Tag Archives: Grey Cells Press

CrimeFest 2015


I shall be attending this year’s CrimeFest Crime Fiction Convention from the 14th to the 17th of May this year, and speaking on the panel ‘Crafting Crime: The Art Of Writing Crime Fiction‘ at 9:00 a.m. on the 15th. Don’t hesitate to stop and say ‘Hello’.

In the meantime, I am the featured author on the Crime Readers Association website for the whole of the month of April. Two blog posts are already live on the site: Lights, Camera, Write! and The Mystery of the Locked Room Mystery.

Update There are now two more of my posts on the Crime Readers Association website: The Butler Did It and Hidden In Plain Sight. Plus a bonus post from my fellow Grey Cells Press author Charlie Garratt: My Writing History.


Filed under Fiction, Springer

Westerby Gazette, 7th October 1962


Detective Inspector Willis of the Westerby constabulary later made the following statement:

I can’t really say much about this case, as it is still under investigation. I can tell you that we have now identified the body under the pier, but for operational reasons I cannot release that information to the press just yet. What I can tell you is that we are definitely treating this incident as murder. The post-mortem did give the cause of death as drowning, but there is additional evidence that indicates that we have something here that is rather more than a tragic accident. We now believe that the victim either fell from or was thrown from a ship in the Bristol Channel somewhere in the vicinity of Avonmouth docks, possibly following an altercation, and his body was then carried by the tide until it became entangled with the struts of the pier.

I would like to make it clear that any reports that you have heard that this incident is connected to organised crime are complete speculation, and I would particularly ask the press if they could keep to the facts of the case and not repeat these any of these unfounded accusations. Some of the wilder stories that have been circulating recently are not helping our on-going investigations.

A Fistful of Seaweed is published by Grey Cells Press on 15th September 2014.

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Filed under A Fistful of Seaweed, Fiction, Springer

Correcting Proofs

Back in those innocent days when I was merely an aspiring writer, I often heard about ‘real’ authors (that’s authors with books in bookshops) having to face the task of correcting galley proofs. This was the last input that the author made into the publishing process before the book was printed and sold to the public, the last chance that they had to correct mistakes (whether their own or those introduced by the typesetter) and the last chance they had to make any changes to the text. Back in those days, I thought that correcting galley proofs must be a rather exciting phase for the author. After all, this was the first glimpse that they had of seeing their own words actually set in the typeface of the finished book – the moment when the author gets an inkling of what their story is going to look like in print.

In this modern, electronic age, printed galley proofs are a thing of the past. Publishers now send out proofs as PDFs or as e-book files, but they still need correcting, of course – modern digital publishing hasn’t abolished typos yet, and the human eye is still the best technology to hunt them out. This past week I have been correcting the proof of the second of the Springer novels, A Fistful of Seaweed, and it has been an experience of mixed emotions.

First of all, it’s nice to see that my manuscript is now well on the way to becoming a real book. I mean, it actually looks like a book, with a proper title page and everything. On the other hand, it’s not so nice to find so many mistakes. I can cope with the little things – little slips of the fingers, slightly dodgy punctuation. They are to be expected and all can be corrected, easily enough. Some of the mistakes, however, must have been there in the original manuscript, despite the fact that I checked it so many times before submitting it. Perhaps I can be forgiven for writing ‘lead’ when I really meant ‘led’ but did I really write ‘severally’ when I really meant ‘severely’? Did I really use the word ‘place’ three times in the space of two sentences? How could I have written such clumsy sentences, and (more the point) why didn’t I notice any of this before?

So I go though the proof, line by line, noting every one of the little changes that need to be made. This takes more concentration than I was expecting, because I find myself getting caught up in the story (even though I know what’s going to happen) and I forget to check the things I’m supposed to be checking, like punctuation. Is everything quoted correctly? Are all the commas and full stops in the right places. Oh no, I’ve said ‘Mr Ackerman’ in one place and ‘Mr. Ackerman’ on the very next line. Why didn’t I spot that before?

You reach a point where you think: I must have found all the mistakes by now. But then you find another one. There can’t be any more, surely? But then there is another one. That must be the last, but you still have to carry on checking, just in case there’s another…

That’s the biggest problem of all: how do I know that I have found all the errors? I certainly spotted quite a few on the first pass, but I still found plenty on the second pass that I must have missed the first time round. Now on the third pass, I’m still finding mistakes. Is that it? Or are there even more?

Will I ever make this story perfect?

Which leads on to an even deeper philosophical question: Is there ever such a thing as a perfect piece of writing? One that can never be improved, whatever the author does to it?

