#crimewritersincafesprocrastinating – @RonaHalsallAuth talks about Keep You Safe, dog walking and Twitter! #crimefiction

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Today crime writer Rona Halsall is my guest on Crime Writers In Cafes Procrastinating. As the title suggests, this is where I get to quiz writers about the lengths they go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.

Rona’s debut novel – KEEP YOU SAFE – is out now and I can’t wait to quiz her all about her writing and procrastination habits…

Welcome, Rona! So tell me about your latest book

My debut novel, Keep You Safe is about Natalie, a woman who has been wronged in the most terrible way and now she is determined to put those wrongs right. She has been convicted of a crime she has no memory of committing, but her husband doesn’t believe her and he takes their baby son to live on the Isle of Man, where she has no legal rights. Three years later, when Natalie is released from prison, she sets out to find her son, knowing that his life is in danger. But who can she trust?

How long did Keep You Safe take to write?

It probably took a couple of years, with many rounds of editing and the finished novel is very, very different to my first draft. It started life as a romantic mystery, but when I pitched to an agent at a Literary festival, she said she liked my writing but felt my voice was more suited to a psychological thriller. So I re-wrote the whole thing, and it took a little while to get the plot right.

What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot?

That would be dog walking in the many lovely places we have here on the island – forests, glens, old railway lines and beaches. Whenever I get stuck, it’s time for a dog walk to clear my head and sort out whatever problem I’ve come up against.  There’s usually a coffee shop involved along the way, because dog walking is thirsty work, isn’t it?

What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?

Keep You Safe was definitely written in a pantser style, but the edits were so complicated and time-consuming that I’ve decided I need to plot.  My second book, Love You Gone, was plotted and it only took six weeks to get a rough first draft together, so I’ve decided that’s the way forward for me. Of course there’s always room to stray from the plan when a better idea pops up, but in general I feel it saves time to do all the creative thinking up-front, get the plot sorted and then the writing is much, much easier.

When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft or equally across all three?

Procrastination is an integral part of my writing process, I think! Maybe it’s a way of turning off active thinking and letting your subconscious get to work on your ideas. I think copyedits are my least favourite part of the process, so I probably procrastinate more at this stage than any other!

Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why?)

I love the freedom of the first draft and the flow of words when you really get into the groove and you surprise yourself. That’s a little bit of creative magic and it’s a wonderful feeling.  But I like the editing process as well. I like fiddling with sentences to get the words just right, working out how to describe emotions and places in a way that will give the reader a picture in their mind and let them really experience the story. And I enjoy getting my editor’s input and seeing how her thoughts can shape the story to make it better.

When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?

Social media is also a major distraction for me, having only recently discovered Twitter and I can lose a lot of time flicking through my newsfeed. I love seeing what everyone’s writing and which new books are coming out – I’m going to have to get one of those apps that turns it all off while I focus on writing!  I also do a lot of snacking.

When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?

I have a whole range depending on the time of day. In the morning it’s coffee and I don’t tend to bother with snacks. By afternoon I’m ready for herbal teas and I don’t stop eating – dark chocolate, mixed nuts and crisps!

And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?

When I’m writing, my poor husband gets ignored for a large part of the time, so once the book is finished, it’s time for us to do things together. So we might go out for a meal to celebrate or go to the movies and get a takeaway and he breathes a big sigh of relief!

Dog walking, Twitter and dark chocolate – sounds like a perfect procrastination combo!

A big thank you to Rona for letting me grill her about her writing habits and procrastination pitfalls.

KEEP YOU SAFE is out now. Find out more over on Amazon by clicking on the book cover below:

#crimewritersincafesprocrastinating –Christina McDonald talks about The Night Olivia Fell, social media and sun! #crimefiction


Today debut crime writer Christina McDonald is joining me for Crime Writers In Cafes Procrastinating. As the title suggests, this QA is all about the lengths writers go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.

Christina’s debut novel – THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL – has a super intriguing premise and sounds fascinating so I can’t wait to quiz her all about her writing and procrastination habits…

Hi Christina, and welcome to the CTG blog

So great to be here, Steph! I’ve been waiting to write this post until I got the cover for my book. Then I got the cover for my book and I was waiting for the cover reveal. Then the cover reveal happened and I’ve been putting it off because I haven’t had the time, and because…well… procrastinating. But here I am!

