I’m super excited that The Boy in the Burgundy Hood has become my first #1 International Bestseller!
Thank you so much to everyone who supported me by buying and sharing the book during my recent promotion. The result was the top spot in most of Amazon’s Ghost Story categories in the US, UK, Canada and Australia!
I was over the moon on Monday night watching all those little orange ‘Bestseller’ flags crop up. I’ve been publishing novels since 2014 and sales have been good and steady – but this is the first time I’ve ever made #1. It’s what every writer dreams of – and it can be a long time coming!
So thank you again.
I had to do something bookish to celebrate, so I’ve discounted the entire series of The Secret of the Tirthas to 99p / 99c on Kindle until midnight Friday 5th March! Click here to get the offer.
Read on for a chance to grab The Boy in the Burgundy Hood for 99p/99c in my Bookbub sale…
Well, here we (or at least those of us in the UK) are again in our third national lockdown. To be honest, there are aspects of lockdown that suit me as a writer. It means I lose a long commute to my part-time work in London. Instead of getting on a train in the early morning, I get to take a walk in the local woods, which is good. And of course, being a writer, I enjoy spending time indoors writing books.
But that’s as far as it goes. The homeschooling of two young boys is pushing everyone in my house to the brink. Love ’em as I do, it’s been two months since we all had a break from each other. School may have put everything on Teams – meaning I no longer have to try and explain fronted adverbials – but the technical challenges and juggling of digital resources has added a whole new layer of conflict and frustration.
Anyway *deep breath* that’s enough whingeing from me. I know my challenges are nothing compared to what most people are going through. So over to some lighter stuff…
The Boy in the Burgundy Hood – Bookbub sale!
Need a ‘compelling mystery with a dark twist’ (Amazon, 5⭐) to distract you in lockdown? I landed a ‘Bookbub Deal’ (promotional gold 😀) for The Boy in the Burgundy Hood! That means from 21-24 February you can get a copy for 99p / 99c, reduced from £2.99. Described by US author Sherry Ross as an ‘eerie but beautiful ghost story’, it now has 43 reviews on Amazon UK, averaging 4.4 stars. Click here to grab your copy now:
More Writing News – including my Dad’s memoirs
In other writing news, I’m deep into editing my follow-on ghost story, The Girl in the Ivory Dress, which I plan to have out later in the spring. At the same time I’m writing a prequel novella for The Secret of the Tirthas about Hattie Swift, Lizzie’s witchy ancestor who first discovers the magical garden of portals in Herefordshire.
And finally, in other writing news, my Dad has joined the very small ranks of writers in our family by publishing his fascinating memoirs about the hotel industry. Do check it out by clicking the link below!
I’ve been doing a blog post on my year in writing on and off since 2014. I was going to forget about 2020 as a real humdinger, for obvious reasons. Then I thought, no, let’s go for it. I’ve had some ups and downs, but let’s see if I’ve learnt anything from them.
Let’s start with the good:
The Things We Thought Were Beautiful came out!
I published my second poetry book, The Things We Thought Were Beautiful. Not only was it packed with poems old and new, I designed the cover myself and was reasonably pleased with it. And… it got some great reviews like this one from Amazon.com:
“The poem Sorted brought tears as did Before the Divorce. Poems like The Oak in the Snow and Dandelion… use sensitive observations of nature to bring us a shiver of transcendence. Love Wish is one of the most beautiful love poems I have ever read and the poem Unknown is an astounding tribute to fatherhood. These are important poems. I am delighted to have this book in my collection and will return to it many times.” 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
The Boy in the Burgundy Hood is doing well!
I know the writers out there will want to know how come, but the truth is for the first half of the year I don’t know. But I do know why more recently: I’ve finally worked out the esoteric process of creating good Amazon Ads. Believe me, it’s taken a while and I won’t bore you with how it works. Because it really is complicated and it changes all the time and it’s very easy to lose a load of money on it. If you’re an author and want to know comment below and I might write another post on it sometime. And that’s as much as I want to say about it for now. Not that I’m superstitious or anything, but I’m worried my formula is collapsing on me right now!
My next book is in draft.
