When I first started writing short stories in about 2004 I had no idea where I was going with them. I love writing in the short story form and I when I discovered flash fiction, I thought it was brilliant. I was in the process of changing careers and with three small children it was difficult but I just wanted to write, and write, and write – so I pinched time from everywhere I could and I wrote.
I then started entering competitions and calls for submissions to anthologies. I learned what some markets liked and what others didn’t. I prefer writing in the dark form: crime, psychological, character-centred and devious, and definitely not for everyone.
Since 2004 I have had a hundred and fifty- five stories published in print or online. I won Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland in 2012 along with Joseph Knox. He’s gone on to be a very successful and talented writer. I was then published by Harper Collins for a collection of anecdotal stories under a pseudonym, which although quite successful, I couldn’t openly take any credit. Life events then got in the way and I had a hiatus from 2013, writing only sporadically, but still networking at lots of the writing festivals. Oh, how I miss them!
I have to praise Vic Watson and Simon Bewick for their lockdown VNATB. It was the highlight of my week, every Wednesday for twenty-two weeks. They really inspired me to pick up my pen again and I managed to finish my part-written crime novel, which is now in the editing stages. I also went back to my short stories and thought, actually, some were okay. A hard thing to admit for someone who doesn’t believe in themselves! Whilst ‘cooking the book’ that I hope to be my first novel, I thought I could pull together a collection of my short stories. If they’d been published before, surely, they might have some merit? Hence, A Bowl of Cherries was born.
Each story has a dark theme, and they cover most aspects of life, death, murder, abuse, violence, cannibalism, alcohol, domestic violence, ghosts, and much more. There are few markets for this type of genre, especially in the short story form, but I know there are people out there like me that like to read them. I also understand that for some, they may be too much, which is why they are labelled as triple XXX. I draw on my life and professional experiences for nuggets of ideas that I turn into stories and having seen the dark and dastardly things that people do to each other first hand, I have a wealth of ideas in the bank. There are many more stories loitering in files on my laptop, more still waiting to be written.
None are for the faint of heart, though I do have the idea of writing a rom-com – if only I can resist killing off a character!
I am very fortunate to have a great peer group of friendly writing folk, and a special circle of friends, and it’s such a wonderful writing community to be amongst. Thank you to all the readers who keep the writers going, all the writers who understand the need to keep going, and everyone else who supports us.
During our twenty-two weekrun at Virtual Noir at the Bar earlier this year, I was lucky to host a number of amazing writers. I was also invited to talk to a number of podcasts, publications, blogs and Facebook groups.
The first Facebook Live event I took part in was with William Shaw, who was hosting daily chats with a number of people from the world of writing. William was a brilliant host and I enjoyed appearing on his show.
A couple of months later, William appeared at VNatB and was so generous that he read an excerpt of someone else’s work instead of his own!
William is joining us today to talk about his next project: Reading Party. I’m confident that you’re going to be interested in what’s coming up!
Guest Post: William Shaw talks about Reading Party
I’ve been trying to come up with a way in which Zoom events can have the same kind of engagement as live events – and also really be about the books.
I came up with the idea of a reading party. The idea is guests get to read from an author’s new work – aloud. Together, twenty guests read a chapter from a writers’s new book, in the presence of the writer themselves.
It kicks off with the writer explaining a little about the extract they’ve chosen, answering guests’ questions about what kind of mood they want etc, and then the reader kicks things off followed by all the guests in turn. Afterwards there’s a discussion.
Admission is by ticket – or by buying a copy of the book. After the reading there’s time for discussion and then the writer signs and dedicates a bookplate for anyone who has bought the book. Books are supplied by the online bookshop Bert’s Books.
For decades, women have been called ‘bossy’, ‘hysterical’ and ‘neurotic’ in situations where men might simply be dubbed ‘assertive’. We need to change the narrative around women and we need to use our voices to take control. Rebecca Reid isn’t afraid to show us how.
I am not an assertive person. I would like to be an assertive person. I recommend ‘The Power of Rude‘ to anyone who would like to be more assertive, especially if that person is worried about how being “rude” might be perceived.
