17 December 2014

Bad Tidings?


Everything changes. Sometimes the rate of change is imperceptible and the only way we realise the change is when we pause and take stock.
Such is the ebook revolution.
In the summer of 2010 Amazon opened its UK Kindle store. That Christmas, the Kindle eReader was the most popular present. This meant that there was a sudden onrush of customers looking for content for their new electronic gizmo.
Free books were the way to get noticed. People were hungry for them and when they snapped up a free book it became visible to other readers because it rose in the rankings. The free rankings fed into the paid rankings and this meant that free promotions worked. Once the free period was over, sales still kept on going.
Four years later, free promotion is no longer anything like as effective as it used to be. Amazon have changed their way of calculating the best seller charts so that free sales no longer spill over into the paid charts. But there is also another factor. People don't want free books.
A free book used to seem a wondrous opportunity. Now the novelty has worn off. And I can understand why.
Twitter and Facebook are filled with GET MY BOOK FOR FREEEEEEE!!!!!!! offers. They have become so frequent and annoying as to be invisible. In my experience free books are rarely worth the price. They are shoddy, ill-written drivel for the most part. There are a million new ones every year and almost all of them are absolute rubbish. The first paragraph or two will usually be enough to make you feel like throwing your Kindle through the window and emailing the author to ask for compensation for your wasted time.
There's another reason that book promotions that once worked are now ineffective. Amazon has changed the way their customers access books and offers both a lending library and unlimited downloads to their Prime customers. Once a free book was a rare jewel indeed, now it comes as part of your free delivery package.
Another thing:
From 1st January 2015, ebooks will be 20% more expensive because of VAT being applied in the country of sale rather than the country of convenience for Amazon. In my view, this may change the dynamic between print and ebooks. An ebook that cost £5 in 2014 will be £6 in 2015, getting closer to the price of a 'proper book' that you can lend to your friends and family when you've finished it. I've a feeling that print books are a benefit to authors because they are more visible and can allow more opportunities to gain a readership.
Yet another thing:
Mainstream publishers now have arrangements with Amazon that increase the visibility of their books at the expense of self-published ones. Amazon have used self-published books to strengthen their negotiating position and are now in a position where they don't need any more. The time is rapidly approaching where there will be a charge to upload and an annual charge to keep an ebook on the virtual shelves.
So the times they are a changin' and selling books is becoming more and more difficult. And even when you do sell some, chances are you'll be getting less money. Some major self-published authors have reported that their incomes have halved during 2014.
If you're a writer, don't get despondent.
You're still much better off in terms of publishing options than in the dark pre-Kindle days.
If you polish that jewel you've created it may sparkle enough to be purchased and enjoyed. Just don't expect it to be automatic.
Happy New Year




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9 December 2014

Submissions, competitions and prizes



Writing is not a competitive sport. There doesn't have to be a loser. Writing is a subjective medium, what touches one person may leave someone else cold.
So why are there so many writing competitions?
Before I start, I should tell you about my own competition experience. A couple of years ago I entered the Chorley and District Writer's Circle annual short story competition and won second prize. Despite all my misgivings about competitions, I have to admit that this helped me as a writer one hell of a lot. To be independently judged as having merit is an important milestone in my writing career. And the £50 was nice as well.
So, I received a boost from the first competition I ever entered. Lucky me. Because that really sums it up.
Last year, I wasn't allowed to enter the CAWDC competition as I serve on the committee and have a hand in forming the short list of entrants. This process opened my eyes to the different opinions that a piece can engender. This year I rated one story very highly but it received the comment 'pretentious twaddle' from another judge. There were several stories we agreed about but just as many that provoked argument. Imagine your story in that kind of melting pot. Out of a hundred entries, one winner has to be chosen and it's a matter of personal preference at the end of the day. The winner isn't always the best story and the losers don't necessarily have any less merit.
So, my advice is to enter but also be wary.
There are competitions out there that demand large entry fees and promise publishing contracts to the winner. These competitions are often trawling exercises by publishers who are using your entry fee instead of a reading fee.
Some competitions are designed purely to extract money from writers. So be careful what you enter.
There's only one winner, so what if your many entries don't make the grade? Equally, what if your many submissions to publishers or agents get rejected?
Well, first of all don't give up. Almost nobody gets published in the conventional way any longer. Even established literary agents are turning to self-publishing in order to find a market for their authors in the absence of interest from major publishers.
Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that it's possible that the right person hasn't come along to fully appreciate your work.
But also consider that you may not be at the publishing stage of your writing career. That you might have to write some more stuff before finding your true voice.
This is where an independent opinion is all important. Had I been aware, I might have saved myself a lot of bother and heartache by getting a critique of my early work. Basic flaws that keep getting repeated aren't going to improve what you write.
Consider those entry fees and weigh them up against a professional critique such as www.fictionfeedback.co.uk
Meanwhile make sure you enter your local Writers Circle competition!

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2 December 2014

Social Media




As an author, I need to have a profile. The purpose of this profile is so that potential customers can find me and buy my books.
This profile has had to be constructed out of a substance called social media.
Various forms of social media are available but the most common types are twitters, facebooks and blogs.
If I Google my writing name 'd j harrison', I immediately find myself as the second item down and with a nice picture in the sidebar for extra effect. Well done Google. Or should I say 'well done me'?
You can see the result above.
Now, if I Google my name as 'David Harrison' I get the following:

i.e. not me at all.
I suppose I've created a brand 'd j harrison' which is very different to my usual name (but not very different). OK. Well done me.