That’s a question I think I will leave for others to answer.


Filed under A Fistful of Seaweed, Fiction, Publishing, Springer

Who is J. F. Springer, Private Detective?

I knew that this was going to be a difficult interview from the start. I had received some brief and slightly contradictory instructions on how to find a particular bar, hidden somewhere in the heart of the seaside town of Westerby on Sea; consequently I spent nearly an hour walking in circles and was late for the appointment. Only when I found the place did I realise that I had walked past the front door twice already, not realising it was my destination.

Even inside I wasn’t sure if it was the right place. Walking in from the bright sunshine felt rather like walking into a cave, and it was all I could do to stop myself tumbling down the steep stairs into the basement bar itself. I bought myself a drink, briefly marvelled at how cheap everything was in 1962, and told the barman I was looking for a man named Springer. He said nothing, but pointed at a table in the corner. My eyes were still having trouble adjusting to the light (or rather, the lack of it), so at first I thought the table was unoccupied, until a youngish, slightly nervous looking man rose to greet me. ‘I’m Springer,’ he said. He was wearing a brown raincoat (even though we were indoors) and a Fedora style hat lay on the seat beside him, almost as though he was reserving the place for a late arrival. There was nothing particularly outstanding about his appearance – he was the sort of person who could merge invisibly into a crowd and not receive a second glance from anyone. On the table in front of him stood a mug of beer, less than a quarter full. I got the impression that he had been eking out that one drink for as long as he could, waiting for me to arrive.

I sat opposite him, and we shook hands.

‘So, Mr Springer. What should I call you?’

‘Just Springer will do,’ he replied. I sensed a slight reticence, as though he didn’t like the idea of revealing too much about himself – not even, so it seemed, his first name. I thought it prudent, therefore, to start with some simple questions and see where that took us.

‘I understand that you’re not a native of Westerby, Mr Springer. So where did you come from, originally?’

‘The Midlands. Near Birmingham. That’s where I was born and brought up.’

‘And what brought you to Westerby?’

‘My father originally moved here for his health. Not that it did him much good. I came a little later, to look after him in his final days.’

Not a good start, then, to remind my subject of a recent bereavement. Perhaps a different tack was needed.

‘I am sure that most people wouldn’t realise that a quaint little seaside town like Westerby has a private detective.’

I noticed him cringe slightly, and wondered what I’d said wrong this time.

‘Well, I am in the yellow pages now. Anyone who wants to look me up—’

‘No, I mean, most people would think that there isn’t much call for a private detective in a sleepy little town like Westerby.’

‘Oh, well; wherever there are people gathered together in sufficient numbers, there is bound to be someone doing something illegal. Or at least immoral.’ He gave me a small smile. ‘Sometimes very immoral. A private detective can often come in very useful in those cases, gathering evidence, checking that people are in the place they’re supposed to be, that sort of thing. Did you really say “sleepy”?’

I confirmed that I had; he found something amusing about that, though he didn’t share what that was.

‘Are you able to tell me about any of your cases?’

‘No,’ he replied, curtly. ‘They’re confidential.’

‘Can’t you give me a brief summary? Without mentioning any names, of course. Just give me a flavour.’

‘Well, there are no murders, if that’s what you’re thinking. I leave all that serious stuff to the police.’ Then he took a deep breath and I sensed that he was already reconsidering that last statement. ‘Well, actually, there have been murders. Not that I’ve gone out of my way to look for them, of course. Recently, I’ve gone through a spell where trouble seems to find me. I suppose that’s the sort of thing that happens to private detectives.’

‘Really? Can you talk about it?’

‘I’d rather not be reminded, if you must know.’ He took a swig from his pint of beer.

‘Intrigue in the Bridge Club, that sort of thing?’

He frowned. My attempt at humour had clearly misfired. ‘No,’ he replied firmly. ‘If you must know, I’ve had to deal with some desperate criminals. Men – and women – who will stop at nothing to get their way. I’ve been that far—’ He held up his finger and thumb, a fraction of an inch apart. ‘That far away from being shot. If you think that I inhabit some cosy Agatha Christie type world, with cyanide in the Wincarnis, then—’

‘No, no, no,’ I said, eager to clear up the misunderstanding. ‘I didn’t realise that sort of thing would happen in a place like Westerby on Sea.’

‘As I said: wherever there are people in sufficient numbers, then someone is doing something illegal.’

‘In that case, do you work closely with the police?’

He scratched his head. ‘My relationship with the police is, erm… complicated.’

‘Can you expand on that?’

‘Let’s just say that when our paths have crossed, it’s not necessarily been to our mutual benefit. I try to keep out of their way and I think they appreciate that.’

‘Would you say you are a systematic or seat of the pants kind of detective?’

He took a few seconds to think about this. ‘A bit of both, I suppose. I try to be systematic. But… well, things tend to happen. Unexpected things. Then I have to sort of make it up as I go along.’

‘You solve the mystery in the end, though, don’t you, Mr Springer?’

He gave me a hard look. ‘I’m still alive, if that’s what you mean.’

‘So what made you want to become a private detective in the first place?’

‘Books, stories. Reading Raymond Chandler, mostly. And movies. I like detective films. I suppose you could say that I’m a bit of a film buff.’

‘In those films there’s usually a femme fatale. You know the sort: a sultry blonde with a mysterious past. I just wondered if – well, you know?’

He bit his lip. ‘No comment,’ he replied.

‘My readers would be very interested to hear. No need to give details, of course…’

‘Well, I do meet all sorts. And I admit that some of the women are… interesting. They have their own ways of getting what they want.’

Another swig of his beer, this one more of a gulp than a sip.

‘I suspect that reality of being a detective is not as glamorous as the films, though, is it?’

‘No; but I knew that before I started. The job has its ups and downs, like any other job. It’s not much fun when someone points a gun at you or decides to lock you in a cellar – but there is some satisfaction to be had when some bad guy is being led away in handcuffs.’

He drained his pint mug. ‘Can I get you another drink?’ I asked.

He shook his head. ‘I’ve got a case to investigate. It’s one that’s threatening to get complicated, and if I don’t get results, I won’t get paid.’

‘I won’t keep you any longer, then, Mr Springer. Thank you for the interview.’

Before he left, he took his wallet out of his pocket and extracted a business card. ‘If you’re ever in the area again and need a private detective,’ he said, putting the card into my hand. ‘I charge twelve and sixpence an hour, plus expenses. Though if I suspect there’s something fishy about you, it’s fifteen shillings.’


Springer’s first adventure, Five and a Half Tons, is to be published by Grey Cells Press (an imprint of Holland House Books) in August, 2013.


Filed under Fiction, Five and a Half Tons, Springer

Where is Westerby?

That is a difficult question to answer, considering that Westerby is not a real place. Or more to the point, it is not entirely a real place. Just like anything else that you read about in a story (like the characters who resemble people you know without being anyone in particular) Westerby resembles many real seaside towns without actually being any of them.


I’m sure you know the sort of place I’m talking about. The seaside towns with a pier and penny arcades and donkeys on the beach. The ones with shops that apparently survive by selling nothing more than plastic buckets and spades, postcards, ice cream, sticks of seaside rock and various cheap and colourful souvenirs. The towns that are crowded to overflowing on a Bank Holiday Monday, yet are virtual ghost towns on any weekday in February. The places where the children have their fun during the day, and you strongly suspect that the grown ups are having their fun after dark.

Some people might describe Westerby as “seedy” and “down at heel”, and there may be an element of truth in that. Certainly the place is a little past its best, and could do with a lick of paint here and there, but there are those who consider that just a hint of decay and decadence gives the town character. Explore only a short distance from the seafront, and you will find some odd looking bars that make you wonder how they ever managed to obtain a drinks licence. You will certainly be enticed by the smell of deep-fried batter and vinegar from the fish and chip shops, as it mixes with less identifiable odours from restaurants offering exotic, foreign cuisines to tempt the adventurous palate. You will be intrigued by nightclubs that try (but fail) to emulate much classier establishments on the French Riviera – they may only advertise dancing and cocktails, but few people can peek in through the brightly lit doorways without the passing thought that less innocent pleasures may be on offer within.

For where there is temptation, you are likely also to find crime – everything from a card sharp relieving some gullible visitor of a quid or two in a game of “Find the Lady” all the way to extortion and murder. In a town where visitors flow in and out like the tide, a fugitive criminal looking for sanctuary might consider Westerby a suitable place to remain incognito. A drunken brawl that breaks out after the pubs have closed might not be as spontaneous as it first appears. And in the depths of the night, who knows what cargo might be unloaded from a small boat, surreptitiously drawn up on the beach at high tide.

The police try their best to keep on top of it, of course, but there are so many things that they don’t have the time nor the inclination to deal with. So what Westerby really needs is a private detective.

Luckily, it has one…

Five and a Half Tons is to be published by Grey Cells Press (an imprint of Holland House Books) in August, 2013.

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Filed under Fiction, Five and a Half Tons, Imaginary Places, Springer