Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Latest Book

My lastest romantic suspense novel, Ring of Lies, was released  in both print and ebook formats in December 2010.

When English accountant Daniel Elliott dies in a car accident one rainy night, his widow, Grace, is overcome with grief…and panic. Daniel was controlling and their marriage loveless, but he always took care of the sheltered Grace.
Or so she thought.

She soon discovers Daniel kept secrets: an alias, mob ties, a list of numbers, a mysterious beach house in Florida….and a girlfriend who looks like Grace.

Swallowing her fear, she flies to Miami to claim the house Daniel left her. But the price of her curiosity is peril. Underworld figures stalk her. The other woman has left a damning trail of evidence pointing her way. And handsome, troubled FBI agent Jack West has crossed precarious paths with Grace before. He could be her savior or her damnation. All she knows for certain is that she longs to be in his arms.

With little to go on and danger at every turn, Grace must depend on Jack to help her navigate the criminal world of south Florida, and find the truth behind the Ring of Lies.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Three Weeks Last Spring

In need of some summer reading?   Here's an excerpt from my novel, Three Weeks Last Spring.

England April 1999

Skye Dunbar stood by the window, and looked out across the meadow as she waited for the transatlantic phone call to connect. It had been a miserable weekend—dull, wet and cold—cold as the heart that beat inside her breast. She glanced at her watch, and calculated the time difference; early morning in San Francisco—Debbie should be up by now.
After a few rings, a sleepy American voice answered.
"Debbie? It's Skye. Did I wake you?"
"Not really, I was lying here thinking about getting up. Talk to me, you sound anxious."
Skye took a deep breath. "I’ve decided to take a month's sabbatical. I’ve contacted the airline and have an option on a flight leaving in just over a week's time. They're holding it for the next twenty-four hours."
"Why, that's great. You need to get away and you know San Francisco loves you."
"Actually, Debbie, that's why I’m calling, I'm not coming to San Francisco. I'm going to Seattle and—"
"Skye, you can't possibly want to spend a month there, not after all that happened last year."
"I can't explain why, but I need to go back." Skye twisted a strand of her hair between her fingers as she waited for Debbie to respond.
"I don't understand, and if you want my advice, you’ll come here and stay with me. After all that lying bastard put you through, I’m amazed that you can even contemplate being within a thousand miles of Washington State. Please, come here and stay with me. We can visit all our old haunts—Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown. We can go for a drink in the John Barleycorn and listen to that folk singer you liked so much. And if that doesn’t appeal, then we can hire a car and drive along the coast. You haven't seen the Marin Headlands or Monterey yet. And if you wait until I get to the office on Monday and I'll see if I can beg for some vacation time. Or we could meet somewhere else, if you prefer. How about Vermont?"
"That's a lovely thought, Debbie, and I do want to see Vermont, but in the Fall. Please, save your holiday time. This is just something I have to do on my own. I go to bed at night and in my dreams I see this figure on a beach. I know it's me. It sounds crazy, I know, and I really don't expect you to understand. Just give me your blessing and tell me that if I need you, you’ll be there for me, okay?"
"I guess you know what’s in your heart, although I really do worry about you, Skye. You have to put what happened behind you and move on. So tell me, just where are you staying?"
"I've rented a cabin in the San Juans."
"You've done what? No one goes to the San Juan Islands in the middle of April. It’s too cold for one thing and Friday Harbor will be deserted. What will you do there for a whole month on your own?"
"I thought I would catch up on some reading, go walking and generally enjoy the scenery."
"Hmm, I don't know. If you ask me, the last thing you need is to be by yourself. However, now that you've made your mind up I don't suppose there's much I can say to dissuade you. But promise me, if you become too upset or lonely up there, you’ll get on the first available plane to me, here in San Francisco. Deal?"
"Deal. And Debbie," Skye hesitated before continuing, "thanks for understanding. You’re the best friend anyone could ask for. As soon as my plans are finalised, I'll let you know."
Skye replaced the receiver and turned once more to look out of the window. Was she being stupid wanting to go back to the Pacific Northwest? What would it achieve? Would it even put her mind at rest? They were questions she couldn't answer, yet in her heart she knew she was doing the right thing.
She’d met Michael while on a visit to Debbie the year before. He’d knocked her to the ground while roller skating in Golden Gate Park. He’d helped her up, apologised, and insisted on buying her a coffee. Coffee had somehow turned into lunch, and before they knew it, they’d spent the whole day together. Skye was due to fly home the following day and Michael had insisted she give him her address. She’d agreed, but hadn’t really expected to hear from him again. Six weeks later, returning home after a particularly fractious day at work, she’d found his letter waiting on her doormat.
That initial letter, like those that followed, had been read and re-read time and time again, the words feeling as if they were almost engraved on her heart. Finally, six months later, Michael had written asking her to visit.
Skye quickly pushed the thought of him out of her mind. She had so much to accomplish in the coming days that daydreaming wasn't a luxury she could afford. Her flight confirmed, and the cabin booked, she needed to concentrate on clearing her diary. Then all she had to do was pack her suitcase and talk herself into getting on that plane.
The following week passed in a blur. Each day she arrived at the office early and brought all her files up to date for John, her business partner, to takeover in her absence.
They’d had met at university shortly after Skye's mother's death, and had been good friends ever since. At thirty-nine, he was five years Skye's senior. Six feet tall, and of muscular build, with brown eyes, unruly curly hair, he had a smile that could melt the iciest of hearts. John had been a Graduate Teaching Assistant when Skye had started her degree course.
When Skye graduated, they set up business together. Years of long hours and neglected holidays had finally paid off and their services were in demand by major corporations all over the world. But despite the success they experienced, their relationship had never passed beyond friendship.
None of Skye’s closest friends knew what she did for a living, apart from the fact that she was a high-level executive, and whatever it was, she didn’t like to talk about it. In another few months, she and John would be making a presentation to Government officials in the hope of securing an exclusive contract—top secret, and the most demanding of their respective careers.
The day before Skye was due to leave she scheduled a meeting with him.
"Skye, what are you going to do with an entire month's leave? You'll be bored by the end of the second week, and you know how busy things can get here. There is still a lot of testing to do."
"I realise that, but you did say you could handle it. The code is complete, so you really don't need me."
"This has to do with what happened between you and that navy guy last year, hasn't it? I wish you'd tell me what brought you scuttling back to the office two weeks earlier than planned. I told you not to trust a guy in uniform and in particular a sailor, but you didn’t listen. What you need is a real man, not one of these military types who still play with the action man they got as a child."
"And just who did you have in mind—yourself?"
John ignored her comment. "You've been like a scared rabbit ever since you got home. You never go out; you're slowly becoming a recluse. You spend every waking hour here at the office. Just what did the bastard do to you?"
"I don't wish to discuss my love life, or lack of one with you. And what if I do spend all my time here—that's my choice. At least the work gets done and we are ahead of schedule on one or two projects."
"Look, love, I know something happened and whatever it was, it must have been something major to have affected you this way. But you have to pick up your social life. You can't continue to bury yourself in your work or it will make you ill. You'll meet someone else and I promise you if he really loves you he won't hurt you. Besides if you’re frightened of being left on the shelf you could always marry me."
