Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Friday, 27 March 2015

Can we ever forgive those who do us the greatest wrong?

Letters To My Daughter's Killer

Cath Staincliffe

Novelist Cath Staincliffe poses this question in her heart-wrenching study on a mother's search for understanding, written in epistolary form as letters to her daughter, Lizzie's murderer. In them she pours out her anguish as she reveals the devastating effect the crime has had on her, her family and friends four years earlier. It's a story of the life sentences the families of victims serve because of the actions of others who either don't care or don't think about the ramifications of their crimes.

Cath Staincliffe never ceases to amaze me. As the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye mysteries set in Manchester, the creator and scriptwriter of the Blue Murder ITV series and the novels based on the Scott & Bailey TV detective series, her stories are full of action, twists and turns and unexpected outcomes at the end of her well-plotted work.

But reading Cath's standalone psychological novels, with their true-to-life moral dilemmas, one could be forgiven for thinking they're written by another author, for the style, themes and language are so completely different. They're full of emotional pull; thought-provoking with characters who leap out of the pages; credible situations that could happen to any of us; superbly written and loaded with fine detail that give her books a more literary feel.

Letters to My Daughter's Killer was selected for the Crime Thriller Bookclub on ITV3 and given the thumbs up by a panel of well-known authors. Nobody puts it better than crime writer, Val McDermid when she says: 'It's always exciting to see a writer get better and better and Cath Staincliffe is doing just that.'


Ruth Sutton lives in Manchester. In her first letter to her daughter's murderer, she reveals immediately her passionate hatred for him; nothing can change that. Written in first person, Ruth gradually unfolds the story that she needs to get out of her head.  The passing years have increased her desire for vengeance, for it is killing her inside. She needs to move away from it before she is also destroyed.

The strength of her hatred is revealed on the first page. She asks for no replies, she just wants him to read her letters but what she does want is some answers. The man has lied and denied the crime and she needs to know how her daughter died and why, so she is going to face him with the destruction he has ravaged for his victim's mother.

Ruth works at the local library in a south Manchester suburb. One evening in September 2009, she is alone at home with Milky the cat. She has been divorced for two years from husband Tony.  Her daughter Lizzie's husband Jack phones to say Lizzie has been killed. Nothing will ever be the same.

Her letters describe how it felt being told and witnessing the crime scene when it was too late. Cath gets right to the heart of how any mother might feel in such a situation, the emotions she might go through - shock, disbelief, horror, questions, grief, memories and reality. Ruth tries to imagine how the murderer would have been feeling having committed the crime. Any more would be a spoiler, so I recommend reading this book, along with any of Cath's other standalone novels.

Letters To My Daughter's Killer is published by C&R Crime, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2014.

Cath's website gives details of all her books and scripts: www.cathstaincliffe.co.uk

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A man is not a financial plan!

The Wealthy Woman: a woman's guide to achieving financial security

Mary Waring's advice for a secure financial future, aimed at women, makes sound sense. For those women who don't mind being kept by someone else, this book may still prove helpful. I'm sure that lifestyle has its advantages and drawbacks but I've always preferred to earn my own crust, rather than having to ask someone else for money. But like many other women, I haven't a clue when it comes to saving for the future. That's where independence can fall down.

There's nothing wrong with aspiring to be a wealthy woman and Mary knows how to do this. She's the founder of Wealth for Women, and an IFA (Independent Financial Adviser) and she specialises in divorce settlement for her female clients.  She's one of a handful of UK advisers to qualify as a Chartered Financial Planner and a Chartered Accountant; she's been voted the only top-rated IFA specialising in financial advice for women going through divorce on VouchedFor.co.uk and was shortlisted as Chartered Financial Planner of 2014 from 4,299 other planners in the country.

Mary maintains that too many women stick their heads in the sand and ignore financial planning. 'Or rely on a man to sort it for them,' she says. Her catchphrase, not surprisingly, is 'A man is not a financial plan'.

Mary's book gives an insight into the knowledge she's gained from over 25 years of study and work in the finance industry. And it's aimed at divorcees in particular. Britain has the highest divorce rate in the European Union with 42 per cent of marriages ending bottom up. 'Many women going through divorce don't know how to cope with their finances. This book will help them,' she says.

So what's in it? It's full of good advice that's useful to any woman from their 20s to 40s. Too late for me then! But I did pick up some good tips nevertheless. She begins by looking at our competing priorities at different decades of our lives. And she understands well that at the end of the month we don't have enough money left to save anything. First, we have to do something to improve our financial situation.

How will your spending from your 20s to 40s impact on your future lifestyle? What will you have to live on when you're older and retire? Early planning is key. And if you don't take this action, don't carry on spending wilfully and think things will all work out fine in the end.

On the practical level, Mary explains how to calculate our net worth - what we own minus what we owe. Then we can see clearly what improvements we make as time goes on. So this is about goal-setting.

How much do you pay back to get rid of any debts you have from credit cards, mortgages, loans and overdrafts? Paying back means in total over the life of the debt, not how much you pay each month. The more you pay, the sooner your debts will be done with and the less interest you will be charged. You might get a shock about this.

Saving, however little you can afford, can mount up. 'Keep on keeping on and you'll see a difference,' says Mary. Ever tried working out how much you spend each month? Mary advises on money in and money out - your cash flow. Small changes in spending or income can make a difference eventually. 'Don't worry - I'm not going to suggest you increase your working hours. This is all about working smarter, not harder.' Information about pensions and ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) is also included and how they can help improve your finances.

But remember, all this is a long-term plan. It isn't going to make you rich overnight. And it isn't all caviar and champagne! Things can go wrong, so Mary takes this into account and shows how you can deal with it.

'The subject of money raises a huge number of different emotions,' says Mary. 'Many women love and enjoy it, while others fear it. It's not money itself that's important, it's what you do with it that counts. It's easy to be wealthy just as it's easy to be poor. There's very little difference in the way you can become either. You're in a position where you can improve your wealth. Whatever your dreams and aspirations around money, there is nothing to stop you moving towards those dreams.'

Mary's book costs £12.99. It's published by Wealth for Women Publishing and available from http://amzn.to/1jh21Bn

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Literacy and libraries for children

Hope for children's reading and libraries


The UK government chose World Book Day on 5 March 2015 to fund a new programme to the tune of £100,000 that will go some way to raising literacy in primary schools.

I think most people are becoming aware that the standard of literacy in secondary schools (and not just from the children) has deteriorated and that school leavers applying for jobs leave a great deal to be desired in the literacy stakes. This can, of course, prevent them from being accepted by companies and organisations whose window to their publics reflects on their reputation and public image. We've all spotted those spelling and punctuation mistakes in adverts and whoever employs the subtitlers on TV should most certainly have gone to Specsavers before doing so.

Literacy skills need to be learned at primary level though and if children haven't learned the difference between 'should have' and 'should of' by then, it's probably too late by the time they reach secondary school.

School Reform Minister, Nick Gibb expressed the need for 'exposure of pupils to great literature and to instil the habit of regular reading.' And by that I assume he isn't talking about surfing the internet. Mooted are book clubs and promoting library membership in primary schools. Poetry recitation is to be introduced at an early age. But tough for Bookstart Northern Ireland whose funding will be completely cut. Brooktrust, who runs that scheme in conjunction with Bookstart, are looking for alternative funding so that they can continue.

The Society of Authors welcomes the Government's proposed measures but is concerned about the state of local libraries, so many of which have suffered cutbacks and closures. Libraries are obviously going to be the main access to literature for youngsters, so encouraging them to arrange library membership isn't going to be as easy as it sounds.

The Society believes all schools should have their own libraries and are lobbying 'to make them statutory in all state-funded schools, with sufficient books available for all children and a nominated library specialist among staff.'

Chief Executive Nicola Solomon commented, 'We welcome the government's aims to increase access to reading materials and hope they will both deliver and go further. Requiring that every school has a well-maintained, curated library service would ensure that every child in Britain, wherever they live and whatever their background, has access to a full range of reading materials, in both digital and physical forms.'

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Nina Milton on crime writing

'The Shaman Mysteries': a trilogy in the making

Crime writing is consistently one of the most popular genres in the best-seller lists. On 30 June the Crime Writers Association will be celebrating their annual Dagger Awards in London to honour their choice of the best crime writers.

I've never written a crime story myself but I've edited and appraised lots of them. In fact, I'd just  finished editing a novel for a well-known crime writer when I was verbally and physically assaulted by an angry woman in a vegetarian cafĂ© where I live in Didsbury, Manchester and I'm now trying to sleuth out her identity. Author, blogger and tutor, Nina Milton was a fellow creative writing tutor for the Open College of the Arts when I worked for them and she's an experienced crime writer, so I decided to find out how her mind works when she's creating her crime novels, as I now have my personal, terrifying experience as the seed of an idea for a plot.

Nina Milton's 'Shaman Mysteries'

Here, she tells us about her latest novels, why she loves crime writing and where writers find their inspiration.

Nina is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. As a writer herself, she encourages other writers and would-be writers in her blog Kitchen Table Writers and teaches and assesses creative writing at degree standard for the Open College of the Arts.

Nina signs one of her books at Foyles


Where did it all begin?

When I was five, my infant school teacher, Mrs Marsden read a story to the class. It might have been the fable 'The Mouse and the Lion' but I can't really remember. Then she asked the class to write a story. It was a lightning bolt for my five-year-old self; the books I loved were actually written by real human beings. Before that, I believed they must have fallen from some sort of story heaven. It was a revelation - from then on I was scribbling down stories all the time and by the time I was an adult, I was writing short stories for magazines and children's books. But now, I am concentrating on crime thrillers.

I do love writing crime. I love the mystery aspect, trying to puzzle the reader while keeping them on the edge of their seat. I stay awake at night, trying to sort out all the permutations of each novel. I'm not sure I value that as much as the actual writing, though...the creating of strong characters, for instance, or the creation of a lyrical 'voice' for the narrative but perhaps I should.

A revelation has been writing a series; in my 'Shaman Mystery' series, the characters have become entirely real to me. I've had such fun writing my shaman 'sleuth', Sabbie Dare. She's like a younger sister to me now.

'In The Moors'

'In the Moors' was the first of the 'Shaman Mysteries' published by Midnight Ink last year and available as a paperback, ebook and on Kindle in both the UK and the US.
The idea for my 'Shaman Mysteries' and 'In the Moors' in particular, came to me when Sabbie Dare swam right into my head and spoke directly to me - sort of - 'hi, Nina, I'm Sabbie. I'm 28 and I'm a Shaman, which means I walk in the spirit world to help my Shamanic clients. I love my job but sometimes very strange people come into my therapy room...'
Sabbie gains the strength to get through life with her pagan beliefs but still struggles over the memories of her difficult childhood, which left her as a very angry, young teenager. But she has an open heart and is adept at inviting trouble into her life.

'Unraveled Visions'

'Unraveled Visions'

'Unraveled Visions' continues to follow Sabbie's adventures as she runs a therapeutic Shamanic business in Bridgwater. She's still seeing Rey Buckley, the maverick cop she sparked with in book one. And she's still as cockeyed and gutsy as she was in the first book, even though, yet again, her investigations hurtle her towards a dark and menacing place.
In 'Unraveled Visions', a gypsy is looking for her missing sister and a neighbour is terrified of her husband. As always she has a hard time keeping away from danger. As she says in 'In the Moors', 'I'm the sort of person who has to poke their finger into all the holes marked "Do Not Insert".

Walking in your Imagination

Like most writers, I'm fascinated by the way ideas, characters and entire scenes drop into a writing place in our heads, which becomes increasingly real to us. Characters seem to appear from nowhere or from a muse, as the ancients would have it. They have conversations in houses that don't exist or stand gazing out from headlands, the salt spray on their lips, while the writer is actually under the shower.

I call it 'walking in your imagination', because you can travel to any place or time or the mind of any character you choose. In this slower state of thinking, you naturally enter the relaxed, twilight world where vivid imagery flashes into the mind's eye and we become receptive to information. To create this sort of trance state, hypnotists use a swaying crystal, therapists use a soothing voice and Shamans use the beat of a drum - Sabbie Dare uses a drum to enter her otherworld.

Walking helps

Writers, on the other hand, mostly use their legs. As far apart chronologically as Dickens and Drabble, writers are known to swear by the afternoon walk, disappearing after lunch to walk in the woods, allowing the beat of their stride and the beauty of the surroundings to let their minds drop into the world of story.

In my experience, it doesn't much matter where you walk (although scenery can be inspirational in the most surprising ways), but it's important to walk alone. I have beautiful Ceredigion countryside to walk through and I use that a lot when I'm creating new stories. Once the characters are talking to me, I start serious plotting, making charts and lists and timelines and investigating possibilities. I also spend time plotting carefully. I don't dry up nowadays half as often as I used to.

'The Shaman Mystery' series will continue to have a dark, atmospheric edge. The third book in the series is due out at the end of 2015 and its title and cover will be revealed very soon. Sabbie has a mysterious past herself, which she's only just beginning to unravel, a theme that links the trilogy.

How to find out more

Nina's blog, Kitchen Table Writers can be viewed at http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com
Her page on Amazon: