Thursday, 30 December 2010


By Peter Stuart Smith

OK, let's start with a confession - not to Matt Lynn and the other members of the Curzon Group, who already know which way is up - but to everyone else. Back in November, Matt introduced three new members: James Barrington, James Becker and Max Adams, all writing thrillers, but in three very different genres. And the thing is, not to beat about the bush, they're really all me.

We wondered if I should blog as three different people, but I think it would soon have become kind of obvious that these three authors shared some kind of bizarre - and possibly illegal - relationship, because they would always seem to be in more or less the same place at pretty much the same time. In the end, it seemed easier and probably more sensible to come clean straight away.

My real name's Peter Stuart Smith, currently writing under three noms de plume, as our French neighbours phrase it. So am I just wildly schizophrenic, or is there some half-way good reason for these multiple identities? There's a perception in the world of publishing that an author's name which begins with letters at the beginning of the alphabet is more likely to be found by a casual browser, so clearly the ideal name for any author is Aaron Aardvark, except that nobody would take him seriously. Anyway, I liked the name 'James Barrington' and the first few books I wrote came out under that name. Then my agent suggested a new genre, and that meant a new identity, and so 'James Becker' was hatched, or whatever the appropriate term is. Finally, 'Max Adams' emerged as a writer of WW2 thrillers.

A bit of history, just to complete the introduction(s). I spent about 10 years trying to knock my first book into a publishable shape, and then started banging (metaphorically) on the doors of every literary agent in the book. Finally, in 2003, I was taken on by Sheil Land Associates, and they flogged Overkill to Macmillan after a short auction. That was followed by Pandemic, Foxbat, Timebomb and Payback. Then Penguin wanted a ghost with a military background, and the result of that was Joint Force Harrier, a non-fiction book about Royal Navy operations in Afghanistan, also written as 'James Barrington'.

My agent is Luigi Bonomi, now the boss of LBA (Luigi Bonomi Associates). He reckoned there was still some mileage in 'Brownian' thrillers, and sold the idea to Transworld, where I became 'James Becker', with three books out so far: The First Apostle, The Moses Stone and The Messiah Secret. Finally, Macmillan wanted somebody to write WW2 thrillers, and so after a short gestation period 'Max Adams' emerged blinking into the spotlight as the author of To Do Or Die. All three of my alter egos have books out next year - Manhunt ('James Barrington'), The Nosferatu Scroll ('James Becker') and Right and Glory ('Max Adams').

This first post has been somewhat delayed, for which I apologize. We had a fairly dramatic domestic crisis, even now only partly resolved, and then I got stuck in New York because of the snow at Heathrow after a speaking engagement on board the Queen Mary II, and that sort of delayed things as well. But I'll do my best to contribute something each week from now on.

Finally, and just getting over jet-lag, I had a bit of a shock when I walked into the local W H Smith to find my face staring at me from the front cover of the January 2011 edition of Writers' Forum. An interview I'd almost forgotten about, brought vividly back to life! Still a shock.

But it's a real pleasure to be here, and out of the closet, so to speak.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Middle of a Book

by Matt Lynn

I did an interview the other day with Write Words. One of the questions was what is the worst thing about writing? I found that a hard one, because on the whole I really enjoy writing, which is I guess why I do it for a living.

But in the end I answered: the middle. The beginning of a book is exciting, because it is a fresh start. And you always think you are about to write the most amazing book ever.

And the end is exciting, because it’s nearly finished, and you can see how the whole thing looks.

But there is a chunk in the middle, between about 40,000 and 60,000 words, where it is all a bit of a slog. It’s then you need to dig deep to find the will to get it finished, and not to get distracted.

