Friday, 30 November 2012

Guest Blog: Leigh Russell - Crime Writer

I was delighted when Leigh Russell, an international bestselling author of crime fiction, contacted me volunteering to be a guest of The Yellow Room blog. This is thanks to the magic of Twitter. I've been relying heavily on the latter to promote The Yellow Room and sell the remaining copies of Issue 8, as I haven't generated enough income from this print run to make ends meet. The Yellow Room Magazine is sadly in danger of folding. Please do urge as many of your friends as possible to purchase a copy from the website (

Leigh has some impressive credits to her name including: CWA Dagger Award Shortlisted Author; WH Smith's Top 50 Bestsellers List; Lovereading's Great Crime Sleuth; Amazon's No. 1 female detective; Crime Time's Best Crime Fiction List and Eurocrime's Top Reads List.

It has been a pleasure interviewing Leigh for my blog.

When did you start writing seriously and what sort of things did you write?
CUT SHORT was published in 2009. It was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award and went on to become an international bestseller. The story developed from an idea that just occurred to me one day as I was walking through my local park. I started to write the story down and after six weeks of compulsive writing, I finished the first draft.   

What made you decide to write a crime novel?
I never made a conscious decision to write a crime novel. My publisher phoned me two weeks after they received my first manuscript and after a few meetings they offered me a three book deal. So once I had finished working on CUT SHORT, I was already contracted to write two more crime novels. ROAD CLOSED and DEAD END followed CUT SHORT in becoming bestsellers, so my publisher then asked for another three books in the series. The first of these, STOP DEAD, is out in print in 2013 and available to download this December. At the moment I am committed to writing two more books in the series, after which I hope my publisher will offer me a further deal. As long as people keep reading my books, I’ll keep writing them!

Did you have a story/outline in mind before you began to write your first novel?
When you write a book you are taking your readers on a journey. I always know my starting point, and I know the destination, but the route between the two develops and evolves as I’m writing. 

Do you think it’s possible to be a ‘fly by the seat of the pants’ crime writer?
I know many brilliant crime writers. Some are rigorous planners, some fly by the seat of their pants. It seems that both work, for different people. Every writer has to find their own method of working.  Although I plan my stories in advance, I also like the writing process to be organic and creative. That, for me, is part of the fun of writing. I know where my narrative is heading, but I’m never quite sure of the detailed route to get there before I start writing.

How much planning and research do you do beforehand?
I do a lot of research. I’ve visited police stations, spent time with a Murder Investigation Team, a fire station, and a closed prison, to name just a few places I’ve visited in the course of my research. I’ve taken advice from leading experts in DNA, finger prints, human remains, and many more.  The research is always fascinating. My advisers aren’t necessarily leading experts in their fields. They can be market traders, scientists, IT technicians, an acquaintance who has suffered a broken nose... anyone who can help me to understand a situation that I’m writing about but have never experienced.   

Do you contact experts in a particular crime field? 
Frequently. You can do a lot of research on the internet. If you want to find out a tiny random snippet of information, like what time the sun set in London on October 30th 1972, you can. But I prefer to consult real people. And here the internet can be phenomenal too. I could spend six months researching a question on a point of DNA and still come up with the wrong answer. One quick email to a leading expert and the right answer can be available in seconds. 

What do you think makes a good crime novel?
In common with all fiction, a good crime novel has to keep readers turning the pages. There are three main elements to this: suspense so readers want to know what will happen next, engaging characters so readers actually care about what happens, and good writing.  Most of my reviewers describe my books as ‘page turners’, The Times describes my work as ‘psychologically acute’, and ‘well written’, so hopefully I cover all three of these elements in my books.

Have you got any opinions about a woman’s position in the crime writing world? Is it true, for example, that the genre is dominated by male authors?
I’m not sure that PD James, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid, Lyndsay Duncan, Lynda La Plante, Sophie Hannah, Ann Cleves, Tess Gerritsen, Mo Hayder or Patricia Cornwell would agree with that statement, to name just a few.
Do you have a writing routine and how many hours a day do you spend writing?
Eugene Ionesco said: “A writer never takes a vacation. For a writer life consists of writing or thinking about writing.’ What goes into creating a book is so much more than the physical process of writing.  What takes time is thinking and research. The most important part of the process is the thinking. So it’s impossible to put a time on writing. Do you include the time I spend driving in traffic (thinking), queuing in a supermarket (still thinking) lying in bed (thinking). When I’m in the middle of a book, the narrative is in my head all the time, although I may only spend two hours on my keyboard. 

What motivates you as a writer?
I’ve no idea! I just started writing one day and couldn’t stop. It surprises me now that I never stumbled on my passion for writing earlier. I didn’t start until my children had grown up and left home, and I stepped down from running a busy department at work. Before that, I guess I didn’t have the time or the energy to think of writing a book. Now that I’ve started, the motivation takes care of itself as I’m always working towards my next publisher’s deadline. But even without that I think I’d still be writing every day. I just love it! I’m totally hooked. 

What inspires you?
I’m fascinated by my killers. Each of my novels explores a character with a different motivation for murder. What is it that drives people to behave in such an extreme manner? 

Do you feel uncomfortable writing particularly gruesome scenes or about psychologically sick characters?
No. I wouldn’t write anything that made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t like reading about crime in real life. It’s appalling, one human being causing another human being to suffer. There’s nothing redeeming in it. But in fiction, crime metamorphoses into form of entertainment. We seem to be able to compartmentalise things in our minds, like animal lovers who eat meat. I don’t understand it, but I wouldn’t want to overanalyze it too much in case the process loses its magic.

How did you go about securing an agent and finding a publisher?
I found a publisher who specializes in crime and sent my manuscript off in a large brown envelope.  These days we communicate manuscripts by email, but five years ago when I started, we were still using hard copies. They responded quickly.  Having found a publisher, I never went through an agent and I still don’t have one. But I think my story is atypical. After I sent off my submission I saw on my publisher’s website that they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and kicked myself for wasting a stamp. But somehow they happened to look at my story, and loved it. 

What gives you the confidence to write crime fiction? Do you ever suffer from self-doubt?
I’m too old to take myself too seriously, which helps. Because I’ve always had a publisher’s deadline I haven’t really had time for any serious self doubt. I just have to press on. 

What do you think of authors turning to self-publishing on Kindle? Does it have the same kudos as going down the traditional publishing route?
I have no experience of self-publishing, so I’m not really in a position to comment on it other than to say it’s not something I would ever consider. There is more kudos – not to mention more money – in going down the traditional publishing route. It’s also much easier as my publisher provides everything: editor, proof readers, cover design, production, promotion and distribution. All I have to do is write the books, which is the only part of the process I really want to do. I couldn’t be bothered with purchasing ISBNs, posting books on amazon, and everything else my publisher organizes.

Where do you see the future for crime writing?
I would say the future for crime writing is looking quite robust.  It is a popular genre, and its appeal appears to be growing. I think there are several reasons for this, apart from the fact that there are so many brilliant authors writing in the genre. As the influence of religion is declining in society – in some areas at least – people are casting around for something to replace it.  Crime fiction, like religion, examines issues surrounding our mortality, and seeks to deal with the feelings we all feel about our inevitable death in a controlled and secure ‘other world’. It also tackles issues of good and evil, offering us a moral compass that we all look for in life. We want our experience to make sense. So often, in the real world, it doesn’t, but however disturbing the narrative, the reader knows that at the end of a work of fiction, some kind of moral order will be restored. So crime fiction is thrilling and terrifying, but ultimately reassuring. 

Finally, can you tell us a little about the novel you’re currently working on?
STOP DEAD is in production so I’m working on the sixth book in the series. CUT SHORT, ROAD CLOSED and DEAD END are set in Kent, with a York connection in DEAD END.  In the fourth book in the series, DEATH BED, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel   relocates to London, leaving her sergeant, Ian Peterson, in Kent. The series has been so successful that my publisher has asked me to write a second series, featuring Ian Peterson, who has become a popular character in his own right. I’ve just finished the first draft of the first Ian Peterson novel and have sent it to my publisher. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they like it! Now I’m working on the sixth Geraldine Steel novel. As with all my books, it starts with a body and everything spins out from there.  

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Autumn Flash Fiction Shortlist 2012

This week I've been in 'reading mode'. This has come as a relief, as I haven't done very much reading this year. The reason for this is that I can't seem to write prolifically, if I'm reading and vice versa.

