Monthly Archives: July 2012

Guest Post: Writing Mysteries by David Bishop

Writing Mysteries

By: David Bishop

                Writing a mystery novel is like going on vacation. You don’t load up the car and pull away from the curb until you know your destination. To do otherwise, opens you up to many wrong turns and lost miles, even the likelihood of ending up somewhere you never would have chosen to end up. This means I first decide the crime, the protagonist and the perpetrator (in a most general sense) and my destination, the solution of the mystery. Now I can load up the story and pull away from the euphemistic curb to begin the journey that will bring my protagonist and the reader to the intended destination.

                First and foremost, I must create at least one character the reader will care about, or can relate to. These characters for caring may be Hannibal Lector or Clarice Starling, or, in my novel The Beholder, homicide detective, Maddie Richards. Or the reader can be captured by the challenge of who is the serial killer or simply wanting to be sure he gets what’s coming to him. Ideally, you want the reader to like the hero and be fascinated on some level by the villain. Whether these characters are good or evil is not the key. The key is that the reader cares what happens to them. Will they solve the crime? Will they be seduced or slain? Perhaps get married. If, within the first not-too-many pages, the reader consciously or subconsciously thinks, I don’t care what happens to any of these people, the reader is going to turn that book into a wall banger and pick up another.

The first third of a novel sets up the plot and shapes the primary characters. The last third brings the story home to where evil is stopped and justice, in some form, is served. What about the middle third? This is where the writer proves his worth by keeping the story moving and interesting. The middle should be crowded with tension and traps that must be navigated as the story unfolds. The middle is often where subplots are developed or expanded. Well-crafted subplots humanize the primary characters, allow romance to blossom, and otherwise engages and entertains the reader. The middle is the second most difficult area for a writer. The opening third must create characters that capture the reader’s interest. The magic of the middle third is about keeping the water in both pots boiling: the mystery pot and the romance pot. When we listen to readers talk about novels they have read, we often hear things like, “It was all right, I guess. But the middle dragged.” The novelist cannot allow this to happen. The books about which readers say, “That was a great book,” are always stories with engaging middles. Writing novels is much like the fight to lose weight. Win the battle of the middle and the body of your story will be a beaut.

While it often goes unnoticed, mysteries contain two simultaneous contests. The first and obvious one is the contest between the protagonist and the villain. The second challenge goes on quietly behind the scenes, between the protagonist and the reader. Will the reader be able to solve the crime before the hero does? This part of the novel must be played fairly. The clues the hero will use to solve the mystery must be presented to allow the reader a chance to beat the hero to the solution. These clues can be as large as a log or as tiny as a bump thereon, as prominent as a woman’s dropped purse or as insignificant as something which spills out.  There should be false clues which lead the reader to believe one or another innocent person is guilty. Readers don’t mind being wrong about who is guilty, but they resent learning at the end that the hero used clues the reader had never been told. Sherlock Holmes often used these, shall we say, private clues, but when writing mysteries today this is considered inappropriate. The modern perspective is to give the reader and the hero the same vista.

The above paragraphs primarily refer to the traditional whodunit mystery, but there are also howdunits and whydunits. In some mysteries we are immediately told the identity of the villain. In the Columbo TV series the viewers commonly knew the identity of the killer within the first few minutes, often before Columbo knew. Then the story became the tug of war between the wit and wisdom of Columbo and the conniving and cunning of the criminal. This is the juxtaposed style used in stories like The Day of the Jackal, and my novel, The Third Coincidence, in which as much time is spent tagging along with the villains as along with the heroes. I also used this style in my novel, The Blackmail Club, which is told through the struggles of the leading man, Jack McCall, and also, to a lesser degree, through scenes and vignettes from the killer’s point of view.  This is done without disclosing the killer’s identity for The Blackmail Club is primarily a whodunit with a fabulous twist at the end. Two twists actually.

All mystery styles are wonderful when told well through the eyes of characters about whom the readers care. Another way to look at this critical point: you and I start getting fidgety when a good chunk of our time is taken with a long story about the trials and tribulations of acquaintances we don’t like. Similarly, readers have no interest in using chunks of their time reading the rest of a story about fictional characters in whom they have no interest.

                I’d like to add an additional comment to everyone reading this article. The last several years I have been writing well enough to allow me to say: My stories are good. Take a journey with me. Laugh. Hold your breath. Cheer. Boo. The characters are rich, and the plots are grabbers. I promise most of you that you will be very glad you came along. I’d promise all of you, but nothing is liked by everyone. Some people don’t like chocolate, or apple pie, or even a hearty laugh. But I’ll bet you like some of that stuff and I’ll bet you’ll like my mysteries. — Yours Very Truly, David Bishop


Review: ‘The Drowning’ by Camilla Lackberg


Christian’s debut novel is published to rave reviews but he remains as distant and unhappy as ever. Erica, the writer who discovered him, finds out that Christian has been receiving threatening letters. Erica’s husband, a policeman, is working on a missing person case but suddenly, the links start to become apparent.

