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At the Sharp End…

The Titillation of Titles (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of Free-Photos, Pixabay

The title of this blog sounds as though it should actually be the collective noun—like a Parliament of Owls, a Wiggery of Barristers, a Decanter of Deans, or a Shrivel of Critics. (Honestly, I’m not making these up.) Perhaps a Shelf of Titles be more appropriate? Or, these days, a TBR of Titles?

In fact, the title was suggested by my fellow MurderIsEverywhere blogfellow, Jeffrey Siger. And the subject matter came about because of an email I received from a member of my Advance Reader Team, Patti Ruocco:

“One thing: when you have the time, I’d love to know how you come up with your titles, and how much of the story you know when the title occurs.”

I started to reply to this email but it quickly struck me that there was more to say about this and perhaps other people might be interested, too.

The first of the Charlie Fox books was KILLER INSTINCT. This title, it turns out, had already been used back in 1995 by tennis champion, Martina Navratilova and Liz Nickles. Fortunately, there is no copyright on titles, so I was able to call my debut novel the same. To my knowledge, the title has been used twice more. First by Joseph Finder in 2007 and next month James Patterson & Howard Roughan will be bringing out the latest incarnation.

I can’t remember at what point the title suggested itself for this book. I wrote it in fits and starts over a period of years. I believe it originally had THE at the beginning of it, but this was soon dropped. I felt it fitted in with the idea of Charlie discovering, after being a victim, that she had what it took within her to fight back. Indeed, earlier in the book one of the other characters tells her, somewhat disparagingly, that she’s got the moves but not the killer instinct to go with them. Needless to say, she proves him wrong.

I’ve always tried to make the titles have some connection to the stories, if not to be actually referenced during the narrative. RIOT ACT was about civil unrest due to racial tensions between two neighbouring housing estates and HARD KNOCKS was about a tough bodyguard training school.

I particularly liked the title FIRST DROP for book four. The story not only starts at a Florida theme park where Charlie is having the wits scared out of her on a giant rollercoaster, but I also felt it was a good analogy for the story. After all, once you’ve climbed the lift hill on that rollercoaster and hit the first drop, you can’t stop or get off. You simply have to cling on for dear life and hope you make it to the end of the ride.

By now, of course, I was firmly entrenched in two-word titles for the series. ROAD KILL was about ‘accidents’ befalling motorcycle riders and seemed an obvious choice once I’d decided on that theme.

SECOND SHOT was not so easy. I played with other titles, too, but by this time my US publisher had taken on FIRST DROP and dropped heavy hints that they’d like the next one to be a) set in the States and b) called Second something-or-other. As it turned out, SECOND SHOT suited the storyline right from the start of the book, as Charlie is shot twice on the first page. Of course, then the publisher wanted to follow this numerical sequence, ignoring the books that didn’t fit into it.

THIRD STRIKE took a bit of coming up with, but it fitted the story as it largely centres around Charlie’s consultant surgeon father, who is on the verge of losing his medical licence – or, as it would be put in the UK, to be struck off. I wanted to combine this with the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ idea as well. I seem to remember I was well into the story before the matter of what to call the book was settled.

But I was already thinking about the next title way before I came up with the story for the next in the series, although I’d been toying with the idea of Charlie getting involved with a cult of some kind for a while. When I was looking for a good name for this cult, Fourth Day suggested itself. Taken from Genesis, it is the moment God creates light and dark and the divide between them. Even if I hadn’t wanted to continue with the numerical titles (and by that time I’d changed US publishers so, strictly speaking there was no need to do so) I would have stuck to FOURTH DAY for this book.

FIFTH VICTIM was about kidnappings on Long Island. Charlie is trying to prevent her young principal from becoming the fifth victim of the title. Again, it was another one I came up with before I started writing. To a certain extent, it shows how far ahead I’m planning the series, even on a subconscious level. I could have stopped using numbers after THIRD STRIKE, but I’d already worked out the plots for the next two books, even in vague form.

