Monday, 31 January 2011

I’ve never killed anyone. I haven’t even had a broken nose

by Leigh Russell,

I’m not a police officer, have no medical training, and have never killed anyone. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m often asked how I do my research.
There are advantages to working in an establishment that employs over 100 people. My nose has never been broken (yes, yes, I was born looking like this). So when one of my characters had his nose broken recently I needed to do a little research. Would it hurt like hell, or would the initial shock prevent him feeling any pain straight away, as happens with some severe injuries?
I dashed off a group email asking if anyone had ever had a broken nose. Over the course of the day I was surprised to discover how many of my colleagues had broken their noses, but the first response came back immediately. ‘Many times,’ the writer told me. ‘What do you want to know?’ So I was able to write my scene confident that readers who’ve experienced a broken nose would continue to suspend their disbelief while reading my book. Job done.
Like any author, I have a growing number of anecdotes from my research, and it’s always been a positive experience. I once spent an entire afternoon at my local fire station with all the firemen while researching how domestic fires can start. The team couldn’t have been more helpful and it was great fun - although they did say that if they were called out to a real fire, they would have to abandon mine.
When I interviewed a Borough Commander and a Detective Inspector and arrived early having mixed up my times, instead of sending me away they invited me to join them for a fabulous pasta meal. Over dinner they answered all my questions, and more, and continue to answer my queries promptly for which I’m very grateful.
I’ve picked the brains of market traders, the Human Remains Department of a national museum, a Professor of Forensic Science, a furniture historian, IT experts, medical practitioners – a vast and disparate collection of people all enthusiastic about their particular area of expertise and eager to share their knowledge.
So is writing a solitary experience? Maybe it is for those who write about their own field of expertise. Perhaps I’m fortunate that I don’t.

Friday, 28 January 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

Just thought I'd pick up on Peter's interesting blog about writers and their appearance (see previous). Obviously a writer's physical attributes are irrelevant to the quality of their work - which I for one am certainly grateful for. Thankfully authors have their eye-catching covers in lieu of any Waterstones beauty pageant.

I think the mystique of writers has been greatly altered by technology. Previously, a name on the front of a book was often all a reader had - maybe a photo and a one para biog at the most. Nowadays, if a reader wants to know more about a writer there's myriad ways they can find out more - writer's website, Facebook page, clips of them reading excerpts from their work on YouTube etc

They can also interact with them on Twitter and feedback about the book they've just read which makes the writer/reader relationship more immediate. Not all writers want to subscribe to this, of course, but it's certainly becoming a bigger part of every bestseller's promo regime.

Personally, I think every author should be willing to spend time interacting with the people who have been kind enough to invest their time and money in their work. Book signings and talks have always provided a platform for this but technology has made it that much easier.

On the flip side there is an argument for retaining mystique. I do remember reading a series of books by a well known author. His black and white photograph used to be on the back of all his books and, as a young reader, I couldn't help but imagine him as the protagonist in the stories. I was somewhat disillusioned when I saw him interviewed and found him to be the complete opposite to what I'd imagined. I soon got over it though.

Maybe writers should keep some of their powder dry and not allow themselves to be dissected too much and that's certainly something they can control. It's good to show yourself but let's hope there's never a series called 'I'm An Author - Get Me Out Of Here!'

It's always reassuring to know we're all human though and when I've met authors who have written some pretty dark books and found them to be approachable, humorous and friendly it makes me even more of an admirer.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Do appearances matter?

By Peter Stuart Smith

Rather than a book cover, I thought this week I'd come out of the closet properly, as it were, so you can see what I look like. And, obviously, just prove to all the doubters that I don't always go around wearing ragged jeans and a shirt (though I confess this is my usual attire, to the constant despair of my wife) and I do own both a DJ and a bow tie. Just the one of each, in fact.

I do sometimes wonder how important the physical appearance of an author really is. I remember when my first book – 'Overkill' – enjoyed a brief flurry of attention as a couple publishers tried to buy it. One publisher, who shall remain nameless, made an offer for it as part of a two book deal, but was quickly outbid by Macmillan, who finally published this book and the sequels. My agent went back to the first publisher to ask if they'd be prepared to make a higher offer, and was given a blunt refusal. Not, strangely, because they didn't like the book, but because I was not, as that particular editor put it, a '35-year-old hunk'.

