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Claire McGowan

Claire McGowanClaire McGowan is a Northern Ireland author who writes crime under new own name and female fiction as Eva Woods. Her latest thriller called ’The Push’ is out now.

  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 grew up in Rostrevor Co Down in Northern Ireland and now live in London. I write mostly crime fiction and also women’s fiction, as well as radio drama and scripts.
  2. Tell us about your new book called ‘The Push’.
    ‘The Push’ is about a group of couples, all very different, who are all expecting babies and go to the same antenatal group. When someone dies in a suspicious fall at one of their gatherings, their secrets and lies begin to unravel.
  3. You write both female fiction and crime. Which genre do you find easier to write?
    Definitely crime! I tend to over-plot my women’s fiction as I’m so used to having to write lots of twists and turns.
  4. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    I’d invite Marian Keyes who seems brilliant fun and reads a lot!
  5. You come from a rural village in Northern Ireland, has that been a setting in any of your books?
    It features in some of my Paula Maguire books, though I rarely write about actual real places. I usually give them a different name and change them slightly.
  6. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    ‘The Secret History’ -The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation
  7. Why do you think Northern Ireland is so popular and successful for crime authors?
    I think we have an incredibly rich history of crime and loss here, which we are only now beginning to be able to write about.
  8. The Push

  9. Who’s your favourite villain or hero?
    It’s hard to think of a better or more interesting character than Hannibal Lecter – he’s sometimes a villain and sometimes an ally, at least in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    Something very long – I still have to read the new Hilary Mantel, so probably that, then maybe the complete works of Shakespeare, and the artist’s way so I could work my way through it.
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    I think there needs to be a balance between developing your skills, and almost more important,
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    Giant cup of tea – I drink lots of tea all through the day
  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’ve just finished my next thriller, ‘I Know You’, and also have a true-crime audiobook coming, which will be announced soon.

    You can find Claire McGowan on Twitter and her website for updates.

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

Ella Allbright

Ella Allbright A self-confessed reading addict, Ella Allbright writes commercial women’s fiction set in her beautiful home county of Dorset. Her first novel in this genre, ‘The Last Charm’, was published in August 2020 by One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins and is released in paperback today. Ella also writes as Nikki Moore, the author of the popular #LoveLondon romance series. A number of the novellas featured in the Top 100 short story charts on Kobo and the Top 20 in the Amazon UK bestsellers Holiday chart, and in 2018 the collection was released in Italy. Her first published work was the short story A Night to Remember in the bestselling Mills & Boon / RNA anthology Truly, Madly, Deeply. Her debut romance Crazy, Undercover, Love was shortlisted for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2015.

  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’ve always been an avid reader. I love the chance to be entertained, to escape, to live in other worlds and experience other people’s lives. Growing up, reading naturally led to writing and I wrote fairly dark short stories when I was doing my English GCSE. Luckily, my English teacher told me I was talented and gave me encouragement to keep writing. A few years later, I wrote my first category romance aimed at Mills & Boon and that manuscript got as far as an acquisition meeting (I didn’t realise that was actually very good for a first book plucked off the slush pile!) Another romance imprint showed interest in my second book, but I ended up putting writing aside while I gained HR qualifications, built a HR career and had children.

    In 2010, following a serious illness, I decided to follow my dream of becoming a published author and started writing again, first entering short story competitions (and to my surprise being placed as a finalist several times) before writing a romance that later became my debut novel as Nikki Moore – ‘Crazy, Undercover, Love’. Joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I went through their New Writers Scheme – where your manuscript is reviewed as part of your membership – for four years, before being offered a four-work contract by HarperImpulse, a digital first romance imprint of HarperCollins. Six years later, I’ve had three short stories, five novellas and three novels published, and my next book is with my agent for feedback. I consider myself very lucky, but still have much bigger dreams, for instance to see ‘The Last Charm’ turned into a film.

  2. Tell us about your new book called ‘The Last Charm’.
    ‘The Last Charm’ is an epic love story set in beautiful Dorset, based around the charms on Leila’s very special bracelet. Jake and Leila meet as young teens, and over the following fifteen years move in and out of each other’s lives. At heart, this book is about love, loss and hope – themes I felt it important to write about, and could relate to. Reviews have been amazing, and it’s been compared to ‘Me Before You’, ‘Normal People’, ‘One Day in December’ and ‘The Notebook’; all books I’m very happy to be linked with.
  3. Why did you decide to write female fiction?
    This is an interesting one, because even though ‘The Last Charm’ is marketed as commercial women’s fiction, I think the themes are universal enough to relate to everyone, regardless of how they identify. I also have some male readers, as I had with my Nikki Moore books. While being savvy enough to write for the market, I’ve not made a conscious decision to aim my books at certain people – I simply write stories I’m passionate about, believe in, that I hope might touch others and whose characters are talking to me. I do have ideas for a couple of psychological thrillers, so we’ll see who my readers end up being if those get written and published!
  4. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    This is such a good question. I have so many favourite authors, and am lucky enough to know some of them or to have connected with them over social media. My book club would be composed of a mixture of authors writing psychological thrillers, police procedurals, romance and general fiction. As a starting point – Miranda Dickinson, Kim Nash, Lisa Jewell, Angie Marsons, Adele Parks, Catherine Isaac/Jane Costello, Jenny Colgan, Sue Moorcroft (who is also my aunt), Jules Wake, Catherine Miller… the list is endless – it would be a very large book club!
  5. If the story of Leila and Jake were brought to screen, who can imagine playing the characters?
    I find this easy to answer for Leila: Emilia Clarke. She has such an expressive face, is adorable and also looked amazing with long silvery blonde hair – which Leila has – when she was in ‘Game of Thrones’. I find it much harder to cast Jake because I think of him as so unique, and I’ve not been able to think of someone who would absolutely fit the bill. In different Facebook Lives etc Tom Burke, Tom Ellis and Jonathan Rhys Meyers have all been discussed. Noah Centineo from ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ might make a good teenage Jake, if he could do a British accent.
  6. The Last Charm

  7. Is there anything that you would change about your writing journey?
    Funnily enough no, even though there were times I was offered contracts and turned them down, meaning I could have ultimately been published much sooner. But I had to do what felt right at the time, and I stand by those decisions because I’m one of those people who puts little stock in having regrets. Every experience teaches us something, so I’m glad my writing journey has been what it was. Despite being published for the last seven years, I still feel that I have a lot to learn – luckily I’m a natural student (I read a lot and have lots of notebooks to take notes in!)
  8. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
    I actually love every part of the writing process – from coming up with the initial ideas, characters and plot; to storyboarding a book out on a long piece of poster paper that goes up on my writing room wall; to carving out the first draft, and then on to all the endless rounds of edits – which I see as opportunities to polish stories until they shine. I must admit that with every novel I write, I get to a point about 40,000 words in where it feels like a real slog and I convince myself what I’ve written is a pile of rubbish, but I’ve found over the years that I just have to push through those feelings and keep going until the story is finished. A bit like running a marathon!
  9. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    This is so hard as I’ve read so many books and have lots of favourites. If I absolutely had to pick one, it would be from ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ by the Brothers Grimm… ‘Once Upon a Time…’ It’s a magical line to start to any story, rich with endless possibilities.
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    Another really tough question! ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, ‘Remember Me’ by Christopher Pike (my favourite book as a teenager), and ‘Me Before You’ by JoJo Moyes.
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    There are so many things I can think of, but really I think it comes down to understanding the nuts and bolts of what makes a great story in the genre you’ve chosen to write in. For me a lot of this comes from reading widely in that genre, and understanding what makes each book good, spectacular or poor, and then choosing what learning to take from that.
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    Something visual for inspiration which relates to the story I’m writing. The storyboard I mentioned is covered in post-it notes setting out the plot and notes about characters, but will also include film and song titles along with pictures of the book’s settings. It’s quite usual to find me pacing up and down in front of the storyboard when I’m mid flow, checking on a plot point, looking at photos or jottings down new ideas that have come to me.
  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 book I’ve just handed in to my agent for reading and feedback is a story about a woman who’s lost her way and the man who helps her find it on a road trip around Italy, while searching for her father. I wrote it as a broadly escapist read – although there are some important issues in it, such as self-discovery and self-identity – as an antidote to the world we’re currently living in. I hope that readers enjoy being transported to Italy in the same way that I enjoyed being there in my head while writing it. More details to follow next year!

    Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Bronagh!

    You can find Ella Allbright on Twitter and Instagram

    If you’d like to hear my thoughts on ‘The Last Charm’, then check out my review here.

My Top Ten Favourite Festive Activities By Heidi Swain

Christmas RoomToday on the book tour for her new book Christmas book called ‘The Winter Garden’, Heidi Swain is sharing her Top Ten Favourite Festive Activities because she is a HUGE fan of Christmas!

So, here we go…

“Heidi

Reading
I’m sure it’s no surprise that books bagged the number 1 spot! December 1st is always reserved for Mr Dickens. The month simply wouldn’t work if I hadn’t reacquainted myself with A Christmas Carol. I also read Trisha Ashley’s Twelve Days of Christmas too and treat myself to new festive fiction. Louise Marley, Sophie Claire and Victoria Walters are on the list this year and I’m starting earlier than usual because otherwise I won’t fit them all in.

Carols from King’s
My Christmas Eve revolves around this choral festive treat. My to-do list has to be completed so I can be ready to watch and listen with a cup of tea and a mince pie. As a person of Pagan persuasion, I find this much-loved tradition of mine something of a surprise, but the voices are so stirring as the light begins to fade. I love it!

Christmas shopping
I love Christmas shopping, as long as I have my trusty list. The chilly weather, bustling streets and frequent tea and cake top ups make it all the more pleasurable. I know it won’t be the same this year, but I can hang on to the memory of those wonderful excursions for now.

Finding the right gift
Nothing beats the pleasure of watching someone opening their gift and seeing their face light up. Finding the perfect present isn’t always easy, but it’s totally worth the effort.

Baking
I’m certainly no Jemma from The Cherry Tree Café, but I do love some festive baking. My repertoire is limited, but nothing says Christmas like a stint in the kitchen assembling my easy cheat mince pies and sausage rolls, with the festive tunes cranked up, a glass of mulled wine to hand and my Santa apron in place.

Scents of the season
Not strictly an activity you might argue, but it can be! Mulling your own wine with festive spices and studding oranges with cloves to release that seasonal smell feels like a pretty good way to spend an afternoon to me.

Decorating
Dressing the house is always a favourite festive activity and generally happens the second weekend in December. I know exactly what’s packed in the boxes in the loft but opening them is always a treat. The hearth is dressed with holly, ivy and mistletoe and the tree is topped with two angels, both created by my son and daughter in Year R. Given that they are 25 and 20 now, the loo rolls and pipe cleaners have certainly seen better days, but up they go!

Festive films
I love snuggling under a blanket to watch a festive film. Like everyone else, I have a teetering pile of DVD’s and it’s an annual treat working my way through them all. I also love the Hallmark channel and all the made for TV films. A totally festive indulgence! I don’t think I could pick a favourite, but ‘Love Actually’, ‘Elf’, ‘Muppets Christmas Carol’, ‘Nativity’… nope. I can’t do it! I’ll just end up listing the lot!

Winter walks
As you may already know, I’m always trying to get folk outdoors in the fresh air, whatever the weather. Although I draw the line at heading out in driving rain! I love getting wrapped up in warm layers and striding out for a bracing walk around my local patch. It’s a great mood soother and in the run up to Christmas, when it’s tempting to stay inside, a super way to recharge the batteries. Throw some snow in the mix and I’m even happier!

'The Winter Garden

Taking in the sights of the season
This is a separate trip to the shopping expedition and with a completely different purpose. Norwich always has beautiful light and window displays and I really enjoy going up to the city, towards the end of the day, to simply admire the decorations and soak up the atmosphere. We’d had the lovely of tunnel of light for the last few years and then there’s the animatronic tableau in the Forum and Jarrolds. All so superbly seasonal!

Crikey, that was the speediest Top Ten I’ve ever written and I could have easily added more favourite festive activities to the list. I know there’s nothing unusual or surprising written here, but these are all things I love to do in the run up to Christmas and beyond and this year more than ever, I’m going to take comfort in the familiarity of them all.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy festive season.

With love
Heidi x

You can buy ‘The Winter Garden’ from Amazon and is available from other good bookshops.

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.