Life Lessons from Fiction

Ask any novelist and they will tell you that creating a novel is a process. It will differ from writer to writer and the first separation into camps is whether one is a plotter or a pantser (as in ’seat of the pants’). The distinctions between writers continue from then on, like fault lines, to plot vs. meaning vs. character vs. genre. And when I say versus I really mean whichever is uppermost in a novelist’s mind when they pick up a pen.

This is another side of the process and that’s less about what ends up on the page and more about what happens internally. 


There is, for example, a familiar curve that could be likened to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief:


Denial – “This is such a great idea and no one has ever thought of it.” “This will make me a million.”

Anger “Why is this so bloody difficult?” “Why is everyone else doing better than me?” “Why aren’t I better at this?” 

Bargaining “If I lose the scene with the elephant* maybe I can make this chapter work.” 

Depression “I. Hate. This. Book.” “All those hours and this is what I have to show for it?” “Why is this book so different from my initial premise?” “How will I ever get this agented / published / read / reviewed?” “I am a terrible writer. I’ll never be as good as [insert chosen author’s name here].”

Acceptance “This is good enough (for this draft at least!); besides, I’d rather write something else now.”


Does creating fiction teach us about inspiration, resilience, networking, symbolism, navigating the subconscious, and – ultimately – ourselves? Maybe, maybe not. As a good friend of mine is wont to say: your mileage may vary.


There is another angle that might be fruitful, looking at the elements of novel writing (and beyond), and relating them to the everyday business of living.


As a therapist aptly put it**, “Don’t think of it as therapy; think of it as a meaningful chat.”


With that in mind, let’s play with some ideas…


What is your narrative?

In one sense, what is the story you’re trying to tell others and, in another, what is the story you’re telling yourself? They’re not always the same and it’s that mismatch that can damage our relationships, hold us back and thwart our ambitions. It all starts with the internal narrative, and the strange and totally illogical world of beliefs.


Who is your protagonist?

Usually, it’s you. But not always. Caregivers, for example, may feel the need to put someone else centre stage. That situation aside, if you’re not the protagonist then whose story is your life about? 


Who is your antagonist?

If something or someone stands between you and your goals (happiness, serenity, love, adventure, etc.), name them. 


The editors in your life are driven to make corrections. They’re a great asset if you haven’t completed something but not so useful when everything is done. If that’s the case they become Captain Hindsight.


The reviewers are great for telling you what they like or dislike, and why. They’re not editors though, so don’t expect them to come up with solutions. That’s not their forte. The best reviewers are honest and constrictive, even if you don’t always agree with what they say.




* I removed it and it helped reduce the word count if nothing else.


** They didn’t. I made it up.

In conversation with Susie Bower

Thanks for joining me in cyberspace, Susie. Congratulations on the launch of School for Nobodies, your debut children’s book.  I know you as an artist, an author of adult fiction, and as a lover of carrot and coriander soup (when we used to meet at your flat in Falmouth, as part of a writing group).  I’m aware that you previously worked in children’s television; how much did that experience help you in writing children’s fiction?   

Those were good days, when we all came together to share our work! Working in television – in Schools TV – certainly helped me write children’s fiction. I directed and wrote a series called ‘Rat-A-Tat-Tat’ for Channel 4, aimed at fostering a delight in reading and words. We animated lots of great picture books and I wrote the scripts, as well as some of the songs and stories. I spent a fair bit of time with children and it made me very aware of attention spans and what excited them. And I learned that every single word had to count.    

What was the catalyst for writing a children’s book, or was it something you always wanted to do?

The catalyst was my complete failure to write another adult novel! After ‘The Making of Her’ I abandoned two novels. Then I came across an online writing community called The Novelry, run by Louise Dean. She’d just introduced a new course, The Classic, which was all about children’s literature. Doing The Classic was like stepping back in time to my own childhood – to a magical world where anything could happen. Within a week of beginning the course, I had the idea for School for Nobodies.

Is there some of you in one (or more!) of the characters?

