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Charlotte Duckworth

Charlotte DuckworthCharlotte Duckworth is a graduate of the Faber Academy’s acclaimed six-month ‘Writing a Novel’ course. Charlotte started her career working as an interiors and lifestyle journalist, writing for a wide range of consumer magazines and websites. Alongside writing, she also runs her own website design studio. Her debut novel called ‘The Rival’ was published in 2018 and today is the publication day of her second book called ‘Unfollow Me’

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    Hello! Thanks for having me! I’m Charlotte and I started my career as a journalist working in magazines. I always wanted to write novels (and finished my very first aged about 11, painstakingly typed up on my electric typewriter!) but when I was at university and informed the careers advisor of my plan, he told me novel-writing was a ridiculous idea for a career, and suggested I become a journalist instead. So I did.

    I’m not cross about it as I had an absolutely lovely time working in magazines, and later on, on websites. It was a great Plan B!

    However, deep down I knew that novel-writing was my ‘thing’ and so I have always written on the side. I managed to get an agent when I was in my early 20s, but it took a long time to get a book deal. My first novel, ‘The Rival,’ was published in 2018, and ‘Unfollow Me’ is my second. My third, ‘The Perfect Father’, is out next year.

  2. Tell us about your new book called ‘Unfollow Me’.
    ‘Unfollow Me’ stems from my own fascination with the world of influencers, and tells the story of Violet Young, a hugely popular mummy vlogger, who goes ‘missing’ from the online world, deleting all her social media accounts overnight with no warning. The book is written from the perspective of two of her most obsessive fans, Lily and Yvonne, who desperately try to uncover what’s happened to her. With plenty of twists and turns along the way!

    It’s a bit different from many other novels about social media as I wanted to explore the lives of the people addicted to the influencers, rather than the influencer herself. I find these super fans really intriguing – the lengths they will go to for their idol, and the intensity of the feelings they have for someone they have never met.

  3. Why did you decide to write crime?
    I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision! I have tried several times over the years to write more uplifting novels and they always end up turning dark…

    I remember reading an interview with Gillian Flynn where she said ‘the darker the books are, the nicer the author is’ and her pondering that perhaps writing dark books gets something out of your system. I like that idea! Generally speaking I’m a pretty happy, laidback person.

    I suppose I am fascinated with what makes ordinary people do ‘bad’ things, and really digging around inside a character’s psyche, to get to the stuff they want to keep hidden. We all have some of that bad stuff inside us, it’s just on a spectrum, and hidden better in some people than others!

  4. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    I am lucky enough to have lots of author friends, so rather than risk inviting a load of my heroes (‘never meet your idols’!), I’d go for tried and tested and I know I’d have an amazing time. So, just off the top of my head: Caroline Hulse, Rebecca Fleet, Ros Anderson, Catherine Law, Holly Race, Karen Hamilton, Phoebe Locke…
  5. Unfollow Me

  6. Who’s your favourite literary villain?
    I think given that I’ve quoted Gillian above, I’d have to say Amy from ‘Gone Girl’. That book just blew me away – and Amy was a delicious character. I loved her, despite how awful she was. She was completely real to me and I completely understood why she did what she did.
  7. Is there anything that you would change about your writing journey?
    I have a rule never to regret anything, and I genuinely do believe everything happens for a reason. I wish I could have been as disciplined about writing when I was in my 20s as I am now. But I don’t think I was as good a writer then. Writing is the best career as it’s one of the ones where you get better with age.
  8. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
    All stages are both my least and most favourite depending on what stage I’m working on at the time!

    I probably like the daydreaming bit the best – when you’ve got an idea and can go for long walks planning it all in your head. And it feels like the most perfect book ever written. Except it hasn’t actually been written yet…

  9. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
     I’m really sorry to be so absolutely unoriginal but it’d have to be the first line of ‘Rebecca’ – ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’.

    That book was a formative one for me. I must have read it a dozen times over the years. And it’s partly the reason I called my daughter Daphne.

