63. How I chose my star-spangled editor for my latest novel Spark Out

VERY rarely do I look at, let alone read, direct messages on Twitter. Normally they are from people imploring you to watch their “hilarious” YouTube channel, employ them as a life coach or join their network on LinkedIN*.

Anyway, I must have been going through a nasty case of Writers Block or something because one morning I found myself wading through this list of wannabes and never-was’ers.

Then to my pleasant surprise I came across Night Owl Freelance, offering editorial services at a time I was mulling over who to pick as editor for my second novel, Spark Out.

vanessa

Perhaps it was fate but I decided to investigate further. Night Owl is a small operation run by the very talented Vanessa Gonzales, and one look at her personal website persuaded me she would at least be worth an inquiry.

For a start, I don’t imagine there is any situation that would phase her – her back story including such diverse life experiences as having been a mormon and a porn shop worker. Currently she travels around the US in a motor home with her husband, seeking out adventure along the way.

The line that resonated most with me in her bio was ‘I want to fall in love with characters I sympathise with, want to sleep with, and want to punch – in a really great story, those last two are the same’.

One thing a writer needs is an editor who has empathy with their main characters, and I immediately thought the relationship would work. I have spent hundreds of pounds and hours of anxiety waiting on people to “critique” my work, only to find that for the large part they have missed the gist or failed to “get” the point.

After some correspondence between us and a sample “edit”, I felt Vanessa understood where I was coming from, even if I did have to include a short glossary of Cockney Rhyming Slang to help her out with some of the dialogue.

I decided to take the plunge and asked her to do a developmental edit, as my wife Liz – a qualified proofreader as I have mentioned before – would sort out the line editing.

Within a month Vanessa had provided me with a comprehensive 13-page analysis of my work, covering every detail of plot and character. Taking her views on board I did a few tweaks here and there, adding to some chapters and removing stuff from others and now I am on the last leg. Liz is at the moment proofreading my latest draft and I’ve sent out a few copies on word documents to chosen BETA readers, though I am looking for more before I set a launch date of sometime this summer.

If anyone is interested please comment on this blog…

spark-out-cover-medium-web

I’m looking forward to including a big thank you to Vanessa in the credits. My decision to choose her for the edit would have certainly shocked some of my bowler-hat wearing, umbrella-toting colleagues over this side of the pond, but I’m happy I took the plunge. She has been a good sounding board – even helping me adapt my previous title from Headers to Spark Out.

Can’t wait for the launch…

(* EDITOR’S NOTE: I tried LinkedIn once and couldn’t see the point. What made it even more annoying was the fact it was so bloody hard to Link Out!)

62. Spark Out: Cover reveal

THEY say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I certainly hope you can in my case. In my humble opinion, my cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith has excelled herself with Spark Out, the second book in my Boxer Boys series.
Jane, one of the members of the prolific author-collective Triskele Books, has a simple but effective way of working with authors and her covers can rightfully take their place alongside the very best on the virtual bookstand (or, indeed, in book shops if you are lucky to find anyone prepared to stock your book… hint, hint Waterstones, WH Smiths and Foyle’s).
It’s all about genre, really. Jane asks you what type of book you have written and invites you to submit covers you like in that genre. Once you have provided some examples and explained the kind of imagery best fits with your story, she sources them and sends you a variety to choose from. Once you have done that she then gets to work.
two-covers
Crossing the Whitewash was my first book and because Spark Out is part of a series Jane wanted to stick to the overall style. As you will see the name is very similar as is the idea of taking a silhouette image, in this case a man and a boy, and adding a background significant to the story. For Crossing the Whitewash we used the Millennium Stadium, for Spark Out it’s the QE2, which carried 3,000 troops to war in the Falklands back in 1982.
For me, the image of a soldier’s eyes, facepainted with camouflage and the Union Jack, was striking, and we used it above the title in the same way we used the knife in the first book.
So that’s it. I hope you like it.
The book has just come back from my American Editor, more of which later, and is now with my wife Liz, a qualified proofreader. I will soon be selecting Beta Readers to get a free copy of the book and give me their comments while hopefully posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads on launch day. If anyone is interested please let me know via the comments on here and I will get back in touch.

