The Impress Prize 2017, plus Q&A with past winner, James Calum Campbell

The Impress Prize for new writers was created to discover and publish new writing talent in fiction and non-fiction. The winner of the prize is offered a publishing contract with Impress Books, with the aim of releasing the book in the following year. Entries to the prize are assessed by the Impress team and a shortlist is produced from which a panel chooses the winner. The panel is comprised of representatives from the publishing industry. In the past the winners and shortlisted candidates have gone on to be represented by agents and received subsequent publishing contracts.

James Calum Campbell, author of The Seven Trials of Cameron-Strange, won the Impress Prize in 2014. Today I am delighted to welcome him to my blog to tell us about his transition from doctor to author, and the inspiration behind his protagonist, Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange.

Photography by Whyler Photos of Stirling


Tell us about your career as a doctor

I’m what the American MDs call “double-boarded”; I’m a GP and an emergency physician.  I’ve had the best possible time.  My career has taken me all over the world.  I guess its apogee has been the senior lectureship in emergency medicine at Auckland.  Wonderful – but a roller-coaster ride.  Medicine is very demanding.

How did you make the jump from doctor to author?

I was always a scribbler.  I used to write articles for various medical rags.  The profession likes to flaunt its literary credentials – Chekhov and Maugham and Conan Doyle and so on.  Actually we’re a bit smug.  There’s a style of writing on the back pages of medical journals that I call “medical baroque”, full of pus and sex.  I don’t care for it.  The worlds of medicine and letters do overlap – after all it’s all history-taking.  But most doctors who have seriously wanted to write have realised that they needed to quit practice.  Medicine is just too all-consuming.  When in Auckland I was asked to prepare the groundwork for the creation of a Chair in Emergency Medicine, I realised I might do that, and medicine would have me for ever.  I resigned and moved to a croft in Camustianavaig, Isle of Skye, and wrote a first draft of a book about Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange.  I was 47.  My colleagues thought I’d gone crazy.  Maybe they were right!

But medicine was not done with me.  My mother’s cousin was in a car crash on Skye, and I visited her in Broadford Hospital.  The Medical Director said, “You’re the doc holed up in Camustianavaig writing a book.  Do you want a job?”  Sometimes you do something simply because you are importuned.

What made you want to write?

I’ve been devoted to words, and stories, for as long as I can remember.  Then with adolescence I hit writer’s block and realised I needed to go out into the world and be something else, if only to acquire copy.  Every writer knows this fundamental truth, that you can be interested in anything and everything, but you can only be devoted to one thing.  I knew that sooner or later I’d be seduced back, to wrestle the best of three falls with words.

Was it always important to you for your novels to have a medical element?

Not initially, but, with fiction, eventually yes.  Medicine changes you.  I’ve been a doctor for such a long time now that I cannot but think as a doctor.  In emergency medicine, the most potent question you can ask your patient is, “What happened?”  Then you go into a trance, listen, don’t interrupt, and nine times out of ten, the patient will hand you the diagnosis on a plate.  It seems a passive activity, but it is not.  It comes at a cost, because what you are actually doing is stepping into the patient’s shoes.  For a moment, you become the patient.  Writing a book is a similar experience.  It requires a receptivity and a willingness to allow the book to proceed as it will.  It’s a diagnostic process.  It takes its toll.

Where did the inspiration for Cameron-Strange come from?

I wanted to write about a doctor who, though he doesn’t know it, has the full house of “knowledge, skills, and attitudes”.  There’s an old cliché that if you have knowledge, become a physician, if you have skill, become a surgeon, if you have tender loving kindness, become a GP.  (It’s nonsense.)    Most of us strive for competency on one level.  You sometimes meet doctors who combine such virtues.  For example you might meet an intensivist who combines encyclopaedic knowledge of pathophysiology with extraordinary motor abilities and nerves of steel.  But he’s also liable to lack people skills, he will have a monstrous ego, and he might even be psychopathic.  A doctor who excels in not one or two, but all three of these fields, is a very rare bird indeed.  I think Alastair Cameron-Strange might become such a doctor, but he still needs to work on his attitude.  If he survives, and isn’t struck off, I suspect when he’s a little older he might become very eminent in his field.

