Books Read in October


82. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

83. Travels With Myself and Another – Martha Gellhorn

84. The Life I Left Behind – Colette McBeth

85. The Worlds of Medieval Europe – Clifford R Backman

86. Medieval Civilisation – Kay Slocum

87. Her – Harriet Lane

88. A Cold Day for Murder – Dana Stabenow

89. Snow Blind – Ragnar Jonasson

90. Falling – Emma Kavanagh

Books Read in September


75. A Book For Her – Bridget Christie

76. Hausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum

77. The Bang Bang Club – Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva

78. Between Here and the Yellow Sea – Nic Pizzolatto

79. Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

80. How to be Danish – Patrick Kingsley

81. The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking – Olivia Laing

What kind of writer are you?


“Are you the kind who gets up and walks around the shop, chatting to people, or are you the kind that just sits there?”

This was the question asked by the manager of the bookshop who’d invited me to do a book signing and I could tell it was less a friendly enquiry and more a test that I knew I was about to fail miserably. I was about to spend the next two hours there, hoping to flog some books, and I knew it was going to be awful. I could feel myself dying inside before I’d even sat down.

Despite being there to promote my second novel, I had little experience of the bookshop signing. I’d done plenty of events in libraries and as part of festivals which involved signing books at the end. But I’d never gone and sat in a shop with the single goal of hoping someone would buy a book and ask me to sign it. And if I’m honest, the idea filled me with dread.

I was plonked right in the doorway where not only was it draughty, it was also intimidating for customers. Not that I think I’m frightening, but experience has shown me, as both a shopper and a spectator of other such events, that the majority of customers when faced with a desperate author will avoid eye contact at all costs and practically faint if you should utter a friendly hello, less they’re contractually obliged to buy a book if they return the greeting.

Yet there I was, in everyone’s way. The placing of my wobbly table and chair meant that wheelchairs and prams were unable to get past and so I had to keep getting up and shifting things about whilst apologising profusely. I did, however, make it up to them by getting the door for them on their way out. Basically, I was an unpaid greeter/doorwoman for the morning.

Anyway, with the pitying smiles from the shop staff and the constant look of disapproval from the manager, the hours passed and even though I sold (and signed) what I thought was a not-too-bad ten copies (to be fair, the majority to people I knew), when it came to getting my coat, the manager collared me again and asked (even though he’d been keeping an eye on me) whether I’d “just sat there or got up and engaged”. I told him the only time I’d moved was to help people with the door and got the kind of look pet owners give to their dogs after they’ve left a little gift on the carpet.

Basically, he was telling me I was doing it wrong. I was getting being a writer wrong. He went on to tell me in reverent tones about another author they’d had in who’d managed to sell lots of copies of her book (a hardback, no less) by being pro-active and following customers around the shop, telling them about her book, and persuading them to buy it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure I’m fairly terrible at a lot of this book promotion. But I’m also pretty sure that 99.9% of customers do not want to be chased around a bookshop by a crazed writer until they’re worn down or too scared not to buy the book. If I’d been a customer that day, to be honest I’d stop going to the shop.

But there must be a middle ground, surely.

I often wish I could do this part of the job better and I do try. I said hello to each customer and got a reply from maybe half of the people. But I could tell they weren’t interested. A crime novel, signed or otherwise, was not what they’d gone to the shop for. The people who were interested came over. Some spoke and asked about me or the book, others just read the cover and either bought it or went on their way. I suppose those who are good at this would engage those people, make a connection, and cleverly, subtly, make them realise that they had to buy the book. This is the ideal. These are the writers who are good at this part of the job. Not the far ends of the spectrum – me at one end, Mrs I’ll-Chase-You-Around-The-Shop-Until-You-Buy-The-Book-Or-Else-I’ll-Beat-You-Around-The-Head-With-It. Sometimes I wonder if I’m cut out to be a novelist. It seems these days the writing is incidental, that the selling, the promotion is what counts. And I’m really not a salesperson.

But I am working on it. And I do go out and do events but only when I’m asked, I never do the chasing. Perhaps another thing I need to work on. After all, they say the best way to get over arachnophobia is to hold a spider. Maybe I need to start holding some readers. Metaphorically, of course. Otherwise I’d definitely scare them off.


p.s. Gone is out now in paperback from all good bookshops and if you go and buy it I promise I won’t chase you.

