Wednesday, 21 March 2018

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Katherine Armstrong

Welcome to my latest MY PUBLISHING LIFE feature, an interview with a literary agent, publisher, publicist or editor about their publishing career to date. Some serious questions, and some just for fun!

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


Editorial Director
Bonnier Zaffre

What and when was your first job in publishing?
My first job in publishing was at Faber & Faber, which I joined as a temporary pre-press assistant in January 2005. I then moved to a six-month position as editorial assistant for Poetry. I chained myself to my desk and (as we all know, possession is 9/10ths of the law) was eventually made permanent, working across the poetry, fiction and non-fiction lists before specialising in crime fiction. In 2008, I became a project editor and, in 2011, I started to commission crime and thriller fiction. I left Faber in September 2015 – quite possibly the longest ‘temporary’ contract ever! 

How long have you been working in your current job/role?
I moved to Bonnier Zaffre in June 2016 as a Senior Editor for their growing crime and thriller list. In February 2017, I was promoted to Editorial Director. 

Which books have you worked on recently/are you working on?
So many good books!! I’m working on a lot of books at the moment, all of which I’m excited about, but I guess to just mention three that are coming up over the summer months: Kiss Me, Kill Me by J. S. Carol – an incredibly tense psychological thriller; The Old Religion by Martyn Waites, which I’m pitching as ‘Peter May meets The Wicker Man’; Killing It by Asia Mackay – a brilliant book about a female assassin who has just had her first child and is now back at work – she puts the ‘sass’ back in ‘assassin’ (attrib. L. S. Hilton). 

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
Networking is crucial in this industry, so if you’re starting out go to everything you can and meet people. You also need perseverance, patience, a sharp eye for detail and a passion for reading. I also have an MPhil in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling where my dissertation was on the influence of female crime fiction writers on the publishing industry in the UK and the US. It was called ‘Deadlier than the Male’! 

How do you relax after a busy working day?
Gym, walking, pub quiz, dinner with friends, movies, rioja, prosecco  . . . 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I’m currently enjoying Star of the North by D. B. John. I know the editor and was lucky enough to beg a proof copy. 

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Wrangler of words, curator of stories and sounding board for writers. 

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far
It’s genuinely a wonderful industry to be in and I’ve loved every minute so far – from working with amazing authors to amazing colleagues – but if I had to pick specific highlights then:
  • My first acquisition – the fantastic Safe House by Chris Ewan – went on to sell over 500,000 copies in all editions and was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award.
  • When I did a maternity cover at Sphere (Little, Brown), I was lucky enough to work with a whole host of fantastic authors, but I also found and published a classic crime title, Another Little Christmas Murder (originally published as Another Little Murder) by Lorna Nicholl Morgan – whose identity remains a mystery (in case anyone has info)!
  • At Bonnier Zaffre: I edited and published the fantastic Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear, which was our Richard & Judy Search for a Bestseller competition winner and has sold over 200,000 copies across all editions to date.

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
Got to be a spy! I love to travel and am quite nosy – I want to know the ‘why’ of everything – so would love to know what’s really happening behind the scenes, not just what the government chooses to tell us.  Plus, I want the gadgets . . . 

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?
This job requires a lot of juggling of your time, from edits to submissions reading to author events to networking, so I guess if my publishing life was a book it’d be:
Sleep is for the weak 

Thanks so much for taking part, Katherine!

Look out for more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features coming soon.

Click here to read more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features.

If any literary agents, publishers, publicists or editors would like to take part, please contact me through my blog or Twitter for the full list of questions.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Devil's Dice by Roz Watkins

The Devil's Dice 
By Roz Watkins
Published by HQ Stories (8 March 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through Lovereading.

Publisher's description
A lawyer is found dead in a Peak District cave, his face ribboned with scratches.
Amidst rumours of a local curse, DI Meg Dalton is convinced this is cold-blooded murder. There's just one catch – chiselled into the cave wall above the body is an image of the grim reaper and the dead man's initials, and it's been there for over a century.

As Meg battles to solve the increasingly disturbing case, it's clear someone knows her secrets. The murderer is playing games with Meg – and the dice are loaded…

My verdict
On starting The Devil's Dice, I thought the book was going to be a straightforward police procedural. But this is no ordinary case and certainly stands out from the crowd. It involves supernatural curses and the mysterious death of a lawyer, found in a Peak District cave.

