Book Cover Ideas

Inspiration

On a freezing cold winter’s day in lockdown, too drizzly to even venture out for a Sunday walk, I started thinking about book cover designs. I’ll keep this post relatively short but I ended up with 3 designs and would very much welcome some comments, here, with regards to which one works best. Bearing in mind that when designing a book cover it is more than just a picture; more a shop window for promoting your master piece, so the balance of imagery text and colours is important.

Lethal Ties is a tense psychological thriller set in West Sussex.

Two characters, who met in a children’s home, share traumatic memories. But as they attempt to seek the truth and trace a missing friend, they are plunged into a vortex of online threats and intimidation… until a police investigation is launched.

DESIGN 1

Book Cover idea 1 for Lethal Ties, a spine-chilling psychological Thriller by Helen Christmas coming soon.

The thinking behind this first design is fairly simple. Female lead character, Maisie, has a recurring nightmare, where she finds herself trapped in a forest. Staring up, she sees a circle of trees, the night sky just visible through the bare branches.

It is a chilling image and the lack of any other detail leaves an element of mystery, but is it too understated? Perhaps a little boring?

DESIGN 2

Book Cover idea 2 for Lethal Ties, a spine-chilling psychological Thriller by Helen Christmas with photo by Annie Spratt, Unsplash.

I was wondering if the inclusion of a character would make the cover more appealing. Sam, an angelic but vulnerable 11-year-old boy vanished in 1995, never to be seen again. But 20 years later, Maisie is haunted by a vision of a similar looking boy stood on a dark wooded roadside.

I’ve blended in the same trees image from the first design. My only concern is the boy in this photo and although he seems traumatised, he looks younger than 11.

DESIGN 3

Book Cover idea 3 for Lethal Ties, spine-chilling psychological Thriller by Helen Christmas - photo by Annie Spratt, Unsplash.

This photo was taken by the same photographer (and could be the same boy) but the back-of-the-head image portrays a sense of departure. When Sam disappeared from Joe and Maisie’s lives they never knew what happened to him. The tree in the background is very evocative of Maisie’s nightmare, as if the two are connected.

But is this image attention grabbing enough to make you stop and look? What about the title and wording? Would it tempt you to read the synopsis?

Now the book has now been professionally edited and soon to go out to beta-readers I’d love to get some opinions on the three designs. Please leave a comment in the box below to reveal your favourite cover.

Entering the Final Phase of a #WIP

Atmospheric image of oak trees

It’s been a while since I mentioned writing, especially my current work in progress (WIP).

This standalone novel is a psychological thriller set in 2015 located in my home county of Sussex.

Sadly my writing took a nose dive in 2019 when I lost all confidence. I started the book in March 2019 but then things went a bit wobbly. It was like learning to ride a bike again. As soon as I made some progress, I would read it back and shake my head. Stop. Edit. Have another stab at it and still it didn’t engage! Grrrr! I was tearing my hair out with frustration, I even shed tears, thinking the creative power in my brain had been switched off. Even when we took a holiday in the most beautiful part of France, I read some good psychological thrillers to see if I could figure out where it was going wrong. I was inspired enough to embark on another complete re-write. But then the dreaded Coronavirus struck, leaving me so anxious, I was unable to move forward again.

Outline Synopsis

Joe, Maisie, Sam.
We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves.
Three friends who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

The story is centred around a group of fictitious children’s homes that existed in London in the 90s. Maisie, a professional woman at 32, has psychotherapy, unable to understand what lies at the root of her recurring nightmares and panic attacks.

Joe meanwhile, has led a troubled life from serving time in prison to being homeless. When the two characters cross paths in 2015, they recall memories of the strange parties they were taken to by the home’s sinister owner, Mr Mortimer… but what happened to Sam? 20 years ago he vanished, never to be seen again.

Yet as Joe tries to turn his life around, he is subject to a campaign of online abuse that makes them wonder if their enemies are still around – until a police investigation is launched.

A homeless man

Back in the writer’s chair

By mid April it struck me I needed to take a different approach; look at the nature of the police investigation at the heart of the story. Going through the chapters, I identified which parts needed research and further delighted to get some help. Speaking to a senior police officer who worked on similar cases to the one I am writing about, I have found a new direction. So I finally thrashed out the nuts and bolts of the investigation

With a brand new focus, the next hurdle was getting inside the heads of my characters. They took a while to come out, especially Maisie. So by the time I was immersed in a second re-write, I drafted her scenes in first person, something that enabled me to think like her, imagine her life and feel her anxiety (something which comes naturally.)

Joe’s character has been easier. Writing his part in 3rd person, he is a likeable rogue with fire in his belly; an angry rebellious young man at the pinnacle of his life. Now all he wants is justice.

Last of all, I wanted to be able to picture my characters which is where Pinterest came in useful. You only have to key something as obscure as ‘auburn hair’ in your search and dozens of faces appear. I found the right faces for both Maisie and Joe (depicted as Jack Falahee), as well as their childhood friend Sam.