Now I can see that a publisher might be put off a bit if the writer of a particular manuscript proves to be a spectacularly sad and unattractive example of humanity, but the reality, surely, is that probably 99% of the people who read a book have not the slightest idea of what the author looks like. And I don't suppose any of them actually care. People buy books, I think, to lose themselves in another world. A world of romance, or danger, or even another world altogether, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Whether the author is bald, has a cleft palate, or weapons grade body odour is of absolutely no importance to them. All that matters is the writing.

About the only time when appearances might be important is when an author attends a book signing or embarks on a speaking tour or something of that sort, and even then what he or she says has to be far more important than what he or she looks like.

Some time ago, my agent came up with the radical idea of body doubles for authors. He was only half serious about it, but he said that if the appearance of a writer was deemed to be so important for a publisher, the author could stay behind in his lonely garret, scribbling away at his latest masterpiece while a beautiful/handsome (delete as appropriate) twenty-something hired for the occasion could ponce about at launch parties and other events, drinking champagne and getting drunk at the publisher's expense.

And then I suppose you can do the things from the other side, as it were, and do a Jordan. Just become notorious for something or other – preferably something legal and not necessarily involving mammary development – and then become an 'author' by the simple expedient of hiring a ghostwriter and having your name slapped on the front cover of every book the poor sap writes for you.

Which reminds me of a slightly amusing story that was related at a Society of Authors' event I attended a few years ago. Apparently one of Jordan's people was ringing round the literary agencies in London seeking representation for her. One of the people he called was a particularly literary literary agent, who was clearly not completely in touch with the celebrity culture. When Jordan's rep posed the question 'Would you be prepared to represent Jordan?' there was a longish pause, and then the agent replied 'I don't believe I can represent an entire country.' I understand the telephone conversation finished quite soon after that.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Books and Bookshops

by Leigh Russell

I’m not convinced that initiatives to give away free books encourages a perception that books have value. I understand the rationale behind these initiatives which seek to engage new readers and promote particular authors. But I suspect the consequence of giving books away for free is that books will just become further devalued. Many readers say they never pay full price for a book – even though the average book will set you back the price of a couple of cups of coffee, or a couple of pints in the pub, and without revenue from readers, publishers and authors will largely disappear.
Bricks and mortar bookshops face huge competition from online suppliers, charity shops, supermarkets and free book campaigns – and that’s before considering the impact of ebooks. I’m passionate about the survival of bookshops and spend a lot of time in different branches of the major chains, and in libraries, talking to readers. I wish more authors would support bookshops and libraries in this way.
And just in case the situation here continues to deteriorate, I’m building my intergalactic fanbase (You can see a few of them in the picture).
But there is a more serious concern which is not how books will be delivered in future, but whether people will continue reading on a significant scale, with all the other forms of entertainment on offer. Today’s youngsters spend their time in front of television, computer or mobile phone screens and bookshops have their work cut out to attract them. But it’s a campaign worth fighting and one they must win if they are to survive.

Leigh Russell is author of the bestselling Geraldine Steel series of crime thrillers.
CUT SHORT (2009) shortlisted for CWA New Blood Dagger
DEAD END (2011)

Friday, 21 January 2011


Although I’ve been earning a crust as a writer since my late teens I’m a relatively new author so I’m still learning on the job.

I had my first Public Lending Rights statement today and it appears that (between 1st July 2009 and 30th June 2010) 2648 people have borrowed STOP ME from libraries in the UK. This pleasantly surprised me as, bar visiting bookshops and checking Amazon, it’s very difficult to gauge exactly what sort of impact your work has had out there.

Whether or not the same amount of people will want to seek out my next thriller is an entirely different question but these small insights make everything seem worth it.

It’s becoming easier to track sales in the US. Nielsen BookScan – the industry book sales analysis software – is now available free to authors in the US via the Author Central facility on Amazon. Info HERE. I’m hoping UK authors might enjoy the same privilege soon.

