An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘novel’

Exciting news from author Daniel Pembrey

Today’s interview is a catch up with my friend and author Daniel Pembrey, author of The Harbour Master. He’s dropped by Words Are My Craft to share with us some exciting news…

Daniel, what’s new since we last worked together on the Britcrime Online Literature Festival?

Hi Stephanie! Nice to be here … I just released a short story as a Kindle Single (Amazon’s curated, short e-book programme). The Lion Hunter was inspired by a combination of Cecil the lion, a recent trip to Tanzania and my re-reading of Hemingway’s African short stories. It’s about a newly married British couple who meet a Texan trophy hunter at a remote game lodge. The lion hunting turns out to be less morally straightforward than the husband bargains for. It really is short at approximately 40 pages. I loved writing it, and I love the creature it’s based around.



You can buy The Lion Hunter: A Short Adventure Story here if you live in the UK and here if you’re in the US …

You seem to like novellas and short stories …

I really do – both as a reader and an author. I love nothing more than being gripped by a story during the course of a plane or train journey. Also I feel so lucky to be living in an era when there is a viable market for them. Before e-books, novellas were the realm of Hemingway and perhaps Stephen King; now, with programmes such as Kindle Singles, they are flourishing.

The Lion Hunter is in fact my fourth Kindle Single; the previous ones are a standalone espionage story called The Candidate: A Luxembourg Thriller and the first two instalments of the Harbour Master series.

Speaking of The Harbour Master, which I read and reviewed earlier in the year (click here to read); what’s going on with that?

Well, thanks to the success of the Harbour Master Kindle Singles (the first became the No. 1 Short Story on Amazon UK), I got a picked up by a great agent, and between her and the visibility I received at our BritCrime Festival this summer, I ended up receiving two offers from traditional publishers. I went with No Exit Press, who have built up a terrific crime list. The Harbour Master e-book novellas are now being withdrawn from sale in preparation for the launch of two, novel length books. The first should be out next year.

How exciting! So what else can we look forward to from you?

I’m working on a novel set in Berlin and the screen adaptation of my standalone spy story The Candidate, which has been optioned for a film in Luxembourg. I’m also working on the new Harbour Master stories, and of course there is the BritCrime Christmas Ball on Sunday December 13th to look forward to!

That will indeed be a ball! Thank you for taking part in this interview.

My pleasure! Thanks for having me, and see you on December 13th if not before!

Before you rush off, can you tell us where our readers can find you online?

Good catch! I am active on Twitter,, and also present on Facebook, … You can view my latest news on my website too,, and also sign up there to receive my quarterly email newsletter with offers of free exclusive content. See you soon!


Gabriel’s Angel by Mark A. Radcliffe

gabriels angel

Gabriel Bell is a grumpy 44-year old web journalist irritated by the accumulating disappointments of life. He and his girlfriend Ellie want to start a family, but Gabriels has so few sperm he can name them and knit them flippers. So it’s IVF, which is expensive. Losing his job was bad enough, but getting run over and waking up to find himself in a therapy group run by angels really annoys him.
In Gabriels’ group are a professional killer and his last victim, as well as the woman whose car put Gabriel and herself in a coma. From this therapeutic community, just beneath Heaven, they can see the lives of those they have left behind and how they cope. Will the one hit wonder resurrect his Eighties band for a reunion tour? And can Ellie and her friends retrieve what they need from Gabriel’s comatose body, so that she at least can finish what they started?

If the group do well in therapy they may be a allowed to pass into Heaven, or go back to finish their lives. If not, it’s Hell. Or worse, more therapy.

Have you ever wanted to find a book that is equally hilarious as it is heartbreaking, thought-provoking and moving, gentle and yet action-packed? You need to read Gabriel’s angel. It is a truly unique book.

Part of the beauty of it is just how easy it is to read – I got through this book so quickly and smoothly, like a hot knife through butter. But while it’s easy to read, it’s certainly not because the writing is simple or not trying hard enough, it’s just because the writing style is so crystal clear and yet so inviting at the same time. It has a very original concept at the heart of it, which makes it appealing to me in a literary world swamped with millions of stories that are so similar to each other. The idea of there being a celestial group counselling facility somewhere in the astral plane between life and death is both hilarious and fascinating. How do you go about tackling such a concept?