61. Tune in for a magical ride with Mystery Thriller Week

IT’S BEEN  a long time! Sorry about that but I really have been incredibly busy. Not only does the day job take up a lot of my time but I have also been working hard promoting my first novel Crossing The Whitewash over the Xmas period, while sending my second novel out for editing and starting a third as part of NaNoWriMo.

I just had to post this week to tell people about a wonderful new on-line project that I have become involved in.

Mystery Thriller Week is a group set up on Facebook for writers, bloggers, readers, reviewers and just about anyone interested in the genre to swap ideas, learn about a wide variety of books out there and discover new authors. It is all supposed to kick off from February 12, but some people have started the ball rolling early.

jenniferalderson

Jennifer S. Alderson

There are a lot of us all shouting for attention, so I am delighted that my book is one of the 15 that has been included in Jennifer S Alderson’s blog about Mystery thrillers based outside the US.

As readers will know Crossing The Whitewash switches from humdrum life on a busy inner-city housing estate to the wide-open spaces of the Welsh Valleys, so just about perfect for Jennifer’s subject matter.

Please have a read and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with Facebook Ads again and am delighted to say that I seem to have hit just the right tone with the current one. During December I sold over 100 copies of Crossing and this month I have sold nearly 50 in the four days so far. On one particular day I peaked at 20 copies, and realised that I was also advertising on Instagram. It may have been a fluke because there is no way of knowing who saw what before going onto KDP and taking the plunge.

NYad.png

Much of it is down to targeting which I have now honed, directing the ads at people in the over-45 age group who are fans of thriller writers like Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin and Martina Cole.

top20hit

When I broke into the top 5,000 sellers on KDP I was delighted, particularly with my novel appearing in the top 20 of hard-boiled mysteries alongside household names like Stuart MacBride, Phillip Kerr and Gordon Ferris. It’s the perfect boost with the new book, a prequel, due out in February or March.

60. That Difficult Second Novel

SETTING A deadline is always a good thing. Without one you can keep tinkering for ever more or, worse, put the whole thing off until you “feel like it”. As a journalist, I pride myself on hitting deadlines in the day job, so I figured I should show the same dedication to my “difficult” second novel.

I was getting a bit bogged down a short while ago so decided that, come hell or high water, I would complete the first draft before my holiday in Spain, when I can go away for a while, lock it in a musty cupboard and forget about it before having to do all the dirty work (editing etc).

I am pleased to say the first draft of the new book, with a working title Headers, is now complete.

Originally, Crossing The Whitewash was intended as a one off. So many people said they wanted to learn a bit more about the characters, though, so I looked at some of the questions that may have been left unanswered.

I kept coming back to the Dolan’s – this career criminal family – and how they had developed. The Boxer Boys were Arnie Dolan’s invention, but he is only the third boy in a family of five.

What about Maurice Dolan, locked up in prison for most of Arnie’s life after a series of Post Office robberies, and his relationship with mum Beryl? What about oldest boy Chuck, the enforcer. How did he start on his journey to become the hard man of the family?

It was originally intended as a novella, but the story developed in such a way that when I finished the first draft this week it was 140,000 words!

Once I started looking into the early 80s, developing the characters and things, what I considered a really intriguing story started to arise – complete with a few twists and turns.

I’m afraid for those who loved the Welsh side of the story The Legend and Gary Marshall only figure briefly, while the Bard Guys don’t get a mention.

It’s possibly not as light-hearted and humorous as parts of the previous book but hopefully it is engrossing nonetheless, covering such important topics like the Falklands War, the Flying Squad, Police corruption and Ron Greenwood’s England Boys of ’82.

