Monday, February 23, 2009


Next week, I'll be back on my old stamping grounds of West Yorkshire for an event organised by the good folk of Leeds Library Services.

Wednesday 4th March is the date for your diary, and the time is 7pm. I'll be talking to readers in the lecture theatre of the wonderful Leeds Art Gallery, off The Headrow. If you're in the Leeds area, make sure you're there! I'm told that tickets are a mere £3, available from the City Centre Box Office in the Carriageworks Theatre, 3 Millennium Square, Leeds (phone 0113 224 3801) or from Borders Books, 94-96 Briggate, Leeds (phone 0113 242 4400).

The Leeds event is the day before World Book Day here in the UK. For some reason, we have our World Book Day on a different day to the rest of the world, which rather spoils the global nature of the event, I always think. It's a bit like the USA's 'World Series', which always happens to feature two American teams in the final, as if the rest of the world has somehow been knocked out in the earlier rounds.

Well, on Thursday 5th itself, I'll be in Leicester for an event at the new Oadby Library (re-arranged from February 5th, when it was cancelled because of snow). I'll be 'in conversation' with John Martin at the library on The Parade, Oadby. This event also starts at 7pm. For details, phone 0116 305 8763.

By the way, if you're an event organiser, and you'd like me to appear at your library, festival, bookshop, hair salon, or public convenience, why not send an email with a few details to:

You never know where I might be lurking next!


No, I'm not sure what it means either... But one of the highlights of the literary supper for Epworth Mechanics Institute Library the other night was the presentation by the organisers of a wonderful hand-crafted copy of DYING TO SIN, bound in red goatskin leather by committee member Mandy Keating, who runs Pigsadogbooks. The cover even has an illustration of a Screaming Skull, as featured in the book.

Another hand-bound copy, but this time in black leather, was auctioned as a fund-raiser for the library. These are two totally unique items. Definitely for the 'keeper' shelf. Many thanks to Mandy and her Mechanics Institute colleagues for the great idea.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Before public libraries as we know them were ever invented, they had predecessors in the form of the Mechanics' Institute libraries - places for the working man to get himself an education.

Of course, most Mechanics' Institutes have gone the way of all things, though their buildings often remain as Victorian brick edifices converted into banks or community centres. But there are still a few fully functioning Mechanics' Institute libraries still surviving in the UK, and one of these is in Epworth, South Yorkshire - a small town best known as the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism.

The Epworth Mechanics' Institute Library was formed in 1837. It is located in a Grade II listed building, the Manor Court House, and still operates as a subscription library, open to the public, with a fiction library and local history resource.

This is an expensive facility for volunteers to keep running, so each year there is a fund-raising supper. And this week I will be one of the guest speakers. You can read an article about the event in the local newspaper, the Epworth Bells (yes, that really is its name).

I'll be appearing at St Andrew's Church (where the Wesleys were baptised) on Saturday, February 21st, at a buffet and wine event that gets under way at 7.30pm. The evening will include the auction of a specially hand bound copy of the 8th Cooper & Fry novel, DYING TO SIN.

If you're in the area, there might still be time to get a ticket. Phone either (01427) 873483, (01427) 872238 or (01427) 874670, or e-mail

** John Wesley travelled all over the country to preach, often arriving on horseback in some out of the way place. But he wasn't always in the best of moods. When he arrived in our neighbouring town of Worksop he didn't like the spot he'd been given to preach from, and said the locals were "as stupid people as I ever saw". But then, the comedian Les Dawson also allegedly said that the worst crowd he ever performed to was in Worksop.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Today my UK publishers, HarperCollins, announced that they will be making redundancies. I suppose this is no great surprise, since they've already had a freeze on hiring new staff, restricted pay increases, and halved their travel and entertainment expenses (which, in publishing, can be considerable!).

HC are one of the biggest publishers in the UK. But the economic crisis is global, and some of the big New York publishing houses seem to be in even bigger trouble. Here, independent bookshops like Murder One are closing, and some of the problems for publishers have been caused by the collapse of distributors like EUK, owned by the doomed Woolworth's.

But I like to bring a bit of good news in this blog, to lighten the doom and gloom. So what are we to make of the latest figures, which show that the number of new books published in the UK actually increased during 2008 by 4 per cent?

The rise in output has surprised some industry observers. But that might be because they've only be looking at the major trade publishers like HarperCollins, Penguin, Hodder Headline etc, who have been trimming their lists. Because quietly going on at the same time has been a big surge in self-publishing, and in the activities of what I see are now being called 'cottage publishers'. I suppose these latter might include two small, but perfectly formed, publishers in my neck of the woods - Five Leaves Publications, who publish the Crime Express series, and Creme de la Crime. It's great to see them doing well.

Incidentally, those figures for 2008 also include ebooks, which have been about to take over the publishing world for almost 10 years now (my first ebook was published back in 2000).

The other interesting aspect is the difference between book production in the UK and in the USA. The most recent figures show 276,649 new books published annually in the USA, compared to 120,947 in the UK. Since the population of the States is around five times our size, my dubious maths give me:
2 books per 1,000 people in the UK
1 book per 1,000 people in the USA

Of course, American readers might well be reading better books. The celebrity biographies show no sign of diminishing here at the moment...

Friday, February 6, 2009


Heard anything that offended you recently? Or read a sentence in a book that caused you personal outrage? And what did being offended give you the right do? Call for someone to be sacked? Make death threats? Write an abusive email?

It's a subject that has been much discussed here in the UK over the past few months. First there was the notorious Sachsgate, involving 'lewd' phone messages left by broadcasters Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. Very few listeners who heard it at the time complained to the BBC. But many thousands who hadn't heard it decided to be offended when they read about it in the papers, resulting in resignations, suspensions and grovelling apologies all round.

This week, there have been two more cases. Carol Thatcher, daughter of the former British Prime Minister, was at the centre of a row after comparing a black tennis player to a "golliwog" in an (unbroadcasted) conversation in the green room at the BBC. If you don't know what a golliwog is, go here (and be sure to scroll down to see the original cover of that Agatha Christie novel now known as AND THEN THERE WERE NONE!).

Well, Miss Thatcher is refusing to apologise, saying it was private conversation and the comment was made in jest. But people who heard the jest claim to have been offended, so she has gone.

Then today we hear that TV motormouth Jeremy Clarkson is also in trouble for referring to our current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, as a "one-eyed Scottish idiot" during an interview in Australia. This afternoon, Clarkson has been apologising too - but apparently only for "insulting someone's personal appearance", i.e. for pointing out that Mr Brown has only one eye, which is a verifiable fact and a matter of public knowledge. No need to apologise for calling him an idiot, then. Or for mentioning his Scottishness. But Clarkson is no stranger to this kind of thing.

It's a politically correct minefield for anyone out there in the public, er... eye. Especially when some folk seem to think they can be offended on behalf of others. Is this an issue all about context and tone?

As I was reading these news stories today, reality snuck in from the cyberworld and gave me a vicious little poke, as it so often does. I checked my inbox and found one of those wonderfully abusive emails that all writers receive occasionally from their readers. At least, I assume all writers get them. Or is it just me?

I'll let you read an extract of this email for yourselves. It opens without any preamble - no fuss about saying 'hello' or 'hi', but getting straight to the point, thus:

"On page139 in the hard copy of "Scared To Live," you write, "Nothing special-but women don't care much about the technical details, do they?" How, in this day and age, can you write this, and actually get away with writing this statement? How DARE you, you sexist pig! Who do you think you really are, God's gift to all mankind? Well, think again! Not only is fifty percent of mankind women, but many of this planet's brightest people today are women. Many women occupy the world's top jobs, careers, and research fields today. I think you grew up in the cave man era, am I right? You should absolutely be damn ashamed of yourself; writing someyhing like that in this day and age!...."

Okay, so the lady is offended. I think we got that. But not by something I've said to her. No - she's offended by a comment made in a crime novel by one fictional character to another. The sentence she quotes is part of a passage of dialogue between DI Paul Hitchens and his boss, DCI Oliver Kessen. Hitchens has never been presented as a particularly sympathetic character, and I'm sure there's far worse from him and some of the more cynical police officers elsewhere in the Cooper & Fry series. My characters tend to talk pretty much the way they would in real life. In this passage, Hitchens is actually referring to a stereo system, being himself the sort of bloke who cares about the woofers and tweeters. (See footnote *1)

So should I be the one who's offended? You've got to have a thick skin when you get published, of course. In fact, my first reaction when I read this email was to think "poor woman - she's got such a huge chip on her shoulder that it's preventing her from distinguishing fiction from reality". And then I started taking it as a compliment... Why? Because what's happened here is that a reader has been so deeply involved in a story that she's taken personal offence at something said by a character, as if it had actually been said in her presence. But, because this character is fictional, she can't shout back at him, right? So she chooses the next most obvious target - the author. Isn't it great when a book can evoke that kind of passion?

Well, let's face it - if you're going to abuse a writer for the views of a fictional character, you might as well write to Thomas Harris and ask him to justify his cannibalism. It would be ridiculous to believe that every opinion expressed by every minor character in a book is also the opinion of the author. It just isn't physically possible, since characters tend to disagree with each other all the time. It's called conflict.

In fact, there are so many unpleasant individuals with nasty attitudes in my books, I'm starting to wonder what some of my readers think I'm like. :)

SPOILER ALERT - if you haven't read SCARED TO LIVE yet, you might want to read no further! No offence or anything...

Footnote *1 - The fact that the owner of the stereo system had just been shot is completely inoffensive, apparently. As are the deaths of a mother and her two children, who have just died horribly in a house fire. But then, this is a crime novel, so we expect things like that, don't we? We just don't expect characters to express opinions that we disagree with...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I remember being extremely chuffed a few years ago when I discovered that I'd been mentioned in the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Phrases and Sayings. The reference was for a modern usage of the expression "Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs", as used by DCI Stewart Tailby in BLACK DOG (apart from the immortality, it meant that someone at the Oxford University Press had read BLACK DOG really carefully).