People often ask where writers get their ideas for characters. Mine are mostly drawn from inside myself. For several years I’ve been having Internal Family Systems Therapy – a therapy exploring the many different parts or sub-personalities in one’s system and the way they work. So it’s quite therapeutic to give them expression in the characters I write – especially the crazy, bad ones! And writing for children allows me to re-experience parts of myself that never had expression in my own childhood – in this case, the inner ‘Nobody’. Because we moved so often when I was a child, I was often the newbie, the odd-one-out. Flynn personifies that misfit child inside.
Would it be a stretch then to say that some writers write those unexpressed aspects of themselves in order to, hopefully, achieve greater integration? Or, looking at it another way, do you think we write to give those aspects a fully realised expression to make them whole? 

I can’t speak for other writers, but I guess that’s why I like to write about restoration and transformation – by writing/reading about these processes, perhaps something may be activated towards them happening inside (though I wouldn’t count on it!). I do believe in homeostasis, so perhaps by giving voice and life to these less-acceptable parts of the self, some sort of internal balance can be achieved.

Do you think you will return to these characters or do you have a different book in mind for next time?

School for Nobodies is a stand-alone book – I think the ends are tied up too neatly to take it any further. And I’ve almost finished drafting the next one, another stand-alone – a very different story, which is a mash-up of Pygmalion and The Red Shoes!

Did you approach both books in the same way, and if not how did the creative process differ?

Because I write mysteries (which are like very complex and intricate jigsaw puzzles) I tend to write in a particular way. As a dyed-in-the-wool plotter, I like to have the skeleton or architecture of the book in place before I write the detail, so I’ll spend a lot of time writing what’s known as a Zero Draft – a draft-before-first-draft which is really an extended outline (my present book had a Zero Draft of 12,000 words) in which there is absolutely no craft at all – it’s just ‘getting the story down’. Then I’ll write a first draft (my least favourite part of the process) in which things may change. After that, I’ll edit. I edit rather in the way I paint – I begin by looking at the ‘big picture’, the structure. Does the story make sense? Is it being told in the most effective way? Then I move to the medium ground of character and voice. Finally, the particular, fine detail of the words themselves (though in practice, I’m moving around between all of these – it’s not an exact science!).

Zero Draft is a new one on me. It sounds preferable to my own method (for the past two books) which is to sort of walk around the book until I find a way in! I know what I’m trying to do, broadly, but it’s not structured. Do you see yourself as an author now, as opposed to a writer, and does that come with new expectations?

I love the idea of ‘walking around’ a book. Do I consider myself a writer or an author? Hmm, interesting question! ‘Author’ is sort of static. I guess I can say I’m the author of my books, but I prefer to call myself a writer. ‘Author’ sort of rests on the laurels, whereas writing is an ongoing process. If I call myself a writer, I can’t get away with anything less than actually doing it! As to expectations, I think it’s foolish to have them, particularly now. Hope, yes. How do you see yourself?  

To my mind, an author is a published writer or someone who is acknowledged as the creator of something. It feels like a sales term! Do you find it easier to write 'the next book' or is there a weight of expectation? 

No – the second one has definitely not been easier to write! For a whole raft of reasons – there was so much excitement and so much happening with School for Nobodies – revisions with my agent, revisions with Pushkin, copy editing and so on – that it was quite distracting (in a good way!). Then, more recently, I managed to fall and break one elbow and crack the other, needing an operation, and this was immediately followed by COVID, and the publication of School for Nobodies, which was twice postponed because of it. So focusing on writing the next one has been challenging! The difficulty of writing a second novel is that you are so aware of the process that the previous one went through, and it’s so hard not to compare the ‘shitty first draft’ with the final, polished version of the previous one...and yes, the weight of expectation (mine and others’) sits heavily on my shoulders too.

How did you get past that hurdle? (Asking for a friend…!)

Because my second book was contracted, the hurdle had to be jumped. A delivery date is a remarkably efficient incentive! I think I try to address the inner critics, the terror and the expectations in a two-pronged way: first, by sitting down and paying heed to Isak Dinesen, who wrote: ‘Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.’ Second, taking the pressure of perfection away as much as possible by writing a Zero Draft (or No-Craft-Draft) and only looking at the language in the final, ‘beauty edit’ stage of the process. Doesn’t always work, though!

Getting it down on paper / screen makes it real and I think we can lose ourselves without boundaries or form. A Zero Draft sounds like a good way to create boundaries and focus at the very early stage. Do you find that your final version is close to your original vision, or do you welcome deviations as part of the creative process? 

