Meet prolific crime writer, J.C. Briggs!

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Welcome to my website, Jean!

Your international career, before becoming a prolific author, was as an English and Drama teacher. Can you tell us something about this fascinating part of your life and how you came to be working in the Far East?

I went to teach in Hong Kong because of two love affairs – one that had ended and one that was beginning. The one that ended was painful and I wanted a fresh start; the one that was beginning led me to Hong Kong, but, alas, the person concerned was posted to America and that was the end of that. However, I loved the new school, made many friends, and met my husband so Hong Kong has a special place in my life, though I have not been back for many years and will probably never return.

 

Do you think that your previous involvement in drama has enabled you to deepen the characterisation and events within your novels?

I think reading made me a writer, and teaching English and Drama, too. Everything you have ever read feeds your imagination and contributes to your experience and understanding.

 

In 2012 retirement coincided with the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. This sparked the idea of creating a detective series featuring Charles Dickens. How daunting was this once you had made the decision to commit to writing the series?

I didn’t think about a series. I just had the idea for a detective story – I’d always wanted to write one and when I read about Dickens’s founding of The Home for Fallen Women, the idea came to me about a murder there. The first book sparked the second. At this stage I was thrilled to find that I could do it and it wasn’t until I embarked on a third that I realised what a hazardous undertaking it was – to have the nerve – cheek, even, to use Charles Dickens as a detective, but it was too late, the first one was published. No one seemed to object so I have carried on to write eight so far – number six has just been published by the wonderful Sapere books.

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You obviously had an in depth knowledge of the author’s work, but how much further did you need to delve into his life and writings to really feel you understood the man?

I read as many of the biographies as I could – I knew the facts must be right. The most important resource to stimulate my imagination is the letters – 14,000 of them in the Pilgrim edition, and these give me Dickens’s voice as well as facts about his life, opinions he held, and his attitudes to the issues of his day and to the people he knew. The speeches are very useful, too, as is Household Words for which there is an on-line edition. If I get stuck, lack inspiration, or generally feel I can’t get on with a book, I read his, and very often a quotation or incident sets me off again.

 

What was the most surprising aspect of his amazing life that you discovered?

His boundless energy – it is astonishing how much he did, not only as an author, but as a journalist, editing Household Words and writing numerous articles for it, making speeches, presiding over philanthropic enterprises, directing and acting, writing all those letters, walking as many as 17 miles a day, dining out, and having a wife and family of nine children. There were actually ten, but Dora died as a baby.

 

Were you surprised when you realised that Charles Dickens had generously supported The Home for Fallen Women? Do you think he was ahead of his time in understanding some of the social issues impoverishing women?

I was surprised to read about The Home for Fallen Women. It was an extraordinary thing for an author to do. What concerned him was the grim cycle of criminality – created by poverty – imprisonment followed by further crime because there was very little provision for women who went into prison. There has been some comment on his arranging for the young women to emigrate, but Dickens knew that they had to escape their past lives and start again.

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Have you had a strong response to your series from Dickens’ fans?

Yes I have. The most touching comment was ‘Charles Dickens would be proud of you.’ I’m not sure about that, but people do say that they have gone on to read Dickens again or for the first time because they’ve liked what they’ve read in my books and that is really pleasing – for a former English teacher.

 

Charles Dickens travelled widely giving readings. Do you intend to include various settings as the series continues, although mainly set in London?

I love the London setting – all gaslight, fog and dark alleys, made for murder. I did venture to Manchester in the third book. As luck would have it for Dickens, Superintendent Jones happened to be visiting Manchester at the same time. They went to Paris in the second book and Dickens was in Venice at the beginning of number five. The question set me thinking, though, about a country setting – a Chesney Wold sort of setting appeals, a large and gloomy house with wastes of empty rooms.

 

He was interested in ghosts, supernatural entities, mesmerism and séances as were many in the Victorian era. Would you ever attend such an event to try to make contact with the soul of the man himself? If so, is there a question you would love to pose to him?

He was very sceptical about séances or table-rapping as it was called. I don’t think I’d dare to try to make contact. Suppose he hated the idea of becoming a character in a book!

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It is well documented that his marriage and his parenting skills were perhaps lacking by today’s expectations, but he had many dimensions and seems to have been gifted in other areas of his life. How much do you think his experience of Marshalsea debtors’ prison in his younger life affected his outlook upon the shortcomings of society and fuelled his drive to try and help educate people about these issues?

The number of prisons which appear in his works testify to the deep and enduring impression made by his father’s imprisonment in the Marshalsea. It was a scar on his heart and I do think it heightened his sympathy for the poor, especially children who were born into the most abject poverty and received no education. He supported the Ragged School Movement, the Foundling Hospital and various other charities for orphaned and abandoned children. He sponsored a shoe-black boy who was a Ragged School pupil, and there are many, many instances of private charitable acts. It was as if he felt that he would have been one of them had the family’s fortunes not improved.

 

Has your investigative Charles Dickens been compared to the fictional Sherlock Holmes? If so do you see them as very different characters or similar and in what ways?

I haven’t seen any comment about Sherlock Holmes. I think Dickens’s approach to the investigations is more intuitive and emotional than Holmes’s, though Dickens was said to be incredibly observant. His eyes missed nothing and he had a very exact memory for detail – useful traits for a detective. Holmes seems more ‘scientific’ to me and rather bloodless at times.