I've been immersed in Ian Rankin's latest novel, Standing In Another Man's Grave. It's great to see Rebus back in action and I think it's one of Ian's best novels to date. I've also been reading some short fiction (Dot Dash by Jonathan Pinnock) and catching up with my writing magazine reading.

Yesterday I whittled the 61 Flash Fiction entries in The Yellow Room Autumn Competition down to just 17 shortlisted stories. I'll be reading those 17 once more today and will pick the winning entries.
Here is the shortlist:

A Guide To Independence
Another Country
Carly, Love
Cleaning The Windows
Fat Girl Yawning - 1960
Good For The Soul
He Loves Me, Not
Last Chance
Miss Scarlet In The Shed
The Bridge
The Dung Beetle Race
This Year’s Colour
You Breathe

Friday, 9 November 2012

Guest Blog: Jonathan Pinnock - The Scott Prize

It has been far too long since I last updated this blog and for that I apologise. I have no excuses. I really didn't think I had anything interesting to say, which is why I'm delighted to welcome a guest blogger today.

When Jonathan Pinnock asked on his Facebook status whether anyone would like him to do a guest blog, I jumped at the chance. I'd had a little communication with Jonathan asking for tips on entering The Scott Prize, as I'd almost finished putting a short story collection together. He very kindly answered my questions, then agreed to write the following piece. I then rushed to the Salt website ( to purchase Dot Dash and have been reading the stories all week. I wasn't disappointed. I strongly recommend you purchase the collection, if you have any interest in what makes a good short story. Here's what Jonathan has to say about The Scott Prize:

The Scott Prize ( is an international annual prize for a first collection of short stories. It was set up by Salt Publishing in 2009 and is now pretty much the only way for an unknown short story writer to get a collection published by them, as they do not accept unsolicited submissions. The fact that hardly any other publishers will consider publishing a short story collection unless it’s by an established author means that the Scott Prize has massive significance for anyone who has an interest in the short form.

I’d been writing seriously since 2005 and submitting work since 2007, which meant that by 2009 I was building up a reasonable portfolio of work. But when I first entered for the Scott Prize in that debut year, I got absolutely nowhere. I wasn’t even shortlisted. I was more than a little peeved about this, as I’d had a few individual successes by then and I obviously thought I was ready for the big time. However, in my heart of hearts I knew that there were several fillers in my proposed collection. And when I read the collections that had won that year – especially Tom Vowler’s “The Method” – I realised I was going to have to raise my game if I was going to have any chance of being selected in future. There was no room for fillers.

So I kept on writing and I kept on submitting and I notched up one or two more decent hits, including BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines. This meant that I could chuck out a fair bit of the chaff and generally make the collection a bit stronger. The other thing that had happened was that I’d been playing around with TwitFic (Twitter fiction – complete stories in 140 characters or under) a bit more by then and I had quite a collection of very, very short pieces that I could use as a kind of punctuation between the longer ones. In fact, I had just enough short pieces to make it possible to alternate them. And that, in turn, led to the title of the collection.

When I first entered the Scott Prize, my collection was entitled “Hidden Shallows and Other Stories”, which was – to be honest – a bit mundane. To move away from that to “Dot Dash”, a title that simply reflected the structure of the book, was quite radical and that gave it another chance to stand out. I think it also reflected the playful nature of a lot of the content. I submitted “Dot Dash” to the Scott Prize on October 6th, 2010 – for once in my life well ahead of the deadline.

Nine days later, I submitted my first novel “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” to Salt’s new science fiction imprint Proxima and just over a month after that it was accepted for publication. That book was then scheduled for publication in September 2011, which meant that when I was eventually announced as one of the winners of the 2011 Scott Prize, publication had to be delayed for a year in order to avoid confusion between two very different books by the same author. So that’s why “Dot Dash” is only just appearing now.

But it’s been worth the wait. My box of books arrived from Salt last week, and they are utterly beautiful. One of the things about being published by Salt is that you are guaranteed to have an arresting cover, and “Dot Dash” is no exception. I feel very privileged to have my name on a cover with that iconic “S” logo in the top right hand corner.

