Tuesday 19 November 2013

Apple Tree Yard

Let's get this out of the way, right at the start – Apple Tree Yard is wonderfully written. From its brilliant opening, it held me throughout, and I was completely absorbed by the story. If you haven't read it yet, forget about this post as it may contain some spoilers, and I wouldn't want to lessen your enjoyment of a really good book.
For those of you who have read it, I've no problem with the novel itself, but when I finished it, there was a sense of something not quite right, something missing. For me the issue was simply this: I didn't like Yvonne Carmichael. I didn't particularly like any of the principle characters – nor should I need to in order to enjoy a book – but the more time I spent in Yvonne's head, the more I felt that she wasn't as nice a person as she thought she was.
To be clear, I'm not referring to the horrible crime – and for the record, I was grimly pleased about what happened to Craddock – but rather to Yvonne's thoughts regarding her family.
Perhaps it's because I simply can't empathise with a parent who harbours resentment towards their own children. Although it's beautifully subtle, there's a sense that Yvonne feels somehow unrewarded by her family. She's worked the hardest, sacrificed the most, and put her career second (even though it's apparent that she's reached the top in her field anyway). While the relationship with her husband is more ambiguous, she does appear to have alienated her children – in fact, almost everyone in the story seems able to get along better without her on the scene.
She's not a stupid character – far from it – and she has a good insight into most people she encounters. And yet, when she describes her relationship with her children, there's a selfish undertone in the way she spins certain situations for sympathy.
None of this is a criticism of the book. It's a testament to the writing that I felt I was uncovering things about a real person. And of course, whenever we form opinions of other people, such opinions are subjective.
It simply made me wonder… how important is it that we actively like characters? When I think back over books I've enjoyed the most, there is usually a strong character that I like, or like to hate. Yvonne didn't elicit either feeling.
Perhaps other readers don't need such a particular emotional connection to their characters. Or perhaps it's just that I lack the life experience to appreciate or empathise with a character like Yvonne. In any event, it's something I'll be thinking about in whatever I read next.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Knife Edge locations

Following on from the one I produced for Eye Contact, I've set up a map detailing the key locations from Knife Edge. You can access it via Google Maps by clicking the link below.
Be warned, though - the map contains a lot of spoilers, so I wouldn't advise looking at it until you've read the story.

Click here to view the map.

As you may know, I try to set scenes in real places, so I thought I'd list them out in an easy-to-explore way. I hope you find it interesting.

Friday 18 October 2013

Untitled McNeill 3

A few months ago, while browsing on Amazon, I noticed that a new book had appeared beside "Eye Contact" and "Knife Edge". It felt odd, seeing the online listing for a novel I hadn't finished writing, as though I was typing away to fill blank pages that were already bound and sitting on a shelf somewhere. I remember mentioning it to a friend, and joking that it would be a big help if I could just get hold of a copy and read it, so I'd know how the story ends.

Well, this week the story did end. I had a general sense of where the plot would take me, but it didn't really snap into place until I actually came to write it. This has caused me a lot of concern over the past few months, but a great deal of relief when it finally came together. It's somewhat darker than I first envisaged, but I'm pleased with the way it worked out.

Now I can enjoy a couple of weekends off. It's an unfamiliar feeling - this will be the first time in years that I've not being working on this series, and I'm just beginning to grasp how big a part of my life the story has become. I've tried to ensure I didn't miss out on too much time with my family, but other areas were more affected. I've managed almost no photography, read almost nothing, even been reluctant to commit to watching new TV shows! When I went to look for some music on my iPhone, I realised that practically everything on it was eerie or morose of tense - all music for writing.

It seems I have some catching up to do.

This was definitely the toughest of all the books to write. Partly, that's down to the subject matter of the story - which goes places that I personally find quite troubling - and partly because the last twelve months have been challenging with close family members affected by illness. It's definitely been a tough journey, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

In any case, now I can relax. No early-morning train journeys to Bristol, no hunching over a laptop in some distant cafe, no struggling to keep all those different characters in my head. The funny thing is, I already miss it a little. I know it won't be long before I'm diving back in to get going on the editing process, and there are already several glimmering sparks of ideas, competing for attention to become the next project... but for now, I'm done.

