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Posts tagged ‘writer’

Introducing Crime Author Michael Knaggs

As explained in this book review, I met Michael Knaggs at Waterstones in Hull, where he impressed me with his willingness to engage with the general reading public without ‘hard-selling’ his book. I have since got to know him more and he is an enthusiastic and charming author. His third book in the Hotel St Kilda trilogy is about to be published and I seriously enjoyed Catalyst, the first book in the series. Find out more about this Hull-born author in the interview below, in which he demonstrates that there is more than just one way to become a successful author…

michael knaggs picture


Please introduce yourself and give us a bit of background to your life and career.

I was born in Hull in 1944 and lived there until just after my 22nd birthday. During that time I attended Hull Grammar School where I wrote a short story for a school magazine which, 55 years later, turned up again as the opening scene in my first book!

After attaining a Higher National Diploma in Chemistry at Hull Technical College, I moved to Thurso, Caithness, in 1967 to work as an Experimental Officer at Dounreay Atomic Power Station, and relocated to Salford to complete a degree in Chemistry two years later. There at the University, in addition to getting my degree, I got a wife as well – Carol, who worked in the laboratory there.

From there up to my retirement in 2005, I worked for Kellogg Company – the global breakfast cereal manufacturers – latterly as HR Director with responsibility for Pay and Benefit policy across the Company’s European area operation.

I live in Prestwich, Manchester, with Carol, my bride of 45 years! Our great passion is hill-walking and we do at least one long distance walk each year. This year we are undertaking the West Highland Way for the second time and later in the year will be tackling the Wolds Way in East Yorkshire – close to my home. We have two children and two grand-children, all of whom live close to us.

How long have you been writing, and why did you decide to publish a novel?

I began writing after I retired at the end of 2005. But long before then I had the story very clearly formed in my mind and the first thing I did before starting on the manuscript was to set it out in full in abbreviated form. And although I had never written a book before I must have produced the equivalent in length of about ten or fifteen over the years in the form of reports, employee policy documents and communications, presentations, talks, speeches, training courses, etc. So at least the process of stringing words together was a natural one for me.

It was never my intension to write a trilogy. I simply had a story I wanted to tell which was too long for a single book, so I ended up with an accidental trilogy!


My copy of Catalyst – as illustrated by Michael Knagg’s wife Carol

Tell us a little bit about Catalyst- ‘sell’ your book to our readers!

Catalyst is a crime/political thriller dealing with street crime and, more specifically, how to tackle it in the context of the wider issue of law and justice.

When three brothers, leaders of a brutal street gang, are lured to an isolated cul-de-sac and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press. Tom Brown, a Member of Parliament for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story by leading a crusade to implement a New Justice Regime which would include uncompromising methods for tackling street gangs.

The book follows Tom’s efforts to win support – assisted by a local campaigner, George Holland, and a freelance reporter, Tony Dobson – along with the parallel story of the hunt for the killer. When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced, the two storylines come together in dramatic fashion. At the same time the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George and descending in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.

Meanwhile, Tom’s Party leader, Andrew Donald, is pursuing his own agenda….

I believe the book will appeal to a wide variety of readers of all ages. It features heroic characters of all types and vintages who I hope people will readily identify with.

What research did you undertake for the book? How did you manage the capture the voice and tone of the various environments within the story – the gang culture, the political and policing environments, the court room?

Researching the book was one of the most fulfilling parts of the whole experience – and in some ways, it was very easy. Through Wikipedia and Google you can find out every bit of information that has ever been discovered, recorded, collected, hypothesised or anything. This created a temptation for me to include a mass of technical, factual data which added nothing to the story, but made me sound very smart and knowledgeable. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and only the essential bits go in to the stories now!

I also met with a number of people – political representatives, lawyers and members of the police – who helped me a great deal and to whom I shall be ever grateful for their time and interest, as well as the great incites into their areas of work – and without the attendant extraneous information I’d got from other sources.

I see that your wife is also the book’s illustrator – it captures the book perfectly. What was your experience working together creatively? Was there much trial and error?

Carol is a water-colour artist whose preferred subject matter is pastoral landscapes and pet portraits, so the cover images were well outside her normal comfort zone. Working together on the cover designs was really great and all credit to Carol for producing exactly what I had envisaged for both books. It must be difficult enough for an artist getting onto paper or canvas what is in their own mind. It’s a step beyond that producing what is in someone else’s mind. Yes, there was a lot of trial and error – though perhaps ‘error’ isn’t the right word. And with the second book – Heaven’s Door – after we had seemingly wrapped up the artwork, I realised the image was the wrong way round to how I had described it in the book – so Carol re-drafted it, with – I have to admit – amazing patience and calm!

