First Drafts… with Noelle Holten

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

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

About Dead Inside 

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

‘An excellent read’ Martina Cole

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

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

The killer is just getting started…

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

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

And he is Lucy’s husband.

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

About Me (Noelle Holten) 

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

Connect with Noelle on Social Media here:

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



Apple Books: 




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

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

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

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

First Drafts… with Andrew Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. How does the draft form on the screen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Drafts… with Maggie James

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

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


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

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

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

First Drafts… with Tony Forder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

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

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

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

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

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

An Apology…

Hi everyone!

First off, I would like to humbly apologise for my year long absence. I have had a lot to deal with personally, plus to get the novel’s first draft completed.

With the book now in rigorous editing, I can concentrate on getting back to blogging! I promise you all I will keep the posts flowing.

Beginning with my new First Draft series, featuring a number of authors chatting about their own experiences of writing their novels.

This will be coming very shortly! That’s all for now, folks!

10 Questions With Steve Cavanagh

Good evening folks, and I’m delighted to welcome Crime writer Steve Cavanagh to my blog.

Steve is a practicing lawyer in Belfast and is the author of The Defence, The Liar, The Plea and Thirteen, all featuring con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. Here, Steve discusses his road to publication, how he created Eddie Flynn and his favourite music during the drafting process.

Over to you, Steve.

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

Several. I loved Spike Milligan, Road Dahl, Tolkien, and Conan Doyle.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

No. I hated school. Occasionally, I would enjoy something that we read, like Steinbeck, but for the most part I hated everything about it.

3) How did you find your experience at university studying Law?
I don’t remember too much about it. It was also at this age that I found the pub. I remember nights out, getting a grant cheque and I have a vague memory of an Equity and Trusts lecture in which I learned that the law recognises the possible existence of precocious toddlers and fertile octogenarians. That’s about it.

4) What was your route to publication? How long did it take you to get your agent?

Probably about six to nine months to find an agent. It was a real slog. I amassed at least forty rejections (even some rejections from agents who have appeared on your blog). I was trying the middle and small sized agencies. Eventually I tried some of the larger UK agencies. I remember on a Monday night receiving a particularly harsh rejection which said the book would never be published and that I should write something else. On the Wednesday I signed with one of the best literary agencies in the world. I am very lucky. Once I had worked on the book with the agent it went smoothly – there were multiple auctions for publications rights.

5) Do you find balancing your writing and your day job difficult?

Yes. It’s very difficult and I don’t think I balance it particularly well. In the end, I don’t sleep much and my health is beginning to suffer.

6) How do you feel when your first draft of your manuscript goes to your editor?

Nervous as all hell.

7) How did you go about creating Eddie Flynn as a character?

The character evolved over a period of months – but once I decided he was a lawyer who used to be a con artist the character simply leapt to life.

8) When writing, do you need music or silence? Do you have a favourite band you listen to?

I change this up regularly. I do listen to music sometimes, especially when I’m doing a first draft. I have a playlist on Spotify. The Black Keys are my go to for getting me in that zone. Their early stuff like Stack Shot Billy, Ten Cent Pistol and The Flame are great mood enhancers.

9) Do you have a favourite all time book?

No, there are just too many that I love and have re-read.

10) Do you like Rod Stewart and do you have a favourite song of his?

I have no view on Mr Stewart or his musical repartee.

Thanks for your time, Steve.

An Interview With Chris Bardsley

Good afternoon folks, I am delighted to welcome Crime writer Chris Bardsley to my blog. here he chats his experiences at university and as a history teacher in Australia, his favourite between short stories and novels and his favourite music.


Born in 1987, Christopher Bardsley was raised in Melbourne, Australia. He undertook his studies at the University of Melbourne, where he received a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education. In 2012, Christopher was the recipient of Melbourne  University’s Above Water prize for his short story Little Rock. He also received an honourable mention in the 2011 competition for his story Cripple Creek. Christopher has also published poetry and cultural criticism through Farrago magazine.

Christopher spent the beginning of his career teaching history at independent schools in Melbourne, most notably the Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School. While he is primarily an author of novels, his interests also include modern and ancient history, with a particular focus on interpreting political extremism.