Books Read in August


67. The Most of Nora Ephron – Nora Ephron

68. My War Gone By, I Miss It So – Anthony Loyd

69. Martha Gellhorn: A Life – Caroline Moorhead

70. Martin Walker’s Russia – Martin Walker

71. The Soccer War – Ryszard Kapuscinski

72. Revenge – Stephen Morris

73. Confessions from Correspondentland – Nick Bryant

Books Read in July


51. Peter Abelard – Joseph McCabe

52. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

53. Heloise and Abelard – George Moore

54. Shutterbabe – Deborah Copaken Kogan

55. The Letters of Peter Abelard: Beyond the Personal – translated by Jan M. Ziolkowski

56. The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

57. Culture, Power and Personality in Medieval France – J.F. Benton

58. The Chase – Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

59. Extreme Rambling – Mark Thomas

60. Flirting with Danger – Siobhan Darrow

61. Cop Town – Karin Slaughter

62. Cause Celeb – Helen Fielding

63. Shah of Shahs – Ryszard Kapuscinski

64. The Strange World of Thomas Harris – David Sexton

65. Bad Blood – Arne Dahl

66. A State of War Exists – Michael Nicholson

Books read in June


41. A Trick of the Mind – Penny Hancock

42. The Journals of Sylvia Plath: 1950-1962

43. Heloise and Abelard – James Burge

44. Heloise – Elizabeth Hamilton

45. Peter Abelard – Helen Waddell

46. Unseen – Karin Slaughter

47. Heloise and Abelard – Etienne Gilson

48. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise

49. The Night Season – Chelsea Cain

50. You – Caroline Kepnes

Does what you write affect your mood?


I feel like I’m in writing limbo at the moment. My third book, Tell Me Lies, is done and dusted (almost, just pesky things like proofreading to be done) and that marks the end of my contracted writing. My publisher, wisely, won’t look at any new work until they’ve seen how well Gone does, so it’s going to be a few months before I know what the future holds. I’ve already written a fourth book and once that was dispatched to my agent I started wondering what to do next, and whether there was any point considering no one was considering my work for a while.

And then it occurred to me that waiting for an audience before writing was insane. I’ve written plenty in the past without one and will no doubt do so in the future. In fact, apart from the lack of security and wondering where the next meal will come from, writing without being under contract gives you a certain freedom to do things differently and even time to work out what it is you really want to do.

The fourth book was the one I’d planned to write after Stolen but kept being put aside as I couldn’t work out what I really wanted it to be. I’m glad, finally, to have written it, and maybe without that time and freedom I wouldn’t have gotten there. It’s also turned out to be my favourite book of mine, perhaps because the subject matter is important to me. I even found myself crying when reading it back, something that I’ve never done before. Which brings me to my point – does what we write affect our mood?

I suppose to a degree it must. If you spend months thinking and writing about murder and the like it’s probably going to get to you eventually. But on the whole, crime writers seem to be a jolly lot despite submerging themselves in misery on a daily basis. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that writers need to suffer for their art. My own experience has proved that depression prevents me from writing rather than making it better. Sure, we can use bad experiences later on, but if I’m going to write for a living, suffering isn’t going to help. Being unable to get out of bed isn’t going to get the daily word count done.

But the experience of reading my book didn’t actually depress me, it just made me sad for the characters involved and their real-life equivalents (the book is primarily about domestic abuse). Maybe the fact it got to me is a sign that it’s working, something that cheers me rather than depresses. But still, I’ve recently broken out the Sylvia Plath, a sure sign that all is not well. So what is it?

Before I started writing novels I wrote screenplays and there was one idea that I planned on right from the start which still (until a few weeks ago) had come to nothing. But I was reminded of this project recently and immediately started feeling down. Partly because I’d wanted to do it for getting on twenty years (!) and had yet to begin, partly because I was scared of the subject matter, that it included so many things I knew nothing about, and that I could never do it justice. And partly that after so long, someone would beat me to it.

But I’ve finally got off my arse and started, knowing I have this time and freedom to do what I really want to do. And I’m so glad I’ve started. But…

I think about it day and night, staring off into the distance and unable to concentrate on the real world and find myself on the verge of tears at regular intervals.

I keep asking myself if it’s the subject that’s making me unhappy or am I just now attracted to the story again because misery loves company? And is it dangerous to wallow in such a sad story, to think about it almost exclusively, if it brings me to tears (this from the woman who decided the best thing to do when clinically depressed was buy a Joy Division box set), or is this how you know a piece of work is worth pursuing? Is being so immersed in another world that it takes over your life what every writer aims for in order to write something honest or is it just stupidity?

I don’t know. But as long as I’m still writing, then surely there’s nothing to be sad about.