Tag Archives: literary

**The Last Day Blog Tour** Guest Post and Review

Last Day Blog Tour

I am absolutely delighted to welcome Claire Dyer to the blog today as part of her blog tour for ‘The Last Day‘. 

Claire is here to chat to us about Beginnings and Endings today which, given the subject of ‘The Last Day‘, is very apt.

Thanks to Claire, and The Dome Press, for allowing me to be a part of this tour.

Vic x 

Claire Dyer

Beginnings and endings
By Claire Dyer

Every ending starts with a beginning …

One of the creative writing classes I teach at Bracknell & Wokingham College is on beginnings and endings. We start by talking about some of the most notable beginnings from the literary canon: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier); ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens); ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,’ (Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare) and we analyse what has made them memorable. It’s not an easy exercise because everyone has their own take, their own set of memories and expectations.

What’s also interesting in this section of the class is when I tell my students that most writers will not keep the original first few sentences of their novel; they will go through many iterations and, in some cases, whole opening scenes and chapters will be deleted.

We then look at endings and again, I pick a few favourites: ‘Reader, I married him,’ (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë); ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ (The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald), etc.

And we talk about why these endings work. Is it because they bring the story arc to a satisfactory conclusion? Or, is it because they don’t? Do they leave the reader alone with their own emotions, casting their gaze into the future lives of the books’ characters with their own take on hope, regret, sadness, joy? Or, as in the case of one of my favourite recent reads, Together, by Julie Cohen, the ending is the beginning?

Again, it’s hard to tell. Whatever the case, there is a certain alchemy at work with both beginnings and endings and I’ve learned a lot about this particular type of magic from working on poems. One brilliant piece of advice I’ve been given is to look carefully at the first and last stanzas of a poem and ask whether they are necessary. Do they serve a purpose for the poem or are they just a frame in which the poem sits? This discipline has, I hoped, helped me with the beginnings and endings of my novels.

So, we can study the theory and practise our own but, in the end, our beginnings and endings are at the mercy of our readers, all we can do is make them the best we can.

And so, I try. The first paragraph of The Last Day came very late in the writing process. The ending crept up on me and when I realised I’d got there I had to step away from the keyboard and not risk that last, lone brushstroke which may have ruined everything. Whether my own attempt at alchemy will work will, of course, be up to others, but I have loved every minute of trying.

Review: ‘The Last Day’

by Claire Dyer.

Boyd moves back into the family home with Vita, his estranged wife, to get his finances back on track. Accompanying Boyd is his beautiful, young girlfriend, Honey who is running from her past. The unlikely housemates manage to make their living arrangement work despite all the odds but memories are never far away and the ghosts of the past threaten to derail the new normal in Albert Terrace.

When I first read the premise, my interest was piqued because of the unusual situation of a man living with his estranged wife and new lover.

Claire Dyer manages to make the reader suspend their disbelief and accept this peculiar situation by creating nuanced characters that readers can empathise with. Everyone is afforded a compassion and understanding which is often lacking in fiction and in life. 

The language used in this book is beautiful and adds to the poignancy of the storyline. It’s obvious why Claire Dyer is an award-winning poet thanks to her thoughtful turn of phrase and rich descriptions. 

Long after I’d finished reading ‘The Last Day’, I found myself thinking about Vita, Boyd, Honey and Boyd’s mum. This beautifully written, observant novel will stay with you long after the final page has been turned. 

Vic x


Don’t Quit the Day Job: Robert Parker

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, we have Robert Parker discussing how his occupation helped inspire his crime writing. I first met Robert on the Crime & Publishment course in 2016 and he’s a top chap. Robert has, however, chosen to retain his anonymity – I’m sure you’ll understand why soon… 

Thanks to him for sharing his experience with us. 

Vic x

You are now twenty times more likely to be a victim of cyber crime than you are to be mugged in the street. It makes a lot of sense, from a criminal perspective. Why would you bother to actually mug someone these days? Why take all the risks; the chance of someone calling your bluff, the chance of someone mugging you right back, the chance of going to jail, if, like me, you harbour a suspicion that you might just be a bit too pretty for that? Why take the gamble when you can sit on a couch in the comfort of your underwear, with a laptop, eating food that probably came in a bucket, scrolling, clicking and punching in the odd stolen card number.

