Book Review: Witness X by S. E. Moorhead

Witness X – sorry for the cat in the picture 😩


She’s the only one who can access the truth…

Fourteen years ago, the police caged a notorious serial killer who abducted and butchered two victims every February. He was safe behind bars. Wasn’t he?

But then another body is discovered, and soon enough, the race is on to catch the real killer. Neuropsychologist Kyra Sullivan fights to use a new technology that accesses the minds of the witnesses, working with the police to uncover the truth. Will Kyra discover the person behind the murders, and if so, at what cost? And how far will she go to ensure justice is served?

About the book – ‘Silence of the Lambs meets Blade Runner. S E Moorhead is the future of crime writing.’ Stephen Baxter.

My review – Where do I begin with this utterly amazing book?? Kyra, I think, is one of my favourite ever characters. Tenacious, fearsome and bloody determined are just a few of the adjectives I could use to describe Moorhead’s heroine.

When we meet her in the year 2035, Kyra is a neuropsychologist and has developed a technology that can access the minds of the witnesses of the crimes – but, as the technology hasn’t yet been deemed ‘safe’, she must tread very very cautiously.

I really really enjoyed this book. Moorhead’s ability to world build and completely grab the reader, throwing them headfirst into Kyra’s world, a retro futuristic London, was just WOW!! Kyra is such an engaging protagonist. She has her flaws, don’t get me wrong, but that’s what I love, above all, about her. Her relationships to other characters she interacts with – Tom Morgan, Jimmy in her professional line of work is a nice contrast to her relationship with her mother and her niece Molly. Everything about Kyra I loved. My only complaint was that the book wasn’t long enough!! I wanted MORE!! If you like a good serial killer thriller, with a good twist on it, you will not be disappointed! I give this book 10 stars!

Witness X is available to buy on Amazon and Kindle download.

10 Questions With… M. W. Craven

Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome author M. W. Craven to the blog. Along with some really insightful and important advice for writers, he answers my questions on his writing process and what he’s been up to in lockdown.

Over to you, Mike…

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

My early introduction to reading was Enid Blyton’sFamous Five and Secret Seven series, but it was Watership Down by Richard Adams that was the turning point for me I think. It blew me away. I read The Hobbitshortly afterwards and had a similar reaction. I’ve been obsessed with books ever since.

2) Did you enjoy English at school? What were your set books and did you like them?

I did enjoy English at school, both Lit and Language. The books we read ranged from classics like Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mocking Bird to more regional affairs like The Machine Gunners and A Kestrel for a Knave. I loved them all.

3) How did you find your experience firstly in the Army and secondly as a Probation Officer?

Both jobs shaped who I am today – the army through building character and, weirdly, encouraging my obsession with books. In those days, everyone read, and everyone discussed what they’d read. My 16 years in probation allowed me to see how criminals thought and how they justified their actions. When I was in senior management it also allowed me to see how a complex county like Cumbria worked. Where the real power lay, which agencies didn’t like each other.

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

I found my first publisher and my agent at the same place – Crime and Publishment, a crime writers residential workshop in Gretna. I met the CEO of Caffeine Nights in 2014 and my agent in 2015. Caffeine Nights signed me after I pitched to them and my agent signed me after I showed him the first book in the Fluke series.

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

I have a rough idea of how it will start and how it will end. I know the crime and I know who committed it. After that I trust my imagination will fill in all the gaps.

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

I never edit as I write the first draft so the second draft is really a rewrite. The third draft is usually tightening up everything, often to get a more manageable word count. Draft four is me getting everything as I want it and draft five is when I change things that haven’t worked afterI’ve read the novel out loud. My wife and beta readers then get it and if I’ll make any amendments accordingly. So roughly six drafts.

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

Same advice as my agent: get the book as good as you can get it. Don’t send something incomplete or too early in the process.

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

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly. And yes I did enjoy it, very much so.

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

It depends. Before the plague, on a Friday evening my wife and I would probably stay in and have a curry. Now during the plague, we stay in and have a curry . . .

To relax, I read or watch some of the decent dramas on TV. I walk the dog in some of the outstanding countryside we have here and, when allowed to, we go to the pub. Usually crime festivals are a big part of the year, as are going to gigs.

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

Either. I quite enjoyed Queen’s music and I saw Rod last year in Vegas. He’s the consummate showman.

Thank you for visiting the blog, Mike. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Although he was born in Cumbria, Mike Craven grew up in the North East before running away to join the army as soon as he was sixteen. After training as an armourer for two and a half years (that’s an army gunsmith to you and I), he spent the next ten travelling the world having fun. In 1995 he left the army, and after a brief flirtation with close protection and bodyguarding, decided on a degree in social work with specialisms in criminology and substance misuse. In 1999 he joined Cumbria Probation Service as a probation officer, working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later, he took the plunge and accepted redundancy to concentrate on writing full-time, and now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals.

Between leaving the army and securing his first publishing deal, Mike found time to keep a pet crocodile, breed snakes, get married, and buy a springer spaniel named Bracken. He lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne, where he tries to leave the house as little as possible. Mike is also one third of Crime Ink-Corporated, a trio of northern writers who take writing out for the community and host events such as England’s first Noir at the Bar.

Mike’s first DI Avison Fluke novel, Born in a Burial Gown, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. He is a member of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the International Thriller Writers’ Association.

His first book as M.W. Craven, The Puppet Show was published by Constable & Robinson in June 2018.

An Interview With… Diana Beaumont

Hi everyone, this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Diana Beaumont to the blog. She very kindly answers my questions on what she’s looking for in submissions, as well as what she’s up to in lockdown. Details of how to submit to her are at the bottom of the Q&A.

Over to you, Diana…

1) How did you first come to be involved in the industry? Did you plan to be a literary agent? Did you actually have any other career plans?

I didn’t have a clue to be honest. It was all quite organic. I studied English at university and tried out a couple of jobs – including working for an art charity – before I figured that my first love had always been books. I started working at an art publisher, Thames & Hudson, realised that I was better suited to a more general trade list and got a job at Hodder & Stoughton as an editorial assistant. When I started working the employment situation was more fluid than it is now, and internships/work placements weren’t so common. After Hodder I became a commisioning editor at Transworld then after about 8 years took a career break while I figured out what to do next and had my twin boys. In 2011 I started as a literary agent, working from home, and felt like I had found the right job for me not least because it allows you to be very autonomousbut also to work closely with authors both creatively and on the business side of things. I joined Marjacq in 2017 and it is a great fit – a boutique agency with supportive colleagues and no real hierarchy.

2) How did you find your 2012 experience of being shortlisted for The Rising Star by The Bookseller? How did it compare with the RNA shortlist in 2019?

When I was listed as a Rising Star [it wasn’t a shortlist] the year after I started as an agent it felt good, really encouraging especially as my career had taken a new direction, which was nerve-racking at times especially as I often had two crying babies in the background, even though I wasn’t new to the business. The RNA shortlist was very gratifying as a number of my clients write in this area so it felt like it celebrated them too.

3) What are you mostly attracted to in a submission? The character voice, the tone of the narrative or the freshness of a strong voice in an author?

It tends to be a blend of all of these things. The voice is the thing that ultimately lures me in – the plot/structure can all be worked on.

4) What are you currently looking for in submissions? From the sample writing, cover letter, or synopsis, what draws you in first?

My list is what I generally describe as smart commercial fiction and non fiction so anything in that area from social justice and lifestyle to crime novels and romantic comedies with a fresh, feminist take. I am also keen to read diverse voices that represent the world we live in. I do like a good, clear covering letter that describes what the book is, where is sits in the market and, preferably, has a good title and concept. Then, after that, it’s always down to the writing. A synopsis can be a helpful tool.

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

It is exciting – I have even felt a kind of ‘tingle’ go through me when I read something where the writing really resonates with me. I think about how I would pitch and market the author, who I would, potentially send it to and how I could help in an editorial capacity. Then you hope, of course, that you both ‘click’ and that they would be happy to be represented by you – which can be nerve-wracking. You have to be able to work well together.

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?

We are all trying to make sense of what’s going on at the moment. People are tending to want absorbing reads that aren’t too challenging right now rather than super literary novels that experiment with language and form, books that take them away from the frustrations of the lockdown although people are certainly wanting thoughtful, investigative reads in non-fiction. We also need to see books that are representive of society as a whole, including voices from those who have been marginalised. I’m a proud feminist and that tends to be reflected in the books I take on. I think there will be an appetite for the gothic at the moment an crime continues to sell well if it has a strong hook and clever twists. Ebook sales have boomed recently but obviously print has been a bit trickier but I hope that will pick up soon as bookshops open again (hurrah!).

7) Can you name one fiction author that you like, and why you admire their style of writing?

Where do I begin? There are so many. I did love The Dry by Jane Harper and have eagerly read the two after that. The sense of place, in a small, remote community ravaged by drought, is so brilliantly alongside evoked alongside tight plotting and really accomplished writing.

8) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you finding that your reading habits are changing at all?

I usually read for pleasure and relaxation before bed. And in the bath. I have been reading a bit more than usual during the day during lockdown. My habits haven’t changed hugely but, perhaps, like many others my concentration isn’t always the best at the moment so it has to be gripping. I’ve just finished Mrs Everything by Jennifer Weiner, which is both entertaining, thoughtful and timely. I’m now reading You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s a collection of her short stories and they are beautifully written: nuanced, thought-provoking and pull you right into the world she creates. I’ve had it sitting around for a while and so glad I picked it up. Next on the list is Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which is one of those modern classics that I have never read so it’s about time.

9) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Are you finding that your habits are changing? Do you have a favourite drama that you enjoy religiously?

I have been watching a whole lot of series: Normal People (based on Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel) which I thought was stunning and very moving, Babylon Berlin, based on the German detective series set in the 1920s which was so rich and evocative, and more comfort tv than usual such as Father Ted (a go to for a much-needed laugh when things seem a bit much) and The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes which is amazing buildings in amazing locations, both of which we’ve watched together as a family – armchair travel at its best with adorable presenters. We also loved The Mandolorian – which took us to another galaxy!

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

Freddie Mercury all the way – I love the music, the passion, the drama, the outfitsand general fabulousness. Sorry Rod!

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Diana. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Diana joined Marjacq in 2017. She started agenting with Rupert Heath Literary Agency in 2011 before moving to UTA. Before that she was senior commissioning editor at Transworld. Diana was chosen as one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars of 2012. She was shortlisted for Agent of the Year 2019 by the RNA.

What she looks for in submissions: Diana represents adult fiction and non-fiction. She’s looking for upmarket women’s commercial fiction with depth and heart, accessible literary fiction, high-concept crime fiction and thrillers. On the non-fiction side Diana enjoys memoir, smart, funny feminists, lifestyle, cookery and is open to anything with a strong, original voice. She also wants to encourage submissions from writers who have been traditionally under-represented.

How to submit: Email the first three chapters along with a covering letter to

An Interview With… Rachel Mills

Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Rachel Mills to the blog. Rachel founded RM Literary Agency in 2019, and she kindly answers my questions on what she looks for in submissions.

Over to you, Rachel…

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

After my A-Levels I went to dancing school! I loved dancing as much as books… but after a year realised I just didn’t have that total focus and commitment to dance above all else which you need. So then I went to my other love of books and studied English – and got my first job in publishing as a part-time job at Transworld, while I was doing my degree.

2) How are you drawn into a submission? Is it the covering letter, the proposal of the novel or the sample writing? What leaves you wanting more?

It depends on the kind of book; if it is a book where the writing is the most important thing, a literary memoir for example, the sample writing is most important as it really is your voice and use of language which will resonate, and that is a very personal thing. If it is a platform or expertise-led book intended to be ghostwritten, the author’s biography and forthcoming activities might be more important. If you can summarise your book simply and elegantly in a paragraph in the cover email, it’s going to stand out.

3) How do you know when you have connected with a manuscript? Can you describe that feeling of ‘I really want to represent this author?’

I love that feeling! It’s when you get shivers down your spine and cannot WAIT to tell everyone about it, and you can immediately think of all the editors who will love it.

4) Why did you choose non fiction work as your specialisation? What is it that attracts you to it?

I represent authors, not books – as in, it’s about the people. I love the huge variety of people from all walks of life you get to become involved with, I find it so creative and exciting to be able to bring their world together with the publishing world. I love fiction too, and of course novelists are wonderful and interesting people too, but there’s something about being able to read about someone in the news who is doing something incredible, and being able to call them and see if they’d like to do a book, which I really enjoy.

5) If you have asked to see a complete manuscript, what would make you reject the work and say it isn’t for you?

In non-fiction I very rarely do this, it’s more normal to sell on proposal.

6) Can you name one non fiction author you admire, that isn’t one of your clients, and say why you like their style of writing?

I loved Educated by Tara Westover as it was such a brilliant example of what you can do with memoir, her writing is incredible and the story so inspiring, gripping and moving.

