Friday, February 15, 2019

A Wee Bit About Me

A Wee Bit About Me Abir Mukherjee

Hi, I’m Abir, and can I start by saying what an absolute pleasure to join you all, readers and writers, on this wonderful blog. 

For those of you who don’t know me (and I’m guessing that’s most of you), I’m a writer, originally from Scotland but now stuck in London, for my sins. My parents were originally from India - my father asked himself, “where’s the coldest, wettest place that I can raise a family?”, and the answer to that turned out to be Glasgow, where I grew up. I write a series of novels set in 1920s India, during the time of the British Raj, and featuring my detective duo of Captain Sam Wyndham, an Englishman who finds himself in Calcutta basically because it’s slightly preferable to suicide, and his trusty sidekick, Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, who because his English colleagues have trouble pronouncing any foreign name longer than one syllable, is known as Surrender-not.

 While they are crime novels, I wanted my books to also examine the real history of the Raj, a topic which we in Britain tend to brush under the carpet, and much of the backdrop to the books is grounded in real history. My first novel, A Rising Man, came out in the UK in 2016 where it was a best-seller and won the CWA Dagger for Best Historical Crime Novel, and the following year in the US where it was shortlisted for the Edgar for Best Novel.It sees Sam and Surrender-not investigate the death of a burra sahib, a high-ranking British civil servant.

The second in the series, A Necessary Evil saw my duo investigate the murder of the son of a maharajah, the heir to the throne of a fabulously wealthy Indian kingdom. It was published in the Us last year and won the Wilbur Smith Award for best adventure novel. The third in the series, Smoke and Ashes, sees the brave detectives track a serial killer across Calcutta in the face of the Indian freedom struggle and a visit to the city by the Prince of Wales. It’s out in the US next month.

I suppose I should tell you a bit about how I got into this writing malarkey.

I'm an accountant by profession and my journey to debut writer began back in the autumn of 2013. To be honest, it was bit of a mid-life crisis. I was thirty-nine at the time, hurtling towards forty and I had the hope that maybe there might be more to life than accounting. 

I’d always wanted to write a book but never had the confidence. That, and a well-honed tendency to procrastinate meant I’d never actually written more than a chapter of anything, and I doubt things would have changed had it not been for two pieces of good fortune. First, I was running late one morning and caught an interview with Lee Child on breakfast TV. He recounted how, having never really written before, he’d started writing at the age of forty. I’d never read any of his work till then, but I went out that day and bought a copy of his first book, Killing Floor, and devoured it within forty-eight hours. I was amazed at how simply written and well plotted it was. I’d recently had an idea for a story centered on a British detective who travels to India after the First World War, and reading Killing Floor gave me the motivation to put pen to paper.

Nevertheless, after about ten thousand words, I made the error of reading what I’d written and began to doubt whether any of it was any good. I’d have probably given up if it weren’t for the second piece of good fortune. I’d been doing some research on-line and came across details of a Crime Writing Competition in a national UK paper, looking for new and unpublished crime writers. The entry requirements were simple: the first five thousand words of a novel, together with a two-page synopsis of the rest of the book. There was only one stipulation – that the entry contain some international element. I tidied up the first chapter, wrote the synopsis and sent them away. 

Having never submitted anything before, I didn’t expect to win, so it was a complete surprise when, a few months later, I was contacted by Alison Hennessey, senior editor at the Penguin imprint, Harvill Secker, and the organizer of the competition, and told that my book was going to be published. The problem was at that point I didn’t have a book, just half a first draft of fifty thousand words that didn’t always fit together. Thankfully Alison and the whole team at Harvill Secker took me under their wing and helped me turn those fifty thousand words into a fully-fledged novel.