As an inveterate plotter, I find the overall architecture of the novel tends to remain the same. But new characters and situations invariably find their way in during the writing. And revisions – both for my agent and for my editor – can also change things (for the better). During the process of writing and editing School for Nobodies, I lost two characters and gained two more!

Do you have ambitions or dreams for your books, or for yourself creatively? I have always been drawn to the idea of starting out writing something at ‘Point A’ and then, through a series of serendipitous events (which can’t, of course, be planned for!), ending up doing something I had never imagined. Whether that would be seeing one of my novels being adapted for radio, or being invited to work on a collaborative project, I want the journey

Yes, I really relate to this! I’ve always been a dreamer and a wisher and a what-might-happen sort of gal. But it’s very weird – since lockdown, it’s as if the future’s out of bounds, and I’m focusing much more on what is, and what I’m thankful for. So it’s enough for me that I have books coming out for the next three years, hopefully; that I have an agent who really supports my book and a publisher with lots of expertise and experience.

It has been a pleasure to catch up again, Susie. I’d best let you get back to your writing!

School for Nobodies is published by Pushkin Children's Books.

Amazon link: 

Waterstones link:

Thoroughly charming and endlessly intriguing, Bower’s accomplished
debut combines a magical mystery with a heartfelt account of adoption
and trying to fit in. Written with grace and flair, School for Nobodies 
exerts a luminous hold on the imagination from start to finish.

Praise in the New Statesman

Changing Lanes - writing in a different genre

In conversation with serial spy author, Derek Thompson, whose debut crime mystery, Long Shadows, comes out 1st June 2020. 

You’ve previously written five Thomas Bladen spy novels, so why write a different book now. Did you simply run out of ideas?

No, but that’s pretty funny. I have ideas for two more Bladen books but my publisher, Joffe Books, suggested my writing style would suit the crime / murder mystery genre and invited me to write and submit something. Crime is their mainstay and my spy novels have always been a bit of an outlier. Plus, I wanted to see if I could do it.

Was your creative process different for Long Shadows?

Definitely, and in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It’s quite a wrench after five books to set aside characters you have written about and thought about for years. Also, for Long Shadows, the plotting is much tighter and less organic this time, and of course there was a whole new cast of characters to meet. As we’re only one book in, that’s still ongoing.

So you see Long Shadows developing as a series?

Hopefully, yes, I find DS Craig Wild and PC Marnie Olsen, and their working relationship, intriguing. I want to know more about them so I hope readers will too. 

What was the inspiration behind LS?

Aside from the challenge? A friend of mine told me a story, which she insisted was true, about a mysterious death in the countryside. That was the seed for the opening scene and then I did what I usually do, asked myself Kipling’s six questions and wrote wherever they took me.

Describe your protagonist and his circumstances.

Craig Wild was a Metropolitan Police sergeant who over-reached himself in an operation and ended up first in hospital and then on extended leave. His transfer is very much his last chance saloon. He’s approaching middle-age, starting to lose his hair, and his career has plateaued. Meanwhile, his ex-wife is a high-flyer at New Scotland Yard. They only speak through solicitors. He has a passion for darts and for getting the job done. Not so good with people though.

What’s your connection to Wiltshire, where the book is set?

It’s tenuous, apart from fond memories of visiting Stonehenge, Avebury and Warminster. I did have a couple of old friends who lived in Wiltshire, but I’ve long since lost touch with them. I knew the story had to be set in the West Country – Dorset already had Broadchurch, my mate and fellow author Stewart Giles has bagged Cornwall, and Ann Cleeves has claimed Devon!I had a sense of the terrain I was after for Long Shadows and after some research Wiltshire fitted the bill (a little in-joke there, if you can be bothered).

How did you research the police procedural side?

I read up on PACE (I’m saying that now in case it’s not apparent to expert readers!) and I checked out a police online forum for serving and retired officers. Most helpful of all was a visit to a police station. (You have to formally request it – you can’t just turn up!) They were a very generous host and I spent about an hour receiving a grand tour behind the scenes and asking questions – particularly from an IT perspective, as that’s key to the book.

Is it true you were a victim of gun crime?

Yes and no. Yes, I was caught up in an armed robbery but it wasn’t just me; there were several of us, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Three people stormed the place bearing shotguns and the fourth blagger stuck a pistol in my back. It happened a long time ago and the only harm I came to was psychological.   

How did you decide on your characters?