So believe me, ACS definitely isn’t me!  But I once received a backhanded compliment from an Edinburgh Professor of Medicine that would have befitted ACS:  “You’ll go far, Campbell, so long as you don’t go too far.”


Are you an unpublished writer? The ImpressPrize is now open for submissions. Deadline 30 June 2017. Follow @ImpressPrize on Twitter for updates.

Interview with Sanjida Kay #TheStolenChild

Today I am delighted to welcome back to my blog, Sanjida Kay, who is celebrating the publication of her second psychological thriller, The Stolen Child. You may read my review of this deliciously chilling story here. Sanjida kindly agreed to answer some questions which I put together as I read the book. I hope you find her answers as interesting as I did.

1. Publicity for books these days takes many forms. I enjoyed watching the book trailer (see below) and the interview you posted on YouTube about the inspirations for the book (also included below). I know that, amongst your many roles, you have worked in broadcasting. Was it your choice to use these media to promote your book?

Thank you so much for having me back to your blog, Jackie! I’m glad you liked them! I’ve spent years working as a TV director and presenter, so it’s fun to be able to use those skills, particularly in something as creative as a book trailer. Cameraman, Rob Franklin, shot one of my BBC documentaries, and contacted me recently to ask if we could work on a book-related project. Not only did he do an amazing job filming the trailer and the Q&A, he enlisted the help of a drone pilot, Jack Stevenson, who shot some incredible footage of Evie when she’s lost on the moor, wearing only her Frozen dress.

2. I love the jacket design for The Stolen Child and this is brought to life in your book trailer. Did you have any say in the picture used?

It was a shock when I had my first novel published at the age of 25, to discover that authors have NO say in their book covers. I’m so fortunate to be published by Corvus Books, though, as I’ve loved both the book jacket for Bone by Bone, my first thriller, as well as the second one for The Stolen Child. I think their design has perfectly captured the colour, the wildness and the desolation of the West Yorkshire moors.

3. The undercurrent of unease that pervades the story had me suspecting just about every character introduced. Did you know how each their roles would play out when you started writing them?

I had a brilliant brainstorming session with crime writer, Sarah Hilary, when I first came up with the idea for The Stolen Child. She suggested I make a number of characters sound suspicious and I’m glad I did. When I began writing, I knew who would be a suspect, and how, to a certain extent, but I hope I’ve managed to push that sense of distrust all the way through.

4. One of the themes in the book is trust and how fragile it is under pressure. With your imagination, do you ever catch yourself pondering the secrets your acquaintances may hold?

I suppose it’s no great surprise that my PhD was on Theory of Mind, which is essentially how we know what other people are thinking. Apparently, most of us can cope with up to six levels of ‘intentionality’, which could go something like this:

Does she know that I know that I think she’s wondering who else knows what she knows about what her sister believes is her half- sister’s secret?!

So, yes! Bone by Bone and The Stolen Child tap the commonly perceived threat in dark, lonely locations.

5. Has writing such disturbing stories affected the way you react to, for example, looking outside when alone in your house at night with your daughter, or walking in isolated locations?

Like many women, I will often choose not to walk home at night or to go for a run in isolated places because of the potential danger. I feel a lot safer in the countryside than I do in the city, though. But I don’t suppose watching seven seasons of The Walking Dead has helped my anxiety levels!

6. Your protagonist in The Stolen Child is an artist. Have you ever tried your hand at painting?

I took an A level in art, but I didn’t carry on painting for long after that. I’d love to have the time to return to it at some point. Luckily, I’m friends with a brilliant artist, Elaine Jones, and I grilled her on how she paints, as well as how she manages to juggle being an artist, with bringing up two small children.

7. And finally, you mentioned you brainstorming session with Sarah Hilary and thank her in the book’s acknowledgements. Does hanging out with other authors of dark, twisty thrillers affect the way you think?

Bristol is a brilliant place to live if you’re a novelist: it’s full of talented thriller writers, such as CL Taylor, Jane Shemilt and Gilly Macmillan – and Sarah is nearby, in Bath. It’s certainly refreshing to be able to meet up now and again and have an in-depth chat about writing with people who understand what you’re going through and can cheer you along the way. We’re all quite normal on the surface.