That draft became my first novel, A Rising Man. I’m fascinated by the idea of a good man upholding a corrupt system and I’d always been interested in the topic of British rule in India. It’s a period in history which has contributed so much to modern India and Britain, and it was a time that saw the best and the worst of both peoples. But it’s a period that generally forgotten, and if it’s discussed at, is either painted as terribly black or romanticized. I wanted to examine that period from the perspective of two men, one British and one Indian, who are both outsiders to it all and who see things with fresh eyes.

If you want to find out more, please visit my website: (though I need to update it!) or follow me on Twitter @radiomukhers .

Thursday, February 14, 2019

At the Tone, the Time Will Be...

What sacrifices have you made for your writing career that you're better for?

From Jim

What have I sacrificed for my writing career? That’s simple. I’ve sacrificed time. Years, and in more ways than just butt-in-the-chair writing, though there’s that, of course. You have to write to be a writer, after all. In the same way you’re not a skydiver if you don’t jump out of airplanes. That’s not to say you have to publish to be a writer any more than you have to pull the ripcord once you’ve jumped from the plane to be considered a skydiver. I recognize, however, that publishing—and ripping the cord—is usually the preferred route to a happy career.

But in addition to sitting down and writing, I needed years to reach the point where I was ready to succeed at writing. I landed my first agent in 1991. I had written a couple of books and was sure it was my time. But it wasn’t. I wanted so badly for it to be my time. But it wasn’t.

When my agent failed to sell my books, I kept writing anyway. And when she and I differed over the new direction I wanted to to take, we parted ways. And, yes, I was sure it was my time to succeed. Only it wasn’t.

With the lack of early success, I gradually lost momentum in my writing career. Instead, I concentrated on making a living. As I began to achieve success elsewhere, the writing fell by the wayside. I still wanted to be a writer. Talked a lot about being a writer. But didn’t really do much to make it happen.

I moved to Los Angeles and embarked on a wonderful career in the subtitling industry. For seventeen years, I traveled to foreign countries, started new businesses, and met amazing people. I learned a lot about myself and the world around me. And I lost time. I sacrificed it for the experience I obviously needed to become a writer of any merit.

About twelve years ago, however, I realized that the sacrificing had to end if I ever wanted to make a go of it as a writer. I needed to write. And I needed to approach that goal as if time were dwindling. In fact, I asked myself that very common question: If not now when? Time, which I’d needed to accumulate the skills and knowledge and maturity required to write words of worth, was no longer a chip I could trade. It was the capital I needed to hoard. Since then, I’ve written and sold seven novels, thanks in great part to the time I’d spent getting there.

Not every writer follows the path I did. Some are simply more talented earlier. More talented later, too. And others still wait and toil and hope even longer than I did. But whether writers find success—however we wish to define that—early or late or never, they all must sacrifice time. Then they must cherish what’s left—decades, years, or months—and exploit it to the fullest. At least that’s what I’m doing.

Write like the wind!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

For art’s sake

What sacrifices have you made for your writing career that you're better for?

by Dietrich

I’ve never thought of anything to do with writing as a sacrifice. There’s no ritual or offering, nothing like that. Not in my real life anyway. It comes down to choice and time, and writing is what I choose to do over other things. In order to do it as well as I can, other things have to be set aside. 

For me, there’s nothing like sitting down with an idea for a story, and spinning it, disappearing in the world that I make up, giving myself over to it and finding my way into the rhythm of it, and then seeing where the story takes me. Mine is a casual style, but there was nothing casual about getting there. it took a lot of practice and experimenting to find my voice and a style that worked in the first place, but I loved every minute of it. And I still do.

“If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is.” Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Signing for Vancouver Noir, with Sam Wiebe, Robin Spano & Kristi Charish
There was no guarantee starting out, or even now, that someone would or will publish what spills out of me. I’ve mentioned before that I started by writing short stories, and for me it was the right way to go. Writing them let me play with genres and styles so I could find what worked best for me. I don’t write as many nowadays — another choice — but, I still love the form, and I do have one included in Vancouver Noir, an anthology printed in 2017 by Akashic Books, and I’m tickled to be part of it, along with some awesome Canadian talent.

