Friday, 16 July 2021

Penny Grubb – a multi-layered career but always a writer

Author Penny Grubb says the only consistent part of her varied career has been as a writer; when it wasn’t part of her job, it was something she pursued in her own time.

‘I wrote my first novel when I was four,’ she says. ‘It was written in pencil in a small lined notebook. I didn’t need the whole notebook as it barely ran to half a page, but it felt more like a proper book that way. I can remember three things about it; it starred a cat on a mat, I asked for help to spell its only two-syllable word, and it gave me a tremendous sense of achievement. I think that was the moment I decided to be a novelist.’

Almost half a century would elapse from then to Penny’s first published novel, although she published non-fiction as part of her various day jobs. The first three books in her Annie Raymond mystery series have recently been rereleased as a trilogy, Falling into Crime, one of them having won an international CWA Dagger in 2004.

Penny’s career laid the foundation for her becoming a crime novelist. She worked in hospital pathology labs, an early job giving her access to renowned Home Office pathologist Dr Alan Usher who regularly entertained and educated the medical school staff with lectures about his work. ‘I learnt a lot about sudden and suspicious death. It was information I used when I began my PI series.’

Even after she moved on from Pathology, Penny’s brushes with the world of serious crime continued. In a career switch, and after graduating with a degree in Maths and Computer Science, she spent some time working as a software engineer helping to build a system, the forensic analysis of which later contributed to the conviction by the UK’s most prolific serial killer. She talks about this in an article published in Kings River Life magazine.

Penny later moved into medical computing, founding one of Europe’s first Medical Informatics research groups. ‘It was a very busy decade,’ she recalls. ‘But all the travelling around Europe gave me a wealth of settings for stories and novels. I wrote a lot during that time; including many draft novels that weren’t very good and never saw the light of day.’ The publications that came out under Penny’s name were technical reports, academic papers and textbooks.

When the research field took a different turn, Penny changed career again, and was seconded from her academic post to become Chair of the Authors’Licensing and Collecting Society, the largest authors’ society in the world. During this time, she wrote several of the books in her crime series.

Where There’s Smoke



Penny teamed up with fellow crime novelist, Danuta Reah, to run creative writing workshops. Together they wrote How to be a Fantastic Writer.


In 2013, Penny stepped down from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society and returned to academia, specialising in nurturing fragile learners to go on into Higher Education.


After leaving academia, Penny continued her Annie Raymond mystery series, her 8th book coming out a year into her retirement. She says she expects to be writing Annie books ‘until Annie is too old and decrepit to climb the office stairs or until I get fed up and push her off a cliff.’


Friday, 2 July 2021

So you want to write a crime novel. Part 7: Characters

 Characters have character. At its simplest, the people who inhabit your crime novel - the characters - all have different characters or characteristics.

It used to be the fashion that writers began and ended with the plot in a crime novel and that the intricacies of that plot were what made the books so readable and interesting. That still holds true when you read some of the golden age fiction of John Bude or Freeman Wills Crofts. The latter, especially, majored on intricately tight time schedules. To the modern reader, these books can be bland because we have grown used to the characters and their interactions driving the events of the books we read.

These days, writers, including crime writers, generally begin with, perhaps, their protagonist and antagonist and the bare bones of a plot. It is knowing your characters and how they would behave in a given situation that will drive that plot.

If you would like to read more, you can find my longer blog on characters here

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Saturday, 12 June 2021

Elaine Hemingway – Out of Africa

Elaine Hemingway’s career began as a police constable in the East Yorkshire city of Hull. From there she moved 8,000 miles to take up a post with the Northern Rhodesia Police. Her contract was for three years; she stayed in Africa for half a century.

With a lifelong passion for reading and storytelling, it was natural that Elaine should become a writer. For many of her years in Africa, she wrote for a local newspaper, producing a regular column called Stille Oomblik, which translates to Quiet Moment. 

She had to give up the column when she and her husband, Dennis, moved to Natal, but continued writing for newspapers and magazines, her publications tracking their travels down Africa. A short story in a Zambian newspaper marked her move into writing fiction, whilst an article in a car magazine reflected the self-sufficient life she and her family led.

Elaine nurtured ambitions to write a longer piece, especially as her African travels gave her a fascination with history. She acquired the diaries of Johan van Riebeeck and attempted an historical novel based on his time in South Africa.

