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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Want to be a Writer? Forget Spelling, Learn Selling.

I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life, seriously, a lot of things.

There was the time I fell into a rubbish skip when drunk.

The time I jumped off a bus that was doing twenty miles an hour and hit a lamppost that wasn’t.
Or maybe the time I confronted fifteen teenagers vandalizing a wall (I came off better against the lamppost.)

Trust me I could go on all day, so let’s just agree: I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life.
One of the few things I have done right (eventually) was managing to get a deal with Harper Collins and having my debut novel “The Darkest Hour” published in the USA and UK.

Finally, I did something right.

Except I didn’t.

I made a ton of mistakes as a debut author, honestly, a ton of them, so I thought I would list them here, just in case you are ever in my position and you want to avoid being as big of an idiot as I am:

      1.       Twitter.

I love twitter, but I don’t use it properly. I joke around on there, chat, make friends and occasionally plug the book.

Sounds like I was doing it right?

I wasn’t.

I should have created more of a pre-book buzz. I should have been sharing more of my journey to publication with other writers and those all too elusive readers. I should have made more use of hashtags than just sticking them on occasional tweets. I should have been searching for them, reading them, re-tweeting them, and engaging with others who were using them. I should have been forging links, having conversations, helping people with their launches and then getting people onboard for the big push when mine came along. The one thing though, the one thing I should have been doing most of all: I should have been sharing and learning with the Twitter community at least thirty minutes a day, every day.

So you should be doing that right now, go on, do it.

       2.       Facebook.

Remember when facebook was fun? Before it got all political and pluggy? Back when your friends would talk about their cats, and then pictures of their cats, and post videos of their cats, and then tell you when their cats died and they got a new kitten?

Remember that?

It was fun (unless you were allergic to or hated cats, or even worse, a dog.) Back before Facebook became worth billions and started going through your garbage and leaving secret messages for you (facebook may not actually do that) I set up a facebook writers page. I got my sister to go there, and two of my friends, and I put up pictures of a cat (much to the disgust of my dog). One day Harper Collins came along and waved a magic wand (money) and I suddenly had a lot more people looking at pictures of the cat.

Every day I would go there and put another picture of a cat (who knew there were so many cats?) and then the book came out and I said: “Here is another cat, please buy my book or I will kill it…” (I was joking, I like cats). Time went by and I kept pretty much saying this over and over. Occasionally people would send me messages saying “I like the book” and I would say “thank you so much…” and that would be it. What I should have been doing is shouting “tell the world about my book please I need your help!”

But I didn’t because I am English, and polite, and an idiot.

I should have engaged with other pages, I should have commented on them, I should have been talking to writers groups, book clubs, offering them advance copies, I should have been in every nook and cranny that even smelled of book on Facebook in the run up to publication, and every day after that.

And I should have posted more cats.

      3.       Honesty.

I wasn’t honest about myself and my work.

I have a terrible habit in interviews and blog posts of using the phrase “I just banged it out…” when talking about my books.

I did it again this week on BBC Radio:

Interviewer “How long did it take you to write the book?”

Me: “I just banged it out in about six months I think…”

I didn’t, I lied.

I did write it in six months, that much is true, but I didn’t “bang it out” like some guy in a bucket factory. I sweated, I had sleepless nights, I thought about it hour after hour, day after day, I lived it, I dreamed it, I became it, I suffered, my relationships suffered, my life suffered and other people’s lives suffered.

I didn’t bang it out, it banged me out.

I don’t know why I play it down so much (any psychoanalysts out there?) but I’m going to try to be honest about it from now on, and so should you. Writing a book is damn hard work, be proud of your hard work and tell the world when it asks, and tell the world when it doesn’t.

You deserve praise.

      4.       Blogging.

Don’t just blog, BLOG! I have three blogs, Wordpress (I find it complicated and it’s been so long since I used it I think the password is in Latin), Blogger (nice and easy, even for me) and Medium (so shiny and new, it looks like one of those modern kitchens you see in brochures, even I can’t cock it up.) Blogging is great, it is fun (honestly) it helps keep your writing punchy (brevity is king), and it builds your audience if you do it right.

I don’t do it right.

There are thousands, if not tens of thousands of people out there blogging about books. Those people buy books; you are selling books, why are you not talking to them?
Sounds simple doesn’t it?


Blogging is a lot like the other things on this list, it needs to be based on the principle of sharing, give and take, help and be helped. You need to reach out to people and praise them if they deserve it, critique them if they don’t, but again, you need to be honest in what you write, be it a comment on a review, or a blog post about a film.

Be honest in your writing and be honest in your interactions.

There you go, some of what I did wrong (well about half the things I did wrong, there are another five things on my list, but give me a break, I’ve got a book to write!)

When I started this piece it wasn’t going to be a blog post, it was just going to be something I was going to stick on my wall for my own reference (my paperback is out in June and I was determined to learn from my mistakes.) I figured that seeing as I was writing a list I might as well share it in the hope it might help someone else.

In looking to help others, I think I’ve hit on the one of the most obvious ways to help yourself, and that is this:

You are part of a community, you are a writer, you will get nowhere, honestly, you’ll get nowhere being selfish and trying to shoulder people off the road.

It just won’t work.

Enjoy the community, work with it, learn from it, and try to help it. Be honest with it, and with yourself, but most of all share, share your work, share the work of others, and you won’t make the mistakes I have made.

The Darkest Hour a Novel

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

WordBasket: Nazis on the Knightsbridge High Street

When I'm writing, when I'm struggling and the book seems so long and I feel like I'm nowhere near the end... I like to read this review of The Darkest Hour.

WordBasket: Nazis on the Knightsbridge High Street

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Questions Questions Questions...

If you’re reading this I’m guessing you can write? I mean one normally tends to follow the other, unless there is some weird affliction and I just insulted you or someone you love.

If I did, I’m sorry.

If I didn’t, I’m guessing when I said “I’m guessing” I guessed correctly, and you can write.

I’m now going to go a step further, and say that if you are reading something a writer has written (this article and me in case you hadn’t noticed) in the books section of the Huffington Post you either:

           1.      Like books.

           2.      Are thinking about maybe writing them.

Working on the above assumptions, I’m now going to advise you to stop reading this article and to start writing.

Go on.


What are you still doing here? You’re like a stray following me home; shoo… go away… start writing!

Alright, we both know I don’t really want you to go away, otherwise I would have just stopped writing and gone and made another coffee.

Truth is, I’m writing this because I want you to start writing and to stop reading about it, so, in direct contradiction of what I’ve already said, please read this, and THEN stop reading about writing.

With me? Okay, I’ll begin.

Since I became a writer I keep getting asking, and I mean I: KEEP GETTING ASKED!

 “How do you become a writer?”

So, although I love talking to other writers and aspiring writers, I’m going to answer this question right now and once and for all.

Get ready, here is the answer, the only answer you will ever need regarding what you need to do to become a successful writer… have you got a pen? Okay… here it comes… brace yourself:

Start writing and stop looking for ways to not write.

There, that’s it, you can go now.

You’re still here?

Okay, I’ll elaborate.

This morning when I got out of bed and had my first coffee of the day (alright it was afternoon, I’m a writer, it’s allowed) I read a message on my facebook page that went:

 “Hi, I’ve going to buy your book (why they are always going to buy it? Why have they never actually “bought” it?) I was wondering, how do you approach writing? Do you plan, do you use charts, do you use character sketches and then write it long hand before typing? I’m worried about grammar and spelling, should I hire an editor or should I review each page as I go?”

Now like I say, I sincerely am always delighted to chat to readers and writers, but this message made me a tiny bit angry because I really wanted to scream “JUST WRITE AND STOP MAKING IT SO HARD!”

Honestly, if I see another tweet for a writer’s workshop, or one with #writingtip at the end of it, I’m going to get very, very, cross indeed.

Writing isn’t hard.

There, I’ve said it.

Writing just isn’t hard, and if it is, you’re doing it wrong.

Writing is about ideas, thoughts, imagination, it should be a waterfall, not a canal.

It should flow and splash and make noise and be beautiful and ferocious.

It should be unstoppable, exciting, a torrent travelling so fast you can barely keep up.

It should be a case of you clinging to your keyboard as you’re swept towards… well anyway, you get the idea.

Writing isn’t hard; honestly it isn’t; just write, stop putting obstacles in your own way. Take it from me, this industry can make life difficult enough without you helping it stop you.

Just get a pen (if you’re reading this in 1983), get a keyboard, get some time… and write.

You’ll thank me for it.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

It's all in a name.

When I was a kid I never liked my name.

It's not that Anthony or Tony are bad names, I've kind of grown into them if I'm honest. There is also the fact that I've been lucky enough to have two names to choose from, which can be handy, depending on my mood, or where I am at the time of asking.

I shouldn't complain really but... I just never really liked either of them when I was a kid.

My parents are no longer around to ask why I ended up with Anthony/Tony. I never thought to ask when they were here, and now it's too late. I’ve hunted around for clues, I’ve looked at family trees but try as I might, there are no Tony's to be found.

It appears I'm a one off.

My Mum and Dad had form for original names though, my brother was nearly burdened with Perry, until my Dad realised the lifespan of a Perry in working class Liverpool was likely to be limited.
So Philip, Philly, or Phil he became, and still is.

He suits Phil, he was always a "Phil". Phil's are cool, Phil's can fight, Phil's get the girls.

Anthony's have bad hair and untied shoelaces.

Or maybe that was just me?

I was lucky with my first book, the lead character name was there before I even had the story.

I saw it one day on a street sign, cast iron, tough, and weathered.


Which grew into John Henry Rossett.

A name you can trust, a name that will get you were you want to be and god help anyone who tries to stop him.

Derek Smith just wouldn't have cut it I'm afraid.

Jack Reacher, Nick Stone, James Bond, and Harry Bosch, tough guys with tough names. These guys would never have sold perfume on a cruise ship like I used to do. Those guys would have been driving the ship, or doing something in the engine room with big wrenches and sweat covered brows.
They’ve got names that fit, no nonsense, stare you in the eye names, take you outside and rough you up names.

Names you remember, and look out for again.

Now I’ve just started my third book, it’s a week old, taking shape, and taking time but finally underway.

The problem is, I’m only a few thousand words in, and the lead character has had four names already. I keep changing them like hats in a mirror, I put a new one on, frown, adjust, shift my position, think, decide, make certain.

Then change it again.

And every time it changes, so does the story.

I don’t know why, it seems such a little thing, but as soon as the name changes, so does the atmosphere, the location, the year, the whole book.

Who’d have thought?

It’s all in a name.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

It's a Long Road.

It’s a long road.

I’m not sure where it started.

Maybe it was my mother reading me a story?

Maybe it was playing with toys on the floor?

Maybe it was teacher, a visit to the library, kicking a can down the street?

Maybe it was all of those things?

All I know for certain?

It’s a long road.

There were trips and stumbles aplenty; there aren’t many roads that are straight.

I know mine wasn’t.

It took a turn at school, when my dreams crashed around me, ripped apart as I ripped open the envelope with my exam results.

I wasn’t going to be a writer.

So I took another turn and became a roofer, then a jeweler, then a thousand dead-end jobs on a thousand dead-end days.

Moving down the road.

Another turn.

I became a cop.

I got married.

I got a house.

I got unmarried.

I got un-homed.

I got un-copped.

I slept in a car with nothing but a dog who would die for me, by a river that called my name on inky black nights that almost pushed me in.

I stayed in the car; I stayed with the dog, and he stayed with me.

Winter went and I got back on the road.

I drove a taxi.

I picked up a pen for what felt like the first time it had been so long.

I started to write.

It was a long road.

The dog didn’t make it.

A little part of me died with him.

But I stayed on the road.

I carried on writing.

I got better.

I got rejected.

I got better.

I got rejected.

I got better.

I got accepted.

I sat with my book, the ink nearly dry as my cheeks were wet.

It’s been a long road, but I’m nearly there.

Come with me.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Book Trailer?

     The guys at Harper Collins asked me to make a book trailer to promote my book.

     I'll be honest, I'm not sure how this is going to help.

     The Darkest Hour on Amazon.

     "A memorable novel...." The Wall Street Journal.

     "An exhilarating roller-coaster ride..." The Star Telegram.

Friday, 2 January 2015


     Being a writer automatically makes me selfish.

     There, I said it, I’m selfish.

     I’m so selfish I’ve even had to apologize publicly, don’t believe me? Have a look at the acknowledgements at the back of my book The Darkest Hour. I used to feel bad about it, I used to stress and tell people on first dates “I have to tell you, I’m incredibly selfish…” and they would stare into my eyes across the table, and see future arm wrestles over the TV remote, or us rolling around on the floor fighting over the last slice of cake on the sweet trolley.

     No wonder I don’t get many seconds dates (don’t… don’t say it).

     We’re told; from the minute we can understand the language of our parents, that we shouldn’t be selfish, that we should always think of others and share.

     Well I’m not so sure our parents were right.

     I was on a train the other day and at one of the tables sat a family, two kids, two adults, on their way home from a long days shopping. A toddler was sitting by the window, hands and nose on the glass, watching the world whistle by.

     As his mother unwrapped a small chocolate bar the view outside the window lost all meaning, and the little boy clapped his hands and broke into a beautiful smile.

     “This is for being a good boy today,” the toddler took a bite, then settled down to smear the rest of it around his face when his dad interjected.

     “Don’t be selfish, Sophie has been a good girl as well.”

     The father then took the chocolate bar and passed it to the toddler’s older sister.

     Sophie got to enjoy what was left, and the rest of the train carriage got to enjoy listening to a screaming toddler for the next fifteen minutes.

     And here is the rub, I felt sorry for the toddler.

     He’d kept up his end of the bargain; he did the deal and expected his reward. He had every right to be upset that when it came down to it… he didn’t get the whole chocolate bar to himself.

     Without access to reasonably priced legal assistance he took the only option available.

     He screamed.

     Now, I’m not advocating we all start screaming (although it is good for the soul sometimes, but that is another article for another day). I’m not even advocating a reasonably priced legal system (although that also would be nice). What I am saying is, and this goes against every bone in my Liverpool/Irish (previously) Roman Catholic blood…is that it is good to be selfish.

     Not with chocolate (although there is a degree of flexibility in that statement) but with time.


     I live in suburbia, beautiful boring suburbia.

     As I write this piece I can hear the distant hum of a late summer lawnmower, stretching its legs around the garden one last time before it shuffles into the cobwebs in the corner of the garage for winter. My neighbors, Ken and Mary, are retired, it’s their lawnmower I can hear. Soon enough, as is always the way, I’ll hear their edge trimmer, and then the clicking of their pruning shears as the sun drifts across the sky to late afternoon.

     When they’ve finished, in maybe two hours time I’ll hear the slamming of their car doors, and then half an hour later I’ll hear the chatter of their grand children.

     When they aren’t gardening they are shopping, when they aren’t shopping they are going out for lunch, when they aren’t going out for lunch they are… well, the list is endless.

     Thing is, Mary and Ken are supposed to be retired; they have put in their shift and clocked off.
They should have their feet up, and instead they are up to their knees in work.

     Mary said to me last week: “There isn’t enough time in the day.”


     That thing again, sweet precious time.

     Now I know there a ten million singles in London, New York, and other cool and trendy city centers who go home of a night to sit and stare at the wall, wondering whether to reactivate their online dating profiles and get themselves another half.

     I’m not saying that is a bad thing at all (unless the other half is selfish old me).

     All I would ask them is this: Before you do, before you take that selfie (head back, looking up, hides the double chin and don’t do duck lips, whatever you think, they look daft) I ask one thing of you.

     Think for a minute… are you making the most of your time?

     Archimedes would never have shouted “Eureka!” if he’d been stuck down the tap-end of the bath with his girlfriend worrying if she was burning her hair on the candles up the other end.

     Isaac Newton wouldn’t have noticed the apple falling if he was discussing whether or not a passing cloud looked like dancing dog.

     This would be written in Spanish if Elizabeth the First had been listening to the plot from the latest Iron Man film from her overexcited boyfriend.

     And I wouldn’t have written The Darkest Hour (my new book) if I’d… yeah well, okay, I’ll stop there.

     What I am trying to say is, it is okay to be selfish, it is okay to say: “not tonight dear, I’m not busy… I just want to be alone…”

     You never know what you might accomplish, if you’re selfish, and take your time, your own sweet time.