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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

Bella Osborne Writer’s Tip

Bella Osborne

Bella has been jotting down stories as far back as she can remember but decided that 2013 would be the year that she finished a full length novel. In 2016, her debut novel,’It Started At Sunset Cottage’, was shortlisted for the Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year and RNA Joan Hessayon New Writers Award. Bella’s stories are about friendship, love and coping with what life throws at you. She likes to find the humour in the darker moments of life and weaves these into her stories. Her novels are often serialised in four parts ahead of the full book publication. She lives in The Midlands, UK with her lovely husband and wonderful daughter, who thankfully, both accept her as she is (with mad morning hair and a penchant for skipping).

Today Bella is sharing her writing tips for aspiring authors.

I think specifics will be personal to each writer but I believe all writers can benefit by surrounding themselves with like minded people. Only other writers know what it’s like and they are an incredibly supportive bunch. So my advice is to look up organisations for your genre and local groups and seek out your tribe..

Read more about Bella and her writing journey

Helen Cullen

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.

  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 am Irish but live in London. I had always wanted to write ever since I was a little girl but didn’t really have the confidence to try to write a book until I was in my thirties. Eventually the fear of never writing a book overcame the fear of not being able to and I joined a six month writing workshop that ‘The Guardian’ ran with the University of East Anglia with the amazing Michele Roberts as mentor. I feel so fortunate now that I had that amazing experience because the very first thing that I ever wrote became the first chapter of ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’!
  2. Can you tell us a bit about your new book, ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’
    The book is set inside the Dead Letters Depot in East London, where William Woolf is one of thirty letter detectives who spend their days solving mysteries: Missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, rain-smudged ink, lost address labels, torn packages, forgotten street names – they are all the culprits of missed birthdays, broken hearts, unheard confessions, pointless accusations, unpaid bills and unanswered prayers.

    When William discovers letters addressed simply to ‘My Great Love’, however, his work takes on new meaning. Written by a woman to the soulmate she hasn’t met yet, the missives capture William’s heart in ways he didn’t know possible, and soon he begins to wonder: Are these letters truly lost? Or might he be the intended recipient-could he be her great love?

    Torn between his love and commitment to his wife and his romantic idealism, William must of follow the clues in Winter’s letters to solve his most important mystery yet: the human heart.

    This novel meditates on the lost art, and power, of letter-writing. It is concerned with the juxtaposition that often exists between the portrayal of romantic love in the media and the arts and the pragmatic reality of sustaining a committed relationship over a long period of time. In the Dead Letters Depot, these notions of magic and realism collide on a daily basis and William’s story unfolds.

  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    In my dream book club, presuming I am choosing from just writers that are still with us, I would love to spend time discussing books with Donna Tartt, Elizabeth Strout, Michael Chabon, Anne Enright, Ian McEwan, Sarah Winman, Edna O’Brien, Colm Toibin, Michael Cunningham, Andrew Sean Greer, Michele Roberts, Audrey Niffenegger, Alice Munro…that may be too many already but I could keep dreaming about this one all day!
  4. The Lost Letters of William Woolf

  5. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” – from Mrs. Dalloway by Viriginia Woolf.
  6. What’s your favourite book of all time?
    Oh it’s impossible to say – different books have meant so much to me at different times in my life!
  7. Who’s your literary hero/heroine?
    Without a doubt, Edna O’Brien. There is no doubt in mind that the reason I can walk through doors today with a published book that I have written in my hand is because Edna broke down so many doors first. I can’t recommend her work enough and am always buying ‘The Country Girls’ trilogy as presents for people.
  8. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
    I love when the structure and story are set in stone and I can spend time polishing the text on a word by word, line by line basis without wrestling with the big picture at the same time.
  9. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
    ‘Anna Karenina’ by Tolstoy
    ‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham
  10. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    I think the most helpful thing a writer can do to progress is to persevere on finishing a complete draft to the end – afterwards then you can work on polishing, designing and editing – but persevering to the end is often the biggest challenge so developing that stamina is so valuable.
  11. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    I type on a laptop but also like to have a notebook and pen beside me to write down ideas that occur to me for later or reminders to myself to go back and fix something later!

  12. 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 am just finishing my second book, ‘Leave A Light On’, and if readers are curious about what I’ve been working on, they can read the first chapter in the paperback edition of ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’. I am so excited that it will be released in spring 2020 and am looking forward to hearing what folks think!

    Follow Helen Cullen on Twitter and follow her website

You can buy ‘The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

 

Amanda Brooke’s Writers Tips

Amanda BrookeAmanda lives in Liverpool with her daughter Jessica and writing was most definitely a late discovery for her. She didn’t really begin to explore creative writing until she was almost 40, at which point her young son Nathan was fighting for his life. Poetry and keeping a journal helped me through those difficult times and the darker times to come when he died in 2006. He was three years old. She continued to write and in 2010, she found an agent. Shortly afterwards in 2011 she was offered a book deal with HarperCollins. Her first novel ‘Yesterday’s Sun’ was published in January 2012 and she was absolutely thrilled when it was selected for the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club List. ‘Don’t Turn Around’ is her latest book.

Today Amanda shares her writing tips for aspiring authors.

To be a writer you have to put in the hours and write, so the best advice I can give is not to talk yourself out of it. Don’t tell yourself it’s too late to start writing, or that the opportunity has passed you by. If you want to write, write and if that isn’t enough to get you filling that first page with words then ask yourself if you’ve found the right story. The story, when it comes, has to be one you’re desperate to get down on paper because you’re going to be spending a lot more hours than you think bringing it to life. And if a full length novel is too daunting, start off small to hone your skills. Writing competitions are a great way to develop discipline as they come with a theme and a deadline, and who knows, you might win the odd prize or two.

Read more about Amanda and her writing journey here