Write Your First Novel – In A Month!

 

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A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of attending an author event to hear crime writer, Elizabeth Haynes, talk about her writing career. I also had the honour of meeting and chatting with Elizabeth afterwards, who proved to be both lovely and very gracious with her time. After then going home and devouring her current novel, Never Alone (a great read and one I’d highly recommend if you like crime thrillers) which I read and reviewed last month (and you can read again here), I decided to write a post about the event, and pass on some of Elizabeth’s writerly wisdom

Elizabeth, a former police intelligence analyst, hasn’t always been an author but, like me, she did always aspire to be such, one-day. Her first novel, Into The Darkest Corner was published in 2011 and won Amazon’s Book of the Year and Amazon’s Rising Star Award. During the course of the evening the author discussed her previous career and where she gets her ideas and inspiration from to write her novels. The idea of Never Alone came to Elizabeth when she was thinking of moving house and found herself spending far too much time browsing through the houses of various property websites. She came across a grey stone house nestling in a remote country hillside providing the inspiration for the house in the novel, Four Winds Farm, which plays a pivotal role in the setting of Never Alone.

The author also discussed, despite juggling a family and a full time job, how she eventually came to write her first novel. She became, and continues to be, a participant in the National Novel Writing Month, otherwise referred to as NaNoWriMo – an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November (approximately 1667 words a day, or roughly four sides of typed A4 paper). So, this is my challenge to all you would be writers out there, you have a couple months to prepare yourself before the start of November and possibly the start of your first novel. It may mean getting up a couple of hours earlier every day, or going to bed a couple of hours later each night. It may also mean you let the housework slide for a couple of weeks, get someone else to do the cooking, walk the dog, whatever – but it is only for one month.

However, Elizabeth did also point out that 50,000 words is not a novel (most novels are anything from 60,000 to 100,000 words, much more in some cases), but what you will have is the bare bones of a novel, a good start and something you can build on. Why not take a look at the official NaNoWriMo website nanowrimo.org and sign up now. You’ll find lots of help and inspiration, including pep talks and the chance to meet other authors online and in person. Good luck if you take part and please let me know how you get on!

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Me and Elizabeth Haynes!

Eva Jordan reviews… Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes

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Publisher – Myriad Editions

My Review

This is the first novel I have read by crime writer Elizabeth Haynes and I can safely say it won’t be the last. Gripping, thrilling and wonderfully written, for me, it was a real page-turner.

Never Alone is a story about Sarah Carpenter, a middle-aged widow who lives with her two dogs in a remote farmhouse set in the North Yorkshire Moors. Sarah has two adult children, Kitty, her daughter, who is away at university most of the time and her son, Louis, who, although lives locally to Sarah is, for all intents and purpose, estranged from his mother. Still struggling to come to terms with the death of his father, Jim, it’s obvious Louis blames his mother for his father’s death despite the fact it was clearly an accident.

Sarah too is struggling, but her battle is more about isolation, what it means to live alone. ‘She has a house and debts, and, while she doesn’t need to worry about the children any longer, it’s a hard habit to break, worrying.’ Neither particularly happy nor unhappy she is presented as someone who, although on the surface appears to be reasonably calm and collected, is nonetheless floundering. When she first met her husband, Jim, as a young woman at university, although she didn’t love him, at first, ‘he promised to be there for her forever, and it was that permanence that attracted her. The idea that whatever lay ahead, she would have Jim.’ However, when Aiden, an old friend from university, also the ex-best friend of her deceased husband, turns up and agrees to rent the small cottage Sarah has at the back of her farmhouse, Sarah quickly realises she is not alone. And, as the story unfolds, she also realises there are worst things than being alone.

Narrated through two voices, namely Sarah and Aiden, as well as one unknown malevolent voice, it soon becomes apparent Aiden is hiding something from Sarah. The story starts off quite slow then gradually picks up pace culminating in a number of shocking twists and turns.

Easy to read, Never Alone, is a well-written psychological thriller that is as much about human relationships as it is about the human psyche. The characters are well rounded and believable and Haynes cleverly uses the weather (being snowed in), location (the isolation of the moors and the old farmhouse, Four Winds Farm) and animal instinct (the whines, low growls and body language of Sarah’s two dogs, Basil and Tess) to build atmosphere and tension that greatly add to the mounting suspense of this brilliant read. Definitely one I’d recommend.

Eva Jordan reviews… Jawbone Lake by Ray Robinson

 

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Publisher – Windmill Books

Ravenstor, the Peak District. New Year’s Day.

A young woman stands on the shore of a frozen lake and watches a Land Rover crash off the bridge wall and into the ice. Two hundred miles away, a young man is woken by a devastating telephone call. The accident, and what it brings to the surface, will change both of their lives forever.

