Merry Christmas!

We would like to wish all our readers and contributors a wonderful Christmas, and we look forward to your company in the New Year. 

Meanwhile, if you've a moment spare between mince pies and repeats (the TV kind), why not glance through our back catalogue and find yourselves a favourite read?

See you soon! 

Santa unwrapped

I love a good book for Christmas*, so I wrote my letter and posted it off to Lapland making sure that Santa would have plenty of time to print it all off. I allowed for time for Santa to enlist the help of his elves to glue the cover on and to proofread the text.

Lo and behold, Santa turns up early. And curiosity gets the better of me.

*Yes, Santa, I have been a good girl all year!

Support your favourite writers!

Okay, no preamble, no beating about the bush. 

If you're still stuck for a present for the reader in your life, here's a selection, written by your very own Strictlies, to fill that special someone's stocking. (Other legwear is available.) 

Because even writers need a Christmas dinner. (Other festive meals are available.)

Dead Good by D A Cooper
What would you do if your dad lost his well-paid job and moved you and your family out of the loveliest house in the world and into the scummiest part of town?

What would you do if you suddenly found some random (but very gorgeous) guy in your bedroom – uninvited?

And then what would happen if it turned out he wasn’t breathing?

Maddie Preston is about to find out…

Let's Go Round Again by D A Cooper
Casey Summerfield's leaving home. Nobody understands her and she needs to be somewhere else.

Trouble is, she isn't expecting 'somewhere else' to be 1979 and the place to be her own teenaged mother's bedroom.

Now how the hell did that happen and why is she there?

Re: Becca by D A Cooper

If technology was helping you stay one step ahead of the school bullies, what would you do if you were suddenly disconnected?
Becca thinks her life is over but could it be about to start?

Dark Ride by Caroline Green
A mysterious boy. A haunting secret...
A shiver crawled up my spine. It felt like the loneliest place in the world. For a second
I thought I caught a snatch of music in the air, but it was just the wind whistling 
through cracks in the fairground hoardings.

My instincts screamed, `Run away, Bel! Run away and never return!'

But instead my fingers closed around the ticket in my pocket. ADMIT ONE.
Bel has never met anyone like Luka. And the day she follows him into the abandoned fairground, she is totally unprepared for the turn her life is about to take.

Cracks by Caroline Green
"I'm shaking all over. My brain feels like a computer whose hard drive is full. I can't take any more weirdness - I haven't got room in my head. I look around the kitchen and I know something is different but I can't put my finger on it."

Cat's discovering that his life is not as ordinary as he thought. That's scary. Particularly when it seems he's the very last to know. He needs to find out the truth - but, with lies, danger and deceit on all sides, is there anyone he can trust? 

Standing Man by Gillian McDade
Coming soon from History Press, Ireland.

The Making of Her by Susie Nott-Bower
Set in the pressure-cooker world of television, The Making of Her is a blackly funny retort to a society which values youth over age and appearance over experience.
The Making of Her is the makeover programme that Clara never wanted to produce, featuring the one person she never would have chosen.  Add to the mix an errant husband, a barefoot counsellor and a reclusive rock star and change is inevitable.  Will transformation come from the inside out, or from the outside in?
And will The Making of Her prove to be the making of them all?

Kill-Grief by Caroline Rance
Chester, 1756
Mary Helsall does not like being a nurse. The hospital stench. The blood. The lecherous surgeon. It’s a job that will have to suffice for now. At least until she has achieved the task she came to the city to do. In the meantime, rotgut gin and a volatile relationship with hospital porter Anthony will help her get through each day.But who is the mysterious patient who claims to know what she’s got to hide? He knows all about her infatuation with a thief-taker, about her connection to the notorious Northgate Gaol, and about the shocking events of her recent past.
From the stormy seashore to the screams of the operating theatre, and from a backstreet gin shop to the fetid dungeons of the prison, Mary searches for an independent future. 
Before she can find it, she must fight the attraction of oblivion and make a choice between duty, money, and a love overshadowed by addiction.

Dark Dates by Tracey Sinclair
The hunter just wanted to be left alone - one last drink before leaving London forever. Then the vampire Laclos walked into the bar, and suddenly his night wasn't looking so quiet after all...

