Word on the Wire


We’re on the move and I am struggling with which books I really can’t live without and those that would benefit from a good home. Simple enough to give novels to charity that I simply didn’t gel with and, as we’d already moved twice in the past ten years, I’d already whittled down my collection but, of course, I’ve also extensively added to it. 

It got me thinking that a book is not only memorable for the story and characters but for the actual time in your life when reading. I was heavily into women’s commercial fiction when I was travelling in and out of London from Birmingham, by train. A passion for psychological thrillers sparked my own interest in writing when I lived in Devon with my growing family. Subsequently, I’ve never been able to give away novels by husband and wife team, Nicci French. ‘Beneath the Skin,’ remains one of my all time favourites, although many more writers in this genre have now been added to the groaning shelves of several bookcases. An obsessive splurge with spy fiction was a direct result of meeting my husband. He also relit my dormant fuse with American crime fiction. Once hooked, that was it in both regards!  I can pretty much chart my holiday history by the book I was reading. Consequently, I associate Lisa Jewell with Fowey, Cornwall. A break in Little Haven, Pembrokeshire belongs to ‘A Divided Spy’ by Charles Cumming. I associate Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith with my discussion of the novel on BBC Radio Birmingham and before which I was completely terrified!  In other words, books are so much more than a story. It’s the mood they elicit, the thoughts they generate, even the changes and decisions one might make as a result of ‘a good read.’ Books are like friends, and I intend to take as many of them with me as possible to our next home. 

In other book news I’m happy to report that a couple of weeks ago I signed a contract with Joffe for my latest novel, tentatively titled, ‘My Mother’s Lies.’ It will be released later in the year and, if you’re interested in our next destination, the clue lies within the story… 



It’s been a cracking couple of months, which is not something I normally say at this rather dismal time of year. Post-festivities, lousy weather, summer holidays dimly glimpsed, there isn’t normally a lot to shout about.

But this month ‘The Patient’ is published, the first in the Kim Slade series; the follow-up is currently being edited and

‘TA-DA’ I finished the first draft of a brand new story, with new characters this very week. Coincidentally, a number of other writers I know also finished first drafts this week. Does cold, wintry weather make us more likely to hunker down and write? I suspect so. I admit I had a bit of a struggle with writing about a heatwave when wearing five layers of clothing. 

Finishing a first draft may not seem like such a big deal to the uninitiated – it’s a mile away from the final product, but for writers it’s like reaching the top of Everest. At last, you have something solid in your hands that you can craft and revise. No more waking up in the middle of the night and thinking: oh, that doesn’t work, or oh, this would be a good idea, or oh how am I going to fix that? The ‘oh’ factor is a huge issue and it’s what gives writers insomnia. I’m no exception. For obvious reasons, the story is under wraps but there will be more to follow later in the year.  

Not so, ‘The Patient.’ To briefly describe: my main protagonist, Kim Slade, is a clinical psychologist who specialises in treating young women with eating disorders. Unfortunately, she has someone who specialises in her: a stalker – and she believes she knows who it is: a former male model horrifically scarred in a random attack. In this, they share something in common: Kim, too, is facially scarred after a childhood accident. Determined to nail him she sets out to turn the tables. But, what if she is wrong? Hopefully, this keeps the reader guessing as much as my main protagonist – no spoilers here! If you fancy finding out a little more about my inspiration for the novel, you can check into my Q&A session with Joffe.


In other breaking news, I’m delighted to announce that Hannah Curtis has signed up to narrate ‘My Daughter’s Secrets’ ‘The Patient’ and the as yet untitled follow-up. To say I’m thrilled is an understatement. 


After a lengthy time at the writing and editorial coalface, I decided to skive yesterday afternoon. With my other my half in tow, we went to Ledbury. For those who don’t know the place, it’s, without doubt, the loveliest market town in Herefordshire, with strong cultural ties to literature. Many poets have lived there, including W.H. Auden, John Masefield and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I’ve personally seen Sir Roy Strong (art historian, writer and broadcaster) strolling down the high street and, joy of joy, there is not one, but three independent bookshops, which in a smallish place, is astonishing.  

Walking past Ledbury Books and Maps, I screeched to a halt. Outside the entrance, an ‘A’ board announced that there was to be a Ledburied (ingeniously named) event on the 19th January 2023, featuring Anna Mazzola and Lucie McKnight Hardy. I briefly worked with Anna on her acclaimed novel, The Unseeing, and we met at CrimeFest a few years ago.  Unable to resist finding out more, I walked straight in and got chatting to owner, Lindsay, who is one of the nicest bookshop owners ever – and extremely knowledgeable.  