That’s where we come in. Online fraud is big business these days and as time goes on it’s only getting bigger, more complicated and harder to spot.

I wound up in my job almost by accident. Almost. It isn’t something you can fall into. There’s a bit of commitment required. Competition for jobs can get fierce. It isn’t an option you just settle for. But I didn’t know it was something you could do until about a year before I shoehorned my way in.

It was 2010 and I was working two jobs at once, waiting on tables in the family-owned coffee shop and fitting cattle mattresses (yes, really) for my step-dad’s agricultural engineering business. I was living away from my fiancée during the week and driving the hundred and thirty dark winter miles to and from Edinburgh either side of the weekend. I needed to spend more time where I supposedly lived. I knew I would have to find something a bit different. They don’t do farming in the big smoke. I’d never worked in an office. I thought I could give that a go. It had to be warmer than a byre in January. How hard could it be?

I failed the data entry test (yes, really). That sounds like it would be hard to do. In my defence, I didn’t know my way round a keyboard, much less a clunky, chunky, nineties relic, mothballed in the damp basement of a recruitment agency. They were prepared to take a chance on me. They were counting on me. I couldn’t let them down, I was told, by an overly earnest man who had to be ten years my junior.

I was sent to the offices a of a tech firm who needed me to enter data for two weeks. It meant I could spend some time with Caroline, if nothing else. I remember thinking then that there must be something more interesting than data entry going on inside the offices of a travel website. I just had no concept of what that might actually be.

I didn’t get to do any data entry. I managed a tour of the city centre office, a coffee and slack-jawed stare at what must have been an expensive view of the castle, before someone in the contact centre got fired for looking at Facebook.

That’s how I wound up in a contact centre. A couple of weeks later I overheard a conversation between two of my new workmates in the pub, one asking the other “How are you finding the fraud department?” That was the light bulb moment. That was when I knew I’d found the something more interesting. It took me another twenty months to get in, but I’ve been here ever since.

So how has it contributed to my writing? In a lot of ways that I might have seen coming and a few more I didn’t.

First of all, there’s the day-to-day. I’m a fraud analyst, part case-by-case investigator and part long-term strategist. We deal with the fraud as and when it arises, working individual cases, catching people in the act and hopefully stopping them, but we also follow patterns, predict trends and take steps to counteract them. Where we can, we help the police, build cases and compile evidence, with a view to putting people safely away.

The first thing you learn is that it isn’t quite as glamorous as the expectations of your friends and family. My mum seems to think my day job is something like cyber CSI, and it is, but like a real life CSI. It’s methodical. It involves hard work and you don’t actually get to chase, or even see the bad guys, not in real life, though ironically for the girl whose job I originally stole, I do spend far more time on Facebook than can ever really be healthy.

It isn’t something you could write a book about, not a thriller anyway. Man-gets-mildly-excited-and-spills-cappuccino-after-left-clicking-and-discovering-some-fraudulent-transactions or man-deals-with-brief-existential-crisis-after-opening-an-intimidating-Excel-file doesn’t make for a particularly compelling elevator pitch. Or maybe it’s just a bit too literary for me.

It’s all relative though. You can get lost in the data for hours and you do get a buzz when you uncover a web or a pattern. But it’s the stuff I’ve learned as a consequence of my job that inspires and informs plots, research and characters.

So much of our lives today happen online. Like it or not, you leave traces of yourself wherever you go. Even a Google search records multiple pieces of information, all of which affect what you’re shown next time around. Police investigations naturally have a higher emphasis on our online, connected lives as time goes on.

It isn’t just fraud that has moved online either. The dark web is a one-stop shop for anything you want. Feel like ordering up a kilo of heroin? An Uzi? A human being? It’s all out there, lurking below the surface. You just have to know where to start digging. And the customer service is better than you’ll find anywhere else.

You learn about these things when you come into contact with the right – or wrong – people, when you’re trained by the right people. It’s the stories you hear that stick in the mind. The public consciousness seems to have fraud down as a victimless crime, but a conversation with the police would quickly convince you otherwise. Fraudsters are pretty often the same people committing the more serious crimes, with the proceeds going to fund the drugs, guns and human traffic.

Different gang cultures have different hierarchies. With the world getting smaller there are clashes. That thought led me to the plot of my first novel, Snow Storm. Throw in a conspiracy theory, a few bodies, add a twist or three and hopefully you’re halfway to a decent story.

Sometimes though, inspiration can be as simple as dumb luck and geography, like my wife dropping me off at work, bleary eyed and achy after the office Christmas party, next to a lamppost someone had hung an oddly shaped bag from.

“Do you think there’s a head in there?” I heard myself say, through a boozy haze.

And the opening of Snow Storm landed, fully formed, between my ears.

Review of 2017: Miriam Owen

Since then, our paths have crossed a couple of times and it’s always a pleasure. 

My thanks to Miriam for taking the time to chat to us today.

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
I chaired panels at Newcastle Noir and Bloody Scotland. Both of these were great memories.  At Newcastle Noir I had the late night slot on the Saturday entitled ‘Presenting The Case.’ I was so pleased the room was full and we had lots of interesting chat and laughs with the panel and audience.  After being involved in this festival for 3 years I finally got to see some of the city, try a stottie and found a wee jazz bar.  There were lots of special moments with friends at Bloody Scotland and I enjoyed trying something different on The Dark Lands panel.  We asked Norwegian author Thomas Enger to play some music he had composed for a character in one of his books which was beautiful. The panel was made even more memorable by Thomas and Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson marching on to the stage with the Bloody Scotland Football Trophy held high. They both played for the Scottish team this year and we won!  

Photo by @Timea

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Finally making it up to the northern Outer Hebrides in the summer of 2017 was great.  I have always wanted to see Luskentyre Beach and it was truly stunning.  We arrived in a storm, struggled to find our accommodation off a single track road then woke up the next day to sunshine and to find Luskentyre was literally over a sand dune from our front door. We also got to spend some quality time on a croft in Uist with friends as well which was long overdue. I went to Dublin for one night to meet friends from Nova Scotia who were over visiting Ireland, that trip was a blast.

Favourite book in 2017?
My favourite book of 2017 was The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen.  The story is dark and funny and totally appeared to my sense of humour.  Antti has a twinkle in his eye at the best of times and I can easily imagine him chuckling away to himself as he wrote it. 

Photo by Orenda 

Favourite film in 2017?
Alien Covenant was decent and Series 3 of Fargo was brilliant.  The TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale was utterly terrifying.  

Favourite song of the year?
Hearing New Focus play their album On Song live at the Tolbooth in Stirling was amazing.  I also heard Phil Bancroft play Sonny Rollins Freedom Suite in Edinburgh which was quite astounding.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Brexit plus a conservative MP being elected in my constituency is pretty depressing. Anything involving the words Boris or Trump is utterly unbelievable. The lack of compassion, empathy or responsibility by those in powerful positions frustrates the hell out of me.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
I don’t make resolutions. Every day brings new challenges. I always try to do my best, remain positive and think about the bigger picture.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
To be happy, healthy, learning and exploring and to have love in my life.
I am also starting a major piece of research around Nordic branding and do-it yourself culture (eg Noir at the Bar) in live literary events in the Marketing Department of Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow. I hope 2018 brings lots of discussion, events to go to and peace and quiet to study. If you want to talk to me about this piece of work please email me.

Guest Post: Nic Parker on Hull Noir 2017

The dedicated Nic Parker, author of ‘Descent to Hell‘ travelled all the way from Germany to attend the inaugural Hull Noir. 

I was gutted not to be there myself but I know Nic is the perfect person to tell us all about the weekend. Thanks to Nic for sharing her weekend with us! 

Vic x

Hull Noir 
By Nic Parker

Hull Noir was brought to life as part of Hull being City of Culture 2017. Reykjavik is Hull’s twin city. The Iceland Noir festival takes part in Reykjavik every other year and the following year moves to another city so this was a brilliant move for Hull.

My weekend at Hull Noir kicked off on Friday night with the Getting Carter event at the Kardomah94. Nick Triplow talked to Cathi Unsworth, introducing Ted Lewis to the audience, speaking about the life and work of the Hull-born Lewis with some of Lewis’s old friends present. Triplow said that even after researching Lewis for over ten years, he still learns new facts about him. Ted Lewis created Brit Noir but was way ahead of his time and never got acknowledged for it – until now. Nick Triplow has done Ted Lewis proud in bringing this literary hero of Hull back into the spotlight.

Saturday marked Hull Noir’s official start with the Sleeping with the Fishes – Hull vs. Iceland panel. As Hull and Reykjavik are twin cities both known for their fishing industries, Nick Quantrill chaired David Mark, Lilja Sigurdadottir and Quentin Bates, who discussed the different types of crime in both cities. It was intriguing to hear that while Hull has left its worst behind, crime is on the rise in Reykjavik due to the huge amount of tourists visiting each year. Transgressions in Reykjavik are higher than before and a lot of the crimes are drug-related, an issue Sigurdadottir picked up for her book Snare.

Craphouse to Powerhouse was the title of the second panel where Danielle Ramsay, Jay Stringer, Luca Veste and Paul Finch discussed post-industrial crime fiction in the North, particularly on the northern part of the M62. For me, as a foreigner, it is always fascinating to hear how that North/South way of thinking is still very much present in today’s Britain. Despite talk of gruesome murder, the authors pulled the audience right in and there was also a lot of laughter, thanks to Stringer and Veste.

The panel Into the Darkness delivered what its title promised. Jake Arnott, Emma Flint, Joseph Knox and Cathi Unsworth talked about murder set in different time periods and how protagonists don’t always have to be only good characters. Joseph Knox takes his readers to modern day parties in drug-ridden Manchester locations. Emma Flint talked about how the perception of a person based on her looks can lead us to condemn someone we don’t know and how it was even worse in 1965. Jake Arnott evokes ‘Romeville’, the underworld of 1720s London, rife with crime and even using criminal slang. When Cathi Unsworth mentioned her next book would be about a mysterious murder involving dark magic there was a murmur of anticipation in the audience.

Martina Cole celebrating her twenty-five year silver jubilee as a crime writer on stage with Barry Forshaw was a definite highlight of the festival. Cole is a wonderful person, sharp and funny – she should have her own television show. She talked about how her career started, how she wrote stories to entertain herself and how she got her first agent, with whom she has stayed all this time. Martina mentioned how many of the men and women in prison she met are not villains but often people who made one stupid decision in their life that ended up with them behind bars. She has encountered men who can’t even properly write their own names, stating that a gorgeous face is not enough in life and how very important education is. She also spoke out against the snobbery in the publishing industry that doesn’t seem to have changed much since she started out. She remains not only the bestselling author in the UK, whose books are the most stolen – ‘I might’ve nicked a few myself’, she grinned – but also an inspiration for authors. It was the perfect event to end the first day of Hull Noir.

Sunday saw Getting Away With Murder at ten o’clock and despite the early time the audience was in for a treat. Ayo Onatade did a brilliant job chairing Abir Mukherjee, Rachel Rhys and Matt Wesolowski. Who would have predicted Mukherjee and Wesolowski would be such a great act on stage, bouncing gags off each other within the minute. Rhys and Mukherjee said they needed a lot more research due to the time their stories are set in. Rhys had found and talked to a woman who had actually done the trip from the UK to Australia in 1939 on a cruise ship so she got first hand information. Mukherjee watched old Pathé films on Youtube to get a feel for 1919s Calcutta but, finally, visited India to get a real taste of the country his story was set in. Matt Wesolowski, deemed the baby of the group at thirty-six, used the ultra modern structure of a podcast in his first novel, listing his influences as podcasts like Serial and Someone Knows Something. While they are all glad about new technology, Wesolowski said he didn’t want his young son growing up only valuing himself if he received enough likes on Instagram or Facebook. Rhys is still reluctant to welcome all aspects of modern technology into her life. All three authors mentioned how fond they still are of notebooks, enjoying scribbling down whatever comes to their minds.