Nowadays, I complete a novel each year, more or less. And I’m fortunate to be at a point in life where I don’t have to juggle a day job or drive the kid to some after-school activity, and then get in whatever writing I can at the end of a bleary-eyed day. I’ve been there, and I was happy to write in the little time I had. As they say, “If you love what you’re doing, the rest will take care of itself.” 

I get up in the morning when I have plenty of energy, and I pick up the story from where I left off. And I’ve almost managed to wean myself from spending too much time on social media, and I spend less time watching TV and more time going for long walks. And sometimes I just like to just do nothing at all.

I guess if I could squeeze more hours into the day, I’d probably get my brushes and paint something abstract, or I’d grab my camera and go in search of some street scenes, or I’d dust off my guitar, or maybe I’d find something new to try. But, it’s all a choice, right?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Worth the Sacrifice

Brenda Chapman here.

This week's question: What sacrifices have you made for your writing career that you're better for?

I’ve not thought much about sacrifices when it comes to writing. Most of the time, I feel mighty blessed to be sitting at my computer making up stuff. However,  I can come up with a few things that I've given up in the pursuit of the written word ... things that I'm often all the better for having missed.

The biggest one would have to be time, but it is time I give up willingly. I've rarely turned down a social engagement to write, even with deadlines. I simply work my day or week to accommodate. The hours I spend in my office have meant sacrificing clean cupboards and floors on occasion, but I probably would have found something else to do anyway if I wasn't writing. Now and then, my husband has come into my office to chat with me, and usually I stop what I'm doing to share a coffee, but not always. Those times I regret, but happily, they're the exception.

I've sacrificed money by visiting conferences and throwing launches, among other costs. Yet, I don't regret the outlay. I've visited places I never would have ... Monterey, Phoenix, Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Muncie, Victoria, Vancouver ... and I've met many, many interesting people along the way, some who've become friends. The monetary sacrifice has paid enormous, incalculable dividends.

Perhaps a more esoteric sacrifice would be giving up my comfort zone on occasion. I'm not entirely at ease thinking about being in front of a crowd and have spent many hours with a queasy stomach, going over my spiel again and again in my mind on the day of a presentation, event or media interview. The nervous feelings have lessened over the years, but have never entirely deserted me. I try to look at time in the spotlight as character-building - easier to convince myself of this benefit after everything is said and done.

Yup, that's me at the lectern. A butterflies-in-the-stomach moment.

While I'm on the subject of intangible sacrifices, I'd have to add my ego. There's something about standing in a bookstore while people avoid you like a dose of plague that knocks out any feeling of self-importance.  My favourite bit of knocking down came during my earliest years as a published author. My first series was four young adult mysteries and I was invited to teach at a kids' festival. One little girl, who was about eight years old, put up her hand and all but shouted, "My mom said I could either buy your book or the kitty cat purse ... and I picked the purse!" The delight in her voice still makes me laugh. It continues to remind me that not everybody will put my writing above a bubble gum pink kitty cat purse.

Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor
Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, February 8, 2019


How best do you manage your time and resources? What tools are helping you manage life while you complete your next work? Websites? Apps? Tricks of the trade?

by Paul D. Marks

One way to manage time.
Not as well as I used to in answer to the first question.

I used to be very disciplined. Self-starter. Fire in the belly. And I still am to some extent, just not as much as I used to be. So, the question is why. Lots of reasons, of course. I have a dog that’s getting older and I want to spend more time with her. I have some personal issues I’m dealing with and they can be distracting. Life.

There’s really no web site or app that helps me manage my time. I have to do that myself. In fact, if I go to a website I’ll probably be wasting time, even though I might enjoy the content.