Thank you so much Sanjida, I love the hint of suspicion you have left us with there!

Now, doesn’t the book look fabulous?

The Stolen Child is published by Corvus Books and is available to buy now.


Mothers’ Day – Guest Post by Emma Curtis


Today I am delighted to welcome Emma Curtis, author of suspense thriller One Little Mistake (which I review here), to my blog. Emma’s book explores the tricky balancing act that so many women live juggling friendship, marriage and motherhood – and the catastrophic consequences of a seemingly small mistake. She has written this guest post for Mothers’ Day.

On Mothers’ Day, we reflect on everything our mothers did for us and we give them a call, or take them a bunch of flowers, and thank them. This is the time to forget the fact that as teenagers, we said to ourselves, if I ever have children I will never do that! It’s the time to forget the parties we weren’t allowed to go to, to forgive the unreasonable bedtimes and irrational decisions that were never satisfactorily explained. When you have your own children you quickly realize that even if you do have a mental check list of the dreadful things your own mother did, there is a one hundred percent chance your kids will be able to come up with some humdingers of your doing. Mothers’ Day is a time to remember that mothers are human beings, and if they make mistakes it’s because they love us and worry for us and sometimes overreact.

One Little Mistake is a novel about an ordinary wife and mother who doesn’t always get it right. But none of this would have mattered and she would have muddled on, just like the rest of us, had it not been for one major lapse in judgement. When I wrote Vicky Seagrave, I drew on my own experiences of falling into motherhood four years before I had planned or wanted to. It caught me and my husband by surprise and we were unprepared for every aspect of it: the love, the fatigue, the mess, the restrictions, the adjustment in our own relationship.

Vicky’s ‘Mistake’ has a catastrophic effect on her life, the reverberations rippling through her marriage, her closest friendship, her job and her position in the community, putting at risk everything she holds dear. One Little Mistake is a psychological suspense novel, so what happens to Vicky and the danger she puts herself and her family in, is of course extreme. However, at the heart of it I wanted to show the confusing side of motherhood: feeling out of control; discovering that it’s not all perfect baby skin, talcum powder and fluffy white towels like in the ads, that it’s mess and tears, it’s unwashed hair and eyes bruised and baggy from lack of sleep. It’s dirty dishes piling up and piling on the pounds. It’s being two hours into a six-hour train journey to Edinburgh and realising you forgot the spare nappies – yes, that was me! It’s keeping things going on the surface and trying to ignore the muddle churning underneath.

But above all, it’s a mountain that we climb not so much because we have no choice, but through animal instinct and unconditional love. And in the end, you kiss your children as they leave the house on their own for the first time and you know that it’s OK. You can forgive yourself the mistakes you’ve made, because they make you proud. And then one day, you tell your twenty-five- year-old daughter, sitting on the sofa glued to her laptop, that you love her and she answers distractedly that she loves you too.


One Little Mistake is published by Black Swan, an imprint of Transworld Books.


How to be an author – Guest post by Brad Parks


Today I am delighted to welcome Brad Parks, author of Say Nothing, to my blog. In this guest post Brad shares his thoughts on what it takes to write a book. 


Having lurked around this blog, I’m aware that Jackie, my gracious host at Never Imitate, Jackie, is a woman interested in all things writing.

And given that I’m the new guy here – Say Nothing is my first book to release in the UK – I probably ought to just shove my hands deep in my pockets, mumble something nice about how you should write what you know, and call it a guest blog post.

Yeah, to hell with that.

I’m here. I’m going to rant. Because while I may be new around here, I’m not new to the writing community. I’ve hung around the bars, the conferences – and, most importantly, the bars at the conferences – long enough. I hear people talk about “talent” (such a misleading word), or “genius” (oh, please) or, worse, “inspiration” (I’ve got your muse right here in my pocket, pal).

And I feel like there’s one thing writers never talk about enough:


By stubbornness, I mean gamely bashing your head against the laptop screen – repeatedly and without letting up – until the words come out right; and then keeping at it, day after tormenting/boring/seemingly pointless day, until the whole manuscript comes out right.

And that has nothing to do with talent; or some kind of God-given genius; or, most of all, some blasted muse that will fly down on gossamer wings and alight on your shoulder.

It has to do with grit. And tenacity. And deciding you are simply going to be tougher than everyone else alive.

And you don’t have to be smart to do that. You just have to be breathing.

A small anecdote to illustrate what I’m talking about:

When my wife was in grad school, she had to learn how to administer intelligence tests and I served as her test dummy. Literally. There was one test – I think it was for seven-year- olds – where you had to rearrange blocks.

The scoring was a sliding scale based on how quickly you could complete the task. You didn’t get any points if it took longer than two minutes, but the catch was the test administrator couldn’t tell you to stop.

I kept fumbling with those stupid blocks for twenty-six minutes before I finally solved a problem that slightly-above- average seven-year- olds could do in a fraction of that time.

But that’s the great thing about writing. There’s no stopwatch on you. And you don’t have to be the brightest seven-year- old – or even a dumb forty-two- year-old. You just have to be willing to do the work.

So, yes, my UK debut, Say Nothing, released last week. And maybe the publisher would like you to believe I am just some supremely talented – God, I hate that word – scribbler who was gifted this amazing story one day. But I know better.

And now so do you.


Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. Say Nothing is his UK debut.


Say Nothing is published by Faber and Faber and is available to buy now.


This post is a stop on the Say Nothing Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed above.

Author Interview: Liz Cowley and Donough O’Brien

lizcowley   donough

Today I am delighted to welcome Liz Cowley and Donough O’Brien to my blog. Liz and Donough are the authors of ‘Serial Damage’, which I review here.

1. You have done what so many writers dream of and had your novel published. How have you found this experience?


Very rewarding, and also very interesting, writing jointly with my husband Donough. And the publisher, Urbane, is a joy to work with – far easier than some I’ve known. I never thought I’d write a novel – or more accurately half of one – or dovetail so smoothly with a co-author without any disagreements. He does action, I do reaction – and it’s a recipe that seems to work.


To tackle something completely new, a crime novel instead of the illustrated history books that I normally write, I realised that to get the detail right we needed outside expertise. Luckily we knew, or got to know, top detectives, judges, psychologists, gun makers and surgeons, and they gave us the accuracy we needed. Most of the places round the world we featured we have actually visited, which was another help.

2. Urbane require collaboration with authors in marketing their books. Has this worked out as you expected?


Yes, very well. While Urbane promoted us, we do our bit with a series of launch parties round the country in aid of charity. We also helped to promote the book in both the UK and Ireland using our own media contacts. It helps that we were both from marketing and advertising backgrounds.


We contacted the media in places where our ‘murders’ take place, like Cornwall, Kent and Ireland and the local press and radio stations were happy to feature us. Most media are intrigued by a husband and wife writing team, but it also helped that Liz’s latest book of amusing poetry, Pass the Prosecco, Darling! was coming out at the same time. A woman who can write light poetry and heavy murder is surely very unusual.

3. Have you done many live author events and, if so, do you enjoy them?


Yes, quite a few. National radio like Saturday Live and lots of local radio. I’ve also given speeches at the Hampton Court Flower Show. My poetry books were made into a live stage show in Dublin and London, and the show was the finale of the West Cork Literary Festival at which I appeared.


In addition to the charity events, we have been on the radio a lot and in my case television (BBC Breakfast, etc). I enjoy such events and also meeting all sorts of people.

4. What is your approach to the on line reviews of your book?


They are very important – it thrills me if they’ve enjoyed my books, and if you get criticism, you learn from it. In many ways, it reminds of my many years as an advertising copywriter – starting with picturing the audience and then learning from the feedback if you’ve got it right.


Yes, very important and one should never worry about criticism. You can’t please everyone!

5. When asked what you do, do you describe yourself as a writer?


A writer (never a poet) although I’ve had seven poetry books published so far. I’m afraid the word ‘poet’ tends to make people freeze!


Having drifted into this, I call myself an author – I don’t know why!

6. Are you going to do this again – is there another novel in the pipeline?


We already have. Urbane are publishing From One Hell to Another next year. Our heroine is a Spanish girl in the French resistance. Once again Donough pulls the triggers and I do the emotional bits.


And in February I’ve got a thriller about the IRA coming out with Urbane called Peace Breaks Out. I wrote it with my friend Robin Hardy, famous for The Wicker Man film, who has sadly just passed away. And Liz and I have just finished a sci-fi novel called Testosterone. So collaborative writing seems to work for us.



Liz has had a long career as an advertising copywriter and Creative Director, working in several of the world’s leading agencies. A long-time fan of poetry, she enjoyed success with her first collection, A Red Dress, published in 2008 and her second, What am I Doing Here? (2010), which were then made into a theatrical show – first staged in Dublin, then chosen as the finale of the West Cork Literary Festival and later touring the UK. Her next book ‘And guess who he was with?’ was out in February 2013. Two poetry books for gardeners, Outside in my Dressing Gown, and Gardening in Slippers are selling very well, not only in the book trade but also in garden centres.

Before turning to writing, Donough enjoyed a successful marketing career in the US and Europe. His previous books include Fame by Chance, looking at places that became famous by a twist of fate; Banana Skins, covering the slips and screw-ups that brought the famous down to earth; Numeroids, a book of numerical nuggets, and In the Heat of Battle; a study of those who rose to the occasion in warfare and those who didn’t. His latest historical book was WHO? The most remarkable people you’ve never heard of.



Serial Damage is published by Urbane Publications and is available to buy now.


Author Interview: Thomas Hocknell


Today I am delighted to welcome Thomas Hocknell to my blog. Thomas is the author of ‘The Life Assistance Agency’, which I review here.

1. You have done what so many writers dream of and had your novel published. How have you found this experience?

Publication is a fence I’ve been running to leap over for twenty years without any thought as to which way to land – forward roll, the splits, or careen into the nearest gorse bush to emerge quicker than I went in. Time will tell, but at risk of sounding like one of those positive affirmations back-dropped by a rose, publication day was one to savour. Although, it mainly involved sweeping up untouched children’s breakfast cereal and being asked to pay for 4-months worth of backdated Sunday papers at the local newsagent. I used to think writers lived somewhere indefinably special, but they walk among us.

It was certainly a day to quit worrying about MS spell-check missing thong instead of thing throughout the 300 pages of the Life Assistance Agency.  It’s a day like no other, although most writers would claim it’s the best day to start writing the next novel.  Which is lucky, because the most popular question since publication is “Have you started a 2nd one?” I mean talk about not being allowed to rest on your laurels.

Publication day is the sort of day that validates those annoying motivational Twitter status updates involving ‘following your dreams’, and ‘Stars can’t shine without darkness.’ The sort of updates that no one says to your face in fear of being strangled, and without which Twitter would be diminished to people declaring themselves as coffee addicts, uploading photos of cats and flogging vampire novels thinly disguised as porn. Or is it the other way around?

But it’s been wonderful. A dream has come true even if it was a 10-year overnight success. If anything it still feels a little surreal, but it certainly changes your relationship with writing. You suddenly have readers beyond immediate family!

2. Urbane require collaboration with authors in marketing their books. Has this worked out as you expected?

They do. They are an independent publisher, but not having been published before means I have no idea of how it works elsewhere. I’ve been blogging at Idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow for 2 years, and that has gained a secure and loyal following, for which I am deeply grateful. It’s resulted in a kind of established market, albeit a small one. And the generosity of support from friends on Twitter (let’s not call them followers) has been flabbergasting. Ultimately though, you can’t keep flogging the book; it has to take on a life of its own. But there’s no better feeling than seeing it in a bookshop window.

3. Have you done many live author events and, if so, do you enjoy them?

At the first book launch, I so hated being the centre of attention that I found myself still up at 3:30am imploring people to stay, and that it was too early to call it a day. Actually, ask me this again next week, as I have a second one lined up.

4. What is your approach to the on line reviews of your book?

Well, I initially declared I wasn’t going to read any. So, once I’d read them all, I found myself in a collapsed state best known as depression. It’s amazing how one negative review can skewer the glow of the good ones. If I’m honest, it also made me feel exposed and a little vulnerable. I was reminded of the Edna St Vincent Millay quote – “A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.”  I thought it best to buy some smart new pants.