She told me that the brainchild of Ledburied is none other than Sarah Hilary, local crime fiction author, (think No Other Darkness and her series character, DI Marnie Rome.)  The idea is to give writers an opportunity to talk about their craft on a regular basis. I kicked myself hard and long for missing out on the October event, featuring Mick Herron, spy writer, whose series of ‘Slough House’ novels are now screened on Apple TV. 

Lindsay is attracting big name authors and it won’t be long before there’s a stampede of publishers keen to make use of these events. So if you’re in the area, definitely drop in. If you can’t make it, you can still buy a book or three from the huge selection, featuring all genres.

There’s not a lot of festive magic about right now, but yesterday afternoon was definitely one of those moments.  


It’s been months since I last posted. In fact almost a year, but as it’s now September  – I’m reliably informed that this marks the start of the year for farmers and, of course, it’s the beginning of the academic school year and, if you’re religious, the ecclesiastical year (and a whole host of others I haven’t thought of) – I thought now would be a good time to shout ‘Hi, I’m still here, still editing, reading and, very importantly, writing.’ 

Be assured things have not stalled in my literary and cultural world. I’ve torn through a number of Dennis Lehane’s earlier Kenzie and Gennaro novels, gobbled up a selection of stories by Don Winslow, Broken, as well as reading the unputdownable City On Fire.  Lisa Jewell’s The Family Upstairs proved a highlight during a short summer break in Cornwall.  Apple TV’s marvellous and faithful adaptation of Mick Herron’s Slow Horses kept me glued for four bingeworthy nights (yes, I know it’s bad for me). These are the shoutlines. Real life and stuff you don’t need to know about is simply that. In an age of information overload, if you have nothing to impart above the ordinary, then why contribute a load of additional ‘bumph’ for folk to wade through? 

BUT the big professional news is that ‘My Daughter’s Secrets’ is published by Joffe this month. To say I’m thrilled is an understatement.  Cheltenham and gateway to the Cotswolds provides the setting for my main protagonist, Grace Neville, an art historian. Grace’s daughter, Tara, has been murdered and her boyfriend, Jordan, sentenced for the crime. Days later, Grace is approached by Jordan’s father, Alan, to protest his son’s innocence. Grace refuses to believe him until her home is broken into and her daughter’s belongings searched. Suspicions aroused, Grace is forced to consider the unthinkable: was someone else responsible for Tara’s death?  

If psychological thrillers are your thing then this may be one for you, and if I slip ‘off-air’ for a bit it’s because I’m busy writing my next psychological thriller!


Most writers have day jobs. Only the holy few are able to make a good living without other means. If you’re able to work in an allied field so much the better. I count my blessings that my day job as a consultant editor, advising new authors on their stories, allows me to do this. However there is always a downside to ‘riding two horses:’ time.  

Since the pandemic kicked off I’ve been busier editorially than ever. The novel I really wanted to write was put back and back. In some ways this was a good thing because it gave me a lot more thinking time. I have a theory that (and I’ve probably mentioned this before in other posts) the longer the thinking time, the shorter and more joyous the writing time. It allows the writer to fall for that lovely delusion of the story ‘writing itself.’ There comes a point, however, when your notebooks are filled with character profiles, plot developments, twists, and that key climactic scene, until your head is bursting. Trying to find the time to write when you have manuscripts stacking up, like airplanes waiting to land, (pre-Covid, you understand) is a big balancing act. This said, I did, indeed find time to craft a first draft, which is now printed out and awaiting my first reader – my eagle-eyed other half. It’s the longest story I’ve ever written too, which resonated more strongly when I was asked to work on a novel by a writer whose story paid homage to Maigret. Hold that thought. 

For those who are unfamiliar, Maigret was a detective created by Georges Simenon. On a biographical note, Simenon was born in 1903 and died in Switzerland in 1989. During his writing career he wrote seventy-five Inspector Maigret novels, as well as short stories. To do justice to my author’s story I thought I should brush up on my Simenon. Somewhere, back in the dark ages, I’d read him, but couldn’t profess to be an authority. This was the time to ‘phone a friend’ who is a big Maigret fan. ‘Which ones most define his work?’ I asked. After a bit of discussion, three novels were suggested, the first of which was The Carter of La Providence. The first thing I’d say when the books arrived (and something I’d forgotten) was the brevity of the story. I reckoned the novel would fit four times into the one I’d just written! This is in no way a criticism – quite the reverse, in fact. Characterisation in Simenon’s tale is rich. You get a genuine sense of barge life, which is as fascinating as it’s alien, a thumping good murder story and it’s all wrapped up in such a way you can polish it off in a couple of nights. Thinking about this, I had a rummage through my bookshelves and unearthed novels by Francoise Sagan and Colette both writers I’d been obsessed by in my teens. Their stories are also modest in size and I don’t think this was just a ‘French thing.’ I wonder how and when the transition was made to much bigger tomes. When I hear people say, (more often than I like) ‘I don’t read because I don’t have the time,’ maybe a good place to start would be with some of the old greats. 

