Killer Women Fest

Saturday 15th October has been marked in my diary for months – Killer Women Fest. Eagerly anticipated by the many who went, it did not disappoint. I wrote copious notes but you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m not about to write up all 24 pages! Instead, I’ll put up a few of my slightly better photos and some highlight quotes.

Having just missed a train on my way there, I had a few minutes to kill before the next one and noticed this lovely advert.


But more about Ann Cleeves later!

Having reached Shoreditch Town Hall (a venue that once housed the inquest for Jack the Ripper’s last known victim, Mary Kelly – so very apt for a crime writing event), we were welcomed by some of the Killer Women.

l-r Helen Smith, Sarah Hilary, Kate Medina, Melanie McGrath, Laura Wilson & Kate Rhodes

Melanie McGrath told us how Killer Women had come into being through ‘wine and crime’ and what had started off as a small group of female crime/thriller writers, had now grown into their first festival.

There was a ridiculous amount of workshops, panels and author interviews to choose from (I could have done the day three times over) but I did have to make choices in the end. I started off with a workshop on How To Pitch A Novel with Sam Eades (Commissioning Editor at Trapeze) and Nelle Andrews (literary agent at PFD). Killer Woman, Jane Casey, asked the questions. So rather than transcribing all 5 pages of notes (!), I’ll give you a few choice morsels:

Nelle – ‘No one ever takes a book back to Waterstones’, ‘Can fix plot and characterization but can’t fix bad writing’ and  ‘Authors make our careers’.

Sam – ‘Love getting my hands dirty’ – editing a book, ‘You want someone who absolutely loves your book’ and the worst pitch she’s heard, ‘Josef Fritzl meets The Sound of Music’!

I managed to sneak in and hear a little from Martina Cole. She often works for 25 hour stretches at a time and likes to write long hand as then she can write anywhere. And she sometimes gets told in Asda that she looks like ‘that Martina Cole’.

Back to Ann Cleeves, who appeared alongside Mark Billingham, Gaby Chiappe (screenwriter for Shetland) and Douglas Henshall (who plays Jimmy Perez in Shetland) for Serial Thrillers. Colette McBeth chaired the panel.


One question that Colette asked was, what makes books work well on television?

Mark Billingham said that almost everything is optioned. A strong sense of character is needed but it helps if you have a name attached. For 10 years he said that he wanted David Morrisey to play Tom Thorne. It was only when Morrisey bought a Billingham book and Googled him, that he discovered his name there too!

Gabby Chiappe said that you have to really understand the character when adapting for TV but sometimes you have to make changes because of time constraints – much shorter time to grow characters. Also have to take into consideration advert breaks. They have to finish with a hook each time to keep the audience.

Colette also asked, is there too much crime drama on TV?

Douglas Henshall answered yes. Most new optioned drama is crime. Gaby Chiappe thought that was probably because crime comes with an inbuilt hook but maybe it stops commissioners taking risks with other shows. Ann Cleeves thought that there is now a breadth of crime drama that we didn’t have before and Mark Billingham agreed that it reflects the enormous umbrella of crime. However he did think there were too many adaptions and he would like to see more original crime dramas.

I managed to ask  Mark and Ann if, like Colin Dexter, they were tempted to have a cameo role in their shows?

Mark said that he did have an extra part but it was cut! However he does have a very small cameo in the new series. Ann – no! Having been on set for both Shetland and Vera, and seeing how the weather can change so quickly, she’s happy to sit in her car and watch!

After a brief lunch break with fellow blogger and writer, Rachel Emms, it was time for the event that I had been looking forward to the most – Val McDermid talking to Laura Wilson. Titled ’30 Books and Counting’, we had a brief overview of how Val was fast-tracked at school and so went to St. Hilda’s, Oxford, at age 16 – their first Scottish state school pupil.

Her first book with character Lindsay Gordon, was her attempt of feeling her way into fiction. The third book was the one that she really wanted to write but it meant writing the other two books first! Ian Rankin has described her as ‘a restless writer’ as she writes lots of different books. She finds that she can’t do two books back to back with the same characters as she gets bored. And she finds that the next book she’s planning in her head, helps propel her to write the current one. She recently wrote 4 books in 18 months – a reworking of Northanger Abbey, Forensics and 2 crime novels. Once, when she was struggling to finish a book and a deadline was looming, she took herself off to Italy. She wrote 65,000 words in 9 days!


And her top tip for aspiring writers? Find sacred time to write. Ring-fence it. Commit to yourself. Be thinking about your story, rehearsing it in your head so that you’re ready to roll when you sit down. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find the time!




Up next was How To Solve A Murder with former Detective Superintendent David Swindle and current Detective Chief Superintendent Dr. Jackie Sebire. It’s fair to say that they are more than qualified to solve a murder. They were talking to Louise Millar.

Again, rather than regale you with my 6 pages of notes, I’ll give you some nuggets.

DCS Jackie Sebire gave us the ABC of solving a murder – Assume nothing, Believe no one and Challenge everything.

David Swindle spoke about how a hunch paid off when solving the murder of a Polish woman found under the floorboards of a church. He felt sure that the murderer had committed similar crimes before. Eventually he was able to find the victims and bring justice and closure for the families.

And that was something that shone through the whole talk, how these two officers are ‘like a dog with a bone’ (Jackie’s words). They  persevere with a case, even if it takes years. They do not give up.


The penultimate event for me was Silver Scream or I Preferred the Book/Film. Talking about their experiences of having their work adapted for film/TV was (l-r in photo) Louise Doughty, S.J. Watson, Alex Marwood, Paula Hawkins and Erin Kelly. Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard is soon to appear on BBC with Emily Watson. Louise mentioned how excited she was to have Emily playing the lead and she tried to play it cool when she met her. However she failed and began gabbling! (Nice to know that successful authors gabble too! I gabbled at Val McDermid at the book signing in a fangirl moment – sorry Val!).

Paula Hawkins is pleased with the way that Emily Blunt has managed to portray Rachel’s self-loathing in the film of The Girl On The Train.

S.J. Watson was still trying to get Before I Go To Sleep published when he had an email from Ridley Scott wanting to option it. Steve’s first thoughts were, how did you get my email and how did you get a copy of the book? Once on set, he saw Nicole Kidman do a scene in pouring cold rain. He told her afterwards that in the book, that particular scene took place indoors with a roaring fire. ‘Yes but it wouldn’t have been as dramatic’ was her reply.


The final event of the day was a Murder Mystery with Helen Smith, Colette McBeth, Erin Kelly, D.E. Meredith, Kate Rhodes and Mark Billingham as Detective Alan Barnes in Who Killed Eddie Glass? Written by Erin Kelly, we were given the scenario and four possible suspects to choose from. I’m not going to say anymore about it in case you ever get the chance to see this. But what I will say is that I failed to use the ABC technique given earlier by DCS Jackie Sebire! I should have listened to fellow team mate Michelle Davies. As she clearly knows her stuff, I think I need to add her debut, Gone Astray to my TBR pile.

And on my way home, my day ended as it began – with a very large advert! Thank you Killer Women for a tremendous day!


Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb -The Teaser Tour

It’s my turn today on the Deep Down Dead teaser tour. One of the most talked about books for 2017, it’s available for pre-order now for both paperback here and ebook here . The great news is, you don’t have to wait until next year to get it on your Kindle! You can download it from the 15th October.

Do you want a short, sneaky quote to whet your appetite? Of course you do!

On Sal’s cell phone speaker, the ringing stopped. A nasal voice bounced off the kitchen walls. ‘Nine one one, can you tell me the nature of your emergency?’

The gun fired. My eyes closed. Everything faded to black.

Is that it, I hear you cry? Yes. I’m giving you nothing else except a picture of the splendid cover. Orenda Books provides the most gorgeous covers to match the brilliance of their books. I’ve been fortunate enough to start reading this novel and I’m already hooked by Lori Anderson, bounty hunter.

30141176Steph Broadribb is also known as CrimeThrillGirl, an amazing book blogger now turned an even more amazing writer. Check out her website to find out more about her and a competition to win a proof copy of Deep Down Dead.

Deep Down Dead is published by Orenda Books. To find out more click here for their website and click here for a post I wrote earlier this year about Orenda authors.

The Harbour Master by Daniel Pembrey


I went to a James Bond concert the other week and as well as playing Bond themes, they also played iconic tunes from successful crime shows – Cagney & Lacey, Miss Marple, Poirot, Hill Street Blues  and The Bill (yes, really, but the composer was playing guitar in the orchestra). One tune not included was Van der Valk. Having just listened to the theme tune again on YouTube (it’s called Eye Level in case you’re interested), I’m not surprised. It’s far too jolly and upbeat. I have a vague recollection of Van der Valk wearing a brown jacket but that’s all I remember. So I don’t have a vast knowledge about Dutch police officers but I suspect that Henk van der Pol isn’t your usual copper. Close to retirement, he isn’t worn down by the job, sitting on his laurels until he can escape. Instead, his sense of justice is keener than ever before and with age, comes the tenacity to take on anyone, no matter who they are – local gangs, corrupt officers or even politicians. Whether investigating murder, stolen paintings or the kidnap of a politican, Henk gives his all – much to the despair of his put upon wife, Petra.

Daniel Pembrey lived in Amsterdam when he wrote The Harbour Master and you can tell it was more than just a short research trip. Even from the opening line, ‘There’s a spot down by the harbour, with bicycle seats mounted on bollards like fishing perches, where you can’t help but feel alert and vigilant’, you get the sense of seeing the city through Henk’s eyes. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t tourist Amsterdam (although he does go there too). It’s clear that Pembrey stepped off the well-trod tourist path to create an authentic Amsterdam. He doesn’t stop there though. Brussels and The Hague are two more destinations that Henk visits in pursuit of the truth.

Pembrey also links in to Dutch culture and history, particularly in reference to the kidnap of Freddy Heineken in 1983. It seems as though Pembrey has packed a lot in but that’s not surprising. The Harbour Master was originally three linked novellas (Pembrey is a master at them) but No Exit Press have brought them together to make one novel. But thankfully, this isn’t the end of Henk. There’s more to come in the form of a new Henk van der Pol book – Night Market.

The Harbour Master is available to buy now on Kindle – click here  – and will be out in paperback on 10th Nov and can be pre-ordered here

I’d like to thank Daniel Pembrey and No Exit Press for an ARC of the book. I wasn’t even asked to review in return but am more than happy to do so.

If you want to find out more about Daniel and his other books, then check out his website It’s worth it to see the cover page alone – beautiful picture of the Amsterdam skyline!

First Monday Crime – October

The Library is the new venue for First Monday and kicking off proceedings was Antonia Hodgson, Stuart Neville, William Ryan and SJ Watson. Karen Robinson, editor of the Times/Sunday Times Crime Club asked the questions.

First up – how important is research and authenticity, especially if you’re writing historical novels?


William Ryan said how important it is to get the period right and make it believable for the reader. However, it’s easy to get bogged down in too much detail so you almost have to forget it all but it leaves you with the confidence to write in that time period.

Antonia Hodgson gave us, perhaps, the best quote ever at First Monday Crime. She said that she likes to have a well of research but only draw up a thimbleful.

Stuart Neville likes to write first and then research later, otherwise too much information can kill a book. Better to write and then check back. All writers are procrastinators and would probably rather Google than write (I know I do that!).

SJ Watson is glad that he writes contemporary novels as he thinks he’s too lazy to write historical! But it’s the little details that help to make it feel real, even in fantasy.

What about characters? How are they created?

DCI Serena Flanagan was originally a minor character in another one of Stuart Neville’s books. He originally wrote her as a hardnosed, single officer but after watching The Fall and seeing Gillian Anderson’s character, he knew he had to change her. Now, Flanagan is married with two children and diagnosed with breast cancer.

Tom Hawkins is in his mid twenties and lives during the Georgian period. Antonia Hodgson deliberately wanted him to be young. He’s rejected the life that was planned for him (the priesthood) and doesn’t really know where he’s going. But he does have a habit of getting into trouble!

William Ryan originally thought that another character would be the main protagonist in The Constant Soldier [Neumann perhaps?] but realised it needed to be told by a different voice, someone much more conflicted and at the point of no return. Ryan also said that you may have an idea of where a novel is going but characters will often take it another way.

SJ Watson likes to find characters to live in his created world but they sometimes refuse to do what they’re told. He likened it to riding a horse that wants to go in a different direction from you.

Finally, the last ingredient for a story – the plot!

SJ Watson doesn’t really like plotting. He likes to be amused by his plot and not bored by it. He thinks a lot about what ifs? And then, how do you make it work? His answer – sit down and make it up!


For Stuart Neville, characters are plot and plot are characters. The choices that they make are the motivation. However, he does have to know the ending. What happens in between doesn’t matter too much. If things get changed, then that’s ok.

It’s all about the characters too, for Antonia Hodgson, and she’ll write copious notes about them. Until she starts writing, they don’t come alive. She allows space for changes, particularly for new characters.

William Ryan likes to force his characters to make choices. He did try to plan his second novel but it didn’t really work. Like Neville, he needs to know the ending and know which direction he’s going in but even that might change. But it’s important that something happens in each scene, it must have a purpose. Earlier, William Ryan had mentioned that he’s always watching the movie of his book in his head, so he sees it as a series of scenes. He always tries to write the book he wants to read and the film he wants to see.

Of course, for SJ Watson, author of Before I Go To Sleep, he’s already had the experience of seeing his book made into a film, with Nicole Kidman as the lead. But he doesn’t go in for fantasy casting. He prefers to allow the readers to make up their own minds.


First Monday Crime will be back on Monday 7th November but as yet, the panel remains a mystery!


To buy Antonia Hodgson’s latest book, A Death at Fountains Abbey, then click here

To buy The Constant Soldier by William Ryan then click here and you can read my review and author Q&A here

To buy So Say The Fallen by Stuart Neville then click here and read my review here

And finally, to buy Second Life by SJ Watson click here

The Constant Soldier by William Ryan

This is my second post this week for First Monday Crime. I’m reviewing The Constant Soldier and I also have a little Q&A with the author, William Ryan.wp_20160921_002

A long time ago, in the dim recesses of my past, I did A Level History. Half of my course was looking at European dictators from 1919-39. The country I found most interesting was Germany. How could a country vote in a man with repugnant views? How could the political ideals and ambition of one man lead to the worst war in history and the deaths of millions of people?

Paul Brandt has been terribly injured, fighting the Russians. He’s sent home to his little village in Upper Silesia, that had previously been in Poland, but now annexed by Germany. Paul’s injuries are so bad he’s facially unrecognizable and he’s lost an arm. When his father collects him from the station to take him home, Paul notices a rest hut on the journey. His father explains that it’s a place for the SS officers who are stationed by the nearby camp, to come and relax in the peaceful setting. But it’s not just the hut that catches Paul’s eye, it’s the female prisoners who work there – one in particular, one from his past in Vienna. Paul knows he has to make amends before it’s too late because soon, the peaceful valley will be shaken by Russian tanks.

Inspired by real photos of an actual SS rest hut, William Ryan manages to keep the tension between the most horrific events of the war and the almost carefree attitude of some of the relaxing SS officers. But not all are relaxed. Some are all too aware of their contribution to the camp down the road. Neumann, who’s in charge of the hut, is haunted by a Jewish man he killed. Whilst Ryan doesn’t specifically mention the camp in detail, he gives us enough gold nuggets of information to leave us in no doubt.