William Ryan chaired the Freedom, Opression and Control panel with Eva Dolan, Stav Sherez and Kati Hiekkapelto and the sombre atmosphere of this issue was almost tangible. Oppression of people is not only a thing of the past, like in Ryan’s book set in the UK under the SS-regime, it also concerns people who are regarded differently, like a transgender woman in Dolan’s story. Stav Sherez explored the often ignored danger that lures in the depths of the internet while Hiekkapelto deals with an ongoing issue for which there seems no current solution: the refugee crisis and how badly these people are often treated. Hiekkapelto stunned the audience by asking them what it means to have freedom and if anyone feels like they are really free, a question many might have thought about long after the panel had ended.

Off The Beaten Track saw the wonderful Jacky Collins asking Sarah Ward, David Young, Antti Tuomainen and Daniel Pembrey about the different settings of their books. Pembrey has lived in Amsterdam and Luxembourg and used these places as settings whereas Young set his books in Eastern Germany in 1975. Young toured with his band in the eastern part of Germany a few years ago, eager to learn about what life was like there before the wall came down. Tuomainen, who has a wonderful dry humour, wondered how a reader could buy his yarn about setting up a fictitious mushroom factory yet his mistake of naming a wrong street in an existing town upset said reader.

A Year In The Crime Writing Life of John Connolly and Mark Billingham ended the festival on Sunday with Jake Kerridge as ringmaster, often having trouble keeping the  other two in line. I’ve seen Connolly and Billingham on stage a few times before and it’s always a treat. Their stories and humour had the audience laughing with tears rolling down their faces.

When asked about their highs and lows of the past year Billingham said his lowest was when he got massively hacked. Connolly was moved telling about his highlight of the year, how he had felt honoured to be on stage at the Panopticon in Glasgow where Stan Laurel had made his stage debut. I urge everyone who is a fan of Laurel & Hardy to read he by Connolly. It’s not crime fiction but a very moving and loving tale about Laurel & Hardy, evoking the golden era of old Hollywood. Speaking of comedians, Billingham and Connolly are always a brilliant act, exchanging puns and jokes and spinning many an entertaining yarn. Putting these two great authors on as the last panel was a genius move as the festival ended on a total high.


I had an absolute blast at Hull Noir and somehow it ended all too fast. I had time to chat with old friends and met lots of wonderful new people. The small and not overcrowded venue gave you enough time, as well as the opportunity, to chat to the authors after the panels and not spend your entire time between events standing in line to get your book signed/hunting for a coffee/going to the loo.

The festival surpassed all of my expectations. The panels were very clever and it was pure entertainment getting to hear from new talents and seasoned authors alike.

I can’t thank Nick Triplow, Nick Quantrill and Nikki East enough for putting together such a brilliant programme and for creating an awesome event everyone will be talking about for a long time. Hull Noir was a great success and here’s hoping this wonderful event will be repeated.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Gitsham

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Following on from Linda MacDonald’s insight into how teaching A Level Psychology contributed to her debut novel, we have another teacher on the blog to talk about how teaching has inspired him to write a series of crime novels.

My thanks to the lovely – and very busy – Paul Gitsham for taking the time to write about his day job. To find out more about the DCI Warren Jones series,  go to Facebook, Twitter or Paul’s website

Paul’s will be the final blog in the Don’t Quit the Day Job series for 2017 because December, as always, will be taken up with daily guests reviewing their year. Don’t Quit the Day Job will start again in January 2018.

Vic x

“You know, if you bury her body under the new school hall, no one will ever find her, Sir.”

This was not a helpful plot idea from one of my students, rather the response of another pupil to his classmate’s question “are trees alive?”, asked precisely three weeks before the class were due to sit their biology GCSE.

Fortunately, the question appeared to be little more than a random synaptic misfiring – probably caused by stress – and the frantically blushing pupil went on to do very well.

If I tell someone at a literary festival that I am a school teacher (often in response to the question, ‘why don’t you write more quickly?’ or ‘can’t you take the afternoon off to arrive at a more reasonable hour?’), they naturally assume that I teach English. That I am a former biologist and now teach science seems to bemuse many people.

Yet I find that although teaching full time eats into my writing time, it also feeds into what I write. For example, DCI Warren Jones is happily married to Susan, a – you guessed it! – secondary school biology teacher. She even supplies the odd crucial insight – thus allowing me to vicariously fulfil my own fantasies…

The first person we meet in my debut novel, The Last Straw, is Tom Spencer – who just happened to be sitting opposite me, marking coursework, as I dreamt up that book. By contrast, the laid-back, portly, pony-tailed Crime Scene Manager Andy Harrison, who appears in all of my books, is the polar opposite of his namesake, another former colleague. A number of workmates have given me explicit permission to either kill them off or name a serial killer after them. If nothing else, the people I work with or teach are a useful source of interesting names and personality quirks.

It was also through school that I met my forensic science contact. Lee ran workshops for our science and engineering club, but his day job is that of a crime scene investigator for Essex police. An endless source of dark and blackly humorous war stories, he’s given me countless ideas and advice.

Like all writers, I am a trivia magpie and nowhere is a better source of random information than a science classroom. For example, did you know that deer stand still in the glare of headlights because they interpret the lights as eyes, but are confused by the lack of legs? Thanks to eleven year old Francis for that fact – look out for it in book 2, No Smoke Without Fire. I’ve also spent ten years teaching about diabetes and blood glucose regulation – a key plot device in Silent as the Grave. An A Level practical investigation into how blood is identified at a crime scene triggered a lovely little sub-plot in an upcoming novel.

Writing this article has really made me consider the impact that teaching and being a teacher has had upon my writing. And so, for the foreseeable future at least, I have no plans to give up the day job entirely.

Getting to Know You: Claire MacLeary

Today on the blog, we have the lovely Claire MacLeary. Claire is the author of ‘Cross Purpose’ which was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize – Bloody Scotland’s annual prize – this year. The award was renamed in memory of William McIlvanney who was often described as the Godfather of Tartan Noir so to be nominated is an exceptional achievement. 

I have met Claire on several occasions and she has always been incredibly kind to me. When I heard Claire read from ‘Cross Purpose’, I was utterly blown away. Her character, Big Wilma, has really captured readers’ imaginations. I can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar one day. 

Thanks to Claire for sharing her thoughts with us. 

Vic x

Congrats on the nomination! How did that feel?
Surreal. I was on a boat in Bratislava relaxing after submitting my second book, when instinct told me to switch on my phone. My publisher, Sara Hunt, had been trying to contact me and ultimately sent a text. With no signal or Wi-fi access – and wild imaginings as to what crisis could have precipitated the message –  I rushed ashore, found a bar with good reception and … well, luckily I was sitting down when I read her email. Needless to say, I was so giddy the rest of that day is a blur.


How did you feel at the awards ceremony?
Happy and humble in turn. The late Willie McIlvanney was a towering figure in Scottish literature, the founding father of Tartan Noir and the most charming and unassuming of men. To be longlisted for a prestigious award that bears his name – and that in the company of such stellar fellow nominees – validates the hard work I have put in over the past few years and is at the same time deeply humbling.

Had you read the other shortlisted books?
Almost all. I made a start when Bloody Scotland announced the longlisters – tagged The Dirty Dozen – and I am still working through the eleven other novels (I’m currently reading Jay Stringer’s How to Kill Friends and Implicate People). Familiar with the writing of the big name nominees, I started with Helen Fields and Owen Mullen, debut authors like myself. I was blown away by Perfect Remains (I thought my mind was dark till I read the gruesome torture scenes) and loved Owen’s Glasgow PI, Charlie Cameron. But my money for the McIlvanney Prize  was on Denise Mina’s The Long Drop, in part because I spent half my childhood living in Burnside at the time the Watt murders were committed there.