You clearly love crime writing – so, why this genre?

Up to when I retired I didn’t read much at all, but what I did enjoy mostly was crime fiction. But the main reason is the nature of the story itself which had been growing in my mind for a couple of decades, stemming from the short story I wrote at grammar school and expanding into this substantial saga. That story was about street crime so that’s the genre where it fitted. I didn’t choose to become a crime writer, as such; it just happened that’s where the story fitted.

I met you at a book signing in Waterstones – why do you think it’s important to engage with readers face-to-face, and what do you enjoy about marketing your work? Is there anything you feel that authors need to do more of?

Because of my virtual anonymity in a genre which is saturated with books, authors, and manuscripts waiting to become books, I have to get to people as best I can to persuade them to try my work. Meeting them in book shops is the best opportunity to do that. In fact, I sell the majority of my books at the sort of event where we met in Hull. If I had an agent and full PR behind me out in the market place, then I would not need to reach out to potential readers in this way. And whereas it would be nice to have someone out there promoting my work – I’d certainly relish that situation – I would miss out on one of the things I like most. That is the opportunity to share with people the journey that has brought me face to face with them in Waterstones or WH Smiths, or wherever. (Incidentally, I am exceptionally grateful to the store managers at all the branches of those stores where I have been given the opportunity to raise the profile of my books)

In so far as what authors should do more of, I’m not sure I can answer that for the whole spectrum of practitioners, but I would certainly encourage new authors to try what I do. It’s amazing how interested the reading public are in hearing about the process that turns an idea for a tale in someone’s head into a finished book or e-document. And also how prepared they are to try someone new.

Anything you feel that you’d like to learn more about?

 I guess the simple answer is anything that will help me reach a wider readership. And I’m finding out more about that all the time through meeting people like you who are kind enough to take an interest and help me move forward.

Why did you choose to self-publish your work, and why did you choose to go through a self-publishing imprint of a traditional publisher? How did you come across them, and what have been the benefits of taking this route? How have they supported you?

In this genre and increasingly in others, publishers will not accept manuscripts directly from authors, only from literary agents. So to get ‘traditionally’ published an author needs to persuade an agent to represent them, and the agent must be engaged enough to feel they can persuade a publisher to take it forward.

The decision is based on risk – ‘will the book sell?’ – and not on quality, although obviously there is a quality threshold. I was advised from the beginning that I would have very little chance of getting an agent – who is someone looking for a career writer with whom to establish a long-term relationship which would need a lot of work at the start to raise the author’s profile. An old guy writing recreationally in retirement is not a good bet.

So self publishing was the only way forward if I wanted to fulfil my ambition. I chose Matador because they are the self-publishing arm of Troubador who are mainstream publishers, and also because they are recommended regularly by independent sources on self-publishing, e.g. the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book. I have never regretted the decision and they have provided excellent support and advice throughout the production of the three books.

Why did you decide to tackle a controversial political subject in your book?

I’m afraid there’s a lot of me in the New Justice Regime and its provisions for dealing with people who set out to make other people’s lives a misery for no other reason than the fact that they are easy targets. I guess I’m into my Grumpy Old Man stage, but it goes further than that. I firmly believe that more should be more done to protect the victims and potential victims of street crime and less to understand and embrace the motives of the perpetrators. (This is where I could go on for several pages) Suffice to say, it could have been me making the speeches at the Old Bailey and the 3AF meeting.

Which characters do you particularly love in your books, and why?

That’s easy – my favourite characters are the two police colleagues, DCI David Gerrard and DS Jo Cottrell. They are close colleagues oozing respect for each other but also share a deep mutual affection. They are great vehicles for me to include all the light quips and comments that true friends will share and they serve to provide a lighter side to the darkness of the overall plot. I enjoy writing dialogue – which my editor thinks is my main strength – and have always thoroughly enjoyed putting together their exchanges.

What’s next for you and your books?

I promised both myself and Carol that I would retire again after completing the third book, which takes my original story to its conclusion. However, during the course of my writing I have had an idea for a fourth book – a sequel to the trilogy – which includes what I believe is a great twist and would provide a very satisfying conclusion to the whole saga. Whether I do this or not will depend on the reaction to my third book – which I, and my editor, believe is, by some margin, the best of all – and how I settle back to life without writing.

In so far as the three completed books are concerned, then I expect much of the same – introducing and promoting my work through book signings and through the numerous talks I have been invited to give to reading groups, creative writing groups and other organisations. Something else I enjoy very much.

We’ll see. But whatever happens, I have enjoyed the whole experience immensely and am quite proud of what I have achieved at a time in my life when I could have been excused for taking things easy!