Ryan’s writing is sublime and even as I read on the hottest day in September for a century, I had such a clear image of a bitterly cold day in January 1945 when the villagers left and the Russians tanks rumbled in. Most war stories focus on action and battles; there’s little beauty in them. And yet, that’s exactly how I would describe The Constant Soldier – utterly beautiful, incredibly moving and cinematic in description. If Hollywood studios aren’t sitting up and taking notice, they should be – I’m available to help with casting, starting with Ralph Fiennes for Neumann.



After reading The Constant Soldier, I had the chance to ask William Ryan a few questions about the book and his other writing.


I would probably describe your books as historical thrillers. Why have you gone for historical rather than contemporary?

I think most historical novels are about contemporary issues in one way or another. So when I’m writing about the state surveillance of the individual in Soviet Russia, I may well be thinking about today’s state surveillance of the individual in pursuit of the war on terror. And one reason I choose historical settings over more modern ones is that things change so quickly – which means what feels contemporary today seems almost out of date immediately. You have a bit more control over the setting, and our perception of it, when you write about the past. Although even then we tend to put a contemporary gloss on it. If you compare the original Poldark television series to the more recent version, I think you can see how the storytelling is completely influenced by the time the production is made in. That’s me musing about the question rather than answering it but basically I’m curious about the past and how it worked and my novels give me a chance to explore that curiosity.


I’m assuming that a lot of research is required! How and where do you start?

Well, I tend to write about a particular time and place because I’ve been interested in it for some time. I don’t think I’m alone in my fascination with Nazi Germany, for example – how an apparently liberal society in the 1920s changed, within a very, very short time, into a dictatorship that then plunged the world into war that cost millions of lives. Sometimes history takes on a sudden rush of momentum towards something truly terrible and I’m interested in how ordinary individuals coped with that which is what, at the end of the day, both the Korolev novels and The Constant Soldier are about. I’ve probably been researching Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for much of my reading life, in one way or another. That having been said when you research a novel you aren’t too interested in big history, which is really just a backdrop. It’s usually more the everyday experiences of ordinary people that you want to find out about. And for that, you’re best off looking for more personal sources – diaries, letters, memoirs and, in particular, photographs provide the little details that really bring an historical period to life. I do a lot of research – but I try and keep it off the page. The best thing about research is it gives you confidence as a writer – you know how a T34 was driven and that avoids loose and unconvincing description. My view anyway.


With The Constant Soldier, you look at individual Germans and their responses to the war and the deeds they have done. Do you think it’s too easy for us to lump all Germans together from that time and assume they were all evil? I think we often forget the Germans who opposed Hitler and were either killed or imprisoned. Others fled.

There are some evil characters in the novel but I tend not to be too interested in black and white characters – those that are either purely evil or purely good. Most of us are somewhere in between and try to get along through a series of compromises depending on the situation. Obviously when you live in an evil regime, you find yourself having to compromise more and more. Did all of the 6000 or so Germans who worked in Auschwitz set out to be involved in mass murder? Some of them did, certainly – but others probably made a series of seemingly innocuous decisions. The man who owned the album of photographs on which The Constant Soldier is based, Karl-Friedrich Hoecker, was a bank clerk before he joined the SS and a bank clerk again – for the same bank – after the war ended. In between he was the adjutant to the Commandant of Auschwitz. When he was uncovered in 1962 and put on trial his colleagues were amazed – he was, after all, a very ordinary man. And that, for me, is the terrifying thing – that in the right circumstances ordinary men can become mass murderers. And we’ve seen it happen again and again – in the former Yugoslavia, in Cambodia, in Rwanda and in Syria. If The Constant Soldier is about anything, it’s about that.


Are you working on a new manuscript and if so, are you able to tell us anything about it?

I’m back to writing another Korolev novel which I’m really enjoying. It’s set on a Soviet icebreaker trapped over an Arctic winter in pack ice. I don’t want to give too much away but there may be daring plane landings, a shaman’s curse and a little bit of cannibalism. All good stuff.