Although I seem to be building a significant readership in the US (a large proportion of STOP ME is set there) it has still to find a publisher there. In the meantime, however, there’s Novel Rank. UK authors can use this so they can at least find out exactly how many books they’re selling through Amazon worldwide.

It is exciting to see every copy sold. It means somebody else is about to (hopefully) enjoy your imagination and the results of all your pains to get it onto the shelves.

It’s dangerous to get obsessed by these figures though. It’s not possible to record every sale and the age-old tradition of passing on the book to a friend doesn’t register on any analysis radar.

That’s why getting such immediate feedback from readers is such a pleasure. And that’s one thing that Email, Websites, Twitter and Facebook have certainly done to bring us all closer together.

It’s made writers quite sociable and, although it doesn’t get us out into the fresh air, it’s got to be a good thing.

If you want to be sociable with Richard got to:

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Book fairs and festivals

By Peter Stuart Smith

As a follow-up to my previous comments about public appearances, let me offer a very personal experience of two contrasting events, one of which I'll name, and the other I won't, for reasons that will quickly become obvious.

Last March I was invited to be a guest at the Abu Dhabi Book Fair. The idea was that I would sit on a panel – the usual talking head scenario – and we would discuss bestsellers. The panel was moderated by an American publishing professional, I was there as the harassed author, and the other two people were the owner of a chain of bookshops and the manager of a publishing company, both located in the UAE. After the panel discussion, and there'd be a book signing session for me, and apart from that my time was my own. They agreed to fly me out to Abu Dhabi business class, accommodate me in a five-star hotel for a week, provide me with transport, throw in a half-day ride on a dhow – essentially a floating restaurant with mountains of food – and invite me to the party at the end of the Fair. And they paid me as well.

The arrangements were flawless, the event extremely well attended by thousands of people, and we even had a decent audience for the panel discussion, which was conducted simultaneously in both English and Arabic, the translations provided by a couple of young girls in a booth and transmitted to the participants by radio mike. The whole thing was thoroughly enjoyable, and I'd do it again tomorrow.

At the other end of the scale was a very minor literary festival which could best be described as shambolic. The writing was on the wall, I suppose, when they gave me the wrong postcode for the location of the event, which meant that I was stuck on one side of the river looking across it at my destination, and with no bridges for about 5 miles in either direction. Then the hall in which authors were supposed to speak turned out to be a draughty barn, with poor lighting and no audio system.

I normally illustrate my talks with a PowerPoint presentation, and on the morning when I was due to deliver my lecture, I found that not only had the system in the 'hall' never actually been tested, but one of the essential components of it was still in the boot of a car belonging to one of the organisers, who had just vanished on an errand that would take most of the day. Pictures and other images are actually quite difficult to see when displayed on the 15" screen of a laptop instead of a 10 foot projection screen, but the eight people who turned up (it wasn't entirely surprising to learn that the organisers hadn't properly advertised the festival) were able to sit close enough to see them.

I assumed that the festival was being run by people who had never done anything of the sort before, but I was mistaken. They'd actually run several, all apparently organised with the same level of attention to detail, but had consistently failed to learn anything at all from their experiences. They were really nice people, very welcoming, very hospitable, and almost completely incompetent.

I suppose the rather odd thing is that I enjoyed both events enormously, despite the sense of frustration I felt at the British festival, because ultimately all events of this kind seem to attract enthusiastic audiences. For a writer, meeting the people who have actually read your books is always a delightful, and sometimes a surprising, experience, and this, I think, is one of the real joys of being an author.

Monday, 17 January 2011

How To Plot A Book...

by Matt lynn

Over on the International Thriller Writers site, I've been taking part in a roundtable discussion about whether you should plan a book in advance. This is always a popular question I've found with readers. Anyway, here's my take on it, and if you head over to the ITW there is lots more.

Before starting the ‘Death Force’ series a couple of years ago, I spent about five years as a ghost-writer for Random House. I churned out seven action-adventure thrillers, books that were supposedly written by spies and special forces guys.

In many ways it was a frustrating experience. You get quite well-paid, but you don’t get any credit for your work.