Characters from a psychological thriller I am writing

Joe, Maisie, Sam.
We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves.
Three friends who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

The remainder of the story

I have now drafted out a huge part of the story and about to tackle the final phase. But with a full synopsis worked out, I think I have an adequate foundation to complete a first draft. Wish me luck because if I succeed I’ll be looking for beta readers and an editor.

I’ve seen lots of fellow authors rediscover their writing passion during these strange times and hope this will be the start of something promising. That aside, I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it.

My 2019 Holiday #BookBlog

Holiday reading by the poolWith a weeks holiday ahead of us, a chance to unwind , I was very much looking forward to catching up on some essential reading time. So with three books on at the top of my TBR list, which one to read first? A twisty psychological thriller – a romantic comedy – or a dark dystopian tale. Sod it, I thought, I’ll start all three and see which takes my fancy.

About the Books

We landed at Nice Airport. With my husband stuck in a car hire queue for an hour and a half, I was sweltering in my leggings, socks and boots. (I don’t recommend Gold Cars!) So what better diversion from such stress than a gentle romance. By the time we finally left I was smiling, having ploughed through two chapters of ‘Maybe Baby’ by Carol Thomas. Settling down in the evening with a glass of wine, I knew I’d be doing some writing of my own soon, so to get into the zone I opened ‘We Were Sisters’ by Wendy Clarke (psychological thrillers are my genre at the moment.) Come morning, I was thinking about my current WIP (which has been off the boil of late) and before the crack of dawn, I was re-shuffling the whole script in my head. A good start. But it was only a little later by the pool side , I couldn’t resist dipping into the dystopian novel.

All three books were very different but seemed to balance each other perfectly, affording a much pleasurable reading experience. ‘We Were Sisters’ was indeed gripping and packed with psychological suspense; ‘Maybe Baby’ had great characters, a lovely tale of friendship; and ‘Hope’ had a bit of both, a suspenseful storyline that had me hooked as well as characters I could fall in love with.

My Reviews

A full length review of each book can be viewed on Goodreads. But I would like to share an extract (and hope the authors don’t mind me pinching their Twitter graphics.)

Maybe Baby by Carol Thomas

Maybe Baby by Carol Thomas

Maybe Baby (Lisa Blake #2)Maybe Baby by Carol Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading the Purrfect Petsitter on holiday last year, I was looking forward to the sequel. With engaging characters, light romance, enduring friendships and lots of humorous animal shenanigans (loved the one about the kitten stuck up a tree – been there!), I got straight back into the world of Lisa Blake. And I couldn’t wait to catch up with the next instalment of her life.

Newly re-discovered love, Nathan, is so adorable and every woman’s hero. But when Lisa discovers a half naked woman (who has not long taken a shower in his flat) you wonder what secrets lurk in his past, especially the way she winds her up about it. This is a story about coming clean and facing up to life’s ups and downs, past present and future. It has after all, been many years since their school days and even with the flush of a new romance on the horizon, how much do they really know about each other? | Read More |

We Were Sisters by Wendy Clarke

We Were Sisters by Wendy Clarke

We Were SistersWe Were Sisters by Wendy Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do like psychological thrillers. Kelly comes across as a much troubled woman, struggling with a new baby, getting her twin girls to school on their first day (one confident, one shy) but from the moment Noah’s pram is moved and she finds a locket engraved with the word ‘sister’ you just know from her very reaction she is scared stiff. Such fear, such anxiety, coupled with an obvious OCD (the constant counting). I sense something is haunting her and then the truth of her childhood begins to unravel…

Kelly has suffered a lack of love from her parents, the only excitement in her life the arrival of a new sibling. With so many foster kids coming and going, you start to wonder why her mum and dad can’t find a little more room in their hearts for her… that is until a mysterious girl called Freya arrives. Pale skinned and mute, she is an enigma, a girl you desperately want to know more about. | Read More |

Hope by Terry Tyler

Hope by Terry Tyler

HopeHope by Terry Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rarely read dystopian books because I find them a bit scary. Yet from the blurb (and reviews I caught on Twitter), I became evermore intrigued and wow! What a story! I struggled through the first chapters with a frown on my face, thinking ‘Hell, this depicts just about everything in Britain I fear; automated machines replacing humans, giant corporations swallowing up the smaller companies, more and more people put out of work, food banks, spiralling rents, cuts in social provision, less affordable housing and an ultimate increase in homelessness. By the fourth chapter, I found myself nodding in places, reciting parts to my husband… this is happening now! ‘Hope’ is a wake up call, a chilling depiction of where this country could be heading if we allow it.

I loved the main characters. Dystopian or not, it is the people at the heart of this book that captivated me; from the cheerful camaraderie to a fight for survival. |Read More |

Thanks go out to these talented authors for giving me so much entertainment. This was binge reading at its best! Now back to the challenge of creating something brilliant myself… (one can dream!)