Don’t worry, though, the Welsh boys will be back, as will the Sunday Tribune Despatch and Arnie Dolan – you may just have to wait another year to see them.

Meanwhile, below is a sample of the new book Headers. Remember this is only the first draft and I will probably need to cut about 40,000 words, change things around, get it edited, proofread, have a cover designed, formatted… In fact, it’s unlikely this will bear any relation to the finished article! Hope you enjoy, and want to read more about Big Mo and the Dolans.

HEADERS SAMPLE FOR BLOG

59. Building a mailing list shouldn’t be like The Krypton Factor

DO YOU remember the Krypton Factor?

It was a programme on ITV presented by Gordon Burns in which contestants were tested on qualities like memory, strength and resilience.

You had to be a superhuman to come out on top and I’ll admit here and now I wouldn’t have fared particularly well.

When I set out on the path to becoming an author the plan was to simply write books. Now I find it is becoming more and more like a TV endurance programme every day. I’ve been sucked into the dark, mysterious and, some might say, evil world of marketing.

At times I’ve felt myself turning into one of those fanatical salesmen who jump on desks and recite a mantra before grabbing the phone and interrupting you in the middle of your busy day, only to get a mouthful of abuse.

It’s probably easier being a Jehovah’s Witness, but some salesmen are extremely good at this sort of thing and leave the rest of us standing.

Mark Dawson runs a course about how to get the best out of Facebook Ads and is full of tips and tricks. It’s very good, but the trouble is you need an accompanying course on how to use the many online tools needed to make it work.

Minimum requirement is a mailing list compiler, a lead pages generator, a company who will supply free eBooks on your behalf so you don’t have to deal with complaints… it goes on and on. It makes the Krypton Factor look like Snakes and Ladders.

Come to think of it, I started feeling like that was what I was playing. I would get something right, check it out and find one of the components wasn’t doing what it says on the tin. Down the snake I went.

Result: Customer wasn’t receiving the free book they had asked for, and it makes you feel like a fraud.

I became so frustrated I was driving the family to distraction and, at around £600 a pop, I would suggest the course is for authors a bit further down the line than those like me with one published book.

With finances a bit tight, I plumped for the money back option after trying my luck with the ads.

The one thing I did learn, though, was how effective a lead generation ad can be on Facebook. You can do this on twitter, too.

You still need a mailing list compiler (I use the paid version of MailChimp so that I can set up an automated email response to anyone who joins my list) and also someone like Book Funnel to provide the link to your free eBook.

But other than that it is great because you don’t need to have confirmation pages, thank you pages, welcome pages, captcha pages and a number of other things that  tend to get between the customer and your mailing list.

With a lead gen ad all the reader needs to do is click once on your offer then agree to hand over their email address. Facebook does the rest.

Of course, it still won’t be successful unless you sell your offer to the reader, but you can experiment with your ad and your targeting.

ADNEWMART

For instance, the Ad that worked for me targeted Martina Cole readers (mine is a UK gangster novel) who were women between the ages of 30-65. I did this for two reasons: I have surprisingly had better responses to my book from women and Martina Cole is hugely successful in the genre.

Having done this I used a new FB picture that my book cover designer JD Smith set up for me and put it out there. I was astonished at the response: Around 140 new email sign-ups for just under £40.

Happy days. I’ll explain in the next blog post step-by-step how to do it, but if you haven’t set up a Facebook Ad account yet it is probably worth checking how to do that first. FB provides plenty of advice in this respect and it is key you have an author ‘page’ rather than just a personal account.

58. Dublin Writers’ Conference was Simply Brexcellent

 

IT was the morning after Brexit and in a state of shock I was making my exit from Britain.

Boarding the flight to Dublin, I wasn’t sure exactly how my hosts would react to the shock news that Britain had voted to leave the European Union.