However, as the weeks passed, the review about me not knowing what genre I was writing in began to sting less. After all, I’ve never chosen to read a novel according to its genre. Then a complete stranger compared the Life Assistance Agency to Douglas Adams’Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. He only wrote 2 and a half of these novels, which I always wanted more of. I’m cautious when aligning myself with such a great like Adams, but he was a huge influence that I’m happy to shout about it. His sentences were so unpredictable that you get the sense even he didn’t know where they were going.

5. When asked what you do, do you describe yourself as a writer?

That is a brilliant question. I do now. Or rather no one has asked since I was published, which is a bit annoying, so I don’t know for sure. I look forward to not saying I’m a social worker, at least initially, although that is what pays the mortgage. The most popular question when people hear that you write is “Are you published?” like it’s something that inevitably happens to every writer. Of course you want to grab them by the lapels and scream ‘D’you have any fucking idea how hard it is to get published?’ This is now avoided by simply pointing them in the direction of my T-shirt emblazoned with I’M PUBLISHED.

6. Are you going to do this again – is there another novel in the pipeline?

See what I mean about not being allowed to rest on your laurels! There is actually. I’m pleased to say that this novel can be seen as cue for further adventures of the Life Assistance Agency, which will vindicate its proprieter Scott Wildblood, as much as it will annoy his partner Ben Ferguson-Cripps. I love writing, at least when it’s going well. It’s like pottering about in a garden shed but without the spiders and tripping over the patio heater you don’t recall buying.

Where my readers can find you

Blog: Idle blogs of an idle fellow – Journeys from the fax

Twitter: Tom Angel (@TomAngel1)


Thomas Hocknell is from Kent and lives in London. He has been a social worker, car salesman and gardener. He attended the Faber Academy and The Life Assistance Agency is his first novel. His blog, Idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow, aims to embrace random topics of modern living, but mostly complains about other people’s inability to make decent tea. He also writes for Classic Pop magazine, the Good Men Project and The Line of Best Fit.



The Life Assistance Agency is published by Urbane Publications and is available to buy now.


Author Interview: Simon Michael


Today I am delighted to welcome Simon Michael to my blog. Simon is the author of ‘The Brief’ (which I review here) and ‘An Honest Man’ (which I review here).

1. You have done what so many writers dream of and had your novel published. How have you found this experience?

Like many of the Urbane authors, this is not my first experience of being published. I was published by large traditional publishing houses in the 1990s, WH Allen and St Martin’s Press. On my return to writing I found that the publishing world had changed completely in the intervening 25 years. In the traditional model, which until recent years had no alternative (except, perhaps, vanity publishing) you gave your cherished baby, the work on which you had dedicated months or years of your life, to the publishers in return for an advance on royalties and they did exactly what they pleased with it. You had little or no say in blurb, jacket design, marketing, advertising or pricing. Many of us found it to be a poor experience, and I know even well-established and highly regarded writers who felt let down by the process. We produced commodities, books, for the publishers to dispose of as they thought fit.

The advent of the Internet has changed all that. The polar opposite to the traditional publishing model is self-publication, and anyone can do it and have their book available on Amazon and similar formats within hours. The downside is that it joins millions of other self-published books, and even if it’s brilliant it may never attract a readership.

Urbane Publications offers an intermediate model whereby publisher and author work together in partnership. Profits are divided much more equally (although there is usually no advance) and decisions are taken jointly. When it works, it is a very empowering experience but it depends on the personal relationship between author and publisher which may not always be problem-free, and authors have to expect success to come more slowly, if it comes at all. Small independent publishers cannot afford large sums of money for marketing or publicity.

2. Urbane require collaboration with authors in marketing their books. Has this worked out as you expected?

My part has been more demanding, but also more fun, than I expected. I have designed and produced posters, travelled with a suitcase up and down the country to bookshops, sold the concept and persuaded them to stock the books, and contacted scores of libraries, book groups and bookshops to secure speaking engagements and signing sessions. I am presently involved in arranging a photo shoot for a life-size poster of me wearing court robes and carrying a shot gun!