  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    The first three Adrian Mole books because they would cheer me up!
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    Discipline. Ring-fencing your writing time, putting your writing first and making it a priority. I’ve met so many excellent writers who just never finish anything because they don’t make writing their priority. But writing is really, really hard work, and you have to be disciplined and put in the hours or you don’t stand a chance of finishing.
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    Chewing gum and a bottle of water. Very boring (and sorry that’s two items). I drink loads of water while I’m writing and I chew gum to stop me reaching for biscuits. And I read somewhere that it helps you concentrate, although I’m not sure if that’s actually true.
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
    I’m writing the first draft of my fourth book at the moment but my third, ‘The Perfect Father’, is already finished and will be released next year. It’s about a stay-at-home dad, who isn’t as perfect as he seems…

    You can find Charlotte online on Twitter and Instagram and her website

    You can buy ‘Unfollow Me’ from Amazon and is available from good bookshops today.

John Marrs

John MarrsJohn Marrs is an author and former journalist based in London and Northamptonshire. After spending his career interviewing celebrities from the worlds of television, film and music for numerous national newspapers and magazines, he is now a full-time author. ‘The Minders’ is his latest book.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing
    My name is John Marrs and I’m fortunate to be able to write for two publishers. For Thomas & Mercer, I write psychological thrillers and for Penguin’s Ebury, I write psychological thrillers with a futuristic twist. Before giving it up three years ago to write full-time, I used to be a celebrity journalist and wrote for publications including ‘OK Magazine’, ‘The Guardian’s Guide’, ‘Total Film’, ‘Q’ and ’S’ Magazine. Books started as a bit of fun – a challenge to myself – and it ended up becoming an entirely new career.
  2. Tell us about your new book called ‘The Minders’.
    The premise is simple – if you could know every secret our country has ever kept – good and bad – but can’t tell a single soul, would you want to know? In The Minders, five ordinary people give up their lives for five years to take part in an experimental Government programme to store all our top secret data inside them. But as they start their lives afresh under new identities, someone is hunting them down and picking them off one by one.
  3. Congratulations on the exciting news of ‘The One’ being adapted for Netflix. Are you involved with the adaption of the book or have you passed the reins onto someone else?
    Thank you! But no, I’ve had nothing to do with the adaptation. It is an eight-part series and I think it will be very different to the book, but I’ve not read the scripts or storylines. I can’t wait to see what they have done with it. For me, once my book is complete, I move on to the next one and I’ll never read it again. With the TV version, it is now up to someone else to take my story and turn it into their vision. I did get to go on set and watch it being filmed in January which was a great and very surreal experience.
  4. Your books have been compared to the Netflix series ‘Black Mirror’, as they are quite futuristic. Where do you get your ideas from?
    They can come from anywhere. ‘When You Disappeared’ came from an article I read in The Guardian, ‘The Good Samaritan’ came from a conversation with a friend who worked as a phone line operator for vulnerable people. I thought of ‘The One’ on an escalator in London’s Underground and a book I’ll be working on soon came to me in a dream. I woke myself up and had to dictate it into my phone before I forgot it.
  5. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    I’ve got to know a few since I’ve been writing, so I’d start with Cara Hunter, Claire Allen, Darren O’Sullivan, Louise Beech and Tom Rob Smith. Then I’d send out invitations to Peter Swanson, Gillian Flynn and John Boyne. They could rewrite the phone directory and I’d read it.
  6. Who’s your favourite villain or hero?
    Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho’. What a book, what a character.
  7. The Minders

  8. Can you tell me about your planning process from planning to first draft?
    I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, although I am trying to change that. My last book, The Minders, was the first I have properly planned and I quite enjoyed the process. For me, the first draft is all about getting those words and plotlines out of my head and onto the screen. It’s the second draft when the work really begins – trying to make it into something readable for someone other than myself. By the third draft, it’s really starting to take shape, by draft number four, I gain confidence in it. But by drafts five and six, I am sick to death of it and never want to read it again! Every year my writing process changes. I used to write for 90 minutes on the train to London in the morning, then for an hour at lunch time, and a further 90 minutes on the journey home. In fact, my first five books were written on trains. Then I gave up journalism in 2018 and started writing from home full-time. But since our son was born a year ago, it’s now a case of making the most of the rare free time I have. When I’m writing, it’s always in silence. I can’t do background music. I always print the book out to do my edits, makes notes in coloured pens I buy from a shop called Muji and when I make the on-screen corrections, that’s when I’ll listen to playlists on Apple Music.
  9. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”JRR Tolkein was nothing if not straight to the point.
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts has been sitting on my bookshelf for a decade and I’ve still yet to read it. I’m intimidated by its 900+ pages. Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ would be my second choice because after a lull of a decade in the 1990s, that book got me back into reading again. And my last choice would be John Boyne’s ‘The Heart’s Invisible Furies’, a novel I loved so much that I’d only read a chapter at a time as I didn’t want it to end.
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    I’m still way too early in my journey to ever think I could offer anybody advice of my own! I can share these tips though – I was told to read out loud whatever I write when I start the editing process – and it has really helped me with pacing, grammatical errors and sentence structure. I’ve also learned that research is key – if you want to write a commercially successful book, then pick a genre that people want to read. You might know everything there is to know about Himalayan snowdrops, but it doesn’t mean other people want to read a book about them. And just get on with it – so many writers waste time procrastinating or trying to come up with the perfect plot before they write. Sometimes you just need to put pen to paper and see where it takes you.
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    I don’t need anything other than a computer. Writing my first few books on trains taught me that I need nothing but a laptop. And that gives me the ability to write wherever I like – a pub, a restaurant, a garden or in bed.
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
    I’m in the process of taking a year out, so I won’t be publishing anything new until probably 2022. It’s nice not having a deadline for once. It means I can write for pleasure again and at my own pace.

