Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Splendid Salmagundi

A Splendid Salmagundi is a collection of short stories and poems by the authors who hang out on the UK Amazon Kindle Forum on Goodreads

On the whole I enjoyed it very much.  The stories were short, but satisfying.  I think there were only 2 stories I didn't get on with and didn't read through.  Also, I'm not into poetry - I just don't get it - so didn't read the poems.

The highlights for me were Rosen Trevithick's "Grumpies" - an alleged true story 
Will MacMillan Jones' "Out of the Frying Pan" - not quite what you want in your cooked breakfast.
Darren Humphries' "Interview With The Man From U.N.D.E.A.D." where we find out what happened at The Slaughters
Cornelius Harker's "Scream for me, my Dearest" - quite scary
And of course, David Wailing's "Backup", the latest in his auto series.

For a bargain price of just over a pound, you really can't go wrong with this collection.

An Odd Quartet by Michael Brookes

This is a collection of just 4 short(ish) stories.  For me they were a decent length each and I loved 3 and just liked a fourth.

The first is a ghost story, but I liked the twist to it.  It was very unexpected and I suppose quite a modern take.
The second, about Death, was interesting enough but didn't impress me too much.
The third was my favourite.  Told in radio messages when a Special Forces team go into a hostile building, I found my heartbeat rising and the tension sky high.
The fourth was also a decent story with an interesting twist.

As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed these stories.

Stealing Elgar by Andrew Barrett

Stealing Elgar is the second book in The Dead Trilogy.  The books introduce the character of Roger Conniston, a Scenes Of Crime Officer (SOCO).  The book does follow on from the first one and you do probably need to have read it first.  I don't think this story would be so good without the history of the first.  Roger has got himself in a bit of a pickle in this book and needs to act on his own.

I do like a bit of "murder, death kill" and this book has lots of all of this.  It's a police procedural type book only from a SOCO point of view.  The author is a crime scene officer, so the story has that extra dimension of reality where it describes the evidence gathering.

I found this quite an easy read.  I wanted to do another chapter, then another.  I don't think I really like many of the characters in this book.  They are certainly all very flawed.  

And onto the third (and final?) book.

This Thirtysomething Life by Jon Rance

This book seems to have taken ebook-land by storm.  It's towards the top in the paid charts and  when it was free it was very popular too.  Loads of my kindle forum mates were raving on about it, how it was the funniest book they've read in a while and it was the KUF bookclub choice for November. 

The book is Harry's diary from January, through his tribulations throughout the year and his indiscretions.

Basically, I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if I hadn't been aware of the hype.  I'm not saying it's a bad book, just - in my opinion - not as fantastic as lots of people made it out to be.

I didn't take to the main characters most of the time.  I enjoyed Harry's musings in the shed, especially in regards to what the squirrels were getting up to.  I certainly didn't like his and Jamie's relationship.  Harry's wife Emily was just a nagging miserable woman.  Harry's granddad was a great character.  

As I mentioned, I was looking for some marvellous musings and writings and I didn't find that in this book.  But it was an enjoyable read for all my complaints.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Interrogating Jon Rance

Interrogating Jon Rance, the man who's taken ebook-land by storm and is branching out into the real world

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

Well, I'm lucky in that what I've written so far people seem to want to read. For me personally, I write for me. I write exactly what I like to read and it just so happens I tend to like quite popular fiction. I think if I was writing a sub-genre or something very specific and non-commercial, it might be different, but I'm writing romantic comedy/commercial fiction. It's escapism, entertainment and I think when you do that, you can write exactly what you want. At least, I hope so. It seems to be working at the moment anyway - he says with fingers crossed.

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.

I've always loved comedy. Growing up it was the one thing that sort of defined me in so many ways. When I look back on my childhood and teenage years, I can associate it with watching comedy on television and reading comedy novels. For me, writing comedy is the biggest challenge, with probably the least reward. I think it's far harder to make people laugh than cry. Crying is easy, but making people laugh-out-loud requires hard graft. So I guess what excites and attracts me is making people laugh. If I can do that, I've done my job. I also hope my work is meaningful enough and has enough depth that it stays with people too. The best comedy comes from great characters and great characters have flaws and complex emotional levels - it isn't just knob gags!

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?

Yes. I'm not a very organised writer. I probably have about twenty unfinished novels in my computer, along with pages of notes, names, ideas etc. The good thing is eventually I always seem to find a place for them in my work. I don't write things down on paper any more. I think a lot and then write it all down on my computer. It's shambolic, but I don't know how else to work.

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with ?

With This Thirtysomething Life, so much of my own life was in there and although Harry and I are very different, a lot of the thoughts and worries he has, I had to. It was essentially based on my own experiences of becoming a father, so quite a few things were taken straight from my own life. Of course, most of it is fiction and the characters aren't directly based on anyone, but strange hybrids of people I know, have known etc. In terms of characters I'd like to be, definitely Harry's best mate Ben. I wrote Ben as the me I'd like to be. Successful, well travelled, adventurous, tall and handsome. Unfortunately, I'm far more like Harry.

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

You'll have to ask her, but I'm guessing yes. I do get very into my work and especially with Harry and Emily, because they were 'sort of' based on us.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

I should probably say I'm extremely diverse, well read and enjoy reading obscure 17th Century French novels. The truth is I did English Lit at University and so I read a lot of the classics and the 5000 page Russian novels then. So now, I pretty much stay within my own genre. I read commercial fiction. Partly because it's what I write and I like to study it and see what they're doing right. Also because I rather enjoy it. I think one day I'm going to return to the classics and the more intellectual novels that I ignore now, but for the time being it's entertainment, comedy and books that make me happy. My most recent reads include, One Day by David Nicholls. The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs, by Christina Hopkinson. Moab is my Washpot, by Stephen Fry. Beta Male, by Iain Hollingshead. Wish you Were Here, by Mike Gayle. After the Party, by Lisa Jewell.

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

I don't really. I think the X Factor can only be decided by the readers. All I can do is write the best book I can, give it a spiffy cover and some decent blurb. After that it's all down to the readers. If they like it they read it and tell all their friends. If they don't, they give you a bad review on Amazon and tell no-one. I think it's that simple.

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

Stupid I didn't find it myself, but also glad they went to the trouble of telling me.

What do you like most about visiting KUF/forums?

The people. When I joined I wasn't sure what to expect, but the people I've met have been wonderful. I love having that safety net of like-minded people, all looking out for each other and wanting all of us to be a success. Writing can be a lonely process, so having KUF means I don't have to struggle through it on my own.

What is on your near horizon?

Well, as it happens, you're interviewing me at the right time. I just signed a two book deal with Hodder and Stoughton for This Thirtysomething Life and my next novel, Happy Endings. It's a very exciting time for me personally. I'll have both books available as ebooks and also as paperbacks at some point in the next year. We're still working through the details, but I'm hopeful and excited about the future. All I can say is that I wouldn't have got a book deal if it wasn't for the success I've had on Amazon and I don't think I would have had that without the support of so many wonderful people I've met on KUF.

Where can we find you for more information?

My website www.jonrance.comis always a good resource for all things Jon Rance.

I'm a tweeter @JRance75

Facebook me too Jon Rance

And, of course, any questions you can email me

It's been a pleasure. Time for a cup of tea, I think.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Creepy Christmas by Jaimie Admans

Creepy Christmas is a book allegedly aimed at the 8+ market.  Having said that, I think it's suitable for anyone who likes a good, if slightly scary and creepy (for kids), story.

I saw this promoted as a freebie, but with a forum member saying they'd love to read it and the blurb sounded interesting.  I started it late at night and had forgotten what it was the next day when I picked up my kindle and started reading it again.  I was gripped and wanted to know what was about to happen.

10 year old Kaity is upset that her parents have split up before Christmas but is creeped out by the snowmen that have appeared like a line of soldiers in all the front gardens one morning.

The story is written in first person (Kaity) perspective.  I thought the writing made Kaity seem a bit older and more mature than her 10 years.  Sometime there was a bit too much repetition in Kaity saying she wants her parents to get back together, but otherwise this was a cracking read.  I didn't want to put it down, even if I feel it's a little too far away from Christmas for me to get into the spirit quite yet.  A thumbs up from me :-)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Gladiatrix by Linda Gruchy

I'll start off by saying I'm not into historical books, let alone ones from Roman times.  Life of Brian and Spartacus are about all I know of that sort of era.  However I'm a great fan of Linda Gruchy's books, so gave it a go.

It was hard reading at first as it's written in a first person way that is almost being talked at rather than talked to, but once I got "the voice" in my head I got used to it.  Also there was the use of all Roman / gladiator words that I'm not used to.  I suppose if you were the main target audience you wouldn't notice this as you'd be used to it.  There is a glossary in the book, so that would help

I have learnt (not that it took much teaching) that I wouldn't like to live in those days.  Life was hard for most people, especially women.

It was a very interesting story.  I did think of Hippolyte often when not reading the book.

A very different book to Linda Gruchy's normal fare and certainly one I enjoyed reading.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Le Mans by Dakota Franklin

Le Mans is the author's first book in her Ruthless To Win series, set in and around the motor racing world.  I read book 2 first so knew a little about these characters.  As I understand it, each book will be set around a different character, but all in the same world of "Cartwright-Armitage" racing.

Sometimes the story got a bit bogged down in technicalities, but other readers might like it .

I also think that the characters are  bit "too nice to be true".  The world that Mallory finds herself in with money thrown at everything, expensive gifts are given left, right and centre seems a bit too wonderful.  OR is that I don't know of these things and life really is like that in the world of top-class motor sports :)

I do like this world that Dakota Franklin has created.  The books are an easy clean read with strong female characters.  There were no profanities in the book and even though you'd imaging the male world of motor sports would be full of rough people, Cartwright-Armitage are the gentlemen of this world.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Interrogating Andrew Barrett

I can't believe that I have got up to my 50th interview since starting back in the spring.  And this 50th is certainly a great read.  So eyes down and see what goes on in the mind of someone who is closer to real murders that most people would want to be.

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?

I believe that you can’t please everyone all of the time. So I don’t try to. I write in a fairly gentle style that I hope will appeal to most readers. I do have some rules of my own though: there are certain profanities that I will never use (I like my stories to be as true to life as possible, but there are boundaries), and certain subjects I’ll never go near because I find them too upsetting to write about, let alone read about – and that’s not because of any personal involvement with them; I just think some things shouldn’t be fictionalised, not by me anyway. And I also have to be careful not to break a professional code and give away any of our most modern examination techniques, particularly if flirting with a terrorism theme for example. Also, I’m constrained by the Official Secrets Act and several others, so I have to be careful. But despite these ‘compromises’, or perhaps because of them, I live in the eternal hope that people will want to read what I write.

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in.

Helping to catch the bad guys in real life gives me a buzz. And it’s the same writing in the crime/thriller genre too. But within the confines of a book I can be extrovert, I can create characters that are extreme; caricatures that I can shove into warped surroundings where they encounter depraved people, and see how they handle them. Of course, the depraved people have stories of their own too, and often these can be more fascinating than those of the protagonist.
The crime/thriller genre excites me because it encapsulates everything about modern people and their lives, and I love to get inside their minds as deeply as possible. Crime/thrillers are often fast-paced and exciting in their own right, but they don’t have to be superficial; they can delve and pose serious questions and explore motives.
On another level, who doesn’t want to go hunting for clues? Everyone does; everyone is a would-be Sherlock.
Oh, and we get to use some really cool pieces of kit!

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?

I used to have a buff folder (everyone has one, right?) entitled Novel Ideas. It disappeared years ago. But I’m quite lucky in that I never struggle to grab a name as I’m writing and usually it fits quite well. In A Long Time Dead, my protagonist was called Jon Benedict. No idea where that came from, but during a recent re-write (2011) I binned the name in favour of Roger Conniston. The more I tried to grab the book by the scruff of the neck and turn it into something halfway decent, the more his name fought against me. Jon Benedict was damned boring and he had to go. When Roger Conniston took his place, I seemed to have no problem turning the book around – how strange is that?
Again, I’m lucky in that I seldom struggle for characters or for dialogue. I make them up and use them while writing rather than stock-pile them. And dialogue is easy anyway because all I do is transcribe what they say anyway, honest gov! Nothing to do with me!
The only things I do struggle with are story ideas. My brain is grey mush, and inside are various rooms. In one of the rooms is a chest full of ideas – and they are superb ideas! Trouble is, I’ll be buggered if I can find the damned room.
Once I do happen across a story though, I’m usually off like a shot with it and seem to have no trouble blending in subplots…

How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed

…that add relevance to the main plot. If I create a character for a certain scene, I often wonder if I can use that character for something else, particularly if he’s a deep character, well-rounded or has an interesting story of his own – or maybe he did something or said something I wasn’t expecting that I could use in a positive way. Waste not want not, as my old fella used to say.
I usually know where a story is going from the outset (hence the problem coming by ideas), and I work towards it allowing subplots to weave their way into the main plot, but never to overcome it, or to become a distraction from it. If I find that happening or it’s running towards a dead end, I will delete the chapter/scene.
In The Third Rule, I invented a burglar who also was a wonderfully talented artist. He was there to illustrate what happened to criminals under the new justice system. But he was good. I loved writing him, and he came fully loaded with emotions and traits and… Well, when the time came to bin him, when the illustration was complete, I decided instead to keep him; I had other uses for him – further illustrations with which he would prove useful. And anyway, as I said, I liked the guy. So maybe he was a plot bunny disguised as a character (the crafty sod!) that slipped through the net.

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with ?

Good question. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t write a single word about a character without some of me rubbing off onto them. My protagonists, from Jon Benedict (the wimp), to Roger Conniston (the jolly nice chap), to Eddie Collins (the violent idiot with a heart of gold), are all facets of me. Sorry. Well, at least I’m honest. They are not me though, I still made them up, and they still do things differently from how I would in their situation – it’s fiction – but essentially, they are poor quality 3D photocopies of me and my persona. But hot off the copier, I spray them with chemicals that come in small plastic squeezy bottles with weird labels like Essence of Murderer, or Scent of Suicide, or even Decanted Dumbass.
(You can find these distilled wonders of the fiction-writers arsenal on the air freshener aisle of your local Asda).

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

Oh my, an even better question.
While reading A Long Time Dead, my then-wife burst into tears. Cripes, I thought, it must be bad! Jon Benedict, as he was back then, was having an affair, and because my blood flowed in his veins (see above), she assumed I too was having an affair. I blinked for an awfully long time when she confronted me with this, and then I didn’t help my cause by laughing so hard I fell off the chair.
On the one hand it was such a compliment that my writing even fooled my wife, but on the other it meant she didn’t really know me very well, and that I would never do a thing like that – and then write about it!
I do tend to spend an inordinate amount of time writing or being here thinking about writing. But I should put that into some kind of context I suppose. I spend an inordinate amount of my spare time writing. I worked 67 hours this week, and the first thing I did when I came home from work at midnight, or two in the morning, was grab a coffee. The second thing I did was write.

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?

Yes. And no.
I recently finished a lovely book about the secrets of Bletchley Park. Six months ago I read a book about how the mind makes decisions, and a book about composite materials used in race cars, another about matter vs anti-matter. A year ago I read Ozzy Osbourne’s bio just after I finished Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell. I recently tried to read Ash by James Herbert, and I got part way through Under the Dome by a small-time author called Stephen King (only joking, Steve) when I was distracted by something – must return to it soon. On my shelf I have some books that I ache to get to one day: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson, and Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell (I love his historical fiction), to name just a few. Of course I read thrillers too including Deaver, Hogan, Child…

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?

In the grand scheme of things, it would be very difficult to sway a reader into opening his wallet or purse to buy my humble books. If you have a large publishing house behind you, it may be considerably easier. The only way I can get noticed is by word of mouth. But look on the positive side: it means that most of the books I’ve been lucky enough to sell have been recommended to the buyer – and that’s a compliment if ever there was one.

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?

Ah well, yes! I’m thoroughly embarrassed to begin with. And then after a short while I’m very grateful that someone has taken the time to get in touch and let me know about any errors. I’ve recently completed a full read-through of the entire Dead trilogy because of one such review on Amazon that said some very complimentary things but finished off by saying it was a shame about the errors. Oops.
I don’t like the thought of people being pulled out of the story because their eye has settled on a typo, so if I can get rid of that distraction then everyone’s a winner.

What do you like most about visiting KUF/forums?

The friendliness. I have met some wonderful people on the forums that have become very close friends. They’re a great place for offering and receiving encouragement, for swapping tips and tricks, and I can safely say life would be quite a bit emptier if it were not for the forums.

What is on your near horizon?

I have recently begun writing a new novel. The working title is Angel and it’s about…

Where can we find you for more information?

I have a website at
I’m on Twitter too @AndrewbarrettUK
You can also visit my Author Page on Goodreads:
And I have just begun an Author Page on KUF:
Oh, and obviously there’s an Author Page on Amazon too:
I even have a Facebook page, but I’ve absolutely no idea how to operate it.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Interrogating Marc Nash

My next interview is with Marc, the man who can't quite match his wall paint with his lounge wear, but since he subverts genres he insists in his world the colours do match.

How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any? 

I think if you start out trying to tailor your work for what you imagine readers are after, you're likely to get it wrong. I just write the book that the material demands of me and have it take its chances out there. Readers are diamond sharp, they get what the writer is trying to do. It's only a question of whether they like the story and style or that they don't. 

What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in. 

Subverting them! I don't like the notion of genre and labelling, though I understand why they exist in this online search algorithm world. But to me labels and genres are really restricting. Has a Steampunk fan no chance of enjoying a work by Franz Kafka or Philip Roth? That's what genres seem to be saying, channeling readers down narrow paths. I've never really regarded myself as a writer in any genre, but this book and my next one definitely take genre categories and look to warp and distort them beyond where they still mean anything. "Time After Time" is an urban, sci-fi, dark romantic comedy. With literary experimentalism in terms of its form. It's all of those genres and none of them. Just a work of fiction really!

Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them? 

Yes, but as I write a lot of flash fiction, many of these ideas quickly get used in a flash story. Then I later regret it when I realise that maybe it could have become the centre of a novel. I've got ideas on the back of bus tickets (from about 20 years ago), scrawled across newspapers, on the back of utility bills, because these are the only paper I've had to hand at the time. A friendly indie bookshop owner gave me a Moleskin notebook, so now that's where ideas get jotted down. 

How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed 

I just note them down as above and trust to them finding the right story of mine to inhabit. never throw anything away!

How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with ? 

I really believe that all characters are autobiographical in some way. Even if you use something in a story that somebody told you as an anecdote, or you read in a newspaper, it becomes part of your experience and psyche simply because it resonated with you enough to want to store it away in your memory. It's not the same as you experiencing it personally, but it still comes from within you if you roll it out to use in a story. So to me, all characters exist inside you, even if it's the parts that rarely get seen in you. I like to pitch characters diametrically removed from me; it forces me to move towards them to discover them and in doing so I learn stuff about myself and hopefully the discovery process for me helps keep the writing itself fresh. The character Karen Dash in my debut novel "A,B&E" is my favourite character, but god she scares the living daylights out of me so I'm not sure I'd be around her, she'd eat me for lunch and wash me down with a cocktail - me I don't drink! I also have a sneaking regard for DJ SlipMatt in "Time After Time" as he gets to play lots of great music in the novel and run a criminal enterprise in doing so. 

Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?

I write in sprees, so when I'm in one, she knows to steer well clear of me! My 14 year old twins however are not so forgiving and they're probably right. 

What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write? 

I find that really hard to answer as I'm not sure how I come by the books I read, even though I know what I like and dislike. I do read mainly fiction, but beyond that it's hard to pin down. Something about the theme or the title clues me into an author I haven't heard of before. There aren't many books I fail to get through because I've chosen badly. 

What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor? 

I would just trust to the words themselves. But I hope readers find that my books contain more thought provoking ideas than most and also that the language itself adds something extra to the experience. Words are slippery and elusive things. Due care has to be given to them by the writer. Some are more precise than others. Sometimes the writer wants to exploit that ambiguity in a word, where it has two (or more) different meanings. I love trying to shape a sentence so that both meanings of a word are implied simultaneously, even when they seemingly work against one another. 

How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made? 

I welcome it because it means I haven't done my job to the ultimate degree it demands.

What is on your near horizon?

I've signed a contract with a small US independent publisher for a collection of 7 of my short stories, but I'm not sure of the publishing date. My second 'genre-crunching' novel will be published next year, that one is a "police procedural" where procedure has collapsed in a dystopia. But what I really want to do is raise a modest amount of money through something like Kickstarter and get a video made of one of my flash fiction pieces by an animator and have a scratch DJ to do the soundtrack of it and then perform it live against the video backdrop.

Where can we find you for more information?

My blog is The website on the novel is and I keep both my Goodreads and Amazon author profiles up to date. I also have a YouTube channel with 20 videos on all things reading.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Laura's Big Break by Janet Elizabeth Henderson

This is a chick lit book.  The premise of the story is that Laura wants an interview with Charlie (who is also her best friend's brother).  He doesn't want to give an interview as he finds Laura annoying, but agrees to it if Laura joins him on a week long bike tour of Amsterdam.

As chick lits go, this is a competent story.  It follows all the rules, with a bit of comedy in there.  It was slow in parts, but I did enjoy the last the part of the book.  It was the usual boy hates girl, girl hates boy, boy and girl sped time together, boy and girl get to like each other. It was well written, I liked their antagonism and Laura's mishaps and I though it a good read.