Guest Post – Robert J Barlow

Guest Post – Robert J Barlow

Today’s guest post deals with a subject that has affected me: writers block, and more importantly how to break the block. It is my pleasure to welcome author of The Laughing Man, Robert J Barlow, to Books and Beyond Reviews.
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Writers have a lot of different inclinations and areas of expertise and very few of us can claim to have mastered any aspect of the craft. There’s always things we can do more of, or do better, but one of the most significant obstacles we run into is writers block. Every writer gets asked for tips about it and I’m proud to say that this is the one area of what we do in which I can truly consider myself an expert. The one thing I have no shortage of is ways to break the block.

Step 1. Control Your Environment.

Find your best writing environment and rebuild it, it’s simple but not easy. Think back to the times you were really in the groove, what environmental factors did they have in common? Are you a desk person? A chair person? A bed person? Once you’ve established the facts you might even be able to make substitutes. If you write better at night because of no distractions you can go incommunicado for a few hours during the day, it might help.

Do you like music while you write? There are playlists out there for whatever mood you need. Do you need quiet? Noise cancelling headphones are expensive but available. Controlling environmental factors is the best way to build the mood.

Step 2 Remember your Platitudes

I know platitudes and quotes sound cheesy, but they do really help. Collect some things that smart people have said that you need to hear. Whether it’s Hemmingway’s ‘the first draft of anything is s**t’ or ‘fix it in editing’ or even Gaiman’s ‘you just keep writing the words until the story you want to tell is told, it’s that easy and that hard’. Having the right words available at the right time can get you past your insecurities hesitations and issues. Yeah it won’t absolutely fix the problems, that’s a slower process that requires real introspection, but it can get you through a bad moment.

Step 3 The Daily Grind

Writing isn’t something than can wait. There’s always going to be a good reason not to write, and other things you have to do and that is the easiest way to run out of time in the day and end up doing nothing. Whether you need to write first in the morning or before bed, schedule a time and stick to it without excuse or exception.

If nothing else, you have to write at least something every day, even if it’s an hour of staring at a screen writing about how you don’t want to be doing this you still have to do it. It’s the best way to get up the hill.

Step 4 Take a Break to do Something Else

Yes I know this sounds like it exactly contradicts what I just said, like everything else this has to be applied with intelligence. This isn’t an excuse to spend a week messing around ‘looking for inspiration’

I’m talking about taking ten minutes to get up and go for a walk, listen to music, have a coffee/cigarette/donut/whatever else. The trick is to keep it at the minimum break length to help, so you don’t waste time.

I would recommend a day as the maximum, go to the zoo, or see friends, or whatever, and then come home and get back to writing. Just don’t let it get in the way of the ‘one a day’ rule.

Risky Move 1 Switch Projects

It might be helpful to jump from one project to another for a while, while it might mess with your enthusiasm it might also give you a chance to get back into the habit of writing, which you can bring back into your main work.

It might also help to have a ‘reward story’ that you can write for fun, once you’ve made some progress on your long term project.

Risky Move 2 Skip Ahead

This is not advisable if there’s any other way to do this, start with all the other options, then use this if you need it but it can occasionally be useful to skip ahead to a cool part, to one of the things you really look forward to writing. Whether it’s the emotional confrontation, the twist, or the big fight scene writing a bit of what you enjoy most can help you get through the connecting parts.

Be warned, that can interfere with finishing the book long term, running out of cool parts to write can make the slog much harder, so again, only do it if you have to.


Remember why you love it.

This is my best advice, sometimes we get so lost in the difficulties and minutia of writing that we forget why we do it. We do this because we love it, because for some of us it’s the est part of our bad days and it makes our good days better. Remember what you love about the world, about the haracters, about the story that you want to share with the world. Take a moment to be happy that this is something you can do, something you enjoy, and remember why you value it.

Guest Post – Marie Kammerer Franke

Guest Post – Marie Kammerer Franke

Today I have the privilege of bringing you a guest post by author of science fiction and fantasy, including the book A Charming Nightmare. Marie Krammerer Franke tells us about how she became and indie author.
1We’ve all been there; lovingly turning our stories into print, cringing at the words we just wrote and holding down the backspace key for hours. You love it, it has a name, it’s a member of your family and now you are staring at the send button wondering what form of rejection your child is going to receive this time around.

Or, at least, that’s how I felt.  Hell, if I’m completely honest with you I couldn’t hit send.  Not the first time. It took a very dear friend to look over my shoulder and say “whatcha doin’?” and in the time it took me to turn around to mouth a syllable she had reached over my shoulder and hit that damn button for me.

And then we waited…
And waited….
And waited…
And then it came; “Thank you for your recent submission, we feel that your work is not the right fit for us, but we wish you well blah blah blah yadda yada yadda…”

That wasn’t so bad, they were polite in their mass-generated rejection.  Let’s try that again!

The more I hit send the more brazen agencies became:
“We feel that your novel is not suited for us, we feel that it is too ‘girly’ to be classified as true science fiction…”
“Thank you for your submission, if you could change A,B,C to this, that, and the other thing we would be happy to reconsider your work.”
“We would love to take on your story, it will be a challenge for us to market as is, please change blah blah blah and resubmit.”

This went on for a year.
It wears on you.  No matter how much you adore your baby, you start questioning it, I started considering their suggestions.  So, I took about 4 months away from my child.

When I went back to it, I fell in love all over again.  With it just the way it was.
And that is all it took for me to become an indie writer.
An Indie write is someone who is in control of every single thing having to do with the piece you created.  You are your books sole advocate, the only person who has any right to change, decide, suggest, ‘yay or nay’ anything having to do with your novel.  No agent asking for more innuendos, no editors highlighted re-writes, no lawyers, publicists, designers, advertisers, accountants, or loan officers.  Those are all hats you wear now as a single parent to your epic story.

This is how I did it, a sliver into one indie writer’s mind..


#1 Introduce yourself to the neighborhood
I tell people to become a drug dealer using free samples; give them a little bit and before the release they’ll be at your door twitchy, itchy, licking their lips, wanting more.  In that same breath I remind them that not everyone is their target audience.  I write science fiction/fantasy with a side of chick flick lit.  I’m not going to ask someone who solely reads Christian fiction if they want a hit off what I’m dealing.  Not at first at least. 
Remember that friend who hit ‘send’ for me?  She’s not only the only person in the world who can get away with such an action, but she’s also an amazing artist who owns a shop ( that is dedicated to everything fandom.  Months after my whole ‘I’m going to be a strong independent woman, you will not change my book!’ declaration she asked me if I wanted a spot on her website.  Never in a million years would I have imagined as a writer would come in the form of a clothing store!  But think about it…science fiction-fandom…chick flick lit-nerd girls!  Okie dokie, I’m right at home, let’s do this!  Each week Mortal Threads brought you an excerpt from A Charming Nightmare via Mortal Reads.  All in prelude of the book’s grand release.
Not everyone has a Mortal Threads at their fingertips (I licked it, it’s MINE), but you have everything you need to build a name on your phone.  Social Media is full of a plethora of people waiting to get their hands on stuff.  Writer’s Digest is another avenue to tap into; several times a year they hold writing competitions, if you place in their contests your writing gets displayed on their site, their magazine, and numerous other sites.  Google it, go ahead, here I’ll give you something to cut and paste…I promise you will not be disappointed.
How to promote your book before it’s published
#2 Don’t be afraid of the words Self-Publishing
Don’t be afraid when I use the term self-publishing, I know we all have visions of Xeroxed papers stapled together to be sold as our life’s work dancing around in our heads when someone suggests self-publishing.  I know, that’s exactly what I thought;  the folded sheets of copier paper, unprofessional 3 ring approach for binding, missing cover art.
Self-publishing has grown out of its baby babble into something overwhelming in choices.  I used Create Space (owned by Amazon).  Even before I uploaded my work into its system the choices took days for me to go through.  They cover you, literally, cover to cover. You can choose page colors, fonts, page sizes, numbers, cover art, gloss, matt. Once choices are made Create Space tells you to order a copy, a proof.  This is hands down a must, order it, and read every individual word.  Why?  I looked it over on the website.  I’ve read it a hundred times already.  Once you click the done icon you’ll get approved within 24 hours. You can make changes from there, but once you choose to go live Amazon can take 6-8 weeks to make changes and then those changes are considered a new edition of the book.  One that you’ll have to add into Goodreads and any other book groups you belong to including your copyrights.  This is how I ended up having a sentence that will forever read ‘I looked over to the person closet to me’ instead of ‘I looked over to the person closest to me.’
I didn’t touch on what I am sure is a vast wealth in cover art only because I didn’t use it.  Mortal Threads designed my cover using the Create Space specifications (again MT is mine…back off!)
The finished product was something that looked ‘store bought’, not handmade!
#3 It’s all about the Benjamins
Truth, it is all about the Benjamins.  While Create Space is free and they’ll help in getting the product out there once you hit ‘go live’ (they’ll make it appear on Kindle, Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Audio Books, make it accessible to library databases, and even give schools the opportunity to get it) you still have to decide on a price, and most of all YOU have to purchase your own books from them.  Don’t go beyond your means expecting to get rich instantly.  Not even J.K. Rowling was J.K. Rowling overnight.  Under no circumstance should a loan payment come out of your need to publish, nor should the opening of a new Master Card.  Instead I talked to my own Benjamin about Benjamins and together we set up an accounting system that would completely separate ACN from our personal finances, including a money max that we both could easily afford.  Remember, every penny invested has to be accounted for; you now have another thing to write down on your taxes.
#4 Your eyes ARE bigger than your stomach
I say this because you will want to purchase 10,000 copies of your own book…don’t (instead purchase 10,000 copies of mine, someone should benefit from your gluttony) Don’t say you won’t want to over order, I know you will, and I’ll prove it. 
“I’ll buy a copy, can I get it directly from you?  Will you sign it if I do?”
You’ll hear this from mom & dad, grandma, friends, cousins, your next door neighbor, the mailman, the checkout person at the grocery store.  In your head you’ll start a list ‘I bet Sally will want one, then there’s Uncle Don, my 10th grade English teacher, my co-workers, so and so, whoosy-whats-it. Before your first page is printed mentally have sold a thousand copies.  So you’ll buy a thousand copies at around $7.00 each and with a shipping rate of $25.00 per 50, anyone want to do that math?  It’s not common core so we should be able to see its $7,500 before tax.  But that’s ok, its easy money, Beth from accounting wants two, the barista at Starbucks wanted one-
But do they? 
Do they really? 
I ordered a book proof, and walked around with that proof proudly within reach for a month before the final product came out.  I showed and bragged and sold about 3000 copies in that time.  Do you know how many followed through when the shipment arrived?  13 Yup, you heard me right, 13 out of 3000 excited promises.  Luckily, I had bought 50, and 10 of those 50 I had other plans for.
#5 In a writer’s world free works both ways
So after your guaranteed sales from grandma, mom and dad, and your BFF, have a plan.  My plan was to do a giveaway or two.  Everyone loves free stuff right??? I did an Amazon giveaway. On an Amazon Giveaway you can set up requirements, I was new to twitter so I made it a requirement to follow me on twitter.  After 3 weeks I had 321 new followers, which may seem like nothing to you, but I created my twitter account the same day the Amazon Giveaway started so I would call it my free for their free.  An Amazon Giveaway is also your bank accounts cheat, you buy what you want to giveaway-5 Kindle copies of A Charming Nightmare-and in return Amazon gives you the royalties on 5 Kindle copies of A Charming Nightmare sold.
My Amazon Giveaway cost me $24.98-$17.24=$7.74

