Sunday 30 December 2012


STOP DEAD has been selected for the amazon 12 Days of Christmas Kindle Promotion. Download for 99p! PLEASE TELL YOUR FRIENDS!

Sunday 23 December 2012

Leigh Russell in 2012

Leigh Russell
Current UK covers 

Special Edition

For my last signing of 2012 at Waterstones Hemel Hempstead my publisher sent a few of the hardback copies of DEATH BED. Only 200 were printed, and that's all there will ever be since this is a special limited edition, signed and numbered. They are usually only available directly from my publisher here Limited Edition Death Bed but here it is in the bookstore. It's a really lovely edition!

Friday 21 December 2012


STOP DEAD is available to download TODAY. 
Good reviews are starting to come in.  If you have an e-reader you can read it for yourself NOW! 

"She dashed across the cold kitchen floor. The sound of his feet pounded in her ears as he raced down the stairs. It wouldn't be long before he caught up with her."

Wednesday 19 December 2012


Thanks to Best Crime Books for a fantastic review of Stop Dead "all the things a mystery should be, intriguing, enthralling, tense and utterly absorbing"

Sunday 16 December 2012

Back in time for Christmas

A little piece  of good news - after selling out on amazon (just before Christmas - typical!) CUT SHORT is now back in stock. This time it's the brand new edition, and there's still time to order before Christmas! Click on CUT SHORT on amazon if you'd like to introduce a friend to the series, and contact me directly on Leigh Russell website if you'd like me to email a personalised inscription.

Monday 10 December 2012


You can read an interview about STOP DEAD on 'Fiction is Stranger than Fact'

Sunday 9 December 2012

Large Print Cut Short

CUT SHORT is now available in Large Print. It is really nicely produced. If you are buying it as a xmas present and would like a personalised inscription contact me on
The link for the Large Print edition is also on my website above or on

Tuesday 4 December 2012

What does Father Christmas read?

Did you ever wonder what Santa Claus reads? Would you believe it!
Fans of crime fiction are everywhere!

Monday 3 December 2012

Mystery People Interview

Here is an extract from a recent interview on Mystery People

Leigh, your fifth book Stop Dead featuring Geraldine Steel, will be available as an e-book in December 2012, and will be in print May 2013. From where did Geraldine spring? Is she based on any one person or just purely from your imagination?
A Geraldine evolved, rather than sprang to life. In Cut Short the reader learns a little about her, and with each book different facets of her character emerge. She has developed quite a following (much to my surprise) that has grown as the series progresses. Neither Geraldine nor any of the other characters in my books are based on real people. They appear on the page as I write, and are all fictitious.

Q It is frequently said: ‘write what you know’. As your background is in teaching what was the thought process behind your protagonist being a police inspector. Why not an academic, or an amateur detective?
A ‘Write what you know’ always strikes me as very limiting. It hardly makes sense, unless the phrase was dreamed up by someone who writes non-fiction. I have never worked for the police, or conducted a postmortem - I’ve never even killed anyone. What is wrong with imagining events and settings? Isn’t that the meaning of fiction? Does JK Rowling have personal experience of swooping through the skies on a broomstick? As for EL James… on second thoughts, let’s not go there! I do like the idea of writing a crime novel with a private investigator, but the police today have so many resources at their disposal, I don’t think this would work in contemporary crime novels.

Q Do you have to spend much time in researching police procedures? And have any of your readers, particularly those in the police force ever contacted you to point out an error in procedure?
A Since Cut Short came out in 2009 I’ve conducted a lot of research, and finding out about life as a detective is part of that. I talk to police officers and have spent time with a Murder Investigation Team, which was fascinating. I’ve never worked for the police, but have gathered all sorts of information such as which Metropolitan Police station serves home made banana bread. This kind of attention to detail helps the reader believe in the world of my books. I take as much care as I can to make sure all the details are accurate, although it’s not always easy. Procedures can be quite complicated, and of course they are subject to change. So far none of my many fans on the police force have criticised the authenticity of my novels, even though my detectives might receive the results of a DNA test more quickly than would happen in real life, and Geraldine spends less time behind a desk with paperwork than a real detective inspector would. My readers all appreciate that I’m not writing a handbook on police procedure, but a novel. My priority is to serve the story.

Q Not to give too much away, Geraldine is troubled by her origins. Is her area of concern something of which you have experience?
A This is not an area where I have personal experience, but I haven’t killed anyone either! Fiction isn’t writing about what you experience, but about what you understand and imagine. I try to empathise with all my characters, detectives, victims and killers.

You can read the whole interview on

Sunday 2 December 2012

Interview on The Yellow Room

Thank you to The Yellow Room for interviewing me. "The future for crime writing is looking quite robust"

Friday 30 November 2012

Creative Writing on a Greek Island

Does it get any better than this? 24th - 31st August 2013 I am running a Creative Writing course on the beautiful Greek island of Skyros, home to Mount Olympus. The course, called 'Writing Successful Fiction', caters for all writers, from established bestsellers to novices. Writing is a great leveller. Come along and develop your writing skills in one of the most beautiful places imaginable, and learn how to keep readers (including agents and publishers ) enthralled by your story. Follow the link and book early! Course reference WL8

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Life as an author

I haven’t written a serious post here for a while.  That’s not because I haven’t been thinking about books, and writing, publishing and readers, and all the other topics that authors think about:  plots and subplots, characters’ names and book titles, foreign rights and royalties. And it’s certainly not because I’m lazy. 2012 has been hectic, with weekly book signings – sometimes as many as 8 in 8 days - talks in libraries, universities and colleges, panels at literary festivals, and that other thing... what was it? Oh yes, writing. And that’s just for starters! Actually, change ‘hectic’ to ‘manic’.

2013 is looking equally busy. In addition to all my events in the UK, I've decided to start travelling further afield, flying the flag for UK crime fiction.  I’ve been invited to run a creative writing course on a beautiful Greek island in 2013. In 2014 I’ve been invited to appear at a Literary Festival in France, and there’s talk of going to Bouchercon and Miami Book Fair as well that year. Having accompanied me all over the UK from Portsmouth to Sunderland, Liverpool to Tunbridge Wells, and everywhere between and beyond, including almost getting stuck in snow in York and in Hemel Hempstead, my faithful travelling companion is decidedly chuffed! 

Before all that, there’s CrimeFest in Bristol of course, followed by our annual pilgrimage to Harrogate, plus I'll no doubt be running my regular workshops for the Society of Authors. I've started to co-ordinate the Manuscript Assessment Service for the CWA, which is a brilliant new initiative to support aspiring crime writers with expert critiques. I'm also interviewing members of Mystery People for the ezine, which is a thrill. The interviews are posted on here as well, and so far I'm sure you'll agree the authors have all been incredibly interesting. This year my books came out on audio and in large print, and they are being translated into French and Italian, having been bought by the major Italian publishing house Mondadori. 

But there's more - and this is where I start to get really excited! 

The best news of all is that my publisher has asked me to write a second series to run in parallel with the Geraldine Steel series. Do you remember Ian Peterson, the sergeant Geraldine left behind in Kent when she relocated to London in DEATH BED? If you’re not a fan of the series (yet), here’s a brief summary of the books so far.
2009 CUT SHORT introduced Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel, working on the Kent constabulary Murder Squad with her sergeant Ian Peterson.
This book was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger.
2010 ROAD CLOSED was the team's second murder investigation, and a Top Read on Eurocrime. At this point journals like The Times began to notice the series and write favourable reviews. (Love those reviews!)
2011 DEAD END was the third in this part of the series. All of the titles in the series so far have reached Number 1 on kindle for detective novels. This one went straight into the Top 50 Bestsellers list.   
2012 DEATH BED In this novel, Geraldine moves to the Met and starts a new life in London, on the Murder Investigation Team (or Serious Crime Command) leaving Ian Peterson behind.
You can find links to all the books on my website -
As the Geraldine Steel series continues in London, the plan is for Ian Peterson to have his own series that will run alongside the Geraldine books. So that will be two books out a year if we go ahead.

What’s that? Am I worried about the pressure of having to write two books a year? Well, I’ve just finished the first draft of the first Ian Peterson book (today!) the next Geraldine Steel book STOP DEAD will be out in print in 2013 and available to download December 2012, and I’m half way through the first draft for the following Geraldine Steel novel, out in 2014. So no, I’m not worried. I love every minute of the writing process – I can’t get enough of it!

Follow my blog if you want to see how the reality pans out… am I being insanely optimistic in my plans? Probably, but you have to be an optimist in this life.  As for insane – well, I write crime fiction. What more can I say? Except that I hope you will forgive me for not posting here as regularly as I should. Life's kind of busy... 

Sunday 25 November 2012

Fighting Back ;-)

Fighting back! Scandinavian fans of crime fiction buying UK books!

Saturday 17 November 2012

Fans of Crime Fiction

It's always enjoyable visiting Waterstones in Walthamstow. It's gratifying when customers say they came to the bookshop especially, and are excited to meet me, like this lady who rushed in to get signed copies of all four books as soon as I walked in the door.

It still makes me laugh when people are so excited to meet  me. This gentleman said he wanted a photo taken with me so his wife would believe he really met me!

As usual, Waterstones in Walthamstow had a lovely display of my books in the window - but before I remembered to take a picture, they had to bring them in store to sell.
Here's a picture of the display on the shelf in store anyway.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Interview with Ruth Dudley-Edwards

photo of Ruth Dudley Edwards, author and journalist

Ruth Dudley-Edwards is a historian, a journalist and a fiction writer. 
She won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the National National University of Ireland Prize for Historical Research, and was shortlisted for the channel 4 political book prize.
For her fiction, she has been shortlisted by the Crime Writers' Association for the John Creasey Award for the best first novel and won the CrimeFest Last Laugh award for the funniest crime novel of the year.