As of 2016, he is taking a year to travel across the Eurasian continent as he completes his next novel.

Over to you, Chris.

1) When you were a child, did you have a favourite author?

It’s hard to go past Roald Dahl, who seemed to understand that children everywhere have a sincere desire to be disgusted and horrified by the stories they read. The real pleasure of reading Dahl was the discovery that his steady commitment to wildly inappropriate subject matter reaches an astonishing pitch in his adult fiction. I distinctly remember reading My Uncle Oswald at the tender age of twelve, and have probably still not recovered completely from the experience. Roald Dahl taught me a powerful lesson; that you can get away with some fantastically unpronounceable things in the name of fiction.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I suppose this is a bit of a two-part answer, because I make a living as an English teacher myself. The answer is, of course, yes; my academic focus was immediately drawn to the humanities, and there it has remained. I loved English at school. I once had an English teacher, in service of some long-forgotten point, remove his shoes and clamber in a complete lengthwise orbit of the classroom without touching the floor once. Later, I had another English teacher who engaged in a startlingly public affair with a volleyball coach a good decade her junior, much to the delight of the entire institution. The best teachers are massively peculiar, and I do my best to live up to the example set by these fine people.

3) What was your experience like at university in Australia?

Absolutely wonderful. Ah, the heady days of youth. I recall twelve contact hours per week, a significantly more manageable hairline, and that fantastically self-absorbed undergraduate confidence that sets in between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one. I completed an Arts degree, and broke up my punishing schedule of twelve essays per year with frequent voyages of self-discovery abroad. I occupied a series of squalid share-houses, sponsored my vibrant social life by toiling as a dishwasher, and lived as the proverbial pig in mud. These were good years.

4) What was your experience as a history teacher in Australia?

Very educational, actually. I have learned far more about history as a teacher than as a student. I have a habit of becoming diverted by whatever subject it is that I happen to be teaching. At the moment, I’m going through a bit of a WW1 phase, and have just recently finished gobbling up T.E Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. This (ahem) ‘memoir’ is epic, entertaining, and very, very creative, as all good autobiographies should be. Lawrence is one of my favourite historical weirdos, actually. He was an asexual, motorcycle-obsessed vegetarian midget who was once posthumously described as the untidiest officer in the British military. He also managed to basically bring down the Ottoman empire single-handedly. I find bizarre historical marginalia of this sort fascinating, and the best thing about teaching history is that I have a literally captive audience to listen to me bang on about all this nonsense.

5) Between short stories and novels, which do you enjoy writing more?

Definitely short stories. Writing a novel is a serious long-term ordeal. Orwell said that it was like battling some terrible disease. Mailer said that each novel killed him a little more than the last. What I think of, though, is the article from The Onion entitled Man Dies after Secret 4-Year Struggle with Gorilla. It’s a bit like that; some hairy, many-legged monster that sits in the corner of your room and demands that you engage in hand-to-hand combat with it for at least an hour a day. In all seriousness, the time-frame of short stories is much more manageable, and I find that they are a nice way to give my imagination a bit of a break from larger projects

6) Did you have a favourite band growing up? How has your music taste changed?

My musical tastes have a vaguely extremist dynamic to them. I either listen to melodramatic, shoe-staring stuff like Radiohead or Bon Iver, or nonstop gangster rap. There’s not much middle ground. I’m particularly enjoying this new generation of melancholy little rappers with face-tattoos and cough-syrup addictions. Donald Trump may be bad for pretty much everything else, but he’s doing great things to hip-hop. Lil Peep and his ilk certainly have plenty to complain about. The only thing about this new wave of morose artistes that gives me pause is the fact that they all seem to be dead from overdoses by the age of twenty-one. Not good. Stay in school, kids.

7) When writing, do you need music or silence?

Absolute silence, of course. I have enough voices in my head as it is.

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

Great question. While I am not a big fan of Rod, I do recall having a female PE teacher who bore a startling resemblance to Stewart in his Vaseline-lensed heyday. I forget this distinctive person’s name, but I do recall her disqualifying me from a mandatory fitness test because the form of my sit-ups was below-par. This humiliating experience still looms large in my imagination. It may serve to prove the old parable right, though; spare the Rod, and spoil the child.