Find out more about Michael Knaggs here.

Catalyst by Michael Knaggs



Today’s book review focuses on Catalyst by Michael Knaggs, a book which I was compelled to buy after Michael, very proactively, approached me in the Waterstones branch in Hull. I liked that it didn’t feel as though I was on the receiving end of a ‘hard sell’, he just really wanted to discuss his book with customers, regardless of whether or not they would be likely to buy it. For this reason, I decided to go with something different to what I would normally read. And it paid off.

When three brothers, the leaders of a brutal gang, are lured to an isolated street and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press.

 Tom Brown, an MP for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story. Having built a reputation as a champion of law and order, he leads the crusade to implement a New Justice Regime with several supporters in tow, including local campaigner George Holland who embarks on a tour of the country to rally support for radical change.

When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment, the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George for his outspoken condemnation of their activities and uncompromising proposals for their demise. They descend in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.

Meanwhile, Party Leader Andrew Donald is pursuing his own agenda…

 This intriguing novel, the first of the Hotel St Kilda books, contains themes of politics, crime and the military with family drama at its heart, creating a wide appeal for readers both young and old.

What’s great about Catalyst is that it strikes you from the very first paragraph. Kicking off immediately with tense and fast-paced action, the first scene sets the tone for the rest of the book. There certainly are no slow parts in the novel.

The second chapter, in which an incredibly shocking and controversial incident occurs, really is the catalyst for all that follows throughout the rest of the book. The whole narrative is a response to that first scene, and the action, intrigue and controversy never lets up. What particularly struck me about the book is how authentic it felt, even with quite an extreme and controversial subject matter.

As stated in the blurb, the book starts off with the ruthless gunning down of three notorious gang members who have been terrorising the village and local town for years. When you read this passage, a moral debate rages within your head: am I shocked and appalled at this seemingly cold-blooded murder, or on some level do I feel slightly satisfied that they got what was coming to them?

That is what the whole book really centres around: the question of taking justice into your own hands when the policing system seems powerless to intervene. And off the back of that, the Opposition party runs its own election campaign – to deal with gang members and violent offenders far, far more harshly and strictly than ever before…

Each character within this book felt really real. So much so, that I felt genuinely sad for the residents of Cullen Field. It’s a horrible thought that the kind of trauma and fear and intimidation that the residents of this book go through actually happens in real life. The subject matter of this book is incredibly topical.

Tom Brown, an MP within the Opposition Party, is smart, intelligent, good-looking and a radical thinker. That is one side of him that we are exposed to. The other side is an exposure of his insecurities, his marital problems, and his familial worries and joys. He often struggles to balance his work and his private life and they bleed into one another: something that I bet a lot of people can relate to. Tom Brown is likeable, but depending on your personal viewpoint, he is also lost in his own idealism and wishful thinking. It’s really interesting to try to make up your mind about him as reader, as you go through the book. His wife has many opposing views to his, and that heightens the tension and intrigue surrounding their family life.

Another fascinating character within the book is George Holland, a resident of Cullen Field, who helps support Tom’s vision and campaigns for radical change. I couldn’t help but love this character: he is slightly naive, a little out of his depth, but so convinced by the movement which promises to fight back against gang youths that he takes on the task of convincing the general public with growing enthusiasm. Even if you disagree fundamentally with the process that he is fighting for, you can’t help but love and sympathise with George.

The most intriguing, though, is Jad, the gunman who shoots the three gang members at the beginning of the book. As you go through the novel, his history and back story are revealed, and it’s so gripping. Equally as thought-provoking are his reasons behind his actions (why did he gun the gang down, when he hasn’t lived in Cullen Field in years? Why did he give a false name and identity even after being charged with murder?) and his relationship with Tom Brown and his family. There’s more than meets the eye there.

The writing style, for some reason, reminded me a little bit of John Grisham’s; not so much in style, although there are similarities, but more the effect of the narrative. Though fairly straight forward and devoid of unnecessary adjectives or poetic devices, it just sucks you in and compels you to keep on reading. It doesn’t beat about the bush: the author knows what his going on in his world and he tells you in no uncertain terms. But the style is engaging, and keeps the reader hooked throughout. I always found myself wanting to know more; wanting to know what was going to happen next.

A quite surprising outcome of reading this book was that it allowed me to understand the workings and mindsets of local politicians and their job roles. OK, so perhaps some aspects within the book might have been exaggerated or changed with artistic license, but being taken through the story from both private and political angles really helped me understand how events can shape political manifestos and campaigns. It also shows how gang violence affects every aspect of modern society. And the reaction to it in this book really is extreme. (But that’s what makes it all the more exciting to read.)