From the very beginning of the project I thought about the importance of the outsider – someone who sees things differently, perhaps more clearly in some respects, yet who may still be deceived. I like the motif of an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances so I wanted a protagonist whose main feature was his ordinariness. It was only in the writing Craig Wild that I learned more about his flaws and that helped steer some of the story. Hint: he’s not a ‘forgive and forget’ sort of bloke. Marnie Olsen is younger, ambitious and more of an introvert. She is educated and self-sufficient, and looking for a chance to shine. Their boss, DI Marsh, is partly inspired by a manager I worked under in Glasgow – someone insightful who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, although she doesn’t always get it right.

What’s next for DS Wild and PC Olsen?

I’ve started work on a follow-up novel that will hopefully share more of the spotlight with Marnie. It begins with a body in a car at a public event, where several people had reason to want him dead.

Would you consider a crossover with Thomas Bladen and Craig Wild as they’ve both spent time in London?

London is a big place! The last Thomas Bladen novel, Flashpoint, was set in 2005, while Long Shadows is set more recently. Setting aside the different genres and time frames, I’d consider a walk-on part for Craig in a Bladen novel.

Where can we buy Long Shadows?

UK -

US -

Or the Amazon page for the country where you reside.

My other books can be found here:

One last thing, you’ve previously said that your Thomas Bladen novels are pulp spy novels – what did you mean by that, and do you view Long Shadows the same way? 

Ah, that old chestnut. My take on my pulp novels (I can’t speak for any other author’s books) is that they are written and read for pleasure. A reviewer suggested one of my books made a good holiday read and that pleased me. I’ve said elsewhere that my love for film noir influenced the Bladens – especially some of the dialogue – and while I have included the odd cryptic reference the books aren’t a test! Long Shadows is a self-contained story but unlike the Thomas Bladen novels there is no overarching subplot. That aside, yes, I see Long Shadows as a pulp read. 

It’s the Journey not the Destination - Carol Browne

On 3rd May, 2020, the project of a lifetime was completed at last. My epic fantasy trilogy The Elwardain Chronicles was published in its entirety. When I wrote Book I in 1977, I had no idea I was committing myself to many years of hard work, stress, and disappointment, and a good thing too or I might never have made the attempt. Whether or not it is worthwhile as a work of fiction is not for me to say. There were countless times when I agonised over giving up or carrying on, and there’s no way I can be objective about the end result, but part of me knew I would find no peace of mind if I didn’t persevere. It is only now in retrospect that I can see the real value of what I did.
The trilogy was my teacher! I have perseverance in spades now. I discovered strengths I didn’t know I possessed, whereas before I saw only my weaknesses. I was forced to learn how to use a computer in my fifth decade and to do this largely on my own, not to mention provide myself with the necessary hardware and software on a very small income. It made me very resourceful. I started as a complete technophobe and now have a desktop, a laptop and a smartphone.
In the early days I watched YouTube videos to learn how to use Word, one of those tools of the trade vital to writers. I worked with editors and other authors and they helped me become a better writer. I took a proofreading and copy-editing course and set up my own business. I learned many things about the publishing industry, about submission procedures, book signings, promotion, and marketing, and became active on social media. My horizons expanded tremendously as I encountered people from all over the world and many became my friends. I wrote four more books, two of which are published, and I started blogging.
I learned how to fail and start again, how to bounce back. Publishers came and went.  Years of rejection slips taught me resilience and patience. Authors, publishers and readers showed me just how generous people can be with their time and support. And apart from the realisation that I do have talent and am worthy, I learned that the value of a thing is not measured in terms of financial gain but in the contribution it makes to the world. The enjoyment my readers profess to have found in my books is a reward more desirable than money for all those hours at the keyboard, struggling with self-doubt. It is a great feeling being able to entertain people!
My trilogy made great demands upon me but without it what would I have been? It made me step out of my comfort zone. It brought me out of my shell. It forced me to develop new skills. Odd looking back now how much my characters grew as people as their stories progressed along with my own. How much we grow towards self-knowledge as we travel the path of life is the true measure of our success as human beings. We might not realise our full potential but we owe it to ourselves to try.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and every step after that is an opportunity to learn something new.