I’m there right now with ‘Ice Force’. Getting up to about 60,000 words though, so hopefully after Christmas I’ll be into the home straight.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

It's All About Writing.

by Leigh Russell

It’s easy to lament the sad truth that real talent so often goes unrecognised by decision makers in the industry, but sometimes it’s wonderful to celebrate talent for its own sake. Recently invited to judge a short story competition I was blown away by the standard of writing submitted. There are so many talented writers around most of whom will never reach the dizzy heights of publication. (Believe me, it is a very dizzy experience – you can read about the rollercoaster ride of being published on many author blogs, my own included.)
Yes, it’s great to be published, but the real buzz is writing. Anyone passionate about writing knows that visceral excitement when you write words that perfectly convey your meaning. There’s a magic to it that no publishing deal could ever match. Yes, it’s fantastic to be paid for doing what you love doing, and to have the financial validation of experienced publishers. But writing is the real joy.
And writing is a great leveller; you never know where it might take you. As an established author with two bestsellers to my name, I’ve been invited to run a workshop at Get Writing hosted by the University of Hertfordshire, just eighteen months after my first book was published. A lot can happen in less than two years!
A conference like Get Writing is exciting because we will all be rubbing shoulders together - published authors, aspiring writers, serious students of writing – all writers and all passionate about writing. And this time next year, any one of us might have a bestseller on the shelves.
I’ll be sharing some of my tips about how I write my bestselling books at my workshop, because the lure of making money from writing can’t be ignored. But it’s really a red herring. As a character in Get Shorty says, “I once asked this literary agent what kind of writing paid the best. He said, ‘Ransom notes.’ ”
So my advice to aspiring writers? Don’t let the desire for a lucrative publishing deal override the joy you find in writing. If you do, you might as well be penning ransom notes – (something no one in their right mind would ever do, I hasten to add!)

Leigh Russell

Friday, 17 December 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

As we head into New Year there's only thing that's certain - uncertainty.

If you're a writer or reader who likes to keep abreast of what's going on in the industry you'll see there's a lot of it about - ebooks, rights negotiation for territories no one's familiar with, bookshop and library closures, piracy, the recession etc etc

It's the equivalent to turning on the TV news. It's all bad. At least, it seems that way.

All we seem to hear now is that nothing can be depended on and that there's no money. Scarcely a new concept for writers - uncertainty and penury. Most of us have served our indentures on those fronts.

It's easy to be sucked into the black hole of despair but then cynicism is always the easiest recourse.

Speaking to an insider this year he told me that last year's Frankfurt Fair was full of doom and gloom but this year everyone knew what the situation was and were just getting on with it - like we all have to.

There are good writers out there and good publishers and agents who are still trying to operate.

As we head into 2011 it's worth remembering that and trying not to focus too much on the forecasts. After all, what can writers do about it? Lose sleep over your characters - you at least have control over what happens to them. And people want to be entertained by good stories, whatever the format.

It's been the end of western civilisation as we know it ever since I can remember. Why should 2011 be any different?

Thanks to everyone for dropping in to the blog and leaving comments. It's been great to have your support. Hope you enjoy a restful Christmas and a very healthy, creative and positive New Year.


For more and competition results for Christmas Serial Killer competition to win copies of STOP ME visit

Friday, 10 December 2010

Trying To Write At Christmas?

By Richard Jay Parker

If you’re like me, the next couple of weeks aren’t usually that conducive to writing. Does a writer truly take a break though? Even when you’re traversing the high street and frantically trying to find some inspiration for gift ideas, the imagination has a sly habit of skulking back to any unfinished creative business.

Mine does this all the time - when I’m sleeping, when I’m eating and when I’m (meant to be) socialising. Subconscious thought is often a very good way of solving a problem or refining an idea. It’s frequently better than trying to focus a hundred percent and I’ve found that, after a night of my brain chewing something over, I often wake with the solution to a problem I spent the day before trying to solve.

To use another worn metaphor – it’s like that swan gliding along the surface of the water while underneath its flippers are paddling furiously.

Whether you like Christmas or not it’s full of the sort of diversion that will allow your brain to function in a way it probably doesn’t the rest of the year. Daily routines are changed and thought patterns get a different work out to normal including that classic reboot method of systematically attacking them with alcohol.

It is good to get away from the keyboard, if only for a few days of gluttony, and the start of a New Year is a great way to reflect on what you’ve done and what you’d like to do.

I do enjoy Christmas and will dutifully immerse myself in its excesses purely because of the above. The more I enjoy myself, the better start I’ll have to my writing year.

