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Eastward Ho

By the time most of you get to read this, we shall be in the starting blocks for the final dash to Manchester Airport. We’re clearing off to sunnier climes for a week.

sunrise

(This is sunrise in Torremolinos from last year. I can’t put up a picture of Cyprus cos I haven’t been there yet.)

Mrs R doesn’t mind me taking a netbook with me, it’s useful for downloading daily photographs so the camera memory is clear every morning. Also, because I’m an early riser and she’s a late sleeper, it gives me something to occupy my tiny mind while she decides to move.

But she absolutely forbids the internet in any shape size or form, other than half an hour sometime in the middle of the holiday, usually when she’s sleeping the previous night’s beer off.

That aside, I shall be incommunicado for the next seven days… which is a bit awkward because I was hoping to be in Cyprus (groan).

If it’s any consolation to you, standing between me and the Mediterranean sunshine and our arrival back home are two of the worst flights I can ever recall booking. We fly out in the afternoon and get there around half past nine in the evening, local time. I reckon it’ll be eleven o’clock by the time we see our digs. Coming home, it’s even worse. We leave Paphos at two in the morning and we’re on the tarmac in Manchester at just after five a.m, which is usually the time I’m getting up.

All I can say is, the bit in between had better be worth it. I’ve never been to Cyprus, so I have no yardstick.

So, I’ll see you all in a week armed with tales of gloom, doom and outright terror. In the meantime, remember that carelessness breeds accidents. I know. It’s how I ended up with four kids.

The Series Effect

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It’s been a remarkable week. On Tuesday, A Killing in the Family reached the #1 slot on Amazon UK’s Cosy Crime chart. Then, yesterday, just for a few hours, The Haunting of Melmerby Manor hit the top spot on the British Horror chart, but this time it was in the USA.

Separate titles, separate genres, but they have one thing in common. They’re both single titles from series. Melmerby Manor is the first in the Spookies series of paranormal mysteries, and of course, A Killing in the Family is the twelfth title in the Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries.

STACS4
The Sanford 3rd Age Club didn’t really take off until book 5, Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend, and from there, things just exploded. At one point last year, all ten titles available at that time could be found in the Cosy Crime top 100.

The more surprising of this week’s hits is The Haunting of Melmerby Manor, first because it’s a bigger hit in the USA than it is in the UK, and second because it’s the first of a series. The second title, The Man in Black (cover pictured below) is not due out until November 27th.

MIBsm
I used to knock on doors for a double glazing company, making appointments for the salespeople. That was hard work. Selling books is damn sight harder. You’re competing with giants like Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, James Herbert and Stephen King, and you’re just one of millions vying for the readers’ attention.

Turning out a series makes life just a fraction easier. Not much, but a little.

There’s a sort windsweep effect with a series. Like a truck speeding past you, the wake ruffles your hair as if it’s trying to drag you along, well a new title in a series does exactly the same thing. Regular readers snap it up, but new readers take the title and they realise it’s only one of a dozen. Those who like the new title go back and pick up earlier volumes, and naturally, because it’s a series not a serial, all titles are stand alone; you can read them in any order.

But it ain’t easy. Good friend Carol Hedges blogged on the iniquities of writing a series and I have to agree with everything she says. You know your characters, but you have to ensure they don’t behave out of character, you’re constantly seeking new angles, new situations, and when you’re working as far down the line as I am with the Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries, there’s always the risk of boredom setting in.

But it’s worth it because the series effect is real. Between STAC #11 (Death in Distribution) and STAC #12 (A Killing in the Family) the series languished. As at this morning, there were no less than six of the titles in the cosy crime top 100, riding on the back of the new title’s success.

I’m looking forward to the release of The Man in Black to see what effect it has on sales of The Haunting of Melmerby Manor.

Numero Uno

The best laid plans, etc. I had an entirely different post set up for today, but overnight events changed my mind.

For those of you who don’t know, Crooked Cat Books released the 12th Sanford 3rd Age Club Mystery, A Killing in the Family a week last Saturday (September 27th).