I guess you could call ‘The Power of Rude‘ self-help but it is so much more than that. It’s insightful, constructive and thoughtful. It’s also thought-provoking and anger-inducing as well as being laugh out loud funny and totally relatable.
Rebecca Reid has shared her own experiences on several subjects including health, money and sex, coupled that with findings from her own research and case studies of well-known women. ‘The Power of Rude‘ is like a chat with a friend – a friend who will tell you that you shouldn’t be putting up with [insert any number of wrongs that women suffer on a daily basis].
I can’t stop thinking about ‘The Power of Rude‘ and how I am going to use the advice given to improve my life. I will refer back to this book for the rest of my life and will buy it for my female friends although, to be honest, I reckon anyone who doesn’t feel able to advocate for themselves could benefit from reading ‘The Power of Rude‘.
A body is found bricked into the walls of a house. From the state of the hands, it’s clear the dead man was buried alive. Soon, the victim is linked to an old missing person’s case and DS Adam Tyler is called.
As the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler recognises his role for what it is – a means of keeping him out of the way following an ‘incident’. When this case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.
And then Tyler discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him. He makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors, certain that he and only he can solve the crime. But now Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth, without destroying the case or himself.
Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy affinity with fire. . .
Ok, so if the summary above didn’t entice you (it really should have, by the way), here’s why you should read ‘Firewatching‘ by Russ Thomas:
‘Firewatching‘introduces us to a fresh new take on the police procedural, featuring an original protagonist. For me, hinting at Tyler’s backstory while racing to stop more deaths, felt really natural and kept a realistic balance to the story. Thomas’s writing is taut and compulsive, hitting the right balance of plot and visceral descriptions.
The plot is strengthened by the cast of characters, particularly Lily who can’t remember the secret she’s keeping on account of the dementia that’s ravaging her mind. The characterisation in ‘Firewatching‘ is absolutely perfect, with Thomas portraying Lily’s dementia accurately and sensitively.
Thomas pulls the reader in and creates empathy for his protagonist by laying bare the bigotry that Tyler faces regularly. By pairing Adam with PC Rabbani, Thomas is also able to explore institutionalised racism. Again, he does this with a light touch that leaves the reader in no doubt about the difficulties these officers have to deal with – and that’s before you factor in the crimes they’re investigating.
The descriptions of the arsons are terrifyingly real and, while the person responsible taunts the police with cryptic blog posts, readers are presented with the sense of the urgency felt by Tyler and his colleagues.
If you’re looking for original characters, a strong plot and vivid descriptions, ‘Firewatching‘ is the novel for you! I can’t wait to read ‘Nighthawking‘, the next in the DS Adam Tyler series.
After more than a decade of being in prison for the brutal murder two Stirling University students, Colin Sanderson has been released after his conviction was found to be unsafe.
Returning home to a small village not far from Stirling, Sanderson refuses police protection, even in the face of a death threat. But the PR firm that has scooped him up to sell his story does know of a protection expert in Stirling. They want Connor Fraser.
Connor reluctantly takes the assignment, partly as a favour to DCI Malcolm Ford, who is none too keen to have Sanderson on the loose, particularly as he was involved in the original investigation that saw him imprisoned.
When a body is found, mutilated in the same way as Sanderson’s victims were, all eyes fall on the released man. But how can he be the killer when Connor’s own security detail gives him an alibi?
As Connor races to uncover the truth, he is forced to confront not only Sanderson’s past but his own, and a secret that could change his life forever.
Having read ‘No Man’s Land‘ and ‘No Place to Die‘, I was really looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Connor Fraser series – and I wasn’t disappointed. ‘The Point of No Return‘ is a tight, pacey thriller that develops recurring characters within the context of another intriguing mystery.
Broadfoot has a knack of writing taut prose, with not one word wasted and that really helps me envisage the action unfolding. The action at times actually left me breathless. I genuinely can see Connor Fraser coming to a screen near you (hopefully soon).
The unflinching violence in this series is not for the faint-hearted but, with characters like Duncan Mackenzie and his henchman Paulie in the mix, it never feels gratuitous or unnecessary. In addition to the menace provided by Mackenzie and Paulie, Colin Sanderson genuinely gave me the creeps.
Setting the series in Stirling gives Broadfoot’s series a fresh feel to it, putting Scotland – and its political conflicts – at the heart of every story. It’s great to see recurring characters being given space to develop and gain depth. As much as I like Connor, I love Donna Blake and the divided loyalties she experiences on a daily basis.
The third in Neil Broadfoot’s Connor Fraser series is his strongest yet. Readers get not only a barnstorming mystery, they’re also treated to a glimpse into Connor’s own backstorywhich makes it much easier to understand his motivations and behaviour. However,you don’t have to have read the previous two novels in this series in order to enjoy ‘The Point of No Return‘ – but I recommend that you do anyway!
It’s my pleasure today to be taking part in the blog tour for PL Kane’s ‘Her Husband’s Grave‘ by P L Kane.
A hint of gold glistened in the sand. It was a watch, no doubt about it. A watch… attached to a body.
Criminal psychologist Robyn Adams is at breaking point after a previous case resulted in an attempt on her own life. But as she sits in the car about to head home, she receives a phone call from her long lost cousin, Vicky.
Vicky’s voice cracks as she explains to Robyn that her husband, Simon, has been found buried on Golden Sands beach. Desperate to help and determined not to let her last case get the better of her, Robyn returns to the coastal village where she spent summers with Vicky as a child.
Robyn knows that she has let Vicky down in the past and is set on making up for lost time. Throwing herself into the case, she combs through evidence, intent on discovering a lead that will help the local police.
But there is clearly someone who wants Robyn gone. She is convinced someone is watching her and when she begins to receive threatening notes, Robyn knows that she could be risking her life…
But Robyn won’t leave again – she owes it to Vicky to stay.
I’ve been treated to the prologue of this exciting new thriller – and here it is for you all to enjoy!
He’d been looking for something else when he made the shocking discovery. The grisly, stomach-churning discovery that would change everything…
He had been walking along, here on the beach, looking for treasure no less – buried or otherwise – if you can believe such a thing. And he did, had done all his life. Believed the tales his father had told him about this place when he was young, about the smugglers and the pirates. Loved it when his old man had read Treasure Island to him at bedtime when he was little.
Jeremy Platt had only recently moved back to the area, partly to keep an eye on his ageing dad now that the man’s wife, Jeremy’s mum, had passed away; partly because his own marriage to Alice – who he’d met at college in the nearby town of Mantlethorpe – had fallen apart. Now, here they both were… alone, together.
They’d joke about it sometimes, over a pint in their local, or a game of dominoes, though their laughter would fade quite quickly. But at least they had each other, the roles reversed from when Jeremy had been little; now he had to read to his father because of his failing eyesight. Something that had put paid to the old bloke’s hobby of amateur writing, and one of the reasons why he liked to stand at the window with those binoculars, looking out over the sea. Or had done, until a couple of days ago.
Until the heart attack.
Jeremy had been the one to make the discovery then too, calling round early because he couldn’t reach him on the phone; all the while telling himself it was just lines down because of the storm. Instead, finding him collapsed on the floor, phone off the hook after clearly trying to reach it and ring for help. Jeremy had rung for an ambulance instead, straight away. They’d whisked him off to hospital, and there had followed an anxious few hours, waiting to hear the worst.
When the doctor came out and told Jeremy his dad had stabilised, he’d almost hugged the fellow. ‘What he needs now, more than anything, is rest,’ the physician had said to Jeremy, ‘time to recover.’ He’d been allowed to sit by the bedside, even though Mr Platt snr was still pretty out of it – wires running in and out of him, like some kind of robot. And Jeremy had cried, watching him, realising just how frail he was for the first time. How he might lose another parent before long.
To be honest, he’d come here today to give himself a break more than anything. The hospital had promised to call if there was any change and he could be back in no time.
So here he was, on said beach, looking for excitement, looking for treasure. Just like his old man had promised. All part of a hobby he’d taken up, something to occupy his time while he looked for – and had failed so far to find – work in the area. So, with what was left over from the redundancy package and the marital savings, he’d treated himself to a metal detector.
Jeremy had often spotted people wandering up and down the sands, sweeping those things from left to right, and thought it looked like fun. Well, you never knew what you might find out there. The guy in the shop, that fellow with the beard and cargo trousers – front pockets bulging, so full Jeremy wondered how he walked without falling over – had done nothing to dissuade him. Had been a self-confessed expert on the subject, happy to give him lots of tips… Not to mention sell him the best detector on the market, or so he claimed: the Equinox 800 with the large coil, perfect for places like beaches.
It had continued to rain off and on since the storm, and that made for perfect conditions as far as detecting was concerned. ‘When everything’s wet,’ the bloke from the shop had told him, ‘it soaks into the ground and helps you spot anything that’s deeper down. Ground’s had a drink, see?’
He’d also advised Jeremy not to be in a rush, to expect lots of trash. ‘95% of what you’ll find,’ cargo guy had said, simultaneously showing him how to swing the machine – not too fast and not in great arcs – ‘it’ll be junk.’
He hadn’t been wrong. In the months he’d been doing this, Jeremy had found enough bottle-tops to pebbledash a house, old-fashioned keys, the backs of watches, tin cans, safety pins, bits of shiny metal that looked like mirrors…
However, he’d also found enough to encourage him to carry on: toy cars (a couple of which had actually ended up being collectors’ items); an old whistle once (which he hadn’t dared blow, recalling an old ghost story he’d read in his teens); a few lighters; a couple of rings; and, though they weren’t doubloons as such, quite a few pound coins that must have fallen out of wallets, purses or pockets. The point was, he had fun while he was doing it – and at the moment he needed that, needed to take his mind off things. Off his dad lying there in bed looking like C3-PO.
He stopped when the beeping in his earphones intensified. Jeremy stared at the screen in front of him: 12… 13… no, 14! A pretty good reading, he thought, pulling the ’phones from his ears to wear them around his neck. Bending and taking out his trowel from his pack, he placed the detector down and began digging in the spot it had indicated. What would it be this time, a gold chain perhaps? Down, down, and further down…
Jeremy stopped when he saw the metal, couldn’t help grinning to himself. The last few bits of sand he dug out with his gloved hands, fingers clawing, eager to see what it was he’d uncovered.
He stopped when he reached it, plucked the item out and held it up in front of him – where it glinted in the early morning sun. His smiled faded. ‘Just an old ring-pull,’ he said to himself, the kind you wouldn’t get these days because they were fixed to the lid. Sighing, he bagged it anyway, to stop another hunter from making the same mistake – and to keep those beaches clean, of course. They were a far cry from what they’d been when he was a kid, or indeed when his father had been a boy, and Jeremy wasn’t even sure they deserved the name that had been given them now, their colour dull even when it hadn’t been raining.
But it was as he’d contemplated this that he spotted it. Something in that dull sand, along the beach. Something not that well buried at all, sticking out in fact – just ripe for the taking. He looked around him, the beach deserted – though to be fair you wouldn’t really get many tourists on this stretch of it anyway. They’d stick to the main beach for swimming and so they were closer to the pier and shops. Grabbing his stuff, he clambered to his feet and started over. He couldn’t be sure what it was really, but it was glinting.
It was metal. It was gold… Golden at any rate.
Didn’t even need his detector this time, which was real irony for you. All that sweeping, all that beeping. The closer he got the more he saw of it, some kind of strap… a watch strap! Looked like it belonged to an expensive one, too. Just a bit of it sticking out, but there it was.
Jeremy got down again, started to uncover the find as he had done with the ring-pull. He hadn’t been digging for long, perhaps only a few seconds, when he pulled back sharply. It was a watch strap all right, with a watch attached. But there was also skin there too.
And a wrist.
Swallowing dryly, he moved forward again. His imagination surely, eyes playing tricks on him. He dug a little more, pulled back again.