Urbane have opened doors for me, by getting me onto panels at literary festivals for example, and they have been excellent at managing the pricing and offers on Amazon, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without help.

One of Matthew Smith’s particular strengths lies in cover design; some of his covers for the fiction books have been outstanding and have attracted a great deal of enthusiastic social media comment.

3. Have you done many live author events and, if so, do you enjoy them?

To date I have had approximately 10 speaking engagements, I have 4 more in the diary before Christmas, and will organise more in the New Year. I am aiming at speaking at least twice a month.

I do enjoy them very much. 37 years’ at the Bar and singing in an R&B band allowed full rein to my love of performance, and I didn’t think through the fact that, when I retired to write full-time, that part of my personality would no longer find expression. In fact this is even better. My talks are developing into a “one-man show” with anecdotes from life at the Bar, some personal history as well as insights into the period of the novels (1940s and 1960s) and readings from the books. I am even thinking of adding some music from the periods.

4. What is your approach to the on line reviews of your book?

Fortunately I have only had one poor review, a 2* review on Amazon by someone who had obviously never read the book. You read about competitor authors putting poor reviews on Amazon, and it is my guess that this was an example, so I should probably feel flattered that they saw me as serious competition.

More generally however I often reply thanking the reviewer because I know it takes time and effort to give a review, and few reviewers appreciate the difference it makes to profile and sales. Although all of the reviews of The Brief were 5* and 4* (with the exception of the one referred to above) several reviewers had interesting insights as to the pacing of the first half of the book, and in those cases I have replied agreeing with them and have borne the criticism in mind in the later books.

I enjoy having a dialogue with my readers, and I recognise that I am still learning my trade, so insightful analysis by literate readers is invaluable.

5. When asked what you do, do you describe yourself as a writer?

I have begun to describe myself as a writer but I’m still a bit shy to do so, because it smacks of arrogance and, of course, very few people have heard of me as yet. If, as is often the case, the response is “Oh, have I heard of you?” the inevitable reply “Probably not” is a bit deflating. But my agent is working on a lead regarding a TV series, and hopefully that will all change.

6. Are you going to do this again – is there another novel in the pipeline?

There is indeed, at least three and probably more. The reviews suggest, and I believe, that I’m getting better as a writer as I learn my trade, and the third book, The Lighterman, is complete. It will be published in May 2017, and the consensus is that it’s the strongest so far.

The fourth novel is already part-written. The Charles Holborne series is a long way from the psychological thrillers or police procedurals of which there are so many exponents at present. This series is about a particular man, Charles Holborne, something of a maverick barrister with a background as a boxer and criminal himself. I throw him into the turmoil of the gangland culture of 1960s London, the corrupt police and the biased judiciary. They are thrillers, with a crime/mystery at their heart, and often courtroom scenes on the way, but Charles is on a moral and personal journey and therefore the series of books has a definite arc. He’s presently in the middle of that arc so there are several books to come, but when he’s finished his journey, assuming he survives, I will need to think carefully what to do next;

I want to avoid the stories becoming formulaic. The title of your blog “Never Imitate” is something I identify with closely. Most people who know me would say that I have never followed the path well-trod, and Charles Holborne is an extension of me.

Where my readers can find you


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Twitter: Simon Michael (@simonmichaeluk)


Simon Michael was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in 1978. In his many years of prosecuting and defending criminal cases he has dealt with a wide selection of murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy.

A storyteller all his life, Simon started writing short stories at school. His first novel (co-written) was published by Grafton in 1988 and was followed in 1989 by his first solo novel, The Cut Throat, the first of the Charles Holborne series, based on Simon’s own experiences at the criminal Bar. The next in the series, The Long Lie, was published in 1992. Between the two, in 1991, Simon’s short story “Split” was shortlisted for the Cosmopolitan/Perrier Short Story Award. He was also commissioned to write two feature screenplays.

Simon then put writing aside to concentrate on his career at the Bar. After a further 25 years’ experience he now has sufficient plots based on real cases for another dozen legal thrillers.

9781910692004   9781911129394

‘The Brief’ and ‘An Honest Man’ are published by Urbane Publications, and are available to buy now.