Alongside that, I now have the draft of a follow-on story to The Boy in the Burgundy Hood. It’s got the working title of The Girl in the Ivory Dress and it sees our feisty but vulnerable heroine heading to a haunted seaside guest house after a major tragedy. I’m aiming for it to be out in the spring – watch this space!
So that’s the good. What’s the bad, you ask? Well, let’s not even talk about Covid. Working from home has not been a problem, but teaching two boys who I’m sure are reincarnated gladiators was a challenge. But at least now I know what a Fronted Adverbial is. And needless to say, there’s been all the sadness of not seeing loved ones for vast swathes of the year.
I got my first bad review.
With regard to my writing, I got my first bad review on Amazon. That was a blow. I’ve read a couple of articles on the inevitability of it happening and I’m trying to see it as a kind of badge of honour. But it still hurts.
The articles I’d read did help. You get one bad review and think you’re a lousy writer, why did you ever think your words were good enough to give the public to read? As with many things in life, it’s easy to dwell on the negative. But then you have to remind yourself that you’re never going to please everybody. And the book at time of writing has 28 reviews, with 19 of them being 5🌟 – an average of 4.4 🌟. Lots of you did – do – like my book. You really do have to focus on the positive. So I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, THANK YOU so much to all of you who have taken the time to write a review of one of my books. They really do make a difference!
I didn’t get to meet any readers.
Another bad. For the first year since I published The City of Light back in 2014, I’ve not done a single author event, bookshop signing, festival or school visit. I know in the scale of Covid disasters it’s a teeny tiny one, but heck, I’ve missed that personal connection with readers. Social media is great up to a point – but it can’t replace that face-to-face chemistry.
And that also meant that I didn’t get out to promote the poetry book in person (the best way to promote all books but especially poetry which is a niche market anyway). So the sales of that were not as good as I’d hoped. Which is a big shame, because I think it’s every bit as good as Up in the Air, which sold well – but so far only a handful of people know that. So if you like poetry, a small plea this Christmas 👇
So that’s it, my year in writing. Some good, some bad. Remember, if you’d like to support an author this Christmas there’s still time (at posting) to order paperbacks as gifts for friends and family.
I really hope you have weathered this difficult year well. And I wish you a Merry Christmas and a much happier, saner new year!
I’ve been writing stories since the age of seven, but I’ve only been studying the craft of writing for the last ten years or so. Here’s a few top tips for writers that I’ve learnt, many of which I wish I’d learnt sooner. They would have saved me a lot of time.
Read A LOT – your imagination needs fuel and it’ll get a lot from your real life, but much much more from reading thousands of stories. Yes, thousands. (Here’s a few goodies to start with.)
Plotting’s not for everyone but for me a short overview helps me not go down too many dead ends. You can always change your plot as the story develops.
When thinking about plotting, remember that most stories, even non-fiction ones, are about suspense. The writer’s job is to create a character so real that the reader invests their emotions into him or her. And then to put that character through a whole load of difficult scenarios where the reader can’t help but keep reading to see what’s going to happen to them.
Keep your writing precise not flowery and avoid as many adverbs as you can.
Find the angle – if you’re struggling to find an angle that makes your scene and characters spring into life, starting with dialogue is always a good idea.
Keep learning (a mantra for being alive, really).
Only do it if you love it – except for a very small number of people, there’s no fame in it and you’ll make a lot more money in your standard day job. (Although we can all dream that one day, in the not-too-distant future, our name will be writ large on the street…).
For the definitive advice check out the 10 points of Elmore Leonard (and while you’re there, sign up for the fantastic newsletter of Brain Pickings).
Do you believe in ghosts? We’re well into spooky season now and I was asked the perennial question again recently.
On balance, I’d have to say no. The world is a very strange place, with the chances of it and us existing being essentially zero. Parallel universes, action at a distance, the big bang – all of these things are astonishing. So I keep an open mind about ghosts and everything else. But I also weigh up the odds based on my experience, so I live my life as if they don’t exist.
But then, there was one time…
I was living in an old Victorian shared house in Scotland, doing a Masters degree at Stirling University. One night I woke up and was convinced there was a woman sitting on the end of my bed, looking at me. I immediately put it down to my imagination and of course when I peered again into the grey dark she wasn’t there.
The next day I told a friend, one of my flat mates, about the incident. He was a bit shaken up. I asked him why, and he told me that the afternoon before he’d been coming up the stairs and seen someone walking across the top of the landing above him, heading towards my bedroom. He was completely nonplussed and just shouted hello to her, thinking it was one of our flatmates. But of course he soon found there was no one there, nor anyone in the whole house for that matter.
So – do you believe in ghosts? If you have any spooky stories to tell I’d love to hear them below.
If that’s whetted your appetite for spooky stories, why not order a copy of my ghost story, The Boy in the Burgundy Hood, in time for Halloween? It’s available now on Amazon. Don’t think I could have hoped for better company on Amazon on the cusp of Halloween…
It’s getting to the time when I normally post about my favourite books of the year. But this year, given that I’ve now got books out in three different categories – young adult, horror and poetry – I thought I would post about my five favourite of each… ever! My most recent book is The Boy in the Burgundy Hood, a ghost story, so I’m going to start with my five favourite creepy stories.
First off, Frankenstein. One of my favourite books of all time, regardless of genre. Frankenstein is brilliant and can be read on many different levels. It can be seen as a political allegory for the French Revolution or the abolition of slavery; a lament for Shelley’s own lost child; a cautionary tale on bad parenting; or a warning on the dangers of overreaching yourself with technology. Read this excellent article to see how.
I knew the book as a favourite of my grandma’s, but only read it when I was doing an English degree at university. We studied Frankenstein not in Literature but in our English Language module, because the newly-created ‘monster’ gives a Saussurian view of the world without language to break it down and ‘contain’ it. There’s a brilliant description of the monster staggering through the woods bewildered, his senses overcome by the sounds and sensations all around him. Eventually he sits down and manages to focus on just one thing – a slice of moon in the nighttime sky.
Whilst it’s true the novel works on many levels, it’s also worth stating that the one it works best on is as a gripping horror story. The horror comes from Dr Frankenstein’s neglect as well as from the monster’s crimes. This is a brilliant, claustrophobic suspense story, ranging from the civilised refinement of Geneva to the bleak icy wilds of Antarctica.
Mary Shelley is my standout novelist. Just remember, she wrote this, one of the greatest works of English literature, when she was eighteen years old. And she had to publish it anonymously, for fear of how it would be received were it known the author was a woman.
2. Salem’s Lot
Where to start with Stephen King? Whilst I don’t list myself among the true hardcore of fans who have read all of his novels, each time I do read one I marvel again at his skill and invention. Whilst he’s a horror writer, I think of him alongside another great modern US writer from the North-Eastern states, John Irving. Like Irving, he takes time to lay out the table, recording his characters and (mostly) small town settings in detail that’s loving but never laboured. Then, again like Irving, he strikes us with seismic, often catastrophic events that, due to the groundwork, you will have known are coming – although you will not have known how, when and where from.
I could choose many of King’s novels – The Stand, Bag of Bones, The Girl who loved Tom Gordon, Green Mile – but I’ve decided to go with Salem’s Lot, which truly scared the heebie-jeebies out of me as a teenager. That floating vampire kid scratching at the window? Give me a break. Or the iconic moment when the priest’s faith fails him and the crucifix loses its power to keep the vampire at bay? I’d seen a hundred horror films but that never happened. I was totally blown away, my world view changed in one fell swoop. Awesome.
3. The Wine-Dark Sea
Want to be properly disturbed by your horror? Read Robert Aickman. I only came across him a few years ago when I saw this collection in a bookshop in Covent Garden. I wrote a short review of it here. Aickman is unlike any other horror writer I know. This quote sums up his approach:
“Nothing is more lethal to the effect that a ghost story should make than for the author to provide an alternative materialist solution. This reduces a poem to a puzzle and confines the reader’s spirit instead of enlarging it.”
His dark tales work like sinister magic, probing away at the depths of your subconscious. I’ve never had such strange dreams as those whilst reading this book (appropriately one of the scariest tales, Into the Wood, is all about insomnia). In most the stories the creep is left open-ended, in a deliberate attempt to stretch your mind, to keep you away from certainties, to open your eyes to the weirdness and mystery at the heart of living. Suggestive, dark, brilliant – but not for everyone…
4. The Cormorant
A couple relocate from the city to an isolated seaside cottage in Wales, an inheritance from an eccentric uncle. But there’s one catch – they must look after his ‘pet’ cormorant. It seems a simple enough ask – but soon things start to go horribly wrong.
