Category Archives: Writing Thrillers

This is the method I adopt in creating characters and developing plots.



Back at my desk I now have time to reflect upon my recent trip to that little paradise in the Atlantic, Madeira. ‘Shadows in Sunshine’ gave me the excuse to visit the island again to launch the book in its actual setting, and with the help of Bruno Silva’s team at the Real Canoa, Livraria Esperanca bookshop and the Pestana Hotel Group the week long event proved to be the most memorable in my writing career.

The event coincided with the Madeira Literary festival where I spent long periods on five of the days at the Livraria Esperanca stand. Thanks to their organisation the books had arrived from the UK in time and were displayed in pride of place.
















A celebration of the launch was held at the Real Canoa restaurant slightly out of the centre of Funchal at Ponta Cruz and hosted by Bruno Silva and Alicia Gomes who laid on a remarkable buffet for the guests. Thanks to photographer Thomas Taylor and Alicia Gomes the event was well recorded on camera. The lovely Agnese Alde provided delightful background music throughout the event.7061d1be181c4912b39e33f5651cd30c







































It was thanks to Paula Severino’s hard work and organisation that the four talks at the Pestana Group hotels went well, as did the talk arranged by Carla Camacho at the Vidamar Resorts hotel and the staff of the Girassol hotel who hastily organised an extra venue for me. As usual my memory failed me regarding having photographs taken of the talks.

Like most hectic events that seem to pass in a blur, it is only now as I sit calmly at my desk that I recall my conversations with the many delightful people that I had the pleasure of meeting during my stay. I am always amazed at the interest people have in the way an author works and invariably find fresh questions to answer once the formal talk is over.


The dark parts of ‘Shadows in Sunshine’ draw on the politics of North Africa and the Euro crisis and its effect upon the people of Madeira. That I hope will not disturb the tourists’ enjoyment of the island!


Disruptive Characters

Having just chopped ten thousand words out of the manuscript of my latest book I sit here wondering how many other authors have been through similar experiences.
To say that the character I removed from the plot was disruptive is in a way disingenuous, as the lady concerned was beautiful, intelligent and sincere in her affections. Considering that my hero has been through three unpleasant adventures, without the joys of feminine companionship and affection, I felt it about time I balanced the books as it were. The idea started off well in that I chose to re-introduce a character from a previous novel, who Vaughan had shared some of his dangerous moments with. One would think that such a character who understands the life he

A pause for thought

A pause for thought

lives would be an ideal companion, but that turned out to be totally wrong.
In chapter seven I found myself struggling to justify their coexistence and finally realised that her remaining in the book was slowing things down and seriously disrupting my plot.
To make sure that I was making the right decision, I went back to the very beginning, and started to read my manuscript through very carefully. In analysing her role I discovered that she not only failed to fulfilling her function, as drama relief for my hero, but equally important failed in furthering the plot itself; both functions that I felt I had achieved well with Amelia de Lima in ‘Shadows in Sunshine’.
What I found was a romance almost separate from the main story, detracting from a drama and acting like sea anchor slowing the whole thing down. Sadly she had to go, and Ian Vaughan continue his lonely existence, possibly. Like all disruptions, their disappearance leaves a void, a vacuum that must be filled, and that is now my task, thankful that I discovered my error before the vacuum became too large to fill.

Joys, Fears and Overriding Need – An Author’s Thoughts on Reviews.

Writing is in reality a form of art, and authors worldwide strive to put onto the page words that will form a clear picture in the reader’s mind. Like an artist’s picture an author’s work, when published, is also held up to public scrutiny and comment; that is the true test of their skill.

Taking in the scene

Taking in the scene

Once our book is launched, and promotion copies issued, there follows that period of suspense. At first it is a phone call or email from a friend saying how much they enjoyed the book, but that is not enough, for we seek the stranger’s review, as this has no loyalty of friendship but purely the desire to honestly recommend or slate the work, and herein lies the fear. Does our work, our months, even years of toil achieve our aim, be it to entertain or inform. At the end of a play the audience express their opinion by the level of their applause. A book’s reader applause is measured by constructive reviews, be they good or critical, they inform the author and satisfies our need to know; but silence tells us nothing. Please don’t keep us in the dark.


Do you write book reviews? I would be delighted to know.

The best advice one can give to a young person thinking of going to university is ‘read for a degree in a subject that you enjoy learning about’. Similarly I have often heard and read advice to those thinking of writing a book, ‘write about something you have knowledge of and have an interest in’. So here I am in my office, writing the second scene in chapter two of my fourth novel amongst Bougainvillea, Frangipani and borders of bright orange Canna Lilly. The hotel swimming pool has a slightly off-putting greenish tinge to the otherwise clear water and the tea is served with UTH milk. Above, the sky is an unbroken blue canopy and in the windy city of Lusaka, the breeze keeps the temperature, in late July, to a comfortable level.

Beautiful Bougainvillea

Beautiful Bougainvillea

My characters in this scene are on the run and had, until this moment, thought they had evaded their pursuers. Soon they must run again, going south down a road I have travelled many times in the past, to the border where one of Africa’s mightiest rivers flows. I must now choose whether they divert and follow the direction that David Livingston took towards the magnificent Mosi-oa-Tunya Falls or continue along the route down which Cecil Rhodes ambitions came.

Today is the perfect day for my rememberings, with the sun shining from a beautiful blue sky, a lily plant outside of my office in full bloom, and the Acer tree nearby looking vaguely like the Acacias I used to admire around Kafue township. I am reminded of half forgotten scents and colours, the red dust from the murram clay of the road’s hard shoulders and the smell of Mopane wood burning on the village fires. Above all, when I close my eyes, I recall that feeling of insignificance amongst such a vast landscape, mixed with the thrill of the sights and sounds of the African savannah.

I think I am going to enjoy this.

My Writing Process – The Blog Tour

Thanks to my friend and fellow author Richard Hardie for inviting me to participate in this new blog tour. It’s like a virtual studio open house tour. I met Richard at a World Book Day event and we exchange emails and experiences and have read and reviewed each other’s work…. Favourably I would add!

To look at Richard’s writing process go to



This is my contribution to the tour.



My writing time is currently split between writing my fourth thriller that has something of a chilling plot, and working with my publishers Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie in getting ‘Shadows in Sunshine’ into print.



The Ian Vaughan series have all included some sailing in them. In a way they follow the concept originally presented by Erskine Childers in his book ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, but I also carry a parallel storyline on shore. This has set them apart from all of the many thriller authors I have read to date, though I doubt if I am unique amongst present day writers. Like the big boys in the thriller-writing world I work hard on research for my books to ensure that the plots are as believable as possible.



I came to be a writer more by accident or rather incident than design or desire. It is strange how things in life happen to put one on a completely different course. At the time of the accident/incident I worked for a major Japanese Trading Corporation as a Project Administrator/Marketing Executive. The job entailed a lot of travelling and I spent many hours sitting in London’s Heathrow Airport waiting for flights to one country or another. On one such occasion I was doing my normal file reading preparation, ready for the meeting I was travelling to attend, when the crowd movement drew my attention to two very threatening looking individuals. So great was their impact upon me that I closed the file and started to write the first page of ‘A Cast of Hawks’. In the months that followed I continued to use my travelling time to write more of the story, completing five or six chapters. Then came a change of career and the time for writing disappeared, so the manuscript was put aside for twenty five years until, in retirement, a chance remark led to friends reading the partial work and insisting that I complete it.

Even at this stage my writing was more occasional, and when the mood took me, rather than a disciplined approach. That was until my friends insisted that I hone the work and submit it for publication. “You’re serious?” I asked. “Yes we are serious,” they replied, and at that moment a disciplined approach was adopted. Now my approach is to follow a sequence. One, establish the main plot. Two, consider sub-plots, and their timing. Three, characters required. Four, start research. Five, start writing and aim to complete at least a page a day of viable text. There are, however, hick-ups to this, caused by the need to do a part-time job to fund trips to book signing events, and the endless marketing. So the writing days become extended, and on those, two or more pages must be done to maintain my target.

I am fortunate to have a pleasant garden office in which to weave my plots and paint them in words upon the page.


‘A Cast of Hawks’ was finally completed in 2010 and was followed in 2012 by ‘Batsu’. Currently ‘Shadows in Sunshine’ is going through the publication process, and I hope that it will be available for readers to purchase in November. All three books follow the life of Ian Vaughan, once a happily married family man, now divorced and working as a spy.


I now tag Lee Fomes writer of the ‘L Shaped Village’ books that solve that amazing question that is on so many children’s minds, which is, ‘How does Santa Claus’ deliver presents world wide in one night.’

Visit Lee on his website


Decisions, decisions, decisions!!!

 I have recently sent off the manuscript of my latest book, ‘Shadows in Sunshine’, and today idly opened the file and started reading through it again. In the course of writing the book I frequently looked back to a previous section and almost every time thought of changes and perceived improvements to either the text or the plot itself. I am told that this is not a habit exclusive to me, as many authors have said they do exactly the same thing. As I read through four or five chapters this morning I again started to think of further changes and ideas, but later, whilst taking a break for lunch, I saw and read an illuminated text we have framed on the wall of our home.

“The moving finger writes and. having writ, moves on:
nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel
half a line or all thy tears wash out a word of it.”

These timely words of Omar Khayyam’s had me returning immediately to my office to close the file and await the judgement of my publishers, accepting that like most authors I will never be satisfied with my work.

Following this rather negative and dampening morning mood I returned after my meal feeling replete and refreshed to turn on the computer and open up a new file.