This book will most definitely appeal to all crime novels and thriller fans, which I think goes without saying. But I would urge people who would not normally read these genres (like myself) to give it a try, because it really is a great read.

I will be posting an interview with the author in a few days, but in the meantime, find out more about him here.

You can buy the book here on Amazon and on the Matador Books website.

The Crooked Beat by Nick Quantrill

The Crooked Beat

When Joe Geraghty’s brother finds himself in financial trouble, it’s only natural that he turns to the Private Investigator for help. But when it relates to a missing consignment of smuggled cigarettes, it’s not so easily sorted. Drawn into the murky world of local and international criminals around the busy port of Hull, Geraghty knows the only way to save his brother is to take on the debt himself. As he attempts to find a way out of the situation, the secrets and conspiracies he uncovers are so deeply buried in the past, he knows he’s facing people willing to do whatever it takes to keep them that way.

Writing this book review will be a little bit harder than others as I sailed through it so quickly I forgot to stop to make notes or highlights! So this review will be from memory.

First off, I should say I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read a book set in my home town of Hull (if you hadn’t guessed from many of my other posts that that’s where I’m from!) It’s also a little bit surreal. I’m used to having to picture and build locations in my own head from my imagination, but in this case I just had to picture places that I have known my entire life. Perhaps that’s part of what made it such an easy read (other than its readability, of course!)

What is interesting is that, conversely, it also showed me a side of Hull that I could never have imagined by myself: a world of private investigators and violent gangsters. It shone a light on how easy it can be for people to be unaware of the dangers that could be surrounding them.

The beauty of this book is that even though there is plenty of gangster-style action, which allows the book to keep a good pace and keep the reader gripped, interwined with this is real emotion, real love and loyalty especially between family members, and real depth. It is not violence or grittiness for the sake of it. Nick Quantrill makes the story real and convincing by making us really feel for his characters – and that includes both hating them or loving them. And another intriguing thing about the whole story is that no character is straight-up morally black or white. Good people make mistakes, bad people redeem themselves and some characters hide their true colours under masks that fool other people. I won’t give away which characters are which, as part of the magic of the book is discovering this as you read through.

I saw a hell of a lot of myself in Joe Geraghty, which is why I think I’ve grown to love him as a character. He has so much love and loyalty for his family, that he would literally sacrifice anything for them. Nothing is too much if it means he can protect them. He also has a very sharp mind, which makes the mystery and detective work all the more gripping. He isn’t infallible, however, and that is made clear too, which only makes him more human.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Nick Quantrill is big on the literature scene for a reason. His work is getting noticed. His books are brilliant to read. You would not regret giving this one a read, especially if you’re a crime fiction fan. I fully recommend it!

Introducing Author Julia Roberts

The newest interview in the People in Publishing category is with Julia Roberts, a former TV presenter and author. She below she discusses self-publishing, writing and marketing.

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

I’m Julia Roberts. I’m originally from Nottingham but have lived in or around London for the past forty years because of my career choice. I was originally a professional dancer, travelling to far flung places like the Caribbean and Hong Kong, before moving into television. I started with TV commercials and small acting roles before becoming a Presenter shortly after the birth of my second child, who is now twenty seven. I worked on a local television show in the Croydon area, as well as corporate work, before auditioning for QVC prior to its launch in the UK in October 1993. Alongside QVC, I continued at the local channel, produced and presented some pieces for Sky Sports and started writing features for a cable television magazine and the Croydon Advertiser. I finished writing my first book, a memoir entitled One Hundred Lengths of the Pool, three years ago, which was published by Random House and sold on QVC, and is still available on Amazon.

Tell me about your first book, Life’s a Beach…and Then…

Life’s a Beach and Then… is my first novel. I had been diagnosed with a form of blood cancer in April 2012 and after 10 months of treatment on oral chemotherapy drugs my ‘other half’ of thirty seven years, Chris, decided I needed a holiday. I had always wanted to visit Mauritius and as my future at that time was uncertain we booked a ten day holiday which was meant to be total relaxation. On the first morning I had the idea for the book and spent the rest of the holiday scribbling my thoughts in a notebook and discussing them with my long-suffering other half.

The first part of the book is set in Mauritius and features Holly Wilson on her latest assignment. We quickly discover that she is employed by a luxury holiday company to visit their 5 star resorts around the world and blog about them. She has to keep this secret from the people she encounters by telling them a cover story. She hates lying to an older couple she meets, Robert and Rosemary, but they have a secret of their own. Rosemary is terminally ill. The relationship between Holly and Rosemary develops quickly as Holly is estranged from her own mother following a teenage pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of her beloved son Harry, who she has raised single-handedly. Rosemary introduces Holly to a friend of theirs, Philippe, who also has a secret. He is a successful novelist but writes under a female pseudonym. He is struggling to meet the deadline for his second novel. Holly and Philippe are physically attracted to each other and intend to meet up when they are both back in England, but things don’t go exactly to plan.

The book is dedicated to a friend of mine, Stretch, who lost his life to Acute Myeloid Leukaemia almost two years ago, and as well as donating a percentage of my profit to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to help with the amazing research they fund, I also wanted to raise awareness that not everyone survives blood cancer.

Life's a Beach COVER Final

How well received has the book been so far?

I have been overwhelmed by the feedback on my book so far. There are currently sixty 5 star reviews on Amazon and people seem to really empathise and genuinely care about my characters. I have had a few people tweet me to say that I have embarrassed them in public places by causing them to cry, and although that is not ideal for them, it is gratifying for me that I have been able to evoke such emotion. I should add that there is also humour in the book and romance too.

How do you go about marketing your book effectively?

Marketing is a very steep learning curve for me as it is something I have never previously been required to do. I am fortunate that I have a bit of a public profile through QVC so I have been able to do some radio promotion and print promotion tying the two sides of my career together. I have been on Twitter for about three and a half years and have 14000 followers so I have been able to spread the word on there, and am very grateful for the favourites and retweets, and have tried to make use of trending hashtags. I also joined Facebook in May and set up a Julia Roberts TV page for information about my book and the writing of the sequel. I did a book blog tour, organised by Jenny in Neverland, prior to the release of the paperback and I have also done my first book signing at a bookshop near Reading called Chapter One, with more in the pipeline.

How has your career so far equipped you for being an author?

There aren’t many parallels to be drawn between being an author and a TV Presenter but I would say that the huge variety of people I have met over the course of my career have helped with some of the characters within my writing. I have a T shirt that says on the front, ‘Careful or you may end up in my next novel.’

I do think that ‘talking’ for a living helps me to write believable dialogue, and I always speak the words in my head as I type them.

What are the benefits of becoming an author further down the line in your career rather than early on?

For me it is life experience. The older I get the more I realise that people aren’t always what they seem. I have been able to draw on the emotion I felt at losing my own dad a few years ago within the pages of Life’s a Beach and Then…

I am very fortunate to have led a varied life and visited lots of far flung places, both working and holidaying. I have used my knowledge of some of these destinations as locations for the first two books in the Liberty Sands trilogy.

I don’t think I would have had the time to dedicate to writing when I was younger, although I had always wanted to write a novel. As a freelance, rather than an employee, I needed to work whenever the opportunity presented itself which meant an erratic rather than fixed timetable. I also had two children only thirteen months apart, so it was a bit full-on when they were very young. I really admire authors who juggle a job, children and writing – a bit like spinning plates.

You have a large online following. What’s your secret for this success and how do you channel that popularity into getting your work noticed?

My profile through QVC has helped grow my Twitter following quite quickly. I don’t follow many people as I like to be able to read my timeline and not miss things I would like to respond to. I tweet often because I enjoy it and not always about my book as I don’t want people to get fed-up with me. I try to reply to people where possible and derive great pleasure from being able to block people who are unkind or whose behaviour is inappropriate.

What are your three main writing tips?

I’m a bit of a novice at the writing game so I can only tell you what is important to me.

Firstly I have to believe in my characters as real people. I cried several times during the writing of Life’s a Beach and Then… and not through frustration or lack of inspiration.

Secondly, I really have to have peace and quiet so that I can focus. I like to be able to write for a minimum of three hours at a time so on days that I am working on QVC I rarely write unless an idea occurs to me out of the blue in which case I jot down notes and write it properly when I have time.

Thirdly, I find it beneficial to re-read the previous day’s work before I start on the next chapter. I will often edit what I have written which helps in two ways. By editing as I go I don’t have so much to change when I’ve finished writing, and it also gets me back into the flow.

 Are you traditionally or self-published and how has this benefited you? What are the challenges in publishing in this way?

 Although my memoir was published by Random House, I have trodden the self-publishing route with my novel. This wasn’t totally my choice but there were several deciding factors. I sent my manuscript out to half a dozen agents and although I had a reasonable response none of them seemed particularly interested in what I was writing. Although I can sell anything on QVC, I find it difficult and time-consuming to sell ‘myself’ and I felt I was wasting valuable writing time composing letters to agents and meeting the different requirements for synopses and submissions. I actually began to feel bogged down with it all and it was preventing me from being creative. I made the decision to self-publish in February and the Kindle version of my book was online by May.