My Review

Set in a small town in Derbyshire’s Peak District, Jawbone Lake is a compelling and cleverly woven thriller about a young man’s search for the truth behind the disappearance of his father. However, it is also a heartfelt look at life after death and the impact of such on those left behind seen through the eyes of the story’s two main protagonists, Joe Arms and Rabbit.

Living in London, Joe is the successful owner of a thriving software company he set up from scratch after leaving university. However, Joe has had enough of London life and his manic work schedule. He decides to sell the business and leave London for a while. Early one morning Joe receives a phone call from his mother, Eileen, telling him there’s been an accident. His father’s Land Rover, which crashed into a frozen lake off a bridge, has been found but his father, CJ, is missing. With no idea if any other vehicles were involved and no apparent witnesses, the police are somewhat baffled by the circumstances surrounding the accident. Joe’s father is missing, presumed dead. Distraught, Joe sets out to find the reason behind his father’s disappearance only to uncover some unsettling truths along the way. This was the man Joe thought he knew but his quest leads him to a past that began in Hastings and another life in Andalusia in Spain, which throws up the age-old question – does anyone ever truly know someone?

The story’s second protagonist is Rabbit, a young woman who works in the local ice-cream factory who, unbeknown to anyone else, was standing by the lake when CJ’s car went into it. She also witnessed the presence of another car and a man with ‘a dark shape silhouetted in his hand.’ Hers is a mundane existence and one where she is still coming to terms with the loss of her baby son. ‘Sensing the vastness of the water out there, its pull, she was reminded how, towards the end of her labour last year, it felt as though her stomach had created its own field of gravity…And even though he was now gone from her world, she still felt him inside her, floating like a tiny underwater astronaut.’

Although Jaw Bone Lake delves into the murky dealings of the criminal underworld this is not a fast-paced action thriller but rather a look into the aftermath that crime and the loss of a loved one leave on those left behind. The characters are well rounded and the narrative moves along at a steady pace. Robinson’s use of language is beautifully evocative and his description of places and changing scenery simply breath-taking. Robinson is clearly a writer who understands the art of writing and this is definitely a book I’d recommend.

Eva Jordan reviews… In The Shadows by Tara Lyons

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Publisher – Tara Lyons

Detective Inspector Denis Hamilton is tasked with apprehending a brutal murderer stalking the streets of London – and leaving not a shred of DNA evidence. As the suspect list mounts, his frustration and pressure from his superiors intensify.

Grace Murphy, who is dealing with the recent loss of her beloved grandfather, falls deeper into despair when her friends’ bodies are discovered. Fearing she may be the killer’s next target, she begins to question if her horrifying nightmares are the key to unravelling the murderer’s identity.

How far would you go to uncover the truth? Would you venture into the shadows to unmask a killer?

My Review 

In The Shadows is the debut novel by crime writer Tara Lyons and what a gripping read and great start to her writing career it is. Set in present-day London, a serial killer is on the loose and young women are being murdered. The opening sentences of the prologue introduce the murderer and leave little room to doubt the state of their troubled, deeply disturbed mind:

They never found the first dead body. I didn’t want them to. I was in control, powerful, and important. My fingers tightly gripped the smooth black knife handle, and I felt the rush of excitement as the sharp tip pierced her chest. All my energy, power and hate spurred me on, telling me to push harder – so hard that I saw the last breath escape her dark lips and mingle with the frosty midnight air…It was the first time I took someone’s life and the rush was euphoric.

The story unfolds through the voices of three main protagonists, namely the assistant director of a local theatre, Grace Murphy, Detective Inspector Denis Hamilton and, faceless and nameless, the murderer themselves. However, Grace was the character I felt most drawn to throughout the book.

Deeply sensitive, Grace is clearly struggling after the recent death of her beloved grandfather. It also becomes apparent she was either a friend or colleague of some of the murder victims, which of course gives Grace grave concern for her own safety. Does she know the killer and if so is she the next victim? Her sleep becomes plagued by nightmares and more often than not Grace reaches for alcohol, seeking solace at the bottom of a wine bottle, or two. Of course, as should be the case with any good whodunit story, Lyons does a great job of offering the reader a selection of possible suspects including her slightly creepy, slightly inappropriate boss Michael, and Grace’s love interest Eric, who thinks nothing of using women, Grace included, for his own gratification.

At the insistence of her stricken mother, Grace seeks psychological help to try and make sense of her troubled dreams. She agrees to undergo hypnotherapy in the hope of providing some understanding, some link to the murders still taking place around her. With no real evidence or DNA will be Grace be the one to help DI Hamilton and his team?

