Author Interview - Richard Denning

John Baird: Your new book is called Tomorrow’s Guardian. Please explain the title?
Richard Denning: The story is about time travel: its opportunities and its dangers. If you could travel in time you might use that ability for self gain. Maybe pop back and steal an original Da Vinci painting, a scroll written by Plato or the sword of Julius Caesar and then come back and sell it. You might decide to change history and mould it to your will. Perhaps you admire Napoleon and decide to warn him not to fight Wellington at Waterloo. Or you could use the ability to protect history from those who would use their talents to change it. In Tomorrow's Guardian there is an organisation whose objective is to do just that- to protect time and make sure it progresses along the path it should do into Tomorrow. The motto of the Hourglass Institute is - more or less - "Tomorrow's Guardians". The book is about a boy who having discovered he has these powers must choose how to use them.
John: Is this book for boys?
Richard: Well I would have said yes, it was a boy's book for 10 to 14 year olds BUT that said I have had several readers who are ladies in their 40s, 50 and 60s! So I guess I am aiming it at the Young Adult market but with the knowledge and hope it will appeal to the wider audience who read that type of book.
John: If an eleven year old Richard Denning could travel back in time, where would he go?
Richard: Oh, now that is a hard one. At 11 I was interested in War Movies and adventures. I also loved the medieval era. Erm ... not a million miles from me at 43 actually. So maybe I would take a trip back to 1940 and climb in a Spitfire or else the camp of Henry the Vth on the eve of Agincourt. Big events in history have always appealed to me. Yes – pivotal days, critical moments upon which history turns. Those are the exciting times I would love to see.
John: What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve been given?
Richard: I think the way I will answer this is to talk about some things I did wrong. Firstly I rushed to get some of my books published back in 2009. The initial result was poorly presented books. It is well worth getting the books edited and a nice cover and taking your time. Next I wasted a lot of time on sites where you put up your manuscript and other readers come and comment. Most of the time these sites work on the basis that “if I review your book favourably will you do the same for me”. You can spend hours on these sites hurtling out book reviews hoping that you can get to the top of the lists to get some attention and maybe get a publisher to take notice. You can also waste a lot of money on similar sites that talk about “this is where you can get your work read by readers”. By experience these many websites are full of writers trying to get attention. It is far better to be active on sites where real readers are – Amazon, Good Reads, Shelfari maybe but also to get links to book blogs. Get your readers who have told you they like your work to post reviews on these sites. What you need to do is engage the reader. If you get readers who enjoy the books then the word will spread.

So I think the worse advice I had was to spend many hours on sites which I later learnt were inhabited only by writers and not real readers. That is not to say you won’t learn from writers – of course you can and will. But you need to be making contact with the folk you hope will read your book the priority.
John: And your best advice for new writers?
Richard: This I will split into three: How to write a book, how to get it published and how to promote it.
Firstly, focus on your characters. Characters make books. It is their beliefs, their motivations and their desires that drive the plot. Work out first what the main characters want, what the obstacles to getting it are and what they will do to get it and actually the plot sorts its self out. I would also encourage you to get the book edited. When I first published my books they went down OK but later I learnt that a good edit of the book can move it from a decent story to publishable. For that I firmly believe you need an editor. In my case this has been, these last few months, Jo Field (a NWUK associate member). I strongly encourage other writers to contact her and see about her editing their work. This goes further than just checking typos. A good editor will spot continuity errors; she will tell you when you have someone running down a street who got shot in the foot ten pages back. She will tell you when you need more description here or have a factual error there.
Next: about getting published. I have not (yet) got a publisher. I do have work away with some and I am hopeful I will get one. Getting an agent and a publisher is hard. Most writers will not get one because publishers will only take on a small number of new authors each year. That does not mean you are poor. What I want to say is if you don’t get a publisher that this is not the end. Not these days in particular. Self publishing is really very easy. I went the whole hog and registered with Nielsen as my own publisher, got my own ISBN numbers and via Lightning Source published my books. If you are not very IT savvy you can get companies to do it for you of course. Producing E-books is also very easy (check my blog for some guidelines on that). The hard part is not getting a book printed to sell it is SELLING the book and marketing it.
 Marketing your book is where you need to focus a lot of attention. You can't just print the book and expect it to sell. You need to be active out there on forums, on Facebook and Twitter. You need to get reviews and you maybe need to do a Blog Tour like I am doing right now. I am doing a Guest post on Helen Hollick's Muse and Views on 10th February if you care to find out more. There is a lot of material on the web on this subject of course so read about it. Make a plan and put it into practice. Oh and get a good website. I can recommend Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics who not only did my sites (and book covers) but did them at a decent price too.
John: Where can readers find out more about your books?
Richard: My own website has readings from the books, sample chapters, book trailers and news on release schedules. Check out:
The publisher site is Mercia Books:

