Month: May 2016

From the Black Library: Sarah Cawkwell

Sarah is a freelance author hailing originally from the South of England, but who, after not taking a left turn at Albuquerque, now finds herself in the North East. Her first sci-fi novel, ‘The Gildar Rift’ was published by the Black Library in December 2011 and her first fantasy novel ‘Valkia the Bloody’ in July 2012. She appeared in the first Fox Spirit anthology ‘Tales of the Nun & Dragon’ with a story about a hero so inept that he makes the British Government look competent.

Her first independent historical-fantasy novel, ‘Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising‘ was published by Abaddon Books and since then, she has written another novel for the Black Library (‘Silver Skulls: Portents‘) along with a number of other short stories.

Sarah finds talking about herself in the third person incredibly hard to manage and so generally prefers to spend her ‘free’ time reading, watching films, playing computer games, running round in fields with swords and hitting people… and playing her music ear-bleedingly in the car.

When did you start writing?

I’ve always enjoyed writing stories. Even as a small child I remember making up tales that would get a smile out of my teacher. And reading… I read for England. I would read anything and everything. Things are still the same. There are a billion stories in my head – although some are much slower to get out.

Why Warhammer?

I love the Warhammer universes. There’s something so tempting about 40K, a universe where there’s no such thing as a happy ending. I started reading them some years ago and when the opportunity arise to turn my hand to writing from the perspective of a Space Marine, I didn’t so much jump as leap enthusiastically.

How did you get the opportunity to write for the Black Library?

I submitted a piece during an open submissions window and Lady Luck was on my side. My first short story was published in the first issue of ‘Hammer & Bolter’ and I was invited to submit further idea.

How do you write for a universe someone else has built? Does it lead to changing of ideas/plot as things wouldn’t fit into original lore? Has it changed the way you write?

When you are writing within an established universe, there are very definite guidelines. At times, these can be quite restrictive as you can’t just charge ‘off piste’ as it were and clash with the lore. There’s a respect that needs to exist between writer and lore. On the other hand, the guidelines could be incredibly useful to rein characters back in again. Has it changed the way I write? Yes, in a way. It requires tight planning and chapter breakdowns and that’s something I now apply to anything I write.

What is/was your process in learning all the necessary lore for the books?

Reading them! (Such a hardship). Also, reading the codices, slouching about in the local GW and listening to people talking about the lore – and asking my husband (who is a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge on the subject).

Did you choose to write about the Space Marines or were they chosen for you?

I chose. I had read a short (literally – two paragraphs) piece in the Space Marine codex about the Silver Skulls and said ‘oh, hey, this sounds like it’s a story in the making’. My then-editor said ‘well, submit a proposal and we’ll take it from there.’ And thus, the Gildar Rift was born.

What other races would you like to write about?

Any of them. I love the 40K world. I particularly like Tau, though.

Do you play the game?

I haven’t played in a while, but I do have a Silver Skulls army upstairs waiting to be brushed off and used again.

Other then no happy endings, what excites you about the 40k universe?

The sheer size and scope. The richness of the back story (the whole Heresy situation) and the sheer, grim darkness of it all. In a world where there isn’t really any hope, what does the average citizen even exist for? Fantastic stuff.

Is there another Black Library author you really admire?

I’m a huge, huge fan of both Graham McNeill and James Swallow – their particular styles appeal to me the most.

How/where do you write? (Do you have to be in a specific place/mindset etc.)

I do have to be in the mood. Writing when you’re not in the right mood means you start to resent it and it stops being fun. Whilst writing my Warhammer stuff, I was under pretty tight deadlines and I set myself the target of a minimum 2,000 words a day. I didn’t once miss that target. I’d come home from work, make a cup of tea and just get on with it. I always like to have music on in the background (music rather than songs: song lyrics have a habit of working their way into a manuscript!)

What inspires your stories? 

Everything. The world is an amazing place and there are some crazy, crazy things out there.

What do you like to read? 

As said before, everything and anything. I largely read (surprise, surprise) fantasy and sci-fi, but I also enjoy breaking out. I love historical fiction – Conn Iggledon’s stuff is outstanding, as is Bernard Cornwell’s. I grew up with Alexander Kent books in the house and that gave me a lifelong love of seafaring fiction. It heavily influenced some of my big space battle scenes, now I come to think of it!

What advice would you give to new writers?