Mark A. Radcliffe takes this idea and runs off with it, producing a novel full of humour and philosophical messages. At the heart there are a number of very different character types – Gabriel, the main protagonist, who is innately good but is struggling with the stress of being made redundant and going through IVF. Yvonne, a successful but bitter woman who was murdered by the evil Kevin who has no moral compass whatsoever. There is Julie, the woman who accidentally crashed into Gabriel and caused them both to go into comas, who had the misfortune of having to take part in a counselling section in limbo just as she was starting to find real happiness. There is Christopher, an angel who suffers constant internal turmoil as he second-guesses the morality of all of his own actions and decisions. Clemetius, the main ‘counsellor’ angel, shows himself to be a dodgy character more and more throughout the story – showing that even those who are meant to be ‘perfect’ in Heaven can’t pull this off.

There is also a parallel narrative that is going on on Earth involving Gabriel’s bereaved wife and her best friend, and Julie’s ex-boyfriend and his disappointing life and unrealised dreams. Hilarious antics occur both after death and back on earth, with hare-brained schemes to retrieve sperm from a comatose IVF patient to desperate attempts to reform an old 80’s band with has-been old men. With such a wide spectrum of colourful characters and events, this book was endlessly entertaining.

It explores questions such as: Who deserves a second chance or redemption? Has the way you have lived your life been worthy or wasteful? What is right or wrong, and can anyone be 100% good or bad? Does the world owe us anything? Can anything be intrinsic when all we do nowadays is question how everything works? Gabriel’s Angel  completely modernises and rewrites the idea of God and how he works, reflecting the ever-changing nature of today’s society.

‘Think of it like this. A modern God, a God in touch with the nuances and struggles of modern life, would know that the things people do are not necessarily indicative of who they are. That sometimes, quite often in fact, we need to look beyond the actions of a person and see inside them to truly understand what motivates them and who, in fact, they are. Moreover, a modern God would recognise that it is by addressing the inner turmoil that can haunt you all, that one might truly address sin.’

…Finally Yvonne spoke. ‘Oh my,’ she said softly. ‘Someone has killed God and replaced him with a social worker.’

Gabriel’s Angel is published by the amazingly successful independent publisher Bluemoose Books and I enjoyed it so much. There is no question about it: if you don’t give this book a chance, you’re making a mistake.

Digging The Vein by Tony O’Neill

digging the vein

Digging The Vein by Tony O’Neill is a fascinating insight into the grim and despairing world of a heroin and class-A drug addict. Published by Wrecking Ball Press, the book explores the extreme highs and lows of human existence and shines a light on the rapid spiral into depression and degradation that drug addition can cause.

On a relentless Los Angeles summer day, you walk barefoot over broken glass and melting tarmac to meet your connection, praying that he will extend your line of credit to one more bag of heroin. You are alone, penniless, and wracked by violent withdrawals. Last night you robbed a psychotic crack dealer named Shakespeare, and had to abandon your apartment for fear of reprisals…

The novel is set in Hollywood, but the setting is far from bright. There are a lot of gritty scenes in this book, but what the author does brilliantly is show the reader how the addict feels about the drugs he’s taking. We know what he’s doing and that he’s poisoning his deteriorating body. Instead of being explicit and saying “I was hooked on drugs, I loved them more than I loved myself,” the author SHOWS the reader rather than TELLS. He does this by describing the drugs and the drug-taking process in an almost poetic manner: “There’s something in the ritual that you learn to love – opening the balloon of heroin and placing the dope into the spoon, which is stained dark brown with old heroin residue and coasted black with carbon on the underside. There is a smell to Mexican black tar heroin…caramel or treacle mixed with the smell of lost childhood summers. The smell of a strange nostalgia, of a yearning that you can’t explain…” A real show of literary talent.

The protagonist knows full well what he is doing to himself, he knows what his deep-rooted issues are, and he knows what is good for him and what isn’t. But the book doesn’t try to be judgemental, and it doesn’t try to provide a moral to the story. It shows the reader how rational, and at the same time irrational, a drug addict can be. He has no motivation to change his own habits or ways of behaving sometimes, and yet he’s fine to criticise others with no perception of the irony: “It’s as I’ve always said, drunks got no class to them. They’re worse than crack heads, stumbling around breathing their fumes on you. A fucking liability.” The author and the narrative work to show What Is, not necessarily What Should Be. In many ways it is a breath of fresh air from the normal format of a novel.