First impressions weren’t favourable. “I’m not sure where I should go now,” I explained to the man at Dublin Passport Control.

“Well, yous got to be joining that big long queue over there, fella,” he said, pointing to the non-EU arrivals. He couldn’t keep a straight face for long, though. “I’m kidding you. Come on through.”

I jumped in the taxi and started a conversation with the driver about the other big European issue of the day: Euro 2016. “You did well beating Italy,” I said. “If you beat France then you might meet us English in the quarter-finals.”

“Don’t know about that,” he said. “I’m from Romania. We got knocked out in the group stages. I’ve been here for 13 years. Came over to do some building work and never left.”

Nice bloke. Reasonable fare. And I was dropped off at the Castle Hotel in the City Centre which was the perfect base for the weekend I had planned. I was attending my first official 3-day Dublin Writers’ Conference with Books Go Social.

I joined this writers group shortly after my book came out, mainly because they seemed to have an incredible social media reach and many fellow Indie Authors were on their books.

The brainchild of Laurence O’Bryan, an Irishman who was disillusioned by the whole traditional publishing “monopoly”, it has been going from strength to strength since the eBook revolution and Amazon’s decision to take the plunge and back the Indie Author scene.

For me, the jury was still out on BGS, though. I can’t put a single extra sale down to the tweets that have been put out on my behalf.

This was maybe the acid test. The Annual Conference. And if I had any doubts about joining the group they were simply blown away by what, for me, was the highlight of the year.

The self-publishing professionals who attended were an absolute mine of information, whether you wanted to learn about the art of writing itself, formatting, marketing, getting your novel into book shops or even turning it into a Hollywood blockbuster.

ken

KEN AITCHITY talks to the writers about the current state of storytelling

That was where Ken Aitchity came in. Once dubbed “The Story Merchant”, Ken is actually based in Hollywood and has produced film and TV shows, written books, lectured on writing and guided fellow authors. Who could fail to be impressed by a person whose CV reads like an A-Z of the creative arts.

Ken wasn’t alone though. Among others there was Ben Galley, an author of Dark Fantasy, started life in Croydon as a worker in a small food outlet dreaming of doing something better with his life. When he discovered self-publishing was no longer frowned upon he got in on the ground floor and has now produced 10 novels including an epic fantasy called the Emanska series.

notasleep

THAT’S ME on the far left: Not asleep, just listening intently (honest!)

Ben has started a shelf-help consultancy designed to assist budding authors and his particular strength is marketing. For those like me who struggle with this aspect his talk about reader funnels was fascinating and his website is well worth a look.

Jessica Bell, too, is a legend in self-publishing. She does virtually everything herself including formatting, cover design and self-editing, while somehow finding time at home in Greece to pursue a singer/songwriting career as well.

And these were just the people I met on the first day: There was a revolving door of professionals throughout the weekend, each with their own unique take on the art of writing and self-publishing.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect is meeting fellow writers and discussing their individual journeys, reinforcing the fact you are not alone. On Friday night volunteers had a chance to read from their own work and critique each other with expert feedback from Jessica and Ben.

Through it all Laurence and his team were extremely helpful and their organisation couldn’t be faulted, with events switching between the famous Gresham Hotel and the Irish Writers’ Centre.

The Books Go Social Dublin Writers Conference was well worth the investment. I would recommend it to anyone who has been in two minds about whether to take the plunge.

Britain may have voted to split from the EU, but it’s comforting to know the writers’ community goes from strength to strength around the world.

57. The Terminator and SkyNet really exist: We just call them Google

FOR THE last two days I have been going all Sarah Connor.

Sarah, for those who like their Sci-Fi, is the hero of the early Terminator movies. Her reward for identifying the dangers of a new world dominated by technology was to be wrapped tightly in a straitjacket and stowed away from the general public.

Well, I can safely say I can see Sarah’s point. For all the new wonders that new tech has bought us, how many of us are turning into boggle-eyed raving loonies by this computer-dominated world?