As usual it shot up the Amazon UK Cosy Crime chart and made the #2 slot on Monday the 29th, behind Lynn Florkiewicz’s latest Lord James Harrington tale. It spent the rest of the week wobbling between #2 and #3 and with my good friend Lesley Cookman releasing the fourteenth Libby Sarjeant novel, I knew we were not gonna do much better.

numero uno
I crawled out of bed this morning to a wet, windy and thoroughly miserable day, opened up the browser and checked the book’s progress, and as you can see from the image above, A Killing in the Family is…

NUMERO UNO

How long this will last remains to be seen. Lynn is still breathing down my neck, Libby, sitting at #5, is not too far behind, and there are other, familiar writers rushing up to join the throng. But for now, I can wallow in the wonderful glow of a number one chart hit. I wonder if The Beatles celebrated with an extra slice of toast.

It’s not without precedent. Christmas Crackers made #1 at the end of November last year, and held onto it for two weeks.

And as usual, I take no credit. It’s all down to the readers who have taken to Joe, Sheila, Brenda and the gang.

To you all, I say a massive, “THANK YOU” and get ready for #13. It should be with you early in the New Year.

***
I regret I still cannot allow comments here until someone puts the lazy spammers out of business.

Wednesday Writing: Typecasting?

I was mentioned in dispatches by fellow Crooked Cat author Jane Bwye.

Jane commented on how I’d broken away from the tried and tested line of light-hearted whodunits into grittier and more esoteric areas, but then returned to the whodunits. Jane’s comments were not a serious analysis, but she hit the nail on the head when she said that as a writer you’re always keen to push the boundaries.

famktin
The Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries have been remarkably successful. More so than I ever imagined, and the 12th title, A Killing in the Family, like most of its predecessors, has rocketed up the Amazon UK Cosy Crime chart within days of its release.

There is always a risk of boredom with any series, and there are always those projects on the hard drive which yearn for attention. The Flatcap series of cynical and ribald humour is an example, so too are the Spookies series, the second of which, The Man in Black is due out in November.

Further examples are the three “hard” novels on my list: The Handshaker, The Deep Secret and Voices. They are recognised by others as good examples of their genres. Voices, in my opinion, is the finest book I’ve ever written, and in contrast to the STAC Mysteries, which take less than three months to write, it took almost two years.

And yet, these books do not sell. And that is a factor of the very success the Sanford 3rd Age Club books have enjoyed.

A perennial worry for actors is typecasting: playing the same type of role over and over again in different movies/TV shows. It’s a problem which can affect authors, too. Can we imagine Agatha Christie writing chicklit? Can we seriously see Conan Doyle emulating Alan Sillitoe and Stan Barstow with a slice-of-life melodrama? Would Stephen King succeed if he wrote a romcom?

I’m not nearly so well-known as any of these authors, but even I’m typecast as a whodunit writer, and it makes life difficult when I try to plug these grittier works. On Amazon book pages there’s always a line of links and images under the heading, “Customers who bought this item, also bought…” On checking the book pages for my hard-boiled works, I find that customers still turn to STAC Mysteries and Spookies. That’s just as true of Voices, which is about as far removed from cosy crime as you can get.

FCsez
The obvious solution would be to write these under a pen name, and there’s some justification for that when I check the Flatcap pages. There are few people looking at STAC and Spookies when they’re buying Flatcap. Trouble is, Flatcap isn’t written under a pen name. Each cover carries my real name.

Pen names create yet another problem for the author: separate accounts. The Handshaker was originally published under the pen name David Shaw, and that meant having two accounts. I already spend a greater part of my day trying to raise visibility (it’s called marketing) of David W Robinson and Flatcap, and if I spend any more time at it, I might as well give up writing altogether. I won’t have time.

And yet other authors seem to manage quite well. My very good friend Lorraine Mace sells children’s books in her real name and hard-boiled crime thrillers as Frances di Plino. But then, Lorraine always was better organised than me.

And perhaps that’s what this rambling and inconclusive post should be telling me. Get organised.

That’ll be the day.

That’s Number 12, What About Number 13?

famktin
Today sees the official release of A Killing in the Family, the twelfth Sanford 3rd Age Club Mystery, and many people are asking, how do you write so many, so fast.

One of the primary requirements is a sad life ;) I don’t get out enough which means I tend to create my own worlds, and the world of the Sanford 3rd Age Club is just one of them.

The STAC Mysteries are comparatively short. They come in at between 50,000 and 60,000 words. The action is not cut for the sake of brevity, but descriptive, so-called “scene-setting” is trimmed. Is there any point in using two pages describing the interior of a pub? We all know what a pub looks like inside and outside. The same can be said of character description. Ian Fleming would set up a whole chapter describing a character and giving us his entire history. I prefer to use a single paragraph for a broad description. Anything else the reader needs to know about the character, can be learnt as we go along.