7) Do you have one book that reminds you of your childhood? If so, which one and why?

Martha Graham’s autobiography Blood Memory. I think that’s what sent me to dancing school…

8) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Are your habits changing? Mine are refusing to – I’m sticking to the crime dramas that I very much love and know.

I’m rewatching The West Wing and trying to imagine it’s the current White House! I loved the adaptation of Normal People aswell.

9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to your favourite novels or finding new ones?

Both! Just reread The Debt to Pleasure which is an old favourite, and I’ve been enjoying travel writing in the absence of being able to travel – Chris Stewart, Laurie Lee. And nature writing – just read Wilding by Isabella Tree. I am loving my overflowing cookbook shelves, and in having to cook three meals a day at home, getting through so many interesting recipes and reconnecting with old favourites like Macella Hassan and Madhur Jaffrey, aswell as newer books by Diana Henry and Ottolenghi. I think I might have a classics phase next and read some Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen…

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

Freddie Mercury, just love him. Imagine how great working with him on his autobiography would have been… very sad he didn’t have the opportunity (or desire!) to do one.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Rachel. It has been a pleasure to interview you.


RML was founded in 2019 by Rachel Mills. Rachel previously worked as Literary Agent at Furniss Lawton agency, within the James Grant Talent Group, and before that as Agent and International Business Director for Peters Fraser and Dunlop agency, where she was a member of the Executive Board. Prior to that she worked in publishing at Penguin and Random House. In the 16 years she has worked in the industry, Rachel has secured major publishing deals for a diverse range of authors including Jamie Oliver, Jeanette Winterson, Bear Grylls, Dr Steve Peters, Fearne Cotton, Bosh!, Catherine Gray,  Alice Vincent,  Marianne Power, Twisted, Dr Dani.

In 2015 she was awarded The Bookseller Rights Professional of the Year Award and in 2011 was nominated a ‘Rising Star’ by The Bookseller magazine.

An Interview With… Sam Eades

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Sam Eades to the blog today. She kindly took the time to answer some of my questions, mainly about how life for her in the publishing industry began, but also about her current role as a publishing director for Trapeze Books. Oh, and also what she is up to in lockdown.

Over to you, Sam…

1) How did you first come to be involved in the publishing industry? Did you actually have any other career plans?

I didn’t really know the publishing industry existed when I was younger! I studied English at university and spent the Summer doing work experience placements at schools, literary agents and publishers trying to work out what I wanted to do as a grownup. It wasn’t until I got my first job as a publicity assistant at Transworld that I realised exactly what the publishing industry was, and how lucky I was to be part of it!

2) What prompted you to become an Editorial/Publishing Director? Can you tell me a little about your role in the publishing process for the manuscript?

I worked as a publicist for seven years at Transworld, Headline and Macmillan which I absolutely loved. However I found myself wanting to be part of the beginning of the process of publishing a book, to determine how a book might be published and even what editorial direction to take. I initially joined Orion in a hybrid publicity and editorial role before finally joining new imprint Trapeze Books as a fully commissioning editor. Now I get my hands on every part of the publishing process! I read manuscripts and take them to acquisition. I acquire them through negotiations with agents. Then I work directly with the author on shaping the manuscript through rounds of structural and line edits. I make sure our publication runs to critical path, working with production and Ed management departments. I brief the cover, write retailer copy and back/front cover copy, and work with our digital, sales, audio, pr and marketing teams to devise a publication strategy so the book ends up in the hands of the reader in all its various formats.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript? What does an author do that leaves you wanting more?

At Trapeze I have a specific brief. I’m looking for books that start conversations, that hit the zeitgeist. If a submission is in that area I normally know I want to publish it after a few pages for me to get a sense of voice, style, story and feeling. I love authors who have something to say, where there might me two layers to the story, what’s on the page and in the spaces between the words.

4) What advice do you have for any writer looking to submit to agents and publishers?

Authors often want to circumvent the agent process and submit directly to publishers. For some genres, authors might be best served to work with publishers directly like the fantastic team at Bookouture. But having worked with some fantastic agents recently who have edited their clients work, nailed the publishing vision, and thought so carefully at submission stage, and worked so hard during negotiations – why wouldn’t you want a brilliant agent fighting in your corner? It might be time consuming finding the right agent – but ultimately they will help writers sustain careers.