DI Meg Dalton is a strong feisty protagonist with lots of attitude. A risk-taker prone to injury and with plenty of flaws, she definitely doesn't play by the rules. And this often gets her into trouble with her superiors and colleagues. As Meg tries to solve the case, everything begins to feel a little too personal, bringing back memories of tragedy in her own family's past.

The Devil's Dice is a very twisty mystery with plenty of cliffhangers, particularly in the last 100 or so pages. I read the final chapters in one sitting, barely moving, and found myself holding my breath as everything was revealed through several action-packed scenes in a very chilling setting.

Overall, I thought The Devil's Dice was fun and easy to read, with a clever thought-provoking plot. I'm looking forward to the next Meg Dalton book.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Mary-Jane Riley's Writing Toolkit

WRITING TOOLKIT gives you an idea of an author's writing process through the tools they use. The tools can be anything (real or virtual) that they think is essential for their writing - serious, fun or even a fetish (that they're willing to own up to)! 

I am delighted to welcome 





Dark Waters was published by Killer Reads on 16 March 2018. 

A room of one's own
It’s not necessary to have a whole room to write in - indeed it can even become a bit of a millstone (husband says ‘you can have the whole day to write in your room’ I freeze and generally find I can’t do much at all) - and I like to be able to write in all sorts of places - the dining room table, the train, an aeroplane, a balcony in Greece overlooking the ocean... but I do love my room and I probably write my best stuff there. I have a lovely view over the Common and see sparrow hawks, kestrels, rabbits, dog walkers and even deer. I keep my handbags in my room, and I often have company in the form of one of my dogs, Reggie, who likes to sleep on the futon (I know, I know, who on earth buys something as uncomfortable as a futon?). Sometimes *whispers* I curl up with him. 

And talking of Reggie, walking him and Bella is a wonderful way to clear my head, untangle plot messes, think about characters and feel that maybe what I’m writing isn’t one hundred percent c***p. I often go up the road to a wonderful area where the dogs run free to sniff and smell and play. The East Anglian sky is wide and beautiful and the sense of space is amazing. The dogs are also very good sounding boards as they always seem pleased to hear about my plots, characters, and so on. They never get bored! Marvellous! 

I have to have silence while I work, but when I want to switch off I love listening to the radio, usually plays I have downloaded from the BBC - Radio Four or Radio Four Extra. I have heard some great stuff over the years, and I particularly like plays that use the medium of radio to its fullest - a recent Jonathan Myerson play was a brilliant example of this. If I can’t sleep at night I listen to Radio Five Live Up All Night, which is full of interesting and informative items, so not great for getting me off to sleep. I am also an out and proud fan of The Archers.... 

Notebooks, notebooks and more notebooks! Of all shapes and sizes! But mostly I like to write in big ones, at least A4 size.... I make notes, write character outlines, doodle, and often write down what has happened so far in the latest book I’m writing - I find if I do that a couple of times it can unlock the next bit... 

Couldn’t do any of this without him. Simple. He is encouraging, he doesn’t yawn when I bore on. And on. And on. He listens and makes great suggestions, tells me I’m great (even though I’m not), whistles when I’m shouting about things not working - computer, ideas, that sort of thing (actually the whistling can be quite annoying). Suggest ways to make my writing tighter. AND HE DOES THE IRONING. ALL OF IT.

The delete button
To take out those clumsy sentences, those rubbish paragraphs, that purple prose, those over-the-top descriptions, those sentences that seem so fine but are far to ‘writerly’, and all those damn ellipses and exclamation marks! 


About Mary-Jane Riley
Mary-Jane wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Mary-Jane has three grown-up children and lives in Suffolk with her husband and two golden retrievers.
DARK WATERS is her third crime thriller featuring investigative journalist, Alex Devlin.

Find Mary-Jane Riley on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @mrsmjriley


Published by Killer Reads (16 March 2018)

Publisher's description
DARK WATERS is the third crime thriller in the series featuring journalist Alex Devlin. It begins with a macabre discovery on board a pleasure cruiser on the beautiful Norfolk Broads – the decomposing bodies of two elderly men. It appears the dead men did not know each other and police suspect an internet suicide pact.
Alex’s search for the truth reveals a darker story. She finds a connection between the two men and possible links to other unexplained deaths.
As she investigates further, the stakes rise and her own family becomes embroiled in the mystery. Her inquiries lead her to the University of Cambridge. Could the roots of the puzzle lie there with a tragedy that unfolded amongst a group of carefree students many years before?
Long-buried secrets come to the surface and Alex’s life and the lives of her family are on the line. As the past and the present collide, Alex questions everything she thinks she knows about those she loves.

