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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.

Hayley Nolan Writers’ Tips

Hayley NolanHayley Nolan is the writer/producer and presenter of hit iTunes podcast series The History Review and its spin-off vlog series, which has gained more than one million views in its first 5 months. She is a graduate of London’s prestigious Royal Court Young Writer’s Programme, has trained in screenwriting at RADA and creative writing at Cambridge University, and has trained in screenwriting at RADA. An Anne Boleyn expert, her research has seen her working with the French and UK governments, partnering with some of the UK’s most respected historical organisations, and has garnered her the support of respected historians. ‘Anne Bolyeyn – 500 Years of Lies’ is her latest book.

Today, Hayley offers advice to budding writers.

There is so much that goes into getting a book published these days from whether there will be demand for it, how is your book different from others in the genre, could an agent sell it to publishers, will all departments of the publishing house see your book as a viable investment in the infamous ‘acquisition’ meetings? Frustratingly all this comes into play, and there are plenty of things you can do as an author to make sure the book you are pitching will appeal…HOWEVER when it comes down to it, it’s all about the writing. You can have an amazing concept but if the writing doesn’t live up to expectations then it won’t happen. So this needs to be your focus and priority. With writing it’s all about honesty…and editing!

Read more about Hayley and her writing journey

Just My Luck By Adele Parks

'Just My Luck‘Just My Luck’ is the current ’Sunday Times’ number 1 bestseller by Adele Parks.

For fifteen years, Lexi and Jake have played the same six numbers with their friends, the Pearsons and the Heathcotes. 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 then, one Saturday night, the unthinkable happens. There’s a rift in the group. Someone doesn’t tell the truth. And soon after, six numbers come up which change everything forever. Lexi and Jake have a ticket worth £18 million. And their friends are determined to claim a share of it.

2020 marks Adele Parks being an author for the 20 years and her latest book ‘Just My Luck’ is her twentieth book which I revealed on publication day is being optioned for screen.

The story is seen primarily through the narrative of Lexi, after years of doing the lottery, finally her lucky numbers come through. Up until the winning ticket, Lexi and her husband Jake, took part in a syndicate with their friends Carla, Patrick, Jennifer and Fred until the four of them decided that doing the lottery was common. Now £18,000,000 richer, the friends decide they are owed what they feel is rightfully theirs. So instead of being able to enjoy the excitement of being millionaires, Lexi and her family discover the how much of a disastrous effect coming into money can have on people’s lives.

I read this book in two sittings purely because Adele is one of my favourite authors and plus the story was just so addictive. Seen from the narrative of Lexi, a quiet woman who’s primary concern is her family, she’s refused to be swept away by the madness of winning the lottery unlike her husband Jake, who’s throwing money left, right and centre. She wants to be sensible with the money and put it to good use and charitable needs whilst Jake would prefer to rub it in everyone’s faces. She’s hurt when their friends demand that they are owed money even though they backed out of the syndicate. There’s also narrative from her husband Jake and her teenage children. The multiple narratives give an interesting insight to how money can influence and change people’s lives and not for the best.

Now a Sunday Times number 1 bestselling book, ‘Just My Luck’ is Adele at her finest. With short chapters that really grip the readers attentions from the exciting moment of discovering those lucky numbers, to the twisted reveal at the final page, this book was a riveting rollercoaster of a story. A story filled with suspense and drama that explores the dynamic of relationships and the challenges faced new found wealth is bestowed upon them, ‘Just My Luck’ is compelled and well crafted story that is relatable and triggers the question, would we change if we won the lottery?

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

Check out my interview with Adele Parks catching up with the excitement of publication day as well as life in lockdown.

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

Jake Woodhouse Writers Tip

The CopycatJake Woodhouse is the Sunday Times bestselling author of ‘After the Silence’, ‘Into the Night’, ‘Before the Dawn’ and ‘The Copycat’ is the fourth book in the ‘Amsterdam Quartet with Inspector Jaap Rykel’series.

Today Jake shares his writing tips for aspiring authors.

There’s an oft-quoted but of advice which is something along the lines of, write what you know. This is terrible advice. Write about what you don’t know, and learn something in process.

Read more about Jake and his writing journey