Swedish writer Camilla Lackberg has a true talent for building tension and weaving webs that are satisfyingly resolved at the end of the novel. There are so many questions raised during this novel that I thought they couldn’t possibly all be worked out – but they did. Her ability lies in being able to conjure up realistic characters who seem perfectly ‘normal’ from the outside but are deeply flawed.

The beginning of the book, and the introduction of all of the characters, was quite hard to keep up but once you invest in the characters, there’s less confusion.

All in all, this was a wonderful, compelling thriller.

Vic x

Guest Post: Fifty Shades of Jealousy? (AKA Fifty Shades of Who Gives a S***) by Eileen Wharton

Fifty Shades of Jealousy?

By Eileen Wharton

Ok, it might seem like I’m jealous or bitter or both. And maybe on some level I am (Who am I trying to kid? On most levels I am). I would certainly like to have sold 2 million copies of my novel. I would positively relish everyone talking about the characters I created and I would definitely love to be counting the coins as they roll in. I’m sure I could have written a novel similar to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (it reads as a first draft, just count the adverbs!)  However I am not very good at writing sex scenes. It’s incredible really cos I’m amazing at sex. It’s just that when I begin to write sex scenes it’s like total porn! There’s no Mills and Boon type romance, no fifties film star sex scenes: a flash of a shin and a bra strap. It’s all dripping sexes and bulbous heads, not to mention threesomes, felching and Mongolian clusterfucks. (Sorry, I wasn’t supposed to mention them.)

Much to my chagrin (notice the cliché of the type used in said novel), I found Mr Grey incredibly tame and Fifty Shades indelibly boring. Sorry EL James. Also it did nothing for Women’s lib. Having married into a male chauvinistic society, I realise some males’ necessity for total dominance. Tell you how to dress, move, think… The fact that Mr Grey had money and was able buy Anastasia anything she wanted (or didn’t want) didn’t fool me. It maybe appeals to some women’s desire to be ‘kept’ and dominated. Domination in the bedroom I have no problems with but men who want to control every aspect of their women’s lives fill me with dread. I know it’s only fiction and escapism but it really isn’t setting a good example to young girls or us old girls for that matter. (BTW ‘the contract’ was laughable.)

I do like to support other writers and am often genuinely thrilled when I hear of someone doing well but as a struggling writer it’s hard not to envy the success of others. I write children’s books as well as novels for adults and every time I come to the end of a story and get ready to send it out for publication I groan as I discover that Jacqueline Wilson has beaten me to it. Are there no issues the woman hasn’t covered? Don’t get me wrong I admire her and have enjoyed many of the books she’s written but I like to write issue-based books for kids and she’s written them all!

And don’t get me started on Julia Donaldson. They tell us don’t write in rhyme, and then I find that all the time, Mrs Donaldson does just that and is pulling money out of a hat. Ok, it’s not my forte  soI should leave that alone. But you can’t turn round in Tesco without being accosted by one of Julia’s creations. I’m surprised there’s room on the shelf for scotch rolls. Speaking of which I haven’t had breakfast. Back in a mo….

I don’t even need to mention JK Rowling. The amount of times people have said to me, when they learn that I write, ‘Ooh you could be the next JK Rowling.’ People honestly believe that most writers are rolling in it, swanning about in scarves, clutching quill pens, signing books and counting their gold. If only…

I’ve been writing seriously for about twelve years and have so far earned approximately £2350, which works out as £195.83 per year. Maths is not my strong point but it equates to about 20p per hour. (Two thousand of that was an award from New Writing North.)

You get my point though. Writing is tough. There are far more rejections than acceptances (unless you are one of the above.) If I had more sense I probably wouldn’t do it.  I have no idea what drives me. All I know is that I have to do it. I am determined to make a success of it and my envy only spurs me on in the hope that one day a struggling writer will blog about their jealousy of my success.

Beware scammers


For months, I’ve been considering buying this book. As it’s not clear whether or not I have Lupus, I have been reading up on various auto-immune diseases as I like to be armed with as much knowledge as I possibly can.

Knowledge reassures me. If I’m blindsided by something I didn’t know, I become anxious and feel like I’ve lost control. It is an illusion – I’m not really in control of any of this – but knowledge helps me maintain some semblance of calm in the face of some pretty grim circumstances.

Because I’ve been feeling so poorly this week, I decided to part with my very hard-earned cash and pay £3.06 for ‘The Embarrassing Truth about SLE and How to Manage it’ by Joseph Newburg. Because the same author had several books about health issues, I mistakenly thought this guy might be able to provide me with some new information or coping techniques. How wrong I was.