5) For the author who isn’t published yet, would you recommend the traditional or indie route?

There are advantages to both! Hybrid authors like Rachel Abbott do it brilliantly, with a traditional and indie strand. I’m working with Michele Gorman who has self-published and she’s taught me so much I didn’t know about the promo side of the ebook market. I hope I’ve taught her a bit too!

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

I’d love to see more diverse voices writing in the crime and thriller genre. There is a fierce need for representation.

7) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure? Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

Cosy crime. And I’ve become a much wider reader since reading for pleasure for nine months on mat leave. I still find westerns a struggle though!

8) Can you name one fiction author that you like, and why you admire their style of writing?

I love Sharon Bolton, as she is so brilliant at creating atmosphere. Recently she transported me to the end of the world with her thriller The Split which is set in South Georgia.

9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you finding that your reading habits are changing at all?

I’m mainly reading emails 😂. I’ve found I’m much slower at reading submissions, but when I do get to them, I’m giving more thoughtful responses to agents.

10) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Are you finding that your habits are changing? Do you have a favourite drama that you enjoy religiously?

I still watch lots of TV! I’m enjoying Schitts Creek, RuPauls Drag Race and Money Heist. So humour and drama!

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Sam. It has been a real pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Sam Eades is a Publishing Director for Trapeze Books. What she looks for: Books that start those all important conversations.

An Interview With… Katherine Armstrong

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Katherine Armstrong to the blog. Katherine first started out as a bookseller, before her current role as Editorial Director for Bonnier Books. She joined me for a few questions about what her role entails.

Over to you, Katherine…

1) How did you first come to be involved in the publishing industry? Did you actually have any other career plans?

As a teenager, I really wanted to be a journalist. I did some work experience at a local radio station and a local paper, but for whatever reason I just didn’t feel it was going to be quite right for me. I wasn’t sure after that what I wanted to do until my final year at university – the one where they assume you know what you’re going to do next!

I was doing a degree in English Literature (of course) and wondered about publishing. I did some research and applied for a MPhil in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling, which I started in the October after I graduated from QUB. After Stirling, I worked for Waterstones in their smallest branch in Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh. I enjoyed being a bookseller and I learnt a lot about market trends and what sold – and what didn’t! – but I still wanted to get into publishing. I applied for whatever entry level positions I could and eventually got a three-month contract in the pre-press department at Faber & Faber in London.

From there, I applied for a six-month contract as Poetry Editorial Assistant and nearly eleven years later, I left my first job in publishing – where I’d work across poetry, non-fiction, literary fiction and crime fiction – to take up a Senior Editor role (a nine-month maternity cover) at Sphere. After that, I was lucky enough to get my current job at Bonnier Books UK where I am now Editorial Director, specialising in crime and thriller fiction. This all sounds quite straight forward and possibly easy when I write it out, but it wasn’t as clear cut when I was going through it and I would stress to anyone who wants to get into publishing: Keep at it. Perseverance is key; be useful; be pro-active and above all gain as much knowledge and make as many connections as you can! You will most likely have to start at the bottom but do that job as well as you would if you’d started at the top. Learn from every experience and get to know the industry as well as you can in preparation for that day when you might be in the one in charge and you’ll need to know how it works. Lesson over!

2) What prompted you to become an Editorial Director? Can you tell me a little about your role in the publishing process for the manuscript?

When I started in publishing my goal was to work in the editorial department. As with a lot of people, I really wanted to work with authors on their manuscripts. My current role as Editorial Director has come about from that wish, that original goal. I started as an Editorial Assistant, worked my way up through Project Editor, Editor, then Senior Editor. The title just reflects a level of seniority in terms of my career path. What I do, as opposed to say a desk editor, is that my job is to meet with literary agents and read and assess the manuscripts that they send me from their clients. I then decide if that manuscript is a) one I like; b) one I think fits on my list and c) one I think has commercial appeal. If it ticks all these boxes, then I try and acquire it from the agent and work with the author towards making it the best read it can be.

No editor can publish alone and I’m lucky to work with some great people in other departments – sales, rights, marketing, publicity, export, design, audio, digital – and as a team we work together to publish the book. But the editor is the author’s champion, both in-house and outside. They are the person who knows the book best, and it’s up to them to communicate the vision for the book to the wider team and beyond.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript? What does an author do that leaves you wanting more?