Well, mostly done. I think we still need to dream up a better title than "Untitled McNeill 3"...

Thursday 26 September 2013

Knife Edge

Another landmark day today, as my second novel Knife Edge is published by Hodder & Stoughton in hardback and e-book. When I first wrote Eye Contact, I didn't really envisage it as part of a series, but the book raised questions that seemed to lead naturally into a sequel. Now, I can't imagine one without the other.

Hopefully people will find Knife Edge is a satisfying development on its predecessor. I was determined not to write the same book twice – this was never meant to be just More Eye Contact – but it's a challenge to do something different while remaining faithful to established characters. I remember doing the research, traipsing around Bristol, writing in cafes and bookshops and on trains, working out changes with my editor… but when those pivotal moments in the plot happened, it was as though I was just writing down something I'd seen. I trust the story will feel as real to you as it does to me.

You can find Knife Edge on Amazon (Kindle and hardback) as well as iTunes (for iPhone and iPad) or Google Play (Android devices). I really hope you enjoy it.

Friday 13 September 2013

Meanwhile, in Utrecht...

Not sure why this makes me smile so much, but it does. I absolutely love the cover that De Fontein have produced for the Dutch version of Eye Contact. I had heard there might be some advertising done to promote it but, not spending a lot of time in the Netherlands, I didn't think I'd get to see any examples. So it made my day when this popped up on Twitter.

Photographed by Ester van Lierop, this is one of the ad screens featuring the Oogcontact campaign. It's a really striking image, and it even animates - blinking eyes - just to give you that delicious sense of eeriness.

If I was free this weekend, I'd be tempted to jump on a plane and come over for a closer look. As it is, huge thanks to everyone involved. I couldn't ask for a more stylish promotion.

Friday 30 August 2013


Some authors find it difficult to work with music in the background. Sophie Hannah recently stated on Twitter that she had to switch off John Denver so she could write, and I've heard that Erin Kelly favours silence too.

In my own case, I find the opposite to be true - not only do I prefer having music on, I find it very difficult to work without it.

Before we go any further, it's probably worth pointing out that my music tastes are a little... different. Most of what I listen to is instrumental, so there usually aren't lyrics to distract me. Far from being off-putting, the playlists on my iPhone have become an important creative tool.

Naturally, I use different pieces of music to invoke different moods and emotions. If I'm writing a dramatic scene, I want something that fills me with energy, something that gets my pulse racing and keeps the sentences short. If it's a more thoughtful, or introverted moment, a more ambient piece helps me to find that mind-set and work within it.

One of the characters in my books is a lonely man, struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife, and I built a playlist of beautifully evocative, mournful tracks for him. Listening to this really helped me to get inside his head, and feel what he was feeling. I think that he was so emotionally draining to write because of the music that underscored him, but I'm sure that it helped make his chapters feel more authentic. The same process works for places too - walking through a city with something sinister in your ears will allow you to see your surroundings in a different way. It's like being 'on the set' of your story, with the soundtrack transforming mundane reality into the location you imagined.

So music helps to find the mood, but I believe it goes beyond that. Having distinct playlists for the different narrative perspectives helped to give the characters contrasting voices. It anchored each of my protagonists, helping me to find them again when I was jumping back and forth from one viewpoint to another.

It also helped me with one of the big challenges in my own writing routine - interruptions. Holding down a full-time day job means I have to be an author in my spare time, during evenings and weekends. Sometimes, days pass between the end of one paragraph and the start of another, and it can be tough to just pick up where you left off. Here, the music comes into its own, acting as a sort of mental bookmark - as long as I don't listen to a track during the intervening time, hearing it again will take me straight back to the mind-set I had when I was last writing to it.

So what do I listen to? Well, as you might expect, there are tracks from film and TV, such as Broadchurch (Ólafur Arnalds), Inception (Hans Zimmer), Monsters (Jon Hopkins), Tinker Tailor (Alberto Iglesias) and White Oleander (Thomas Newman). One particular song, The Moment I Said It (Imogen Heap) served as a mood-board for my female lead in book two, and I can no longer hear it without tasting that fear and doubt that she lives with through the story. Mostly though, I've relied on albums from artists like Deaf Center, Helios, Loscil, Christina Vantzou, and particularly A Winged Victory For The Sullen - if you want a sense of what my characters are feeling inside, look no further.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Previously, on Twin Peaks...

