Thursday, 30 June 2016

Cover Reveal: Little Girl Lost by Janet Gover

When a little girl goes missing, an entire town comes together to find her ... 

When Tia Walsh rides into the small town of Coorah Creek on a Harley Davidson, Sergeant Max Delaney senses that everything about her spells trouble. But Tia's trouble is not all of her own making, and the dangerous past she tried to leave behind is hot on her heels. 

Sarah Travers has returned home after three years of college to find that her parents have been keeping a devastating secret. Her childhood crush, Pete Rankin, is facing his own struggle with a harsh reality that will take him away from the girl and the life that he loves.

Tia, Max, Sarah and Pete are all trying to find their future, but when a little girl goes missing in the harsh outback, nothing else matters except finding her safe ...

About the author

Janet lives in Surrey with her English husband but grew up in the Australian outback surrounded by books. She solved mysteries with Sherlock Holmes, explored jungles with Edgar Rice Burroughs and shot to the stars with Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. After studying journalism at Queensland University she became a television journalist, first in Australia, then in Asia and Europe. During her career Janet saw and did a lot of unusual things. She met one Pope, at least three Prime Ministers, a few movie stars and a dolphin. Janet now works in television production and travels extensively with her job. Janet’s first short story, The Last Dragon, was published in 2002. Since then she has published numerous short stories, one of which won the Elizabeth Goudge Award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She has previously published three novels with Little Black Dress, Flight to Coorah Creek was Janet’s debut with Choc Lit. Her other books with them include The Wild One, Christmas at Coorah Creek and Bring Me Sunshine.

Follow Janet on Twitter: @Janet_gover 

Visit her website:

Little Girl Lost is published by Choc Lit and is now available to pre-order as an eBook! It will be released on 2nd August 2016. 

Nothing but the truth: when a novelist writes non-fiction by Helen Barrel

I’d always written fiction. If you’d said to me, “the first published book with your name on the cover will be non-fiction,” I wouldn’t have believed you. But so it is. There might seem to be a gaping chasm between the two forms; airy-fairy imaginative stories over on the fiction side, and on the non-fiction side, a desert of hard, dry fact. But I’ve found that my background in fiction has come in very handy for writing non-fiction, and I’ll explain why.

Staying the course

By signing the contract for Poison Panic, I was promising Pen and Sword, my publisher, that I would write 60,000 words. I thought back to the longest piece of non-fiction I’d written up until that point – my undergraduate dissertation on Agatha Christie (can you see a theme developing?) – and that was 12,000 words. How the heck was I going to write 60,000? But it didn’t scare me.  Although none of my novels have ever been published, apart from a self-published spy thriller back in the late 1990s (when self-publishing meant ‘photocopied’), I’d at least managed to complete them. Some were easily twice as long as 60,000 words, so each time I stared blankly at my computer and the Doubting Gremlins whispered mean things in my ears (Imposter Syndrome is very unkind), I would tell myself, “I might not have completed non-fiction this long before, but I’ve written novels that are much longer - I can do it!” I had to remind myself that I did have the discipline to sit down and write the bloody thing.


I knew I’d ‘got’ Poison Panic when I started to dream about it. This is something that happens to me with fiction, too – in fact, my fiction often comes out of my dreams. But with Poison Panic, once I’d had a dream that I was in Mary May’s kitchen, and that a rat had scurried over my foot, and that I watched Mary put arsenic down to kill the rodents plaguing her cottage, the book entered the space in my head where my novels germinate and grow. I’m currently writing Fatal Evidence, the biography of nineteenth-century forensic scientist Alfred Swaine Taylor, and I realised I’d ‘got’ him once I had a very odd dream where he was sitting at my desk!

This doesn’t mean I added anything to my non-fiction – Poison Panic is based entirely on primary historical sources, such as newspaper reports – but it meant I could get a feel for the people in the book. They became more rounded in my mind, not just stock characters – ‘middle-aged farm labourer’s wife’ – but a living, breathing woman from the nineteenth-century. I could close my eyes and see them laugh or cry, see them stare stonily ahead as they stood in the dock, or collapse in terror on the scaffold.

I grew up in north-east Essex, where part of Poison Panic is set, so by adding some set-dressing to my memories (carriages, bonnets, smoke spiralling up from chimneys), I was able to create an 1840s version of Essex in my mind that I could populate with the ‘real’ people I had met in my research.
Being a daydreamer no doubt helps. Stuck in a traffic jam on the bus? Let’s retreat into Poison Panic Land and find out if that arsenic has sorted out the rodent problem yet….

Hone your craft

If you’re writing fiction, then there’s workshops, weekend retreats, residential courses, manuscript critique, and editing services. I’m sure there must be some for non-fiction, but it’s the fiction ones which seem to be proliferate.