The demands of a busy life and growing family prevented completion of this project, and it was a while before Elaine found her writing niche. ‘It was my religious values that brought me back to my writing,’ she says. ‘I grew up with Christian beliefs, but only after a particular disaster did I come to full commitment and find my niche. Writing and studying became a real pleasure, to be indulged more deeply. My Stille Oomblik column was a part of it.’

It was still difficult for Elaine to fit any general writing into her life. She was running a Resource Centre that required a lot of reading and presentation of reviews; leading a home Bible Study group and Experiencing God courses. She managed to write some articles for Baptist Today and Christian Living.

It was after producing a 40th anniversary brochure and magazine complete with interviews with all the previous Pastors, that Elaine started a writing group. ‘At that point in our lives,’ she says. ‘It seemed inevitable.’ The group resulted in diverse publications including a self-published novel from one of the church deacons, a set of biblical crosswords, and the founding of a quarterly Church News magazine.

After Elaine and Dennis moved back to England, the group disbanded but the Resource Centre is still running.

Following her retirement, Elaine became an active member of the Faith Writers. Having re-stoked her long-held ambition to write a novel by completing the latest NaNoWriMochallenge, she began an ambitious project, a Midrashim – fiction based on a Biblical account.

Her major work is now well underway. It interleaves the contemporary story of Marla, a young woman struck by sudden tragedy, with that of another young woman, Shaina, caught up in the Babylonian war of around 600 BC. It’s a hugely ambitious project for a debut novel, juggling time frames and cultures, but Elaine has the background and experience to be able to make it work. 

You can browse Elaine’s many contributions to the Faith Writers HERE.



Friday, 4 June 2021

So you want to write a crime novel. Part 6: Structure

Many writers get themselves in a knot about how to structure their novel, and crime novels have some issues that affect the structure the author uses.

I have found that one of the things that muddies the waters is the plethora of 'how to write your novel', 'how to structure your novel' books, articles and blogs etc. So I have tried to simplify these, but I would urge anyone who wants to delve further into this to do so, with one huge proviso. And that is, do not let the scaffolding of structure constrict the story you want to tell. 

When I first set out to write a crime novel - which was published as Dearly Ransomed Soul - I just sat down and wrote it. And discovered afterwards that the Three Act Structure best suits my way of writing. And in the whole of that last sentence the operative word is my.

In this month's blog, I cover four of the main forms of structure and try to help the would-be crime writer to decide which format best suits the story they wish to write. You can find it here

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Friday, 14 May 2021

Pippa Ireland – a writer who has persuaded hundreds of young people to put pen to paper

Writer Pippa Ireland is a published poet and short story writer. Her prize-winning story published in BonmarchĂ© magazine in 2005 was later re-issued in the Sack of Shorts anthology.

There isn’t much time for dedicated writing in Pippa’s life as she has a yard full of competition horses to look after, but in the days when she competed herself she used her skill with a pen to further her career in the saddle. One of her poems significantly contributed to her success as a rider. She entered it into a competition and won lessons from Olympic eventer,Chris Bartle.

Pippa is an active contributor to equine blogs, regularly writes verse on equine social media, and has a novel close to completion.

Back in 2010, as a student studying equine management, Pippa was charged with finding a creative written assignment with an equine theme. While most of her fellow students opted for essay-style ventures, Pippa decided on an ambitious project to set up a creative writing competition with an equine theme. Covering admin and advertising costs with a modest entry fee, she attracted a large entry by soliciting a wide range of prizes from sponsors including cash prizes for the winners, and equine-related prizes for dozens of runners-up. Prizes included tickets to prestigious equestrian events and the prize pot reached close to £1000. Entries came in from across the globe.

Pippa persuaded two Hornsea Writer colleagues to provide sponsorship too. Linda Acaster offered advice and professional critiques; Penny Grubb offered three of the winning entrants the opportunity to name ponies in her forthcoming novel.

The project won Pippa an award from Bishop Burton College and was such a success that she decided to run it again the following year. The 2011 competition featured more prizes, a larger total prize pot and attracted an even bigger entry.

Pressure of other work prevented Pippa from making the competition an annual undertaking, but she continued to write, contributing regularly to a horsey blog  published by British Horse Feeds and written from the point of view of the successful Ireland-trained horse, Billy Bank.

However, just as Billy Bank was being prepared for a busy 2020 season, events conspired to bring Pippa back into the limelight as a creative writing competition organiser. The busy equestrian competition calendar was brought to a halt by the global pandemic. Many schoolchildren, looking forward to a summer of shows and events were stuck at home without outlets for their creative energy.

As an active Pony Club member and trainer, Pippa too found her outdoor activities curtailed.

She pitched the idea of a creative writing competition to the Pony Club. Initially sceptical that there would be much interest, they agreed to let her run with it.

Her Write2Ride Creative Writing Competition began as a small idea and snowballed into a huge event with its Facebook posts and website taking thousands of hits and generating hundreds of entries.

It became the most successful competition she had run, with record entry, sponsorship and prizes. The winning entries were published in Equestrian Life magazine and several hundred more young writers were launched on the world thanks to Pippa’s efforts.

Throughout, Pippa has been writing her own novel based in the world of international eventing. The book was finished over a decade ago and had encouraging feedback from a literary agent, who said it just needed a final polish. Pippa says she hopes to find the time to do that before another decade passes.

Friday, 7 May 2021

So you want to write a crime novel. Part 5: Plot and Theme

 Many would-be writers are put off by writing terminology. This is a shame because writing is just that. Most people learned it at school, some in further education and some later in life. 

But writing fiction is the modern version of the ancient tales around the fire. We have learned to write it down and other people who have skills we don't always possess can take that written story and publish it.

Two of the basic requirements once you have chosen your genre are Plot and Theme. All novels of whatever genre have a theme and this is something that is not always clearly explained.

In the fifth part of my year-long series on writing a crime novel, I cover both plot and theme in a way I hope people will understand. If you read it and say 'Oh, that's what it means, I have done my job.

If you are interested in reading about how to plot your novel and discover the theme of it, you can read my blog HERE

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Friday, 16 April 2021

Linda Acaster – an award-winning novelist who pushes the boundaries of genre

With a writing career spanning several decades, Linda Acaster was originally known for her short fiction in magazines in the UK and Scandinavia. Her journey as a published novelist began in earnest when she won the Netta Muskett (currently known as the Joan Hessayon) Award for new writers in the 1980s. The award itself was specifically for a work of romantic fiction, but Linda’s winner, Hostage of the Heart, was already reaching beyond the standard boundaries of light romance.

A well-researched novel set in mediaeval times, the romance in the story was set against the context of the fight for the English crown in 1066, showing that such battles then, as now, were not fought solely on the battlefield.

A lifelong interest in history and in particular the native peoples of North America led to Linda’s second novel, later reissued as Beneath the Shining Mountains.

The novel gained plaudits for its authenticity, for showing its characters in their own right and not through the lens of European invaders. Some years later Linda again turned her hand to the North America of a century and a half ago, and wrote Dead Men’s Fingers, a Western, under the pseudonym of Tyler Brentmore.

Linda does not only write fiction, but has turned her research skills to matters closer to home. When diagnosed with hypothyroidism, her initial investigations showed this to be an area where knowledge was patchy although much valuable research had been done. Recognising it would be impossible for any generalist to keep up to date on every condition they saw, she looked for herself, reading academic medical papers and joining specialist groups. Her work not only led to a significant improvement in her own condition, it prompted her to share her journey in a series of blogs called When your health turns on you.

For Linda, research takes many forms, from quietly adding to her non-fiction collection to what she refers to as footfall – visiting museums or squelching across a rain-sodden moor in search of the line of a Roman road and its adjacent ancient spring. She notes that the internet has helped enormously in viewing collections beyond British shores, and during the Covid-19 pandemic she took advantage of freely available online lectures, watching whatever piqued her interest, whether a talk on medieval hygiene or an archaeological dig of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery below the ramparts of Bamburgh Castle.

Linda’s Torc of Moonlight trilogy developed from her writing Weekend Walks for the Yorkshire Post. Linda wrote pieces highlighting the history in the landscape; and found that aspects of springs or water courses kept repeating, no matter what area she was exploring. This prompted her to research water lore. The trilogy is set in and around the three university cities of Hull, York and Durham following the contemporary stories of students Nick and Alice, set against the layers of history that lie just beneath their feet.

Using the starting point that no human civilisation can exist without water, Linda researched the myriad belief systems that have grown up around ancient springs and water courses. She says, ‘While reading a piece on ancient water lore my experiences walking the landscape jumped into sharp relief.’

Noting that people have long believed that sacred waters were guarded by female deities, she adds, ‘Just because we, with our modern plumbing and sewerage systems, don’t share their world view, who are we to say they were wrong?’ She goes on to note that it was in exploring the mismatch of belief, non-belief, and demonization of a pre-Christian deity that proved fertile ground for the development of the idea that led to her mythic romance Torc of Moonlight trilogy, saying, ‘If you are a modern person caught in the middle of this, what do you believe, how does it affect you, and who do you go to for aid?’


‘Stay away from me. Don’t you understand? People close to me die.’

The light behind was fading, the darkness pressing in, pushing the silence so close that he feared he might suffocate in it.

Ernald had been at the heel of Brother Maugre since the bell for Prime, yet the sub-prior had said barely a word, certainly not spoken of the reason for Ernald’s summonsed return to the priory.

As to what Linda will publish next, there are no simple answers for this multi-genre writer. Currently in train are a short mystery, another Western, the research for a WW1 Women’s Fiction series based loosely on her family, and the long-promised expanded version of the atmospheric supernatural, The Paintings


Learn more about Linda Acaster on her website.

Friday, 9 April 2021

The Unnerving Power of the Written Word

In a recent blog post, author Penny Grubb talks about the uncanny way that books seem to affect the real world, including the strange timings around this podcast she was asked to record about her latest novel, Boxed In.

Friday, 2 April 2021

So you want to write a crime novel: Part 4 - Outlining

 Such a tricky and much argued subject. To outline or not to outline.

Outlining for the crime novel has a few differences - nuances - than for some other genres. For example, were you to be writing a romance novel, your emphasis would be on the characters and their interactions and misunderstandings.

With a crime novel, you are in some ways structured by the fact that you must have a crime - usually a murder or series of murders and, because the crime novel is supposed to be a morality tale, clues that lead your detective to a killer.

This means you must have an idea of not just the clues, but how and where you are going to write them - seeding your clues within the text. What a crime writer must be able to do is give the reader a complete surprise at the end, or at least a couple of I didn't see that coming moments, but also be scrupulously fair to the reader. 

I was a huge fan of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse. When the programme came on, I would sit with an A4 pad noting down what I thought were clues and trying to work out who the killer was. I wasn't often right in my deductions, but it did teach me how important seeding the clues are for crime writers. And, logically following on from that, you must have some kind of outline to present the story in a way that, when the reader finishes the book, they have enjoyed it because the author was fair.

Outlining can be done is so many ways, but the important thing is that the way you choose must be relevant to the way your mind works. If you want to read more, my blog is HERE

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Friday, 12 March 2021

April Taylor – an affinity for music and an ill-fated queen

Author April Taylor’s writing has been largely defined by her twin passions for music and Tudor England. April comes from a musical family and has been told she could sing before she could talk. Her family lived in Louth, spark point for the 1536 Lincolnshire rebellion; an event that caused King Henry VIII to call the men of Lincolnshire “the most brute and beastly of the whole realm.” The echoes of Tudor England that she grew up so close to really began to resonate for April when she saw the film A Man for All Seasons, after which she was hooked.

As for so many, it was the compelling figure of King Henry VIII that drew April in, but after reading Margaret Campbell Barnes Brief Gaudy Hour, at the age of 14, she felt strongly drawn to Anne Boleyn. Since then, she has researched the era and spent time visiting Anne Boleyn’s homes, feeling an ever-stronger connection to the ill-fated queen who later played a leading role in a series of novels she wrote.

April’s mother played the piano; her father and three brothers played in brass bands. April herself is a keen pianist, but circumstances prevented her from having lessons until she was in her teens, too late for music college. Her voice however went from strength to strength, and she was singing principal roles and soloing for choral societies up to 2010.

April’s early-music soprano sleuth, Georgia Pattison, was born at an inaugural concert for the Three Choirs Festival, where April found herself wondering 'what if' the soprano soloist was murdered immediately after the concert finished. The idea grew and became Dearly Ransomed Soul.

There is clearly a lot of April in her heroine who also has an early-music voice. April says, ‘Georgia is braver than I am, but we share a determination and resolve when it is something we both want.’ Georgia has gone on to star in one more full-length novel with the next due in 2021:

In addition to the novels, April has published Georgia Pattison Christmas novellas:

April has also written two standalone novels:

Before she retired to write full time, April worked as a librarian in public, prison and scientific libraries. She sees her mother as a big influence in her writing career, remembering the way she would devour both paranormal and crime novels. Their shared love of these genres was the spark for April’s new series, started in 2021, set in Guisborough in the early 1970s, but with its feet in the dissolution of the monasteries.

Learn more about April and her writing on her website HERE.