Author page -
Author page -

Author bio
Born in Stafford in the UK, Carol was raised in Crewe, Cheshire, which she thinks of as her home town. Interested in reading and writing at an early age, Carol pursued her passions at Nottingham University and was awarded an honours degree in English Language and Literature. However, fated to lose everything and start again several times, it is only in later life that she has realised her dream of becoming a published author. Writing fiction and non-fiction, and now a contracted author with Dilliebooks, she lives deep in the Cambridgeshire countryside with her cockatiel Sparky and uses words to weave tales like tapestries that she hopes will adorn the walls of your imagination. Her watchword is perseverance

Wellbeing for Writers

Wellbeing for Writers

When it comes to novel writing it’s a jungle out there* and in there as well. You spend inordinate amounts of time deliberating and procrastinating and then crafting your work, before seeking out ways to get your book seen or heard or experienced, while simultaneously trying very hard not to starve or lose faith in the whole process. It’s no wonder writers – like other creatives – seem to have more than their fair share** of mental health issues.

Writing is a mostly solitary process where you live in your head and then try to sneak a book out, piecemeal, before your critical mind can stop it at the gates. Some days the muse can’t stop talking; other days there’s no forwarding address. Bill Withers singing Ain’t No Sunshine about sums it up. 

If it’s that painful a process, why do we do it? All kinds of reasons. We have stories to tell, or personal history to make sense of. Some of us were so inspired by an author or a book that we thought: I want to be that and to do that for someone else. For others, books were an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life. And there are always those who think that novel writing is a clear path to fame and fortune. (And good luck with that!)

Whatever your reasons for writing, here are some suggestions for making the path a little less arduous.

1. Write consistently
If you can, write every day. And even if you can’t, develop a routine so that the muse knows where to find you. The creative mind can be trained, like a muscle, so if you start off small and consistent you can apply progressive overload to increase your word count over time.

2. Avoid the comparison trap
It’s easy to find authors with dozens of successful novels under their belt and then think ‘I could never do that’. Similarly, if you belong to a writers’ group or if you belong to online writing forums*** there will always be people with more talent, more success and more imagination than you. Conversely, there are also lots of people who yearn to write but lack the opportunity or courage. Chances are, you won’t hear about them. As a friend of mine said recently, even if you only write 500 words in a session that’s still 500 more than you started off with.

3. Let go of resentments
Seasoned writers understand that agent and publisher rejections come with the territory, but when you first start out it can be devastating to have your work rejected. But that’s just it – it’s your work, not you. And what about the agent who promises she’ll be in touch within eight weeks and you still haven’t heard a peep ten months later, despite a follow-up email and those semi-humorous nudges on social media? Or all the friends who promised to read / review / venerate your book, or those two TV producers you posted copies to, one of when you had a meeting with a few years ago?**** It’s over – move on, my friend. 

4. Seek feedback on your work
Not the first draft – yeesh, nobody else needs to see that. I keep a first draft in an exercise book and the only reason I still have it is that I fear its awfulness might render it fireproof. 

What you want is: A What works and why? B) What doesn’t work and why? Run for the hills if you hear the word ‘nice’, or better yet ask questions A and B and try to receive the answers objectively. In a similar vein, if you’re lucky maybe that next rejection contains a nugget of valuable information. Perhaps having a chair as a protagonist might not be the best way to reinvent noir crime noir?

5. Develop your craft
The majority of first drafts smell like silage on a hot day, which is why we have second drafts, etc. But you have to have something to work with so get your ideas down and then you can get on with the serious work of revision and excision. The first draft is play and every draft after that is generally as playful as wrestling a giant hedgehog. Learn from other writers, both the ‘how to’ books and by studying what successful authors do in their own novels. Experiment, change the point of view, change your own point of view about your work, and if all else fails start again with something else. The first 10,000 word milestone can often be the hardest to reach. 

6. Find your tribe
Whether it’s a local writing group, an online forum, or a dedicated bunch of beta readers willing to provide nuanced feedback on your work-in-progress, there are people out there who are able to help you. It doesn’t hurt to repay the favour either. Whatever you’re going through – whether it’s writers’ block, the rejection blues, or the sheer bloody frustration of trying to create something coherent out of nothing – someone else has been there before you and that surely means there is a way through it. 