 

How careful/respectful are you of what he does within the fiction so that the reader who is not aware of the real man’s life is given a distorted reflection of the man he actually was?

I do try to be very careful about my portrayal of Dickens. As I said before, the facts must be right, but it is in the gaps where the historical novelist can invent something that might have happened in that space. A good example is my Manchester story. Dickens did go to Manchester with his amateur theatrical group and they performed a play by Bulwer-Lytton. I invented another occasion and included a different play by Bulwer-Lytton – a play that Dickens admired. I invented the murder, of course, and I chose a different theatre in Manchester, one which had been demolished, but I was astonished to find that there had been an accidental shooting in that very theatre and the property manager had been tried for manslaughter.
As to my version of Dickens, there have been comments that it is rather too fond a picture, but I have based it on my reading of him, and I do think his relationship with Superintendent Jones would be rather different from other relationships, and I do try to hint at his faults and his growing dissatisfaction in his marriage. Claire Tomalin says ‘everyone finds their own version of Charles Dickens’ and Charles Dickens, the detective is mine. I wanted to be true to the character of Dickens as I discovered him in his own works, his letters, his speeches, and the biographies. There is a very amusing – and rather prescient – quotation from Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment’s notice…’ I’m saying the opposite – I am not in favour of turning good people into bad people, so I am careful. There is a danger that when a writer presents a famous figure in a very unflattering light, or even invents incidents in which the person, say, turns to crime or deviancy that is then believed by the general reader who may not have an academic knowledge. In the end, though, the detective story sets out to entertain so I really don’t think it is my place to invent a Dickens who is wicked, or criminal, or deviant.

 

The books are intriguing detective novels in their own right, but are also layered so that Dickensian references and threads are woven throughout. Do you consciously add these in or does it happen organically as you have absorbed so much research about the man, his life, his letters, novels and the reports about events he held?

I think the references to his life and works do come naturally now as I have read so much, though I still have to check the facts and dates.

 

Would your ideal dream to be to see your series televised? If so, who do you think would do the part justice?

It would be amazing to see the stories televised – what a dream! I saw Ralph Fiennes as Dickens in The Invisible Woman – he’ll do very nicely, thank you.

 

Who has inspired you the most in your work and your life?

My husband whom I miss every single day.

 

How have you stayed fit in mind and body throughout lockdown and these challenging times.

Gardening and walking about the country lanes to keep fit in body, and writing a new book, finding a new story for Dickens and Jones.

 

What is next for J C Briggs?

I have just signed a new contract with Sapere for two more Dickens books which are finished. I’ve started another, and I am contemplating a new series with a female protagonist. I’ve started writing fragments, but there’s no discernible plot yet, which is something of a problem. I hope one will emerge.

Thank you for your time and patience answering my questions in such an inspiring way and every continued success with your fascinating books.

Meet historical fiction author, Elizabeth Bailey

I am really delighted to invite my fellow Sapere Books author, Elizabeth Bailey, as my guest this month.

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Welcome, Elizabeth!

My first question has to be where did your love of storytelling and writing begin?

My father read to us and my older sister made up stories for my brother and me, thus fostering an early interest in literature. I can’t remember when stories were not part of my life. Difficult to recall when I began to write them. In school, for festivals, and for pleasure.

My first fairy tale featured a hero who had to rid the lake of a plague of giant spiders in order to win the princess – hence romance. But the darker side was there too in an epic tragi-poem of a sailor who murders the mermaid who loves him. Shades of the future there?

There is a touch of horror in there for me too – spiders!

Do you find switching between the two very different genres of romance and crime keeps your writing fresh?

To be honest, I don’t switch much. I’m either writing romances one after another, or mysteries ditto, whatever happens to be driving the bread and butter. I contributed to anthologies with five other authors, producing a string of Regencies which became the Brides by Chance Regency Adventures. My Lady Fan mysteries had languished when I lost my first publisher. When Sapere picked them up, I began a feverish assault on those and haven’t swapped back yet. I write the occasional snippet of something completely different when the mood strikes.

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You touch on the paranormal in some novels, is this an area of research that you find fascinating?

I am absolutely sold on the supernatural. Powers above the norm, which I believe we all possess if we can access them. Telepathy is everywhere. You think of someone out of the blue and then they ring you up. Magic. Saying which, I was hooked on the Harry Potter series and I’m a sucker for fairy tales. As for past lives, we have all lived many times before. Far too much proof for doubt. One of my paranormals is based on an incident from one of my own past lives. I have no truck with the prevalent one-life belief!

That is fascinating. I admire your certainty.

In the ‘Lady Fan Series’ your protagonist is a woman who has to overstep the conventions of a lady in her day. This is a difficult challenge for an author and is a factor I also try to balance. How do you enable her to complete her investigations in a credible way for the period?

This is why I gave her Lord Francis. He is both husband and champion, her protector, and he can go where Ottilia can’t. If she does venture where ladies don’t, she is always accompanied by a stout male guardian – Francis or her Barbadian steward. Nevertheless, she still gets into dangerous situations. Her medical lore is gained from helping her brother doctor Patrick, with whom she lived for years before her launch into solving murders.

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Her background is “the middling sort” – genteel but not moving in the first circles. She observes the aristocratic milieu she is now in with an outsider’s eye, and she is free of the shibboleths governing the behaviour of ladies in that strata. That’s why she oversteps the bounds of convention, relying on her status for impunity. She has married into the elite where eccentricity is tolerated. In other words, she gets away with it!

Writing a series with recurring characters means that they have to continue to grow and develop with each new novel. How do you keep track of their biographies so that this development is consistent?

Wow, I have no idea! Every story has its own “bible” with cast, places, etc and snippets of potential plot, all of which I add to as I go along. The basics are copied into the new bible for a new book. If I’m missing one, I get it from an old bible. I probably ought to keep a spreadsheet, but I know I’d never manage to keep it up! I’ve always written this way – a cast/plot document and a text document, plus research docs, discarded text in a temp doc in case I need to retrieve it.

How I keep track is a mystery, but I do. So far. The characters who keep coming back are a fistful really. When other family members intrude, it’s usually in a minor way and about the only thing I have to figure out is how old they are now. Francis and Ottilia have developed without much help from me. They evolve story by story. I do enjoy their relationship. They have their ups and downs, but I find readers are engaged by their enduring love story.

When I began the series, I determined to marry them off after the first book because a personal bugbear of mine is those off/on romances that persist through a whole series. Why can’t they just get it together? Instead, I decided to give each story a secondary romance, but in the event, it turned out my hero and heroine are still very much the romantic couple in every story. I didn’t plan it. They just are, those two!

You have had some fascinating career roles to date: acting, directing, teaching and of course writing. Has each one contributed something to your current profession of being an author?

Absolutely. Theatre has shaped my writing. Dramatic structure parallels story structure in terms of build-up, highs and lows, climax and denouement, not forgetting cliff-hanger scene endings, “curtain” in drama. There’s also motivation, emotional journey, conflict (inner and external), character, dialogue, sub-text – the spaces between the words and character introspection. As an actress, these things became part of me. As a teacher, I had to dissect them. Ditto as a director, viewing my “staged drama” as a whole moving picture. The difference is that words encourage the reader to watch “the play” in their imagination.

You have been blessed with cross-cultural experience and travelled widely throughout your life. Do you agree that these aspects of life help to deepen an author’s ability to create engaging characters and plots?

I think it has given me a large tolerance of other cultures. Perhaps most telling, an understanding that human nature is pretty much the same, nation to nation. Such cultural differences as there are consist by and large of moral standards and artistic appreciation. But the human condition is what it is throughout. We all run the gamut of emotions and struggle with our personal demons as we try to survive. Observation enables you to engage as you mirror the inhabitants of the world around you.

Who or what would you say has had a strong influence on your life/work ethic?

My values echo my father’s. A true gentleman, he had wide tolerance, liberal ideals, intelligence. Articulate, funny, considerate and kind, he was a big teddy bear to me. As to work ethic, I imagine my mother’s bundle-of-energy personality must have rubbed off on me. Not that I could keep up! But I do have her drive to push through and get things done.

You have been published and self-published. What would you say are the main advantages or disadvantages of each?

Oh, this is a hard one. These days, you can’t talk of leaving promotion to others because both avenues require you to play your part in touting the books. I think traditional publishers help with visibility and take the burden off in terms of editing, proofing, formatting, book cover design and initial launch. On your own, you have to do it all and that’s tough. On the plus side, you have artistic control and personal satisfaction, even if sales are not as easy to promote.

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What advice would you give your younger self if you could as you set out on a life as an author?

Well, this is interesting because I am constantly giving advice to new authors. I’m not sure I would give the same advice to my younger self because things were very different in publishing when I started out. I had also already struggled to make it as an actor so persistence was not new to me. I think I would say: “Just do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

What is next for Elizabeth Bailey?

Here’s where I reveal the dream! If I get my dearest wish, it will be a TV series of Lady Fan. That would put the icing on the cake of my writing career.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions and I wish you every success in your career and in life. I hope you realise your dream!

 

 

 

Catching up with Michael Fowler

I am delighted to invite crime writer and artist Michael Fowler back to my site. So what has changed since 2015?

Last year I made the difficult decision to leave the publishing company I had been with since 2011; not an easy decision but I felt I had gone as far as I could with them and needed a fresh challenge, and so with a certain apprehension, but also a sense of excitement, I began pitching my work again.

A bold decision for an established author to make, but one that has worked out well.

For two months nothing happened and the doubt set in but then in in the same week I got three offers from publishers, two on the same day. I was buzzing again, and after a bit of googling and research, I learned that Sapere Books were spearheaded by three young, talented people who had experience of the publishing industry and produced terrific eye-catching covers for their authors so I plumped for them. A year on my DS Hunter Kerr series is about to be launched with re-edited versions of previous books, a brand new prequel, two further additions – one of those set on the island of Sark – and more lined up.

I am going to take Hunter Kerr into new territory that will be revealed in the very near future.

Heart of the Demon 2019 cover

 
Aside from that, in the past week, I have been approached by a script writer/producer asking for an option on my true crime novel – Safecracker – to develop a movie or TV series from the book. I am so excited to see where this develops.

I wish you every success with DS Kerr series and hope the TV option works out on Safecracker. 

Click here to read Michael’s original interview.

Meet romantic novelist Jane Cable

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Your first writing successes with The Cheesemaker’s House were very impressive. How did this help you find your way as a successful author?

The Cheesemaker’s House doing so well in a national competition gave me the confidence that I could tell a story, but also that I had a significant amount to learn. One of the judges, Sophie Hannah, took me to one side and told me that although she loved my authorial voice there was a great deal of polishing to do. I didn’t have the knowledge to polish it – I was self-taught so barely knew what she meant – so I took myself off to Winchester Writers’ Festival and began my real writing journey.

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What was the best advice you have been given by an experienced writer?

One of the tutors at Winchester that year was Margaret Graham and she has proved hugely influential. I knew nothing when I first attended her workshops – I’d never even heard of ‘show not tell’. She showed me (not told me!) what it meant and how to use it; she taught me about using all the senses, and so much more. She’s an incredible writer and a great tutor and I would urge anyone starting out to get hold of her wonderful little book, The Writer’s Springboard.

Please tell us about your exciting new release Another You.

Yes, the release of Another You has been exciting for me. With our wonderful mutual publisher, Sapere Books, it’s been given a great start in life so is selling well and getting some great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Another You final cover.jpgIt’s set in Studland Bay in Dorset around the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, and tells the story of Marie, who while struggling to escape her poisonous marriage meets a charming American soldier walking on the cliffs. But nothing is what it seems, and so begins a chain of events that will change her life forever.

How would you describe a Jane Cable novel?

Romance with a twist. My strapline is ‘the past is never dead’ and that’s a theme which runs through all my books.

How do you balance your research/writing/social media time?

Not always as well as I could! Whether I’m writing or researching depends on the stage I’m at with the manuscript, and I maybe spend too much time on social media, Twitter especially. I say maybe, because I do encourage interaction while I’m there and it’s now leading to some valuable contacts and activity, which is broadening the reach of my books.

Are you an owl or a lark?

Lark. Definitely. I get up early and start to write straight away. I’m good for nothing by late afternoon.

Do you plot your stories out first before writing the first draft?

The answer used to be ‘no’, but recently that has changed. I had an idea in my head for something slightly different, and when I approached Sapere they wanted a detailed outline and sample chapters. So I had to plan. Now I’m about to start writing the bulk of the manuscript and it’s useful to have the journey mapped out, but even when I was writing the sample chapters the characters began to do their own thing. And to be honest, I’m going to let them. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that they know best!

How influential have strong women been in your life and have they inspired your heroines?

My heroines do not always start out strong – Marie in Another You is battered and cowed by her marriage – and it’s her journey to find her strength that fascinated me. I guess I just like writing about wounded people. Life throws so many curve balls and people react to them in different ways, which is fascinating. But healing is possible – probable, even – and I like to show that in my books. It’s quite a recurring theme for me, now I come to think of it.

There are strong women in my family, and they have inspired me the most. Both my mother and my grandmother fought to make sure their children had better lives and although they were very loving women, they had rods of steel in their backs too. My mother taught me that above all I should be independent and it has proved a valuable gift.

How important has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association been to you?

It’s been hugely important. It’s a fantastic network and when you embrace it, it embraces you back. The support is well and truly mutual. I’ve also made some great friends by being a member, most importantly when I moved to Cornwall. We don’t have a chapter here but meet informally and it’s great fun.

Other than reading what do you do to relax away from the world of books?

I’m an outdoors person so I love to walk and of course live in a great part of the world to do it. I also love the sea, although this year I’ve had some shoulder problems so I haven’t been in it as much as I would like. I love to travel too and adore spending time planning our next trip. Or the one after. Or the one after that…

You are passionate about ‘Words for the Wounded? How did you become involved with this inspirational charity?

Margaret Graham is the moving force behind this charity and at first I wanted to pay her back for all the help and support she’d given me. When I lived in Chichester our local independent authors’ group, Chindi, organised a mini litfest over a weekend and raised almost £1,000 for them. We were so proud.

Words for the Wounded exists to raise funds to help injured service personnel, and because the founders underwrite the running costs themselves every penny raised goes for the intended purpose. I’ll be making a donation for every Amazon review of Another You.

What is next for Jane Cable?

I’ve just delivered my next manuscript to Sapere and the book should be out towards the end of the year. It’s called Winter Skies and, like Another You, it’s a contemporary romance looking back to World War Two. It’s set in the Lincolnshire heartland of Bomber Command, and is about Rachel, who is trapped in a cycle of destructive relationships. But the past has a habit of repeating itself, so maybe it can provide the impetus she needs to set her free.

Social media links:
www.janecable.com
Twitter @JaneCable
Facebook Jane Cable, Author
Goodreads 

 

Meet author and self help guru, Peter Jones

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Welcome, to my website, Peter, and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

When and where did your passion for writing begin?

Pretty much as soon as I could string two words together I was ‘making books’. I would kneel on my grandmother’s living room carpet, fold several sheets of A4 paper in half, staple down the folded edge, then start writing a story and drawing the pictures to go with the story – and once finished my books would be passed around my family on a kind of a ‘read and return’ basis.

Which came first fiction or non-fiction?