What can we expect from First Monday Crime on 3rd October? (I was a little disappointed that the mud wrestling ferrets didn’t turn up last time!)

It’s a fantastic line up this month – Stuart Neville, SJ Watson and Antonia Hodgson are all at the top of their game so I’m feeling up against it. It’s the first time I’ve appeared at First Monday and it’s probably the best line up (I don’t include myself in that) I remember. Plus its in a smart new venue that actually has a bar in the same room. There are even rumours Stuart Neville might bring his guitar. So, while there may not be any mud wrestling ferrets, there probably will be a very good time had by all.


A big thank you to William Ryan for taking the time to answer my questions and for writing such a wonderful book!


You can buy tickets for First Monday Crime here and as it’s a new venue – Library on St. Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden – I strongly advise printing out your ticket and bringing it along.

You can buy The Constant Soldier here



So Say The Fallen by Stuart Neville

In a week’s time on Monday October 3rd, First Monday Crime will be opening the doors of its new venue – Library  in St. Martin’s Lane, in Covent Garden. October’s panel will be SJ Watson, William Ryan, Antonia Hodgson and Stuart Neville.  If you would like to buy tickets (£5 per person) then click here

I was kindly given So Say The Fallen to review (thank you very much).


Set in Northern Ireland, DCI Serena Flanagan is investigating the suspected suicide of a severely disabled man. Everything points to the man taking his own life – even the pathologist agrees. But something doesn’t quite add up for Serena, not least the close relationship between the grieving widow and the reverend of their local church. As DCI Flanagan scratches the surface, she finds even more tragedy. Flanagan feels compelled to take the case further but does so at the risk of her career and her family.

I’ve done my usual thing of reading books out of order. So Say The Fallen is the second book in the DCI Flanagan series with Those We Left Behind being the first. What I find so incredible is that this is only the second book. It felt as though it should be the third or even the fourth – that’s how well established DCI Serena Flanagan is as a character. Neville has put some back story in and it’s enough for the reader to grasp the amount of stress that Serena and her husband Alistair have been under. Their marriage is at breaking point and Flanagan has to make decisions about who comes first – her family or her job – sometimes with catastrophic consequences. And Neville writes a female narrator remarkably well, especially since Serena Flanagan has had breast cancer. The most moving part of the story for me was when Serena prays to a God she doesn’t believe in, in order to save her marriage.

But this isn’t just about Serena Flanagan’s life. At the heart of the novel is the death of Harry Garrick and, reminiscent of a Columbo episode, we the readers know more than DCI Flanagan at the start. Or at least we think we do. Stuart Neville, though, keeps enough back to keep us guessing until the end.

So Say The Fallen is a book that seems at odds with itself – a moving and profound exploration of faith versus a tightly written thriller. Yet Neville entwines them beautifully. I do hope there’s a book 3. DCI Serena Flanagan is a woman going places.

To buy So Say The Fallen then click here

And if you want to find out more about Stuart Neville then check out his website


Chiswick Book Festival

On Saturday, I spent the day at Chiswick Book Festival and managed to get to three panels. First up was ‘Queen of Crime – Christie or Highsmith?’ with Sophie Hannah, Jill Dawson and Colette McBeth. Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot novel, Closed Casket, has just been published. She didn’t feel daunted by the prospect of writing Poirot as it’s not her job to rival Christie but be more of a stellar sidekick to the genius. Jill Dawson’s new book The Crime Writer is part fact and fiction about Patricia Highsmith. In the book, Highsmith is the protagonist so Dawson had to try and get into her head. She did this by re-reading her books in order and obsessively. She also met people who knew Highsmith and visited the cottage in Suffolk where she lived for a time and where Dawson has set the book.