Most of this book contains information which has been copied and pasted from Wikipedia. Although the author acknowledges his source, I have to say it doesn’t inspire confidence. I can read Wikipedia for free. Likewise, anyone can update it and therefore not all of the information on there is completely accurate. There are so many more reputable sources that this author could have cited.

Newburg talks about Lupus as though it is a death sentence. It can be but many sufferers now live life in remission. It’s very difficult to generalise with this condition but what Newburg did write was fear mongering and based on very little but his own agenda. Further into the book, Newburg tells sufferers what they need is faith and goes on to quote much of the Book of Job.

I have no objection to any religion in the world. Obviously I resent all fundamentalism and the troubles it causes all over the world. However, if anyone finds comfort in religion, I have no issues with that. Each to their own. I would love to find something that gave me such courage and belief. I’ve yet to find it. What I do object to is someone ramming their religion down my throat and calling it relief.

This book was an absolute swizz. In illness, as with most negative life events, people often look for help out of desperation. I put my faith in knowledge which is why I feel so cheated by this book. But scammers come in all disguises: religious nuts, “authors” and insurance agents among others. There are plenty of people in the world looking to make a quick buck off people’s misery and suffering. Beware.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Neal James.

My Facebook friend Neal James is speaking to us on the blog today. He has a great group on Facebook, you should check it out:

Vic x

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?

The freedom that it gives to my imagination. As Neal James, I can step into another personality and write the kinds of things that Philip Neale, the accountant, could never even contemplate.

What inspires you to write?

The challenge of doing something completely outside of my normal routine. It’s like being on holiday without ever leaving the comfort of your familiar surroundings.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?

Reading is another one of the major sources of inspiration. Just seeing what other writers are doing is a massive pointer as to where I could be. I never copy what I write, but the ideas which come out of reading, say, another crime novel always set me thinking. I’m reading ‘A Place of Execution’ by Val McDermid; it’s a crime novel set in Derbyshire where I live.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?

Crime – James Patterson, Jeffrey Deaver, Val McDermid.

Science Fiction – Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert.

Fantasy – Terry Pratchett.

Humour – Jasper Fforde, Deric Longden.

Horror – James Herbert, Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

I am actually a CIMA qualified accountant, and have been doing the job for over 30 years. It puts bread on the table and gives me the flexibility to indulge in writing as a passion, and not something on which I need to rely for an income.

What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths? Writing in a variety of genres; I never seem to get ‘Writer’s Block’. Each style has its own stories to tell, and that’s the beauty of it – I never chase down a story; I let them tell themselves to me as and when they are ready. Time is another factor – my publisher never pressurises me and this gives me a relaxed atmosphere in which to get things down on paper.

Weakness? As far as writing goes, it has to be impatience. I like to be there at the computer, hammering out the next chapter. Again, I have the flexibility to write as and when I choose, rather than to someone else’s deadline.

What are you working on at the moment?

‘Full Marks’ sets the ground for DCI Dennis Marks, my detective, to emerge from the shadows and take centre stage in a number of novels. It’s 100,000 words and tells of his fight against charges of corruption and incompetence. He will reappear in ‘Day of the Phoenix’ next year, and also in ‘Three Little Maids’, which follows on from ‘Full Marks’.

Where can we find you online? is my website where details of all current and future writing can be seen. There’s also a Guest Author section, and a Showcase where other writers can display one of their books. Submission guidelines are on each of the relevant pages. I’m also on Facebook at

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Believe in yourself and never give up on the dream. If you don’t have that belief, why should anyone else believe in you? Try not to get despondent at critique – you tend to find that those picking fault are writers who can’t get their work published. The green Eyed Monster is a reality.

What’s been your proudest moment?

Definitely the sight of my books in Waterstones – the UK’s major retail bookstore chain. That happened to me in Derby and Nottingham, and it’s a feeling that you never forget. Close behind that is seeing your books on a library shelf.

What would you say to your sixteen-year-old self if you could offer one word of advice or inspiration?

Never give up the daytime job. I wouldn’t change a single thing that’s happened over the last 30 years. Accounting is what has given me this opportunity – without it, the writing would have simply remained a dream instead of the reality which it has become.

Download ‘Two Little Dicky Birds’ by Neal James here:

Download ‘Short Stories – Volume 1’ here:

Order your copy of ‘Short Stories – Volume 1’ here:

Download ‘A Ticket to Tewkesbury’ here: or click for the paperback:

Order a copy of ‘Threads of Deceit’ here: or download it now:

Review: ‘Fear of the Fathers’ by Dominic C. James

The second part of the Reiki Man Trilogy pulls the reader back into the world of Thomas Jennings, Stella Jones and an assortment of shadowy figures. Stella is still grieving for boyfriend Stratton when she is befriended by Pat Cronin, a priest with a hidden agenda.

‘Fear of the Fathers’ shows the author’s increased confidence since the first installment. James is a master of telling seemingly unrelated stories and slowly fitting the pieces together in the most unexpected way possible.

The language used is descriptive and evocative and James obviously knows his characters inside out. There’s a great mix of humour and drama, Dominic C. James has a real knack at making his stories seem entirely real.

It’s really difficult to define the genre of this book but I guess, at the heart, it hovers around the crime / thriller genre. The great thing about this series is that it explores more spiritual matters than most crime novels but the subject matter – no matter how far-fetched – seems completely believable.

The short chapters make this fast-paced and encourage you to read on. There are plenty of mysteries set up at the end of this book that make me desperate to read the final part of the trilogy.

Vic x

Download ‘Fear of the Fathers’ here:

Order your copy of ‘Fear of the Fathers’ here:

Getting to Know You: Gerry McCullough

Today I have Gerry McCullough on the blog, explaining what makes her tick as a writer.

Vic x

I suppose we all have a built-in desire to express ourselves, to explore out deepest feelings and ideas. But shyness or something like that probably keeps us from sharing these thoughts with even our closest friends. So we write them down.

That’s what I did, anyway. And for years I kept my writing to myself. No one was allowed to see it, or even to know I’d written anything, if I could prevent it.

At the same time, I made up stories for my friends and I to act out, from my earliest childhood, and in fact wrote a play which was performed by my class at primary school with the teacher’s help and organisation.  I suppose these felt different – they were stories rather than self-revelation.

Another reason for wanting to write, and one which has pushed me on since I was 7 or 8, was that I’ve always loved reading. And because of that, I’ve wanted to write the sort of stuff I enjoy. So I began by copying my favourite writers, and did that for years. It takes a while before your writing becomes actually original!

I grew up in a home where everyone enjoyed reading – my mother, my father, and my three sisters. My older sister took to me to the library when I was 8, and arranged for me to join it.  I became an ardent reader, and therefore a writer. At my primary school, it happened that I was put into a ‘house’ called Charlotte, after Charlotte Bronte, and the headmistress, in telling us about the various houses, said, ‘Not everyone in ‘Charlotte’ house will be a wonderful writer – but perhaps some of you will!’ That was a definite spark. I remember thinking, ‘Why shouldn’t I be one?’

Although I was too shy to show my writing to friends or family, I had no hesitation in sending it to a strange publisher. I was in my teens before I had anything worth sending, anything long enough to be called a book. (In fact, it was very short – I didn’t really think about how long the usual book is!)

I assumed, I suppose, that as soon as I had written a book, the first publisher I offered it to would snap it up. Wrong! I spent years being rejected – a very painful process, I have to say.  I had numerous short stories published, but no book.

Then at last, two years ago, my book ‘Belfast Girls’ was accepted by Night Publishing and after about four months, at the end of 2010, it was published. I’ll always be grateful to Tim Roux for being the first publisher to accept me, after the long discouraging trek around all the major publishers – which everyone from Charlotte Bronte to PG Wodehouse and JK Rowling has had.

Not long after this, my husband, who has his own publishing company, Precious Oil Publications, said, ‘Now, since you’ve proved yourself, maybe you’ll let me publish your next books?’ I’d always felt that to be published by my own husband would be next door to vanity publishing. But suddenly, as ‘Belfast Girls’ grew more and more successful, I realized I was no longer worried about that. I had done so much of the publicity for the book myself that I didn’t feel that it would make much difference in that area, either. Times have changed. The coming of the eBook and Internet publishing has taken away the stigma from self-publishing.

Currently I’ve just had my fourth book published by my new publisher, Precious Oil Publications – my third full-length novel.  So far, there is ‘Belfast Girls’ (now taken over by POP), which I’m delighted to say has been doing really well, selling around 15,000 copies to date, and in the top 100 in overall ranking for over a month; followed by ‘Danger Danger’, another Irish romantic thriller, and an Irish short story collection, ‘The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus’. (Seanachie is the Irish for storyteller.)


And now there’s my fourth book. This is one I wrote years ago – the first I wrote when I myself was an adult. I’ve spent some time updating it for the modern world – it’s about a Belfast girl on holiday in Greece, and the things that happen to her – another Irish romantic thriller! The title is ‘Angel in Flight: An Angel Murphy Thriller’. The heroine, Angel Murphy, is a feisty young Belfast girl who has been badly hurt by an abusive marriage and is getting her life back together, and proving to be strong, self-reliant and able to sort out the villains she comes across without waiting for a hero to help her.

21st century or what?

Download your copy of ‘Belfast Girls’ here:

Download your copy of ‘Danger Danger’ here:

Download your copy of ‘The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus’ here: 

Download your copy of ‘Angel in Flight: An Angel Murphy Thriller’:

Follow Gerry on Twitter: @Gerry1098