We read so much that you can tell quite early on if you’re going to enjoy a manuscript. There’s either something in the writing, or a character, that captures your attention. For me any manuscript that makes me feel like this is a book that I’ve bought in a bookshop, as opposed to something I’m reading for work, and that I want to continue reading is a manuscript that I want to acquire. A sales colleague put it brilliantly recently about a manuscript that I’m hoping to acquire (everything crossed!); he said that he resented every minute that he spent away from it and was thinking about it when he wasn’t reading it. That, to me, perfectly sums up what any editor is looking for! It’s that readability factor, that keeping you gripped, turning those pages into the wee small hours. What that is – that essence – is hard to pin down (sorry!). It can be anything from writing-style, to characterisation, to dialogue, just something that marks the manuscript and the author out as a potential acquisition.

4) What advice do you have for any writer looking to submit to agents and publishers?

Be patient. There are lots of apocryphal stories about authors who signed with the first agent they approached, who went from submitting to a massive publishing contract within minutes. It’s very easy for us to compare ourselves to others, but everyone’s writing journey is different. Yes, some people seem to find it easy to get the agent, get the publishing deal, but for every one of those people I can guarantee that there are twenty plus other writers who don’t; who spend years trying to get both.

You will be rejected. Publishing is a business based on opinions and decisions. What might be right for one editor, is not right for another. What any author wants is an agent and a publisher who gets their vision for their work, who are passionate about it, who want to continue with them on their publishing journey. As an editor, I want to take on authors who I think have a lengthy career ahead of them. For me and for the company I work for, that means I have to consider everything – do I love this book enough to champion it to everyone for a year, or more, before publication? Do I think this book can sell in the market? While I don’t make the publishing decisions alone, the viability of a manuscript is my decision – I am the one who decides if it’s right to present to the wider team. Sometimes I can see the potential of a manuscript, but it doesn’t appeal to me, it doesn’t grip me in the way that would make me want to take it on. There’s nothing wrong with it, but all literature is subjective, and I think writers, like all of us, have to get used to rejection butalso know that it’s not them that is being rejected – the rejection is an appraisal, not a judgement – the work just isn’t right for that specific editor, but there are lots of us out there, so you will find the right editor and publishing house for you!

Take on board feedback. If an agent or editor has taken the time to give you specific feedback, please do take it on board. They are doing it to genuinely help you develop the manuscript. No author can write a flawless manuscript and it’s very hard to edit yourself. Anyone who reads a lot of manuscripts and who is immersed in the market knows what sells and knows what makes a good read. There are also literary consultancies where, for a fee, you can get a trained editor to look and give feedback on your work before you submit. An agent or an in-house editor who give you feedback will be doing so for free and because even if your work isn’t quite right for them, they can see what needs to be done to improve its chances of representation. Not all agents and editors can do this as it does depend on how much time they have, so don’t expect it; but you can ask if they’re able to provide limited feedback (it might just be some bullet point notes) if at all possible. If they say they can’t, move on. Not to be preachy, but impressions are everything in this business and editors and agents do talk to each other a lot; and you never know when you might see that editor or agent again, so getting aggressive if they can’t provide feedback does you and your work no good!

5) Are Bonnier Books accepting submissions from unrepresented writers? Do you have open calls?

We aren’t at the moment, but that’s merely because of the volume of manuscripts that we receive from agents. We don’t currently have plans for any open calls on the adult fiction side at the moment either, but we’d announce anything like that on our Bonnier Books UK website or via our social media channels. If any potential writers meet editors at literary events, however, do talk to them. Don’t push your book at them as that can be awkward (sometimes we’re just there to support a writer friend!), but don’t shy away from saying that you are writing. I do know some editors who are happy to ask to see work from unrepresented writers that they’ve met at events and it’s something I’ve done myself on occasion. Again, it’s very much dependent on how much spare time an editor has as we all have authors already on our lists who will be delivering and publishing and then reading submissions from agents alongside that. Editors and agents are asked to attend readings from Creative Writing students and that’s another way for those writers to meet them. Literary festivals are another way to go as you’ll get the benefit of seeing already published writers and hearing their advice as well as potentially meeting other unpublished authors, editors and agents. Networking is a great way to not only build contacts but to connect with other writers in the same boat as you and they can provide a really great support network. Writing is such a solitary job. I think the best way I’ve heard it described is: ‘the great paradox of a writer’s life is how much time they spend alone, trying to connect with other people!’

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

It’s going to be interesting to see how the current situation shapes the market. I don’t think we’ll see (or necessarily want) a lot of lockdown crime & thrillers in the next year or two, but I can imagine that a few years from now, that will change – the benefit of perspective! What seems to be coming back now is the locked-room murder mystery, as evidenced by the success of Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley, among others; and there’s a move, with Alex North, CJ Tudor etc, to mix crime thriller with horror and a touch of the supernatural, which has proven very successful. The wonderful Irish writer John Connolly has been doing that for twenty years and I highly recommend his Charlie Parker series as well. I think writers have the opportunity to play around with the genre more. Take a ‘traditional’ aspect and either subvert it or mix it with something else. Books are competing with readers attention from Netflix, phones, games, etc and we need to keep their attention once we have it. Readers want to see something ‘a bit different’ and this is a genre where you can do that, whilst still engaging them with the elements that they read the genre for.

7) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure? Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

I’ve actually always enjoyed crime and thriller fiction. My gran got me into Agatha Christie from a young age and I loved Nancy Drew as a kid. I have a lot of crime & thriller author friends whose books I enjoy reading (quick shout out to Claire McGowan, Angela Clarke, Tom Wood and Rod Reynolds – I do have more friends though, just saying…) and I read around the genre anyway for work. I also enjoy reading group books and women’s fiction. I have a real fondness for books about books – set in bookshops etc. There’s just something about books! I’m not as keen on sci-fi; I’m afraid that I can’t get into it. Ditto dystopian fiction.

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and if so, did you enjoy it?

I’ve almost finished The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Féret-Fleury and I’ve started The Murder Game by Rachel Abbott, both of which I’m really enjoying. The Féret-Fleury is a lovely, sweet, uplifting book and The Murder Game has a great concept and Rachel Abbott really knows how to build the tension. I’m very much looking forward to The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard in August, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (sadly not out till Feb), The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Sept)and The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain (also Sept).

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

On a Friday I would sometimes go for a drink with colleagues after work, or meet friends for dinner, or I’d go home and put my feet up and watch TV with a glass of wine. Saturdays are usually (in normal times) reserved for boring life admin like food shopping, house cleaning, gardening, but also a run perhaps, definitely submission reading for work, meeting friends or having them over for dinner/drinks/BBQ, going for long walks, meeting at the pub, the cinema, the occasional pub quiz on a Sunday night. Trying to decompress before another usually busy week!

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

Hmmm. I guess that would depend on what sort of mood I’m in. If I wanted to go out dancing, then Freddie would totally be my guy. If I’m in more of a wood-fire and night-in, then it’d have to be Rod. I think on the whole though, Freddie, as I’m out most nights every week with friends or at work events and I think he’d keep the energy up and would certainly be entertaining!

Thank you for joining me on the blog today, Katherine. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Katherine Armstrong has worked in publishing for over fifteen years and is Editorial Director for Fiction at Bonnier Zaffre, part of Bonnier Books UK. She has previously worked at Faber & Faber and Little, Brown. Her speciality is crime and thriller fiction. She was one of the founding organisers of First Monday Crime Nights in London and is programme consultant for NOIReland, a new international crime fiction festival in Belfast.

An Interview With… Gordon Wise

Hi everyone, this morning I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Gordon Wise to the blog. He was kind enough to answer my questions as to what he looks for in submissions.

Below the Q&A, you can find what he’s currently looking for.

Over to you, Gordon…

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

I’d never heard of a literary agent when I left school! I only discovered publishing (as opposed to writing, or bookselling) existed when I was working in a bookshop when I was in my third year of university, and that agenting sat inside a series of Russian dolls within that. My childhood dream had been to be an architect, until I discovered you had to be good at and like maths (I threw in the towel on maths after calculus nearly killed me) and that it was a seven year course. Now I am told that the maths is all dealt with by computers. But then you have to like and be good at computers… So I think I ended up in the right place.

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

It’s a synthesis of all three. I want the cover letter to invite me in and give a good reason to spend time on this book – it has to be an enticing pitch in itself. I’ll probably then fast forward to the sample writing, to see if I like the tone. Then if I like what I am reading I’ll wind back and look at the synopsis, to see what I’d be learning if I read further. I need to feel I’m going to enjoy and be excited by the experience of spending 3-5 hours reading the whole book, and have a sense that others would, too.