That is one of the main benefits, the speed from finishing writing to people being able to read your book. Another massive plus is that I have had control of the major decisions. I used a cover designer but I had the final say over how I wanted my book to look. I was able to keep the title I wanted and not have to change the story because some-one else’s opinion differed from my own – in other words if people don’t like the book, the buck rests with me.

For anyone else considering self-publishing I think it is important to have your finished book as good, or better, than those traditionally published. Pay for a good copy-editor, cover designer and formatter and be prepared to promote your book. If people don’t know about it, no matter how good it is, they won’t buy it.

The main downside is that I think I have only scratched the surface in terms of reach. I am currently working on getting it in as many independent bookshops as I can, one of the reasons I used IngramSpark rather than Createspace, and I’m really pleased that it can be ordered through Waterstones and other chains.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently writing book two in the Liberty Sands Trilogy entitled, If He Really Loved Me. The start of the book was in the back of Life’s a Beach and Then… to whet people’s appetite. The story focuses more on Holly’s son student Harry, although we do still travel to exotic locations – the Maldives, Los Angeles and Barbados – finishing back in Mauritius for a beach wedding … but who is marrying who?? Hopefully it should be ready for publication in November.

Facebook page for Book:
Amazon link to Kindle and Paperback version ( with reviews ):
QVC Page link to the signed book on sale (signed):

Introducing Illustrator and Children’s Author Claire Barker

I’m very excited to host this week’s interview with the sweet and multi-talented children’s author and illustrator Claire Barker. We met online through a mutual friend and she amazes me with her numerous talents and abilities while maintaining a down-to-earth attitude and lovely personality. Here she discusses her upcoming children’s book and her work as an illustrator and painter.

Is that Knitbone?! ;)

Is that Knitbone?! 😉

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

Hello! I’m the author of Knitbone Pepper –Ghost Dog. I live on a small farm in North Devon with my husband, daughters and an assortment of animals. In the past I’ve lived in cities, on boats and in townhouses, but I always gravitate back to the countryside. I’ve done lots of different jobs including being an illustrator and a teaching assistant. I suspect my most important writing influence has been being a parent, because it has taught me so much about what children like to hear about. The natural extension of this was to pick up a pen and start writing.

Tell us a little bit about Knitbone Pepper and the books you have coming out shortly in this series. How did they come about?

Knitbone Pepper is a result of pondering the close friendship between my youngest daughter and our old dog. I started to wonder why I hadn’t seen more stories about animal ghosts. If they are mentioned they are either terrifying (Hound of the Baskervilles) or incidental (the steeds of headless horsemen) and this seemed out of step and rather unfair when I find most animals to be delightful. I’d noticed dogs that waited patiently outside shops, or even at bus stops, for their owners. I imagined that a loyal animal spirit would be far too busy pining for their person to worry about being scary. Animals don’t have an ego like humans so their motivation would be rather different to a human ghost, which is when I came up with the idea of a Beloved, a special type of animal ghost. Then Knitbone Pepper arrived in my head: an unusual dog with an unusual name who has to make the best of an unusual situation. Throw in a bunch of crazy animal spirits from different centuries, a 904 year old tumbledown house and a sparky little girl and I had the makings of the Starcross world.

The first book comes out on the 1st August 2015. The next one is due out in the spring of 2016 and is to be called Knitbone Pepper and the Last Circus Tiger. Another will follow in the autumn. I’ve seen the artwork and they are just beautiful! I’m beyond thrilled about the whole thing.

Knitbone Pepper

Knitbone Pepper

What are you most excited about?

I’m really excited about visiting schools and talking to children about the book. The Knitbone series will be coming out as audiobooks and the idea of someone voicing the characters is thrilling. It’s been bought by various countries around the world and the idea of children in China or Spain reading a story that I thought up at my kitchen table in Devon is incredible. It’s beyond my wildest dreams really.

When you decided to start writing, what made you decide to write children’s fiction?

I think it chose me, particularly as I entered this world through the door of illustration. It never really occurred to me to write for adults. I have an English Literature and History degree, so I’ve read some wonderful, rather serious books over the years, but the stories that really stick with me are from my childhood. I had a particularly treasured copy of Illustrated Tales from Shakespeare that I loved. I still have it in fact. Children’s books are powerful signposts that can point the way for the rest of your life. I can remember what it felt like to be a child quite clearly.

How do you become a successful children’s writer?

I’ll let you know when I’ve become one! I think having confidence in your instinctive writer’s voice, a dollop of persistence and a great ladle of luck goes a long way.

What do you need to know or understand in order to write effectively for children?

In my experience children are extraordinarily wise and clear-sighted. They have an excellent sense of humour and their minds are full of possibility. Listening very carefully to children’s views on the world is always time well-spent.

Knitbone Pepper and illustration

Knitbone Pepper and illustration

You now live in Devon. How does living in such a place help you with your writing?

Devon is a landscape humming with its own stories. I’ve lived here for over 20 years and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Whilst the countryside is associated with peace and calm it’s actually quite a busy place. The mornings here are full of loud birdsong and the inky nights are stuffed with stars. Not a day goes by when I don’t see a deer or a hare or buzzard. Once, I was woken up by the terrifying clatter of owls fighting outside the bedroom window. As I can’t help but give them all back-stories it’s quite a daily workout.

Did you have any say about who illustrates your books?

Yes, my publishers always ask for my thoughts. I was initially a bit nervous as the characters are so distinctive in my head, but when Usborne showed me Ross’s sketches I knew straightaway he was the perfect choice.

Why is it important for you to have an illustrator who understands your books?

Knitbone Pepper is a story with a bitter-sweet edge. It takes a special illustrative talent to convey both sadness and wild humour. I think Ross and I have a similarly quirky view of the world and I think we compliment each other’s styles. It feels like he’s been rummaging around in my head which has been a fascinating experience. The wonderful thing about this entire series is that everybody involved, from my agent to my publisher, has ‘got it’ from the outset. I’m overjoyed by the results.

Characters arrive on the doorstep of my head like unannounced visitors.

You are also a very talented painter and illustrator. How do you find the time to paint, and draw, and write, and be a mother?

That’s very kind of you to say so. I do this by being a terrible slacker on the housework front. I will drop all domestic duties with the slightest encouragement to do something more interesting.

On your website you say that in the past you’ve drawn and painted the characters you’re writing. How vividly can you picture your characters as you’re writing them?

Very vividly. They arrive on the doorstep of my head like unannounced visitors. Sometimes they need a bit of tweaking, but only a bit. I always start with a cast of characters and then I need to build them a world in which to live. I’m one of those very visual people with pitiful maths skills.

And finally, do get any time to read? If so, what book recently have you loved?
I love Kate Atkinson’s writing. I thought Life after Life was brilliant and I’m about to read her new one. I was mightily impressed by Mal Peet’s Murdstone Trilogy. There are certain books I read again and again for comfort, like Cider With Rosie. Most of the time though, as soon as my head hits the pillow I’m asleep. Unless I’m woken up by fighting owls of course.

Likes kind of lady!

Likes tea…my kind of lady!

You can follow Claire Barker on Twitter here.

Her instagram account can be found here.

Read more about Claire Barker the author on this site.

Learn more about Claire as an illustrator and check out her work here!

Have a question for Claire? Post it below and I will get it answered for you!

And of course you can find her on Facebook here.

Introducing Writer Graeme Roberts

Today’s People in Publishing interview is with Graeme Roberts, journalist, writer, and PR professional. Graeme and I worked together when I worked on the Hull Wasps Basketball programme as Game Night Editor. I would send my match reports and previews and other type articles to Basketball Magazine, a magazine on which Graeme was working at the time (and discusses in this interview!) Here he talks social media, newspapers and print, and his love of writing…

Graeme in Dublin

Graeme in Dublin

Please introduce yourself and give us a bit of info about your career and career path.

My name is Graeme Roberts, 29, from Manchester, UK. I would describe myself first and foremost as a writer. It’s a fairly broad term but I think it’s the most apt. I currently work in public relations for a research and consulting company called GlobalData, which means I write, edit and interact with the media on a daily basis. Before that I was a journalist for Basketball Magazine and I still do some writing for my local club, Manchester Magic. I recently undertook some freelance work for Basketball England, the national governing body, reporting on a number of their finals events. Writing is what I most enjoy doing. I love words and I’m thankful that I’m able to do something creative every day.

When did you know you wanted to work in the writing and media industry?

I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do until my late teens, if not my early twenties. I got into writing at secondary school, when my English teacher encouraged me to write poetry. I compiled a large collection of poetry in my young adulthood and it helped me through a long period of illness. Deciding that I wanted to write for a living was part of the recovery process. It gave me a purpose and it still does.

Which of your achievements so far are you particularly proud of?

In writing terms, my proudest achievement is probably having my work published in the Manchester Evening News, which is my home city’s main daily newspaper. There’s something special about seeing your name in print. Digital is great, but there’s something about print that gives me a tingle. Perhaps it’s the smell of the ink? Outside writing, I worked on the statistics team at the basketball tournaments at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience, made all the richer for being able to share it with my brother, Matt.