Now I have to work out how I've done it so that you can do it too. That's if you want to.
I don't advise trying to make a brand called d j harrison, though. Better to think of your own. However, I would suggest that you do the same as I did and think of an author name which is similar but not exactly what you normally call yourself. This way there's a chance of separating the business, author, side from the personal side. I want people to find me as an author but not necessarily in any other capacity.
If you're committed to your own name, don't worry though. It's not that important to try to be invisible, none of us really are. Anyone who wants to can find us, it's just a matter of ease.
My experience is that Blogger has been the best way of getting up the Google rankings. I've used it for some years now and tend to blog weekly. My visits exceed 30,000 and I get about 1,000 a month. Not a lot, really, but enough to make my mark.
I also blog on Wordpress. I'm told this is the best platform for writers and so I just paste my Blogger post into Wordpress every time I post. Strangely, I have lots of followers on Wordpress and very few visits, which is the opposite to my Blogger site. I consider them complementary. An advantage of having the Wordpress blog is that my publisher website is written in Wordpress and it makes it simpler to import blog posts to the site.
So where do the facebooks and twitters feature in all this? To be honest, I'm not entirely convinced of the efficacy of either of them. Years ago, when I first started on Twitter, it seemed exciting and fun. I quickly raised my follower count to 1700 and there it languishes to this day. If I post a link to my blog on Twitter, I get several visits, so I do this from time to time to keep traffic moving. Selling books on Twitter is difficult if not impossible. If I see a book advertised on my Twitter feed I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole even if it is FREE!!!!!! I usually unfollow the miscreant as well. So I shouldn't expect any different treatment from others, should I?
As for Facebook, there are a lot of author Facebook groups that can be very useful. However, they do tend to be dominated by authors pushing their own books down the throats of other writers. Again, this can be tedious and is not likely to be effective. If you use these sites try the approach of 'what can I do to help?' rather then BUY MY FRIGGIN BOOOOOOOOOK!!!!! Just a suggestion.
I'd love to hear from readers about how they find books and whether they are as dismissive of social media as I am.

If you leave a comment on this topic, I promise to send you something.
Really. I will. Try me.

28 November 2014

NaNoWriMo



I've been a bit sniffy about NaNoWriMo in the past. The name is bad. It easily beats Movember in the annoying and contrived stakes and is enough to put anyone off.
The idea that someone has to write 50,000 words of a novel in November seemed to me to be encouraging all the worst writing practices.
When it comes to writing practices, that's something I've been very precious about. Mine involved only writing in a special notebook with a specific fountain pen which was dedicated to my main character. Once the words were handwritten, I would read them into a recorder, create a voice file and send this off for transcription. I was fond of telling anyone who stood still long enough within earshot that this procedure was essential. I had to do it this way, it was the only way in which the creative process could take place.
I wrote five novels in this manner. I also attended several Freefall Writing retreats where I would have to work twice as hard as everyone else because I had to transcribe my own handwritten work so that I could print it out and hand it in.
But I believed this was the only way I could write. I was also quite proud of my method and wondered how anyone could produce work of any merit without following my lead.
Then my transcription service lady retired. I was left with nobody I trusted to get my words into readable form. I tried Dragon. All I can say about this amazing program that allows you to type with your voice is that it works. Up to a point. And that point is when it deciphers my voice into something plausible but not quite right. Near enough to look OK to the first glance but actually meaningless drivel. Or at least drivel with less meaning than it was meant to have. It may have been me, but the time it took for corrections of a Dragon derived script was longer than typing it two fingered myself in the first place. I invested a huge amount of time customising it to my voice and the vocabulary I use. I may try it again one day. On the other hand, I may not because I no longer need it.
My writing teacher, Barbara Turner-Vessalago www.freefallwriting.com has always been dismissive of my insistence on handwriting everything. She has always viewed it as an affectation. She even devoted a paragraph in her book which, without naming names, invited me to take a good look at myself and my writing practice.
My sixth novel, and the third to be published, was written on a computer. It's called Limited Liability and I know it's the best thing I've ever written. And it was done without all the emotional props I'd gathered around me.
When November came around this year, I'd ditched enough of my pretentiousness to enter. (I also grew a moustache for Movember but that's for another blog post, or maybe not)
It has been brilliant. The encouragement from fellow WriMos (arrgh!) has been inspiring and there have also been local events so that we can meet up and write together. I couldn't be more impressed with the Lancashire and Cumbria Region or with the NaNoWriMo website.
I've done fifty thousand words of the next Jenny Parker novel, Critical Analysis, and I'm very happy with the whole experience. I don't see why I should stop just because November comes to an end. I'd like to write fifty thousand words every month!
NaNoWriMo is important. It makes would-be writers become real writers. The only way to learn to write is to write, in my experience. The more I write, the better I get.
Thanks, NaNoWriMo.
Those of you who have been asking for a fourth Jenny Parker book can be grateful as well.


25 November 2014

What should I write?


This business of selling books has many people scratching their heads. It's all very well being a writer, but we all have to make a living, don't we? If what we write isn't of interest to anyone else, what's the point?
Take Harry Potter for instance. J K Rowling really hit the jackpot with that series. It's earned about £1 billion or so they say. I'm told she started writing them about ten years before the first one was published. I can't see where the clever view of the future market came in here. She just wrote the things she wanted to write. It was the public that decided to like them.
The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon did give rise to some steamy derivatives which sold in vast numbers. But the market for romantic fiction is well established. Mills and Boon, for example, have kept it provided for years. Fifty Shades was, like Harry Potter, a bit special but not out of the ordinary in terms of market sector. Similarly, Dan Brown's books sell in their millions but are part of a mainstream genre with a huge established readership. There's nothing unique about any of these books other than the amount they sell.
So how does that help a poor writer who is trying to find a market? Is there a niche somewhere that hasn't been filled?
I don't think so.
Being derivative, in other words taking someone else's theme and trying to do a variation of your own, isn't going to work. I once wrote a humorous science fiction novel. The response I received was along the lines that they had Terry Pratchett for this kind of thing, he does it a lot better and, what's more important, he has a loyal readership. I would have to be either better or different and I was neither.
What I mean is that you shouldn't set out to be a second rate Rowling, a E L James lookalike or a Dan Brown clone. People already have the real thing to read, they don't need you to give them something similar and slightly inferior.
There's another reason for not writing something just because you think it might sell. By the time you've written it another trend will have taken over. You'll be old hat.
So, write what comes up for you, what has energy for you, what feels right for you. By all means imagine you are writing for someone else but make this a specific person rather than a statistical demographic.
What people like to buy are good books. Books that are written with heart, carefully edited, professionally produced and gently offered for their appreciation.