3) What do you consider a standout query letter? On the other, what wouldn’t attract you to a submission?

A good query letter will give me a great hook for what the book is about, why you’ve approached me (expressed originally, not just lifted from our website), who you think might enjoy it (perhaps a couple of authors you’d like your book to sit alongside – but don’t choose pretentious or incomparable ones – to give me a sense that you are aware of the market). I’d put down immediately something that got my name wrong, started with Dear Sir or Madam, or gave me any sense that just because you’ve written it, it’s special and that I’m obliged to read it. Win me over!

4) How do you know when you have connected with a manuscript? Is it prose, plotting or pace of the narrative?

Well, you’ve missed out character – that’s critically important. Obviously the prose must be good, but there’s many a successful book where the prose isn’t amazing. However, bad prose will be an impediment to understanding and enjoyment. Plotting is crucial, certainly in commercial fiction, but there’s no literary novel that isn’t going to benefit from having a good plot. Pace: well, get the plotting right and that should follow. In editing, you can address pace, and to some degree plot – but you have to have a good starting point, and the writer has to be open to feedback and take criticism on board. But it’s very hard to improve prose. So you do need to get your voice right.

5) Once you finish reading a manuscript submission in full, what prompts you to offer representation?

If I like the author, and I think they like and trust me, and that I think I can sell it. I see myself as a switchboard operator at that point: do I know the editors who will be the right match for this book and this author? If I can’t envisage that, then I’d need to stand aside. And if I can’t see myself working with that writer for the long term and for us to go the distance together, then we shouldn’t go forward.

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

Buoyant! And always looking for new voices. But the big brands are strong, so new entrants to the market really have to be offering something special to do business against the established competition. Diversity and inclusivity in all senses of those words needs far more representation in terms of setting, characters, voice. In books, we’ve still got an awful lot of catching up to do with TV in terms of not being self-conscious about this, and being confident about it.

7) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure? Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

Books about architecture, design and gardens! An ordered antidote to the day job I suppose… I won’t read misery lit, and I find it hard, other than the classics, to get into sci fi and fantasy. Reality is interesting enough.

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and if so, did you enjoy it?

Me by Elton John. By turns hilarious and self-deprecatingly frank.

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

Walk home, and have a drink. Probably a stiff gin and tonic. The challenge is to get as far as taking your coat and shoes off first rather than stick your head straight into the fridge. Weekends are TV, newspapers, walks, garden, sea swimming in the summer (nothing very wild though), catching up on manuscripts and planning a few good meals. With wine.

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

Rod. I think that one-of-the-lads persona is very appealing; Freddie is almost a mythical figure and I just don’t know what it would have been like to hang out with him. Although one of my clients, Cleo Rocos, did – and even took Princess Diana to a gay bar with him!

Thank you for visiting the blog today Gordon. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: I joined Curtis Brown in 2005, but began working in the book industry in 1989 as a bookseller when I was a student. In between I was for nearly fifteen years an editor and, later, publishing director, at companies including Pan Macmillan and John Murray/Hachette. On the industry side of things, I’ve been Agent of the Yearat the British Book Industry Awards, President of the Association of Authors’ Agents, and featured in the Booksellermagazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the publishing trade. A Guardianinterview, ‘How do I become a … literary agent’, explains the way in which I approach my work.

The catalogues on my profile page feature clients whose work represents the range of my current activities. I am assisted by Niall Harman.

What I’m looking for: My tastes and expertise in non-fiction embraces history and biography, entertainment and the world of ideas. In the worlds of fiction, I focus on two strands: literary writers whose storytelling crosses over to reach beyond just the ‘literary’ reader; and both new and established terrific writers who happen to write crime.

To read more about what I am up to at the moment, read my blog at Curtis Brown Creative, and our submissions portal tells you what I am looking for right now and how to send it to me. I’ve got a reputation as a trusted collaborator, a developer of original ideas, an agent with an eye for reinvention and brand management, and a gift for editor-writer matchmaking.

10 Questions With… Sarah Pinborough

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

Over to you, Sarah…

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

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

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

An Interview With… David Headley

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

Over to you, David…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Currently looking for:

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

10 Questions With… Margaret Murphy

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

Over to you, Margaret…

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

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

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

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Twitter: @murphy_dyer

Book info:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cutting Room

“Disturbing and wickedly entertaining.” —People Magazine

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

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

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