* Write! Sounds facetious, but it’s true. Write at least 1,000 words a day, whether it be whilst working on a story, or writing a blog.

* Plan your story carefully: freeform has its place, but when your characters get out of hand, it can be hard going to get them back on track.

* If you have a story, write it. Don’t edit as you go along. Get the words down on paper and jiggle them about afterwards.

* Enjoy it. If it becomes a chore, it’s not fun. And it should always be fun.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m writing a lot less at the moment. It’s a tough job to juggle a full time job and writing to deadlines at the same time, so something had to give in order for me not to have a complete meltdown! Having said that, I have a couple of short stories in the pipeline, one to be released shortly as part of an anthology from Fox Spirit, one which has been submitted to a new anthology and a few that are sitting on my hard drive. In fact, last night I had a faint idea for a story that wants to be written and I might just make a start on that later.



Speaking with Pete Sutton

Pete Sutton lives in the wilds of Fishponds, Bristol, UK and dreams up stories, many of which are about magpies.

He’s had his work published, online and in book form. Currently Pete has a pile of words that one day may possibly be a novel, working title “Sick City Syndrome”.

Pete signed for Kensington Gore Publishing early March 2016. His collection of short stories “A Tiding of Magpies” is being published soon with the novel “Sick City Syndrome” to follow later in the year.

What made you serious about writing?

I’ve always been a passionate reader. In school, age 12 I was writing short stories and also wrote a play (which my class performed), but then I discovered tabletop roleplaying via Fighting Fantasy books and my storytelling urge was assigned to RPGs for many years. In university I discovered LARP and was part of that mad, enjoyable hobby for around twenty years where my stories were pretty much interactive theatre. That teaches you well by the way, as the audience are also taking part in the story so you get instant feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

I did a degree in Environmental Science and part of that was communication of science and science journalism. Inspired by that I had a plan to work for a science publisher on books and/or magazines so did the MA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes. For various reasons I never did make it in publishing, but it was always an interest. So when Bristol Festival of Literature started I volunteered. In short order I was organising events for it and getting to know writers, publishers and other literati. Around the same time a couple of my friends got publishing deals and I remembered my vague – ‘I’d like to be an author one day’ ambition, long quiescent. Working at the festival I got to attend a lot of workshops, and be immersed in creative energy so I decided that I should write.

I still procrastinated though, until I met a writing tutor who, in response to my “I’d like to write one day,” asked me, “why don’t you then?” I had no good reason not to, so started writing short stories. I stopped LARPing soon after and got serious about writing. I was blasé about my level of skill until I got my first critique from a writers group at a convention, and was rudely awakened that I didn’t know the rules of grammar or punctuation and the story I’d submitted had major problems. I took that to heart, invested in some writing books, a good grammar book, and made myself learn.

When I submitted a story in response for an anthology call out (Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion) and it was accepted, I got more serious. Joanne Hall & Roz Clarke who edited that collection were instrumental in teaching me how a story is built. I aim for continuous improvement, I want each story I write to be better than the last, and am constantly learning.

Being published, and wanting to be published again made me serious about writing. Winning a couple of short story competitions made me realise that I could be serious about writing.

How do you write, do you have a specific place or can you write anywhere?

I mostly write in what we grandly call ‘the library’ at home – we have many books, many, many books (they seem to breed) – I’ve been reviewing books online (and for magazines) since 2010 and was getting sent a lot of ARCs – I’m also a terrible book hoarder and bibliophile so can’t resist adding to the collection, even though I have enough unread books to last me a couple of years of reading (at least). So where I write I am surrounded by books. But I’m not precious – when I need to I scribble in notepads, on a tablet, on my laptop at home, in coffee shops, in airports, on trains – you can’t ritualise writing, you have to be able to write anywhere I think.

What is your inspiration for writing? How do you get ideas for stories and how do you pick which ones to pursue?

In a word life is my inspiration for writing – I experience something that sparks associations with something else and that may be the start of a story, or a character, or a situation, or a setting. Everything that happens could be inspiration, stories make the world. How to pick and choose? Well that’s the mysterious part – some things sound like great ideas and you write a story and the story doesn’t come together. But then some things you think are a little thing – a setting for a single scene, a walk-on character, grow in the writing. The novel I am writing right now – Sick City Syndrome – came from two separate, and on the face of it very different, stories. The book is from an entirely different point of view to the earlier stories but they are like the foundations for it – unseen – but what the novel is built upon.

OR, if you read my story “Five for Silver” in A Tiding of Magpies I reveal the big secret of where writers get their stories from…

What advice do you give to writers just starting out?

Don’t wait for permission, learn the rules of English before you try to break them, join a writing group, go to conventions or literary festivals and get to know other writers – read everything, then read it again critically and write. Finish your shit and get feedback.

What is your new book about and when will it be released?

On 28th June 2016 I’ll be releasing a short story collection called A Tiding of Magpies.

The stories are all themed around the counting magpies poem – “One for sorrow, two for mirth… ” What’s been interesting is so many people grew up with the TV show version of the song they are surprised by the traditional version – I have no idea why they changed it for TV. The stories are dark and use horror, fantasy and SF tropes. Several have child narrators and are often ambiguous.

I’ve had several nice blurbs from other authors and a brilliant foreword from Paul Cornell.

“As if Raymond Carver turned his hand to writing science fiction.” – David Gullen (Clarke Award judge)

“However dark their subject matter, there is a sweet and subtle music to Sutton’s stories. They take you to strange places.” – Mike Carey (Lucifer, The Unwritten, The Girl with all the Gifts, Fellside).

“Pete Sutton has a talent for the fantastic.” – Paul Cornell (Shadow Police series, This Damned Band, Doctor Who, Elementary).

To keep up to date with Pete’s latest works and projects, visit:

His website.

The Bristol Book Blog  (His blog)

Far Horizons (a literary e-mag where he is an editor)

or follow him on twitter at @suttope





An hour with Leah Osbourne

So, could you introduce yourself please.

I’m Leah Osbourne. I call myself a writer, I figure if I keep telling myself often enough I’ll believe it. I write fantasy and horror and thrillers as Ileandra Young and I write smutty erotic, funny erotica and dramatic erotica as Raven Shadowhawk.

Any reason for the separation between the two? 

Yes, I kinda thought they’re completely different genres for starters and I think the separation makes it easier for people to follow what they’re interested in. Some people don’t want the smut, some people don’t want the vampires and killy people. If I separate the pair, it’s easier to brand then but there’s no secret they’re both me. So my blog – they share it, and it’s part of the branding overall. A gimmick that the two names fight with each other over me; Leah, cause they want brain space to get their work done. It’s just become a fun thing.

I know from trying to write myself that you can have so many ideas in your head at once, how do you pick yours with two sets to compete?

You should pick the one that keeps you up at night. Do that first. Before I published anything it used to be what kept me up at night, but now I actually have a pseudo schedule I need to pay attention to. So I try to have something coming out for each name – Ily then Raven, Ily then Raven so I have to try keep to that. And my fantasy stuff is longer so I have to spend more time working on novels than novellas. It means Ily’s are more spread out whereas Raven’s are shorter pieces – they come out a bit faster. I decide it based on what I think I can handle in the year. I decide in January and plan the year.


What’s your favourite way to write – do you have a set space or can you write anywhere?

I’m most productive at home in my study. It’s just a room at the front of the house which the kids aren’t allowed to go in. And that’s where I’ve set up my work station. But if I cannot use that space effectively, I go to a coffee shop. My favourite coffee shop is Bru, they’re independent shop, they’re all lovely. They know me quite well now so when they see me come in they know I’m going to be there for the next four hours. So they ply me with tea and shortbread!

Depending on what the children are doing, that’s how I’m guided. i continue in teh evening if I’m still concious. I’m like TIRED. SLEEPY.

It’s those evenings where you’re still up at 11:30pm staring at the screen going “why am I still here”

Well that’s happening more and more often. Imposter syndrome they call it. “I’m a rubbish writer. Why am I here. Nothing I put on this screen will be any good.” And that’s a question I get a lot. How do you work with that. How do you fight past the imposter syndrome. You just push. You write the droll. And that’s something that I’ve talked about on the podcast I do with a writing friend Wayne Kelly- Joined Up Writing. Because he’s always impressed with my output and I say that’s because I don’t care about the first draft. It’s about getting it on the page so it probably will be complete rubbish, but if it’s on the page I can fix it. If I haven’t written it then I can’t fix it and that makes it harder.

I’m part of a group called the Phoenix Writers. It’s very specifically a critique group so we meet to critique each other and congratulate each other on the good things we’ve done to improve. It’s quite informal and a lot of fun. I’ve learnt a lot from that group and it’s something I would recommend for  anybody and everybody who is interested in writing. Because I think writing is quite insular and you can get very lonely, particularly if there’s not creative people around you. Cause they can try and help as much as they can but they don’t understand. So surrounding yourself with other creatives is a good way to not fall into the well of despair. They’re people who get it. They won’t be able to help you all the time but they understand because they’ve either there too, they’ve been there, or they know they’re going there. That’s a really powerful thing. I take away a lot from that group.

How did you get into writing, and why did you decide to self-publish?

If I’d thought about it more at the time, I wouldn’t have done it because I didn’t understand the work involved. I had that “ooh shiny” syndrome and just went and did it. I’d been writing for ages and ages. I started writing when I was in school and then just kept going. But doing the trying to find an agent circus got on my nerves because everything I had was vampires and vampires were done to death because of Twilight. And I was really really upset because I had been writing these since I was 14, 15, 16 years old and it was a story which had evolved as I grew. So it wasn’t like I was hopping on the bandwagon. It was the story I had and nobody wanted it. It didn’t quite have enough to make it different – for starters there was no romance, and that was one of the problems. It wasn’t because it wasn’t different. It was because it was too different.

So I got bored of waiting for someone to accept what I had and take a risk on me so I thought “if I do it myself…maybe…”

But what I actually did instead was say if I practiced publishing the erotica and go the traditional route with the fantasy then I can do both. Except I was getting the same responses from the fantasy . I had this trilogy, Stars Legacy, that I was trying to get interest in and I couldn’t get the interest. Responses ranged from “it’s good but not quite what we’re looking for,” to “it’s not quite different enough,” or “we can’t take anymore vampire stuff right now even though it’s different.” So I thought I have to do this myself.

I’d figured out how to do it with the erotica books – there was no way I was going to try find an agent for erotica. Again, I missed the Fifty Shades wave. I was three books into the first erotica series when I noticed the fuss about Fifty Shades. That put me off trying because everyone would expect Fifty Shades and that’s not what I was producing. So it just made sense to do it myself. Because it wasn’t going to happen any other way. And I’m not a patient person., so the thought of having to wait for the magic combination of right place, right time, right person, right story etc which all brings together to get you an agent. I didn’t want to wait for it.

It’s certainly a lot of work to take on.

It is a lot of work, and like I said, if I had known what it entailed I wouldn’t have done it. With a traditional publishing deal or even a small press, you have an editor given you to work with you. You’ve got a cover artists and a proof reader and a formatter. All that stuff I’ve either had to do myself or hire out. It’s expensive and hard.

But I’ve had experience in both now. I did submit a novella to a small press in Canada and they took it on and that was lovely! I got a real editor I didn’t have to pay for and an amazing cover artist, which I didn’t have to pay for. And the backing of this well established, well known label.

Do you think this process puts off new writers?

It depends on the sort of person they are. Some new writers I have met have been so shiny eyed. Like “I’ve written the best thing ever and everyone is going to love it and I just need and agent and the first person  I send it to will be the one!” And that shine hasn’t rubbed off because they don’t realise how competitive it is. So they’re not put off but they are shocked when things take a while.

People who have been at it a while understand the magic combination that is required. And they are either happy with that or they’ll go another route or they’ll stop. But in terms of new writers just producing words, I don’t think it puts them off exactly. I think if they’ve got the burn to write, they’ll write. And that is what is important. It all depends on what you are writing for as well. If you are writing for publication then that’s something you need to keep in mind as you write. But if you are writing for the love of writing, then it doesn’t matter what happens at the other end and you can produce as much as you like, as often as you like forever and ever. If you want to write, you will find a way.

So why erotica? I know that with kindles and audio books etc it’s certainly easier to read without people knowing. 

Cause sex is cool.

It’s easier to hide what you’re reading, so people read it more. People have attributed that (kindle reading) to Fifty Shades. Because once it became known what it was about, people didn’t want to be seen reading it. But you wanted to read it. Amazon’s timing or rather E.L James’s timing matching up so neatly with the release of the kindle and the ease of reading off an electronic device helped her. It’s that luck thing again – right place, right time. I also think that there is still a stigma against it. People like sex. But they don’t want it to be known that they like sex, so e-readers and electronic reading has just made it very easy to get around that, which is great for people like me. And now because E.L James has normalised it, it’s easier producing it too. Which is great even if I’m not a fan of the books.

For me personally though, it’s and exploration thing. I didn’t want to write romance but I had thoughts and feelings that I didn’t understand. And writing it down helped me understand them. Then I thought “Oh, these aren’t just thoughts and feelings, these are stories. Oh, these are erotic stories!” It was kinda like DING. I though well, somebody will want to read them because of all the  free sites offering erotica.

The biggest thing for me right now is that I’m finishing off a trilogy – Stars Legacy. It’s come back from beta readers,and  I have a big stream of comments to go through. Some decisions to make about one of the primary relationships and the opening of the book itself and then I can release it. And it’s done. That’s my biggest fantasy project which will be finished. Then I can concentrate on my other stuff.

So what’s next? 

Well I have a serial that’s already running – Paranormal Thriller. More vampires again, because I like those but the idea is to get maybe four seasons of that down in it’s episodic format and then see which of of the three characters people like so I can give them novels. It’s two vampires and a human, and they’re all connected by various different things that keep them bumping into each other and trying to hurt each other. There is an underlying story about the underworld of vampires and demons and other sorts of nasty creatures fighting against a religious organisation called The Assassins. So that runs all the way through. And because I don’t know exactly where I want it to go I’m doing it season by season so I can get a feel for it as I go. So Season One is out barring episode six which is the last one. Season Two is written but not edited and Season three is outlined. I’m hoping to have Season Two out by the end of this year. And then I have a really big idea going all the way back to traditional fantasy. So I’m going to have some elves, some pixie things, some dwarves and vampires again because I can’t help myself.

It’s part of the gimmick thing – Ileandra Young writes about vampires but none of the vampires are the same. The Stars Legacy vampires have a very specific creation story. they’re Egyptian and they don’t called themselves vampires. They call themselves god-touched because that is how they got their power. Set gave it to them.

Any tips?

Readers – if you like a book then review it! It’s so important. Authors would chew off their arm for a review. Personally I would rather give you a book for free and have you review it publicly then have you pay for it.

Writers- Don’t be afraid of offering your book for free. Giving things away is a viable marketing tactic – if you do it properly. Don’t just give things away will nilly though. There are so many courses and tutorials to help you though – use them!

And be patient.

Keep up to date with Leah’s latest works by following her on Twitter @ileandraXraven or Facebook illyandraven, or by visiting her blog here.

To purchase her books go to either Ileandra Young or Raven Shadowhawk.


The Stranger by Harlan Coben

A fairly typical well written thriller from a long list of books by Harlan Coben.

Coben excels in thrillers as we have seen in previous books such as Shelter and Play Dead. And with such an impressive resume The Stranger is simply following in formidable footprints without a lot of ammunition. Whilst a good read, it was lacklustre in comparison to series such as the Micky Bolitar series. But I digress.

The book follows the standard conventions of a thriller – secrets hidden for years are being revealed and the consequences must be met. Our protagonist Adam is simply one of many who are told that all in their lives is not as it seems. And in the huge webs of secrets and lies is the Stranger. The one who reveals all.

My disappointment with the Stranger is how the mystery behind the character is dropped seemingly without a thought. One minute he is the Stranger to us and to our protagonists and the next his name is revealed casually by another character. My biggest issue is that the mysteriousness could have been covering something intricate to add more substance to the story but all it did was leave me annoyed that I had so much time wondering about a character with little meaning. He was there to spark events but in my opinion wasn’t a talking point. Similarly Kuntz could have added something to the story but his story was thrown in with a few paragraphs and his real goal whilst revealed was never explained fully. I couldn’t hate him because again he was only there to push a tiny section of plot.

As a thriller it started off well, Coben dropped in small clues as to what was going on and the eventual ‘who dun it’ but then these clues just seemed to evaporate into thin air. What originally made you think was then either handed to you on a plate or withheld altogether. The bonds between characters such as Adam and wife Corrinne seemed forced, even the connection with his sons simply seemed to be there to serve as a way for Coben to push the dramatics of a missing person and less for the realistic feel of the book. We weren’t even sure of Adam some of the time. He comes up with all these great ideas but we see no thought process just a miraculous decision that works out well.

I think ultimately I finished the book because it was by Coben, not through a need to know how it ended. It was just too emotionally distant from the characters and completely unexpected considering previous works. Hopefully the newest book by Coben tugs the heart more, maybe then death and deception will matter more to the reader.


Coben’s latest book Fool Me Once  was published in March this year.

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