© 2016 by Catherine Bilson

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November 13, 2019

What this book is REALLY going to tell you is that there are no easy answers. With thousands of books being released every day, if you don’t want yours to disappear from view instantly, you’re going to have to actually market it. Even if you’re with a mainstream publisher, you as the author will still have to do something, from book signings to library talks. Self-publishers have to do everything, or risk sinking without trace. And being self-published myself, I can tell you, it can seem appallingly daunting. There are so many options, and it’s easy to let it overwhelm you or take over your life to the point where you have no time to actually write (been there, done that). 

If you’re finding the whole thing overwhelming, this book will give you a lot of places to start which are quite small. From optimizing Amazon keywords to hitting up book...

November 3, 2019

First of all, let me just comment that this book isn’t just for romance writers. If you’re a man concerned about his work ever winding up featured on the @menwritingwomen Twitter account, for example, or you’re terrified of one day being nominated for the Bad Sex In Fiction Award, you should make this book required reading, because the authors definitely know what they’re talking about, and they disseminate the knowledge in easily-digested, comprehensible chunks paired with sensible exercises to improve your writing. 

One of my favourite exercises, for example, is a suggestion to improve your ‘first meeting’ scene by writing a scene set 50 years on, where your characters are reminiscing about their first impressions. This really makes you focus on what makes that particular scene memorable, what will make it exciting to the reader.

The title...

October 22, 2019

With 100 books to her name and over 35 million copies sold worldwide, Leigh Michaels knows a thing or two about writing romance, and in this fantastically thorough guide, she shares a great deal of it in easy-to-understand language. Divided into four parts, the first three cover the actual writing process, from deciding what kind of romance novel you’re writing through establishing the framework - and making sure you plan to include everything a reader expects to find in a romance - to actually writing the book. There’s a lot of solid information here about story structure, how and when to use narration and dialogue, plot devices and character building etc. While writers in other genres will definitely learn something, this is genuinely invaluable advice for aspiring romance authors who have yet to learn all the conventions of the genre (an...

October 21, 2019

Those with an interest in true crime - and indeed, those who have watched the TV series Mindhunters - will have heard of at least some of the serial killers featured in this book. Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, Andrei Chikatilo, Dennis Nilsen, Richard Ramirez, Jack the Ripper and Elizabeth Bàthory are names of which most are aware. There are plenty of others here I hadn’t heard of, though, including Fritz Haarman, Gilles de Rais, Joachim Kroll, Adolfo Costanzo and Anatoly Onoprienko. While by no means an exhaustive list of serial killers, nor confined to only the most prolific, what the murderers in this collection have in common is their bloodlust. They all took sick, depraved pleasure in butchery, many of them descending to cannibalism.

If you plan to read this, make sure you have a strong stomach and don’t read while trying to eat. While the ac...

October 12, 2019

Having grown up in the UK, and with a love of true crime fostered by my mother who loved reading about serial killers, I was genuinely shocked to realise I had never even heard of Patrick Mackay, despite his killing at least five, possibly eleven or more people, in a period of just two years in the 1970s. In this excellent and detailed examination of Mackay’s life, crimes and victims, I learned all about this terrifying psychopath, a juvenile delinquent who killed seemingly on a whim and began a life in jail before his 22nd birthday. That’s right,he was barely out of his teens when he started killing, and Mackay is still in prison 44 years later, Britain’s longest-serving prisoner - though it seems not outside the realms of possibility that he could yet be released into the community, an alarming thought considering the nature of his crimes...

October 6, 2019

While the thirteen cases in this book only get one chapter each, it’s obvious in most cases that there really isn’t much more information than the author carefully summarizes for us, especially with the older cases. From 1857 to 1957, thirteen murder cases are presented, absolutely none of which I’d ever heard of before. In at least a couple of cases, there is an obvious suspect and motive, but in none of them were the prosecutors able to obtain a conviction. In several, the police were never even able to identify a viable suspect.

One of the things I found fascinating when reading this book was the progression of forensic science through the 100 years of murders. In one of the cases, a conviction couldn’t be brought because the victim could not be identified, something which seems ridiculous today with DNA identification readily available,...

September 29, 2019

There’s a lot of very useful information for the aspiring novelist in this guide. A literary agent and experienced author of both fiction and non-fiction, Essinger knows his craft and presents some excellent advice here, breaking down and explaining terms often presented to aspiring authors, such as ‘show don’t tell’, how to make your story into a page-turner and how to make your characters both realistic and sympathetic. 

There were spots where I thought Essinger dumbed down the explanation a little too much, such as when talking about ‘plants’, he doesn’t mention Chekov’s Gun, the dramatic principle that every element in a story must contribute to the whole. There were one or two oddities as well, such as using a specific book he admitted he hadn’t actually read to illustrate a concept, which I thought strange. And the fact that he doesn’t...

August 26, 2019

If you’re looking for a book to introduce you to the life and crimes of one of America’s most infamous serial killers, this book isn’t it. Though it’s not clear from the blurb, the author states in the book’s introduction that this is actually the third part of a trilogy, a series doing a deep-dive into the minutiae of the Bundy case. You could pick up enough from this one to get a sense of what Bundy was doing and when, but you really need to read the earlier books or one of the (many) other books on Bundy’s crimes to get the full context and background.

What this book does is introduce to the record a few interesting snippets the author has gleaned from extensive research into the archives of law enforcement agencies. There are previously unpublished interviews with people close to Bundy and some of his victims, and an account from a credi...

August 23, 2019

The Snowtown Murders is a particularly fascinating case for several reasons, firstly because it’s the serial murder case in Australia with the highest body count, but also because serial killers are almost invariably solitary actors, and the Snowtown Murders were committed by what amounted to a small gang, under the leadership of John Bunting.

However, this book really doesn’t give you any more information than you can pick up from one of the several TV documentaries on the case. It’s apparent that the author isn’t from Australia, getting some basic geographical facts wrong - Murray Bridge is 70km from Adelaide, not an ‘eastern suburb’ - and to be honest, I feel like he just pulled this book together after watching those documentaries and summarizing them. There are no reports from the trials. No interviews with the detectives who investigat...

July 7, 2019

This is quite a short read, and the actual meat of the advice contained in it doesn’t start until about the 60% mark. The first part of the book is basically some statistics on why you should include female characters in your story, which basically boils down to ‘women buy books and watch movies and TV’ which strikes me as common sense, but then I suspect that, being female, I’m not really part of this book’s intended audience demographic.

Some of the advice in the book is excellent, regarding making your female characters realistic and three-dimensional, and honestly? You can’t beat free, which is the permanent price of this book.

I do, however, disagree with the author on two fundamental issues. The first is the Bechdel test, which she airily dismisses as ‘a 30-year-old comic strip’. 30 years on from that comic strip, if your story fails th...

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