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15 November 2014

Book sales and reviews




There's a lot said about self-publishing. Much of it is derisory, as if self-published books are inherently inferior to those conventionally published. I suppose it's because the vast majority of them are.
I've already referred to the plethora of titles that have been released by the relative ease of self-publishing and the way in which the sheer numbers make it difficult to be seen and purchased. Most of the self-published work is really awful, that's true. This makes the half-decent or even quite good stuff hard to distinguish.
One of the ways to boost visibility and sales is through reviews. However, it drives me mad that unscrupulous authors are using fake reviews to boost sales.  If you're willing to pay, there are people out there who will provide them.
I see reviewers on Goodreads giving five stars and a long positive review to a dozen books a day. You can buy fifty 5* reviews for about $1200 at www.buyamazonreviews.com.
If you want to make sure they're good, you can write them yourself then send them to http://buyreviewsnow.com/ who will post fifty of them for $250.
I'm not recommending you do this, only pointing out what we're up against. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your book is inferior just because you have fewer reviews.
To the honest author, reviews are gained with difficulty one at a time.
My experience is that a good book will get its fair share of reviews eventually, there's no need to panic. People are busy, even if they absolutely love your book it's not often they will take the time to put up a review.
There's nothing wrong with encouraging readers to review your book. Many authors provide free copies in the hope of more reviews. It's never worked for me, though. Begging is my preferred option.
There's another side to reviews, though. Some people may take exception to what you've written and leave a really bad review. It's hard to take at first. When I received my first negative review, I forgot all the good ones and believed my book was as bad as this person was saying. I considered giving up writing altogether. It's human nature to be hard on ourselves.
I've been fortunate, I suppose, I've only had a couple of real stinkers. My advice is to welcome any review, good or bad, but never enter into a dialogue with the reviewer. I've seen experienced household name writers answer critical Amazon reviews and I don't believe they achieved anything other than to give added exposure to the review. When I see a negative review I can make up my own mind about the person who wrote it and whether they have been reasonable and fair.

So come along to this, share your experiences and get that essential publishing strategy sorted out.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/self-publishing-workshop-tickets-14168627747

It's being held on 18 January 2015 in Chorley, Lancashire. It's a one day workshop to give you a head start on the publishing road. Even if you've self published loads of books, I'm sure that it will be a day well spent with professionals in every aspect of writing and publishing.

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8 November 2014

What a Writer Needs



I've been thinking. Dangerous, you might well say but bear with me.
As I wrote in my previous post, my writing has gone through various phases. I've learnt a lot and am still learning. There's things I wish I'd known at the start, but isn't that the same with anything in life?
So, what is it I most needed early in the process?
Encouragement, sure. But I believe I got plenty of that from friends and family.
Time. There's never enough time. I made enough time to write a novel a year by cutting down on the amount of crap telly I watched. Now, I tend to wake up and start writing straight away. Time is just a matter of priorities.
Feedback. Once I began to employ professional editors my writing began to improve massively. I love the editing process, I like being told what to write, what works and what doesn't. Having an editor gives my writing greater freedom.
A plan. That's what I needed. I still need one and it needs constantly updating. The plan I'm talking about is my path to publication, and beyond. Had I known as much about the publishing industry when I began producing novels as i do now, things might have been different.
For a start, I would have been much more encouraged. I may have been sufficiently motivated to devote even more time to writing.
What I needed was someone that knew what they were doing to take me through the steps and the decisions that have to be made in order to get a book out there and into the public domain.
Someone friendly and knowledgeable. Someone like me.
So there's this:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/self-publishing-workshop-tickets-14168627747

It's being held on 18 January 2015 in Chorley, Lancashire. It's a one day workshop to give you a head start on the publishing road. Even if you've self published loads of books, I'm sure that it will be a day well spent with professionals in every aspect of writing and publishing.


photo credit: Eigappleton via photopin cc

25 September 2014

The Eight Phases of Writing




If I divide my writing process into phases, phase 1 was reading the 'best bits' out to my wife and discussing plot and characters with my immediate family.
Phase 2 was handing a script to anyone who expressed the slightest interest and asking them for feedback. The most successful example I can recall involves an early draft of Technical Difficulties, my unpublishable SF trilogy. I gave a copy to a friend who was having health problems and found sleeping difficult. A week later, I asked him what he thought of it. 'Perfect' he replied 'just what I needed. I lie in bed with it and I'm asleep before I get to the bottom of the page.' I'm sure there's a market for a product that induces sleep without pharmaceutical intervention but it's not the best recommendation you can get for a novel.
Phase 3 involved writer's circle and writing courses, sharing my work with others who were interested enough to be helpful and kind enough to be gentle.
Phase 4 was a professional editor being paid to give my work a proper critique. This was the most important phase so far. After I got over the initial shock I began to recognise the truth in what he was saying and how my writing style was too distant and matter-of-fact. Also, my main character was a prat. I shouldn't have based him on myself. Another valuable lesson.
Phase 5 was realising that 250,000 words with a prat as the protagonist wasn't going to be salvageable and deciding to write something different and in a different way.
Phase 6 was working with an editor, polishing my work and sending it off to agents and publishers.
Phase 7 was doing the rounds, talking to agents and publishers. I was lucky enough to be able to do this and get a good feel for the state of the publishing industry and what opportunities there were for new authors like me. The conclusion I reached was disappointing. Even if I managed to get a publishing deal, this would involve a couple of year's wait to get my book out there. This was academic, though, as deals for new writers are few and far between.
So, I had what I considered to be a good book that had been well edited. Now what? Self-publish?
The whole self-publishing thing filled me with disquiet. I felt uncomfortable in the absence of someone knowledgeable and independent deciding that my book was worthy of being published.
In the event, I was fortunate enough to be able to become part of a publishing business. I saw an opportunity in the market and approached a best-selling thriller writer with my ideas. To my great good fortune, he agreed to become involved in the business and his extensive experience proved essential. To do it properly, publishing is neither easy nor straightforward, particularly if you want to have both print books and ebooks distributed widely. We needed a first book to try out our business model and I eventually suggested my own. My author read it and agreed it was fine. That was the best moment in my writing career. Phase 8 could begin.

Which phase is your writing in?

Do you recognise the process I've been through?

Please let me know, I'd love to hear from you.

If you share this blog or leave a comment, I'll pick one of you out of a hat to get a free critique of the first twenty pages of your novel. Now that's a risk worth taking.


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16 September 2014

Interview with Alex Salmond

'Fifty quid and it's yours'

NW: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, Alex. You must be very busy now that the referendum is won and Scotland is an independent country.
AS: You're welcome.
NW: So what are the next steps in the independence process?
AS: I have absolutely no idea.
NW: But surely the negotiations are underway, there's a tight timescale, isn't there?
AS: Apart from having a hell of a party, which I'm still suffering from, there's been very little to do.
NW: What about all those issues that need to be resolved?
AS: Listen, pal, I don't do issues. My job was to win the referendum, and I did. End of story.
NW: Are you keeping the pound, as promised?
AS: No, they won't let us. As flaming promised by them.
NW: So what are you going to do?
AS: We won the referendum, that's enough. It's the will of the Scottish people that counts.
NW: How about the EU?
AS: We can apply for membership so that's not a problem. I expect we'll be fast-tracked in. If all goes well I expect we'll get admitted along with Turkey.
NW: When?
AS: Not exactly sure, should be before 2050 though.
NW: And in the meantime?
AS: In the meantime we listen to the will of the Scottish people. That's what counts. We're all better off without Westminster telling us what we can and can't do.
NW: So what can you do about the EU and the pound?
AS: You'll have to ask Westminster, it's all in their hands. Me, I just won a referendum. How good is that? I bet they're all wishing they were me down there. They lost, I won.
NW: Congratulations






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15 September 2014

Writers and Authors



Whew! That last post on Scottish Independence went well. That's if abuse is any measure of wellness. I was accused by someone Scottish of 'using OUR freedom debate to advertise YOUR tosh.' The capitals are his. Well, I was only expressing an opinion. If the rest of Scotland are feeling so tetchy no wonder the result is going to be a close run thing.

Back to safer ground, then. Tosh about writing.

I have found that there is a class system being applied to writers. It goes something like this, from bottom to top. From lower class to top class.

Lowest form of writer: Aspiring writer

This is someone who would very much like to write but is waiting for their circumstances to change. They tell me things like 'I'd love to write but I'm so busy' then they indicate some change in their circumstances that will allow them to write. These range from a lottery win to retirement. The urge to write is there, without any doubt, it's just being kept down below the threshold where it might actually become active.

Next level up: Writer

is a person who writes. In other words it's most of us. Anyone who puts pen to paper or finger to keyboard. What we write doesn't have any merit, even in our own eyes. (See previous post on Scottish Independence for an example)

Then we come to: Author

who is a writer who has actually finished something. It doesn't have to be a full length novel to qualify, it can be a short story, flash fiction. For heaven's sake, a neatly written note to the milkman might even qualify, but that's pushing it a bit too far. Poems might count, though I have my prejudices and won't be drawn further on that subject.

Top of the pile: Published Author

who is a colossus amongst us mortals. This is a writer who has had their work purchased by a publisher and can stand proud and tall, if not exactly rich. The published author is the pinnacle of aspiration, the Everest of achievement, the flagpole of desire for a writer.

Then there's the Self-Published Author. Where do they fit in the hierarchy? Public perception places them at absolute rock bottom. Below everybody and everything else. These are 'writers' who have had the temerity to inflict their dribblings on the outside world. They've bypassed the gatekeepers of taste and quality. They've let themselves loose without permission. Nobody can be safe from their vanity.

So, where are you on the list? I'm somewhere between the top and the bottom. In fact I'm all of the above.

It doesn't matter where you are as long as you feel the urge to write and respond in your own way.

One word of advice, though. Don't be too hasty in publishing your own work. Once it's out there it's out of your control. So make it the best that it can be. Take your time. Put scripts to one side and let them mature. Don't condemn them too quickly but don't inflict them on others until you feel really proud that they're yours.

Oh, and vote NO if you're living in Scotland. I, for one, would be sad to lose you.










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14 September 2014

Scottish Independence



I suppose I've no say in the matter, I've certainly not got a vote.

However, the Scottish referendum is something that has been intruding into my thoughts quite a lot recently. In a world where everyone is trying to effect closer ties, the Scots seem to want to go it alone. I believe this is because nobody understands what this means. The campaigning so far certainly hasn't made it clear and I guess it's because nobody ever imagined there would be a Yes vote.

What are the reasons for voting 'Yes'?

1. Alex Salmond

You get to have this man as president/ prime minister.
My impression is that he makes Tony Blair look trustworthy and George Bush look smart. The chip on his shoulder isn't going to disappear, ever. When times get hard, he'll just blame everything on the intransigence of the English as usual.

2. Job Creating Powers

According to the Yes campaign, this is what it's all about. An independent Scotland would be able to create more jobs. No they wouldn't.
Really, it's like saying everyone will be taller and better looking. They won't. Think about it.

3. Have your own money and spend it on what you want

Hmmm. What money? I believe that Scotland runs on a deficit, this means they have less money than they spend. It's the fact that the UK Government decides what share of the overall budget is devoted to Scotland that sticks in the Yes people's craw. Wait until it's the International Monetary Fund that decides. Wait until pensions depend on China lending you a few more quid.

The whole 'why can't we still have the pound?' question can be answered simply. If you want the pound you can't be independent. The big financial decisions will still be made in England, that's the way it has to be. If you want the Euro, you're very welcome to it (see below).

4. Europe

Scotland gets to be an independent country and play its part in the EU. 
Not possible, apparently. At least that's what the EU are saying. There's a queue to join the EU and Scotland will have to take their place in it (behind Albania, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and others).  Don't take my word for this, ask John-Claude Juncker.
Oh, if Scotland are eventually let into the EU, they will have to adopt the Euro. That's one of the rules of entry.

5. If it all goes pear shaped we can always go back into the UK

Again, this isn't an option. Once you're out, you're out. The referendum isn't like a general election where if you vote the wrong way you can correct matters five years later, then do it again five years after that. This is it, once and for all.

It's not any of my business, really. I don't live in Scotland and I'm not Scottish. I have some friends in Scotland, that's all. My bet is that they'll all be voting Yes.