7. Let go of your expectations
A smart writer once said, “The price of adventure is uncertainty.” Well, okay, it was me, but I had a point. For every JK Rowling, Maya Angelou or Stephen King there are vast armies of wailing writers demanding their turn. Any writer who tells you otherwise is either a saint or a liar. But no one really knows what awaits us on the writing road. Does it help if you’re aesthetically pleasing, young, in the zeitgeist, well-educated, well-connected or independently wealthy? We'll, now that you mention it, most of those ticked boxes will make the PR easier and a good education will give you better tools for writing – although these can be learned. But above all else – and we’re not talking celebrity books here – what makes a good book is good writing.

8. Step away from the screen
Even if you write with pen and paper, as I do sometimes, the chances are you spend an inordinate amount of time at your computer – and much of that time might not even be spent writing. (Finding old Klaatu albums or watching Quantum Mechanics videos doesn’t count as research unless your protagonist is a Quantum Mechanic and she enjoys retro Canadian rock.) Get outdoors, go for a walk, garden, get to the sea, or socialise (yes, you can take a notebook along to steal people’s conversations). How can you expect your characters to come to life on the page if you don’t live off it?

8. Change your perspective
Maybe your world doesn’t have to revolve around your book? Maybe you have a choice and that starts with changing the way you see yourself. Labels may be descriptive but they can easily become restrictive too. I’ve been a novelist, a comedy writer, a greetings card writer, a columnist, a freelancer…but every one of those was also a construct in my own head. What happens when things change? What is a columnist without a column? (Impoverished, for one thing!)

Buddha apparently said that the root of suffering is attachment, so why not try letting go of your attachments as a writer? Remember that writing is a part of life and not the other way around. 

9. Exercise choice
This is my own view so feel free to disagree: we always have a choice. Maybe we can’t change the external circumstances but we can choose how we respond to them. Choose kindness, both to yourself and to others. Choose discernment in how you use your time. And remember the people and things that are important to you, regardless of how your writing is going.

* A little nod to Monk fans everywhere, even though I’ve never seen it.

** I know; it’s a stupid phrase. 

*** Yes, I could have used forabut I prefer not to.

**** You will let me know if this gets too autobiographical, right?

Joanna Larum - author and book reviewer

It used to be said that there were no guaranteed routes into publishing, but self-publishing has driven a coach and horses through convention. Now, the process for turning a manuscript document into an ebook or a paperback is a straightforward one that pretty much anybody can follow.  My guest today is Joanna Larum, who is active in the publishing world as both a book reviewer and an author.

Joanna, you’re an author and a book reviewer, so to some extent you see both sides of the literary coin! When you are writing, does your experience as a reviewer influence the way you approach your own work?
I don’t think so. I’ve been writing for much longer than I have been a reviewer so I think all the bad habits were ingrained in me!

What was the inspiration for your latest novel, Martha’s Revenge?
It’s the third part in a trilogy about a family during the Great War. It didn’t start out as a trilogy but, like Topsy, it grew until I realised I couldn’t fit the entire story into one book. It began when I read a newspaper report from 1912 about two children who were killed by their parents in Middlesbrough. That was the seed and the story grew around it.

As a serial and published novelist, has your writing process changed over time? 
I hope I’m more careful now than I was 40 years ago but it’s only in the last five years that I’ve published anything. Before 2014 I kept my writing to myself. I’m still not sure if it was a good idea to ‘go public’! 

I think many writers are introverts at heart, preferring the company of their own creations. What started you writing in the first place? 
I write because the stories keep jumping around in my head and I’ve got to write them down to stop them taking over.

Who are your favourite authors?
I enjoy modern day writers like Joy Ellis, Charlie Gallagher, and Gretta Mulrooney, plus earlier writers like Georgette Heyer, Barbara Erskine, CS Lewis, Tolkien, etc. Actually, I will read anything that has words in it. 

Were books an important part of your childhood?
As a young child (pre-school) my older sister used to read stories to me but would stop reading them aloud as they got interesting because reading in her mind was quicker than reading aloud. By the time I could read, I had a mountain of stories to read to find out the endings! I only went to school to learn to read because I knew that everything else could be found in books and I could read about any subject. I left school at the age of 6 but my mother insisted on me going back, which I thought was a nuisance as I had a lot of reading to do!  I began my writing career at the age of 8, which was when I read a book with a poor ending and so I wrote what I thought was a better one.

I was a very picky eater as a child and my mother used to let me read while eating because then I ate more because I didn’t notice what I was eating. I read sauce bottles and cereal packets if there aren’t any books about. I used to read the Grocer magazine when all else failed and there’s not a lot in that for a child! (My parents owned a shop.)