Knuckling Down to Writing Again

Since my last post I’ve followed my own advice, pursuing my dreams

To be more specific WIP, Lethal Ties, is no longer an outline synopsis with a list of characters. I have bashed out the first six chapters and near to completing a 7th. This is a brand new work with a whole new cast but I admit, it took a little while to get into it.

I imagine this must be the same for many authors, where the biggest hurdle getting to know your own characters. Yet the more they develop, the more I find myself mentally engaging with them and more importantly, developing the rest of the plot. Characters are so important though, they form the nucleus of the story and through their actions and emotions, the story can often write itself.

Lethal Ties is a psychological thriller mystery, based on kids in care, while tackling issues such as homelessness, historic child abuse, conspiracy and police cover ups.

Abstract view based on Maisie’s fear of forests.

Talking of characters however, I haven’t lost sight of the Rosebrook Chronicles, a work of fiction I finished earlier this year.

The book is not yet published and this may not happen until August. The reason is, I have to give my beta readers plenty of time to to read it and from the feedback I have received so far, there is still some work to be done but this is not a bad thing. The feedback has been amazing and with really constructive comments on how I can improve it.

“Loved the characters and the common themes that linked them. Great plot, great writing with some really wonderful touches…”

“The way you portrayed the separate journeys of the principle characters was really engaging and the denouement was very satisfying as you pulled all the strands together.”

It’s lovely to know I am on the right track and written something  worth reading.

Rosebrook Chronicles is a deeply moving tale based on the lives of three characters growing up in the 60s and 7os. A blend of social history and domestic noir.

So it feels like an exciting time. I haven’t published anything new since concluding my ‘Same Face Different Place’ series with ‘Retribution End Game’ in 2017. But who knows I may have two new books coming out soon and with a third idea in gestation.

 

 

Guest Post: with #Thriller Writer SC Cunningham

This month, I am very excited to be discussing the life and works of Siobhan Cunningham, author of The Penance List, Unfinished Business and The Deal.

Photograph of Siobhan Cunningham, authorS C Cunningham creates psychological crime thrillers and paranormal romance with a skilled mix of fuelled tension, dark humour, and pulsating sex scenes. Having worked in the industries she writes about, her novels offer a fresh level of sincerity and authority, rare in fiction.

Abducted as a child, she survived; and every night for months afterward, she prayed to God, asking for a deal. This personal journey sparked the fuse behind the intriguing and riveting fictional world she portrays in The Deal, the first in The Fallen Angel series. Twenty years later Cunningham crossed paths with a violent serial attacker, sowing the seed for her mind-bending thriller, The David Trilogy; The Penance List, Unfinished Business, For My Sins.

An ex-model, British born of Irish roots, she married a rock musician and has worked in the exciting worlds of music, film, sports, celebrity management and as a Crime Investigator for the British Police (Wanted & Absconder Unit, Major Crime Team, Intelligence Analyst, Investigations Hub).

She is the proud mother to contemporary Artist Scarlett Raven and owned by three dogs.

So Let’s start by exploring a little more about your Genre, Siobhan… why did you choose to write in this genre?

I write Paranormal Crime Romance and Psychological Rom Thrillers. Also, as respite from the blood and gore, I’ve written a children’s picture book about a rescue dog (based on a rescue Pyrenees Mountain Dog I had when living in Texas), my artist daughter, Scarlett Raven, produced the art work.

My current passion is a Paranormal Crime Romance series of 8, The Fallen Angel Series. When I was about 3 or 4 years old I was taken, I got away, the following week another little girl was taken, but she didn’t get away, she died. I come from an Irish Catholic family; I remember saying my prayers at night, asking God to do a deal with me. If I was a good girl, when I die would he let me sit on a cloud for a while, invisible, and help him get the baddies that slip through his fingers? I have always had a strong feeling of justice, of looking after the underdog.

Book cover for The Deal by Siobhan Cunningham

There have been a few times in my life where I seemed to have been extremely lucky to have survived situations. I call it my Angels looking out for me.

There is something else up there; I don’t know what it is, but it’s there. If my gut says something, I have learned to follow it. My paranormal works are taking this idea to the next level, of Vigilante Angels dishing out tough karma from the skies. I am a romantic, therefore there is always romance.

My Psychological Thrillers are based on an incident that happened to me in my 20’s, I crossed paths with a prolific serial attacker who was haunting London at the time, targeting girls living on their own in basement flats in Notting Hill and Olympia. I got away unscathed (those angels again) and helped Police with a photofit. I remember looking at him wondering why? What makes someone so evil? The seed for my David Trilogy was sown.

The common thread here is I write about what I know. I guess it choses me.

Oh my God, that’s actually quite chilling! It’s easy to see where you got your inspiration from.

Yes, from life experiences; story-lines that provoke thoughts, that teach, that help others. I’ve worked in various industries; Music, Film, Football, Modelling, Sports Celebrity Management, and more lately in crime – Crime Investigator, Major Crime Team, Intelligence Analyst, Wanted and Absconder Unit for Sussex Police.