The key issue for me, though, is the practicality of an independent Scotland. A lot of very inconvenient and expensive things will have to change. Currency is one, EU is the other. No pound, no EU membership.
It will also mean that we have to control the border between England and Scotland. Not because we want to, but because it has to be. The're can't be free passage from non-EU to EU. Also, Scotland will have a different immigration policy. EU apart, England can't allow people who Scotland decide to let in to also have access to the rest of the UK. Controlling the border will be difficult, costly and very damaging to the Scottish economy. Think about it.

The Yes campaign has run on the basis that all matters will be up for negotiation after the vote. That everything will be done sensibly and reasonably. That nothing detrimental will happen. That denying Scotland the pound would be unthinkable. That the EU will automatically let Scotland in.

Just because no pound, no EU and a closed border would be disastrous for Scotland doesn't mean it doesn't have to happen. It does.

I fully expect the Scots to vote yes. It would be my gut reaction if I were them. Show the English and the Tories and the rest what they think of them.

If they do, the lack of fun will begin, I fear.

Of course, I could be wrong. I really do hope so.


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29 August 2014

Limited Liability



Some of you have been eagerly awaiting the third Jenny Parker novel. Well, your wait is over. The ebook is available now and the paperback will follow shortly.
It's actually the sixth novel I've completed, though the first three are unlikely to see light of day. It's been about a year since I finished the first draft and entered the interesting phase of revising Limited Liability and having it edited. 
I've begun to enjoy the process, particularly being told what works and what doesn't, what needs writing and what needs leaving out. I've somehow got over the precious attitude I used to have. The one that compels me to protect every word as if it were sacrosanct and defend every paragraph as if my life depended on it.
As with Due Diligence and Proceeds of Crime  the final version of Limited Liability is very different from the first draft. It's better. It's got more punch, more immediacy, more interesting things happening. And it's much more coherent.
I love it when things go well and LL has turned out brilliantly, though I say so myself.
By the time I'd done with LL, I'd begun to think that Jenny Parker was finished with me and that came as something of a relief. I embarked on a different project, a novel called Funky Junk which I am co-writing with my friend Daragh. Now I've nearly completed this (and it's going really well, I'll tell you all about it soon) Jenny has popped up again and embarked on another series of breathtaking escapades. I don't know where she gets the energy, I'm happy to be taken along on the ride.
So, Critical Analysis is in preparation and you can expect a fourth Jenny Parker novel in about a year.

17 August 2014

Services for Writers





Writers don't do it for the money. Which is just as well because very little would get written if that were the case.
There is no money to be made from writing novels. (Or very little, in any event.)
Why do I say this?
Because it's true and I quote the Guardian:

According to a survey of almost 2,500 working writers – the first comprehensive study of author earnings in the UK since 2005 – the median income of the professional author in 2013 was just £11,000, a drop of 29% since 2005 when the figure was £12,330 (£15,450 if adjusted for inflation), and well below the £16,850 figure the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says is needed to achieve a minimum standard of living. The typical median income of all writers was even less: £4,000 in 2013, compared to £5,012 in real terms in 2005, and £8,810 in 2000.
Commissioned by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society and carried out by Queen Mary, University of London, the survey also found that in 2013, just 11.5% of professional authors – those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing – earned their incomes solely from writing. This compares with 2005, when 40% of professional authors said that they did so.
Let's be clear, just over a tenth of people that write full time make a living solely from writing.
The average professional author earns £11,000 a year.

So it can't be for the money, so why do we do it?
For me, it starts off as a need to connect, first with myself and then with others. It's not enough to put words down on paper, I have a desire to be read. And, I suppose, appreciated. It's very satisfying to get feedback from people who enjoy what I write and even better when they're asking for more.
I have to write, it makes me happy. But I also need to be read and the only way to reach readers is to be published. I'm one of the fortunate ones, my books have sold very well. But I'm not in the Lee Child league just yet.

Getting published for most writers is going to cost them money. There are lots of businesses offering services to do this and many of them are pretty expensive and not entirely honest.

There are others that have a genuine desire to help writers and not mislead them.

If you're careful who you deal with, though, it will be money well spent. All I urge is that you go into it with your eyes open.






photo credit: mrsdkrebs via photopin cc

15 August 2014

Water for Bees



There's been a lot said and written about the terrible collapse in bee colonies and the reduction in bee numbers that threatens to disrupt human food supplies. About forty per cent of what we consume relies on bees for pollination. Farmers are reduced to importing bees from foreign countries to make up the numbers. This practice has its own implications for native populations.

Nothing to do with me, I hear you say. What can I do about it?

You can help provide them with food and water.

Food can be some flowers in a window box. There's lots of information on which flowers are best but I would suggest something that blooms either early or late, in other words when the bees are scratting about looking for food.

Water isn't something that is talked about much but bees need to drink. They can't even consume their own honey stores in the winter, unless they have water for dilution they can starve. Water is also important for keeping the hive cool in summer.

Bees will collect water wherever they can find it. Ponds and large tanks of water drown lots of bees because their perception of polarised light is poor and they fly into them. They need a shallow water source with no ripples to wash them away. They have to drink and will put themselves at risk to do so.

A simple sloping ramp, floating wood or pond weed can let the bees land safely and walk to the edge to drink. Take a look at the water around where you are and see if you can make it a bit easier for bees to access.

You can make a difference!