So, here’s some things I do, or try to do, to manage my time and resources – the old-fashioned way:

Prioritize – The first thing is to figure out what’s important. What are you working on and if more than one thing, which is the one that needs immediate attention, like if you have a deadline looming. On top of that, there’s day to day things that need attention so where do they fit in? Make a list. Put off till tomorrow what can be put off. Break bigger projects into smaller units. Some say do the most important tasks first, sometimes I do, but sometimes I blow off the easy ones first. Part of the reason is because they are easy. But part of it is because it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and that gives me motivation to tackle the bigger projects. The key is not to spend all your time on the small things.

See the trees, or a single tree, not the forest – If you look at the big picture, the forest, you’ll stop dead in your tracks. So break things down into smaller tasks. Plan to write a chapter or part of one, not the whole book in one sitting, not that anyone could really do that...

Computers can be helpful.
Set Goals – I’m very goal-oriented. It’s how I’ve achieved various things in my life from an early age. Even when I’m reading a book I look ahead to see where the chapter ends, I’m racing for that goal post. Still enjoying the journey but also racing for that goal. And I always know where I am in a book. A third through, half, whatever. Also running for that goal. Same when I’m writing. I’m very conscious of where I am in a story. I write in the three act structure most of the time and I’m very aware of what part of that I’m in. But you also need set goals outside of specific projects. What is it you want to accomplish? How to plan to get there? If you want to run a triathlon you have to train. If you want to write a story or a novel you have to prioritize and set goals – then sit down to do the hard work.

Be organa-zized.
Be Organized – Or as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver might say be “organa-zized”. Make lists. Prioritize the items on those lists. Make things easy to find, whether physical objects like a pen or cyber objects like files on your computer. Early on my files were all over the place. But a few years ago I organized things into folders that made more sense. A novel folder. A novel correspondence folder. Story folders and subfolders of those for works in progress, finished but unpublished stories. Finished but published. Unfinished. The key here is to keep things up to date and move them when their status changes. Like the old saying says, a place for everything and everything in its place. Easier said than done sometimes, but worth making the effort.

Eliminate Distractions – I’m not as good at this as I used to be for a variety of reasons. But still, focus your energies. Focus on the tasks at hand. Try to avoid checking your phone, your e-mail, Facebook, etc. I’m not very good at this. I like to check in. But I work at home. We live in a semi-rural area. So I look at these things as my “watercooler.” Amy, my wife, or others who work in an office can gather round the proverbial watercooler and shoot the breeze, while taking a mini break from their work. These things, social media and e-mail, are my mini-breaks. My watercooler talk. That said, there comes a time when you have to turn them off and hit the work.

A nice uncluttered office.
Environment – Have a place to work that’s conducive to working. I like my home office. I have a nice view. I have album covers on one wall and lobby cards on another of various movies that I like. And, though my office is a bit cluttered, I can mentally tune that out. Some people like to work in a coffee shop or at the beach, but I like everything at hand and if I work in those places I don’t have all that, plus I get too distracted and want to socialize.

Just Say No – Take a page from the Nancy Reagan playbook and just say no. Sometimes you have to turn down social engagements. Sometimes you have to turn down doing things for others. I get asked to blurb a lot and that’s a lot of reading and consequently a lot of time. I try to help as many people as I can, but sometimes it’s just bad timing and I have to say no. I feel bad but it has to be done.

Delegate – I’m very lucky in that Amy, takes a lot of the burden off of me so I can have the time to write. And I am a full-time writer so you’d think I’d have endless hours of time to do that. But it’s amazing how your day gets “nickel and dimed” away from you with little chores here and there.

Don’t Fritter – I know when I was younger and starting out I would often turn friends down to go to the movies or whatever. And I know some of them resented it and those friendships disintegrated over time. But, while it’s important to engage socially, don’t fritter your time. I could play all the time, but you have to be disciplined and sit down and get the work done. Lately, I’ve been having trouble focusing because of the issues I allude to above. But I’m figuring that’s a temporary state of affairs. Mostly I’ve been very disciplined and hope I will be again soon.

Here’s the real tip, the trick of the trade: just sit down and do it. Turn off the apps, don’t go to websites…except mine, of course. And work your butt off. As Hemingway said, just open a vein and bleed. That’s all there is to it.


And now for the usual BSP:

Colman Keane interviewed me for his blog, Col's Criminal Library. Check it out:

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, February 7, 2019


BUSINESS: How best do you manage your time and resources? What tools are helping you manage life while you complete your next work? Websites? Apps? Tricks of the trade?

by Catriona

Just my luck to follow Cathy Ace, one of the most organised, effective women I have ever met! But then, when I started thinking it over, I decided I'm pretty organised too. At work. (In life, in this house and on the twenty acres outside, the truth is we haven't got enough money to make up for the lack of time and certainly don't have enough time to make up for the lack of money. So, eight years after we moved in, it's still mostly potential. Ehh. At least we haven't made any expensive mistakes, right?)

Time is one of the two main resources for a writer. The other, as I see it, is imagination. Imaginative energy, to sound high-faluting. Brain-space, to not. And while it's a balancing act to find the sweet spot between spending time and spending money to save time, when it comes to saving brain-space, I'm all in. There's no downside, no two-way pull.

Basically, I free up my brain by never having to remember anything.

I've got a BIG LIST on a whiteboard in my office, where I write the things I've got to do that will take more than a day. 

So, currently, I need to: set up a newsletter (like I promised Dana Kay I would in September, so I need to crack Mailchimp (time), or get a virtual assistant (money) to do it for me); finish organising a little book tour on the road to Left Coast Crime; prepare to honour Cathy Ace in writing and fan-girl live questions; and . . . oh yes . . . write two books. That'll keep me going till Malice

I back up the BIG LIST with piles of stuff I need to do the items on it. They're there on a table in my study where I'll see them every day.

As well as the BIG LIST and attendant piles, my email inbox functions as a list of small things to do. I leave everything I haven't done yet in there and read it through once a day. (I've also got about eighty labelled email files to put stuff in I might need to look at but don't need to do anything about until someone else gets back to me.) This saves masses of time and saves the money I would spend sending apology bouquets every time I forgot to do something.

So, at 5.58 pm on Wednesday (having cleared the inbox for the day), I've got notes reminding me to: pull together a group blog of the Lefty nominees; get my eyebrows dyed; book a flight to the California Crimewriters Conference; print out my UK Public Lending Right statement and file it under "income" in my physical filing cabinet (Hmmm - should I mention the physical filing cabinet?); text Kris Calvin about going to the pictures tomorrow; write something for Fresh Fiction for the launch of Scot & Soda; phone the Minotaur publicist for a post-mortem on the campaign for Go To My Grave.  

There is one bit of work I've just flung money at and I don't regret it. The reason Mailchimp is giving me hives, I think, is that I'm spoiled by Bizango. Truly, having an easy-to-manage website is a huge time-saver and a simple daily (or at least weekly) source of joy, after years of tearing my hair out trying to get a website manager to keep on top of my events page. I paid $1500 to set it up and $40 a month for maintenance. For that I get an idiot-proof site I can update myself, without tears.

At the other extreme of tech-wizardry, I couldn't manage without pizza money-off fliers. Harry Potter quiz-night notices work too. It's not the pizzas or the wizards; it's the blank reverse sides. I like to have coloured paper to put important lists on (side-lists, that aren't the BIG LIST or the small list). That way the sheets don't get lost amongst the inevitable tidal waves of white paper that wash over my study while I'm doing proofs.

And that's just about it. No apps, no gurus, no bullet journals. But I do have one hot tip. Here's my February diary.

By saying no to everything I got asked to do this month, apart from two things I agreed to before Christmas, I'm sure of getting draft 1 of 2020's standalone finished by the 1st of March, at two thousand words a day, seven days a week. Then I'll take the weekend off, do a benefit for Sacramento Library Foundation and start in on Dandy Gilver No. 14 on the Monday morning. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Time, please! (And a VERY SPECIAL OFFER!) by Cathy Ace

BUSINESS: How best do you manage your time and resources? What tools are helping you manage life while you complete your next work? Websites? Apps? Tricks of the trade?

