Wednesday, 31 March 2021

The Unnerving Power of the Written Word

It’s a rarely-mentioned problem of writing contemporary fiction set in real places, that it can go out of date so quickly, but it can, and I have often bemoaned the fact that useful landmarks disappear overnight. I used to say that I took commissions from organised crime to mention police stations in my novels, because no sooner did the book hit the shelves, than the bulldozers moved in on the buildings.

It was certainly true of my first three novels.

You’ll be lucky to find a trace left of any official building mentioned in that trilogy. Then things settled down for a few books, but it has happened again on a rather grand scale for the latest, Boxed In.

I was asked a question about shipping containers and my publisher asked me to record an answer by way of a short podcast, which I did. And as soon as it was finished, container ships – which had been largely invisible to news outlets for years – were suddenly all over the mainstream media when a ship ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal.

Would I re-record my answer and include mention of the stricken ship, given that it looked set to cause chaos for weeks to come? Yes, of course I would, and here it is:

But what happened the very moment the podcast was live? Naturally, the ship was re-floated and the blockage cleared. My power to move mountains with words is back!

Why would anyone ask me about shipping containers in the first place? That’s a good question and so was the one about containers. It came after a recording I’d done about the weather in novels:

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Real life and crime fiction

In an article in Kings River Life magazine, I look back on some of the things I've done and places I've been. In particular events and places that have found their way into my books.

Some events still cause a catch in my throat knowing that I was a step too close from never having the opportunity to tell anyone about it, ever, never mind weave it into a story. 

The article includes a free contest for a copy of Falling into Crime (ebook or print) but entries run only to late Feb 2021. If you miss the giveaway but would like a copy, you can browse here:

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Marking the pandemic lockdown with Boxed In

Boxed In has been the working title of this book since its inception in 2018/19 - before the words lockdown, pandemic, covid, furlough and distancing were in constant use. The action takes place before the 2020 pandemic, but only just, which is an aspect I explore in the author's note at the end. It leaves a bit of a dilemma for the next one.

Officially launched on 20th March 2021, the one-year anniversary of the start of the first lockdown in the UK, Boxed In follows the fortunes of private investigator, Annie Raymond, and police officer, Jennifer Flanagan in the streets of Hull, East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.

The book is available in advance in paperback. The ebook can be pre-ordered for delivery on launch day.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Book review: The Defiant Spark by Annie Percik

The Defiant Spark by Annie Percik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Defiant Spark by Annie Percik, technology is powered by mana (essentially by magic, though that’s not a term that is used in the book). As in our own world, the artefacts that facilitate routine living: cooking cleaning, travelling, gaming etc, go wrong. Devices break down, jealousies erupt over bigger and better versions. Percik dives into a side of magic worlds that is usually glossed over or forgotten; the world of customer service, complaints and call centres.

Protagonist Abelard is a humble mana engineer who works in a call centre and lives in a run-down apartment. His dream was to make the leap to becoming one of the elite band of artisans. Convinced he had the skills, he and a friend applied to take the tests, but failed at the first hurdle. Abelard is resigned to a humdrum existence though he hankers after someone to share his life.

An accident on a routine call-out almost kills him … and changes his life. Not only has he met someone special, but the world of the artisans is suddenly within his grasp.

Is that his ‘happy ever after’? Hell, no! The material improvement in his life is as sudden as the disturbing revelations that start to pull the privileged rug from under his feet almost the moment his toes touch the weave.

He is bullied, threatened; he looks set to lose the only true friends he had, and he makes an inadvertently human contact with a robot, quite unaware of the problems that he has unleashed and the unintended consequences.

The relationships within the book look set to take a particular course, but don’t be fooled. Things quickly take an unexpected turn. And if you then feel with some satisfaction – as I did – ah ha, that’s how it’s going to end up, think again. There’s a twist that takes things in another direction. I wondered at a sci-fi novel launching on Valentine’s Day, but within all the machinations, there are more than enough tangled relationships to justify the launch date. And there’s a satisfying feel to the unconventional but convincing resolution.

(Reviewed prior to launch from an advance reading copy)

Buy your copy here

View all my reviews

Friday, 21 August 2020

How to create a short sharp pitch for a work of commercial fiction

I'm a writer not a film maker and I make no claims for the quality of production, nor am I expecting any academy award nominations, but I stand by the content as a tried and tested way to create the outline for an elevator pitch, a blurb or a book taster. 

This mini presentation was shown at virtual FantastiCon 2020 and was abridged from How to be a Fantastic Writer by Danuta Reah and Penny Grubb

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Some good reading for Summer 2020

At this time of year we would usually be preparing to head for Cleethorpes for the extravaganza that is Fantastic Books Publishing’s annual FantastiCon convention. The pandemic has put paid to a host of international visitors piling into an indoor venue to play games, watch demos, listen to talks, join Nerf fights, put on VR headsets and be transported to international museums, sky-high roller-coasters or out into space, try their luck in the escape rooms (there would have been more than one this year) and generally network with like-minded people … BUT …

The books that would have been launched there will be launched at virtual FantastiCon 15th and 16th August on Twitch TV

Click here for the full launch schedule.

In summary, five novels and one autobiography will be launched. Interestingly, all five of the novels have strong female protagonists. I’ve read all six books and my mini-reviews are below.