Some things age gracefully, some age badly, but some don't seem to age at all. Perhaps because it was never really "of its time", Twin Peaks is still weird and wonderful to watch, just as it was all those years ago.

The public hysteria has gone, of course. If you watched it when it was first aired in the nineties, you'll remember the endless discussion, the interpretation and speculation, as we all tried to figure out what David Lynch and Mark Frost were up to. But, perhaps because the overall story was never really explained, the show retains that delicious sense of mystery and potential that made it so compelling.

The comedy still works, along with the deep sense of tragedy as a quiet community comes to term with a senseless murder. And that scene with Leland and Maddie remains one of the most disturbing things I've ever watched on television.

It's not perfect, of course. There are scenes that drag, and characters who grate, but it was ever thus. It's no more flawed now than it was back then.

Above all, Twin Peaks still kindles a wistful desire to experience that slower life, distanced from the troubles of the rat-race and reality… and to enjoy a slice of cherry pie and some damn fine coffee at the Double R Diner.

Wednesday 26 June 2013


It's been an exciting couple of days. On Saturday, I was lucky enough to be on stage at the Winchester Readers' Conference, organised by Newbooks magazine. It was brilliant fun, though I was more than a little nervous about speaking after Ben Aaronovitch (who was very, very funny). As it was, a lovely audience and some fine moderation by host Guy Pringle meant that everything ran smoothly.

Then, last night, I was at Waterlooville Library for a panel event with Pauline Rowson and Dominic Ranger. Moderated by Carol Westron, this was part of the CWA's Crime Month, but also to help mark the library's 40th anniversary. Another great audience, and some lively discussion made for a brilliant evening.
Having the chance to meet and talk with readers is so important – it helps and encourages me in my writing – and makes all those solitary hours at the keyboard seem worthwhile.
It's been a lot of fun, but if I had to choose one highlight, it would have to be on Saturday, where Guy caught me cold with a brilliant question. After leading up with an explanation of how I go to each location and painstakingly investigate everything, he quizzed me about my research for certain back alley in Salisbury… the setting for a sex scene in Eye Contact!
After that, I like to think I'm ready for any questions people can throw at me.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Too Soon?

I'm always very keen to do book events. It's great to have the opportunity to talk to people about a story, to find out which characters and situations resonated with them, and why...

...but tonight I may have been a little too keen.

The venue was Flitwick Library near Bedford - a two hour drive from where I work. Traffic was pretty hectic, but I got there in good time and parked up. After a quick, pre-talk cigarette, I made my way into the building. The place was quiet, but I could see a good number of people already in the lecture hall, and one man sitting at a desk. He came over and asked if he could help me.
"Hi," I greeted him. "I'm Fergus McNeill, and I'm here for the author talk."
"Author talk?" he said.
I nodded at him.
"Tonight is Weight Watchers," he explained, glancing towards the lecture hall.

I began to think I'd come to the wrong place, but then I was briefly encouraged when I spotted a small poster behind him, with a photo of me, and details of the author event - 7pm on the 11th.

"That's me." I pointed at the poster.
He turned, looked at the poster, then turned back to me.
"That's not 'til 11th of July," he said.

Everything snapped together in my mind very quickly. Had I not checked the date several times in the last few weeks? Of course I had. I'd checked it on my Amazon author page... unless...

I quickly looked through my emails. Sure enough, the event was down as July, not June. I'd obviously set the wrong month when posting the event on Amazon.

Understandably deflated, I turned to leave. To his credit, the man didn't laugh. But his parting line was sheer deadpan gold.

"See you again next month."

Sunday 2 June 2013

CrimeFest 2013: The Aftermath

Years ago, I booked a one-to-one appointment at the Winchester Writers Conference with author and critic Peter Guttridge. When we met, for our appointed fifteen minutes, he apologised and told me that, due to a mix-up, he hadn’t received my sample chapters, and was unable to offer me any helpful feedback. However, he did tell me that if I emailed the material to him directly, he’d take a look and get back to me when he could.

