#BookReview: Dark Houses by Helen H. Durrant (@hhdurrant) @JoffeBooks

dark houses.jpg“A young woman is found brutally murdered in an empty house.  Detective Stephen Greco and his team must piece together her life as quickly as possible. Within twenty-four hours there is another horrific murder using the same method. The detectives realise that the victims are random but the locations are not. The killer is more concerned with finding the right house – somewhere he won’t be disturbed as he pursues his evil plan.

When a man walks into the station and confesses, it looks like the case is closed. But Greco’s not convinced and soon he’ll be fighting to save the woman who’s most important to him in a stunningly tense and emotional conclusion.

Can Greco keep himself and his team under control as the criminal gets personal?”

Way back at the beginning of the month I published my #CaseClosed post for February 2017.  In that post I set myself some (slightly un)realistic goals.  The first was to read at least nine books a month.  The next was to read the book which has been sat languishing on my NetGalley shelf the longest.  The third goal was to read at least one of the books my husband has given me as part of my Christmas present.  The fourth, well, we won’t mention the fourth!  You may wonder why I’m telling you this.  The reason being, I have read the book that has been sat on my NetGalley shelf the longest and that book my booky friends, is Dark Houses by Helen H Durrant.

In all honesty I am absolutely kicking myself.  The reason for my self flagellation is that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I’m disappointed that I haven’t read it sooner.  This is a good, solid police procedural which drew me in from start to finish.  I haven’t read a novel by Helen H Durrant before but I can guarantee I will be more from this author in the future.

I loved Detective Stephen Greco.  He’s my sort of protagonist.  He suffers from OCD and although this didn’t play a particularly big part in the story-line, it did make me like him even more (I like my detectives to be grumpy and damaged, in other words I like them to be human).  I also enjoyed the relationship between Greco and DC Grace Harper.  DC Harper is rather taken with our hero but he only has eyes for his very recent ex-wife.  The other characters in the novel were all interesting, particularly DS Jed Quickenden known to friends and colleagues as ‘Speedy’.  His growing despair towards the job really pulled me into the story.

Now I like my murder scenes to be a little on the gory side and Helen H Durrant has done me proud in Dark Houses.  This is the first book in a while where I’ve winced at the description of the scene.  And as there are several victims, there are several gory descriptions which, of course, I loved.

The plot really pulls you in and before long you’ve read half of the book without realising it.  There is one particularly big twist which I didn’t see coming and had to re-read several times to make sure it had sunk in.  I loved the way it completely changed how I felt about the characters.  Brilliant, suspenseful writing.

Would I recommend this book?  I would.  I think it can be read as a standalone but I would have preferred to read the first in the series (this is book two) before Dark Houses.  That’s how I always feel though, always best to start at the beginning.  I loved the characters in this book and I hope to catch up with them again soon.  A great police procedural which kept me coming back for more.

Four out of five stars.

I chose to read and review an ARC of Dark Houses.  The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Dark Houses by Helen H Durrant was published in the UK by Joffe Books on 8th April 2016 and is available in paperback and eBook formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Goodreads |


Helen+H.+Durrant+2 (2).jpg

I’m one of the ‘baby boomer’ generation. I was born in Edinburgh to an English father and Scottish mother. My father was from the North West of England and this was where the family settled.

I know the area well, both the good and the bad, and so I set my books here. Sitting between two counties, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and between the city and the hills, it offers a rich mix of the industrial and the countryside and all the character therein. I always planned to write crime novels — to create the characters in my books. Since my retirement from a busy teaching job in FE, this is what I’ve done — almost to exclusion of anything else!

I have a grown-up family and five grandchildren. They see me as something of an eccentric — always on my laptop writing away. Writing is something of a second career and, despite having a bus pass, keeps me busy, young and tuned in the world as it currently is.

Author Links: Twitter | Facebook | Website |


#BlogTour | #GuestPost: Sealskin by Su Bristow (@SuBristow) @OrendaBooks #Sealskin

Sealskin cover.jpg“What happens when magic collides with reality? Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous … and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence? Based on the legend of the selkies – seals who can transform into people – Sealskin is a magical story, evoking the harsh beauty of the landscape, the resilience of its people, both human and animal, and the triumph of hope over fear and prejudice. With exquisite grace, Exeter Novel Prize-winner Su Bristow transports us to a different world, subtly and beautifully exploring what it means to be an outsider, and our innate capacity for forgiveness and acceptance. Rich with myth and magic, Sealskin is, nonetheless, a very human story, as relevant to our world as to the timeless place in which it is set. And it is, quite simply, unforgettable.”

I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off the Sealskin blog tour today alongside the lovely Steph over at Stephs Book Blog.  Sealskin was the winner of the Exeter Novel Prize in 2013 and is the work of author and Consultant Medical Herbalist, Su Bristow.  What an amazing achievement!  Sealskin will be published in paperback by the wonderful Orenda Books on 15th February 2017 so make sure you pre-order your copy NOW!

Today I have a fascinating guest post from author, Su Bristow.  Seeing as it’s day one of the blog tour, Su and I thought it best to start at the very beginning with a few words explaining the Selkie legend, which the book is based upon.  So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Su…

The Foundations of Sealskin
Su Bristow

First of  all, here is the version of the story that was the starting point for Sealskin:


Once, there was a fisherman who spent many nights fishing alone. One night at full moon, he witnessed a marvel: nine seals came ashore, put off their skins and became beautiful young women, dancing on the beach. The fisherman hid himself, and as he watched, he began to fall in love with one of them. Secretly, he hid her sealskin, so that when the others returned to the sea, she was left behind.

The fisherman took her home to be his wife, and he hid the skin at the bottom of a chest. They lived together for some years, and she bore him children. She seemed to be happy, but from time to time she would look out to sea and weep.

One day while he was out at sea, one of the children found the skin and showed it to his mother. When the fisherman returned at the end of the day, she was gone, and he never saw her again.

Stories about Selkies, or seals who can turn into people, are found along the coasts of Ireland, Scotland, Orkney and Shetland, and across the sea in Iceland and Scandinavia too. In fact, the word ‘selkie’ is just the Orcadian word for ‘seal’, but it’s come to be used particularly for these shape-shifting beings. And the stories vary from place to place, although they generally don’t end happily. It seems that selkie men and women are irresistible to the humans who encounter them, and they always fall in love. Male selkies are very willing to ‘mate’ with humans, but they won’t stay long, and always go back to the sea. Females, on the other hand, have to be tricked into it by hiding their sealskins; given the chance, they too will return to their natural element.