Aftermath: The Omagh Bombing and The Families’ Pursuit of Justice won the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger for non-fiction in 2010.  While you were writing it did you suspect it would become such a huge success?
 All of us hope our books will succeed, but I avoid disappointment by having very low expectations.  That self-defence mechanism means I’m delighted when a book is well-received rather than upset because it hasn’t done better.
I was thrilled to be long-listed for the Orwell Prize and absolutely overjoyed to win the CWA Gold Dagger.  I love the world of crime-writing, and the good opinion of my peers matters greatly to me. I take great pride in being the only person to have won the Non-Fiction Gold Dagger and the Last Laugh Award.       
What motivated you to write about the victims of the Omagh bombing?
As a journalist covering Northern Ireland, I was all too aware of the suffering caused by violence.  I knew Omagh well, and in August 1998, the day the bomb went off, a close friend rang to tell me his wife and two small children had been shopping there and had escaped by seconds being wiped out.  Although they were lucky, I know something of how painful were the after-effects and it made me take this particular outrage more personally than usual.
   While some of the perpetrators of the bombing were known to the authorities, there was insufficient evidence for criminal charges.  In 2000, through a mutual friend, the crime-writer Simon Shaw, I was asked by the father of a murdered twelve-year-old to help with launching a civil case against the alleged bombers.  I came to know the victims who were taking the case and to learn about the sheer horror of the bombing and the terrible effects of grief.  And I thought it vital that ordinary people should be helped to fight back against their persecutors.
We were told it was mission impossible, but we went ahead.  I spent years involved in lobbying and fund-raising, along with a bizarre collection of people who agreed to help because they were inspired by the courage and determination of these people who were battling for justice for their loved ones.  They included Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, Bob Geldof, Peter Mandelson, the Marquess of Salisbury and two ex-terrorists. The case was taken on by Jason McCue, who during the course of it married Mariella Frostrup and became George Clooney’s new best friend. 
When it was clear that the case would go ahead, I realised I should write this astonishing story.  It is, I hope both tragic and inspiring, but we were such an odd group and made so many mistakes that there are quite a few laughs along the way.                                                                                                                                     
On your website you describe yourself as ‘Author and Journalist’. You wrote somewhere that ‘Journalists must always seek and tell the truth’. Writing fiction is a very different discipline.  Most authors struggle to succeed in just one of these, yet you succeed in both. Can you tell us how your approach differs when writing non-fiction and fiction?  
I’m an historian by training and my first books were historical biographies.  I’ve always thought it was first and foremost the job of an historian to tell the truth even if it’s unpalatable.  I take the same view of journalism, which I took up in the early 1990s because I thought that - in an effort to seduce paramilitaries towards peace negotiations - most of the media were going easy on the brutality, criminality and corruption of the IRA, its Sinn Fein mouthpiece and their loyalist counterparts.  There’s enough censorship about without journalists gagging themselves because they think they’re political players.
In consequence, I and the other few like-minded journalists had to get used to being abused routinely for being anti-peace.  As one of us – fed up with the Orwellian lunacy of being abused as warmongers by mass killers – wrote:  “Just because I’ve never murdered anyone doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.”    
While I try to tell the essential truths about the worlds I describe in my fiction, I hugely enjoy exaggerating, embroidering and just making things up. Often, when I’m writing non-fiction and trying to get everything right, I think longingly of how much I’ll enjoy letting my imagination rip in the next novel. 
Given that you claim to be ‘squeamish and prone to nightmares’ can you tell us what attracted you to write about crime? 
Although I don’t read scary crime unless I have to, I’ve been a fan of crime fiction since I was a child, when I began solidly reading my way through the authors of the Golden Age.  I loved Christie and Sayers and Allingham and Chesterton and all the rest of them, but because I was brought up in an academic household, I took special pleasure in Edmund Crispin and Michael Innes, who wore their learning lightly and made fun of academics, who are the butt of many of my jokes. 
I couldn’t write graphic sex or violence in my novels, yet – based on inquest reports - I described in detail in Aftermath exactly what happens to people when they are blown up.  I had to tell the truth because this was about reality.  I needed to go to a shrink afterwards to unload some of the mental images, but I’ve no regrets.  There is too much romanticism about terrorism and we should do anything we can to dispel it. 
What did you mean when you said you write with the ‘eye of an outsider’? Do you think authors of fiction are always in some sense ‘outsiders’, observing other people? 
Yes, I think writers of fiction need the eye of the outsider, but my history makes me a rather extreme case of outsiderness.  I was born and educated in Dublin but London is my chosen and adored home and my whole working life has been based here – some of the time in the pubic service.  Yet I keep a keen interest in Ireland.  I describe myself as British and Irish, which because of old enmities, few people did until very recently.    
My background is mixed:  my paternal Irish Catholic militantly republican grandmother (who had a photograph of Hitler at the bottom of her bed and claimed the Holocaust was British propaganda) was married to an English Methodist-turned-Quaker, and my Irish Catholic apolitical maternal grandmother was married to an Irish Catholic Home Ruler and British Army quartermaster.  My father was urban and an academic historian: my mother rural, and passionate about literature, language and poetry.
For two decades my major intellectual passion was Northern Ireland and the need to understand, expose and defeat terrorism from any quarter.  I was brought up as a (sceptical) Catholic nationalist, but as many of my own tribe decided I was a turncoat, almost all my closest friends in Northern Ireland are Protestant and unionist. I made friends with the devoutly religious Orange Order for a time, even thought they knew I was an atheist.
I’m best known in Irish nationalist circles for a biography of Patrick Pearse, leader of the 1916 rebellion, in unionist circles for The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions and in English circles for my books on the press and for the novels making fun of the British Establishment. I am, I think, probably the only person who was, one summer day, faced with a choice between a merry shindig in Dublin, a Buckingham Palace Garden Party or observing a violent stand-off over a disputed Orange parade at Drumcree. Cursing, I chose Drumcree.
These, days, Islamic terrorism is a preoccupation and I find myself in punch-ups with anti-semites and Islamist apologists. 
Your wonderfully eccentric characters are great fun to read.  Are they ever based on people you know? 
I borrow useful characteristics from anyone and everyone.  My friends are resigned to it: my enemies don’t know. 
While your crime fiction is hugely entertaining, it satirises the establishment.  Is your intention purely to entertain, or do you have a more serious purpose in writing?   
Thanks, Leigh.  I love it when people find my books entertaining.
I suppose I like to write about what I know.  Because of working in the civil service, writing books about e.g. the Foreign Office, The Economist, Fleet Street, and Victor Gollancz and the intellectual left, as well as being involved in Anglo-Irish carry-on that involved diplomats, politicians and journalists, I’m pretty well-up on the establishment and it offers great scope for satire. I didn’t set out to be a satirist, but – it’s part of being an outsider, I guess – as soon as I began my first novel, Corridors of Death, although I just wanted to tell a murder story, I found myself trying to explain the ethos of the civil service to the reader and make fun of it where I could.  All institutions end up taking themselves much too seriously and seeing survival as their chief goal.  The BBC might be a future subject.
As well as the civil service, my targets include gentlemen’s clubs, the House of Lords, literary prizes, the Church of England, academics (British, Irish and American) and journalism.   The latest, Killing the Emperors, is an assault on the corrupt art establishment that has wrecked art education, dissed past geniuses, discouraged young talent and told us that the likes of Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst have clothes on.
I tend to see the funny side of most of life, especially of grave, pompous people who are up themselves.  I love the line from the grandmother of a great friend:  “You must learn to laugh at everything, because usually there’s nothing to laugh at.”  
Do you plan your plots in detail? 
Absolutely not.  I know where I’m setting a novel, I think about it and research it, but when it comes to the plot, I’m doing well if I know who’s going to be the first corpse.  
Do you have a writing routine? 
No.  I write a lot of journalism (at the moment I have an article for the Irish Sunday Independent and three Daily Telegraph blogs to do every week) and I do a fair bit of speaking and a lot of socialising as well as participating in social media, so there’s no chance of routine.  But when I begin a book I try to cut down on other commitments.  Before the days of non-stop communication, I could write a book in a few weeks.  Nowadays I’m fighting to find time and they take months.  
Can you tell us what you are currently writing? 
As soon as Killing the Emperors has been published, I’ll begin to concentrate on the next novel, which is about human rights lawyers.  I have lots of views about them, but I need more long conversations with friendly lawyers and to do more reading before I plunge in. My publishers want a book a year, so I don’t think non-fiction will be getting much of a look-in for the foreseeable future.  But who knows? 

This interview was first published in Mystery People

Sunday 21 October 2012

Brave New World?

We visited Waterstones in Cambridge this weekend... we saw magazines...
 We saw postcards...
 We saw mugs and stationary... 
 We saw a large section of the store devoted to kindles...
Kindles which were heralded as the start of a Brave New World... (was the irony intentional?)
Oh, and in the back of the store we saw some books. 
And then there was this message in the window...
In Cambridge, of all places!

Thank you to Heffers in Cambridge for giving me such a warm welcome this weekend.  It was a real pleasure to visit the bookshop, and thanks to all the local readers who came to say hello and buy my books.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Stop Dead - the new Geraldine Steel novel

Here's the cover for the next Geraldine Steel novel, available to download in December, out in print in 2013. 

Thursday 4 October 2012

Interview with L.C.Tyler

Leigh Russell in conversation with L.C.Tyler

L.C. Tyler writes the brilliant and witty ‘Herring’ series featuring crime writer Ethelred and his agent Elsie. He was raised in Essex and studied Geography at Jesus College Oxford, before going on to study systems analysis at City University in London. Subsequently he worked for the British Council in Malaysia, Sudan, Thailand and Denmark, before becoming Chief Executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, then turned to full-time writing. His books were nominated for Edgar Awards in 2010 and 2011, and The Herring in the Library won the coveted Last Laugh Award in 2011. This year has seen Tyler’s books published in the US and translated into French. In addition to a busy writing career, L.C. Tyler finds time to appear at many literary festivals. He is a member of The Crime Writers’ Association committee, and a judge for the CWA Short Story Dagger Award.

Q What originally attracted you to writing light hearted crime fiction?
A I stumbled quite accidentally into crime. I’d intended to write literary fiction, a bit like that Sartre guy, but then the bodies started piling up from chapter two onwards. Once you’ve been labelled a comic crime writer it’s difficult to go straight.
Q At first sight, crime and humour might seem an incongruous mixture, yet they work so well in your books. How do you account for this, and for the popularity of crime fiction in general?
A Thank you. I get asked a lot how you can make crime funny - and the answer is of course that you can’t. Crime is human nature with everything good extracted. It’s greed, envy, lust, pride, wrath, gluttony, sloth and, quite possibly, sock-puppetry, all in one neat package. What you can make jokes about is the detection of crime. That’s largely what I do. I don’t know why crime fiction is so popular - except that it always has been, pretty much from its inception. The traditional crime novel is, when you think about it, an elaborate puzzle that just happens to revolve around a murder. I think it’s the intellectual challenge that appeals to most readers, though obviously that's not the whole story. On the whole I’m just pleased that people do still want to buy the sort of novels that I write.
Q The genre is so popular that readers are familiar with its conventions. Authors can exploit this to raise expectations that are later fulfilled or confounded. To what extent are your own plot twists suggested by conventions in the genre?
A. Oh, quite a lot. In The Herring Seller’s Apprentice, the narrator explains many of the devices that he uses as a crime writer, allowing the reader to pick up on these comments as possible clues in the story. The Herring in the Library toys with the conventions of the locked room mystery (without necessarily claiming to be one). In Ten Little Herrings, all of the suspects are made to assemble in the hotel lounge, though things do not then go quite the way they usually do for Poirot. Herring on the Nile mirrors to a certain extent the plot of Death on the Nile, but again with a very different outcome. Intelligent readers (and all my readers are, by definition, intelligent) seem to enjoy this type of thing.
Q Tell us how you work out your plots.
A I’ve never had anything I could describe as a method. The Herring Seller’s Apprentice came to me bit by bit as I wrote it. I started with a narrator admitting to having committed a crime and wrote the book to find out what he had done. The end was as much a surprise to me as anyone else. With the later books I had generally worked out - and indeed written - the last chapter quite early on. It was the middle sections that were the problem. For The Herring Seller’s Apprentice I did no research and made no notes of any sort. For some of the others, conversely, I have copious jottings showing how the plot changed as the book progressed, together with notes on firearms or poisons or whatever I needed to kill off my characters. When John Curran published Agatha Christie’s notebooks, I was delighted to see that hers were as chaotic as mine, and that we both kept records of books we had read and had jotted down the occasional shopping list in between plot outlines.
Q The CWA describe my books as ‘Agatha Christie with a darker plot line’ and The Times describes your work as ‘a darkly funny tribute to Agatha Christie and the golden age of crime fiction.’ Are you a fan of Agatha Christie, and how would you account for the enduring appeal of her books?
A I think the first crime book I ever read was an Agatha Christie - The Body in the Library. I still have it, though it is now falling apart, having travelled with me as I moved around the world. The high humidity of Kuala Lumpur followed by the hot desert air of Khartoum finished off a lot of my paperbacks - only the very toughest crime novels survived. I know plenty of Christie fans who have read everything she wrote. I guess I’ve read about half. She was never that good on characterisation and you can pick holes in most of her plots, but she was a great story-teller and hasn’t dated half as much as some of her contemporaries.
Q Do you think there really was a ‘golden age of crime fiction’?
A Back in the seventies, Colin Watson examined the Golden Age in his book Snobbery with Violence, and concluded that it was golden only in terms of quantity. Most of the best selling names from the 20s and 30s are largely forgotten now. There’s a danger of judging it on the basis of the undoubtedly fine output of Christie and Sayers and Allingham and ignoring how much rubbish was produced alongside it. In terms of the quality and variety of crime fiction, I’d say we were in the middle of a golden age right now.
Q. Your books are not only humorous, they are also quintessentially English. Do you think this poses a particular challenge for a translator? Were you pleased with Étrange suicide dans une Fiat rouge a faible kilometrage as the French title for The Herring Seller’s Apprentice?
A I’ve been very impressed by everything about my French publisher, Sonatine Editions. I love the simplicity of the red, white and black cover. In one sense, it’s difficult to judge the translation itself, because humour tends to lie in subtle nuances that I could easily miss in the French version. Reviews have started to come in however and are, so far, very favourable - so I guess the translator (Julie Sibony) might be said to have risen to the challenge very well! The title is brilliant. I so wish I’d thought of it myself.
Q What impact do you think the rise in e-book sales might have on books set in a ‘bygone era’.
A My books are, with the exception of a few flashbacks and excerpts from Ethelred’s own writing, set in the present day. It is one of my two narrators who is stuck in the past - August 1959 or thereabouts. Ethelred would dearly love to live in a world with no mobile phones or internet and a maximum of two  television channels. Thinking about it, though a writer himself, he has never mentioned e-books. He may be completely unaware of them. My other narrator, Elsie, is an agent and is very interested in the impact of anything on sales - but again, I have never heard her pronounce on e-books. As for me, I’m not sure I understand where publishing is going any better than anyone else does. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the rise of e-books will affect the genres we read, though it may impact a lot on format - e.g. there is no reason why an e-book has to be any particular length and we will be able to buy sagas, novellas or single short stories with equal ease. That would be good.
Q How would you answer Elsie’s charge that “producing sequels is the sure sign of the second rate author”?
A If that’s what Elsie claims, then it must be right. As Ethelred says “to tell the truth, I rarely contradict Elsie on anything these days”.
Q Can you tell us about what you are currently writing?
A No. Like a lot of authors I am slightly superstitious about talking about what I am working on now. It’s not another Ethelred and Elsie though …

Books in the Ethelred and Elsie series are:
The Herring Seller’s Apprentice (2007) Ten Little Herrings (2009)
The Herring in the Library (2010) Herring on the Nile (2011)

This interview was first published in Mystery People ezine

Sunday 30 September 2012

Waterstones Market Harborough

Thank you  to Waterstones in Market Harborough for such a lovely welcome on Saturday, and to all the friendly local readers who came to the store to say hello. Here are a couple of pictures from my visit. You can see how much trouble the staff took over hosting the event.

Tuesday 25 September 2012


Here’s an email I sent to a local branch of Waterstones today, a branch where I have signed many times, and have always been welcomed with (metaphorical) open arms. I have given the store coverage in the local paper, and got on well with the staff who have been helpful and friendly. My visits have given their sales a welcome boost as they are not a central store that can attract big names.
Thank you for your email. No one has been in touch with me, so this is the first I have heard of this event being cancelled. You clearly only contacted me in response to my phone call. Unfortunately it is now too late for me to arrange to sign at a different store in two weeks' time. It would have been courteous of you to have contacted me earlier, and I do hope you will treat other authors with more consideration in future.
I am really sorry that our long and friendly working relationship has come to so abrupt an end, and wish you well for the future.
It’s hard to understand why a bookshop would be forced to behave in this way. Their email says they are sorry to cancel my visit but: “Our hands are tied”

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Interview with Peter James

Leigh Russell talks to
Peter James has written 25 books, the most recent of which feature Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. His books have been translated into 35 languages. Peter is currently the chairman of the Crime Writers Association. His new novel, Not Dead Yet, went straight to number 1 in the UK hardback bestseller list, Peter’s fifth consecutive number 1.