I’ve convinced myself – how about you?
Last chance to win a signed copy of Richard's novel STOP ME in Christmas competition. Visit
(foot of home page)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Let It Snow

by Matt Lynn

It’s cold at the moment, as you’ve probably noticed. Everyone else has, understandably enough, been moaning about the weather. But when you are half way through writing a book called ‘Ice Force’ it does have certain advantages. When I need to get in the mood for another description of snow storms swirling through the Arctic glaciers, all I have to do is step out into the garden.

One of the things you have to do as writer is create a believable atmosphere. Books vary, of course. Some are set in very, ordinary everyday locations -- the suburbs, for example. I like to set my books in fairly exotic places. I think that is part of the appeal of the adventure-action thriller genre. There is a big element of escapism in these books. Nobody wants to escape to Swindon. They want the book to take them somewhere exciting, and preferably dangerous as well.

That does, of course, mean the writer has to create believable detail. You need to make it real, without overdoing the travelogues. The best way is to focus on little things. When I was writing about Helmand in Afghanistan for Death Force, for example, I mentioned the smell of the wild irises that grow in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border. In Ice Force, I’ve mentioned the grinding noise that the plates of ice moving beneath you make as you trudge towards the North Pole.

The atmosphere has to be woven into every sentence you write.

And, of course, it helps if it is snowing outside while you are doing it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Serious Business

by Leigh Russell

In unusual circumstances, books can be published within weeks. Michael Jackson’s biography was clearly prepared in advance and given regular updates, right up until his death at which point I seem to recall there was a race to be the first to have a book on the shelves.
For most authors, the process takes longer. There is a time lag between delivery of the final manuscript and publication. So the manuscript for Road Closed was delivered in December 2009, if I remember correctly, for publication in June 2010.

Addicted to writing, I started on Dead End as soon as Road Closed was finished in December 2009. By writing I refer not simply to the secretarial task of committing words to paper or screen, but also to the thinking, research and editing that go into producing a book.
A year has passed and YESTERDAY I sent Dead End to my publisher! The story that has dominated my thoughts for the past year is now out of my hands. Finished. Handed over. Delivered. Submitted. Gone.

Am I pleased with what I have achieved? Am I excited about the publication of my next book? As is so often the case, reality is very different to my expectations. So yes, I would have expected to feel happy at delivering my manuscript, but in reality a word like terrified might be closer to how I’m feeling right now!

True to form, I’m already working on my next book. The final manuscript is due with my agent in a month’s time, so I’m currently working on final edits for the book that follows Dead End. I’ll have to wait more than a few weeks to see that one in print but, in the meantime, you can guess what I’ll be doing... yes, the killer in my fifth book is already clamouring to be heard.

The last thing I want to do right now is think about Dead End, as it is prepares to be launched into the public domain, to run the gauntlet of reviews.

While writing is fun, I am beginning to realise that being an author is a serious business.

Friday, 3 December 2010

How Does A Writer Measure Success?

By Richard Jay Parker

Jeffrey Deaver said 'I'm an overnight success after twenty years.'

As a writer, it's very difficult to gauge the extent of your success. If you've written a book which you want to have published and you haven't had it published, do you consider yourself a failure?

To have written anything - whether it be a short story or a novel - is a great achievement. But we're always eager for the next stage.

Every writer I know, whatever stage they are in their career, wants that next thing. To be published, to write a screenplay, to have a better deal etc etc.

Even best selling authors who have a worldwide readership are looking for something else - I want to write something worthy, I don't want to be as commercial, I don't want to be pigeonholed etc etc

This isn't a writer thing, it's a human thing. It's our nature but sometimes it's good to focus on how far we've come rather than how much further we'd like to go. Look back one year. Whatever stage you're at - has your writing improved? Moreover, are you enjoying it?

If the answer is 'yes' then I think you can afford to stop beating yourself up - at least for a couple of minutes.

As the experienced can testify - it's a long, frustrating road. No need to kick yourself all the way along it.
Only a few days left to win a copy of Richard's novel. Go to (Foot of page)