It’s interesting that whereas most mythological creatures are dangerous to us humans, selkies are usually gentle. Perhaps I strayed a little from tradition when I gave Mairhi some magic of her own; although she never uses it to attack anybody, she can certainly defend herself if need be. But the stories don’t go into much detail about how the marriage between the fisherman and the selkie woman actually worked, and that was what interested me. You wouldn’t expect any relationship to be possible after such a horrible start! So I added a few twists, which I won’t go into now because I don’t want to spoil the story for people who haven’t read it yet, except to say that almost immediately, Donald knows that what he did was wrong. And really, the whole story is about how he tries to make amends, and how that changes him and everyone else around him.

Going back to the legend, on a more general level it’s about how humans want to ‘own’ the wildness of nature. All over the world, people tell stories about interactions with animals and birds. Whether they really believe it on the practical level or not, they certainly portray animals as having minds and feelings of their own. Is it just us projecting ourselves onto the natural world, or is there a deeper truth there? The more we learn about animals, the more like us they turn out to be.

Maybe the selkies tell stories about us, too.


An absolutely enchanting post, thank you Su.  And congratulations on the wonderful praise you have received so far.  I’ve seen many bloggers say that Sealskin is one of their books of 2017.  What a fantastic way to start the year.

Sealskin Blog tour AMENDED .jpg

Early Praise for Sealskin…

Sealskin is an accomplished and intelligent novel, a fine piece of craftsmanship and a pleasure to read’ Allan Massie

‘Bristow has taken a known myth, and created an enthralling, human love story.  A profound achievement, and a stunning debut’ Richard Bean

‘An extraordinary book: original, vivid, tender and atmospheric. Su Bristow’s writing is fluid and flawless, and this is a story so deeply immersive that you emerge at the end, gasping for air’ Iona Grey

‘I love books in which magic takes on a gritty reality, and Sealskin is just such a book. Dark and brooding and half-familiar, the tale steals over you till you’re half-in, half-out of a dream’ Jane Johnson

‘An evocative story, told with skill and beauty, that held me spellbound until the very last page’ Amanda Jennings

‘On the face of it, Sealskin is a gentle tale, a lovely reworking of the selkie legend many of us have known and loved since childhood. Do not be fooled, dear reader; beneath this simple re-imagining lies a story as deep as the ocean the selkie comes from. I was captivated from the first page to the poignant last one, by the sympathetically drawn characters and a mesmerising sense of place. In between are moments of tragedy, moments of grace and redemption; the whole wrapped in Su Bristow’s charismatic writing. This is a story that catches on the edge of your heart, leaving tiny scars; reminders of a journey into a beloved legend, the human lives caught up in it and the consequences of the choices they make. It is, quite simply, exceptional’ Carole Lovekin

‘In this achingly beautiful retelling of the classic Scottish folk tale, Su Bristow brings psychological depth and great warmth to the characters, making the ending all the more heart-breaking. It’s a story about the tensions of life in a tiny fishing community, about bullying and violence as well as the healing magic of nature. It’s written smoothly and skilfully with not a word too many or a word too few. I absolutely loved it and can’t recommend it highly enough’ Gill Paul

‘A beautiful and bewitching read that haunted my thoughts for days. The sense of the sea, of this small community, of guilt is palpable. This is one of those books you place reverentially on your bookcase and envy those who are yet to dive in’ Michael J. Malone

Sealskin is the most exquisite tale of love, forgiveness and magic. Inspired by the legends of the selkies, this gorgeous novel is a dark fairy tale, an ode to traditional storytelling, a tribute to the stories we loved hearing as children. But be warned – this is no happy-ever-after tale. The language is just glorious, poetic and rich but precise. And her characters – oh, they will remain in your heart long after you’ve closed the last page. Mairhi – especially since she never really “speaks” – is a beautiful mystery, but one who haunted me when I was between chapters. If this is her first, then I can’t wait to read whatever Su Bristow bestows upon the literary world next’ Louise Beech

‘Ms Bristow’s skill in weaving a centuries-old tale into a current-day fiction novel and binding the two together is simply superbly done. Sealskin is boldly written, brilliantly told and a tale of legendary proportions’ JM Hewitt

Sealskin is a magical and moral tale woven with a deft hand’ Sara MacDonald

‘With its beautiful language and magical storytelling, Sealskin is a clear winner for me’ Sophie Duffy

Sealskin is exquisitely written with haunting prose and evocative descriptions of the Scottish landscape. It’s filled with beauty, surprises and subtle twists and turns. There’s a mesmerising love story at its heart.  I really didn’t want the story to end, and felt bereft when it did, surrounded by boxes of tissues. I’m sure I’ll be reading this book several times to feel that magic again and again. It’s no surprise that Su Bristow is an Exeter Novel Prize winner. Her writing is beautiful and this book is stunning. Sealskin is destined to go far’ Off-the-Shelf Books

Sealskin really is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read … a flowing tale of love, friendship, acceptance and coming of age for the varying characters.  Set against the ruggedly beautiful Scottish backdrop, the vivid descriptions draw us in, detail oozing from the pages and giving the reader a chance to feel the coastal winds whipping at their faces, taste the salt in the air, feel the uneven terrain underfoot as they clamber through the heather and over rocks. There’s a magic in these pages … poetic and hauntingly beautiful’ The Quiet Knitter

‘A compelling and beautifully written book. At one level Sealskin is a delightful re-working of the selkie myth. But it is also a great deal more than that … The fishing village is a close knit community wary of incomers, the suspicion with which they greet Maihri is typical of how they behave. Strangers, especially ones who are a little out of the ordinary, are not made entirely welcome. It is a story of how relationships develop and grow. Sealskin is a quite delightful and extraordinarily well-written book. Highly recommended’ Trip Fiction

‘A sensuous and beautifully written retelling of the Selkie legend which captivated me’ Margaret James, Creative Writing Matters

’I knew this was special, right from the first paragraph. A beautiful book written with a deceptive simplicity. But Su Bristow does not shy away from asking some very big questions. How can a man atone for violence? Will he ever be forgiven? Will he ever forgive himself? Utterly spellbinding’ Cathie Hartigan


Su Photo.jpegSu Bristow is a consultant medical herbalist by day. She’s the author of two books on herbal medicine: The Herbal Medicine Chest and The Herb Handbook; and two on relationship skills: The Courage to Love and Falling in Love, Staying in Love, co-written with psychotherapist, Malcolm Stern. Her published fiction includes ‘Troll Steps’ (in the anthology, Barcelona to Bihar), and ‘Changes’ which came second in the 2010 CreativeWritingMatters flash fiction competition. Her forthcoming novel, Sealskin, is set in the Hebrides, and it’s a reworking of the Scottish legend of the selkies, or seals who can turn into people. It won the Exeter Novel Prize 2013. Her writing has been described as ‘magical realism; Angela Carter meets Eowyn Ivey’.