Then there was the BBC radio interview following the publication of THE DEAD PLACE, when the interviewer complimented me on some expressions he'd never heard before, which he'd jotted down while he was reading the book. One of them was used by the undertaker, Melvyn Hudson. Referring to a less than bright employee, he says: "The wheel's still turning, but the hamster's dead". I suppose it's a version of the more familiar "the lights are on, but no-one's home". Well, I'm not sure I invented the hamster line, but I couldn't remember where I got it from, so of course I had to take the credit. :)

And then along comes the Progressive Network of Southeast Pennsylvania - a body new to me, but I'm sure they do wonderful work on behalf of the progressive community in that neck of the woods. Their website is full of inspiring and thought-provoking quotations. One page I stumbled across begins with ringing, memorable phrases from the likes of Barack Obama, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King. And then, down at the very bottom:

“Believe those who are seeking the truth, but doubt those who say they have found it.” —Stride, in “Dancing with the Virgins” by Stephen Booth [p. 273]

Now, Stride is a very caring and spiritual character, so I think he would want to own up to the fact that he borrowed this line from the French writer Andre Gide and improved on it slightly. So I'm going to own up on his behalf.

Nice, though, that a fictional character can earn his own little share of imortality.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Another newcomer to the blogosphere is one of my crime writing heroes, John Harvey, who is blogging over at:

Mr Harvey is much more cultured than me, and can be found discussing poetry and jazz as well as crime fiction. He's also a recent recipient of the CWA's Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement, and happens to be a really nice guy too. You've got to hate him, haven't you?

I've also added a few more blog links below, including Martin Edwards' "Do you write under your own name?" As well as being a wonderful writer himself, Martin is a reviewer, and you can often find recommendations of new books on his blog before the books have even been published.


A fellow crime writer has reported receiving an email from her US publishers, asking all their authors to keep their books under 100,000 words, in an effort to reduce production costs (i.e. creating fewer pages to print).

I'd be interested to hear what readers think of this one. On the one hand, there are probably many books that would benefit from being pruned! But my agent once said to me that a book should be as long as it needs to be for the story you're telling.

And the author who received this email has just finished a new book that is 120,000 words long, meaning she might be asked to cut one sixth of the book - for the US market, at least. As an author, it's probably better to write shorter books than be dropped by your publisher. But will some readers notice that that they're getting less value for money?

Monday, February 2, 2009


Just a few snippets of news today while I have a quiet snigger at all those people down in London panicking over a couple of centimetres of snow. Come on, folks... when we lived in Yorkshire, we used to wake up with more snow than that inside the bedroom. Or am I just being a wee bit smug about working from home? Write and let me know!

The good news for Derbyshire as a result of this "snow event" (as the BBC have just called it) was that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, whose name is Mr Ed Balls, had to cancel a visit to open Derby's first 'skills academy'. There must be scope for a really great headline there somewhere...

Of course, the Peak District had twice as much snow as anywhere else in England, and the famous Snake Pass was closed today - but that happens every winter.

Elsewhere, it seems that people are turning to their local libraries in greater numbers - at least in Scotland. Good news for libraries - but maybe not such good news for bookshops? I'm always sorry to see independent bookstores closing, and I was particularly sad to hear news of the recent demise of Murder One, London's (in fact, the UK's) leading mystery bookstore. The full story of what owner Maxim Jakubowski is up to can be read on today's Rapsheet blog.

Finally, we all know that rabbits can be a terrible pest in the countryside. So I loved this story today from the Press Association on one farmer's novel approach to pest control, featuring a gun-totin' cow.


Here in the UK, the Crime Writers' Association has just opened nominations for this year's Dagger in the Library Award.

Sponsored by Random House, the £1,500 award recognises an author's body of work. Recent winners have included Stuart McBride, Craig Russell and Alexander McCall Smith. (oh, and me!) This year, the panel of judges will be chaired by Mark Benjamin, Team Librarian at Hexham Library.

Libraries have until 11th April to make up to three nominations for each of their reading groups. Libraries that nominate shortlisted authors will be entered into a draw for tickets to the glittering awards dinner in London, and for a £300 prize. Entry forms can be downloaded at the CWA website:

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Congratulations go to Derbyshire crime writer Steven Dunne, who is one of the latest signings for HarperCollins imprint Avon.

Steven is a fine example for other aspiring authors who dream of getting that big publishing contract. After a number of rejections, he decided to go it alone and self-publish his first novel 'Reaper', a detective thriller set in Derby, featuring Detective Inspector Damen Brook in a hunt for a long-dormant serial killer. The book ended up being stocked and championed at Steven's local Waterstone’s.

He then placed his book on HarperCollins' new writers' networking site in the hope of reaching a wider audience. And 'Reaper' was spotted by a HarperCollins editor, who has signed Steven up for at least one more book. 'Reaper' will be hitting shops across the UK this summer.

I read the book a couple of months ago, and it's great stuff! I even think the cover of the self-published version is pretty cool too (and that's not something you can always say). I'm looking forward to seeing what HarperCollins do with it.

A graduate of Kent University, Steven Dunne works as a supply teacher in Derby. He uses a number of recognisable locations in the city for his book.

I think you'll be hearing more of him after this summer.

You can visit his website here: