When I'm not writing...
I love writing. It's a treat. And these days it's squashed into weekends and evenings. More of my time is spent talking to readers, not just to promote my own work, but a huge range of authors who deserve to reach a wider audience.
Glass Room Murder Mystery
I have been working with my publisher, Pan Macmillan, to come up with a way of doing events in libraries that don't involve me being there - I receive far more requests than I could possibly deal with. It's important too because libraries don't have the funds that they did to pay author expenses, publishers are getting much tighter and unless they're very successful authors can't pay their own way. So with the Reading Agency we've put together a pack which should bring a new audience into the libraries but which staff should be able to manage by themselves.
I had already written a murder mystery script based on my novel The Glass Room, starring DI Vera Stanhope, for independent bookshops, festivals and public libraries: now I have teamed up with The Reading Agency to produce a special murder mystery night pack for libraries. The pack includes my script, a CSI report (prepared by Professor Lorna Dawson, a forensic soil scientist of the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen), 'whodunnit' forms to be completed by attendees, and a prize - everything librarians to hold spine-chillingly successful murder mystery nights for the readers in their libraries.
Libraries and independent bookshops will only survive if they provide a social, vibrant and interesting place for readers to talk about books. This project provides a template for a book-based event which will engage with regular readers and pull in a new audience. The traditional murder mystery has the accessibility of a familiar format - we've all played Cluedo or watched Poirot - but gives readers the chance to discuss their favourite crime fiction across the range of the genre. There are opportunities for income generation through books and tickets sales, for developing partnerships with community organisations and between libraries and bookshops, and for reader development training for frontline staff. But above all, it's great fun.
Murder Squad was the brain child of Margaret Murphy. She was getting wonderful reviews, readers loved her books, but sales didn't reflect that enthusiasm. Publishers seem to concentrate their marketing budget on the best selling writers and she realised she'd have to take a more proactive role to promote her novels. She contacted six other authors who live and work in the north of England and suggested that we come together to push our books collectively to a wider audience. So John Baker, Chaz Brenchley, Martin Edwards, Stuart Pawson, Cath Staincliffe, Margaret and I became Murder Squad. At first the idea was just to produce a brochure to get out to libraries and book shops. But in the ten years since we formed Murder Squad has done much more than that.
What have we been up to in our ten years? We've run workshops for writers and readers, attended festivals and libraries, gone into schools and universities. We've crossed the Atlantic to appear at Bouchercon and Malice Domestic and been invited to speak at a crime festival in France. We've produced two anthologies of short fiction, three members have won CWA short story awards and we've met readers throughout the UK. Literally. From Shetland to Cornwall.
I wasn't even sure I wanted to be part of Murder Squad when it was first suggested. The theory was sound - a group of crime writers based in the north of England would band together to promote their work. But publicity was the job of publishers, wasn't it? Perhaps I was often frustrated when my books seemed to disappear without notice, but I'd been writing for a long time. I was used to it. And I'm not the pushy type. The idea of soliciting for gigs in bookshops and libraries would have made me faint with embarrassment. If I'd ever use the word gig, which I wouldn't back then.
And now? Now I wouldn't be without it. I'd miss the daily e-mails, the banter and the support. I'd miss meeting the people who read our books. The embarrassment factor seems to have disappeared because it's not just my work I'm pushing. I'm introducing readers to books by six fine writers, and I know they'll find something they'll enjoy.