I also became a Goodreads author and did a Goodreads Giveaway.  5 signed 1st editions of A Charming Nightmare.  3 weeks.  900 people wanted a free book, surprise surprise, and what was my free?  Well, if you win a Goodreads Giveaway you HAVE TO review the book you won!  And here’s a bonus free, you as the author write up their ‘Congratulations you won’ message.  I simply added; ‘if you enjoy A Charming Nightmare feel free to write a review on Amazon as well!’ Amazon is a ratings run website, the more reviews and stars you get from verified Amazon customers the lower in ranking you get, the lower in rankings the closer to the top of their search engine you go!  On the day of its release ACN was ranked as 469,003 out of over 1 million, now, 2 months into its release, some sales, even more Kindle sales, and two reviews ACN has jumped to 21,157th in the science-fiction category.  Again, not even Stephen King was Stephen King when he started.


My next adventure in giving things away is going to be a Free on Kindle week.  A couple of other indie authors I’ve talked to said it is hands down the way to go (just don’t think about the lost sales when you see your download numbers).  One of them did 7 days free on Kindle, his books went from 50 downloads in 8 months to 152,265 in 7 days.  That was 2 months ago, as of today he had 3,200 in verified Kindle book sales, and a 30% increase in physical books sales.  A far cry from where he was a year ago!  Andy will tell you though, it is initially a kick in an author’s self-esteem to see how many people only want your book when you’re giving it away.
That is a very small list of commandments.  I know, it doesn’t even cover all the hats an indie author wears, but in essence you’re my competition!  Why would I tell you all my secrets?

Bangkok Belle by Ron McMillan

Bangkok Belle by Ron McMillan

Bangkok private eye duo Mason & Dixie are hired to provide protection to Australian soap opera star Belle Cooper, who came under vicious attack from the moment she announced her participation in a Bangkok pageant.

British Army veteran Mason and his transgender business partner Dixie already have their hands full with the disappearance of their colleague. Aom went missing while keeping watch on a night club owner called Chocolate, who is suspected of murdering her British husband, Robert Collingwood.

Mason & Dixie have to keep Belle safe while juggling threats posed by the corrupt police colonel who swept the Collingwood investigation under the carpet, the ex-IRA hit man who is Chocolate’s new boyfriend, and an ageing New Jersey mobster working for the Macau mafia.

Showdowns at an exclusive inner city resort and an abandoned fruit farm on the outskirts of the Thai capital take this fast-moving thriller to an explosive conclusion.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.

Bangkok Belle was something a little different for me. It ticked all of the boxes for a crime thriller; mystery, murder, suspense – all were found in good measure. An intriguing mystery wove itself throughout the story. But thanks to clever writing, it also brings transgender issues to the fore, without overplaying them.
bangkokbelleIn the early phases of the book there are two mysteries running simultaneously – the first, a ploy to terrorise Australian soap star Belle Cooper to keep her from joining the pageant in Thailand. The second mystery sees Dixie and Mason trying to workout what happened to Aom, a budding investigator looking into the disappearance of a British man who seems to have gone missing.

This pair of mysteries are fast paced and free flowing, but at times become a little complicated with the country-hopping. The book jumps to and fro, which seems necessary to allow for real time action, but with two involved mysteries with their own fast paced action does become a little difficult.

As Bangkok Belle progresses the two stories converge, their mysteries beginning to entwine and the bigger picture becoming slowly clearer. The action is intense, and sustained without becoming too exhausting, and the conclusion is interesting in the way it ties threads together. All in all, Bangkok Belle is a fun, action-packed story with interesting characters.