There was a hand attached to that wrist. A human hand.
Jeremy hadn’t uncovered much of it, but he could tell now – and though it was at an angle, it looked for all the world like a much dryer version of The Lady in the Lake’s hand reaching up for Excalibur. Except there was no sword to catch. And this was no lady’s hand.
He scrabbled backwards again, felt the bile rising in his mouth. That was a body, no doubt about it – and his mind flashed back to when him and his mum used to bury his dad when they went on the sands (might be burying him for real soon, a little voice whispered and he promptly ignored it). But surely nobody would have done that by accident? Left a relative here, especially in this isolated spot.
Jeremy frowned, then reached into his pocket for his mobile. Began to dial a number.
There you go, that same voice had told him, you wanted excitement. An adventure. He shook his head again, shook those thoughts away too.
‘Yes, hello,’ he said when the ringing at the other end stopped and voice came on the line. Not asking for an ambulance this time, because it was far too late for that. Instead: ‘Yes, could you give me the police please.’
Brendan Foley has worked to balance the responsibilities of a demanding job and a troublesome family. He’s managed to keep these two worlds separate, until the discovery of a mass grave sends them into a headlong collision. When one of the dead turns out to be a familiar face, he’s taken off the case.
Iona Madison keeps everything under control. She works hard as a detective sergeant and trains harder as a boxer. But when DI Foley is removed from the case, her loyalties are tested like never before.
With the Warrington 27 plastered over the news, Madison and Foley set out to solve the crime before anyone else. But as Madison steps into the ring for the fight of her life, the criminals come to them. It’s no coincidence that the corpses have been buried in Foley’s hometown. The question is, why? Foley might not like the answer…
‘Far From the Tree‘ is an Audible Original, narrated by Warren Brown who is absolutely perfect for this fast-paced, twisty police procedural set in Warrington.
Setting ‘Far From the Tree‘ in his hometown of Warrington, Rob Parker has captured an oft-forgotten town in between Liverpool and Manchester perfectly, using Warrington’s piggy-in-the-middle characteristics to create tension.
By using references to familiar landmarks,Parker transports the audience to a new location – full of dirty deeds and complex family relationships.
I loved the nuances in the relationships between characters. From the beginning, whereFoley is called away from his son’s christening to attend the gruesome crime scene, Parker sets up a complex family whose divided loyalties will cause all manner of upsets throughout the story.
Parker’s descriptions left me with vivid mental images – he has a real knack for creating atmosphere through his choice of language.Listening to this story was honestly like watching a move in my mind.
With Warrington-born Warren Brown on board to narrate, Audible have scored an absolute screamer – the compelling story coupled with an actor who has the same accent as the characters is a total winner.
I’m already looking forward to the next (audio) book from Rob Parker.
Samuel, the day we met I knew I’d finally found what I’ve been waiting for. You. Happiness, at last. Then you left me. And now I am alone. Everyone I love leaves in the end. But not this time. I’m not giving up on us. I’m not giving up on you. When you love someone, you never let them go. That’s why for me, this is just beginning.
Today is publication day for ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ by Charlotte Levin. My advice? Drop everything and read this book immediately.
Constance, a receptionist at a private medical centre in London, fancies Samuel – the new doctor – immediately. When he returns her affections, Constance is thrilled but when he cuts their affair short, Constance’s affections don’t wane, taking her deeper into obsession.
I love the way in which Charlotte Levin balances real drama and dark misdeeds with a dry sense of humour, her writing fizzes on the page and I didn’t want my encounter with Constance to end.
Constance Little is the most compelling, realistic character I think I have ever read. I love that Charlotte Levin has managed to create so much nuance in Constance that reading ‘If I Can’t Have You‘ is literally like spending time listening to a friend. Sometimes you want to step in and say “Constance, you’re being used” or “You’ve totally misread this” or “Maybe you’re going too far” but that doesn’t mean you don’t care about her. In all honesty, to some extent or another, I really think most of us have been in a similar position to Constance at some time in our lives.
‘If I Can’t Have You‘ is my book of 2020, I genuinely don’t know how any other book will top it.
Having had the pleasure of hosting Eve Smith at Virtual Noir at the Bar many weeks ago, I am delighted to be hosting her as part of her blog tour for ‘The Waiting Rooms‘.
Here’s Eve to tell us how she appeared to preempt the COVID-19 crisis we find ourselves facing.
Many thanks to Orenda Books, Anne Cater and Eve for having me on this blog tour.
The Waiting Rooms: When Fact comes uncomfortably close to Fiction By Eve Smith
I first had the idea for the The Waiting Rooms around five years ago, after reading some terrifying facts about antibiotic resistance. We don’t really hear much about this issue, which is why WHO calls it “the silent pandemic”. But the shocking reality is that over 700,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections each year, which is almost as many as malaria.
The predictions are that ten million a year could die by 2050 if we don’t start doing something about it. And I thought, what would happen, if these drugs did stop working?
If there was a limited supply of new antibiotics, and only certain people could get them, what would happen if society had to choose?
The trade proofs for my novel arrived near the end of January. Around the same time, the Chinese authorities conceded that there was evidence of human-to-human transmission of a novel coronavirus and WHO convened an Emergency Committee to assess whether the outbreak constituted a public health emergency of international concern. A Cobra meeting called to assess the threat in the UK lasted an hour and Matt Hancock bounced out saying the risk to the UK was “low”. Less than six weeks later, prompted by both “the alarming levels of spread and severity”, and by “the alarming levels of inaction”, WHO characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic.
Whilst my book is obviously set in a fictional world, in the advent and aftermath of an antibiotic crisis which triggers a pandemic, the increasing links between the two is unsettling. Obsessive handwashing and hygiene; masks worn in public places. Handshaking being a thing of the past. Emergency hospitals and quarantine. Enforced isolation. Segregation of the elderly, as social distancing continues.
The premise of my novel is that, after the antibiotic crisis, no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics, in a last ditch attempt to keep resistance at bay. In reality, antibiotic use by age group is a U-shaped graph: the highest number of prescriptions go to the young and to the old. In the UK, the over-75’s account for a quarter of all antibiotic prescriptions. The over-65’s account for a third. Which is why, in my book, the elderly are sacrificed to protect the rest of the population. Denied treatment, they are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’: hospitals where no one ever gets well.
Such an abhorrent concept seemed unthinkable, at the time. And yet, as Covid-19 rampages across the globe, we hear of terrible choices imposed on doctors in hospitals and workers in care homes facing inadequate supplies of protective equipment, ventilators and ICU beds. At these times, I take comfort in the fact that, at a global level, society has made a decent, unselfish choice. To slow the spread of this disease, we have isolated ourselves to protect the elderly and the vulnerable. We have made that sacrifice, to protect them.
The uncomfortable fact however remains that antimicrobial resistance will increase both the frequency and the severity of pandemics like this one. Early estimates attribute around half the deaths from Covid-19 to secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia and sepsis, despite effective antibiotics being administered. The WHO have warned of a surge in antibiotic resistance due to the sheer volume of drugs being used. How much worse would this pandemic be if none of those drugs worked?
After the powerful recent serialisation of her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which Margaret Atwood wrote back in 1984, she was often asked if the misogynistic society she invented was a prediction. She replied: “No, it isn’t a prediction, because predicting the future isn’t really possible: There are too many variables and unforeseen possibilities. Let’s say it’s an antiprediction: If this future can be described in detail, maybe it won’t happen. But such wishful thinking cannot be depended on either.”
My hope is that, after witnessing first-hand the destructive force of disease on a global scale, governments, farmers and industry will stop abusing or taking for granted the miraculous drugs we already have and start treating them with the respect they deserve. Thereby ensuring that The Waiting Rooms remains a speculative work of fiction.
“The Waiting Rooms” is available to order as an ebook on Kindle, Kobo, Hive and iBooks, paperback available from 9th July. For more about the book and Eve herself, visit Eve’s blog,or you can follow Eve on Twitter.