An Interview With David Haviland

Good evening folks, I’m delighted to welcome literary agent and writer David Haviland to my blog. Here, he discusses his experience as a writer and how he is a literary agent alongside, his time in university studying English and Film Studies and when he knows he has connected with a manuscript.

Over to you, David.

1) Did you always plan to be a literary agent after you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I never planned to become an agent, my goal was always to be a writer. I’ve written six books, with hopefully more to come. But like most writers, I need a day job, and being a literary agent is ideal. To spend my days with writers and other book lovers, working together to try to produce good work, is a real privilege.

2) How did you find studying Film and English at university?

I enjoyed the course, and Norwich is a lovely city, but looking back I wish the course had had a more practical focus. I seem to remember reading that, at that time at least, Film Studies was pretty much the most popular degree subject in the country, despite the fact that we have only a tiny film industry for all those thousands of graduates to try to enter.

3) How do you manage writing your own books with your day job?

At the moment, I’m afraid the answer is that I don’t. My last book was published six years ago, and at the moment agenting and a one-year-old daughter mean I have no time to write.

4) What do you look for in a covering email by an author submitting their work?

I don’t pay much attention to cover emails, to be honest. As long as the cover email is tolerably well written, and the genre is one I’m interested in, I skip straight to the sample chapters, as that’s the important part of the submission, in my view.

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

Plenty of people can write competently enough, or construct a scene reasonably well, but it’s a lovely moment when you realise you’re in the hands of someone who can really make it sing. A kind of trust is formed, which opens up much more interesting possibilities for irony, subtlety, suspense, and more. When you don’t trust the writer, and a character does something surprising, you’re likely to just assume the writer has blundered. Whereas when you have a degree of trust in the writer, you’re intrigued – perhaps this surprising moment reveals some new quirk of the character? Or sets up an interesting plot point to be paid off later on…

6) Do you have a guilty pleasure genre?

If you saw my iPod, you’d quickly realise I don’t believe in guilty pleasures.

7) Is there anything that you haven’t seen or read about previously that you think ‘I could see that in a book’?

I’d like to see more crime novels with BAME and other minority protagonists.

8) What do you think of the thriller market currently?

I think there are some excellent writers around. Larry Enmon’s Wormwood is a terrific, dark mystery. Shaun Baines’ debut novel Woodcutter is coming out this summer – and will be the start of a very exciting, gritty crime series set in Newcastle. Christopher Bardsley has just released a remarkable debut thriller set in Thailand and Cambodia called Jack Was Here. Looking beyond my own writers, I’m a big fan of Denise Mina.

9) When you write your own novels, do you need music or silence? Do you have a genre that you like? Did you have a favourite growing up?

Music is too distracting, and silence is too intense. I like a steady background hum – one of my bookmarks is a two-hour youtube video of rainfall. I love crime novels, and hopefully that’s what my next book will be.

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

Young Turks is a bit of a banger.

Thanks for your time, David.


David Haviland studied Film and English at the University of East Anglia, before working in advertising with M&C Saatchi, and moving into television with management roles at Simply Money and Sirius Television, of which he was a co-founder. After the sale of the company, David left Sirius in 2003 to become a freelance writer and journalist, since when he has written regularly for a broad range of publications. He has also worked extensively in script development for film and television companies, theatres, and agents.

He has worked with Andrew Lownie in a number of roles since 2004, and is now actively developing a fiction list within the agency. He is an experienced writer, ghost writer, and editor who has written bestselling books for major publishers including Harper Collins, Penguin, Piatkus and Little, Brown.

His recent books include ‘How to Remove a Brain’, an amusing history of medical science, and a collection of myth-busting stories from history called ‘The Not-So-Nude Ride of Lady Godiva’

In his role as a literary agent, he has a broad remit covering all genres of commercial and literary fiction.

An Interview With Emma Finn

Good afternoon folks, I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Emma Finn to my blog. Here, she chats what she enjoys most about her job, her guilty pleasure genre and what she looks for in submissions.