So tell me all about your latest book?

The Night Olivia Fell is a domestic suspense novel with an emotional plot. It is  about a single mother called Abi who is startled awake in the small hours of the morning by a phone call informing her that her teenage daughter Olivia has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. And then Abi sees the bruises circling Olivia’s wrists. When the police rule Olivia’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened. Was Olivia’s fall an accident? Or something far more sinister?

How long did it take to write?

The first draft of writing book didn’t take me that long – 3-4 months. It was all the stuff after that: edits, getting an agent, edits for the agent, getting a publisher, edits for the editor. Altogether, from the time I wrote the book until the time it will be published will be three and a half years.

What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?

In my garden at home on a beautiful, sunny day! Best is when my dog joins me for a cuddle while I’m reading. Reading is incredibly escapist, like skipping out on real life and jumping into another world. Like most people, I can get sucked into social media, too, but I do try to be a little disciplined about it. But reading, nope! I have very little discipline in forcing myself to not read, and when it’s sunny in my garden, all bets are off!

What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?

I have a general idea of what I want the story to be about and where I want it to go, but really not much more than an idea. From there I start writing from page one – I write chronologically – and see where I go. As I get a more specific idea of themes, characters, tone of voice, etc, I jot out basic ideas for the inciting incident, first plot point, midpoint and third plot point. As I write I plan about one chapter ahead, so I know where I’m heading; and I keep an outline of the main things that have happened in each chapter so I know where I’ve been. I guess I’m a weird hybrid of a plotter-pantser.

When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?

Oh, definitely the middle! I always find myself very clear at the beginning of what I want to set out for the story, and once I’ve crossed the middle hump I usually know where I’m going and what will be the worst thing that can happen to my protagonist(s), so that last plot point and climax are fairly clear, but the middle part can be a struggle. Like many writers, I used to be a journalist, so I have a fear/respect of deadlines and have never missed one, but right around the middle part I start flogging myself with doubts, worrying that I’ll miss it and that the book will be horrible. Once I get over that, though, it’s usually fine.

Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)?

Drafts! It’s so clear in the first draft, and there’s such a freedom about writing exactly what I want to write. But once I get to edits it all becomes a bit tangled and confused in my mind. I start doubting why and where I’ve put plot points, if my character is ‘likeable’ enough, why I even wrote the book in the first place. From what I hear it’s really normal, so I just push through it. I have to give myself a good week or so after I’ve received edits to just sit on them and just see everything from a different angle. Then I hop back to it and get going on the next draft.

When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?

Reading and social media. Social media can be a huge time waster, so I try to be really disciplined about it. I do need it to engage with readers, but it sucks you in so much. But when I start reading a book I sometimes get completely lost in it. Once when I was a teenager I was reading a book while sitting outside the classroom and about a half hour later I sort of came to and realised everybody had gone into class while I was totally zoned into the book. I was just left sitting outside the door!

When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?

Coffee in the morning, wine when I work in the evening. And I love me a good old pack of Biscoff biscuits!

And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?

I think because this book hasn’t been published yet I feel like it isn’t really ‘done’, if that makes sense. There have been so many things to do: write, edit, market, publicity, publication, etc. I’m in the ‘trying to figure out marketing’ and ‘getting good reviews’ stage. Maybe once it’s published I’ll feel done and can celebrate with a lovely bottle of Champagne, but I feel like I haven’t won against procrastinating just yet. The battle is still on!

I think you should definitely crack open the bubbly on publication day, maybe a pack of Biscoff biscuits too!


A huge thank you to Christina for letting me grill her about her writing habits and procrastination pitfalls. 

THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL is out in February 2019 in the US and in March 2019 in the UK. Find out more about Christina and her writing at her website – https://christina-mcdonald.com/

And check out THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL and pre-order it over on Amazon by clicking the links below:

Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/Night-Olivia-Fell-Christina-McDonald/dp/1501184008/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1533491822&sr=8-1&keywords=the+night+olivia+fell

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Night-Olivia-Fell-Christina-McDonald-ebook/dp/B07FBQVLCC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1533491767&sr=8-1&keywords=the+night+olivia+fell


3-2-1… Crime Fiction Coach is launched! #crimefiction #amwriting #writerslife


This week the secret project I’ve been working on with fellow crime writers Susi Holliday, AK Benedict, and Louise Voss launched and I’m super excited that it’s finally out in the world.

We set up Crime Fiction Coach because we know what it’s like to be just starting out writing your first novel, or having written a novel not being sure what to do next, and we wanted to make a place for those people to come and get advice and support. We also wanted to create something that is flexible to individual needs – yes we do standard coaching programmes, critiques and writing packages, but we also recognise that everyone is different and so we can create a programme or package that’s tailored for a person’s needs if our standard services aren’t hitting the spot.

Our coaches are experienced crime writers with over 30 years of publishing experience and a host of bestselling novels and awards nominations between them. And we work with all sorts of writers from complete beginners to published authors.

Whatever someone’s looking for – sounding board, process and motivational coach, plot buddy, style, voice and character guidance, draft critiquing mentor, submission package preparation and lots more – we’re here to help at every stage of the process from blank page to submission-ready manuscript.

As well as our paid for services, we run a free Facebook group for new writers and those aspiring to publication where we post writing tips, and run live sessions, QAs and web chats focused on different aspects of writing and publishing.

Find out more about Crime Fiction Coach HERE

And join our Facebook group by hopping to FB HERE

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CTG Interviews: Helen Giltrow author of The Distance

The Distance cover image

The Distance cover image

A few weeks ago I caught up with Helen Giltrow, author of the fabulous crime thriller The Distance. Over a long lunch, sitting in the sun-drenched garden of a beautiful Oxfordshire pub, we tried to out-booknerd each other and talked all things books and writing.

First, a quick reminder about the book. Here’s what the blurb says:

“Charlotte Alton has put her old life behind her. The life where she bought and sold information, unearthing secrets buried too deep for anyone else to find, or fabricating new identities for people who need their histories erased.

But now she has been offered one more job. To get a hit-man into an experimental new prison and take out someone who according to the records isn’t there at all.

It’s impossible. A suicide mission. And quite possibly a set-up. So why can’t she say no?”

And so, to the questions …

Karla/Charlotte is a fabulous, strong female lead. What was your inspiration for creating her?

Well, originally the main character was supposed to be the hit-man, Simon Johanssen, and Karla was the character he went to for information. In the earliest draft she didn’t appear until the third chapter. Around that time I went on an Arvon writing course with Val McDermid as one of the tutors. When Val read the opening, she said that the first couple of chapters were okay, but the story got really interesting when Karla appeared.

Shortly afterwards, I had to take an eighteen month break from writing and by the time I went back to the story I knew it needed to be Karla’s book. I found Karla easy to write, in fact I probably share a few of her characteristics – like her need for control, and her obsessiveness!

The Distance – which I loved – is set in the near future. What made you decide that as your setting rather than the present day?

The setting came out of the plot and the characters. Johanssen has to break into a prison to carry out a hit on another prisoner, but as that prisoner is a woman – and we don’t have mixed prisons here in the UK – I needed a near-future setting to make it work. So, really, it wasn’t something I chose, it came from the needs of the story.

But it’s not a futuristic novel – the setting’s only a couple of years ahead of where we are now.

You use the present tense throughout The Distance which works really well. What was it that prompted you to go for present tense?

I didn’t plan it consciously. It was just that when I started writing, Johanssen’s viewpoint came out in the present tense. I was surprised as I’d always written in the past tense before, but I found I liked it. Then, when I switched to Karla’s viewpoint, present tense seemed to work for her too.

Karla’s scenes are all told in first person – she’s the ‘I’ of the story. Again, it’s just how it came out when I started writing in her viewpoint, whereas Johanssen’s automatically came out in third person – ‘he’. I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t be mixing the two, so I experimented early on, trying Karla’s viewpoint in third, but I didn’t like it – it lost so much of her intensity – so I carried on going with first.

Curiously I’ve had readers tell me that Johanssen’s story is told in first person too – which is wrong, but great! I don’t want readers to think I’m telling them a story. I want them to see it through the characters’ eyes. Of course, present tense helps with that sense of immediacy too. And it really ups the pace.

Helen Giltrow (c) Paul Stuart

Helen Giltrow (c) Paul Stuart

For you, does the creative process start with the character/s, the plot or a combination of the two (or something else)?

For me it’s character. I think even if you have an idea for something, the only way to get to it is through character – you bring out the story from the actions of the characters and what happens to them.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Bit of both! From my childhood up to my early thirties, I wrote a lot without too much planning, but increasingly I felt it wasn’t working for me – the narratives were too loose. I’d have loads of ideas, then fail to tie them together. My job involved a lot of planning, so I thought I ought to be able to plot. I mean, how hard could it be? So when I started work on The Distance, I decided to do a plan. Of course, as soon as I began writing in earnest, I started coming up with ideas I liked better, and dumped the plan completely!

The lure of advance plotting is still strong, and occasionally I fall into the trap of trying to write a detailed plan. I do it because I think it’ll give me the perfect book – which would spare me so much revising and redrafting. But every time the same thing happens. I never find plotting a happy experience: it’s always an outside-in process, whereas writing’s inside-out.

Having said that, it’s hard writing into a void! I think making a plan’s really useful if it’s the thing that gets you writing, or if it helps you get unstuck. Now I tend to write a bit, and then see where I am and retrospectively plan.

What’s your favourite drink?

Oh, definitely my cup of coffee in the morning, before I sit down to work.

Where’s your best place to write?

I’m not one of those people who can write anywhere, on buses or on park benches. I’m best sitting at my desk at home. I write on my battered old laptop; I ought to buy a new one, but I’m slightly scared of changing it now, in case that jinxes me … Does that sound weird?

What advice would you give to writers aspiring to publication?

There’s all the obvious advice like ‘Don’t give up,’ ‘Write every day,’ and ‘Don’t try to second guess the market.’ And that’s all valid. I also think it’s best to write what you want to write because ultimately if you don’t like it it’ll show in your writing. It takes a long time to write a book, so you’re better off writing one you want to read – that way you’re more likely to take the reader with you on the journey.

And lastly, what’s next for you?

I’m back at my laptop, writing the next book!

A huge thank you to Helen Giltrow for letting us grill her.

You can find out more about Helen and her fabulous debut novel – The Distance – over at https://www.orionbooks.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781409126621 and follow her on Twitter @HelenGiltrow

CTG Interviews: Julia Crouch, author of The Long Fall

The Long Fall cover image

The Long Fall cover image

Today I’m delighted to welcome Julia Crouch to the CTG blog.

Famous for her darkly chilling novels of domestic noir, Julia’s latest book – The Long Fall – is published this week in paperback, eBook and as an audio download. 

So, to the questions …

Your latest book – The Long Fall – is out this week. Can you tell us a bit about it?

I started off wondering how someone could continue a life after being guilty of the worst possible transgression.

The story is set in two time frames – 1980 and 2013. The 1980 sections are the diary of 18 year old Emma who is backpacking solo through Europe in her year off. At the end of her journey, something awful happens. The 2013 part is about Kate, a wealthy, high profile charity campaigner, Hedge Fund Manager’s wife and mother to drama student Tilly. When someone turns up from Kate’s past, her superficially perfect life begins to disintegrate around her.

The book takes place in Greece and London, what was it about these particular places that inspired to you to pick them?

I have always loved Greece – I go there whenever I get the opportunity. My first proper visit was as a lone, backpacking eighteen year old. I kept a diary of what I got up to while I was there, and I have mercilessly raided the detail in it for The Long Fall. On the very edge of Europe, Greece is a country of contrasts – of ancient and modern, of East and West, of land and sea. I knew I wanted to set part of the story on an island – as distant, disconnected and isolated as possible – and my son Owen told me about Ikaria, which his Greek girlfriend Eva took him to a couple of years ago. It seemed perfect and, since the novel starts with a fall from a cliff, the idea of the island named after Icarus, the boy who fell when he flew too close to the sun, seemed too perfect to resist.

