relax mode. I gave up drinking 8 years ago, so there’s not a beer to help me unwind – so I exercise, or have a bath, or sing while I do the dishes.  

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury hands down. The songs, that voice, and those performances! (Fun fact: I used to have a pretty decent moustache for a time, and I would often get called Freddie Mercury by drunk people on the Central Line on a Friday night).

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Drew. It was a real pleasure to interview you. I can’t wait to read your new novel!

Bio: Drew Davies was born in London and grew up in New Zealand. He attended the Unitec School of Performing Arts in Auckland and won a Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwright of the Year award in 2000. After a brief stint on a kiwi soap, he has worked in Search for the past 15 years. Drew’s other claim to fame is that Stephen Fry once called him droll. Either that, or he got his name wrong. He now lives in Wanstead, London – and is the author of three novels: THE SHAPE OF US, DEAR LILY & WITH OR WITHOUT YOU.

Drew can be found at

An Interview With… Miranda Jewess

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Miranda Jewess. Miranda works as a Senior Commissioning Editor for Viper Books. She very kindly answered my questions on what her job role entails – and what attracts her to a good book.

Over to you, Miranda…

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

By accident, really. After university I was applying for jobs (I nearly became an accountant) and my mum, who is a historian, had just written a book. She asked me to proof it for her, and it made me think it was something I could do professionally. And it seemed a lot more fun than accounting! So I got a graduate traineeship at a small history press. I’d always been surrounded by books, but my degree was very science-based, so it had never occurred to me before.

2) For anyone who doesn’t know what your job role entails, can you briefly describe what you do?

I run the Viper crime and thriller list, an imprint of Serpent’s Tail. Agents send me submissions, and I read them and try to buy the rights to the ones I love. Choosing the books isn’t just about whether they’re good, but also about whether they fit on the list. We want the books to all be distinct, but also fitting into the crime sub-genres that we publish – procedurals, gothic, psychological thrillers, high-concept. I also edit the books, brief covers, write copy, manage the metadata, pitch our books at sales conferences and book fairs, and generally shout about them.

3) How has your job been affected by lockdown? Have there been any limitations to your role?

I’ve been working at home since March, only going into the office a couple of times. I have a two-year-old, so before her nursery re-opened in June, it was basically impossible to do a normal day’s work. I had to just fit it in where I could. One of the biggest changes I’ve found is that I used to spend my commute and lunch hour reading submissions, and I no longer have those three hours earmarked, so I have to make a conscious effort to put my laptop down and pick up my Kindle. And it’s been very sad not to have crime festivals to go to, which is where I discover new authors and make new contacts.

4) What is your reading style like? What kind of reader are you, both professionally and personally?

I read submissions pretty quickly because many crime lovers are reading books on the go – standing on a bus or crammed into a train. And because we’re often racing through the book to get to the solution. If a submission doesn’t hold together unless it’s read very carefully (except if it’s intentionally literary or high-concept) then it may not be working. Personally I still read pretty quickly, but I try to pace myself, especially with non-fiction.

5) How are you hooked into a story – are you hooked by the character first or the plot, or is it the pace?

I think it really depends on the book. Obviously if the first chapter is a character just sitting around making a cup of tea, then that character better be really intriguing! I probably get hooked by a good setup in the first couple of chapters, then am happy for things to slow down so I can get to know the characters. But I have no preference, it’s all about the book itself, what it chooses to emphasise, and how successfully it does it.

6) At what point do you know that you have come across something special? When do you realise that you can’t stop reading?

I read submissions on a Kindle, so I can be quite specific – I’d say I know whether the book is special by the 15% mark, because that’s when I either immediately carry on, or put it down to do something else. If it’s great it still may not be right for the list, but I’ll end up finishing it anyway, because I want to see how it ends.

7) Away from your job, do you have any particular genre of book that you read for pleasure? Through lockdown however, have you found that your reading habits have changed?

I read a lot of historical and scientific non-fiction, literary science fiction, and piles of crime. I think I’ve been reading more books for pleasure during lockdown, partly because my evenings are longer without my commute, and also because I’ve been on Twitter more and keep on seeing people talking about new books that I end up buying.

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

I’ve been religiously re-watching The West Wing (currently on season 6). It contrasts so much with what’s currently happening in the US, where most of my family live! Also The Plot Against America, I Will Destroy You and a bit of Glee.

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

I go pick up my daughter from nursery and make her dinner. Once she’s in bed we have our own dinner and watch The West Wing! At the weekends it’s all about her. I spend a lot of time running after her in parks. She’s ridiculously fast on her scooter.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury every time. There’s a song for every mood and my god, that voice.

Thank you for your time today, Miranda, to stop by the blog. It was a real pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Miranda Jewess grew up in Oxfordshire and studied Biological Anthropology at Cambridge University. Her first publishing job was at The History Press, on the Spellmount military history list. She moved to Titan Books in 2012, where she worked on crime, fantasy, horror and science fiction titles, becoming Acquisitions and Managing Editor in 2017. In 2019 she was hired as the new Senior Commissioning Editor at Serpent’s Tail, and launched the Viper imprint, a list devoted to crime, thriller and gothic fiction. She lives in London.

10 Questions With… Michael Robotham

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Michael Robotham, to discuss his journey as a writer and how his novel The Secrets She Keeps went from computer screen to television screen.

Over to you, Michael…

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 wanted to be a writer from about the age of eleven when I discovered the books of the late great Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and many brilliant collections of short stories. I wrote to Bradbury when I was still in primary school and he wrote back to me, sending me four books that weren’t available in Australia.

Years later I recounted this story for a US magazine, quoting Ray Bradbury, who once said: ‘Jules Verne was my father. Mary Shelley was my mother Edgar Allan Poe was the bat-winged cousin we kept locked in the attic.’ I wrote that Ray Bradbury was my literary father and Steinbeck and Hemingway were my over-achieving older brothers.

About a week after the story was posted on the website, I had an email from Ray Bradbury’s youngest daughter Alexandra. She told me that her father was now in his nineties, still living in Los Angeles and almost totally blind.

‘I read him your story and it made him cry,’ she told me. ‘Dad wanted you to know that you are his son.’

I have never been prouder to be a writer.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I think it’s in my blood. My father was an English teacher and taught me in my first year at secondary school. I grew up in very small country towns where there was only one school so I couldn’t avoid my father. He could recite Shakespeare by heart and quote from famous works of literature. We didn’t have the money to buy books, but we always had library cards.

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

I have been writing full-time since I was 17 years old when I was awarded a journalism cadetship on a Sydney newspaper and deferred university to try my hand at being a reporter. From journalism I went to ghost-writing. I collaborated on fifteen autobiographies for well known people – ranging from pop stars to soldiers, politicians and adventurers.

I never forgot my dream of being a novelist so in 2001, when I was between ghostwriting projects, I wrote the first 117 pages of a novel, which triggered a bidding war at the London Book Fair in 2002. Within three hours it had been sold into more than twenty translations and my dream of being a full-time novelist came spectacularly true. It was like winning the lottery. That first book THE SUSPECT truly changed my life.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Write, write, write and when you’re sick of writing, keep going. But if you really have to stop, then begin reading. Do so very critically, deciding why a particular scene, or character, or story works. Could it have been better? How would you have changed it? It is not the truly great novels that inspired me to write. When I read them, I want to weep because I realise I’ll never be that good. What inspired me were the books that had flaws and weaknesses. I can do better than that, I thought…and set about trying.

5) Where did you find the inspiration from for The Secrets She Keeps? Can you briefly describe your writing process for the novel?

I never use the world inspiration if it involves a crime, so I like to tell people that THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is seeded in a case that I covered many years ago. A newborn baby was abducted from a hospital in Nottingham by a woman dressed a nurse. The kidnapper had faked her pregnancy and reached the point where she either came home with a baby or her boyfriend realised she’d been lying. Abbie Humphries was missing for seventeen days before was safety recovered.

The idea had been marinating in my mind for years, but I couldn’t work out how I would tell such a story, until I realised that I should narrate it from both points of view. In doing so, I could look into the minds of two women, one who has a lost a child and the other who has stolen one.

It was perhaps the most difficult book I’ve ever had to write because I had to dual narrative, swapping between Agatha and Meghan. I had to make sure that both of their storylines progressed at the same speed and were equally compelling. 

6) How many drafts did you do before you sent it to your agent and editor?

I normally write between ten and twelve drafts before I show it to my agent and another one before it goes to my editors in the UK, US and Australia.

7) The Secrets She Keeps is currently being shown on BBC1. Did you see yourself having a role in the script? What was the process like of seeing your work from computer screen to television screen?

The novel of THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS was set in Barnes in South London but the TV series has moved the action to Sydney. For me this was a bonus because I could get involved in the production, sitting in the writing rooms, storyboarding the novel and commenting on the scripts. I also spent some time on set during the filming and had my Alfred Hitchdock/Stan Lee moment, a little cameo playing ‘man in cafe doing crossword’ (hint: it’s in episode 4). I think the writers, directors and producers did a wonderful job at bringing the novel to the screen. It is fast-paced, suspenseful, and totally binge-worthy. Yes, there are probably worthier and more profound dramas to be watched, but this one is like eating a stcky, sweet calorie rich dessert because you deserve a treat.

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

There are so many I could name, but the most influential writers in my career have been Ray Bradbury and John Irving. Bradbury for the breadth of his imagination and Irving because he could make me laugh and cry on the same page; or drop a telling detail into a paragraph that would land like a punch to the stomach.

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

I don’t have weekends. I write every day, even Christmas and New Year’s Day. But the first thing I do when I leave my ‘Cabana of Cruelty’, which is what my three daughters call my office, is to pour myself a glass of wine before I start preparing dinner. My wife looks after me wonderfully, but I do all the cooking.

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

I work in silence. The kookaburras and cockatoos make enough noise. But when I do listen to music, I love singer songwriters. My daughter, Alex Hope, is a very successful songwriter producer in Los Angeles, and she’s always sending me demos of the stuff she’s writing.

My new favourites are all the ‘Bens’: Ben Platt, Ben Abraham and Alec Benjamin.

Thank you so much for your time, Michael. It has been a real pleasure to interview you. I really enjoyed the television series of The Secrets She Keeps – brilliant can’t cover it!

Bio: Gold Dagger winning and twice Edgar short-listed author Michael Robotham was born in Australia in November 1960 and grew up in small country towns that had more dogs than people and more flies than dogs. He escaped in 1979 and became a cadet journalist on an afternoon newspaper in Sydney.

For the next fourteen years he wrote for newspapers and magazines in Australia, Britain and America. As a senior feature writer for the UK’s Mail on Sunday he was among the first people to view the letters and diaries of Czar Nicholas II and his wife Empress Alexandra, unearthed in the Moscow State Archives in 1991. He also gained access to Stalin’s Hitler files, which had been missing for nearly fifty years until a cleaner stumbled upon a cardboard box that had been misplaced and misfiled.

In 1993 he quit journalism to become a ghostwriter, collaborating with politicians, pop stars, psychologists, adventurers and showbusiness personalities to write their autobiographies. Twelve of these non-fiction titles were bestsellers with combined sales of more than 2 million copies.

His partially completed first novel, a psychological thriller called THE SUSPECT, caused a bidding war at the London Book Fair in 2002. Soon afterwards it was  chosen by the world’s largest consortium of book clubs as only the fifth “International Book of the Month”, making it the top recommendation to 28 million book club members in fifteen countries. 

Michael’s novels have since been translated into 25 languages and have won or been shortlisted for numerous awards including:
The Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger (won) LIFE OR DEATH 2015 (shortlisted) SAY YOU’RE SORRY 2013.
The Australian Book Industry Association ABIA General Fiction Award 2018 for THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS
The Ned Kelly Award for Best Novel (won 2005 and 2008) LOST and SHATTER.
The Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel (shortlisted) 2016 LIFE OR DEATH (shortlisted) 2019 GOOD GIRL BAD GIRL)
The Crime Writer’s Association Steel Dagger (shortlisted) THE NIGHT FERRY and SHATTER.

Michael lives on Sydney’s northern beaches, where he thinks dark thoughts in his ‘cabana of cruelty’ – a name bestowed by his three daughters, who happily poke fun at the man who has fed, clothed and catered to their every expensive whim. Where is the justice?

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.

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