Friday, 23 September 2016

The Girl Who Stole the Apple

Almost exactly a year after the last one, I have a new crime novel out. Again published by Joffe Books as e-book and paperback.
The Girl Who Stole the Apple is a one-off. My last book was Dead in the Water, featuring a new character Doug Mullen, a private eye who I expected (and still expect) to become the focal point of a new series. However, Doug does not appear in The Girl Who Stole the Apple.
This wasn't planned. Having found a new publisher and a new character, the obvious thing was to write the second in the series, but I had had this opening scene in my head for a very long time and I couldn't ignore it.
The scene involved (you guessed it) a girl stealing an apple. I had already tried writing the story as a police procedural, but somehow it didn't work, so I had put it aside and got on with writing Dead in the Water. Then early this year as I forced myself to get on with the next book, I decided to try again with that girl who stole the apple. I wanted to know who she was and why she stole the apple and who the tall guy who entered the shop with her was and why someone working in the shop ended up dead very shortly afterwards.
I did what many authors claim to do and I let the characters have their heads. This is, for me, a risky project. I prefer to have a fairly clear idea of where the plot is going. Inevitably I found myself being led down cul-de-sacs - or roads which appeared to be cul-de-sacs - but eventually to my surprise and delight I came to the end and realised that I had discovered what the story was all about.
Of course, after Joffe's editor had looked at the MS, there was a number of things which I needed to work on, but I appreciate that sort of feedback. As a writer, I value someone who can look at my work dispassionately and point out things that need 'fixing' in one way or another.
I am not like Mary Stewart, who was so competent and confident of her craft that when she received the edited MS of her first novel, she wrote a trenchant letter back to her publisher thus:
'My writing is better than your edits - please don't edit my books if you want to publish them.' As a piece of advice, this is not something I would encourage new writers to follow!!

Incidentally, I am doing a belated launch of the paperback at George and Delila’s Ice Cream Café, 104 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JE on Monday 10 October from 6.30 p.m. Special deals on the books and the ice-creams if you come and speak to me first! 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Amazon - love them or hate them?

I have long had a somewhat ambivalent view of Amazon. Like any successful organisation which has established a dominant position in its market sector, it tends to make its own rules. I don't like that, just as I don't like the fact that Amazon has been so reluctant to pay its fair share of corporation tax in the UK.
So I am somewhat surprised to find myself tapping out a blog that is a partial defence of Amazon.
It all started with article by Lee Child published a few days ago in the Guardian ( It really annoyed me. It was an attack on Amazon's rumoured plans to build 300 book stores in the USA, not to mention a stinging dismissal of the world of e-books.  Nothing sells books better than physical displays in bricks-and-mortar locations, he states. Read his full comments at your leisure. But boy did they annoy me!
Lee Child has probably sold more books in a week than I will sell in a lifetime of writing. So when he publishes his latest thriller, real bricks-and-mortar stores queue to pile them high, with the obvious consequence that a lot of people buy them. Bully for him!
But I, like many other minnows in the authorial pond, are lucky if our own local bookshop takes a few copies. Getting paper copies (what Child would call real books) into bookshops scattered round the country (I am talking UK, but I imagine the same applies to the USA) is for many of us lesser authors close to impossible.
I discovered my place in the pecking order when my third book was published by Robert Hale Ltd. I approached my local independent bookshop. Would they like to host a launch for me? I reckoned I had established a loyal local following and could pull in quite a few punters.
The bookshop agreed.
Then the bookshop changed its mind. Another more widely known author (TV appearances etc.!) had hove into view from over the horizon, so they dumped me for her.
The fact is that Amazon for all its faults is a lifeline for lots of lesser authors like myself. It helps us build an audience. Most of our sales come through Amazon and via our own efforts. If we can't get a paperback deal, then the e-book route offers a massive opportunity to get read and to make a very modest income to back up the day job.
My first crime novel Blood on the Cowley Road was published in 2008. It was reprinted (very modestly) three time. Yet in the last few months, my e-book sales for this book and my other "Blood in Oxford" ones have taken on a new burst of life thanks to the success of my most recent book Dead in the Water. This was published by Joffe Books, initially only as an e-book (sorry, Lee), though it is now also in paperback. No-one expects a hardback novel costing £18.99 to have an extended life, but an e-book at under £3.00 is a very different story.
If there was one sentence in Child's article which really irritated the hell out of me it was his demand that "e-fanboys agree to discuss the real world, not their pretend version! Deal?"
What makes an e-book less real than a book made with paper and cardboard. The story remains the same. If you have poor eyesight or travel a lot and like to take several books with you on holiday, the e-book reader is the easy, obvious option. That isn't to deny that lots of people (myself included) enjoy the sensation of a physical book. What I would deny is that one means of reading a story is better than another one.
So although I will continue to wish Amazon was more straightforward about paying taxes in the UK and other matters, I will also as a writer remain glad that they are continuing to spread my books to a wider readership.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Emperor's New Clothes

It was W C Fields who once said "Never work with children or animals". Maybe he should have added, "never invite them to your book launch"!

The launch for my latest book (Dead in the Water, published by Joffe Books) took place in George and Delila's ice-cream café in Oxford's Cowley Road. I chose the venue because it featured in my third book and it does great ice-cream and I wanted parents to come along and give their offspring a treat as well as themselves. Why not?

So I was delighted when several children did come along. Initially!

The problem with kids is that when they aren't being darlings or sulky or obsessed with their electronic devices, they can ask the most penetrating of questions.

And so it was that I was sitting down with a guest and her two girls when the elder looked up from her two scoops of ice-cream and fixed me with stare.

"Tell me something," she said.

I smiled and nodded, more than happy to engage with a potential future reader.

"Why do you write about such nasty things?"

For the first time that evening my brain and mouth failed to co-operate. I think I probably gawped at her and looked even more blank and stupid than I usually do. As questions go, it was a humdinger. Right to the heart of the matter.

“Actually, my books aren’t that nasty,” I said, doing my best to side-step the question, but failing. She took another scoop of ice-cream. She looked unimpressed.
So I tried again. ‘People like reading that sort of thing.”  It was another feeble reply, though she was polite enough not to say so.

“Why don‘t you ask your father?” I said. Her father, I knew, was halfway through my first book Blood on the Cowley Road.  Even as I said it, I knew it was a cop out. A good honest question requires a good honest answer. I had failed to deliver.
So apologies to her.  I suppose one real answer is that I like writing crime fiction. I like the puzzle element too and I am interested in how normal people can get into situations when they do nasty things.  Only I am not interested in really nasty things or in serial killers who do very nasty things to their victims. Honest!

Monday, 28 September 2015

A week in October

I have two events taking place in Oxford in the middle of October. Anyone reading this blog is welcome to come to either.

1. I am launching my new (paperback and e-book) crime novel "Dead in the Water" on Monday 12 October. It is set in Oxford and centred around a would-be private detective Doug Mullen. I am launching the book from George and Delila's ice-cream cafe in the Cowley Road. G&Ds are offering a special deal: anyone coming to the launch can buy two scoops of ice-cream for the price of one! Just come and get a business card off me to qualify! Obviously I will happily sell you a copy (or two!) of the new book (nice Christmas present maybe?).

So the details: Monday 12 October.
George & Delila's Ice-Cream Cafe, 104 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1JE. 
From 6.00 p.m. until 9.00 p.m.
All welcome! The ice-cream is seriously good too.
2. "Wrong Number" is a short film which I wrote and made with friends (starring Jane Wymark). A man rings for a take-away meal and finds himself speaking to someone who claims to be Gods PA. It was shown in London at the Portobello Film Festival in  mid-September and it is now being premiered in Oxford at St Matthews church on Saturday 17 October. It is being shown alongside the feature film "Philomena" (Judi Dench and Steve Coogan).

So the details:
Saturday 17 October.
Entry £5, doors open 7.00 p.m. for a 7.30 p.m. start!
St Matthews church, Marlborough Road, Oxford, OX1 4LW.

There will be popcorn!
So do come along to either or both events and say hello!
Email for further information.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Dead in the Water

My big writing news is that my new crime novel Dead in the Water will be published on 19 September. I have got a new publisher, Joffe Books, which I am really pleased about. They are releasing Dead in the Water initially as an e-book. The speed at which they are turning my MS into a published product is amazing and represents such a change from when I signed my contract for my first novel (Blood on the Cowley Road) back in 2008. That was published as a hardback and took seven or eight months to get published.
Of course, things have changed so fast over the last few years. Back in 2008, my publisher didn't even bother to include digital rights in the contract! They ended up sending me an addendum to my contract more than a year later when they decided to move into the e-book market.
Anyway after a period of disillusionment, Joffe’s enthusiasm has enthused me too. They really liked my new private eye Doug Mullen, and as I read back through the edited MS (twice!), I realised that I had created a really nice and interesting guy. Doug is a character who I look forward to developing further.

Getting published is somewhat like taking drugs (I imagine!). You can’t wait to repeat the fix. So as I look forward to a bit of holiday, plots for both crime novels and short films have begun to swim around my head. ‘Write me’ they clamour.
So, very likely, I will. I’m just not sure which and when.

Friday, 14 August 2015

From paintballing to Portobello Film Festival

I'm excited that my first film, Wrong Number, will be shown at the Portobello Film Festival in London on Tuesday 15 September.  This is the comedy evening and Wrong Number will be one of a number of short films being shown for free. What could be better? (

The main character is Jack, a man who can't wait to slob out when his wife and daughter visit the grandparents. But when he rings for a take-away, he finds himself on a very unexpected hot-line. The film stars Jane Wymark (Midsomer Murders) and brother Tristram and was shot on location in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

I am primarily a writer of crime novels, so tackling a film script is an intriguing challenge. The last thing you do, I was told in no uncertain terms by an experienced screen writer, is write the dialogue. Actually, I broke this rule spectacularly because I initially wrote Wrong Number as a sketch some 15 years ago at a son's paint-balling party. It was a choice of chilling with a coffee and notepad or joining in the mayhem and getting splatted by him and his mates!

Also, while I am coming clean, I should say that although Wrong Number is my directorial debut, I scripted a short horror which was filmed entirely in China (Shenzhen). A Place for Everything was released to coincide with Halloween and it received a lot of hits and positive feedback ( As a piece of writing, A Place for Everything was a very different challenge. It was written to be filmed in an apartment in Shenzhen and with a minimum of dialogue because it was being shot in a single night by my son Hugo Tickler with only one other crew member. The target market was China, but you really don't have to be able to understand Mandarin to enjoy the film. See what you think!

September is going to be a very good month for me because I also have a new crime novel coming out that month. More details shortly!