The task I started on this week seemed relatively simple. I had 25 free codes to give away after Crossing The Whitewash was released as an Audio Book.

CrossingpromoSTILLWow! Fantastic. A giveaway. FREE.

Recently everyone has been telling me that the way forward to becoming a “real” author is to develop your mailing list, so those interested in your work are at your fingertips when you launch new projects.

And to start this little process what better way to build a list than with a company invented for the purposes of compiling such lists?

The most popular of these in writing circles seems to be MailChimp. As with most of these things it is COMPLETELY FREE until you get to around 2,000 subscribers.

I have been with them for about two years. My current list numbers 16, including my wife and several of my mates who, no doubt, felt sorry for me.

Here is the key, then. You set up a Facebook Ad, with a classy video like the one my narrator/producer Samuel J Haskell made for me, then invite people to click through to your website and fill out the email link, which goes to MailChimp and is forwarded to yourself. From there you send out the codes. Simple.

chimpA useful piece of technology like that – with such a cute, cuddly name, too (Awwww, MailChimp, look at him) – could hardly be part of a conspiracy to take over the world, surely?

Then it begins. Trying to set up a mailbox to get notifications sent to me of new members on the list, I am informed both my Yahoo and Gmail accounts aren’t suitable. Because messages are being sent out from a third party (MailChimp) then Yahoo and Google will think they are up to no good and attempting to steal all the goodies from your email account.

Fortunately, you can click a button which says “I’ll take that risk” which, of course, I did.

Then I ran the ads and in one day had 22 clicks for just a fiver. Not a bad start.

When I checked the Email list, though… Nothing, zilch, nada.

So 22 people clicked through to my website and, one step away from their free gift, decided “Nah, can’t be arsed with that”.

I’m sure that does happen, but all 22?

I checked the link and, lo and behold, while my website said my email address had been accepted, nothing was passed on to my MailChimp list. The technology didn’t work. This, by the way, comes after five hours of tinkering about, trying to get the Ad together on Facebook before it rejects about half the things I want to do. So this is a hair-tearing moment… No wonder I have the hairstyle of Buster Bloodvessel.

Anyway, I try everything: Building a new list, tinkering with the forms, changing the website around… nothing works. I have to suspend the ad campaign, imaging that some people will be pretty fed up with the fact they haven’t got their audio codes even though they filled in the Email box.

Finally I take the plunge. I am told I need a website with my own personal domain. Which costs money. Luckily I spent some a while ago buying the domain name for my website, so I can set one up with that.

My website is from a firm called Wix. Quite frankly they get on my Wix on regular occasions. Other lucky writers take the plunge and “employ” website designers, but I figure: I design pages on a national newspaper, what can be so difficult?

The f***ing technology, that’s what.

Anyway, on we plunge and I obtain the website incorporating my own personal domain name. I am now nickripp@theripperfile.com. Only trouble is this has to be verified. I click for it to be verified and where do I end up? Google, of course.

Now, Google already runs my computer. Everything happens through Chrome. It knows all my passwords, usernames, inside leg measurements, length of… well, you get the picture.

Apparently Google is in charge of Emails, even if you thought you were setting them up with Wix, or Go Daddy, or any number of other companies.

And Google won’t make things easy for you. Oh no. There is a “How to get verified” video that lasts five minutes. I dare anyone to watch it and NOT find their mind well and truly boggled.

I give up and try different ways. “Congrats”, pings my old email. “You now have your own Email domain!”

“No I soddin’ don’t,” I reply, ranting at the screen. Google won’t let me play!

I try a variety of other tricks, none of which work. I am supposed to stick some code on the end of my website address as verification. How? “Watch the simple-to-follow video” says Google. “F*!*”|!”