    Follow John Marrs on Twitter and follow his website

You can buy ‘The Minders’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Helen Cullen Lockdown Life Interview

Helen CullenHelen Cullen’s debut novel, ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ was published in 2018. Before writing, Helen started her career with Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE (Ireland’s national broadcaster) where she worked in radio broadcasting before moving to London in 2010. She subsequently worked for companies such as the BBC and The Times before her most recent role in Google where she worked before signing her publishing contract. Helen was also shortlisted as Best Newcomer at this year’s Irish Books Awards. Her latest book called ‘The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually’ is out now.

  1. Hi Helen, can you tell us about your latest book called ‘The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually’
    his novel was inspired in part by the Japanese art of kintsugi – the practise of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, silver, or platinum so that the breakage and repair remain visible to show the history of an object, rather than something to disguise; the pots become even more beautiful than before they were broken.

    The theme of personal truth is a very important one in the novel – and in particular, how personal truths may not always align with what can be considered universally accepted truths. Sometimes it is only with acceptance of that that we can find peace. And sometimes that truth or awareness needs to creep up on us slowly as it would be too blinding if confronted too quickly or head on. My working title as I was writing the book had been Kintsugi as mentioned above but I wanted the title to reference the truth that is at the heart of the novel. The Emily Dickinson line just came back to me one day as I was sitting on the London tube and it just clicked.

  2. How will you be celebrating your publication day?
    Originally we had planned to have a book launch at Daunt Books in London and Dubray Books in Dublin before Covid-19 came along so now instead we will be launching the book with some virtual events instead. I hope it does mean lots of folks can join us who might not have been able to otherwise so that is one silver lining.
  3. With the world being on lockdown, did it effect your reading or writing or were you able to work away?
    Like many people it has been a bit of a rollercoaster and I found myself oscillating between periods of compulsive reading and great productivity and times where I felt I couldn’t concentrate on anything at all. Hopefully I will return to some sort of balance soon.
  4. Did you discover any new authors?
    My journalism work brought some wonderful books my way during this period. I absolutely loved Polly Samson’s ‘A Theatre for Dreamers’ that is set on the island of Hydra during the Leonard Cohen era and ‘Miss Austen’ by Gill Hornby that investigates the life of Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra. I am a huge Jane Austen fan and this is the first Austen adjacent novel that I’ve read that completely won my heart. Elaine Feeney is an amazing debut Irish writer who publishes her novel, ‘As You Were’, on the same date as me and it is a remarkable book – and Elaine is a remarkable woman too.
  5. The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually

  6. How’s life in lockdown did you discover any new skills?
    No new skills per se but I did become quite fond of power-washing the patio.
  7. What’s next for you, any new projects in the pipeline?
    I am working away on my third novel which feels very different to me than the first two which is thrilling and terrifying and I’m also starting a PhD in October at UEA which fills me with the exact same feeling!

    Follow Helen Cullen on Twitter and follow her website

You can buy ‘The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually’ on Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Just My Luck Publication Day

Adele ParksI’m delighted to have an interview with one of my favourite authors, Adele Parks on the publication day of her new book called ‘Just My Luck’.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your new book called ‘Just My Luck’
    It is the story about a group of friends who have been extremely close since they met at a baby group fifteen years ago. They do the lottery every week as a syndicate and over dinner parties, fish & chip suppers and summer barbecues, they’ve discussed the important stuff – the kids, marriages, jobs and houses – and they’ve laughed off their disappointment when they failed to win anything more than a tenner.

    But one week a tiff turns into a terrible rift – we don’t know what they are quarrelling about. Two of the three couples leave the syndicate but the very next week the numbers come up and Lexi and Jake have the winning ticket worth 18 million pounds! The others go to extreme lengths to try to get a share of the money. It is a novel that looks at what money can and can’t buy, should and certainly should not buy!

    Like ‘I Invited Her In’ and ‘Lies Lies Lies’ this is a dark novel that looks at loyalty, betrayal, friendship, and fidelity. It’s full of secrets and revelations. I hope readers are going to completely invest in the characters and plot.

  2. You’ve been an author for over 20 years, initially writing female fiction and then moving into suspense, why the change of genre?
    My female heroes were never sweetness and light looking for tall, dark and handsome, I have always written characters who are damaged or flawed and somewhat dark, even if my earlier writing was lighter (sometimes comedic). So, it wasn’t really a case of me turning from one thing to another, more of a development.

    'Just My Luck

    I think I have always just written what I wanted to read, what felt natural and relevant at the time. My personality, life-stage, age, ambition all influenced the tone. In my earlier books, the catalyst for action was often falling in or out of love and trying to understand that. Now, my character arcs often evolve through a more negative or challenging life experience (infertility, alcoholism, a toxic friendship, a death), experiences that generally speaking come later in life.

    I guess now I write less about choice and more about consequence (because that’s my mind shift), I think my work simply became darker because of that.

  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    Jane Fallon, Tasmina Perry, Nicola Moriarty, Lisa Jewell and Claire Mackintosh – off the top of my head – but there are dozens of writers I admire and enjoy the company of. We would probably have to have lots of lovely food (and possibly the odd glass of champers) at this book club! Oh, it sounds fabulous, I think I’ll start one!

  4. If you had the option of one of your books being adapted for screen, which one would you choose and who would play the characters?
    ‘Just My Luck’ has been optioned for screen so that is incredibly exciting! There are so many incredibly talented actors out there. There is a whole list of people I would be honoured to see play the role. Imagine if Amy Adams was Lexi! She’d be wonderful!

  5. Finally, how are you coping with lockdown? Have you discovered any new skills or authors?
    Lockdown does not really affect my life Monday to Friday, daytime because I have worked from home for 20 years. However, like everyone, I miss going out in the evenings and at weekends, I miss my family. I haven’t seen my parents or sister since January. I miss my friends and colleagues, my gym, restaurants etc etc! And, as you can imagine, a lockdown launch is presenting challenges but it is also presenting opportunities to be creative. I think it’s important to look at the pluses. I’m enjoying the unexpected bonus of having my son home from uni, I love spending time with him. Although, at the same time, I am really sorry for him and all young people. I think lockdown is harder the younger you are. It’s a time of your life when you should be entitled to fly. I think the new skills I am developing is patience and biting my tongue.

    You can buy ‘Just My Luck’ from Amazon and will be availble to buy from good bookshops.

    Follow Adele’s publication day excitement on Twitter, or wish her happy publication day yourself!

Trevor Wood

Trevor WoodTrevor Wood has lived in Newcastle for 25 years and considers himself an adopted Geordie, though he still can’t speak the language. He’s a successful playwright who has also worked as a journalist and spin-doctor for the City Council. Prior to that he served in the Royal Navy for 16 years joining, presciently, as a Writer. Trevor holds an MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) from UEA. His first novel, The Man on the Street, which is set in his home city, will be published by Quercus in Spring 2020