Rather than Sixth anything, I finally moved away from those dratted numbers for book ten. I’d wanted to set something in post-Katrina New Orleans for a while, and I’d also wanted to do my homage to one of my favourite movies, Die Hard. Combining this with the city known as ‘the Big Easy’ made DIE EASY almost inevitable.

ABSENCE OF LIGHT is an oddity in the series in that it’s a shorter book than the others and a three-word title. That comes from a Buddhist adage: in the absence of light, darkness must prevail. I had the title before I began work on the book, and I knew at some point in the story Charlie was going to end up underground in darkness. Indeed, that’s where she starts off in the flash-forward opening scene.

The title for FOX HUNTER was a suggestion from a reader, Thomas Talinksi. When I checked on Amazon, the only books with similar titles were about show jumping from years previously. Besides, the premise of this book is that Charlie is hunting for someone and could very well be being hunted herself, so it had a double meaning.

As for the latest book, BAD TURN, that title took a bit of coming up with. It seemed to fit as not only is there the connection with the old saying about one good turn deserving another but also because it hints at the direction Charlie’s life might just have taken…

One of the most difficult books to put a title to was last year’s DANCING ON THE GRAVE. This started out as POINT AND SHOOT, although I never quite liked that one. Then it became FALLING SHORT OF GLORY, which I rather liked but people thought suggested it was about the American Civil War. Then fellow author John Lawton came up with a line from a Dory Previn song BEWARE OF YOUNG GIRLS. When I looked up the full lyric, I found the lines immediately following that one are: too often they crave to cry / at a wedding and dance on a grave. And I knew as soon as I read that, I’d got my title.

Of course, originally, I intended that book to be a standalone. It is now the first in a trilogy, of which I’m working on the second book right now. Only, this time, I do have the title up front. And for the third instalment, too! But you’ll have to wait to find out what they are.

This week’s Word of the Week is prorogation, meaning the action of discontinuing a session of parliament or other legislative assembly without dissolving it. King Charles I, on the other hand, dismissed parliament altogether in 1629 and resolved to rule alone. It did not end well for him.

Most Extreme Weather on Record


As climate change starts to move up a gear, so we begin to experience greater extremes of weather. Even in the normally temperate UK, last month’s heatwave has given way to torrential rain, high winds, and flooding. (Yeah, welcome to August.)


I’ve been interested in extreme weather for many years. In fact, one of the things I’ve always wanted to do is go tornado chasing. Just as long as I didn’t have to get too close.

But, with this in mind, I wondered what were the most extreme instances of extreme weather that had ever been recorded. And if you’ve wondered about that, too, read on…


When it comes to the worst recorded rain, it rather depends on how you choose to measure it. The most rain in one minute, for instance, was 31.2mm/1.23in in July 1956 in Unionville, Maryland. Holt, Missouri had the most in an hour—305mm/12in in June 1947.

When it comes to really being hit by rain, however, you need to go to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean during cyclone season. During Tropical Cyclone Denise in January 1966, Cilaos on Réunion recorded 1825mm/71.9in of rain in 24 hours. In January 1980, Cyclone Hyacinthe brought Commerson the most rain in a single tropical storm—a whopping 6433mm/253.3in. And Cyclone Gamede hit the same place again in 2007, this time dumping a record 4869mm/191.7mm of rain in four days.

Just in case you were wondering, the least rainy place on record is Quillagua in Chile, which receives less than 0.2mm/0.0079in per year.


The most snow within a twenty-four-hour period was in Capracotta, Italy in March 2015, when 2.56m/100.8in fell. The most in a calendar month was 9.91m/390in in Tamarack, California in January 1911.

The widest area ever covered by a single snowfall was when between 1-76mm/0-30in fell across nine countries in South Africa in August 2012. The deepest snowfall recorded was on Mt Ibuki in Japan in February 1927 when 11.82m/38.8ft was recorded.

Read the rest of this blog over on MurderIsEverywhere.

Reviews: the How, What, Why, Where and When

There will always be some authors whose work you absolutely adore. As soon as you hear their latest book is available for pre-order, you can’t wait to stake your claim on a copy. You get hold of your book on publication day and lock yourself away to devour it almost non-stop. Woe betides anyone who dares to interrupt you for anything short of the house being on fire.

I know—I’ve been there. With my favourite authors, I love their voice so much I’d read their shopping lists if I could get hold of them without coming across as a creepy stalker type.

And even then it might be worth it…

But when it comes to authors I’ve never read before, I’m always happy to take recommendations. Personal—from people I know and whose reading tastes mirror my own—is always best. But this is no longer always the case.

Why Review?

A survey carried out last year by BrightLocal showed that a staggering 91% of 18-34-year-old consumers now trust online reviews as much as personal word-of-mouth. Not only that but:

  • Consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before feeling able to trust the product.
  • 86% of consumers read reviews before making a buying decision. (And if you go back to that 18-34-year-old age bracket, the figure rises to 95%.)
  • 57% of consumers will use a business only if it has 4 or more stars.
  • 40% of consumers only take into account reviews written within the past two weeks.

So, if you’ve enjoyed a book and feel other people would, too, why not leave a review to help them not only find it, but have the confidence to give it a try? Your opinion matters, and carries just as much weight with potential readers as a conventional magazine or newspaper review.

Of course, whatever review you leave, it’s got to be an honest one. If you’re reading a series and didn’t enjoy the latest instalment as much as an earlier one, then say so. In fact, having a range of reviews (providing they’re predominantly positive, of course!) sometimes has more clout than only having five-star ones.

Reviews don’t need to be long or involved. They don’t need to examine the structure in great detail, deconstruct the narrative arc, or explore the underlying themes. (Some people enjoy going into this kind of depth, and it’s always fascinating for the author.)

A few sentences saying what you liked about the story and the characters works just fine. All reviews, short and long, help other lovers of books to decide what to read. After all, people read far faster than authors can possibly write, so there is always a desperate need for more fuel to feed the flames.

And reviews really help authors. Not only do they provide encouragement for those days when the words just will not come, but they also nudge sales along and help authors to be able to keep writing the books that you love.

Where Review?

So, would you be prepared to review books you’ve enjoyed on Amazon and goodreads? (Or, if you read on an ePub reader, on Barnes & Noble’s Nook site, or Apple Books, or Kobo?) Or maybe even a few lines on one of the crime-reading groups on Facebook?

If you’re already a regular reviewer, you’ll know exactly what to do, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

How do I Review?

The first piece of advice I’d offer is always to write your review elsewhere and then copy and paste it into the review box on the appropriate site mentioned below. I know with reviews, or comments on blogs or other online forms, that it’s Sod’s Law, the longer the piece you’ve just written, the greater the likelihood you’ll press the Post button and your hard work will be eaten by the cyber gods, never to be seen again!

So, how to review:

On Amazon, go to the page of the book you want to review, scroll down the page and, on the left-hand side, you’ll find the star symbols and the [Write a customer review] button.

Click or tap the button, which will prompt you to sign in to your Amazon account, if you haven’t already done so. You’ll then get this screen to complete and fill in as you wish.

Goodreads helpfully provide full instructions:

On the book page on Apple Books, alongside the [Details] button is one for [Ratings and Reviews], as shown here for the first of my Lakeland trilogy, DANCING ON THE GRAVE:

Choose the [Ratings and Reviews] option, which gets you to this screen, allowing you to give a star rating. You can just rate a book one to five stars (one being low and five being high) and not leave a review. But, if you do, you’ll be asked to sign in to your account before you can go any further.

Scrolling down the book page on Kobo you’ll get to this section which invites you to share your thoughts and [Write your review].

And Barnes & Noble’s Nook book pages have a very similar option to be found by scrolling down the page to the [Write a review] button.

What kind of things do I say?

If you’ve read lots of book reviews, then you already have a good idea of what’s required. And, if you haven’t, just treat it like writing to a friend to tell him or her about the book you’ve just finished and why you think they ought to read it, too.

The only thing you don’t need to do is explain the premise of the story, as the book description on the page does that. And, please, don’t give away spoilers in the plot. Imagine reading a review of the movie The Sixth Sense, or The Usual Suspects, and it told you the big twist at the end before you’d had a chance to watch it for yourself.

It’s always a good idea to plan and write out your review in advance, so you can copy and paste it into the site. This saves the frustrating experience of having all your careful words disappear in a computer glitch.

  1. Decide the star rating for the book of 1 to maximum 5. This is not an index of quality, simply an indication of how much you personally liked the book.
  2. Think about a short title for your review that sums up what you think of the book.

Then choose a few of the following—or all of them if you want—and write in your own words:

  • whether you liked the book
  • what you liked most (or least)
  • how you felt about the characters
  • if you felt you could relate to them—did they seem like real people?
  • if you felt the story kept you turning the pages
  • if you recommend the book—and, if so, why?

Above all, your review should be honest, from the heart, and help other readers to discover new authors and new stories. And that, in turn, sells more books. So, everybody wins!

It’s perfectly acceptable for you to receive a free ARC so that you can produce your review. In fact, Amazon now requires you to mention this. So, if this has been the case, then at the end of your review, you should simply say: I received a free Advance Reader Copy of this book for review.

That’s it. Hope this has helped you with the What, Why, How and Where of reviewing. That just leaves…

The When

Reviews on goodreads can be added anytime as you work your way through your To Be Read pile. They can be added for books that are not yet published or ones that are on pre-order. Reviews on the retailer sites, like Amazon and Apple, need to go up as soon after publication as possible, to give a book that initial boost.

If you like an author’s work, they would really appreciate you saying a few words about their books. But other readers will appreciate it even more.

This week’s Word of the Week is esprit d’escalier, which can be literally translated as ‘the wit of the staircase’ and means the predicament of thinking of the perfect response too late to use it. It apparently comes from a time when the smartest of Parisian gatherings happened in mansions that had their reception rooms one floor above the ground. Thus to think of a witty retort while on the stairs meant you had already left the party and the moment to use it was past.

A Room Of One’s Own Is Not The Problem: A Writer’s Needs


Virginia Woolf famously said that what a woman writer needed to work was “a room of one’s own” and “£500 a year”. Of course, when she said that in 1928, women were not welcome in many of the institutions that were open to male writers, and £500 / $650 a year was a pretty hefty income. (It works out at around £30,000 / $37,500 in today’s money.)

Sadly, ninety years later many writers don’t earn much more than £500 a year. And that’s at the non-adjusted rate. Only a small fraction—a mere 5%—make in excess of £30k and even then they perhaps not do so with any great regularity.

Last month, the Royal Society of Literature published its own findings from a 2018 survey funded by the Author Licensing and Collecting Society into UK authors’ earnings. The report, called A Room of My Own, makes fascinating if sobering reading.

The RSL points out that although more than 184,000 books are published in the UK each year, and that sales of books and journals rose to £5.7 billion / $7.1 billion—not to mention all the other media which books give rise to—the majority of authors earn less than £10,000 / $12,400 a year. Considering the hours involved, that’s not even minimum wage.

But, for many of us, this is not simply a job. It’s an urge, an obsession, a compunction, and a catharsis. We write because not writing would be infinitely worse.

Anything else is a bonus.

Read the rest of this blog on MurderIsEverywhere.

Row, Row, Row Yer Boat…


I’m all for a challenge and I genuinely enjoy acquiring new skills. It’s probably for this reason that I am au fait with the basics of building a dry stone wall, what to do on a Formula 2 sidecar outfit, how to use an electric arc welder, or the etiquette of engaging in a sword fight. You never know when such knowledge will come in handy.


Yup, that’s me clinging on for grim death around Mallory Park race circuit!

I confess, though, it wasn’t entirely with research in mind that I ventured out onto the waters of the River Derwent this week to try my hand at rowing. This past winter, I’ve been plagued by increasingly painful back problems and have been advised by my physio that I need to do some physical exercise beyond giving my brain a workout behind a computer keyboard, or undertaking general DIY.

Neither of which count, apparently.

So, considering the Captain of the Derwent Rowing Club, Lewis Hancock, is not only a friend but also the very fine narrator of two of my audiobooks, what better place to start?

Lewis Hancock

Lewis Hancock, at the audiobook recording of DANCING ON THE GRAVE

To read the rest of this blog and find out how I got on, click over to MurderIsEverywhere.

Ladies’ Football – then and now


First off—confession time. I’m not a football fan. In fact, I can think of many things I’d rather do than sit and watch football. And the list of things I’d rather do than be compelled to actually play the game probably includes cleaning the oven. Or the drains.

The closest I ever got was playing rugby in a friend’s back garden when I was about seven. A particularly enthusiastic tackle brought the side of my head into close contact with a concrete clothes post, resulting in the yellow top I was wearing turning a glossy shade of red down half the front and most of one sleeve.

It did not inspire me to take up the game.

But, on the plus side, it gave me an early insight into how much minor head wounds bleed, which has since proved very useful research.

England Lioness Team 2019

I can appreciate any kind of physical skill, however, and the fact that the England Lioness team have done so well in recent years has not been lost on me. Finding a picture of the current squad was no easy task, it has to be said. I did a quick search to see if I had as much difficulty finding a pic of the current men’s team. A pageful popped up right away.

Read the full post over on MurderIsEverywhere.

Appleby Horse Fair

The annual Gypsy and Traveller Horse Fair, which takes place at Appleby-in-Westmorland in early June is reputed to be the largest of its kind in Europe.


Around 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers attend from all over the UK—including Irish Travellers, British Romanichal, Welsh Romanies (Kale), and Scottish Gypsies and Travellers. The New Fair, as it’s also known, attracts more than 30,000 visitors.

Although at one point I spent several years living in Appleby, I never actually went. The crowds and the inevitable traffic jams getting in and out of the town were the main reason. As is always the way, it wasn’t until this year, long after I’d moved, that I decided I should go.

Read the rest of this blog over on MurderIsEverywhere.

The Bay – new ITV crime drama in Charlie Fox’s home town


The Bay crime thriller series

A new six-part crime drama series started this week in the UK on ITV. Set in Morecambe and called The Bay, it stars Morven Christie as a Detective Sergeant, Lisa, who is assigned as Family Liaison Officer when fifteen-year-old twins go missing in the seaside town. Her job is to support the family and be on the inside for the police investigators.

As soon as the distraught father, Sean (played by Jonas Armstrong) arrives home, however, she discovers that he’s the bloke with whom she had a quickie while on a girls’ pub crawl the night before. Much complication ensues.

Morven Christie in The Bay

Morven Christie as Detective Sergeant Lisa Armstrong in The Bay (ITV). Photographer: Ben Blackall

Morven Christie’s recent TV credits include Grantchester, Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence, and The A Word. Jonas Armstrong’s recent outings include Ripper StreetTroy: Fall of a City, and Line of Duty. The work of playwright and screenwriter, Daragh Carville, The Bay has been mooted as ‘Broadchurch in Morecambe’—which I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t yet got around to watching.

I confess, though, that I do quite like TV dramas where one story is told over a number of instalments. You do seem to get more depth to the characters and, ultimately, more sympathy for the victim—and in some cases for the perpetrator as well.

Of course, I’m equally a fan of TV series made up of standalone stories—more like the way a book series is structured. At least if you miss one, you can still follow what’s happening in the next episode. Although, now we’re in the age of catch-up and box set TV, that’s not as much of a consideration anymore.

To read the rest of this blog, visit Murder Is Everywhere.


Magic Words

On Friday evening I went to see The Magic Showcase, a group of four magicians who perform in sequence over the course of an evening. Actually, I’ve just looked up the collective term for a group of magicians and it turns out it’s an Illusion, appropriately enough.

magic showcase

The show was organised by one of the illusionists performing, Tom Wright, and also included Dave Burns, Arron Jones, and John Morton. The event was held to raise money for Hulland Community Pre-School. If the packed house and crowded bar was anything to go by, they should have achieved their aim.

It’s a long time since I’ve watched any sleight of hand, and then it was by fellow mystery author James Swain, who is noted to be one of the best card-handlers out there.

Dave Burns

Dave Burns, making a member of the audience work.

This show was great fun, and the four performers were not above taking the rip out of the audience in the name of an easy laugh. I was surprised to be picked out, as for some reason in the past I’ve always managed to put out a ‘don’t pick on me’ vibe. I must be mellowing in my old age. Still, when Arron Jones asked me what I did for a living and I answered, “I’m a crime writer,” he paused a moment and then said, “I can’t think of anything funny to say about that…”

Arron Jones

Arron Jones playing with a pack of cards and a fox trap. Still had all his fingers at the end of the night.

Going to watch The Magic Showcase was as much for research purposes as for anything else. An idea has been germinating in the back of my mind for a while with legerdemain, deception, and misdirection as main parts of the story. I wanted to see it for myself, live and up close. Some bits I could spot, but others remained thoroughly intriguing bits of mystery.

John Morton

John Morton. “Envelope A, or Envelope B? No pressure…”

One piece from the show highlighted a feeling I had for this story—whatever it eventually turns into. John Morton put two envelopes, A and B, onto stands on the stage. He picked out an audience member and told them that one envelope contained a £50 note, and the other a lottery ticket. The guy chose A. Morton then put an X sticker on the A envelope and a smiley emoticon sticker on the B envelope, all the while asking if the man was sure, and didn’t want to change his mind. Periodically during his set, he would ask again if the man was certain of his decision, hinting that he’d got the wrong one. When it came to making his final choice, the man changed his mind and opted for envelope B. Sure enough, that contained the lottery ticket and the A envelope contained the cash. I’m sure, had the man gone for that one at the beginning, Morton’s patter would have been subtly different. And I’m sure it would still have ended up with the magician keeping hold of his money. Psychological mind games are a fascinating part of the act.

Magic Showcase predictions

Arron Jones and Tom Wright, unrolling the scroll of uncannily accurate pre-show predictions about the events of the night, which had apparently been in a locked box at the front of the stage throughout the entire performance…

To a certain extent, when we write, crime and mystery authors try to accomplish the same sleight of hand with words—or should that be legerdemot? We throw a clue into the mix but try to distract the reader from what it is with a flourish of description or action at the same time. The more accomplished the wordsmith, the less likely the move is to be noticed. It all has to be smooth and seamless and entertaining.

Just like magic.

This week’s Word of the Week is prestidigitation, which means conjuring tricks performed as entertainment. The word comes from the French preste (from the Italian presto) meaning nimble or quick, and the Latin for finger, digitus.

magic showcase line-up

The Magic Showcase line-up (l to r) Arron Jones, Dave Burns, John Morton, Tom Wright. (Apologies for blurry pictures. Combination of poor light and laughter.)

Talking of Books: Taking a Look at Audio


One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about writing fiction was to read the words aloud. Reading your own work really helps you to pinpoint those clunky bits of narrative or dialogue, or those descriptive scenes that go on for just a bit too long.

Better yet, I’ve found, is to get somebody else to read your work back to you. After all, you as the author know how the rhythm of the story should run and where the emphasis should go for maximum dramatic effect.

audiobook narration

But, if those clues are not present in the way the words are presented on the page, then your reader is never going to be able to reproduce that same rhythm in their head. I’ve always believed that more than the subject matter, the characters or the plot, it’s the individual voice of the writer that turns casual readers into continuing fans.

When you pick up a book by an author unknown to you, before you’ve finished the first paragraph—often even the opening sentence—you just know if you like the sound of that writer’s voice. I had this with the first Robert B Parker novel I picked up, the first Ken Bruen and the first Lee Child. More recently, I happened across the Wyatt Storme series by WL Ripley. They all have such a distinctive style that flicks a switch inside my head. Something in the back of my mind goes, “Yes!” and I have to read on.

If you would like to read on, go to MurderIsEverywhere.