My ‘reading for pleasure’ pile has stacked up in an alarming fashion through 2021. (No sooner than I finish one than two more mysteriously appear.) During the Christmas period I intend to take serious time out and knock a dirty great hole in it. Whether you’re reading, writing and/or spending time with loved ones, I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful and healthy New Year.  

Y Viva España

Last month, I wrote about my addiction to Don Winslow’s novels. This month is dedicated to all the fantastic series coming out of Spain. I know a lot of folk don’t get on with sub-titles, but even without a smattering of the language (my Hebrew is virtually non-existent and it didn’t prevent me from enjoying Fauda and Hit And Run) if the action’s great, you soon find yourself immersed. 

I wolfed down the first season of ‘Money Heist’ – actually I prefer the alternative title of ‘The Paper House’ and, after romping through others, have just devoured the first part of Season 5. Absolutely character driven, the story, in the first season, revolves around a daring attempt to take over the Royal Mint of Spain by a criminal mastermind with the aim of printing millions of euros. To pull this off, he puts together a team of ‘no-hopers’ who have unique skills. A joyous game of cat and mouse is played out and then things turn dark and, by the last episode, with the final to air in December, darker still. Put it this way, the body count increases and your heartstrings are given an agonising tug.  

Any drama that touches on, or involves, the Holocaust requires sensitive handling.  If done badly, as in Hunters, with its crass depiction of scenes in the death camps – sorry Al Pacino, one of my favourite actors – but, holy hell, that awful chessboard scene made me switch off and not because I’m squeamish, it reduces a truly dark period in history to shallow entertainment.  Not so with Jaguar. Set in the 1960’s, it follows the story of a group of Spanish Holocaust survivors who seek justice against Nazi war criminals in hiding following the end of World War II. Again, fabulous characterisation is a hallmark of the drama. The backstory of the camps, depicting scenes at Mauthausen, are extraordinarily poignant and powerful, without being sensationalist. A genuine cliffhanger ending concludes season one and I’m very much looking forward to seeing in which direction season two travels. 

For something completely different, (and I had my doubts when I read the premise) check out ‘Sky Rojo.’ Essentially, it’s the tale of three prostitutes hell-bent on escaping from their pimp and his henchmen. Episodes are short, around twenty-five minutes, which lends pace to the unfolding story. At times, there’s a cartoon-like quality to the action. It’s funny. It’s also brutal, graphic (not for the faint-hearted) and dark. Yes, as the girls frantically seek freedom, their friendship, with all their differences, deepens, and we’re rooting for them all the way. 

Finally, there has been hot debate in this household for some time about the identity of the new James Bond. Discussion has also focused on where the Bond franchise will take 007 next. In a sense, each new Bond is a constant reinterpretation of Ian Fleming’s original. So, just throwing it out there, how about a return to the 1960’s, no mobile phones, no high-tech gadgets, and pure retro? 


No doubt about it, I have an addiction to novels by Don Winslow. It all started when my other half bought ‘The Power of The Dog.’ He raved about it while I was knee-deep in one of Gerald Seymour’s novels. Then he bought ‘The Force’ and then he bought ‘The Cartel.’ Next, ‘The Border.’ Right, I thought, let’s see what this guy has got. And oh my goodness, Mr Winslow has got the lot. 

            When critics say his work is ‘epic,’ ‘ like the Godfather,’ ‘a portrait of modern America,’ they are not wrong. There’s polemic, without bashing you over the head with it. The vast number of characters does not turn into a thinly drawn ‘cast of thousands.’  Every character is finely conceived and conveyed, and deserving of his or her place in a narrative that blows your socks off. I learnt more about the Mexican drugs trade than in any story I’ve ever read. We know from the press that Mexican cartels are cruel and barbaric and ruthless in protecting their interests. Everyone is fair game, including women and little children. Winslow is unsparing in his depiction, without being gratuitous and sensationalist. With a strong tolerance for violence in fiction, I felt chills. Other scenes evoked waves of utter despair. This is strong stuff and it elicits powerful emotions in the reader. Law enforcement in Mexico is complicated by competing organisations whose remits are often overlapping and blurred to the extent that what should be done, when a criminal line of investigation is followed, doesn’t get done. The kicker is that, if more were spent on raising ordinary Mexicans out of poverty, US governments would not have the same level of problems with migrants crossing the border to escape for a better life. Instead they are left to rot and feed the seemingly insatiable demand for cocaine and heroin in the States and beyond.  Fundamentally, there are too many vested interests in maintaining the status quo, and Winslow displays this in vivid and compelling detail. It comes as no surprise that his work has already been optioned for film. 

            I could dribble on about what I’ve been doing over the summer. Apart from mentioning the fantastic reviews SIX has garnered and saying I had a productive period of writing, that’s it. My September blog post belongs to one writer only: Mr Winslow, and I urge you to buy his thought-provoking, entertaining and utterly addictive books.  


I’ve found a cure for the Summertime Blues. Now I know that Jeremy Clarkson is a Marmite individual, but ‘Clarkson’s Farm’ is definitely worth a watch if only for the characters in this ‘fly on the wall’ insight into how a farm is actually run.  Take twenty-one year old Kaleb, a mini farming entrepreneur who barely leaves the sanctity of Chipping Norton. The episode, in which he travels to London in a doomed attempt to sell wasabi to top London restaurants, makes you realise why he has such a strong aversion to ‘the city.’ Yet he has more knowledge in his little finger than someone of more senior years (including Clarkson) and is unafraid to express it in a forthright manner. ‘Cheerful Charlie,’ Clarkson’s long-suffering land agent and rural advisor, who spells out the genuine cost of running a farm – the amounts made my eyes water – offers a steady hand at the tractor wheel. All-round elderly labourer, Gerald, literally speaks a language only understood by himself. Together with the very calm, Lisa, Clarkson’s other half, these are the folk that makes this series tick. 

When Clarkson took the reckless decision to run ‘Diddly-Squat’ after his farm manager retired, he had no idea that the knowledge that has served him well in his motoring career has little place in modern farming. Quite often, his actions, by his own admission, are cack-handed.  To be fair, he was up against it from the outset due to the weather, which was set to be the wettest in decades, upsetting planting times and ruining crops. A rosy-tinted view of ‘having a few sheep’ (seventy-eight) is quickly dispelled by reality. Sheep have escapology running through their genes. They are prone to disease and barrenness. In short, they cost.  Farming is not for the sentimental and, at times, Clarkson was deeply sentimental, an unusual sight for most viewers.  Not only was the series entertaining, it gives a fresh insight into the average day in a farmer’s life. Having bolted through all seven episodes last weekend I found myself calmly driving along, caught in a tailback of traffic, behind a rickety tractor, on my way to Ludlow. Normally, I’d be frothing at the mouth. This time, I thought: ‘So what? These guys have an important job to do in the most difficult of conditions.’ Whether you like the man or not, Clarkson’s show softened my attitude, and its legacy is something worthwhile and enduring. 

The mass-market paperback of ‘SIX’ is released under my pseudonym, G.S. Locke in August. A key character in the novel, Danny Hallam, has spent twenty-five years in prison. As you might imagine, I carried out research to find out about prison life, so when Jimmy McGovern’s ‘TIME’ hit the screen it was of special interest to me. ‘TIME’ makes for tough viewing. Prison is not the soft option as often portrayed in the media. The reality of prison life is searing and McGovern is unflinching in conveying the savagery of inmates and the basic cruelties that can turn an average day into a living hell. The loneliness and sense of abandonment felt by vulnerable prisoners and, at times, those who guard them absolutely resonated. Magnificent performances by Sean Bean and Stephen Graham lift the story to a very superior level. Catch it if you can. 

‘Battle Sight Zero’ by Gerald Seymour (no relation) gets my vote for book of the month.  It features Andy Knight who lives a dangerous life as an undercover officer. His task is to penetrate a terrorist cell and to do this he must befriend a young woman. The most basic rule is never to become close to the target but Andy falls for her, as she does for him. No spoilers, so I won’t reveal what happens other than to say that if you’re interested in the history of guns, the Kalashnikov AK47 plays a vital role, to the extent that it almost become a character in it’s own right. A clever story, skilfully executed, Seymour proves that once again he is one of the best thriller writers in the world. With the summer upon us, I’ll be taking a long break from writing this blog until, at least, September.  Enjoy the summer. Hope you have plenty of great books to read. See you on the other side


The sharp-eyed will note that I’ve been AWOL since my last blog post in March. This is for no other mysterious reason that I’ve been busy with editorial work, which is great. Not so great – I’ve been unable to find the head space so essential for writing. It’s a common issue. Most writers, and definitely most unpublished authors, who have yet to dip their toes into the mad world of publishing, have day jobs. So how do you juggle a demanding 9 to 5 with writing your story?