Shadeward: Expiation by Drew Wagar

LAUNCH TIME: 12pm on the 15th August

You can get a copy here: Drew Wagar's final Shadeward instalment 'Shadeward: Expiation'

Colin Who? by Colin Spaull


LAUNCH TIME: 2pm on the 15th August

You can get a copy here: Colin Spaull's autobiography 'Colin Who?'

The Reality Exchange by James Vigor


LAUNCH TIME: 4pm on the 15th August

You can get a copy here: James Vigor's scifi debut 'The Reality Exchange'

The Cat of Doom by Mark P Henderson


LAUNCH TIME: 12pm on the 16th August

You can get a copy here: Mark Henderson's surreallist masterpiece 'The Cat of Doom'

The Five Feathers by Janet Blackwell


LAUNCH TIME: 2pm on the 16th August

You can get a copy here: Janet Blackwell's fantasy sequel 'the Five Feathers'

Storm Girl by Linda Nicklin

LAUNCH TIME: 4pm on the 16th August

You can get a copy here: Linda Nicklin's post-apocalyptic novel 'Storm Girl'

Friday, 3 July 2020

An Amazing Competition – but why did some people win and others not?

The Write2Ride creative writing competition began as a small idea and it snowballed into a huge event with its Facebook posts and website taking thousands of hits, generating hundreds of entries.

Most of the entries were short stories. In terms of numbers, poems came in second with non-fiction pieces also well represented. A few dozen in all categories also fell under the sub-category of racing themed.

Entrants’ ages ranged from four to twenty-five. A total of 63 prizes were awarded to 60 winners. Multiple entries were allowed and three people walked away with more than one prize. There was a huge range of prizes many of which were visits and lessons with international stars of dressage, show-jumping, eventing and racing. Click here for the full list of winners and prizes.

So why did the winners win, or more to the point, what stopped the non-winners from taking the prizes?

The judges were Penny Grubb, Danuta Reah and John Fairley. They are all writers. They’ve all judged competitions before. Between them they have a lot of experience. So for those who didn’t win, they provide some pointers on improving your chances for next time:

Read the rules: Don’t lose out because you didn’t read the rules. If the rules tell you to put certain information in a cover email, then make sure that’s where it goes – don’t bury it at the end of your entry. If the rules tell you which formats are permissible, don’t send something different. And if there is a maximum length, don’t go over it.

Was anyone eliminated for not following the rules? The organisers were very lenient. When people didn’t provide the correct information in the correct format, they contacted them and allowed them to resubmit. Be aware that doesn’t happen in most competitions. But the judges weren’t so lenient and yes, a handful of people were eliminated because their entries were 15% or more over the maximum word count.

Fit the theme: For this competition the piece had to be ‘horsey’, that was all that was required. However, a single mention of a horse does not make a horsey theme. For example, if you wanted to enter a recipe for fruit cake, that would be fine because non-fiction entries were allowed, but you would have to make it horsey – perhaps by telling how each stage of the process made you think about different aspects of horses or riding – but it would *not* be enough to start the piece by saying, ‘I once came home from a ride and decided to make a fruit cake,’ and then to give the recipe with no other mention of horses, ponies or riding.

Was anyone eliminated for not adhering to the theme? In a handful of cases where the horse was barely visible, we considered elimination, but because there had been an attempt to bring a horse into the picture, we decided to be lenient. However, these stories lost marks and this pushed one otherwise very good entry out of the major placings.

OK, you’ve followed the rules, you’ve stuck to the theme, what else can go wrong?

There were some stories that began beautifully, but their moments of drama were squandered; they drifted away from the point and fizzled out in disappointing and often irrelevant endings. These were people who could write well, but who had not learnt to structure their writing. It was frustrating to see an excellent start crumble into a story that failed to hold together as a coherent whole. With a bit of work, these will be the winners of the future.

How about errors and typos? Could you have been eliminated for spelling mistakes? Well no, this wasn’t a spelling competition. We didn’t kick out anyone for errors of spelling, punctuation or grammar. However, if an entry is so riddled with errors that it becomes hard to understand, it isn’t going to do well.

We had a lot of ponies ‘gazing’ on grass or in meadows when it was clear they weren’t simply enjoying the view. It’s just an “r” but it changes the meaning. How about this for a puzzler? ‘I was trapped, the door was not locked.’ It’s only one letter different but ‘now’ and ‘not’ mean very different things.

Here’s a worrying one: ‘After we’d finished, we lead the ponies back.’ What are these people doing to these ponies’ backs with the lead, and surely lead isn’t safe for back treatments? The word “lead” when it rhymes with “fed” is a soft malleable and poisonous grey metal. When you want to talk about leading horses, the word is “led”.

No one was explicitly penalised for minor errors, but here’s the thing; what if two entries are competing for a prize; they are both very good but one is full of typos and the other is largely error-free? It will be the error-free story that gets the prize. It’s like two people equally well turned out vying for the tack-and-turnout prize; the one who remembered the little things (e.g. taking out their earrings) is going to win out.

It’s always worth double-checking your work, rereading your entry, getting someone else to read it through to see if they understand it the way you want it to be understood.

And what made the winning stories stand out? The six winners are being published and the judges’ comments have been published with the stories.

You can find the winning entries in each age group, along with the judges' comments in Equestrian Life

And you can find the winners of the racing-themed sections on the creative activities section of the Pony Club site.