Over to you, Emma.

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

I had no idea that a literary agent was a job until I was at university… I had always been a bookworm and knew that I was interested in publishing as an industry, but I didn’t have a great sense of the career paths involved. I spent a few days at David Godwin Associates over one summer break and was intrigued, but it was my internship with C&W that really drew me into the agenting world, and I fell in love with the job. As for other career plans, I studied developmental psychology for my Masters and it was fascinating, so I definitely considered my options in that area, but books won out in the end.

2) What do you enjoy most about your role as a literary agent?

Calling an author to let them know that the book they’ve been working away on, often for years, is going to be published is a very special feeling. But day to day I love the process of watching a story take shape – it’s a privilege and a total joy to be able to collaborate with talented writers on the direction their work will take and to see it improving and coming into its own draft by draft. It’s an unusual job in that you can entirely follow your instincts and plough your energies into projects you’re passionate about, however diverse they may be, so the workload is different every day. And that’s three things, so I’ll stop now.

3) I notice that you represent both fiction and non fiction – are there challenges to representing authors of both genres?

I love it! Non-fiction allows me to pursue my interests quite proactively, and it’s a constant learning curve: I’m often working with writers who have fascinating experience in a field I know next-to-nothing about so I get to dive into new subjects all the time. And with both memoir and fiction it’s all about voice, storytelling and emotional insight for me, so my taste in those two areas inform one another quite closely. If anything I find it a useful and much-needed palate cleanser to switch from a literary debut to a crime series to a pop science proposal – it keeps things lively.

4) What do you look for in a covering email by an author looking to submit their manuscript? 

Above all I think I look for thoughtfulness. It’s always great to see that a writer has done their research and knows why they’re submitting to you; it’s hugely helpful to see where they imagine their book might sit on a shelf if they’ve really considered their comparison titles (and not at all helpful if it’s described as THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN meets GONE GIRL…) and then of course I’m hoping for an articulate, enticing, original pitch that will immediately have me printing off their chapters.

5) Is there something in the crime genre that you haven’t seen or read about previously that you think ‘I could see that in a book’? 

This is tricky! I don’t think there’s a particular hole in the genre that’s crying out to be plugged because there are so many talented writers working very hard to make sure they’re satisfying the enormous crime readership. That said, on a personal level, veering away from the embittered detective and making sure that there is a really compelling, three-dimensional protagonist at the heart of your novel and that you’re doing something original with the well-trodden – but very fertile! – ground of the crime genre would be the way to catch my eye.

6) What is your guilty pleasure genre? 

It’s not a genre and I feel zero guilt about it but given I’m not generally a huge historical fiction fan (with the notable exception of Sarah Waters, who I adore) I have read the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon more than once and love them. But broadly speaking I don’t think book snobbery benefits anyone – to shamelessly steal from Marie Kondo: if it sparks joy, read it.

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

I’m just finishing up EDUCATED by Tara Westover and yes, I think it’s extraordinary.

8) Completely random – Do you like Rod Stewart and if so, do you have a favourite song of his? 

Great closer. I absorbed quite a lot of his cheesiest songs through osmosis as a kid because my Dad has terrible taste in music (sorry, Dad) and I have a soft spot for Rod’s raspy version of ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’, but that’s about as far as it goes. I’m still scarred from witnessing a particularly enthusiastic karaoke performance of ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ once, so that might have prejudiced me.

Thanks for your time, Emma. And for answering my questions and for featuring on my blog.

An Interview With Matthew Smith

Good morning folks, I’m delighted to welcome publisher Matthew Smith to my blog. Here, he answers my questions as to how he got into publishing, his ideal submission and how he met a die hard Rod Stewart fan.

Over to you Matthew.

1) Did you always plan to publish books when you left school? 

Originally I wanted to be a journalist (for magazines, not newspapers) and secured a graduate placing, but the company went bust just as I graduated! I always loved books so ended up working for Waterstones as a bookseller, before applying to start at the VERY bottom with publishers. I eventually got a job as an editorial assistant at Routledge in 1993.

2) Did you have any other career plans?