My rating:

It’s Killing Jerry Giveaway part 3

So this is it. The final run-in for my giveaway in partnership with author Sharn Hutton to promote her debut comedy-thriller It’s Killing Jerry. The fantastic prize includes a copy of the book, personally dedicated to the winner by Sharn, a “little blue dude” bookmark and 100g Lindt chocolate bunny all in a nice Spring-themed gift bag. If you haven’t entered yet, and live in the UK, you can click here to enter and be in with a chance to win! The competition closes at midnight UK time on Friday 31st March 2017. The winner will be announced alongside my review of It’s Killing Jerry on the 3rd of April 2017.

In the meantime, here is the third and final excerpt I have to share with you. I hope you enjoy!

Jerry’s lungs burned, but he battled on. Side by side at Solomon’s Gym in the village, he and Adam occupied the first two of a bank of twelve running machines that lined up parallel to the windows. Adam’s feet struck the whirring treadmill to the rhythm of the music gushing overhead. Jerry fought for enough oxygen to fuel one foot in front of the other.

From this first floor vantage point, he could see shopkeepers pulling down their shutters across the street and locking up for the night. Even though Solomon’s windows didn’t open, he was sure he could pick up the aroma of fried chicken rising from the shop below. His stomach growled.

Adam pounded on, chatting away with hardly a bead of sweat on his brow. To Jerry, he didn’t look like someone who’d been chained to a desk for the last six years. He was all lean muscle and bouncing hair.

“Screw Dinky. He’s a worm,” Adam was saying.

“Dinky, yeah, I’d forgotten you called him that.”

“School nicknames get a lot worse. If he hadn’t made such a fuss about it, it wouldn’t have stuck.” He paused for reflection. “I may have helped it to stick. I don’t remember, it was a long time ago.” Adam grinned.

“Yeah, right,” Jerry puffed out, stabbing at the treadmill controls to slow it to more of a manageable pace and then rolling to a stop. “Easy for you to say, anyway—the worm’s not your boss.” He staggered off the machine and bent to lean heavily on his thighs. Sweat dripped from his forehead to the thin blue carpet. Adam stepped off his own machine and stood by Jerry’s side.

“Be your own master, Jerry. Those bastards at BSL owned me for too long.”

“Yeah, must have been really shit being a top defence lawyer, earning bucketfuls of cash every time you walked into a room.” Jerry slumped against the exercise bike behind him. “I don’t understand why you’re giving it up, you loony.”

Adam cocked a scathing eyebrow and Jerry climbed onto the bike without enthusiasm.

“Four years at uni, Jerry; three more as a subservient dogsbody; another ten climbing the stinking ladder, just to get there—just to get to BSL. All that time and effort.” Adam shook his head, straddled his own bike and stood on the pedals. He pumped his feet to the relentless beat.

Jerry could see: Adam had sold his soul to BSL. His talent for getting off villains had earned him an invincible reputation and pay cheques that convinced him what he was doing was right. Of course he was in demand. Eighteen-hour days hadn’t been unusual and with the money pouring in it was crazy to stop, wasn’t it? Six years went by in a flash. Until McGinty: the nasty piece of work that tipped the balance. Now Adam was out for good.

Leaning on the handlebars, Jerry rested his forehead on his arm, chest heaving only slightly less. “Pathetic.” Adam jabbed without turning around. “Get your legs moving.” Jerry groaned and forced the pedals around without lifting his head. “I’m not sure if this is a good way to rekindle our friendship. You ignore me for years, completely disappearing out of my life. Then pop up all Buzz Lightyear and try to give me a heart attack.” Adam turned and scowled. “Buzz Lightyear?”

“Yeah, you know: saving the universe from evil; all biceps and bounce. It’s exhausting, even before you drag me to the gym.”

Adam snorted and went back to pedalling.

Jerry knew he was not a natural where exercise was concerned, but since passing the landmark of forty, his own mortality was bothering him. Telling Adam he wanted to get fit for the sake of his new wife and even newer baby had seemed like a good idea at the time.

They’d bumped into each other in the locker room after at least five years of not seeing one another. Lost in the excitement of seeing his old school pal, Jerry had admitted he was struggling to train. He was unaware that Adam had just left the job that ‘sucked the life from him’ and now had endless spare time in which to berate him for his flabby gut, jelly arse and bingo wings. A mistake. He should have remembered Adam was like a dog with a bone. Perhaps if he kept pedalling slowly he’d leave him alone for a bit.

“Free weights now, lard arse. Quick, there are two free spots.”

Oh good.

The gym was packed. The six ’til eight slot was always jammed with office workers squeezing in a flurry of activity before an evening slumped on the sofa. Solomon’s was a popular place. Situated on a smart run of local shops in the village, it occupied the first floor above Michael’s Deli, a barber shop and the ubiquitous Finger Lickin’ Chicken. Locals had made a fuss about the chain opening up there, saying that it spoilt local character, but fellow shopkeepers were glad to see it. Mr Solomon appreciated the symbiotic relationship between their businesses: exercise made you hungry and fast food made you fat.