There’s something special about seeing your name in print. Digital is great, but there’s something about print that gives me a tingle. Perhaps it’s the smell of the ink?

What attributes do you feel are essential in a successful journalist?

It’s hard to say because I don’t really feel like I’ve been successful in journalism. I’ve only really been doing it for a couple of years and l was full-time for less than a year. I think it’s a very competitive industry and you need to be prepared to work hard to progress, but you also need some luck and to know the right people. I like to think being a skilful writer, both in terms of your content and your ability to craft language, is important, but I  sometimes read a newspaper and just despair at the stuff they print. These things are driven by demand, but I often wish there was more demand for greater substance.


What was the most rewarding part of working for Basketball Magazine?

I think it was just getting to write about something I enjoy. I’ve been a huge basketball fan since I was 11 and I’m very passionate about the game. The beauty of it is that it’s as simple or as complex as you make it, so there’s always something to write about. I’m incredibly grateful to Iain Roberts (no relation), who set up the magazine, for giving me my first break, but ultimately it didn’t work out because the market is very tough. To say British basketball is a niche market would be an understatement. We were only the second print magazine in the country for basketball at the time and now there are none. Digital is killing print, but that’s not necessarily all bad. It’s probably good for the environment. I think the real problem facing the industry is that people are no longer as willing prepared to pay for news because they can get it for free. It saddens me that the media has to rely more and more on advertising revenue rather than quality content to sustain itself.

I think readers should become your fans because of you have something meaningful or interesting to say, not because you make a strong sales pitch.

You are very successful on social media both as an individual and for the companies you’ve worked for. How important is social media in the industry now and how can we make the most of it? 

 I have a lot of followers on Twitter but I wouldn’t say that’s a fair indicator of aptitude. I follow a lot of people and it’s a reciprocal thing. In reality, my level of interaction isn’t brilliant. I suspect that’s partly because I use Twitter to moan about my first-world problems like the weather or public transport delays. On the flipside, I would agree that I’ve used Twitter in a professional capacity to achieve some success. We were able to drive a lot of traffic to Basketball Magazine’s website through Twitter, but a lot of that is down to it being a medium that the typical basketball fan likes to use. Twitter is not as relevant for GlobalData, as its clients are a very different demographic. We tend to find LinkedIn is our strongest suit, as it’s a more business-oriented social network.


Equally, what should we not do with social media? Any pitfalls to avoid?

 I believe the biggest mistake you can make is to constantly spam people. I follow a lot of authors on Twitter and many of them use the platform almost exclusively to promote their own books. It’s a huge temptation when you self-publish, which I’ve experimented with myself, but it can be a big turn-off. Self-publishing is tough, so I can sympathise with people using any possible means to get their work noticed. However, I think readers should become your fans because of you have something meaningful or interesting to say, not because you make a strong sales pitch.

What is the most enjoyable part of working in PR?

It certainly helps that I work with such a passionate and talented PR Manager in Emily Packer. She deserves a lot of credit for our success as a team. For me personally, seeing something I’ve worked on being used by a major international outlet is the biggest buzz you can get in PR. We’ve been featured in some of the world’s leading publications, such as the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, plus we’ve featured on the BBC News website a few times. I’m at an advantage with GlobalData, because the company produces some genuinely unique research into the healthcare and energy industries, but we still have to package it to grab the attention of the top outlets.

You were swiftly promoted in your most current workplace due to your speedy success. What would you say are some of the fundamentals in effective PR and media exposure?

 Some of the reports we receive from our analysts are highly technical, but we’ve found that it’s the sound-bites and the key findings that journalists and editors really crave. There was an instance not long ago with our GBI Research brand where we were struggling to find the best approach for a press release on a report into Alzheimer’s disease. We decided on an angle based on one of the more eye-catching findings and the press release led to an enquiry – and consequently some press coverage – from The Sunday Times. That doesn’t happen on every occasion, but I do think you have to understand how the media works and what appeals to your target audience.  

What are your goals for the future?

I am planning to dedicate more of my free time to work on my own writing and I would love to have a novel published in the next couple of years. I’m a huge fan of literature and film and my dream is to write fiction for a living. My favourite writers are George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut and Quentin Tarantino, so that should make for an interesting mix. I’d also like to travel more, experience other cultures, climb a mountain, fall in love, get married, have kids, do some humanitarian work – a whole list of things. But as long as I’ve got words to work with, I’ll be happy.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter here:

Do you have any questions for Graeme? Put them in the comments below and I will get them answered!

Graeme in Helsinki

Graeme in Helsinki

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