Image Primo Masotti  maso101@libero.it

5 August 2014

Writer Services


No, that's not me in the picture. I've used it to illustrate the dream that all writers have: The Celebrity Book Signing.
It's the pinnacle of achievement for a writer. Look how happy everyone is in the picture. Makes your heart dance with joy, doesn't it?
But there's a long hard road for a writer to travel before the cafe with the green checked curtains is within reach.
I used to think that writing a novel was the hard part. It takes a lot of energy, true, but it's something I can do. I can write and I love to write. No, it's the rest of the process that I find difficult.
Getting published is getting harder and harder. Even if you do win this particular form of lottery it's no guarantee that you will sell enough books to make a living. It has been estimated that the annual earnings of the average professional writer is less than £11,000 per year. Considering that there are the J K Rowlings and Lee Childs in there, that's not a whole heap of encouragement for the rest of us.
There's always self publishing. Anyone can upload a book on to Kindle and hey presto! they're a published author. But 90% of ebooks sell less than 50 copies, or so I'm informed.
What I'm getting at (slowly) is that creating a novel and selling it involves much more than writing skills. Me, I'm the world's worst salesman. The idea of taking my books into a branch of Waterstones and asking them to buy some fills me with dread. That's why I've never done it even though I'm told it's worth a try.
So, what should a poor writer do? Well, this is my take on things at the moment. It's just my opinion and not something you should take as gospel.
Getting a conventional publishing deal is probably the best route to getting paid for being a writer. Advances aren't what they used to be (unless you're Pippa Middleton) as publishers are scared of making losses (like with Pippa Middleton). Also novels are sold rather like seasonal vegetables, if you don't get success soon after launch your book risks going rotten and so do you.
Let's face it, the chances of this option being open to you are slim to non-existent. If you want to get your work out there you'll almost certainly have to self-publish. Then you have to face the problem of discoverablily, or lack thereof. Someone described the e-book market as a shitstorm of mediocrity. I'd go further. I'd say 90% of self published books are unreadable and that's really useful because you wouldn't want to read them anyway.
There's the problem, even if you produce a work of stunning quality, your beautiful flower will be amongst acres of towering nettles. Your tiny matchstick boat will be adrift in a tsunami of filth. Your precious jewel will be buried under a mountain of contaminated soil. Readers will be unable to find your work because of the millions, and I mean many millions, of really terrible examples of unmitigated crap.
The gatekeepers have been removed. There really is a free for all going on out there.
There are things you can do to make you book good enough to sell and visible enough to get to your target audience. But they cost money and there are a lot of people trying to take advantage of writers like us.

Next time, I'll elaborate. Right now, I need to write a bit more of my new novel.








photo credit: RayMorris1 via photopin cc

13 July 2014

What's in a Name?



Character names are a bugbear for me. When a character pops up in my mind I usually get to see (roughly) what they look like and can even hear their voice when they speak. Unfortunately, they never tell me their name. It's me that has to decide on that.
Rather than interrupt the flow of my writing, I tend to give this little thought. Jim is a favourite name of mine. Most male characters start up being Jim or John or Tim or Toby. This, however has to be sorted out otherwise the reader can become very confused. Then they get irritated, then they throw my book in the bin.

Of course, in real life we meet lots of people with the same name. That doesn't work in fiction. Even names beginning with the same letter should be avoided in order to reduce the possibility of confusing the reader. On the page, words with similar lengths starting with the same letter often get confused. It's because of our brains always looking for shorthand ways of doing things. There's lots of examples, here's one:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

That's why I can have lots of friends called Peter and never get them confused but can't have similar character names in my novels or the reader will.

So, if I've got a Jim, I have to avoid John and James and Jacob and Jack and Joshua.

This is a pain in the backside for me. And I could do without any more pain in that region, believe me.

I like short names. Like Jenny and Kat. Like Toby and Alex. Like Mac and Mick. Oh dear. Mac and Mick. They're both in Limited Liability! I suppose there has to be an exception to every rule.

Don't let this put you off buying Limited Liability when it comes out next month.  I don't think you'll mistake one of these guys for the other. Let me know if you do get confused, though, and I'll have a word with my editor.


photo credit: *Nom & Malc via photopin cc

8 July 2014

Fings ain't wot they used to be


Things change. The world doesn't stand still. It might move slowly, especially when you're sitting in the middle and can't easily see the rotation, but it keeps on going.

As a writer, change provides an interesting problem. If I write about the present day (which I generally do) by the time a novel is ready for publishing it's at least two years on. Not long, you might think, but then consider the fact that a reader might not pick it up for several more years. So, a novel is a thing of its own time, regardless of whether it is purposefully historical or not. It has to have the clues within in that establish the setting and time otherwise it may not work for the reader.

Let me give you an example.
Phones.
For many years, the telephone was a tethered device that required the close proximity of  the recipient in order to function. Mobile phones changed things fundamentally, making everyone acessible all the time regardless of location. This began to happen in 1985. The old tethered phone had been standard from the 1870's, it's had a long and honourable innings.

Communication is fundamental to our lives and particularly important when it comes to plotting crime thrillers. Before 1985, it wasn't possible to talk to someone unless they standing next to a telephone. If you were out and about, urgent calls had to be made using a phone box. Imagine! A box with a phone in it used to be the only game in town. If you were going to be late for your tea, you had to find one, stop the car, get out, fumble for coins, dial the number, push your coins in when you heard the pips and explain yourself. Most people, understandably, just turned up late.

A fundamental shift started in 1985. Plotting crime thrillers after that became different. Everything began to move more quickly.

In Proceeds of Crime, the second Jenny Parker novel, Jenny escapes from a brothel by fighting her way out. Then she hurtles down countless flights of stairs, away from her pursuer. Nothing, it seems, can prevent her getaway, she's much too quick. Wrong. The brothel keeper has phoned his mates who are waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Oh dear. In the modern world, post 1985, running away isn't as simple as it once was.




photo credit: Helena Nilsdotter via photopin cc

7 June 2014

Success

The good news is that my first published novel, Due Diligence is doing rather well. Much better than I could have reasonably hoped, in fact.

Better news is that the second Jenny Parker novel, Proceeds of Crime, is also selling well because people like Due Diligence so much they're buying the sequel.

Even better news is that the third book, Limited Liability, is almost ready to publish.

So how did I arrive at this happy situation?

First of all, I write. And write and write. Anything, everything. Every day. I find it essential to have a daily writing habit. Waiting to free up hours of quiet undisturbed writing time doesn't work for me. It never happens. I find that if I write an hour a day I can complete a novel in a year.

Secondly, I write with a great deal of freedom. I don't revise or edit. I don't look back at what I've written, I just keep on going. I've embraced a wonderful technique called Freefall (www.freefallwriting.com) and I've found it works for me.

Thirdly, I've been fortunate to find a brilliant editor. 
I can't read my own writing. No, it's not illegible, that's not what I mean. The problem is that I know what I meant to write and I have the entire back story of all the characters in my head. I tend to forget which bits I've bothered to share with the reader.

Editing myself turns into picking and scratching at the prose, substituting a less suitable word here and changing a few lines for the worse there. 