"I appreciate your concern, John. But you and I both know that while our business relationship works, a more personal one wouldn't. You're not the type to settle down, so just leave it there before one of us says something we'll regret. Now about the Jones account—"
"Before we get back to business hear me out. Professionally you're one of the most logical people I know. You've an eidetic memory and know instinctively when a project is about to go pear-shaped. You're a shrewd and ruthless businesswoman when necessary. You've even got a temper to go with the colour of your hair, but then nobody's perfect. But having said all that, you're just a big softie at heart." John reached across the table, took her hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "What I can't understand is why you couldn't see that this guy was trouble." Skye’s expression told him he’d over-stepped the mark. "If you must go on this idiotic trip, will you at least let me take you to the airport on Sunday?"
Skye smiled. Only her voice betrayed mild annoyance. "Thank you for that character analysis. Remind me to return the favour one day. I am quite capable of organising a taxi. But if you feel you must take me, then I'll accept your offer. Check-in is at noon."
"In that case, I’ll pick you up at nine-thirty."
Sunday dawned warm and sunny, and although early April the daffodils were already in bloom. As she showered and dressed, Skye couldn't help wondering if this was the new beginning she was seeking or whether she was just being plain stupid.
She'd chosen her clothes with care—a pair of well cut navy blue trousers and midnight blue shirt, colours that not only gave her confidence but which also matched her sparkling eyes. Her medium length auburn hair had been cut the day before, and it now framed her pale, delicate, feminine face. Her suitcase stood ready in the hallway as she sat at the kitchen table drinking a final cup of coffee waiting for John to arrive.
A short time later, John's BMW pulled into the drive. Skye took one last look around the house, picked up her purse and opened the door.
"Ready, Sweet Pea?" John asked. "Have you got your tickets, passport and packed everything you need?"
"I think so."
"It’s not too late to change your mind you know. Even Debbie thinks you're slightly crazy for wanting to do this," John said, making one last attempt to get her to stay.
Skye stopped in her tracks. "You've been talking to Debbie, behind my back?"
"Actually, she called me. Now, Sweet Pea, don't be annoyed with her, she's just concerned about you. Besides, Seattle wasn't exactly the happiest of places for you, now was it?"
"I wish you two would accept that this is something I need to do, instead of hounding me to change my mind. You're both good friends and I know you have my interest at heart, but please allow me to do this and don't tell me I told you so, if I come home in tears."
John put his arms round her diminutive frame and gave her a hug. "I just don't want to see you hurt again, that's all."
"I know. Now, are we going to stand here all day or are you going to put that suitcase in the car?"
They hardly spoke during the journey to the airport, John sensing that Skye needed to be alone with her thoughts. He repeatedly glanced across at her. She seemed so small, so vulnerable and yet beneath that very feminine exterior he knew there was a strength and stamina that defied her appearance. But she had taken such an emotional beating over the last year that he couldn't help the feeling of wanting to protect her from more hurt.
Forty minutes later he pulled the BMW to a halt in front of Terminal four at Heathrow Airport. He collected Skye's luggage from the boot, then walked round to the passenger side of the car and opened the door.
Once inside the terminal building, he waited patiently while Skye completed the checking-in formalities for her flight, then accompanied her as far as the security check-point.
He gave her a hug, and kissed the top of her head. "Have a good flight, Sweet Pea. Get some rest and lay that ghost. Then come home and be prepared to do some work."
Skye wiped away a stray tear at his use of her nickname, and tried hard to smile. "I'll do my best." Without a backward glance, she turned and walked quickly through security into the departure lounge.
She found a seat close to the gate, and took out her book. But she couldn't concentrate on the words. Instead, she amused herself by watching the people in the terminal, wondering where they were all going to and the reasons for their journey.
Time passed quickly, and soon her flight was called. She settled into her seat in business class, and fervently hoped that the one beside her would remain unoccupied. The last thing she wanted was to spend twelve hours next to someone who wished to talk all the way to Seattle. Luckily, her wish was granted, for within fifteen minutes of boarding, the flight attendant closed the doors and the aircraft pushed back from the ramp.
As the plane taxied towards the runway, Skye suffered one last moment of self-doubt, but knew it was too late to turn back. Seconds later, she felt the increased tempo of the Boeing 747's engines as it thundered down the runway. After what seemed like an eternity the huge plane lifted gracefully into the air.
During the flight Skye read a little, then slept. Her mind reeled from all her thoughts and dreams. She was startled awake when the landing gear hit the runway, and shook her head to regain her focus and get her bearings. She looked out of the window—the terminal buildings looked as grey and uninspiring as they had a year ago.
Once inside the terminal, the Immigration formalities were completed with a minimum of fuss, and the delay at Customs was only mildly annoying. The usual questions and then ‘have a nice day.’
Skye then made her way to the rental car desk where she collected the keys to the car she had organised. Within minutes, she was manoeuvring the vehicle out of the parking lot and down the ramp on to Interstate 5. Fortunately, she did not have far to travel to her hotel and soon found herself being shown to her room on the third floor.
After breakfast the following morning, she took out her road map and traced her route north. The hotel receptionist told her that it would take about two hours, depending on traffic, to drive the seventy or so miles to Anacortes.
As she wasn’t due to check into the hotel in Anacortes until early evening, she decided to do a little sight-seeing. She found a place to park on Alaskan Way, locked the car, and then climbed the Harbor steps to admire the fountain, before continuing along First Avenue to Pike Place Market.
At the Westlake Centre she caught the monorail to the Space Needle. The panoramas from the observation deck were stunning—well worth the white-knuckle ride in the express elevator. For once the weather was kind to her, unlike her previous visit, when the sky had clouded over. Today there was hardly a cloud visible, although it was a little on the cool side. Far below she could see a State ferry sailing to one of the islands in Puget Sound. A few small sailing boats were out in Elliot Bay, no doubt, like her, taking advantage of the fine weather.
Skye leant against the safety rail and looked out across the bay, and remembered the postcard she’d received from Michael. Lost in her thoughts, it was only when she glanced at her watch that she realised she’d been standing daydreaming for nearly an hour. Annoyed for having allowed Michael into her thoughts yet again, she rode the elevator back down to ground level. She quickened her pace as she walked down Broad Street and on to Alaskan Way, past the Aquarium and Omnidome until she reached Ivar’s restaurant. There she found a table overlooking the bay, and ordered a bowl of clam chowder and a pot of coffee. After her meal she returned to her car, and headed north towards Anacortes.
According to her guidebook the bustling port of Anacortes was founded in 1877. Shipyards, seafood processing facilities, and tourism all contributed to the local economy. Spectacular panoramas, combined with exclusive real estate, yacht charters and marina facilities brought residents and visitors alike to the area.
The ferry to Friday Harbor left at eight the following morning, and the travel agent had recommended that Skye stay at the inn close to the terminal. Tired from her drive, she ate a solitary dinner in the hotel restaurant then retired for the night.
A short time later, she slipped between the cool white sheets of the double bed and settled against the comforters. Sighing deeply, she wiped a surreptitious tear from her eye. Where did we go wrong, Michael? Why couldn't you talk to me? Why did you have to hurt me the way you did?