Is it easy working on a series like this?

Good friend and fellow Crooked Cat author, Carol Hedges discusses this very problem on her blog so I won’t go into it too deeply, but I agree with Carol. It’s not as easy as you may think. You have to know the core characters inside out, because if you don’t, you’re sure to slip up somewhere along the line.

The biggest problem I face when planning (I use the word in its loosest possible sense) is new settings, locations and that vital, vital clue which will tip off our hero sleuth to the killer.

SONY DSC

Right now, while A Killing in the Family makes its way up the Amazon cozy crime chart (it’s at #10 as I write) I’m working on the next in the series, tentatively titled A Theatrical Murder, with the action taking place in Skegness (pictured) and centered around a bizarre production of Hamlet. It’s progressing well, and should be with you by New Year.

But there’s another important ingredient necessary for turning out a long running series. Enjoyment. Not the reader’s but the writer’s. I get bored with them, sure, but when that happens, I have other work I can concentrate on.

By and large, however, I love working with Joe, Sheila, Brenda and the rest of the born-again teenagers of the Sanford 3rd Age Club.

Out and Already Climbing

A Killing in the Family, the twelfth Sanford 3rd Age Club Mystery, is officially released at midnight BST, tonight, but as usual, in order to be ready for the launch, it’s already out there and selling. As I write, it’s at #12 in the Amazon UK cozy crime top 100.

It’s late arriving. It was due in July, but I got bogged down with other works, other matters, and fell seriously behind with it. All up then, it’s between two and three months adrift of schedule. This also explains why it’s set in the height of summer.

As a backdrop, the story also picks up the subplot which began with Sanford 3rd Age Club Mystery #11, Death in Distribution which I’m not going to tell you about because I’ve no desire to spoil the enjoyment for those who may not have read it.

 

Pendle Hill, courtesy Wikimedia Creative Commons, Copyright, Charles Rawding

A Killing in the Family is set under the shadow of Pendle Hill, north of Burnley, an area which has always held a fascination for an old paranormal buff like me. The village of Sabden, close to the fictitious location that is the true setting of our story, is the “home” of the Pendle Witches, ten of whom were hanged for their “crimes” in the early seventeenth century.

A Killing in the Family also sees the return of an old friend, Maddy Chester, whom Joe first met in The Summer Wedding Murder a year or more ago. What we didn’t know is that the crafty bugger has kept in contact with Maddy and even been of a couple of dates with her since the events of Windermere.

So where does the Sanford 3rd Age Club go from here? Will Joe become more entwined with Maddy? Will the annoying events and people of the backstory ever be resolved?

All I can promise is that you won’t have to wait as long for #13 (working title A Theatrical Murder). We’re hoping to have that with you by the end of the year.

famktin
In the meantime, there is a launch event on Facebook which kicks off at about midnight tonight. Everyone is more than welcome to join in, but don’t expect to see me there until tomorrow morning. I need me beauty sleep.

Wednesday Writing: Spam Fritters

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It’s a glorious autumn morning here in the north of England. Barely a cloud in the sky, and there’s that crispy chill in the air. Everything is right with my world… almost.

Once again, I am compelled to disable comments across the entire site thanks to lazy spammers. Yesterday, I had to deal with no less than 170 spam comments.

Yes, I know, I’m just having a moan, and I’m aware it’s a problem for everyone, but that doesn’t make it any the less irritating. I also know that Askimet does a grand job of trapping them, but I’m of the opinion that if you don’t fight these lazy buggers, even in a small way by bouncing their comments, they’ll go on forever.

For the time being, therefore, you won’t be able to comment at all on this site, and I’ll let you know when comments are reactivated.

On the plus side, there’s a new Flatcap volume due out later today, so that should help exercise your chuckle muscles.

In the meantime, Thank you for your patience. I’m running out.

Cover Reveal and a Blog Moved

Actually, that should read cover reveals, plural, two of ’em.

If you’ve come here looking for Monday Mumbling, it’s shifted to my other blog just for this week. You can find it here. And well worth a read it is, too.

Notwithstanding the release of Sanford 3rd Age Club Mystery #12, A Killing in the Family, this coming Saturday, I have two covers to uncover today.

The first comes from that renowned northern cynic, philosopher and general, all-round grumbler, Flatcap. It’s several months since he last put out a volume of his wit and wisdom and he’s come under some pressure to follow up on his past success. Unfortunately, he’s not the man he once was, so he’s had to forget about sinking four pints in four minutes and he’s putting out Flatcap Sez instead.