But it did teach me one really useful thing – the importance of planning your plot.

When you are ghost-writing, you need to get the ‘author’ and publisher on board. The last thing I wanted to do was spend months on a book, and then get told it wasn’t what they wanted. So I started writing incredibly detailed outlines. I’d do a 15,000 word outline for a 100,000 word book. Every chapter and incident would be detailed, bits of dialogue, and character development. Then I’d make sure everyone was signed up to it.

And you know what. I found it was a tremendous discipline. It forced me to really think ruthlessly about where the plot was going. It forced me to think hard about turning point, and twists, and to fitting the characters into the story. And it made me much better at chucking things out – I could edit much more fiercely on an outline than I ever could on a finished manuscript.

So now that I am writing my own books I still do these incredibly detailed outlines.

And that has two big advantages.

First, the plots are much better. They start in the right place, they are tighter and leaner, and more exciting.

Second, when I’m writing the actually book, I don’t have to worry about plot and structure because that is already done. I can focus on jokes, dialogue, one-liners, terrific action descriptions, and all the other stuff that goes into a first-class thriller.

So if there is one piece of advice I would always give an aspiring writer it is – plan, plan, plan.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

In The Bookshops.

by Leigh Russell,

Peter Stuart Smith mentioned the Society of Authors’ survey on authors’ appearances. Once again, I seem to be out on a limb on this as one of a rare breed of authors who doesn’t suffer from what my fellow authors have called ‘snub fatigue’. It doesn’t faze me when I visit a bookshop and meet customers who aren’t interested in my books. Crime fiction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and why would a reader who doesn’t like the genre consider buying my books? I very rarely sign a book for a sci-fi fan (daleks and storm troopers excepted – one of my fans is famously a dalek. I’m even included in his public album of celebrity encounters.)
Science fiction is escapist literature. My novels are as plausible as I can make them, give or take a few liberties I take with reality. In real life DNA tests take around 6 weeks. In urgent cases results can be obtained in a week. At the end of Road Closed, my detectives get the result of a DNA test within 24 hours - but I can hardly keep my readers hanging on for 6 weeks, or even for a week, at the end of the book. When faced with a choice between realism or serving my story, I have to serve the story. I write fiction, not a text book on police procedure and none of my large cohort of fans in the police force has ever queried my forensics (yet!) My choices seem to be perfectly acceptable; CSI use this kind of artistic licence all the time.
So while I don’t welcome rejection it doesn’t put me off, as I’m driven by my passion for supporting bookshops. The demise of Borders happened very suddenly. We had hoped Borders would survive to the end of the year but with half a dozen events booked in branches of Borders for December 2009, they were all pulled right at the last minute as Borders suddenly closed down. I was grateful to WH Smith’s who stepped in at the last minute and booked signings at such short notice. Now HMV are starting to close branches of Waterstones.
So book signings for me aren’t only about selling my books. Obviously my visits are more enjoyable when the books sell well, and I’ve signed between 40 and 100 books at each event so far. I do worry this might peter out as more people use ereaders, and the reading public declines in general, but that’s a discussion for another post. All this only encourages me to spend more time in bookshops, as they struggle to survive. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. Borders went, just like that, and the writing for Waterstones is, I fear, on the wall rather than the page.
As for ‘standing up on my hind legs and making a fool of myself in front of a jeering crowd’, as Peter puts it, over 200 adults turned up to hear me talk recently, and they were a piece of cake compared to a class of teenagers!
Giving talks is enjoyable, but what matters is doing what we can, as authors and readers, to support our bookshops and libraries (yes, I spend time talking in libraries too). Because bookshops need our support now more than ever.

Friday, 14 January 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

Does a writer ever really finish with a project? After a year of substantial rewrites and myriad polishes I’ve now released book 2 to my agent. I’m sure I’ve not finished with it yet, however. There’s always scope for improvement so I expect I’ll be working on the text for a while to come.

But having your manuscript read by someone else is quite a significant moment. For months the faces of your characters have existed only in your head and when they reach the next person they’ll morph into completely different ones

Although you’ve provided the guidelines, the characters will never be the same for any reader. I suppose the exception to this is when a book is read after it’s been adapted for the big screen or TV. In that instance, it’s often impossible to shake the faces of the actors you’ve already seen.

You’ve honed and polished until, in your own mind, all those characters move naturally through the reality of your plot. You’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for the next brain to grab the baton and run with it but having agents and editors work the material is a valuable way of making sure nobody drops it before the end of the track.

With so much to consider when you’re writing a book – character, plot, subplots, pace, and good writing - it’s always good to have someone skilled enough to recognise what works and what doesn’t. When the next reader brings your characters to life it gives them the best chance of vividly materialising in their imagination.

But even beyond the collaborative process and publication I don’t think a writer can ever really finish with a project. Once it’s out there it becomes the personal property of every reader. They all have their own perception of the characters and very often find elements within the material you’ve never considered. Readers continue to ask questions that make you see your characters in a different light.

We may be done with them but good characters never let us go but keep tapping us on the shoulder

I think being a potent catalyst for this is certainly an ambition worth all those hours at the keyboard.
More about Richard's work at:

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Getting the word out

By Peter Stuart Smith

Along with the winter 2010 edition of The Author, the journal of the Society of Authors, was an interesting enclosure entitled Authors' Appearances. It was basically the result of a survey the society conducted into the promotion of books by the authors who write them. In short, the dreaded book signings and other publicity-inspired events.

I suppose that my experiences in this field have been fairly typical. For me, a book signing normally involves me discovering an unexpected treasure trove of my novels on the shelf of some bookshop, and asking the manager, or whatever spotty nerd I can lay my hands on, if he or she would like me to sign them. A signed book is a defaced book, and cannot normally be returned to the publisher, so every signature is actually a sale. Yipee!

That's the covert version I suppose. The overt is rather more organized, and involves a table, usually tucked away at the back of the shop, where you sit beside a pile of your own books, looking cool and confident on the outside, while sweating buckets inside, and hoping that somebody, anybody, will come along and talk to you. Even if it's only to ask the way to the loo, or why haven't they ever heard of you.

Most authors, according to the survey, regarded book signings as largely a waste of time that could otherwise be spent in more gainful employment, or simply in getting drunk. Many said that they would only undertake them if there was a reasonable probability of shifting a LOT of books, though this was balanced by the feeling of loyalty that most authors have towards bookshops which are, after all, quite literally our shop window.

Talks and personal appearances are the other popular ways for an author to get his face in front of the public. I've done a fair number of these, because my background in the military means that I'm always happy to stand up on my hind legs and make a fool of myself in front of a jeering crowd. And if I was asked to describe these events, I suppose the best adjective would be 'mixed'. I've talked in front of crowds ranging in number from zero (the library in question not only forgot to advertise the event, but also cleverly booked it at the same time as a popular boy band was appearing in the town) to several hundred on board cruise ships. OK, they're a captive audience, but they still came.

I think the worst talk, from my point of view, wasn't the one that nobody attended, but one in a small provincial library where I took about a dozen people from a local writing circle through the process of writing a book and getting it published. It all seemed to go reasonably well, until the very end, when I'd answered all the (mostly sensible) questions, and we were all milling around enjoying the refreshments.

Then, the lady who'd organised it took me to one side and said that one of the participants had asked her why they couldn't have a well-known author come along and give a talk, and mentioned in particular that she'd like to listen to Jeffrey Archer. To do the librarian justice, she did tell the woman that she doubted very much if Mr Archer would have the slightest interest in travelling for miles on a wet autumn evening to talk to 12 people in a small library, for no fee and the bare minimum of travel expenses. She also pointed out that I had, at that time, already written and had published six books, which was six more than the combined literary output of the writing circle since its formation.

All the same, that hurt, and it must have showed in my face, because the librarian promptly rescued an unopened bottle of decent red plonk and gave it to me, presumably so that I could take it away and drown my sorrows. Unfortunately, I'm extremely limited socially, because I don't smoke and I don't drink alcohol, but I did appreciate the gesture, and so did my wife when I gave her the bottle.