The Book Show (Talk Radio Europe). Interview with the author, Neale James.

Hannah Murray:  Welcome back to today's Book Show.  Joining us on the line now from the UK is Neal James.  He's been an accountant for over thirty years, but got into writing after entering a short story competition in 2007.  His third book, his most complex work to date, is a gripping detective thriller called Two Little Dicky Birds.  Welcome to the show, Neal.
Neal James:  Good afternoon, Hannah.
HM:  Thanks for joining us today.  Now, I mentioned that you entered this short story competition in 2007.  What made you enter it in the first place?
NJ:   It was something that I'd been toying with for a while.  My wife picked up something in the local Derby Telegraph.  It wasn't sponsored by the Telegraph, but it was a site that had taken up space in the Telegraph, and they were asking for entries.  Maximum of five stories, maximum word length 2000 words, and I thought, well, why not?
HM:  And how did you decide what to write about?
NJ:  I didn't.  I wrote five stories.  I thought, five stories, different genres, see what happens.  And one of them made it into the top ten.
HM:  Which was the story that made it into the top ten then?
NJ:  It's Chance of a Lifetime, which is in the Short Stories Volume One.
HM:  And what was it about?
NJ:  It's a brother and sister, cat and dog.  Parents dead, she's in control of the company, he's just taking money out of the company as and when he wants, and she wants to get back at him.  And the idea, he wins the lottery, yet he doesn't win the lottery, and he's made a fool of in front of all his friends.  So she tapes the lottery, gets a birthday party organised for him, plays that week's lottery the week after, having bought the identical numbers on the ticket, and gives him the ticket as a present. 
HM:  What then?
NJ:  He goes absolutely loopy, thinks he's won, and when she tells him, that's the joke.  What she doesn't realise is those numbers crop up again.
HM:  Oh, God!
NJ:  And she's already burnt the ticket.
HM:  Oh no, how awful!
NJ:  That's the twist in the tale.
HM:  Yeah, great idea for a story though.  So, how did you go from short stories to writing your first book, A Ticket to Tewkesbury?
NJ:   That was a short story in itself. It was centred on the love story between Madeline Colson and Roger Fretwell, and a letter found by Julie Martin in her Aunt Molly's bag after the woman had died.  Never been posted, goes back to the late Forties, and it's basically saying 'I love you, come and live in the South West.'  But it never gets posted.  Julie finds it, and thinks, 'I wonder, are they still alive?' and it goes from there.   The idea of the story was she reunites two people, and they sail away into the sunset.  But I got to the end of it and thought, 'What if Roger Fretwell brought something back from Europe?  Something so secret, so powerful, that people would kill to get hold of it?'  And the story went from there.
HM:  So this book, Two Little Dicky Birds, is actually your first full length novel then?
NJ:  No.  A Ticket to Tewkesbury was first to be published, but the second one to be actually written.  Dicky Birds was the first one to be written, but it's the second one to be published.  It's a little bit back-to-front.
HM:  So, tell us about this latest one then.
NJ:  Dicky Birds?
HM:  Yeah.
NJ:  88,000 words, the chase for a serial killer.  Two timescales, 1975 to about 1992, and then present day, which is pitched at 2002.  The serial killer re-emerges, and threatens a new campaign and gives the Met 28 days to catch him.  And away it goes.  And you'll have seen the little grid on the chapters marking down the 28 days to day zero, and that controls the current line in the plot.  The rest of it is kind of a series of flashbacks to 1975, when Paul Townley kills his father in a fit of rage, and the story rolls on from there.
HM:  And where did you get the idea from for this story?
NJ:  Basically I wanted to see if I could write a detective thriller, but I was unsure of the background of where to pitch it.  Being a football fan, I thought, 'Hang on a minute, I've watched Field of Dreams.'  And this is no more a book about football than Field of Dreams was about baseball, so using the rail network to carry you up and down the country, hidden amongst thousands of football supporters, seemed to me to be an ideal blind to conceal a series of murders.
HM:  How long did the whole thing take?
NJ:  About nine months from planning it out using a spreadsheet, colour coded over four shades to make sure that each individual strand did actually tie back in at some point into the main plotline.
HM:  You're the first author I think I've interviewed who's spreadsheeted his plot.
NJ:  It's just second nature.
HM:  And colour coding and everything!
NJ:  It's the accountancy training.  I'm afraid I'm a spreadsheet freak!
HM:  So, did it help, the spreadsheet?