Author Links: Blog | Twitter |


My Top Reads of 2016 #bookblogger #amreading #amreviewing

I’ve been umming and ahhing about this post for sometime.  I was lucky enough to be involved in the #TBConFB 20/20 Blogger event in November which allowed me to share my top 20 all time favourite crime reads with members of THE Book Club on Facebook as well as with you lovely people.  I’ve also been honoured to feature on several other brilliant blogs this year and have been asked on several of these occasions to name five top reads.  Have I already made too many ‘Top Reads’ lists this year?  Well, probably but I’m not going to let that stop me! No siree!  There’s always room for one more, and anyway, this is my list of top reads from 2016 so it’s completely different to the others, honest…!

So, in no particular order here are my books of the year:

I haven’t been shy in telling the blogosphere about my very favourite book this year. I think I decided back in early October that no other book would/could come close to A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone (published by Orenda Books).

If you haven’t read it, you are truly missing out.  Staggeringly good, spine tingling and stomach churning, you’ll fall in love and be repulsed in equal measures.  At times you’ll want to put it down and walk away for a breath of fresh air but find it impossible to do so.  Quite possibly the most perfect piece of writing I have ever read!


And then we have this incredible selection of fabulous reads.  All with something extra special about them and all highly recommended.

The Killing Game by J.S. Carol (published by Bookouture)
Dead Man’s Prayer by Jackie Baldwin (published by Killer Reads)
What Remains of Me by A.L. Gaylin (published by Arrow Publishing)
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt translated by Nancy Forest-Flier (published by Hodderscape)
Love You to Death by Caroline Mitchell (published by Bookouture)

Inside the Whispers by A.J. Waines
Dancers in the Wind by Anne Coates (published by Urbane Publications)
PsychoAnalysis by V.R. Stone
The Devil’s Work by Mark Edwards (published by Thomas & Mercer)
Melody Bittersweet and the Girls’ Ghostbusting Agency by Kitty French (published by Bookouture)

The Sister by Louise Jensen (published by Bookouture)
Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus (published by Orenda Books)
Valentina by S.E. Lynes (published by Blackbird Books)
The Optician’s Wife by Betsy Reavley (published by Bloodhound Books)
Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen translated by Don Bartlett (published by Orenda Books)

City of Shadows by M.J. Lee (published by Carina UK)
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin (published by Penguin)
Flowers for the Dead by Barbara Copperthwaite
A Tapping at my Door by David Jackson (published by Bonnier Zaffre)
In The Shadows by Tara Lyons

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada (published by Pushkin Press)
Dust and Desire by Conrad Williams (published by Titan Press)
The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza (published by Bookouture)
Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez (published by Penguin Books)

OK, so there are a lot! But I’ve had such a good booky year this year that I just couldn’t whittle it down any further.  Next year I will endeavour to have a smaller list…but that’s a whole year away.

I am extremely grateful for all of the wonderful support I have received this year.  From fellow bloggers (there are some astonishingly good blogs out there with extremely talented bloggers holding the reigns), the brilliant publishers (one in particular springs to mind) and most important of all, the incredibly talented authors who pour their hearts and souls into their latest book so us bibliophiles can get our fix.  Thank you each and every one of you.  Thank you to everyone who has liked my Facebook page, to everyone who has followed me on twitter and to those that have tweeted, retweeted or just mentioned my blog in some way. To those who like and follow my blog, a heartfelt thank you. It’s made my first year as a blogger a humbling and thoroughly enjoyable experience.  THANK YOU!  I celebrate my first blogiversary on 14th January 2017 which I am so excited about.  It feels like I’ve been doing this a lot longer than year but in the best way possible.  I may, in a moment of pure generosity, organise a little giveaway to celebrate…

One last thing before I wish you a very happy New Year: I’ll be on the lookout for a guest reviewer to feature on the blog and help me reduce the #terrifyingTBR in 2017 so if you know someone who may be interested, please ask them to drop me an email at damppebbles@gmail.com.

Once again, wishing you all a sparkly New Year…here’s to making 2017 fantastic and full of books ♥



#BlogTour | #GuestPost: Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett (@RachelAmphlett)

scared-to-death-cover“A serial killer murdering for kicks.

A detective seeking revenge.

When the body of a snatched schoolgirl is found in an abandoned biosciences building, the case is first treated as a kidnapping gone wrong.

But Detective Kay Hunter isn’t convinced, especially when a man is found dead with the ransom money still in his possession.

When a second schoolgirl is taken, Kay’s worst fears are realised.

With her career in jeopardy and desperate to conceal a disturbing secret, Kay’s hunt for the killer becomes a race against time before he claims another life.

For the killer, the game has only just begun…”

I am very excited to welcome you to my stop on Rachel Amphlett’s Scared to Death blog tour.  And what a treat I have in store for you, but more of that in a moment or two!  Rachel Amphlett is the best selling author of the Dan Taylor series of novels and, on 6th December 2016, published the first in a brand new series featuring Detective Kay Hunter.  I can’t wait to read Scared to Death as it sounds like a book I will thoroughly enjoy, so look out for a review heading your way in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I have a cracking guest post from Rachel to share with you today.  As a total bookworm, I am ashamed to say that I know little to nothing about the writing process.  Rachel has kindly filled in some of the blanks for me today with her fascinating post about what she loves the editing process.  Over to you, Rachel…

What I love about the editing process

In mid-September this year, I printed off a stack of typed-up pages and placed them into a folder.

The paper was still warm, the toner cartridge in the printer was on its last legs, and the first of my nerves were starting to kick in.

This was it.

The first time anyone other than me would read Scared to Death.

It’s always a bit nerve-wracking, handing over the manuscript of a new book for the first time, but I’ve got to the point in my writing journey where I actually quite enjoy it, if I’m honest.

The first step for me in my editing process is to hand it over to two trusted beta readers, who then bombard me with questions such as “Why did this happen? How did that get there? What does that mean?” – all of these make me re-read the story with a reader’s eyes, not my writerly ones.

Scenes that made perfect sense to me in my head while I was writing don’t appear that way to my readers at this stage – there is confusion, bewilderment, and occasionally a guffaw as pages are passed back to me.

And so, once I have all their comments back, it’s back to the office and bum in seat while I work through their queries and spend more time unravelling and rewriting the story.

The next phase for me is to pass the manuscript onto some experts in the policing field, and in this area I’ve been truly blown away by the support I’ve received (you know who you are, and I really can’t thank you enough).

Each expert kindly reserved judgement with regard to any bloopers I’d made in translating their expert advice into my story, didn’t laugh at the questions I posed, and gently led me through the myriad of processes and procedures they dealt with on a daily basis.

I learned so much prior to writing Scared to Death, and that learning curve continued during the editing process as I sought clarifications, re-checked my facts, and polished the words some more.

Although I do receive suggestions from beta readers, the responsibility lies with me as to whether those suggestions reach the final story – at the end of the day, I have to live with Kay Hunter for a long time after Scared to Death, and so it’s important to know that I feel like I own the story and haven’t been bent by other people’s wishes.

Eventually, when I’d exhausted everything and ticked every box, it’s time to hand over the manuscript for the professional edit.

I love getting manuscripts back from editors.

Grammar is not my strongest point, and I’ve learned to accept that there are simply some things I don’t understand and so it’s a relief to know I’ve got an expert on hand to sort all of that out for me.

The first edits come back, and those include the grammar fixes, typos etc, but also some technical points that I then have to go away and check. Added to this are a couple of very minor plot issues that require a tweak, and then it’s back to the editor for another read-through before he signs it off.

After I’ve taken in that second lot of edits, I print out a fresh copy and start reading from the beginning again – often the first proper read-through I’ve done in weeks. Of course, I find more things to check and change.

Finally, my proofreader takes the manuscript away for a week or two and performs more miracles. By that stage of the publishing process, I’m completely word-blind, and so my proofreader kindly points out all the errors that still remain in the manuscript and helps me to polish it to within an inch of its life before publication day.

After typesetting the paperback edition, I order a proof copy of that and read through the whole novel again, this time checking for formatting issues as well, before loading everything up ready for its release.

No rest for me at this point though – given that book two in the Kay Hunter series is already well underway, I’ll be doing all of this again in early 2017.

I can’t wait.


Thanks for this brilliant insight into the editing process, Rachel.  I’ve certainly learnt a few things today!

Scared to Death by Rachel Amphlett was published in the UK by Saxon Publishing on 6th December 2016 and is available in paperback and eBook formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads |


Smith & Sons (11)

rachel-2016-2141Rachel Amphlett is the bestselling author of the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the new Detective Kay Hunter series, as well as a number of standalone crime thrillers.

Originally from the UK and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Rachel is a member of International Thriller Writers and the Crime Writers Association, with the Italian foreign rights for her debut novel, White Gold, being sold to Fanucci Editore’s TIMECrime imprint in 2014.

An advocate for knowledge within the publishing industry, Rachel is always happy to share her experiences to a wider audience through her blogging and speaking engagements.

You can keep in touch with Rachel by signing up to her mailing list via her website (), or via Facebook () and Twitter:  (less)

Author Links:Website | Facebook | Twitter |

#TopFiveThursday with #BookBlogger Emma Welton at DampPebbles

I’m honoured to be Lorraine’s #TopFiveThursday guest over at The Book Review Cafe today.

Thanks for having me, Lorraine and for your kind words about my blog and my reviews ❤

The Book Review Café


Today I am thrilled to have the awesome Emma Welton give me her #TopFiveThursday. Emma’s blog http://damppebbles.com is one of the blogs I follow religiously. Emma reviews mostly crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, police procedurals and I love her reviews. Emma is quick to mention she considers herself to be a “newbie” to blogging but don’t be fooled her blog is fabulous and her reviews are some of my favourites.

Top 5 books you’ve read this year (so far)?

Valentina by S E Lynes (strong contender for my book of the year)

The Optician’s Wife by Betsy Reavley (a brilliant psychological thriller that will knock your socks off with the twist),

The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza (I have a girl crush on Erika Foster),

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada (Japanese locked room mystery, intelligent and twisty)

Flowers for the Dead by Barbara Copperthwaite (or how to fall in…

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#TBConFB 20/20 Bloggers Event

This week has been quite a biggie for some of us book bloggers who are also members of the Facebook book group, THE Book Club (aka #TBConFB).  #TBConFB admin invited book bloggers to present their all time favourite 20 books over the course of 4 days.  I’m rubbish at maths but as a result (scratching my head, using my fingers to count…) 20 bloggers, times 20 books equals 400 book recommendations!  That’s quite a feat, even if I do say so myself.  I (thankfully) ended up in the crime category but, as I was a last minute stand-in, I felt I could veer away from my genre a little to include psychological thrillers.  If there was a crime committed, then in my opinion, it counted!

So, here we go!  These are my all time favourite ‘crime’ books to date.  They are in no particular order and I have decided that, as we’re all intelligent people and are able to use amazon, that I won’t include the purchase links this time around.  If however you would like to look at one of my books in more detail but can’t find it, then please let me know.

lMessiah by Boris Starling
Crime, Mystery
Wealthy men are being brutally murdered and left with a silver spoon in place of their tongue.  Tortured DCI, Red Metcalfe in on the case.  Will Red be able to fight his own demons whilst facing the most evil killer he has ever encountered.

I love a serial killer thriller and this is a spectacular one!  The bodies are posed in a macabre and gory fashion.  There’s so much blood, it’s a brilliant page-turner from start to finish.  If it sounds familiar, that’s because it was made into a serial television drama series a number of years ago.  My very favourite book.


mLove You to Death (DS Ruby Preston #1) by Caroline Mitchell
Police Procedural, Crime thriller
Woman are being taken from their homes, only to turn up a few days later very dead and posed in strange positions.  The lead detective DS Ruby Preston starts to receive emails from the killer who calls herself Lucy.  Why is Lucy contacting Ruby, and why is she claiming to be her long lost daughter?

There are quite a few of us readers who are already very smitten with Caroline Mitchell’s latest creation, myself included!  There’s something about Caroline’s writing, about the characters and their relationships in this book that is highly addictive.  More DS Preston please!


oOne by One (Robert Hunter #5) by Chris Carter
Crime thriller
Detective Robert Hunter of the LAPD Homicide division is invited to watch a special show online.  One where he needs to make the decisions.  Whatever decision he makes, someone is going to be brutally tortured and killed.  Before long, the viewing public get to have their say as well.

This is another book that fulfils my need to read about dark twisted serial killers.  This is the first of the Robert Hunter series that I read, but I have since gone back to the start and read them all (and those that came after book 5).  Chris Carter’s books are sublime.  I always smile when someone asks for crime or thriller recommendations on TBC.  Chris Carter is ALWAYS mentioned.  Normally more than once.


pWhite Bones (Katie Maguire 1#) by Graham Masterton
Mystery, Police Procedural
In an Irish field, in deepest darkest November 11 bodies are discovered.  All female, all remains bearing the marks of an expert butcher.  Before long it’s discovered the remains date from the early 1900s.  But then a young woman goes missing and her remains are found stripped of flesh and arranged on the same burial site.  DS Katie Maguire is on the case trying to solve a decades old murder investigation, in order to stop a killer from striking again.

This book is seriously gory (which I love!).  Graham Masterton is primarily a horror writer who has expertly turned his hand to crime fiction.  I adore his lead protagonist in this series.  Katie Maguire is the kind of detective I would want to be.


nAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
A group of 10 strangers are lured to an island off the Devon coast by Mr. U. N. Owen.  Over dinner a recording of their host’s voice is played, each dinner guest is accused of hiding a guilty secret.  That evening one of the guests is found murdered.  Suspicion runs high as realisation hits home, the killer is amongst them and they’re ready to kill again.  There is no escape…

You can’t have a list of 20 favourite crime titles without including the Queen of Crime, surely!  This is by far my favourite of her novels.  You can feel the fear and the isolation as the island guests are killed off, one by one.  Who will be next?  And who is the killer?  Brilliantly tense, just love it!


aAlex by Pierre Lematire (Brigade Criminelle Series #2)
Crime Mystery Thriller
Commandant Camille Verhoeven and his detectives have nothing to go on: no suspect, no lead, rapidly diminishing hope. All they know is that a girl was snatched off the streets of Paris and bundled into a white van. The enigma that is the fate of Alex will keep Verhoeven guessing until the bitter, bitter end. And before long, saving her life will be the least of his worries.

Full of twists and turns, and incredibly clever.  This is another of my choices that’s a little on the violent side but it’s oh so good!  I walked past a bookshop and they had a quote from this book on the blackboard outside.  There was no way I was going to walk past that shop without finding out what the book was.  Hooked before I even knew what the title was!


41lslkcpql-_sx324_bo1204203200_.jpgA Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone
Crime, psychological thriller, domestic noir
Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match… And she loves his son, too. When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. He ignores it; a dangerous mistake that could cost him everything.

This is my book of 2016!  If you buy one book after reading all 400 reviews then please, please, please make it this one.  You will experience every emotion under the sun whilst reading about Andy and Anna.  How Michael Malone has managed such a feat I don’t know but it’s a sublime read and one that you cannot miss out on!


cThe Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada
Crime, Mystery
Japan, 1936. An old eccentric artist living with seven women has been found dead- in a room locked from the inside. His diaries reveal alchemy, astrology and a complicated plan to kill all seven women. Shortly afterwards, the plan is carried out: the women are found dismembered and buried across rural Japan. By 1979, these Tokyo Zodiac Murders have been obsessing a nation for decades, but remain unsolved. A mystery-obsessed illustrator and a talented astrologer set off around the country carrying the enigma of the Zodiac murderer through madness, missed leads and magic tricks. You have all the clues, but can you solve the mystery before they do?

If you love a good crime mystery, then read this book.  A locked room with a dead body; how did the killer get in, commit the crime and get away without being seen or leaving footprints in the snow?  You have all the clues, can you solve it before the reveal?  I have a real soft spot for Japanese crime fiction and this is a good example of why I love it so much.


dThe Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza (Detective Erika Foster #1)
Crime, Police Procedural
The body of a young woman is found trapped beneath a thick sheet of ice in a London park.  Detective Erika Foster is tasked with finding the killer.  Could the death of this young socialite be linked to the deaths of three prostitutes?

This for me is the perfect crime thriller.  I adore Erika Foster (total girl crush) and Robert’s writing is exemplary.  I was hooked from the opening chapter to the very end.  An outstanding start to a brilliant new series; not to be missed!


eThe Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Crime, Thriller
A chance encounter at the airport leads two strangers to plotting another’s death.  But they’re not serious, are they?  Maybe they are…and maybe they’re not the only ones!

This one may not fit as snuggly into the crime genre as my other choices but hey, I had to include it!  I love the twists and turns of this book.  There’s an almighty twist somewhere within (won’t say where) that left me breathless.  A sublime piece of suspenseful writing.



1Flowers for the Dead by Barbara Copperthwaite
Crime, Thriller
Adam will do anything to make you happy, even if it kills you.  Adam is a serial killer who wants to be your knight in shining armour.  But things don’t always go so well and he ends up killing his new beau and cutting off her lips.

This book should be renamed ‘How to fall in love with a serial killer’.  The amount of empathy you end up feeling for Adam is quite astounding.  You know you shouldn’t but you do.  An absolutely brilliant read and the book I would want to write (if I were talented enough to write a book) #TeamAdam


2A Tapping at my Door by David Jackson (DS Nathan Cody #1)
Police Procedural, Crime thriller
A woman at home on her own late one evening is disturbed by a persistent tapping at the back door.  She tries to ignore it but can’t.  Discovering the culprit is a raven only adds to her unease.  She opens the back door to shoo the bird away, only for her killer to strike.  There are no helpful clues, only the body of the bird and the victim’s eyes.

Quite possibly the creepiest opening to a crime novel that I have ever read.  It feels like a horror film, you don’t want to look, but you do anyway.  DS Cody is a fantastic character and the unusual twist to the plot had me hooked.


3Melody Bittersweet and the Girls ‘ Ghostbusting Agency by Kitty French
Cosy Crime Mystery
When Melody “I-See-Dead-People” Bittersweet wakes up jobless and alone on her twenty-seventh birthday, she realises she can’t leave her life in the hands of her magic eight ball any longer. She starts her very own ghostbusting agency with best friend Marina, geeky, keen Arthur, and, of course, a one-eared pug called Lestat.  But the team’s very first job at the vast, gothic Scarborough House puts them in direct competition with Melody’s ex, the rakish, despicable Leo Dark.  The house is haunted by three eccentric brothers.  Whoever solves the crime and gets rid of the ghosts gets paid.

OK, so if you’ve read my other recommendations then you’ll realise that this is a little different to the rest.  It’s almost chick-lit cosy crime but it’s so good and was the perfect read for me at the right time.  I was laughing aloud at Melody’s crazy antics with her hapless but lovable friends.  Brilliant comedy writing.  Oh, and the blurb mentions the word ‘murder’ so I’m allowed to include it (and love it!)


4Dust and Desire by Conrad Williams (Joel Sorrell #1)
Crime thriller
Whilst working a missing persons case, an attempt is made on PI Joel Sorrell’s life.  There’s a sadistic serial killer on the loose and it’s down to Joel to find them.  Could there be a connection to Joel’s own hellish past?

I loved that the protagonist of this book was a PI rather than the usual detectives I read about.  And it’s funny, in a dark humour kind of way!  Different to my usual reads but I was an instant fan of Joel Sorrell.  Books 2 and 3 in the series have been published and I can’t WAIT to read them!


5Pop Goes the Weasel by M. J. Arlidge (DI Helen Grace #2)
Crime thriller
A man’s body is found in an empty house. His heart has been cut out and delivered to his wife and children.  The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.  Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is – or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase…

I just LOVE Helen Grace.  I’m such a fan of the damaged, emotionally scarred detective and Helen Grace is queen of them all.  This is my favourite read in the series so far, but they are all as equally good as each other.


iiThe Killing Game by J.S. Carol
Crime thriller
Imagine you are having lunch at an exclusive restaurant, filled with Hollywood’s hottest stars.  And a masked gunman walks in and takes everyone hostage.  You must bargain for your life against a twisted individual who knows everything about you. He also has a bomb set to detonate if his heart rate changes.  If he dies. You die.  You have four hours to stay alive.  What would you do?

This is such an exciting read, real edge of your seat stuff.  I was so completely immersed in the story that normal life was put on hold around me.  Once again, it’s a little on the violent side but that’s probably why I love it as much as I do.  I’m a huge fan of J.S. Carol’s books but this is my absolute favourite.


iStalkers by Paul Finch (DS Mark Heckenburg #1)
Crime thriller, police procedural
Desperate to find her missing sister, Lauren Wraxford seeks out Heck’s help. Together they enter a seedy underworld of gangsters and organised crime.  But when they hear rumours about the so-called ‘Nice Guys Club’ they it a brick wall. They’re the gang that no one will talk about. Because the Nice Guys can arrange anything you want. Provided you pay the price…

An absolutely brilliant, if somewhat disturbing, original plot.  Brilliantly written characters, particularly lead protagonist Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg.  I read this a few years ago and can remember the book like it was only yesterday!


iiiThe Optician’s Wife by Betsy Reavley
Crime, Psychological thriller
When Deborah, an unpopular seventeen-year-old, meets the charming and handsome Larry, he sweeps her off her feet. The trouble is Larry has a secret.  Then a series of grisly murders cast a shadow over everything.  As Deborah’s world starts to fall apart she begins to suspect the man she loves of a terrible betrayal. And to keep their marriage alive, sacrifices must be made.

I was completely blown away by Betsy Reavley’s writing in this book.  Seriously scary stuff and a little on the gory side too (which isn’t a bad thing in my book!).  A brilliant read with a killer twist.  Can’t say too much about this one, otherwise I’ll end up dishing out spoilers and no one wants that!


ivThe Sister by Louise Jensen
Crime, psychological thriller
Grace hasn’t been the same since the death of her best friend Charlie. She is haunted by Charlie’s last words, and in a bid for answers, opens an old memory box of Charlie’s. It soon becomes clear there was a lot she didn’t know about her best friend.  When Grace starts a campaign to find Charlie’s father, Anna, a girl claiming to be Charlie’s sister steps forward. For Grace, finding Anna is like finding a new family, and soon Anna has made herself very comfortable in Grace and boyfriend Dan’s home.  But something isn’t right. Things disappear, Dan’s acting strangely and Grace is sure that someone is following her. Is it all in Grace’s mind? Or as she gets closer to discovering the truth about both Charlie and Anna, is Grace in terrible danger?

A truly stunning debut!  Edge of your seat stuff with a brilliant twist that I didn’t see coming.  Louise Jensen’s writing sucked me into the story and as a result this one rides high on my ATF list.


vValentina by S.E. Lynes
Crime, psychological thriller
When Glasgow journalist Shona McGilvery moves with her partner Mikey and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness.  But with Mikey working offshore, the frightening isolation of the Aberdeenshire countryside begins to drive her insane…That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina.  She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she?  As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears…

An absolutely exquisite read which sent chills down my spine.  This is another debut that completely blew me away!  I can’t wait to see what else Susie Lynes has in store for us.  Sublime!


So there we have it, my 20 all time favourite books.  Some recent, some not so recent (can I just add that it’s very hard to remember why you loved a book which you read 8+ years ago and waaaaay before you started reviewing/blogging!).

What do you think?  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  Have any of the above books made you shudder by my mentioning them?  I’d love to know!

If you’re a book addict and would like to join #TBConFB then find Charlie Fenton on Facebook (you’ll recognise him, he’s yellow!) and add him as a friend.  He’ll then add you to the group.

@michaelJmalone1’s Turning Tables feature with @damppebbles

I am honoured to be the latest blogger to feature on author Michael J. Malone’s Turning Tables blogger Q&A. To read my interview please click here.

Michael’s latest release A Suitable Lie is my book of 2016. To read my five star review (and for the purchase links), please click here.

My thanks to Michael for inviting me to be a part of this feature (and an extra big thank you for being one of the very few people to get the name of my blog right! 😉)

@NerdishMum’s ‘Getting to know…’ feature is all about @damppebbles today!

I am delighted to be appearing on Helen’s brilliant ‘Getting to know…’ feature over at Life of a Nerdish Mum today. ‘Getting to know…’ is a regular piece on Helen’s blog where she asks authors and bloggers a number of very specific questions. She’s had many great authors and bloggers appear so I’m in good company. To see my interview, please click here.

Many thanks to Helen Giles for hosting and for her brilliant questions.

#BlogTour | #GuestPost: The Mountain in my Shoe by Louise Beech (@LouiseWriter) @OrendaBooks

The Mountain in my Shoe aw.indd“A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all. Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.”

I am delighted to welcome you to my stop on the The Mountain in my Shoe blog tour.  The Mountain in my Shoe was published at the end of September 2016 and is written by the incredibly talented Louise Beech.  Today I am thrilled to have a wonderfully honest guest post from Louise to share with you.

Writing My Life…


Louise aged 9

The other day I was interviewed on BBC Radio Humberside and we got around to storytelling, and what it means to me. We had been discussing National Care Leavers Week in relation to my second novel, The Mountain in my Shoe, and how my own experience of being briefly in the care system had partly inspired the book. And the host asked me if maybe the story I was looking to write was perhaps my own. It was a profound moment. I realised that I started writing stories around the age when my siblings and I first went into care. I’d always created stories in my head, literally from being a tot, but I actually started writing them in notebooks when I was about nine.

This was also when our mum made a serious suicide attempt that resulted in her yearlong stay in a psychiatric unit. My baby brother was fostered, and my two sisters and I went to live up north with our grandma. Other times, when she simply couldn’t have us, we stayed at an orphanage here in East Yorkshire. So I’m really beginning to wonder if I write stories to find my own. You see, I don’t remember everything from being small. There are huge gaps in my memory, which is a theme I’ve explored in my third novel.

So is my absolute love of writing – and I do love it, perhaps more than anything – a journey of self-discovery. Most of my novels have been inspired by some aspect of my life, whether it’s my grandfather’s bravery at sea, my daughter’s illness, my voluntary work or my own childhood. They are usually fictionalised – which perhaps affords me some safety, some distance – but they definitely come from a deep part of me. But don’t all writers do this? I can’t be the only one? And is it self-indulgent, or do stories created from such personal places resonate that little bit more with readers?

When I write I try hard to avoid self-pity or indulgence. I’m always aware that the reader is with me and I want to give them a story that they can enjoy, that is uplifting. So while I do face dark aspects of my life in my work, I’m an optimist by nature. I’m Scarlett O’Hara in that I think tomorrow will always be another (better) day. I may be looking back to piece together missing bits from my past, but I look most excitedly to the future. And this is something I hope shines through most of all in my books….


Thank you so much for this wonderful post, Louise.  I am pleased to confirm that I have a review copy of The Mountain in my Shoe so look out for a review on damppebbles coming your way soon.

A Mountain in my Shoe by Louise Beech was published in the UK by Orenda Books on 30th September 2016 and is available in paperback, eBook and audio formats | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads | Orenda Books |


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dscf5005-1Louise Beech has always been haunted by the sea, and regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show. How To Be Brave is Louise’s first book. The Mountain in My Shoe will be published in 2016.

Author Links: Twitter | Website |


#GuestPost | #Giveaway: #BlackRun by Karen Traviss (@karentraviss) #technothriller

I am thrilled to welcome the incredibly talented Karen Traviss to damppebbles today.

There is so much about Karen’s work that I want to tell you, but I don’t think I can do her or it justice.  So I’ll kick off by saying Karen Traviss is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and you should visit her website to see what she has achieved. It’s pretty amazing and you may recognise one or two brands along the way.

Karen is currently writing a techno thriller series.  The first of which, Going Grey (Ringer Book 1), was published in June 2014.  Book two in the series, Black Run, will be available to buy on Kindle from 16th December 2016 for £4.99.  To whet your appetite here’s a sneak peak at the cover and blurb:

preview_concept_black-run-3“You make a few enemies in the security business, as former Royal Marine Rob Rennie has discovered. He’s made a few more since helping his buddy Mike to shelter Ian, a teenager with a unique talent for disguise. Ian’s the subject of  an illegal experiment: a biotech company is pulling out all the stops to get him back. But Rob’s loyalty to Mike could now cost him his life. An unexpected enemy from the past is hunting down Rob and his son, and Ian and Mike have to make tough choices that could tear both their families apart. The past doesn’t forgive. The past doesn’t forget. And now it knows where to find you.”

Karen has written a fascinating piece about the nuts and bolts of writing which I LOVE!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Rules of writing; set in sand, not concrete.

There are any number of how-to books and writing courses designed to teach people how to write a novel, but as you’ve probably discovered if you’ve chatted with writers about the nuts and bolts of their working day, a single definitive method doesn’t exist. I knew that before I started writing fiction, but there was one thing I wasn’t fully prepared for even years later – that even an individual method can suddenly desert you for no immediately obvious reason.

In the end, simply switching off a light put me back on track when a book was proving to be a major struggle. And it made me realise just how fragile a balancing act of awareness writing can be, and how dependent it is on small rituals that can look completely barmy to outsiders.

There’s only one technique that every writer I know consistently employs, and that’s finishing the manuscript in front of them. It might sound glib, but, as an editor told me years ago, the vast majority of people who start writing a book never finish it. Sticking with a novel is a skill in itself.

For some writers, writing really does seem to be a case of sitting down and just letting a subconscious process unfold without questioning it. For others – myself included – it’s something they analyse to a greater or lesser degree, and for some – yes, this is definitely me – it’s something they want to dissect completely in order to find what delivers consistent results every time. Much of that isn’t about art or anything high-minded but about a minute-by-minute working process.

As with many jobs, one method doesn’t fit all when it comes to getting the work done, no matter how similar the product looks from the outside. Techniques and methodologies vary, from the different ways we gather information to stylistic elements like how we handle point-of-view, and inevitably that depends on the way an individual’s brain is wired.

If you consider how complex the task of writing fiction actually is – creating a consistent, populated universe in your mind, complete with causality – then you can see how many variables we’re dealing with. Some people plan every detail, others write from a single image in their head that opens a door as they go, and there’s every permutation in between. I came into fiction as a meticulous planner, but I discovered almost immediately that I needed to fly blind to keep a story fresh. I’d come from a journalism background, so the method I was used to was one of exploration, of approaching a topic that I often knew nothing about and letting those who did understand it explain what was happening. I didn’t make assumptions about what would happen.