I read Stephen Gregory’s story a long time ago when I was working in the Welsh valleys. I’ve always loved the strange, ominous atmosphere it creates and I’m planning to read it again soon.
5. The Little Stranger
A classic ghost story, with a twist (sound familiar?). Without wanting to give anything away, I’m not quite sure whether this counts as a ghost story – although it certainly has a very real supernatural element.
It starts off more like a piece of unsettling period literature – but then, with an incident of a dog and a little girl at a party, transforms into something altogether more visceral and terrifying. The novel deals skillfully with the feelings of injustice that class division arouse – coupled with the burning frustrations of love. I think the ending is one of the most satisfying I’ve read.
And finally… the ones that got away.
It was hard to make this list, and I was often left wondering why on earth I’d just settled on five. Was it purely because ‘Five Favourites’ sounded good? Probably. But I also wanted to give a bit more time to each book than I normally do.
So here’s a few more I’d have liked to include, because I love them too:
The Terror, by Dan Simmons. Recently made into a superlative TV series, there’s a supernatural beast in this but the real horror comes from two Victorian ships trapped in the Arctic ice without sunlight for six months of the year. For three years. Yes, three years.
Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, by Peter Ackroyd. One of my favourite authors, Peter Ackroyd brings the saturated history of London to life like no other. This is my favourite book of his, a horror mystery that has a mythical monster slashing Victorian Londoners to pieces (Pisaca, anyone?). Who is the dreaded Limehouse Golem?
The Accursed, by Joyce Carol Oates. A sprawling, multi-perspective vampire novel set in Princeton university in the early twentieth century. Real life characters including Woodrow Wilson and Jack London add to the zest.
Jaws, by Peter Benchley. The monster of the deep did more to damage the reputation of sharks than a thousand fishermen, but this novel is nevertheless superb. I burned through it when I was eleven, in probably the same amount of hours.
The Magician, by W Somerset Maugham. Whether there are any real supernatural elements is left up to the reader to decide, but this tale of an overbearing, repulsive occultist who steals a beautiful woman from her fiancee is as gripping as any poison love story. The character of John Thrush in The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask was partly inspired by this story.
If my five favourite creepy stories have whetted your appetite for the macabre, why not check out my own ghost story, The Boy in the Burgundy Hood – out now on Amazon:
Wow, what a week! The launch of The Boy in the Burgundy Hood has exceeded my expectations. It’s gone to the heady heights of #99 in Amazon’s ghost stories (up against books that seem to be mostly by Stephen King and Susan Hill!). It’s had it’s first reviews – two 5* on Amazon and four 5* ratings on Goodreads. I’ve got a book signing scheduled and a local radio interview lined up.
Thank you if you’ve already bought the book – and if you haven’t but intend too, please consider buying soon as it helps keep it up the Amazon charts and in readers’ sights. (It’s also on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a subscriber).
And finally – what do you think of the graphic above, one of the alternatives provided by the designer? Better or worse than the picture in the previous post? I’m considering using it in my next ad.
I’m excited to announce that The Boy in the Burgundy Hood is out today!
This is a double first for me – my first ghost story, and my first novel for adults!
Here’s what it’s about:
A ghost story with a difference.
She’s not afraid of ghosts.
Alice Deaton can’t believe her luck when she’s offered her dream job at a medieval English manor house.
Mired in debt, the elderly owners have transferred their beloved Bramley to a heritage trust and Alice must prepare it for public opening in the spring.
But then the ghosts start appearing – the woman with the wounded hand and the boy in the burgundy hood – and Alice realises why her predecessor might have left the isolated house so soon after starting.
As she peels back the layers of the mystery, the secrets Alice uncovers at Bramley’s heart will be dark – darker than she could ever have imagined…
Hope you’re hooked! The story was inspired by a trip to the fabulous, atmospheric Ightham Mote in Kent – and by a real job interview my wife had in a remote country manor, which you can read about here.