Tell us about your book, ‘Cross Purpose‘.
I’d developed a literary novel from my MLitt thesis, but had an early rebuff, being told domestic fiction didn’t sell. Having already written the first scene of Cross Purpose for a writing exercise, I consigned the literary novel to a drawer and decided to try my hand at crime fiction.
Set in Aberdeen, where I lived for some years, my debut novel is a departure from the norm in that its protagonists are neither experienced police professionals nor highly qualified forensic scientists, but two women ‘of a certain age’. They’re an unlikely pair: Maggie petite, conservative, conventional. Her neighbour, Wilma, is a big girl: coarse, in your face and a bit dodgy. But before your readers decide Cross Purpose is ‘cosy crime’ be warned, it’s dark. Humorous too. Think Tartan Noir meets Happy Valley.

What inspired ‘Cross Purpose‘?
I moved from Edinburgh to Aberdeen when my first child was born. Having given up a high-intensity job as a training consultant and far from friends and family, I looked for something I could do with a baby under one arm and became an antiques dealer. Then, when my son started primary school, I opened a sandwich bar. Cross Purpose was inspired by the colleagues who worked with me there, and in the spin-off catering business: women whose aspirations and self-confidence were constrained by the lack of affordable childcare. Most hadn’t had the benefit of further education, yet they rose magnificently to every challenge – and there were loads! My book is a tribute to those unsung women.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Life. As an older woman, I have plenty to write about. Aside from consultancy work, I’ve done a range of jobs: market trader, advertising copywriter, laundry maid. I’ve travelled widely: India, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan as well as Europe and USA. I’ve also had some challenging experiences: detained by soldiers in the Egyptian desert, escorted at gunpoint off an aeroplane in Beirut, given a talk to Business School students at Harvard, drunk cocktails in a private suite at The Pierre.
I’m curious. I keep my eyes and ears open, a notebook always to hand. It’s amazing what a writer can pick up.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
George Laird’s funeral scene always makes me cry. Then I feel heaps better. If it can still move me, there’s a chance it will move my readers.
That apart, I love writing the scenes where Wilma is pushing the boundaries. It was my publisher who coined the ‘Big Wilma’ moniker. I was resistant at first, because I didn’t want Maggie’s business partner to morph into a figure of fun. I needn’t have worried. Readers have taken both protagonists to their hearts: Maggie because she’s straight as a die, Wilma for her frailties as well as her couthy humour.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
‘Make every word count.’ The advice came from the acclaimed New Zealand novelist Kirsty Gunn, my MLitt professor at the University of Dundee. Kirsty was a hard taskmaster, and some of her strictures didn’t make sense until long after I’d gained my degree. But the rigour she instilled, together with the reading list she tailored to my needs, combined to make me a better writer.

What can readers expect from your novel?
Strong characterisation. I try to draw characters my readers can readily identify with: think Maggie’s money worries, Wilma’s yo-yoing weight, their respective marital woes, their hopes and fears for their offspring.
Pared-down style. I’ve been told my writing ‘says a lot in a few words’ and ‘leaves a lot unsaid’. I set out to engage the reader, but leave room for interpretation.
Social commentary: affordable childcare, housing problems, alcohol/drug dependency to name a few.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep chipping away. I’m impatient by nature, but have learned the big projects take their own time.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love that feeling of satisfaction when you write a good sentence, or even find the right word. Problem is, you can waste time trying to fine-tune when what’s needed is to get on and write the first draft. Good advice is to circle or highlight the words that aren’t quite right and sort later.
I have a low boredom threshold, and get weary halfway through the edit, even though I know it will improve the end result.
That said, after several years and endless rewrites, it was a thrill to finally see Cross Purpose in print, even more satisfying to see it earn plaudits from book bloggers and readers.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
, second in the Harcus & Laird series, has gone to proof and will launch in Spring 2018.
A short story will appear in the next issue of Gutter Magazine.
My literary novel has been turned on its head and may yet find a home.
My head is bursting with ideas for a police procedural into which I’m trying to insert Maggie and Wilma.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
It should be when I got offers for Cross Purpose from two separate publishers, but I must admit that scenario was eclipsed by those few minutes when, with my fellow McIlvanney Prize longlisters, I was piped across the courtyard of Stirling Castle into the Great Hall to thunderous applause.

*Rocco and the Nightingale Blog Tour* Guest Post and Review.