So that became my method and my style. My fiction was reportage. It let the characters talk, and I stayed out of it, just asking them questions. That proved to be what I enjoyed most, exploring the unknown territory of another person’s mind. All I had to do was create the people who would have existed if the world had been real. My primary technique became the construction of three-dimensional characters before I started writing and understanding them so well that I knew how they thought and how they’d behave in any situation. It was, in a way, a formula much more like computer modelling or games: I knew the characters, and all I had to do was put them in an environment I’d designed and see what they did and how they interacted with each other. That became the plot.

Every writer needs to find their voice when they begin, but mine turned out to be many different voices in the form of multiple, very tight third person point-of-view. I told the story entirely through the eyes of characters who were nothing like me and who didn’t see events the same way as the other characters in the same story. I even used their language for the narrative, not just their dialogue. I’m not sure how I learned to do it, but I could think like someone else, and, for the duration of the scene, become another person with a world view utterly alien to my own. It was a kind of controlled dissociation. I’ve done this to the extent that the characters’ take on life has made me question my own long-held views on major issues. With that kind of approach, the characters decide the plot. I start out with an idea of where they might go, but as often as not, they go off at a tangent and I follow.

With some novels, I’d write the opening scene, the end, and a couple of key plot pivots, and then infill, sometimes in chronological order, sometimes not. I accepted that I would probably throw out those initial scenes once the characters took over. With other novels – in the same series, and in the same style as far as the reader was concerned – I found I started at the beginning and worked through in a linear way, still letting the characters drive and develop on the page so that the reader got to know them as well as I did.

But just as there’s no single definitive formula for writing a novel that works for every writer, I found that the techniques I settled into stopped serving me, and it took me some time to work out why. It proved to be more than just the normal change of outlook brought about by living life and changing as a person.

I’ve just finished my twenty-sixth novel, and it’s proved far harder than any book I’ve ever written. I was used to going into a writerly purdah, immersing in the manuscript, and finishing it in six to eight weeks, sometimes less, with very little editing. Each novel played out in my head like following the characters around with a TV camera. With the last book, though, it took me two years. Every writer has a pace and length that’s normal for them – again, there’s no such thing as the right time to spend writing or an ideal length – and two years is a good average for many writers. But it was so far out of my normal range that I was worried that I’d somehow ceased to be able to write.

On the surface, I had a rational explanation for what had made such a huge difference to my output. My father had been ill for a long time, I was his sole carer, and inevitably my priorities had to change. But the more I looked at the situation, the more I realised it wasn’t just a case of having different demands on my time. True, I wasn’t able to lock myself away from the world for a few weeks and just plunge into the book. But the biggest barrier was being unable to stay in the characters’ heads for sustained periods even when I was at my desk.

In the past, when I hit a rocky patch in a novel, I always knew it was because I’d started to slip out of the relevant character’s psyche. I’d stopped seeing the world as they saw it, so I wasn’t as sure of what they’d do next. Once I remembered that, I started to what was happening with this marathon of a novel. No matter how hard I tried to focus, part of my brain was constantly on alert, waiting for another crisis in the real world that I’d need to deal with, and that meant I never immersed fully. I was aware that the characters weren’t doing the talking, so I’d start over and rewrite the lot. I’d reached the stage where the complex world I needed to juggle in my head had become too fragmented. I had, in every sense of the phrase, lost the plot.

Interruptions – real or anticipated – had derailed me. I found a piece of workplace research showing that frequent interruptions during complex work not only made employees start over in terms of their mental process, but that each interruption had a cumulative and increasing effect. Staff took longer to recover each time. The odd thing was that I was used to working in noisy, distracting environments; I remember writing one novel while carpenters used power tools a few feet away from me, and yet I was able to shut it all out. I even made a point of having the TV on a news channel while I worked, to recreate the white noise of being in a newsroom.

But this time, I couldn’t ignore the real world around me, and I wasn’t sure how knowing why would help me fix it and sort out the book. I didn’t have writer’s block, and never have, but I was definitely suffering from writer’s repetition.

I tried to minimise distractions. I switched the TV off and worked in silence. I tried to schedule protected times when I wouldn’t be interrupted. But the slightest noise outside jerked me out of writing, and I spent the scheduled writing time with one ear cocked for the phone in case there was a major emergency with my father. It looked like I couldn’t switch off at all.

In the end, the solution owed more to chance than insight. When I switched off the light one night, the story came back to me in a sudden rush with all the things the characters would do next. Working in complete darkness wasn’t a practical solution because writing via voice recognition never worked well for me, but with some experimentation I worked out that it wasn’t the light level, noise, or time of day that made the difference.

It was the absence of visual stimuli.

I drew the blinds, made sure there was absolutely nothing in my eyeline or peripheral vision that wasn’t directly connected to the book – especially anything that moved – and things fell back into place. I still haven’t worked out the exact mechanism in my brain, but there’s something specific about visual distractions under stress that stop me in my tracks.

When I start my twenty-seventh novel, I’ll be prepared for yet another change of technique, depending on what’s happening in the real world. The bedrock of my writing is still building characters and letting them dictate what happens. But as for the rest of the rules, they’re set in sand, not concrete.


What a fantastic post – thank you, Karen.  It’s so interesting for us readers to see how writers create their stories, and the different approaches taken.  I had assumed that once you had ‘your technique’, that was it!  It hadn’t crossed my mind that what worked for one book, may not work for the next.

Karen has very kindly offered a free Audible code to one lucky reader.  The code will enable you to download her first techno thriller, Going Grey, free of charge.  To enter the competition please click the link below and good luck everyone:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and Conditions:  One winner will be chosen at random.  You will need to send me your email address so I can forward the code and instructions on how to download the audiobook to your Audible account.  There are no alternatives.  The competition closes at midnight on Friday 4th November 2016.

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Credit: Mark Wingham

New York Times best-selling novelist, games writer and comics author Karen Traviss is the author of techno-thriller GOING GREY, the first in the Ringer series. The sequel, BLACK RUN, will be published later this year – sign up for a newsletter via Karen’s website to be notified when other formats go on sale.

GOING GREY links: amazon.co.uk | amazon.com |