He never did.

Fast-forward to the present, and CrimeFest 2013. This was to be my first ever literary festival, and I was fortunate enough to be on two different panels. One was for debut authors, entitled Fresh Blood, moderated by the lovely Rhian Davies. The other, entitled The Power Of The Author, was to be moderated by me, and the panellists included... Peter Guttridge!

In a novel, this might have led to murder in the Green Room, and a conference-wide search for the missing writer, but in reality Peter and his fellow panellists Ruth Downie, Andrew Pepper, and John Matthews were all great fun and delivered an entertaining discussion for the audience.

It was a fabulous four days. CrimeFest takes place at the Marriott in Bristol, just across the road from the Watershed cafe where I often go to write, and it was hugely enjoyable to wander around in the midst of so many famous authors. There was Julia Crouch walking along the corridor, Ann Cleeves sitting at the next table in the bar. I chatted with George Mann while we waited for our drinks, and popped out for the odd cigarette with Sophie Hannah and Stav Sherez. It was as though my Twitter feed had come to life and been transported en masse to Bristol.

There were some excellent panels, leading to deep discussions in the courtyard afterwards, especially once the drinks started flowing. There was Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue giving a talk on Sherlock. And there was blazing sunshine throughout.

Above all though, it was great to meet so many lovely people, particularly the readers who were kind enough to take a chance on buying "Eye Contact". I’m glad I had the chance to talk to them about it, I hope they enjoy reading it, and I hope they can make out what I scrawled in the copies I signed!

I wish the weekend could have lasted longer. Too soon, it was time to make for Bristol Temple Meads and the train home. Funnily enough, Julia Crouch sat two seats away from us on the way back but, as the last thing I read by her involved a quiet woman murdering an irritating fellow rail passenger, I thought it best to leave her in peace.

Roll on CrimeFest 2014!

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Before CrimeFest

It's Wednesday afternoon, things are winding down here at work, and I'm looking forward to my first big crime writing festival, CrimeFest.

Taking place in Bristol, the event has a special resonance for me as it's literally across the road from where I normally go to write, and is very close to several of the key locations from "Eye Contact" and "Knife Edge".

I'm lucky enough to be appearing on two panels. The first is "Fresh Blood: Debut Authors" with fellow writers Alex Blackmore, J.C.Martin, and Tom Vowler, moderated by ace crime-blogger Rhian Davies. The second is "The Power Of Authors: Are You In Charge Of Your Characters" where I'll be hosting Ruth Downie, Peter Guttridge, John Matthews and Andrew Pepper.

There are so many excellent talks that I'm looking forward to attending, and it'll be great to meet up with other readers and authors from the crime community. Somehow, it's very reassuring to find that people you know from Twitter do actually exist in real life.

And hey, I'll be in Bristol with my laptop, so I'll be able to get a bit more of book three done. I mean, it's not as if these hotels have bars that open in the evenings…

Thursday 23 May 2013


For some reason, I missed this one when it came out at the cinema, which is a shame because, now that I’ve seen it, Dredd is one of the films I’d most like to watch in big-screen 3D.

In the end, it was a stray movie trailer that brought the movie to my attention. I’m naturally predisposed to like this sort of thing as I was a fan (though not a hardcore fan) of the excellent Judge Dredd / 2000AD comics. However, my expectations weren’t that high after the unfortunate Sylvester Stallone treatment that came out a few years ago. On reflection, it was probably the haunting music in the trailer (In For The Kill by La Roux) that made me think of Blade Runner and compelled me to go out and get the DVD.

And I’m so very glad I did, because Dredd is a fantastic film for all sorts of reasons.

Firstly (mild spoiler alert) it feels as though it was made by someone who had never heard of focus groups. Defying all convention, principal character Judge Dredd doesn’t go on some trite emotional journey. The young rookie Judge Anderson doesn’t teach the older lawman new tricks or force him to confront his inner demons. And there’s no contrived love-interest.

Another welcome omission is the almost mandatory how he became section. Sure, there will be a lot of people who come to this movie without prior knowledge of the characters or the universe it’s set in, but Dredd works just fine without it. So many comic-book adaptations spend so long spoon-feeding us the protagonist’s back-story, that there’s little time for a decent story.
This does have a story, and it feels like a real, comic-book story – straight into the action, and staying with the action all the way through to the hugely satisfying end.

I loved the costumes and the production design. Often, the best science fiction has that gritty, lived-in quality – a future that might have emerged from the decay of our own present, rather than something designed by Apple. Dredd has a wonderful look – maybe the best since Blade Runner – but it isn’t all dark and gloomy. The idea of featuring a narcotic called Slo-Mo was inspired. With stunning photography and saturated, sparkling shots, the drugged-up sequences are moments of glittering beauty that starkly contrast the rest of the film.

Dredd is brilliant. It’s as good as the previous version was bad. And Karl Urban’s performance in the title role isn’t just good – it’s assured enough for him to keep his helmet on for the whole film! Grab the DVD now.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Really? No women?

Recently, our studio began recruiting for a couple of new app programmers. Initially, I was concerned that we might not find enough candidates with the right skills. Now, I'm troubled to learn that we've got more than forty applicants… and not one of them is female.

I often hear our industry accused of being sexist, particularly in terms of the relative number of men and women it employs. However, our attempt to hire new staff suggests that the industry may not be entirely at fault – part of the problem may lie elsewhere.

Historically, I know that electronic games were once perceived as "boys toys" and that doubtless skewed the number of male applicants, as they were more likely to be interested in the sector. Yet now, women gamers are the norm. Females growing up in recent years have every reason to be interested in games, so it would be something of a statistical anomaly if they didn't make up a good percentage of applicants for new jobs.

Are there other reasons? It's certainly true that a lot of the content that the industry produces portrays female characters in a less than respectful light – consider the recent GTA-V trailer if you need a reminder. And there are often troubling stories on the web about sexist behaviour and language from individuals in the games industry. Such attitudes are clearly wrong, yet I doubt that they are unique to games. Are there really no cases of sexism in law, medicine, science, or journalism? Because if women are succeeding in other sectors that aren't yet free of sexism, then perhaps sexism isn't the only reason there are so few female programmers.

I don't profess to have the answers to this issue. But I'd dearly like to see a debate, and one which isn't immediately bogged down with (understandably) outraged stories of disrespectful language and Neanderthal attitudes. Because none of that explains why we got no female applicants. And why there were so terribly few female coders on the courses that our male applicants attended.

I can't believe that young women aren't interested in a well-paying career-type like this. Something must be amiss further back down the training path – maybe at college, maybe at school, maybe at home. Wherever the blockage is, wherever girls get the idea that they wouldn't be able to do this sort of job, needs to be addressed. Right now.

Saturday 20 April 2013


If book three turns out to be particularly popular, it will be largely down to today. The core of the novel currently lurking on Amazon's pre-order catalogue as "Untitled McNeill 3" has been in my head for a long time - years, in fact. And yet, excited as I was about it, I had felt that something was missing. I was pleased with the premise, and the characters, and the setting. There was a nice twist, part-way though...

...but today, chatting with Anna in an Exeter cafe, I finally saw the real twist. It was a wonderful feeling - a little like finding the £10 note you thought you'd lost, and discovering it's actually a £20.

Now all I have to do is knuckle down and write the rest of the book. Oh, and think of a title that's better than "Untitled McNeill 3".

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Writing On Location

Okay. I admit it's an odd place to find someone typing. I probably cut a somewhat puzzling figure, hunched over my laptop, while perching on the sea wall in the shadow of the Second Severn Crossing suspension bridge. Some authors have a study, or a favourite room where they do their best work (and battle the temptations of Twitter) but more and more I've found myself drawn to the places where my next scene is unfolding. For some reason, writing "on location" really works for me.

The idea came years ago, at a seminar on screenwriting. The speaker, a wonderfully forthright man, caught our attention with an intriguing statement.
"There's no such thing as writer's block," he warned us. "Just a lack of research."
The solution he illustrated went something like this. Let's say you're writing a chapter where your character needs to leave their apartment and walk to a hotel somewhere else in the city. If you find yourself unable to summon up the atmosphere and the sense of place, what can you do? Go and experience it! Walk the route. Put yourself in the character's position and get a sense of how they'd feel.

That advice stayed with me. Plotting the first murder in "Eye Contact", I had a fairly clear sequence of events in mind. But when the time came to actually write it, there were sections where I found myself staring blankly at the screen. I knew what was going to happen in general terms, but I wasn't sure what the next sentence should be.

So I took my laptop and went to Bristol. I went where my characters went, following in their footsteps, picturing them in each setting, until I ended up on the beautifully bleak shoreline of Severn Beach. I'd been typing up rough sections and notes every step of the way – now the challenge wasn't a lack of inspiration, it was almost a struggle to capture the torrent of thoughts.

I'd expected this process to help me with scene-setting, or creating atmosphere, but it did much more than that. Being where my characters were gave me a powerful sense of empathy with them. Suddenly, the story felt terribly real – as though I was researching and recording events which had actually happened.

From then on, I made a point of visiting all the key locations in the book – the old canal towpath in Oxford, the lobby of a Mayfair hotel, a busy Starbucks at Canary Wharf, or a lonely park bench in Winchester. Sometimes it would be a fleeting visit to refresh my memory and take some notes, on other occasions (weather permitting) I'd sit and type for hours. It was always rewarding, and often surprising, as the story shifted and unfolded into its natural setting.

So, the next time you see someone bent over their laptop in an odd location, take a good look around. You might be standing in a future crime scene!

(this piece first appeared on the Kindle Post blog)

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Be Seeing You...

Recently, I've been lucky enough to do my first few author events. Public speaking isn't entirely new for me, as I've given many talks at trade shows and conferences, but those were all focused on my day-job making games and apps. A small gathering in a library or bookshop is much more intense.

It's all about the audience. Even if it's a smaller crowd, there's a much stronger connection between reader and author, than between industry professionals at a business-to-business event. It's about engaging with people who actually want to be there, rather than employees who've been required to attend, and you get a wonderful sense that what you're saying really matters.

Then of course, there's the subject matter. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy designing apps, and I really care about representing my company and its products. But no matter how exciting the project or technology, it's still just business. Books are personal.

As a writer, you put so much of yourself into your novel, and reveal so much of yourself through the shape of the story. When you sit down and chat with people who've taken the time to read your book, you're sitting down with people who've shared a very personal journey with you. If that sounds daunting, well, yes it can be. But it's also incredibly exciting.

The opportunity to discuss a story with others brings it out of your imagination and into the shared consciousness of the readers. It's no longer just a series of chapters, it's an experience (albeit a fictional one) that exists with a life of its own. As an author, I can think of no greater thrill, and no greater privilege.

So I'm looking forward to doing more events - from cosy gatherings in local libraries, to CrimeFest in Bristol - chatting about writing and listening to readers. If you have the chance, do come along and say hello. Nothing would please me more. 

Thursday 28 February 2013

Series Characters

I never set out to write a series character. When I started my first novel “Eye Contact” I told the story I wanted to tell, about a serial killer who chooses his victims at random, and the detective who hunts him. There was no grand design, no long-term plan, and I wrote without any restriction. Only when I was asked to do a second and a third book, did I begin to see the benefits and challenges of going back to an already established world.

For me, the biggest concern was not to write the same book again. In “Knife Edge” both my detective and my killer are returning characters, and it would have been all too easy to let them reprise their actions from the first novel. Yes, they develop and they grow, but such a course would have felt like treading water, and I wanted to go somewhere new.

So I shook things up. A pivotal event changes each of the principal characters’ lives and irrevocably alters the dynamic between them, while an additional narrative viewpoint promotes a third character from a supporting role to centre stage. As part of a series, it was easier to do this because these felt like real people and I knew them so well, but it also imposed restrictions on me – I couldn’t alter my characters to fit the plot, I had to let the plot grow from my characters.

With hindsight, I could have made things easier on myself, but at least I’ve tried to learn from the experience. At the end of “Knife Edge”, I tidied up a number of loose ends, and opened some doors ready for book three. I have no doubt that I’ll continue to be tripped up by innocuous things, that I’ll yearn to go back in time and give my detective a brother, or change where someone grew up. But that’s the real challenge of a series character – it may be a long story, divided into novel-sized episodes, but once each episode is in print, there’s no changing it! Just like real-life, it’s done and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Think that sounds like fun? Ask me again in a few books time, and I’ll tell you how well I did!

Friday 8 February 2013

Strangers on a train

There’s a guy on this train who keeps smiling to himself. He’s maybe twenty, well-built, with an open fleece top, and tracksuit trousers that have a local rugby club badge on them. And he sits there, staring at the back of the seat in front of him, with an involuntary grin on his face.

This is what I’ve missed about travelling – people watching.

All sorts of wonderful little dramas play out on trains, but I’ve been somewhat reluctant to go on longer rail journeys of late. Waiting for a kidney-stone makes you edgy – the frequent bouts of discomfort really break your concentration – and staying close to home feels safer.

However, with book two off to the copy editor, my focus is back onto number three, and I have a backlog of Bristol locations to research. Normally, this is a job for the weekends, but top of today’s list was the Pervasive Media Studio down at the Watershed, where they have an open day on Fridays. One of my characters needs a suitably creative environment to work in and, as it happened, the studio was everything I’d hoped. A very helpful member of staff showed me around and answered my questions – by the end of the tour, I wished I had the opportunity to work there myself.

Next, I spent some time at Bristol Crown Court, getting to know the workings of the building and watching some of the proceedings from the public galleries, before heading up to Stokes Croft.

There, in a cafe just a few streets from the key locations where book three is set, I was rather startled to discover that the man on the next table had exactly the same day-job as my next villain. These life-imitates-book coincidences just keep occurring, and I’m never quite sure whether to be spooked by them, or simply accept them as uncanny anecdotes, to be stored up for future interviews.

I spent some time walking-off my lunch, round Montpelier and Redland, before it was time to head back to Bristol Templemeads and the train home.

Which is where I am now.

The guy is still smiling. It’s busy tonight, so he spent the first twenty minutes of the journey standing in the aisle, then managed to get a seat next to an extremely attractive young woman. They clearly didn’t know each other – hardly anything passed between them – just a couple of polite words when he took his seat, and again when she got off ten minutes later. But while the train was waiting at her stop, I saw him glancing out of the window and there, walking along the platform, I saw her glance up, pause, and flash him a broad, blushing smile. His face lit up – I can’t remember seeing anyone look so genuinely chuffed – and I suspect he’ll be feeling good all day.

No wonder I get so many ideas on trains. It’s a people-watcher’s paradise...
...and this was one of the nicest moments.

Saturday 26 January 2013


Today (Friday) was an interesting day, at least as far as writing goes. My day job required me to travel to a meeting in Exeter, so I knew I’d have plenty of time sitting on trains and I decided it was time to start fleshing out the draft of book three.

The core of this story has been in my head for some time – in fact, I remember the idea of it really seemed to creep out my lovely agent Eve White when I first met her – and I’ve been jotting down notes and fragments of it for the last few months. There have been several research trips to Bristol, figuring out the key locations, and discussions with some wonderfully helpful Police officers to explore procedures.

But today was significant milestone.

When I write, I have the dreadful habit of going directly from notes to (relatively) final text. I agonise and adjust and I subject each paragraph to many whispered readings as I go. While it may entertain my fellow train passengers to watch someone whose lips move as he tests the wording, I’m told that aiming for something as polished as this is an extremely bad idea. “It’ll take you ages to get a first draft,” they say, and I know exactly what they mean. However, it’s also the way that works for me, so “tough”.

In any event, today I set out with several pages of notes and, by the time I got home this evening, I had the first half of a scene that really pleased me. A little bit of book three now exists!

Of course, this was also the day that I received a list of final book two changes from my editor, so I’ll briefly need to pause and work through those, but it doesn’t matter – the board is set and the pieces are moving.