sack race

Lots of opportunities coming up for novels and short stories. Look sharp.


2015 Self-Published E-book Awards:

Open to: International self-published writers

Word count: novel (must be digital)

Deadline: 31 August 2015

Fee: Free

Prize: $1000 plus extras


Words with JAM magazine:

Open to: International writers

Word count: Short story – 2500

Deadline: 31 October 2015

Fee: £6 first entry, £4 thereafter

Prize: £500


Galley Beggar Press:

Open to: International writers

Word count: Short story – 6000

Deadline: 15 November 2015

Fee: £10 per entry

Prize: £500 /or/ one-year editorial support


The London Magazine:

Open to: International writers

Word count: Short story – 4000

Deadline: 31 October 2015

Fee: £10 per entry

Prize: £500


Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition:

Open to: International women writers

Word count: 5K of completed novel

Deadline: 21 September 2015

Fee: £25 per entry

Prize: £5000


Image courtesy of Creative Commons cc_icon_public_domain_work

IMG_1106I’ve just finished book five! Yes, by the end of November I will publish the fifth in the Beatrice Stubbs Series – Human Rites.

Writing a crime series is a curious endeavour. There’s all the tricky stuff of how much backstory, as each book is a standalone adventure, yet there must be an overall arc for those following the series. Each plot needs to be new and different, but bear the hallmarks of a Beatrice Stubbs novel.

As luck would have it, my Triskele Books colleagues and I have recently embarked on a creative writing course. We decided that amongst all the practical elements of publishing as a collective: writing, reading, critiquing, blogging, reviewing, marketing and networking, we had precious little time to focus on improving our writing.

So we scouted around and collected our favourite writing exercises to flex some writing muscles we might have neglected. We published one of the first in Words with JAM: A Character Interview

Not only has it been great fun, but interesting to see what the others thought and extremely helpful for my work. As I wrote the last scene of Human Rites, I reflected on the importance of character development over a series.

Despite the hefty cast of characters in each of these novels, only certain people remain constant in all. And they are the drivers of the overall arc. It is the interaction between individuals the reader knows and loves/hates that creates dramatic tension. I like Yvonne Grace’s visual analogy of a bicycle wheel, where you need to plait the spokes to make the characters’ stories intersect. Another successful writer I know uses grids to plot the development of character over a series. Maybe because I have a musician husband I found the system of musical notation a handy tool.

orchestral score

Like an orchestral score, each character has five horizontal stave lines while vertical bar lines represent the books. Usually, I allow three bars per book, indicating the three-act structure. I plot the emotional journey of every character over the course of each book, which gives me an easy overview. That enables me to see where one character is left stagnating in misery and needs some light relief. Or where I’ve played treble notes throughout and forgotten my bass line.

It’s also a good way of keeping track of the harmonies. Who’s up when the other is down? Where do they collide on the same note?

Another benefit of those whole book-in-three-bars system is the degree of change from the start of each adventure and the overall rhythm of ups and downs. If DI Stubbs starts each story full of enthusiasm and ends embittered and sad, the pattern becomes monotonous. Vice versa, where the reader leaves one book and begins the next should not have a jarring discord in character outlook.

Character relationships play a huge part in subtext. By doing in-depth character work, such as Beatrice Stubbs Box Set One_KINDLE KOBOthe questionnaire above for all your key players, you can use the detail only you know about these people to drop little breadcrumbs across the stories. So that when a secret emerges, the loyal reader is rewarded with a join-the-dots moment.

Lastly, how do they grow? What has changed between Books One and Two? How would s/he do things differently after the experience of Book Three? Use your reader’s emotional intelligence and memory. Of course he’s afraid of the attic after that spider episode in Book Four. Naturally she’s gone off rare steak because of what happened at the end of Book Two.

As I said, I’m curious. If you are writing a series, be it crime, fantasy, sci-fi or any genre at all, how do you track character development?


Orchestral score image courtesy of Creative Commons


egypt mapFiction can transport a reader in many ways, but one of the most powerful is through time and place. How does a book lift you away from here-and-now and take you to there-and-then?

My memories of real experiences bump and blend with stories. Recollections of a childhood tangle with those of Michael Ondaatje (The Cat’s Table), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun) and Dylan Thomas (A Child’s Christmas in Wales).

Books have taken me places I’ve never been. Moscow feels familiar thanks to Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park). Susan Barker (The Incarnations) showed a China I could never experience and Barbara Demick (Nothing to Envy) lifted the cover off North Korea. Tim Winton (Breath) illustrated the other side o f Australia, while Alan Duff (Once Were Warriors) shone a new light on New Zealand.

Books take you places you could never imagine, inviting a selective perspective via sensory immersion. You feel the dry wind off the desert, see the exotic blooms, hear the cicadas. You’re there.

How? Through the senses.

A Taste of Triskele Cover EBOOKTriskele Books built our reputation on a sense of time and place. Embarking on a journey is always a risk. So try a trip first.

Our sampler of eight short stories set in a distinct time and place. And to complete your sensory immersion, each story is accompanied by a local recipe. All for less than the price of an ice-cream.

A Taste of Triskele: adventures through time, place and taste.

A little of what you fancy does you good.

A Taste of Triskele
A tale, a place, a time, a taste.
Eight delectable short stories, each set in a distinctive location, accompanied by a local dish.
Fall in love with honey, bite into bitterness, sweeten the secrets, indulge your excesses, tickle your palette and free your imagination.
Whether you’re on a beach or in your own back garden, escape into extraordinary worlds.
Bon voyage. And bon appétit.

Available at Amazon

Available at Smashwords


New horizons.

I’m excited to the point of dancing on the mesa/tavolo/Tisch!

Today sees the publication of Appearances Greeting a Point of View in Spanish and Portuguese! This short story collection contains a dozen pieces: from flash fiction of 100 words such as Number 22, to longer reads like the title story. Some shocking, some sweet – ideal to dip into when you have a spare few minutes.

For my translation adventures, I decided to use Babelcube, the translator/author matchmaking site which offers a split royalty deal and takes care of distribution. The results so far have been a fascinating journey in themselves and made me respect translators even more highly. Next up, Italian, French and German…

Watch out for May’s interview with Spanish translator Alma Edith Garcia and my detailed experiences of working with Babelcube.

Thanks to Fitch O’Connell, Ricardo Fayet and JD Smith for much appreciated support.

Hereby links! Available on all platforms, you can grab this in seconds.


JJ Marsh Short Story Cover EBOOK SPANISHApple (iTunes)




Barnes & Noble





JJ Marsh Short Story Cover EBOOK PORTUGUESE Apple (iTunes)



Barnes & Noble



Interview with Edward Marnier, author of Brief Encounters


Edward Marnier

Ed picBorn March 1949, Fordingbridge England.  Brought up New Forest and West of Ireland. Educated state and private schools. First job cinema projectionist. Worked at BFI, before various jobs in the film industry and becoming a film editor, winning a BAFTA award 1984. Worked in Europe and USA, where wrote two short film scripts. Now an oriental carpet dealer and sometime short story writer.


What made you choose a self-publishing service, rather than going it alone or pitching to a mainstream publisher?

Realism … I realised I was not technically confident to self publish and equally my material was not ‘up to’ showing to a mainstream publisher.

How did you choose your provider and what tipped the balance?

I started looking through self-publishing sites … and what they offered. I didn’t look for the cheapest – although it is interesting the different terms and descriptions of what is part of the service for such and such a fee … and what is extra. I was keen to find a site which seemed to have an understanding of the technical difficulties, formats, formatting etc.

In the end, the Matador/Troubador’s site was so much clearer and more straightforward. They provided information that allowed you the author – to make a decision as to which parts of their service you wanted, or needed. Other sites seemed to relish the fact that one might not be able to understand technically how to self publish; Matador seem to go out of their way to let you understand the options available and the costs involved.

What services did they provide?

Everything for an eBook to be available in various formats and various countries. Very switched on group of people. Good artwork for the cover. Excellent telephone and email contact. One never felt awkward about phoning and asking your representative questions. Just a really good experience.

And which were the most valuable elements for you?

Technical, grammar and spelling. Plus nice messages.

Were there any areas you felt could have been improved?

If you are as illiterate as me, it is quite hard for all the necessary suggestions and corrections to be highlighted against your page of script – but I am not sure there is any way around that – unless I learn some English.

 What advice would you offer other authors in the position of being ready to publish?

Go with these guys …  Matador/Troubador.

Tell us how Brief Encounters came to life.Brief Encounters cover

During the small bit of education I received – one of the few things I was good at was composition (as it was called). Compressing a chapter of some book into a single page, without losing the meaning or excitement of the story. And as I used to edit films, there seems to be something in me that loves the ‘cut to the chase’.

Where’s the best place to read your stories?

In bed with a friend … then at least you can have some fun reading awful lines aloud to each other – and sex and laughter can be pretty good?


Thanks to Edward for sharing his experiences.

Now a note of warning from me, JJ Marsh: Piranhas and Sharks

Authors seeking a self-publishing service – beware. Recently, a whole range of companies sprouted, helping authors get to market. Many charge a premium price and deliver poor results. How to be sure a provider is useful/reasonable/?


Take ten minutes.

Pour yourself a glass of something, kick back and relax.

And let me tell you a story …

The English Garden is part of the short story collection Appearances Greeting a Point of View.

AGAPOV cover

by JJ Marsh

Evie WyldEvie Wyld runs Review, a small independent bookshop in Peckham, south London. Her first novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Betty Trask Award. In 2011 she was listed as one of the Culture Show’s Best New British Novelists. She was also short listed for the Orange Prize for New Writers and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She is included in Granta’s list of Best of Young British Novelists 2013. Her second novel All the Birds, Singing came out in June 2013 from Jonathan Cape.

Which book most influenced you when growing up?

Cloud Street by Tim Winton

Describe your writing space – what’s in it and why? And do you still sometimes write at the Royal Festival Hall?

 These days it’s more often than not a chain cafe – somewhere where I don’t feel bad about taking up a seat on just one coffee. I have dreams of a lovely writing room, but it’s hard to write from home, you need to be more disciplined than me. I can’t find the space at the RFH anymore – I think everyone cottoned on that it was great and now there are toddler groups everywhere.

Who or what had the biggest impact on your writing life?

 I think shyness had a large effect – listening rather than talking, and watching things closely.

The last couple of years have seen black clouds loom over independent bookshops. Are you optimistic for the future of Review?


Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?

 I say ‘awesome’ far more than I’m happy with. I say ‘no worries’ a lot.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

Three and a half years so far.

Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? Or one you expected to hate and fell for?

Yes – have always had a block with Austen – but I’m sure that just has to do with school. I’ve never started a book expecting to hate it.

How has your bookselling career aided your fiction?

Who knows! They are quite separate things to me.

Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?

Not a single one – I think that if reading something is pleasurable then it’s a well written thing. It takes a lot to write something that someone wants to read.

You’ve been compared to Ian McEwan, Tim Winton, Christos Tsiolkas and Peter Carey. Do you think your writing has a masculine quality?

I try as much as possible, to be a person. Perhaps this comes out in my writing, I hope so.

Which book has impressed you most this year?

 The Gamal by Ciaran Collins

Will you write any more short stories? 

I’m always writing short stories – I haven’t published a book of them, but I’m always writing them.

If you were a dog, would you be a whippet?

I’d like to be a lurcher – in reality I’d probably be more like a bullmastiff.




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