One thing which I would have liked to have seen in this book is more of a story arc, or a plot, as it didn’t seem to have one. Saying that though, by its very nature this book doesn’t really have a logical ‘beginning’ or ‘end’ – it begins with addiction and continues with addiction. This is actually a very clever reflection of how life probably feels to an addict who just cannot find a way out, no matter what they do. The form of the novel reflects the unfortunate reality of some people’s lives. This book is an exploration of a lifestyle, an open window showing the reader into a whole new world, rather than one which takes us on a specific journey with a start and a finish.

The whole story isn’t completely dark – it features humour, loyalty, heartbreak, and human endeavour. I read it on a conference trip and must admit I sailed through it. It is very well written, rhythmic,  interesting. It is something different, and that, to me, has to make it worth reading. If a novel stands out in your mind for positive reasons and leaves a lasting impression, then the author has done their job correctly. Well done to Tony O’Neill and Wrecking Ball Press.

The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey

This book is written by one of the author participants of the BritCrime Online Literature Festival – one of the first of its kind and a massive success! Daniel has since become a good friend of mine, after I was lucky enough to give his whole Harbour Master collection a read.

My (well-read!) copy of the Harbour Master collection.

My (well-read!) copy of the Harbour Master collection.

Book 1 synopsis:

Maverick cop Henk van der Pol is thinking about retirement when he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour. His detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his case. But his bigger challenge is deciding who his friends are – not to mention a vicious street pimp who is threatening Henk’s own family…

Book 2 synopsis:

Henk roves further afield to Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels – investigating a maze-like set of cases involving diamonds, fine art, drugs and high-class prostitution. What connects the cases, and what risks must Henk run to uncover the criminals? 

Book 3 synopsis:

A powerful Dutch politician is hijacked, bearing parallels with the 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken. Henk, who worked on the Heineken case a the start of his career, is now operating outside of the official investigation. He becomes imprisoned himself, and, with rival cop Joost emerging as the winner, Henk must navigate dark currents at the highest level of Dutch society.

I read The Habour Master Collected Edition as one novel, which worked as perfectly as if I had read them as three separate stories. To say that I enjoyed this book to the point that I didn’t want to put it down at night is no small matter as I don’t tend to read a lot of this genre. But wow, did this book teach me a lot!

Each narrative winds its way through, and drew me into, a society completely alien to me – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels – and taught me a lot about the different sides of society in each city. It also opened my eyes to the kinds of corruption and crime that I just would not have contemplated before, which makes it more fascinating. It also contrasts the normality of Henk’s domestic life with his professional life to great effect. It serves to remind the reader that Henk is a normal, everyday family man as well as an impressive, dedicated but troubled policeman. He is also not immune to vulnerability and victimisation himself, which makes the book a lot more realistic than some thrillers which portray the main character as an unlikely untouchable hero.

Henk is surrounded by a number of colleagues and friends who, on one end of the spectrum show deep loyalty to him, and on the other pose a real threat to his career and safety. What makes the book particularly interesting is how Henk deals with each of these characters, especially those such as his devoted colleagues or corrupt but friendly politicians.

I love that these books portray Henk’s wife as a powerful character, with just as much influence and talent as her husband. She is not the damsel in distress who constantly needs protection from her husband – although there are times when her safety is put on the line alongside Henk’s – but rather a useful and important asset for Henk’s investigations as well as his life partner. The literary world needs far more of this kind of female character.

I would have liked to have experienced a little more of Henk’s emotions as well as his sharp and enquiring mind. However, I don’t feel like anything was taken away from the book. On the contrary, it retained the correct level of entertaining mysteriousness and complexity without completely losing me. This is no achievement to sniff at, as I must admit that although I am an intelligent woman, often detective novels tend to run away from me and weave too complicated a web for me to follow. Not so with The Harbour Master. I understood perfectly what was going on while being kept intrigued and hooked.

The Harbour Master combines all those features that one would seek in a thriller – colourful and varied characters, an air of mystery and corruption, fast-paced action and scandal, and of course a little bit of violence thrown in. There are a number of threads and layers to each story which means that the outcomes are far from predictable, adding to the excitement of the reading experience. Rather than having to wade myself through, I felt that I was being carried along by the narrative, and that, to me, is a literary job well done.