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing
    I joined the Royal Navy at 18. When I left 16 years later I retrained as a journalist. One of my fellow journalism students, Ed Waugh, was interested in writing, comedy in particular, and as we car-shared for the whole course we talked about that a lot. Several years later we decided to give it try and wrote a comedy play called Good to Firm which did very well. Our next play, Dirty Dusting, was a huge success. It ended up touring all over the world and is still being produced some seventeen years later. Eleven professionally-produced plays later I decided to take a break from theatre and try to write a crime novel, the genre I had been reading since I was a kid. I signed up for the inaugural MA in Crime Writing at UEA, which was even better than I had hoped it might be, and the novel I developed as part of that course became my debut novel The Man on the Street.
  2. Tell us about your new book called ‘The Man On The Street’
    The Man on the Street centres on Jimmy, a homeless veteran, grappling with PTSD, and living on the streets of Newcastle, who witnesses a murder. Initially no-one believes him and even he hopes it’s another one of his vivid hallucinations but then a newspaper headline catches his eye: GIRL IN MISSING DAD PLEA. He believes the missing man might be the victim of the crime he witnessed. It’s time for him to stop hiding from the world. But telling the girl, Carrie, what he saw puts him at risk from enemies, both old and new. Jimmy has one big advantage though; when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
  3. What made you decide crime?
    It’s always been my first love as a reader. Like most people my age I blame Enid Blyton for everything. The Secret Seven, Famous Five and the ‘Adventure’ series were undoubtedly my gateway drugs to a lifelong love of crime fiction. It’s no coincidence that The Man on the Street features a dog. He’s a direct descendant of Timmy.

    Once I’d put on my big boy pants it was difficult to know where to go next – YA fiction was barely a thing back in the day. The solution came to me on a terribly dull barge holiday on the Norfolk Broads with my cousin. These days I’d love that kind of holiday – a glorified pub crawl on a boat being my kind of thing – but for a 14-year-old boy it was stupefyingly boring. The solution was galloping through the shelf full of books on the barge – all written by Agatha Christie. From that moment on it was crime all the way and it’s all due to Enid and Agatha (and maybe Scooby Doo)

  4. What do you find the most challenging about writing a book?
    The length of time it takes! 90,000 words is huge, especially as I used to write plays which come in at around 25k – and I had a co-writer. I know that some writers can breeze through a book in a couple of months but I can’t, something around nine months is optimum for me as I like to edit as I go along and maintaining focus and staying in the right zone to ensure I keep the voice and character consistent for that long is difficult.
  5. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” from L.P Hartley’s ‘The Go Between’
  6. The Man on the Street

  7. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    How many can I have? Dennis Lehane, because he’s a genius, Dominic Nolan, great writer, funny man and the next big thing; Harriet Tyce, my best writing pal, fellow UEA MA graduate and a font of knowledge on crime writing; Olivia Kiernan, because she never stops talking; and maybe James Ellroy for the touch of madness he would bring to the party.
  8. Has there ever been a film that’s been better than the book?
    Yes. Unequivocably. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a thousand times better than the book it’s based upon, Tony and Susan. I really didn’t like the book at all and didn’t even finish it. When I saw the movie trailer in the cinema I realised it was from that book but it looked fantastic so I went to see it and it was superb. One of my favourite movies of the last ten years.
  9. Who’s your favourite villain or hero?
    I’ve always liked Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (which probably makes me a bad person)
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess (again) – not only a great book but a lot of it is written in an invented foreign language – Nadsat – which means you can fill hours working out the words and maybe inventing new ones.

    ‘Different Seasons’ by Stephen King. Bit of a cheat as it’s four novellas in one book but as three of them became excellent movies, Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption and Apt Pupil it’s well worth reading time and again

    ‘My Absolute Darling by’ Gabriel Tallent – not just because it’s a brilliant if brutal book but, from memory, it also includes a lot of survival skills that may prove very useful on the island.

  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    Think carefully about the decisions you make about how to tell your story. Whose perspective works best? Highsmith suggested that a single perspective increases intensity which I think is true but it also fences you in as a writer – your protagonist has to ‘see’ everything.

    Concentrate on character – how does your protagonist think, talk, interact with other people? What words does he use? Don’t show off by using ten-dollar words if your character wouldn’t use them.

    If you’re trying to write a thriller, focus on pace. Short chapters, short sentences, chapter endings that make the reader keep going. Be careful about too much description – Elmore Leonard’s advice to ‘leave out the bits people tend to skip’ is very sound.

  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    A cup of strong, black coffee. Or even better, a whole cafetierre.
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
    The Man on the Street is the first in a series of crime novels with the homeless community at the centre. I’m currently working on book 2 in the series which is provisionally called One Way Street. There’s an outbreak of bizarre drug-related deaths amongst runaway teenagers and, when one of his friends becomes involved, Jimmy is compelled to try and find out what’s really going on.

    Follow Trevor Wood on Twitter and his Facebook Page website for updates.

You can buy ‘The Man on the Street’ from Amazon