Blog Tour – The Migrant by Paul Alkazraji

Paul is a new to me author, so I had a bit of a chat with Paul to find out more about the author and his book.


Fascist populists, callous sex-traffickers and murderous mafia gangs – these were not what Pastor Jude Kilburn had expected to face when he moved to Albania. But when vulnerable 19-year-old Alban disappears from his poverty-stricken village to seek work in Greece, Jude has to undertake the perilous journey across the mountains to try and rescue him from the ruthless Athenian underworld. Accompanied by a volatile secret-service agent and a reformed gangster, Jude soon finds himself struggling to keep everyone together as personal tensions rise and violent anti-austerity riots threaten to tear them apart and undermine the mission. Caught between cynical secret police and a brutal crime syndicate, the fate of them all will be determined by a trafficked girl – but not every one will make it home. The Migrant is a tense and evocative thriller with a powerful redemptive twist.

When did you start writing, and why?

I began writing poetry as a relief from my Business Studies degree in the 1980s. It helped me get a lot of feelings off my chest. Things really began to flourish, though, after I took a course with the London School of Journalism in Freelance Journalism. Then I relished the freedom of pursuing the subjects and people who interested me – drawing out what they had to say about their life and work. I very much enjoyed formulating a range of questions, giving people space to talk, and then eking out the gems of their experience for others to appreciate.

What motivates you to write?

There’s a lot of satisfaction in taking the essence of my own life experience and telling others about it, and knowing that through the medium of fiction, which I’ve been focusing on recently, I have the reader’s company with me in that, albeit for a brief period of time, as they follow the narrative.

What do you like to do to relax when not writing?

I enjoy travelling around Albania, North Macedonia and Greece. I like skiing in these locations in the winter too, and listening to pop, jazz and folk music.

Tell us about your latest book.

‘The Migrant’ is a story about someone, a pastor, who takes on the responsibility to care enough for another person in his village, a young man called Alban, such that he is ready to go the extra kilometre, over 500 of them in fact, to the Greek capital of Athens to see if he is safe. He arrives in Athens as the dangers all around Alban are building – violent anti-austerity riots, the rise of far right political groups and racist attacks, the clutches of a trafficking gang, a cynical police operation – and then races against time to reach him.

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Some of them from ‘The Migrant’ would be ‘Che’ Chaconas the anarchist, Granit Korabi the criminal gang member, Stavros ‘The Big Man’, a far right thug, and Donis Xenakis, a member of the Greek riot police. They each have something amusing, interesting or colourful about them, even though they are characters at the darker end of the spectrum. But the protagonist, Jude, the pastor who takes on the search for Alban, has more of my personal empathy.

Anything else you want to share?  

I hope readers of ‘The Migrant’ might be transported into another time and place and feel well entertained, and that they might become more aware of the lives of others caught up in similar circumstances among the migrations of our time. I also hope they might take inspiration to go those extra kilometres for someone when they may be the only person who can turn their situation around.

Paul Alkazraji worked as a freelance journalist in the UK from the mid-nineties. His articles were published broadly including in Scotland on Sunday and The Independent. He has published five books including his latest ‘The Migrant’, a thriller set in Albania and Greece, with Instant Apostle. A Brit working overseas, he has lived in the south of Albania for 18 years.

Author Profile:
Goodreads Profile:
Twitter Link:

Thanks to Paul Alkazraji and Reading between the lines for including me in this blog tour.  Paul – hope everything goes well with the book.

Book Review – Sleepless, Louise Mumford

Back in February I was able to host Louise Mumford in my crime author month, and she introduced us to her novel “Sleepless”. I’m glad to say I have finally got round to reading it.

Here’s my review.

Thea crashes her car, probably due to a microsleep. Thea is a woman who doesn’t sleep much, most of us can relate to that, but for Thea this isn’t a temporary difficulty, it’s a long term, seemingly never-ending situation.  So when she gets a chance to be included on a sleep trial, she jumps at it. It is literally a jump from the frying pan into the fire.
There are lots of wonderful elements in this book, Louise Mumford brings the characters to life in a difficult situation so that even the darkness is readable.  It is an interesting exploration of the way that we convince ourselves that our worries are nothing to worry about, even when they are.

My favourite exchange was:
Thea: The man is a creep. 
Rory: The world is full of them, can’t knee them all in the balls.

Louise – we can try. But honestly, I’d sooner recommend reading “Sleepless”, wonderful book.