I became quite invested in the characters of the story, particularly Grace, and my only small criticism is that there was not enough background information on them. Grace was clearly close to her grandfather and there was no doubt she was affected by his death so it would have been both helpful and interesting to have a bit more information as to why the recollection of important or special memories. However, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Grace Murphy so perhaps the writer will tell us a bit more about her in her future novels. Nonetheless, fast-paced with plenty of intrigue and suspense, In The Shadows is a great psychological thriller and a great read.

Eva Jordan reviews… My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry

 

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Published by Penguin

What if your life was built on a lie?

When lawyer Lily marries Ed, she’s determined to make a fresh start. To leave the secrets of the past behind.

But when she takes on her first criminal case, she starts to find herself strangely drawn to her client. A man who’s accused of murder. A man she will soon be willing to risk everything for.

But is he really innocent?

And who is she to judge?

MY HUSBAND’S WIFE is a thriller with so many twists you won’t be able to put it down, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty, Clare Mackintosh and C. L. Taylor.

My Review

An intense psychological thriller, My Husband’s Wife, will keep you gripped to the very end. As with most good thrillers, the short prologue teases the reader by beginning with the end of the story:

Flash of metal. Thunder in my ears…My head is killing me…The pain in my chest is scary. So, too, is the blood…Can a marriage end in murder?… So it’s true what they say about dying. The past comes back to go with you.

This is then followed by several sentences of a newspaper article reporting the death of the artist Ed Macdonald. Stating he has been found stabbed to death, we are left in no doubt that this a tale of murder…or could it simply a case of self-defence? Full of suspense, including chilling insights into the human psyche, Corry skilfully leads the reader down a slippery path littered with intrigue and dramatic twists. We are told from the outset that this story ends with the death of one of its characters but by whom and most importantly – why?

A tale of two halves the story then begins fifteen years prior to the prologue where we are introduced to the two central characters, namely Lily, a fledgling solicitor and Carla, a young school girl and only child of her Italian single mother. Lily, narrated in the first person, is newly married to Ed, an artist, but it is immediately apparent, despite having recently returned from honeymoon, there are problems within the marriage. Lily, having recently been consigned to criminal law is then assigned with the management of an appeal case of a convicted murderer, where Lily, despite her better judgement, finds herself strangely drawn to her client. In the meantime, acting as well-meaning neighbours, Lily and Ed befriend Carla, written in the third person, and her mother. The young married couple agree to babysit Carla from time to time when her mother has to work and Carla finds herself becoming Ed’s muse for his artwork. The story then jumps forward twelve years. Lily is a successful solicitor specialising in criminal law, Ed is the efficacious artist of the painting of The Italian Girl and Lily, now a young woman studying law is hell-bent on revenge. However, as with all good thrillers, all is not as it seems.

This is a classic whodunit with many surprising twists and turns. Corry’s characters are well rounded and believable. At times I found myself liking and disliking them all in equal measure, despite their flaws and bad deeds, because, they are all typically human and as we all know, given the right circumstances, good people are capable of bad deeds just as bad people are capable of good ones. Corry also provides some well-researched insight into autism as well as some thought-provoking observations of suicide, adultery, unknown paternity, and adoption and, of course, murder. Definitely one I’d recommend.

Eva Jordan in conversation with… J.A. Schneider – Author of Her Last Breath

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I’m very pleased to be taking part in the Blog Tour for Her Last Breath, the second psychological thriller by J.A. Schneider,  released on October 21st and described as…

A chilling psychological thriller about a woman caught between two men…
Mari Gill wakes to horror in a strange apartment next to a murdered man, and can’t remember the night before. Accused of murder, she feels torn between her husband, a successful defence attorney, and a mysterious, kind man who wants to help. Can she trust either of them – or even her friends? Detective Kerri Blasco battles her police bosses believing Mari is innocent…but is she?

Here, Joyce writes about how and where she writes and I totally understand her need for peace and quiet and the hectic days of raising small children! 

How and Where I Write

 by J.A. Schneider 

First, disclosure: my children are grown. As any author with young kids knows, that makes all the difference. I remember entire days never taking my jacket off, dropping off, picking up, driving to lessons, waiting to try to write in the car, or making a mad dash to the supermarket and then running back to pick up again. And always, in the scrambled-brains head, trying to figure the next page, the next sentence. I wrote in the oddest places! Once I got a whole two pages down in a paediatrician’s waiting room, filled with yelling, bawling, sneezing, coughing kids. “A contagion ward,” my husband called it when I got home. Oh yeah, I came down with strep thirty-six hours later. Couldn’t write or do much of anything for days. 