As Hannah pointed out, it’s hard to choose between the two as they had very different styles and approaches. Christie was more of a mystery/puzzle writer; Highsmith was psychological suspense. Christie wanted the reader to connect with the detective; Highsmith, the criminal. Christie was Golden Age; Highsmith hated the Golden Age and didn’t even like being called a crime writer – she wanted to be taken more seriously. Apart from her brief disappearance (the only thing Highsmith thought was interesting about her) Agatha Christie was generally a happy woman; Highsmith was deeply unhappy and had murderous thoughts from the age of 8. Two different writers with two completely different styles – is it possible to crown just one Queen of Crime? No poll was taken on the day so it all comes down to your own personal choice. For me, I prefer Christie but it’s now Highsmith’s books that I want to read.

If you want to buy Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah then click here and for Jill Dawson’s The Crime Writer click here.

Next up was Debut Novelists. Joanna Cannon (The Trouble with Goats and Sheep), Janet Ellis (The Butcher’s Hook) and Barney Norris (Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain) chatted to Cathy Rentzenbrink (The Last Act of Love).


Joanna Cannon is a doctor and wrote a lot of her book sitting in NHS car parks. Set in the long hot summer of 1976 (yes, I do remember it!), Mrs Creasy has disappeared from her home. Grace and Tilly, both aged 10, set out to find her. I wanted to buy this book but it had sold out. So when I do get my hands on a copy, I’ll probably be the only person to have a signed post-it note on the front page.


wp_20160919_002-1Janet Ellis is, of course, a well known TV presenter and actress, most famous for Blue Peter. But all along she wanted to write but was afraid to do so, thinking it wouldn’t be good enough. It took a long time to be brave enough to take that step and she started by going on a writing course. It was there that her confidence grew and The Butcher’s Hook was the result. Set in Georgian times, Anne Jaccob has fallen in love. The problem is, it’s not the man her parents have chosen. I know you should never judge a book by it’s cover but this one is exquisite.

Barney Norris is a playwright. His book, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, is set in his hometown of Salisbury where, indeed, five rivers do meet. Five protagonists tell the story – a florist, a grammar school boy, a farmer, a military wife and a worker for English Heritage. Their lives weave in and out of each other but they only all meet together once when a car accident occurs.

Click here for Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble with Goats and sheep, here for The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis and here for Barney Norris’ Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain.


The last panel I went to was my absolute favourite due to the sheer amount of hilarity it caused. Ladybird books were a big part of my childhood so when the new series ‘How it Works’ came out last year, I just had to buy some. Looking and smelling like the genuine article (because they are the genuine article, having been printed in the Ladybird factory), these books have been incredibly successful. Written by Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley, comedy writers for television, they told us how they had originally come up with the idea. Comedy TV productions basically take the summer off so each year they have a spare few months to write a book. In the past, these have been more sort of toilet books but one year, the book they were due to write was cancelled. So they thought about the kind of book that they would like to write and who they wanted to publish them. As huge fans of the original Ladybird books, they wondered what would have happened if Ladybird hadn’t stopped. What if Ladybird were producing books for adults, explaining the adult world? They approached Penguin who own Ladybird and who had published them before. It took all of five hours for Penguin to agree. Some of the proposed ideas were The Hipster, The One Night Stand (with a toothbrush on the front cover) and The People Downstairs.

One of the hardest problems is finding the right pictures for the books but a worker from Ladybird, several years ago, scanned in all the images from the original books and gave them labels. At the time she didn’t know why she did it but Morris and Hazeley are extremely glad that she did. When the books came out, they were very well received and one woman wrote to them saying that she was the bride in one of the pictures used. It also turned out that her father used to run Ladybird Books.

Thankfully, in time for Christmas, there are more books due out, including The Grandparent, The Cat, The Dog, The Sickie and my favourite – The Zombie Apocalypse. I’m hoping that The Grandparent will make reference to watching boring TV programmes, talking all the way through your favourite TV programme and falling asleep during a conversation. So far, I’m the one who’s been buying the Ladybird books as presents and I’m quite annoyed that my husband and children have not bought me The Wife or The Mum. I’m fully expecting them to remedy this for Christmas!

If you want to buy the Ladybird books then here’s a link for The Wife (subtle hint to my husband who probably won’t even read this!)