I very very much look forward to the next instalment of Henk’s story, hopefully with even more action this time around.


Daniel and I meeting face to face for the first time at BookMachine event in London. (ignore the daft fringe.)

Introducing Author Howard Kaplan – on the Hollywood adaptation of his novel

I am very excited and privileged to host an interview with Howard Kaplan, author of The Damascus Cover, a novel which has been adapted into a film starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Hurt! Here he discusses his experiences writing a novel, what research such a novel requires, and the processes behind transforming his story from the page to the big screen.

Author Howard Kaplan

Author Howard Kaplan

Please can you introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your career? 

I’m the author of four novels, three published and one to be released around the time The Damascus Cover film will be in theaters in early 2016. I was born and live in Los Angeles always seem to return here as a home base but travel greatly. In my 20’s I lived in London for a time and had close friends in the East End. I learned a lot from them and used them as prototypes in my novels. My Gants Hill friend used to battle the National Front blokes, or geysers as he would say; he was a gentle soul, a lay veterinarian who loved animals and standing across from you with lightning speed could buck you flat with his forehead.

Tell us more about The Damascus Cover. How did the book come about?

When I was 21, I flew to Beirut with a friend and took a shared taxi to Damascus. We stopped in Marjeh Sqaure, where the Israeli spy, Eli Cohen, had been hung. I loved the city, the oldest inhabited city on earth, rung by apricot groves as underground rivers rise there from Lebanon. So I created my own spy story about a high placed Israeli spy, as Eli Cohen had been, in Damascus. Many of the professional and blog reviewers remark about the great detail of Damascus. An Amazon reviewer recently wrote:

The book is fast-paced, with more twists and turns than Monte Carlo. At times I could hear the muezzin, taste the olives, so beautifully does Kaplan describe the Damascene backdrop.” The book was written long before the Syrian Civil War so what’s happened is it’s became an artifact as to what Damascus was like before the destruction.

How was the novel picked up for a film adaptation?

Sometimes you just get lucky. The director was looking for a Middle East book to adapt and it turns out we have a mutual friend. She gave him The Damascus Cover, he read it and we met for coffee. No agents. The project began to take off when he brought on the producer of Gosford Park, so this is a British production so not a great coincidence that we have Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the lead and Sir John Hurt as the head of the Israeli Secret Service who is the puppet master of the novel and film. The novel is in its heart a book about reconciliation, in this case between Israel and the Arab countries, so the topicality seems perennial.

How much input do you have in the film adaptation?

I saw an early draft of the script and made some small suggestions all of which they liked and took. Unexpectedly, I’ve had greater input in post production. I’ve seen several edits and made a number of suggestions, mostly cuts to streamline the plot. A sesasoned novelist knows that no matter how good a scene is, if it doesn’t advance the story and character, it needs to go. They were extraordinarily grateful for my notes and actually used them all. I have a close friend who is the estate attorney for Michael Jackson and a large number of Hollywood people, including many writers. He tells me the novelist never gets such input but I was in Casablanca for a week during shooting in March of 2015, and I’ve kept close relations with the film team, though all the post production work is being done in London. I see the director every time he’s in Los Angeles and as I’m writing this he’ll be here later this week.


How did you go about researching for the book? What is it about this genre that calls to you more than others?

I spent some time in Damascus as I mentioned. I then read everything written about the city. And God bless the British travel writers, they’ve been everywhere and written about it. I had a large map of Damascus up on my wall to plot the action. My favorite writer is John Le Carre and I’ve always loved the opportunity to write a great suspenseful story, with deep characters and a political message. Nobody anywhere does it better than LeCarre so I think I was drawn to the genre, the chance to write serious suspense, through reading his books, and I’ve read them all, which isn’t always easy as some are verbose.

Do you find that the book is gaining traction due to its topicality?

The book and I, to my great pleasure and amusement, are suddenly getting a lot of attention. I think the topicality is two fold, one, that it is really about the need for the Middle East countries to get along which has never been more apparent than it is now. And secondly, the obvious, Damascus is now on everybody’s radar. It doesn’t happen often in life, but I seem to be in the right place at the right time.

What was particularly challenging about writing this book, and how did you handle this?