Do you have a writing routine?
I start every morning, as soon as I’ve cleared the breakfast and cleaned the cats’ dishes and trays. I keep writing until I’m forced to do something else.

What do you think are the greatest challenges for modern authors?
The two that come to mind are advertising and getting readers to read your books.  If readers don’t know about your books, they can’t read them. There are so many wonderful authors whose books aren’t read because they get lost in the ether among so many others.

Do you choose your book titles at the beginning of the writing process or does each one emerge as the novel progresses?
I give everything I write a title from the beginning but, as I never seem to be in charge of the story, I often have to amend the title as I am writing the book. I've had some very bossy characters who have refused to do what I have planned for them and so Daniel's Way became Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Have you run ad campaigns for all your books, and if so did you follow a campaign plan?I've had ad campaigns for the last two books I have published. Before that, it was only what I managed to do on Facebook sites, which is rather limited without funding. I'm happy that the osmosis process seems to be working as each of my books seem to attract new readers as they come out but, of course, I'd love to be able to make a huge splash! That will have to wait until I win the lottery!

What book are you working on next?
I’m writing a teen fantasy fiction, which has been in my head for the last five years. I’ve also got to write my next historical book. The characters are ready and waiting for me. I need a few more hours in the day!

Where can we find out more about your books? 
All my books are on Amazon, in paperback and as ebooks.

Have you written anything else besides novels?
No. I stick to my stories.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice as a novice writer, what would it be?
Don’t listen to other people who try to put you off! And don’t always believe what you are told about the best way to publish your books!

Jill Burkinshaw on Book Promotions

For most writers, there is a clear order of service when creating a book:
1.   Write the first draft.
2.   Despair at that draft and then edit the entire manuscript.
3.   Repeat step two until you are happy with the manuscript.
4.   Submit the manuscript to an agent or publisher.
5.   Wait for fame / fortune / that long-desired TV or film deal.
6.   The End.

However, getting published is just the start of another journey and both published and self-published authors may need help to reach their target audience. My friend Jill Burkinshaw is a Book Promoter at and she has agreed to let me play inquisitor.

Jill, thanks for joining me in cyber space. I’ll start with the obvious question: What methods do you use for promoting a book?

Hi Derek, thank you for this opportunity to chat about my work.  I use several methods of promotion.  I organise Blog Tours and for these I try to fill the slots with as many review stops as possible.  The tours will run for 7-10 days (or longer if I have enough interest).  I ask for the reviews / blogs to be shared in as many places as possible, including Goodreads and Amazon.  I also host Launch Parties that enable authors to engage with readers.  In addition, I (and others) post, promote and share on multiple Social Media platforms and in groups.

Sometimes, if it is not possible to fill with review stops, some Blogs will host guest posts.  This is something provided by the author - maybe the rationale for the book, a little about one of the characters, or maybe something about the author.

In all cases the post will include the synopsis for the book and buy links.

Okay, for the uninitiated, what is a blog tour?

Before digital books became the norm an Author would often do a Book Tour.  They would travel around visiting bookshops and do book signings and other promotions.  Some still do this for Paperback and Hardback books.

A Blog Tour is the virtual equivalent.  People who have Blogs or websites will contact a Blog Tour organiser and express an interest in joining tours.  Bloggers who are hosting a review stop will receive a copy of the book in digital format.  This is usually kindle but other formats are often available.

Blog Tours are a very effective way of getting a book noticed.  The Blog Tour host will post and share the Blog in as many places as possible and all their friends on Social Media will also share.  Many readers look for book suggestions on Social Media and all the sharing gets the book noticed by a wide range of people, which has a positive impact on sales.

Do you prefer to work with books that have recently been published?

I organise Blog Tours for new releases, republished books and also for books that have been released either recently or some time ago.  In most cases even a book that was released a few years ago will benefit from a Blog Tour to bring it to the attention of readers who may have not noticed it when it was first released.

I have also arranged Blog Tours for just the first book in a series that have all been published because readers who read and enjoy Book 1 will often buy and read the rest of the series.

A Blog Tour can be beneficial for any book at any time although there are no guarantees that a Blog Tour will result in sales.