Q What did you find most exciting about writing Not Dead Yet?

A It was fun using my experience in the movie business. Plus I’m a stickler for research so it was fascinating finding out about forensic podiatry, which has never before been used in a novel.

Q It’s encouraging to see a UK author reaching out to overseas readers. Tell us about your visit to India.

A Last March I did an author tour in India, which is the only country where print reading is on the increase. My publisher Macmillan have had a presence there for a hundred years and with a billion people in India, more and more of whom are reading in English, it’s a huge emerging market. It’s always interesting to visit different countries. What was lovely there was the amount of press interest, with fifteen to twenty newspaper reporters queuing for interviews. A lot of them asked me why I write crime novels, rather than ‘proper fiction’. Boy, did they ask the wrong person! ‘Do you like Shakespeare?’ I replied. “If he was writing today, I think he’d be writing crime novels. Over half his plays have a courtroom scene!

Q My own detective recently relocated from the Home Counties to London. Could you imagine DS Grace ever moving away from Brighton to join another force?

A Location is incredibly important in the genre; location is as much part of a book as the central characters. I couldn’t imagine Rebus operating anywhere but Edinburgh, or Mark Billingham’s Thorne anywhere but London, or James Ellroy anywhere but LA. In Brighton it’s interesting that a number of junior police officers have moved up to the Met for higher pay, but most senior officers are passionate about the city. The Divisional Commander Graham Bartlett would have the opportunity to go for promotion to ACC level, but this would almost certainly involve him in leaving the county, which he doesn’t want to do. This kind of stability places more emphasis on community policing as officers like Graham Bartlett – and Roy Grace - get to know the local villains. I’ve been driving through Brighton with coppers who point out the drugs dealers, house burglars, all all the other crims to me. That said, in Not Dead Yet there are elements from outside the UK, and the book I’m writing now starts in Brooklyn. Criminals don’t stick to boundaries, and Roy Grace is based on a character who has visited the States several times on police business.

Q You describe yourself as “a stickler for research”. One of my own favourites was spending an after noon with a team of firemen; research involving live maggots was less enjoyable! Can you tell us about a highlight, and a low point, in your research.

A An absolute low point was when I was writing Dead Simple, the first Roy Grace novel. For a wedding prank, a character is buried in a coffin in remote woodland, before the pranksters are wiped out in a car crash. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be shut in a coffin. A funeral director was happy to oblige when I asked him to screw the lid down and leave me for thirty minutes. A coroner had advised me it was possible to survive for at least three hours in a closed coffin, unless you hyperventilate. Did I tell you I’m claustrophobic? That was the worst thirty minutes of my life! There are many highlights. I love going on police raids. The police love it too, driving on blues and twos and getting in what they call a “bundle” – a euphemism for a fight. I’m a petrol head so some of my best moments with the police are travelling in a traffic police car late at night. I was recently in the lead car in an hour and a half chase involving seven cars, dog handlers and a helicopter. The sheer adrenaline rush was fantastic. One of the officers said, ‘I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this.’

Q Religion plays a diminishing role in many people’s lives. Is part of the appeal of crime fiction that it offers us some kind of moral compass?

A Yes, part of the appeal of crime fiction is the adventure, usually seen through the eyes of a heroic detective, that takes the reader to a place where everything is all right in the end. In addition. Intelligent people read books to get not just a story, but also to learn something about human life. Look at any bestseller list and half the names on the list will be North of sixty in all genres, on both sides of the Atlantic. We authors (hopefully!) get wiser as we get older. Good crime fiction understands the world. No one sees more of human life in a thirty year career than a police officer. In good crime fiction the reader learns something new each time about the human condition. That’s why I get angry when people ask why I write ‘genre fiction’.

Q What do you find challenging about having the same protagonist in each book?

A If someone picks up my ninth book, and they haven’t read any of the series, I have to describe my main characters. At the same time, I don’t want to bore people who have read the previous eight books. What to say or not to say about characters and location is a challenge. But I really like having the same main characters. Each time I start a new Roy Grace book, I feel like I’m going back to my family.

Q You touched on this earlier, but do you think your experience working in film and television has influenced your writing, and if so, in what ways?

A Yes, I do. I think we tend to read books in a different way than people did a hundred years ago. We are influenced by television and movies, where there are frequent changes of scene and character perspective. The biggest lesson I learned was years ago when I worked on a sit com in the US. We were told we needed to have a gag every 14 seconds. Fifty per cent of the potential audience channel hop. If we didn’t give them a joke every 14 seconds, they wouldn’t stay. I don’t have a joke every 14 seconds in my books! But I learned the importance of giving the reader something on every page to keep them hooked.

Q Do you think groups like Mystery People and the CWA, which you chair, are important, and if so, why?

A Yes, I think they are incredibly important to readers who like a particular genre. The crime genre is such a broad canvas, I am constantly coming across writers I have never heard of, who are big selling authors. These groups are the best way of learning about authors in an area of fiction we love.

Superintendent Roy Grace series
Dead Simple (2005) Looking Good Dead (2006) Not Dead Enough (2007)
Dead Mans Footsteps (2008) Dead Tomorrow (2009) Dead Like You (2010)
Dead Man’s Grip (2011) Not Dead Yet (2012)

Under the chairmanship of Peter James, the CWA is introducing a new Manuscript Assessment Service for aspiring crime writers. Peter says, “The Crime Writers Association is inundated with requests for guidance on manuscripts in the genre, so we think this service is going to be very popular.” Details are on the CWA website.

This interview first appeared on

Thursday 30 August 2012


Still love bookshops...

Saturday 18 August 2012

What Price Bookshops?

There has been a lot of discussion about the future of print books. I have been posting recently about Waterstones' new events policy which threatens to further undermine struggling sales. Waterstones are right to host more high profile celebrity ticketed evening events. They should be doing all they can to create more of a buzz about bookshops.  But it is authors who are happy to spend time in bookshops who make a difference to sales figures. Customers buy books by celebrities and a few big names regardless of events in the stores. Inviting such authors into bookshops won't increase sales in the store. Many readers will bring books for signing with them - often books they have bought online.
There will be more discussion about Waterstones' new deal to sell kindles in their stores. Amazon  report that sales of ebooks (excluding free downloads) already outstrip their online sales of print books 114 to 100. It took 4 years for this to happen in the US. In the UK it has taken 2 years for sales of e-books to overtake sales of print books.
My own books sell far more lucratively as e-books than print books. Am I clinging to a bygone era in my passion to support physical bookshops? Do they matter to modern culture?
Waterstones is no longer financially self-supporting, our only remaining chain of bookshops surviving thanks to Russian billionaire Mamut.
Perhaps there's nothing wrong with that. After all, Shakespeare needed his patron. But it's a sobering thought that the whole of Waterstones was bailed out for £53 million - far less than some clubs pay for their top footballers.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Who cares about books anyway?

When James Daunt described amazon as “the enemy”, and “a ruthless money-making devil” perhaps the book loving world was naïve in rushing to characterise him as a champion of physical books, battling against the mighty power of kindle.
“Like any good retailer, he is really just interested in what people want”, one of his supporters claims.  Really? Has he listened to what customers are saying in Waterstones, as I have done on over thirty separate occasions so far this year? Has he visited the High Street and appreciated the frustrations – and genuine fear – in the stores. The chain has reinstated strict Head Office control of discounts. One store manager described a visit from a regional manager as “like a school ofsted” another told me they were “told off” for having books displayed in “the wrong place”. Daunt says “We shouldn’t dictate” to the stores. What does he mean by that, I wonder?
Despite assurances there would be no more store closures, Luton have lost their Waterstones, as have Tiverton and recently Epsom. John Betjeman famously wrote of Slough:
        It's not their fault they do not know
        The birdsong from the radio,
        It's not their fault they often go
        To Maidenhead

Betjeman regretted writing the poem, intended as a protest against 850 factories being built in Slough.  But the Waterstones in Slough has closed – as has the one in Maidenhead. Betjeman describes England’s industrialised towns as a taste of “Hell”. Strongly worded – as is Daunt’s description of amazon as a “devil”.
Daunt has now made a deal with amazon, and introduced a misguided events policy, stopping successful signings that gave sales a significant boost, and attracted customers into stores for an experience they cannot get online – face to face meetings with favourite authors.  In a move reminiscent of the Charge of the Light Brigade, Daunt seems to be overseeing a desperate rush to commit suicide.
Daunt is a public school educated Cambridge graduate, and an ex-banker. He may be a book lover, but he is first and foremost a businessman. While it is easy to criticise him for overseeing the demise of our last surviving major bookshop chain, he is not responsible for the world we live in.
The real problem Waterstones faces is that it is not supported by sales. If Mamut withdrew his £53 million sponsorship, the chain would fold overnight.
However much we bleat about mistaken policies from the top – and I have done my share - the reality is that readers are not buying print books on a scale that makes physical bookshops viable. James Daunt apparently hastening the demise of physical bookshops as we know them is a demonstration of his business acumen. As with politicians, we get the bookshop MDs we deserve.
Ray Bradbury was writing in a different era when he said: “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture; just get people to stop reading them.
Perhaps the end of the physical bookshops is irrelevant.  E-books are encouraging more people to read. Maybe the sea change doesn't matter. But let’s at least be clear and open about what is taking place, so that no one is surprised when Waterstones change from a bookshop to a kindle store.
And if we don’t want that to happen, we have to react before it is too late. Daunt is impotent to halt the flood of e-books, and has made a sound business decision to swim with the amazon tide. Only readers can buck the trend. Stop buying books in charity shops. Buy a book in a bookshop today. Buy another one tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Consider books when working out what you can afford to spend this month. Sacrifice one bottle of wine, one packet of cigarettes, one hairdo, to buy a book. And buy a book for a friend, while you still can.
Or are we all saving up to buy kindles for Christmas?

Friday 10 August 2012

A Day at the Olympics

A day off from writing, books and bookshops - one of my wonderful daughters took me to the Olympics! Here are a few of the many highlights.
The Olympic Park was beautifully laid out, and we met many sports fans from all around the world: Russia, Japan, Pakistan, Jamaica as well as all over Europe:

Not forgetting supporters of Team GB!

We had a great view from where we were sitting

I  wanted to share a photo of Usein Bolt running, but he was too fast, and I was too excited! Here he is with one of his gold medals.

Another highlight was meeting Chris Hoy - the most successful British Olympian ever!

And finally thanks to the wonderful police, and all the volunteers, who made the day run so smoothly for everyone.

Monday 6 August 2012

print book and e-book - partnership or competition?

In the light of recent news about e-books on amazon (see post below) can anyone tell me why Waterstones is complicit in the disappearance of the printed book?
Nothing is ever achieved by being defeatist. Trends are not inevitable.
With passion and hard work, the printed book can survive alongside its electronic partner - yes, partner, not competitor. Why not, when ebooks are attracting more people to read? Waterstones have a responsibility to readers and authors who want to see them come out fighting in defense of physical books. There is no one else who can do this on a significant scale (with no disrespect intended to the fantastic dedicated smaller chains and independent bookshops).
Read about "Waterstones Faulty Logic" on Book2Book ( site)
Think about stores like Ottakars, morphed into Waterstones. Think about Borders, morphed into Primark. Then think.
And in the meantime, two of my titles are on offer on amazon kindle, one on the Summer Kindle Reading Marathon.
Most sales of my books are online. I have nothing to gain from the survival of bookshops, but I passionately believe that we all have a lot to lose.

Sunday 5 August 2012

The rise of e-books have announced that readers are paying to download more e-books than print books, paperbacks and hardbacks combined. For every 100 print book sales, there are 114 downloads. It took 2 years for e-books to overtake print books, a turning point that took 4 years in the USA.

Is this sane?

Why would anyone (in his right mind) bother to devote so much time and energy to boosting his own ego by adulating himself under multiple false identities?
The time would surely be better spent working to improve the writing he publishes under his own name.
The more I think about it, the stupider it seems. Work on your own writing, whatever your real name is, and get yourself some genuine admirers. If you can't, maybe it's time to stop writing?

Saturday 4 August 2012

Congratulations Team GB

How inspiring to see dedicated athletes competing for the joy and honour of excelling at their sport.

It's not all bad

On a more positive note:
I had a lovely day at Waterstones today. It's fantastic when bookshops and authors work together. If you live in Walthamstow, go and visit your local bookshop and support them!

Friday 3 August 2012

Waterstones New Non-Events

I have received several courteous and reassuring emails from James Daunt.  Either he has been disingenuous in his communications with me, or he genuinely does not understand the nature of signings in bookshops for authors who do not have huge marketing machinery behind them.
He gave me his personal assurance that none of my events would be cancelled. Well, two have been cancelled this week, although I have also received three invitations to sign in other stores. Some of the events that are still being honoured are going ahead as agreed. Others have imposed a 90 minute limit. Why on earth would any author travel for an hour to spend 90 minutes in a book store where he might typically expect to sign a dozen books in that time? It is not worth anyone's while to hold an event like that. These events would only be viable for a well known author, who is heavily marketed, or a celebrity. Less well known authors will be forced to cancel any event that entails travelling any distance, and staying overnight.
Waterstones may claim they are not cancelling events, but they are making it impossible for authors to attend them.
Where we do turn up, can we seriously expect to be frog marched out of the store at the end of 90 minutes? How different all this is from the welcome bookshops  used to give authors! 
One of my local stores, where I have signed many times, told me yesterday, "We know we always sell loads when you're in store, but we're not sure if we're allowed to have any more events." Reality check, Waterstones, you are a SHOP. Why on earth would you want to reject a successful sales strategy? On what planet does that even begin to make sense? Only a planet that values celebrity over talent. Because this is not about improving sales figures.  People buy books by famous authors like J K Rowling and P D James regardless of whether they meet the authors. Their appearance in bookshops is essential, creating a much needed buzz about the stores, in a mutual promotion exercise.  But the real boost in sales comes from hard working dedicated authors who give up their time to mingle with customers, recommending books, including their own of course, and encouraging people to buy more books in physical stores. And those are the authors this new policy is excluding.
What can we do, other than stay at home building an online presence, and buy a kindle, or a kobo.

Wednesday 1 August 2012


Waterstones recently announced a change in their policy, effectively excluding all but the ‘big names’ from in store events.  There is no doubt Waterstones are missing a trick if they fail to harness the dedication of authors who are passionate about supporting physical bookstores.
Waterstones should be hosting a whole variety of events. Of course they should offer ticketed discussions by panels of famous authors, which will increase media interest and help to build a much needed buzz about the bookshops.  But it is a mistake to believe these events will impact hugely on sales of books. Fans who attend these events will already be buying their favourite authors’ books – some will even buy them online and bring them along for signing in the store.
Where sales clearly do receive a boost is from a group of hard working lesser known authors who are passionate about the physical bookshops, build good relations with booksellers and their local community, know how to approach readers, and are prepared to dedicate their time to enhance customers’ in store experience. I have spoken to thousands of readers at many stores who were thrilled to have an opportunity to talk to a ‘real’ author. Crucially, this gave them an experience they couldn’t have online. To worry about whether or not they bought my own books – some do, some don’t – completely misses the point.
Already many readers are browsing the bookshops to make choices of titles to download. Thousands of readers in the bookshops ask if my books are on kindle.  I reply that they are, and selling in their tens of thousands, but we have to support the bookshops - or we all know what will happen. Waterstones policy of reducing author presence in the stores will not help them survive.
Ironically, in my discussion with a member of the events team at Waterstone’s head office today, a lady told me she wished Waterstones could afford to employ more staff to talk to customers.  There are many authors who would love to do just that at informal signing events. They boost the store’s sales for the day – vital for less busy stores - customers enjoy an experience they cannot access online, and the author sells a decent number of their own books in exchange for their time. Everyone wins.
When I posted about my disappointment with the new policy on facebook, I was amazed by the barrage of responses my comments provoked. Of 200 or so comments, not one supported Waterstones new policy.  I had a similar reaction on twitter.  So great was the sudden furore that I was contacted by a journalist from The Bookseller wanting to quote me.
I hope to have an opportunity to meet James Daunt to talk face to face. Bookshops are not my business. They are his.  But I share his passion for physical bookshops and I worry about the future impact of his new events policy.

You can find links to the discussions on facebook and twitter on
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