Well, technically I guess it was fiction (back when I would visit my grandmother). By my twenties I was writing science fiction short stories (although none of them were ever submitted for publication). In my thirties my wife encouraged me to start writing a rom-com novel… but it was HOW TO DO EVERYTHING AND BE HAPPY – a self-help book – that first made it into print.

How did you become a ‘self-help’ guru?

Well therein lies a tale: I met my wife Kate in my mid-thirties. At the time I was a frumpy grumpy banking consultant. She was a NLP practitioner (a kind of hypno-therapist). She taught me so much about how our brains work, how we motivate ourselves, how to get more out of life… and then she died. Of a brain haemorrhage. Thirty nine years of age. And I was devastated. More than that I was crushed with guilt, because back then I wasn’t a particularly happy person. I had been a misery to live with! What’s more, Kate and I had managed to waste most of our three years together working. Oh, we had big plans about how we’d make enough money to move somewhere sunny… but it never happened. We ran out of time.

So I decided to do something about it. I set about fixing my life. I made lists, drew up plans, devised new habits… and it worked. Some of those ideas actually made me happier. One day a colleague said “you ought to write this stuff down – turn it into a book.” So I did. That ended up being HOW TO DO EVERYTHING AND BE HAPPY. Published by Harper Collins and Audible.

Still not sure about the term guru though! Michelle Ward (of Phoenix FM) gave me that label. But really I’m just a fix it man at heart.

You seem to love public speaking – has this always been the case?

I’m afraid so. I’m just a big show off! No, actually there’s more to it than that. My childhood love of storytelling morphed into a desire to become an actor. To me, writing and acting are the same thing. In fact, one of the joys of writing is that you get to play ALL the parts, even the women. But there’s something utterly amazing about being in front of an audience. I used to be part of a travelling theatre company, but now public speaking fills that need. My talks are quite ‘theatrical’.

You seem to be a very organised person is this essential to the way you approach each project?

I guess I am. I never used to be. In my teens, twenties, even thirties I lived in a perpetual state of barely-organised chaos. Kate was the organised one. Becoming organised was part of my get-happy strategy. A way of taking control of my chaotic, unhappy life.

But you’re right. It bled into everything I do. Becoming organised was how I finally managed to finish that novel that Kate started me writing; THE GOOD GUY’S GUIDE TO GETTING THE GIRL. There have been two more since then and I’m finishing up my fourth.

You are a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – what does the organisation mean to you?

I love the RNA! I was a real sceptic at first. Couldn’t see how belonging to an organisation like that would be particularly useful. Surely it would be a lot of flouncey women writing about chiselled jawed heroes? But then my pal Bernadine Kennedy said “it’s quite good fun,” and If anyone knows about having a good time, it’s definitely Berni. And it turned out she was right! It is fun! But more than that it’s been enormously useful rubbing shoulders with all sorts of creative people, all of us trying to carve a living out of what we love.

What key advice would you share on writing or on life.

Write what you love. Do what makes you happy.

Each author has their own favoured way of working – would you share yours with us?

I try to write at least three days a week. I start at 7am and count the number of words I’ve written at the end of each hour. If it’s less than 200 I give myself a good talking to! By midday I’m usually done. In the afternoons I talk about writing or do post, answer emails, tackle the admin…

What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?

The day my agent told me that a producer in Hollywood had enquired about the film rights for THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS CHARMING MAN was pretty special! But actually there have been far more less dramatic, more humbling moments along the way. Recently a teacher’s assistant in Dubai emailed me to tell me that she’d enjoyed my ‘happy book’ and had been asked to do a presentation to the staff about it. Turns out my book is on a recommended reading list, in India. And her school adopts some of my happiness ideas for the children!

That is amazing, Peter. What project are you working on now?

My fourth novel is currently out with my first readers, so in the meantime I’m working on another self-help book. My fifth. I’m particularly excited about this one… though I can’t say much more at this point.

What is next for Peter? 

Who knows!? Hopefully more novels.

Although after some encouraging advice I might take a break to work on a film proposal for MY GIRLFRIEND’S PERFECT EX-BOYFRIEND. So long as I can continue to make a living putting a smile on the faces of my readers (or audience) I really don’t mind.

I wish you every continued success!

Find out more about Peter:-

 

Catching up: Sapere Books 1 year on!

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Congratulations to Amy, Caoimhe and Richard on there first birthday as Sapere Books.

Amy has taken time out of her busy schedule to share some of the events that have happened in this amazing first year.

Since we last caught up in March 2018, a lot has happened at Sapere Books! We now have over 40 authors who have joined the Sapere family, and we have published lots of fabulous novels in our first year.

The genres we were looking for initially are thriving: crime fiction; historical fiction and romantic fiction are all very popular with our readers, and books in a series do particularly well for us. We are just about to publish in a genre we haven’t tried yet: military ‘action and adventure’ fiction, and we are preparing to launch titles in that genre by this time next year, including a Vietnam combat series and Tudor-era naval fiction.