They say that as one door closes another opens and, to some extent that has been the case with the writing of the Ian Vaughan thrillers. To be honest, when I wrote ‘A Cast of Hawks’ I viewed it as a one off, and myself as a one-book author. It was as I neared the final chapters that someone asked the question, ‘What happens to this poor guy Vaughan and his family?’ That is a good question I thought, and the more I thought about it the more I needed to know for myself; after all the leader of the terrorist group was still alive and in a UK prison, whilst others of the gang were languishing in a Tokyo jail. In fact, the basis for a story of revenge was there, ready for the telling in ‘Batsu’, alongside the story of a wife’s inability to come to terms with the loss of an unborn child.

Throughout the writing of ‘Batsu’, Europe was suffering a major economic crisis and at the same time North Africa was plunged into political turmoil presenting me with the plot lines for ‘Shadows in Sunshine’ and another step along the life path of Ian Vaughan. The question my blank new file presents me with today is where do I go from here? The reason for my indecision is not the lack of plot lines, but more the fear for my hero’s life. Vaughan has been the main character of three books and now it must be decided whether, like James Bond, his career continues or whether he is retired from active service. I am now beginning to feel that, as with many other heroes in this genre, Vaughan’s fate lays more in the hands of the reader than my own, but will his many followers let me know I wonder?


Cheerful chatter at The Bookshop Lee on the Solent.

Cheerful chatter at The Bookshop Lee on the Solent.


For authors and readers alike this is, or should be, a very special day of the year. Sponsored by UNESCO to support reading, writing and copyright many bookshops hold special events. I was privileged to be invited to take part in an evening event at the excellent independent bookshop at Lee on the Solent, where, along with nine other authors we chatted with the invited enthusiastic readers who gathered there. Rick Barter who owns and runs this highly successful bookshop has again demonstrated his skills and dedication to books and the reading public.

As an author I thoroughly enjoyed this event where I met both readers of my own work and chatted to potential new readers about what I write and how the Ian Vaughan thriller series has developed. It was also the first public event where I could flag up the news of the third book in the series, which went to the publishers earlier in the week. If all goes well ‘Shadows in Sunshine’ will be out in the shops by Christmas.

One other aspect of the evening that I thought to be very positive was to have two publishers included in the guest list, for those wishing to discuss their own work. Jenny Knowles of Little Knoll Press was there busily talking to would be writers and I also saw Amanda Field of Chaplin Books there.

To those who have not attended World Book Day events in the past put a note in your diaries against 23rd April 2015, when I am sure that a bookshop near you will be putting on something special to celebrate the day. I know Rick Barter will at The Bookshop at Lee on the Solent, and hopefully I will be invited back.

A Winters Tale

Outside of my office the sky is grey and drizzle swirls in the ice breeze. The leaves on our willows trees and our beautiful acer are falling in cascades to the ground. Natures constant message that time is passing is more apparent today than normal, and I am reminded that it was two years ago when I typed the first words of ‘Shadows in Sunshine’.

As an author I live in many worlds, my own, those of my characters and in that world where time is controlled by the speed of my word selection and typing. When telling somebody on a train that I was an author he replied “Oh, not a proper job then.” At the time I felt a little hurt that my efforts and time commitment were not considered ‘Proper’. Today, however, in my current reflective mood, I must admit that he had a point, though had he used the word ‘normal’ the impact of his statement would have been less. For here I am, having spent many, many hours over the last two years describing the events, covering a period of no more than a month, in the lives of a dozen characters, and still I have two chapters to complete. In the end it will amount to about one hundred thousand words, plus the many words cast aside in the process of selection.

Time will tell whether my efforts will be rewarded, whether this author is, like the carpenter, worth his salt. I learnt this week that an author I much admire, Ian Rankin, worked on his crime novels for fourteen years before he ‘broke even’. How many people would consider that to be, a proper, normal job?


They say if you want to do something, and enjoy doing it, you will make the time to do it. In a recent discussion on Linkedin a contributor complained that as a new author, as yet unpublished, he found that there were not enough hours in the day. Let me here be quite honest; few writers can give up their day job even after getting published, so the hours dedicated to writing have to take precedence over any other leisure activity. The answer is usually family, television and sleep deprivation, a hard call when ones imagination is going through a lean patch. I am fortunate in that I am retired, but even then I have to work part-time in order to fund travel costs to promotional events such as book signings, and even in retirement there are many other calls on ones time.

The town clock Rouen

The town clock Rouen

Time must also be shared with research, marketing, your web page and responses to readers. On this list is also book signings, my favourite activity. There I meet my readers and we talk about the books and what plans I have for my characters. There I get feedback both good and not so good, but both of equal importance to me.

Once your manuscript is completed there is all of the tiresome work associated with it’s publication and that awesome task of galley copy checking in the hope that at last your work goes to print in perfect form.

They say if you want to do something, and enjoy doing it, you will make the time to do it. I really enjoy weaving and writing the plots so making the time is no hardship, though a bit more sleep would be good.