Chapter Two

The following morning dawned cold and grey, the cloud level so low, that the majestic mountains were completely hidden from view. There were only a few cars waiting for the ferry to Friday Harbor, and most of those appeared to be locals and business people. The tourists would come later, making it essential to book passage and spoiling the tranquillity of the journey.
Once on board, Skye left the car and climbed the stairs up to the main deck. The aroma of coffee drew her towards the small café where she purchased a beaker of Seattle's Finest. Carrying her cup, she wandered out onto the observation deck.
As the ferry steamed towards the islands, the cloud base gradually lifted, allowing the sun to filter through here and there. The panorama unfolding before her eyes was amazing, and she wondered why anyone would want to lie on a sun-drenched beach all day, when they could have this.
San Juan Island was the second largest in the archipelago, and it wasn’t long before Friday Harbor came into view. It was much smaller than Skye had imagined, and she wasn't prepared for the numerous sailboats with their impossibly tall masts, which filled every berth in the marina. The Islands were a Mecca for tourists, whether they arrived off the ferries from Anacortes or Canada, or sailed their own yachts into the tiny and picturesque harbours that dotted the islands.
After disembarking, Skye drove the short distance into town. The realtor's office was situated in a small side street, just up the road from the terminal. The formalities completed, and with the key in her pocket and a detailed map in her hand, she once more set out.
The roads were deserted, and the only traffic she encountered were trucks carrying fish from the north of the island to the ferry terminal. Skye found driving in this backwater much easier than in Seattle or on the Interstate. Before long her exit came into view; she moved across the highway, and signalled her turn into the private track.
The cabin was all she had hoped for and more. Constructed purely of timber, it stood some five hundred yards back from the shoreline and a mile or so off the highway. A path led down from the cabin to a small wooden dock. Eager to explore, Skye made a quick cup of coffee. She wanted nothing more than to breathe the clean fresh air and savour the view, before unpacking and settling into what would be her home for the next month.
She left her jacket over the back of a kitchen chair, and then carried her steaming cup down to the dock. She sat down by the water’s edge and took off her shoes. She was just about to dip her toes into the deep blue water, when a very masculine voice called out.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you. The water is pretty darned cold at this time of year."
The voice seemed to emanate from the very depths of the pinewood. Skye squinted into the early afternoon sunlight, and watched as a figure emerged from the trees. He was tall, well over six feet, with raven black hair and the slight shadow of a beard. She couldn't really see his eyes, but had a feeling they would be ice blue and would have that ‘damn you to hell’ expression.
A chill ran down her spine.
The cabin was isolated, and even if there was another house within screaming distance, no one would be at home at this time of day. Skye considered her options as the tall figure strode towards her. If he were to prove difficult she could always push in him the sea, and run back to the safety of the cabin.
The stranger halted a mere foot from her, forcing her to look up.
He grinned. "Sorry to startle you, ma’am, but I wasn't sure if you were planning on taking anything else off besides your shoes."
Skye's mouth opened but she couldn't utter a word.
"Because if you were," he continued, "you'd only last about thirty minutes before hypothermia set in, and being the gentleman that I am, I would feel duty bound to come right in after you. That would be a shame, because I'd planned on going home and cooking this fish for lunch."
Coughing and spluttering, Skye choked on her coffee. So a fish was more important than saving someone from freezing to death. She inclined her head to examine him more closely and saw that she’d been right about his eyes. Here was a man who didn't suffer fools gladly. Well, Mr Damn Your Eyes could just go back where he came from and take his fishy friend with him.
"You’ll be relieved to know, that I have no intention of taking anything other than my shoes off. The thought of going for a swim hadn't entered my head. But now you've mentioned it, it's not a bad idea. As for you coming in after me, I'll take a rain check if you don't mind! Not, I might add, that what I do is any business of yours. I was assured that this was private land. May I ask just what you think you are doing prowling around scaring the hell out of people?"
"My, my, we're mighty touchy. What happened, someone wake you up too early?" The ice blue eyes flashed. There was a trace of laughter in his voice that was totally lost on Skye, who felt more than a little intimidated by the stranger's height. She stood up in one fluid movement. Not one inch of her five foot five frame gave her any more confidence. She barely came up to the man's chest—a chest that any woman would feel comfortable snuggled up against. Now where in the world did that thought come from?
Feeling at a disadvantage, Skye took a long look. Close up he didn't appear quite so intimidating—‘impressive’ was a better adjective. In fact, she could think of a number of suitable adjectives to describe Mr Damn Your Eyes, including handsome, rugged, not to mention offensive and arrogant. This guy would stop traffic in London, but there he would be completely out of place. Here in the rugged mountains of the Pacific Northwest he was totally at ease.
Skye revised her estimate of his height. He was at least six feet four, possibly more. His eyes were deep set and she’d been right about the colour. He had a scar over one eyebrow and smaller one on his chin. She wondered how he'd acquired them, but something about his demeanour told her not to ask.
He was dressed in black jeans, which fit his muscular body to perfection and a navy blue check work shirt which he wore open at the neck, revealing a tangle of dark hair on his chest. He held a fishing rod in one hand, and a fish in the other, and looked for the entire world, as if he had stepped right out of the pages of her guidebook.
"Look, Mr…? I’m sorry, but I didn't catch your name, and at this particular moment, I don't even care to know what it is. I've had a long journey and I'm tired. As far as I'm concerned you're trespassing. I'd very much appreciate it, if you would leave by whatever means you arrived and allow me to finish my coffee before it goes cold."
"My, my. The lady obviously has a temper to match the colour of her hair. Now why don't you take a deep breath, calm down and enjoy the day? You're obviously not from around here otherwise you wouldn't jump down a perfectly innocent person's throat, especially one who's trying to give you some friendly advice. But I won't disturb you any longer. I'll be on my way. And for future reference, the name is Walker, Jedediah Walker, but everyone just calls me Walker." Abruptly he turned and strode quickly along the dock. He continued along the pebble beach, in the opposite direction from which he'd come.
What did he mean, "Future reference…?" Hell could freeze over before she would choose to cross his path again. Her first thought was to call the real estate broker and complain. They had, after all, promised her complete privacy. She'd been most insistent on that when booking the cabin. She didn’t want noisy neighbours destroying the peace and tranquillity of this wonderful place. No campers, boaters and especially no screaming children, just her own space in which to do as she pleased for the next month.
But logic kicked in.
The San Juan Islands were well known for attracting fishermen and women. The guy had probably moored his boat somewhere along the coast, and walked along the shoreline to find a suitable place from which to fish. No big deal. But now that the cabin was occupied, Skye hoped that he'd respect her privacy. Other than the mailman, with the occasional letter from Debbie or John, she didn't wish to see anyone during her stay.
She picked up her cup, and shuddered in disgust as the cold liquid hit the back of her throat. She made her way up the dock to her car, retrieved her suitcase from the trunk, and carried it into the cabin.
The cabin was well equipped with cable TV, VCR, and an impressive stereo system. While she could live without a television, t music was a different matter and she was glad she’ brought a selection of her favourite CDs with her.
The centrepiece of the main room was a stone fireplace which stretched across a one wall. The floors were polished and scattered with native Indian rugs. A large leather sofa sat invitingly in front of the fireplace. Full-length windows opened on to the deck, where the owner had left wicker chairs in which visitors could sit and admire the wonderful scenery.
Skye dragged her suitcase into the bedroom and started to unpack. Not only was there a king size bed, and an open fireplace, but the room also had full-length windows which opened out on to the deck. A hand stitched quilt with matching comforters covered the bed. Skye ran her fingertips over it and marvelled at the hours of work involved to complete it.
Her unpacking completed, she decided to call Debbie later to let her know she’d survived the journey. By then it would be close to midnight in London, and a perfect time to call John. At least he wouldn't be able to trace her call. That was the disadvantage of working at the cutting edge of technology and having a business partner who was her self-appointed ‘big brother.’ Without wasting any more time, she set off to explore the cove and surrounding woods.


After terminating his conversation with the woman, Walker made his way through the trees back to the lodge. He’d purchased the lodge and twenty-five acres of prime waterfront land just over five years ago. It was a place where he could return to re-charge his batteries after investigating some of man's worst atrocities against nature.
The lodge was far too big for him, and normally he stayed at the cabin. But this year he'd decided to undertake some renovations, and had let the cabin instead. He hadn't expected it to be occupied so soon, and had been taken completely by surprise when he saw the small, solitary figure walk to the end of the dock. He vaguely remembered receiving a letter from the realtor advising him that it had been let for a month. For some reason he had it in mind that the tenant was a man. If he’d known it was a woman, he would have told the realtor to cancel the booking.
The aroma of coffee had alerted him to someone's presence, reminding him just how long it was since he'd had breakfast. He'd watched from the tree line as the figure walked out of the cabin and down to the dock. He guessed she was no more than five foot six, and was dressed in a pair of black slacks with a baggy red sweater. He had the feeling the sweater hid a soft and curvaceous body, the sort of body a man could bury himself in, until he forgot who he was.
The gentle breeze had lifted her thick, shoulder length auburn hair, reminding him of the colour of leaves in fall. He imagined it would be soft and silky to the touch, and just long enough for a man to tangle his fingers in. Unable to tear his gaze away he'd continued to watch as she sat down at the end of the dock and took off her shoes. She looked so sad, and for one agonising moment he feared that she might do more than just dangle her pretty toes in the ice-cold water.
Damn it, he didn't need this sort of distraction now. He knew someone had been using the coves at night, and now it would be even more difficult to prove it. He just hoped that he hadn't placed this unwitting stranger in any danger. It was one more thing on his list to worry about. His first priority was to find out who was poisoning the fish around the island. The second was to find out who was hacking into his computer files. He rested his fishing rod against the wall of the lodge, and unlocked the door.
He went straight to the laboratory he'd set up in the small bedroom and proceeded to expertly dissect the fish. Walker was meticulous in his sampling, and in the preparation of the slides for the microscope. Only when he was satisfied he had everything he needed, did he discard the carcass—it would have to be burnt like the rest. Pity, it was a magnificent salmon, but if he didn't find out what was causing fish to wash up dead along the shoreline, it might not just be the salmon lying on a cold slab.
Four hours later, his suspicions were confirmed. The fish contained a mixture of toxic chemicals and, had it been eaten, would have put someone in hospital. He strode into his study, picked up the phone, and called his friend at the Department of Fish and Wildlife on his direct number.
"It's Walker."
"I can tell from your voice, that I'm not going to like this—"
"Five gets you ten on this one. The latest batch of samples show that the fish are contaminated with lead, mercury, cyanide and some other substances I've been unable to identify. I'll have to send the samples into the main lab in Seattle to get a more detailed analysis. The results should be back in three or four days, and it wouldn't surprise me if they showed large quantities of PCBs."
The voice at the other end of the line let out a stream of expletives. "For once, can't you give me some good news?"
"Joe, it gets worse. Fish have started washing up along the cove in front of the lodge. This has gotten personal. I want to nail whoever's dumping this stuff. Sooner or later someone is going to get sick, real sick. What's new your end? Have the police come up with any leads yet? Someone somewhere must know where this stuff is coming from."
"Realistically, it could be any of five plants in the State. But, and this is unconfirmed, it may be coming from the plant belonging to the waste management consortium that applied to build a new facility at Anacortes a while back."
Walker frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. "But they were refused consent. I know—I sat in on the committee. In fact, I made the recommendation that their application be refused."
"I realise that. But from what we've heard, the present facility is unable to cope with demand. The police approached some of the employees, but no one would talk. I'm just as concerned and frustrated as you are. But we need concrete evidence before we can move on this, and so far no one has found any."
"So what do you suggest we do? Wait until someone ends up in hospital or worse, on the cold slab in the morgue? Is that what you're telling me?"
"I'm as annoyed about this as you, Walker. But I have to do things by the book, you know that."
"I guess so, but it doesn’t make it any easier." Walker slammed the phone down.
After graduating from university as a marine biologist and biochemist, he’d taken a job with the State Government Department. His main area of expertise was the environment, and the effects mankind was having on the diminishing fish stocks. After years dividing his time sitting behind a desk and collecting the water samples, he finally decided it was time to go it alone. He set up his own company, Walker Environmental Research. Now after ten years of hard work, his company was well respected throughout the world. There was hardly a government he hadn't given advice to, or major ecological disaster he hadn't helped investigate.
Several months earlier, his old university friend, Joe McCabe, had called him. Joe worked for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. He was concerned about the increasing reports of dead salmon being washed up around the coast of Puget Sound, and in particular the San Juan Islands, and had hired Walker's company to investigate.
At first, they thought the problem had been caused by the large oil tankers plying their way between Alaska, Canada and the rest of the USA. Many of the ships’ Captains were not above flushing their tanks before heading out into open waters. But a detailed analysis of the dead fish had shown they were contaminated with a lethal cocktail of chemicals, and not crude oil. But, there was no consistency. Fish would wash up one week on the north coast of one island, and the next they'd wash up on the west coast of another. The changing tides couldn't account for such discrepancies, which meant only one thing—someone was deliberately dumping toxic waste. Two weeks ago fish had started washing up on Walker's land, and last week his computer files had been hacked into for the first time. Suddenly, the fight had become personal.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Page Readers

Yesterday evening I joined Nanci Arvizu of Page Readers on Blog Talk Radio to chat about my books, where I get my ideas and writing in general.

You can listen to the interview by clicking on the link below.

Listen to internet radio with Page Readers on Blog Talk Radio

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Coincidence? I think not.

As someone, who for twenty years, was involved in the offshore industry, I know what it’s like to have your heart skip a beat when the evening news reports an accident on an oil rig. My heart goes out to the families of the eleven men killed on the Deepwater Horizon.

Drilling and transporting oil comes at a high price, and there are times in our lives when we become too complacent.

We repeatedly ignored warnings by environmentalists, the Coast Guard, and other agencies that using single hulled, single-engine tankers to transport oil was asking for trouble.

On March 18, 1967 these agencies were proved correct.

The Torrey Canyon, a super tanker carrying a cargo of 120,000 tonnes of crude oil struck Pollard’s Rock between Land’s End and the Scilly Isles in the UK. Oil spread on the sea between England and France, killing most of the marine life along the south coast of Britain and the Normandy shores of France, blighting the region for many years thereafter.

Did we learn the lesson? Sadly, no.
Twenty-two years later, on the March 24, 1989, Exxon Valdez hit the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. We were horrified at the images of dead seabirds, otters, and marine mammals covering the front page of nearly every newspaper in the world. These same images were beamed nightly into our living rooms.

For many years, the offshore oil and gas industry was convinced that it had adequate safety measures to ensure that oil and gas rigs and platforms operated with little or no risk to personnel. But on the night of the 6th July 1988, Piper Alpha, a production platform in the North Sea, exploded into a fireball, killing 167 men. To date, it remains the world’s worst offshore oil disaster in terms both of lives lost and impact to industry.

After a protracted investigation, all three disasters were attributed to human error.

I had hoped the world would never experience another disaster on the scale of the Exxon Valdez and Piper Alpha, but sadly that was not to be the case.
This week, another oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon, sank in the Gulf of Mexico, with the loss of eleven men. Unlike Piper Alpha, the thousands of gallons of oil pouring out of a fractured pipe is already devastating the marine environment and fragile barrier islands and marsh of the Louisiana coast. It will take months, if not years to recover.

It is therefore somewhat eerie that my short story, ‘Man’s Complacency,’ should be released at this time.

Written nearly two years ago, ‘Man’s Complacency’ deals with an oil spill in Washington State’s Puget Sound, and features Joe McCabe, an important character from my novel, Three Weeks Last Spring. Joe is the head of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is partly responsible for the cleanup.

I think it’s it about time we became less complacent and developed systems and procedures that not only protect the men and women working on rigs and production platforms, but the wildlife that makes our planet so unique.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Promoting your Book.

Congratulations! Your book has been published. The hard work of writing, editing, and sweating over just the right word, are over. You can sit back and relax.

Or can you?

Now is the time to take off your “writer’s” hat and put on the “marketing” hat.

But surely marketing my book is down to the publisher?

Not quite. You, the author, are expected to promote your book. Publishers, even the big houses like Penguin and Simon and Schuster, have only so much money to spend on marketing, and most of that goes into a few big, blockbuster titles. The more you can help to promote your book and increase sales, the happier you and your publisher will be.

Remember, marketing is about building relationships—with readers, bookstore owners who often recommend books, with the media, and with others who can help you reach them.

So how do you promote your book?

1. Create a website.

Every author should have their own, preferably with a domain name that people easily can search for. Your site can be as simple or as detailed as you like, but make sure it includes your name, the cover of your book, a news and events section, a contact section, and most of all, a link to purchase your book.

If you don’t have the skill to design your own site, there are many web designers who will build a site for you for a fee.

2. Hold a book launch.

Independent bookstores and local libraries are often willing to host book launch parties for local authors. It need not be an expensive exercise, but be sure to contact the local media and let them know. There are also many web sites where, such as, you can list events for free. And don’t forget social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, LinkedIn etc.

If your budget can stretch to it mail out invitations. There are numerous online printers available. Vistaprint’s marketing postcards make excellent invitations, or if you have the computer skills, why not use Photoshop or Microsoft Publisher to design your own? Make sure you display your book cover, book title and your name in large print. I would also suggest you include some one-liners from positive reviews your book has received. (More on reviews shortly).

Don’t go overboard on catering. Most people will be happy with a cup of tea and a bun.

Make sure your book is in high profile – centre stage on a table. It’s also helpful to have a friend or relative willing to act as booksellers and manage the money.

3. Bookmarks, flyers, and business cards.

Bookmarks are a great way of getting details of your book out there. Again, if you feel confident, you can design these yourself, or if you’re like me and don’t have an artistic bone in your body, I can recommend Mae at Baby Fresh Designs,

4. Blogs, Social Networking Sites, Twitter, and Author Forums.

Choose ones that work for you, are enjoyable, and reach your target audience. A quick search on Google will pull up hundreds of sites.

5. Book Reviews.

It is essential that you get your book reviewed. Most publishers are happy to send out review copies of your book – just ask. You can also check out your local newspaper to see if they have a book section. If they do, consider sending the reporter a copy of your book. There are numerous online review sites, such as Apex Reviews, and Front Street Reviews, who will accept galley proofs of novels, the review being published on their website.

6. Book signings.

Not to be confused with book launch parties. Book signings are usually held in bookstores. They can either be very successful or complete flops. I know—I’ve experienced both ends of the scale! Most bookstores are happy to host signings as it helps draw customers into the store. The store will usually advertise the event and put up posters. Some will even contact the local paper. Chat with the store manager to find out exactly what his/her requirements are and what he/she expects of you as the author.

Saturday morning is usually best. Too late in the day, and people are busy doing other things. Try to avoid clashing with the local football team’s home game! Surprisingly, the weather can also influence the number of potential sales. Everyone wants to be outside on a hot sunny day. If the weather is bad people are less likely to drive to the bookstore.

7. A final word.

There are hundreds of ways to promote your book. The above are just a few ideas to get your started. If you’re serious about marketing your book, be sure to read all you can about book promotion. I can recommend “A Seriously Useful Author’s Guide to Marketing and Publicising Books” by Mary Cavanagh.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Writer’s Block – Fact or Fiction?

You’re halfway through writing your novel and--bang! You’re stuck. Your inspiration has deserted you. You find yourself staring at a blank page for minutes, hours, days, possibly even weeks and months.

So what causes it?

Many different theories have been put forward, everything from lack of focus, fear of failure, poor plotting technique, stress—and if the scientific community are to be believed, Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

That’s all very well, but you need to get back on track and finish that novel. So how do you do just that?

Ask a group of novelists that question and you will receive a myriad of different answers.

Take me, for example. I’ve been struggling with one scene for weeks. I’d done all the research and had all my notes, but for some reason, the words would just not come. I went on holiday to Florida, the place where my novel is set (purely coincidental, I assure you). I made more notes and came home refreshed and eager to write. After a hesitant start, I finally got the words down on paper.

Now I’m not suggesting that you all rush out and book yourself a holiday. There are other tricks you can try. For example, step away from the keyboard and simply relax with a cup of tea (or coffee). If that doesn’t work, play solitaire (although be warned, that can be addictive), bake a cake, play with the children, doodle, play word association games, mow the lawn or write an article for your blog. You’d be surprised how many times that last trick has got me over a case of writer’s block. Then there’s my all time favourite of going for a walk in the local park or countryside. There’s something about the fresh air and listening to birds’ sing that clears my mind and fires my imagination.

The simple answer is do anything—anything that takes your mind off your project for fifteen to twenty minutes before you sit back down and attempt to write.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time I got back to work!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Talks and Puppy Dog Tales

Writing is, for the most part, a lonely profession, but once in a while I receive an invitation to give a talk. A couple of weeks ago, I spent a delightful morning talking to the members of the Parkgate Branch of the University of the 3rd Age.

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, the University of the 3rd Age is an organization for those people no longer in full-time employment. Members can take part in educational, creative, and leisure activities including, languages, music, computing, bird watching, crafts, and of particular interest to me, literature and book groups.

This was my second talk to members of the U3A, and I can honestly say that on both occasions I felt welcome. I had a great time talking about my books, writing and the publishing industry. Thank you Birdwell and Parkgate Branches for inviting me, I just hope I didn’t waffle on for too long!

I said at the start of this post, that writing is a lonely profession, and it is. For the last ten years I’ve had a constant companion in the form of my Border collie, Lucy. Sadly, Lucy passed away in December. Since then the house, and my office, have been a quiet, empty place. No more. Meet Rosie, my nine week old Border collie. Like her predecessor, she’s intelligent, (too intelligent at times) and is now my constant companion. There’s not a room or place I can go without her following me. Given time, I know that will change, but for the moment, I kind of enjoy being a surrogate mum, although she’d rather I played with her than write. But I like a good challenge, so I’m finding new, interesting ways to make book number three come to life.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Readers Groups

Gone are the days when most authors could sit back and let their publisher sell their book. Nowadays, new and established authors often get little marketing help, and the prospect of doing it yourself can be daunting. But with a little perseverance and a little practice it can be fun, especially if you enjoy talking to people, as I do.

I’ve been fortunate; every Borders Books store I have approached has agreed to host a book signing event for me. So far, I’ve met readers in Batley, Leeds, Cheshire Oaks, York, Inverness, Liverpool, Warrington, and Stockport.

And while the shoppers might have co-operated, sadly the same can’t be said of the weather. I’ve roasted in York, and been rained on in Inverness. The British weather has an odd affect on shoppers. When it rains, they seem to flock to the stores in droves, and conversely, when the sun is shining and there’s no need for raincoats and umbrellas, they stay away!

Everyone I’ve met has been charming, which makes my job of engaging them in conversation and telling them about my book and the writing process, a pleasure.

Surprisingly, everyone who purchased a copy of The House on the Shore during the signing in York lived in Scotland, and what’s more, within fifty miles of where I used to live in Keith. Even more surprising, was the encounter in Inverness with a gentleman who at one time taught at Queen Mary Grammar School in Liverpool – my first grammar school. And while in a restaurant that same evening, I bumped into the guy who cut my hair during my twenty years of living in Scotland! It just goes to prove what a small world it really is.

But occasionally, you do meet strange people, for example, the child who just stood in front of the signing table and stared at me for what seemed like hours in Barnes and Noble in Dayton, Ohio, and the pleasant gentleman in York who wanted to tell me what was wrong with our current government here in the UK (as if I didn’t know!).

What if someone asks seemingly endless questions about writing a novel and the publishing industry, or just wants to stop and talk about the weather, before walking away without purchasing a book? I smile and remind myself that an author event, be it a book signing session or an author talk, is a means of a creating a presence – getting your name out there and interesting people in your work. Any sales they generate are a bonus. And if you're very lucky the local media might take an interest.

So, if you happen to be in Glossop on the 1st May, come along to the Labour Club, Chapel Street, at 2.30pm, where I shall be giving a talk as part of the Glossop Literary Festival, and see if I can’t tempt you into buying a book!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Finding time to write.

The question I get asked most often is 'how do you find time to write'?

In this day and age it's easy to feel overwhelmed by everyday life without the added pressure of writing a book or short story. So just how do you apply the BOSFOK (bum on seat, fingers on keyboard) principle?

The answer is by scheduling the time you have.

Don't try and fit your writing into your 'spare time.' There's no such thing, especially if you work full time in order to support your family. Study your schedule and designate time when you can concentrate on your writing, but don't be too ambitious. For example: If you are a morning person try getting up half an hour earlier and using that time to write. Some writers prefer to work of any evening while the rest of the family watch TV, others dedicate weekend afternoons as their time to write. Choose whatever works best for you, and stick to it.

Use a timer when doing research--it's very easy to become distracted, especially when searching the Internet. A timer will help make your time at the computer more productive.

Limit the amount of time you spend answering and sending emails (unless they are to your editor), and reading on line newspapers and blogs.

Think about what you're going to write BEFORE you sit down in front of the computer, perhaps while ironing, or mowing the lawn. When you do sit down at your desk, you'll have the next few pages worked out, plus you will have freed up time in which to write it.

Make use of downtime--those tedious journeys on the bus to work or sitting around waiting for appointments. Carry a notebook and write while you travel or wait. If you spend a lot of time in the car driving from place to place, invest in a voice activated voice recorder.

While you're watching your children play in the park, work out the next scene or think through a problem. When you sit down to write, the words will generally flow.

If your children have an essay to write use the time they are sat quietly to work on your novel.

Don't try and write while the TV or radio is playing in the background, it will only distract you.

Instead of taking an hour to eat lunch, use part of the time to write.

Invest in a netbook computer--most are no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper, are lightweight and relatively inexpensive.

Use an answering machine to screen calls during your 'writing time.'

But most of all, set yourself a writing goal. It could be something as simple as entering one writing contest in the course of a year. And remember; if you write 250 words a day--the equivalent of one page of A4, in a year you will have written 365 pages or approximately 90,000 words--enough for a full length novel. Whatever your goal, stick to it, as it will take the pressure off.

Time management is all about common sense. It's a matter of understanding your commitments and knowing how you work best, and using that information to achieve your goals.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


On my recent appearance on the Rony Robinson Show on BBC Radio Sheffield, we talked about back-story or the infodump, and why telling the reader too much, too soon, should be avoided.

What exactly do writers mean when they talk about back-story? Basically, it is filling the reader in on the background of your story, why the action takes place where it does, the subtext of your character’s lives, and the reasons for the big question or problem they have to solve.

Back-story is essential to novels, but the opening pages aren’t the place to go into depth about your character’s past or the places they inhabit. The trick is to give the reader just enough information to make them care, and want to find out what happens next.

You need to think carefully about the opening chapter. Readers don’t necessarily have to know that your heroine has blue eyes, blonde hair, and lives with her aged mother in a tumbledown cottage, or that the hero has two siblings who have green eyes and regularly tap him for a loan.

Think of the opening of your novel as the equivalent of an appetiser—a bit of teasing in order to keep the reader hooked. A couple of sentences here and there, no long blocks. Back-story is showing not telling. Your readers want to launch into the action. They want to see what’s happening. They don’t want to be told.

What about flashbacks – those little scenes where your character starts to think about something that took place weeks/months/years ago? Flashbacks can slow the pace of the story and confuse readers. They are best used in a prologue, but be careful that you don’t tell the reader too much, too soon. There are three primary ways to include back-story in your novel.

1. Dialogue.

2. Narrative.

3. Description.

I prefer to use dialogue. It feels more natural to have my characters talk about their past, or explain their reason for acting in a particular way. But it’s a personal choice and you have to decide what works best for that part of the story.

But how do you know how much back-story to use?

That’s a difficult question, and to a certain extent, the decision is yours. Just remember, too much back-story will make the reader bored and tempt him or her to put the book down. You’ll lose their attention. They may even wonder why they picked up the book in the first place, and that’s the last thing any writer wants.

Head hopping; To hop or not to hop.

Have you ever read a scene in a novel and suddenly wondered, ‘Who is thinking this?’ Quite often, it means that the writer has hopped into another character’s head and you, the reader, didn’t follow the shift. When this happens, readers will most likely lay down the book, never to pick it up again.

Some well-established romance authors, such as Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell, Julie Garwood, and Lori Wick have mastered this style. But not every author has their expertise or quick-switch style.

For the new writer, mastering the point of view (POV) switch takes time. Just so you know what I’m talking about, let me define POV. Point of view is simply the perspective from which your story is told. This can include first, second or third person, omniscient, limited third person or whatever else is out there.

Head-hopping is not to be confused with multiple points of view. Most books on the craft of writing state that you should only use one POV per scene. However, sometimes it’s necessary to bend the rules. Editors, especially those of category, single title, and suspense romance, are looking for vividly created three-dimensional characters they can relate to, empathize with, or, if necessary, hate. Including both the hero and heroine’s viewpoint not only gives the reader insight into both sides of the developing relationship, it’s also a way to create and maintain, tension, conflict, and suspense. Being able to switch smoothly from one character’s POV at a pivotal moment hooks the reader and keeps them turning pages to find out what happens next.

That said, I’m not saying you should go out and write every paragraph from a different POV. Good writing is important. Too many changes and your readers become confused or just lose interest. They need to bond with your characters, and they can’t do that if you don’t give them enough time with them. Remember; if you must switch POV during scene make sure the switch is smooth.

When you understand the rules, then you can make the right choice for your story, and decide whether you want to be a POV purist, or a head hopper.

To find out which one I am, you’ll just have to read my books!

Monday, 12 April 2010

You’ve come up with an amazing idea for a novel, so what’s next? Part 3

You’ve written your outline and/or plotted your novel. You’ve named your characters and given them a background, and are itching to put pen to paper, but what about the setting for your novel?

Many seasoned novelists will tell new authors to write about what they know, and its good advice. But most people see reading as a form of escapism from the humdrum of everyday life.

Just as life experiences often given us ideas for novels, places we travel to can often be the source of inspiration when it comes to settings. For example, when I set out to write my first novel, Three Weeks Last Spring, I had recently returned from a holiday in Seattle, Washington. Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands are spectacular. I realised that it wouldn’t take much to upset the ecological balance of the area. An oil spill from a tanker and the wildlife, in particular, the seabirds and mammals, would be facing a catastrophe, equal only to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska. That vacation, not only gave me the setting for my novel, but also the idea for the story.

I knew I wanted to set my second novel in Scotland, but I needed an idea for a story, and a setting. Having lived there for twenty years I had travelled the length and breadth of the country, but I also had firsthand knowledge of the offshore oil industry. I recalled a visit to the west coast, and the drive along the single-track road to Loch Hourn, a fjord-like sea loch, and decided it would be a wonderful setting for a novel. But what to write about?

A little further south lays Loch Kishorn, another sea loch, and the site of the now defunct Howard Doris Construction yard. I tried to imagine how the occupants of the three small settlements on the shore, known collectively as Kishorn, must have felt when the Highland Council granted permission for Howard Doris to use the loch as a construction facility for offshore oil platforms.

From that setting, and my knowledge of the offshore industry, the idea for The House on the Shore, evolved.

So you see setting can be used as a plot devise. An isolated Scottish Glen, a bankrupt factitious Laird, desperate to salvage his family fortunes, and an offshore construction company seeking to build a deepwater facility, became the ingredients for a romantic suspense novel. But it’s a novel based on fact.

As a writer you should always be aware of your surroundings – you never know your next vacation or trip to the countryside could be the setting for a novel.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

You’ve come up with an amazing idea for a novel, so what’s next? Part 2

While out walking with my Border collie, Lucy, the other day I thought about the plot for my next novel. I’ve been working on this manuscript for nearly a year now, and have got no further than Chapter eighteen. No doubt you’re wondering why I haven’t finished it.

There are two reasons.

Firstly, although I had completed The House on the Shore over two years ago and had been submitting it to agents, I decided to revise the manuscript – not once, but twice. This entailed adding some 24,000 words to the original manuscript, so what had started out as a 70,000 word single-title suspense romance finally became a 95,000 word novel. Did I make the right decision in revising the manuscript? You bet! It was published in February 2009 by Vanilla Heart Publishing.

The second reason for not completing my third novel is due in to the fact that I felt the plot was lacking something. The idea originally came to me while I was sitting on a beach on Gasparilla Island in January 2006. I knew the basic premise was sound. My characters have depth and by that I mean they are not one-dimensional – when I think about them, I can see them acting through the events I have planned for them. I can even imagine snatches of dialogue, and occasionally I dream about them. In other words, I know what makes them tick. They have the personality, wit, and intelligence to overcome the problems they encounter during the course of the novel.

So what was wrong with the plot and how did I rectify it?

By asking myself questions or playing “the what if game.” I already knew, “Who,” “Where” and “When,” but “What and “Why” eluded me. I knew how my story began and how it would end.

My problem was how to introduce my hero and make his meeting with the heroine plausible. Originally, I had planned to have my hero follow the heroine from the airport and then contrive to meet her by accident. But it didn’t feel right.

I put the manuscript to one side and worked on a short story. When that was complete, I emailed a friend who happens to be a fellow writer and we tossed ideas back and forth for a few days. I also tried to imagine what I would do if I were in a position similar to that of my heroine. It was only by doing this and asking myself questions that I finally reached a solution I was happy with. I re-wrote my plot outline – the key events and points I wanted to achieve during the course of the story. When I started writing again the words came easily.
If you don’t have a writing friend, someone you can bounce ideas off, I suggest you put aside your work-in-progress, and spend a few days away from the computer, or work on something else. If that fails, there are a number of excellent books on plotting; Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon, and Holly Lisle’s Plot Clinic are excellent. Both are guaranteed to get the imagination fired up and working.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

You’ve come up with an amazing idea for a novel, so what’s next?

Many first time authors just start writing with no clear ending in mind, and then often find themselves grinding to a halt somewhere around chapter five or six. The manuscript gets shoved into a drawer and forgotten about.

So what’s the solution?

The answer is some basic planning. Decide on the length of the book, and which genre your novel fits into. At this stage it’s a good idea to look books similar to the one you are writing to get an idea of overall length. The average single-title contemporary romance is anywhere between 80,000 to 100,000 words long. If you’re writing category romance then check the publisher’s guidelines, as it can vary from line to line. For example: For Mills and Boon Intrigue the word count is 50,000 and 60,000, while their Modern Heat line is 50,000 to 55,000.

Then decide on your cast of characters. I like to cut images from magazines and past them onto “character sheets” for the main characters. I find it a great aid to describing physical attributes. Then I build their background, their skills and personalities. As I write romantic suspense, I also give them some emotional baggage, something that they have to overcome to achieve their goal.

Next I do my research. Say my protagonist is an artist; in that case I need to decide whether he or she paints in oils or watercolours. The local library is a good source of information, although more often than not, I find what I’m looking for on the Internet. Then I choose a setting—let’s say San Francisco. Fortunately, I’ve been there and have photographs and guidebooks to refer to. But if you set your novel in an unfamiliar place, then again, do your research.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to sit down and plot your novel or write your outline.

Some writers will tell you that it is essential to develop your characters and plot your novel, chapter by chapter. Others will tell you that they don’t plot per se, but they jot down key points they wish their characters to achieve, in other words they write a plot outline. Then there are the “wingers,” those writers who have a beginning and an ending, but no idea of what will take place in the middle.

So who is right, the plotter, the author who outlines, or those who wing it?

Unfortunately, they all are! You have to find which way works best for you. Personally, I find a tight plot line hampers my creativity and prefer just to work from a four to six page outline. This allows my story “growing room.”

For expert help in plotting your novel I suggest you read Brenda Hill’s excellent e-book Plot your way to Publication.