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The team with the winner of The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award, Catherine Isaac

One of the most exciting announcements for us in our first year is our sponsorship of two excellent writing awards. In March we sponsored a new award for 2019 from the Romantic Novelists’ Association: The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award. The shortlist was very strong and the winner was Catherine Isaac for her wonderful novel YOU ME EVERYTHING. We are also the new sponsors of the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger Award. The shortlist will be announced at CrimeFest in May and I can’t wait to read them all! We are also currently interviewing for our first full-time staff member, which is very exciting, so we should have a new Editorial Assistant to introduce to our authors soon!

Many of the authors we signed up before our launch are working on new projects with us, as they are thrilled with reader feedback and the wonderful work Caoimhe has been doing marketing our books: we regularly feature on Amazon’s best-seller lists, and have been getting Kindle deals world-wide, from the US to Australia – and even India!

We don’t anticipate growing our list hugely in the next year, as we already have so many amazing books scheduled for release, but we will continue to support our Sapere family and we hope all of our authors will continue working with us for many years to come!

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Happy Birthday Sapere Books!

 

Catching up with Linda Stratmann

Welcome back, Linda.
Congratulations on becoming the new Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association!
Photographs by Gary Stratmann
Linda, what is your vision for the CWA as the new Chair?
One of the greatest pleasures of being a member of the CWA has been the people I have met and the friends I have made. I joined in 2004 and have served as Membership Secretary, Dagger Liaison Officer and Vice Chair. Seeing the membership numbers grow, with new Chapters formed both at home and abroad has been a rewarding and exciting experience.
The benefits to our members as listed on our website, are substantial. We are doing so much more to interact with other organisations, supporting libraries, booksellers and publishers and have established National Crime Reading Month, and formed the Crime Readers Association, which is free to join, and provides a regular newsletter to over 10,000 subscribers and bi-monthly Case Files.
The CWA has never been in a more vibrant and healthy state than it is now. For that I must express my gratitude to all the former Chairs, whose contribution has made the Association what it is today. I must especially thank Martin Edwards, who in the last two years has striven to make us more businesslike and efficient. Martin has established a CWA archive at Gladstone’s Library, a beautiful location which holds regular events, notably the crime writing related Alibis in the Archive which has proved extremely popular.
I can assure everyone that I do not intend to be the new broom that sweeps away the past. Neither do I want to rush into new ventures before we are ready. The foundation we have now is a firm one, and I want to consolidate what we have before considering how we can move on in the ever-changing world of publishing. I do want to further develop the already formed links with the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors as well as other crime, thriller and mystery writers associations worldwide.
Above all, I see the CWA as an organisation which should serve all its members at whatever stage they are in their writing career; whether debut, mid-career or long-established. We all have something both to contribute and to gain. The CWA is the flagship organisation for crime writers, and a brand of quality. The Dagger prizes we award annually are a recognition of the best in crime writing. My hope is that the future will further strengthen that position.
I wish you and the CWA ongoing and even greater success!

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Twitter – @LindaStratmann
Linda Stratmann is the author of thirteen non-fiction books mainly about true crime, but her work also includes Chloroform, the Quest for Oblivion, a history of the use and misuse of chloroform, and three biographies, notably The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis. The Secret Poisoner chronicles the efforts of science and the law to tackle poison murder in the nineteenth century. She has recently edited a new volume in the Notable British Trials Series, The Trial of the Mannings.
Linda also writes two fiction series. The Frances Doughty Mysteries set in1880s Bayswater, feature a clever and determined lady detective, whose adventures explore aspects of Victorian life such as diet, education, medicine, women’s rights, fear of premature burial and the fashion for cycling.
The second series is set in 1870s Brighton. Mina Scarletti is a deceptively diminutive lady with a twisted spine, whose boldness and confidence enable her to overcome her apparent disadvantages. Mina writes horror and ghost stories and exposes the activities of fraudulent spirit mediums who prey on the vulnerable bereaved.

 

An interview with Linda Stratmann: Vice-Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association.

 

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Welcome Linda,

Your writing career did not begin with fiction, but with non-fiction study of historical crimes. Where did this interest in researching and writing about real crime begin?

It began with my mother! She was an avid reader and a lover of history, and she was fascinated by famous trials. We used to watch true crime programmes on television – we especially liked Edgar Lustgarten – and also discussed cases reported in the newspapers.

In all the cases that you have researched did one motive stand out above all others: greed, hate, love, necessity, premeditated or spontaneous revenge?

The foundation of so many murders is financial, but it is not necessarily always greed, sometimes it is desperation. People kill for insurance money, often to extricate themselves from debt. They kill to escape a relationship because of the costs and consequences of divorce. In the nineteenth century, which is the era I write about most often, poor families poisoned their children just to get the money from burial clubs.

It is not surprising that with such a vast amount of accrued knowledge on true crime that you turned to writing fiction. What was it that enticed you to set both your Frances Doughty and Mina Scarletti series within the Victorian period?

Many years ago I wrote about a Victorian case, the trial of Adelaide Bartlett in 1886 for the murder of her husband. The case was so complex that I realised I needed to understand the Victorians in order to discover the truth behind the lies and the euphemisms; I needed to know how they thought, and how they expressed themselves, and what they believed. The more I researched the more fascinated I became with every aspect of that period. It was natural to want to recreate that time in my fiction.

Both of these women have to overcome difficulties and work to make a life for themselves that is at odds with the expectations of their gender within the period. Were they influenced or based on real characters that you had researched?

Frances is not based on anyone, however Mina Scarletti, who suffers from scoliosis was inspired by two people. Eva, who had a very severe distortion of the spine, was the aunt of a friend of mine. I never got to know her well and she died when I was a child.
Annie Jane Fanny Maclean had a curvature of her spine and walked with a limp. In 1879 a scoundrel called Lewis James Paine romanced her and induced her to transfer her property to him. He then plied her with alcohol and withheld food until she died. A court found him guilty of manslaughter and he was imprisoned for life. Annie’s fate highlighted for me the vulnerability of a disabled young woman in the Victorian marriage market. I wanted a heroine who could overcome this and be strong and independent.

How far did you delve into the world of psychics to help Mina Scarletti unmask the Victorian fraudsters?

I have about a hundred books on the subject – so far! These are both contemporary accounts and modern studies. I have read numerous online journal articles and newspapers, both nineteenth century and more recent. I have also read books by Victorian conjurors and illusionists, and attended a Victorian séance workshop. When I describe a séance in my books I always have to know before I write it how the effects were produced.

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In the light of all your research would you agree that the truth is often stranger than fiction?

That is often the case, which is why I like to append historical notes at the end of my fiction books. I have just written one for the fourth Mina book because a reference I included was so odd that I felt I needed to reassure the reader I was not making it up.

Are you a detailed plotter when you start a new project?

I always know when I start who the villain is and how and why the crime was committed. I also write what I call the ‘back story’, the details of what has happened up to the point when my book begins. So I know the start and the finish, but what happens between those points has to be natural and organic, as my heroine needs to learn the facts and solve the mystery in a convincing way. That develops as I write.

In all the cases you have studied:-
Which real criminal did you most despise and why?

There are so many! When I wrote The Secret Poisoner I was especially appalled by Richard Overfield who cruelly and cold-bloodedly murdered his baby so he wouldn’t have to support it, by giving it sulphuric acid. He was hanged in 1824.

Was there a real criminal that you admired the cunning of even if not their actual acts?

In cases of fraud there are many clever people who misuse their considerable talents for criminal purposes. Harry Benson and Willam Kurr who I wrote about in Fraudsters and Charlatans were extremely able career criminals who overreached themselves through greed.

Was there anyone you empathised with, or at least understood their motive to commit murder?

Of course I don’t approve of murder, but I did feel sorry for Eric Brown. (Essex Murders) He had suffered constant abuse and cruelty from his father for many years and seen his mother being led a life of terror and misery. He dealt his father a fast and merciful death by planting an anti tank mine under the old man’s wheelchair.

Did you come across anyone who was condemned, yet would have been acquitted as innocent if they had been tried today?

I tend to find that most failures of justice go the other way – people who are almost certainly guilty being acquitted due to insufficient evidence to convince a jury. In the case of Holloway and Haggerty, however (Middlesex Murders) two men were hanged for a murder it is almost certain they did not commit, on the false evidence of a man who was trying to get his own sentence reduced.

What has been your proudest author moment?

The publication of The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis. Between forming the determination to write the biography and actually holding it in my hands was eleven years. The first eight were spent trying to find someone who believed in the project as much as I did!

How long ago were you diagnosed with hyperacusis and has it dramatically affected your daily routine?

Hyperacusis is a condition usually resulting from noise damage or physical accident, in which everyday noises, especially if high pitched are painful. The sound of laughter, squeaking brakes, babies crying, electronic beeps, clattering dishware, are all examples. I have had hyperacusis for over twenty years but it took several years to get a diagnosis because it was not well understood or known about. At the time I was working in an office and general office noises and daily travel were hard to tolerate. I can’t wear earplugs all the time as over-wearing makes my tinnitus worse. Since I retired from the day job I have worked from home and been more in control of my daily environment, so life is better. If I go out I carry hearing protection, but even with that, social gatherings are difficult and some locations, especially noisy restaurants, are impossible. I wrote about hyperacusis in one of my novels, The Children of Silence.

What do you do to relax away from the world of writing about crime?

I love cooking, and in the last few years have taken up baking sourdough bread. The scent of a crusty loaf baking in one’s oven is magical!

What is next for Linda Stratmann?

I am near to completion of the fourth Mina book, The Ghost of Hollow House, in which she is asked to investigate a haunting. I have also been commissioned to edit a new volume in the Notable British Trials series, which is a huge honour.

Thank you, Linda, for taking the time to do the interview and I wish you every success with your ongoing and future projects.

www.lindastratmann.com , Facebook and  Twitter 

Meet the inspirational team behind Sapere Books!

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In March 2016 I interviewed Amy Durant, a successful Publishing Director, as a guest on my blog; two years later I am delighted to welcome Amy back as a co-founder of a new and exciting enterprise, Sapere Books.

Amy

Hi Amy,

Such a lot has happened in a comparatively short space of time. Not only have you started your own imprint, but have also been short-listed for major industry awards. How have these motivated you to build an even more dynamic career and when/how did the idea of ‘Sapere Books’ come into being?

I think all of three of us had been independently toying with the idea of setting up our own business, but none of us had the confidence to voice it publicly or ‘go it alone’. We all decided to move into freelance careers for different reasons after leaving our jobs in publishing, and one day – over a couple of drinks, of course! – we finally all blurted it out and realised this was something we could actually do! We all have strong skills in different areas and I think all of us are confident that we are much stronger in a partnership than we would have been on our own.

It is a lovely name, what was the inspiration behind it?

‘Sapere Aude’ was actually my school motto and roughly translated means ‘Dare to be Wise’, and ‘sapere’ on its own means ‘knowledge’, which we thought was quite appropriate for a publisher. It also links nicely to our owl logo. We wanted something a bit different that would get people talking, and it seems to have worked so far!

What do you think makes Sapere Books stand out from other publishers?

I think that – like many other small, independent publishers – we have the benefit of flexibility. We don’t have any external investors or anyone we have to report to, so we have the freedom to make all the decisions ourselves, which means we can experiment with things and change strategies at the drop of a hat. We have all worked with authors for a long time, and always felt in previous roles that authors got sidelined and somewhat neglected. Our focus is very much geared towards creating author brands and an author community, so everyone feels very much a part of the Sapere team.

What genre submissions are you seeking for Sapere Books?

At the moment we are publishing historical fiction (including crime, thriller, romance and saga); crime fiction; thrillers; romantic fiction; women’s fiction; popular history and historical biography. We are publishing both backlist, out-of-print books and brand new submissions, and we are particularly keen to hear from authors who have either already written more than one title, or plan to continue on a series from their submission.

You are one of three co-founders of Sapere Books, so I am delighted to welcome the other two:  Caoimhe O’Brien and Richard Simpson.

What are your special roles within the company?

AMY: I am the Editorial Director, so all submissions come through to me, and ultimately, I decide what we publish, although this is something we all discuss together, and I often send scripts to Richard and Caoimhe for second opinions. I work one-to-one with authors once the contracts are signed, shaping their novels and getting them ready for the final copyediting and proofreading stage. I’ll then discuss publishing schedules and marketing strategies with Caoimhe to make sure all the books are released at the optimum time and work with her marketing plans.

CAOIMHE: I am the Marketing Director and I am responsible for the marketing and promoting of our books, authors and the company in general.This involves working closely with our authors on author branding, creating websites for them and coordinating social media campaigns.We have a dedicated team of reviewers and bloggers who play a huge role in a successful book launch and dealing with these eager readers is a really fun part of my job. I also spend a lot of time boosting the online profile of the company with the aim of growing our newsletter and reaching more readers.

Caoimhe

RICHARD: I work as the Operations Director for Sapere Books, which basically means that I spend most of my time ensuring that the company’s balances are healthy and that Amy and Caoimhe have enough funds each month so that we can invest as much as possible in all of our books. We constantly reassess whether new methods and strategies that we are implementing are efficient and cost effective to ensure that we are the doing the most we can to help readers see and read our books. However, my time isn’t always spent looking over spreadsheets, as being a small company our roles frequently have to cross over meaning that I often spend some days of my week looking over manuscripts and researching new marketing strategies.

Richard

 

In my previous interview with Amy she explained that she grew up with a father who was a successful children’s author (Alan Durant) and therefore books had always featured in her life, fuelling her passion. Have you both had lifelong involvement with books and publishing?

CAOIMHE: I spent my childhood with my head in a book and did a degree and Masters in English at university but I didn’t consider publishing as a career choice until after my Masters. I wasn’t sure what career path to choose but when I thought about my constant interest in books throughout my life, it seemed like the only thing that made sense and I am very glad I made that decision.

RICHARD: : Although I spent the vast majority of my childhood with a nose in a book I certainly wasn’t surrounded by a bookish world. But although my parents weren’t avid readers they definitely fostered my love of history and encouraged me to read anything that I could lay my hands on. Perhaps their biggest influence on my life now was due to the fact that when I was a child they jointly began a small company, R & J Simpson Engineering, which builds and repairs historic racing cars. Seeing how a small company develops and works influenced me greatly when thinking about setting up Sapere Books with Caoimhe and Amy, and many of the lessons they learnt in the early years I’ve been very keen to implement into our company. 

What do each of you look for in a book as readers?

AMY: I read widely and across most genres, so what really grabs me when reading a manuscript is the strength of the characters and whether I am compelled to keep reading. We publish ‘popular’ genre fiction, so all our fiction titles have to be plot-driven and to fit within the confines of those genres (we don’t publish anything overly literary or experimental), and we often sign up authors who are either writing a series, or have a few books, so I need to finish a book with the desire to read more by that author. 

CAOIMHE: I mostly read contemporary and crime fiction with some historical fiction thrown in too. I look for plot and character driven novels. Readers enjoy lots of different genres and, as publishers, we must be able to look at a book objectively, not just as something we ourselves would want to read. But regardless of genre, the plot and characters must be strong enough to grab and hold the readers’ attention. 

RICHARD: Unlike Amy and Caoimhe I spend most of my time reading nonfiction, particularly histories and biographies. Firstly what I look for in these books is that it must have a compelling subject, secondly it must be grounded in solid historical research, and thirdly, which historians who focus solely upon the research sometimes forget, it must be well-written. I’ve got a huge range of interests though and will happily read books about almost any subject from ancient Mesopotamia through to the development of Meissen pottery and beyond.

 This is such an exciting venture and I am delighted to have signed up with Sapere Books.logo-1-circle_filled