And then there are literary festivals and book fairs, but they're a different animal entirely, and I'll talk a little about those the next time I appear in this blog. In the meantime, happy writing, and if you do get involved in a book signing, just remember to keep smiling. It can't go on for ever, even if that's the way it feels ...

Monday, 10 January 2011

Why Stories Matter....

by Matt Lynn

Over at the International Thriller Writers website I've been leading a discussion on why stories matter. You can read the other contributions over there, but here is what I had to say.

Why do stories matter? It’s a good question for a writer to ask themselves. If you made cars, or taught kindergarten, or worked as a farmer, it would be much easier. Your work matters because people need it. It fulfils some function. But do people need stories? What function do they have?

You could argue – not much. After all, they are just a made up series of events.

I think they do have a function. After all, we’ve been telling stories ever since cavemen sat around the first camp fires. Probably a fair numbers of those stories were thrillers (featuring hair-raising bison chases, and the inevitable double-dealing Neanderthal). A fair number would have been romances as well. It must be the case that stories perform some kind of useful function, otherwise they wouldn’t have been a feature of very human society we’ve ever known. Their function might not be obvious, like a spade, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

So what is it? In my view, the function of a story is to make sense of the world. Its takes the chaos and randomness of life and gives it some sort of shape and purpose. In fiction, there are no co-incidences, and no loose ends. That isn’t always terribly realistic. But it is a lot more satisfying for the reader because it helps to make the world seem a more structured, ordered place than it probably really is. It helps make us feel our lives move towards a destination, rather than just wander around. Along the way they may also be entertaining, diverting, amusing and sometimes even educational. But that is their core function – and realising that helps you to become a better writer.

It's All A Game...

by Leigh Russell

We have a glitch in our television which defaults to Sky sport. It’s a strange sort of glitch which happens every time I leave the room, (but curiously never when my husband is out.) Thanks to this mysterious glitch, I do sometimes watch cricket and football (while busy on facebook, blogs, email, etc and yes, sometimes even writing…)
So I thought I’d share a few thoughts on cricket and football.
Cricket seems to me very similar to life, in that it’s generally completely incomprehensible. Occasionally I have a glimmer of comprehension, and think I understand something, but then it’s gone in the toss of a cricket ball and I’m baffled again. Yes, just like life.
Football is altogether simpler to understand. There’s a goal post at each end of the pitch and – well, you know the rest. The goals are a standard size and are always in the right place. In short, it couldn’t be less like life, where the goal posts move all the time.
Less than two years ago, I thought I’d be satisfied if my book was just published. Once Cut Short hit the shelves, all I wanted was to see a decent number of my books sold. When Cut Short sold out – and sold out again - all I wanted was to have a positive review.
Good reviews started to roll in and I just hoped Road Closed wouldn’t be a letdown – the 2nd book syndrome. Over that hurdle, with sales and reviews better than ever, and I’m on to wondering about how Dead End will be received.
But this evening I’m taking a break from thinking about my books.
A few days ago I sent the corrected proofs for the ebook of Road Closed to my publisher.
Yesterday I sent the tweaked and polished final draft of my WIP to my agent.
Today I sent the corrected proofs for Dead End back to my publisher.
Tomorrow I’m back to work, (and thinking about my next book which I’ve already planned!) But for this evening, I’m forgetting all about the goals, the books, the anxieties and aspirations.
Cricket, football, books – it’s game over for this evening!

Friday, 7 January 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

Weekends are bad for you. It must be true it was the final item on the radio news last week. According to 'experts,' weekends throw your daily routines making it difficult to slot back into them the following week.

I actually maintain that it's weeks that are at fault. They leave an irritatingly long gap between weekends and certainly leave you out of sorts until Friday. It's worse after a Christmas break. When I get back in front of my keyboard it feels like I'm wearing boxing gloves.

But as we get back to normal and try to kick-start our motivation to work it's worth trying to focus on something positive to combat the generally hungover and overcast atmosphere that's always prevalent this time of year.

One such thought struck me during the holidays when I was chatting to some friends who run their own business. In a tough climate they not only have to panic about staying buoyant but have staff, premisesand multiple overheads to worry about.

Writers certainly don't have these sort of considerations to address in order to operate. A keyboard and some electricity are the only essentials. Its personal investment that is vital - determination, patience and sanity.

Personal overheads don't cost anything but shouldn't be underestimated, particularly at the start of a New Year.

Whatever stage of a writing career you're at it's all about geting out of bed and climbing the hill again. I wish everyone the fuel of optimisim and the energy to get the words down. After all, even though you're not a limited company you've still got to be the boss.

Happy and productive 2011!

More about Richard's work at:

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

New year, new challenges?

By Peter Stuart Smith

I suppose everyone makes New Year resolutions, and I guess there's a fighting chance of one or two dedicated individuals actually keeping them, at least for a while. Personally, I never bother, working on the assumption that I'll just keep on plodding along, doing this year what I did last year because for me, that seems to work.

But actually this year might turn out to be a little different, because for the first time since I started writing as a profession, back in 2003, at this moment I'm actually out of contract with both my publishers, and in all three names. Of course, three books have yet to be produced, but the process is well underway. I've corrected the page proofs of Right and Glory; I'm about to look at the copy-editor's comments on Manhunt, and I'm just finishing off the manuscript of The Nosferatu Scroll. But the bulk of the work is done, and right now I have no new projects for which I have a contract.

And that's a rather strange feeling. Usually I write seven days a week, but for the first time in eight years there are no deadlines looming, no new work to be done. I'm hoping, of course, that my agent will rectify the situation fairly soon, but it's by no means certain that all three of my altar egos will be leaping into print again in 2012. The thriller market is uncertain, shall we say, with big contracts going to established names like Lee Child (who does actually write his own books), and people like Chris Ryan and Andy McNab (who of course don't). So whether Macmillan see a future for James Barrington and the 'Paul Richter' character is unknown. Sales in this genre have certainly been falling quite steadily, apart from the big names.

'James Becker' probably has a brighter future, with the first two books getting into the New York Times top forty best-seller lists, and the third one (The Messiah Secret) entering at number 27 in December last year. And as for 'Max Adams' and the WW2 series, right now we just don't know. The first book (To Do or Die) was offered in places like Waterstones on various promotions but we don't yet know what the sales have been like. It got decent reviews, though.

We shall see, and obviously you'll read about it here over the next few months. Of course, if the Maya are right, the world is going to end in December 2012 anyway, and if it does I guess that publishing contracts and pretty much everything else aren't going to seem particularly important. but whatever happens in 23 months or so, I'm reasonably certain that as the continents shatter and the oceans rise – or whatever it is that's supposed to happen – you'll still find me sitting in front of my laptop, writing something, even if it's only my Will!

Monday, 3 January 2011


by Leigh Russell

First of all, I’d like to wish everyone a very HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Secondly, at the risk of sounding like A A Milne, welcome to James, James, Max and Peter to the Curzon Group - 3for1 beating even the 3for2 beloved of Waterstones.
Pseudonyms are a funny idea, really, aren’t they? I wonder how many authors write under their real names? I can understand starting a fresh series, or writing a different kind of book, under a new name. But why do so many of us write the first book under a false name? Is it the alphabetical placing on the shelves? (And why didn’t I think of that before I chose a surname beginning with R?)
When I started out – not long ago - my publisher asked me to use an androgynous name in case my own name put some male readers off. (JK Rowling wasn’t allowed to publish as Joanna because no boy would have touched her books, but surely 21st century males are more open minded....?)
As it happens I was happy to write under a pen name, in case my books flopped. Thankfully that didn’t happen so (issues of vanity aside) I’m now quite happy to have my photo published in my books and all over the internet (not happy with the photos – must get my hair cut… but happy to emerge from my own closet of privacy.)
Many reasons are cited for using pseudonyms but if we’re honest, how many of us start out hiding behind assumed names, in case it all goes wrong and our books don’t sell?
That said, juggling not one but three names – four if you include the ‘real’ one – is a feat in itself. As a fan of James Barrington, James Becker, and Max Adams the authors, I have to admit I’m also in awe of Peter Stuart Smith for running the show from behind the scenes. So, out of the closet and into the Curzon gang - welcome to all three and one of you!