Frustrating times, end of disclosure. I was, and am a good mom, but I’ve never forgotten those early, hard days of writing, the feeling of struggling against chaos. 

Which is why I now love as few distractions as possible…and sameness, predictability. Writing Fear Dreams and Her Last Breath, I tried to work daily from noon to six, give or take, in the same small room usually lying on my back on pillows with my laptop on my knees. It was pretty much the same writing my Embryo medical thriller series. The curtains stay closed because if I look out I’ll fret that there’s weeding that needs doing or quick – move the car, it’s blocking the driveway or no end of things. Even with the blinds closed, a gorgeous, glowing shaft of light will squeeze through and start slowly sweeping across the rug, and I’ll stare at it. Two minutes pass – it’s moved, the earth is turning faster than we realize, it’s like watching an ancient timepiece. Concentrate, self, I’ll think. Focus

Writing is incredibly hard, and it never gets easier. Thinking is hard. That, plus what I consider the hardest part: the first draft, the weeks and months of the daily blank page. For editing, after I’ve gone through all the tough, early drafts and I finally know what my story’s about…then I could work in Starbucks, or while waiting somewhere to pick up a loved one or even standing in line at the supermarket, going over a familiar page in search of typos. 

But that’s when the story’s down, the hardest mental lifting part is over. For the weeks and months preceding that, I practically need a monk’s cell to do the job. And even then, I’d notice the spider spinning her web and become fascinated, or hear a bird and want to run to see it. Once, on a windy November day, I heard the most delicate thump against the window, and I had to run out and see. A little sparrow had broken its neck, and for the rest of the day, my heart was broken. What do you do with a poor little dead sparrow? I got busy, it found is final resting place under a blue hydrangea, but I felt too depressed after that to work. 

Friends have suggested that I use earphones and listen to music. “It’s terrific,” they tell me. “Shuts out the world!” 

Wouldn’t work with me. I’d be constantly tempted to switch to Bob Seger, wake up my sleepy head with his “Roll Me Away,” or “Centerfield.” I love music. Have no need for earphones, actually, music often goes through my mind as I write. There are some Beethoven concertos that also help. 

But those daily six hours in my “cell,” argh, headache. Once, writing Her Last Breath, I decided to give my smart NYPD Detective Kerri Blasco a headache she had to force herself through. It worked. The scene got written because I made the character feel what I felt. 

Eureka! Writing that scene was my first taste of a new kind of progress – give my problems to my characters, let them slog their way through it. A lot of writing got done that day of Kerri’s headache. Maybe I won’t need that monk’s cell after all… 

Her Last Breath is available to purchase here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
 
J.A. (Joyce Anne) Schneider is a former staffer at Newsweek Magazine, a wife, mom, and reading addict. She loves thrillers…which may seem odd, since she was once a major in French Literature – wonderful but sometimes heavy stuff. Now, for years, she has become increasingly fascinated with medicine, forensic science, and police procedure. Decades of being married to a physician who loves explaining medical concepts and reliving his experiences means there’ll often be medical angles even in “regular” thrillers that she writes. She lives with her family in Connecticut, USA.
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Read My Latest Musings & Writing Tips

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You can now read my latest writing tips and book review in the current edition of The Fens – a FREE lifestyle magazine with the heart and soul of the Fens.

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This month, continuing on from last month, I offer another 5 tips to those of you thinking about writing your first novel:

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And this month’s book review is for the wonderfully witty crime caper, A Barrow Boy’s Cadenza, by the equally witty author, Pete Adams.

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Also, if you turn to page 16 you’ll see there’s a chance to win a signed, personalised copy of 183 Times A Year – offer ends 10th October!

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So – what are you waiting for? Grab your copy and enter NOW! Good luck.

If you are interested in reading recent editions of The Fens simply click here to take a look.

Cover Reveal for Her Last Breath by J.A. Schneider

I’m very pleased to share with you the cover for Her Last Breath, the second psychological thriller by J.A. Schneider, is due for release on October 21st.  #HerLastBreath is the second thriller – after Fear Dreams – featuring highly intuitive NYPD detective Kerri Blasco. Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite…

A chilling psychological thriller about a woman caught between two men…

Mari Gill wakes to horror in a strange apartment next to a murdered man, and can’t remember the night before. Accused of murder, she feels torn between her husband, a successful defense attorney, and a mysterious, kind man who wants to help. Can she trust either of them – or even her friends? Detective Kerri Blasco battles her police bosses believing Mari is innocent…but is she?

It begins in horror…

Mari Gill’s hand felt sticky.

That was the first thing to trouble her, still clinging to the safe, solid darkness of sleep. Next came pain in her head, a different kind of pain from the other thing, so she squeezed her eyes shut, dreading the day…

…but the stickiness bothered.