I am not sure if this is in the remit of the question but if a reader finds and enjoys a book by a new author they will often read the backlist.  Getting a book in front of a new reader will hopefully help the sales of all books by that author and it has a snowball effect as more readers will be picked up along the way.  I think any book can be the start of a good thing so if an author has a ‘favourite’ in a series it is always worth starting with that one in the hope readers will connect to the enthusiasm.

How essential is it  for an author to actively participate in the tour?

I wouldn’t say it is essential.  I have arranged Blog Tour for publishers where the author doesn’t have a Social Media presence and they have been productive.  However, what I have found is that readers like interacting with authors and Social Media is an excellent platform to enable that.

Also, many authors lead very insular lives involving many hours sitting writing.  Interacting with readers via Social Media and email allows them to socialise virtually, which is good for everyone.

There are many book groups on Social Media (especially Facebook) that allow readers, authors and aspiring authors to achieve support and encouragement and many, many readers use these groups to get reading suggestions.  We all have massive To Be Read (TBR) lists that just grow and grow.

What’s the one thing you’d like writers to think about when they decide to use a promoter?

Firstly, be aware that despite all our efforts there are no guarantees that a Blog Tour or other method of promotion is going to result in sales.  Do try to find a promoter who is experienced in your genre.  I try to promote many genres but my favourite genre is Crime Fiction and most of my contacts and network are Crime Fiction readers so that is the genre in which I get best results.  However, it is also the biggest genre so finding a promoter for Fantasy or one of the other genres may be difficult.  It is always worth joining groups for your genre and asking or looking around to see who is promoting that type of books.  If you agree to a Blog Tour the organiser will need a copy of the book.  If you are published your contract could prevent you giving out free copies of the book.  Be careful who you give the book to. Most people are honest and really just want to help but there are some who pirate books so protect yourself and your work as much as you can.

How important is social media to authors?

In the current environment Social Media is a very important forum for book promotion.  Now that Digital books are the norm we all need to take advantage of the vast marketplace that is Social Media.  The more platforms you can access the better your book will do and interacting with readers and authors will encourage others to share posts, etc., therefore promoting your work.

How did you become as a book promoter?

Book promotion is just something that happened for me.  I have always read books avidly - we used to swap them within the family.  One day I was introduced to Goodreads and started finding my favourite authors on Facebook, learning about the importance of reviews along the way.  I decided to set up a Blog as a place to keep all my reviews where people could find them and read my thoughts.  Knowing that others could read my reviews and criticise them was really frightening at first but I found the positive comments far outnumbered the negative ones.  My confidence grew along with my Social Media network and I began to be invited on Blog Tours.  I realised that there was an opportunity to reduce my working hours and backfill with freelance work, which would enable me to work virtually and spend time with my ageing Dad.  It didn’t all work out to plan and the changes were gradual, but I am now in a place where I am happy in my work-life balance.

I have worked with several Digital Publishers: Bloodhound Books, Joffe Books, Junction Publishing and also several successful self-published authors.  I have experience in several areas of publishing.  I am conversant with the Royalty System and I set up and managed the Stison system for Bloodhound Books for a while.  I manage Social Media Promotion for Joffe Books.  My duties with self-published authors vary from managing reader lists and communications, creating and managing paid adverts, calculating ROI, and proving whatever support services I can.  This can include proofreading and basic editing (I am not qualified but my history as an analyst means I spot many errors that have been missed), formatting books for Kindle publication and of course promoting on Social Media.  I have a wide range of skills that could be utilised in different areas of the publishing process and the all-important book marketing that follows it.

What sort of books do you like to read?

My preference is for Crime Fiction. I like fast paced books, in particular psychological thrillers.  I am not a fan of books with a lot of descriptive text but I could be in the minority on that one as I know other readers do like to read about the setting and house décor, scenery, etc.  I like grit and gore so definitely more thriller than mystery!  That said, I do read other genres - I enjoy historical fiction and I like to read that genre as often as time allows.  Via my work with Junction Publishing I have read and thoroughly enjoyed dystopian, fantasy, horror and other genres so nothing is ‘excluded’ really.  If I like the synopsis I will read it and if requested I will try my hardest to fill Blog Tours and promote it to the best of my ability.  I know that every author passionately believes in their work and I try to match their commitment.

Where can authors find you online?

I'm very easy to find, and happy to hear from any authors who think they might benefit from my services!


Twitter:      @books_n_all