There's a new hunter in the city and he's targeting Dark Dates - the vampire/human dating agency run by Cassandra Bick, who also happens to be the woman that both Cain and Laclos love. These two fierce rivals must work together to stop him before he drags London’s vampires into the spotlight and destroys Cassandra’s life – that’s if they don’t kill each other first.

Explore a darker side of London with this exciting short story from author, Tracey Sinclair. The first novel in "The Cassandra Bick Chronicles", "Dark Dates" is out now.

The Silent Hills by Derek Thompson
Let’s just say that I am a prospector of sorts. A successful one, who has never cheated anyone who did not ask to be cheated, never conned anyone who did not delight in thinking that they were conning me.

The mist clung to my face and I felt a cold resolve settle in my chest: my decision was made – he had to die.

Superhero Club by Derek Thompson

Twelve year-old Jo has never fit in at school, what with being overweight and over-sensitive. Since Dad moved out, Mum forgets who’s who in the whole mother-daughter relationship. Jo has one ambition in life: to be normal. Not gifted, or gorgeous, or even particularly popular. Just normal.
You only find out you're a butterfly if you spread your wings.

Covenant by Derek Thompson
Isca has followed the faith since childhood, taking her from the Settlements and into the City States. Now, as a priestess, a prophecy bears fruit; she receives a stone tablet to liberate her people and reveal their spiritual homeland.
In order to preserve the faith, she must be willing to teach the path of True Will to a heathen, whatever the consequences. But what if the long-awaited Righteous One isn't so righteous after all?

A mystical fantasy quest that draws on esoteric themes such as reincarnation, the tarot, the Tree of Life and spiritual truth.

What being published has taught me

So, after a hiatus of several years, I put out another book this year, and was reminded of the following… so for the newbie, here are my lessons, I hope they save you some pain.
My universally acclaimed book - oh, wait...
You won’t get the support you think you’ll get: getting published – or, indeed, self-publishing – is a huge deal for any writer. It’s likely one of the most exciting things that ever happens to you, and you expect all of your friends to be swept away on the same tide of excitement as you, and you console yourself that, hey, whatever the reaction of the wider world, you have rock solid support from your nearest and dearest, right? Um, not quite. While hopefully at least some of your friends will be excited/pleased/supportive, the most common reaction is an initial ‘well done, you’ followed by a crashing wave of apathy. This can be disappointing, dismaying and downright hurtful, but really, it’s natural: just like every new parent thinks their baby is the centre of the universe, to almost everyone else it’s a piece of good news to slot into an already hectic life (I can already hear certain writers thinking ‘bah! A baby only takes 9 months, my book took years!’). People have their own stuff going on, and there’s a whole list of reasons  hy they may not be (or be able to be) the cheerleaders you hoped they’d be: they’re busy, they’re stressed, they're skint, it’s not professionally appropriate for them to publically endorse you, or, and this is a tough one, they actually think your efforts are shockingly poor and you are not to be encouraged to continue in any way, and they won’t be hypocritical. The thing is, you’ll never know which of these reasons applies, because the only acceptable response to this apathy is to accept it and move on (OK, you get to rant to a supportive friend – but only in person, never online, and only once or twice. That’s your lot).
Everybody I know bought this book! No, wait...

Not everyone will like you: to re-use the baby analogy, you might think your precious is the cutest thing in the world, everyone else might think it looks like Gollum. Nobody gets published to universal acclaim and there are a whole load of people out there who will mightily detest whatever you have done, no matter how good you believe it to be. Agents, publishers, reviewers, readers – lots of them will think you suck. Again, the best thing to do is to rant to a sympathetic friend (never online!) and move on: though it is worth trying to be at least partially objective, as if a theme is repeated throughout the criticism it might be something you need to work on and improve (if you are left feeling the whole world doesn’t understand you, then you have to face the fact that you might be incomprehensible). But bear in mind that if you created a perfect, flawless and beautiful piece of work, someone, somewhere on the internet will still hate it.
EVERYONE likes Christmas, right? No, wait...

Ask – and you will be dazzled by the support you do receive: see, you thought I was going to be all negative, didn’t you? But honestly, put yourself and your work out there and ask for feedback and support and you will be amazed by what comes back to you. People will astonish you with their generosity and enthusiasm and acts of kindness and assistance, even if often these are not the people from where you would expect such support. Be grateful, and open, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
And remember – enjoy the journey…

Now for the shameless plug: if you fancy being one of those people who are surprisingly supportive, please consider downloading my new short story, A Vampire Christmas. Yup, it’s as trashy as it sounds. I'm expecting everyone I know to buy it. No, wait...

All I want for Christmas...

Most writers have a pretty standard Christmas list that reads something like this:
- More Twitter followers, FB likes, blog readers and website visitors. (I've grouped them together because it's all the same fairy dust.)
- To be on the best seller list for their genre in Amazon (step forward Martin Bodenham).
- A contract with an agent or a publishing house. Dora Bryan might have settled for a Beatle, but that just won't do any more.

For one of my fellow contributors to Beyond the Horizon (Bamboccioni Books), Christmas has come early. Chloe Banks, a first time novelist, has signed a contract with David Haviland of The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. I picked her brains to find out where others - including me - might have been going wrong!

1. I have to start with many congratulations, Chloe. It's every novelist's dream - has it sunk in?
I think so! The first couple of days after getting the offer I was unable to concentrate on anything – I was so excited but also overwhelmed by the speed it all happened. I was expecting months of rejections but I had an agent within about five weeks of finishing writing, after only one rejection. I sent my book to David one Tuesday and he made an offer on Friday. Once we started talking about everything that needs to be done to the book now, it made everything feel more normal. I still sometimes have to pinch myself though.

2. Have you met the agent in person yet? Is it true that they are surrounded by humming birds and creatures of the forest? (I might be confusing the words 'agent' and 'Disney cartoon' here.)
No humming birds, just thousands of Londoners rushing to get places! I travelled to London to see David. It wasn’t strictly necessary but I thought it was better to have met in person and I’m so glad I did. I think agents had always been mythical creatures to me until then. But he was a normal person (he actually recognised me in the street – rather than me spotting him by the glow of sheer agently awesomeness surrounding him) and very lovely. If all goes well, an agent could work with you for your whole career, potentially over several decades, so it’s good to get off on the right foot. We did a very unglamorous and unceremonious signing of the contract in a basement cafĂ©, but I liked the workmanlike feel to it – writing is a job not an “experience”.

3. What led you to the original premise for your novel and did it change much along the way? (Tell us about the book)
TheArt of Letting Go started in the least sophisticated way possible. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo (the annual event where participants try to write 50 000 words of a novel in a month) in 2011 as I had nothing else on my writing horizon. I had three or four short stories that hadn’t worked at all, but that contained an idea or two that I still loved – an abstract artist, a man in a coma, a missing god. So I decided to try to mash them together as an experiment!
At the end of the month, I had the world’s worst book – my draft zero. I decided to do one “real” draft to see if it had potential. I almost gave up after that as it was still awful. But the characters had trapped me. A year after I started and two more drafts later it was unrecognisable, but I thought I had something.

The book is about lies and art, secrets and madness. It tells the story of physics professor Rosemary Blunt who is leading a double life, split between respectable retirement in a seaside village and secret visits to see a comatose man lying in a nearby hospital. It’s her decision whether he lives or dies and nobody in the village has any idea he even exists. When Ben – an abstract artist – turns up, his attempt to paint a picture of God disturbs Rosemary more than it should. Despite this, an unlikely friendship develops and begins to threaten the security of her secret. But she’s not the only one with a past she’d rather forget. As summer passes they have to decide whether they can trust each other enough to set themselves free, or whether their secrets are just too terrible to be told.

The story is told from four points of view. Interwoven with the action, Ben tells the reader a very potted history of abstract art – leaving the reader to draw their own parallels between the deceptions practised by the characters, and the deceptions practised by abstract artists. I suppose if I was to pick one theme it would be that of ‘things not looking like what they are meant to be’!

4. A tricky question, but what do you think it was about your novel that attracted the agent?
I think David liked the position it holds on the novel spectrum. It’s not literary, but it’s also not a family saga or romance – and definitely not chick lit. It’s at that cross-over point between the two and therefore (hopefully!) is quite commercial. Good writing and commercial potential are the two most important things to an agent. I seem to have managed to do enough of the former – though there’s loads more work to do – and I was lucky that it happens to have the latter too! I think the use of multiple first-person viewpoints worked in my favour, which I’m very glad of as it was a gamble for a first novel. I was worried it would seem pretentious rather than interesting! But you have to find the voice that works for the story you’re telling – no point trying to imitate another book or author. I didn’t feel like I could write it any other way.

5. What happens next in the process?
I’ve got a fair bit of re-writing to do now that I have David’s notes (I’m doubly blessed that he is a very experienced editor and writer as well as an agent). Once that’s done – hopefully in a month or so – we’ll put together a proposal for publishers and then David will do his stuff, sending it out to editors seeing if he can get anyone to bite! I’ll be glad to hand it all over to him and get started on the next novel.

6. I know that you have had significant success with short stories. How did you apply that experience to writing longer fiction?
My short story successes aren’t really that significant – it’s all been in small, low-key competitions. But it has been significant to my development – both the times I’ve won and the times I’ve got it horribly wrong. Short stories and novels are such different skills, once you know how to write I’m not sure they really help each other much. But when you are just starting out, as I was three or four years ago, all writing teaches you so much, and short fiction is great because you can get it wrong 20 times over and learn 20 times as much in the time it takes you to get your first novel wrong! Short stories taught me how to build characters and plots, carry tension and create satisfying endings. They also gave me a confidence boost and a handy couple of sentences to put in my cover letter to agents!

7. How will you balance any rewriting with working on your next book?
Oh, I am itching to get on with the next book. But I’m not very good at writing two things at once. So I am compromising by concentrating on the re-writing for now, and just allowing myself the occasional hour to jot down some planning notes for the next one. I’m so excited by my initial idea, I can’t wait to get going! But I’m also not completely bored by The Art of Letting Go yet so it shouldn’t be too much of a chore. I’ll be interested to see whether writing a novel feels different when you know you already have an agent for it.

8. Does your success change how you see yourself as a writer and how you interact with other writers?
I never expected to be a writer so it’s all been a bit crazy. I have a first-class science degree, nothing more! I was only playing with writing as a hobby until – and I know how much this can make me sound like a crank – I felt like God was telling me to write. I’m a Christian and my faith is the most important part of my life (even though I don’t write Christian books). I tried to ignore God for about 18 months, and only took it semi-seriously. Then one day a visiting pastor came to speak at our church. He’d never met me and knew nothing about me and yet, as I left after we’d chatted, he told me, “God wants you to keep writing. You’ve got what it takes.” So I’ve spent the last two years trying to have what it takes. We moved to Devon and I started to tell people I was a writer – however embarrassed I felt by it.

At times I’ve stepped back and thought, ‘Seriously? Your whole life is based around the hope that you heard God right when he told you to get writing?!’ But I kept going and God was faithful even when I wasn’t. My husband is amazing too. He trusted that it was what God wanted and never put pressure on me to get a “proper job”. Now, of course, he says I’m his pension plan for the future when I’m selling Hollywood rights to all my books!

Even though I know the most crucial factor in getting an agent is writing a good book, I still find it hard to believe that I “deserve” to have got one. I felt a bit guilty that my book was recommended to David by a friend of mine, rather than having been discovered on the slush pile. There was another agency who were interested in my novel, and they did find it on the slush pile, so that helped me get over the guilt, but I don’t think of myself as a better writer now particularly – just a very blessed one! And, I suppose a bit more of a confident one. The quality of my writing didn’t suddenly change because somebody thought it was good. Getting an agent is great but it doesn’t mean a lot unless I also find a publisher. Success – whatever that is – is made up of thousands of steps and this is just one of them.

I find in this early stage I’m very wary of how I come across to people who have been reading my blog for ages. I’m worried if I say anything encouraging that I’ll sound patronising now, whereas I wouldn’t have thought twice before – we writers need all the encouragement we can get! I know I’ll still need it. In the space of a couple of weeks I posted on my blog about getting my first rejection and about getting an agent, and both times I was so glad of the encouragement of other writers. There will be writers who I know who will never get an agent or publisher – some because they just won’t ever be good enough (just like I will never be picked for the Olympic athletics team despite spending my whole youth running round a track), but others just because. That sucks; that’s life. I’m so aware that writing requires luck as well as talent. But we can get hung up on the luck part and worry about the submissions process and wearing our lucky pants when we post our manuscript and all sorts of silly stuff, when really the bit we can control is writing a good book in the first place.

I'd be delighted if people want to come and say hello on my blog, chat on Twitter or find out more about me and the book on the agency website.

My thanks to Chloe for being so open and honest. There you are folks - it can happen the way we've always wanted to believe. Time to get writing!