Thursday, 26 October 2017

Review: The BENQ EW277 HDR eye care monitor

Now, I don't do reviews of technology. And there's a good reason why I don't.

I'm something of a dinosaur and I still look at my smartphone as some kind of possessed magic box. I have no idea how most tech works and, frankly, I don't care. As Blackadder once said, when confronted with the Industrial Revolution and new technology like the Spinning Jenny, 'I am quite happy to wear wool but I have have no interest in how it works.'

For me, technology is often a hindrance and can make a simple job far more complicated than it needs to be. Therefore, the only tech I invest in is stuff that makes my life easier. Occasionally, I come across something that also makes my life better too.

The BENQ EW277 HDR Eye Care Monitor is one such piece of tech. Yes, it's a monitor and there are lots of pretty monitors out there but this one genuinely improves my working life. Let me explain why.

Like many professional writers I work mostly at home. And I work quite long hours, either because I have a deadline or, most often, because I love writing and once I get the bit between my teeth it's pretty hard to walk away. Working from home is seen as some kind of Nirvana by many people but the reality is that there's a lot to consider. Distraction is a big problem: dogs need walking, the phone is always ringing, and there are cold callers and postal deliveries to deal with. On top of which you have in front of you the world's greatest distraction device - the whole of the internet. You have to be pretty disciplined in order to get the work done.

There's health and safety to consider too. Your home, even if you have a bespoke office space like I do, isn't set up like a company office. You have to make sure that things like seating, lighting, heating etc. are right. I invested in a bigger computer so I wouldn't be hunched over a laptop. I installed non-flicker daylight bulbs. I bought an expensive chair with good lumbar support and lots of adjustability. However, the one thing that many people don't think about is eyes.

Staring at a monitor all day isn't great for the eyes, especially if you work into the evening as I often do. I'm also Type 2 diabetic and have to be extra careful about eye strain as it can lead to terrible problems with the finer blood vessels in my peepers. The idea of a monitor that caters for eye care appealed to me greatly and the BENQ EW277 HDR delivers in spades.

Firstly, it's a great monitor; crystal clear, flicker free, has vibrant colours and is very reasonably priced. The High Dynamic Range (HDR) function - accessed by a simple button on the front - increases the overall dynamic range between true black and bright white to resemble what your eyes see in the natural world. I don't play games but I'm told by friends who do, and who have this monitor, that it's excellent.

Now, let's talk about blue light.

In recent years, we've discovered that the blue light given off by screens isn't great for us. All the time that we're staring at monitors or tablets or smartphones, that insidious blue light is worming its way into our brains and doing things we'd rather it didn't. For a start, it can suppress the production of melatonin, which is an important chemical that helps us sleep. And if you don't get enough sleep, there are all kinds of health risks that could affect you from emotional imbalance, through depression and difficulties with memory, to cancers even. In certain wavelengths, blue light is also implicated in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and possibly in increased likelihood of cataracts. Just Google the subject of blue light and see how much concern there is. I dread to think about the health issues this is going to cause for the younger generation in later life (along with neck problems from constantly staring at their phones).

You can filter it out by wearing orange lenses but the BENQ EW277 monitor saves you the horror of looking like Bono all day by having a Low Blue Light filter mode. It's accessed, as are all the functions bar HDR mode, from a series of small buttons just under the bottom right of the screen. There are four different BL settings that you can choose from, all designed to reduce the blue light: document mode (what I use mostly), websurfing, watching video or games, or general office (emails etc.). It means that I can work into the wee hours with minimal strain and with no effect on my sleep patterns, which is a life saver. Or an eye saver anyway.

It also has something called Brightness Intelligence. The monitor actively scans the ambient light of the space you're working in and adjusts brightness and colour to the optimum to reduce eye strain. How bloody clever is that? My monitor is apparently smarter than me.

The third function that I like a great deal is the Smart Focus function that allows you to pinpoint an area on the screen and make that the focal point. The highlighted area remains bright while the surrounding area is dimmed so you’re able to focus on what you enjoy. How mad is that?

I can't say enough nice things about this monitor, which is why I've taken the rare step of doing a review. If it helps other writers and people who work with screens all day to have a better time of it then I'm happy to sing this monitor's praises. And when I mentioned on Twitter that I'd got one, I wasn't surprised to get messages back from people I know who have also found BENQ eye-care monitors to be of benefit.

Oh, and I can even point you in the direction of a discount. If you click here and use the discount code:SCNINFEW277HDR_freeshipping you'll get free shipping. Just ensure that you enter the code exactly as written here. The offer is valid until 31st December 2017.

Right. Now onto the next novel.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Flash Fiction Day Submissions

Three stories created for Damon L Wakes' Flash Fiction Day. Links to all the stories created by the writers who took part can be found on Damon's blog here.


The Promised Land

I awoke and I knew that I was no longer on Earth.

I could feel the sun upon my back and the warm sand between my fingers and, though my head ached and my heart pounded in my chest, I forced my head up to look around me. What a sight greeted my eyes!

This was no beach, but a desert; from horizon to horizon there was naught but sand. And this was not the dull, dun coloured sand of Earth; it shone like a scintillating carpet of colour, a dazzling miasma of reds and golds, greens and deep blues, as if a million precious gems had been crushed to dust and acattered about like litter. I grabbed a handful and let what felt like immeasurable wealth trickle through my fingers. Then, a sudden nausea overcame me and I was violently sick. My head began to spin and my vision blurred. Eventually, the convulsions subsided and I was again able to force my head up to examine my new surroundings.

Pinkish clouds drifted lazily across a lemon yellow sky. Where was I? Was it Mars perhaps? Or Venus? I had no answer. What I did know was how I had arrived here.

My name is Adam Fox and there are those who will say that I am an evil man. Perhaps I am? Perhaps not. But I firmly believe that many people would do as I did, had they found themselves in the same predicament.

 At first, there were few outward signs; an occasional dizzy spell, the odd nosebleed. But when I collapsed at the grocer’s store, I knew that something was terribly wrong. At the time, I assumed it to be over work. Ah, but what wishful thinking! Confirmation of my worst fears arrived vide Dr Laxby. I had contracted a form of cancer and I was given less than a year to live.

Desperation will do strange things to even the best of men. I sought solace in religion but the Church could offer me nothing but a promise of eternal life in the hereafter. So I began to look elsewhere. Call me foolish; call me a madman, but accept that I was an impetuous thirty year old male, lusty for life. Real life. My researches led me to a book, supposedly bound in human skin, that purported to contain a spell that could transport my soul into another body. I used my life’s savings to acquire the book. I was a drowning man, despairingly clutching at straws.

On the night of January 12 1866, I sat naked on the floor and waited for midnight. I had torn up the carpet of my home in order to draw an arcane pentagram upon the parquet. The furniture had been taken away by the Rag and Bone that evening; one way or another, I'd not need them after that night. The snow was falling heavily and the wind howled in the chimneys as a perfect backdrop to this, my act of heresy.

Being so close to death, they say, clears the mind. Certainly, I was lucid. I had even made provisions for the possibility of failure. A bottle of barbiturate and a syringe lay beside me. The pain had become much worse of late; if this did not work, I would be in pain no longer. The clock chimed twelve and I painfully shuffled into the centre of the pentagram. A sudden chill wind caught me unawares and I shivered. Then, a great gust seemed to rise up from nowhere and reddened the ashes in the hearth. I began to chant.

A feeling of utmost calm overcame me. I surrendered to its warm and comforting embrace and let it embrace me. Was this death? And then, a fierce pressure pushed at my temples and unseen hands seemed to pull me in all directions at once. I screamed for them to stop. Then all was dark.

And now I was awake once more and I knew that the spell had succeeded. My soul had been drawn from my body and deposited ... where? Into what vessel? I could see that this new torso was clothed in a mat of dark hair and had a sharply defined, well developed musculature. This was a strong, powerful body.

I was wishing for the throbbing of my head to pass, when I became aware that I was no longer alone. I looked up and was astonished to see that it was a woman. Her skin was white, almost blue, and her face was framed with jet black hair that cascaded over her shoulders. She was tall and willowy, almost glass like in her frail elegance. She was very beautiful. At her side stood a fantastic beast that I can scarce describe. The girl approached, perhaps sensing that I posed her no threat, and looked at me with curiosity writ large upon her face.

"Garathrey set serhaija?"

It sounded like a question, but I had no answer. The hammering in my temples was so loud as to drown all other sound. I clutched at my chest and tried to rise to my feet but I hadn't the strength and I collapsed to the sand. I forced my head up one last time.

I had travelled perhaps many millions of miles (or years mayhap?) to a world that no Man had ever seen; a world of strange beauty and wonder. A world where the precious stones of Earth were as pebbles; a world where at least one woman was more beautiful that any terrestrial maiden; a world that offered me a chance to be a Man again, able to do great deeds and reap vast rewards. A world, in short, that offered me everything that the Earth could not.

Everything, that is, except an adequate oxygen atmosphere.

(With huge apologies to Edgar Rice Burroughs)


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Man of Hunger 

The O’Halloran’s convenience wasn’t at all convenient.

It stood at the bottom of a long and rambling garden and, here and there, scattered on the rough crab-grass and cobbles, lay the shards of broken flower pots. It was bad enough trying to negotiate this dangerous obstacle course by day, let alone in the middle of the night. And, to make matters worse, the night held terrors for eight year old Padgraig.

He wasn’t sure what he should do. He’d drunk too much water at supper time and now he needed to relieve himself. But how? He had no chamber pot (He’d broken a brand new one a week ago but hadn’t built up the courage to tell his father yet.) There was no other choice. He would have to go outside.

Into the garden.

Into the dark.

Since he was baby, his Nana had told him stories of the night people that inhabited the moonlit world. Just as grey was neither black nor white, so moonlight was neither night nor day and the folk that lived and bathed in it were something less and yet something more than human: Like the Banshee who wailed and screamed across the marshes; the one-armed and one-legged Fachan; the child devouring Ghillie-Dhu. Padgraig respected the faerie folk. And he feared them. However, the pain in his bladder was growing worse and he knew that he would have to go soon or burst.

He slowly pulled back the bolt on the kitchen door and his stomach growled. He was hungry. Everyone was hungry. Padgraig prayed to God that his hungry tummy would stay silent as his bare feet touched the cool stone of the back step. An owl hooted and somewhere, in the distance, a vixen, sounding for all the world like a woman howling with misery and loss, called for a mate. Padgraig's courage nearly deserted him but desperation drove him on.

One step.


He made his way carefully down the garden path towards the little shed. All was silent except for his gentle footfalls and a shuffling, rustling noise like dry leaves whispering wind-blown over dry bones. He stopped still, hardly daring to breathe. He listened closely. A cat? The soft scraping noise was coming from the Baxter's garden. And there was another noise; a low moaning like the noises his uncle made when he'd drunk too much poteen. Padgraig slowly and silently tip-toed to the wall and peered into the garden next door. His eyes opened wide with astonishment. At the back door of the Baxter’s house stood a scarecrow of a man; a stick figure dressed in grubby rags that floated around it as if pushed by a warm breeze. It had the face of a dead man; skull-white, old as parchment, slivers of red muscle and pink flesh clinging in tattered sheets. The eyes were deep-set and staring. The teeth were yellowed and chipped. Wisps of wiry hair grew in clumps upon its wrinkled leathery scalp. The creature was peering through the window and moaning softly to itself.

Padgraig was so mesmerised and so scared that he hardly noticed that he had wet himself. The skeletal figure seemed to become even less substantial as, soundlessly, its arm slid into the wall. Its body followed, slipping through the solid bricks and mortar like a man wading into a pond. The wraith was gone and Padgraig stood trembling in his damp socks. He knew what this being was and what it did. This was the Man of Hunger - the man who stole into houses at night in order to clothe his wasting body the the muscle and skin, sinew and bone, of those who were close to death. It was a sad, pointless existence that the Man of Hunger endured, for as fast as he re-built his body, it would immediately begin to crumble and wither away. He was a damned soul, destined never to be whole, spurned by God and the Devil.

Despite his terror, Padgriag felt unable to leave the wall and stayed waiting for a further ten minutes, his eyes glued to the rear of the Baxter’s house. His perseverance was rewarded when the Man of Hunger re-emerged rubbing his saggy belly. Muscle and skin now clothed his skull and barely any bone shone through. The pitiful creature let out a last, lonely, mournful wail and walked slowly towards the gate. Then it stopped and those terrible empty black eyes stared straight at Padgraig.

“Not your time”, hissed the Man of Hunger and then, he was gone.

The next day, Padgraig admitted to his father that he’d broken his chamber pot. Calum O'Halloran cuffed him gently around the ear and said, “Accidents happen.” Then he insisted on Padgraig putting on his Sunday best and going next door to pay his respects to old Mary Baxter who had died in the night. She was 83 and had been ill for some time.

The only person Padgraig ever told about the Man of Hunger was his best friend Terry Colhoun. He didn’t believe a word of it, of course, and Padgraig was so cross that he didn't call for Terry for a week. And he never again drank water at supper time.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Author Interview - James Flynn

What's your name? 

James Flynn

What's the title of your most recent book? 


Describe the book in under 100 words. 

The Earth is dying, and humanity isn’t far behind. Overpopulation, famine, and environmental destruction are ravaging the world. A corporation launches a huge generation ship full of crew members and animal wildlife in search of the next habitable planet, but one lone passenger manages to unleash a plague of violence and madness that could destroy all hope for the revolutionary vessel. When a donator to the famous project researches the ship's disappearance, he discovers an ugly truth that will change his life forever.

Describe the book in under 10 words. 

When earth finally crumbles, can humanity work together?

What is your favourite book and why? 

Possibly American Psycho, because of the lasting impression its had on me and also because of its cult status.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Thomas Harris, because in my opinion he's created the most chilling, disturbing character in literary fiction—Hannibal Lector.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

Probably 'The Running Man' by Stephen King. The idea of a mainstream game show that includes hunting down civilians like that is very chilling to me. The idea of a whole society becoming so relaxed and accepting of violence is scary, and I enjoyed the film as well, despite it being a little bit corny.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

If I want to get any serious work done, I have to leave the comfort of my flat. Spending the day in the local library, a coffee shop or a quiet pub somewhere usually suffices, as long as I'm outdoors. I don't tend to listen to music much when working, although I'm beginning to warm to the idea a little. I'm yet to find anything that's not distracting, though.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Not being able to express things as clearly as I'd like is always a frustration of mine. I often edit sections of writing multiple times until I get it right. Somebody said once that we are all 'stuck inside a prison of words'. I think this is very true.

How do people find out more about you? 

Website, Twitter, Facebook, blog? email? etc. I'm very active on Twitter and my handle is @james__flynn (that's two underscores!)

My book—Conservation by James Flynn—can be found on Amazon, as well as my author page. For general enquiries you can also contact me by email:

Friday, 16 June 2017

Author Interview - Ian Skewis

What's your name?

Hello, my name is Ian Skewis.

What's the title of your most recent book?

A Murder Of Crows, published by Unbound on March 27th.

Describe the book in under 100 words.

The most violent thunderstorm in living memory occurs above a sleepy village on the west coast of Scotland. A young couple shelter in the woods, never to be seen again... DCI Jack Russell is brought in to investigate. Nearing retirement, he undertakes one last case, which he believes can be solved as a matter of routine. But what Jack discovers in the forest leads him to the conclusion that he is following in the footsteps of a psychopath who is just getting started. Jack is flung headlong into a race against time to prevent the evolution of a serial killer...

Describe the book in under 10 words. 

Detective battles to prevent the evolution of a killer...

What is your favourite book and why? 

Atonement by Ian McEwan. I love books that comment on the healing process of writing. It's an extraordinary story - this woman who tries to atone for something she did to two entirely innocent young people when she herself was only a child. In the end all she can do is to rewrite their life story - her final act of kindness, her atonement is finally fulfilled - but what a sad story, so poignant. I think Brighton Rock by Graham Greene would be a close second.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Again, Ian McEwan. The Cement Garden was the first book I read that really hooked me. I won a prize for English at secondary school and I was given a book token as a reward. I only chose The Cement Garden because I recognised that the front cover of that particular edition was by Russell Mills, who I was a fan of (he did many album covers for the likes of David Sylvian etc). The story was secondary, but when I read it I was hooked.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why?

None really. I'm happy with what I do and enjoy what others do. I'd like to be able to write as well as the likes of McEwan but I just keep trying to improve. I can't really do much more than that to be honest.

Describe a typical writing day for you. 

On a good day I'll shower, have breakfast, and get straight onto some writing. It makes me feel less pressured if I get some words typed first thing in the morning. Then, I'll write throughout the day, in between tidying the place up and the countless other chores I'm always doing. (I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder so it takes up a lot of my time and headspace!) And when work gets in the way with my 12 -15 hour shifts too? It's no wonder that A Murder Of Crows took so long to complete!

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

At the moment it's the amount of time I have to spend doing writing related things, especially the marketing and publicity. It means I have even less time to write! Lack of money is always a problem too because I can't afford to take time off to write either. A vicious circle, but I obviously get a kick out of seeing my name in print so that's the pay off I guess.

How do people find out more about you?

I can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. There is also A Murder Of Crows Facebook page too. The book itself is available via Amazon, Waterstones, the Book Depository, local independent booksellers and libraries. This is the Amazon link:

 I thank you!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Author Interview - Pierre Hollins

Who are you? 

Pierre Hollins

What's the title of your forthcoming book?

The Karma Farmers 

Describe the book in 100 words or fewer:

The Karma Farmers is crime fiction based on a philosophical conundrum. The question is this: If science demonstrated that consciousness could survive death, how far would you go to discover if it was true? In this age of divisive belief systems, Bradley Holmeson a thirty-something bookshop manager, is attempting to cure the existential dilemma with science. Research leads him to a rare quantum paradigm, which he self-publishes in a revolutionary manifesto. He expects to be discovered and celebrated by popular media. He’s not looking for revolution so much as literary notoriety, hoping that commercial success will impress his estranged girlfriend. However, his manifesto begins to attract the wrong attention… This quest for The Holy Grail of Science is a fast paced adventure in which a hipster philosopher becomes embroiled in occult experiment; where he meets the violent, the obsessed and the dangerously misguided, armed only with his defensive sarcasm. And all to win back the woman he loves. 

Describe the book in fewer than 10 words:

Love, murder and quantum theory

What is your favourite book?

Come on Mr Colgan, you know that’s an impossible question. There are so many contenders. In truth, I have two lists: current favourites; and all-time favourites, books that I have returned to over the years and re-read. So here’s a small selection from both lists. Current favourites include: ‘I Regret Everything’ – Seth Greenland. ‘I Have America Surrounded’ – John Higgs. ‘War’ – Sebastian Junger. ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ – Ben Fountain. ‘Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight’ – Alexandra Fuller, ‘Princess Naughty and the Voodoo Cadillac’ – Fred Willard. ‘Edisto’ – Padgett Powell.  And from the all-time list: ‘Give Us A Kiss’ – Daniel Woodrell, ‘Vineland’ – Thomas Pynchon, and ‘The Neuromancer Trilogy’ – William Gibson 

Who is your favourite author?

Again, another unfair question; but here’s a short list of authors who never seem to let me down: Elmore Leonard,  Philip K Dick, Charles Bukowski, Daniel Woodrell.

Name a book you wish you'd written:

Three contenders: all wonderful and completely diverse… ‘Really The Blues’ - Mezz Mezzrow, ‘A Room With a View’ - E M Forster, and ‘The Tao of Physics’ - Fritjof Capra

Describe a typical writing day:

There is no typical day. It depends what stage I’m at with a particular project. If I have a completed draft that needs re-writing or editing, then I’m full on, every hour of the day. I seem to crave that level of immersion. I’m currently working on a sequel to The Karma Farmers – at the stage of making notes, reading for research, and I’m actually trying to postpone writing the first draft, because as soon as I commit to it, I know little else will get done until it’s finished.

What are your biggest frustrations as a writer?

Many years ago I attended a course on story structure by the writing guru Robert McKee. Three days of insight and inspiration that still manages to echo and inform. So here’s a neat McKee paradox that answers this question: ‘writing is the most difficult thing you can do, but everything else is more difficult’. Writing is the most difficult thing you’ll do, because you want it to be right – you want the product to be as close to the ideas that inspired it – and so you work night and day to serve that idea. However, everything else is more difficult because everything else is a distraction from writing. And that is currently my biggest frustration: the need to do other things, to buy the time, while attempting to become a great novelist. 

How do people find out more about you? 

Web site:
Twitter: @pierrehollins
Instagram: @thehollins

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Author Interview - Stephen Leslie

What's your name?

 Stephen Leslie

What's the title of your forthcoming book?


Describe the book in under 100 words:

Sparks is a book of 60 short stories, each inspired or 'sparked' by a photograph I've taken over the past 20 years. None of the photographs have been staged; they're all candid and so the stories are largely fake contexts and scenarios I've invented to explain them. They can be treated as convincing lies or even 'alternative facts'. The stories range in subject matter from a melancholy dog who's been stood up on a blind date, to a trainee chiropodist who actually yearns to be a pirate, to an Indian shopping mall owner who's having trouble with his escalator ...

Describe the book in under 10 words:

A unique blend of street photography and short stories. Here's an example:

'Years ago all this used to be trees and greenery. That's how my grandparents lived, foraging for nuts and berries. It's crazy, I wouldn't know a nut now if one came right up and bit me. My days are filled with collecting rent from the humans who live here. We've got about 40 units on this site and I go to each one in turn and get a little something. Mostly it's sweets or left-overs, sometimes cash but being a squirrel cash doesn't really interest me. Occasionally I'll go in through the window and check that they're keeping things clean and tidy. If they don't then we can throw them out but that means getting the rats in and I try to avoid confrontation. I don't want to be doing this forever. In a few years time I'd like to move abroad, somewhere warmer. Maybe I'll even try living in a tree ...'    

What is your favourite book and why?

Fiction book is probably Where I'm Coming From by Raymond Carver, it was a total revelation to read short stories that were so economical and yet so rich. Photography book is probably Sidewalk by Jeff Mermelstein, he just has the ability to find the most extraordinary images again and again.

Who is your favourite author and why?

At the moment it's probably George Saunders because I honestly don't think anyone else has ever been able to combine viable science or speculative fiction so well with humour and pathos. He's like a modern day Kurt Vonnegut but even better. He's got a new book coming out this month and I'm very excited.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

Under The Skin by Michel Faber, no other novel has stuck in my head so firmly. It's brilliantly strange and original. There was a film made of it a few years ago and although they did a really good job it just couldn't match the alien complexity of the novel.

Describe a typical writing day for you:

I'm a script writer by profession so I write or at least do research for writing every day. I'm lucky enough to have a room all to myself which is kept deliberately messy to both force me to search for stuff and also to discourage anyone else from coming in and finding anything. I have a 6 year old son who I often have to collect from school so I try and get most of my work done before he's chucked out at 3:15. I drink lots of cups of tea, have regular battles with the cats who both want to monopolise my lap and will occasionally listen to some furious electronic music to try and jolt me out of a rut. If I get really stuck, I'll pop out and walk around the block to take a photograph or ponder a new story, I have a twenty year archive of images so there's always a few new ones bubbling away. If I'm on a deadline then I'll also write in the evening after eating, when the boy's had his stories and gone to sleep. My wife's a writer too, so quite often we'll both be typing late in to the night while the cats march about the house honking for attention.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer?

Lack of time and the state of the British film industry but now is not the time to start ranting about all that.

How do people find out more about you? 

My book:
My Flickr stream:

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Author Interview - Tim Atkinson

What's your name? 

Tim Atkinson. I think. Although I’ve been known by others (some of which are unrepeatable…)

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book? 

The Glorious Dead. Although for most of its existence it was ‘Known unto God’ (after the phrase from Ecclesiastes chosen by Rudyard Kipling for the graves of unknown soldiers). Names can be difficult.

Describe the book in under 100 words.

What happened when the Great War ended and the guns stopped firing? Who cleared the battlefields and buried the dead? And why did so many men who served and survived stay on amid the ruins of the war they’d fought? The answers are darker and more complex than you think.

Describe the book in under 10 words.

A World War One tale with a twist.

What is your favourite book and why?

I'm tempted to say ‘the one I’m reading’ (which is, since you ask - Do No Harm by Henry Marsh). But if it’s defined by the author I re-read most then, probably, Regeneration by Pat Barker (see below, and then below that!).

Who is your favourite author and why?

Pat Barker. Why? Her unflinching eye for even the most distressing detail, plus a depth of psychological understanding that is hard to beat (in my opinion).

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why?

The Regeneration Trilogy. (Can I claim all three of them? Oh, go on!) The breadth of scope combined with sometimes forensic detail makes for compelling reading.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

I’m afraid there are no typical days. Some start with insomnia at three a.m. and begin with notes on my phone before making it downstairs to the computer. Others hardly start at all until the kids are safely bathed and put to bed.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Would it be immodest to say agents/publishers? I’ve had so much positive feedback (which may, of course, be flannel) without ever quite getting that glorious nod of acceptance and admittance into the hallowed halls of regular writer-dom. Until Unbound came along, that is.

How do people find out more about you? 

I’m a social media tart and can be found all over the place. Start with my blog - - and maybe Twitter (@dotterel) and before long I’ll have drawn you in to Facebook Instagram, Tumblr and probably Soundcloud as well!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Author Interview - Niall Slater

What's your name? 

Niall Slater.

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book? 

The Second Death of Daedalus Mole.

Describe the book in under 100 words.

In a galaxy on the verge of economic collapse, a greasy man in a spaceship takes on an unwanted passenger to make some easy booze money. He soon realises that his passenger comes with a lot more attention than he’s comfortable with, and becomes entangled in a star-hopping scramble for purpose when all he really wants is to sit down with a nice pint. He soon realises, however, that she isn’t the only one running from something. The book is about loss, guilt and the flawed ways in which we see those closest to us – for better or worse.

Describe the book in under 10 words 

 Sad man in space sabotages own life and those of others.

What is your favourite book and why?

If I had to choose – and apparently I do, you bastard – it would have to be Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. It’s a bizarre story set in a bizarre world: far in the future, after a devastating nuclear war, when half the world has mounted their cities on titanic caterpillar tracks to chase down and eat smaller, weaker cities and static settlements, which are seen as backwards and barbaric. It’s called Municipal Darwinism. A young London historian sees something he shouldn’t have and is thrown out onto the bare earth, and ends up having to chase down his hometown along with the assassin who got him into this mess in the first place. Also, they’re being chased cross-country by an ancient killing machine. If this sounds completely insane, that’s because (A) it is and (B) I’m not Philip Reeve, who has an enviable gift for sketching unlikely situations from a perspective that helps you slide into his universe without a hitch. A world of cities eating each other might sound like a stretch, but the story is really about a young man trying to find his way home, only to learn that home isn’t quite what he thought it was. Who can’t relate to that? The idea of everything you’ve ever known just getting up and moving, leaving you behind wondering where you really belong? He just made it a bit more... literal. I’m also a sucker for stories about robots that make me cry, so that helped.

Who is your favourite author and why?

It’s got to be Terry Pratchett. No contest. I’ve never experienced such a sudden and terrifying shift in perspective as when I read Small Gods. It was like – writing can be like this? Really? You can just… do that and get away with it? Then I read The Truth, which might as well be re-published every year and only get more relevant, get more cutting as the days go by. Reaper Man, though, was the one that really floored me. Pratchett, in my mind, might as well have walked right into the Vatican during the Pope’s lunch break and sat down in his chair. It seems obvious that a writer can write whatever they want, really, but I never intuitively got it until I read a story about Death quitting to go and work on a farm. To read a book about that, and for that book to be brilliantly-written, funny, warm, cold, touching, brutal and sinister all at once was like I went out for a curry and came back to find the wallpaper peeled off the inside of my head, then to think oh, there was wallpaper in here? Terry Pratchett was a genius and we are all of us deeply privileged that he managed to write so much. I can’t think of a better recommendation to give anyone, for any reason, than to read Discworld.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why?

Hmm… maybe Station Eleven? It’s by Emily St. John Mandel and it (again) is a post-apocalyptic novel that follows a troupe of actors, musicians and general handy-people who go from town to town putting on Shakespeare plays in the aftermath of a plague that killed most of the world’s population. It’s a bit like The Road in how it paints such a quietly disturbing view of the end of the world, and it manages to be a very sincere vindication of capital-A the Arts without coming across as preachy or pretentious, which I’ve tried to do before and failed. As a writer I came away from it feeling very validated indeed. I’d like write something at least once that makes people feel better, more sure of their place in the world. It’s not the most important thing a book can do (and it’s not, by any means, the only or most important thing that Station Eleven does), but it is nice. Then again, if I’d written Good Omens then I would be both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which is probably a better deal.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

 Okay, set the scene: it’s 5.35pm. I’ve just left work, it’s already dark out because it’s late winter. I plug in the headphones I found in a bush four months earlier and stick on the first playlist my numb fingers can locate on my out-of-date phone, which creaks audibly as it fires up one of Amanda Palmer’s more depressing albums. Resigned, I half-jog to the Overground station. On the way I enter a very artsy, literary-feeling kind of fugue state, neurons firing lazily as I sketch out brilliant ideas and beautiful plot threads in my brain, which is taking full advantage of that late-afternoon second wind. I arrive at the station, squeeze my way onto a train between two implausibly sweaty men and slowly let the will to live drain from my body on the short half-hour ride from West Brompton to an undisclosed location further north. By the time I climb the stairs and collapse into the chair by my desk, trousers flung aside, I have not only forgotten the strokes of genius from earlier, but also forgotten why I’ve ever bothered writing or doing anything at all. I source some cheap Shiraz/own-brand gin/lager found under the sofa (to loosen the creative muscles) and decide to play a couple of quick rounds of Rocket League. Four hours later my loved ones gently remind me that I was going to do some writing tonight, and I haughtily pour another drink and bash out a few sentences, cursing myself for every life decision I’ve ever made that contributed to me being here, writing, when I would clearly be much more suited to a career as a hedge fund manager, or a stuntman, or a rodeo clown. Come 11pm, unproductive and unsatisfied, I slink to bed so I can be up in the morning to hit the day job again. In my dreams I whip myself with thistles for not being a better writer. Thankfully I get a lot more done on the non-typical writing days. 

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Having to treat your own emotional state as a kind of finite resource to draw on. Writers aren’t special, obviously – everyone feels drained in the evenings, everyone needs time to relax and recover for the next day, but trying to wrestle your evenings back and sit in that chair to not just write something, but to write something good, is the opposite of relaxing. Everyone needs free time, but people who have these weird solitary creative projects give theirs up like they’ve always got homework to be doing. That said, I’ve accidentally woken up early a few times and tried writing before the sun comes up. I find that works much better, though that puts you at a worrying sleep deficit... I’m sure proper, grown-up writers have figured out the whole work-life balance thing, but I haven’t quite nailed it yet and that’s probably the most frustrating thing. So, er, my biggest frustration is my own flaws? Like most people, I guess.

How do people find out more about you?

They can follow me on Twitter for incisive social commentary and lies, like that one. I’ve also got a website of sorts at, and people can check out me book what I gone and done at

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Author Interview - Ewan Lawrie

What's your name? 

Ewan Lawrie, McGregor was named after me… No, he was, I’m older than him, ergo...

What's the title of your most recent book? 

Gibbous House was published on 12th Jan 2017 by Unbound.

Describe the book in under 100 words. 

Gibbous House is a Victorian Gothic novel, with a will, a bizarre inheritance including a still stranger property and household, all of which is inherited by a most villainous and charming protagonist. Moffat is neither who he seems or indeed what he believes himself to be. He finds himself caught up in experiments and conspiracy at the birth of the scientific age. He encounters a cast of grotesque and venal characters against the background of Mid-19th Century London and Northumberland, before an exciting and thought provoking ending.

Describe the book in under 10 words. 

Murderous imposter receives a dangerous inheritance in 19th Century Northumberland

What is your favourite book and why? 

My favourite book is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It is a combination of the fantastical and what passed for the everyday in the Soviet Union of the 1930’s. The devil is one of the main characters, as is a giant cat called Begemot (Russian for Behemoth). The story deals with samizdat, which was self-publishing but not as we know it, since the reward was often the Gulag, if you got caught, and also with the crucifixion of Christ. What’s not to like? Blasphemous, bitterly funny and boisterous by turns, I confess I’ve read it many more times than once.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Dickens. Yes, I know, anti-semitism (par for the contemporary course, and you could find much worse offenders) , sentimentality (okay, don’t read The Old Curiosity Shop) and those long sentences. Yes, well, he was good at those long sentences and they are pellucid in their clarity. We should all be so long-winded. Most of all however, it’s the characters: Magwitch, Sydney Carlton, David Copperfield… Even dear old Scrooge.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.  Magic, comic books, escaping from the Nazis and making it in America. Maybe I’m sentimental too. The best 8 part HBO series never made.

 Describe a typical writing day for you. 

I’d love to make this up and say that I lock myself in a shed with a notebook and a Remington typewriter, but the truth is I tippety-tap on the PC/Laptop at various times of the day, when the mood comes on me and I’m not teaching. I do listen to music, most of Gibbous House was written to the entire works of Frank Zappa. I do take a notebook when I’m out and about, often scribbling things in local bars and caf├ęs or on the terraces outside them.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Marketing and the lack of money I have to do it.

How do people find out more about you? 

I have a twitter account @EwanL and I am on Facebook where my alter-ego Please Allow Me also has a page with a humorous take on marketing Gibbous House for me. I do have a blog which is updated about once a week if I’m lucky.

E-mails I save for contact with book reviewers in print media. I’m thinking of wondering round Fuengirola with a sandwich board.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Author Interview - Damon L Wakes

What's your name? 

Damon L. Wakes

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book? 

Ten Little Astronauts.

Describe the book in under 100 words. 

Ten astronauts are awoken from suspended animation – chosen from a crew of thousands to repair their steadily freezing ship – only to discover that one of their number has been killed, and that the murderer is now amongst them. They are trapped with no lights, no gravity, and no life support. In order to survive and restore the ship to working condition, they must work out who is responsible, because if the impostor doesn’t kill them, the cold will.

 Describe the book in under 10 words

And Then There Were None set in interstellar space.

What is your favourite book and why? 

Rumo and his Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. The book is the size of two or three house bricks and its storyline follows all the conventions of the classical epic. However, it takes place in the most alien fantasy setting I’ve ever come across. There are no orcs or elves: every single character is utterly bizarre and completely original. The protagonist, for example, is an intelligent bipedal horned dog wielding a sword that has multiple personalities. Despite the abundance of unusual creatures with outrageous abilities, though, nothing ever feels like it’s pulled out of thin air when the plot demands it. Any detail that proves significant is always set up well in advance, and the overall story feels totally airtight.

Who is your favourite author and why?

It’s a tough choice, but probably Douglas Adams. I really enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well as the snippets of his work collected in The Salmon of Doubt, and he had the rare ability to tackle serious topics in an absolutely hilarious way. I also admire his text adventures: an early example of what great writing can add to games.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

It would be easy to say The Count of Monte Cristo because it’s extremely long and complicated and writing that would immediately make people think I’m super smart. Honestly, though, I don’t especially wish I’d written any book that currently exists. If the deal is that I get to go back in time and stick my name on the front of a great work of literature that otherwise stays word-for-word the same, I’d rather use my time machine to buy a bunch of winning lottery tickets. It seems marginally more honest and marginally less likely to tear apart the space-time continuum. If the deal is that I get to rewrite that book myself, then I can just go ahead and do it without the time machine. Ten Little Astronauts was largely an exercise in producing a more tense, faster-paced version of And Then There Were None. Fewer dinners, more axe murders. The books I really wish I’d written are the ones I haven’t yet.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

A typical writing day almost always starts with me sitting down at my desk and putting off something else I really should be doing. It usually finishes with me carrying on way longer than I intended. Occasionally I’ll open up a document last thing at night because I haven’t written anything for ages and feel as though I should at least get just a paragraph down. Often that leads to hours more work. Sometimes the hours of work are just a paragraph. I also take part in a lot of events—Flash Fiction Month, Flash Fiction Day, NaNoWriMo, Global Game Jams—that give me an excuse to dedicate some time to writing and offer a set deadline for getting it done. I like to listen to music while I work but it could be pretty much anything: at the moment it’s Gregorian chant covers of well known songs. I hesitate to describe coffee as an “aid” because it makes it sound like I’m liable to be disqualified from writing for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but that’s probably the main one. My secret is drugs.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Digital Rights Management (DRM). It’s a kind of copy-protection applied to ebooks (among other things) ostensibly to prevent people making pirate copies. There are two problems with this. The first is that anybody with the most basic level of computer literacy can defeat DRM and make copies regardless. This doesn’t involve scrolling torrents of green ones and zeroes: it involves the ability to search for instructions on Google and follow those instructions. The second problem is that although DRM does nothing to hinder pirates, it can cause quite a headache for readers who actually paid for these books and don’t understand why they can’t simply copy them from one device to another for totally legitimate personal use.

How do people find out more about you? 


And if you’d like to read the opening of Ten Little Astronauts, you can do so here:

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Writer's Day

8.30am - Tea, granola, enter office. Start researching/writing/editing.

10am - Tea. More research/writing/editing.

11am - Elevenses. More tea. A Brief check of emails, social media etc. Then more research/writing/editing.

12pm - Meet a writer chum for a snifter at the Red Lion in Penn Village. Enjoy a well kept pint of ale, chat about author-ish things, admire ducks in pond, fawn over a chap's vintage Bugatti.

1pm - Raid Penn Cottage Bookshop for goodies.

2pm - Take dogs for yomp o'er fields and woodlands behind the house. Enjoy sunshine and watch the chemtrails poisoning the angels (one for the conspiracy nuts there).

3pm - Tea and a return to researching/writing/editing.

4pm - Tiffin. More tea and a hot cross bun obscenely buttered. Make stock from yesterday's chicken carcase. Return to researching/writing/editing.

6.30pm - Finish for the day. Exit office.

7pm - Cook evening meal (chicken, chorizo and asparagus risotto using fresh stock) and be sociable. Tea.

Amount earned: £0.00

Quality of life improved: Immeasurably.

Happiness levels: Medium to high.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Cover Story - Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blogpost describing how one of my book covers came about (see here).

The artwork for that cover was by the brilliant Tom Gauld.

I'm now delighted to reveal that the artist who will be tackling the cover for my next book (and first novel) A Murder To Die For is ... Neil Gower.

Even if you don't know the name, you'll know his work. Here's a sample:

Oh my.

How excited am I?

A lot. :)

Author Interview - Tabatha Stirling

What's your full name? 

Are you sure? Okay … Charlotte Alexandra Tabatha Hallewell Stirling. But you can call me ‘Tabster’ *bats eyelashes*

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book?

Blood On The Banana Leaf - which I regret now because I’m fairly sure I should stick ‘A Girl’ in there somewhere.

Describe the book in under 100 words.

Here are the stories of Lucilla, a maid from the Philippines, Ma'am Leslie, from England, Shammi, a young village girl from Myanmar and Madame Eunice, a Singaporean-Chinese employer as they strive to exist in a country that harbours darkness below its pristine exterior. As the narrative weaves its candid and often brutal way through the lives of each woman, it also examines the effects of loss, madness, abuse and hope during a woman's life and in society as a whole.

Describe your book in under 10 words.

Welcome to the black heart of Singapore.

What is your favourite book and why?

This is a beastly question. I refuse to be boxed in so I’m naming two: Of Human Bondage’by Somerset Maugham and Absolutely Anything by Simone de Beauvoir. Of Human Bondage was the first ‘adult’ fiction I read. I remember it so well; my parents had given me an account at the local bookshop and I went mad and ordered over fifty books. I hated boarding school and felt incredibly lonely until I discovered Maugham and his visceral characterisations that made me feel at home. I realised that these toxic behavioural patterns were part of other families and I had found my adolescent tribe. De Beauvoir is one of the greatest writers of the last two centuries. She knocked the spots off Satre when it came down to understanding the berserker dance of the white blood cells and the intimate fire-pin waltz danced by a synaptic transmission. In other words, she understood the relationship between the body and the mind and how, when in cahoots, could build empires, yet when fighting, could bring one so low you could feel the weight of a thousand centuries above you. Her understanding & courage when speaking about her own insecurities, her searing honesty that she was in a shitty relationship with a shitty man who received accolades in his lifetime that she deserved so much more. And frankly, entering into an open relationship because you want to be seen as cool and unbothered by something as bourgeois as infidelity when really you want to go at them both with a chainsaw, pliers and some boiling tar. Oh! And her glorious language.

Name a book you wish you'd written and why?

(From 2016) The Bees by Laline Paul. It is an astonishing work – a fictional account of the workings of a hive beset by misogyny, murder, death, horror & some particularly nasty wasps. She makes the environment completely credible, her language is vital, unafraid & mesmerising and I now have to go and read it again.

Describe a typical writing day.

It goes like this: I have a toddler.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< tiny bit of writing. It’s like having an angry drunk perpetually causing mayhem.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< wee bit of designing She is beautiful & likes cuddles.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< half-hearted attempt at editing It is like having an angry drunk perpetually causing mayhem.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< frantic poem writing She is beautiful & likes cuddles.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< sings, ‘Come into the garden, Maud, for the black bat night has ….’
Pass out.
Wake & repeat.

What's you biggest frustration as a writer?

I started taking myself seriously as a writer much too late to write all the books I want to.

You can go here and pledge for my book. Not only are there some spankingly good rewards, you are also the recipient of eternal Tabby love. for my shorts & playsuits. for my design portfolio.

 I’m very Twitter friendly at @volequeen. Come and make out!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Author Interview - Paul Holbrook

What is your name?

Paul Holbrook. I am a writer from North Yorkshire.

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book?

Domini Mortum, which is being crowdfunded by those lovely people at Unbound at the moment. 

Describe the book in under 100 words: 

Domini Mortum is a murderous tale set in London and York towards the end of the nineteenth century. It concerns an artist and journalist for the Illustrated Police News, the most sensationalist tabloid of the day, and his investigations into a series of murders of servant girls in the Paddington area. His journey brings him into contact with a haunted village, an asylum, a secret society, a brothel, a vicious crime lord oh and maybe the odd ghost. It's everything you want really from a Hammer Films style Victorian murder mystery, all wrapped up in a beautifully written novel.

Describe the book in under 10 words: 

Bad people do bad things in Victorian times. Cue thrills.

What is your favourite book and why? 

I think it would have to be Legend by David Gemmell. It's a heroic fantasy novel which was first bought for me by my Dad when I was about fourteen. I’ve read it a lot of times, probably too many to be cool, but, because of the time that I have invested in it over the years, it holds a great many personal memories for me as I can remember reading it at lots of different and important times in my life. As a novel. I still love it, the storytelling can be a bit clunky and the character development a little flawed but overall to me it’s a precious thing.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Tough one that, because I go through phases and obsessions with writers, be it Stephen King, David Gemmell, Clive Barker or JRR Tolkein. My current favourite though is Neil Gaiman. I used to read the Sandman comics when I was a lot younger and when he moved into novel writing, initially I was very worried. I don’t love all his work, there are a few misses amongst the hits for me, but I love The Graveyard Book and I was totally entranced by ‘The ocean at the end of the lane’, which is just a beautiful piece of work.

Name a book you wish you'd written and why: 

Probably Swan Song by Robert R MacCammon. It's a lovely book made up of well written characters, short punchy chapters and overall an epic story. It's a post nuclear apocalypse tale, which I know has been done by a lot of writers before. For me though it’s the best of the breed I couldn’t recommend it highly enough and I just wish I could one day create something so expansive, engrossing and well written.

Describe a typical writing day for you:

When I have a day that I can put aside for writing I like to be up and at it early. I find that often the best stuff I write is first thing in the morning. There have been days when I have got straight out of bed and got on the computer and suddenly find that four hours have gone. I also like to have a good dog walk before I write anything of any substance. I live on the edge of the North York Moors, it’s a stunningly beautiful and inspiring place and often a dog walk in the fresh air, sometimes with stirring music playing in my earphones is enough to get the ideas flowing. In terms of musical styles, for Domini Mortum and its predecessor Memento Mori, I solely listened to Finlandia by Jean Sibelius. The music is based on the Finnish folk tales which feature heavily in the novels. I don’t tend to use any aids apart form my own addled mind. When I’m novel writing my brain is a box full of hummingbirds, ideas, narratives, dialogue and twisty turny bits flying in from all angles. The result is always highly pleasing though.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Time. If I could freeze time for about two hours a day I would be knocking out novels left, right and centre. I have so many fully formed ideas in my head that I thin I would need about three lifetimes just to get it all out there. I often work seven days a week also as I do two jobs, one in a school supporting children with learning needs and a second providing days out and respite for young people with disabilities and long term medical conditions. Sometimes I will only get one full day off a month, and when I do get a day off its nice to actually spend it with my wife and kids rather than shackling myself to a laptop. And so I snatch and steal time where I can, twenty minutes here an hour there. I get there in the end but its often a slow process.

How do people find out more about you? 

My most important contact point is my Unbound page There you can find out more about Domini Mortum, read a synopsis, and extract and most importantly pledge your support for my lovely creation.

I am often on Twitter @cpholbrook
 I have a blog at which I try to add to when time permits.
 I am on Facebook at

Friday, 17 February 2017

Cover Story

I thought I might spend a short blogpost talking about how a book cover gets designed. It's particularly of interest to me at the moment as I'm just going through the design and discussion stage for the cover of my next book A Murder To Die For.

Perhaps the best way to look at the process - or at least how I engage with it - is to look at one of my previous books. In 2013 Constable Colgan's Connectoscope was published by Unbound in hardback and paperback editions.The book is a collection of fascinating facts all interconnected and gathered into 'Rounds'. Each Round (or chapter) starts with a fact which links to the next and to the next and to the next and so on until the last fact comes full circle and joins up with the first. It means that each chapter is a single circular journey. The fact that I used to be a police officer was latched upon by the publisher who suggested the book title (it had been called Connect-O-Rama) and that I write a new foreword describing how my mind works - finding facts, checking them, collating them, connecting them - and how that had been useful in both my career as a cop and as a writer for the TV show QI.

When discussions began about cover design, I had the idea of depicting the Connectoscope as some kind of machine. By coincidence, the art director also liked the idea. I brought sketches I'd done. And, just for the crack, I knocked up a painting too.

 None of them were quite right for the book of course - just me doodling ideas. But once we had a concept and the talk turned to artists, one name jumped out at us: Tom Gauld. I'd been a big fan of his work for years. I love his cartoons in The Guardian and I had his books Goliath and The Gigantic Robot. Here's some of his work.

There's a delicious business to his work that we loved (you can see more of his book covers here). Plus, he's really good at robots and steampunkish machines. So, off went the brief from the art director:

And what came back was just glorious. 

And, barring a few small tweaks - the green light was given. The final cover was as good as anything I'd dared hope for.

So there you go! It may well be a very different process for some authors but, for me, as someone who has a strong sense for the visual, it was a case of discussion, concession and ideas sharing. And what I got from it was a beautiful, fantastic cover. And I got to thank Tom personally when we went up at Gosh! Comics in London for the launch of his (then) new book You're All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack.

Now I'm looking forward to the next book and a whole new cover to love.