I had to go and research the island – an arduous task for a Grecophile such as myself – and found to my delight that it was perfect – wind-buffetted with enormous, looming black and grey cliffs, deserted perfect beaches, a jungly interior and a world untouched as yet (touch wood) by mass tourism. Setting is as important to me as my characters and plot, so it was really, really exciting to find Ikaria. I spent a week there, driving a tiny Chevy Matiz over almost impassable mountain roads, exploring mountain villages and isolated bays.

I wanted the contrast of Kate’s world to the Greek scenes to be very stark. A couple of years ago I did a photoshoot for a magazine and they had hired a gorgeous house in a converted school in Battersea. It’s vast – all enormous high ceilings, white walls and wooden floors. The people who own it live in it – although they were away for the day of the shoot – and there’s a big photograph canvas of the family on the kitchen wall. They are beautiful. The impression is one of a perfect life.

I was just beginning to think about The Long Fall at the time, and it seemed to me that this would be the perfect building for Kate to inhabit – gated, turretted luxury. So I’m afraid I ‘stole’ it!

As a trailblazer of the hugely popular Domestic Noir, how would you describe the characteristics of the sub-genre?

Domestic Noir doesn’t necessarily mean a home setting, but it’s often in there somewhere. it’s about the things people do to each other in the name of love. It’s about the levels at which we can deceive ourselves and others, and how we manage to live with our secrets. It can include police and murders, but that’s certainly not essential. The mystery lies in the why – rather than the whodunnit. Because it is rooted in messy old life and relationships, it doesn’t always provide the neat ending of more traditional crime fiction.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?

Usually, I just dive in and start a story, researching as I go along. I keep writing until I reach the end, even if I know things have to change quite radically in the earlier stages of the novel to support my new discoveries. This I call draft zero, because no one ever sees it except me. Then I go back and rewrite the entire thing, building a firmer structure for the plot, excising loads of guff and putting in hopefully more focussed material. For me, this is the most exciting way to write, because every day you discover something new about your characters and story.

However, it can be difficult to fit this style of working into a publishing schedule. The Long Fall is the first book of a new contract I signed with my publishers Headline, and to secure that I had to put together a pretty clear outline of the story, long before I started. The plot I came up with was quite detailed and so clear that it changed very little in the writing – so I knew what each scene had to do, where the characters had to go. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to structure it, though, so there was still quite a bit of head scratching at the end of draft zero. It is probably a quicker way to finish a novel, but I have to say I have reverted to my old approach for the novel I am currently working on (working title, rather imaginatively, novel #5) and, while it is scarier, I find it more exciting writing, as E L Doctorow put it, “…like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

What advice would you give to new writers aspiring to publication?

Write the best novel you possibly can, then edit it and make it better. Don’t be in a hurry to submit. Do your homework finding an agent – do they represent authors you like? Do they deal with your genre? See what they say on Twitter. Follow submission guidelines slavishly – they all have different rules, so you will have to work around them, which is a good thing. Be patient. Be polite. Be prepared for rejection, but also be prepared to work on editing suggestions from agents. If you are rejected, there will be a good reason. Try to work out what it is.

If you want to self-publish, pay someone to edit your novel, and try to forget that you are paying so that you listen to their edits. Pay someone to typeset it and design the cover. Learn the business. You have to be aware that you are going into business not only as a writer but also as a publisher. It’s a lot of work.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

Novel #5 will take up the next five months, and we’re beginning to plan Dark & Stormy Brighton 2015 (the crime festival I launched this year with Emlyn Rees and Ray Leek). I’m putting together proposals for three more novels – a process I really enjoy. And something might be happening in Hollywood, although that’s all I’m allowed to say right now. Other than that, I’m promoting The Long Fall all over the shop: I’ll be at Harrogate, Bloody Scotland and Edinburgh Book Festival, as well as many other libraries, bookshops and festivals around the country. Good job I love writing on trains!

Sounds like 2014 is shaping up to be a very busy year!

A huge thank you to Julia Crouch for dropping by and chatting about The Long Fall and her writing process. To find out more about Julia and her books pop on over to http://juliacrouch.co.uk/


And watch this space for our review of The Long Fall – coming soon.