The Damascus Cover was my first novel and the real challenge was believing in myself, that I could write a book. I had a father who told me in general how wonderful I was, and in specific what a loser, you’ll never amount to anything slacker I was. He had a great facility to make money but none to see himself. So I was more the kind of person who thought, I don’t think I can do that, but I SHOULD try. The good news is that I generally after a period of great sloth push myself and indeed I did. Once I get going I’m like a locomotive and I just barrel forward.


What excites you most about the upcoming film?

The cast has been mind blowing. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is beyond a fabulous actor. He gives his all to every scene and I was on set for a week of 10 hour a day shoots. His cover is a German businessman, Hans Hoffman, and hair dyed blonde he does the entire film in a German accent. They brought in a language coach from Berlin and the two of them were zealous that none of his Irish brogue bled into his German. The German actor, Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, the DaVinci Code) told me at breakfast in the hotel that the accent is flawless. Olivia Thirlby, best known as the sidekick in Juno, is a delight. She’s young and where Jonny, as he likes to be called, hits his lines perfectly each time she experimented with different takes until she found her spot. It was exhilarating. There are some great scenes too with her and Navid Negahban (Abu Nazir in Homeland). Navid was at my house for a barbecue last month and we talked about how great Olivia is. John Hurt was not on set in the week I was there so I missed meeting him.

What has been your favourite review for the book so far?

I have two, the Los Angeles Times and the American Library Association:

Los Angeles Times
“In the best tradition of the new espionage novel.  Kaplan’s grasp of history and scene creates a genuine reality.  He seems to know every back alley of Damascus and Cyprus.”

American Library Association (starred review)
“A mission inside Syria, a last love affair, and the unfolding of the plot within a plot are handled by the author with skill and a sure sense of the dramatic.”

What do you think of the current schemes going on right now, where authors/readers/libraries/publishers are providing books for Syrian refugees? How important is it that the book industry supports those in need due to war and terrorism?

I think this is fabulous and important but alas in the cold hard world, money talks. A British Young Adults writer, who happens to be on my twitter feed, Patrick Ness, offered 10,000 pounds this past weekend for refugee help and tweeted to writers to help. By the end of the weekend he’d raised 400,000 pounds. It was vastly impressive and moving.

Do you have any advice, as a successful author, for up-and-coming writers?

Don’t be afraid to take risks. There’s no way to know if a scene or an idea works until you actually write it and see. I think it’s vital to know the end before you begin, where you’re going so that all roads have a destination and none are side trips, albeit brilliant ones.

What new work do you have coming up?

The Jerusalem Spy Series initially will be comprised of 3 novels that share a common theme: reconciliation and hope. Between Israel and the Arab countries in The Damascus Cover and between Israelis and Palestinians in Bullets of Palestine and the forthcoming To Destroy Jerusalem. Bullets is about an Israeli agent and Palestinian agent challenged to work together to hunt down and kill an extremist Arab terrorist, Abu Nidal, who is killing both Jews across Europe and moderate Palestinians. It’s the most historical of all my novels and is set often at real events, for example the massacres of women, children and old men in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon by the Christian Phalange party. To Destroy Jerusalem will tackle the nuclear terrorism threat. I’m finishing now and expect to bring out in early 2016.

You can follow Howard Kaplan on Twitter @kaplanhow

See the author in conversation about his works on Youtube:

Introducing Helen Smith, Author and BritCrime Online Literature Festival Founder

The lovely Helen Smith

The lovely Helen Smith

A couple of months ago, I was extremely lucky to be asked to be part of BritCrime, an incredibly successful online literature festival which saw 45 crime writers come together on social media to discuss their work and writing crime fiction. I made a lot of new friends at the festival and feel privileged to have been part of something that is part of a growing phenomenon – the online festival. These are growing in popularity – see my interview with Sam Missingham – and I was so lucky to be involved in such a successful one. Here Helen Smith, Author and BritCrime Founder, discusses Britcrime and its successes.

Please introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your career.

My name is Helen Smith and I live in Brixton in south London. I had my first book published in 1999. Since then I have written poetry, plays, children’s books and screenplays, but at the moment I’m making a living writing novels. I’m currently writing a mystery series featuring an amateur sleuth called Emily Castles. It’s a lot of fun to write.

Can you explain what BritCrime is?

We are 45 British crime writers and one American who are collaborating to put on free online crime fiction events to connect with readers around the world. Our first event was a three-day festival in July 2015. Our next event will be a Christmas Party. We have another festival planned for next summer.

How did the idea of BritCrime come about?

The authors involved in BritCrime love attending crime fiction festivals, but we often hear from readers who are disappointed they can’t attend. I offered to set up an online festival to see if it would be a good way to connect with readers around the world while protecting our writing time.

How did you go about marketing BritCrime and generating interest for it?

I set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website and a mailing list. Our publishers were very generous about donating books as prizes so I set up several giveaways to promote the the festival. We also held a draw for a Kindle Paperwhite for new subscribers to our newsletter. Interestingly, the buzz began as soon as the website, Twitter and Facebook pages went up as people in the industry speculated who was behind the idea. Once we shared the idea with readers and book bloggers, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the festival. We gained a lot of new followers very quickly.

What was your method for getting authors on board? Did you already personally know the authors, or did you have to approach them to get them on board?

It was self-selecting. I put up a post on Facebook saying that I planned to set up a one-day online crime fiction festival and needed twelve writers to join me. A couple of minutes later my friend Alex Marwood responded with an enthusiastic yes… and we were off! I tried to cap the numbers at 30, then 36… Within about 24 hours we had 41 writers involved and the date set for a three-day festival. I liked the serendipity of it. Had I approached writers individually, it would have taken weeks to set up. Also, as everyone involved had approached me and asked to join, it meant they were engaged with the project and they were fun to work with. As time went by, we were approached by various creative partners and I said yes to all of them for the same reason, and the partnerships were productive because they were all so keen to be involved.


What were the challenges of hosting an online festival? How much work goes into the logistics of hosting an online festival?

It was all quite straightforward, really. We used the free platforms that were available. There was a quite a bit of of work involved in planning and programming the festival – which I enjoyed – and a lot of admin involved in getting the information for 41 authors and their books up on our website and blog. The other authors helped out promoting it and running the Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I worked non-stop for six weeks, 15-19 hours a day to set it up and make sure it worked properly.

For the festival itself, we hired two assistant producers. One of them, Stephanie Cox, is asking these questions. I wanted them to be involved in the creative/logistics side of the festival and to have fun while they were doing it, so I kept them away from the admin and gave them clearly defined creative roles that were challenging and interesting and took advantage of the skills they had to offer. It was really useful to have a dedicated resource to help me that weekend.

What were the highlights, for you?

The creativity and the collaboration: I loved creating the virtual world where our online festival would be held, including The Slaughtered Author pub and the BritCrime Readers’ Cafe. Making the opening ceremonies and thank you videos was fun. I loved the “Our Authors Prepare” and “BritCrime Writing Dens.” photo galleries we created on Facebook. Working with the other authors was wonderful. If you get 41 creative people collaborating on a project, something exciting is going to happen.

Do you see the online literature festival as a concept that will grow in popularity?


What were the biggest lessons or insights learned from the experience?

I was reminded how much fun it can be working on a creative project for the hell of it, with no expectation of any financial reward. I knew there would be a lot of work involved in setting this up, but I hadn’t appreciated how much love I would get back, from authors and readers – and publishers, too. I got a lot of love for doing it. It was humbling and gratifying.

Have you received positive feedback from it?

Yes! The readers, bloggers, authors and publishers involved have all been really enthusiastic. We surveyed everyone who participated. The feedback was all positive. As soon as this festival ended, people started asking when we were going to do the next one.

What’s next for BritCrime and the BritCrime team?

We’re currently planning our Christmas party, the BritCrime Ball, which will take place Sunday 13th December, with a Twelve Days of Christmas Treasure Hunt in the run-up to it. It will be completely different from the summer festival and should be fun for everyone who participates! There will also be a festival next summer, with more authors involved.

Helen Smith is a novelist and playwright who lives in London. She’s the founder of BritCrime.
BritCrime website:
BritCrime blog:
BritCrime Twitter:
BritCrime Facebook:

Do you have any questions for Helen? Please post them below and I’ll make sure she gets back to you!

