Book Reviews

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours." Alan Bennett

'A super inspirational blog for readers and fantastic reviews for writers :-)' Sue Uden

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Dead Ground - Claire McGowan - Author Guest Post - Blog Tour

Today I'm delighted to share a guest post with you from author Claire McGowan. Claire's third novel is The Dead Ground, and is published by Headline on April 10th 2014. 
It's the second in a series featuring Paula Maguire. You can read my review of the first in the series, The Lost, here, and my review of Claire's first book, The Fall, here.

My writing process by Claire McGowan

There are a couple of questions that always come up when I’m being interviewed, and which I really should have worked out better answers to. One is: are you disciplined with your writing? And the other is: how much research do you do?

At the moment I write at least one book a year, and I always have other work to do as well, like most writers nowadays. So I don’t sit down at my desk all day every day and write – for one thing, it’s hard to crank out words eight hours a day. For another, life’s little jobs always get in the way, whether it’s proof-reading a different book, or promoting the one you have out, or going to the dentist or dry-cleaners. Part of this is procrastination, of course. When you don’t want to write a particular scene or you don’t know what happens next in your book, it’s amazing how much time you can fill up cleaning the taps, emailing, and watching YouTube videos of cats running into walls.

My process of writing a book spans around a year. This is probably because I have a year. If I had more or less time, I’m sure the work would expand or contract. First I’ll get the idea. I get ideas all the time, but not all of these will be workable as novels. It helps that I’m writing a series, so I know roughly what has to happen to the cast of characters in that one. Then I start scribbling down bits of the book, gathering ideas as I go. At this stage I don’t know much about the plot but rather than panic I just try to enjoy the adventure of finding out what’s going on. I use a notebook for this part, which is a sort of fetish – I can kid myself it’s like sketching, just playing about, and it also stops me being distracted by the aforementioned cat videos. Then, I will usually get to thirty thousand words and stop, stumped as to what happens next. I might stop for quite a while, procrastinating and telling myself I’m thinking it over. At some point I drag myself between thirty and sixty thousand words – the hardest part. Then I will stop again to think about what is really going on? What’s the book about? You might think I would know at this point, but….

Then, the research question. I wish I had a good answer for this, like ‘I embedded myself with the police for a year’ or ‘I got myself arrested so I could experience prison’, but it’s nowhere near as exciting as that. I will usually read around the subject I want to write on when I’m in the early musing stages, then try to get the story down, and then check the facts after. I’ll do this either by reading, going online, or talking to people about specific questions. Again, I’m a firm believer that too much research can weigh a book down, and that story is much more important than being totally accurate at all times. I want to write stories, not be an expert in the police force or forensic pathology or something. It’s surprising how often you get things right anyway. The mind is very powerful.

Hopefully this rather haphazard approach will show any aspiring writers that you don’t have to have all the answers when you start a book. However, you absolutely do have to keep going. I’m a big believer in doing 1,000 words a day in the writing stage– this very quickly adds up to a book and is why I wrote my first in three months. If you do this, and keep going without reading back over it, even when you’re convinced it’s no good, at least you have something to work with and fix. The only perfect books are the ones that stay in your head, unwritten. Give it a try!

About the novel...
A stolen baby. A murdered woman. A decades-old atrocity. Something connects them all...
A month before Christmas, and Ballyterrin on the Irish border lies under a thick pall of snow. When a newborn baby goes missing from hospital, it's all too close to home for forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, who's wrestling with the hardest decision of her life.
Then a woman is found in a stone circle with her stomach cut open and it's clear a brutal killer is on the loose.
As another child is taken and a pregnant woman goes missing, Paula is caught up in the hunt for a killer no one can trace, who will stop at nothing to get what they want.
The Dead Ground will leave you gasping for breath as Paula discovers every decision she makes really is a matter of life and death...
About the author... 

Claire McGowan grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland. After a degree in English and French from Oxford University, and time spent living in China and France, she moved to London and works in the charity sector and also teaches creative writing. THE DEAD GROUND is her third novel and the second in the Paula Maguire series.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The WoMentoring Project - free mentoring for female writers

What is it about?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project - from the project management to the website design to the PR support - is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project. 

Why do we need it?

Like many great (and not so great) ideas The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers - largely writers, editors and agents - who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.


In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn't possible so instead we've tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time. 

Why our mentors are getting involved

The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project.
Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don't have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give.
Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work.
Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

The WoMentoring project is the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It's founded in the spirit of paying it forward, and I'll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I've gained with a mentee. I've benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you're in your solitary writing bubble. The formality of the mentoring arrangement also gives a sense of responsibility and focus - something that's invaluable when you're lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress - and it's beneficial to mentors too.
Emylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers

My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out.  The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it.

Francesca Main, Editorial Director, Picador

I wanted to get involved with this project because I'd like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard.

Jo Unwin of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

I'm interested in being mentored because although I think you have to make mistakes to learn, having someone who's been there help you work out the ones with no value can be really useful. Most of all I'd like to have someone to push and challenge me on what makes me and my writing tick. 

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up - I think it's a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner.

Clare Archibald

I'm on my third novel; I've had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process.

Suzy Norman

Find out more...

Twitter: You can find WoMentoring Project at @WoMentoringP on twitter and we use the hashtag #WoMentoring

The illustrations used in this post were designed by Sally Jane Thompson.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

My publishing journey so far - Mark Edwards - Author Guest Post

I am delighted to share a great guest post by author Mark Edwards on the blog today.

More twists and turns than a bucketful of snakes… My publishing journey so far.

by Mark Edwards

As everyone knows, in the old days there was only one route for writers: write a book, find an agent, then hopefully a publisher. If you didn't find a publisher, that was it, unless you decided to vanity publish (ie pay someone to print your book). You could keep trying and trying…but if you never found a publisher who was willing to sign you, your writing career was dead in the water.

That's what happened to me. I spent my twenties and early thirties writing and writing. I got an agent and thought that it was going to be easy from that point on. Three or four rejected novels later my agent dumped me. Even when I started writing with Louise Voss, who already had a book deal, and one of our books was optioned by the BBC, I still couldn't get published.

So I gave up. For years I wrote nothing. I had a good job, a growing family… The constant rejection was too painful. My writing dreams were over. I'd given it my best shot and it hadn't worked out. Like so many writers before me, I never made it.

And that's the way it would have stayed… if it wasn't for Amazon and their Kindle Direct Publishing programme. I've written about this quite a lot before so will be brief for the sake of those who know my story. In 2011 Louise and I self-published our two novels on Amazon and then set about promoting the hell out of them. It was agony at first: sales were slow, but just encouraging enough to convince us it was worth continuing. After several months, we suddenly had a surge of sales (prompted by a lot of the people who'd bought the first book, Killing Cupid, buying the second, Catch Your Death, all at once). We hit No.1 and No.2 on the Kindle chart and stayed there for a month.

Within weeks we had a four-book deal with HarperCollins. The day this happened I felt hugely emotional. The amount of time and pain and hope I'd invested over the years… It felt like it had finally all paid off. Our books were going to be in shops, we were going to cross over to the non-Kindle-owning public. With a big publisher behind us, success was guaranteed!

But it didn't work out like that. Catch Your Death's bookshop sales were very disappointing (it was only in a few shops for a very short period). Then Killing Cupid came out during the worst week of the year for sales, during the Olympics, at the very height of Fifty Shades mania. By the time our first brand new book came out six months later, our publisher had effectively given up on us. All Fall Down got absolutely zero marketing, wasn't in any shops… When Forward Slash came out I don't think anyone knew it existed.

This is the problem with the old system. Have one flop and you're done. Bookshops won't stock the next one. There are no second chances.  This is why writers often have to reinvent themselves with a new name, which is something Louise and I considered. I'm glad, now, that we didn't.

In early 2013, shortly before Forward Slash was due to come out, Louise and I had an utterly depressing meeting with HarperCollins  which felt like attending your own wake. At that meeting I told them I was going to self-publish my solo novel, The Magpies. They were nice about it…but what happened next shocked everyone.

Amazon have something called White Glove, which is where you can publish via your agent. This means that Amazon help with some of the technical issues like formatting and promise a small amount of promotion. I signed up to this and self-published The Magpies at the end of March.

By promoting it to my and Louise's loyal group of Facebook followers, I managed to sell a few hundred copies in the first couple of days. This was more than All Fall Down had managed! But then it started to drop down the charts. I was despondent. If The Magpies didn't sell I was facing severe financial difficulties. When we got the HarperCollins deal I had gambled by quitting my full-time job, and had put all the money I'd saved into getting onto the housing ladder, buying a little house in Wolverhampton. I had massive debts and a baby on the way…

Then on Good Friday 2013, I checked my Magpies sales figures and saw that I'd sold a lot more copies in the last hour than usual. I checked again ten minutes later. More sales. They started pouring in. I knew that Amazon must have sent an email to people who had bought the Voss and Edwards books. By the end of the day, The Magpies was in the Top 40 on Kindle. A couple of weeks later it was in the top ten, and after hanging around at No.2 for a month it finally hit No.1.

It was incredible. This book had saved me. The Voss and Edwards books started to climb the rankings too. The Magpies kept selling. It's now sold over 200,000 copies and has reached No.1 or 2 in the UK, the US and Australia.

Then Amazon Publishing stepped in and offered me a deal for The Magpies and another book. Despite my experiences with HarperCollins, I didn't hesitate. I knew that with Amazon things would be different. They would actually make an attempt to market my books. Louise and I have also now signed with Amazon Publishing for our next one, and working with them is an absolute joy.

Of course, there's a downside. No books in shops. But our HarperCollins books were barely in any shops anyway! Amazon get a lot of bad press, but pretty much everything good that has happened to me as a writer has been because of them.

Now, I am self-publishing a new book, What You Wish For. This is the beauty of the current system. Authors can be flexible, try different things, get out books as fast as they can write them. I have no idea if this one will achieve a fraction of the success of The Magpies. But for now I am doing what I've always dreamed of, what my nineties self wanted more than anything. I am writing full-time, doing the thing I love.

A lot of rubbish is said about indie authors and the death of traditional publishing, and how one is better than the other, blah blah blah. As someone who has done a bit of everything, my feeling is that there is no 'better'. It's just that now authors have options. There is no single route. And it's as hard to be successful at self-publishing as it is working with a traditional publisher, and vice versa. The important thing is to be flexible and keep your options open. Find your own way. Don't take sides. Yes, I harbour some negative feelings about what happened with HarperCollins, but it's a bit like a divorce. At first you feel bitter, but then you get a lovely new partner and you forget all about the old one…

The important thing is to never give up. I did give up, for seven years. But trying again was the best thing I ever did.

What You Wish For - amazon link | Mark and Louise's facebook page |

Saturday, 5 April 2014

New Meme: Six Degrees of Separation - with books!

This is a new meme hosted by authors Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith

It's based on the idea of six degrees of separation, but with books!  

It is claimed that every person on this planet is linked to any other in six or fewer steps.  But what about books?  Can we link them together too?

We'll choose one book on the first Saturday of every month and then link it in a chain to five others to see what we come up with.     

The books can be linked in obvious ways, or more personal ways, and a book only needs to be connected to the ones next to them in the chain. 

Find out more here and here.

Well, here's my attempt; I found it hard at first, it'll be interesting to see what others thought of too!

Six Degrees of Separation

Our first book is Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

which brought to mind...
1 - The Kindest Thing by Cath Staincliffe, in which there's a very strong central female character who grapples with a huge decision with potentially awful consequences, and which makes you think about loyalty and betrayal, it was emotional and thought-provoking, causing the main character to question her decisions, 

which made me think of...
2 - Nearest Thing To Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes, a brilliant, pacy read where the reader is caused to question what is real and true and what is a deception, as the main female character herself wonders if she is losing her grip on her sanity and has to question her own mind, 

which brought to mind...

3 - The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald, another super page turner in which the reader wonders who to trust and what is the truth,

which reminded me of the excellent crime novel...
4 - Defending Jacob by William Landay, a brilliant story, in which I also wondered who to trust, and with a family defending their son,

which made me think of...
5 - The Son-in-Law by Charity Norman, a very moving read dealing with a family who are trying to cope in an extremely difficult, very emotional situation and do the best by the children, with whom their father has to rebuild his relationship,

which brought to mind...
6 - Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard, because of the strong yet damaged 
relationship between mother and daughter portrayed here in this compelling, 
passionate, moving novel.

That's my six degrees in books from Burial Rites!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Historic House Short Story Writing Competition

Today I'm sharing details of a short story writing competition...

Historic House Short Story competition Max 2,500 word story inspired by or set in a historic house (real or imagined). Run by Corazon Books in partnership with the Historic Houses Association (HHA). Free entry. First prize: £150, private tour and afternoon tea with owners of Levens Hall, Cumbria. Double Friends Membership to the HHA. Two runners-up prizes of Double Friends Membership to the HHA. Deadline: September 26th 2014. Full details and entry at:

Full details:

Historic House Short Story Competition

Publisher Corazon Books has partnered with the Historic Houses Association to launch a special short story competition with fantastic prizes. Writers are invited to submit a short story which is either inspired by or set in a historic house.

Ian Skillicorn, publisher of Corazon Books, says: "We are looking for a compelling tale with lots of atmosphere. It can take place in the past or present, in either a real or fictional setting, so writers can let their imaginations take them, and us, whenever and wherever they wish!"

The competition is being run to celebrate the publication of The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin. This modern classic by the bestselling "Queen of Storytellers" has recently been reissued by Corazon Books in ebook format, in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary. It is the first of Gaskin's novels to be published digitally. The Property of a Gentleman is a tale of intrigue, mystery and romance, set in a fictional earl's ancestral home, in the dramatic landscape of England's Lake District.

The competition's unique prizes are in keeping with its theme. The winning writer and a guest will be treated to a private tour and afternoon tea with the owners of Levens Hall in Cumbria. The winner will also receive a cash prize of £150, and a double Friends membership for the Historic Houses Association. Two runners up will each receive a double Friends membership to the Historic Houses Association. Corazon Books also plans to publish an ebook anthology of the best entries, with each writer receiving royalties for their published story.

Richard Compton, President of the HHA, says: "A HHA Member property will offer great inspiration for budding writers and will make a fantastic setting for a short story. We look forward to partnering with Corazon Books and reading the entries in this unique competition."

Catherine Gaskin
Susie Bagot of Levens Hall says: “The Bagot family is very pleased to be associated with the Historic House Short Story Competition and looks forward to welcoming the winner to Levens Hall and telling them the story of this fascinating ancient house and garden.”

The competition will run from March 10th to September 26th 2014, and the winner will be announced during National Short Story Week (17th to 23rd November 2014). There is no fee to enter the competition.

Enter the competition at: