Learning curve #329 – know the floorplan before you write the book  

#8 in the series has only 8 days to launch, and wow the days are flying. It’s been over a year since the last Lawns book  was released, for lots of reasons, one being that it was the book I have looked forward the most to writing so you’d KNOW it was going to be the hardest, right?

When I first thought of using the nursery rhyme for the series some names suggested themes, and some  presented obvious problems. Seven Eight, lay what straight? Corpses, seeing the books are whodunits? Nah.  I ended up cheating and making that one Seven Eight Play It Straight and setting it in the Edinburgh Festival and since this is August and we are once again enjoying the Festival, I’m going to put that on promo at the same time as I release the new one. Make a note in your diary. One for nothing and one at launch price? BARGAIN.

I’ve only just worked out how to handle Seventeen Eighteen so now I can get on and write it (Ladies Waiting, unless it changes again) but from very early on two were always going to be easy.  Three Four Knock On My Door, that was a GIFT.  And Fifteen Sixteen Maids In The Kitchen? A little pilot light went on. I would have Vivian and Edge in the kitchen of a country house doing the catering!

There were times I battled with the others when I consoled myself with the prospect of Fifteen Sixteen, because I knew with that conventional setting, that country house, that body in the library, it would write ITSELF. Ha. I am a prolific and speedy writer, and the books are novellas, and the book was written nearly a year ago but – not quite right. It didn’t work. I put it aside and wrote something else (as Joanna Lamprey). Went back to it. Still couldn’t get it right. Wrote something else (as Clarissa Rodgers-Briskleigh). Went through a bit of writers block as well, which is the equivalent of a runner getting a stress fracture and not being able to run for a while, and is horrible.

Finally the book relented, turned smooth, the rewrite was a success and all was well with the world, it was, finally, as much fun as I had always thought it would be.  The alpha readers liked it. The beta readers liked it. I sent it off to the editor and turned my attention to one thing both the alpha and beta readers had requested – a floor plan. This is a houseparty of thirteen, after all, and they all said a floor plan would be invaluable.

As it happens, Robertson Manor is (very) loosely based on a real Edwardian estate (Kinloch Castle) so obviously I looked at their architectural plans first. Hmmm, no. I simplified. And simplified. And simplified again, until I had exactly what I needed, the main hall, the library, the other rooms, and the ten bedrooms.

My floorplan still looked like something drawn by a writer with no architectural training whatsoever. Almost in tears I turned to a friend who is a professional mapmaker, who in an hour or two turned my tatty sketch into something I could fiddle with and mess up again. Excellent!  Here’s the upstairs plan, with guests who are mainly writers. (My four main characters, Edge, Vivian, William and Donald, are downstairs)

15 16 upstairs floor plan

Except . . . some of the action in the book happens in passageways. All that simplifying, I had removed nearly all the passageways downstairs.  I was left with the open-arch walkway around the hall, and that was IT.

This is what that walkway looks like at Kinloch Castle, by the way, which was originally a shooting lodge, hence all the deer. So was Robertson Manor, which I promise does not have exotic metalwork or a baboon-eating eagle statue, although it does have a very elderly stuffed eagle. And, since it was also once a shooting lodge, deer.  There are living ones, too, which are relevant and play a role and don’t get shot.

kinloch hall lacey pic


So there had to be some fairly agitated rewriting. I think the book is actually the better for it. I hope so, anyway. The countdown and link to pre-ordering will be in the next blog, which in theory (gulp) is tomorrow. Or the next day.


It’s that holiday time of year – go to the Canaries, by plane or by book #free (7th in the #whodunit series)

There are reasons why Thirteen Fourteen Maids A-Courting is not listed in the column of my books, but I shan’t bore you with those now. It’s the most recent in the series,  although Fifteen Sixteen is almost ready to start its countdown, and hasn’t many reviews and I’d really like to redress that. Tell you what, take a quick and only slightly murderous break in the Canaries this weekend,  my treat, and let us know what you think?  Can’t say fairer than that.

Click on the cover and by the miracle of modern technology you should be whisked to the Amazon closest to you. It’s a little like magic –

Most people know by now you can download an Amazon reading app for free, even if you don’t have a Kindle, but if I’m the first person to tell you, that’s two bits of good news for you today. Click on the free book, download the free app, and off to the sun with you!

thirteen fourteen kindle

Don’t forget that review. Good, bad or indifferent, you know, they all help the reading public and are appreciated by writers and readers alike.

Ta, enjoy, and don’t be a stranger




Back to cosy and off to the Canaries

thirteen fourteen kindleTomorrow Thirteen Fourteen Maids a-Courting sidles into the family—sidles, because it only officially joins the gang on May 1st. There was a time when I was truly organized, and had interview launches in blogs much more widely read than this one, and begged my beta readers to give me reviews (good or, gulp, bad). When I asked people buying at the introductory price to please spread the word. When I even sacrificed one of the earlier books as a freebie to whip up excitement in the series as a whole.

You can of course only do that so many times before you exhaust all your options and become too shy to ask again. I’m no longer remotely organized, and when Eleven Twelve scrambled aboard in breathless haste, making its vital Halloween date by the skin of its fangs, it did so with hardly any launch help at all. It had to make its own friends (and enemies, sadly, but it was controversial, and although I titled it appropriately, and put a warning in the Amazon blurb, and even in the book itself, I managed to shock and upset a couple of readers) with very little support from me. I am rubbish at marketing. My skills boil down to a blog or two, offering a lower price for a few days, and intermittent tweets.  Oh, and crossing my fingers.

That may be about to change at some time, as I’ve heard about a cooperative indies group which combines publishing forces. Some indies could sell bibles to atheists. Some can edit, some can illustrate, and some are a fund of good advice and experience. Gathering a good group, where the members take on each other’s books and burnish them to a brilliant shine, then work together to market them, is probably the only way to survive and grow in a flood of millions (literally millions) of books where the best are often unrecognized, the worst give us all a bad name, and some diamonds in the rough never get to shine as they could.

I’m not being coy about the name of the group, just cautious: I want to find out more before I start wholesale recommendations. I’ve heard they are extremely picky about the books they take on which sounds both promising and, of course, alarming. Perfect world, I’d want them to consider one of my books (which are brilliant) as a borderline decision, because their portfolio is that good.

Until then, I’m still paddling the indie canoe, telling you that you really, really want to buy Thirteen Fourteen and you can pre-order tonight at promotion price, buy it from tomorrow on promotion price, or wait until it goes to the usually tooth-thirteen fourteen kindlerattling full price on May 1st. It is sunny, and cheerful, and mostly far from Scotland, set as it is in Tenerife: back to cosy, while still being true to our rather alarming world: and fun. Trust me. Gamble your 99c. Pack your sun-cream. Go on holiday.

Just click on the cover.

Boo. Whatever.

I was up until 03h00 waiting for Amazon to load the new book so I could make some capital out of it being, you know, Halloween. Since I was publishing a book sub-titled, you know, the Halloween edition.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley and it only published at 08h30 this morning. Pretty sure Halloween was over for 2014 everywhere in the world by then, so that’s a lesson learned and the first and last time I try to publish on a ‘celebrity’ date. Although Three Four was published on April Fools Day, now that I think back, but perhaps there isn’t such a rush to publish on 1st April.

Anyway, here it is. For the thousands upon thousands of you who like to grab my books in their first few days, when they’re on promotion price. Don’t come whining to me if there are eleven twelve (2)oddities and glitches, that’s why they are cheap for the first few days. It used to be because I hoped to get a few friendly reviews before the new book soared to its teeth-rattling full price but that hasn’t been happening much lately. I know, I know. Those of you that do reviews have done some already, and don’t see why I need one on every single book.

WOW, am I crotchety. Blame Amazon and the 03h00 bedtime. Blame the cat for waking me at 06h30 by bringing a live bird into the bedroom. Blame the bird for being so paranoid it was 07h30 before it finally decided the window was open to the full for its benefit and not because I wanted howling Scottish gales roaring through the house.

If wishes were horses that cat’s tail would have been stood upon pretty heavily by now.

Happy Halloween

For the last four months Eleven Twelve (the Halloween edition) has been dominating my life. The finished version is a long way from the first final draft which went to my long-suffering alpha readers who both said um, NO.


They both said (and they don’t usually agree on anything) was that their main concern is that the book steps right out of the established series, and they couldn’t see how I could get back to finishing the series in its usual comfortable format afterwards.

The only way round that was to publish it as a Halloween edition. That solved that problem, and cheered the alpha readers up, but created a fairly considerable new one—Halloween was only six weeks away, the book still had to be beta read, pulled into final shape, edited, tweaked a little more, it wasn’t possible. On the other hand, since I write novellas, and pop one out two to three times a year, waiting for Halloween 2015 wasn’t really an option either.

eleven twelve (2)

Five of my wonderful beta readers stepped up to the plate at short notice. I recruited three new absolute crackers, one of them a powerhouse from ALLi (no pressure there, then), and two lovely series regulars said they’d be interested in beta-reading. My editor promised me a time-slot on 20th October and suddenly we were green for go.

Long story short: it’s done. Loaded, minutes before the witching hour —hah, because Eleven Twelve has witches, and chapter headings from Macbeth, and is a definite eye-opener for Edge and co. It was riotous fun to write and some readers will love it, and some will probably disapprove completely. The beta readers all finished it, and all had strong, ultimately positive, feedback, which was wonderful.   Anyway, as soon as I have the published link I will start pushing it like crazy. This is just a brief blog to say this is one major reason I have been virtually invisible for months, and I am so looking forward to resuming normal life from tomorrow.

Oh, and the series returns to normal with the next book. Promise.halloween_black_cat_wearing_a_witches_hat_ready_to_put_a_spell_on_you_0515-0909-1716-2448_SMU

A walk on the not entirely domesticated side

Professional writers research their target market before putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard)—identifying current trends, or the next trend, leads to success and sales. The sex market is huge and apparently still growing. The undead seem to be holding steady. Edgy thrillers with lots of tension have always been solid.

I didn’t even think about target markets (no secret there, I’m decidedly unprofessional) but lucked out to a small degree, as there is a new, tiny surge in older characters;  albeit feisty octogenarians whereas my characters are in the babyboomer age bracket (born between 1946 and 1964). Write what you know, so they say, and I’m a babyboomer myself, with one eye on the future, and I created the sort of place I would like to live. I added murder for armchair detectives, and more by good luck than judgement, it has worked. There are now five books in the series, and I am slowly collecting readers and reviews and so far so good.

The next thing professional writers do is nurture their target market and grow their readership by giving them more of what they like. Publishers, in fact, pretty much insist on this. If you have a successful formula, stick with it. My youngest regular reader is in her twenties and the oldest in his seventies (i.e. readers who have been in touch). Most seem to be in the forty to sixty-something age bracket, and so far so good, have been enjoying the vicarious experience of senior dating websites, or traipsing round the Edinburgh Festival. Those are things they’ve either done themselves, or could have an interest in, and no traditional publisher would have blinked either.

The latest book, though, Nine Ten Begin Again, takes my average reader into an environment they would never explore themselves and I’m wondering with both interest and trepidation exactly how far vicarious curiosity goes.

Would you dress up in disguise and head off to a club marketing itself as the fun alternative to BDSM and leather fetishism? Well, normally, me neither! But would you be intrigued by a vicarious glance into that world? Hell, I hope so.  I have no idea whether I have shot myself in the foot with a vengeance, or successfully entertained readers who have heard about that whole world and aren’t averse to learning a tiny bit more with characters they already know and trust to behave as they would themselves.

Nine Ten Begin Again is on a promotion price for its first week, click on the title, the cover below, or on the cover in the sidebar. And please let me know what you think!

nine ten kindle


Nine Ten Begin Again

nine ten kindleYup, Nine Ten has joined the family and just as soon as I have worked out again how to add it to my sidebar (I add things to my sidebar 3 or 4 times a year. I’m sure I will master the skill one of these days) will start selling like hot cakes.  In the meantime clicking on the cover in this blog should, at least in theory, connect you to the Amazon that enjoys your custom.  Oh, and if you’re quick about it, you’ll get it on promotion price. The first few days of each book are promotion days, glitches are part of the deal. If you missed this blog until after the promotion price, you should be on the mailing list.

I’ve always said Five Six was my personal favourite but Nine Ten may have overtaken it. I’ve read it through about a gazillion times over the last few months but still find myself smiling at certain times, and the beta readers commented that they smiled a lot too*. It was certainly an odd book to write, in that it started as a short story about Donald (I write microstories about the characters, call them hops and move them to their own tab on this website) and the characters took matters into their own hands and romped away with me panting after them and trying to call them back to heel. (My dog doesn’t listen to me either.)

So there I was with a very long short story which was refusing to quit, and a plot (after a contract job at a bank) which was trying to turn itself into a book, so I shrugged and put them together and asked my two all-time favourite beta readers to have an alpha look at the resulting draft. Yes, they said. Make it so.

Blame them.


*okay, apart from the one who was so shocked by the Donald bit of the story that she didn’t want to read on. But the others, and there were twelve of them, male, female, 30 something to 60 something, new and regulars, Scottish, English, American and South African, smiled a lot.