Whilst I haven’t been writing I have been plotting. This can be done in bite-sized pieces at any time of the day and even the night. (Maddeningly, I often find I have the best creative ideas before falling asleep and on waking up). This is where ‘the notebook’ comes into play. Mine isn’t very big but it’s absolutely crammed with random bits of information about characters, ideas, subjects I need to research, locations to visit, (not easy during lockdown, although St Google comes in handy) and bits of language or description that float into my head. And I’ve noticed a pattern. Around 60% of information in the first half of my notebook gets jettisoned, or is so further developed that it bears no resemblance to the original idea. For me, this is all part of the refining process. What I wind up with is then typed up. Characterisation plays a key role and I’ll have yards of stuff about physical characteristics, background, pet hates, passions, obsessions – the list is endless – as well as locations. Running alongside, plot points, which can be a little sketchy to start with, until I start building scenes, including those key ‘turning points’ or revelations, necessary to power a narrative.  Again, this can all be done in the odd spare half hour and, if you can find a little time each day over a week, it soon builds. The point is that there is absolutely no pressure. It doesn’t compete with the ‘day job’ or family commitments, or even, that most important thing, having a life. 

After a few months of ‘noodling’, I usually find a host of plot holes that require resolution. This is crunch time.  If, and it has been known, that things refuse to make sense, I may abandon the entire project. As importantly, I might find I’ve fallen out of love with the story – a killer for any novel. If you don’t love your characters and your story, it will show through in the writing so it’s a good idea to be really honest with yourself at this point. 

However if you feel that little thrill of excitement, that basically gives you the green light, then flesh out your story, which may take more months, until it’s at that stage when it’s strong enough and you’re confident enough to sit down and write. ‘But how do I find the time?’ I hear you say. 

While I can’t magic a space in your schedule, I believe that the longer the thinking time, the shorter the writing time.  When authors say ‘it’s as if the story wrote itself’, chances are this is because they adopted the approach outlined here. They didn’t just grab an idea off the top of their heads and bang it out. Instead, they thought about it, gave it due consideration, avoided stereotype with their characters and played around with the plot so that one scene doesn’t sound remarkably like another.  They gave it a little love. And the best stories are a combo of head and heart.


Last summer, the wonderful John Banks narrated NEON, courtesy of Orion Fiction. This year, like buses that come along all at once, Apple released ‘A Deadly Trade and Final Target,’ both narrated with super deadly style by Ben Onwukwe. This was followed by ‘SIX’ narrated by gifted Simon Mattacks – love his northern accents. To say that all narrators bring to life my stories is an understatement. I’ve heard anecdotally that some writers aren’t keen on the way their books are portrayed in audio, but I have absolutely no complaints. I find it a bit like settling down to listen to a radio play. How narrators manage to convey as many as three different tones and pitches in a single scene leaves me awe-struck. 

Apart from this, I can report that rights to NEON have been bought by Albatros, Czech Republic, which, added to Germany, Poland and Russia, is deeply satisfying. 

Editing work continues to keep me out of mischief by day. I’m reading more for pleasure now than at any time during the pandemic. Of writing, I’d be telling fibs if I told you that I was hard at it. But that’s okay because I have a big idea bubbling and taking shape while I dig the garden, clear the cobwebs and generally do things I’ve put off for too long.  

Detective-led fiction aka police procedurals are as popular as ever. Consequently, agents and publishers are keen to have writers on their books who can deliver in what is a deeply competitive genre. And so it was with a measure of excitement that I watched  ‘GRACE,’ an adaptation of Peter James’s superlative novels, which hit the small screen this week. Originally, and somewhat confusingly, I’d thought the story was to be split into a couple of episodes but, no, some wise bod decided that it should run in its entirety over a two-hour slot; another complete story to feature later in the year. Even the commercial breaks weren’t too intrusive. 

In the lead role, John Simm (Life on Mars) plays Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. I confess that he didn’t immediately conform to my idea of James’s main protagonist, but as the story got underway, I changed my mind. Understated, slightly vulnerable and yet on top of his professional game in a way that he clearly isn’t in his personal life, his was a great performance and brought something extra to the role. No spoilers here but if you are claustrophobic, (I was positively hyperventilating in certain scenes and thinking about opening a window) you have been warned! Characterisation is cracking.  Plotting is superb. The narrative is taut, ensuring that the viewer is on the edge of his or her seat. If you haven’t watched it already, I urge you to do so. Better still, just buy the books.