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Friday, 16 March 2018

The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave

The Memory Chamber
By Holly Cave
Published by Quercus (22 February 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.

Publisher's description
True death is a thing of the past. Now you can spend the rest of eternity re-living your happiest memories: that first kiss, falling in love, the birth of your children, enjoyed on loop for ever and ever.
Isobel is a Heaven Architect, and she helps dying people create afterlives from these memories. So when she falls for Jarek, one of her terminal - and married - clients, she knows that while she cannot save him, she can create the most beautiful of heavens, just for him.
But when Jarek's wife is found dead, Isobel uncovers a darker side of the world she works within, and she can trust no one with what she finds...

My verdict
The Memory Chamber is an innovative combination of science, murder-mystery and thriller set in an alternative world that's not that different from our own.

It features an interesting and thought-provoking concept - the creation of an artificial afterlife. Following the extraction of certain cells after death, clients can exist within their selected memories forever, inside a heaven that's been tailor-made just for them. The controversial technology is mainly for those who can afford it and choose to have one, but it isn't just for the wealthy. There's a global war going on, and soldiers are able to plan their own heavens, and contemplate their own deaths, before they head to the frontline.

Heaven Architect Isobel combines her knowledge of science and creativity to create amazing heavens for her clients, discussing their needs in advance. She's dedicated to her job, but breaks her professional and ethical code when she falls for a terminally ill married client, Jarek, who becomes a prime suspect in a murder investigation after his death. If Jarek is guilty of murder, his cells will be destroyed, which means he won't live forever in the heaven Isobel created just for him. So she agrees to explore his memories inside his heaven for clues that will prove he wasn't the killer. But that science is still untested, and soon Isobel no longer knows who she can trust.

I raced through The Memory Chamber. It kept me on the edge of my seat, with twists and turns, suspense and thrills, and some tender moments too. With a background in science writing, Holly Cave has explained the scientific concepts well. It all seemed very believable, as she has also explored the ethical and legal issues involved.

The Memory Chamber is a book that will make you question and think - a perfect book club read. Would you want to exist in your own tailor-made afterlife or would you prefer oblivion? Would you want to be part of someone else's afterlife, even if you know little about them? And which of your own memories would you choose to remember for eternity?

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Matt Johnson's Writing Toolkit

WRITING TOOLKIT gives you an idea of an author's writing process through the tools they use. The tools can be anything (real or virtual) that they think is essential for their writing - serious, fun or even a fetish (that they're willing to own up to)! 

I am delighted to welcome 





End Game was published in e-book in February 2018 and is being published in paperback on 31 March 2018 by Orenda Books. 

Peace and quiet
Peace and quiet for fairly obvious reasons. I find it very hard to focus on writing unless I’m on my own with just the computer and my view through the window of my office – the Brecon Beacons. I write in my office with a view over the mountains. As I write the fields are green, the sky blue and the peaks are dusted with snow. I can think or worse places to be.
I listen to classical music sometimes, and I’ve found a website that plays backing sounds – rain, the sound of waves, wind, thunder and others. Having that in the background can be quite helpful when I’m busy with my imaginary friends. 

Where would we be without this facility to answer all manner of questions? From the correct spelling of a word through to the technical specifications of anything you may care to mention – it will provide the answer.

My computer
Old but reliable! I’m a three or four-finger typist, slow but fairly accurate. My handwriting is so poor that I struggle to read it myself so I always write creatively using MS Word. 

My professional network
Most of whom are old friends. They help jog my memory, provide answers to questions and contribute ideas. I’d be lost without them

I don’t imagine there are many former soldiers and policemen who can function without a regular brew. I think it’s a habit we get into during our service that is hard to break. 

Walking with the dogs is a time when I relax and when ideas come to me. If I’m struggling with a section of the book or need to make a decision I find that a walk in the mountains or through the local fields usually produces a solution. If not, I walk again!


About Matt Johnson
Matt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for 25 years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1993, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent’s Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People’s Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition. His bestselling thriller, Wicked Game, which was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, was the result. Deadly Game and now End Game, the final book in the Robert Finlay series, once again draws on Matt’s experiences and drips with the same raw authenticity of its predecessor.

Find Matt Johnson on his website, on his Facebook page and on Twitter - @Matt_Johnson_UK

About End Game

Published by Orenda Books (31 March 2018)

Publisher's description
Robert Finlay seems to have finally left his SAS past behind him and is settled into his new career as a detective. But when the girlfriend of his former SAS colleague and close friend Kevin Jones is murdered, it's clear that Finlay's troubles are far from over. Jones is arrested for the killing, but soon escapes from jail, and Finlay is held responsible for the breakout. Suspended from duty and sure he's being framed too, our hero teams up with MI5 agent Toni Fellowes to find out who's behind the conspiracy. Their quest soon reveals a plot that goes to the very heart of the UK's security services. End Game, the final part in the critically acclaimed Robert Finlay trilogy, sees our hero in an intricately plotted and terrifyingly fast-paced race to uncover the truth and escape those who'd sooner have him dead than be exposed. 

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Wednesday, 14 March 2018

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

I am delighted to be today's stop on the blog tour for We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard. We Were the Salt of the Sea is published in paperback by Orenda Books on 20 March 2018.

Read on for my review:

We Were the Salt of the Sea
By Roxanne Bouchard
Translated by David Warriner
Published by Orenda Books (E-book - out now; Paperback - 30 March 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.

Publisher's description
As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation. On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Morales reach straight for a large whisky…  

My verdict
We Were the Salt of the Sea is a character-led literary crime novel set in a remote Quebec setting.

When the body of nomadic and mysterious Marie Garant is discovered tangled in a fishing net, it's up to newly located Detective Joaquin Morales to decide whether she drowned or whether her death was more sinister. Meanwhile Catherine Day, a young woman from Montreal, is visiting the remote fishing village to search for her birth mother. It doesn't take too long before their paths collide.

The book is well translated by David Warriner, and beautifully written with exquisite prose and well-observed descriptions. The small cast of varied characters and the remote setting give the book a claustrophobic feel. Each character has their own quirk that is apparent in their appearance, mannerisms and dialogue, creating a novel with a uniqueness that will be hard to forget.

We Were the Salt of the Sea is more than just an investigation into a woman's death. It's a story of a woman's search for the truth about her birth parents, trying to explore secrets from her past. It's also a detective's journey, discovering more about himself, his marriage and human behaviour. An emotional journey for both of them, with a focus on identity and a sense of belonging.

But most of all, this book is about the sea - its uncertainty and unpredictability, its rawness and beauty. The vivid descriptions left me with a yearning to visit Canada (again) and experience the natural beauty of Quebec's coastline for myself.

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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Need to Know by Karen Cleveland

Need to Know
By Karen Cleveland
Published by Transworld/Bantam Press (January 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher.

Publisher's description
You get to work. Make a coffee. Turn on your computer.
Your task: break into a Russian criminal's laptop and find proof that he's concealing five deep-cover agents - seemingly normal people living in plain sight.
You’re in. Five faces stare back at you.
One of them is your husband.

My verdict
Need to Know totally sucked me in and kept me hostage for a few hours!

This was a one-sitting read with my heart pounding as I held my breath and turned the pages as fast as my brain could process the words on them. I could see why other people who read this book before me had been raving about it. I couldn't put it down!

Need to Know is a story of espionage but also a marriage in crisis. Vivian, a CIA counterintelligence analyst, discovers that her husband isn't who she thinks he is, which could not only affect their relationship but, perhaps more worryingly, also national security. Is their relationship built on lies and manipulation? Is it real or not? And should she reveal the truth to her superiors and colleagues?

This is the type of book that will keep you reading late into the night or even the early hours of the morning. I admit that I had to suspend belief more than a little, but I didn't care. This is a fast-paced page turner, with tension on every page and an impressive, additive plot. It's a light, easy read - perfect escapism from the real world. It's fun and different with great writing. And I did find myself wondering what I would have done in Vivian's situation.

I can see why this book was highly sought after, and also why it's been picked up by Hollywood. It's mind-blowing and highly entertaining from start to finish, and shockingly twisty - a book written for the big screen. I'm really hoping there's a sequel!