In July, I was lucky enough to be invited to a party hosted by DHH Literary Agency and The Dome Press at Goldsboro Books in London. While I was there, I met all manner of wonderful people, including agents, publishers, writers and bloggers. One of those people was Adrian Magson. 

Adrian writes regularly for Writing Magazine, offering tips to writers on a range of problems they’re likely to encounter. You can also find Adrian on Twitter, his website and his blog

Prior to writing the Lucas Rocco series, Adrian wrote twenty-one books based around investigative reporter Riley Gavin and ex-Military Policeman Frank Palmer so his thoughts on how to keep a series fresh should prove insightful.

Thanks to Adrian for taking the time to share his expertise. 

Keeping a series fresh
By Adrian Magson

It was once suggested to me by a publisher that a series has a maximum of eight books before it begins to get stale. I can’t remember his exact words – I was too busy wondering if there wasn’t a hidden message in there for me, as I was on book four on my first series for him and about to begin number five. I think I nodded sagely and wiped my sweaty palms on the underneath of the tablecloth, and began to think of a new series, just in case.

Anyway, true or not – and there are authors who have proved both sides of this argument – keeping a series fresh depends on coming up with new surprises and situations for the reader. Easily done if you have a ton of ideas to call on which will stretch and test the main characters each time, but mostly you have to work at it.

For me, quite apart from new situations, it’s the characters who play a leading part. In Rocco and the Nightingale, the fifth in the Lucas Rocco series, there is a cast of regulars, some fundamental to the storylines, others more or less supporting figures. Developing the main characters’ journeys is important, but having the same names and faces is not enough; introducing new secondary players, whether baddies or goodies, does a lot to bring colour to and lift a story. In this respect, the baddies can become as strong as I like because they won’t always last beyond the end of the story unless I intend bringing them back in a later one.

That can be very useful because there are times when calling someone back – as I did in this book with Caspar, a former undercover cop in a previous book – had a specific and useful function to perform which Rocco could not. I also knew how Caspar would ‘fit’ the current story without looking as if he’d been parachuted in as a convenience.

In Rocco and the Nightingale there are two main baddies who were a lot of fun to write: Nightingale, a professional assassin, and a spotter, who sets up the kills – one of them intended to be Rocco. The main story focus is, of course, on Rocco, but bringing in the occasional scene seen from Nightingale’s perspective allows me to introduce information Rocco isn’t aware of, and I can play with these new characters in a way that wouldn’t be possible with the regular cast without making them act out of character.

And this is where a degree of freshness can come in; where you can make the baddies just that little bit wild (or even a lot wild), and hopefully readers will look forward to their scenes, because in the end they want to see them brought down… or maybe get away and live to fight another day. (And no, that’s not a spoiler).


Review: ‘Rocco & the Nightingale’ by Adrian Magson. 

Rocco & the Nightingale‘ is the fifth book in the Lucas Rocco series, and I will certainly be seeking out the others. A cross between Poirot and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano, ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘ contains evocative descriptions which set the tone of the novel perfectly. 

It’s 1964 and, in Picardie, a minor criminal is found stabbed to death on a country lane. It looks like a case for Inspector Rocco but he’s tasked with protecting a Gabonese minister who’s fled to France following a coup. Add into the mix the fact that a gangster with an axe to grind has put a bounty on Rocco’s head and you’ve got yourself ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘. 

When I began reading this novel, it felt like a beautiful meander in the French countryside on a sunny day. However, what Magson excels at is juxtaposing beautiful scenery with brutal acts, switching the pace of the story within a single line.

I could see the action unfolding in my mind’s eye. Magson manages to evoke setting very well and the imagery his descriptions provoke ensured that I imagined all of the action happening through a sepia haze. Magson’s prose is pitched at the perfect level to complement this story. 

Although ‘Rocco & the Nightingale‘ is the fifth book in the Inspector Rocco series, this novel can be read as a standalone. 

Having recently read ‘Yellow Room‘ by Shelan Rodger, another novel published by The Dome Press, I have to say that this independent publisher is building an excellent reputation for publishing quality fiction. 

Vic x