Adam threw his towel down next to the mirror and motioned for Jerry to join him.

Jerry hated the free weights or, more specifically, Jerry hated the posers gathered in front of the mirrors using the free weights. Two free spots meant six others occupied by musclebound narcissists, flexing and grunting, posing for their peers and ogling their neighbours.

Adam held out two 10kg dumbbells for Jerry to take, then swiped a couple of 20’s for himself.

“Nnnngh. Nnngh. Yeah.” The beefcake in a tight cut-off leotard next to Jerry strained at his weights. Jerry swallowed back a little bile and turned his back on the mirror. “Think I’ll sit on the bench.”

“Healthy body, healthy mind, Jerry.”

“Don’t let me stop you. I know you want to get match fit for saving the world and everything.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the world a better place. God knows, I didn’t improve it keeping so much toxic waste out of prison.” Adam switched to work on his left arm.

“What I’m going to do, I don’t know, but for now, I’m all yours.” Adam stretched his arms wide to Jerry and gave him the benefit of his winning smile. Jerry shook his head, took up a weight and started a set.

“Hey, what you need is a little imagination. You don’t have to run around knocking yourself out. Take me, for example. Boring job, spend my days pumping up the hype for people to buy shite they don’t really need and my evenings trying to avoid dirty nappies.”

“You’re not selling it to me, Jerry.”

“I’m not finished. I may lead a humdrum life but, with a bit of imagination, I can turn it into something exciting. Earlier on, for instance, making up a baby bottle to keep the love of my life happy. Boring stuff? But no!” He wagged a finger at Adam’s increasingly incredulous expression, “Not if you put a bit of imagination into it. Plastic bottle? No. Bomb case grade titanium canister. Milk formula? No. Hydro bomb primer.”


“Never mind. The point is that I am no longer Jerry: career-stunted, shit beleaguered new father, I am Remi: sports-car-driving secret agent sex god. You see? It’s all about what you make it.”

“But it’s not real.”

“Doesn’t matter. Perception governs experience, Adam. You’re all dissatisfied and lost. No need! Imagine yourself happy!”

Adam’s face scrunched. “Nah, I need a change. I can’t just pretend that the last six years didn’t happen. There are consequences, Jerry. I have to make amends.”

“Live out your dreams in your imagination—you can achieve anything!”

“Still not real.” Adam shook his head and turned back to the mirror, checking the angle of his arm.

“Look, OK, you’ve got me. You can’t pretend to go to work and earn pretend money because obviously the pretend food at the pretend supermarket isn’t all that filling. But it’s something to keep you going. Remi lives it up in my imagination: goes on adventures; total babe magnet; lives the life.” Jerry’s cheeks were starting to burn.

“And what’s he doing now?” Adam enquired with creeping sarcasm.

“Acapulco. On a mission for MI5.”

“And you think I’m a loony.”

“Look, it’s just a little light relief, OK? Something else to think about through a nappy change or a dull meeting. Remi gets to do all the stuff that I don’t. It’s all the excitement I get these days.” Jerry plonked his weights down onto the rack. “I’m going for a shower.”

Adam’s eyebrows dropped back into their normal position. “OK. Enough for today eh? Let’s go.”

Jerry scooped up his water bottle and strode for the exit. The thought of a post workout pint had given him an extra surge of energy and he pushed open the door grinning at Adam over his shoulder.

“To infinity!” he said, punching the air. Adam rolled his eyes and flicked Jerry with his towel.

“Bugger off, Jerry,” he said.

It’s Killing Jerry Giveaway Part 2

With my giveaway for Sharn Hutton’s comedy thriller It’s Killing Jerry well underway now, I thought I would give you all another taster in case you still need persuasion to enter! Having read the book myself, I can attest to how good it is, and that it makes for a fantastic read.

But don’t take my word for it – enjoy this second little excerpt straight from the book, and if you haven’t yet entered the giveaway, click here to get in on the action. It’s easy to enter, just carry out any or all of the entry options on the Rafflecopter page in the link! I hope you enjoy this excerpt, and come back later in the week for more!

Mama twisted the tissue in her hands. “Poor Maria! Her husband cut down in the prime of life. Poof! One minute he was painting the house then, wham! Broken back, fracture skull.” She dabbed at her eyes.

Sitting in the corner of the Cavalli sofa that Isabell liked for herself, Mama had been recounting family stories since mid-afternoon. Papa, who’d heard it all before, had escaped for an evening walk, but Isabell was trapped. She prowled back and forth in front of the empty open fireplace, gripping at her upper arms.

“All the family come to the hospital, but they could no save him. Poor Sal. So sad.” She made a hearty blow into the tissue. “Now she has to look after those children all alone.” She peered at Isabell over her glasses. “At least she has the children.”

Isabell turned her back and stooped to plump a cushion. Not this again. “Mama.”

“Hmm. Well, the family have pick her up and taken her to the heart. Sancho has finish the paint. It never look so good! And Alba picks the children up from school while Maria is at work.” She paused to peer at Isabell again. “Ibbie, why you no have a job? If you help to make the good home maybe Papa and I can have our grandchildren. Hmm?”