My only real resources are my time, and my money. I probably give more thought to how I spend my money than my time, because my money is a limited resource, whereas I think of my time as something I can keep giving...

Let's start with promotional costs. I have to put time into promoting myself, rather than money, whenever possible; blog posts, guest blogs, interviews, podcasts...all are ways I can try to bring news about my work to potential readers at no cost - except time - to me. My use of social media is limited to Twitter and Facebook; I work on both every day, reading, Retweeting or Sharing, commenting and so forth, as well as creating my own posts. I post to my Cathy Ace – Author FB page probably four or five times a week, but interact on my Cathy Ace Facebook page several times each day, including weekends. If anything, this tends to INCREASE when I am writing or editing because – let’s be honest – that’s when I'm looking for displacement activities, and can only wash the kitchen floor so often!

However, sometimes I just have to put my hand in my pocket and try something new. For example, RIGHT NOW (starting today, February 6th, but only for a few days) I am offering my latest book, the psychological suspense novel The Wrong Boy, for just $2.99 (local currency) in the USA, Canada & Australia, £2.99 in the UK and ₹195.00 in India. (Buy links are below, of course!)

Why? I decided to buy into a BookBub deal (BookBub is a daily email I get as a reader which tells me about cut-price offers on e-books. I don't feel "guilty" about taking advantage of the low prices because I know the author/publisher has made the decision to offer them at a low price for a short time, with the explicit aim of getting the books to be read by as wide an audience as possible.) Today an email will go to about 750,000 people around the world telling them my book is available at just $2.99 etc. Since I've had to drop the price for the Kindle, Kobo and Nook books in any case, it makes sense to me to now tell as many people as possible about the included! It will never be available at a lower price. Honestly. Try it?

Sales pitch over!
The next "Biggie”? My website. When I began this writing journey I had a rudimentary website that I’d set up using a free template on (I think!) Wordpress. It did its job for a while, but as soon as I gave up work to write full time I knew I needed something that would actually work on my behalf. I found a local website designer who set up something just for me at a low-ish cost, and he updated it for me on an ongoing basis as I added books, a new series of books, questions for book clubs etc. I was able to update my own events, but that was about it. He decided to not do this sort of work any longer at about the time I knew I needed a different solution – a website I could be more hands-on with managing myself, without having to pay someone to update it for me each time I needed that done...balancing time and money.

So, what to do? Well, I did what being in this business has taught me to do – I asked people whose websites I admired how they handled theirs, and was delighted when Terry Shames (yes, our own Terry) came back to me and told me her son had put together her new website, which I liked very much. I was delighted with what said son-of-fellow-blogger did for me, and now I have a website I can update and change for myself…which looks exactly as I wanted it to – which I love! Thanks Geoff Shames. It required an investment which (to me) was a lot of money but it’s worth it, because now I am in control...more time, but less outgoings over time. 

Now that I can update it myself I do so often – because I think a website needs to be up to date to be effective. A good deal of what I do online (Twitter, Facebook) is with the aim of driving traffic to my website to “find out more about…” whatever it might be, so it’s important that the website is able to cope, becoming the go-to place for much of what I do online. 

When it comes to time management, I am hopeless. There, I have admitted it. I ABSOLUTELY HATE ROUTINE (loud enough?) which means I cannot work to a schedule because I feel stifled after a few days and begin to lose the will to live. So I do what I do when I feel I need to do it. I tend to give priority in the day to “business” and leave writing/editing until later…right through to 2am (my most productive writing hours are usually 9pm-2am) which works for me. 
So, I suppose you could say I do have a routine, but I don’t dare acknowledge it as such, or I would fight against it. Yes, my rebellious streak shows itself even now.

Please consider reading my new book?