Jonathan Pinnock was born in Bedford, England and studied Mathematics at Cambridge University. He subsequently stumbled into a career in software development and has been there ever since. Somewhere along the way he wrote one book on software development and co-wrote a further twelve. His preference, however, is for fiction and his first novel Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens was published by Proxima in 2011. His short stories have won numerous prizes and have been widely published. He is married with two slightly grown-up children, several cats and a 1961 Ami Continental Jukebox. He blogs at

Monday, 2 July 2012

Olympic Torch Relay and a 'Gold Medal' Win!

I've just got back from going to see The Olympic Torch Relay in Rugby town centre. I'm so glad I got up earlier and made the effort, because the atmosphere was fantastic. When I saw the torch coming into view, I got all emotional and trembly. A once in a lifetime experience. It was great that most of the Lawrence Sheriff schoolboys stood on their school field behind me, cheering and going wild - and that was just for the members of the public cycling past before they closed the road!!

I had a bit of a 'gold medal moment' on Saturday when I discovered that my story, I Like Your Bow-Ties, Mr Day won first prize in The 5 Minute Fiction 1st Birthday Competition. It's the most prize money I've ever won - £100. The Top Ten stories were on the website for a week and readers had to vote for their favourite to win. Thank you for those of you who voted, by the way! If you'd like to read the story, here's the link:

I've been enjoying a fair bit of success with my short stories this year, which is most gratifying. I'm entering as many competitions as possible and I write an average of four new short stories a week. Not all of these are good enough to enter into competitions, but it's certainly helping improve my technique. My story, Camels In A Field, won The Word Hut competition in May. The story was published on their website and I was asked to do a 'Meet The Writer' interview for them. Both the story and the interview attracted the attention of Thomas Stofer, an agent specialising in the crime and thriller genre at LBA. He emailed me, saying he would like to read my crime novel. I was extremely flattered to be approached by an agent, even though he didn't feel the novel was the sort of thing he was looking to represent. He was, however, very complimentary about my writing and urged me to submit it to other agents, which was most encouraging.

I have been busy clearing my childhood home in rural Staffordshire ready for a tenant to move in. This has been emotional experience and part of me would love to move in there myself. However, my husband and two children have all sorts of ties here in Rugby and wouldn't want to relocate. I have been enjoying spending the odd day here and there at the property, using the opportunity to have friends round for lunch or coffee instead of packing possessions in boxes!

I am also helping my seventeen-year-old son with his university choices. He isn't very pro-active and I'm having to nag him to do more research. We visited The University of Hertfordshire a couple of weeks ago and Matt loved it. It's one of the best universities in the country for Music and has great links  with the music industry. It's also only 25 minutes from Central London. However, the music courses are always over-subscribed, so Matt will need to apply early and work even harder to get the grades he needs.

I am in the middle of proofreading stories for Issue 8 of The Yellow Room. I also have a huge backlog of submissions to deal with, so I apologise to those of you who are still waiting for a decision and some feedback.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Yellow Room Spring Competition 2012 Results

I apologise for not keeping up-to-date with both the blog and the website, but I've been up to my eyes in novel revisions, as I've been approached by an agent asking to see it. This is all very exciting, but I'm not holding my breath. The Jubilee Celebrations almost passed me by as I was lost in 1972; Corona pop, platform soles, loon pants, glam rock, gruesome murders and family secrets.

I did briefly attend a village street party in the pouring rain on Sunday, as my son and two of his friends performed a few numbers in the afternoon. I'm also halfway through watching The Jubilee Concert, which I recorded last night. I thought Tom Jones stood out as being one of the most talented and entertaining artists of the evening. Robbie didn't do too badly either! As for Grace Jones and that hula hoop. Wow, that lady has stamina!

Finally, the results of the 2012 Yellow Room Spring Competition. The standard of entry was high this time, and I chose the top three based on their amazing use of language and ability to make me feel present at the scene. There were 121 entries in total.

The final results of The Yellow Room Short Story Competition 2012

1st Moonhorses by Eryl Samuel
2nd No Consequence by Joanna Campbell
3rd Paper Chaste by Diane E. Tatlock

The following are Highly Commended:
4th Playing For Alex by Deirdre Palmer
5th The Girl With The Bright Yellow Plait and The Boy With Blue Eyes by Mandy Huggins
6th Chipped and Wandering by Jeda Pearl
7th Maria's Silence - Carly Holmes

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Yellow Room Spring Competition Shortlisted Stories

It has been a very busy few weeks for me on many fronts, but I have finally read all the stories entered in The Yellow Room Spring Competition 2012 and can now announce the shortlist in alphabetical order of title.

Shortlisted stories:

Chipped and Wandering
The Cowboy
Dr Algernon's Creed
Fallen Women
Lemon Drizzle Cake
Maria's Silence
No Consequence
Paper Chaste
Playing For Alex
Puddings In The Park
Robbo and Juliet
Sell Out
Spring Fever
The Girl With The Bright Yellow Plait
The Leopard's Reward
Violet Rocks The Boat
Went Away

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A Bolt From The Blue

I apologise for not blogging in a long time. My stepfather died suddenly on 19th March, so it has been an emotional time, and it has thrown things somewhat awry. He lived in the house left to me by my mother, so I have been preoccupied with the business of clearing it. It seems quite strange to 'reclaim' my family home after many years. I plan to let the house in the short term. I wouldn't go back to my childhood village to live, much as I love the view from the house and the beautiful garden (see photo). I have my memories and have set my novel in a place based on the village and surrounding area. The place will live on in my head, even if I never physically revisit it.

I am about halfway through reading the 120 Yellow Room Competition entries. The standard is high this time. I am reading in alphabetical order of title. I hope to announce the shortlist here on this blog in the next couple of weeks.

I have already sold out of Issue 7 of The Yellow Room. The pressure is now on to get Issue 8 off the starting blocks. The magazine is proving very popular of late, and I will certainly need to do a bigger print run next time.

I have had a few more short story competition successes recently as well as several rejections. All part and parcel of a writer's life. I have a regular Saturday evening appointment with Write-Invite, which has to be my favourite competition of all. I have won twice now and been placed second or third numerous times. I'm the top of their league table again this week, which is a huge thrill. I also recommend the Five Stop Story Competition.

I am working hard on my novel, as I hope to get a synopsis and the first two or three chapters out to agents in early June. I'm sure that by the end of the year I will have developed an incredibly thick skin! It is getting tougher by the day.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Getting Organized!

It's been a while since I last blogged. It sometimes feels as if I have nothing interesting to say.

I've been incredibly busy the past few weeks. I've been writing new short stories and submitting to competitions. I also realized that with so much work out there that I'd have to be more organized, so I've been busy creating databases. I can now see at a glance which stories are where. When they come back, or succeed, I can enter the outcome on the database, too. I've also created a database for all the competitions I want to enter, giving details of the website, word count required, closing date etc. Unfortunately, I can't seem to share the database with others, as I use IWorks Numbers, which isn't compatible with other systems.

Another little flurry of success has come in this month. A story of mine was longlisted in The Fish Short Story Prize, which I was thrilled about, as it's such a prestigious competition and attracted 1,900 entries from all over the world. Then I found out this morning that one of my micro-fiction pieces was longlisted in The New Writer Prose and Poetry Prizes 2011 - another prestigious comp. I'm thrilled that my writing buddy, Sharon Birch, won a prize in the non-fiction section of that particular competition and was runner-up in Multi-Story.

We won't mention the crime novel ;-)

The Yellow Room Issue 7 is due to arrive back from the printers today, so fingers crossed that there isn't some sort of delay or that they don't try to deliver when I'm walking up to collect my daughter from school.

Finally, don't forget to enter The Yellow Room Spring Short Story Competition, which closes on 31st March. Email entries only. You can either pay the entry fee online via Paypal or pop a cheque in the post. Good luck!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Blitz Research

Last year I started writing a pocket novel intended for My Weekly and set during The Blitz in London. I did quite a lot of research and wanted the period detail to be as authentic as possible. I wrote about 32,000 words (the finished novel has to be 50,000 words), then ground to a halt. Why? I couldn't find out any details about dressmaking in 1940. Why didn't I make it up and carry on? My perfectionist tendencies often block me as a writer, as I've said before. I feel I have to get it right first time (hence my problems with the first draft of my crime novel), then get frustrated when I don't. Anyway, I'm determined to finish the pocket novel in the next couple of weeks. I've dug out my books about The Blitz and hope to find something to inspire me enough to finish this particular work-in-progress.

I dropped lucky this week in that an email from Rugby Freecycle landed in my Inbox offering an eight volume set of World War 2 Magazines published in 1972. Of course, the year they were published is also the year in which my crime novel is set. It felt like this was meant to be. I arranged to go and pick up the magazines yesterday (the person who got in first didn't turn up to collect them, so another bit of serendipity!). There are some great photographs in the magazines and they were worth getting for these alone. I find that photographs can be great a starting point for a story or an idea. I still haven't found that nugget of information to inspire me to continue with the pocket novel (and still don't know much about dressmaking in 1940), but maybe I'll plough on regardless. Sometimes you can sweat it too much.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Trumpet Blowing!

I am thrilled to report that I won last week's Write-Invite competition with my story, The Fledgling. I've been entering these weekly competitions since last August and thoroughly enjoy the adrenalin rush of writing a complete story in under thirty minutes. I've been placed 2nd and 3rd a few times, but unfortunately there isn't a prize for runners-up, so to win the £50 first prize was a real boost, especially as the winner is chosen by fellow participants. The competition is quite tough, as there are some very talented writers entering each week and some well-known names in the womag fiction world.

I also came second in The Cazart Flash Fiction Competition with my story, The Lie, which you can read here. Unfortunately, there wasn't any prize money for the runners-up, which I was a little miffed about considering the entry fee was £5. It has taught me to look more carefully at writing competition entry fees and the prize money offered.

Enough trumpet blowing for now! It certainly pays to be persistent and to write every day. I entered eleven competitions in January with about 16 stories, so we'll see whether persistence has paid off this month. There aren't quite as many competitions to enter in February, but I have earmarked ten so far.

More good news in that I have found another print company (Antony Rowe) willing to publish the next issue of The Yellow Room Magazine. Issue 7 is currently with the typesetter, so should be available from the end of this month. I hope it's worth the wait!

Entries are slowly trickling in to The Yellow Room Short Story Competition. Don't forget to enter. The closing date is 31st March. Email entries only from now on.

The sun has just come out to melt the last of the snow, so it should be an enjoyable walk up to the school to collect my daughter today.

Oh, and remember I said I wasn't reading as much? I couldn't resist starting My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin at the weekend.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

'Sex Change' Author Wins Erotic Writing Prize

Judges of Xcite Books Escape to Erotica short story writing competition were shocked to discover their prize-winning female author was actually a man – top writer and editor of crime, mystery and erotic fiction Maxim Jakubowski.

Maxim, who reviewed crime fiction for the Guardian and was named in the Time Out top 30  best erotic London writers of all time, decided to enter the competition anonymously by using a female pseudonym.

His story, which told of a romantic liaison between a woman selling olive oil and a journalist at a Paris food fair, was written so sensitively and beautifully that judges were convinced it was penned by a woman.

On notifying the winner that she had won the top prize of a seven-night holiday for two to the Hedonism resort in Jamaica, they were surprised as Maxim revealed his true identity.

He said: ‘Writing can be a lonely and isolated business and I felt I wanted my work to be judged impartially, that’s why I entered under a pseudonym. I'm delighted to have won the Escape to Erotica story competition. Not only do I love Jamaica, but am gratified that a story that I submitted anonymously was judged on its own merits!’

Maxim Jakubowski is one of the country’s leading writers in the erotic genre. He has published nearly 100 books and his short stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines published by Constable Robinson and Headline in the UK and Perseus and Akashic in America.  He has edited best-selling anthologies of British mystery stories and the Mammoth Books of Best New Erotica for Robinson, the Sex in the City series for Xcite Books and contributes to The Times, The Bookseller and The Evening Standard.

Judge and Xcite editor Antonia Adams, said: ‘There was only ever one winner in my opinion. It was so beautifully written and poignant, and it felt so real. It was a contemporary Brief Encounter. It really read like it had been written by a woman, so I was amazed to find out it was by Maxim Jakubowski.’

Maxim’s winning story will now take pride of place in Escape to Erotica, an ebook anthology of the five best stories entered in the competition, published by Xcite Books on Valentine’s Day, February 14 2012. The collection will also feature four stories from the runners-up which include new writers Ellie's Present from Charlie by LW, Swept Away by Demelza Hart, The Flight by Ian Perrott and Escape by Kitty Luscious.

Launched in November at the Erotica adult lifestyle festival at Olympia, in London, the Escape to Erotica competition was a joint venture between Xcite Books and the Erotica organisers. It invited new writers and previously published authors to unleash their creative inhibitions by writing a 3- 5,000 word story on the theme of escape.

Miranda Forbes, Editorial director of Xcite Books, said: ‘Our judges were very impressed by the diversity and quality of writing among the entrants. To be fooled by Maxim only proves what an excellent writer and deserving winner he is.

‘The competition has also uncovered new writing talent among our runners-up and hopefully this competition and the Escape to Erotica ebook will be a great showcase for their work.’
The four runners-up in the competition win a year’s supply of Xcite books.

For further information, interviews & review copies, please contact: Alison Stokes, Media and Publicity Manager, Xcite Books Ltd, Tel: 0207 858 1024 or email:


About Xcite Books

Launched in 2007, Xcite Books has become the UK’s leading publisher of erotic fiction for women. Its titles have achieved the Number One position in three erotic categories on Amazon. Xcite Books has won numerous awards including the ETO Best Erotic Book Brand and Jade Erotic Awards Erotic Publisher prizes for 2010 and 2011. It was also short-listed in the Bookseller Awards 2011. Earlier this year it launched the inaugural Xcite Awards to recognise companies and individuals working in erotic fiction. The winners will be announced on February 14 2012.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Writing, Not Reading...

Last year I read a lot of books, mainly novels, as you'll see by glancing at the list to your left. This year I haven't read one book. This was a conscious decision, as I found reading others' work off-putting. I was constantly plagued by negative thoughts such as, I'll never be able to write as well as so-and-so. I'm not half as talented as him/her. Why am I bothering? You get the idea.

I have written a lot this year. A new short story almost every day. I've also edited old stories and worked on my novel. I've entered lots of competitions and submitted several stories to the women's magazines, mainly Woman's Weekly, as it's my favourite (and I think my stories are more suited to this publication). I've become addicted to the high of anticipation.

I've resubscribed to a few of my favourite writers' magazines such as Writers' Forum, Writing Magazine/Writers' News and The New Writer, devouring their contents at every opportunity. I've sent off fillers to a lot of the women's magazines and one of my 'funny animal' photos is due to appear in Full House Issue 8 (out in a couple of weeks). It's all money in the pot.

I was thrilled to hear that I'd won third prize in the Meridian Writing Competition. You can read my story here, if you wish (you'll need to scroll down a little. My story is called No Oil For Hogmanay).

I love being so proactive and busy. Once I've entered as many of the competitions closing at the end of January as I can, I'll finish my pocket novel set during The Blitz and get the first three chapters and a synopsis sent off. Oh, and talking of synopses, do take a look at Nicola Morgan's How To Write A Great Synopsis. It's only a £1 to download onto Kindle, but the offer finishes at the end of the month.

The Yellow Room Issue 7 is now with the typesetter and I'm a little further forward with finding a new print company. Many apologies to those loyal subscribers who have been waiting so long for a new issue to appear.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Call The Midwife

Back in 2002 when I was editing and publishing QWF (Quality Women's Fiction Magazine), I got a phone call from a very nicely spoken lady asking if I was interested in reviewing the book she'd just published. She told me a bit about it and I remember thinking, here we go again! Since the first issue of QWF in 1994, I'd been sent many self-published books to review, most of which were pretty dire, both in content and presentation. However, Jennifer Worth sounded like an interesting woman, and I thought her memoirs might be a good read, so I told her to send me a copy. You can read the review, which appeared in Issue 39 of QWF in early 2003 (and reading it now, I'm dying to get my red editing pen to it. I think my writing style has improved since then!) below.

Imagine how surprised I was when I saw a couple of years ago that Jennifer's book, Call The Midwife had reached The Sunday Times Bestseller List, as did the two follow-up books. I was even more surprised when, reading through the TV listings recently, that a TV adaptation of Call The Midwife was going to be shown on BBC1. I thoroughly enjoyed the drama and thought it was very true to the book, as well as featuring some very talented actresses. It was with sadness, however, that after the closing credits, I noticed that it had been dedicated to Jennifer who died in 2011. I had so wanted to contact her again to congratulate her on the book's success.

I guess the moral of the tale is that self-published books, even if they are a little rough around the edges, can go on to be published by a mainstream publisher and reach dizzy heights.

Here is my review (written in 2002) as it actually appeared in Issue 39 of QWF:

Jennifer Worth was a district midwife working in an order of nuns, going around Poplar on a bicycle in the 1950s, when the East End of London was still ravaged by wartime bombs. This book describes with humour and poignancy the experiences of Jennifer, assisting women giving birth in grimly impoverished surroundings.

My first impressions of this book weren't good. The presentation is poor, and I found loads of typos and spelling errors in the first few pages, as well as many exclamation marks. I felt the book would benefit from a good edit. I almost put it to one side, thinking it an amateurish self-publishing venture. However, I was enthralled by the narrative and Jennifer Worth's skilful storytelling technique compelled me to read on. I'm glad I did.

When I first read Call The Midwife it wasn't too long since I'd given birth myself and it made me grateful for all the new technology and sterile surroundings the hospital provided for a rather long and complicated labour, resulting in an emergency caesarean. I don't know how Megan and I would have fared had we lived in Poplar in 1950-something. I'm pretty sure neither Megan nor I would be here now.

This book isn't for the faint-hearted. There are some pretty gory descriptions of childbirth, as well as the general filth some of these women lived in on a day-to-day basis.

Call The Midwife is crammed with delightful characters, however, and you can't help but feel total admiration for the midwives. Once you've read the book I don't think you'd dare complain about giving birth on the NHS again.

There are also some interesting medical and sociological facts in the book. For example, the women of the East End were encouraged to breastfeed, mainly for practical reasons. For example, many found it hard to cope with everyday cleaning, and wouldn't have thought about sterilising baby's bottles for milk. 

Jennifer Worth devotes three chapters of her book to stories about the influx of immigrants from the West Indies around that time. Many white women, married to white men, were giving birth to black babies, the consequences of which were heartbreaking in some cases.

All in all, this is an enjoyable and highly informative read, but the book would have been much better had a top publisher's editor worked with Jennifer to make her story the best it could be.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all! I hope you enjoyed the festive celebrations. We had a quiet time, as usual, but did have a couple more visitors than last year, which was a lovely surprise. I have an inkling that 2012 is going to be a more sociable year for us. Let's hope so!

I don't usually make new year's resolutions, but as the old year draws to a close, my thoughts turn to what has happened in the past year and what I'd like to improve or do differently in the year ahead.

My main focus will be my writing. I realise that I enjoy writing to a set time limit, typing fast and furiously, writing from the heart. Write-Invite is brilliant for this and I shall continue to enter their weekly competitions:
I've recently been working with Sharon Birch, a writer I discovered through The Yellow Room. We set each other writing exercises a few times a week, agreeing on a time of day to send each other a list of prompts or themes and to spend half an hour (or less) writing. We then send each other our pieces (although there's no pressure for either of us to do so, if we don't want to) and offer an opinion, if we feel like it. It's quite a casual arrangement, but seems to be working well for both of us. It certainly makes me write something without interruption for at least 20 minutes. I always try to write a complete piece. I know I can then go back and edit or expand whatever I've written. I'm so grateful to Sharon for sharing this experience. It's proving invaluable to me.

I don't really want to write about my novel here, as I'm struggling with it. I had a brainwave today, however. Having discovered I love writing to a list of prompts and can easily produce something half decent of about 500 words in half an hour or less, I've decided to incorporate my novel characters into whatever I write. Hopefully, this will help me to get back into the story and move it forward. We'll see!

Biddles, who printed QWF for many years and have printed all of The Yellow Room issues, have said they're no longer willing to do so. This is after problems with two recent issues when some characters appeared in bold type for no apparent reason. It is going to take a long time to find a replacement printer at a reasonable price. I'm not sure when the next issue of the magazine will appear. All quite depressing, but I'll soldier on!

A resolution I'm determined to stick to is not to diet this year. At all. That's another long story, which I won't bore you with here. However, after being on and off diets since I was 14, I'm living proof they don't work and you end up bigger than when you started!

I plan to keep running, but at my own pace. My foot injury won't allow me to do a huge amount, but little and often will be my new running mantra. I also plan to take baby steps to get our house in order, for example: cleaning out just one cupboard a week. Hopefully, by December 2012 the place should end up looking more presentable.