Category Archives: Writers

Guest Post: Louise Mangos on Writing What You Know

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It is my pleasure today to welcome Louise Mangos to the blog to talk about her intimate knowledge of the setting for her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘.

Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, been placed on shortlists, and have also been read on BBC radio. Her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘ is published by HQ Digital (Harper Collins) in ebook, paperback and on audio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook and Twitter or visit her website where there are links to more of her stories. Louise lives in Switzerland with her husband and two sons.

Vic x

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The much-travelled author Mark Twain allegedly said “write what you know. Having spent much of my time in central Switzerland for the past twenty years, the one thing I feel confident in portraying in my novels is the setting. Both my first and second novels are set in and around the Swiss Alps. 

Strangers on a Bridge begins with ex-pat Alice Reed out for a jog one morning when she sees a man – Manfred – about to jump from the Lorzentobelbrücke. As this is rather a mouthful for English readers, it is referred to in the novel as the Tobel Bridge. In reality it is a notorious suicide hotspot that has sadly found its way into many local newspaper articles over the years.

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A quick trip on the bike to re-visit the setting for the first scene on the Tobel Bridges.

The area surrounding the village where my protagonist Alice lives is called the Aegerital, or the Aegeri Valley. It is a cleft of land gouged out of alpine granite with rivers running in and out of the jewel at its centre – the Aegeri Lake. Our family moved there twenty years ago when my first son was six months old. Many of the difficulties Alice faces in Strangers on a Bridge were challenges I also faced when we first moved, speaking no German and pre-occupied with a new baby. 

But that’s where the similarities end. I’m happy to report I never witnessed a person wanting to jump from the Tobel Bridge, and I was certainly never stalked by anybody. I should also point out that we worked hard to integrate into the community we now live in. We made an early effort to learn the language, and have experienced friendliness and acceptance from our neighbours ever since.

During the creative and theoretical modules for my Masters in Crime Writing at UEA, two of my professors, Henry Sutton and Tom Benn, talked about the importance of setting in a novel. They encouraged the students to incorporate the setting to such an extent that it effectively becomes one of the characters. 

No matter where a crime novel is set, this atmosphere must be conveyed to the reader to enhance the tension. This might include how a setting behaves through the seasons, for example, the environmental influences in extreme weather conditions.

Strangers on a Bridge begins in spring, the perfect opening for any novel. The season of births and beginnings. Alice is out for a spring jog when she sees Manfred on the bridge and is convinced he is about to jump. Her shock jars alarmingly with the beautiful alpine spring surroundings.

A great deal of research was still undertaken to make the narrative of this psychological thriller believable. Although I am familiar with many of the rules and traditions in Switzerland, police and legal procedures had to be subsequently verified and checked.

But with the setting clearly cemented as one of the characters in the narrative, it was a pleasure to embellish the plot to match the drama of the Alps.

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The view of the Aegerital from Alice’s running trail in spring.

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Don’t Quit the day Job: Jonny Keen

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today’s guest is Jonny Keen, an NHS worker who has published two books so far: ‘The Rider in the Waves‘, a collection of fantasy short stories, and ‘Lightfoot‘ which is a fantasy novel. Jonny’s writing is often described as light fantasy or comic fantasy, but the piece he submitted for WriteNow was literary fiction.

Jonny also writes non-fiction articles for a range of publications including Teach Early Years and the Manchester Evening News. He’s also the editor of Llandudno FC’s matchday programme. 

My thanks to Jonny for being involved.

Vic x

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A friend told me recently that I’m getting to be a bit like Homer Simpson; I seem to have a completely different job every week. I’ve been a computer game researcher, a call centre drone, a test subject for an experimental drug, a nursery nurse, a personal assistant, a medical typist and a few other things too. All this before the age of 25!

It certainly makes for a range of experience that can serve to inspire creative writing. Last year, I sent part of a novel to Penguin Random House for a competition called WriteNow. This is an initiative that aims to help writers from minority backgrounds get their work published, and since I have a disability (dyspraxia) I was eligible to apply. The piece I sent in focused on a character trying to navigate the daily trials and tedium of working in an office. It came from personal experience and I couldn’t have made it authentic without having had that personal experience to base it on. I was selected as one of the 150 entrants invited in for a day of writing seminars, workshops and a face to face consultation with one of Penguin’s publishing assistants, so it’s nice to know my working life got me somewhere in the literary world.

But I think there’s more to be said for working than just inspiration. Working in so many different industries has certainly helped my creativity along. The two emotional states I tend to switch between whilst at work are those of boredom and stress. Oddly enough, I find both states highly conducive to creativity. Those emotions cause me to seek mental escape and I often think up interesting story ideas whilst at work. Occasionally, a job even had good opportunities to note down ideas. When I was a nursery nurse, I used to draft short stories whilst supervising a room full of sleeping toddlers. That job was especially good for inspiration. My first book, The Rider in the Waves, was largely inspired by the slightly surreal things children of two and three would say to me on a daily basis, and the strange games they would make up.

I remember starting my first part time job as a teenager and absolutely hating it. It was in a call centre and I couldn’t stand the environment. I consoled myself with the thought that in a few short years I was bound to be a published author and then I would be free. It didn’t take long before I learned that things were a little more difficult that and even some very successful authors still hold down day jobs to pay the bills. This became a bit of a struggle for me. As I grew up, I had to get to grips with the idea that I was going to have to work a regular job for the foreseeable future. But whilst I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t love to write full time, perhaps remaining in work is a good thing. It helps me to stay motivated, keeps the creative juices flowing and gives me plenty of real world experience to base my writing on. Finding the time to write with a full time job and other commitments can be tough, but sometimes the difficult things in life can help to shape us into better, stronger people and I think that’s certainly the case with my writing.

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Guest Post: Judy Penz Sheluk on Using your Past to Create your Present

I’m pleased to have Judy Penz Sheluk here today to talk about her forthcoming release ‘Past & Present‘ and how her own family’s journey inspired it.

I’m so grateful to Judy for sharing such a personal experience with us. 

Vic x

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I’m Canadian, born and raised in Toronto, and I’ve lived within a two-hour drive of that city all my life. My parents, on the other hand, were first generation Canadians, having immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s.

Their stories are similar to so many of the time. My father was born in Apatin, Yugoslavia, a small town on the Danube that is now part of Serbia. My mother was born in Stettin, Germany, now known as Szczecin and part of Poland. Both of them, teenagers during the war, and displaced after, made their way to England and settled in Nottingham for a period of time. 

By the time they met at a local dance, my father was set to immigrate to Toronto, Canada, in February of 1952 (such a brave soul—Toronto in February is, at best, cold and snowy, and at worst, colder and snowier). At any rate, it must have been love at first sight, because my mother applied for her own papers and arrived in Toronto in July 1952, on a hot, humid day. They married that October. 

Fast forward to September 21, 2016, when my mother, Anneliese, passed away from complications of COPD, following my father, Anton “Toni” Penz, who had died of stomach cancer in 1970 at the age of 42. Among her things was an old train case, and within it, her old passport, immigration papers, and documents and postcards from the T.S.S. Canberra, the ship she sailed over on. My mother had never talked much about her life “before Canada” and I became fascinated with finding out everything I could. The resulting research sparked an idea for a book, and my protagonist’s research into the past often mirrors my own, right down to the frustrating bits.

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T.S.S. Canberra postcard, c. 1950s.

I’ve dedicated Past & Present to my mother, and the release date of September 21, 2018, falls exactly two years after her passing. I like to think she’s with my father again, watching over me as my journey continues. 

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About Past & Present:

Sometimes the past reaches out to the present…

It’s been thirteen months since Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherited a house in Marketville under the condition that she search for the person who murdered her mother thirty years earlier. She solves the mystery, but what next? Unemployment? Another nine-to-five job in Toronto? 

Callie decides to set down roots in Marketville, take the skills and knowledge she acquired over the past year, and start her own business: Past & Present Investigations.

It’s not long before Callie and her new business partner, best friend Chantelle Marchand, get their first client: a woman who wants to find out everything she can about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, and how she came to a “bad end” in 1956. It sounds like a perfect first assignment. Except for one thing: Anneliese’s past winds its way into Callie’s present, and not in a manner anyone—least of all Callie—could have predicted. 

About the author: Judy Penz Sheluk is the Amazon international bestselling author of the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short stories appear in several collections.

Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime International, International Thriller Writers, Inc., the South Simcoe Arts Council, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors, representing Toronto and  Southwestern Ontario.

Judy Penz Sheluk’s latest book in her Marketville Mystery series, Past & Present’, is now available for pre-order on Amazon in trade paperback and on Kindle.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicola Ford

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today’s guest is Nicola Ford. Nic’s here to talk to us about her double life and how that influenced her to write her debut novel ‘The Hidden Bones‘. My thanks to Nic for sharing her knowledge and experience with us. 

Vic x

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I love writing. I’ve always loved writing. And I’ve always loved reading crime fiction. So when I decided to turn my hand to writing fiction there was only ever going to be one genre for me. And I’m among the most fortunate of people because after much time spent applying my backside to my office chair and, as seems compulsory for all writers more than a smattering of self-doubt, my debut crime novel The Hidden Bones was published in June this year. 

So I have a job I love – crime writer. But that’s not the end of the story, or maybe I should say it’s not really even the beginning; because like many writers I lead a double life. By night I’m crime fiction writer Nicola Ford but by day I’m Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. 

So I live a life steeped in the distant past. Wiltshire, the place that I’ve called home for a decade and a half is thronging with ancient burial mounds and prehistoric stone circles. And much of my time is spent digging up their secrets and delving into the mysteries that lie buried deep within museum archives.

Some writers may dream of giving up the day job, but for me I’m an archaeologist to my core. It’s one half of who I am and provides not only the backdrop, but also the inspiration for my crime writing. The Hidden Bones is set amid the chalk uplands of the Marlborough Downs an area I know intimately as I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life working there. 

Often rural is equated with ‘cosy’, but for those of us who live and work here we know that life in the countryside is anything but. If you’re born without money or means, or elderly and alone, rural life can be tough. And the shock waves left behind by violent crime can have a deep resonance that persists down through the generations in small, sometimes isolated communities.

The Hidden Bones delves into the secrets of one such community.  Clare Hills returns to Wiltshire in search of new direction in her life after the death of her husband in a car crash. She’s only too glad to take up old college friend, Dr David Barbrook’s offer of helping sift through the effects of recently deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart. When they discover the finds and journals from Gerald’s most glittering excavation, they think they’ve found every archaeologist’s dream. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth forever.

In both halves of my working life I spend my time dealing with the dead. And in trying to figure out how they came to die, I’ve found that the most important clues are often found in understanding how they lived. I’m fascinated by the imprint that choices made by people in the – sometimes far distant – past leave on our lives, in ways we may never understand. And many of the scientific techniques I draw upon in my day job form the fundamental building blocks of modern police investigations. So Nicola Ford crime writer is inextricably interlinked with Dr Nick Snashall archaeologist. Two halves, one whole – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Miranda Kate

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Recently, I gave a call out on social media for people who wanted to share how their day job(s) have influenced their writing. Miranda Kate was one of the people to respond. Here she is to tell us about how work and writing have fed one another. My thanks to Miranda for being part of this feature. And remember: it’s open to everyone. If you’d like to get involved, drop me an email

Vic x

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I didn’t really think that writing would be something I would take seriously. I started out life wanting to be a film director, I even studied drama at college, but I did write snippets of stories (which would now be called flash fiction) – and one day a friend said they wanted more – a whole novel more, so I thought, how do I make this more?

By this time, after leaving my first job of working back stage in a West End theatre, I had moved into clerical work and it was at my first permanent job working in the office of a shoe factory, processing sales orders that I started to debate how I could turn one particular piece into a bigger story. And then one day the Office Manager, who sat opposite me, laughed at something someone had said. It came out as an effeminate cackle, and with his aged, balding, liver spotted head thrown back the antagonist for my novel was born!

I started that novel in 1991 and it has gone through many incarnations and rewrites, but it is now finally about to be released as a novella in my new science-fiction collection: Slipping Through.

I have gone on to write other novels, some only beginnings and others in half completed stages, but one that made it to completion and I hope to release early next year, began in that same job. I wrote the opening, which is now the prologue, for a competition to win a copy of James Herbert’s book Portent (yes, that many years ago), and it still exists pretty much intact, just tightened up and made to flow better. I still remember one of the company directors proofreading it for me. They seemed to have no issue with the fact that I had written it during working hours.

In fact some of my best writing has been done while at work. Moving up from clerical work to Secretary and eventually a Personal Assistant, I always filled the quiet times with my own writing disguised as actual work. I always made sure my work was done on time and efficiently, but I also made sure not to ask for more so I could keep writing.

And now as a stay at home mum for the last twelve years, it is probably why I do most of my writing during the day and not in the evenings. But even though I had no issue with the noise of an office around me when I was working, I struggle to write with children round me. And I need silence to write in, no music, nothing.

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Alan Parkinson

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hosting the first ever Noir at the Bar in Sunderland as part of Sunderland’s Creative Writing Festival. One of the writers on the bill that night was the lovely Alan Parkinson

Alan is here today to talk about how his work life has affected his writing. If you haven’t read any of Alan’s work, I strongly recommend that you do. You can also catch Alan on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

IMG_5043.jpgTwo years ago, I gave up the day job to become a full-time writer and there were many things I took into consideration. Could I afford it? Despite the romanticised image of life as a writer, it is generally a poorly paid profession.

Would I be taken seriously? I’d self-published two novels at that stage. They’d done well but was that enough to sustain a career in writing?

Would my friends ever stop thinking I was unemployed? The answer to that one is no, they still ask if I’ve got a ‘proper job’.

One thing I hadn’t considered, and possibly the most crucial thing of all, was would I lose my most valuable source of material?

Writing is all about observation. Noticing the small detail in things and shaping it into your own little world. I thrive on seeing humour in every situation, even the darkest moments, and thinking about how I can use it in a future story.

Whether they realise it or not, my workmates were a deep well of idiosyncrasies, amusing phrases and peculiar behaviours. As were the hundreds of people I saw on my commute each day and the thousands I encountered on my daily lunchtime wander around Newcastle. I was giving that up to sit at my posh writing desk, on my posh writing chair (I soon moved to the settee) and meet and talk to nobody other than the Amazon delivery driver and my elderly neighbour asking me to fix her laptop again.

This is why you see so many dull novels where the protagonist is a writer struggling to put words on a page; by becoming a writer they have lost their inspiration.

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That’s not to say I’ve ever taken person wholesale and put them in a book; I’ve yet to meet anybody interesting enough. I steal one characteristic and match it with another, and another from somebody else, and shape a new character.

I do the same with situations. I’ll take real life situations, adapt and exaggerate them with different characters to make my story come alive.

When I worked for one of the world’s largest banks. In a period of months, we had one colleague locked up for murder, one for attempted murder and another for a dodgy internet history. I’ve never considered any of them worthy of writing about because they are all a bit ‘obvious’.  It’s the little things that are funny and give your story life.

It’s over fifteen years since I worked in a call centre but my short time there has inspired two novels, Idle Threats and my current work in progress, Troll Life. Anybody who has ever worked in a call centre or phoned one will recognise the utter despair and understand how it can drive people to extremes. 

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I’ve never been in an armed siege, or dressed as a Mexican, or dealt with an irate customer in their pyjamas but my experience in a call centre helped me make this unlikely scenario realistic.

I don’t regret my decision for a minute but every now and then I long for a workmate who would say “I wish Andrea would move to one side, so I can get a good blast of her fan.”

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil Fulwood

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Poet Neil Fulwood is here to share his experience of work and writing with us. My thanks to Neil for taking the time to tell us how work has affected his life as a writer. 

Vic x

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My grandfather was a miner; my dad ran his own haulage business. It’s not a matter of record whether granddad liked his job or not, but he was definitely a grafter. Dad subscribed to a “dignity” of work philosophy that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Nevil Shute novel. In three generations of Fulwoods, I was the odd-one-out.

In my late twenties, I came across a Raymond Carver poem with these lines: “… this much is still true – / I never liked work. My goal was always / to be shiftless”. I’d been putting in the nine-to-five for a decade at that point: I’d worked as an admin assistant, a receptionist and an estimator for a firm that made road signs. Even with the benefit of longevity and a minor tendency to hagiography, I wouldn’t file any of them under “job satisfaction”.

My first job ended in redundancy after four years. I’ve been downsized several times since then. The “job for life” of my father’s generation is a thing of the past. I’ve quit a couple of jobs of my own accord – one with a financial services firm as a matter of conscience, one at a training company after I was threatened with violence and wasn’t convinced that effective safeguarding was in place.

I’ve never really had a career path or any professional goals. Work was simply an act of pragmatism: there was board to pay, then rent, then a mortgage; a car to run; food to put on the table. Debts to pay off or holidays to save for. Beer money. Bookshops. If one job ended, I temped till another came along. To date, I’ve worked in the manufacturing and retail sectors, financial services, training and healthcare. The same culture of mismanagement, office politics and grassroots employees treated as cattle has been prevalent in all of them.

Some folk succeed in dodging what Larkin called “the toad work” and I have friends and colleagues who deplore these people as spongers and scroungers. But if I’m being perfectly honest I quite admire those toad-avoiders. That I’ve never managed to join their ranks says something about me, though I’m not quite sure what.

While I’ve seldom enjoyed work – the one job I had that I genuinely engaged with ended in redundancy after just a couple of years – it’s given me material. For a while I held off writing poems about office life, convinced that paperwork and poetry weren’t a good match. Then it occurred to me that no-one was documenting the white collar whereas the blue collar experience had champions of such stature as Fred Voss and Philip Levine, and the toad-avoiders had Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski on their side.

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I found my voice as a poet in my mid-thirties – I’d written during my teens and early twenties, but what I produced was shallow and derivative – and by the time I published my first collection, No Avoiding It (Shoestring Press), at the age of 45, poems about work accounted for a third of its content. In a review published in The Morning Star, Andy Croft noted that I was “especially good on the mental slavery of contemporary work”.

‘Nuff said!