I can't see the big picture. I have difficulty in seeing any picture other than the one already in my head. Whether I have managed to communicate it is a different matter entirely.

In the past, I have given my precious scripts to my friends and family to read. Their feedback is always positive and completely unhelpful. Kindness and understanding are wonderful attributes unless applied to literary criticism.
By the time I hired my first editor I'd already written three science fiction novels. He didn't like them much. He thought the main character was an arse, which was disappointing because he was pretty much autobiographical. However, his advice and feedback were instrumental in my development. I put all that practice and disappointment to good use.

So, my advice to any writer is as follows:

Write until you have finished, don't look back, don't edit, don't revise, don't make corrections. Finish it.

When you have finished it, whether it is half a page or 250,000 words, put it away somewhere safe. Somewhere you can retrieve it from but not too easily.

Then write something else. 

And something else, maybe.

One day you will decide to look at what you have written and when you do remember to be kind and gentle. If you are feeling picky, or your football team is having a hard time, or the dog has been sick on the kitchen floor, put your writing away and deal with the crap first.

Read it, make it legible and correct any really obvious things, like repeated words and repeated words.

Then send it to someone who doesn't care a toss for your sensibilities. This unfeeling person is known in the trade as an editor. Ask for a critique, send them some money and only then will you know if you are on the right track. 

If you want an honest opinion at a very reasonable price, I recommend Fiction Feedback http://www.fictionfeedback.co.uk/

Ripley's Cat

76d44-cat5
Alien? Really?
In Ridley Scott's film there's a point where Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has the opportunity to escape. All her crewmates are dead, having encountered the alien and met a grisly end. There's no fighting the alien, it has blood so corrosive that if you did manage to wound it you would die because the ship's hull would be breached and all your air would disappear. So, all Ripley can do is get into the escape pod and get the hell out of there.
Does she?
No.
Why?
Because the film would just end there and then in a most unsatisfactory manner. There would be no resolution. And resolution is very important for any film or novel.
Ripley decides to rescue the cat and give the alien a chance to creep on board her escape craft so that we can have a proper and fitting climax to the film.
I remember shouting at the screen 'Leave the ****** cat and get the hell out.' The cinema was absolutely packed and there was a tremendous groundswell of agreement with my outburst. Although we all wanted Sigourney to be safe, we also respected and fully understood her decision to rescue the cat. She wasn't the kind of girl to abandon it to the dreadful clutches of the alien. We would all most certainly have left the cat and saved our skins, but the whole cinema audience knew she was made of much stronger stuff than we were.
It worked. Her actions, however we might disagree with them, were in character. So we got our ending and our resolution without it seeming contrived.
If you ask me, the big contrivance was the super corrosive blood. But I'm a chemist and I would be sceptical about something like that.
In the Due Diligence, Jenny is in terrible danger but hasn't got the option of running away from it. She has her own version of Ripley's Cat.

30 May 2014

Out of Action

photo
I've been a bit quiet lately. Not only on the blogging front but also in various other regards. I've not been well.
I won't go into details but it's a condition that has been very uncomfortable and energy sapping.
Now, I'm two weeks onto recovery from an operation to make me better. The surgeon promised me four weeks of agony. Those were his exact words. I paid an extra consultancy fee to have him repeat them and he did. Nevertheless, I proceeded with the surgery even though I felt a great deal of apprehension.
So far, his words ring true. After two weeks I'm getting out of the agony stage and into the severe discomfort zone.   His four week promise makes me feel like I'm ahead of the game.
Not much writing gets done when I'm in pain. The new Jenny Parker novel, Limited Liability, was put to bed beforehand and the fourth novel, Critical Analysis, has begun well but has been taking a back seat to my physical preoccupations.
Blogging, as you might imagine, has been the least of my worries.
A friend remarked that he was sure my latest engagement with medical science would end up being written into one of my books. He's right, of course. Everything that affects me, affects my writing. All experiences, painful or not, are useful references to be accessed when needed.
A couple of years ago, I had a minor operation on my ear. Feeling braver than I really am, I elected for a local anaesthetic. This was a mistake. The sensation of someone hacking at my ear with a sharp knife wasn't at all pleasant. The intense pain afterwards was also memorable. Anyone who has read Proceeds of Crime will now know where I got that gruesome scene with Wasiewicz from.
I suppose many writers would call this 'research.' Though I doubt even the most dedicated would inflict injury on themselves in the quest for authenticity. All I have to do is remember what it's like to be in pain and convey that to the reader.
So I expect some character is in for a lot of suffering when I get back to it.
Meanwhile, I have to say that the ointment they've given me is dynamite.

7 April 2014

Who's Jenny Parker?




People often ask me where I get my characters from. One rather cynical soul accused me of ripping off people I know by putting them in books, making money from them and not paying them a penny!

Well, that's not the way I work. Really.

There are a few people that think they recognise themselves in Due Diligence. One of them is right. All the rest are mistaken. Sorry.

My main character, Jenny Parker, is certainly not based on any individual. She's a product of my imagination, created by my desire to write about an ordinary person who gets caught up in serious crime. I wanted to explore the predicament of someone struggling without any safety net.

I made her an accountant for two reasons. First, unlike someone who works for the law enforcement agencies, there's no obvious support system for accountants who get into trouble. Putting her fate in the hands of the police isn't an option in Jenny's eyes. She has enough trouble already.

Second, the National Crime Agency estimate that there are at least 3,500 accountants who are involved in serious organised crime in the UK. It makes sense if you think about it, getting the money in the first place is one thing but being able to spend it is another. For that you need an expert; an accountant.

When Jenny has problems she has nobody to help her. There's no limit to how far she can fall. That's what I love about Due Diligence, even I couldn't predict what would happen to her. And I'm the writer.







photo credit: BEYOURPET via photopin cc

6 March 2014

Just Because It's Fiction Doesn't Mean It's Not True




They say that truth is stranger than fiction.

Someone (probably Mark Twain) said that the difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction has to make sense.