NJ:  Yes.  I've tried mind mapping, and things like that in the past, but they just don't work for me.  A spreadsheet, I can look down on the screen, as I'm sitting here looking at the screen now, and I can think, 'Right, that's where I am.  This is what he needs to do, then she needs to do that, then they need to do this.'  Then we move down three chapters, and we can weave the plot, almost like a strand of DNA, in together.  And it seemed to work beautifully with Two Little Dicky Birds.
HM:  So, can you ever change your mind?  Can the spreadsheet go wrong?
NJ:  Oh yes!
HM:  OK.
NJ:  I mean, in Ticket to Tewkesbury,  I had to be very careful with old people and young people, that I wasn't killing somebody off, and then having them say something two chapters later.  So I had to spreadsheet a family tree, and colour code births, marriages and deaths, and the deaths were all blotted out in black, quite appropriately!  So, you meet a black mark, and you can't use that character again.  So, some things do go wrong.  This is where  Rob Eldridge popped up.  He's my editor.  Rob is... merciless with his editing.  He'll say, 'Hang on a minute, Phil.  Are you sure you want to do that?  Because this character isn't actually in the country at the time.'  And this is the kind of guy he is.  He will take all the things I've written to pieces, and put them back together and say, 'Right.  That now fits with that.'  You get so close to something, and you can't see what's wrong.
HM:  Hmm. 
NJ:  Now this is one of the dangers.  And Rob's absolutely brilliant.
HM:  So, your name.  Why have you used the pen name Neal James?
NJ:  Because Philip Neale is an accountant.  Always has been, always will be.  And accountants don't write books.
HM:  I see.
NJ:  Neal James is the reversal of my son’s name.
HM:  Ahh, OK.
NJ:  And he's expecting a commission………I don't think so.
HM:  So, what's next for you?  Have you started on another book?
NJ:  Well, the next one, and the book cover's being designed, is called Threads of Deceit.  Just needs a final editing.  And the designer is a guy called Dennis Eldridge, who is a professional photographer.  The one after that is Full Marks.  This is Dennis Marks, my stock detective.  He's under investigation.  All kinds of things being suggested about his character and his professional abilities.  And it's how he gets out of it.  And he's tied in with a guy called George Watkinson, who pops up in Ticket to Tewkesbury.  So we're pulling characters in from two of the books I've already written.  And that one, Rob's got that for editing at the moment.  So we'll get that back after Christmas.  And then we roll on to other books like Day of The Phoenix, which is a sequel to Ticket to Tewkesbury.  I'm writing that at the moment.  And that will pick up at the end of Ticket to Tewkesbury and drive the plot forward to 2010.  So we're going to be covering eight years there, up to the General Election.  Oops, I gave the plot away, didn't I?!
HM:  So you're very busy then!   I mean, do you ever get confused where you are, and with which characters?
NJ:  No. I've got a science fiction novel of which I've written three chapter – it’s called ‘The Rings of Darelius’.  I've dropped that one now, that's on the back burner, and I won't pick it up again until there's time.  So, ‘Day of The Phoenix’ is the one at the front at the moment.
HM:  I can't believe I just asked you if you got confused when you have spreadsheets of things [so] you don't get confused.
NJ:  Oh, they are, you can have errors in spreadsheets.  Don't ever run away with the fact that spreadsheets are perfect.  They're not! 
HM:   Right
NJ:  But an idea popped up the other day for another book, and I've done the schematic on that.  It's called Dreamer.  What happens if you could dream, and the dreams came true?  And you could control those dreams?  That one's scary, isn't it?
HM:  Mmm.  Some people would say that's true.
NJ:  It's kind of prophetic, but the dreams only come true if you tell somebody about them.
HM:  Ahh, that's interesting.
NJ:  So, it's going to be centred on a little boy, who doesn't realise his power.  And nobody realises his power until he gets into his teens, then certain people in certain governments realise he has a power that they can use.  It's going to get very, very nasty and complicated.
HM:  OK.
NJ:   And that's another genre I'm sort of shooting off into.
HM:  I was going to say, would you experiment with other genres?
NJ:  Yes.  I mean the short stories cover all kinds of stuff, like crime, drama, adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, humour.  Particularly my DIY disasters at home. Our cats.  I write about our cats.  Anything that can turn a story.  I was stuck one night, and I said to my daughter, 'Give me a title for a story.'  She said, 'Stick.  Write a story about a piece of wood.'  I did, but it wasn't about a piece of wood.  It was about an old guy looking for revenge in East London for the murder of his father in the Battle of Cable Street.  And he was a cripple.  And he had a series of sticks.  Hence they called him Stick.
HM:  Ahh, I see.  So you can make a story out of anything, you reckon?
NJ:  I could have a shot.  I wouldn't say that I could do a story out of anything!  But yes, it's fun.