Involuntarily, she felt her fingers open and close.

Something was wrong there, in her hand. She squinted open; peered at it. 

Red.

Her palm was smeared dark red.

She blinked. Saw more red smear on her forearm, then the torn cap sleeve of last night’s black dress, then the sheet under her arm, stained with…

“Huh?” Her eyes grew wide before her mind processed it.

Thrashing onto her back, Mari saw bloodied sheet reaching halfway up the torn front of her dress, and then saw an arm. A man’s arm, faintly blue and blood-smeared – and with a cry her whole body practically flipped from the bed. “Oh God!”

She hit the floor hard and then scrabbled back up, gaped wildly and saw him. Her shocked vision jumped and saw two then one then two of him on his back, eyes closed, mouth open dribbling caked blood. She froze; gasped. Couldn’t take in air seeing his black hair, his chest hidden under a tent of bloodied sheet. 

“Mister?”

A high, involuntary whisper. Mari’s heart rocketed but she felt compelled; jerked out a hand and pulled away the sheet.

Under it a knife, its handle long and black, protruding from his chest. 

“Oh God!” Her scream got it out but used up breath as she spun on her knees, recognizing the new trouble. Where was her handbag? What was this place? Who was that guy?

Her bag, her bag…she crawled over hardwood and a man’s flung jacket and hit a cold, metal pole. Something crashed down on her, crashed to the floor but she crawled more, over broken shards with her breath coming harder, wheezing high like a small, dying animal. 

Where, where…? She gasped and scrabbled. 

There.

Her bag, way under a desk. How could it be under a desk? She was always so careful to keep it close but no time to think, she was upon it, fingers fluttering getting it open, her cries a child’s high mewling as she dug past her phone – no time to call – found her inhaler, got her fingers around it then saw it fly from her and skitter through an open doorway.

“No…”

Wheezing harder she crawled toward it, the little white plastic thing that meant life or death to her. Her chest heaved, and heaved again. Her vision blurred and she couldn’t pull in air. She made it through the door onto a wider floor, was inches away with her hand reaching desperately. 

Then her vision darkened and she collapsed, crying; lay her cheek down on the polished cold hardwood. From far away she heard a crash. Her eyes closed. She lay, her fingers stretched futilely toward the inhaler. Her desperate wheezing stopped. 

Running feet. Someone’s hands on her, strong hands. “Lady! Omigod, lady!” 

From deepest, dying sleep she felt herself raised up; heard a voice, urgent, telling her to breathe, breathe – “Please, lady!”

She felt hard plastic pushed through her lips. Felt the little blast of life, then a man’s warm stubble press his lips on hers. He was breathing her. Two good breaths and then holding her, rocking her. 

Her eyes stayed closed as she heard him call 9-1-1…

*****************

So…are you ready for the cover reveal? Here goes…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
 
J.A. (Joyce Anne) Schneider is a former staffer at Newsweek Magazine, a wife, mom, and reading addict. She loves thrillers…which may seem odd, since she was once a major in French Literature – wonderful but sometimes heavy stuff. Now, for years, she has become increasingly fascinated with medicine, forensic science, and police procedure. Decades of being married to a physician who loves explaining medical concepts and reliving his experiences means there’ll often be medical angles even in “regular” thrillers that she writes. She lives with her family in Connecticut, USA.
joyce-schneider

Eva Jordan in conversation with… Ross Greenwood

Eva Jordan in conversation with Ross Greenwood - Lazy Blood - Post Header

I’m extremely pleased to introduce fellow local author to me, Ross Greenwood. Ross is the author of the debut novel Lazy Blood. Now published by Bloodhound Books with a brilliant new cover, I thought this would be a great opportunity to remind everyone why they should read his book.

Are your friends to die for?

Did you make friends at school?
Are they still your friends now?
Do you trust them?
Will is on his way to prison. His life is a mess, but who is to blame?

Here, Ross talks about what inspired him to write and he also gives us a brief idea of what to expect from his second upcoming novel The Boy Inside.

‘Lazy Blood.’

By Ross Greenwood

I never wanted to go to prison. It was certainly not one of my choices at school when asked. Doctor, postman maybe, radiographer (obviously later on), never prison. I had passed my A-levels but was so unfocussed I just decided to get a job. As the years went by I seem to find myself working in a variety of call centres. First, as a phone jockey and then as a manager. Good money, as I was good at it, but hardly inspiring stuff. I found myself never staying in one job for long. Even now, at 42, the last job at 4 years’ service is over twice as long as anything I had achieved before.