While I was a student, I was very lucky to have one-to-one mentoring sessions with novelist William Palmer, courtesy of the Royal Literary Fund (yes, he has the same name as The Rugeley Poisoner). I took my novel to him (jazz singer framed for murder… that theme yet again) and he taught me how to be brave and edit my work. Not just juggle between *this* layout of a sentence, or *that* tense, but put a big line through that paragraph, tear out this page, and heck, get rid of this chapter! As
Poison Panic spilled out of my fingertips and into Scrivener, I hammered it about, using the same fearlessness that William had instilled in me as a student. Can you explain this in a sentence, rather than this terrible, waffly paragraph? Yes. Then do it. For heaven’s sake, do it.

More recently, I attended Alison May’s ‘Developing YourNovel’ day-long workshop. We learnt about such things as character, the three-act structure, how to edit, the point-of-no-return, the darkest moment, and how to write a synopsis. All extremely useful stuff for someone writing a novel, but how, you might wonder, is this any use for non-fiction?

Whilst I can’t add my own characters to non-fiction (though some writers do), thinking about characterisation in fiction was a good way to breathe life into the real people in my book. There’s tricks which fiction-writers use for presenting characters in particular ways, and, by collating my facts in a certain manner, I was able to show the reader how I see these characters – based on my research.

There’s nothing I can do about the point-of-no-return not appearing in the middle of the book, where you expect it to fall in novels and films. It’s non-fiction, for heaven’s sake! That said, some true crimes deal with this by, for instance, having the protagonist’s arrest fall at the halfway point. Dealing with several different cases, it just wasn’t possible to do this with Poison Panic. But there’s a certain sense of doom that hovers over the point-of-no-return, and I tried to emulate this. Equally, each chapter is about a separate case, so in theory I could’ve had a point-of-no-return in the middle of each chapter, but I didn’t consciously set out to do that.

I was commissioned to write Poison Panic a couple of months after I attended Alison’s workshop. Her advice on synopsis-writing did help – I was asked to pitch an idea, and it was later that I realised what I’d written was, essentially, a short synopsis. When I was ready to pitch Fatal Evidence, I followed the publisher’s submission guidelines to the letter, and bore Alison’s advice in mind. They commissioned Fatal Evidence the day after I sent my submission.

A synopsis needs a hook – it’s vital whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Why should a publisher or agent be interested in what you’ve written, or what you propose to write? And as well as the synopsis, there’s the elevator pitch. Alison forced one out of me for a novel which I initially couldn’t describe in one paragraph, but by the end of the workshop, I could explain in a sentence. Being able to distil down tens of thousands of words into a one-sentence hook is a skill you’ll learn at a novel-writing workshop, and it’s essential for writing non-fiction too.


As you might imagine, writing a book about real poisoning cases requires a lot of research, and how you express it is key. Writing non-fiction, you could get away with flinging all the facts at the page in a vaguely chronological order, with a bit of commentary here and there. But I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m writing for the general reader, and if someone has picked up my book because they think it looks interesting, the worst thing I can do is present all this information in a way that sends them to sleep. I’m encroaching on their spare time, even if, by picking up my book, they’ve invited me in.

I researched my fiction: rifling (the ‘fingerprints’ of a gun barrel left on a bullet), stagecoach timetables, what music the BBC played on the radio on New Year’s Eve 1935, on and on it goes. But I don’t chuck these facts at the reader: one must always avoid the Information Dump! I might be able to weave the facts in somehow – they might, after all, be crucial to the plot. But a lot of it might be background information which I need to know in order to confidently handle the story I’m telling, but I don’t need to bludgeon my readers over the head with.

This is where reading over your own work is important, that point where you leave it for a few days – a few weeks, or even longer (if you have the time… a slight problem if a deadline is bearing down on you). This is something I learnt from writing fiction. There were some points in Poison Panic where, when I came to read over it, the narrative slowed down, caught up in an undertow of facts. Yes, facts are important, but if you think it’s going to annoy your readers, you need to address it. Can you express these facts in a different way? Maybe the tone of the passage is too stuffy, or the information isn’t explained clearly. Is there an angle here which can be amplified to make it interesting and keep the reader engaged? Maybe there’s something which you think is interesting, but as far as the narrative is concerned, doesn’t really earn its place in the book. In this situation, non-fiction has the benefit of footnotes or references, which fiction (apart from The French Lieutenant’s Woman) doesn’t have.

For instance, it was important in Poison Panic that I explained how many children Mary May had had, and when. I started off with a bullet-pointed list of their baptisms and burials, then tried to turn it into a paragraph, but I got annoyed by how clunky it looked. It was an ugly mass of dates which didn’t really mean much. So instead, I wrote an overview in a couple of sentences, and put the list of baptisms and burials in the references at the back. The information is therefore supplied for the reader, but it’s not clogging up the narrative pace.

I must confess that there is a lot going on in Poison Panic, but writing for a general reader, I can’t assume anything about people’s prior knowledge on arsenic or indeed the nineteenth-century. If you’re writing a nineteenth-century police procedural novel, you don’t need a page explaining the Rural Constabularies Acts of 1839 and 1840. If you think it’s important, you have the freedom to, perhaps, invent a conversation, where your character talks about becoming a policeman following the Acts. Writing non-fiction, I cannot do this, but I can include a photograph of square-jawed PC Barnard of the Essex Constabulary in his steel-reinforced top hat. You probably can’t do that in a novel, but you might have Barnard’s photo as your computer’s wallpaper for inspiration as you write.

And back again…

It follows, of course, that writing non-fiction benefits writing fiction, but I’ll spare you for now. Back to your work-in-progress – scram!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Networking - Dispelling the Preconceptions

At the weekend I attended a writer/blogger networking event.

Throughout my working life I have successfully managed to avoid any kind of networking event. Somehow I always manage to find a convenient excuse. 


Because I conform to that stereotypical image of a writer, or more accurately the stereotypical image of what I thought a writer is like.  Quiet. Reclusive. Prefers to hold conversations via a keyboard than in person. Maintains the closest and longest relationships with the fictional characters in their head than actual human beings. In essence a loner.

There's just one problem. 

It turns out that a writer is absolutely nothing like this.  Or if they were, these characteristics were quickly drummed out of them the second they set their sights on the lofty goal of being published.

Being a published author isn't, as I had once so naively thought, just about writing books. It's about so much more. It's about persuading agents and publishers that their book is worthy of their time and investment.  It's about networking with passionate book bloggers and reviewers who read phenomenal numbers of books each year. It's about sharing experiences with other writers and learning from them. And of course it's about chatting with their readers via social media and book readings.

The world of a writer is a whole lot bigger and more sociable than I had ever imagined.

Of course, I'm relatively new to this world and I'm just working on the getting published part. I went to the event feeling a little bit like an outsider who didn't really belong among 'proper' writers and bloggers. Then I meet them and I forgot to feel nervous and out of place.  I was too busy having fun.

The best part about chatting with writers and bloggers is that they totally get it.  That obsessive compulsion to scribble down random notes in the middle of the night. The need to carry around a note book everywhere you go, just in case. The willingness to forgo a night out with the girls to sit alone typing on your laptop. All those things that you just can't talk about with your friends without them glazing over with a look that tells you you're certifiably insane. Writers understand it all, and more besides.

It turns out it's hard to be a loner when you discover there's a whole group of people out there just like you. The trick is simply to find them. I'm so glad that I have.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Cover Reveal: House of Secrets By Lynda Stacey

A woman on the run, a broken man and a house with a shocking secret … 

Madeleine Frost has to get away. Her partner Liam has become increasingly controlling to the point that Maddie fears for her safety, and that of her young daughter Poppy …

Desperation leads Maddie to the hotel owned by her estranged father – the extraordinarily beautiful Wrea Head Hall in Yorkshire. There, she meets Christopher ‘Bandit’ Lawless, an ex-marine and the gamekeeper of the hall, whose brusque manner conceals a painful past. 
After discovering a diary belonging to a previous owner, Maddie and Bandit find themselves immersed in the history of the old house, uncovering its secrets, scandals, tragedies – and, all the while, becoming closer. 

But Liam still won’t let go, he wants Maddie back, and when Liam wants something he gets it, no matter who he hurts …

About the author

Lynda, is a wife, step-mother and grandmother, she grew up in the mining village of Bentley, Doncaster, in South Yorkshire.

She is currently the Sales Director of a stationery, office supplies and office furniture company in Doncaster, where she has worked for the past 25 years. Prior to this she’d also been a nurse, a model, an emergency first response instructor and a PADI Scuba Diving Instructor … and yes, she was crazy enough to dive in the sea with sharks, without a cage. Following a car accident in 2008, Lynda was left with limited mobility in her right arm. Unable to dive or teach anymore, she turned to her love of writing, a hobby she’d followed avidly since being a teenager.

Her own life story, along with varied career choices helps Lynda to create stories of romantic suspense, with challenging and unpredictable plots, along with (as in all romances) very happy endings.

Lynda joined the Romantic Novelist Association in 2014 under the umbrella of the New Writers Scheme and in 2015, her debut novel House of Secrets won the Choc Lit & Whole Story Audiobooks Search for a Star competition.

She lives in a small rural hamlet near Doncaster, with her ‘hero at home husband’, Haydn, whom she’s been happily married to for over 20 years.

Follow Lynda on Twitter: @LyndaStacey

Visit her website:

House of Secrets is published by Choc Lit and is now available to pre-order as an eBook! It will be released on 19th July 2016.

Click HERE for pre-order information. 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Publication News - Carrying The Past

I'm thrilled to announce another of my short stories has been published in this months edition of Scribble magazine.

'Carrying the Past' is, as its title suggests, about the inability to leave the past behind, and the art of perfecting the act of pretending we can.

It was inspired by Tim O'Brien's 'The Thing's They Carried'. Whilst my story isn't set in the midst of a war, and it doesn't consider the weight of any physical items, 'The Things They Carried' inspired me to consider the weight of the emotions that we carry. Are we weighted down by guilt from our mistakes and failures? Do our choices haunt us like ghosts at our backs? Do we carry the past with us as we move through each day? Is moving forward and starting over ever truly possible?

I didn't say it was a cheery piece now did I?

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Book Excerpt: Where Dragonflies Hover by Annemarie Brear

Where Dragonflies Hover blurb:

Sometimes a glimpse into the past can help make sense of the future …

Everyone thinks Lexi is crazy when she falls in love with Hollingsworth House – a crumbling old Georgian mansion in Yorkshire – and nobody more so than her husband, Dylan. But there’s something very special about the place, and Lexi can sense it.

Whilst exploring the grounds she stumbles across an old diary and, within its pages, she meets Allie – an Australian nurse working in France during the First World War. Lexi finally realises her dream of buying Hollingsworth but her obsession with the house leaves her marriage in tatters. In the lonely nights that follow, Allie’s diary becomes Lexi’s companion, comforting her in moments of darkness and pain. And as Lexi reads, the nurse’s scandalous connection to the house is revealed …


The late sunshine enveloped the house in a golden glow. Again, it seemed to call to her, begging for attention. A path on the left of the drive looked inviting as it meandered through a small strand of poplars. Lexi grabbed her keys, locked the car and took off to explore again. She had nothing to rush home to now, and if she got caught for trespassing, then so be it.

The overgrown pathway brought her out on the far side of the grounds near the end of a small lake. She gazed over the water towards the back of the house and noticed a paved terrace area. From there the lawn then sloped down to the water. She’d not been around the back before and fell even more in love with the property. She could imagine the serenity of sipping a cool drink on a hot summer’s day and looking out over the lake.

Lexi stepped out along the bank. A lone duck swam by, its movement serene on the glassy, dark surface. This side of the lake was in shadow from large pine trees, and she stumbled on fallen pine cones hidden in the long grass. On the opposite side of the water were some small buildings, a garage, fruit trees in early blossom, and an overgrown vegetable patch, complete with a broken, rejected-looking scarecrow.

She wandered over to a narrow shed on her left and peered through its sole, dirty window. Unable to make out much in the dimness, she walked around to the front and was surprised when she was able to pull the bolt back on the door. Why didn’t people lock things? A covered rowboat took up most of the space inside. She smiled, seeing herself rowing it on the lake. Growing more excited, Lexi edged around it to peer at the workbenches and the odd assortment of tools and useless things one found in abandoned sheds. It was like treasure hunting in an antique shop. She used to love doing that with her grandfather.

She glanced about and spied a dusty painting leaning against the wall. The scene was of a child and a brown dog. Behind the canvas were more paintings, some framed, some not. Lexi flicked through them. The ones that caught her attention she took out and set aside. 

She looked for somewhere to sit and study the paintings. A small tin trunk wedged under a workbench seemed the only offering. Thinking it empty, she went to tug it out, but it remained fast. 

Using both hands, she heaved it out and was showered in a puff of dust. Squatting down, she inspected the latch that was held tight with a small lock. ‘Why are you locked?’ she murmured. The shed was open to anyone passing by, yet this ugly little chest had a lock on it. The trunk was nothing special, plain and in parts rusted. No ornament or writing hinted at its use.

Intrigued, she grabbed a hammer from the workbench, but then hesitated. She had no right to open someone else’s property. Lexi closed her eyes momentarily. What was she thinking of breaking into the trunk? What am I doing? Never had she broken the law and here she was guilty of trespassing and breaking and entering! She looked around the rowboat as though expecting someone to jump out and arrest her.

Something inside urged her on. She knew she couldn’t stop now. Sucking in a deep breath, she bent and hit the lock hard. The ringing sound was loud in the quiet serenity of the garden. The metal dented and with another few solid whacks the lock gave. 

Shivers of excitement tingled along her skin. Gently, she eased up the lid.

Buy links:

Amazon USA
Amazon UK

Also available in Apple ibooks, etc.

About Annemarie Brear:

Australian born Annemarie Brear writes historical novels and modern romances. Currently living in England, her passions, apart from writing, are reading, researching, genealogy, roaming  historical sites, buying books and gardening. She is an author of historical women's fiction, contemporary romance and several short stories. Also lover of chocolate, good movies and her family!

Annemarie Brear on the web:

Twitter @annemariebrear.