FCsez
Packed with advice, chuckleworthy tales, observations on life in general and out and out gags, it’s one of those books you can view as an invaluable asset… or a valueless asset.

We’re none too sure about the launch date, but we are sure there won’t be a party. The lad’s pension won’t run to all those pies and ale. However, we’ll keep you posted and let you know when it’s available.

The second cover is for the second in the Spookies Mysteries series. The first title, The Haunting of Melmerby Manor is doing quite well in the USA and it’s holding its own here in the UK, too. Here then is the cover for the second Spookies Mystery, The Man in Black.

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It won’t be on the virtual bookshelves until the back end of November. The action takes place around Christmas time, and it has similar elements to Melmerby Manor, but this time, the story is very much darker, set in an all-boys’ school which is plagued with angry spirits, and we have egotistical pop-songstresses thrown into the mix. Humour, thrills and horror all rolled into the one title.

And now that we’ve whetted your appetite for not one but two titles, watch this space…

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Flatcap Sez is published by David W Robinson and will on sale very soon. The Man in Black is published by Crooked Cat Books at the end of November.

Wednesday Writing: It Could Happen

 

I never look for reviews. Readers read and if they’re so inclined they comment. I don’t ask for them, and good or bad, I never respond to them, except for a brief note of thanks for reading.

It irks me, however, when I read reviews of other writers’ works and I see a comment like… “That could never happen in real life.”

Couldn’t it?

I-Spy
There’s a scene in The I-Spy Murders where Joe bumps into his brother’s ex-wife. He’s ninety miles from home, he turns a corner and there she is, with her husband, drinking tea at an outside cafe. Impossible, you say, and if not impossible, too big a coincidence for the reader to swallow.

And yet it’s based on a real life incident. In 2011, my wife and I were in Skegness, a British seaside town. We had just finished coffee at a pavement café and were making ready to leave, when my ex-wife and her husband walked in. We were 150 miles from home, they were 100 miles from their home and we had no idea they were in Skegness and they didn’t know we were there. Coincidence? Yes, but not impossible.

When it comes to cosy crime and the amateur sleuth, disbelief has to be suspended before you begin to read. Ask yourself, is it likely that the police would turn to Mr ’Olmes or M Poirot for advice? Would they really allow an interfering old biddy from St Mary Mead shove her oar into a case of murder? When it comes to reality, you can’t get much further away than Holmes, Poirot and Miss Marple, but it never stopped millions of readers (me included) becoming lost in the intricacies of their deductions.

Everywhere the Sanford 3rd Age Club go, they come across a murder upon which Joe can let loose his agile mind, ably supported by Sheila, Brenda and the rest of the gang. Is that likely? Of course not. Does that stop the readers’ enjoyment? Of course not.

How many great detectives would we lose without suspension of disbelief? Campion, Lord Peter Wimsey, Jessica Fletcher, Agatha Raisin, Libby Sarjeant… I could go on, and on.

Readers looking for a good dose of reality should be reading non-fiction not cosy whodunits.

***
Coming September 27th: A Killing In The Family, the twelfth STAC Mystery from Crooked Cat Books.

Slobbing: A Specialised Skill

A friend posted on Facebook how she got out of bed determined to get something done and within a matter of minutes, the get up and go had got up and gone.

This happens to me all the time. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to productivity is paved with the faded pzazz of vanished motivation.

I crawl out of bed anywhere between three and ten in the morning, and every day it’s the same: get up, hit the shower, thinks: I wanna see five thousand words written today, and no excuses. I get downstairs, switch on the kettle boot up the evil machine, and let the dog out. By the time I’ve made tea, surfed the overnight happenings and the dog has come back in, whatever ideas I had are up the spout, and boredom is kicking in.

A couple of goes on Criminal Case, a couple of online sudokus, a rant at the news, and that’s it. Time to slob on the settee.

I’m not on my own. The missus never gets up before noon, and by half past three, she too, is out for the count.

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And as for Joe… well, you can see from the picture above, it’s doggy see, doggy do. He holds the world record for hitting the sofa and zonking out behind either of us. I’ve never seen a dog so tired. When he’s sat beside me, waiting for crumbs from the dinner table, he’ll nod off to sleep, only waking when you say, “here, Joe. Din-dins.”

Slobbing. It’s a specialised art and the Robinsons are masters at it.

THE STAC MYSTERIES