For once, Isabell was thankful to hear the backfiring Fiat bucking up the drive and stalked over to the window. It gave her an excuse to change the topic. “Jerry’s home at last.” Isabell scowled at her watch: 9:30. It was about time.

Jerry bounded into the house, scraping his gym bag along the two-hundred-pound-a-roll wallpaper before tossing it to the floor at the foot of the stairs. Isabell bit her tongue and scampered over to peck him on the cheek: the dutiful wife.

Jerry slapped her on the arse. “Evening, darling! Had a good day?” Isabell wobbled backward. What the hell did he think he was doing? He pushed past her toward the kitchen. “Chuck that in the wash, would you? Any dinner? I’m starving.”

Isabell stood, jaw flapping, for a moment before catching her mother’s eye, who was shooing her after her husband. Isabell hoiked up a smile and scuttled into the kitchen.

“What the fuck are you doing?” she hissed.

“Back from a hard day at the office,” Jerry bellowed as Mama appeared in the doorway. Isabell felt her presence and switched on the goddess.

“Chicken salad OK?” she simpered. Jerry flopped into a seat at the table and shoved Isabell’s flower arrangement backward, away from the middle. He knew it would annoy her.
“Again? Oh all right, if that’s all you’ve got.”

He’d pay for that later. The Domestic Goddess routine was all very well, but Isabell only had a few dishes that she could make. With Mama peering over her shoulder all the time it was difficult to pass ready-made stuff off as her own. Jerry was going to ruin things if he carried on like this. She rummaged around in the fridge, cursing under her breath.

“I say to Ibbie, why she no get a job.” Mama sat down opposite Jerry at the polished oak table. Isabell seethed behind the fridge door. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Jerry’s undoubtedly smug expression.

“A job? Yes, that’s a marvellous idea, darling.”

“Great. I look tomorrow.” Isabell cut the comment dead and tossed a selection of salad and a half-eaten chicken carcass onto the pale stone counter. She snatched a knife from the block and hacked at its flesh.

“I’ve got a business trip coming up, darling, so you can lay off the gourmet menus for a few days.” Jerry snorted a laugh at Mama then went on to examine his fingernails. A business trip? A likely story. It was just another excuse not to play ball.

“Really? Oh?” She scowled at Jerry just long enough for him to see, but not Mama. “Where are you going?” Let’s see what he can come up with.

“Las Vegas Convention Centre. TEKCOM. It’s a huge event. Locksley’s trusting me to represent the firm.” Jerry buffed his nails on his trousers and gave her a grin.

“Is that right? Well that is news. How long will you be away?” Little shit. He wasn’t keeping to his side of the bargain here at all. How could he pretend to be her doting husband if he was out of the country? She spun the knife’s point on the work surface, drawing a thin squeal from the stone.

“Oh well, the exhibition is on for five days and I’ll need a couple of days either end for travel and recovery.”

“Travel and recovery,” she echoed through gritted teeth.

“Yeah, so about ten days.”

Isabell annihilated the salad and threw a heap onto his plate followed by the hacked chicken. She clonked the plate down onto the table in front of him. Jerry wolfed it down, made a big show of stretching and yawning and after saying how terribly tired he was from all his hard work, sauntered off ‘to bed’.

Isabell heard the Fiat backfire on the corner, but Mama didn’t seem to notice.

“No worry about it,” Mama said at last, “Is just a business trip. He works to make the good home.”

“Yes, yes.” Isabell wasn’t sure how to play it. Was she pleased that her husband worked so hard, or upset that he was going abroad while her parents were visiting? Jerry was irritating her so much it was clouding her judgement.

“You are lucky. He’ll be back. Think of your cousin Maria. Her husband will never come home again.”

That might not be so bad. Distinctly appealing, in fact.

“You know, Ibbie, life can take you on many different paths. A good choice here…” Mama waved her hand, “A bad choice there… Fate will have its way. Think of Cousin Angelina.” Isabell winced, God forbid she got her fate.

“She thought she was the modern woman asking for divorce. A bad choice. Where did it get her? Ostracise from family that’s where. No-one want to know her. Flouting God’s law! Selfish whore!” Mama crossed herself, got up from the table, ambled to the kettle and switched it on, calm again. “Is strange. You think of Maria and Angelina. Both single women now and how different their lives have turn out. The family can no do enough for Maria. Fate. I’m telling you.”

Isabell wiped the knife clean and slid it back into the block. Didn’t you make your own fate?

It’s Killing Jerry Giveaway

Today I am thrilled to bring you the first ever giveaway through Books and Beyond Reviews. Author Sharn Hutton is giving away a fantastic little gift back to one lucky person here on my blog. The winner will receive a personalised, signed copy of her comedy thriller, It’s Killing Jerry, alongside a tasty 100g Lindt gold Easter bunny and a “blue dude” bookmark all packaged up in a nice Spring-themed gift bag:
It’s open to UK residents and I’ll be running the giveaway using Rafflecopter, where you will find a variety of options for you to enter including visiting Sharn’s Facebook page, visiting my Facebook page, following Sharn’s Twitter account, following my twitter account and Tweeting a magical message. You do as many or as few of these as you like to gain entries into the draw for this brilliant prize, just click here.

The competition is open as of now and will run until the 31st of March at midnight UK time. I will announce the winner at the end of my review of It’s Killing Jeremy on the 3rd of April. Now, to whet your appetites for It’s Killing Jeremy, please enjoy this excerpt from the book!

Rachel clung to the wooden banister to stretch across the squeaky step. She wasn’t going to risk disturbing Peanut, not now when she was so close to a few precious minutes of peace.

The kitchen door thudded shut too loud behind her and Rachel froze, listening and holding her breath.

“No, no, no,” she pleaded, looking to the ceiling. Remembered shrieks of pain or hunger or plain old bad temper scratched at the back of Rachel’s eyes, waiting for their echo. They pulled up short the muscles in her chest and plugged her throat.

“No more, please.” She pressed her forehead against the door and waited. Ten seconds passed without event. Twenty. Thirty. She dared to breathe and moved away.

The kettle clicked and popped the water at its base and Rachel settled her bones at the kitchen table. Envelopes fanned in a toppled stack, all addressed to Jerry and unopened. Rachel slid the uppermost toward her and worried at its corner. Something from the council. Why didn’t Jerry open them?

She tugged at her waistband and lamented the flesh still clinging to her stomach though the baby was long out. When would it ever go? The kettle rattled on, bubbles tapping at the sides. She stretched out both arms across the table top and lowered her cheek to the cool smooth pine, just to close her eyes for a moment and then she’d make some tea.

The train was longer than she’d realised. A narrow corridor that stretched on into infinity and curved away to places unseen. It rocked in a gentle rhythm that matched her stride.

Clickerty-clack, clickerty-clack.

She strode on, relaxed in its warmth and curious to see where the corridor led. A buffet car perhaps? She felt in her pocket for change, and found instead a handle, smooth and curved. She pulled it free. A long surprising blade glinted in the fluorescent light and a breeze whipped at her hair. It was hers, she’d always known it. Too long and sharp to negotiate back into her pocket, she let the knife hang limply by her side.

The train lurched sideways, clickerty-CLACK and she had to raise her other hand to steady herself. Her palm pressed into the grubby wall, sticky fibres squelching up between her fingers. Rachel snatched her hand away, revolted.

Clickerty-CLACK, it rocked hard again, but Rachel kept her feet, moving faster now, breaking into a run to find the end. Cold air rushed down the corridor toward her. Missing windows left great yawning holes, thick darkness outside.

Clickerty-CLACK. There at the end, a door, at last. She grabbed the handle and yanked it up. The door fell away and she found herself so very high that sweat prickled on the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands.

Clickerty-CLACK. A lurch too big to hold on and she was lost, falling, the knife gripped firm in her right hand. A noise too loud and her face pressed hard against the ground.

“Rach? You asleep?”

She lifted her head, clammy flesh peeling from the table top.

“Anything to eat? I’m starved.”

Jerry. Sleep hung heavily at Rachel’s shoulders and she blinked away its mist. Her hands were balled into fists that ached with tension. She uncurled stiff fingers and rubbed at nail marks pressed into her palms. The knife.

“Something in the fridge,” she managed and Jerry turned his back on her to dig noisily through its shelves.

“What time is it?”

“Just gone midnight.”

So late. What was she doing here? Her back complained as she tried to sit up. “You’ve just got in?”

“Well, duh.”

He’d been with Isabell all this time. “Why have you been so long?”

“Well you know Isabell.” Jerry shifted from foot to foot and ran his fingers through his hair. He pulled a selection of things from the fridge to construct a sandwich. Rachel knew Isabell much more than she wanted to.

“So what did she want?”

“Nothing a handyman couldn’t have fixed,” Jerry mumbled through a mouthful of cheese.

“Well that’s what you are, Jerry, hmm? A handy man.”

Jerry shrugged, but kept his back to Rachel. “Her gate got whipped back by the wind and came unhinged.”

“How appropriate.”

Jerry snorted at that.

“And this puts her life in peril, does it?”

“Hey, I never said that, but you know how she is.” Jerry took a brief look over his shoulder at Rachel. She couldn’t summon up a scowl and just gazed back with empty eyes.

“Looks like I might be in more danger,” he said just loud enough for her to hear.


Bloody woman. Was Jerry not aware of all the things that needed fixing around their own house? She felt her heart beat harder in her chest and with it came the energy of exasperation. The balance here was off.

“Since when do you do DIY? Lots of life-endangering inadequacies here to fix, you know.” She rose from the table and paced the room to point things out.

“The piece of skirting by the door that continually falls over and snags at your socks; the plumbing that hammers throughout the house every bloody time you use the tap; the holes in the wall where the cookbook shelf used to be; the sodding flap in the vinyl that catches on the back door every time you open it and the draught excluder that’s still in the damn pack.” Rachel waved the box at him with a flourish.

Jerry took a large bite from his sandwich, gaze fixed on her the whole time.

“Ugh. Why do I bother?” She squeezed closed her eyes and leaned back on the kitchen counter. She and Jerry side by side but disconnected, neither looking at the other. She drew in a breath to bolster her: there was something that had to be said.

“The thing is, Jerry, I’m struggling here. Everything’s so… unstable. Peanut, well, I never know where I am with her.” Her throat clenched and she had to pause, not wanting to cry.

“I’ve got no control of anything anymore. When I was working, it was different. There were goals to achieve, you know?”

“Oh sure,” Jerry interrupted, “You knew where you were. How to achieve results.”


“Get that commission.”

“Well no, not really that. I didn’t earn commission. I mean, I was someone. A real person.” Rachel stared down at the floor through a forming film of tears.

“Now I just feel like I’m fading away.”

Jerry munched beside her. “Go back to work then. Get a job.”

Rachel shook her head. “I’m so tired, Jerry. I couldn’t do it.”

It was all she could do to get through the day. The relentless baby timetable ruled her life and there was something more, an elusive element that made it so much worse: hours of crying after feeds that Rachel couldn’t find a way to stop. It ground her down, the first whimper taking her straight back to the end of hours spent trying to sooth, rocking and cooing, gnashing her teeth.

She looked around the room to find a way to escape the subject and settled on the letter stack.

“Jerry, why haven’t you opened those?”

Jerry rubbed at the back of his head and turned away, back to the second half of his sandwich.

“Is there a problem with money? You said it would be OK for me to stop working.”

“Hey, no problem.”

Rachel made her way back to the table and scooped up a handful of envelopes. “This is a problem, isn’t it?”

“It’s OK.” Jerry didn’t turn around.

“We’re not OK, are we? God, I could kill you sometimes!” She slapped at the table.

“At least let me bump up the life insurance first, then you can pay off some debts.”

“So there are debts?”

Jerry rubbed at his face then pushed his shoulders back to stand taller. “No, course not,” he said, and then that laugh, too high and too long.

“Oh, Jerry, you didn’t? You haven’t?” Her suspicions were true. “We’re in the shit, aren’t we?”

“No, no, honestly, it’s fine.” Jerry bustled to the table, a sudden light in his eyes. He scooped the letters from the table and stuffed them into his work bag.

“I’ll deal with them tomorrow. I promise.”

Keep your eyes peeled here on Books and Beyond Reviews during the competition period where you’ll see a few more excerpts for It’s Killing Jerry!



Discussion: The many lives, travels and adventures of a bookworm

Discussion: The many lives, travels and adventures of a bookworm

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies”, said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one” – George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

I have read many books over the years – fiction, non-fiction, biographical, action, adventure, historical, futuristic, comic books, horror and fantasy. A lot of them I have read until they become battered, dog-eared, with spines broken and covers and pages coming free from their bindings (though not an issue for my Kindle books). I haven’t read any of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books, though I am a massive fan of the TV series. But I will. That said, I found this quote, and it really resonated with me. We wake up, eat, go to work, do chores, go to bed, repeat. But as readers, the second we open the cover, we slip in to the lives of the characters so well-represented in black and white on these pages. We live vicariously through them, or even alongside them if the descriptive narrative is that rich! But this quote for me doesn’t quite go far enough. It isn’t just the thousand lives we live through books, it is the myriad locales and exotic, alien, barren, urban or otherwise, locations that we visit, inhabit and explore whenever we pick up a book.

As a child I visited Badger’s House and Toad Hall in Wind in the Willows and crept through Mr. McGregor’s Garden with Peter Rabbit. In later years I experienced the horrors inside the possessed Overlook Hotel. I’ve walked the halls and classrooms of Hogwarts and strolled through the alleys and streets of Diagon Alley. And one of my favourites – I’ve wandered the cobbled streets of Ankh-Morpork and enjoyed a bar brawl or three in the Mended Drum.

The best authors create characters we connect with. They make us laugh with them, love them, loathe them. A good character is entertaining, a great character is real. The same goes for locations. If we can almost hear, smell and feel the surroundings, a book is far more engaging. The worlds created in our minds, constructed from varied combinations of the same twenty-six letters of the British language don’t have to be real. But if those letters are made in to words, and those words combined in just the right way, well, then they create something so vivid in our minds’ eye that the locations might as well be real.

Some people say reading a favourite book is like slipping in to a comfy pair of slippers. When I open my favourite books, I get a sense of going home – visiting a location I feel I know, somewhere I could walk blindfolded following my other senses thanks to the vibrant description. And when I read about characters in books I have read many times before, it’s like visiting old friends again. On a level, we know them, and how they work, what makes them tick, if the author has made them deep, multidimensional even.

So yes, a man who reads lives a thousand lives. But he also travels a thousand roads, in a thousand countries, worlds, galaxies, universes. He travels thousands of realities. A well constructed, brilliantly written book isn’t just an escape from reality, but it can be a whole new and wonderful place to visit, with different adventures to enjoy!

Who are your favourite characters and locations in books? Where do you go, and who with when you take your most loved book off the shelf and open the cover? Let me know in the comments section. 🙂