HM:  Well, if listeners want to find out more information about you and all your books and stories, they can have a look on your website.  It's There's a link on our website as well. And if they want to get a copy of your latest book, it's called Two Little Dicky Birds, and it's available to buy on our website.  Neal James, thank you very much for joining us.
NJ:  You're very welcome Hannah.  Thank you very much indeed.

Review of 'Honesty Is The Best Policy' by Anita McNamee

"This is Anita's second poetry book and what a delight it is to read poetry that is so down to earth and honest. I love the story of June and her Victoria Sandwich early on in the book. People will be able to relate to most of Anita's poems because they probably know of characters like June in their own lives. The same is true of 'Flawed Judgement' - everyone will know someone like Mr Perfect. They will also be able to relate to the situations that she writes of - 'Coin' is just one example."
Amanda Morgan - Editor of Splizz Poetry and Music Magazine.

For more information about Anita's work or how to get your work showcased on her online magazine 'Poetry over coffee', please visit her website or email her at

Guest post: Michael J. Smedley, A Very Short Story

Thor, the Norse God of War, grew bored with life in Valhalla so he decided to take human form, spend an evening on earth and indulge in a night of pleasure.  He met a very attractive woman in a bar and offered to take her to the best show in town and afterwards for the meal of her choice.  The woman had such an enjoyable evening and found his company so delightful that she willingly agreed to spend the night with him in a hotel.
    The next morning the God had feelings of remorse for deceiving the woman so decided he must tell her who he really was.  He drew himself up to his full height and put a hand to his chest.
    ‘I am Thor!’ he announced. 
    And she replied, ‘Oh Thir, I’m thore too thir, but I’m thatisfied.’