Introducing Author and TV Writer Catherine Johnson

I am absolutely thrilled and very lucky to be able to host an interview with the wonderful Catherine Johnson, writer of many, many books and TV projects (her CV includes writing for Holby City). Her most recent book, The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo, has just published (and is immensely enjoyable – review to follow) and in this interview she discusses her excitement about the book and her experience working with children, prisoners, and publishers. Enjoy!

The gorgeous Catherine Johnson

The gorgeous Catherine Johnson

Please can you tell me a little bit about yourself and an overview of your career so far?

Gosh that’s hard. It’s been a long and not quite illustrious career although I have managed to be a full time writer since about 2007. I’ve worked around writing, as well as written, for most of the last twenty years. I’ve published 17 books, written one feature film (that got made- Bullet Boy – I have one in development), worked as a writer in residence in a prison and several schools, worked in local bookshops and in literature development, written for radio and TV and feel that I am amazingly lucky still to be published.

Tell me a little bit about the first time you got published and how it came about.

Oh this is a long story. I didn’t start writing until after I had two children. I trained at film school and thought that was what I was going to do. So when I had two little children I started writing a film script which went into development. That stalled but I sent an outline for a kids’ drama show to a TV company. I had a massive stroke of luck, someone in the TV office knew someone starting up a small publisher who was looking for books set in Wales for teens. They sent it on – I would never have thought I could write a book (all those words) – and the small publisher sent me on lots of courses at Ty Newydd (which is like the Welsh Arvon) and on a master class with Bernice Rueben (Booker prize winning novelist, now dead) and I learnt and learnt. Then when I had done one I enjoyed it so much I wrote another….and another.

“It’s the character. Get the character and you have the voice.”

What attracts you to writing historical fiction? How do you go about researching for your historical works?

I’m really not a historian – in fact I wasn’t allowed to take History GCSE (They were O levels when I was 15) as I had the worst mark in my whole year. But I loved historical dramas on TV – there was lots of Leon Garfield and I love the clothes. I always wanted to wear the frocks. And there was never anyone like me on TV when I was growing up wearing fantastic frocks. My first ever historical novel was set in regency London just because I liked the dresses!

It’s also important to me to write stories that remind readers that London has been a world city forever. I love Liza Picard’s books about London, and Peter Fryer’s Staying Power. I also use maps. Lots and lots of maps. That’s another brilliant thing about London, a lot of the street patterns are just the same as they were hundreds of years ago.

How do you go about finding the right voice and tone for your Young Adult novels?

It’s the character. Get the character and you have the voice.

You write novels, short stories, film and TV scripts. Which would you say is the most rewarding, and why? Which is the most difficult?

Financially rewarding? TV! I do love writing books but I can’t make a living at it. You can just do what you want in a book because it’s all down to you, which is lovely but I also enjoy the collaborative way of writing for TV. I like both! I am very lucky to do both.

What project/book/published pieces of yours are you currently most excited about?

I am so scared and excited about Caraboo. [Her new book The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo – review to follow shortly.] It’s horrible just before a book comes out because you try and try to keep a lid on your expectations but you always hope it will do well. But it’s also scary because people might actually not like it.

Catherine's book has just recently published.

Catherine’s book has just recently published.

You do school visits and run writing workshops. Which have particularly stuck in your memory and why?

Ooh, that’s interesting. I enjoy seeing lots of different schools. I’ve been very lucky I’ve been writer in residence in Holloway prison which was really fascinating. And I got invited back to my old school which was terrifying. I love seeing the stories school students come up with.

Why is it important to run workshops and talks for young people? Do you find there is a strong interest in writing among young people?

I think when you’re at school it’s often the case that students think if they’re no good at writing essays then they’re no good at writing stories. I see it as a bit of a mission to prove otherwise!

What awards or achievements are you most proud of?

I’m proud of my children (I know) and all of my books (except maybe the first) and last year after years of being nominated for prizes but never winning, Sawbones won the Young Quills award for best historical fiction for 12+

What are you working on at the moment, and what are you reading?

I read loads. Just loved Poppy in the Field by Mary Hooper, Liberty’s Fire by Lydia Syson, Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge and Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre. I’m working on a contemporary YA set in my new hometown, Hastings, I’ve got a film project in development and (so excited) a TV series optioned…

This is my website:
But I also blog once a month on the 14th at and on the 28th at

You can also follow me on Twitter at @catwrote

Tag Cloud