I found myself travelling to get my thrills. The usual holidays when I was young, 18-30 etc., European capitals, then later 3 months in Asia and a year in Australia. More obscure capitals followed, living in Spain and then a month in Indonesia and 3 months in South America, before unexpectedly (how did that happen) children arrived. It was at that point, as I was trying buy-to-let and being a landlord, that the need to write a book was becoming very difficult to put aside. I had met such a range of people and had participated in so many amusing, mad events that I hoped I had a book people would be interested in.

I began what eventually became Lazy Blood. Life gets in the way and soon the need to get a job outweighed the urge to finish the book. I was stuck anyway. I had managed to mould many different attributes of hundreds of different people into four likeable and flawed characters, but I was struggling for a start and a beginning; the bite that would make the book interesting and exciting.

I wanted a career change though. No more insurance companies and depressing Mondays, I wanted something exciting. I was going to get it. I actually wanted to join the Police but, as you can imagine, my CV wasn’t going to stand any kind of investigation. The prison service wasn’t so fussy. As government cuts bite it is even less so now, the staff are leaving in droves.

After the training, how I got through those first few weeks I will never know. Only a commitment to myself to finish what I started got me through that period. HMP Peterborough is a B-category local jail. The hardest type to work in. We were constantly understaffed, sometimes running 80 man wings on your own for hours at a time. It is a revolving door for some, the drug addicts and shoplifters, but it takes all the prisoners from Cambridge, Huntingdon and Peterborough Crown and Magistrates Courts.

So there were murderers, rapists and psychopaths merged in with dangerous drivers, embezzlers and drug dealers. All of them meshed together in a crazy world of violence, depression, suicide, anxiety, drug abuse, self-harm and disorganisation that they weren’t allowed to escape from.

Obviously after a little while I had more ideas and stories than I could ever imagine. I was desperate to get back to writing my book. All the time the book was percolating and composting in my head. I think that was one of my coping mechanisms. When they wanted volunteers to put riot gear on and break up a barricade, I would be there, sometimes just for the experience. When you work in that environment, you certainly know you are alive. Then another child came along and the book went back on the shelf.

By that time I had got to grips with the job. I found consistency, professionalism and politeness with a certain amount of apathy was generally the best way to get the job done. Aggression and arguing generally led to assaults and rage. The prisoners get to know you too. They know which officers will help them and they are also fully aware what a tough job it is.

Another year went by and I took child friendly hours and started to work in Resettlement. The idea behind it was that you assisted them when they arrived in prison. For example, ringing the bank for them, finishing tenancies and then when it was time to leave you set about making sure people had somewhere to go. Unfortunately that wasn’t always achievable.

This job still had its difficulties as some people were almost impossible to help. There are many charities out there and Peterborough Council do a brilliant job in housing people, but If you have been made to sign the sex offenders register or, worse, are an arsonist, then it is very hard to find somewhere for you to live as there is a duty of care to existing residents.

I got to chat to a lot of people and got much more material! I still wanted to finish my book and my boy gave me the opportunity. He was waking for his four a.m. feed and with a sense of determination that this was my time, I completed it in the early morning hours. Lazy Blood is available on amazon and has been well received. Just £1.99 until the 1st May.

Prison is a crazy place, not for the faint hearted. It is an unnatural environment but not what people expect. Prison for most is Bad Girls, Shawshank, Prison Break and Porridge. A British jail is none of these things. Most people there are not ‘bad’ people. Sure there are career criminals and obviously these figure strongly in the book too. That’s why we love crime books, but many have just done something stupid. Perhaps used their phone whilst driving and killed someone. Silly things with terrible consequences. Got involved with drugs and had to steal to service their habit. Maybe borrowed a few quid from work and things have got out of hand, or had a few beers and got in a fight. These things could happen to most of us. This is their story too. The list is endless and so are the ideas for characters.

I finally left the job after nearly four years to get my first book published and take a year out to do some more writing. I will look back fondly on my time there though. By far and away it was the worst job I ever had, but it was also the best job. I worked with some amazing people as well. The money wasn’t great, but the commitment had to be. I’m nearly six foot tall, mature (ish) and fourteen stone so I walked on those wings armed with physical presence and life experience. You had to bow your head to small school leavers on their first day in the job, whose nervous hands fumbled with confusing keys, as they entered the abyss.

What I wanted to focus on for my second book, ‘The Boy Inside,’ was one of the more depressing and sad parts of prison society. The young. Before you judge these boys in hoodies you should really have walked a mile in their shoes. I know that is a little cliché but many of them never stood a chance. Parents who were drug dealers for example, or no parents at all.

Once you are in the police and prison system, especially as a juvenile, it is hard to get out. The people in it often do not have the skills, knowledge or finances to climb out of the hole they are in. They become careless, chaotic and have no expectation of any kind of future. They are a burden to society and there seems to be little appetite to deal with these issues. There are many who work tirelessly with young people and try to get them back on track, often without being paid, but it is hard work and often unsuccessful.

Ironically to paraphrase The Shawshank Redemption, a life without hope is a terrible thing. Many of these issues are brought up in ‘Lazy Blood’ and the ‘The Boy Inside,’ but they are also books about persistence, determination and luck. In some ways, they are also modern love stories. I hope to change your perception of those who end up in prison, but after reading these novels there is one thing I can be sure of. You will never want to go there yourself.

Lazy Blood is out at Amazon now, read the reviews and you decide!

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Eva Jordan in conversation with… Alex Gordon

I’m really pleased to have the lovely Alex Gordon as guest author on my blog today. Former Sports Editor of the Scottish Sunday Mail, Alex is the author of no less than twelve works of non-fiction about football. However, several years ago Alex had an idea for a whodunnit story and, choosing to ignore the advice of some publishers who cautioned against writing fiction, Alex had his first novel, Who Shot Wild Bill, published in 2013. 

The first of a quirky mystery series to include a former sports-journalist turned-detective (wonder where he got that idea!), Charlie Brock, as the main protagonist, Who Shot Wild Bill was then followed by the second book in the series, What Spooked Crazy Horse and Alex is currently working on the third in the series.

Here, Alex talks us through his journey from fact to fiction, and what a fascinating journey it is!

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So, I’m propping up the bar at The Kelburne on Millport’s Stuart Street, sampling a small libation and chatting to my good friend and owner Eddie Hughes and a few of the regulars. As the former Sports Editor of the Scottish Sunday Mail – in the good old days when the newspaper was read by three million folk back in the early-to-mid-nineties – the topic, not entirely unexpectedly, is about football and how the clientele in this wonderful little howf would make Scotland a world power again.

As the author of several football books – twelve at the last count – there is a question that has cropped up a few times. Now if I had a quid for every time I had been asked why I had never got around to writing a novel, I would be penning this while sipping a refreshing ice-cold pina colada beside the shimmering pool of an ocean-going liner floating nonchalantly and serenely somewhere in the Med off the coast of the South of France.

Okay, maybe a little far-fetched. How about sitting shivering in a leaking rowing boat somewhere in the angry, choppy Firth of Clyde with a few over-zealous seagulls using me as target practice?

Right, fair enough, that might be stretching the imagination too far, as well. Would you settle for me standing in a puddle in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street during one of the country’s innumerable and, apparently, mandatory traditional summer thunderstorms?

To tell the truth, there had been a germ of an idea swirling around my cranium for a whodunnit for several years. I had been brought up on a staple diet of Agatha Christie (mixed in with a mountain of football autobiographies and biographies) and I just can’t get enough of extremely clever mystery writers.

On one of the days in the Kelburne, as we once again put the world to rights, someone just happened to mention there had never been a recorded murder on Millport. That was the kick-start I required, a challenge that had been presented at that precise moment.

The Country and Western Festival was a couple of months away and, almost immediately, a conception of a storyline crystalised in my imagination. What if someone staged a murder during the wild west weekend? There were wannabe Buffalo Bills, Wyatt Earps and Billy The Kids all over the place and many, of course, were equipped with fake firearms strapped to their hips. I had seen these guys strolling around the Millport promenade making the place look like Dodge City. In fact, I hadn’t realised there were so many cowboys in Scotland and I’m not talking about dodgy car salesmen, roofers, plumbers, electricians and candlestick-makers.

I had also been informed by one gleeful shop-owner of a particularly “crazy” weekend when something like twelve thousand visitors had been on the island, according to Cal-Mac records. The idea came to life and all I had to do was fit the pieces together in the jigsaw.

After writing the football books, I knew several publishers and more than one advised me to stick to fact and leave fiction to others. Granted, it is unusual for a writer to get involved in factual tomes and then turn his or her hand to fabrication. I didn’t really see it as an insurmountable problem and the only way to prove it was to sit down and produce a novel.

And so ‘Who Shot Wild Bill?’ was written in 2013 in the same year I had two football books published – ‘Denis Law: King and Country’ and ‘Celtic: The Awakening’.

The opening line in ‘Wild Bill’ appeared from nowhere: “Wild Bill Hickok was smiling. Which was odd considering there was a bullet hole between his eyes.” I was off and running, just another seventy-odd thousand words to get down in print.