So to be short and sweet, how would you describe your novels in 10 words?

Fast paced, exciting, thought provoking, sexy, funny, heart pounding, thrilling.

Now just to lighten the tone a little, let’s talk about your writing environment.

I have a writing room at home. I write whenever I can, I have no social life, am a bit of a recluse. I set the scene to write, with lovely smells/candles, soft music, lighting and dogs curled at my feet. It takes hours to block out the world in my head, then I settle down to churn out the words. It’s hard to get to the writing ‘place’ but once you are there, it is wonderful. My ideal place would be in a villa with a pool in the sunshine, where I could pop out to take a dip in the pool between chapters… but hey, one day…

That sounds so chilled out. Dogs are great writing companions – mine curls up with me too when I’m writing but moving on, are any of your characters based on real people?

From my own life experiences, studying people, observing, listening, I see stories in everything, even as I walk down a street… sometimes it’s a bit exhausting. Characters are a mishmash of different people I know. It is easier to write about the truth.

So I must ask, which authors do you like and do you have a favourite book?

My chosen authors include Lee Child, Martina Cole, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Agatha Christie, Harlan Coben, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell and Karin Slaughter. The Lee Child Jack Reacher Series is my favourite… I have a crush on Jack Reacher. Although if I ever get to meet Lee Child I will bollock him for selling out to Tom Cruise. Cruise is wonderful, but he is no Jack Reacher.

Thanks for sharing that! So who would you like to see playing the lead character in your book?

My Psycho Thriller books, Tom Hardy. I think he has the depth of mind to play the part. He’s been there and done that in his own life, therefore can bring it to the fore in his acting. My Fallen Angel Series, Hmmmm… (scratches head)… I actually cannot think of anyone yet… maybe an unknown actor could step forward and shock the socks off people!

So going back to your books, do you work out a strict plot or just start writing?

I just start writing and it develops itself. If I knew what happened in the end I would be bored. I love the way a story writes itself.

Writing is the fun part, so what about research?

My life is research in a way. I’m constantly observing, learning and adapting my own experiences to the page, and am of course SO grateful to google which answers any technical questions I may have i.e. blood splatter, gun calibre, drugs, health symptoms etc (my web search history is damming). My Police Investigation work is like a university degree in the criminal mind. However I have signed the official secrets act, therefore am not able to talk about cases I work on – which is of course right.

That’s understandable… I know what you mean about browser history, the mind boggles. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about writing, to inspire others?

Just start, keep doing it, every day, the first outline can be as rough as you like, no one else sees it. The magic then comes in the first edit, shining the coal into a diamond.

That’s a lovely analogy. So do you have any future plans for writing, that is, are you working on anything now?

I am finishing off the series and trilogy, then adapting them to screenplay. Book I of the David Trilogy has been adapted to film script and is sitting on a desk in Hollywood as the moment. Fingers crossed.

Good luck! That would be amazing. Last but not least, here are the links to the books.

Books by S C Cunningham

UK LINKS

Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/S-C-Cunningham/e/B002L3ZC2U/

UK The Deal (Fallen Angel Series Book I) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deal-Fallen-Angel-S-Cunningham/dp/1521465479/

UK The Penance List (David Triogy Book I) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Penance-List-David-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00B0HMTW4/

UK Unfinished Business (David Trilogy Book II) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unfinished-Business-David-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00B623ABC/

REVIEWS

“Cunningham has crafted an epic in proportion novel here. Her characters are sultry and as real as they can get.”

“The book is dark, naughty…sometimes downright nasty. Cunningham will hold your attention to the very end.”

“Delicious and salacious, this novel offers a new twist on the modern romance and the classic psychological thriller.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/user/siobhancunningham8
Websitehttp://www.sccunningham.com/
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/SCCunningham8
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/pg/sccunningham8/
LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/sccunningham/
Google+https://plus.google.com/+SCCunninghamAuthor
Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/siobhancunningham8/
Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3120154.S_C_Cunningham

AND LAST OF ALL, HERE ARE SOME INTERESTING (AND JUICY) SNIPPETS FROM SIOBHAN’S BIOGRAPHY

  • Sports Celebrity Management job consisted of working for the management company of footballer personalities – i.e. David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Gary Lineker, Gaby Logan and helped coordinate a EURO Football Tournament in Belgium and Holland. Got to see first hand the crazy way fans and women react when a footballer walks into a room/club!!
  • Worked in music business (8yrs) with first husband, Raf Ravenscroft, who played sax on Baker Street by Jerry Rafferty, he played with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed etc. We had a recording studio in Oxford Circus, making music for film,TV and radio. Was the eye candy in a band (couldn’t sing or play an instrument), appeared on Wogan Show twice, entry for Eurovision Song Context.
  • Single mum with Scarlett from age of 7. Worked in London until she finished Uni, then she didn’t need me any more and could start my writing life in earnest.
  • Worked in Horse racing for 5yrs, running events, looking after international VIPs coming into UK for Ascot, Derby etc. The horse racing world is racier than any other industry I have worked, its all that hay and sweat. Great fodder for authors like Jilly Cooper.
  • Got fed up lining the pockets of the rich, wanted to line the pockets of the poor so worked for a year or so as an international coordinator for Children’s Charity raising awareness and funds for HIV, orphanages, schools, meds etc in Africa – visiting these children was a humbling experience.
  • Got drunk and married in Vegas to second husband, a tall dark handsome Texan. We lived in Dallas, had great fun for 2 years, love the Texan larger than life, can-do-anything mentality.
  • Fashion model for 5 years, catwalk and beauty (makeup etc). Europe USA & Far East. Witnessing the behind the scenes behaviour of the glamour world. Sadly, I liked my food too much and didn’t bow down to the ‘casting couch’ mentality/pressure.
  • All of the above are great fodder for my story-lines.
  • Charitable causes I wish to support are; Veterans, Mental Health and Animal Abuse. 

I am angry with the way Veterans are treated in this country, MH is increasingly prevalent, especially in my Police work, and I prefer animals to some humans.

It’s been an absolute treat to have Siobhan as a guest on my blog and I am intrigued by her novels. Check them out for yourself and add them to your reading list!

Adventures Into New Writing Ventures

There are currently two folders open on my desktop under ‘Writing’ right now. One is for another edit of Visions. The other is a folder for a series of short stories.

Visions

Since completing an edit for the first book in my ‘Same Face Different Place’ series, BEGINNINGS (which is currently being proofread), this left me with a burning urge to take another look at VISIONS, the second book of the series.

Book 2 Visions

Set in the 1980s, ‘Visions’ is the book I always wanted to write and contains everything I feel passionate about; historic houses, idyllic villages, simple country pleasures, traditions and a strong community. Yet in the background lurks the disturbing, unresolved mystery left in ‘Beginnings’ and a new threat about to be unravelled. One of my reviewers wrote “Despite the beauty of each scene there is always an element of danger lurking” which sums the story up very well. A more recent reviewer depicted my story as “a study of how to react to threats and violence, the nature of victimhood, and the power of fighting back.”

I am really enjoying revisiting this book with just a few tweaks, to improve it.

Short Stories

The main reason for this blog however, is to log my newer writing adventures.

This was something I always planned to do before I got distracted by other interests. It started last year when in a somewhat spooky moment, I felt as if I had been ‘touched’ by the Bronte Sisters. It happened during a trip to the Parsonage museum in Yorkshire when I was stood in the very room where Charlotte Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights. I was hit with a strange feeling, the concept of ‘short stories’ rolling around my mind like a mantra; that if I was ever to make an impression, this was a path I had to follow.

Ascending the stairs to the upper floor, I found myself dismissing the concept. When am I ever going to find time to write a book of short stories? The thought was interrupted by a sharp prick like a thorn and before I knew it, a splinter from this original oak staircase was embedded in my finger. I stared at it numbly, wondering if it was sign. Are these the “rugged thorns that shoot out their prickly arms on barren moors, or ruffle the moss on the mountain tops?”

Bronte Parsonage Museum

It sounds insane but this is genuinely what I felt and I made a promise that day. I pledged to the Bronte sisters, I would write a book of short stories and pleased to announce, I have made a start. ‘The Rosebrook Chronicles’ is a book I hope to bring out next year and the first story titled ‘Stony Crows’ is a work in progress. The stories are based on a few of the lesser known characters in my ‘Same Face’ series but they dip into a little more detail of the underlying character backstories I never made it into the series.

Two More Folders

I will end this post by saying there are two more folders on my desktop. One is for a screenplay I am working on, (having just finished a very interesting course) and the other is an outline plot for my next standalone novel, a modern day thriller based around the institute of child care and adoption… More updates coming soon.

Back to the Beginning

What Next?

Reaching the end of a long-running series feels strange but at the same time, therapeutic as if an enormous burden had been lifted. All the story lines I had planned from the beginning finally found their way into the story where each character had their own unique ending. The Kindle version went live Amazon in August and by the end of the month, my paperbacks too had arrived just in time for Arundel Festival.

Montage of Book Covers from the Same Face Different Place series

The final books of the series have gone down well and received some favourable reviews, starting with this most enthusiastic review from a Facebook Group!

Wow wow wow what a fantastic read…had me gripped from the start… this 5 set series is an absolute must buy…congratulations helen christmas this is your best yet

Delighted to embrace such praise keeps me motivated; but with time to fill (and not quite ready to start my next writing adventure), there is something I have been planning to do for a while now…

Re-visiting Book 1: Beginnings

Book cover for Same Face Different Place Book 1 Beginnings by Helen J ChristmasThe Same Face Different Place ‘Beginnings’ was written in 2011 and published in 2012. The story underwent further edits in 2015 but since finishing the series, my writing style improved considerably. Much of this was thanks to my friends who pointed out a few flaws in my writing. I was able to fix these issues for the 4th and 5th Books (Retribution) but it left me wondering if I should re-visit the 1st books again.

In many ways, it was really enjoyable looking back and while the story hasn’t changed in any way, another edit gave me a chance to improve the writing style, the descriptions and the characters. At the same time it put me right back in the zone; set in the 1970s, Beginnings is a very dark story, where the inherent fear and danger facing the main two characters reminded me of the most important selling points of this novel.

Link to PinterestRelive 197os London on my Pinterest Board

Arundel Festival

In actual fact the timing couldn’t be better. Feeling very much immersed in the setting of ‘Beginnings’ paid off, especially at Arundel Festival. I had more impetus to promote my book and actually felt quite passionate about it when I was describing it to people. As a result of my renewed enthusiasm, I made more sales than ever before.

With experience came confidence.

Our CHINDI Fundraising Book Stall at Arundel Festival.

I will also say, I thoroughly enjoyed managing the book stall with some of my fellow CHINDI authors. Our goal was to promote ourselves as local authors, sell each others books as well as our own, and make as much money for Cancer Research UK as possible. We were rewarded with beautiful sunny weather during the August Bank Holiday, a lovely Festival atmosphere and best of all we manage to raise nearly £500 for charity.

On to Book Promotion

In addition to my the edit of ‘Beginnings,’ I’ve been looking at ways of raising awareness and focussing on marketing. In early September I finally succeeded in getting 50 reviews for ‘Beginnings.’ This is a significant bench mark with Amazon and I do believe, it will give the book more credibility as a saleable product. Thus, it is even more important to knock the book into shape and turn it into as polished a product as possible.

By the end of September, I hope to have the novel proof-read too and publish a 2nd edition. My next dream will be to obtain 1 or 2 editorial reviews; something I can promote through my social networking feeds…

I thought my work was done but a writers’ work is never really done. You think you’ve reached the end but there is always room for improvement, so it’s onwards and upwards.

Crime Writers Panel with 3 Chichester Authors

Joining forces with authors of the same genre is a great way of promoting fiction. On June 20th, three thriller writers from our networking group CHINDI (Celebrating and Helping Indie Authors) got together to engage in a lively panel discussion on what makes a good crime thriller; including research, character development, creating exciting plot lines and what keeps a reader on the edge of their seat…

The talk took place at Hennings Wine Merchants in Chichester, who very kindly supplied the venue and the wine. So what did we talk about? Here is a resume of the discussion we participated in on the night.

Crime Writers’ panel with Michael Parker, Helen Christmas and Christine Hammacott (L -R)

Christine Hammacott led the discussion by introducing the three of us in turn. Christine has been writing for over 20 years and started as a result of a day job. As a graphic designer she was frequently presented with copy that quite honestly was pretty terrible. Having loved to write, she joined a creative writing course, entered a national writing magazine competition and won first prize which gave her the confidence to try something larger. Her debut novel ‘The Taste of Ash’ was published in 2015.

Helen Christmas has been writing stories ever since she was a child and has a passion for writing. “I always dreamed of being an author and in 2012, finally took the first step in getting my work published with my ‘Same Face Different Place’ series set in the dark, criminal London underworld. I never imagined at that time that it would develop into a series. In 2015 I won a short story competition, ‘Write Across Sussex’ my first literary success and this greatly inspired me to keep writing.”

Michael Parker left school with no qualifications but had a natural ‘leaning’ towards English that set him on the path to writing. Michael has written for as long as he can remember, but not with the success he first coveted. Michael’s first novel, NORTH SLOPE was published by Macmillan in 1980. His second THE SHADOW OF THE WOLF in 1984 by Robert Hale. The intervening years have seen some massive changes in publishing with publishers merging and opportunities dwindling. And this has been a frustration to us all. It was not until 2007 when Michael  saw his third novel published. Since then he has published about a book a year.

Michael has worked as an office boy, a Merchant seaman, a plaster’s labourer, a deck hand, a cinema projectionist, an RAF Technician and a maintenance technician in the food industry. He has also worked in the Middle East and lived Spain, settling on the Costa Blanca with his wife, Pat. So Michael has plenty of resources to draw on for his writing.

So that’s a little bit about the writers, now on to the discussion:
WHAT EXACTLY DO WE WRITE AND WHY DID WE CHOOSE THE THRILLER GENRE?

Books by thriller writers Christine Hammacott, Michael Parker and Helen Christmas.

Michael: I call myself a thriller writer, but I really am a stand-alone author. I write stories set in different time periods and different places. North Slope. (Alaska 1968 — Discovery of oil). Hell’s Gate (British East Africa, 1898), Shadow of the Wolf (1943 — Nazi wolf packs and secret radar), plus many others.

Why did I decide to write in this genre? I can only really write what ideas come into my head, and they do not always end up as modern thrillers.

Helen: I have written a mystery suspense series which spans four decades. ‘Same Face Different Place’ begins in 1972 when a prominent British MP is murdered in a car bomb explosion. Everyone assumes the IRA is responsible but there is a witness. A young musician from Holland is the only person who can throw the spotlight onto the true culprit. But as powerful members of the ‘Establishment’ they arrange a contract to silence him.

I am a big fan of thrillers and have always enjoyed reading this genre. I love conspiracies, especially when they involve police cover-ups and organised crime.

Christine: The Short story competition I entered was called ‘Curiosity killed the Cat’ which obviously infers something bad happened as a result of being nosy. It was about a busy-body who liked poking around in other people’s houses but in this instance there was a break in and her fingerprints were all over a neighbours house.

I was reading Minette Walters and Nicky French around that time and decided that if I was going to spend time writing I should chose a genre that was commercial and that I stood a chance of being published in. It was also because I like to find out about people, how what is shown on the outside isn’t necessarily a true reflection of a person’s character and that is what the psychological suspense genre is all about.

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A LOT OF CRIME THRILLER WRITING IS PLOT DRIVEN. WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF YOUR WORK, PLOT OR CHARACTERS?

Christine: Character. I develop the outline of a character at the start of a book but get to know them as the book progresses. That’s the joy of writing for me. I throw problems at my main characters to see how they will react. In The Taste of Ash I have my main character Zoe trying to move on from a fire that has destroyed everything and leaves her feeling like a refugee. But to make her physically as well as emotionally vulnerable I have her hobbling around on crutches for the entire book too.

The plot is a morphing structure for me. I write scenes that are pulled into a structure. It’s much the same process as designing where you need to assemble the elements and key points so that you can create the overall balance and make it work. It’s a long winded way of doing it and I wouldn’t recommend it but it works for me.

Michael: I let my characters do the talking and walking, therefore my stories are character driven. There has to be a plot of course, but it doesn’t always turn out the way I thought it might.

Helen: Both. My first goal was to create strong characters that people would love or hate. From my very first novel, as the characters developed, some of them gradually became more evil… I wanted to depict every human emotion: love, hate, passion, jealousy and revenge (to name a few). Once you have a cast of powerful characters, it helps you to drive the plot.

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HOW MUCH RESEARCH DO YOU NEED TO DO FOR YOUR BOOKS?

Helen: I like to do lots of research for my books as it is so important in crime fiction to add authenticity to your book. I often visit real locations, to research such scenes as a chase across the London Underground or an escape from a house in Pimlico. The London Underground is on three levels so it was really important to get the escalators the right way round, which I confess to having got wrong in my 1st draft, something a die-hard commuter on the tube might have picked up on.

In addition, it is vital to get police procedures right which might involve approaching your local constabulary. I was lucky to spend an afternoon with crime thriller writer, Marion Kille and her husband (who spent 30 years in the police force). I learned about the forensics used in gun crime as well as the criminal conviction process which was vital for my 3rd book.

Christine: I write contemporary fiction so most of the content is observed from every day life. However it is important to get facts right where possible. I watched numerous videos on fires and a retired fire officer read the fire scenes for me. The Portsmouth police were really helpful and a showed me round the police station and talked through photo fit procedures although of course over time these things do change. Sometimes you have to use artistic licence though. There is a particular scene in a pub that doesn’t exist in real life but that I needed so that my character could see someone through a side window but not get to them through a crowded pub.

Michael: I began writing before Amazon and Google were invented, so most of my research was done using the local libraries or talking with people who experienced the subject I was researching. Nowadays I can research on line and uncover much more than I could years ago.

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IS THERE A PARTICULAR AUTHOR WHO INFLUENCED YOUR WORK?

Michael: Hammond Innes was the reason I wrote my first, published novel. I planned to write something set in Canada but ended up in Alaska (North Slope). It was while I was researching this novel that I read an autobiography written by an English teacher who went out to Canada in the early 1900s to teach English to the Innuit Indians. That was where I learned how Husky dogs are bred and how vicious they can be: something I used in the book.

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THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE BOOKS KEEP READERS ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT DOING THIS?

Helen: I build up the suspense slowly, but to keep readers really turning the pages, I occasionally split two alternating scenes. I start with one scene (say, a character who has picked up a clue about his missing relative) while in another scene his girl friend is about to be attacked. Leave the latter scene as a cliff hanger and return to the first and your readers will be hankering to know what happens i.e is she going to survive?

Christine: I love playing with the rhythms. Creating tension and a lull in the structure with fast and slow paced scenes and a gradually building undercurrent of fear. The suspense structure in The Taste of Ash starts with a fast paced opening, eases back as we get to know the characters and situation then starts to build tension and suspicion that culminates in a fast paced climax.

So that completed the session and to round off the evening, authors took questions from the audience. This post has also been published on the CHINDI authors website.

The 1990’s, Princess Di, MC Hammer (not to forget the recession)

Well – I am over half way through the final edit of Retribution (Phase 1), Book 4 in my crime noir thriller series, based across the decades of Britain… 23 chapters have undergone a complete editting process with only 11 more to go, to deliver a total of 35.

Having gone through the story again, piece by piece, I have to warn readers, this story is a lot darker than the previous books!

Running from the year 1992, (where the last book, ‘Pleasures’ ended), we follow the characters through the next three years . But throughout the coming chapters, I have addressed some of the worse depravities human beings are capable of; from the abuse of children in the Catholic care system, to the sadistic cravings of those labelled in our society as ‘sociopaths.’ As I continue with the edit, I have already started thinking about the next Pinterest board for the 4th book in the series.

So here is a sample of the fashion, music, TV and current affairs that stirred our lives in the early 90s…

CURRENT AFFAIRS

THE CATHOLIC CHILD ABUSE SCANDAL

St. Vincent de Paul Orphanage

St. Benedict Orphanage – fictitious example of an orphanage where a character was abused by a Catholic priest. It is not a real location, but based on this sketch of St. Vincent de Paul Orphanage, Glasnevin, Dublin. Note the imposing chapel which dominates the design.

THE WAR IN BOSNIA

UN Peackeepers including British Troops

The war across Yugoslavia is an ongoing concern for army officer, William as depicted in one of my earlier posts (click to view the post.)

John Major

PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN JOHN MAJOR

(Source Wikipedia) Throughout his reign, John struggled with the early 1990s recession, the Gulf War, the Downing Street mortar attack 1991, ratification of the Maastricht Treaty and the Maastricht Rebels, Privatisation of British Rail, The National Lottery, “Back to Basics” campaign and the Dangerous Dogs Act to name but a few…

TV AND FILM

Robin Hood and the Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner was a big blockbuster in 1991, never to forget the soundtrack by Bryan Adams which stuck at the number 1 spot in the UK music charts for 11 weeks. In 1992, the big movie was the Bodyguard along with its timeless track by Whitney Houston.

TV shows mentioned in ‘Retribution’ include the Australian soap opera Neighbours which is still going and the early series of Men Behaving Badly with Harry Enfield.

MUSIC AND FASHION

Princess Diana was an icon of fashion in the 90s. I can relate to owning a pretty, pastel suit very similar to this. Throughout the decade there were extremes in fashion, from the ultra chic, to the utterly outrageous, including Grunge fashion.

Princess Diana - Source Mirrorpix

In many ways, the 90s was a decade of huge diversity – something that is slightly lacking nowadays. It was the same with music; added to the echoes of early 90s rave, the hit parade was dominated by a mishmash of styles from the energetic beat of MC Hammer to the subdued melodies of Simply Red. But if there is one song that features prominently in this book, it is ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues, featuring Kirsty Maccoll.

You’re handsome – you’re pretty – queen of New York City…’ It delights me to hear that this is still a very popular Christmas hit and there was even a petition to get it to no. 1 for Christmas, this year (2016.)

SO THAT’S MY RESUME.
SAME FACE DIFFERENT PLACE ‘RETRIBUTION – Phase 1’ is due out this year, possibly in April but definitely before the end of Spring 2017.

1st Synopsis for Book 4 Retribution – 9th January 2017

It seems hard to believe I’ve been working on this novel since August 4th 2015. The first draft was completed in just over a year and I am finally coming to the end of my 3rd draft. The final book of the series is pretty much in shape now, but before I begin my final edit, it is time I presented a synopsis of the first instalment.

RETRIBUTION – Phase 1

Front cover visual for novel 'Retribution' by Helen J. Christmas“Avenge me,” he whispered evilly. “Make them pay – all of them!”

Ben Hampton has always known he was special. Inspired by his father’s pledge, he has never forgiven his enemies. They thwarted Perry’s mission throughout the decades and now finally, someone is going to pay!

In order to fulfil his ambition, Ben knows he must join the murky criminal underworld of London. Unsure how to proceed, he lashes out indiscriminately: his first victim is the charismatic community leader, Peter Summerville, who he blames for his father’s downfall. Next on the list is the former London gangster, Dominic Theakston, who switched sides. Ben not only wants to pin him for a historic murder in the 70s but is desperate to hold some dominion over him. It is only when his reckless plans start to go wrong, he seeks the guidance of his father’s oldest confident, Robin Whaley. Together they unleash a scheme so devastating, it is about to rip the heart of out the community in ways no-one could imagine…

Insatiable in his mission, Ben has always wanted to save the best until last.

Images of a country road in Kent and character 'Eleanor' from book 4 Retribution

It is ultimately the ill-fated heroine of the series, Eleanor, who must face her worst battle. She has spent her whole life fighting against the evils inspired by Ben’s family but is she powerful enough to stand up against the sinister dark forces about to engulf the lives of everyone she has left?

Retribution is a saga of one man’s revenge; a chilling story of control, desire and obsession.