I once harboured ambitions as a teenager to join the RAF. It lasted about 3 days I think, though now my dream would be to combine Urbane’s publishing output with running our own independent bookshop as well.

3) How did you become involved the publishing industry? 

I think I must have sent out over 200 speculative letters to publishers throughout the UK, and eventually I got to the top of a slush pile and secured an interview. My experience as a bookseller meant that I probably had more commercial knowledge of the industry than the editors interviewing me!  In the early 90s we used to see about 40 reps a month and every store made its own buying decisions, so you became very astute about what books worked and why and market trends. I’d had lunch with the Routledge rep the day before my interview so I was well-prepared to answer questions on the list (and even knew the nicknames of the two people interviewing me!)

4) What inspired you to start up Urbane Publications? 

The publishing industry has become more challenging and competitive than ever before over the last 15 years, and the last ten in particular. Amazon’s rise, the closure of many bookshops, the apparent growing risk-averse nature of publishers and retailers, these are just some of the factors that have impacted on how we commission, publish and sell books. Meanwhile thousands of authors continue to write wonderful books and readers still want to have fantastic, compelling stories, yet as publishers we seemed to forget some of these joyous fundamentals, focusing instead on slashing costs, rehashing the same writers and trends and moaning about Amazon (this is a sweeping statement obviously!). I started Urbane with the hope of giving more debut authors a chance to get their words out there, with the hope they would grow with us – and to continually build an audience of readers who became Urbane advocates, who relished the chance to read new voices and support authors they helped establish. Even after four years it’s still early days, but I genuinely think Urbane is growing into one of the most exciting independent publishers in the UK. Though I would say that wouldn’t !? 😉

5) What advice would you give to authors looking to submit their work? 

To take the time to put together a thoughtful and well thought-out submission package. So many writers finish their novel and then just send it far and wide on spec without the slightest bit of research into who they’re sending the book to, where the market is, who would read it any why etc etc. As a writer if you want a publisher to invest time, expertise and money in your work, and ultimately a reader to invest their hard earned cash in buying and then reading it, you should at least take the time to consider WHY they should. Writing a novel is a tremendous achievement, but that in itself isn’t enough to secure a contract – take the time to put together a good synopsis and target the right agents/publishers to consider your work, showing you have a commercial awareness of your likely audience. You’ll already be steps ahead of most of the competition.

6) More importantly, what do you look for in a covering email?

Interest, passion, energy and commercial awareness. It’s like applying for a job – the first people rejected are those that just send an email saying Dear Sir, I’m interested in the role, my CV is attached, many thanks. Show some passion for your work, knowledge of the market, and interest in the publisher that you’re asking to invest in you as an author.

7) Is there something in any genre that you haven’t seen or read about previously that you think ‘I could see that in a book’? 

Oh gosh, that happens every day! Many say we just constantly reinvent the same stories, which may be true to some extent, but it’s the innovative finessing of those stories where the magic happens. No obvious examples spring to mind, but I often find myself taking snippets of a day and storing them for future use – perhaps even I’ll write!

8) What is your guilty pleasure genre or book? 

I don’t publish fantasy, but when I’m looking for some joyful escapism I very often turn to a David Gemmell or Joe Abercrombie. And like many readers I have my literary characters and authors I can always rely on to thrill me – such as Charlie Parker (the great character created by John Connolly) or any Stephen King novel. And I can often be found rereading early Christopher Fowler novels, or a Susan Hill ghost story. And favourite classics include Dickens (I do live in Rochester after all which is very much Dickens country) and the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

9) What was the last book you purchased and did you enjoy it? 

My last purchase was An Ice-Cream War by William Boyd – not a new title but I had read some of his other novels and was intrigued by the WW1 setting and the two locations – East Africa and England. It was a fascinating but also entertaining read, and Boyd is wonderful in developing the various foibles of his lead characters.

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

I’m not a huge fan, certainly as a solo artist, though that may be more to do with getting stuck on a flight to New York once next to a rabid Rod Stewart fan. My choice would be a Faces track – Cindy Incidentally.

Thanks for your time, Matthew. And for answering my questions and for featuring on my blog.

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