After the Novel

Fun activities BEFORE THE NOVEL is published



The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc (Giramondo Publishing)

Selected comments by author Ali Alizadeh at a panel discussion at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2017

Iran and France were close and Napoleon used Iran as a pawn against the British. Jeanne’s role, gender and age surprised me at first. I later discovered that in late mediaeval France women were often in such positions of power.


France needed a saviour at that time. There were prophesies that a young woman would come and save the country. There were other similar prophecies, especially re a virgin, and about a people’s heroine. The peasantry has been very important in many cultural revolutions, despite being downtrodden. Jeanne was initially dismissed by royalty and the powerful Flemish merchants of the time. And, as part of the misogyny the English, Jeanne was seen as a witch.

It’s worth noting that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, which began with a women’s day march. Revolutions are by definition for the whole nation. Jeanne united a very divided people. France’s population declined by about a third during the Hundred Years War. So Jeanne took it personally and understood the need for the ordinary people to bring about change. And only someone likeJeanne could rise within the context of that time.

Since that time, Jeanne has been lauded by republicans as well as by leftists. And also by far-right Christians. And maybe she would be astonished at being canonised by the church, even though she was burnt by the church. But the church needed to ‘claim’ her to avoid her being taken over by the communist left.

I have speculated that Jeanne may have had a relationship with a mystic woman. We know that they cross paths once or twice. But I refuse to get involved in identity politics, and so I put this forward solely as a possibility, a simple fact of life rather than a big deal.

My sources are the many contemporary accounts, including the official trial records which are very thorough. And when the French retook Brittany they gathered a lot of commentary from people who knew Jeanne and so some of the myths can be discounted.


An Audience with Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh was one of the special guests at Word Cafe Raglan 2017, a Writers & Readers Festival in New Zealand.

In a very full hour, Nalini discussed many issues facing authors today along with background on her own writing journey and the genesis of her series of novels.

“I wrote six books for Harlequin. At the time they were the only ones taking submissions from authors without an agent. But I had been through a number of changes of editors and didn’t get on with the new one. So I sat down and started writing the start of my whole Psy/Changeling series. I wrote the first draft of book one in three weeks, eating peanut butter toast for dinner each night.”

Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling series and Guild Hunter series

When asked about her Breakthrough point, Nalini explained how she became a full time writer. 

“I needed an agent so I went online and made a list of agencies who were working with the writers and publishers that I wanted to work with. I condensed my pitch down to three simple paragraphs:
Para 1 = about me
Para 2 = brief book synopsis
Para 3 – why I wanted work with that agency

“One agency replied that I had met a senior agent at a book fair. I had to admit I didn’t remember the meeting. However my blurb had caught her attention and she passed it on to a junior agent. The agent loved my work, even though she’d not sold a book yet. She had a list of specific editors that she would approach and she really went to work.”

Risk to be a full time writer

The book went to auction and that was the breakthrough. The advance was enough to allow Nalini to take the risk to be a full time writer. One huge benefit was readers and librarians and book sellers were enthusiastic about her writing and recommended her books widely.

“When I started I was contracted for two books. Today you can self publish, but 12 years ago that wasn’t an option. I knew the overall arc of the whole series from the start, but the first three books of Psy/Changeling were standalone in case the publisher didn’t buy into the whole series.”

Nalini Singh Rock Kiss series and International releases

Nalini says she’s always been a writer and would be writing in every spare moment around school, uni, and work. But that gave her strong skills to be focussed and with a good work ethic.

“So once I became a full time writer I could write two books a year. And can do that without excessive hours.”

Paranormal Romance

Aspects of the paranormal and psychic are of great interest to Nalini.

“What would it be like if we used 100% of our brain 100% of the time. What if we are just a generation or few away from that. I ask the questions like, if we did become telepathic, what might be the cost? For example, in my books the Psys do go mad.”

Nalini’s books are set slightly in the future. In 2082 three races agree to work together, without war or loss. But the past is not an old coat, but a scent of blood and betrayal.

“My books are Paranormal Romance and relationships drive the books, especially family relationships. Paranormal means anything beyond the norm – telepathy, ghosts etc – and that’s a huge canvas. I have friends who write myths and legends, and others write vampires. There are so many levels a writer can go into. Within paranormal, romance, mystery, science fiction and fantasy are all available.”

Nalini’s Psys have incredible psychic abilities. Her Changelings – shapeshifters – are very strong socially. Both the races are evolutionary divergence from humans. At the start, humans are not very important as they appear to have become the weak link. But over time the humans become more and more important. In Nalini’s words, “welcome to the age of Trinity.”

6 Million Book Sales

Nalini has thrived on international sales for many years. Since her first publication in 2003 her books have sold over 6 million copies. She is a Hachette author and is now on UK best-seller lists alongside other international best-seller lists.

“I don’t judge my writing process by time but by words. Having a goal makes it real. I aim for 3000 words per day for first drafts.”

Nalini Singh Audio Books and Silhouette Desire releases

Even though Nalini is a seat of a pants writer rather than a plotter, she says a well planned and well written series has to have the end goal right from the start. The climax needs to be defined.

“I fix the end of the series, but don’t plan each book. So my process is that I rewrite a lot. I have a friend who’s a planner and writes almost a final draft at the start. But we both take the same amount of time overall.

Write dirty to get the first draft

“I still like to write dirty to get the first draft – my skeleton. So the second draft is also on the computer, then the third draft is on printout. Then back on the computer for other drafts until the page proofs, which are printed out.”

For Nalini the first draft is the creative surge, but she also loves the editing and rewriting, to bring in extra layers, characterisation, and story arcs.

“And it’s another part of my brain to respond to editor comments. I’m not precious but I’m also protective of the story. I always want what is best for the story. So yes, there are different parts of the brain at work.”

As a full time author, Nalin often has two projects ongoing at any time, in different stages of development.

“I need to do fresh writing every day. And a maximum 30 or 40 pages a day of proofing. And a small amount of admin or social media. But if I work on two projects at a time that gives me two 3-hour bursts of creativity each day.”

To be a novelist you need to write … and write!

If you want to be a novelist, Nalini is very clear: you need to write novel after novel after novel.

“When you first start the books can be 2D but soon they become 3D. But the books still have to progress. Is it the best I can possibly do? I know in my gut if something is me, but sometimes you need to write that bad book to get the book out. With each book I got better. So I’m very self-taught. You can do courses, but in the end you have to put it down.”

Nalini’s last words of wisdom are personal to each author.

“The essence is finding you voice and trusting what you do as a writer. We now have a sharing economy and lots of young writers are “Crowd Thought” and I think you need to write in isolation to develop your own voice. But I also learned when feedback was useful and when not. I always tell people to protect their work and protect their voice until they’re certain enough to share it.”

Nalini’s website:





Amazon’s Author and Publisher nightmare

Amazon and Kindle nightmareHow could this process be so difficult? One author plus two books. Easy! But not. Even though CreateSpace and Kindle are owned by Amazon, none of them speak to each other properly. CreateSpace blames Kindle and Kindle blames CreateSpace. That is, until CreateSpace also blames IngramSpark, while IngramSpark refuses to answer queries. Whew!

And CreateSpace is a customer of IngramSpark. Which appears to mean that CreateSpace doesn’t do much at all. They are just a front end – and a clumsy front end – for the real work which is carried out by IngramSpark (print-on-demand books and distribution). And carried out by Kindle Direct Publishing (eBooks). And carried out by Amazon (sales).

Books about Pacific Ocean sailing adventuresThree weeks to get one author and two books onto a platform that is supposed to make publishing easy is nonsense. The left hands and the right hands of the Amazon ecosystem need to speak to each other. And speak properly and efficiently. Otherwise Amazon will continue to have huge turnover and no profit!

The dozens of emails and web chats and web forms that have been necessary to achieve one author page will have cost Amazon et al at least the profits they imagine they make on 100 book/Kindle sales. Sounds like a wasteful way to do business!

Lost in Translation – All Tell and No Show

Book review: The Lost Girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi

lost-girls-of-romeThere are three or four stories wrapped up in this book. I hesitate to call it a novel as it fails so many tests.

None of the protagonists do much. They are puppets in the travelogue around Rome and environs, and in all cases anything significant is explained, usually at least twice. Once with the dialogue, and then with the following text:

‘Help me, please,’ she said, weeping, without realising that he was already helping her.

And …

‘Yes,’ Costa said, struggling to restrain himself. He was clearly taken aback by the offensive way this man referred to his handicap.

And, of course, there’s the water. Well, that is, the repeated way water is used to ‘reveal’ a hidden door or trapdoor which we’d already guessed, even if the police forensic teams – and the main protagonists – had missed the obvious.

How this can be described as a “literary thriller phenomenon” is, truly, beyond me.

Multiple Spoiler Alert

Book review: Learning to Swim by Sara J Henry

Learning-to-Swim-150pxI want to spoil your enjoyment of this book. And not just this book. In fact, all the other self-serving authors and so-called ‘reviewers’ who pat each other on the back, all in the interests of promoting their own mediocre books.

There are some good paragraphs in Learning to Swim. Full stop. Henry is a columnist, editor and writing instructor, apparently. And there are occasional glimpses of the characters and their environs. But mostly there is bland story development, trivial life observations and an absolutely terrible ‘reveal’ at the end which is complete nonsense.

So what is my beef? A poor novel is hardly something to write home about. But …

“From its shocking opening to its stunning conclusion, Learning to Swim is a frightening ride. Sara J. Henry will quite literally take your breath away.”  J.T. Ellison, author of The Lost Key

And …

“A thriller of the most thrilling kinda smart and crafty story with whiffs of Rebecca that insists from the first sentence that you sit down and not stand up again until you’ve read the last word.” Quinn Cummings, author of Notes from the Underwire

And lastly …

“With a strong, believable cast of characters and a breathtaking plot, it’s a nonstop thrilling ride that’s impossible to put down.” Cat Connor, author of Killerbyte …

These ‘reviews’ and the many others achieve nothing. For example:

  • they tell the reader nothing
  • they tell the author nothing
  • they tell publishers nothing

All they do is waste everyone’s time by foisting mediocre writing into people’s lives, dumbing down the whole publishing industry. As if it needed any help!

Almost Perfect Police Procedural

Book review: Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag

Tami-Hoag-Deeper-Than-The-Dead-254pxAt last a book with believable characters, skilful dialogue and just about perfect story arcs. And you can ignore the nearly-standard praise-blurbs. This is an exciting book in the way it contrasts 1985 police and FBI techniques with what we accept as the ‘norm’ now – post CSI etc.

The “lives of more women are at stake” blurb and the occasional mentions of same in the book are correct in a way, but the writing elsewhere is so good that we want to follow the stories and characters. And anyway, we know this type of book will have a ‘successful’ ending.

In fact, arriving at the conclusion is almost a non-event. The numerous red herrings are the one flaw with the book. The suspected-but-not-villains gradually fall by the wayside with monotonous and obvious regularity.

But I’m not going to end on a low note. Deeper Than the Dead is a clever, captivating and carefully crafted novel that ticks just about every box. Go read it now.

Police Procedural Pain

Book review: The Ice Child by Camilla Lackberg

Lackberg-The-Ice-ChildSo here are 41 characters introduced in the first 30 pages! And being Nordic there are a hell of a lot of them with surnames ending in …sson. And the point? Zero. Or should I say Noll.

Following that supernumerary error, we have crime thriller 101 errors followed by serial killer 101 errors and psychopathology 101 errors, ad nauseam.

For example: “Patrik wondered what an outsider would think about the banter that went on between them, even during the most harrowing investigations. But it was something they all needed. Sometimes the work left them so weighed down that they had to take a moment to relax, tease each other, and laugh. That was how they coped with all the sorrow, death and despair.”

Continue reading “Police Procedural Pain”

“Being Clever” rather than Telling a Story

Book review: Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid

‘I’m not entirely sure,’ Charlie had prevaricated.

McDermid-Trick-of-the-DarkOh no, I thought. Surely not. The Val wouldn’t write like that. But the whole book is a peculiar departure from the usual tight storytelling and crisp arcs you might expect from McDermid. Although this book is copyright 2010 it’s almost as if it sat in a bottom drawer for the past 20 years. And the editor(s) didn’t get around to a close reading before sending to print.

Apart from the adverb issues (of which there are many), there are the cardboard characters and the enormous “tell, don’t show” passages that go on for page after page. Repeatedly.

So what we’ve got is the smarter-than-smart main protagonist and an emotional goddess partner, alongside the stunningly attractive heroine (sort of) and her plain-Jane but oh-so-sharp sister, plus the fiendishly wicked antagonist, and the … . Need I go on.

Continue reading ““Being Clever” rather than Telling a Story”

Mini cars, mini skirts, punk fashion and punk music

Book review: Stories We Could Tell by Tony Parsons

Parsons-Stories-We-Could-Tell.jpgThis is a wonderful #music #history #novel that was written before we had hashtags dominating our reading preferences. Nonetheless, there are dozens of potential hashtag references dotted through the story: #JohnLennon, #CarnabyStreet, #Mods, #Punks, #Riots, #MelodyMaker and on and on.

So what happens? Terry, Ray and Leon are all music journalists at various stages of development/disintegration, partly trying to grow up. But they’re in an age when we didn’t really have to grow up! Yes, it’s the 1970s and the fashion, music, non-fashion and non-music is tossed around the narrative with happy abandon. Let’s just say that Parsons appears to be a bit OCD about the 70s and the emergence of the attitudes and yoof-kulture of the time.

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A Tale of One City, or, Ian Rankin joins Mills & Boon

Book review: Doors Open by Ian Rankin

Doors Open by Ian RankinWell yes, I have loved the Rebus stories and the wonderful descriptions and depictions of Edinburgh as a character in the Ian Rankin novels. Although he is a curmudgeon of the highest order, there’s still huge humanity lurking beneath the Rebus exterior.

There’s depth of experience of life, there are the wrinkles of bad experiences and bad decisions, plus there are the friends and colleagues, loyal or not, who surround the Rebus plots with lightness or darkness — and all knit together into profoundly satisfying novels.

With Doors Open Rankin introduced a bunch of new characters and surrounded them with the Edinburgh personality with his usual acumen. The streets, buildings, climate and atmosphere are as alive as always. The characters, not so much — in fact hardly at all — and that was a disappointing surprise.

Continue reading “A Tale of One City, or, Ian Rankin joins Mills & Boon”

A Tale of Two Cities

Book review: Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

Book review: Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the US of A, while Seattle is possibly the fifth most attractive. I’ll leave the second ranking up to the reader to decide.

In the two books under review, the cities are as much characters as the people, with both the urban areas lending obstructions and help in various ways to the inhabitants.

Past Crimes Glen Erik HamiltonPast Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton is the lesser of the two books, with too many of the characters not much more than a cliche – powerful grandfather, rugged henchmen, foolish minnows, etcetera. If the author had put as much time into developing the characters as he had into the often warm and loving descriptions of Philadelphia and its environs, the book would have soared. As it stands, it’s a rather obvious read of how the ‘hero’ will use his awesome talents to outwit the baddies, the weather, the ocean, asphyxia … you get the picture.

Canary Duane SwierczynskiCanary by Duane Swierczynski achieves so much more, even with a YA hero. Sidebar: are we allowed to say heroine any more? Or do heroines have to be called heros, just like actresses have to be called actors. Or so some would have us believe. And can a book that depends extensively on long passages from the YA’s journal really work?

Swierczynski pulls off every technique to perfection, giving us believable characters, believable plot and action, and very believable outcomes. Sure, there would be other stories very similar to Sarie’s which could end badly – and there a few in the book. But then there also stories where the Davids outwit the Goliaths, even if they occur one in a thousand. Canary is a one -in-a-thousand delight – about both the city and the YA heroine – so rush out and grab a slice of Swierczynski soon.

Top 10 Things Wrong with Girl in the Spider’s Web

Book review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

Yes, you are reading correctly. These are just the top 10 things wrong; I could go on for some time, otherwise, and that may not be fair to any brains hoping for a simple afternoon of catching up with the latest “international blockbuster”. Or whatever they’re saying this week.

girl in the spiders web book reviewSo let’s begin …

1. Personality Problems 

Blomkvist went into the kitchen to get some peace and quiet. He was exhausted and wanted to go home.

This is laughable. Blomkvist had just had sex with his lover, a married woman and therefore extra frisson, he had just heard from the most dangerously exciting woman in his life after many months of silence, he had just been shot at, and he was the first to discover a hugely important dead man alongside a highly traumatised autistic boy. Blomkvist would be wired on adrenaline, testosterone and a dozen other synaptic exciters. He would not be a tired wimp!

Continue reading “Top 10 Things Wrong with Girl in the Spider’s Web”

The Trouble with So Much British Fiction


Book review: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Book review: When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson

One-Good-Turn-coverOnce upon a time you could rely on a majority of British fiction to supply thought-provoking and powerful novels, and the power could rest with the characters and/or the plotting and/or the wit. Ian Rankin, Ian McEwan and Val McDermid all spring to mind, so I thought Kate Atkinson – a neighbour of sorts – might provide similar enjoyment.

Continue reading “The Trouble with So Much British Fiction”

Misogyny Masquerading as Literature

Book review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Devotion-of-Suspect-X-coverWell it was going fairly well, albeit rather tedious with the triangle of the ‘super intelligent men’ all trying to outdo and outsmart and out manoeuvre each other. And, once again, a whole lot of the author telling us who thought what and when and why.

That’s how the initial two-thirds of The Devotion of Suspect X reveals itself. Ho hum.

Continue reading “Misogyny Masquerading as Literature”

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