Previous interview: Louise Mumford

Booklink: Sleepless

Louise Mumford was born and lives in South Wales. From a young age she loved books and dancing, but hated having to go to sleep, convinced that she might miss out on something interesting happening in the world whilst she dozed. Insomnia has been a part of her life ever since.

In the summer of 2019 Louise was discovered as a new writer by her publisher at the Primadonna Festival. She lives in Cardiff with her husband and spends her time trying to get down on paper all the marvellous and frightening things that happen in her head.

Blog Tour – Hunter’s Chase

This is part of the Blog Tour for Hunter’s Chase (The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries Book 1) by Val Penny, published by Darkstroke Books, and it marks the release of the audio book.

Hunter’s Chase is the book that introduces DI Hunter Wilson and his team. The blurb below outlines the story but to give you further insight, this is a book all about family in its many and varied forms, from the new to old, healthy to unhealthy, and some that change alone the way. Just about every type of family you can think of appears in this book, and the levels of love and attachment are equaly spread. Some of the details will make you hate the characters and some will have you crying for them.

The story contains a lot of interesting twists with the characters intertwining in unusual ways, and drawing together perfectly. The work deals with some difficult topics but they are sympathetically handled and the conclusion works well.

Hunter’s Chase is a great ensemble piece and introduces many good, strong characters. The individual characters came across as fully rounded and ‘seeable’ individuals with lives and loves of their own. There was only one reaction that didn’t make sense to me, but it’s a very minor point, that may work well for others.

With direct reference to the audio version, I have listened to it despite having previously read the book, and it took me a while to get used to Sean Pia’s accent, not that there’s anything wrong with it or his reading, he has a great Edinburgh burr. But somehow it was a bit ‘younger’ than I was expecting. I think I had imagined Hunter’s voice so clearly in my head it was odd to hear something different to that. However, that oddness soon wore off and if you listen or read, you’re still consuming a good book.


Hunter by name – Hunter by nature: DI Hunter Wilson will not rest until Edinburgh is safe.

Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson knows there is a new supply of cocaine flooding his city, and he needs to find the source, but his attention is transferred to murder when a corpse is discovered in the grounds of a golf course. 

Shortly after the post-mortem, Hunter witnesses a second murder, but that is not the end of the slaughter. With a young woman’s life also hanging in the balance, the last thing Hunter needs is a new man on his team: Detective Constable Tim Myerscough, the son of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable Sir Peter Myerscough. 

Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this first novel in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series.



Val Penny’s other crime novels, Hunter’s Chase Hunter’s Revenge, Hunter’s Force Hunter’s Blood and Hunter’s Secret form the bestselling series The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries. They are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by darkstroke Her first non-fiction book Let’s Get Published is also available now and she has most recently contributed her short story, Cats and Dogs to a charity anthology, Dark Scotland.

Val is an American author living in SW Scotland with her husband and their cat.

Where to find the Author:

Facebook: @Authorvalpenny
Val Penny
Friends Of Hunter Wilson & The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries
Val’s Book Bundle
Goodreads: Val Penny
Amazon: Val Penny
Bookbub: Val Penny

Ten Inside

I’ve been talking to Ross Greenwood again, and picking up more unusual and unexpected tips on what life is like inside a prison.  This is a distillation of the things he’s said, and it makes for interesting and in places uncomfortable reading.  But if you want to portray a life inside, working in one or two of these points may help bring a new level of realism to your story.

  1. New inmates often arrive hungry. Having been in court all day and then stuck in transport van, they haven’t had the appetite or opportunity to eat. Newspapers make out that all prisoners are hardened brutes who sneered at the system, but all except the insane fear the courts. Hunger isn’t a concern until the verdict is in.
  2. Some new inmates will arrive in the clothes they were arrested in on the Friday night, even though it was then Monday.
  3. New inmates may be afraid to shower, having watched too many prison movies. So you’d give them a faded stiff towel and a bar of plain soap, and tell them to use the sink.
  4. A significant proportion of prisoners (of both genders) have mental health problems. Many were victims before they were villains.
  5. Prisons are not holiday camps, but they could be more spartan.  However, locking people up with nothing to do and no TV when they already have mental health illnesses is inhumane. If they’re struggling with life before jail, that is not going to help.
  6. Most murders are clear cut. The perpetrator normally knows the victim. Often, it was their partner.
  7. Most of those accused of murder plead guilty when put in front of the Crown judge, but it is rare for them to be sentenced on the spot. They usually have to return to court to be sentenced; often about two weeks later.
  8. Those two weeks will be spent in jail and the reaction of the prisoners to the wait is fascinating, the weight could be seen falling off them. The nights are long as they wait for the axe to fall. People age years.
  9. Hygiene is not high on inmate priorities. Brushing teeth is not, for many, a regular occurrence.  Toothache affects a significant portion of prisoners. The stench of their breath is indescribable.  See point 3, some don’t shower for their entire stay.
  10. Gob watch (Ross’ term not an official one).  When prisoners are on medications, these have to be passed out and someone has to check that they are taken, but prisoners are adept at hiding pills for a later buzz, suicide attempt or to sell, so an officer has to check their mouths. It’s easier to hide pill in teeth with holes, see point 8, so they have to be checked, try not to imagine the stench.

One other thing that Ross did add was this: 

The Coronavirus has given us a glimpse into that world. It feels surreal, unnatural, claustrophobic, stressful and boring, and we’re only under house arrest. All our plans have gone to pot. We don’t know if we’ll have a job when all this is over. How will we pay the mortgage? We’ll miss weddings and funerals. Will life be the same afterwards? Could we lose hope?

This is a point on which I total agree with him, see my blog “New Year, Old Lockdown.”

An image posted by the author.

Why not take a look at Ross’s Amazon Page for more information on him and his fabulous books.

Or follow his page on Facebook:

I hope these general pointers help others with their writing, and want to say a big thank you to Ross for being so open and honest with all he’s had to say on the topic. 

Michelle Salter

I’ve been talking to debut historical crime writer Michelle Salter about her work, here’s what she had to share with us all.

What motivates you to write?

I write historical crime mysteries as I love the research as much as the writing. I find it fascinating to take modern day situations and place them 100 years ago.I’m particularly interested in showing how a woman’s role in society has changed in the twentieth century. My debut novel, The Suffragette’s Daughter, is set in 1920 and is the first in a series of mysteries that focus on crimes and social issues affecting women during this era.

Which do you like to write, series or standalones?  If you write both, what do you find the difference?

I’m currently busy with the Iris Woodmore Mysteries series. However, I would like to write a standalone gothic novel, possibly switching between two timeframes.

What do you like to do to relax when not writing?

I’ve been a volunteer at my local nature reserve, Fleet Pond, for nearly fifteen years now. At 52 acres, Fleet Pond is the largest freshwater lake in Hampshire and is surrounded by an extensive nature reserve made up of wetlands, woodlands, and dry heathland.
Many local locations feature in my books, and the fictional lake Waldenmere, which plays a prominent role in my next novel, is inspired by Fleet Pond.

The Suffragette's Daughter : a gripping historical crime mystery by [Michelle Salter]

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Percy Baverstock is a favourite of mine and my readers. He’s enjoyable to write because he doesn’t always think before he speaks. He has a grasshopper mind and hops from subject to subject – his mood can change as quickly as his conversation.

He loves to go dancing in the jazz clubs that are springing up in London in 1920. He makes his first appearance in The Suffragette’s Daughter and was only going to feature briefly, but he’s very lovable. He’s become a recurring character and returns in the second Iris Woodmore mystery due out later this year.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Sir Nigel Bostock is a particularly obnoxious character who appears in The Suffragette’s Daughter. He’s a snob and a chauvinist. He takes his privileged life for granted and shows little empathy for others. I’m sure most readers will have come across someone in their lives who shares a few of Sir Nigel’s boorish traits!

Tell us about your last book…

The Suffragette’s Daughter is a historical crime mystery set in 1920. It’s a period of rapid social change, but even in these progressive times, it can still be deadly for a woman to show too much strength.

Rather than the stylised world of the flapper girl, I wanted to explore the reality of Britain in the aftermath of the Great War and the suffragist movement. It was a period of empowerment and greater independence for some women, but the reality for many others was that their lives were the same as they had been a decade earlier.

Inspiration for the novel struck in the summer of 2018 on a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. Westminster Hall was hosting an exhibition to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 – a significant milestone in the suffrage movement.
Despite introduction of the Act, a third of the adult female population in this country still didn’t have the right to vote. The fight for equal representation was far from over – and the seeds for The Suffragette’s Daughter were sown.

What’s coming next…

I hope the second book in the Iris Woodmore Mysteries series will be out later this year, and I’m currently working on a third.
I’m enjoying exploring the maturation of my lead character. Iris is a young woman who’s stepped outside of social convention, and while some doors have opened, others have been slammed firmly in her face.

I hope younger readers of my novels will appreciate the challenges their predecessors faced and how much we owe to the suffrage movement.

Anything else you want to share?

The Suffragette’s Daughter is now available from Amazon.

Michelle Salter is a historical crime fiction writer based in north east Hampshire, UK.

Michelle works as a copywriter and has written features for national magazines. Her love of social history influences her writing, and her novels explore how events from 100 years ago reflect the world we live in today.
When she’s not writing, Michelle can be found knee-deep in mud at her local nature reserve. She enjoys working with a team of volunteers undertaking conservation activities on land and in water, repairing riverbanks, sloshing around in the marshes and driving a tractor badly.

If you’d like to be the first to hear the latest news on novel releases and works in progress, visit to subscribe to Michelle’s newsletter.

You can also find Michelle on:

Thank you, Michelle for sharing with us, and best of luck with the debut.

Four Thoughts on Research for Writing

Writing historical fiction requires a lot of research, but it’s not just historical authors that need to think about research, it’s all of us. This is an area that Chris Lloyd knows a great deal about, as and “The Unwanted Dead” releases today, he’s here with his advice on research.

I write novels set in Paris under the Nazi Occupation. Inevitably, this calls for large amounts of time and planning spent on research, which can be immensely frustrating – for example, when you’re trying to find what colour ration tickets for wine were in June 1941 – but it can also be extremely rewarding. This is especially the case when the research turns up a whole story or character – or simply vignettes and small details of everyday life – that I would otherwise never have dreamt of. It can provide the central theme of the novel, or simply background that adds colour and authenticity to the story. And that’s when all the frustrations reduce to nothing and the hours spent tracking an isolated fact down becomes instantly forgotten. Along the way, I’ve come to a few conclusions about research that have helped me and that I hope might be useful to others.

1 Research, Research, Research

You can never do too much research.

I begin with a sort of immersive research. History books, films, documentaries, novels, anything that gives me a sense of the time and the place. This starts with the ‘big’ history – what was going on with the war elsewhere, major events in France, political machinations and so on – and then moves on to the fine detail. How my characters would have dressed, what they would have seen as they walked through the streets of Paris. Were the cafes and restaurants open? How many cars were there? How frequently would ordinary people have seen German soldiers or been stopped by them? How afraid were they? And how much did they simply try to get by despite the soldiers’ presence?

The next stop is to narrow the research down. My stories are set over a specific time period – The Unwanted Dead covers the first ten days of the Occupation, the second book (which I’m currently writing) takes place between September and November 1940. That’s actually extremely helpful and quite a relief. Whereas the immersive research can leave your head reeling with an information overload, the focused research not only pins the story down, it offers all sorts of opportunities for extra threads and characters thanks to the odd snippet of detail here and there that it throws up. This is where the research really helps the story start to gel.

2 Then stop researching

You can do too much research.

I know I’ve contradicted myself, but that’s research for you. Once the story starts to gel, that’s the time to stop researching. And for me, it’s important to know the exact moment. That’s partly because it’s much too easy to send yourself down a rabbit-hole, finding out all sorts of things you don’t need and confusing the issue. It’s all very well knowing what colour ration tickets for wine were in June 1941, but it’s a massive distraction if your story’s set in autumn 1940. There’s nothing like it for taking you off the boil. The main reason, though, is because it’s time to start exploring, time to start getting the story down on screen while it’s still fresh and exciting in your own mind. That’s when you can allow your characters to react to the research you’ve learned and do something with it.

3 Then do a bit more research

This is where it gets frustrating. You’ve got your story, the characters are lined up and waiting in the wings, they’ve already made their first moves, the streets are populated with your extras, and foul and bloody murder has already been committed. And that’s when you find you want Eddie, your protagonist, to go to a café for a glass of pastis with another cop to calm their nerves after the foul and bloody murder. But for them to do that, I have to know if that would have been possible under the Occupation. And it’s that moment of trying to find a very specific and very small piece of research that determines whether a scene can happen or not, or if it has to be adapted. And there’s nothing like it for slowing your writing down, as it can take hours and even days to find out that one minor piece of information. The sad news is you have no choice. If you want your story to be as authentic and accurate as possible, you just have to roll your sleeves up and dive into the deep research. That’s when you learn patience.

And in case you’re wondering – no, they couldn’t have a glass of pastis. The Vichy government had banned all drinks over sixteen per cent proof, so they had to drink wine instead, and use up a ration ticket each. Ration tickets, by the way, whose colour was changed from one month to the next to prevent forgeries being made and sold on the black market.

4 Forget the research

There’s a famous photo of Adolf Hitler taken the one time he visited Paris, in June 1940. In it, he’s standing in the Trocadéro with the Eiffel Tower behind him, on the opposite bank of the Seine. He’s flanked by architect Albert Speer and sculptor Arno Breker. Albert Speer claims the photograph was taken on 28th June, Arno Breker says it was 23rd June. They can’t both be right. My dilemma is which date do I choose.

I’ve got a similar problem with the second book. For the purposes of the story, I need Eddie to go to a specific opera on a specific day. I know the opera was staged in Paris – Fidelio, a story of political prisoners and freedom, a strange choice for the Nazis to have made – and I know it was in the autumn. The problem is I can only find one source for the actual date… and it contradicts itself. It first says Fidelio was staged at the end of October, and a few chapters later, it says it was in December. Again, I have to make my choice.

In both cases, I’ve driven myself up the wall trying to find a definitive date, but it’s impossible. And that’s when you have to forget the research and remember what it is you’re doing. You’re writing fiction. My own research in both cases has led me to a specific date for each of the two events, and I’ve made every effort possible to be accurate, but I also have to realise that this is when another element becomes important – the story. As I said, I write fiction. The history has to be accurate, the research has to be true, but it also has to contribute to the story I’m telling. Faced with contradictions in the research, and there are many, your choice has to come down to one fact. You’re a story-teller. You have to be authentic, you have to respect the past, but your story has to come first.

Chris Lloyd grew up in Cardiff and, after graduating in Spanish and French, spent twenty-four years in Catalonia, where he taught English and worked in educational publishing and as a travel writer and translator. Besides this, he also lived in Grenoble for six months, researching the French Resistance movement, and in the Basque Country and Madrid. He now lives in his native Wales where he works as a writer and translator.

He writes the Eddie Giral crime thriller series, the result of his lifelong interest in resistance and collaboration in Occupied France. Living under the shadow cast by his experiences in World War One, Eddie Giral is a Paris police detective forced to come to terms with the Nazi Occupation of the city. Seeking to negotiate a path between the occupier and the occupied, Eddie struggles to retain some semblance of humanity while walking a fine line between resistance and collaboration. However, his greatest challenge possibly lies in overcoming his own inner struggle in asking what justice is when the notion of justice itself becomes as dangerous, blurred and confused as the times. The first book in the series, The Unwanted Dead, is published by Orion and comes out in paperback on 18 March 2021.

Chris is also the author of the Elisenda Domènech crime series, published by Canelo, featuring a police officer with the devolved Catalan police force.

Charlotte Barnes

The last, but certainly not least of our authors this month, Charlotte Barnes share news of her latest books.

When did you start writing, and why?

It feels a bit fanciful to say it, but I feel like I’ve always written. Mum takes great pleasure in rolling out books that were stapled together by yours truly – written and illustrated by my own fair hand too. I remember always loving the telling; to be gifted the experience of hearing a good story. I think that created a real drive in me from quite a young age. I wanted to give something similar to people. I’ve no idea whether I’ve reached that point yet or not, but either way I still feel that drive, to create the feelings, the entertainment, to give people something to take away. Granted, young-Charley wasn’t as big on crime fiction as adult-Charley, but tastes change!

Which do you like to write, series or standalones?  If you write both, what do you find the difference?

I have written both and I’ve loved writing both, so this is a great question! For the series – that is, The Copycat, The Watcher, and The Cutter – I think I created some real ties with those characters, because I came back to them so often. I was invested in what was happening to them, around them, even what might have happened to them off-screen – or rather, in the time between books. Whereas, with a standalone, my works in that area have been, at least to me, much more grizzly. Rather than juggling many characters and caring about them all equally, standalones (especially when they’re written as first-person voices) require a real mental investment to make sure you get the character just so, and that you can hold them that way for the length of your book.

Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?

Not much, but certainly some things. I find it very difficult to read fiction – well, crime fiction, that is – that deals with children, anything below the age of around thirteen. It’s always been a troublesome area for me to navigate as a reader and, because of that, I’m not even sure I could attempt writing about it without pushing my boundaries a little too far. I’ll stick to the other crimes!

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Gillian – and I have to say that because she scares even me! Gillian is the narrative voice in Intention, which is the first psychological thriller I had published with Bloodhound Books. She steers the first novel that I’ve ever really carried through to its end. She’s vicious, unknowingly so, and curious in terrifying ways, and to this day I’m exceptionally proud of things she does, and ways she behaves, in that novel.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

There is a pesky journalist who crops up for the first time in The Copycat; Heather, her name is. I originally introduced her to be a bit of a pain during an interview, which she was. But then the DI Watton series continued, into The Watcher and The Cutter, and despite my dislike of her I did always find a place for her – to add a bit of drama, I think! Although she always pokes holes in my other characters.

Tell us about your last book…

The Watcher is the middle DI Melanie Watton novel, but it can easily be read as a standalone piece too. A video surfaces in the local area that looks to show a man being murdered. Watton and her team first have to verify the video is what it looks like, then they have to hunt a killer without having a murder, a crime scene, or even a victim.
But when other snuff films start to surface, it becomes clear the killer is more experienced than anyone first thought…

What’s coming next…

The Cutter is the third and final DI Melanie Watton novel, coming on March 15th. In this final book, things get personal. A taxidermist is murdered and his studio robbed of various structures and projects. But soon these stolen items start to appear at other crime scenes – with messages attached.
The team knows that one of them is being targeted. But the who and the why are yet to be discovered…

Anything else you want to share?

The Cutter is one of three novels that I have coming out with Bloodhound Books this year. The other two, though, are standalone psychological thrillers, which I’m very excited about! All I See Is You will arrive in May 2021 and Sincerely, Yours will arrive in September.

Photo credit:
Marcus Mingins

Charlotte ‘Charley’ Barnes is an author and academic from the West Midlands, UK. She is a Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, where she teaches Creative and Professional Writing, and she is also the Director of Sabotage Reviews and the Editor of Dear Reader. Charley writes crime under the name of Charlotte, but also publishes poetry as Charley Barnes.

Thanks Charlotte, lovely to hear from you and best of luck with everything

Well folks, that’s it from the February Blog Run, 28 excellent authors sharing their stories with us. Thanks to each and every one of them and to you for reading.

Alison Layland

Alison Layland, another Crime Cymru author talks to us about her novels, skills with foreign languages and upcoming events to watch out for.

When did you start writing, and why?

I’ve always told myself stories, including a couple of long-running soap operas, and I recently came across a treasure trove of childhood poems and songs. However, I only began to realise that I could actually be a writer when we moved to Wales, I took to learning the language, and our Welsh classes continued in the form of creative writing sessions. I found that writing in a language that wasn’t my mother tongue somehow broke down inhibitions and opened doors. I was thrilled when my Welsh short stories won Eisteddfod prizes, and I had a number of Welsh flash fiction pieces published. Since my first published novel, however, I’ve written mainly in English, my native language, and mainly novels, though I’d love to return to short stories and flash fiction as well.

What motivates you to write?

I love telling stories. There’s nothing more fulfilling than developing characters and then spending time with them, along with the satisfaction of a plot unfolding and loose ends coming together. From that, it’s probably obvious that I’m a character-led “pantser” when it comes to first drafts; meticulous planning takes over in subsequent drafts, however, and I enjoy both stages equally.

I’m also keen to explore a variety of issues in my fiction, and love the research that involves. In my first novel, Someone Else’s Conflict, the central issue, and springboard for the story, was the long-lasting effects of war – a fictional atrocity during the 1990s Croatian War of Independence – on two of my characters. I did a lot of research for the Croatian part of the story, including historical reading, travel and even learning the language to deepen my feel for the culture.

My second novel, Riverflow, was initially motivated by a desire to draw attention to environmental issues. As the story unfolded, I found myself drawn into my characters’ relationships and the effects of external events on my protagonists’ marriage.

Which do you like to write, series or standalones? 

My two published novels are standalone psychological mysteries. However, having spent months or years invested in my characters and their worlds, it’s tempting to revisit (on paper as well as in my mind!) and I’m attracted to the idea of a series. I’m not sure if it counts, but my work-in-progress is set in the future, and it refers back to some of the characters in Riverflow.

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

One of the things I most like about fiction, both writing and reading, is that you can get close to characters you’d probably run a mile from in real life. A classic example is Bede, the protagonist in Riverflow. As I would in real life, I admire and respect his ideals, but he’s a really prickly character who would be difficult to know in real life – but the reasons for this are revealed in the novel. I know several readers feel ambivalent towards him and, as I do, sympathise with his long-suffering wife, Elin, but think of him as a difficult but ultimately sympathetic character.

All in all, however, my favourite character is itinerant busker and storyteller Jay Spinney, from my debut, Someone Else’s Conflict. Although he has a dark past and a reluctance to be open and honest, he is ultimately compelled to do the right thing, and several readers have fallen under his spell.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Although I try to see the nuances of all my characters and understand their motivations, some are nevertheless distinctly unlikeable. Mihal Novak, a small-time gangster in Someone Else’s Conflict is one of them, and in Riverflow it’s arrogant landowner Philip Northcote. Although he’s a true antagonist, I drew on aspects of a couple of people in real life when creating the character, so who knows, there may be some who relate to him more than I do!

Tell us about your last book…

Inspired by my own environmental activism, my second psychological mystery, Riverflow, was published in 2019, and chosen as a Waterstones Book of the Month.

“In a village in the Welsh Marches, the undercurrents are as dark and strong as the River Severn. After a beloved family member is drowned in a devastating flood, Bede and Elin Sherwell only want to pick up the pieces and pursue their off-grid life in peace. But when a local landowner applies to start fracking near their smallholding, they are drawn in to the frontline of the protests. Mysterious threats and incidents begin to destroy trust, rake up the past and threaten their future together. Who is trying to ruin their world and how far will they go?”

What’s coming next…

I’m working on a novel set in the mid-21st century, about a community of people who have chosen to live an island life apart from a troubled society. As well as some intricate character relations and intrigues, I’m also really enjoying developing a vision of what the world might be like in three decades’ time…

Anything else you want to share?

I’m proud to be associated with Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival, the first international crime festival in Wales, for which I’m helping to organise a special competition. We’ll be holding a digital festival on 26 April-3 May 2021 and our inaugural in-person festival in Aberystwyth on 29 April-2 May 2022. Watch this space!

Alison Layland is a freelance writer and translator who lives and works in the Welsh borderlands. She is the author of two psychological mysteries, Someone Else’s Conflict and Riverflow, both published by Honno Press, and has also translated a number of best-selling novels.

You can find out more on her website at and her Alison Layland (Amazon Author Page), and follow her on Twitter @AlisonLayland

Thank you Alison, Wales is quite a seductive place to live, and I envy your skill with foreign languages.

Tomorrow and last up is writer Charlotte Barnes

Mark Hill

Today Mark Hill talks to us offering some odd insights into secondary characters and bay leaves and mixed up tenses.

What motivates you to write?

I am literally useless at everything else. Some people will suggest that I’m not that much good at writing novels either, but at least I enjoy doing it… most of the time. Sometimes – at least twice a week – it drives me over the edge with frustration and anger. I’ll cry and sob and howl, and vow never to write another word. But then I’ll remember that I’m totally useless at everything else, so I may as well get on with it.

Which do you like to write, series or standalones?  If you write both, what do you find the difference?

I have two detective series. Two books feature my unstable North London copper Ray Drake; two are about the altogether lovely and very stable Sasha Dawson, and those are set in Southend.

I’ve just started my first standalone, a psychological thriller. In One Bad Thing my protagonist Hannah discovers that the past has a terrible way of coming back to haunt you.

It’s been a fascinating and challenging experience, and I’ve made a conscious effort to make it as different from my series books as possible. It’s kind of intense, because I’m also writing in first person present tense, so the reader is locked very firmly into Hannah’s head. Sometimes my tenses will get confused, and then I’ll get confused, and I’ll have to go for a nap.

Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?

I’ve written books which have managed to touch on very dark and serious subjects, such as institutional abuse, but I’ve managed to hint at those things rather than tackle them head on. I wouldn’t write about animal cruelty, I’m ambivalent about catalytic converters, and I will never, ever tackle the thorny issue of what exactly a bay leaf adds to a meal, taste-wise.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

I don’t have least-favourite characters, because they’re all fantastic and compelling, and it feels unkind to even consider singling out any of them. I tell you which characters it can be hard to write, though. It’s those walk-on characters who pop up as witnesses to a crime. My detectives will often spend a scene interviewing them, and then they’ll head off-page and we’ll never hear from them again.

I think all those minor walk-on characters deserve to be written just as well as the main characters. There’s so little space to give them a chance to shine, but it’s worth putting the effort in. In my book It Was Her there’s a chapter featuring two old gay gentlemen, Douglas and Bailey, who recount to the police a home-invasion they were victims of. Douglas has dementia and mistakes one of the intruders for his dead wife. Douglas and Bailey only appear in one chapter, but I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever written.

Tell us about your last book…

The latest Sasha Dawson book, The Woman In The Wood, is out on March 4th, and it features a former Essex reality star who finds himself in a world of trouble when his mates are targeted by a killer. Abs may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s is a lovely guy. Trouble is, he’s got a dark secret, and as we all know, dark secrets never stayed buried.


What’s coming next… 

Psych thriller One Bad Thing is out early next year. Did I mention I keep getting the tenses mixed up? Don’t worry, I’ll have that sorted by the time it’s published, I’m sure I will…

A former radio producer, Mark Hill is the author of four novels. His First Lie and It Was Her are written as Mark Hill and The Bad Place and The Woman In The Wood as MK Hill. He still occasionally gets his tenses mixed-up.

Thank you for joining us, and I agree, secondary characters can be tough – but not always as tough as the tense!

Tomorrow we get to hear from Alison Layland.

Tina Baker

Tina Baker joins us to share her fear of going under, cat ownership and new release, Call Me Mummy

When did you start writing, and why?

I remember writing when I was very small. I could write by the time I started school when I was five. The first word I spelled myself was my aunty Zita’s name – a process of putting letters together and pestering my dad, ‘Does this spell anything?’ over and over.

I wrote poems at school and kept them secret, so it didn’t result in one of the many fights I had – living in a caravan I was branded a ‘gyppo’.
I wrote short stories at school. I told no one.

I always wrote bits and bobs but didn’t have much time as a journalist to write ‘my own stuff.’ Only after I stopped doing that did I have the brain space to write a novel.

What motivates you to write?

Fear. Pure and simple. Terror. Feeling I’ll go under if I don’t write. Even when I’m not putting the words on the page, I’m thinking about writing or feeling guilty (in bed) that I’m not writing. Or reading and thinking about my own writing.

What do you like to do to relax when not writing?

I last relaxed in 1978 and I’m pretty sure drugs were involved. I now don’t do drink or drugs. In the past, I sometimes relaxed in that rare point between drink 1 and 2. By drink 23 I wasn’t relaxed any more but dancing on tables and marauding around streets!

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

In Call Me Mummy I empathise with both Mummy and Kim – the woman who steals a child and the woman who loses her child. But I love Tonya – the child – the most. She’s a real fighter. And funny. She’s the daughter I never had.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

I’m currently working on book three and the lead character in that is terrifying! I can’t say more than that right now.

Tell us about your latest book…

Call me Mummy is my first book. It’s terrifying having it out in the world. (25th Feb)

Dame Lorraine Kelly said it’s ‘dark, heart breaking and totally absorbing.’
It’s about a woman desperate for a child – so much so, when she sees a child being neglected by her mother, she steals it. It’s also the story of the mother who loses that child – one branded a ‘scummy mummy’ by the media and social media trolls.

What’s coming next… 

Nasty Little Cuts is my second Viper Books novel – another psychological thriller out early 2022. It explores those small niggles, resentments and cruelties that build and build within relationships, and then in highly charged situations like Christmas can erupt into something horrific. Bridget Jones meets Jack Reacher.

Anything else you want to share?

The cats’ vet bills.

Tina was brought up in a caravan after her mother, a fairground traveller, fell pregnant by a window cleaner. She worked as a journalist/ broadcaster for thirty years, probably best known as a television critic for the BBC/ GMTV. After hours watching soaps gave her a widescreen bum, she lost weight and won Celebrity Fit Club. When not writing she works as a fitness instructor and rescues cats. Call Me Mummy is Tina’s first novel, inspired by her own unsuccessful attempts to have a child. Despite the grief of that, she hasn’t stolen one. So far.

Tina, thank you for being so honest, and entertaining, and making me laugh (mostly because of the I’ve-been-there syndrome).  Hope that the new release works out well for you.

Mark Hill is up tomorrow