Merry Christmas – and here’s to a great 2018!

candlelight-3022915_1280 Where has 2017 gone? Suddenly it’s Christmas again!

All of us on Take Five Authors would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a great New Year. May 2018 be all you wish it to be.

Thank you to all our friends and supporters – and do have a great time this festive season.

Mary, Jenny, Janet, Sue and Ellie

Jenny Harper – there’s nothing like a new jacket!

facebook banner 2017When I signed a four-book contract with Accent Press a few years ago, my life suddenly went into overdrive. They took over two novels, published a third within a few weeks, and the fourth the following year. The fifth and sixth followed about a year after that, along with a summer novella.

There have been ups and downs: holding each book in my hand has been a genuine thrill, seeing them on sale in shops even more gratifying. There have been rights deals too … but looking at their trajectory, I felt there had been some missed opportunities. The earlier novels, in particular, were rather neglected, and overall, I felt my ‘brand’ was underdeveloped.

Thankfully, Accent agreed, and after discussion, my entire oeuvre (gosh, that does sound grand!) is being rejacketed.

I’m thrilled with what they’ve come up with – and I’d love your feedback too. Over the next little while, I’d like to reintroduce you to them, starting with the very first one, Face the Wind and Fly, which deals with love, loss and family life against the background of a controversial project that fractures the local community.

Face The Wind and Fly 2017After fifteen years of happy marriage, wind farm engineer Kate Courtenay discovers that her charismatic novelist husband is spending more and more of his time with a young fan. She throws herself into her work, a contentious wind farm  that’s stirring up tempers in the local community. Sparks fly when she goes head to head against its most outspoken opponent, local gardener Ibsen Brown – a man with a past of his own. But a scheme for a community garden brings the sparring partners together, producing the sort of electricity that threatens to short circuit the whole system.

I think this fabulous image captures the spirit of the novel completely, and I do hope you like it!

Available on Amazon in ebook and paperback here

Masterclass with Jed Mercurio (or not?)

I’m about to confess something: I live in Edinburgh and this year, I put my head down the whole time the Festivals were on and pretended they weren’t happening. I was in the Outer Hebrides for half the time, and when my husband headed off to France for ten days, I decided that the opportunity to get my head down and write was too good to miss.

Of course, it didn’t work like that. I cleared the box room and sorted everything in it; ditto the cupboard under the stairs; and once more the utility room. It all felt good, and the house definitely looked more organised … but work? What’s that?

lod boxI was about to settle down with the wip (honest!), when I decided I’d read the Sunday papers first – and there, impossible to ignore, was a full page article about Jed Mercurio, scriptwriter for the gripping TV drama, Line of Duty. He was in Edinburgh … and he was giving a Masterclass at the Television Festival (which runs concurrently with the International Festival, Fringe Festival, Comedy Festival and Book Festival, as if we didn’t have enough festivals in the city already). It would be sold out, surely? I checked: it wasn’t. I booked two tickets, one for myself and one for a friend who writes thrillers. We’d both benefit from this!

The first thing to say is that the Television Festival feels very different from any of the others. It’s primarily for delegates, though a few sessions (such as this one) are open to the paying public. It’s in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, which is a large, specially built facility  – and telly people are clearly used to a better lifestyle than writers, because compared with any writers’ conferences I’ve been to (quite a few), this was luxury itself. There was a champagne bar, for starters, plus cool spaces for downing smoothies or moccachinos, and huge TV screens everywhere. Sky Arts had a dedicated area where a harpist was plucking away, and where you could play with virtual reality headsets (I did), or have a go at drawing Rory Bremner from a large image. This was a promotion for the excellent Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition (I didn’t stop to try this – there are limits).

There were trendy people everywhere – young guys with Gareth Bale ponytails atop their heads, women with killer heels and … drum roll … I even bumped into Russell Brand on the stairs. Literally. (Sorry Russell).

Jed and VickyThis was going to be good. The seats in the auditorium were so comfortable I could have fallen asleep – and to be honest, I might have done, for this was certainly not a Masterclass in any sense I had imagined. I suppose I was fooled into thinking I’d learn something about writing because the session was being delivered by a scriptwriter, but perhaps the words Television Festival should have sounded a warning, and also the fact that he was to be chummed by actress Vicky McClure (who plays Fleming). Lots of the audience questions were about where the money comes from and how to pitch to access funding, what’s it like doing 30-page interrogation sessions in a single take, and do the women in the cast get equal pay with the men. Obviously I would have liked something much more practical (mastering timing, the reveal, the twist, characterisation, maintaining a meta narrative etc etc), but that’s not to say I didn’t glean some gems. Here are a few:

  • There are some basics – the police officer under investigation has to be introduced, the characters in AC12 have to be re-established and (I loved this), Jed has to work out the elements of their stories at the time the series starts and what elements of these we can collide with
  • Jed likes to keep the construction as organic as possible. The twists and turns occur as he writes, and can sometimes change as the episode is being shot – for example, if he feels a scene can be made more dramatic
  • No character is safe [shivers]
  • The characters are multi-layered
  • There are narrow margins between success and failure. Jed tells us he’s always surprised when something works, but then, you should always find failure surprising too.

There was clearly a lot of respect and affection from everyone in the audience for the drama and there was applause when we learned that the BBC has commissioned two more series. Having to assume that each series might be the last does set up constraints in the writing and planning – so look forward to a roller-coaster ride in the next couple of years!

JedWith six episodes in a series, Jed likes to write the whole of it himself, although he acknowledged that more episodes would certainly require a bigger team. For novel writers unused to the constraints of television, I should point out that casting, schedule, locations and much more have to be sorted well in advance of shooting, so Jed delivers three episodes, then starts to think about the last three. He (and Vicky) were proud of the fact that Line of Duty has a strong female cast (and yes, she does have pay parity with the male AC12 characters).

I could have listened for a lot longer, I would have loved to have asked a load of questions of my own. Above all, I’d have loved to do a proper writing Masterclass with Jed Mercurio over a day or weekend because boy, he’s got an extraordinary gift for drama and tension. And if I left feeling just very slightly cheated, at least I was covered in stardust…

Oh, and finally, Jed revealed that he has a company of his own within Hat Trick Productions where he works with new writers. Perhaps I should take up scriptwriting?


How do you create a great bad guy?

VilliancThere’s no drama without conflict – and there’s no conflict like a good, ongoing battle between hero and villain (or, in the case of my next novel, heroine and villain).

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m giving my villain a Point of View, so I need to get to know him as well as I know my heroine. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. What has shaped him? Was he bullied as a child? Ignored? Abused? Does he have low self esteem that has to be bolstered through finding power over others?
  2. What is his goal? Does he desire wealth? Status? Recognition? Respect?
  3. Is he a rounded character? Very few people are either all good or all bad – so what are his strong points? Can he be charming? Does he really love someone – more than he loves himself? Can he show kindness?
  4. Am I showing his good side? It’s important that my readers understand him and don’t feel he’s one-dimensional BUT … oooh! He could be evil and ENJOY being evil!
  5. Is he as strong as my heroine? He has to be as accomplished, as clever, as interesting as she is – in other words, he has to be a worthy opponent and she’ll have to think long and hard about how to get the better of him (if she can!
  6. How does he justify his actions? Many villains believe they are the real heroes, that they are boxed into a corner because of x, y or z; that they ‘had no choice’ when doing something wrong; that the end they believe in justifies the means they employ to get there.

There are many really interesting blogs and articles out there on villains – clearly, they fascinate people. One post made the point that villains cause heroes to question their own goals and motivations, even force them to behave a little badly themselves in order to achieve their (morally justified) ends. ‘Villainy leaves a stain,’ says Melinda Salisbury .

Another writer,Jerry Jenkins, advises, ‘Tap into your dark side long enough to know what makes a good villain tick.’  For example, take a look at the bit you always try to pretend isn’t there (that little lie about being ill so you didn’t have to go to work, the phone call you ignored from a difficult friend because you couldn’t be bothered listening to her problems; the antisocial behaviour you didn’t report because it was just going to take too much time or effort.

Villains should have an element of tragedy about them, says John LaFolette They’re simply fallible human beings.

My villain is certainly fallible – but then, so is my heroine. I going to have to make sure my reader knows which is which!


A wonderful (superb, terrific, excellent, fabulous, brilliant, magnificent) writing tool

wordcloudPeter Mark Roget was born in London in 1779 and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Who knew? Not I, for all I live just down the road. Yet I make use of Mr Roget’s most famous achievement almost every day of my working life. We have so much to thank him for. Obsessed with lists from the age of eight, he used them to battle depression and while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, I’m truly thankful that he turned to words for solace.

As writers we put thousands of words onto the page, and constantly finding new ways of expressing yourself is one of many challenges writers face.

Mr Roget’s idea was to make a catalogue (list, inventory, register, record, roll, index, directory, checklist) of words according to similarity of meaning (sense, signification, import, gist, thrust, drift, tenor, message, essence, substance, intention, purport). So when I want to describe my hero’s raffish air, I don’t need to repeat myself – he can be rakish, unconventional, careless, louche, dissolute, decadent, disreputable or even devil-may-care.

Mr Roget’s visionary (far-sighted, prescient, percipient, canny, discerning) idea not only reminds me of the many options available, I find that it also helps to stimulate my creativity, often taking me down avenues I hadn’t previously considered.


From Apple’s online Thesaurus.

Use of his wonderful Thesaurus requires care, however. Don’t use a word that’s suggested unless you are completely sure of the its meaning – and indeed, the nuances of its meaning. Smile is surely one of the hardest words for which to find alternatives – and, unfortunately, it’s in the group of words writers use most often. Mr Roget offers ‘beam’ and ‘grin’, either of which might be apt (though hardly elegant). But choose twinkle, dimple, smirk, simper or leer and you could find yourself in deep water! Fortunately, my online Thesaurus warns about this. “Choose the right word’ it tells me, and goes on to explain why.


What word would you use to describe this colour of eye?

Similarly, if I want to describe my heroine’s blue eyes, Roget’s suggestions include azure, cobalt, sapphire, navy, midnight, electric, indigo, royal, air force, robin’s egg, peacock, ultramarine, steel, slate and cyan, each of which will conjure a different image in your readers’ minds. But wait – ‘cyan eyes’? I don’t think so. ‘Electric blue eyes’? Hmm. Rather a startling image!

To be used with caution, then – but I confess that Roget’s Thesaurus is one of the most useful tools in my writing kit (equipment, gear, tackle, resources, toolbox).

As for Mr Roget, he spent most of his life actively involved in medicine. He was one of the founders of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, which later became the Royal Society of Medicine. He later became this body’s Secretary and had a full and distinguished career, retiring in 1840, at the age of 61, to prepare his Thesaurus. It was, Wikipedia tells me, an avocation. I confess I had to look this up in a dictionary. It means a hobby a person engages in outside their main career and that often becomes the activity that defines them.

I looked it up in my Thesaurus, but it offered no alternative words. Mr Roget is unique in his own world.

Do you use a Thesaurus when you write?