By this time my wife has run for cover, my little girl is riding around the living room on a tiny bike which goes squeak, squeak, squeak and I’ve put my head through the computer and am shouting “Here’s Nicky!!!” having just typed 3,000 times “All Google and no play makes Nick a dull boy”.

Then, without warning, and I still don’t know how… it lets me in.

Ha…lle…lu…jah!

Unfortunately, now my brain is mush. I am mumbling to myself. I am sweating. I am picking bugs off the wall and eating them whole because I didn’t have time for lunch, or dinner.

My wife is whispering on the phone to someone… in my paranoia I am convinced it is the men with white coats.

Of course, Google isn’t the Terminator or SkyNet. It is much more subtle than that. It is not going to destroy us with guns, or lazers, or flying, whirling machines of death. It is just going to send us all slowly  mad.

google

So here I am, staring blankly at my screen, the Google logo in its jolly colours taunting me in its untouchable status.

And one question is whirring around and around and around in my head: “Who died and made you boss?”

56. How Audible brought my characters to life

 

ANYONE who has read Crossing The Whitewash will probably agree that Arnold Dolan is a pretty terrifying character. At least, that’s how he was described by judges in the Writers’ Digest eBook awards.

This week, though, Arnie even SOUNDS terrifying. I know, because I have heard him speak.

Today I am wallowing in the satisfaction of releasing an Audio version of my UK gangland thriller, having spent four months helping to edit and perfect what I believe is a pretty impressive product.

In collaboration with a very talented young producer/narrator, Samuel J Haskell, I think we have come up with something with which we both can be pretty proud.

Don’t take my word for it, though. The book is on sale on Audible and if you take up their offer of a month’s trial you can download it for FREE and put it on your MP3 player, phone or other listening device. Better still, why not listen to the sample which is provided on the page first to see if it whets your appetite.

I am a convert to Audio books. I find they take the pain out of the mundane commute to work, though I’m not sure if I would like Arnie Dolan sitting next to me on the District Line journey from Mile End to Monument!

The book has to be pretty exciting, though, to maintain the interest, because it is easy to doze off as the tube train clickety clacks through Whitechapel and Tower Hill.

I think Samuel manages to do that, and he has also added some pretty impressive sound effects for things like loud speakers and phone conversations.

So how easy is it to produce your own audio book? Amazon’s ACX division have made it a pretty straightforward process.

All you have to do is put a sample of your book on their website and then invite people to audition for the role of narrator/producer.

Then it is a question of setting a deadline for the first 15-minute sample, followed by a deadline for completion. You have to agree a fee – which can be done either as a flat rate of a certain amount per hour, or as a share of the profits.

With Samuel I agreed BOTH but unfortunately ACX don’t have a provision for that so he will just have to hope I am honest about how much money we rake in.

I paid Sam £750, which may seem a lot, but over that period of four months he certainly earned his corn. He was able to put up chapters a few at a time for me to listen to, and I then sent him corrections or comments if I didn’t think things sounded quite right. There was a lot of back and forth before we got it exactly how we wanted it, and Sam – a trained film producer – also threw in the promotional video that you can see here.

I think I got a bargain but, as it was his first experience of ACX too, I believe the experience for both of us has been invaluable.

At the end of it all, one simple click on the writer’s part and the audio book goes to the ACX techies for final approval, which they carry out as soon as the producer confirms he has been paid.

It’s interesting to know, too, that every time someone signs up for the one-month free trial with Audible and makes your book their first order, you earn $50. Whether I will get my money back I don’t know… but, to be perfectly honest, hearing characters I have created like Arnie, Gary and The Legend talk has been priceless.

 

55. The proof is in the pdudding

Spot the deliberate mistake in the heading?

As a career journalist and a newspaper sub-editor since the mid-80s these things have become second nature to me.

That’s probably why the one thing that is guaranteed to put me off reading a book – and this can happen in traditionally published novels, too, though mainly I am talking about indies – is when I find loads of grammatical or silly literal mistakes in it.

A few people have encouraged me to read their books in the past and I have found myself grimacing and swearing under my breath at the silly mistakes that have been allowed to slip through the net.

In one particular book the protagonists’ names kept changing or the wrong person was credited with speaking a line not meant for them.

The thing is that these things are so easily avoidable. The more people who read your work before you sign off on it, the better.

An editor is important to help the book flow and make sure you don’t get bogged down in too many details, but if you feel they are suggesting changes that you consider detrimental to your story you can always over-rule them. Beta readers, too, particularly those who agree to read your work but don’t particularly have a close relationship with you, can give really helpful advice.

A spelling mistake or glaring punctuation error is not a matter for discussion, though, which is why a professional proofreader is so important.

My wife Liz has just passed a proofreading course and the fact she is a production journalist with years of experience means she already has a head start. She proofed my book, her father’s and has recently taken on some independent work. Why not check out her website and make an inquiry? Her fees are very reasonable but if not Liz, make sure you seek out the services of a professional in the field.

Meandandrew

Plug over. The reason I am writing this is that last night after a busy shift in the day job we got talking about a friend who set up a magazine. It is all going quite well but he is tearing his hair out over some of the silly errors that creep into it. His partner is an enthusiastic techie who can handle all the layout and print issues, but lets silly mistakes slip through the net through carelessness and the desire to do things quickly, failing to realise irreparable harm is being done to the overall product.

I’ve just found this article on a website which gives plenty of stats about why people are likely to stop reading books and most of them can directly or indirectly be put down to the editing and proofreading process. Check it out here

 

 

54. Research: the word that brings me out in a cold sweat

IN the long, hot summer of 1976 I remember being incarcerated in my bedroom, swotting up on maths, geography, biology and history when I wanted to be out sipping illegal beers in the nearby park.

It was O level year (something I believe they call GCSE’s now) and an experience like that as a 16-year-old can scar you for life.

Perhaps that is why the very word ‘research’ sends a shiver down my spine. It feels like I’m turning back the clock and becoming mired in a world of facts and stats.

Some novelists pride themselves on research. Peter James is an absolutely stickler for it, as my recent interviews with the great man show. I’m afraid I am not as brave as Peter James, though.

I have no wish to become nailed inside a coffin, or bungy jump off a high bridge, or jump out of a plane with just a parachute strapped to my back, or even play pass the parcel with venomous snakes. The idea of entering some drug dealer’s den and engaging local gangsters in conversation about their lives fills me with dread.

Meanwhile sitting in a library and swotting up on a given subject makes me feel like I’ve been transported back to those schooldays again, like Michael J Fox in the 2016 equivalent of the DeLorean. To be honest, I just want to sit down and write, get my feelings out onto the page and let my imagination flow until I come up with a really good page-turner without too much stress and worry.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. At some stage or other you are bound to come across a little speed bump where you want to introduce a certain element to the story and realise: “B***er, I know absolutely nothing about this”.

What happens then? You either ignore it and change the plot completely to fit in with what you do know or you bite the bullet, take yourself off to the local library and try to learn what you can about the subject.

Peter told me: “When I’m writing a book I like to feel I’m learning something, too.” Which is all fine and dandy, I agree, but at times it actually distracts from the writing.

This is a man who can churn out two or three novels a year while my grand total is one and a quarter in the best part of five years.

The trouble is that once you start learning about the subject you are researching it is difficult to know when to stop. Then there is a tendency to feel that because you have taken the time and trouble to learn it all, you need to shoehorn all that knowledge into the novel, which can detract from the overall plot.

That is why I was so glad to come across this article from one of my favourite crime writers Mark Billingham. His ethos, and one I will use as my mantra from now on, is “We are writing fiction. The very word means making stuff up”. In other words, you don’t have to be unfailingly accurate to write a good story and, actually, too many facts can detract from a terrific tale.

Here’s Mark’s piece… worth a read.