Conjuring up the title was easy. There was no big deal to it when you’ve been employed in newspaper production for almost three decades and responsible for God only knows how many headlines in the sports section of that day’s publication. The supporting words on the front cover were a little more tricky. It’s too easy to clutter up a page and attract the eye away from the main visual impact ie the title. I decided to go for a deck of three at the bottom of the page. The first line read: “One Country and Western Festival”; the second: “One dead body” and the third: “Twelve thousand suspects!”

I roughed up an image of the front cover – and again I could literally draw on my newspaper experience to achieve this – and the designer followed it to the letter. I have to say I enjoyed writing the fiction for a whole variety of reasons. For a start, the characters were all inside my head.

Writing a football book entails quite a fair bit of research. Trust me, there are so many annoying anoraks out there who will spot even the tiniest error. “That wasn’t a corner-kick, it was a free-kick. It was the fifty-ninth minute not the fifty-eighth.” Get a proper job, you lot!

Then there is the time-consuming interviews where sometimes the subject tells you at the last moment that he has to cancel and “is it okay to do it next week?” You say: “Yes, no problem, whenever suits”, while grinding your teeth to powder and sticking needles furiously into an effigy.

So, it was great to come downstairs every morning around five o’clock in the confident knowledge all my subjects were lined up and good to go; my hero Charlie Brock, a sportswriter-turned-sleuth (I wonder upon whom I based that guy) and the many characters of the island. I didn’t have to chase them down, pick up an exorbitant drinks tab that would guarantee my accountant sucking out his fillings nor did I have to hang around for an hour or so while my interviewee had been sidetracked elsewhere.

I had fun selecting the characters and, as you might expect, several of them were parodies of genuine worthies of Cumbrae. Sherlock Holmes qualities are not required to work out ‘Hughie Edwards’, owner of Hugh’s Bar, is, in fact, the aforementioned Eddie Hughes, mine host at The Kelburne.

And so it went on, inventing characters and their mannerisms, down to how they looked, how they talked, how they dressed and even their favourite tipple. It was a chasm away from what I had been used to. If you’re writing about Denis Law, for instance, you would expect most football fans, certainly the ones of my generation, to have a mental image of him immediately. Not so in fiction, obviously.

I had to describe Charlie Brock, the reluctant sportswriter-turned-sleuth, and that was fairly easy, I just made him a better-looking version of the author! I hasten to add that is not an ego trip. I am acquainted with a few fiction writers and all of them will tell you (privately, of course) they are the main characters in their novels.

Actually, when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? When you’re in the middle of a chapter and you are describing some individual, you don’t have to work out if he’s the one with the glasses or she’s the one with the red hair. Charlie Brock is all over the book and if I haven’t a clue what he looks like then I better stop frequenting the Kelburne Bar!

But there was a lot of entertainment in putting real-life individuals into the book. Who was Tip-Toe Thompson? Bungalow Bob? Boring Brian? Mustang Mags? Jimmy B de Mille? And, my personal favourite, Vodka Joe? It became a bit of a guessing game on the island for awhile. 

The quirky mystery was originally published by Crime Lab and Ringwood this year took over the publishing rights. Thankfully, their managing director, the indefatigable Sandy Jamieson, bought into the character of Charlie Brock. He thought he was Scotland’s answer to America’s Kinky Friedman, an author whose work I was introduced to after publication of my first novel. I have to say I was vaguely disturbed to discover someone else on this planet shared the same fairly warped sense of humour as myself. Not sure how a bloke from Texas and an individual from Glasgow quite dovetail in their pursuit of mirth, but, amazingly, that’s exactly the case.

My second novel, which came out last month, is entitled ‘What Spooked Crazy Horse?’ and that, too, is set on Millport. The ‘Crazy Horse’ in question is a famous footballer who flees from one of the world’s most famous football clubs and turns up on the island where he is discovered, quite by chance, by the intrepid Brock. Why did Crazy Horse give up the riches, the fame and so on? Brock investigates and once again the plotline takes more than a few twists and turns.

The third in the series is being worked on at this very moment. It’s entitled ‘Who Stole Sitting Bull?’ and the first twenty or so chapters are set again on the Isle of Cumbrae. The ‘Sitting Bull’ character is a Scottish boxer who keeps getting knocked over, hence the nickname. Somewhere along the line – and this can only happen in fiction – he gets a shot at a world title and goes to Crete to acclimatise and prepare for the fight at Madison Square Garden in New York. He is mistakenly kidnapped on the Greek island and that’s when the fun and games begin.

I just hope the readers derive as much pleasure from my novels as I have in putting them together. What’s that they say in the tabloids? Never let the facts get in the way of a good story?

I’ll drink to that!

You can purchase Alex’s books on Amazon.
Who Shot Wild Bill here and here.
What Spooked Crazy Horse here and here.