Some of you will have read a previous post http://djharrison99.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/money-laundering-regulations.html where Jenny Parker tried to pay cash into a bank account and got herself into difficulties. A good friend of mine, and someone who has certainly read Due Diligence, fell into the same trap very recently. My friend is about to embark on an exciting business venture and is setting up a new company. One of the investors gave him a few thousand pounds in cash because he didn't have the bank account details. On attempting to pay this into his account, my friend was taken aside, put in an interrogation room, visited and questioned by various people then told that the bank wouldn't accept the money.

He asked them if they would take a smaller amount rather than the whole sum but they were adamant that they'd accept none of it. He had to take the cash back to his investor who put it back into his bank before transferring it electronically.

I'm sorry, but I had to laugh. He'd read Due Diligence where he'd experienced Jenny Parker's discomfiture and had the money laundering regulations explained. Jenny is fiction but the world she inhabits is the same one that we do. The same laws apply to us all as they do to her.

So, be warned, just because it's fiction doesn't mean it's not true.

The picture above shows what the regulations are trying to cope with and why everyone is affected.
photo credit: European Parliament via photopin cc

28 February 2014

Ukraine




As I write, all hell is about to break loose in Ukraine.

Part of the second Jenny Parker novel, Proceeds of Crime, is set in Ukraine and I have a lot of sympathy for the plight of the Ukrainian people. In the book, Jenny befriends a Ukrainian girl who has found a husband in the UK through a 'Romance Tour' or 'find a bride service'. Her twin sister hasn't been so lucky, though. She's gone missing after a similar attempt to get to the prosperous West.

The situation highlights the disparity in wealth between the Ukraine and the UK. The Ukrainians are often so desperately poor that they will do anything to get to the UK. And I mean anything.

The recent events, the protests in Kiev, the shootings and the ousting of the Russian-friendly president are all a result of the Ukrainians being desperate to improve their economic situation. Many of them feel that this will be achieved by establishing closer ties with the EU. The Russians don't want this to happen.

 I hope and pray that the situation will be resolved peacefully and that good sense and humanity will prevail.






photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

14 February 2014

National Crime Agency


The NCA became operational in October 2013.

This may not mean much to you but I'm a crime writer and I'm getting pretty excited about this new organisation. It appears to be the UK equivalent of the American FBI which has provided a rich source of stories and characters for us writers.



Remember Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs? Since the mid 1930's and J Edgar Hoover, the FBI has been at the forefront of novels, film and television.  The arrival of an UK equivalent is a momentous event in crime fiction history.

As a novelist writing stories set in the present, I can't ignore current events and still retain credibility. If the local police force turn up to investigate and the reader knows full well it ought to be the NCA it's not helpful to the plot. As both Due Diligence and Proceeds of Crime involve organised crime, which is the remit of the NCA, I've been following its inception and formation for several years. I've read extensively, watched Keith Bristow, the NCA Director General, appear before the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee, made sure I'm up to date with developments.

I discussed money laundering over lunch with a senior NCA official who then asked for copies of both Due Diligence and Proceeds of Crime so that they could check them for authenticity. I also suspect that they were very interested by some of the things that Jenny Parker gets up to. So don't go copying her for heaven's sake, you're bound to get arrested.

It's all part of the craft of crime writing, though most readers won't realise how much research has to be done in order that we present them with a believable story. Which is how it should be. My novels aim to excite and entertain. If they're also informative, that's a bonus.

Here's a sample review of Due Diligence:

5.0 out of 5 stars Thumping good thriller
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
For a debut novel this was fantastic, more please! I read this in 2 days and really felt for Jenny. Life has a habit of kicking you when you're down but she survived all of it. Gripping and full of action, secret recordings, punch ups, dodgy dealings,fast paced, well written and as a thriller reader this kept me turning the pages. Please though give the poor woman a decent brew!!!!!

5 February 2014

Bankers




Bankers should be spelled with a capital W.

If you haven't worked out how our financial system works, let me assist. You put your money into a bank or another financial institution such as a pension provider or investment company. These brilliant, exceptional, essential, amazingly well paid people we call bankers look after it for us. They 'invest' our money, or, to put it another way, gamble it on some financial horse race.

If they win, they win. They get loads of money.

If they lose, we lose, they still win, they get loads of money.

If they do something really stupid and bring the whole financial world to a collapse, we lose our jobs, we're subject to austerity measures and they get bailed out by the government using our tax money.

If they do something illegal like this:

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/dec/04/banks-rate-rigging-libor-euribor-rbs-citigroup-jpmorgan

They get fined and we pay the fine, either as customers or through our pension funds or because our taxes have bailed them out.

Why? How come this ridiculous situation is allowed to prevail?

It's our own fault. We're greedy, just like the bankers. Even though deep down we realise that for every pound we gain someone has to lose one, we cling to the hope that we will be the ones who win.

Also, the system is made to appear so complex that even governments are taken in by it all and are afraid to upset the financial institutions in case something bad happens again and they get the blame, again.

What can we do?

These are some of the things that the government and the bankers would find most inconvenient:

1. We could make more use of a barter system. You know, I paint your living room, you give me a hand maintaining my car in return. (By the way, this isn't an offer, merely an illustration.) Maybe even set up a system of local credit for payments in kind.

2. We could start to use a new system of money all together, one that bankers and governments can't control. Things like these:
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/28/bitcoin-alternatives-future-currency-investments

3. We can look to bank more locally, use mutuals or credit unions.

4. We should stop believing that growth is the answer and realise that careful use of resources will serve us all better than grabbing everything we can get. Having more doesn't mean being more happy. We all know that already but we need to remind ourselves constantly because the media are always telling us different.

5. Most of all we can be kind and helpful to each other, lend a hand, lend money, trust people rather than bankers.

 In Due Diligence, Jenny Parker finds herself part of the less savoury aspects of the financial system. There are times she has to rely on the greed of others in order to survive. Fortunately for her, there's plenty of greed about.

Lots of people have said some very kind things about Due Diligence, here's one review picked (more or less) at random.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thumping good thriller
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
For a debut novel this was fantastic, more please! I read this in 2 days and really felt for Jenny. Life has a habit of kicking you when you're down but she survived all of it. Gripping and full of action, secret recordings, punch ups, dodgy dealings,fast paced, well written and as a thriller reader this kept me turning the pages. Please though give the poor woman a decent brew!!!!!



photo credit: Byzantine_K via photopin cc

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